No, not that Clooney.

This Cluny.

The fifth “hinge” date covered by Dr. Moczar in “Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know” is the date of the founding of the Benedictine monastery at Cluny, which served as the source of a monastic reform that revitalized the religious life of the Church, and ushered in the Church’s golden age.

In the early Tenth Century, Europe was under attack from Muslims, Vikings and Magyars. Charlemagne’s unified empire was divided in three kingdoms. The Church itself was insecure and sought the protection of various political leaders. Not only the papacy, but prelates and monasteries sought protection under feudal lords. The trade off of this arrangement was an undue influence of the secular powers over many Church institutions. The interests of the lords, due to their patronage, often became the interests of the Church leaders they protected.

Dr. Moczar states:

“One danger was that temporal goods and goals could engender worldliness and laxity among the clergy; another was that the lands and wealth of the Church would tempt secular lords to try to take them over. Monasteries became enmeshed in the feudal system and found their abbots being appointed by local political leaders or, at a higher level, by kings. The practice of simony– the buying and selling of Church positions– was rife, with prominent bishops and abbots paying large sums to feudal lords for appointment to desirable posts. The ignorance of the clergy increased with lay control and the disorders of the times, and so did clerical immorality. It was not unusual for priests to be “married”, more or less openly, or to have concubines– female or male.”

Into this mess entered the monastery of Cluny, founded in 910, completely free from lay control and led by a succession of holy abbots in a period of 200 years. How did this come about? William the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, of whom we know little, signed the charter on September 11, 910 ceding land to the monastery and specifically renouncing thereafter all control, by him or his successors.

The first abbot, St. Berno, established the community with observance of the Benedictine rule. The community’s faithful observance of the rule, holy example and charity became the exemplar for other monasteries. The fame of Cluny spread, and thus engendered the practice of laymen giving control, for long or short periods, of their monasteries to the Cluny monks.

Cluny sent out teams of monks to help reform and manage other monasteries– sometimes by request of secular authorities and against the will of the wayward target monasteries. The Cluny efforts were blessed by God and caused a true reformation of religious life in Europe.

Helping matters greatly was the providential leadership of the Cluny monastery itself. From its founding in 910 until 1109– a period of nearly 200 years, Cluny was blessed to have just six abbots, and all of them Saints: St. Berno, St. Odo, Blessed Aynard, St. Mayeul, St. Odilo and St. Hugh.

The Cluniac Abbots’ holiness and administrative abilities led to great fame, and they became the advisers of nobles, bishops and popes.

In time, Cluny became a monastery with several subordinate monasteries that owed it allegiance. Religious life under the rule of St. Benedict set the stage for the Church’s Golden Age at the turn of the millennium.

From the Book:

Cluny’s success required the cooperation of so many disparate elements, from laymen demanding moral reform of the clergy, to kings encouraging it, to popes implementing it, that its final cohesion and triumph appear as a miracle of grace. The Cluniacs had no such grand scheme in mind when they first dedicated themselves heart and soul to leading pure monastic lives and escaping the corrupting influence of secular control. Their concern with purity of life was an implicit condemnation of clerical immorality, but it would be bishops, preachers and popes who would actively campaign against the sins of fornication and pederasty among the clergy. Likewise, although Cluny was the first monastery to remove itself from lay control, active resistance to lay investiture would be carried out later, at higher levels. The great movement for reform for both Church and society would not reach its climax for a century, but Cluny set it all in motion. It would, in fact, be a man who had lived and studied at Cluny, Hildebrand, who as Pope St. Gregory VII would bring the reform movement to fruition and spread it throughout the Church.

Dr. Moczar’s book may be obtained here.