Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

credible witnesses; and he who desires to know the book will find it in the church of St. Alban*." Many secular writers mention that their knowledge of certain events has been obtained in monasteries. Vasari acknowledges, that when occupied with his great work on the lives of the painters, he should not have been able to acquire all the information which he has reproduced concerning them if the great kindness of learned monks had not been brought to aid him. Cousin, in his "Studies on the Illustrious Women and the Society of the Seventeenth Century," desiring to throw new light on the relations of Madame de Longueville with the world, and with great persons who had retired from it, has lately addressed himself to the poor Carmelites of St. Jacques, who possessed the traditions of their order respecting her; and there he says, where he least expected, he has discovered what he had in vain sought for in national archives and public libraries †. Every English reader will remember that, similarly, Miss Strickland, in composing her life of Mary Beatrice of Modena, the wife of James II., acknowledges how much she was indebted to the inedited fragment of the diary of a nun of Chaillot, by whom many of the incidents in the early life of that virtuous queen were recorded as they came from her own lips.

Here, without digressing far, one may remark the value of the monastic sources of historical knowledge. Throughout Europe the facts of early Christian history had been transmitted by means of them, and it was not till comparatively modern times that a certain family of critics arose, who undertook to throw discredit on their authenticity; but, as a late learned writer says, "Experience proved that the boldest critics were not always those who had studied to the bottom the subject on which they treated." Launoy repeated over and over again that the traditions of Provence, preserved in monasteries, as also in the popular memory, were imagined after the year 1000, before which year, he said, no one had ever mentioned them. These assertions were less the expression of a conviction acquired by long and conscientious research, than the consequence of a system already adopted by him, and which he was resolved to defend at any cost. The dispute was beginning; he had not had time to search for proof, and he fancied that it did not exist. “He had but two arguments," says Father Pagi, "the one founded on the supposed absence of ancient documents, the other on the assumed falsehood of whatever was opposed to him." The critics who followed, notwithstanding

391.

Ad ann. 1253.

+ Mdme. de Longueville, p. i. c. 83. Monuments sur l'Apostolat. de Ste. M. Madeleine en Provence,

their pretensions to originality and their real erudition, did only servilely follow whatever he had advanced. Even Baillet, Chatelain, and Papebroc followed him step by step. The canons of Autun entered so fully into his views that, after changing the office of St. Lazarus, wishing to abolish every trace of the tradition of their fathers, they effaced in their church all the ancient sculpture which represented him in the habit of a bishop, and even destroyed his marble tomb, one of the grandest works of art of the twelfth century*. But, since their folly has been demonstrated, had they and those who succeeded till lately paid more regard to the monastic traditions co-existing with the popular belief through previous ages, they would not have verified in themselves the proverb, that “ proud lips must swallow bitter potions."

But, without remaining longer here, let us proceed to contemplate the avenue supplied by discovering the motives which led to the foundation and enrichment of monasteries, and the causes from which they generally arose; for when we have pushed aside, as it were, the boughs obstructing this issue, by showing the antiquity of the documents which attest them, we shall find that there is a very direct passage from this point to the centre ; and, moreover, an old monastic poet assures us, that the history itself which relates them may be productive of the best results.

"Quis Cartusiaci jecit fundamina primum

Ordinis et quæ causa illi, vis nosse viator?

Historiam hanc sequere, hos etiam tu perlege versus ;
Fructum si quæras, aderit compunctio sancta †."

If we consult the archives of monasteries, and read the diplomas and charters preserved from the time of their foundation, we shall find that, in many instances, they warrant our concluding that the men who built, favoured, and enriched such houses were actuated by motives which, more or less, attest the truth of the religion professed by them; for these sacred asylums, we shall find, were built and founded either through natural affection and love in all its tenderness and spirituality, which is one result of truth, or through a desire of atoning rationally as well as religiously for past offences, in obedience to the letter and spirit of the Holy Scriptures; or through a wish generally. to do good to mankind, which it is to be supposed is a great mark of true religion; or through the love of our Saviour, with a view to the welfare of the soul, and through the hope of heaven, formally expressed, as the ultimate, supreme object of the heart's desire.

* Monuments sur l'Apostolat. de Ste. M. Madeleine en Provence, 355.

+ Vincentinus Carthus. de Origine S. Carthus. Ordinis.

The documents in which these motives are expressed prove curious in every point of view; and though at the risk of fatiguing some who accompany us, we must remain here awhile to unrol them, and show that the above assertions are not rashly made, since they are borne out by records of which the authenticity in general is undisputed. And first, as to attesting that natural affection, sanctified and spiritually directed, gave rise sometimes to such institutions, we have instances of the following kind, which must interest the reader, as in truth, however simply told, the facts are affecting. Lütold of Regensberg then, we read, founded the monastery of Fahr, on the river Limmat, building it on the very spot where the body of his son, who had been drowned, was picked up. Another example is thus related Two young sons of Hugh, count of Montfort, as many hopes hanging on their noble heads as blossoms on a bough in May, and sweet ones, bathed one day in the Lauchart, near the Suabian Alps. After swimming, the two brothers threw themselves on a hay-rick, and fell fast asleep. Soon afterwards some fresh hay was brought up, and unintentionally thrown over the boys, so as to cover and overwhelm them both. Their disappearance caused dismay and poignant grief. The river was searched, but all in vain. The desolate parents in their bitter affliction turned to religion for comfort, and vowed to build a monastery as soon as their children were found either dead or alive. In the spring, when the hay was taken down to be fetched away, the dead bodies of the two poor boys were discovered under it. In discharge of the vow, the count built, in 1265, the convent of Mariaberg, not far from Trochtelfingen. Another remarkable instance is that of the daughters of Bertulphe, the husband of St. Godeliebe, by a different wife, founding a convent of Benedictines on the site of the house which Godeliebe inhabited, which monastery was called by her name. Again, in the same category may be placed the singular fact which is related respecting the origin of Cloister Neuburg. Leopold and his wife Agnes, while meditating on the project of founding a monastery, in which the praises of Christ and of his blessed Mother might be for ever sung, happened one day to be seated at a window of the castle, on the lofty steep of Cecio, under which the Danube flows. At that moment a sudden gust of wind carried off from the head of Agnes the veil which she had worn at her marriage, and bore it to the adjoining wood on the river's bank. Nine years afterwards this veil was found uninjured among some bushes by the marquis, as he was hunting in the forest. Surprised at discovering it thus, he carried it joyfully to his wife, saying that it seemed to him as if the spot in which he found it must

* Müller, Hist, of Switz. vol. i. 521.

have been designed by God for their foundation, and there accordingly they built that vast and beautiful monastery *.

The woman of the middle ages, with all her piety, was a real woman still, playing woman's part, as Shakspeare paints her, and with sweet speech bidding man raise

"His drooping head, and clear his soul of doubt,
For that she was a woman, and without

Any more subtle fluid in her veins

Than throbbing blood, and that the self-same pains
Inhabited her frail-strung heart as his."

Therefore had they husbands like young lovers at their feet,

"With no more awe than what their beauty gave,
That, while it smote, still guaranteed to save."

In general we may remark that all those foundations for the benefit of the souls of parents, and sons, and daughters, of husbands and wives, of friends and betrothed lovers, and benefactors, yielding proof of such true and lasting affection, are made also "pro amore omnipotentis Dei ;" and through the compunction of grace, "divina inspiratione compunctus." Among the same class of founders might be placed also, no doubt, many who had been guided to the road of retreat by love-human love frustrated of its immediate object, first and passionate love, "that which stands alone in sweetness, like Adam's recollection of the state he fell from." One should dwell on this consideration as often as it presents itself; for it shows how Catholicism has resources for the bitterest wound to which our flesh is heir. Yes, it was love that often raised such walls. "What is love? and why," asks a modern author, “is it the chief good, but because it is an overpowering enthusiasm? Never self-possessed or prudent, it is all abandonment. Is it not a certain admirable wisdom, preferable to all other advantages, and whereof all others are only secondaries and indemnities, because this is that in which the individual is no longer his own foolish master, but one who inhales an odorous and celestial air? It is wrapt round with awe of the object, blending for the time that object with the real and only good. When we speak truly, is not he only unhappy who is not in love? his fancied freedom and self-rule, is it not so much death? He who is in love is wise, and is becoming wiser; seeth newly every time he looks at the object beloved, drawing from it, with his eyes and his mind, those virtues which it possesses. Therefore if the object be removed, ceasing to be itself an expanding soul, he presently exhausts it.

• Raderus, Bavaria Sancta, t. iii. 150.

But the love remains in his mind, and the wisdom it brought him; and it craves a new and higher object. And the reason why all men honour love is because it looks up and not down; aspires and not despairs." The spirit of many of these founders was love, a love passed into the impersonal, a love of the flower and perfection of things, a love of one dearer to them than life, whom they sought to benefit, and a love of God, whom they wished to adore. As far as this world was concerned, they had nothing left but a sigh, which is but the most unhappy piece of life, so they resolved ever after to worship sadness, apply themselves to grief, prepare and build altars to sorrow.

Another motive which led to such foundations was remorse for past offences, and a desire of giving proof of its sincerity. Mary of Brabant, daughter of Henry the Magnanimous, and wife of Louis the Severe, count palatine of the Rhine, was put to death by her husband through jealousy and the error of the messenger. Subsequently the prince, in expiation, and for the sake of her soul, founded the great Cistercian monastery of Furstenfeld, which is situated between Augsburg and Munich. On that house was placed this inscription :

66 AD HOSPITES.

Conjugis innocuæ fusi monumenta cruoris
Pro culpa pretium claustra sacrata vides *."

The Cistercian monastery of Georgenthal, in Thuringia, in like manner, was a monument of repentance. Everard, count of Marca, and Adolf his brother, served the duke of Limburg in his wars against the duke of Brabant. Through compunction for the blood that was shed in battle, Everard resolved to retire to a remote solitude; and there, abdicating all the splendour of his ancient race, he devoted himself to tend swine, till he was discovered by the abbot of Morimond, who some time after sent him to be the first abbot of Georgenthal, which was founded by his brother Adolf, who formed it out of the castle of Altenberg, having selected the spot on the mountain of St. George as a place of horror and vast solitude †. These facts, so interesting in themselves, are in general drily related in the old chronicles. It will be more satisfactory, perhaps, to hear these founders declare their motive with their own lips. In these writings, in which the true "form and pressure" of the ages which produced them are completely preserved, the real springs of many actions are disclosed, with the conscience of individuals and the general temper of society. Their perusal is almost like a revocation of their authors from the dead, to abide

* Raderus, Bavaria Sancta, t. ii. 300.
+ Thuringia Sacra, 412.

« VorigeDoorgaan »