renounced,* and scandalously abused the riches which had been acquired by the austere virtues of their founders.f Their natural descent, from such painful and dangerous virtue, to the common vices of humanity, -will not, perhaps, excite much grief or indignation in the mind of a philosopher.

The lives of the primitive monks were consumed in 'j penance and solitude; undisturbed by the various occupations which fill the time, and exercise the faculties, of reasonable, active; and social beings. Whenever they were permitted to step beyond the precincts of the monastery, two jealous companions were the mutual guards and spies of each other's actions; and, after their return, they were condemned to forget, or, at least to suppress, whatever they had seen or heard in the world. Strangers, who professed the orthodox faith, were hospitably entertained in a separate apartment; but their dangerous conversation was restricted to some chosen elders of approved discretion and fidelity. Except in their presence, the monastic slave might not receive the Visits of his friends or kindred; and it was deemed highly meritorious, if he afflicted a tender sister, or an aged parent, by the obstinate refusal of a word or look.J The monks themselves passed their lives without personal attachments, among a crowd which had been formed by accident, and was detained in the same prison by force of prejudice. Recluse fanatics have few ideas or sentiments to communicate; a special licence of the abbot regulated the time and duration of their familiar visits; and, at their silent meals, they were enveloped in their cowls, inaccessible

* The sixth general council (the Quiniaext in Trullo, Canon 47, in Beveridge, tom, i, p. 213,) restrains women from passing the night in a male, or men in a female, monastery. The seventh general council (the second Nicene, Canon 20, in Beveridge, tom, i, p. 325) prohibits the erection of double or promiscuous monasteries of both sexes; but I it appears from Balsamon, that the prohibition was not effectual. On -the irregular pleasures and expenses of the clergy and monks, see Thomassin, tom, iii, p. 1334—1363. + I have somewhere

heard or read the frank confession of a Benedictine abbot—" My vow of poverty has given me a hundred thousand crowns a year; my vow of obedience has raised me to the rank of a sovereign prince." I forget the consequences oi his vow of chastity.

J Prior, an Egyptian monk, allowed his sister to see him; but he shut his eyes during the whole visit. See Vit. Patrum, 1. 3, p. 504. A.D. 370.] THEIE DEVOTION AND VISIONS.


and almost invisible to each other.* Study is the resource of solitude: but education had not prepared and qualified for any liberal studies the mechanics and peasants, who filled the monastic communities. They might work; but the vanity of spiritual perfection was tempted to disdain the exercise of manual labour; and the industry must be faint and languid, which is not excited by the sense of personal interest.

According to their faith and zeal, they might employ the day, which they passed in their cells, either in vocal or mental prayer: they assembled in the evening, and they were awakened in the night, for the public worship of the monastery. The precise moment was determined by the stars, which are seldom clouded in the serene sky of Egypt; and a rustic horn or trumpet, the signal of devotion, twice interrupted the vast silence of the desert.f Even sleep, the last refuge of the unhappy, was rigorously measured; the vacant hours of the monk heavily rolled along, without business or pleasure; and before the close of each day, he had repeatedly accused the tedious progress of the sun.J In this comfortless state, superstition still pursued and tormented her wretched votaries.§ The repose which they had sought in the cloister was disturbed by tardy repentance, profane doubts, and guilty desires; and, while they considered each natural impulse as an unpardonable sin, they perpetually trembled on the edge of a flaming and bottomless abyss. Erom the painful struggles of disease and despair, these unhappy victims were sometimes relieved by

Many such examples might be added. * The seventh, eighth,

twenty-ninth, thirtieth, thirty-first, thirty-fourth, fifty-seventh, sixtieth, eighty-sixth, and ninety-fifth, articles of the Rule of Pachomius impose most intolerable laws of silence and mortification.

+ The diurnal and nocturnal prayers of the monks are copiously discussed by Cassian in the third and fourth books of his Institutions; and he constantly prefers the liturgy, which an angel had dictated to the monasteries of Tabenne. J Cassian, from his own

experience, describes the acedia, or listlessness of mind and body, to which a monk was exposed, when he sighed to find himself alone. Ssepiusque egreditur et ingreditur cellam, et solem velut ad occasum tardius properantem crebrius intuetur. (Institut. 10. 1.)

§ The temptations and sufferings of Stagirius were communicated by that unfortunate youth to his friend St. Chrysostom. See Middleton's Works, vol. i, p. 107—110. Something similar introduces thelife of every saint; and the famous Inigo, or Ignatius, the founder of 126


madness or death; and, in the sixth century, a hospital was founded at Jerusalem for a small portion of the austere penitents, who were deprived of their senses.* Their visions, before they attained this extreme and acknowledged term of frenzy, have afforded ample materials of supernatural history. It was their firm persuasion, that the air which they breathed was peopled with invisible enemies; with innumerable demons, who watched every occasion, and assumed every form, to terrify, and above all to tempt, their unguarded virtue. The imagination, and even the senses, were deceived by the illusions of distempered fanaticism; and the hermit, whose midnight prayer was oppressed by involuntary slumber, might easily confound the phantoms of horror or delight, which had occupied his sleeping, and his waking, dreams.f

The monks were divided into two classes: the Ccenolites, who lived under a common, and regular, discipline; and the Anachorcts, who indulged their unsocial, independent fanaticism. X The most devout, or the most ambitious, of the spiritual brethren, renounced the convent, as they had renounced the world. The fervent monasteries of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, were surrounded by a Laura,§ a distant circle of solitary cells; and the extravagant penance of the hermits was stimulated by applause and emulation.^" They

the Jesuits (Vie d'Inigo de Guipuscoa, tom, i, p. 29—38) may serve as a memorable example. * Fleury, Hist. Eccle"siastique,

tom, vii, p. 46. I have read, somewhere in the Vitte Patrum, but I cannot recover the place, that several, I believe many, of the monks, who did not reveal their temptations to the abbot, became guilty of suicide. + See the seventh and eighth Collations of Cassian,

who gravely examines, why the demons were grown less active and numerous since the time of St. Antony. Rosweyde's copious index to the Vitse Patrum will point out a variety of infernal scenes. The devils were most formidable in a female shape. t For the

distinction of the Coenobites and the Hermits, especially in Egypt, see Jerome (tom, i, p. 45, ad Eusticum), the first Dialogue of Sulpicius Severus; Rufinus (o. 22, in Vit. Patrum, 1. 2, p. 478), Palladius, (c.7. 69, in Vit. Patrum, 1.8, p. 712.758,) and, above all, the eighteenth and nineteenth Collations of Cassian. Those writers who compare the common and solitary life, reveal the abuse and danger of tl\e latter.

§ Suicer, Thesaur. Ecclesiast. tom, ii, p. 205. 218. Thomassin (Discipline de l'Eglise, tom, i, p. 1501, 1502) gives a good account of these cells. When Gerasimus founded his monastery, in the wilderness of Jordan, it was accompanied by a Laura of seventy cells.

U Theodoret, in a large volume (the Philotheus, in Vit. Patrum, 1 . 9,

[ocr errors][merged small]

sank under the painful weight of crosses and chains; and their emaciated limbs were confined by collars, bracelets, gauntlets, and greaves of massy and rigid iron. All superfluous incumbrance of dress they contemptuously cast away: and some savage saints of both sexes have been admired, whose naked bodies were only covered by their long hair. They aspired to reduce themselves to the rude and miserable state in which the human brute is scarcely distinguished above his kindred animals: and a numerous sect of Anachorets derived their name from their humble practice of grazing in the fields of Mesopotamia with the common herd.* They often usurped the den of some wild beast whom they affected to resemble; they buried themselves in some gloomy cavern which art or nature had scooped out of the rock; and the marble quarries of Thebais are still inscribed with the monuments of their penance.f The most perfect hermits are supposed to have passed many days without food, many nights without sleep, and many years without speaking; and glorious was the man (I abuse that name) who contrived any cell, or seat, of a peculiar construction, which might expose him in the most inconvenient posture, to the inclemency of the seasons.

Among these heroes of the monastic life, the name and genius of Simeon StylitesJ have been immortalized by the singular invention of an aerial penance. At the age of thirteen the young Syrian deserted the profession of a shepherd, and threw himself into an austere monastery. After a long and painful noviciate, in which Simeon was repeatedly saved from pious suicide, he established his residence on a mountain about thirty or forty miles to the east of Antioch. Within the space of a mandra, or circle of stones, to which he had attached himself by a ponderous chain, he ascended a column, which was successively raised

p. 793—863,) has collected the lives and miracles of thirty anachorets. Evagrius (1. 1, c. 12) more briefly celebrates the monks and hermits of Palestine. * Sozomen, 1. 6, c. 33. The great St , Ephrem

composed a panegyric on these jSotrKoi, or grazing monks. (Tillemont,

du Levant, tom, ii, p. 217—223) examined the caverns of the Lower Thebais with wonder and devotion. The inscriptions are in the old Syriac character, which was used by the Christians of Abyssinia.

X See Theodoret (in Vit. Patrum, 1 . 9, p. 848—854), Antony (in Vit. Patrum, 11, p. 107—177), Cosmas (in Asseman. Bibliot. Oriental. tom.i, p. 239—253), Evagrius (1 . 1, c. 13, 14), and Tillemont (Mem. 128



from the height of nine, to that of sixty feet, from the ground.* In this last, and lofty station, the Syrian anachoret resisted the heat of thirty summers, and the cold of aa many winters. Habit and exercise instructed him to maintain his dangerous situation without fear or giddiness, and successively to assume the different postures of devotion. He sometimes prayed in an erect attitude, with his out-stretched arms in the figure of a cross; but his most familiar practice was that of bending his meagre skeleton from the forehead to the feet; and a curious spectator, after numbering twelve hundred and forty-four repetitions, at length desisted from the endless account. The progress of an ulcer in his thighf might shorten. but it could not disturb, this celestial life; and the patient hermit expired, without descending from his column. A prince who should capriciously inflict such tortures, would be deemed a tyrant; but it would surpass the power of a tyrant to impose a long and miserable existence on the reluctant victims of his cruelty. This voluntary martyrdom must have gradually destroyed the sensibility both of the mind and body; nor can it be presumed that the fanatics, who torment themselves, are susceptible of any lively affection for the rest of mankind. A cruel unfeeling temper has distinguished the monks of every age and country: their stern indifference, which is seldom mollified by personal friendship, is inflamed by religious hatred; and their merciless zeal has strenuously administered the holy office of the inquisition.

The monastic saints, who excite only the contempt and pity of a philosopher, were respected, and almost adored, by the prince and people. Successive crowds of pilgrims from Gaul and India saluted the divine pillar of Simeon; the tribes of Saracens disputed in arms the honour of his benediction; the queens of Arabia and Persia gratefully confessed his supernatural virtue; and the angelic hermit

Eccles. tom. xv, p. 347—392). * The narrow circumference

of two cubits, or three feet, which Evagrius assigns for the summit of the column, is inconsistent with reason, with facts, and with the rules of architecture. The people who saw it from below might be easily deceived. + I must not conceal a piece of ancient scandal

concerning the origin of this ulcer. It has been reported, that the devil, assuming an angelic form, invited him to ascend, like Elijah, into a fiery chariot. The saint too hastily raised his foot, and Satau seized the moment of inflicting this chastisement on his vanitjt

« ForrigeFortsett »