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So poor a thing is life, that we cannot promise a minute's certainty in the height and strength of youth, falling to dust again! Catholicism, therefore, without prescribing any irrational and morbid devotion to the one idea of death, tends to inspire men with a proper, practical, and, we may add, manly sense of this uncertainty, and moves them to speak and write like Dante in his Convito, saying, “As Cicero, in his treatise on old age, compares natural death to a port and haven receiving us after a long voyage, so should we regard it; and even as the good mariner, when he draws near the harbour's mouth, lowers his mainsheet, and enters it softly with a weak and inoffensive motion, so ought we to lower the sails of our worldly operations, and return to God with all our understanding and heart, to the end that we may reach this haven with all quietness and with all peace*." St. Boniface took with him on his journey the treatise of St. Ambrose on the utility and advantages of death, which copy, stained with his blood, was long preserved in the abbey of Fulda +. Persons in the world even sometimes have been known to adopt a more forcible monitor, as when the Emperor Charles V. caused a solemn mass for his own soul to be celebrated before him, and the Archduchess Mary of Austria, for many years before her death, kept in a coffin the shroud in which she was to be buried, carrying it with her on all her journeys. Of course such measures are to be ascribed to individual character rather than to the prescript of religion, which must not be loaded with what every one may wish to lay upon it, and which requires nothing that has an air of exaggeration or eccentricity; but the general principle which led to reminiscences of this kind is wound up with it; and after all, even the gay and light-hearted need not for this reason accuse it of any singular or gratuitous interference with the pleasures of life; for the sentiment is commended by genius in all ages, as in the lines of the poet most noted for his tenderness and songs of love, who, recommending a wise usage of the day, concludes saying,
“Extremumque tibi semper adesse putes §.”
It is not, however, alone by timely admonitions that Catholicity prepares men for obtaining the happy views of death which are enjoyed upon this road under its guidance. It is on a good, or at least a generous and humble life, that it reckons, recommending as much love of virtue as is possible, and observing that, as
+ Brouverus, Fuldens. Antiq. Drexel, Rosa Select. Virtut., P. i. c. 12. § Tibullus.
St. John Climachus says, "obedience is an emancipation from the fear of death;" and that, as Salvius says, "Felix est qui ea agere potest in seculo, ut gloriam Dei cernere mereatur in cœlo." Catholicism, as every one should know, teaches men to be poor in spirit; and death being the robber par excellence, as the French say, those who become thus poor may verify the poet's line,
"Cantabit vacuus coram Latrone viator."
It teaches to live without injuring others, honest, and noble; and as Pedro Messie of Seville says, " Death is not a misfortune unless when it finds men in a wrong state." It teaches to live according to the ancient Christian notions of goodness and honour, which are popular to this day; and we have already seen that, as St. Gregory says, "Ostensa nobis est de contemptu mortis via quam sequamur." It teaches to sow, as it were, generosity, innocence, sweetness of manner, respect, and piety, in view to what may be gathered at the end, according to the sacred text, "Et ros morabitur in messione mea; on which St. Anthony of Padua says, " The harvest is the season of death to the just, or of their migration hence, and then the dew remains with them; that is, the felicity of the eternal vision associates their soul with the happiness of that dew*." Caxton's Art and Craft to Know well to Die begins thus: When it is so, that, what a man maketh or doeth it is made to come to some end, and if the thing be good and well made, it must needs come to good end; then by better and greater reason, every man ought to intend in such wise to live in this world that he may come to a good end. And then out of this world, full of wretchedness and tribulations, he may go to heaven unto God and his saints, unto joy perdurable." We cannot avoid, then, pausing a moment here to mark the contrast in regard to the manner of viewing death between those who systematically, uninterruptedly reject, and those who embrace, or at intervals embrace, or wish to embrace, that moral discipline which has its centre, as we observed on former roads, in the Catholic religion.
However astonishing," says Sir William Hamilton, "it is now proved, beyond all rational doubt, that in certain abnormal states, perceptions are possible through other than the ordinary channels of the senses." It seems admitted by all physiologists, that extraordinary faculties are sometimes exhibited in dying. When we die, the mask of this earthly body falls away, and the truth shows nakedly. "There is no more disguise," adds a
* Dom. xiv. post Trinitat.
popular writer; we appear as we are." But let us proceed to view these contrasts. In the first place, without the influence of central principles, the natural bitter apprehensions of death, when only black despair whispers its approach, seem to be felt in all their force. Then are men cowards in regard to it, and when its image is not banished, sparing of their little souls, as the good are of their great ones prodigal. Then can observers
say with Henry IV.,
"Ah! what a sign it is of evil life,
When death's approach is seen so terrible !"
To banish the thought of it is found a poor remedy:
*Α δείλ', οὐδέ τί τοι θάνατος καταθύμιος ἐστιν,
The next scene represents him who has tried that supposed specific only the more wretched :
πότμον γοόωσα, λιποῦσ ̓ ἁδροτῆτα καὶ ἥβην *.
"Lives dissolute, not fearing death, will prove deaths desperate, not hoping for life."
Which doth present us with all other sins
Thrice candied o'er,-despair, with gall and stibium,
"How miserably," says Cæsar of Hiesterbach, "how horribly die usurers, misers, deceivers, proud men, robbers, murderers, litigious men, slaves of luxury, and others as vicious, I will show you by examples t." It is not, we may premise, that all poor sinners die so. What end should we ourselves then, comrade, have to dread! But these observers take note of men who had no intermission of their sins, all whose life was a continued ill, whose thought was blackness, and nature but disease. Alas! well might this old author be moved at these contrasts to what he had before shown; for, as the poet says, addressing a worshipper of money who was a man of law,
"The monk he hath a joyful end,
And well may welcome death like a friend,
And the brethren stand round him and sing him to rest,
And tell him, as sure he believes, that anon
Receiving his crown, he shall sit on his throne,
But a hopeless sorrow it strikes to the heart,
Unlamented was thine end;
And neither in this world or the next
Hadst thou a single friend."
These are the occasions when that fearful word "too late " is uttered with an accent and a look that freeze the blood of all present; then one hears replies like those of Philargus,
Pray you give me leave
To die as I have lived. I must not part with
There was a certain castle in the south of France called Castrum Malæmortis, the Castle of Baddeath *. To have merited the name it must have heard sad words of mysterious horror from desperate mortality. Poets have noted some of them, as those of Alphonso
"Give me more air, air, more air! blow, blow!
And rivers run through my afflicted spirit!
I am all fire, fire, fire! The raging Dog-star
Reigns in my blood! Oh, which way shall I turn me ?
Dig, dig, dig, till the springs fly up,
The cold, cold springs, that I may leap into 'em,
And bathe my scorch'd limbs in their purling pleasures!
Or shoot me up into the higher region,
Where treasures of delicious snow are nourish'd,
And banquets of sweet hail !"
Or again, they represent before us those grim extorted confessions of a tyrant saying,
"The terrors of a thousand nights made black
The glass of his sins runs out thus: his time is come to curse, and rave, and die. It is certain, even from what history records, that there might have been many houses called by the same
Archives des Bouches-du-Rhône, St. Sauveur.
dreadful name from beholding a succession of such spectacles,
Where the ballad of a bad life closes
Pierre Mathieu says of Queen Elizabeth, and her grief and last sickness, "On disoit que le chagrin venoit de la maladie mesme, et d'autres creurent que la maladie venoit du chagrin * ” Thus did her life finish with infinite sorrow. After remaining many days on cushions spread on the floor, when urged by the lord admiral to go to bed, she angrily refused; and then hinted at phantoms that had troubled her, adding, "If he were in the habit of seeing such things in his bed as she did when in hers, he would not advise her to go there." "It is a fearful task," says her recent biographer, "to trace her passage through the dark valley of the shadow of death."
Such a fearful end
May teach some men, that bear too lofty crest,
Mathieu Paris mentions instances: "The Knight Lambert de Muleton," he says, "who had obtained a privilege that he could not be excommunicated unless by an especial mandate from the pope, which was as much as to promise impunity, returning home one day proudly on his horse, felt sick on alighting, and throwing himself on his bed, died before they had time to take off his spurs. Similarly Ranulf the Breton, another king's favourite and extortioner, died suddenly while looking on at a game of dice after dinner. And in like manner Nicholas Damme (please God,' adds the monk, 'that the name be not significative of what awaited him'), the counsellor of Earl Richard, and another spoliator, fell from his horse during the night, as he returned after an orgie, and expired vomiting the wine with which he was surfeited t." Again he says, "This year, 1258, died William Heiron, viscount of Northumberland, the hammerer of the poor, the persecutor of monks, and the most avaricious of men. After experiencing this temporal thirst, there were too many signs at his end that he was only departing to feel thirst of another kind." But no more of this. Cæsar of Heisterbach, the Magnum Speculum, and other medieval works, abound with records of this kind; but what should be remarked with all attention is the fact that in the nineteenth century men of the same character die, we are told, in a manner so precisely similar, that these monastic observers seem to be describing what passes in our own time in London or Paris. Take, for example, the Ad ann. 1246.
Hist. de Hen. IV. liv. vi.