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The mode of life pursued by the second class abovementioned, the anchorets, was much more rigid and revolting. These occupied, either in perfect solitude, or in very small companies, the rudest and most secluded recesses of the deserts. They fed upon roots, and had their dwellings in hovels, or among the wild beasts. They suffered their beards and nails to grow, and their bodies to become hirsute and weatherbeaten, till they could scarcely be distinguished from the beasts themselves. In several instances (so Palladius assures us), they were actually mistaken for bears, or hyænas. The following speech of one of the anchorets, as reported by Cassian, will give us some idea of their habits of thinking and of life: "We need not," says the hermit, "be destitute of earthly consolations, nor devoid of the means of easy sustenance, were we not bound by the command of the Saviour to forsake all and follow him. Instead of bringing our water on our heads from four miles distance, we could build our cells on the banks of the Nile, were it not that the apostle has told us, that every man shall receive his reward, according to his own labor. There are in these regions some secret and pleasant places, where fruits are abundant, and our gardens would supply our necessities with the slightest toil; but we fear to receive in our lifetime our good things. Wherefore we scorn these things, and all the pleasures of the world, and prefer rather these horrors, and the wildness of this desolation, to all that is fair and attractive on earth, admitting no comparison between the luxuriance of the most fertile soil, and the bitterness of these sands."
Another class of the anchorets were, if possible, still more singular in their mode of life. They climbed upon high pillars, and on the tops of them spent the greater portion of their days. St. Simeon, for example, is said to have spent thirty-seven years on the tops of five different pillars, of six, twelve, twenty-two, thirty-six, and forty cubits elevation. The top of his last and highest pillar was only three feet in diameter, on which he stood, day and night, and in all weathers. Through the night, and till nine o'clock in the morning, he was constantly in prayer, often spreading forth his hands, and bowing down so low, that his forehead touched his toes. At nine o'clock, he began to address the admiring crowds below, to hear and answer questions, to send messages, &c. Towards evening he suspended all inter
course with this world, and betook himself to prayer, till the following day. He generally ate but once in a week, and never slept. He wore a long sheepskin robe, and a cap of the same material. His beard and nails were very long, and his frame extremely emaciated. St. Simeon was so exceedingly averse to women, that he never allowed one to come within the sacred precincts of his pillar. Even his own. mother was denied this privilege, until after her death, when her corpse was brought to him that he might see it. Having spent thirty-seven years after this manner, the saint at length expired, unobserved, in a praying attitude, in which no one ventured to disturb him, until after three days. One of his disciples then mounting the pillar, found that his spirit had departed, and that his holy body was emitting a delightful
I have given the above sketch of the life of Simeon, as it is related by the most respectable Catholic historians, omitting those parts only which refer to his miracles. How much of it is to be relied on as true, I shall not pretend to say. There can be no doubt, however, that there was such a man as Simeon, that he pursued substantially the course of life which has been described, and that thousands afterwards copied his example.
The Sarabaites, or third class of monks referred to by Cassian, were no better than vagrants, who roamed about the cities and provinces. They procured a subsistence, without labor, by their pretended miracles, by trafficking in relics, and by various other impositions. In many points, they resembled the mendicants, who came up in swarms upon priestridden Europe, at the end of the next thousand years.
It may be proper to state here, that the monks of this primitive period were all of them laymen. Persons were sometimes taken from among them and ordained as priests; but on being ordained, they immediately relinquished their monastic habits, and entered on the duties of the ministry. At a later period, the original custom, in this respect, was materially changed. The members of some entire communities were either priests, or those who were destined for holy orders.
The ancient monks had a most powerful patron in the great Basil of Cesarea. He united the Cœnobites and Anchorets of his diocese; bound them by the obligations of a solemn vow; and instituted an order which has continued, in
the Greek church, to the present time. It may be said, indeed, that nearly all the Christian fathers, from the third century onward, were the patrons and promoters of monastic piety. They extolled the virtues of the monks; trumpeted their austerities and their oft-pretended miracles; commended, in the strongest terms, their institutions and mode of life; and held them up as models, for others to admire and imitate.
Monasticism, we have seen, had its origin in the East. Here it flourished, among Jews and heathens, long previous to the commencement of the Christian era. Here, too, it first entered and pervaded the Christian church. It did not make its appearance in the West, until near the middle of the fourth century. Athanasius, during one of his visits at Rome, is supposed to have introduced it into that city; from which place it spread, with astonishing rapidity, throughout Italy, France, Spain, Britain, and indeed, all the western parts of Europe. The favorite haunts of the first western monks, were the rocky caverns of the Alps and Apennines, and the little islands of the Adriatic and Tuscan seas.
Monasticism, like all other inventions in religion, soon proved itself inadequate to resist the strong downward current of depravity, proceeding from the fallen nature of man. The institution, shortly after its engrafting upon the church of Christ, fell into such frightful excesses and corruptions, that it could not have been endured at all, but for the oft-repeated and continued efforts which were made to reform it. Such an effort was made by Anthony and his coadjutors, when they first gave to the monks of Egypt a rule, and undertook to form them into communities. A similar effort was put forth by Basil, when he attempted to improve upon the system of Anthony, and to curb the wayward and turbulent ascetics by new obligations. The institution had not long been planted in the West, before its attendant corruptions followed it, and the necessity was felt there for reformation, or extinction. The first who attempted to reform it, within the precincts of Rome, was Benedict of Nursia. In the year of our Lord 529, he instituted, on Mount Cassino, the celebrated order of Benedictines, and gave them a rule for their perpetual observance. As this order soon spread over the greater part of Europe, and its results, for good and for evil, are felt to our own times, it may not be uninteresting to give a brief abstract of the regulations by which it professed to be governed.
At two o'clock in the morning, the monks rose, and repaired to their place of worship for vigils; where they spent the remainder of the night in committing psalms, in reading, or meditation. At sunrise, they assembled again for matins. After this, they spent four hours in labor, and two in reading. They then took their first meal for the day; after which they read in private till half-past two o'clock, when they met again for worship. The interval between this, and the hour of vespers was spent in labor. Thus, seven hours each day were employed in some kind of labor; three in private study and meditation; and the rest, besides what were devoted to meals and sleep, were occupied in social worship.
The Benedictines ate twice a day, at a common table; first, about noon, and then in the evening. Their allowance, per diem, was a pound of bread, a little wine, and two kinds of porridge. No flesh was permitted, except in case of sickness. Each one, in his turn, served as cook and waiter for a week. They slept, without undressing, in a common room, but in separate beds, with a light burning, and an inspector watching them, during the hours devoted to slumber. All conversation was prohibited at meals, and in the dormitories; nor were they allowed ever to talk in jest, or for mere amusement. No one could receive a present of any kind, not even from a parent; nor could he leave the monastery, or have the least correspondence with the world without, except under the direction of his abbot or superior. A porter sat always at the gate, which was kept locked night and day; and no person was admitted, under any circumstances, without first obtaining the consent of the abbot. To those who proposed entering the fraternity, a probation of twelve months was enjoined; at the end of which the candidate, if approved, took solemn and irrevocable vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience to his superiors in every thing. If he had property, he must give it all away, either to his friends, to the poor, or to the monastery, and must never again possess any thing as his own, or claim any personal rights or liberties whatever.
Such, in brief, were the regulations of the Benedictines;— far less rigorous than those of some other orders, but sufficiently so, one would think, to break down the spirits of the inmates, subdue their desires, and keep them within the bounds of decency. And yet we see, in the history of this
most numerous order, how vain are all paper regulations, even when aided by walls, and barred gates, and the sternest exercise of authority, to curb and restrain the lawless passions of men. The convents, in a little time, became immensely rich,-when the devotees gave themselves up to luxury, idleness, intemperance, and every form of vice. They were distinguished, also, as monks have ever been, for their political intrigues, and for their unceasing endeavors to advance the authority of the popes of Rome.
In the ninth century, the order of St. Benedict had so dreadfully degenerated, that a thorough reform, if not an entire re-construction, was deemed necessary, for the dignity and welfare of the church. At this time, several new orders were instituted, all grafted on the original stock of the Benedictines, and all aiming, professedly, to restore the pristine purity and efficiency of this venerable order. The more distinguished of these new orders were the Cluniacensians, or monks of Cluni, the Carthusians, and the Cistercians.
It is not my intention to speak at large of these different sects or orders of Benedictines. Suffice it to say, that the last of them, the Cistercians, was honored with the patronage of St. Bernard-the most celebrated ecclesiastic of his timea man who could dictate even to monarchs, and accomplish whatever pleased him, by his word, or his nod.
In addition to the monks of which I have spoken, numerous other orders appeared in the church, of which I can do little more than give the names.
In the first place, there were the Canons; an intermediate order between the monks proper and the clergy, consisting of those who either had been ordained, or were destined for the sacred office. Between this order, and the other monks, there were frequent disputes, and much bitter hostility.
Then there were the different military orders; as, the Knights of the Hospital, Knights Templar, and the Teutonic Knights. These orders originated amid the agitation of the Crusades. They were intended to assail the external enemies of the faith, and defend the outworks of Christianity, and did not long survive the circumstances which called them forth. They contributed, however, to a union, in itself unnatural, but which very commonly prevailed, between the twelfth and the fifteenth centuries,-a union of the military
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