This paper will explore how communities, which wandering preachers founded in late 11th- and early 12th-century France, dealt and interacted with the idea that their founders led a ‘gospel-ruled’ life before founding coenobitic settlements. It will reflect upon how these monasteries, who lived by the Benedictine rule, presented ‘unusual’ expressions of spirituality from their founders and how they assimilated these into foundation narratives for their monasteries. In particular I will draw from texts written by the communities of Robert of Arbrissel, Bernard of Tiron, Vitalis of Savigny and Robert of Molesme. I will argue that these communities imposed a quasi-apostolic ‘rule’ upon the preachers which enabled them to claim that the preceding years of their lives were preparation for the apogee of their spiritual life in the foundation of coenobitic establishments. Thus these earlier periods of the lives of these extraordinary men could be assimilated into a narrative which praised the foundation of the community above all else.
The founders of the Franciscan order prescribed complete, absolute poverty for their followers through norms that regulated their way of life. Regulations included the prohibition of possession of personal property and acquisition of resources for living through begging. In southeastern Europe, Hungary and within the Balkan Peninsula, the regulation could not be applied because of inadequate circulation of money. Thus, rulers and feudal lords gave them small land holdings, so that they possessed serfs, led property and inheritance disputes, subsequently turning into the ruling landowning class, with all the consequences of the status. Such deformation of the Franciscan rule of poverty in southeastern Europe astonished contemporaries from developed urban areas of the Mediterranean and Western Europe. This phenomenon, however, with the consent of the supreme ecclesiastical and secular authorities survived until well into the 20th century.
Eckhart’s teachings were condemned as heretical in 1329, but his own sermons counsel conformity (e.g Q29) even as they overturn conceptual habits with the returning refrain of: but I say more… This apparent tension draws attention to the preconditions of following a rule: what is it that must already be in place for us to follow or not follow a rule? Eckhart’s sermons are less keen to establish codes of conduct than to encourage his listeners to round on the ways in which they are always already committed not so much to following a rule as to having a particular attitude to God. The paper will look not just at the arguments of Eckhart’s sermon, but at their rhetorical practice as one of the shared activities by which late medieval spiritual aspirants sought a liveable relationship with forms of conformity and social expectation.