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and generous spirit, which appears peculiarly beautiful in those days of violence and semibarbarism. But, in seasons of famine, which were not uncommon, the monks often displayed more than usual liberality. It is related of an abbot of St. Albans, in the eleventh century, that, in a time of great scarcity, he not only emptied his granaries, but parted with many of the valuables of the church to supply food for his starving neighbours ; and that, when expostulated with, by some of his brethren, for parting with possessions consecrated to the service of God, he replied, that living temples were more valuable than material edifices, and that to support the former was more important than to decorate the latter.sk
EFFECTS OF MONASTIC INSTITUTIONS ON SOCIETY,
But we must not extend these illustrations of monastic life and influence. Enough has been said to show that the effect of these institutions on society was of a mixed character. They were fountains both of good and evil. Their effect on society at large, would mainly depend upon the effect which they produced on their members : and that effect would be greatly modified by the peculiar character and temperament of each individual.
* Matt. Paris, Lingard's Anglo-Saxon Antiq. vol. i. p. 214.
Their natural influence upon idle and sensually-minded men was to cherish their indolence and depravity, and to lead to that vice and dissoluteness which, unless we are to disbelieve the strongest evidence, did really characterise the inmates of many an abbey. To the man of ambition and energy the scenes of the cloister, though apparently separated from the world, presented no unsuitable sphere for the exercise of qualities which fitted him to take a leading part in the political affairs of the nation ;—for a monastery of some three or four hundred brethren, (in certain cases it contained many more,) with their gradations of rank, their forms of government, their legislative power in the chapter-house, their judicial proceedings, and their different employments, formed a little world which was a type of the greater world, with its intrigues, controversies, conflicts, and struggles after place, power, and influence ;-hence, from these retreats there came forth many a churchman animated by a. spirit, and possessing policy and tact, which prepared him to take a leading part in the transactions of the day, and even to lay his hand on the helm of affairs, and to guide the vessel of the state for good or evil. As it regards persons of a studious turn, the monastery was a sort of college, where, in quietude, and with the best assistance which the age supplied, they could train and improve their minds, and write for the instruction of their brethren. And as it respects men of a mechanical
genius, or of artistic taste, there were employments for them, suited to their predilections, and adapted to call forth their industry and skill.
Individuals of a contemplative cast, and of devout habits, it cannot be doubted, found aliment for their piety in the better parts of the services of the church--in some of those beautiful hymns sung at vespers, or the hour of prime, which cannot be read, in these days, but with the deepest pleasure—in certain writings of the fathers—and in those scenes of nature's loveliness which lay outspread around the convent walls, reminding the beholder of their Creator's power and goodness. And further, in the case of men of a benevolent disposition, with hearts open to the appeals of distress, the monastery might furnish them with the means of supplying relief to the suffering sons and daughters of humanity, and might give some scope, though limited, to the exemplification of the active virtues.
With regard to some of the beneficial, as well as
some of the evil effects of the monastic institute, it is to be observed that they arose from innovations made upon the original system.
If any contend that the profligacy of monks arose from the corruption of monastic discipline, and is not to be charged upon the system, as it proceeded from its founder, they must also admit that the literature of the monks, and whatever they accomplished as architects, and artists, and men of taste, equally arose in a departure from the strict rules of monastic order, and cannot, therefore, be regarded as fruits of the original institute. That an attention to literature, in its secular branches, and the cultivation of art, in its highest forms, was not provided for in the letter, nay, was out of harmony with the spirit of the rules of St. Benedict, must be apparent to every one who looks at that code of discipline ; and, moreover, that these things were blamed by monastic reformers in the middle sages,
and by those who, in the spirit of monachism, aspired to ascetic perfection, is evident from a glance at their history and writings.
We have said nothing respecting nunneries. “ Their rules were formed, for the most part, upon those which bound the monks. Like the monks, they lived from common funds, and used a common dormitory, table, and wardrobe ; the same religious services exercised their piety; and habitual temperance and occasional fasting were enjoined with the same severity. Manual labour was no less rigidly enforced ; but instead of the agricultural toils imposed upon their • brethren,' to them were committed the easier tasks of the needle, or the distaff. By duties so numerous, by occupations admitting so great variety, they beguiled the tediousness of the day and the dulness of monastic seclu
The sister of St. Benedict is said to have been the founder of the Benedictine order of nuns, who soon became so numerous,
* Waddington's History of the Church, p. 398.
that, in the city of Rome, under the pontificate of Gregory the Great, there were no less than three thousand of these “ ancillæ Dei," "handmaids of God.” In the ninth century, they had risen to such an elevation of rank and power, that it became necessary to repress the pretended right of the abbesses to consecrate and ordain, and perform other sacerdotal functions. * «The establishment of female recluses followed very closely the numerous diversities of the monastic scheme, and imitated the names of the male institutions, where they could not adopt their practice, or even their profession. An order of "Canonesses Regular was founded, or, at least, presented with a rule, by the coun. cil of Aix la Chapelle, in A.D. 813. And we read, in later times, of a community of noble young ladies, who were associated under a very easy discipline, and unrestrained by any vow of celibacy, under the title of Canonesses Secular. But these last pretenders to religious seclusion were, on more than one occasion, discountenanced by the authorities of the church.”+
The taking the veil was a ceremony in harmony with the ascetic spirit of the institute, and the scene within the convent chapel, as the priestly voice pronounced the accustomed formula in the ears of the novice,-“ Behold, daughter, and consider ; forget thine own people, and thy father's house, that the King may desire thy beauty,”—seemed to indicate a com
Waddington's History of the Church, p. 109 + Ibid,