Imatges de pÓgina
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THE

EDINBURGH REVIEW,

,

JANUARY, 1849.

NO. CLXXIX.

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Art. I. —Correspondance inédite, de Mabillon et de Montfaucon,

avec L'Italie. Par M. VALERY. Paris : 1846. MIDDLETON and Gibbon rendered a real, however undesigned,

a service to Christianity by attempting to prove that the rapid extension of the Primitive Church was merely the natural result of natural causes. For what better proof could be given of the divine origin of any religion than by showing that it had at once overspread the civilised world, by the expansive power of an inherent aptitude to the nature and to the wants of mankind? By entering on a still wider range of inquiry, those great but disingenuous writers might have added much to the evidence of the fact they alleged, although at a still greater prejudice to the conclusion at which they aimed.

It is not predicted in the Old Testament that the progress of the Gospel should, to any great extent, be the result of any agency preternatural and opposed to ordinary experience; nor is any such fact alleged

in any of the apostolical writings as having actually occurred. There is, indeed, no good reason to suppose that such miraculous though transient disturbances of the laws of the material or the moral world, would have long or powerfully controlled either the belief or the affections of mankind. The heavenly husbandman selected the kindliest soil and the most propitious season for sowing the grain of mustard seed; and so, as time rolled on, the adaptation of our faith to the character and the exigencies of our race was continually made manifest, though under new and ever varying forms. VOL, LXXXIX. NO. CLXXIX.

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Thus the Church was at first Congregational, that by the agitation of the lowest strata of society the superincumbent mass of corruption, idolatry, and mental servitude might be broken up- then Synodal or Presbyterian, that the tendency of separate societies to heresy and schism might be counteracted then Episcopal, that, in ages of extreme difficulty and peril, the whole body might act in concert and with decision-then Papal, that it might oppose a visible unity to the armies of the Crescent and the barbarians of the North — then Monastic, that learning, art, and piety might be preserved in impregnable retreats amidst the deluge of ignorance and of feudal oppression—then Scholastic, that the human mind might be educated for a return to a sounder knowledge, and to primitive doctrine - then Protestant, that the soul might be emancipated from error, superstition, and spiritual despotism — then partially Reformed, in the very bosom

of the papacy, lest that emancipation should hurry the whole of Christendom into precipitate change and lawless anarchy — and then at length Philosophical, to prove that as there are no depths of sin or misery to which the healing of the Gospel cannot reach, so there are no heights of speculation to which the wisdom of the Gospel cannot ascend.

Believing thus in the Perpetuity as well as on the Catholicity of the Church, and judging that she is still the same in spirit throughout all ages, although, in her external developments, flexible to the varying necessities of all, we have ventured on some former occasions, and are again about, to assert, for the

pure and reformed branches' of it in England and in Scotland, an alliance with the heroes of the faith in remote times, and in less enlightened countries; esteeming that to be the best Protestantism, which, while it frankly condemns the errors of other Christian societies, yet claims fellowship with the piety, the wisdom, and the love, which, in the midst of those errors, have attested the divine original of them all.

If, according to the advice which on some of those occasions we have presumed to offer to those who are studious of such subjects, there be among us any scholar meditating a Protestant history of the Monastic Orders, he will find materials for a curious chapter in this correspondence of the French Benedictines of the reign of Louis the XIV. In that fraternity light and darkness succeeded each other by a law the reverse of that which obtained in Europe at large. From the promulgation of their rule in the sixth century, their monasteries were comparatively illuminated amidst the general gloom of the dark ages. But when the sun arose on the outer world, its beams scarcely penetrated their cloisters; nor did they hail the return

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ing dawn of literature and science until the day was glowing all around them in meridian splendour. Then, however, passing at one vault from the haze of twilight to the radiance of noon, they won the wreath of superior learning, even in the times of Tillemont and Du Cange — though resigning the palm of genius to Bourdaloue, Bossuet, and Pascal. Thus the three great epochs of their annals are denoted by the growth, the obscuration, and the revival of their intellectual eminence. M. Valery's volumes illustrate the third and last stage of this progress, which cannot, however, be understood without a rapid glance at each of the two preceding stages. • But why,' it may be asked, direct the eye at all to the

* • mouldering records of monastic superstition, self-indulgence, 6 and hypocrisy? Why indeed? From contemplating the mere debasement of any of the great families of man, no images can be gathered to delight the fancy, nor any examples to move or to invigorate the heart. And doubtless he who seeks for such knowledge, may find in the chronicles of the convent a fearful disclosure of the depths of sin and folly into which multitudes of our brethren have plunged, under the pretence of more than human sanctity. But the same legends will supply some better lessons, to him who reads books that he may learn to love, and to benefit his fellow men. They will teach him that, as in Judæa, the temple, so, in Christendom, the monastery, was the ark, freighted during the deluge, with the destinies of the Church and of the world, - that there our own spiritual and intellectual ancestry found shelter amidst the tempest, --- that there were matured those powers of mind which gradually infused harmony and order into the warring elements of the European Commonwealth, — and that there many of the noblest ornaments of our common Christianity were trained, to instruct, to govern, and to bless the nations of the West.

Guided by the maxim that whatever any one saint records * of any other saint must be true,' we glide easily over the enchanted land along which Domnus Johannes Mabillon conducts the readers of the earlier parts of his wonderous compilations; receiving submissively the assurance that St. Benedict sang eucharistic hymns in his mother's womb -— raised a dead child to life — caused his pupil Maurus to tread the water dryshod-untied by a word the knotted cords with which an Arian Goth (Zalla by name) had bound an honest rustic - cast out of one monk a demon, who had assumed the disguise of a farrierrendered visible to another a concealed dragon, who was secretly tempting him to desertion—and by laying a consecrated wafer on the bosom of a third, enabled him to repose in a grave which

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till then had continually cast him out; -- for all these facts the great annalist relates of his patriarch St. Benedict, on the authority of the pontiff (first of that name) St. Gregory. If, however, the record had contained no better things than these, the memorial of Benedict would long since have perished with him.

His authentic biography is comprised in a very few words. He was born towards the end of the fifth century, at Nursia, in the duchy of Spoleto. His mother died in giving him birth. He was sent to Rome for his education by his father, a member of the Anician family, which Claudian has celebrated; but was driven from the city by the invasions of Odoacer and Theodoric to the Mons Subiacus, where, while yet a beardless youth, he

his abode as a hermit. Like Jerome, he was haunted in his solitude by the too vivid remembrance of a Roman lady; and subdued his voluptuous imagination by rolling his naked body among the thorns.

The fame of such premature sanctity recommended him to the monks of the neighbouring monastery as their abbot; but scarcely had he assumed the office when, disgusted by the rigours of his discipline, the electors attempted to get rid of him by poison. Returning to his hermitage, he scon found himself in the centre of several rude huts, erected in his vicinity by other fugitives from the world, who acknowledged him as the superior of this monastic village. But their misconduct compelled him again to seek a new retirement; which he found at Monte Casino, on the frontiers of the Abbruzzi. There, attended by some of his pupils and former associates, he passed the remainder of his life --- composing his rule, and establishing the Order which, at the distance of thirteen centuries, still retains his name and acknowledges his authority. He died in the year 543, in the sixty-fourth year of his age.

To the intercourse of Benedict with the refractory monks of Subiaco, may perhaps be traced the basis of his system. It probably revealed to him the fact that Indolence, Self-will, and Selfishness are the three archdæmons of the cloister; and suggested the inference that Industry, Obedience, and Community of goods are the antagonist powers which ought to govern there. But the comprehensiveness of thought with which he so exhausted the science of monastic polity, that all subsequent rules have been nothing more than modifications of his own, - the prescience with which he reconciled conventual franchises with abbatial dominion, -- the skill with which he at once concentrated and diffused power among the different members of his order, according as the objects in view were general or local, — and the deep insight into the human heart by which he rendered myriads of men and women, during more than thirty successive

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