« AnteriorContinuar »
and that the predilection for profane studies was accompanied by a zeal in the discovery of truth, and an energy in its defence, not unworthy of the countrymen of Hilary*. A wide and interesting field of inquiry would lie before us, were we to investigate the several benefits which accrued to the cause of truth among their contemporaries from the theological champions of the Eastern and Western Empires; and it would be still farther to exceed our allotted province were we to undertake to show how far succeeding generations of the faithful have been preserved from evil, and strengthened in the knowledge of the Gospel, by the great legacies of thought” transmitted to us through so many intervening centuries.
Before we pass from viewing the clerical influence on the body of the people during this the Roman period of Christianity, as we may term it, we must bestow a few words on the rise and progress of that monastic system, which, not unimportant in the age under our notice, was destined at so many times and by so many different methods to be the great religious lever of Europe. Although the support of those whom after ages learnt to
Lyons, displayed the greatest liberality, "usque in extimos terminos Galliarum," during the famine consequent on the ravages of the Goths (Ep. vi. 12; Greg. Turon. Hist. Franc. ii. 24); and Sidonius gives a long list of the towns which he had succoured. See also the testimony to the good qualities of Simplicius, which raised him to the see of Bourges (Concio post Ep. vii.9).
* It is sufficient to mention the names of Prosper of Aquitaine and Vincentius Lirinensis, two of the leading opponents of Pelagian and semi-Pelagian heresy.
term regular clergy had not yet been invoked by their secular brethren, and the connexion between episcopal powers and monastic privileges was wholly undefined, yet, in viewing the effect of the former, we can scarcely omit the consequences of the gradual development of the latter.
The Eastern Empire, so long the arena for contending theological schools, so fruitful of each heretical extravagancy, and so rank a hot-bed of flimsy religious systems, each varying more widely than its predecessor from the practical spirit of earlier times, was destined, as might indeed have been expected, to produce the most remarkable form of the consequent reaction. Amid the din of opposing factions, and a vain search after imaginary complications of a simple faith, the true Gospel spirit, the humility of Christianity, was forgotten or despised. It was natural then that, where these errors were most rife, where the pleasures of luxury on the one hand and of dogmatism on the other had seduced many of the guardians of the flock as well as its avowed enemies, earnest men should be found to look with horror on a world which called itself Christian, and was the theatre of so many vices. Accordingly it appears to have been despair of success in a contest with depravity, as well as the contemplative tendency of Oriental nations, which led the Anchorites of Egypt and Syria to devote to the conquest of self those powers which they shrunk from engaging in the reform of others. But even these, thoughtful and separate from the world as they had lived, carried with them into deserts and caves numerous vestiges of the errors they had left behind. We can trace in the followers of Antony and Pachomius the same narrowness of religious views, the same forgetfulness of the truly spiritual part of the faith they professed, which had already more fatally displayed itself at Alexandria and Antioch. Hence all the strange fanaticism, which, as it appeared in the various sects of Stylites, Euchites, and Sarabaites, raised so high the ascetic renown of the Syrian and Egyptian Churches.
Turning our regards again to the Western Church, the future province of the fullest monastic developments, we are at once struck by the fact that, although the state of religious feeling, both among clergy and laity, differed essentially from what we have represented in the East, Monasticism was nevertheless successfully introduced, and that too in a form very closely resembling what it had assumed in Egypt. That the religious tone of the West was less elevated, less contemplative, and more practical than that of the East, appears from the distinction pervading all their theological controversies. Those of the latter related in general to the mystical union of the persons of the Holy Trinity, and the incarnate perfections of the Son of God, while those of the former tended rather to the decision of practical questions in church-government, and of the great contest between the supporters of grace and those of free-will in the salvation of man. Pelagianism was the main heresy of the West, as Arianism of the East. Hence it was to have been expected that, inasmuch as the discussions of the Oriental clergy concerned matters farther removed from human ken than those which agitated their Western brethren, so they should lead to more vehement polemics, and allow more scope for what we have seen to be the natural re-action towards a secluded and meditative life. To convince ourselves that such was in truth the case, we have only to turn to the sanguinary church chronicles of Alexandria and Constantinople.
The question then occurs,—since the causes which promoted monachism in the East existed to a far less degree in the West, to what motive are we to refer the unquestionably rapid spread of asceticism throughout Italy and Gaul? The answer may, we think, be found in the peculiar social condition of the Western Empire. The utter and speedy dislocation of the body politic of the Empire, prior to the barbarian invasion, extended with equally fatal results to every class and rank in society. The burdens of the laity increased in proportion as their estimation and wealth diminished. Meanwhile the prosperity and immunities of the clergy became more apparent as those of every other class of the community vanished ; and the secular spirit was gradually overcome by the greater vigour of spiritual development. Thus the ascetic tendencies, which in the East appear to have been fostered by the strengthening of the bonds uniting man to the invisible world, flourished in the West by the elevation of those which connected him with secular life. Accordingly, it appears that the glades of the Apennines and the wilds of Gaul were peopled by hermits who in any other social state would have been the last to desert a scene of so many attractions. The spirit of the age, which manifested itself in Egypt by almost divine honors paid* to the uncouth figures whom the rumours of theologic war brought forth from the deserts of Nitria or
Thebais, was displayed in Italy by the contempt and horror in which fugitives from the world were held even by their Christian contemporaries : for we may be assured that the loathing expressed by the heathen poet + Rutilius Numatianus for the monks of Capraria was shared by believers and unbelievers alike. We may be excused if, on hearing of the strange and unchristian excesses to which fanaticism urged the Oriental monks, we partake of the same feelings; but, looking at the consequences of Western monasticism, posterity has pronounced a very different verdict. The emergencies of succeeding centuries have not given the same glory to asceticism in the East which it acquired during the Teutonic invasions of the West; and fate denied to Greece the reforming hand
* As when Antony appeared in the streets of Alexandria during the Arian persecution of Athanasius. + Ipsi se monachos Graio cognomine dicunt,
Quod soli nullo vivere teste volunt.
Quisquam sponte miser, ne miser esse queat ?
De Reditu 1. 441. sap. Wernsdorf Poet. Lat. Min. v. 155. Altenburg. 1788], and see Augustin. Ep. 48.