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ART. I.--The Monks of the West: from St. Benedict to St. Bernard.
By the COUNT DE MONTALEMBERT, Member of the French
Academy. 3 vols. London: W. Blackwood. 1861. An English writer on Monasticism, not by any means ungenerous, and considering the associations of his day, writing with a singular freedom from prejudice, says : 'If the routine of ‘monastic observance furnish the standard of excellence, then is 'man but a barrel-organ set to psalm-tunes." If so, indeed the world ought to have been harmonious, for in the sixteenth century a very large section of society was of the barrel-organ order. From the apostolical co-operators of the first age and the 'Equites Sancti Georgii seu Constantiniani' of the fourth century, which was the first sodality of monks, down to 1730, which witnessed the enrolment of other knights of S. George ('S. Georgii Equites Bavariæ '), the historian reckons up no less than 169 bodies, not counting some eighteen of uncertain date, such as the Reformed Capuchins, the tertiary Carmelites, the Franciscan and Dominican Orders of Mary Magdalen, If in an age that witnesses the decline of the old monastic system, which has no new, or a very small number of very new, corporations and sodalities to point to, members of the religious bodies are very numerous, what must those numbers have been in the feudal ages which came to an end with the outbreak of the French Revolution, when it was a matter of complaint that the puissance of the nations was crippled, and their opportunities lost, by the withdrawal of so many men to the religious life, who otherwise might have been useful soldiers of the state secular,
1 British Monachism,' by G. T. D. Fosbrooke. 4to. Nichol, London, New edition, 1817, p. 214.
2 'The Equites S. Georgii Bavariæ Ordo-militaris Religiosus' was enrolled by Charles Albert, the Elector, by authority of Benedict XIII., April 24, 1730 'Fidem illi Pontificiam, viduarum et pupillorum causas tuendas virtutumque Christo dignarum studium voto desuper præstito promittunt.' NO. CXXXIX.-N.S.
and by the misdirection of funds which, instead of feeding the quiet brotherhoods, ought, in the judgment of the soldiers, to have been utilized to supply the means and the appliances of glorious war? The antiquity and the universality of the monastic institute, its immense diffusion, and its world-wide popularity, demonstrate what a valuable instrument it was held to be, and deserved to be held, of the Church militant. And yet when the great Lateran Council, in 1214, ruled that there should be no further increase of orders, but that all new sodalities must agglomerate themselves to some of the already existing bodies, the Roman Church seemed to exhibit a certain weariness of the system, which at different times in the history of the Western Church has taken the form of impatience—an impatience which showed itself ever and anon in the secularization or reorganization of the original foundations. Whatever guilt there is in a proceeding of this kind, it does not lie at the door of this Reformed Church or Protestant nation of England. For whatover violent and unjustifiable proceedings may have taken place under Henry VIII.--and the impartial historian will own that in some instances the only remedy for existing evils was in the entire extinction of some houses—these measures were taken by Romanists, and were accepted under the reign of the most sincere and faithful of Romanists, Queen Mary, nor was any endeavour made by Cardinal Pole to undo the mischief done in the visitation of the religious houses. The poetry of monasticism, in fact, had long passed away. The actual state, in the light of common day, was found to be unprofitable. It was the poetic age of monasticism when, in some savage woodland or inhospitable wild, a few brethren assembled to build a new home for their devotions on the model of the house they had left. Those were days of violence and outrage, when the great tribulation in the earth seemed to justify this isolation from mankind, and the abandonment, on the part of those men bound to this service, of all efforts for the amelioration and reconstruction of society. So long as violence and war predominated, so long was a seclusion, which else one might call selfish, justified, and the quick decline from the strictness and severity of the assumed profession delayed; so long were the ills sure to arise from an inordinate subjectivism kept out of view. But when quiet, and wealth, and ease, and the reverence of others for the monastic profession—a reverence inherited from a past, not merited by a. present generation - began to test the institution, the actual of the monastic life, as weighed by the society of the age, came to be very lowly esteemed indeed. Nor is this the conclusion ea post facto arrived at from historical inquiries, and vented by a cynical and rationalizing age. From among the monks themselves arose persons speaking perverse things of the brotherhoods,
and convincing the world, full ready to be convinced, that 'cucullus non facit monachum.' To whomsoever we may be indebted for the 'Literæ obscurorum virorum,' these no doubt trained the genius and refined the sarcasm of Francis Rabelais. He was a Franciscan, but he left the Cordeliers, and, by permission of Pope Clement VII., he joined the wealthy and more indulgent order of S. Benedict. Then, abandoning the regular habit, he took that of a secular priest. He was after this brought to the diocese of Paris by his friend, the Bishop of Paris, Cardinal du Bellay, who made him prebendary of s. Maur des Fossez, and curate of the large parish of Meudon, where he was largely employed by that prelate. Now, it is not too much to say that the disrespect with which monasticism has been treated for centuries has been owing to the writings of this monk, whom the far-seeing Coleridge classes with the great creative minds of the world, such as Shakespeare and Dante. Certainly, what Cervantes was to chivalry, 'smiling it away,' that Rabelais has been to the monks. Even the cautious Hallam, in his Literature of Europe,' writes of him thus :
The most celebrated, and certainly the most brilliant performance in the path of fiction that belongs to this age, is that of Rabelais. Few books are less likely to obtain the praise of a rigorous critic, but few bave more the stamp of originality, or show a more redundant fertility, always of language, and sometimes of imagination. His reading, is large, but always rendered subservient to ridicule; he is never serious in a single page, and seems to bave had little other aim, in his first two volumes, than to pour out the exuberance of his animal gaiety.'
This illustrious genius, this friend of cardinals and prelates, this prebendary and parish priest, died in this fashion :- Being
very sick, the Cardinal du Bellay sent his page to him to have 'an account of his condition. His answer was,
lord 'in what circumstances thou findest me: I am just going to leap into the dark. He is up in the cock-loft ; hid him keep 'where he is. As for thee, thou'lt always be a fool. Let down 'the curtain, the farce is done.” A little before this he called for his domino (so some in France call a sort of hood which certain
ecclesiastics wear), saying, “ Put me on my domino, for I am “cold; besides, I will die in it, for 'Beati qui in Domino moriuntur.',
It is of this very Rabelais that Voltaire, in his first letter on Eminent Writers against the Christian Religion,' says-his criticism curiously illustrating the eulogies of Hallam
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and Coleridge :
'His book is a heap of the most impertinent and gross filth that a drunke monk could bring off his stomach ; and yet it must be owned that it is a very curious satire of the Pope, of the Church, and of all the events of the time. He chose, too, for his greater security, to write under the mask of folly. You will please to observe that Rabelais dedicated that part of his work wbich
1 Life by Urquhart, prefixed to Works.
contains this severe satire on the Church of Rome to the Cardinal Odet de Chatillon. This book was printed with an "imprimatur” license; and this license of a satire upon the Roman Catholic religion was granted in favour of the obscenities in it; nor was the book ever prohibited in France. Would you think it, that the buffoon, who tbus laughed aloud at the Old and New Testament [he might have added the Blessed Eucharist and everything divine), was a curate! How did he die? With these words in his mouth, “I am going in quest of a great may-be.”
Whether, then, we take Voltaire's criticism, whose language does not do justice to the incredible filthiness of the celebrated writer he criticizes, or the more æsthetical judgment of Coleridge, who declared he could write a treatise on the moral elevation of Rabelais, 'which would make the Church stare and 'the conventicle groan, and yet would be truth and nothing but 'the truth;' whichever of these views we adopt, it is evident that the Church of Rome herself is directly responsible for the too general discredit under which, for three centuries, the monastic societies have laboured. For all the wit of Rabelais, and it is great, and all his learning, which is astonishing, are devoted to heaping scorn and contempt upon the monks. 'Friar John of the Funnels' is the person who embodies the monastic idea and represents it. He is, according to Voltaire, the monk of those times.'? Assuming, then, that the commissioners of Henry VIII. and the pungent sarcasms of the exCordelier have justice and truth in any measure on their sideswe stay not to discuss here the measure or degree-we find that the evils and mischiefs into which the monks fell were those exactly into which every one falls who, reversing the divine ordinance of labour, passes his time in constructive idleness. We reverence the learned labours of the Benedictines, but those labours were no part of their vocation. However profitable to us, as regards the supreme duty of persons under vows, they were nothing more than a strenuous idleness. The labour entailed upon religious persons is labour for the evangelization of society; it is labour after perfection in saving souls, the highest attainable point of Christlikeness. Any consociation of religious persons together, who fail to make this the final aim and end of all their discipline, who, their sympathies narrowed within the round of conventual observances, and who, aiming at selfdiscipline as though that were attainable in solitude, refuse to go forth, and possess the earth and subdue it, cannot fail to exhibit a further confirmation of all past experiences, how monastic institutions have their golden age and their iron, but no intervening period. We are the more bold to say this, because our own conviction is that in this fact we have the secret of all the failures of the monastic societies. The second generation saw the
1 Another reading refers Friar John to Cardinal Chatillon and Martin Luther Rabelais' antipathy to Calvin is well known.