Following the successful reform of the monastic lifestyle in Cîteaux, and the foundation of new monasteries in Cîteaux’s spirit of reform, this movement of renewal seized the Church in the West. Cistercians founded new communities for both men and women, and many existing monasteries, living according to the Rule of Benedict or otherwise, joined the reform movement of the Cistercians. In this way the number of new communities grew at an astounding pace. In the middle of the 12th century, an average of 10 new monasteries were founded or incorporated as Cistercian each year. This enthusiasm was also followed however by numerous problems: How could the spirit of reform be maintained during this period of incredible growth i.e. the spirit of modesty and simplicity, the spirit of unity and love? How could it be ensured that with so many monasteries there would be unity as regards the use of liturgical books and, even more importantly, in the implementation of everyday rules, given that the new communities had been created in such diverse circumstances.
The Charta Caritatis strived to establish a harmonious balance between the Order’s supreme authority and the autonomy of each abbey. The following principle was used: in necessary matters, unity; in doubts, freedom; overall, mutual love. However despite all the effort, symptoms of regression were gradually appearing. The causes and sources of that were many: the original enthusiasm was becoming weary, while external conditions such as harvests, plagues, protracted warfare, and peasant revolts were disadvantageous, and all this was weakening the monastic spirit. A strong blow to the Order came with the emergence of Protestantism in the 16th century. Entire nations seceded from the Catholic Church, and in those countries the Cistercian order almost entirely disappeared e.g. in the German-speaking countries about 50 monasteries and 150 convents disappeared. Only in the areas that remained fully Catholic did the monastic settlements mostly persevere and then flourish again in the 17th and 18th centuries. Baroque splendour then prospered, leading to lavish lifestyles and, along with this, the decline of the Order’s ideals. Enlightenment altered the perception of monastic life in the eyes of society so that it became questionable to many people. Emperor Joseph II suppressed about 800 religious establishments in Central Europe. Among the victims of his secularisation were 12 Cistercian abbeys, including all three of those in Slovene lands: Vetrinj, Stična and Kostanjevica. The great French Revolution also resulted in the suppression of many monasteries in France and elsewhere. After an imperial law in Germany in 1803 and a royal decree in Prussia in 1810 handed over all religious estates to the government, the Cistercian Order was nearly been wiped out in most of Europe e.g. in the German Empire and Switzerland there were 8 Cistercian convents left, while only 12 monasteries remained in the Austrian Empire.