« VorigeDoorgaan »
were required, besides the study of the Psalms extra choir, to read every day before complin, “quia sanctum illud otium sanctas desiderat occupationes *,” it by no means follows that such a companion was one from whom nothing could be learned. That the contemplation of silently living nature combined with Catholic devotion can produce great moral and spiritual results, seems a conclusion fully borne out by the history of here mits even in later times, without going back to the deserts that beheld Anthony and Paul. Let us observe instances. Father Thomas the Confessor, and Father Donat of Florence, on their way to visit a holy hermit, finding St. Catherine of Sienna in an ecstasy, nevertheless invited her to accompany them. “ We are going,” they said, “to visit the hermit; will you come with us?” It seems at first strange that they should have ventured to propose such an interruption to a heavenly state ; but perhaps when we have observed the men whom the forest hides from public view, it will not be so difficult to conceive why they did so. Let us first proceed to that holy mountain of Catalonia, where St. Ignatius of Loyola went to make his general confession to the hermit John Xanones, his first director. Who is not amazed at finding the religious man living in such absolute seclusion? “'Tis above belief,” one is tempted to exclaim with Lisander, in the Lover's Progress, adding, “Do you inhabit here?” when we shall hear for answer that reply of Lidian,
“ Mine own free choice, sir ;
I live here poorly but contentedly,
And if you seek to know more you will find cause for greater admiration. The hermits of Montserrat, remarkable for their sanctity, would furnish a long catalogue. We find the following details respecting them in the history of the mountain. “Brother Benedict of Arragon from his childhood desired to serve God in this life on the mountain. After a long trial he was permitted to have a hermitage, and there he persevered with such merit that it is supposed he equalled the ancient anachorites of Egypt. The following lines are found inscribed on the hermitage of the Holy Cross :
* Const. Camal. 1.
“ Occidit hac sacra frater Benedictus in æde,
sexaginta et septem castissimus annos,
Nunc sedet in summo glorificata throno.” Brother Francis de Vesar became a hermit at the age of seventeen. He saw, we are assured, visions of the blessed Virgin. Brother Christoble de Zamora had the gift of prophecy, and in the year of his death foretold the decease of thirty monks of the abbey within the year, the event verifying his words. Brother Maur of Alfaro, when but a boy, was elected master of the novices, and acquitted himself with the wisdom of age. Angels, it is said, were heard in the air at his death. Brother Alfonso of Burgos, preceptor to the son of the marquis of Gibraleon, passing by Montserrat, felt a vocation for that holy life, and receiving the habit, became a model of piety and all virtues, spending the last twenty-seven years of his life in a hermitage in prayer, reading, and in the composition of devout books, esteemed by all for his sanctity, receiving visits from the king, Philip II., who desired to hear him speak. Brother John Martinez bore on his countenance proof of the fervour of his love for God. But we have not time to visit others on this holy mountain. Let those who desire to do so consult its historians * " France, too, beheld memorable examples of eremitical sanctity. On the heights of Romberg, during thirty-three years, had lived a hermit, once a powerful courtier, by name Romaric, founder of Remiremont. In a vision he beheld the misfortunes that were about to fall upon France, and the Church, and on the son of the holy king Sigebert. He said that he had only three days to live ; but he left the mountain, and proceeded to the palace, which he had not seen for thirty years. He arrived at midnight; Grimoald, whose hostility to the Church had transpired, was informed of his arrival ; he hastened to meet him, carrying a torch to light his steps. The man of God seemed to him at that moment like an angel from heaven and of awful magnitude ; so that he trembled on beholding him. heard what passed between them; but Grimoald was seen at parting to embrace the hermit and offer him presents.
* Montegut. Hist. de Montserrat.
man withdrew, and died three days afterwards. No less remarkable are the records which exist respecting English anachorites. Let us hear William of Newbury : “ In the twelfth century, the venerable hermit Godricus de Finchala, a solitary place so called, not far from the city of Durham, on the river Wear, lived to the confusion of the great and noble, it being 80 chosen by God. He was a rustic, knowing nothing but Christ Jesus and him crucified, inhaling to his very bones the fire which the Lord sent on earth. When a youth he went on foot to visit the sepulchre of our Lord, and thence sought a place of retreat. Directed, it is said, in a dream, to Finchal, there he dwelt with his sister till her death. There he tilled a little plot of ground, which was surrounded with trees, living on alms. He was so esteemed by the monks of Durham, that one of the seniors of the community was deputed to visit him frequently to instruct his rustic simplicity, and occasionally to administer the sacrament to him. I myself, in those days," adds the historian, “ desired fo see him, and to speak with him. In his countenance was a wondrous dignity and beauty; he continually called on Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He was buried in the very spot where his body lay in his last sickness *.” Mathew Paris supplies other details respecting him. “ This year," he
“ the venerable hermit Godrik left this world, and exchanged his temporal for eternal life. At first he had remained two years in a solitude near Carlisle without any means of subsistence. Afterwards, he lived a year and some months in a desert place called Eschedale ; then in an earthen hut scooped out of the bank of the river Weart.” A monk of Durham, called Nicholas, being pressed by many to write his life, went to the hermit and told him his intention. Godrik was troubled.
Friend, you wish to know the life of Godrik ? Hear it then. Godrik at first was a gross rustic, debauched and perjured, a glutton and a deceiver ; to-day he is half dead, and a mere dog, a vile worm, a hypocrite, a devourer of alms, greedy of pleasure, lazy, prodigal, and ambitious, troublesome to all who come near him. Write down that about your false hermit, and worse still.” Then he was silent, and the monk retired all abashed I. The fens of Lincolnshire beheld another example of still wider celebrity. “ The blessed man Guthlac,” says a contemporary, was earnestly intent on Christ's service, so that never was aught else in his mouth but Christ's praise, nor in his heart but virtue, nor in his mind but peace and love and pity ; nor did any man ever see him angry or slothful in Christ's service; but one might ever perceive in his countenance love and peace;
+ Ad ann. 1170.
* Rer. Anglic. ii. 20.
Ad ann. 1171.
and evermore sweetness was in his temper and wisdom in his breast, and there was so much cheerfulness in him, that he always appeared alike to acquaintances and to strangers *."
But we must not pursue further this bye track of the hermits, from which we can here regain the main road leading to the monastery. The path to the hermitage, after all, can hardly be discovered now except in history ; but there it has its proper signals like every other. They point to Catholicism as having existed when the human race was comparatively young, and submissive to influences that denoted its youth and were applicable to it. As in excavating the earth we discover in the most ancient strata the vestiges of a colossal organization, so in exploring the history of Catholicism, we meet traces of manners and modes of life which resemble nothing that can be found in later generations, but which demonstrate the antiquity of that religion, and the succession of its providential adaptations to the wants of mankind in different stages of society.
THE ROAD OF RETREAT (continued).
He second avenue from this road may be constituted by the history of monastic institutions, and by a consideration of the causes and motives which led to their establishment. Monasteries may be said to be coeval with Christianity. From the day when peace was
first given to the Church, it has never been seen a single moment without religious communities. Can then any proof be wanting to show how intimately they are related to it? that they are its spontaneous fruit + ? Every where, as soon as the Christian religion was preached in a country, institutions of this kind arose, while it often happened that the first men who preached the Gospel to heathen nations were themselves monks. Much as one may abhor using strong language when it can give pain to any one, there seems to be no alternative but to conclude that a religion which absolutely rejects the principle of monasteries, and which can show no such institu
* Felix of Crowland, Anglo-Saxon version Life of St. Guthlac. + Balmes.
tions, can be neither Catholic, nor Apostolic, nor ancient.
Those men who transmit the monastic life have invented nothing essential to it, and that cannot be abrogated at any time, which the first Christians did not see and approve of ; since they only continue, with certain variations rendered necessary by circumstances, the work began in the cradle of civilization, which was propagated from Egypt, from Paul, and Anthony, and Pachomius, through all lands,-by Hilarion in Syria, by Basil in Asia Minor, by Audeus in Persia and India, by Athanasius, Eusebius, and Isaac in Italy, by St. Augustin in Africa, by Honoratus and Cassian in Provence, Hilary and Martin in Gaul, by St. Germain d'Auxerre in Ireland, and by St. Augustin in England *. St. Jerome, a competent witness, whatever some of the
sixteenth and nineteenth centuries may pretend, expressly says, that to see monks is to see men resembling some of the primitive Christians," talis prima credentium fuit Ecclesia quales nunc monachos esse videmus t."
But history has even something more to add in regard to their family antiquity. For it pronounces that the thought which constitutes their foundation belongs to the old as well as to the new learning, to the Hebrew as well as to the Christian, and that some of the privileges and influences of race and of the fountain-head of theology linger in them still. As a great author says, ascribing the remark to a profound child of Israel, “ Protestantism knows nothing about these things. How can it? Its disciples a few centuries back were tattooed savages. This is one advantage which Rome has over it, and which it never can understand.” But let us observe monasteries in their present form. The monks of St. Augustin were in the mountains of Pisa in the year 389 About 431, the bishop of Carthage, Quod-vult-Deus, with many hermits whom St. Augustin had left desolate, having been placed by the barbarians on board of ships that were not sound, arrived safely at Naples. Amongst these were Gaudiosus and Agnellus, who built near Naples the monastery of Neridanus, from which house afterwards Palladius was sent into Ireland . It was Minicia, a noble Spanish lady, who received Donatus, arriving from Africa, and the first monks who came into Spain along with him. Besides the formal attestation of history, there are many things in the monastic rules which indicate the antiquity of this mode of life, and which almost startle us by revealing how the monks existed before men had made some discoveries which are often
* Luc. Holst. Dissert. Proem. ad Reg. Mon.