Imágenes de páginas

in silence, consisted of bread and water, oil, and a little salt. The bundle of papyrus which had served the monk for a seat by day, while he made his baskets or mats, served him for a pillow by night. Twice he was roused from his sleep by the sound of a horn to offer up his prayers. The culture of superstition was compelled by inexorable rules. A discipline of penalties, confinement, fasting, whipping, and, at a later period even mutilation, was inflexibly administered.

From Egypt and Syria monachism spread like an epidemic. It was first introduced into Italy by Spread of moAthanasius, assisted by some of the disciples of nasticism,

from Egypt. Anthony; but Jerome, whose abode was in Palestine, is celebrated for the multitude of converts he made to a life of retirement. Under his persuasion, many of the high-born ladies of Rome were led to the practice of monastic habits, as far as was possible, in secluded spots near that city, on the ruins of temples, and even in the Forum. Some were induced to retreat to the Holy Land, after bestowing their wealth for pious purposes. The silent monk insinuated himself into the privacy of families for the purpose of making proselytes by stealth. Soon there was not an unfrequented island in the

Mediterranean, no desert shore, no gloomy valley, no forest, no glen, no volcanic crater, that did not witness exorbitant selfishness made the rule of life. There were multitudes of hermits on the desolate coasts of the Black Sea. They abounded from the freezing Tanais to the sultry Tabenné. In rigorous personal life and in supernatural power the West acknowledged no inferiority to the East; his admiring imitators challenged even the desert of Thebais to produce the equal of Martin of Tours. The solitary anchorite was soon supplanted by the coenobitic establishment, the monastery. It became a fashion among the rich to give all that they had to these institutions for the salvation of their own souls. There was now no need of basket-making or the weaving of mats. The brotherhoods increased rapidly. Whoever wanted to escape from the barbarian invaders, or to avoid the hardships of serving in the imperial army-whoever had become discontented with his worldly affairs, or saw in those dark times no induceVOL. I.

2 F

ments in a home and family of his own, found in the Increase of

monastery a sure retreat. The number of these the religious religious houses eventually became very great. houses.

They were usually placed on the most charming and advantageous sites, their solidity and splendour illustrating the necessity of erecting durable habitations for societies that were immortal. It often fell out that the Church laid claim to the services of some distinguished monk. It was significantly observed that the road to ecclesiastical elevation lay through the monastery porch, and often ambition contentedly wore for a season the cowl, that it might seize more surely the mitre. Though

the monastic system of the East included labour,

it was greatly inferior to that of the West in Difference of the Eastern

that particular. The Oriental monk, at first and Western making selfishness his rule of life, and his own

salvation the grand object, though all the world else should perish, in his maturer period occupied his intellectual powers in refined disputations of theology. Too often he exhibited his physical strength in the furious riots he occasioned in the streets of the great cities. He was a fanatic and insubordinate. On the other hand, the Occidental monk showed far less disposition for engaging in the discussion of things above reason, and expended his strength in useful and honourable labour. Beneath his hand the wilderness became a garden. To a considerable extent this difference was due to physiological peculiarity, and yet it must not be concealed that the circumstances of life in the two cases were not without their effects. The old countries of the East, with their worn-out civilization and worn-out soil, offered no inducements comparable with the barbarous but young and fertile West, where to the ecclesiastic the most lovely and inviting lands were open. Both, however, coincided in this, that they regarded the affairs of life as presenting perpetual interpositions of a providential or rather supernatural kind-angels and devils being in continual conflict for the soul of every man, who might become the happy prize of the one or the miserable prey of the other. These spiritual powers were perpetually controlling the course of nature and giving rise to prodigies. The measure of holiness in a saint was the number of

miracles he had worked. Thus, in the life of St. Benedict, it is related that when his nurse Cyrilla let Levende of fall a stone sieve, her distress was changed into Western • rejoicing by the prayer of the holy child, at saints. which the broken parts came together and were made whole; that once on receiving his food in a basket, let down to his otherwise inaccessible cell, the devil vainly tried to vex him by breaking the rope; that once Satan, assuming the form of a blackbird, nearly blinded him by the flapping of his wings; that once, too, the same tempter appeared as a beautiful Roman girl, to whose fascinations, in his youth, St. Benedict had been sensible, and from which he now hardly escaped by rolling himself among thorns. Once, when his austere rules and severity excited the resentment of the monastery over which he was abbot, the brethren--for monks have been known to do such things-attempted to poison him, but the cup burst asunder as soon as he took it into his hands. When the priest Florentius, being wickedly disposed, attempted to perpetrate a like crime by means of an adulterated loaf, a raven carried away the deadly bread from the hand of St. Benedict. Instructed by the devil, the same Florentius drove from his neighbourhood the holy man, by turning into the garden of his monastery seven naked girls; but scarcely had the saint taken to flight, when the chamber in which his persecutor lived fell in and buried him beneath its ruins, though the rest of the house was uninjured. Under the guidance of two visible angels, who walked before him, St. Benedict continued his journey to Monte Casino, where he erected a noble monastery ; but even here miracles did not cease; for Satan bewitched the stones, so that it was impossible for the masons to move them until they were released by powerful prayers. A boy, who had stolen from the monastery to visit his parents was not only struck dead by God for his offence, but the consecrated ground threw forth his body when they attempted to bury it; nor could it be made to rest until consecrated bread was laid upon it. Two garrulous nuns, who had been excommunicated by St. Benedict for their perverse prating, chanced to be buried in the church. On the next administration of the sacrament, when the

of these miracles.

gress of monastic orders.

deacon commanded all those who did not communicate to depart, the corpses rose out of their graves and walked forth from the church.

Volumes might be filled with such wonders, which edified The character the religious for centuries, exacting implicit belief, and being regarded

as of equal authority with the miracles of the Holy Scriptures. Though monastic life rested upon the principle of social abnegation, monasticism, in singular contradiction thereto, Rise and pro

contained within itself the principle of organization. As early as A.D. 370, St. Basil, the Bishop

of Cæsarea, incorporated the hermits and coenobites of his diocese into one order, called after him the Basilian. One hundred and fifty years later, St. Benedict, under a milder rule, organised those who have passed under his name, and found for them oc

ution in suitable employments of manual and intellectual labour. In the ninth century, another Benedict revised the rule of the order, and made it more austere. Offshoots soon arose, as those of Clugni, A.D. 900; the Carthusians, A.D. 1084; the Cistercians, A.D. 1098. A favourite pursuit among them being literary labour, they introduced great improvements in the copying of manuscripts; and in their illumination and illustration are found the germs of the restoration of painting and the invention of cursive handwriting. St. Benedict enjoined his order to collect books. It has been happily observed that he forgot to say anything about their character, supposing that they must all be religious. The Augustinians were founded in the eleventh century. They professed, however, to be a restoration of the society founded ages before by St. Augustine.

The influence to which monasticism attained may be The Benedic- judged of from the boast of the Benedictines

that “Pope John XXII., who died in 1334, after an exact inquiry, found that, since the first rise of the order, there had been of it 24 popes, near 200 cardinals, 7000 archbishops, 15,000 bishops, 15,000 abbots of renown, above 4000 saints, and upward of 37,000 monasteries. There have been likewise, of this order, 20 emperors and 10 empresses, 47 kings and above 50 queens, 20 sons of emperors, and 48 sons of kings; about 100 princesses,


Civilization of


daughters of kings and emperors; besides dukes, marquises, earls, countesses, etc., innumerable. The order has produced a vast number of authors and other learned men. Their Rabanus set up the school of Germany. Their Alcuin founded the University of Paris. Their Dionysius Exiguus perfected ecclesiastical computation. Their Guido invented the scale of music; their Sylvester, the organ. They boasted to have produced Anselm, Ildefonsus, and the Venerable Bede.”

We too often date the Christianization of a community from the conversion of its sovereign, but it is not in the nature of things that that should change the hearts of men. Of what avail is it if a barbarian chieftain drives a horde of his savages through the waters of a river by way of extemporaneous or speedy baptism? Such outward forms are of little moment. It was mainly by the monasteries that to the peasant class of Europe Europe by the was pointed out the way of civilization. The devotions and charities; the austerities of the brethren; their abstemious meal; their meagre clothing, the cheapest of the country in which they lived; their shaven heads, or the cowl which shut out the sight of sinful objects; the long staff in their hands; their naked feet and legs; their passing forth on their journeys by twos, each a watch on his brother; the prohibitions against eating outside of the wall of the monastery, which had its own mill, its own bakehouse, and whatever was needed in an abstemious domestic economy; their silent hospitality to the wayfarer, who was refreshed in a separate apartment; the lands around their buildings turned from a wilderness into a garden, and, above all, labour exalted and ennobled by their holy hands, and celibacy, for ever, in the eye of the vulgar, a proof of separation from the world and à sacrifice to heaven—these were the things that arrested the attention of the barbarians of Europe, and led them on to civilization. In our own material age, the advocates of the monastery have plaintively asked, Where now shall we find an asylum for the sinner who is sick of the world --for the man of contemplation in his old age, or for the statesman who is tired of affairs? It was through the leisure procured by their wealth that the monasteries


2 G

« AnteriorContinuar »