Monasticism

V. -- MONASTICISM.


The most extraordinary development in the sphere of Christian life in this era was undoubtedly monasticism. History presents few examples of a more striking conjunction of extremes than we have here. Just as the Church came, on the one hand, into close alliance with the world, and was replenished with elegance and luxury, it hastened, on the other, into the most radical repudiation of the world and of the ordinary refinements and comforts of life. Over against the sumptuous prelate, clad in costly vestments, and officiating in a magnificent temple, we have the picture of the half-starved ascetic, clothed in sheepskin, and choosing such habitations as nature has appointed to the wild beasts. The origin of such a startling counterpart to a rich and prosperous Church may well claim special attention.


1. CAUSES. --In inquiring after the causes of Christian monasticism, we are met at once with the fact that monastic life had been widely cultivated before the Christian era. Brahmanism had fostered it in its most radical forms; Buddhism had given it extensive patronage; Judaism had found a place for it in the sects of the Essenes and the Thereapeutæ; and even Hellenism had given, to some extent, an example of it in the school of Pythagoras. A glance at these developments cannot fail to suggest the thought that there was a common cause back of them, a cause contributing also to the rise of Christian monasticism. This cause may be defined as the painful consciousness of the alienation of the world, and of the individual in his natural state, from God. Men feeling this, as has been the case in every age not wholly wanting in vitality of religious sentiment, have experienced a powerful incentive to seek for some remedy. In the absence of a far-seeing spiritual philosophy, it was natural that they should resort to the remedy most immediately suggested by the conditions; that is, to an extraordinary renunciation of the world, and an extraordinary crucifixion of the natural life. What was thus originated by a species of religious earnestness, custom and various accessory influences might combine to perpetuate.


There were, however, in addition to this general incentive, the following specific causes of the rise and spread of Christian monasticism in these centuries: (1) A bias carried over from the preceding period. Centuries of persecution by heathen authorities had caused many to associate the secular world with heathenism and with the evil powers which were supposed to be the patrons of heathenism. After the espousal of Christianity by the State, remnants of this feeling were still at hand; and since the partition-wall between the general Church and the world had been broken down, the inherited feeling of opposition to the latter sought satisfaction in a select and isolated station within the Church. (2) The contagion of heathen ideas. In combating Gnosticism and Manichæism, the Church had formally disowned the idea that matter is essentially evil, and its corollaries respecting the human body. What was combated, however, was so much in the atmosphere of the times, and maintained such prolonged contact with the Church, that it obtained a certain foothold within its borders, despite a formal and theoretical opposition. The body came practically to be regarded by many as a synonyme for the evil part of human nature, and the voluntary persecution of it was looked upon as the highest virtue. (3) A mistaken interpretation of biblical examples. The distinction between the Old and the New Testament order of things was not duly observed. Men of the wilderness, therefore, like Elijah and John the Baptist, were looked upon as models especially worthy of emulation. (4) An over-estimate of martyrdom and a thirst for some equivalent. Not only had martyrdom come to be regarded as a direct path to the glory of heaven: to a large degree it had become in fact a direct path to a cherished and glorified memory among men. Those filled with admiration for the martyrs, and emulous of their heroism, saw this path closed against them by the cessation of persecution. It only remained for them to exhibit their fortitude by the self-imposed trials of the ascetic life. (5) A reaction against the growing worldliness within the Church. (6) Various personal needs and desires. Some, no doubt, entered the monastic life because they sincerely thirsted after fellowship with God, and expeqted to find in retirement from the world an effectual aid toward spiritual perfection. Some were moved by a desire to atone for serious guilt. Some were instigated by the mere force of example. With some there was no higher motive than a covetousness after the distinction and homage which were seen to accrue to various representatives of monastic rigors. (7) Habituation to the wilderness life into which individuals had been driven by the later persecutions.


2. HISTORICAL OUTLINES. --Several stages, more or less clearly marked, may be distinguished in the history of monasticism: (1) The comparatively unorganized asceticism of the first three centuries, a life of superior abstinence which individuals assumed without being widely separated from the mass of Christians. (2) Anchoretism, or the hermit life, characterized by solitude and great austerity. (3) Cenobite, or cloister life, nearly simultaneous in its rise with the preceding, but destined to a much more permanent and extensive appropriation within the bounds of Christendom. (4) The rise in the Latin Church of the great orders of the Middle Ages, --orders in which all the cloisters were subject to the same central authority. The Order of Clugny, and still more the Franciscans and the Dominicans, represent this stage.


The first of the hermits, whose name has come down to us, was the semi-mythical Paul of Thebes. Having entered the wilderness as a young man during the Decian persecution, he is said to have dwelt there, in a cave, for ninety years. Among the fabulous stories connected with his: memory are the accounts of his having been fed daily by ravens, and of his death having been lamented by two lions, who also did him the honor to scratch him a grave in the sand. The founding of the hermit life, however, is not to be attributed to him so much as to the one who discovered his retreat, the renowned Anthony. If he was not the first of the hermits in point of time, he was still, as Jerome remarks, the first to escite a special zeal for the hermit life.


Anthony was born about 251, at Coma, on the border of the Thebaid. He belonged to a Christian Coptic family. His education was meagre, and seems to have stopped short of the Greek language and literature, at least not to have proceeded beyond the elements. The death of his parents in his eighteenth year devolved upon him the care of the inherited estate. But worldly business was distasteful to his meditative temper. As he heard in the services at church the command which Christ addressed to the young man, respecting the sale of all his possessions and distribution to the poor, he gave the words a literal application to himself. All his property was disposed of, with the exception of a small sum which he retained for the benefit of his sister. Soon after, even this reserve was relinquished. Having intrusted his sister to a company of pious virgins, he betook himself to retirement, retreating from time to time more deeply into the wilderness, and finally taking up his abode on Mount Colzim, not far from the Red Sea. During his long life,--protracted, it is said, beyond the limit of a century, --he rarely left the wilderness. Two visits only to Alexandria are recorded, --the one, in 311, to strengthen Christians suffering from heathen persecution; the other, in 351, to enter a protest against Arianism. [See Athansius, Vita Antonii, § 46, 69.] As may be judged from this last instance, his absorbing practical aim did not quench his interest in the theological controversies of his time. An evidence to the same effect may be observed in a vision which troubled his mind shortly before the Arians, under the patronage of Constantius, took possession of the churches. According to his words to the brother monks who pressed for an explanation of his grief, he saw mules invading the sanctuary, trampling around with furious rout, and compassing on every side the table of the Lord. [Vita Anton, § 82.]


Anthony is reported to have said that "he who abideth in solitude is delivered from the threefold warfare of hearing, speaking, and seeing, and has only to support the combat against his own heart." It is quite possible, however, for a heart, distempered by lack of ordinary social relations, to supply more temptation than the senses commonlyimbibe from the sphere of social intercourse. So the experience of Anthony himself seemed to prove. He labored hard to conquer rebellious nature: he clothed himself in haircloth and sheepskin; he slept on the ground, or, at best, on a pallet of straw; his daily allowance of food was no more than twelve ounces of bread; the luxury of bathing was repudiated; whole nights were frequently spent in prayer. But still, unsubdued by these austerities,the fire of an unhallowed nature continued to burn within. The hermit found himself tormented by worldly thoughts and images of impurity. A swarm of demons appeared to encompass him, and often to his glowing fancy they took the shape of visible bodily assailants, --such power has the intense inner life of natures peculiarly sensitive to create seemingly exterior objects ! At length, however, Anthony came to understand that conflicts with demons, real as they may be, are largely shaped and colored by subjective conditions; and we find him teaching his brother monks that the demons lose their fearful shape and their power when the soul is uplifted to God in firm trust and confidence.


The life of Anthony in the wilderness did not exclude him from a very positive influence upon his age. His casual visits to the city produced a great effect upon the multitude, on account of his strange appearance and his repute for sanctity. Many also sought his wilderness retreat, for the benefit of his counsels. Tn most cases a fair reward was obtained for their pains; for Anthony was a good judge of human nature, and prescribed to inquirers with great practical sagacity, as well as with entire honesty. He may fitly be ranked among the very first of his class. Rigorous in his treatment of himself, he was inclined to treat others with gentleness. The homage which he received was unsought, and seems never to have been a source of pride or elation; one of his last requests was that the place of his grave should be kept secret (a request signally disobeyed by the idolatrous generations of subsequent centuries, who carried about his relics). He had that soundness of spiritual perception which enabled him to reckon the moral above the marvellous. "It is not becoming," said he, " to glory in casting out devils, or in curing diseases, or to make much of him only who casts out devils, and to disparage him who does not." [Vita Anton., § 38.] His biographer narrates of him that "he united with the suffering in sympathy and prayer; and often, and in behalf of many, the Lord heard him. When heard, he did not boast; when denied his petition, he did not murmur,--but always himself gave thanks to the Lord, and exhorted the afflicted to be patient, and to understand that the prerogative to heal belonged neither to him nor to any man, but to God alone, who works when and for whom He pleases." [Ibid., § 66.]


Crude as is the figure which Anthony presents, when we look to various features of his asceticism, a species of grandeur pertained to the spirit and aim of his life. He struggled heroically for self-subjugation. And his struggle was not in vain. The temptations to self-righteousness incident to so legal a régime as is that of monastic austerities were nobly withstood by him. He came to the close of life with a heart at once humble toward God, and not wanting in love to man.


The example of Anthony acted like contagion. Before his death, the deserts of Egypt, the headquarters of monasticism, had begun to be peopled with hermits. Neighboring countries followed the Egyptian precedent. Syria and Palestine early shared in the zeal for the new method of conquering the world and the devil. Hilarion was the first distinguished native leader whose influence went abroad over these regions.


An involuntary approach to the cloister life was made under Anthony, by reason of the monks who insisted upon being under his spiritual guidance, and located their cells in his neighborhood. But the founding of cloister life of the more definite and organized type is to be referred to Pachomius. It was by him that monastic principles were first embodied in a written rule. About 325, he instituted a society upon an island (Tabenns) of the Nile, in Upper Egypt. Numerous branches arose. The whole society is said to have numbered fifty thousand members by the middle of the fifth century. Cloisters for nuns were also instituted, under the direction of Pachomius.


The following account of the origin and contents of the institutes of Pachomius is given by Sozomen: "It is said that Pachomius at first dwelt alone in a cave, but that a holy angel appeared to him, and commanded him to assemble some young monks, to instruct them in the practice of philosophy Cthat is, monasticism], and to inculcate the laws which were about to be delivered to him. A tablet was then given to him, which is still carefully preserved. Upon this tablet were inscribed, injunctions by which he was bound to permit every one to eat, to drink, to work, and to fast, according to his capability of so doing: those who ate heartily were to be subjected to arduous labor, and the ascetic were to have more easy tasks assigned them. He was commanded to have many cells erected, in each of which three monks were to dwell, who were to take their meals at a common refectory in silence, and with a veil thrown over their head and face, so that they might not be able to see each other or any thing but what was on or under the table. They were not to admit strangers to eat with them, with the exception of travellers, to whom they were to show hospitality. Those who wished to live with them were to undergo a probation of three pears, during which time the most laborious and painful tasks were to be imposed upon them. They were to clothe themselves in skins, and to wear woollen tiaras adorned with purple nails, and linen tunics with girdles. They were to sleep in their tunics and garments of skins, reclining on long chairs closed on each side, which were to serve as couches. [In the Rule, however, mention is made of mats (cap. lxxxviii.).] On the first and last days of the week they were to approach the altar and partake of the communion of the holy mysteries, and were then to unloose their girdles and throw off their robes of skin. They were to pray twelve times every day, and as often during the evening, and were to offer up the same number of prayers during the night. The whole congregation was to be divided into twenty-four classes, each of which was to be distinguished by one of the letters of the Greek alphabet." [Hist. Eccl., iii. 14.]


The Rule of Pachomius is carried out into very minute specifications. Special care is manifest to exclude all notion of private property. The monk is even forbidden to have his own pair of tweezers for extracting thorns. As the monastic society of Pachomius speedily became very numerous, a gradation of officers was naturally recognized. The head of the parent society bad a general supervision. A monastery which might contain thirty or forty houses, having each about forty monks, was presided over by an abbot, while each of the houses had its provost.


As the infection of monasticism spread, individuals became ambitious of higher grades of self-torture. In the fifth century, Symeon, a shepherd from the border of Syria and Cilicia, gave the first example of the Stylites, or pillar-saints. According to Theodoret, he was primarily incited to take his station upon a pillar by his desire to avoid the press of the people who thronged the ascetic, and sought to derive some benediction from his garments of skins. The same author states that he dwelt successively upon pillars six, twelve, twenty-two, and thirty-six cubits high. [Hist. Relig., xxvi.] The necessity of descending was obviated by the readiness of the people to carry up supplies. Thirty-six years are said to have been spent in this elevated pulpit, from which, by word and by the example of his self-tortures, Symeon preached to admiring crowds. Even this extreme of ascetic fanaticism found imitators. In the East, individual instances of pillar-saints appeared as late as the twelfth century. The West records but a single attempt of this sort, and that was cut short by the veto of the authorities.


An intemperate emulation gave birth to still other forms of extravagance. Some had an ambition to convert themselves into praying-machines, like Paul the Simple, who daily recited three hundred prayers, the count being kept by means of pebbles. Some carried fasting as near as possible to the point of total abstinence from food. Of Heliodorus, it is said that he partook of food only one day in seven. [Sozomen, vi. 34.] Some made a virtue of absolute solitude, like Akepsimas, who shut himself up in a little domicile where he spent sixty years, neither being seen by any one nor addressing any one, communing only with himself and with God. An oblique or winding aperture admitted the food which charity brought, without exposing him to the observation of the giver. [Theodoret, Hist. Relig., xv.] In some instances the sin against reason was requited by an actual overthrow of the faculty of reason. Evagrius speaks of a class of men who exposed themselves well nigh naked to extremes of heat and cold, and fed wholly upon the natural produce of the ground, until they became "assimilated to wild beasts, with their outward form altogether disfigured, and their mind in a state no longer fit for intercourse with their species." [Hist. Eccl., i. 21.]


The more radical eccentricities of monasticism were left behind as it was transported to the West. Athanasius was among the first to encourage this transportation. His personal representations during his banishment, as also his biography of Anthony, awakened a considerable interest in the monastic life. Some visited the East to take example from the austerities there practised. Cloisters arose in the neighborhood of Rome and in other parts of the West. The learned Jerome was an ardent propagandist at the great capital. His influence was especially effective among the patrician women of Rome. Following his exhortations, widowed matrons and virgins entered with great enthusiasm upon the ascetic life. Paula, the most noted of these, accompanied Jerome in his eastern sojourn, founded a monastery at Bethlehem, and established there also three nunneries. In Milan, Ambrose gave his voice in favor of monasticism. In Gaul, Martin of Tours, Honoratus, Saint Germain of Auxerre, and John Cassianus were its enthusiastic patrons. Augustine, as Bishop of Hippo, formed his clergy into a kind of monastic association; but his commendation of the cloistral life failed to secure for it any great consideration among the Christians of North Africa.

Salvianus, De Grub. Dei, viii. 4, represents the African populace as assailing the monks with scurrility and curses. "Omnia in illos pene fecerunt quæ in Salvatorem nostrum Judæorum impietas ante fecit quam ad effusionem ipsam divini sanguinis perveniret."

An important era in the history of monasticism in the Latin Church was inaugurated by the life and institutes of Benedict of Nursia. This patriarch of Latin monks, as he may be called, was born at the Umbrian town just named, in the year 480. Forsaking the educational advantages which his family provided him at Rome, he entered while yet a youth upon the hermit life. Several years were spent by hint in a solitary grot at Subiaco, a place eastward from the capital. His austerities soon acquired for him great celebrity. In response to earnest solicitations, he accepted the office of abbot in a cloister belonging to the neighborhood. His strictness not proving acceptable, he retired to his former haunt. But the numbers that came to him did not allow him to abide alone, and he was led to found several cloisters. These establishments, however, were quite overshadowed by that which arose under his auspices upon Monte Cassino, whither a vexatious opposition led him to retire. To this mountain the Benedictines of after-times were to look as to the consecrated source of the glory of their societies. A strict organic connection was not, indeed, established between the numerous cloisters which adopted the rule of Benedict and that of Monte Cassino. Each cloister was self-governed. But an intimate moral bond connected them with each other, and especially with the renowned parent society.


The mode of life prescribed by the rule of Benedict was not after the most rigid type of asceticism. A limited quantity of wine was allowed to the monks. [At the same time it was intimated that to dispense with its use would better suit their vocation (Regula, cap, xl.). Pachomius allowed no wine except to the sick (Reg. Pachom., cap. xlv.).] It lay within the discretion of the abbot, in consideration of special severity of labor, to issue rations exceeding the standard allowance. [The standard daily fare was a pound of bread, two cooked dishes, --that is, of vegetables, grain, eggs, or fish, --and one uncooked dish (cap. xxxix.).] To the weak and the sick, the eating of flesh was conceded. While it was designed to keep the monks very fully occupied, the tedium of their employment was relieved by an alternation of devotion and study with manual labor. For the more cultured, teaching became a part of the ordinary duties of the cloister, especially after Cassiodorus, in the sixth century, had given prominence to this feature. A sufficient circle of industries was embraced to secure a large measure of independence. "The monastery," says Montalembert, "like a citadel always besieged, was to have within its enclosure gardens, a mill, a, bakery, and various workshops, in order that no necessity of material life should occasion the monks to leave the walls." [Monks of the West, Book IV. Compare the language of the Rule: "Monasterium, si potest fleri, ita debet constitui, ut omnia, necessaria, id est, aqua, molendinum, hortus, pistrinum, vel artes diversæ, intra monasterium exenceantur, ut non sit necessitas monachis vagandi foras, quia omnino non expedit animabus eorum " (cap. lxvi.).] Even epistolary intercourse with the outside world could not take place, except by the permit of the abbot. [Cap. liv.] The giving or receiving of presents was under like restriction.


In the management of the cloister, the abbot, who was to be elected by the fraternity, was the chief authority. It was provided, however, that in matters of importance he should consult the assembly of the brethren. [Cap. iii.] Where the establishment was very large, deans might be appointed. [Cap. xxi.] The distribution of food, and the supervision in general of the routine of material affairs, was under the charge of an officer called the cellarer. [Cap. xxxi.] Admission to the cloister was to be preceded by a year's probation. [Cap. lviii.] If at the end of this term the candidate appeared acceptable, and was decided in his choice of the monastic life, he sealed this choice by subscribing the vow of the society. By this vow he was obligated to perpetual adherence to the monastic life, to poverty and chastity, and to unquestioning obedience to the abbot.


The strong emphasis laid upon the irrevocable nature of the vow, upon the obligation to perpetual adherence to the order, appears as a distinguishing feature of the Benedictine system. In the times preceding Benedict, it had, indeed, been counted a kind of misdemeanor to forsake an open pledge to the celibate or monastic life; but such a pledge, as Alzog remarks, [Kirchengeschichte, § 142.] was not counted strictly irrevocable. This seems to be conceded by a canon of the council of Chalcedon; for, while it ordains in general that a nun or monk who may presume to marry shall be excommunicated, it gives the bishop the prerogative to exercise mildness in reference to such. [Canon 16.] In commenting on this canon, Hefele remarks that it assumes the validity of the marriage of a monk, contrary to the later jurisprudence of the Church. [§ 200. He states also that a marriage contracted by priests was regarded as valid till the beginning of the twelfth century.]


Benedict was never ordained to the priesthood. In this he remained true to the original character of monasticism, as pre-eminently an institution for laymen. [Cassianus lays down as an approved maxim for monks, that they should keep equally clear of the ordaining hands of bishops and of the society of women: "Hæc est antiquitus patrum permanens nunc usque sententia, omnimodis monachum fugere debere mulieres et episcopos." (De Cœnob. Instit., xi. 16.)] There was a tendency, however, to depart from this feature. The number of the ordained among the monks was often increased beyond the requirements of the individual society. The journey from the cloister to the episcopal throne became of frequent occurrence. A large share of ecclesiastical work fell to the monks; and finally, in the Middle Ages, they were currently assigned a species of clerical standing.


The Rule of Benedict was unmistakably a source of far-reaching influence. It organized the ascetic fervor of the age. It became the model in a long line of training-schools, extending over the breadth of Europe, and serving as a leading factor in preparing for the Church a host of distinguished missionaries, scholars, and prelates.


3. CONTEMPORARY ESTIMATES. -- Utterances in disparagement of the superior claims of monasticism were occasionally heard. A great diversity of motives lay back of these. The frivolous and luxurious sometimes criticised because the ascetic life was looked upon as more or less of a protest or attack against their practices. The Emperor Valens complained that men made use of the monastic profession to escape their duties to the State; and there were also others who based their opposition upon the charge of detriment to the interests of the body politic. Meanwhile, a few, who approached the subject from a moral and religious stand-point, felt obliged to deny that any exceptional sanctity or worth pertains to the monastic life. To this class belonged Jovinian, Helvidius, and Vigilantius. Though a monk himself, Jovinian was disgusted with the high-sounding claims which were urged in behalf of his order, and openly declared against them. According to Jerome, who was a bitter antagonist, he maintained that "virgins, widows, and married persons, who have once been baptized into Christ, have equal merit, other things in their conduct being equal;" and that "there is no difference between abstaining from food, and enjoying it with thanksgiving." [Adv. Jovin., i. 3.] In fine, Jovinian had an excellent apprehension of the gospel truth, that sanctity is no monopoly of a peculiar mode of living, but is equally attainable in any and every legitimate vocation. Unhappily, however, his emphasis upon the equality of all genuine Christians led him into a denial, by far too sweeping, of spiritual gradations among the regenerate.


Jovinian and his fellow critics found the current against them too strong to be turned back. Monasticism moved on as a great tendency of the age, and compelled in general the acceptance and homage of Christendom. Even the considerate and sober-minded, who maintained with emphasis that the life in family relations is a good thing, were inclined to regard the life of celibacy and abstinence as a higher good, something peculiarly favorable to spiritual perfection. With men of enthusiastic temper, no terms seemed too strong to proclaim the glory of the monastic ideal. Jerome, while urging his friend Heliodorus to abandon the world, taught that piety toward parents is impiety toward God, when it stands in the way of the monastic profession. "Though thy mother," he writes, "with dishevelled hair and torn garments, points to the bosom by which thou wast nurtured, though thy father should lie upon the threshold, proceed thou, treading over thy father. ... O desert blooming with the flowers of Christ! O solitude where those stones are prepared with which is built up the city of the Great King! O desert rejoicing in the society of God! What doest thou, my brother,in the city, with thy soul greater than the world? How long wilt thou abide under the shadow of roofs? How long wilt thou be confined by the dungeon of smoky cities?" [Epist. xiv., Ad Heliodorum.] In his correspondence with Roman ladies, outbursts of like enthusiasm occur; indeed, he lauds their ascetic purposes in such lavish style as might almost lead them to think, that, in embracing the monastic life, they had transcended the measure of human virtue, and had become a species of divinities. The less impulsive Ambrose also gives a glowing account of the monastic life. Speaking of the haunts of the monks in the Mediterranean islands, he says, "In those isles, thrown by God like a collar of pearls upon the sea, those who would escape from the charms of dissipation find refuge. There they fly from the world, they live in austere moderation, they escape the ambushes of this life. The sea offers them, as it were, a veil and a secret asylum for their mortifications. She helps them to win and to defend perfect continence. There every thing excites austere thoughts. Nothing disturbs their peace: all access is closed to the wild passions of the world. The mysterious sound of the waves mingles with the chant of hymns; and, while the waters break upon the shore of these happy islands with a gentle murmur, the peaceful accents of the choir of the elect ascend towards heaven from their bosom." [Hexaëm., iii. 5, as somewhat freely rendered by Montalembert.] Chrysostom gives an equally enticing description of monastic isolation from the tumults of the world. "Alone in the haven," he says of the monks, "while the tempest swells, they dwell in great tranquillity and security, and look as it were from heaven itself upon the shipwreck of other men. For they have chosen a kind of life worthy of heaven, and they obtain a state not inferior to the angelic. They have all things common, -- table, domicile, vestments. Nor is this to be wondered at, since in all there is one and the same mind. All are noble with the same nobility, servants with the same servitude, free with the same liberty." [Adv. Oppugnat. Vit. Monast., iii. 11.] In one of his homilies, the same writer exclaims, "Heaven is not so glorious with the varied choir of the stars as the wilderness of Egypt, exhibiting to us all around the tents of the monks." [Hom. in Matt., viii.] The historians of the time wrote in a kindred tone of eulogy. Rufinus, in his "Historia Monachorum," ascribes the most astonishing deeds to the hermits, crediting them, among other things, with a complete dominion over wild and ferocious beasts. Sozomen uses these unstinted terms: "Those who at this period had embraced monasticism manifested the glory of the Church, and evidenced the truth of their doctrines, by their virtuous line of conduct. Indeed, the most useful thing which has been received by man from God is their philosophy." [Hist. Eccl., 1. 12.] He credits the monks with many marvellous things, giving, for example, this entertaining account of the Egyptian monk Apelles: "He worked as a smith at the forge; and one night, when he was engaged at this employment, the devil undertook to tempt him to incontinence, by appearing before him in the form of a woman. Apelles, however, seized the iron which was heating in the furnace, and burnt the face of the devil, who screamed wildly and ran away." [Hist. Eccl., vi. 28.] Evagrius applies a like estimate to monasticism and monastics, and speaks of Symeon the stylite as "that angel upon earth, that citizen, in the flesh, of the heavenly Jerusalem." [Hist. Eccl., i. 13.] Theodoret, in his history of thirty distinguished monks, expresses unbounded admiration of the men "who in a mortal and passible body appeared impassible, and emulated the incorporeal nature." His narrative, too, is plentifully sprinkled with accounts of miracles. He describes, for example, how James of Nisibis dried up a stream by his curse, and brought premature tokens of old age upon some maidens who were washing their garments in the same, because they had failed to treat him with becoming modesty and,reverence; how he was ready to undo the curse, and answered the request of the people that the stream should be restored. "Such," remarks the historian, "was the miracle of this new Moses, which indeed was not wrought by the stroke of a rod, but by the sign of the cross." [Hist. Relig., i.] Reference might also be made to flattering tributes of emperors who deigned to consult some noted recluse on the most important affairs of the State, or enacted laws in behalf of the monastic profession. [So Justinian, in prohibiting one member of a household from placing restraint upon another wishing to enter the monastic life; (Novella cxxiii. ; Cod., I. iii. 53; I. iii. 55.)]


It should be observed, however, that some who were most free in their encomiums give evidence that many of the monks were by no means patterns of purity and self-denial. The same Jerome who exhausts rhetoric in praise of monasticism speaks of those whose excessive austerities had induced a chronic melancholy; of others who veiled a worldly heart and a luxurious life under the cloak of the solitary, and made spoil out of the too ready confidence of nobles and women; of others whose pride expressed itself in uncharitable judgments, in disdain toward their ecclesiastical superiors, and in frequenting of public places in order that their piety might be duly exhibited and admired. [See in particular, Epist. cxxv.]


4. CONTRIBUTIONS TO CHRISTENDOM. -- Augustine testified, as the result of his own observation, that the best and the worst of men were to be found among monks. A similar variety may be affirmed of the contributions of monasticism, as a whole, to the life and thought of the Church. Whatever may be its place, or lack of place, under more normal conditions of society, it unquestionably had a certain mission in the era of abnormal conditions to which the more conspicuous part of its history belongs. Its protest against worldliness, if eccentric and one-sided, was still in many instances earnest, and administered a stimulus to the religious sentiment in not a few minds. Its cloisters performed an important part, as recruiting stations for the missionary field. It brought waste districts under cultivation, and in an age of decline supplied the best examples of agriculture to be found in Europe. In times of disruption and disorganization, it provided for learning numerous sanctuaries, which even rude warriors respected, and thus served as an instrument for handing down the literary treasures of antiquity. It is not easy to over-estimate the conserving office fulfilled by the transcribers whom the cloisters educated and sheltered.


On the other hand, however, there were pernicious results growing out of monasticism. As it advanced in popularity, its greatest commendation --namely, its moral earnestness -- too often succumbed; and the cloister, which was founded as a seminary of virtue, degenerated into a school of vice. By the unhealthy isolation which it prescribed, it ministered often times to an abnormal thirst after the magical, and was instrumental in burdening the Church with overgrown lists of spurious miracles. Finally, its association of special sanctity with a special style of living tended to becloud the minds of men as respects their conceptions of Christian privilege and duty. Emphasis was unduly withdrawn from the grand idea of sanctifying the ordinary relations and business of life. Indications early appear of the judgment that only monks can be expected to be religious in a very eminent degree, and that the ordinary Christian does very well in being content with a lower standard.