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viation was no small advantage. Merit of all kinds is comparative; and the surgical merit of the monks, in comparison with that which they found established, is great indeed. And, although our Cooper might smile, (if his humane mind were not shocked at the contemplation of such misery,) at the awkward operations of the cloistered faculty, yet their system was then as superior to the old one, as ours may be to theirs.
It was urged, that the improvements in jurisprudence were owing to the exertions of the monks, who mainly contributed to the adoption in Europe of the Justinian Code.
Architecture, like every other art, requiring any thing like studious application, was solely understood by the monks; and of their excellence in this branch of knowledge, the numerous, or rather numberless edifices scattered over Europe, were an unanswerable proof. Neither time nor rapine had been able to entirely destroy those glorious productions, and their beauty alone give unanswerable denial to the falsehood contained in Earl Cromwell's letter, that "monasteries were filled with none but idlers, and were unfaithful to the state."
With regard to agriculture and gardening, it appears, that it was not by knowledge only that the monks improved these most useful arts. In the early and dark ages of Europe, when might was law, the condition of the villains, or husbandmen, and artificers, was lamentable in the extreme: they were condemned to be constantly robbed of the fruits of their labor by the extortion of their masters; their masters contributed to the necessities of the barons, who, again, were obliged to give large sums, which were called loans, to the king. There was no security in property amongst the lower orders; and it is not hard to see, that, where the greatest exertion would only render him a better prize to his lawless master, a man would be apt to content himself with doing no more than was just necessary for his support. This state of things, however, did not extend to the monasteries: their land was seldom taxed, and even then but very lightly. The clergy, too, reserved the right of taxing themselves; and, it may be conjectured, that such a taxation was never very grievous :-holding then their lands on better terms than laymen, and better acquainted also with all the modes of agriculture, it is no wonder that the fields around monasteries always afforded the best returns for the labor bestowed on them. Their exemption from the payment of arbitrary imposts, relieved them from the necessity the barons were under of oppressing the tenantry; and, accordingly, we find, that the holders of abbey lands were more secure of their tenement, and, as a necessary consequence, were more attentive and anxious to adopt any improved mode
of agriculture, by which they, and not their masters, would reap the greater profit. It was boldly asserted, that, if the feudal system had not been thus in some degree counteracted by the monks, that agriculture never could have flourished in any part of Europe. It was also strongly urged, that nothing could exceed the charity of the monastic regulations. Abbeys were at once the abode of learning, the retreat of piety, and the refuge for the persecuted; they were the only poor-houses; and, whilst they existed, the poor never needed assistance from the state, which they have done ever since the dissolution of religious houses. It was observed, that monasteries were also the hospitals for the sick, and at the same time the only inns for travellers.
Taking, therefore, a view of monachism in every point,when we consider the preservation, by their means, of the Sacred Scriptures,-of the writings of the fathers of the church, and of the classics; when we look at the exemplary piety and learning of the monks, at their practical knowledge, of their charitable and hospitable use of the wealth which they possessed, it was assumed, after making allowance for defects which no human institution was totally free from, that monastic institutions were most beneficial to Europe.
ON THE OTHER HAND, it was contended, that those who had supported the affirmative of this question, had praised too highly the merits of monachism, and had said little of its notorious vices. To follow the arguments of the other side in their order, it was first contended, that literature was not encouraged in monasteries with all the warmth and affection which it was said they had for learning. One or two instances had been brought forward of great learning and knowledge certainly, when the then state of literature was taken into consideration; but it was by no means clear, that such learning and knowledge were effected at all by monachism; it was the effort of great minds, who became enlightened rather in spite of the leaden influence of monkery and superstition, than under shelter of its fostering wing. What can be said for the general love of literature in monasteries, when it is notorious, that in one of them many classic authors were cut up to make rackets? In William of Malmesbury's Chronicle is a quotation from Livy's description of Cæsar's passage over the Rhine, which makes part of the lost decades. Where is this decade? Fitz-Stephen also alludes to a passage in the larger history of Sallust; where is this history? What could be clearer evidence of the systematic barbarism of the monks, than the allowing such books to be lost, or applied to unworthy purposes?-yet so it was.
No one would deny, that, if the ruthless conquerors of Rome
had proceeded in their work of destruction, learning would be in the state described by the opener; but it was contended, that, although it so happened that certain monks were the persons who preserved the remnants of Roman erudition, yet monachism had but little merit in the good work. Aldfrid, who bought one book at the price of an estate, was king of Northumberland, and not a monk. Monachism was a religious institution; the popes were frequently opposed to literary studies in monasteries; instances could be cited of censures being passed on the acquisition, by monks, of the Greek language; and the general ignorance of the inhabitants of monasteries, was a proof of the little interest taken in classical or any other learning. What praises had the supporters of monachism in store for the learning of Lewis Beaumont, the French nobleman, who was raised to the see of Durham? This brilliant example of learning, who studied hard to be enabled to read to the people the pope's bull, making him a bishop,-when he came to the word "metropoliticæ," and had tried once or twice to utter it, "Soit pour dit," (suppose that said,) quoth this genius; and when he came to Ænigmate, "By St. Louis," said he, "it could be no gentleman who wrote this trash." Meinhard too, the bishop of Paderborn, who used to read the church-service, "Benedic, Domine, regibus et reginis, mulis et mulabus tuis," instead of "famulis et famulabus!" is doubtless another proof of the stupendous learning of the monks.
Amongst the discoveries of the monks, why had the other side omitted a very great one, made by their logicians, viz. "that contradictory assertions might be both true?" Amongst the inventions of monachism, why omit to mention the ingenious questions of those lights of the age, about matter and spirit; and of the place of hell?-why were their learned disputes forgotten of "how many million of souls could be damned in a cubic foot?"-or," how many angels could dance on a needle's point without jostling?" How could their definition of light be omitted, the act of perspicuous, so far forth as it is perspicuous?"
History instructs us, by numerous instances, that learning was little esteemed by either pope or council; and that, provided a monk was seemingly virtuous, or a sworn devotee to the interest of the church, his literature was little thought of. When, in the reign of King John, Walter de Gray was made archbishop of Canterbury, what were his qualifications?" because he was reputed pure from fornication ever since he was born;" there was also another recommendation, to be spoken of in its proper place, when that part of the opener's arguments came to be
touched on, which alluded to the political effects of monachism.
Upon the whole, it appeared, that the spirit of monkery was unfavorable to learning; and, if we have some instances of wisdom from amongst the monks, it was owing to the genius of those great men disdaining to be confined by the narrow trammels and superstitious folly of their associates.
Hitherto the charges brought against monastic institutions were of crimes of omission, rather than of commission; and amounted to little more than simply denying that they had been beneficial to literature. In reply, however, to what had been advanced in favor of their religious and political usefulness, it would be necessary to bring forward such a statement of facts as would shew them, not merely as drones in the world, 66 consumere fruges," &c., but as the most mischievous and unprincipled men ever yet assembled under the cloak of virtue to commit crimes of the deepest dye. First of all, then, to examine them in their religious character:-If we look to the very origin of monkery, what could be said in its favor? To honor God, is it necessary to withdraw from the world? Is it the only way tó Divine favor, to abandon our post in our country? The monks, perhaps, thought it was. We, however, who believe that we ought "to do our duty in that state of life to which it shall please God to call us," think differently and, however pious and well-disposed the first monks might have been, still we must consider them as acting under a wrong impulse, and, in founding a system afterwards so prevalent, as the authors of infinite mischief. The account Mosheim gives of the origin of monkery is this:
Origen, enchanted by the charms of the Platonic philosophy, set it up amongst his disciples, as in some measure the test of religion; and hence many fanciful notions came to be grafted into the simple stem of Christianity."
This great man, and his disciples, held the doctrine of Plato concerning the mind,-" that the divine nature was diffused into the human soul;" i. e. that the faculty of reason, from which proceeds the health and vigor of the mind, was an emanation from God into the human soul, and comprehended in it the principles and elements of all truth, moral and divine. They denied that men could, either by labor or study, excite this celestial flame in their breasts; and they, therefore, disapproved highly of the attempts of those, who, by definitions, abstract theorems, and profound speculations, endeavoured to form distinct notions of truth, and to discover its hidden nature. On the contrary, they maintained, that silence, tranquillity, repose, and solitude, accompanied with such acts of mortification as might tend to extenuate and exhaust the
body, were the means by which the hidden and internal word was excited to produce its latent virtues, and to instruct men in the knowledge of divine things. They would say thus: 66 They who behold, with a noble contempt, all human affairs, -who turn away their eyes from terrestrial vanities, and shut all the avenues of the outward senses against the contagious influence of a material world, must necessarily return to God, when the spirit is thus disengaged from the impediments that obstructed that happy union: and in this blessed frame they not only enjoy inexpressible raptures, from their communion with the Supreme Being, but also are invested with the inestimable privilege of contemplating truth undisguised and uncorrupted in its native purity, while others behold it in a vitiated and delusive form. This method of reasoning produced strange effects, and drove many into caves and deserts, where they macerated their bodies with hunger and thirst, and submitted to all the miseries of the severest discipline that a gloomy and disordered imagination could prescribe. And it is not improbable that Paul, the first hermit, was rather engaged by this fanatical system, than, by the persecution under Decius, to fly into the most solitary deserts of Thebais, where he led, during the space of ninety years, a life more worthy of a savage beast than of a rational being.* It is however to be observed, that, though Paul is placed at the head of the order of hermits, yet that unsociable manner of life was very common in Egypt, Syria, India, and Mesopotamia, not only long before his time, but even before the coming of Christ; and it is still practised among the Mahometans, as well as the Christians, in those arid and burning climates. For the glowing atmosphere that surrounds these countries is a natural cause of that love of solitude and repose, of that indolent and melancholy disposition, that are remarkably common among their languid inhabitants.
Beside which heresy, we must lay many other corruptions of Christianity to the door of the monks. "The systems of Grecian philosophy had gained so many admirers among the converts to Christianity, and by their alluring theories had so far succeeded in perplexing its simple truths, that men of the highest abilities eagerly engaged in the new pursuits; and that harmonious and manly language, which the sages and the poets, and the orators of Greece had spoken, was alienated to the purposes of sophistic disputation "+
Divinity, at length, took a new turn, and soared above the Scriptures. The schoolmen valued themselves on their theo
* Life of Paul, by St. Jerome.
f Voyages de Paul Lucas au Levant, &c. vol. ii.