A SHORT HISTORY OF
By ALFRED WESLEY WISHART
Sometime Fellow in Church History in The University of Chicago
ALBERT BRANDT, PUBLISHER TRENTON, NEW JERSEY MDCCCC
The aim of this volume is to sketch the history of the monastic institution from its origin to its overthrow in the Reformation period, for although the institution is by no means now extinct, its power was practically broken in the sixteenth century, and no new orders of importance or new types have arisen since that time.
A little reflection will enable one to understand the great difficulties in the execution of so broad a purpose. It was impracticable in the majority of instances to consult original sources, although intermediate authorities have been studied as widely as possible and the greatest caution has been exercised to avoid those errors which naturally arise from the use of such avenues of information. It was also deemed unadvisable to burden the work with numerous notes and citations. Such notes as were necessary to a true unfolding of the subject will be found in the appendix.
A presentation of the salient features of the whole history was essential to a proper conception of the orderly development of the ascetic ideal. To understand the monastic institution one must not only study the isolated anchorite seeking a victory over a sinful self in the Egyptian desert or the monk in the secluded cloister, but he must also trace the fortunes of ascetic organizations, involving multitudes of men, vast aggregations of wealth, and surviving the rise and fall of empires. Almost every phase of human life is encountered in such an undertaking. Attention is divided between hermits, beggars, diplomatists, statesmen, professors, missionaries and pontiffs. It is hoped the critical or literary student will appreciate the immense difficulties of an attempt to paint so vast a scene on so small a canvas. No other claim is made upon his benevolence.
There is a process of writing history which Trench describes as "a moral whitewashing of such things as in men's sight were as blackamoors before." Religious or temperamental prejudice often obscures the vision and warps the judgment of even the most scholarly minds. Conscious of this infirmity in the ablest writers of history it would be absurd to claim complete exemption from the power of personal bias. It is sincerely hoped, however, that the strongest passion in the preparation of this work has been that commendable predilection for truth and justice which should characterize every historical narrative, and that, whatever other shortcomings may be found herein, there is an absence of that unreasonable suspicion, not to say hatred, of everything monastic, which mars many otherwise valuable contributions to monastic history.
The author's grateful acknowledgment is made, for kindly services and critical suggestions, to Eri Baker Hulbert, D.D., LL.D., Dean of the Divinity School, and Professor and Head of the Department of Church History; Franklin Johnson, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Church History and Homiletics; Benjamin S. Terry, Ph.D., Professor of Medieval and English History; and Ralph C.H. Catterall, Instructor in Modern History; all of The University of Chicago. Also to James M. Whiton, Ph.D., of the Editorial Staff of "The Outlook"; Ephraim Emerton, Ph.D., Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History in Harvard University; S. Giffard Nelson, L.H.D., of Brooklyn, New York; A.H. Newman, D.D., LL.D., Professor of Church History in McMaster University of Toronto, Ontario; and Paul Van Dyke, D.D., Professor of History in Princeton University.
A.W.W. Trenton, March, 1900.
Page PREFACE, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 BIBLIOGRAPHY, . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
MONASTICISM IN THE EAST, . . . . . . . . . . 17 The Hermits of Egypt, . . . . . . . . . . 33 The Pillar Saint, . . . . . . . . . . . 51 The Cenobites of the East, . . . . . . . . 57
MONASTICISM IN THE WEST: ANTE-BENEDICTINE MONKS, 340-480 A.D., . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 Monasticism and Women, . . . . . . . . . . 106 The Spread of Monasticism in Europe, . . . . . 115 Disorders and Oppositions, . . . . . . . . 124
THE BENEDICTINES, . . . . . . . . . . . . 131 The Rules of Benedict, . . . . . . . . . . 138 The Struggle Against Barbarism, . . . . . . . 148 The Spread of the Benedictine Rule, . . . . . 158
REFORMED AND MILITARY ORDERS, . . . . . . . . 173 The Military Religious Orders, . . . . . . . 197
THE MENDICANT FRIARS, . . . . . . . . . . . 205 Francis Bernardone, 1182-1226 A.D., . . . . . 208 The Franciscan Orders, . . . . . . . . . . 226 Dominic de Guzman, 1170—1221 A.D., . . . . . 230 The Dominican Orders, . . . . . . . . . . 241 The Success of the Mendicant Orders, . . . . . 242 The Decline of the Mendicants, . . . . . . . 253
THE SOCIETY OF JESUS, . . . . . . . . . . . 258 Ignatius de Loyola, 1491-1556 A.D., . . . . . 261 Constitution and Polity of the Order, . . . . . 265 The Vow of Obedience, . . . . . . . . . . 266 The Casuistry of the Jesuits, . . . . . . . 272 The Mission of the Jesuits, . . . . . . . . 276 Retrospect, . . . . . . . . . . . . . 284
THE FALL OF THE MONASTERIES, . . . . . . . . 286 The Character of Henry VIII., . . . . . . . 290 Events Preceding the Suppression, . . . . . . 293 The Monks and the Oath of Supremacy, . . . . . 301 The Royal Commissioners and their Methods of Investigation, . . . . . . . . . . . . 308 The Report of the Commissioners, . . . . . . 316 The Action of Parliament, . . . . . . . . . 319 The Effect of the Suppression Upon the People, . . 322 Henry's Disposal of Monastic Revenues, . . . . 328 Was the Suppression Justifiable? . . . . . . 331 Results of the Dissolution, . . . . . . . . 347
CAUSES AND IDEALS OF MONASTICISM, . . . . . . . 354 Causative Motives of Monasticism, . . . . . . 355 Beliefs Affecting the Causative Motives, . . . . 365 Causes of Variations in Monasticism, . . . . . 371 The Fundamental Monastic Vows, . . . . . . . 375
THE EFFECTS OF MONASTICISM, . . . . . . . . . 386 The Effects of Self-Sacrifice Upon the Individual, 390 The Effects of Solitude Upon the Individual, . . 393 The Monks as Missionaries, . . . . . . . . 398 Monasticism and Civic Duties, . . . . . . . 399 The Agricultural Services of the Monks, . . . . 403 The Monks and Secular Learning, . . . . . . . 405 The Charity of the Monks, . . . . . . . . . 410 Monasticism and Religion, . . . . . . . . . 412
APPENDIX, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 425 INDEX, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 433
* * * * *
LIST OF PORTRAITS
SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI, DYING, is CONVEYED TO THE CHURCH OF SAINTE MARIE DE PORTIUNCULE, . . . . facing title.
After the painting by J.J. Weerts. Originally published by Goupil & Co. of Paris, and here reproduced by their permission.
[Jean Joseph Weerts was born at Roubaix (Nord), on May 1, 1847. He was a pupil of Cabanel, Mils and Pils. He was awarded the second-class medal in 1875, was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1884, received the silver medal at the Universal Exposition of 1889, and was created an Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1897. He is a member of the "Societe des Artistes Francais," and is hors concours.]
SAINT BERNARD, . . . . . . . . . . . . . 192
After an engraving by Ambroise Tardieu, from a painting on glass in the Convent of the R.P. Minimes, at Rheims.
[Ambroise Tardieu was born in Paris, in 1790, and died in 1837. He was an engraver of portraits, landscapes and architecture, and a clever manipulator of the burin. For a time he held the position of "Geographical Engraver" to the Departments of Marine, Fortifications and Forests. He was a member of the French Geographical and Mathematical Societies.]—Nagler.
SAINT DOMINIC, . . . . . . . . . . . . . 230
From a photograph of Bozzani's painting, preserved in his cell at Santa Sabina, Rome. Here reproduced from Augusta T. Drane's "History of St. Dominic," by courtesy of the author and the publishers, Longmans, Green & Co., of London and New York.
["Although several so-called portraits (of St. Dominic) are preserved, yet none of them can be regarded as the vera effigies of the saint, though that preserved at Santa Sabina probably presents us with a kind of traditionary likeness."]—History of St. Dominic.
[In the "History of St. Dominic," on page 226, the author credits the portrait shown to "Bozzani." We are unable to find any record of a painter by that name. Nagler, however, tells of a painter of portraits and historical subjects, Carlo Bozzoni by name, who was born in 1607 and died in 1657. He was a son of Luciano Bozzoni, a Genoese painter and engraver. He is said to have done good work, but no other mention is made of him.]
IGNATIUS DE LOYOLA, . . . . . . . . . . . 261
After the engraving by Greatbach, "from a scarce print by H. Wierz." Originally published by Richard Bentley, London, in 1842.
[W. Greatbach was a London engraver in the first half of the nineteenth century. He worked chiefly for the "calendars" and "annuals" of his time, and did notable work for the general book trade of the better class.]
[A search of the authorities does not reveal an engraver named "H. Wierz." This is probably intended for Hieronymus Wierex (or Wierix, according to Bryant), a famous engraver, born in 1552, and who is credited by Nagler, in his "Kuenstler-Lexikon," with having produced "a beautiful and rare plate" of "St. Ignaz von Loyola." The error, if such it be, is easily explained by the fact that portrait engravers seldom cut the lettering of a plate themselves, but have it engraved by others, who have a special aptitude for making shapely letters.]
ADAMS, G.B.: Civilization during the Middle Ages. ARCHER, T.A., and KINGSFORD, CHARLES L.: The Crusaders. BARROWS, JOHN H., (Editor): The World's Parliment of Religions. BLUNT, I.J.: Sketches of the Reformation in England. BLUNT, JOHN HENRY: The Reformation of the Church of England, its History, Principles and Results. BREWER, JOHN SHERREN: The Reign of Henry VIII. BRYCE, JAMES: The Holy Roman Empire. BURNET, GILBERT: History of the Reformation of the Church of England. BUTLER, ALBAN: Lives of the Saints. CARLYLE, THOMAS: Past and Present: The Ancient Monk. Miscellaneous Papers: Jesuitism. CAZENOVE, JOHN G.: St. Hilary of Poitiers and St. Martin of Tours. CHALIPPE, CANDIDE: The Life of St. Francis of Assisi. CHILD, GILBERT W.: Church and State Under the Tudors. CHURCH, R.W.: The Beginning of the Middle Ages. CLARK, WILLIAM: The Anglican Reformation. CLARKE, STEPHEN REYNOLDS: Vestigia Anglicana. CLARKE, JAMES FREEMAN: Events and Epochs in Religious History. COOK, KENINGALE: The Fathers of Jesus. COX, G.W.: The Crusaders. CUTTS, EDWARD LEWES: St. Jerome and St. Augustine. DILL, SAMUEL: Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire. DRAPER, JOHN WILLIAM: History of the Intellectual Development of Europe. DRAKE, AUGUSTA T.: The History of St. Dominic. DUGDALE, Sir WILLIAM: Monasticum Anglicanum. DURUY, VICTOR: History of Rome. ECKENSTEIN, LINA: Woman Under Monasticism. EDERSHEIM, ALFRED: The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. ELIOT, SAMUEL: History of Liberty. FARRAR, FREDERICK W.: The Early Days of Christianity. FOSBROKE, J.D.: British Monachism. FROUDE, JAMES ANTHONY: History of England. FROUDE, JAMES ANTHONY: Short Studies. GAIRDNER, JAMES, and SPEDDING, JAMES: Studies in English History. GASQUET, FRANCIS A.: Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries. GASQUET, FRANCIS A.: The Eve of the Reformation. GIBBON, EDWARD: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. GIESELER, J.K.L.: Manual of Church History. GNEIST, RUDOLPH: History of the English Constitution. GNEIST, RUDOLPH: The English Parliament. GREEN, JOHN RICHARD: History of the English People. GUERANGER, PROSPER: Life of St. Cecilia. GUIZOT, F.P.G.: The History of France. GUIZOT, F.P.G.: The History of Civilization in Europe. HALLAM, HENRY: Europe During the Middle Ages. HALLAM, HENRY: Constitutional History of England. HALLAM, HENRY: Introduction to the Literature of Europe. HARDY, R. SPENCER: Eastern Monasticism. HARDWICK, CHARLES: History of the Christian Church in the Middle Ages. HARNACK, ADOLF: Monasticism: Its Ideals and Its History: Christian Literature Magazine, 1894-95. HILL, O'DELL T.: English Monasticism: Its Rise and Influence. HUGHES, T.: Loyola and the Educational System of the Jesuits. HUME, DAVID: The History of England. JAMESON, ANNA: Legends of the Monastic Orders. JESSOPP, AUGUSTUS: The Coming of the Friars. KINGSLEY, CHARLES: The Hermits. KINGSLEY, CHARLES: Hypatia. KINGSLEY, CHARLES: The Roman and the Teuton. LAPPENBERG, J.M.: A History of England Under the Anglo-Saxon Kings. LARNED, J.N.: History for Ready Reference and Topical Reading. LEA HENRY C.: History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages. LEA, HENRY C.: Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church. LECKY, WILLIAM E.H.: History of Rationalism in Europe. LECKY, WILLIAM E.H.: History of European Morals. LEE F.G.: The Life of Cardinal Pole. LINGARD, JOHN: History of England. LINGARD, JOHN: History and Antiquities of the Anglo-Saxon Church. LORD, JOHN: Beacon-Lights of History. LORD, JOHN: The Old Roman World. LUDLOW, JAMES M.: The Age of the Crusades. MACKINTOSH, JAMES: History of England. MAITLAND, SAMUEL R.: The Dark Ages. MAITLAND, SAMUEL R.: Essays on the Reformation. MATHEWS, SHAILER: Social Teachings of Jesus. MILMAN, HENRY H.: The History of Latin Christianity. MILMAN, HENRY H.: The History of Christianity. MONTALEMBERT, C.F.R.: Monks of the West. MOSHIEM, J.L. VON: Institutes of Ecclesiastical History. NEANDER, AUGUSTUS: General History of the Christian Religion and Church. OLIPHANT, MARY O.W.: Life of St. Francis of Assisi. PARKMAN, FRANCIS: The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century. PIKE, LUKE OWEN: A History of Crime in England. PUTNAM, G.H.: Books and Their Makers in the Middle Ages. READE, CHARLES: The Cloister and the Hearth. RUFFNER, H.: The Fathers of the Desert. SABATIER, PAUL: Life of St. Francis of Assisi. SCHAFF, PHILIP: History of the Christian Church. SCHAFF, PHILIP, and WACE, HENRY, (Editors): The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. (Lives and writings of Jerome, Athanasius, Cassian, St. Martin of Tours, and other early supporters of the monastic movement). SCOTT, WALTER: The Monastery. SCOTT, WALTER: The Abbot. SIENKIEWICZ, HENRY K.: The Knights of the Cross. SMITH, PHILIP: Student's Ecclesiastical History. SMITH, R.F.: St. Basil. STANLEY, ARTHUR P.: History of the Eastern Church. STILLE, CHARLES J.: Studies in Medieval History. STORRS, RICHARD S.: Bernard of Clairvaux. STRYPE, J.: Annals of the Reformation. STUBBS, WILLIAM: Lectures on the Study of Medieval History. TAUNTON, ETHELRED L.: The English Black Monks of St. Benedict. THOMPSON, R.W.: The Footprints of the Jesuits. THURSTON, H.: The Life of St. Hugh of Lincoln. TRAILL, H.D.: Social England. TRENCH, RICHARD C.: Lectures on Medieval Church History. TREVELYAN, GEORGE M.: England in the Age of Wycliffe. VAUGHAN, ROBERT: Revolutions in English History. VAUGHAN, ROBERT: Hours with the Mystics. WADDINGTON, GEORGE: History of the Church. WATERMAN, LUCIUS: The Post-Apostolic Age. WHITE, A.D.: A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology. WHITE, JAMES: The Eighteen Christian Centuries. WOODHOUSE, FREDERICK C.: The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages.
ENCYCLOPAEDIAS: McClintock and Strong, Schaff-Herzog, Brittanica, English, and Johnson. (Articles on "Monasticism," "Benedict," "Francis," "Dominic," "Loyola," etc.)
Many other authorities were consulted by the author, but only those works that are easily accessible and likely to prove of direct value to the student are cited above.
MONASTICISM IN THE EAST
The monk is a type of religious character by no means peculiar to Christianity. Every great religion in ancient and modern times has expressed itself in some form of monastic life.
The origin of the institution is lost in antiquity. Its genesis and gradual progress through the centuries are like the movement of a mighty river springing from obscure sources, but gathering volume by the contributions of a multitude of springs, brooks, and lesser rivers, entering the main stream at various stages in its progress. While the mysterious source of the monastic stream may not be found, it is easy to discover many different influences and causes that tended to keep the mighty current flowing majestically on. It is not so easy to determine which of these forces was the greatest.
"Monasticism," says Schaff, "proceeds from religious seriousness, enthusiasm and ambition; from a sense of the vanity of the world, and an inclination of noble souls toward solitude, contemplation, and freedom from the bonds of the flesh and the temptations of the world." A strong ascetic tendency in human nature, particularly active in the Orient, undoubtedly explains in a general way the origin and growth of the institution. Various forms of philosophy and religious belief fostered this monastic inclination from time to time by imparting fresh impetus to the desire for soul-purity or by deepening the sense of disgust with the world.
India is thought by some to have been the birthplace of the institution. In the sacred writings of the venerable Hindus, portions of which have been dated as far back as 2400 B.C., there are numerous legends about holy monks and many ascetic rules. Although based on opposite philosophical principles, the earlier Brahminism and the later system, Buddhism, each tended toward ascetic practices, and they each boast to-day of long lines of monks and nuns.
The Hindoo (Brahmin) ascetic, or naked philosopher, as the Greeks called him, exhausted his imagination in devising schemes of self-torture. He buried himself with his nose just above the ground, or wore an iron collar, or suspended weights from his body. He clenched his fists until the nails grew into his palms, or kept his head turned in one direction until he was unable to turn it back. He was a miracle-worker, an oracle of wisdom, and an honored saint. He was bold, spiritually proud, capable of almost superhuman endurance. We will meet him again in the person of his Christian descendant on the banks of the Nile.
The Buddhist ascetic was, perhaps, less severe with himself, but the general spirit and form of the institution was and is the same as among the Brahmins. In each religion we observe the same selfish individualism,—a desire to save one's own soul by slavish obedience to ascetic rules,—the extinction of natural desires by self-punishment. "A Brahmin who wishes to become an ascetic," says Clarke, "must abandon his home and family and go live in the forest. His food must be roots and fruit, his clothing a bark garment or a skin, he must bathe morning and evening, and suffer his hair to grow."
The fact to be remembered, however, is that in India, centuries before the Christian Era, there existed both phases of Christian monasticism, the hermit[A] and the crowded convent.
[Footnote A: Appendix, Note A.]
Dhaquit, a Chaldean ascetic, who is said to have lived about 2000 B.C., is reported to have earnestly rebuked those who tried to preserve the body from decay by artificial resources. "Not by natural means," he said, "can man preserve his body from corruption and dissolution after death, but only through good deeds, religious exercises and offering of sacrifices,—by invoking the gods by their great and beautiful names, by prayers during the night, and fasts during the day."
When Father Bury, a Portuguese missionary, first saw the Chinese bonzes, tonsured and using their rosaries, he cried out, "There is not a single article of dress, or a sacerdotal function, or a single ceremony of the Romish church, which the Devil has not imitated in this country." I have not the courage to follow this streamlet back into the devil's heart. The attempt would be too daring. Who invented shaved heads and monkish gowns and habits, we cannot tell, but this we know: long before Father Bury saw and described those things in China, there existed in India the Grand Lama or head monk, with monasteries under him, filled with monks who kept the three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. They had their routine of prayers, of fasts and of labors, like the Christian monks of the middle ages.
Among the Greeks there were many philosophers who taught ascetic principles. Pythagoras, born about 580 B.C., established a religious brotherhood in which he sought to realize a high ideal of friendship. His whole plan singularly suggests monasticism. His rules provided for a rigid self-examination and unquestioning submission to a master. Many authorities claim that the influence of the Pythagorean philosophy was strongly felt in Egypt and Palestine, after the time of Christ. "Certain it is that more than two thousand years before Ignatius Loyola assembled the nucleus of his great society in his subterranean chapel in the city of Paris, there was founded at Crotona, in Greece, an order of monks whose principles, constitution, aims, method and final end entitle them to be called 'The Pagan Jesuits[B].'"
[Footnote B: Appendix, Note B.]
The teachings of Plato, no doubt, had a powerful monastic influence, under certain social conditions, upon later thinkers and upon those who yearned for victory over the flesh. Plato strongly insisted on an ideal life in which higher pleasures are preferred to lower. Earthly thoughts and ambitions are to yield before a holy communion with the Divine. Some of his views "might seem like broken visions of the future, when we think of the first disciples who had all things in common, and, in later days, of the celibate clergy, and the cloisteral life of the religious orders." The effect of such philosophy in times of general corruption upon those who wished to acquire exceptional moral and intellectual power, and who felt unable to cope with the temptations of social life, may be easily imagined. It meant, in many cases, a retreat from the world to a life of meditation and soul-conflict. In later times it exercised a marked influence upon ascetic literature.
Coming closer to Christianity in time and in teaching, we find a Jewish sect, called Essenes, living in the region of the Dead Sea, which bore remarkable resemblances to Christian monasticism. The origin and development of this band, which numbered four thousand about the time of Christ, are unknown. Even the derivation of the name is in doubt, there being at least twenty proposed explanations. The sect is described by Philo, an Alexandrian-Jewish philosopher, who was born about 25 B.C., and by Josephus, the Jewish historian, who was born at Jerusalem A.D. 37. These writers evidently took pains to secure the facts, and from their accounts, upon which modern discussions of the subject are largely based, the following facts are gleaned.
The Essenes were a sect outside the Jewish ecclesiastical body, bound by strict vows and professing an extraordinary purity. While there were no vows of extreme penance, they avoided cities as centers of immorality, and, with some exceptions, eschewed marriage. They held aloof from traffic, oaths, slave-holding, and weapons of offence. They were strict Sabbath observers, wore a uniform robe, possessed all things in common, engaged in manual labor, abstained from forbidden food, and probably rejected the bloody sacrifices of the Temple, although continuing to send their thank-offerings. Novitiates were kept on probation three years. The strictest discipline was maintained, excommunication following detection in heinous sins. Evidently the standard of character was pure and lofty, since their emphasis on self-mastery did not end in absurd extravagances. Their frugal food, simple habits, and love of cleanliness; combined with a regard for ethical principles, conduced to a high type of life. Edersheim remarks, "We can scarcely wonder that such Jews as Josephus and Philo, and such heathens as Pliny, were attracted by such an unworldly and lofty sect."
Some writers maintain that they were also worshipers of the sun, and hence that their origin is to be traced to Persian sources. Even if so, they seemed to have escaped that confused and mystical philosophy which has robbed Oriental thought of much power in the realm of practical life. Philo says, "Of philosophy, the dialectical department, as being in no wise necessary for the acquisition of virtue, they abandon to the word-catchers; and the part which treats of the nature of things, as being beyond human nature, they leave to speculative air-gazers, with the exception of that part of it which deals with the subsistance of God and the genesis of all things; but the ethical they right well work out."
Pliny the elder, who lived A.D. 23-79, made the following reference to the Essenes, which is especially interesting because of the tone of sadness and weariness with the world suggested in its praise of this Jewish sect. "On the western shore (of the Dead Sea) but distant from the sea far enough to escape from its noxious breezes, dwelt the Essenes. They are an eremite clan, one marvelous beyond all others in the whole world; without any women, with sexual intercourse entirely given up, without money, and the associates of palm trees. Daily is the throng of those that crowd about them renewed, men resorting to them in numbers, driven through weariness of existence, and the surges of ill-fortune, to their manner of life. Thus it is that through thousands of ages—incredible to relate!—their society, in which no one is born, lives on perennial. So fruitful to them is the irksomeness of life experienced by other men."
Admission to the order was granted only to adults, yet children were sometimes adopted for training in the principles of the sect. Some believed in marriage as a means of perpetuating the order.
Since it would not throw light on our present inquiry, the mooted question as to the connection of Essenism and the teachings of Jesus may be passed by. The differences are as great as the resemblances and the weight of opinion is against any vital relation.
The character of this sect conclusively shows that some of the elements of Christian monasticism existed in the time of Jesus, not only in Palestine but in other countries. In an account of the Therapeutae, or true devotees, an ascetic body similar to the Essenes, Philo says, "There are many parts of the world in which this class may be found.... They are, however, in greatest abundance in Egypt."
During Apostolic times various teachings and practices were current that may be characterized as ascetic. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, doubtless had in mind a sect or school which despised the body and abstained from meats and wine. A false asceticism, gathering inspiration from pagan philosophy, was rapidly spreading among Christians even at that early day. The teachings of the Gnostics, a speculative sect of many schools, became prominent in the closing days of the Apostolic age or very soon thereafter. Many of these schools claimed a place in the church, and professed a higher life and knowledge than ordinary Christians possessed. The Gnostics believed in the complete subjugation of the body by austere treatment.
The Montanists, so called after Montanus, their famous leader, arose in Asia Minor during the second century, when Marcus Aurelius was emperor. Schaff describes the movement as "a morbid exaggeration of Christian ideas and demands." It was a powerful and frantic protest against the growing laxity of the church. It despised ornamental dress and prescribed numerous fasts and severities.
These facts and many others that might be mentioned throw light on our inquiry in several ways. They show that asceticism was in the air. The literature, philosophy and religion of the day drifted toward an ascetic scheme of life and stimulated the tendency to acquire holiness, even at the cost of innocent joys and natural gratifications. They show that worldliness was advancing in the church, which called for rebuke and a return to Apostolic Christianity; that the church was failing to satisfy the highest cravings of the soul. True, it was well-nigh impossible for the church, in the midst of such a powerful and corrupt heathen environment, to keep itself up to its standards.
It is a common tradition that in the first three centuries the practices and spirit of the church were comparatively pure and elevated. Harnack says, "This tradition is false. The church was already secularized to a great extent in the middle of the third century." She was "no longer in a position to give peace to all sorts and conditions of men." It was then that the great exodus of Christians from the villages and cities to mountains and deserts began. Although from the time of Christ on there were always some who understood Christianity to demand complete separation from all earthly pleasures, yet it was three hundred years and more before large numbers began to adopt a hermit's life as the only method of attaining salvation. "They fled not only from the world, but from the world within the church. Nevertheless, they did not flee out of the church."
We can now see why no definite cause for the monastic institution can be given and no date assigned for its origin. It did not commence at any fixed time and definite place. Various philosophies and religious customs traveled for centuries from country to country, resulting in singular resemblances and differences between different ascetic or monastic sects. Christian monasticism was slowly evolved, and gradually assumed definite organization as a product of a curious medley of Heathen-Jewish-Christian influences.
A few words should be said here concerning the influence of the Bible upon monasticism. Naturally the Christian hermits and early fathers appealed to the Bible in support of their teachings and practices. It is not necessary, at this point, to discuss the correctness of their interpretations. The simple fact is that many passages of scripture were considered as commands to attain perfection by extraordinary sacrifices, and certain Biblical characters were reverenced as shining monastic models. In the light of the difficulties of Biblical criticism it is easy to forgive them if they were mistaken, a question to be discussed farther on. They read of those Jewish prophets described in Hebrews: "They went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; ... wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and the holes of the earth." They pointed to Elijah and his school of prophets; to John the Baptist, with his raiment of camel's hair and a leathern girdle about his loins, whose meat was locusts and wild honey. They recalled the commandment of Jesus to the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. They quoted the words, "Take no thought for the morrow what ye shall eat and what ye shall drink or wherewithal ye shall be clothed." They construed following Christ to mean in His own words, "forsaking father, mother, brethren, wife, children, houses and lands." They pointed triumphantly to the Master himself, unmarried and poor, who had not "where to lay his head." They appealed to Paul's doctrine of marriage. They remembered that the Church at Jerusalem was composed of those who sold their possessions and had all things in common. Whatever these and numerous other passages may truly mean, they interpreted them in favor of a monastic mode of life; they understood them to teach isolation, fastings, severities, and other forms of rigorous self-denial. Accepting Scripture in this sense, they trampled upon human affection and gave away their property, that they might please God and save their souls.
Between the time of Christ and Paul of Thebes, who died in the first half of the fourth century, and who is usually recognized as the founder of monasticism, many Christian disciples voluntarily abandoned their wealth, renounced marriage and adopted an ascetic mode of life, while still living in or near the villages or cities. As the corruption of society and the despair of men became more widespread, these anxious Christians wandered farther and farther away from fixed habitations until, in an excess of spiritual fervor, they found themselves in the caves of the mountains, desolate and dreary, where no sound of human voice broke in upon the silence. The companions of wild beasts, they lived in rapt contemplation on the eternal mysteries of this most strange world.
My task now is to describe some of those recluses who still live in the biographies of the saints and the traditions of the church. Ducis, while reading of these hermits, wrote to a friend as follows: "I am now reading the lives of the Fathers of the Desert. I am dwelling with St. Pachomius, the founder of the monastery at Tabenna. Truly there is a charm in transporting one's self to that land of the angels—one could not wish ever to come out of it." Whether the reader will call these strange characters angels, and will wish he could have shared their beds of stone and midnight vigils, I will not venture to say, but at all events his visit will be made as pleasant as possible.
In writing the life of Mahomet, Carlyle said, "As there is no danger of our becoming, any of us, Mahometans, I mean to say all the good of Mahomet I justly can." So, without distorting the picture that has come down to us, I mean to say all the good of these Egyptian hermits that the facts will justify.
The Hermits of Egypt
Egypt was the mother of Christian monasticism, as she has been of many other wonders.
Vast solitudes; lonely mountains, honey-combed with dens and caves; arid valleys and barren hills; dreary deserts that glistened under the blinding glare of the sun that poured its heat upon them steadily all the year; strange, grotesque rocks and peaks that assumed all sorts of fantastic shapes to the overwrought fancy; in many places no water, no verdure, and scarcely a thing in motion; the crocodile and the bird lazily seeking their necessary food and stirring only as compelled; unbounded expanse in the wide star-lit heavens; unbroken quiet on the lonely mountains—a fit home for the hermit, a paradise to the lover of solitude and peace.
Of life under such conditions Kingsley has said: "They enjoyed nature, not so much for her beauty as for her perfect peace. Day by day the rocks remained the same. Silently out of the Eastern desert, day by day, the rising sun threw aloft those arrows of light which the old Greeks had named 'the rosy fingers of the dawn.' Silently he passed in full blaze above their heads throughout the day, and silently he dipped behind the Western desert in a glory of crimson and orange, green and purple.... Day after day, night after night, that gorgeous pageant passed over the poor hermit's head without a sound, and though sun, moon and planet might change their places as the years rolled round, the earth beneath his feet seemed not to change." As for the companionless men, who gazed for years upon this glorious scene, they too were of unusual character, Waddington finely says: "The serious enthusiasm of the natives of Egypt and Asia, that combination of indolence and energy, of the calmest languor with the fiercest passions, ... disposed them to embrace with eagerness the tranquil but exciting duties of religious seclusion." Yes, here are the angels of Ducis in real flesh and blood. They revel in the wildest eccentricities with none to molest or make afraid, always excepting the black demons from the spiritual world. One dwells in a cave in the bowels of the earth; one lies on the sand beneath a blazing sun; one has shut himself forever from the sight of man in a miserable hut among the bleak rocks of yonder projecting peak; one rests with joy in the marshes, breathing with gratitude the pestilential vapors.
Some of these saints became famous for piety and miraculous power. Athanasius, fleeing from persecution, visited them, and Jerome sought them out to learn from their own lips the stories of their lives. To these men and to others we are indebted for much of our knowledge concerning this chapter of man's history. Less than fifty years after Paul of Thebes died, or about 375 A.D., Jerome wrote the story of his life, which Schaff justly characterizes as "a pious romance." From Jerome we gather the following account: Paul was the real founder of the hermit life, although not the first to bear the name. During the Decian persecution, when churches were laid waste and Christians were slain with barbarous cruelty, Paul and his sister were bereaved of both their parents. He was then a lad of sixteen, an inheritor of wealth and skilled for one of his years in Greek and Egyptian learning. He was of a gentle and loving disposition. On account of his riches he was denounced as a Christian by an envious brother-in-law and compelled to flee to the mountains in order to save his life. He took up his abode in a cave shaded by a palm that afforded him food and clothing. "And that no one may deem this impossible," affirms Jerome, "I call to witness Jesus and his holy angels that I have seen and still see in that part of the desert which lies between Syria and the Saracens' country, monks of whom one was shut up for thirty years and lived on barley bread and muddy water, while another in an old cistern kept himself alive on five dried figs a day."
It is impossible to determine how much of the story which follows is historically true. Undoubtedly, it contains little worthy of belief, but it gives us some faint idea of how these hermits lived. Its chief value consists in the fact that it preserves a fragment of the monastic literature of the times—a story which was once accepted as a credible narrative. Imagine the influence of such a tale, when believed to be true, upon a mind inclined to embrace the doctrines of asceticism. Its power at that time is not to be measured by its reliability now. Jerome himself declares in the prologue that many incredible things were related of Paul which he will not repeat. After reading the following story, the reader may well inquire what more fanciful tale could be produced even by a writer of fiction.
The blessed Paul was now one hundred and thirteen years old, and Anthony, who dwelt in another place of solitude, was at the age of ninety. In the stillness of the night it was revealed to Anthony that deeper in the desert there was a better man than he, and that he ought to see him. So, at the break of day, the venerable old man, supporting and guiding his weak limbs with a staff, started out, whither he knew not. At scorching noontide he beholds a fellow-creature, half man, half horse, called by the poets Hippo-centaur. After gnashing outlandish utterances, this monster, in words broken, rather than spoken, through his bristling lips, points out the way with his right hand and swiftly vanishes from the hermit's sight. Anthony, amazed, proceeds thoughtfully on his way when a mannikin, with hooked snout, horned forehead and goat's feet, stands before him and offers him food. Anthony asks who he is. The beast thus replies: "I am a mortal being, and one of those inhabitants of the desert, whom the Gentiles deluded by various forms of error worship, under the name of Fauns and Satyrs." As he utters these and other words, tears stream down the aged traveler's face! He rejoices over the glory of God and the destruction of Satan. Striking the ground with his staff, he exclaims, "Woe to thee, Alexandria, who, instead of God, worshipest monsters! Woe to thee, harlot city, into which have flowed together the demons of the world! What will you say now? Beasts speak of Christ, and you, instead of God, worship monsters." "Let none scruple to believe this incident," says the chronicler, "for a man of this kind was brought alive to Alexandria and the people saw him; when he died his body was preserved in salt and brought to Antioch that the Emperor might view him."
Anthony continues to traverse the wild region into which he had entered. There is no trace of human beings. The darkness of the second night wears away in prayer. At day-break he beholds far away a she-wolf gasping with parched thirst and creeping into a cave. He draws near and peers within. All is dark, but perfect love casteth out fear. With halting step and bated breath, he enters. After a while a light gleams in the distant midnight darkness. With eagerness he presses forward, but his foot strikes against a stone and arouses the echoes; whereupon the blessed Paul closes the door and makes it fast. For hours Anthony lay at the door craving admission. "I know I am not worthy," he humbly cries, "yet unless I see you I will not turn away. You welcome beasts, why not a man? If I fail, I will die here on your threshold."
"Such was his constant cry; unmoved he stood, To whom the hero thus brief answer made."
"Prayers like these do not mean threats, there is no trickery in tears." So, with smiles, Paul gives him entrance and the two aged hermits fall into each other's embrace. Together they converse of things human and divine, Paul, close to the dust of the grave, asks, Are new houses springing up in ancient cities? What government directs the world? Little did this recluse know of his fellow-beings and how fared it with the children of men who dwelt in those great cities around the blue Mediterranean. He was dead to the world and knew it no more.
A raven brought the aged brothers bread to eat and the hours glided swiftly away. Anthony returned to get a cloak which Athanasius had given him in which to wrap the body of Paul. So eager was he to behold again his newly-found friend that he set out without even a morsel of bread, thirsting to see him. But when yet three days' journey from the cave he saw Paul on high among the angels. Weeping, he trudged on his way. On entering the cave he saw the lifeless body kneeling, with head erect and hands uplifted. He tenderly wrapped the body in the cloak and began to lament that he had no implements to dig a grave. But Providence sent two lions from the recesses of the mountain that came rushing with flying manes. Roaring, as if they too mourned, they pawed the earth and thus the grave was dug. Anthony, bending his aged shoulders beneath the burden of the saint's body, laid it lovingly in the grave and departed.
Jerome closes this account by challenging those who do not know the extent of their possessions,—who adorn their homes with marble and who string house to house,—to say what this old man in his nakedness ever lacked. "Your drinking vessels are of precious stones; he satisfied his thirst with the hollow of his hand. Your tunics are wrought of gold; he had not the raiment of your meanest slave. But on the other hand, poor as he was, Paradise is open to him; you, with all your gold, will be received into Gehenna. He, though naked, yet kept the robe of Christ; you, clad in your silks, have lost the vesture of Christ. Paul lies covered with worthless dust, but will rise again to glory; over you are raised costly tombs, but both you and your wealth are doomed to burning. I beseech you, reader, whoever you may be, to remember Jerome the sinner. He, if God would give him his choice, would sooner take Paul's tunics with his merits, than the purple of kings with their punishment."
Such was the story circulated among rich and poor, appealing with wondrous force to the hearts of men in those wretched years.
What was the effect upon the mind of the thoughtful? If he believed such teaching, weary of the wickedness of the age, and moved by his noblest sentiments, he sold his tunics wrought of gold and fled from his palaces of marble to the desert solitudes.
But the monastic story that most strongly impressed the age now under consideration, was the biography of Anthony, "the patriarch of monks" and virtual founder of Christian monasticism. It was said to have been written by Athanasius, the famous defender of orthodoxy and Archbishop of Alexandria; yet some authorities reject his authorship. It exerted a power over the minds of men beyond all human estimate. It scattered the seeds of asceticism wherever it was read. Traces of its influence are found all over the Roman empire, in Egypt, Asia Minor, Palestine, Italy and Gaul. Knowing the character of Athanasius, we may rest assured that he sincerely believed all he really recorded (it is much interpolated) of the strange life of Anthony, and, true or false, thousands of others believed in him and in his story. Augustine, the great theologian of immortal fame, acknowledged that this book was one of the influences that led to his conversion, and Jerome, whose life I will review later, was mightily swayed by it.
Anthony was born about 251 A.D., in Upper Egypt, of wealthy and noble parentage. He was a pious child, an obedient son, and a lover of solitude and books. His parents died when he was about twenty years old, leaving to his care their home and his little sister. One day, as he entered the church, meditating on the poverty of Christ, a theme much reflected upon in those days, he heard these words read from the pulpit, "If thou wouldst be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and come, follow me." As if the call came straight from heaven to his own soul, he left the church at once and made over his farm to the people of the village. He sold his personal possessions for a large sum, and distributed the proceeds among the poor, reserving a little for his sister. Still he was unsatisfied. Entering the church on another occasion, he heard our Lord saying in the gospel, "Take no thought for the morrow." The clouds cleared away. His anxious search for truth and duty was at an end. He went out and gave away the remnant of his belongings. Placing his sister in a convent, the existence of which is to be noted, he fled to the desert. Then follows a striking statement, "For monasteries were not common in Egypt, nor had any monk at all known the great desert; but every one who wished to devote himself to his own spiritual welfare performed his exercise alone, not far from the village."
Laboring with his hands, recalling texts of Scripture, praying whole sleepless nights, fasting for several days at a time, visiting his fellow saints, fighting demons, so passed the long years away. He slept on a small rush mat, more often on the bare ground. Forgetting past austerities, he was ever on the search for some new torture and pressing forward to new and strange experiences. He changed his habitation from time to time. Now he lived in a tomb, in company with the silent dead; then for twenty years in a deserted castle, full of reptiles, never going out and rarely seeing any one. From each saint he learned some fresh mode of spiritual training, observing his practice for future imitation and studying the charms of his Christian character that he might reproduce them in his own life; thus he would return richly laden to his cell.
But in all these struggles Anthony had one foe—the arch-enemy of all good. He suggests impure thoughts, but the saint repels them by prayer; he incites to passion, but the hero resists the fiend with fastings and faith. Once the dragon, foiled in his attempt to overcome Anthony, gnashed his teeth, and coming out of his body, lay at his feet in the shape of a little black boy. But the hermit was not beguiled into carelessness by this victory. He resolved to chastise himself more severely. So he retired to the tombs of the dead. One dark night a crowd of demons flogged the saint until he fell to the ground speechless with torture. Some friends found him the next day, and thinking that he was dead, carried him to the village, where his kinsfolk gathered to mourn over his remains. But at midnight he came to himself, and, seeing but one acquaintance awake, he begged that he would carry him back to the tombs, which was done. Unable to move, he prayed prostrate and sang, "If an host be laid against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid." The enraged devils made at him again. There was a terrible crash; through the walls the fiends came in shapes like beasts and reptiles. In a moment the place was filled with lions roaring at him, bulls thrusting at him with their horns, creeping serpents unable to reach him, wolves held back in the act of springing. There, too, were bears and asps and scorpions. Mid the frightful clamor of roars, growls and hisses, rose the clear voice of the saint, as he triumphantly mocked the demons in their rage. Suddenly the awful tumult ceased; the wretched beings became invisible and a ray of light pierced the roof to cheer the prostrate hero. His pains ceased. A voice came to him saying, "Thou hast withstood and not yielded. I will always be thy helper, and will make thy name famous everywhere." Hearing this he rose up and prayed, and was stronger in body than ever before.
This is but one of numerous stories chronicling Anthony's struggles with the devil. Like conflicts were going on at that hour in many another cave in those great and silent mountains.
There are also wondrous tales of his miraculous power. He often predicted the coming of sufferers and healed them when they came. His fame for curing diseases and casting out devils became so extensive that Egypt marveled at his gifts, and saints came even from Rome to see his face and to hear his words. His freedom from pride and arrogance was as marked as his fame was great. He yielded joyful obedience to presbyters and bishops. His countenance was so full of divine grace and heavenly beauty as to render him easily distinguishable in a crowd of monks. Letters poured in upon him from every part of the empire. Kings wrote for his advice, but it neither amazed him nor filled his heart with pride. "Wonder not," said he, "if a king writes to us, for he is but a man, but wonder rather that God has written His law to man and spoken to us by His Son." At his command princes laid aside their crowns, judges their magisterial robes, while criminals forsook their lives of crime and embraced with joy the life of the desert.
Once, at the earnest entreaty of some magistrates, he came down from the mountain that they might see him. Urged to prolong his stay he refused, saying, "Fishes, if they lie long on the dry land, die; so monks who stay with you lose their strength. As the fishes, then, hasten to the sea, so must we to the mountains."
At last the shadows lengthened and waning strength proclaimed that his departure was nigh. Bidding farewell to his monks, he retired to an inner mountain and laid himself down to die. His countenance brightened as if he saw his friends coming to see him, and thus his soul was gathered to his fathers. He is said to have been mourned by fifteen thousand disciples.
This is the story which moved a dying empire. "Anthony," says Athanasius, "became known not by worldly wisdom, nor by any art, but solely by piety, and that this was the gift of God who can deny?" The purpose of such a life was, so his biographer thought, to light up the moral path for men, that they might imbibe a zeal for virtue.
The "Life of St. Anthony" is even more remarkable for its omissions than for its incredible tales. While I reserve a more detailed criticism of its Christian ideals until a subsequent chapter, it may be well to quote here a few words from Isaac Taylor. After pointing out some of its defects he continues: there is "not a word of justification by faith; not a word of the gracious influence of the Spirit in renewing and cleansing the heart; not a word responding to any of those signal passages of Scripture which make the Gospel 'Glad Tidings' to guilty men." This I must confess to be true, even though I may and do heartily esteem the saint's enthusiasm for righteousness.
So far I have described chiefly the spiritual experiences of these men, but the details of their physical life are hardly less interesting. There was a holy rivalry among them to excel in self-torture. Their imaginations were constantly employed in devising unique tests of holiness and courage. They lived in holes in the ground or in dried up wells; they slept in thorn bushes or passed days and weeks without sleep; they courted the company of the wildest beasts and exposed their naked bodies to the broiling sun. Macarius became angry because an insect bit him and in penitence flung himself into a marsh where he lived for weeks. He was so badly stung by gnats and flies that his friends hardly knew him. Hilarion, at twenty years of age, was more like a spectre than a living man. His cell was only five feet high, a little lower than his stature. Some carried weights equal to eighty or one hundred and fifty pounds suspended from their bodies. Others slept standing against the rocks. For three years, as it is recorded, one of them never reclined. In their zeal to obey the Scriptures, they overlooked the fact that cleanliness is akin to godliness. It was their boast that they never washed. One saint would not even use water to drink, but quenched his thirst with the dew that fell on the grass. St. Abraham never washed his face for fifty years. His biographer, not in the least disturbed by the disagreeable suggestions of this circumstance, proudly says, "His face reflected the purity of his soul." If so, one is moved to think that the inward light must indeed have been powerfully piercing, if it could brighten a countenance unwashed for half a century. There is a story about Abbot Theodosius who prayed for water that his monks might drink. In response to his petition a stream burst from the rocks, but the foolish monks, overcome by a pitiful weakness for cleanliness, persuaded the abbot to erect a bath, when lo, the stream dried. Supplications and repentance availed nothing. After a year had passed, the monks, promising never again to insult Heaven by wishing for a bath, were granted a second Mosaic miracle.
Thus, unwashed, clothed in rags, their hair uncut, their faces unshaven, they lived for years. No wonder that to their disordered fancy the desert was filled with devils, the animals spake and Heaven sent angels to minister unto them.
The Pillar Saint
But the strangest of all strange narratives yet remains. We turn from Egypt to Asia Minor to make the acquaintance of that saint whom Tennyson has immortalized,—the idol of monarchs and the pride of the East,—Saint Simeon Stylites. Stories grow rank around him like the luxuriant products of a tropical soil. How shall I briefly tell of this man, whom Theodoret, in his zeal, declares all who obey the Roman rule know—the man who may be compared with Moses the Legislator, David the King and Micah the Prophet? He lived between the years 390 and 459 A.D. He was a shepherd's son, but at an early age entered a monastery. Here he soon distinguished himself by his excessive austerities. One day he went to the well, removed the rope from the bucket and bound it tightly around his body underneath his clothes. A few weeks later, the abbot, being angry with him because of his extreme self-torture, bade his companions strip him. What was his astonishment to find the rope from the well sunk deeply into his flesh. "Whence," he cried, "has this man come to us, wanting to destroy the rule of this monastery? I pray thee depart hence."
With great trouble they unwound the rope and the flesh with it, and taking care of him until he was well, they sent him forth to commence a life of austerities that was to render him famous. He adopted various styles of existence, but his miracles and piety attracted such crowds that he determined to invent a mode of life which would deliver him from the pressing multitudes. It is curious that he did not hide himself altogether if he really wished to escape notoriety; but, no, he would still be within the gaze of admiring throngs. His holy and fanciful genius hit upon a scheme that gave him his peculiar name. He took up his abode on the top of a column which was at first about twelve feet high, but was gradually elevated until it measured sixty-four feet. Hence, he is called Simeon Stylites, or Simeon the Pillar Saint.
On this lofty column, betwixt earth and heaven, the hermit braved the heat and cold of thirty years. At its base, from morning to night, prayed the admiring worshipers. Kings kneeled in crowds of peasants to do him homage and ask his blessing. Theodoret says, "The Ishmaelites, coming by tribes of two hundred and three hundred at a time, and sometimes even a thousand, deny, with shouts, the error of their fathers, and breaking in pieces before that great illuminator, the images which they had worshiped, and renouncing the orgies of Venus, they received the Divine sacrament." Rude barbarians confessed their sins in tears. Persians, Greeks, Romans and Saracens, forgetting their mutual hatred, united in praise and prayer at the feet of this strange character.
Once a week the hero partook of food. Many times a day he bowed his head to his feet; one man counted twelve hundred and forty-four times and then stopped in sheer weariness from gazing at the miracle of endurance aloft. Again, from the setting of the sun to its appearance in the East, he would stand unsoothed by sleep with his arms outstretched like a cross.
If genius can understand such a life as that and fancy the thoughts of such a soul, Tennyson seems not only to have comprehended the consciousness of the Pillar Saint, but also to have succeeded in giving expression to his insight. He has laid bare the soul of Simeon in its commingling of spiritual pride with affected humility, and of a consciousness of meritorious sacrifice with a sense of sin. The Saint spurns notoriety and the homage of men, yet exults in his control over the multitudes.
The poet thus imagines Simeon to speak as the Saint is praying God to take away his sin:
"But yet Bethink thee, Lord, while thou and all the saints Enjoy themselves in heaven, and men on earth House in the shade of comfortable roofs, Sit with their wives by fires, eat wholesome food, And wear warm clothes, and even beasts have stalls, I, 'tween the spring and downfall of the light, Bow down one thousand and two hundred times, To Christ, the Virgin Mother, and the Saints; Or in the night, after a little sleep, I wake: the chill stars sparkle; I am wet With drenching dews, or stiff with crackling frost. I wear an undress'd goatskin on my back; A grazing iron collar grinds my neck; And in my weak, lean arms I lift the cross, And strive and wrestle with thee till I die: O mercy, mercy! wash away my sin.
O Lord, thou knowest what a man I am; A sinful man, conceived and born in sin: 'Tis their own doing; this is none of mine; Lay it not to me. Am I to blame for this, That here come those that worship me? Ha! ha! They think that I am somewhat. What am I? The silly people take me for a saint, And bring me offerings of fruit and flowers: And I, in truth (thou wilt bear witness here) Have all in all endured as much, and more Than many just and holy men, whose names Are register'd and calendared for saints.
Good people, you do ill to kneel to me. What is it I can have done to merit this?
* * * * *
Yet do not rise; for you may look on me, And in your looking you may kneel to God. Speak! is there any of you halt or maim'd? I think you know I have some power with Heaven From my long penance: let him speak his wish.
Yes, I can heal him. Power goes forth from me. They say that they are heal'd. Ah, hark! they shout 'St. Simeon Stylites.' Why, if so, God reaps a harvest in me. O my soul, God reaps a harvest in thee. If this be, Can I work miracles and not be saved?"
Once, the devil, in shape like an angel, riding in a chariot of fire, came to carry Simeon to the skies. He whispered to the weary Saint, "Simeon, hear my words, which the Lord hath commanded thee. He has sent me, his angel, that I may carry thee away as I carried Elijah." Simeon was deceived, and lifted his foot to step out into the chariot, when the angel vanished, and in punishment for his presumption an ulcer appeared upon his thigh.
But time plays havoc with saints as well as sinners, and death slays the strongest. Bowed in prayer, his weary heart ceased to beat and the eyes that gazed aloft were closed forever. Anthony, his beloved disciple, ascending the column, found that his master was no more. Yet, it seemed as if Simeon was loath to leave the spot, for his spirit appeared to his weeping follower and said, "I will not leave this column, and this blessed mountain. For I have gone to rest, as the Lord willed, but do thou not cease to minister in this place and the Lord will repay thee in heaven."
His body was carried down the mountain to Antioch. Heading the solemn procession were the patriarch, six bishops, twenty-one counts and six thousand soldiers, "and Antioch," says Gibbon, "revered his bones as her glorious ornament and impregnable defence."
The Cenobites of the East
We cannot linger with these hermits. I pass now to the cenobitic[C] life. We go back in years and return to Egypt. Man is a social animal, and the social instinct is so strong that even hermits are swayed by its power and get tired of living apart from one another. When Anthony died the deserts were studded with hermitages, and those of exceptional fame were surrounded by little clusters of huts and dens. Into these cells crowded the hermits who wished to be near their master.
[Footnote C: Appendix, Note C.]
Thus, step by step, organized or cenobitic monasticism easily and naturally came into existence. The anchorites crawled from their dens every day to hear the words of their chief saint,—a practice giving rise to stated meetings, with rules for worship. Regulations as to meals, occupations, dress, penances, and prayers naturally follow.
The author of the first monastic rules is said to have been Pachomius, who was born in Egypt about the year 292 A.D. He was brought up in paganism but was converted in early life while in the army. On his discharge he retired with a hermit to Tabenna, an island in the Nile. It is said he never ate a full meal after his conversion, and for fifteen years slept sitting on a stone. Natural gifts fitted him to become a leader, and it was not long before he was surrounded by a congregation of monks for whom he made his rules.
The monks of Pachomius were divided into bands of tens and hundreds, each tenth man being an under officer in turn subject to the hundredth, and all subject to the superior or abbot of the mother house. They lived three in a cell, and a congregation of cells constituted a laura or monastery. There was a common room for meals and worship. Each monk wore a close fitting tunic and a white goatskin upper garment which was never laid aside at meals or in bed, but only at the Eucharist. Their food usually consisted of bread and water, but occasionally they enjoyed such luxuries as oil, salt, fruits and vegetables. They ate in silence, which was sometimes broken by the solemn voice of a reader.
"No man," says Jerome, "dares look at his neighbor or clear his throat. Silent tears roll down their cheeks, but not a sob escapes their lips." Their labors consisted of some light handiwork or tilling the fields. They grafted trees, made beehives, twisted fish-lines, wove baskets and copied manuscripts. It was early apparent that as man could not live alone so he could not live without labor. We shall see this principle emphasized more clearly by Benedict, but it is well to notice that at this remote day provision was made for secular employments. Jerome enjoins Rusticus, a young monk, always to have some work on hand that the devil may find him busy. "Hoe your ground," says he, "set out cabbages; convey water to them in conduits, that you may see with your own eyes the lovely vision of the poet,—
"Art draws fresh water from the hilltop near, Till the stream, flashing down among the rocks, Cools the parched meadows and allays their thirst."
There were individual cases of excessive self-torture even among these congregations of monks but we may say that ordinarily, organized monasticism was altogether less severe upon the individual than anchoretic life. The fact that the monk was seeking human fellowship is evidence that he was becoming more humane, and this softening of his spirit betrayed itself in his treatment of himself. The aspect of life became a little brighter and happier.
Four objects were comprehended in these monastic roles,—solitude, manual labor, fasting and prayer. We need not pity these dwellers far from walled cities and the marts of trade. Indeed, they claim no sympathy. Religious ideals can make strange transformations in man's disposition and tastes. They loved their hard lives.
The hermit Abraham said to John Cassian, "We know that in these, our regions, there are some secret and pleasant places, where fruits are abundant and the beauty and fertility of the gardens would supply our necessities with the slightest toil. We prefer the wilderness of this desolation before all that is fair and attractive, admitting no comparison between the luxuriance of the most exuberant soil and the bitterness of these sands." Jerome himself exclaimed, "Others may think what they like and follow each his own bent. But to me a town is a prison and solitude paradise."
The three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience were adopted and became the foundation stones of the monastic institution, to be found in every monastic order. There is a typical illustration in Kingsley's Hypatia of what they meant by obedience. Philammon, a young monk, was consigned to the care of Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria, and a factious, cruel man, with an imperious will. The bishop received and read his letter of introduction and thus addressed its bearer, "Philammon, a Greek. You are said to have learned to obey. If so, you have also learned to rule. Your father-abbot has transferred you to my tutelage. You are now to obey me." "And I will," was the quick response. "Well said. Go to that window and leap forth into the court." Philammon walked to it and opened it. The pavement was fully twenty feet below, but his business was to obey and not to take measurements. There was a flower in a vase upon the sill. He quietly removed it, and in an instant would have leaped for life or death, when Cyril's voice thundered, "Stop!"
The Pachomian monks despised possessions of every kind. The following pathetic incident shows the frightful extent to which they carried this principle, and also illustrates the character of that submission to which the novitiate voluntarily assented: Cassian described how Mutius sold his possessions and with his little child of eight asked admission to a monastery. The monks received but disciplined him. "He had already forgotten that he was rich, he must forget that he was a father." His child was taken, clothed in rags, beaten and spurned. Obedience compelled the father to look upon his child wasting with pain and grief, but such was his love for Christ, says the narrator, that his heart was rigid and immovable. He was then told to throw the boy into the river, but was stopped in the act of obeying.
Yet men, women, and even children, coveted this life of unnatural deprivations. "Posterity," says Gibbon, "might repeat the saying which had formerly been applied to the sacred animals of the same country, that in Egypt it was less difficult to find a god than a man." Though the hermit did not claim to be a god, yet there were more monks in many monasteries than inhabitants in the neighboring villages. Pachomius had fourteen hundred monks in his own monastery and seven thousand under his rule. Jerome says fifty thousand monks were sometimes assembled at Easter in the deserts of Nitria. It was not uncommon for an abbot to command five thousand monks. St. Serapion boasted of ten thousand. Altogether, so we are told, there were in the fifth century more than one hundred thousand persons in the monasteries, three-fourths of whom were men.
The rule of Pachomius spread over Egypt into Syria and Palestine. It was carried by Athanasius into Italy and Gaul. It existed in various modified forms until it was supplanted by the Benedictine rule.
Leaving Egypt, again we cross the Mediterranean into Asia Minor. Near the Black Sea, in a wild forest abounding in savage rocks and gloomy ravines, there dwelt a young man of twenty-six. He had traveled in Egypt, Syria and Palestine. He had visited the hermits of the desert and studied philosophy and eloquence in cultured Athens. In virtue eminent, in learning profound, this poetic soul sought to realize its ideal in a lonely and cherished retreat—in a solitude of Pontus.
The young monk is the illustrious saint and genius,—Basil the Great,—the Bishop of Caesarea, and the virtual founder of the monastic institution in the Greek church. The forest and glens around his hut belonged to him, and on the other bank of the river Iris his mother and sister were leading similar lives, having abandoned earthly honors in pursuit of heaven. Hard crusts of bread appeased his hunger. No fires, except those which burned within his soul, protected him from the wintry blast. His years were few but well spent. After a while his powerful intellect asserted itself and he was led into a clearer view of the true spiritual life. His practical mind revolted against the gross ignorance and meaningless asceticism of Egypt. He determined to form an order that would conform to the inner meaning of the Bible and to a more sensible conception of the religious life. For his time he was a wise legislator, a cunning workman and a daring thinker. The modification of his ascetic ideal was attended by painful struggles. Many an hour he spent with his bosom friend, Gregory of Nazianza, discussing the subject. The middle course which they finally adopted is thus neatly described by Gregory:
"Long was the inward strife, till ended thus: I saw, when men lived in the fretful world, They vantaged other men, but missed the while The calmness, and the pureness of their hearts. They who retired held an uprighter post, And raised their eyes with quiet strength toward heaven; Yet served self only, unfraternally. And so, 'twixt these and those, I struck my path, To meditate with the free solitary, Yet to live secular, and serve mankind."
Monks in large numbers flocked to this mountain retreat of Basil's. These he banded together in an organization, the remains of which still live in the Greek church. So great is the influence of his life and teachings, "that it is common though erroneous to call all Oriental monks Basilians." His rules are drawn up in the form of answers to two hundred and three questions. He added to the three monastic vows a fourth, which many authorities claim now appeared for the first time,—namely, that of irrevocable vows—once a monk, always a monk.
Basil did not condemn marriage, but he believed that it was incompatible with the highest spiritual attainments. For the Kingdom of God's sake it was necessary to forsake all. "Love not the world, neither the things of the world," embraced to his mind the married state. By avoiding the cares of marriage a man was sure to escape, so he thought, the gross sensuality of the age. He struck at the dangers which attend the possession of riches, by enforcing poverty. An abbot was appointed over his cloisters to whom absolute obedience was demanded. Everywhere men needed this lesson of obedience. The discipline of the armies was relaxed. The authority of religion was set at naught; laxity and disorder prevailed even among the monks. They went roaming over the country controlled only by their whims. Insubordination had to be checked or the monastic institution was doomed. Hence, Basil was particular to enforce a respect for law and order.
Altogether this was an honest and serious attempt to introduce fresh power into a corrupt age and to faithfully observe the Biblical commands as Basil understood them. The floods of iniquity were engulfing even the church. A new standard had to be raised and an inner circle of pious and zealous believers gathered from the multitude of half-pagan Christians, or all was lost.
The subsequent history of Greek monachism has little interest. In Russia, at a late date, the Greek monks served some purpose in keeping alive the national spirit under the Tartar yoke, but the practical benefits to the East were few, in comparison with the vigorous life of the Western monasticism.
Montalembert, the brilliant champion of Christian monasticism, becomes an adverse critic of the system in the East, although it is noteworthy he now speaks of monasticism as it appears in the Greek church, which he holds to be heretical; yet his indictment is quite true: "They yielded to all the deleterious impulses of that declining society. They have saved nothing, regenerated nothing, elevated nothing."
We have visited the hermit in the desert and in the monastery governed by its abbot and its rules. We must view the monk in one other aspect, that of theological champion. Here the hermit and the monk of the monastery meet on common ground. They were fighters, not debaters; fighters, not disciplined soldiers; fighters, not persuading Christians. They swarmed down from the mountains like hungry wolves. They fought heretics, they fought bishops, they fought Roman authorities, they fought soldiers, and fought one another. Ignorant, fanatical and cruel, they incited riots, disturbed the public peace and shed the blood of foes.
Theological discord was made a thousand times more bitter by their participation in the controversies of the time. Furious monks became the armed champions of Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria. They insulted the prefect, drove out the Jews and, to the everlasting disgrace of the monks, Cyril and the church, they dragged the lovely Hypatia from her lecture hall and slew her with all the cruelty satanic ingenuity could devise. Against a background of black and angry sky she stands forth, as a soul through whose reason God made himself manifest. Her unblemished character, her learning and her grace forever cry aloud against an orthodoxy bereft alike of reason and of the spirit of the Nazarene.
The fighting monks crowded councils and forced decisions. They deposed hostile bishops or kept their favorites in power by murder and violence. Two black-cowled armies met in Constantinople, and amid curses fought with sticks and stones a battle of creeds. Cries of "Holy! Holy! Holy!" mingled with, "It's the day of martyrdom! Down with the tyrant!" The whole East was kept in a feverish state. The Imperial soldiers confessed their justifiable fears when they said, "We would rather fight with barbarians than with these monks."
No wonder our perplexity increases and it seems impossible to determine what these men really did for the cause of truth. We have been unable to distinguish the hermit from the beasts of the fields. We hear his groans, see his tears, and watch him struggle with demons. We are disgusted with his filth, amused at his fancies, grieved at his superstition. We pity his agony and admire his courage. We watch the progress of order and rule out of chaos. We see monasteries grow up around damp caves and dismal huts. We behold Simeon praying among the birds of heaven, and look into the face of the young and handsome Basil, in whom the monastic institution of the East reaches the zenith of its power.
I am free to confess a profound reverence for many of these men determined at all hazards to keep their souls unspotted from the world. I bow before a passion for righteousness ready to part with life itself if necessary. Yet the gross extravagances, the almost incredible absurdities of their unnatural lives compel us to withhold our judgment.
One thing is certain, the strange life of those far-off years is an eloquent testimony to the indestructible craving of the human soul for self-mastery and soul-purity.
MONASTICISM IN THE WEST: ANTE-BENEDICTINE MONKS 340-480 A.D.
We are now to follow the fortunes of the monastic system from its introduction in Rome to the time of Benedict of Nursia, the founder of the first great monastic order.
Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, who made Christianity the predominant religion in the Roman Empire, died in 337 A.D. Three years later Rome heard, probably for the first time, an authentic account of the Egyptian hermits. The story was carried to the Eternal City by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, one of the most remarkable characters in the early church, a man of surpassing courage and perseverance, an intrepid foe of heresy, "heroic and invincible," as Milton styled him. Twenty of the forty-six years of his official life were spent in banishment.
Athanasius was an intimate friend of the hermit Anthony and a persistent advocate of the ascetic ideal. When he fled to Rome, in 340, to escape the persecutions of the Arians, he took with him two specimens of monastic virtue—Ammonius and Isidore. These hermits, so filthy and savage in appearance, albeit, as I trust, clean in heart, excited general disgust, and their story of the tortures and holiness of their Egyptian brethren was received with derision. But men who had faced and conquered the terrors of the desert were not to be so easily repulsed. Aided by other ascetic travelers from the East they persisted in their propaganda until contempt yielded to admiration. The enthusiasm of the uncouth hermits became contagious. The Christians in Rome now welcomed the story of the recluses as a Divine call to abandon a dissolute society for the peace and joy of a desert life.
But before this transformation of public opinion can be appreciated, it is needful to know something of the social and religious condition of Rome in the days when Athanasius and his hermits walked her streets.
After suffering frightful persecutions for three centuries, the Church had at last nominally conquered the Roman Empire; nominally, because although Christianity was to live, the Empire had to die. "No medicine could have prevented the diseased old body from dying. The time had come. When the wretched inebriate embraces a spiritual religion with one foot in the grave, with a constitution completely undermined, and the seeds of death planted, then no repentance or lofty aspiration can prevent physical death. It was so in Rome." The death-throes were long and lingering, as befits the end of a mighty giant, but death was certain. There are many facts which explain the inability of a conquering faith to save a tottering empire, but it is impracticable for us to enter upon that wide field. Some help may be gained from that which follows.
Of morals, Rome was destitute. She possessed the material remains and superficial acquirements of a proud civilization, such as great public highways, marble palaces, public baths, temples and libraries. Elegance of manners and acquisitions of wealth indicate specious outward refinement. But these things are not sufficient to guarantee the permanence of institutions or the moral welfare of a nation. In the souls of men there was a fatal degeneracy. There was outward prosperity but inward corruption.
Professor Samuel Dill, in his highly instructive work on "Roman Society in the Last Century of the Western Empire," points out the fact that Rome's fall was due to economic and political causes as well as to the deterioration of her morals. A close study of these causes, however, will reveal the presence of moral influences. Professor Dill says: "The general tendency of modern inquiry has to discover in the fall of that august and magnificent organization, not a cataclysm, precipitated by the impact of barbarous forces, but a process slowly prepared and evolved by internal and economic causes." Two of these causes were the dying out of municipal liberty and self-government, and the separation of the upper class from the masses by sharp distributions of wealth and privilege. It is indeed true that these causes contributed to Rome's ruin; that the central government was weak; that the civil service was oppressive and corrupt; that the aristocratic class was selfish; and that the small landed proprietors were steadily growing poorer and fewer, while, on the contrary, the upper or senatorial class was increasing in wealth and power. But after due emphasis has been accorded to these destructive factors, it yet remains true that the want of public spirit and the prevailing cultivated selfishness may be traced to a decline of faith in those religious ideals that serve to stimulate the moral life and thus preserve the national integrity.
Society was divided into three classes. It is computed that one-half the population were slaves. A large majority of the remainder were paupers, living on public charity, and constituting a festering sore that threatened the life of the social organism. The rich, who were relatively few, squandered princely incomes in a single night, and exhausted their imaginations devising new and expensive forms of sensuous pleasure. The profligacy of the nobles almost surpasses credibility, so that trustworthy descriptions read like works of fiction. Farrar says: "A whole population might be trembling lest they should be starved by the delay of an Alexandrian corn ship, while the upper classes were squandering a fortune at a single banquet, drinking out of myrrhine and jeweled vases worth hundreds of pounds, and feasting on the brains of peacocks and the tongues of nightingales." The frivolity of the social and political leaders of Rome, the insane thirst for lust and luxury, the absence of seriousness in the face of frightful, impending ruin, almost justify the epigram of Silvianus, "Rome was laughing when she died."