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thing, and that virginity is another: and yet they have the consummate impudence to call such a life, angelic. This is certainly doing a great injury to the angels of God, to whom they compare persons guilty of fornication, adultery, and other crimes far more atrocious and impure. And there is not the least need of arguments, when they are clearly convicted by the fact itself. For it is very evident what dreadful punishments the Lord generally inflicts on such arrogance, self-confidence, and contempt of his gifts. Modesty forbids me to animadvert on those things which are more secret, of which too much is already known. That we are not at liberty to vow any thing which may hinder us from serving God in our vocation, is beyond all controversy: as if a father of a family should vow that he will desert his wife and children, to undertake some other charge; or as if a person qualified to fill the office of magistrate, on being chosen to it, should vow that he would remain in a private station. But the observation we have made, that our liberty ought not to be despised, has some difficulty, which requires a further explication. Now the meaning may be briefly explained in the following manner. As God hath constituted us lords of all things, and hath placed them in subjection to us, in order th we might use them all for our accommodation, we have no reason to hope that we should perform a service acceptable to God, by making ourselves slaves to external things, which ought to be subservient to our assistance. I say this, because some persons consider themselves entitled to the praise of humility, if they entangle themselves with many observances, from which the Lord, for the best of reasons, intended we should be exempt. Therefore, if we would escape this danger, let us always remember, that we are never to depart from that economy which the Lord hath instituted in the Christian Church.
IV. I proceed now to the third consideration which I mentioned; that it is of great importance with what intention a vow is made, if we wish it to be approved by God. For as the Lord regards the heart, and not the external appearance, it happens that the same action, performed with different designs, is sometimes acceptable to him, and sometimes highly displeasing. If
any one vow abstinence from wine, as if there were any holiness in such abstinence, he is chargeable with superstition; if this be done for any other end which is not improper, no one can disapprove of it. Now, as far as I am able to judge, there are four ends to which our vows may be rightly directed. For the sake of further elucidation, I refer two of them to the time past, and the other two to the future. To the time past belong those vows by which we either testify our gratitude to God for benefits received, or, in order to deprecate his wrath, inflict punishment on ourselves for sins that we have coinmitted. The former may be called vows of thanksgiving; the latter, vows of penitence. Of the former we have an example in Jacob, who vowed to give to God the tenth of all he should acquire, if the Lord would bring him again from his exile to his father's house in peace. ($) We have other examples of the same kind in the ancient peace-offerings, which used to be vowed by pious kings and generals, entering on just wars, to be offered in case they should obtain the victory; or by persons labouring under more than common difficulty, in case the Lord would deliver them. Thus we are to understand all those places in the Psalms which speak of vows. (h) Vows of this kind may also be now used among us, whenever God delivers us from any great calamity, from a severe disease, or from any other danger. For on such occasions, it is not inconsistent with the duty of a pious man to consecrate to God some oblation that he has vowed, merely as a solemn token of grateful acknowledgment, that he may not appear unthankful for his goodness. The nature of the second species of vows will sufficiently appear from only one familiar example. If a person has fallen into any crime through the vice of intemperance, nothing prevents him from correcting that vice by a temporary renunciation of all delicacies, and enforcing this abstinence by a vow, to lay himself under the stronger obligation. Yet I impose no perpetual law on those who have been guilty of such an offence; I only point out what they are at liberty to do, if they think that such a vow would be useful to them. I consider a vow of this kind,
($) Gen. xxviii. 20-22.
(1) Psalm xxii. 25. Iri. 12. cxvi. 14, 18.
therefore, as lawful; but, at the same time, as left to the free choice of every individual.
V. Vows which regard the future, as I have observed, have for their object, partly to render us more cautious of danger, partly to stimulate us to the performance of duty. For example: a person perceives himself to be so prone to a certain vice, that, in something not otherwise evil, he cannot restrain himself from falling into sin, he will commit no absurdity, if he should deny himself the use of that thing for a season by a vow. If any one be convinced that this or the other ornament of dress is dangerous to him, and yet feel excessive desire for it, he cannot do better than restrain himself by imposing a necessity of abstinence, in order to free himself from all hesitation. So, if any one be forgetful or negligent of the necessary duties of piety, why may he not arouse his memory, and shake off his negligence by the imposition of a vow? In both cases, I confess, there is an appearance of pupilage; but, considered as helps of infirmity, such vows may be used with advantage by the inexperienced and imperfect. Vows, therefore, which respect one of these ends, especially those relating to external things, we shall affirm to be lawful, if they be supported by the approbation of God, if they be suitable to our calling, and if they be limited by the ability of grace which God hath given us.
VI. It will not now be difficult to conclude what ideas ought to be entertained of vows universally. There is one vow common to all the faithful, which is made in baptism, and confirmed and established by us in the profession of our faith in the Catechism, and in the reception of the Lord's Supper. For the sacraments resemble covenants, or instruments of agreement, by which God conveys his mercy to us, and in it eternal life, and we, on the other hand, promise him obedience. Now the form, or at least the sum of the vow is, that, renouncing Satan, we devote ourselves to the service of God, to obey his holy commands, and not to follow the corrupt inclinations of the flesh. This vow being sanctioned by the Scripture, and even required of all the children of God, it ought not to be doubted. that it is holy and useful. It is no objection to this, that no man in the present life performs the perfect obedience which
God requires of us: for as this stipulation is included in the covenant of grace, which contains both remission of sins and the spirit of sanctification, the promise which we then make is connected with, and presupposes our supplication for mercy, and our solicitation for assistance. In judging of particular vows, it is necessary to remember the three rules which we have given, which will enable us to form a correct estimate of the nature of every vow. Yet I would not be thought to carry my recommendation, even of those vows which I maintain to be holy, so far as to wish their daily use. For though I venture to determine nothing respecting the number or time, yet, if any person would follow my advice, he will make none but such as are sober, and of short duration. For if any one often recur to the making of many vows, all religion will be injured by their frequency, and there will be great danger of falling into superstition. If any one bind himself by a perpetual vow, he will not discharge it without great trouble and difficulty; or, wearied by its long continuance, he will at length violate it altogether.
VII. Now it is evident what great superstition has for some ages prevailed in the world on this subject. One person vowed that he would drink no wine; as though abstinence from wine were a service in itself acceptable to God. Another obliged himself to fast; another to abstain from meat on certain days, which he had falsely imagined to possess some peculiar sanctity beyond others. There were some vows far more puerile, though not made by children. For it was esteemed great wisdom to vow prilgrimages to places of more than common holiness, and to perform the journey, either on foot, or with the body half naked, that the merit might be augmented by the fatigue. These, and similar vows, with an incredible rage for which the world has long been inflamed, examined according to the rules which we have laid down, will not only be found to be vain and nugatory, but replete with manifest impiety. For whatever may be the judgment of the flesh, God holds nothing in greater abomination than services of human invention. The following pernicious and execrable opinions are also entertained: hypocrites, when they have performed these fooleries, suppose themselves to have attained a high degree of righteousness; they place the whole substance of piety in external observances; and they despise all who discover less concern about these things than themselves.
VIII. To enumerate all the particular kinds of vows, would answer no good purpose. But, because monastic vows are held in very high veneration, as they seemed to be sanctioned by the public authority of the church, it is proper to make a few brief remarks respecting them. In the first place, that no one may defend monachism, as it exists in the present day, under the pretence of ancient and long-continued prescription, it must be observed, that the mode of life in monasteries, in ancient times, was very different from what it is now. They were the retreats of those who wished to habituate themselves to the greatest austerity and patience: for the discipline attributed to the Lacedæmonians, under the laws of Lycurgus, was equalled, and even considerably exceeded in rigour, by that which was then practised among the monks. They slept on the ground without any beds or couches; they drank nothing but water; their food consisted entirely of bread, herbs, and roots; their principal dainties were oil, pease, and beans. They abstained from all delicacy of victuals and ornaments of the body. These things might be thought incredible, if they were not attested by persons who saw and experienced them, Gregory of Nazianzum, Basil, and Chrysostom. But it was by such probationary discipline that they prepared themselves for higher offices. For that the monastic colleges were at that time the seminaries, from which the Church was furnished with ministers, is sufficiently evident from the examples of those whom we have mentioned, who were all educated in monasteries, and from that situation were called to the episcopal office, as well as of many other great and excellent men of their
And Augustine shews that the same custom of supplying ministers for the Church from the monasteries continued in his time; for the monks of the island of Capraria are addressed by him in the following manner: “ We exhort you in the Lord, brethren, that you keep your purpose, and persevere to the end; and that, if at any time your mother the Church shall have need of your labour, you neither undertake the charge with eager pride, nor refuse it with flattering indolence; but that Vol. III.