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The Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré, also known as the Premonstratensians, the Norbertines and, in Britain and Ireland, as the White Canons (from the colour of their habit), are a religious order of Canons regular of the Catholic Church founded in Prémontré near Laon in 1120 by Norbert of Xanten, who later became Archbishop of Magdeburg. Premonstratensians are designated by O.Praem. (Ordo Praemonstratensis) following their name.
Shield of the Premonstratensians
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Viale Giotto, 27, 00153 |
Norbert was a friend of Bernard of Clairvaux and so was largely influenced by the Cistercian ideals as to both the manner of life and the government of his order. As the Premonstratensians are not monks but Canons Regular, their work often involves preaching and the exercising of pastoral ministry; they frequently serve in parishes close to their abbeys or priories.
The order was founded in 1120. Saint Norbert had made various efforts to introduce a strict form of canonical life in various communities of canons in Germany; in 1120 he was working in the now-extinct Ancient Diocese of Laon, in Picardy, northeastern France. There, in a rural place called Prémontré, he and thirteen companions established a monastery to be the cradle of a new order. As they were canons regular, they followed the Rule of St. Augustine, but with supplementary statutes that made their life one of great austerity. Common prayer and celebration of the Eucharist was to be the sustaining dynamic of the community.
In 1126, when the order received papal approbation by Pope Honorius II, there were nine houses; others were established in quick succession throughout western Europe, so that at the middle of the fourteenth century there were some 1,300 monasteries for men and 400 for women. The Norbertines played a predominant part in the conversion of the Wends and the bringing of Christianity to the territories around the Elbe and the Oder. In time, mitigations and relaxations emerged, and these gave rise to reforms and semi-independent congregations within the Order.
The Norbertines came to England about 1143, first at Newhouse in Lincoln, England, and before the dissolution under Henry VIII there were 35 houses. Soon after their arrival in England, they founded Dryburgh Abbey in the Borders area of Scotland, which was followed by other communities at Whithorn Priory, Dercongal Abbey and Tongland Abbey all in the Borders area, as well as Fearn Abbey in the northern part of the nation. Like most orders they were almost completely devastated by the successive onslaughts of the Reformation, French Revolution and Napoleon, but then experienced a revival in the 19th century.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century the order had become almost extinct, only eight houses surviving, all in Austria. However, there was something of a resurgence, and at the start of the twentieth century there were 20 monasteries and 1000 priests. As of 2005[update], the number of monasteries had increased to nearly 100 and spread to every continent. In 1893, Father Bernard Pennings and two other Norbertines from Berne Abbey came to the United States to minister to Belgian immigrants in northern Wisconsin. De Pere, Wisconsin became the site of the first Norbertine Abbey in the new world.
In the twenty-first century, like all canons regular, they follow the Augustinian Rule. In order to “earn their living”, the different communities had, as formerly, to create and operate small industrial activities (SME) such as printing (Averbode Abbey, Tongerlo Abbey, Berne Abbey), farming (Kinshasa, Ireland, Postel Abbey), cheese-making (Postel Abbey), running schools (Averbode Abbey, Berne Abbey, United States, Australia), agreements with breweries (Tongerlo Abbey, Postel Abbey, Park Abbey, Leffe, Grimbergen), retreat centres (nearly everywhere), astronomical observatories (Mira, Grimbergen), artistic bookbinding (in Oosterhout), forestry (Schlägl Abbey, Geras Abbey, Slovakia) and pilgrimages (Conques).
The Order has several abbeys of women who, though technically called canonesses, followed the life of an enclosed religious order and are therefore more commonly termed Norbertine nuns. Like the Norbertine communities for men, those for women are autonomous. Unusually, within the religious communities of the Catholic Church, the Norbertine Order has always seen the spiritual life of the canonesses as being on an equal footing with that of its priests and lay brothers. In the Middle Ages, the Premonstratentians even had a few double monasteries, where men and women lived in cloisters located next to each other as part of the same abbey, the communities demonstrating their unity by sharing the church building. Today, it is common for a foundation of canonesses to have links not only with other canonesses, but also a community of canons.
On January 29, 2011, a canonry of the canonesses, the Bethlehem Priory of St. Joseph, was established with the solemn religious profession of the first nine canonesses at the Saint John the Baptist Cathedral, Fresno, California. The priory is located in Tehachapi, California, and by 2013 had grown to 26 members in all. The community was first founded as a public association of the faithful by the Norbertine canons of St. Michael's Abbey, Orange County, California. It is the first canonry of Norbertine canonesses founded in North America.
The Premonstratensians were among the religious orders with their own rite who kept this rite after Pope Pius V suppressed such rites with a continuous tradition of less than two hundred years. The Premonstratensian Rite was especially characterized by a ritual solemnity. The Premonstratensian Rite was also characterized by an emphasis on the Paschal mystery unique among the Latin rites. This was especially seen in the solemnity with which the daily conventional high mass and office was celebrated during the Easter octave, especially vespers which concluded with a procession to the baptismal font, a practice paralleled among the Latin rites only in similar processions still found in the Ambrosian Rite. Another unique practice of the Premonstratensian Rite was the celebration of a daily votive mass in honor of Mary, mother of Jesus in each of its abbeys and priories.
As each abbey or priory is autonomous, practices and apostolates differ; some are contemplative in character whilst others are highly active in pastoral ministry. However, each is guided by the Rule of Saint Augustine as well as the Constitutions established by the General Chapter which is held every 6 years. Demonstrating Norbertine unity, the general Chapter includes representatives from both male and female communities. The head of the Order, termed Abbot General, resides in Rome, and he is assisted in his duties by the Definitors (High Council) as well as commissions established for various aspects of the Order's life such as Liturgy and inter-abbey communications.
As of 2012, there were Premonstratensian abbeys or priories throughout the world: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and USA.
- Robert John Cornell (1919–2009), Democratic U.S. Congressman from Wisconsin from 1975–1979 and professor of political science at St. Norbert College
- Prokop Diviš (1698–1765), Czech inventor
- Jean Druys (1568-1635), Belgian canon regular and abbot
- Juan de Galavís (1683–1739), Spanish archbishop in Latin America
- Charles-Hyacinthe Hugo (1667–1739), French historian and bishop
- Hermann Joseph (1150?–1241), German canon regular and mystic
- Johann Lohel (1549–1622), Bohemian prior who later became archbishop of Prague
- Werenfried van Straaten (1913–2003), known for his humanitarian work, particularly as founder of the international Catholic association Aid to the Church in Need
- Francis Wichmans (1596–1661), Belgian abbot, scholar, and noted theologian of his day
- Johann Zahn (1631–1707), German canon who wrote on the camera obscura and who invented an early camera
Norbertine Saints include, in addition to St Hermann Joseph von Steinfeld (feast May 24) and St Norbert (+1134, f. Jun. 6), Adrian and James of Middleburg, martyrs (+1572, f Jul. 9), Evermode of Ratzeburg (+1178, f. Feb. 17), Frederick of Hallum (or of Mariengaarde) (+1175, f. Feb. 4), Gilbert of Neuffontaines (or of Cappenberg) (+1152, f. Oct. 26), Godfrey of Cappenberg (+1127, f. Jan. 14), Isfrid (Isfried) of Ratzeburg (+1204, f. Jun. 15), Ludolph of Ratzeburg (+1250, f. April 16), and Siard of Mariengaarde (+1230, f. Nov. 14). Norbertine Blesseds include Beatrice of Engelport (+1275, f. Mar. 12/13) Bronislava of Poland (or of Zwierzniec) (+1259, f. Aug. 30), Gerlach of Valkenburg (+1172, Jan. 5), Gertrude of Aldenberg (Altenburg), Abbess (+1297, f. Aug. 13), Hugh of Fosse (+1164, f. Feb. 10), Hroznata of Teplá (+1217, f. Jul. 14), Jakob Kern of Geras (+1924, f. Oct. 20), Oda of Bonne Rivreuille (+1158, f. Apr. 20), Peter-Adrian Toulorge of Blanchelande, Martyr (+1793, f. Oct. 13), and Ricvera of Clastres (+1136, f. Oct. 29).
Norbertines celebrate "all Norbertine Saints and Blesseds" on Nov. 13.
Northern Ireland's Historical Abuse Inquiry investigated reports that Brendan Smyth, a member of the Norbertine Order, was allowed to continue paedophilia for more than four decades, even after Smyth himself had admitted in 1994, the same year that he was jailed for his crimes, that "Over the years of religious life it could be that I have sexually abused between 50 and 100 children. That number could even be doubled or perhaps even more."
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