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meditation, and silent labour. They were called “ Monks,” from a Greek word, signifying, a person living alone. For the same purpose of pious retirement, others, particularly in times of persecution, retired to inaccessible mountains or lonely deserts. Of these, the first whose name has reached us, is St. Paul, usually called the first hermit. In the 250th year of the Christian æra, he retired to the Upper Egypt; and, having attained his 113th year, died in 341. About the same time, St. Anthony, after spending many years in perfect solitude, permitted a numerous body of men to live in community with him, and to lead, under his direction, a life of piety and manual labour, sanctified by prayer.
St. Pachomius was the first who composed a written rule for the conduct of monks. The communities under his direction inhabited the desert of Tabenne, an island in the Nile, between the town of Girge and the ancient Thebes. Thirty or forty of them occupied one house; thirty or forty houses composed a monastery, and the desert of Tabenne contained about thirteen monasteries. A dean was placed over every ten monks; every house had its superior, every monastery its abbot, and a general director superintended all. Every Sunday, all the monks of the monastery met at its common oratory: and, at Easter, the monks of all the communities, sometimes amounting to 50,000, assembled in one body for its celebration. It some
times happened, that, after passing several years
of a monastic life, a monk, aiming at higher perfection, retired, with that view, to a stricter solitude. This divided the monks into two classes, the Cænobites, who lived in community, and the Anchorites, who lived in separate cells. Each separate cell was sometimes bounded by a small inclosure; their general precinct was called a Laura. With such establishments, Ægypt and Libya abounded. The number of these monastic establishments was very great : almost all of them were destroyed by the Saracens : the few, which remain, are described by Father Sicard, (Missions du Levant, tom. 11. pa. 29–79, tom. v. pa. 122–200.)
Such was the origin of the monastic state.Nothing in sacred biography is more interesting than the accounts of its founders, and their most eminent disciples. These were written by their contemporaries, and have been translated into almost every modern language.—Every romancatholic recollects with pleasure, the exquisite delight, with which, when he was at school, he perused the Lives of the Venerable Fathers of the Desert, the name assigned to them by the roman-catholic church, as they are written by Arnaud d'Andilly in his Vies des Pères du Désert, 3 vols. 8vo, or 2 vols. 4to : by Villefore, in his Vies des Saints Pères des Déserts d'Orient et d'Occident, 5 vols. 12mo : by Rossweide in his Histoires des Vies des Pères des Déserts 1 vol. fol : by the late Dr. Challoner, in his Lives of the Fathers of the Desert, i vol; Svo. and by Mr. Alban Butler, in his Lives of the Saints, of which a stereotype edition, in twelve volumes octavo, with elegant engravings, has lately appeared.
Similar establishments of monastic communities, but much fewer in number, were established for the female sex.
Sr. ATHANASIUS introduced the MONASTIC STATE INTO THE WEST.
III. 1. About two hundred years after its introduction, St. BENEDICT, an Italian monk, framed his religious rule for the government of a convent at Mount Cassino, between Rome and Naples, over which he presided. It was formed on that of St. Pachomius, and contained the same division of time, for prayer and manual labour: the same silence and the same solitude ; but some relaxation in the article of diet. St. Pachomius allowed his disciples twelve ounces of biscuit, to be taken by them at two repasts; one, early in the afternoon; the other, late in the evening, with an occasional, but not a very frequent allowance of cheese, fruit, herbs, and small dried fish. Meat was expressly forbidden by St. Benedict, to be served to his disciples, except in serious illness. They were in dulged by him, with a daily allowance of half a pint of wine : which his disciples exchanged, in the northern climates, for a proportional allowance
of strong beer or cider. His rule was embraced by all the monks of the West.
Among the benefactors to humanity, none, perhaps, are entitled to a higher rank than the disciples of St. Benedict. A celebrated protestant historian, M. Mallet, in his Histoire des Suisses ou Helvetiens, (tom. 1. p. 105), expresses his opinion of the services rendered by them to society, in the following terms:
“ The christian clergy, like the druids of Gaul, were the only depositaries of knowledge: the
only lawyers, physicians, astronomers, historians, “ notaries; the only persons acquainted with the “ Belles-Lettres ; the only persons who could “ instruct youth ;-except among them, profound
ignorance reigned everywhere. The monks “ softened, by their instructions, the ferocious man
ners of the people ; and opposed their credit to “ the despotism of the nobility, who knew no other “ occupation than war, and grievously oppressed “ their subjects and inferiors. On this account, “ the government of the monks was preferred to “ theirs. The people sought them for judges : it
was an usual saying, that it was better to be governed by a bishop's crosier, than a monarch's
sceptre. The monks were engaged in useful “ employments; they cleared and cultivated desert “ and savage lands. We find that, in many places, “ where those missionaries established themselves, “ agriculture, next to preaching, was their principal
occupation. Where St. Gal built his church, he
planted a garden, and reared a flock of sheep: “ he recommended to his disciples to support them“ selves by the labour of their hands. Was it
possible that such men should not be venerated, “ both during their lives and after their deaths? “ Can, then, history reckon up such a supera“ bundance of men, who have devoted themselves
to the welfare of their neighbours ? At a later “ period, the monks were corrupted by riches and
power: this is the common fate of men: but, at “ the time of which we are now speaking, they had
never been other than respectable. The monastery of St. Gal had also a school, which by degrees became famous; both laymen and per
sons, who devoted themselves to the church, “ flocked to it in crowds ; there, they copied ; “ there, several precious works of ancient writers
were discovered, which must have perished in the
general confusion of barbarous ages, without “ these asylums, where religion still threw out some
light. When we consider the profound ignorance “ of the nations who invaded the Roman empire, “ and established themselves on its ruin, their “ exclusive passion for war, their contempt for “ the sciences, the arts, and even for writing, one “ perceives that every thing then concurred to
produce in Europe the barbarism which had “ reigned so long among the Celts, Scandinavians “ and Sarmatians. What was it, which, in this