In this book, David N. Bell explores what Cistercian writers and preachers have said about Mary from the time of the founding fathers of the Order to Armand-Jean de Rancé, who introduced the Cistercian Strict Observance and who died in 1700.
This work is divided into three parts. The first part presents some selective background material on Mary that is necessary for understanding where the Cistercian writers are coming from and the sources and ideas they are using. The next eight chapters, the second part of the book, examine the Marian ideas of Cistercian writers from Bernard of Clairvaux to a number of visionaries, both male and female, who take us to the very end of the thirteenth century. There is then a gap of more than three centuries—the reasons are given at the end of chapter 12—before we arrive at the birth of Armand-Jean de Rancé in 1626. The final chapters—part 3 of the book—summarize the life of Rancé, examine the place of Mary at La Trappe, and present annotated translations of Rancé’s five conferences for three Marian feasts: the Nativity of Mary, the Annunciation, and the Assumption.
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In this book, David Bell offers his characteristic erudition in an accessible and engaging way, leading us from the life of Mary of Nazareth to her enshrinement as model of humility and monastic life in the thought of Armand-Jean de Rancé, leader of the monastic reform at la Trappe. This journey takes an extended sojourn among the Cistercians of the 12th and 13th centuries, correcting misperceptions and putting fine detail on the common generalizations about the flourishing devotion to Mary in these centuries. And like a suspense story, the conflicts about the Immaculate Conception and other Marian controversies are recounted with verve. Concluding with his new translations of Rancé’s conferences on Marian feasts, David Bell provides a magisterial work that can serve as a reference point for any of the many subjects covered here.
David Bell has the enviable talent of making obscure subjects not only interesting but fascinating. He ferrets out detail and anecdote to bring what we might otherwise think of as staid characters or situations to startling life, in all their living, breathing contradictions. In Handmaid of the Lord he excavates for us the place of Mary in the Cistercian tradition, touching on not only the well-known in Bernard of Clairvaux, but also the neglected, such as Stephen of Sawley and Ogier of Locedio, leading us finally to the surprising reverence given to Mary at La Trappe under the putatively stern Abbot Rancé. Bell’s wit, sometimes caustic, and his erudition shine out of every page. This book will be indispensable for anyone interested in Mary’s role among the Cistercians, but also in the Church at large. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Another delightful book from David Bell’s prolific pen, permeated by his seemingly effortless erudition and comprehensive knowledge of Cistercian authors – both the figureheads and those who are more obscure.
If a reader ever doubted that Cistercian spirituality and Mariology are inseparable those doubts will be erased by David Bell's wonderful narrative, organized, and written in a style to please the student or scholar of Mariology, as well as the novice.
David N. Bell is professor emeritus of religious studies and dean of theology at Queen's College, St. John's, Newfoundland, and canon theologian in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John's. He is the author of a number of previous books published by Cistercian Publications, including most recently A Saint in the Sun: Praising Saint Bernard in the France of Louis XIV (CS271, 2017) and Everyday Life at La Trappe under Armand-Jean de Rancé (CS274, 2018).