Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of these it was necessary to cultivate the art of ornamental writing, gilding, and setting precious stones. Servants skilled in these various employments might be found in the establishments of ecclesiastical dignitaries, and among the inmates of monasteries : nor did the clergy themselves deem it any degradation to practise the useful and elegant arts. The performance of mass led to the cultivation of a taste for music. Beside the harp and different kinds of wind instruments, such as the flute and horn, early mention is made of the organ, an instrument of which Bede gives a minute description : and attention seems to have been paid to music regarded as a science. The gentle and soothing influence of harmonious sounds will scarcely fail to be recognised as having been a civilizing power upon the minds of many a rude inhabitant of the British isles; and, in a little melody which has floated down to us from those distant times, we find express mention of the effect produced upon Canute the Great, who as he was approaching Ely in his boat, with his queen and courtiers, heard the music of the monks at their devotions, and was so affected that he told the rowers to pause, that he might listen to the sounds which were wafted by the breeze from the church, which stood on the rock before him.* Some of the hymns sung in those days were very beautiful ; and to those who understood them, they conveyed sentiments adapted to elevate the tone of moral and religious feeling, by directing the heart to the

* Sharon Turner Anglo-Saxons, vol. iii. 279.

source of all piety and virtue. Such was the following hymn, chanted in many a monastery at the hour of prime :

“Now that the sun is gleaming bright

Implore we, bending low,
That He, the uncreated light,

May guide us as we go.
No sinful word, nor deed of wrong,

Nor thoughts that idly rove,
But simple truth be on our tongue,

And in our hearts be love,
And while the hours in order flow,

O Christ, securely fence
Our gates, beleaguer'd by the foe,

The gate of every sense.
And grant that to thine honour, Lora,

Our daily toil may tend,
That we begin it at thy word,

And in thy favour end."*

In bringing to a close this rapid survey of the influence of the church, during the middle ages, upon the manners, morals, literature, and arts of society, we cannot suppress the remark, which, however, must be obvious to every one, who at all thinks upon the subject, that the decided benefits emanating from this source, proceeded from so much of the genuine spirit of Christianity as still remained within its bosom, while benefits of but a doubtful, or imperfect kind, and evils, some of them most flagrant in their nature, were the fruit of institutions which men had officiously planted around the temple of God. Nor, when attempting to estimate the social good and evil thus produced, should we forget to think of the far larger amount of good, with no attend

• Translation from Quarterly Rev. No. 148, p. 324.

ant evil, which might have been produced had Christianity been preserved in her purity, and her heaven-born energies been fully developed and directed to the improvement of mankind. Assuredly the church failed to perform her' mission ; and the benefits she actually conferred on society were but scanty and imperfect specimens of those rich and clustered blessings, which, if faithful to her Lord, she would have been enabled plentifully to scatter over all the nations of the world. It affords matter for curious speculation to inquire, what might have been the course of European history if Christianity had continued uncorrupt from the beginning, and the church had maintained her purity. Perhaps the progress of decay in the Roman empire might have been arrested, and the spirit of a new and righteous civilisation might have been infused into the commonwealth : or, if that had not been the case, yet the destiny of the nations, into which that colossal power was broken up, might have been one of far more rapid and decided advancement than it has proved to be. Much of the social conflict and confusion of the middle ages, perhaps, might have been prevented, and the human mind preserved from its deep and long degradation. The course of civilisation, instead of being like the troubled mountain stream, dashing, roaring, foaming, and eddying on its way, might rather have resembled the deep broad river, flowing calmly and steadily on, and reflecting from its glassy surface the hues of heaven.

CHAPTER III.

THE MONASTERY.

MONACHISM was so closely interwoven with the church system of the middle ages, that it may be thought a review of its history and tendencies should have been included in the former chapter: but it exerted so much influence peculiar to itself, and presents so many illustrations of the state of mediæval society, as to claim distinct consideration.

SECTION 1.

RISE OF MONACHISM. MONACHISM did not spring from pure Christianity, but was engrafted upon the system, after it had been grievously corrupted. It is evidently one of the great offshoots of that ascetic principle which is indigenous in human nature, and of which the developments may be traced in the Jewish Essenes, the Greek Cynics, the Alexandrian Platonists, the British Druids, and the Eastern Brahmins.

The practice of a monastic life, in its connexion with the church, commenced in Egypt, in the third century. The storms of persecution drove many into the deserts, where they sought to carry out the ascetic principles, which, even at that time, were so strongly advocated by Cyprian and others. The spirit of self-righteousness, which had led to the pharisaism of the Jews, and had produced no little of pharisaism among Christians, doubtless helped on the result; to which, perhaps, the contemplative habits of the east, the preference of quietude to activity, and the notion, that the height of religious excellence consists in the absorption of the mind by spiritual meditation, in some measure contributed. The founders of monachism were, in fact, hermits, who sought the cavern and the den, the ruins of sepulchres, and the dreariest spots of the desert, as scenes favourable to piety and communion with Heaven. That they were ignorant, deluded, and superstitious, is apparent enough ; but it would be uncharitable, and contrary to historical evidence, to deny the sincerity and earnest devotion of many of these anchorets. They were men who felt the corruption of their nature, who realized the presence and agency of fallen spirits, and who sought to subdue the one, and to conquer the other, by their self-mortification. The desert was to them a place of awful silence, and sublime solitude, but no place of repose and peace, for there they were ever striving to crucify the flesh, and were

« AnteriorContinuar »