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Monachism. Its rise and progress. Reflections on its odious
character. Mahonetanism. Appearance of Mahomet in Arabia. His religion. Extension of the Saracen Empire. Destruction of the Eastern Churches. Present extent of Mahometanism.
In the seventh century, two immense powers, the Mahometan and the Papal, arose, which laid the East and the West in melancholy desolation.
Before we enter upon their history, we will take a view of MONACHISM, which had already, for two centuries, prevailed in the earth.
At an early period, the simplicity of the Gospel was, in various ways, materially injured by an amalgamation with the philosophy of the age. It was one principle of that philosophy, that " for the attainment of true felicity, and communion with God, it was necessary that the soul should be abstracted from the body here below, and that the body should be macerated and mortified for this purpose.” This was a principle which many, especially who had once been heathen, were ready to engraft on the Gospel; and a considerable number of both sexes were to be found even in the third century, giving themselves up to austerities and solitude, and a perpetual contemplation of spiritual objects. A practice which thus probably commenced with pious people, who were actuated hy good motives, was soon perverted to the most abominable superstition and wickedness.
One Antony, a youth of Alexandria, on entering a church, and hearing our Lord's words to a young ruler, “ Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor,” resolved, literally, to observe the direction, and to set an example of self-denial, such as the world had never before seen. He parted with all he had, retired into the desert, and practised through a long life the greatest possible austerities. His fame spread throughout the world. Great numbers resorted to see him and hear his conversation, Multitudes followed his example, that if the “ wilderness, and the solitary place” were not glad for them, they were, at least, to a surprising extent, filled with them. Many of those, who thus secluded themselves from the world, Antony formed into a regular community; inducing them to live together, and
prescribing rules for their observance. Thus originated the first regular monastic order. Antony died A. D. 356, at the extreme age of 105. During his life he manifested much zeal for the truths of the Gospel, and was particularly honoured with the friendship of Athanasius, who wrote his life. His property at his death consisted of one old garment, given him by Athanasius, two sheep-skins and a sackcloth.
His chief disciple, Hilarion, introduced his monastic regulations into Palestine and Syria. Others, actuated with a zeal, which, had it been properly directed, might have given salvation to the world, carried them into other countries, so that, in a little time, Europe and Africa and Asia were “ filled with a lazy set of mortals, who, abandoning all human connexions, advantages, pleasures and concerns, wore out a languishing and miserable life, amidst the hardships of want and various kinds of suffering, in order, as they pretended, to arrive at a more close and rapturous communion with God and angels."
As some followed the instructions, and others the example of Antony, the monks were at first of two kinds, called the Cænobites and the Eremites. The former associated together in one building, under a spiritual father. The latter lived like Antony, alone, in the wildest deserts, often without habitation or clothing, or much sustenance, besides the roots and herbs which nature afforded.
In no part of the world was monachism carried to such extravagant length as in the burning regions of the east. In Europe, the monks were at first laymen of respectable standing, who only united themselves to some order bearing the name, rather than the thing; many of them were the most learned and respectable men in society ; but in the east, multitudes gave tņemselves up to the wildest phrenzy-living more like savage animals than rational men.
The increase of the monks in succeeding centuries, their austerities, superstitions and frauds almost exceed rational belief. In the east
, whole armies might have been raised from among them, without apparently diminishing their number. St. Martin, who founded the first monasteries in Gaul, was followed to his grave by no less than 2000 monks.
Parents early devoted their sons and daughters to perpetual celbiacy in the gloomy recesses of a cloister, thinking it the highest possible felicity to which they could raise them. Multitudes, who did not join them, consecrated to them their wealth, that they might have the prayers and intercession of these holy men; dying tyrants and debauchees gave them princely fortunes to quiet their own
consciences, by which means the monastic orders became possessed of immense treasures.
Every age teemed with new orders formed by some adventurous leader, who had the boldness and ingenuity to devise some new regulations. In England, where monachism had been introduced by Augustine and his companions, an abbot named Congall, induced an incredible number of people to abandon all the duties and pleasures of social life, and live in entire solitude, under rules of his devising. His disciples spread over Ireland, Gaul and Germany, and covered the land with swarms of the most lazy drones.
The vices and extravagances of the monks, which began to be, past all endurance, led Benedict of Nursia, a man of piety and intelligence, to institute in the year 529, a rule of discipline, by which monks should be more orderly and regular, subject to few austerities, and more useful to society, especially in educating youth. This discipline was exceedingly popular, and the Benedictine order soon swallowed up all others. It was patronised by the Roman pontiffs, and was endowed with immense riches by the opulent; but luxury, intemperance and sloth soon reigned in the convents of Benedict, and his humble saints were the prime leaders in all the political factions which distracted Europe.
By the rules of their founders, every order was devoted to reading. Hence, libraries were formed in every monastery, and in these, fortunately, the ancient authors sacred and profane, were carefully preserved through that awful period, when the interests of literature were laid waste throughout Europe, by the barbarous incursions of the northern nations.
In the eigth and ninth centuries, the monks were held in the most astonishing veneration. Immense sums of money were devoted to building convents throughout Christendom. Kings and dukes and nobles descended from their high stations in society, and shut themselves up in these convents for communion with God. And in return, monks and abbots were taken from cloisters, and placed at the head of states and armies ; under the pretence that none were so fit to govern men as those who had subdued their own appetites and passions, were the peculiar favourites of heaven. But as they increased in power, they sunk in ignorance, licentiousness and debauchery, and were torn by dissentions and jealousies, and the most bitter animosities.
In the tenth century arose in France, a set of reformers called the order or congregation of Clugpi; who were, for a season renowned throughout Europe for their sanctity and virtue.
Their discipline was received by almost all monasteries, new and old, which gave them a vast spiritual dominion ; but no sooner had they reached the summit of worldly prosperity, than they sunk under their own licentiousness, which had become equal to that of any preceding order.
In the eleventh century arose in Burgundy, the congregation c. of Cistertians; which for a time, gave rule to all the monastic
orders. The famous order of the Carthusians also commenced their existence about this period. Their institution was melancholy, and, especially in relation to female devotees, savage in the extreme.
In the twelfth century flourished Bernard, an Abbot of much 1 learning and eloquence. He died 1153, leaving 160 monaster
ries of his order. Abelard was his opponent; a man too of much learning. He died 1143.
The thirteenth century formed a new era in the history of Mopachism. The monastic institutions were rolling in wealth. They were uncontrollable by any power. They had lost sight of all religious obligation and were sunk in luxurious indolence. * To break up these immense establishments, Innocent III, the Roman pontiff, instituted an order, which should look down with contempt upon wealth, hold no possessions, and subsist wholly on charity. This was called the Mendicant order or begging friars; and patronized by him, it immediately grew to such an enormous size that Europe could scarce sustain the burden.
About 1260, arose the Flagellantes, or Whippers, a fanatical multitude of both sexes, and all ranks and ages, who encouraged by these mendicant orders, ran through cities and villages with whips in their hands, lashing their naked bodies, to appease the Deity, and strange as it may appear to us, were greatly revered.
In the year 1272, Gregory reduced the extravagant multitude of mendicants to four societies, viz: the Dominicans, and Franciscans, the Carmelites, or followers of the prophet Elijah, and the hermits of St. Augustine. The head of the first was Dominic, a Spaniard, austere, violent, overbearing, unfeeling, who greatly distinguished himself by an impetuous attack upon the opposers of the papacy in France. With him originated the inquisition. The head of the second was Francis, a man who had led a most dissolute life but became suddenly very devout, and iustituted an order which should, if possible, exceed all others in absolute poverty. The other two were old establishments, and were never of much note compared with the Dominicans and Franciscans.
These order's of mendicants were suffered to travel wherever
they pleased, and live upon the charity of the public. They assumed marks of gravity and holiness which no other order had ever shown. Their popularity was unrivalled. Large cities were cantoned out for their accommodation. The treasures of the world were laid at their feet. From no other hands would the people receive the sacraments; and with them they were zealous to deposit their dead. Vast multitudes thought it their highest happiness to be admitted into the mendicant orders. Many made it an article in their last wills that their bodies should be wrapped in old Dominican or Franciscan rags, and be interred among the Mendicants. For three centuries, these two orders governed Europe. They filled every important post in church and state ; taught in all the universities and schools; and though they quarrelled most violently with each other, they were the very soul of the Papal power, and through thạt, gave law to empires, states and nations. But their monk, ish cowl concealed the most scandalous immoralities and vices,
The Dominicans first came into England, A. D. 1221. The mayor of London permitted them to erect a convent by the Thames, on a street which is still called Black Friars, from the color of their dress. The Franciscans came into England soon after. Their establishment was at Canterbury.
To give a full account of all the operations, corruptions, superstitions, frauds, and enormities of the monks; their bitter apimosities and contentions, would require volumes. Their history sickens the heart. To see men, under pretence of great devotedness to God, leading the most loathsome, tilthy life; some, times casting off all clothing and going on all fours like beasts ; secreting themselves in dens and holes; or wandering about in the extremes of wretchedness, with their hair and beard of an enormous length, and their bodies covered with vermin; eating of choice, the most pauseous food; wearing heavy chains; fastening grates upon their breast and back; girding themselves with bandages of bristles and sharp pointed wires; flogging themselves with thorn sticks; mutilating their bodies, until they often expired under their self-tortures; and these men commanding the reverence and homage of the world as saints, holy ones—what can be more revolting and distressing to a rational mind? And is this indeed Christianity? Is this the Church which Christ redeemed to himself and renewed by his Spirit, that he might present it a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing? Oh, no. We have turned away from her to contemplate this abominable excrescence which grew upon her side, and which weighed her down even to the dust. But we shall see worse things than these.