This article explores issues of labor, community, and authority in medieval Europe through an examination of older Cistercian abbots and the practice of abbatial “retirement.” While historians typically associate the Cistercians with greater acceptance of abbatial resignation, this article focuses on the fervent twelfth-century opposition to the practice. Many Cistercians asserted that abbatial retirement harmed the reputation of the monastic community and constituted a form of self-indulgence on the part of the abbot, whose soul would consequently be jeopardized as he prepared for death. This article argues that these attitudes reflected the importance of service and labor in later life, as well as the abbot’s continued importance within the community. Medieval monasticism thus offers a concept of “active aging” focused on community and care of others. The thirteenth-century trend in favor of retirement stemmed from increasing institutionalization and new understandings of what constituted the “common good” for a monastic community.

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