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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Gerald of Wales on Cistercian charity

Gerald of Wales, who was perhaps the harshest of the Cistercians’ critics in England, nonetheless acknowledged their generosity to guests and the needy. He noted that their gates were never closed and that their liberality excelled all others. To Gerald, however, it was this need to provide so generously for guests and the poor that fuelled the Cistercians’ greed for land, and he therefore argued that they would be better to temper their liberality and so ‘rid themselves of the damnable stigma of ambition’. Citing Gregory, Ambrose and Solomon, Gerald argued that the end did not justify the means and evoked the scene at Judgement Day:

What shall they answer who seize other men’s goods and have then given them away in alms? They will say: ‘O Lord, in thy name we have done charitable deeds, we have fed the poor, clothed the naked, received the stranger at the gate.’ The Lord will answer: ‘You speak of what you have given away, but you do not mention the fact that you have stolen it in the first place. You are mindful of those whom you have fed, but you have forgotten those whom you have destroyed.
[Gerald of Wales, The Journey through Wales, tr. L. Thorpe (Harmondsworth, 1978), p. 104.]