Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

all employed at the same time in religious worship.*

But we must leave all this, to trace the bearings of monachism on the interests of society.

SECTION II.

MONASTIC LIFE AND MANNERS.

On looking at the social influence of monachism, one of the first things which strikes us, is, the effect which it was calculated to produce upon the mind of the fraternity; who, after the order had spread, formed no small portion of the population of Europe. Strict conformity to the rules of St. Benedict, and obedience to the superior of the convent, formed the beau ideal of the monk. Implicit submission, moral and religious, was yielded to a fellow man.

The more ahject this submission, the more meritorious it was deemed. St. Columbanus, who has been described as the most remarkable character of his age,”+ stretched the principle of obedience so far, in his penitential discipline, as to lay down the following rules : that any monk who did not sign with a cross the spoon with which he ate, or who struck the table with his knife, or who should cough at the beginning of a psalm, should receive the punishment of six lashes. I The way in which submission to å superior was sometimes expressed, by the monkish

* D'Achery, Spic, tom. ii. 303. # Rome under the Popes, vol. ii. 245. I Man, Bibl. toin, xil 6

fraternity, is amusing enough. We read of one of these worthies, who, when his superior, an illiterate man, stopped him as he was reading a Latin sentence, and bade him pronounce the e in docēre short, he at once gave up the right pronunciation : knowing, it is remarked, that to disobey his abbot, who commanded him in Christ's name, was a greater sin than to adopt a false quantity:* And this very monk was no other than the celebrated Lanfranc, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. This picture of the prostration of the human understanding to the vows of monastic obedience is truly humiliating; and, in many cases, there can be no doubt that the minds of the monks were decidedly enfeebled by the discipline they observed. Monasteries soon became, but too generally, most corrupt establishments, which the energy and zeal of the more devout of the order in vain attempted to reform. There is sufficient evidence running through the whole history of the middle ages, of the moral evils of the system. While an extreme party often appeared doing their utmost to tighten the cords of discipline, and rushing to the most ridiculous excesses of monkish severity; another party, more numerous, was never wanting, who practically relaxed the bonds of their order, and indulged in various irregularities. Nor were the scenes of monastic seclusion quite so peaceful as the romantic imagination is wont to picture, or the

*Maitland's Dark Ages, 178.

vows of obedience quite so binding as would appear from the theory of the system established by Benedict : for, if we are to believe the testimony of those times, it not seldom happened that one fraternity quarrelled with another; that monasteries were scenes of confusion ; that monk fell out with monk; that the brotherhood rebelled against their superior, and that some discontented

member turned fugitive, fairly escaped from the convent, and sought refuge in another establishment, in consequence of which a warm correspondence took place between the dishonoured abbot and some neighbouring prior who had taken the runaway under his patronage. Some were dissatisfied because discipline was too lax ; some rebelled because it was too strict; and some did just as they liked, because there was no discipline at all. The effect of all this vice, disorder, and misrule, upon society, could not fail to be pernicious. The influence of such men who, while they set themselves up as models of sanctity and obedience, thus violated their vows, , fostered the practice of all sorts of evil among the people at large. Historians have, therefore, justly laid at the door of these institutions, thus grossly corrupted, the blame of much of that social depravity which darkened the According

to the strict interpretation of the rule of St. Benedict, the monks were by no means to accumulate secular wealth : but a more liberal construction was generally put on

middle ages.

the terms of the institute, so that the monasteries

grew richer in this world's goods than in spiritual fame. A correspondence on this point, which arose in the twelfth century between Bernard, of Clairvaux, and Peter the Venerable, of Clugni, has been preserved, from which we find that the monks of Clugni were charged with violating the rules of the order by holding estates. “What will you reply,” it is asked, “respecting the secular possessions which you hold, just like secular persons ? For towns, villages, peasants, slaves, and handmaids, and what is more, the revenue of tolls and taxes, and property of that description, you receive indifferently, and retain unlawfully; and when you are attacked, you are not scrupulous about the means of defence. Contrary to all monastic law, ecclesiastics conduct secular causes, and turn advocates—and thus in heart return

This is a specimen of the disputes which sometimes arose among the monastic orders ; and it proves, what none can deny, that the monasteries, whether in violation of the Benedictine rules or not, grew rich. One cannot look over a few of the old monastic histories without finding numerous allusions to their wealthy endowments. Immense tracts of lands, numbers of villages, farms, gardens, slaves of both sexes, are found registered in the inventory of their possessions. In later days the wealth of monasteries became enormously great, so that, in the twelfth century,

* Max. Bibl. pat. xxii. p. 841.

to Egypt.”*

D

the territorial property of the church, of which the larger part was vested in monasteries, amounted to nearly one-half of all England, and, in some countries, to a still larger proportion.* Much of this property was freely bestowed by the wealthy, with a view to secure thereby the salvation of their souls : but the brotherhood are charged with not being very particular as to the means they employed for the aggrandizement of their order; and are said even to have prostituted

“ their knowledge of writing to the purpose of forging charters in their own favour, which might easily impose upon an ignorant age, since it has required a peculiar science to detect them in modern times.”+

But though there be evidence enough of monkish worldliness, avarice, and rapacity, in a multitude of instances, it must not be supposed that these societies, powerful as they were, had it all their own way.

It is common for persons to think of the monks as having all lived in the midst of abundance, enjoying their possessions in perfect security, their spiritual authority encircling their domains as with a wall of fire. But this is a mistake. Many and sad are the lamentations poured out by monkish chroniclers over the spoliation of their property. Princes and

# Hallam, Middle Ages, chap. vii. + Ibid. ** A monk of the Abbey of St. Medard, being on his death-bed, confessed, with great contrition and repentance, that he had forged numerous bills of exemption, in favour of various monasteries,"-Falgrave's Proofs and Nlustrations, etc., ccxi.

« AnteriorContinuar »