Commonly known in the United States as the Norbertines, and as the White Canons in England, the Premonstratensian Canons were founded in 1120, by Saint Norbert, in Premontre, France. Combining both a contemplative and active life, the Canons were among the first orders in the history of the Church to successfully carry out both charisms. Hence, it was their order which helped foster the beginning of the mendicant orders in the centuries that followed.
Although Saint Norbert initially adopted the Rule of Saint Augustine, he later adopted many of the Cistercian ways of life, including the practice of rigorous asceticism. One of the major influences on his life was the renowned Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a personal friend, who served as a Cistercian abbot.
In 1125, Pope Honorius II formally approved the Order of the Premonstratensian Canons. Quickly, it began to spread throughout all of Western Europe. After a short while, the Canons found themselves embarking on missionary campaigns to Eastern Europe, where they gained considerable influence, especially in Hungary.
As time wore on, a number of reforms took place in the order as many of the rules were enforced and practiced to a lesser degree. In fact, several independent congregations arose because of conflicting viewpoints about how the order should be run. Like other orders, the Canons had to pay a heavy price during the French Revolution, watching helplessly as their order almost ceased to exist in the years following the Napoleonic Wars (17961815). Fortunately, however, in the past century, the order has once again began to blossom, due mainly to a major revival in Belgium.