Imatges de pàgina

of a similar constitution, which have more or less of a religious character.

The set of opinions which laid the foundation for the whole business of monkery, came originally from the East, and had been adopted by some of the Greek philosophers, especially Plato, viz. that the soul of man is a spiritual substance, and that its powers are clogged, and its virtues impeded, by its connection with the body. Hence they inferred that the greatest perfection of mind is attained by the extenuation and mortification of its corporeal incurnbrance. This notion operating with the indolent and melancholy turn of many persons in the southern hot climates of Asia, and especially of Egypt, led them to affect an austere solitary life, as destitute as possible of every thing that might pamper the body, or that is adapted to gratify those appetites and passions which are supposed to have their seat in the flesh. Hence arose the notion of the greater purity and excellency of celibacy, as well as a fondness for a retired and unsocial life, which has driven so many persons in all ages from the society of their brethren, to live either in ab.. solute solitude, or with persons of the same gloomy turn with themselves. It is the same principle that made Essenes among the Jews, Monks among Christians, Dervises among Mahometans, and Fakirs among Hindoos.

The persecution of Christians by the heathen Emperors, the unsettled state of society, the desire of gaining a kind of martyr reputation by a voluntary abandonment of the world, and some misinterpreted texts of scripture, also had their weight in leading many to embrace a life of solitude and celibacy.




There is always something uncertain and fabulous in the antiquities of all societies, and it is so in those of the monks. The monks themselves acknowledge the first of their order to have been one Paul, an Egyptian, who in the seventh persecution, or about the year 260, retired into a private cave, where he is said to have lived many years, unseen by any person, till one Anthony found him just be

fore his death, put him into his grave, and followed his example.

This Anthony, finding many others disposed to adopt the same mode of life, reduced them into some kind of order; and the regulations which he made for the monks of Egypt were soon introduced into Palestine and Syria by his disciple Hilarion, into Mesopotamia by Aones and Eugenius, and into Armenia by Eustachius bishop of Sebastia. From the East this gloomy institution passed into the West; Basil carrying it into Greece, and Ambrose into Italy. St Martin, the celebrated bishop of Tours, first planted it in Gaul, and his funeral is said to have been attended by no less than two thousand monks. But the Western monks never attained to the severity of the Eastern.

The number of these monks in very early times was so great, as almost to exceed belief. Fleury says, that in Egypt alone they were computed, at the end of the fourth century, to exceed seventy thousand. With this increasing number many disorders were necessarily introduced among them. At the end of the fourth century the monks were observed to be very insolent and licentious; and have ing power with the people, they would sometimes even force criminals from the hands of justice, as they were going to execution. In the time of Augustine many real or pretended monks went strolling about, as hawkers and pedlers, selling bones and relics of martyrs.

The increase of monks was much favored by the laws of Christian princes, and the encouragement of the Popes, as well as by the strong recommendation of the most distinguished writers of those times.

Many women were ambitious of distinguishing themselves by some of the peculiarities of the monkish life in these early times, devoting themselves, as they imagined, to God, and living in virginity, but at first without forming themselves into regular communities. These early nuns were only distinguished by wearing a veil, that was given them by the bishop of the place.

No perfect uniformity can be expected in the customs and modes of living among men, and least of all men whose imaginations were so eccentric as those of the monks.

The most early distinction among them was only that of those who lived quite single and independent, and those who lived in companies. The latter were called Cænobites: in Greek, in Latin Monks (though that term originally denoted an absolutely solitary life) and sometimes friars from fratres, freres, brethren, on account of their living together as brothers in one family. These had a president called abbot, or father, and the place where they lived was called a monastery.

On the other hand, those who lived single were often called eremites or hermits, and commonly frequented caves and deserts. And some make a farther distinction of these into Anchorites, whose manner of life was still more savage, living without tents or clothing, and only upon roots or other spontaneous productions of the earth. In Egypt some were called Sarabites. These led a wandering life, and maintained themselves chiefly by selling relics, and very often by various kinds of fraud.

Persons who live in Protestant countries, or indeed in Roman Catholic countries at present, can form no idea of the high respect and reverence with which monks were treated in early times. They were universally considered as beings of a higher rank and order than the rest of mankind, and even superior to the priests; and wherever they went, or could be found, the people crowded to them, loading them with alms, and begging an interest in their prayers.

Towards the close of the fourth century, we find one man, Jovinian, who though he chose that mode of life, was sensible that there was much folly and superstition in it, and taught that all who lived according to the gospel have an equal right to the rewards of heaven; and that those who passed their days in celibacy and mortifications, were not at all more acceptable in the sight of God than those who lived virtuously in a state of marriage. But these opinions were condemned by churches and councils, and he was banished as a heretic.




The primitive monks, courting solitude, were equally abstracted from the affairs of the world, and those of the church; and yet, by degrees, a very considerable part of the business in both departments came to be done by them. Various circumstances contributed to this end. The superiority of the monks over the clergy in learning gave them great advantage. The strictness of their mode of life ingratiated them with the people. Their efficiency and helpfulness in resisting heresies brought them into the notice and patronage of the church.

Being exempted in process of time from all episcopal jurisdiction, they were distinguished by a boundless devotion to the see of Rome. They gradually were admitted to holy orders, and exercised all the functions of priests. They studied, besides theology, law and medicine, which they did at first for charity, and afterwards continued for interest. They were sometimes, taken from the monasteries and placed at the head of armies ; and they frequently discharged the functions of ambassadors, and ministers of state. The endowments of monasteries were equal, if not superior, to those of the churches; and the influence of the monks being generally greater with the Popes and kings than the clergy, they used in many places to claim the tithes, and other church dues. As they had taken advantage of the ignorance of the priests, and established themselves in places of profit and honor, it was not easy for the regular clergy to maintain their rights and privileges; the consequence was, that continual disputes were occurring between the two bodies. Some time before the reformation, all the clergy, bishops, and universities of Europe were engaged in a violent opposition to the monkish orders. It was in this quarrel that Wickliffe first distinguished himself in 1360, and proceeded eventually to attack the pontifical

power itself.

The distinction of orders amongst monks began with Benedict of Nursia, who in 529 instituted a new order that made rapid progress in the West, and was much devoted to the interests of Rome. It finally swallowed up nearly all the other denominations of monks.

Notwithstanding their extreme profligacy of manners, their number and reputation in the middle ages were incredible. It was said large armies might be raised from them without any sensible diminution of their number. The heads of rich families were fond of devoting their children to this mode of life; and those who had lived abandoned lives, generally made this their last refuge, and left their estates to the monasteries. Several examples occur. red where counts, dukes, and even kings, renounced their

honors, and shut themselves up in monasteries, under the notion of devoting themselves entirely to God. Indeed the height to which superstitious observances and things foreign to real virtue, were carried in those days, would not be credited by us, if they did not rest on the best evidence.

Many causes combined to relax the discipline of the monks; as their number, riches, power, civil disorders, for instance, the invasion of the Normans, their dispersion at the time of the great plague in 1348, their exemption from episcopal jurisdiction, the multiplication of prayers and singing of psalms, leaving them no time for bodily labor, and the introduction of lay-brothers into the monasteries. The monastic orders being almost all wealthy and dissolute in the thirteenth century, the mendicant or begging friars, who absolutely disclaimed all property, were then established by Innocent III. and patronized by succeeding Popes.

The monks of the ancient religious orders fell into great contempt after the introduction of the Mendicants, who fil. led the chairs in schools and churches, and by their labors supplied the negligence and incapacity of the priests and other pastors. But this contempt excited the emulation of the other orders, and made them apply to matters of literature.

Afterwards the mendicant friars, on the pretence of charity, meddled with all affairs, public and private. They undertook the execution of wills, and they even accepted of deputations to negotiate peace between cities and princes. The Popes frequently employed them, as persons entirely devoted to them, and who travelled at a small expense; and sometimes they made use of them in raising money. But what diverted them the most from their proper profession was the business of the Inquisition. By undertaking to manage this court, they were transformed into magistrates, with guards and treasures at their disposal, and became terrible to every body.

During three centuries the two fraternities of mendicants, the Dominicans and Franciscans, governed with an almost universal and absolute sway both church and state, and maintained the prerogative of the Roman pontiff, against kings, bishops, and heretics, with incredible ardor and suc

They were in those times what the Jesuits were afterwards, the life and soul of the whole hierarchy. Among other prerogatives, the Popes empowered them to preach,


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