FROM the earliest days of Christianity there have always been those who from a deep sense of God and of the wickedness of the world around them, have felt the desire to withdraw and make their homes in deserted places.
After Europe become converted to Christianity, monasticism was an escape from the evils of feudalism, from the rapacity of the great landowners, from a Church which not only condoned but practiced the sin of simony, from the corruptness and immorality of half-civilized rulers and their courts. Those who could not face the loneliness of a solitary life might join a community of monks, living under severe discipline, and praying and studying the scriptures.
|From probably the 4th century
holy men took up their abode as hermits on Mount Carmel in Syria, but it was not till about the year 1150 that
pilgrims established an association for the purpose of leading a secluded life on this mountain, and so laid the
foundation of the order of Carmelites, mendicant friars of the order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Being driven by the Saracens to Europe in 1247 they adopted all the forms of monastic life and a somewhat milder rule.
In time they became divided into several branches, one of them distinguished by walking barefooted.
They are still to be seen in Roman Catholic countries.
The habit of the order is of a dark-brown colour, and over it when out of doors they wear a white cloak, with a hood to cover the head.
It is impossible to understand life in the Middle Ages without taking into account the strength of the impulse of "fleeing from the world," around them. Life in the cloister was often the only alternative to a hateful marriage, arranged, perhaps, with complete disregard of all personal feeling.
Benedict (St.) and his Rule
Benedictine's are the most famous and widely-spread of all the orders of monks, early in the sixth century, Benedict (St.) of Nursia. founded a monastery at Monte Cassino, about half-way between Rome and Naples, in 529.
Benedict's (St. d. 543) rule was drawn up, and it is not surprising that it became the model for all the various Orders; This celebrated "Rule." became "the standard code of monastic life for all Western Christendom.'' and later reformers reverted to this Rule in spirit, though they might adapt its details. Extreme or harsh austerities, scarcely possible for the human frame, found no place in Benedict's (St.) Rule. "We are ..... now about to institute a school for the service of God," he wrote, "in which we hope nothing harsh nor burdensome will be ordained. But if we proceed in certain things with some little severity, sound reason so advising for the amendment of vices or the preserving of charity, do not for fear of this forthwith flee from the way of salvation, which is always narrow in the beginning."
When a. novice entered a Benedictine monastery, whether he was noble or peasant, he underwent a severe novitiate lasting twelve months in which he could test his vocation. At the end of this time he would be received into the Order, and make his threefold vow of poverty, obedience, and chastity. He would work with his hands as well as with his brain, for St. Benedict said that "Idleness is the enemy of the soul." The Abbot had control of the monastery, but was expected to ask and to follow the advice of the whole convent. Perfect obedience was enjoined. ".......... they live not as themselves , neither do they obey their own desires and pleasures; but following the command and direction of another."
The Rule ordered that monks should be dressed in coarse plain garments, and forbade them to have any private possessions. Only the aged and sick were allowed meat, or granted permission to take baths. For them there should be "a kind consideration."
During meals only the voice of the reader was heard; the brethren kept silence and communicated only by signs. Guests were entertained elsewhere, in a guest-house removed from the refectory where the brethren ate. Hospitality was given to all comers, and "broken meats" were distributed to the poor and needy. Services were held in the chapel, beginning with Matins at 2 a.m., and ending with Compline in the evening.
No religious order has been so remarkable for extent, wealth, and men of note and learning as the Benedictines. Perhaps Benedict did more than any other man in his age to carry on the ancient tradition of culture and to ensure its continuance.
|The hours after vespers, from three to
Six o'clock, were generally set aside for study, and for writing and illuminating those manuscripts which are the
glory of medieval European civilization, and a permanent minder of the devotion and skill of monastic craftsmen.
The order was probably introduced into England about 600 by Augustine (St.) of Canterbury, and a great many abbeys, and all the cathedral priories of England, save Carlisle, belonged to it.
In Britain the Benedictines were called Blackfriars, from the colour of their habit which consisted of a loose black gown With large wide sleeves, and a cowl on the head ending in a point.
The Benedictines have produced many valuable literary works. The fraternity of St. Maur, founded in 1618, had in the beginning of the eighteenth century 180 abbeys and priories in France, and acquired by means of its learned members, such as Mabillon, Montfaucon, and Martene, merited distinction.
They published the celebrated chronological work L' Art de Verifier les Dates, and edited many ancient authors.
As time passed, some of the monasteries grew slack in their observance of the Rule, and abuses sometimes crept in.
Among the branches of the order the chief were the Cluniacs, founded in 910 at Clugny in Burgundy; Soon afterwards another monastery was founded at Chartreuse founded by Bruno about 1080. The Carthusian monks led a strict life of toil and prayer, and abjured all the pleasures of the world.
A third order of reformed Benedictines was founded the Cistercian (1098), in Citeaux, in France, they had such a horror of riches that they would not even allow their priests to wear embroidered vestments. They sought out the most lonely places in which to build their glorious churches all over Europe. The Cistercian monks particularly in England did much good work in sheep-farming and reclaiming barren waste land.
They were reformed by Bernard (St.d. 1153) in 1116; who founded Clairvaux. With his eloquence; he roused Europe to a Crusade, he reproved a king, deposed an Anti-Pope, and denounced heretics.
Francis of Assisi.
Few men have had a more profound and enduring influence, simply by force of their own personality, than Francis, the son of Pietro Bernadone, a merchant of Assisi. As a boy, he was a popular member of society in the little town. Suddenly he abandoned his pleasure-seeking life, and began to spend his time among the poor outcasts, wrecks of humanity such as lepers. It was generally assumed that a loathsome disease must be sent as punishment for sin; and this partly accounts for the callous attitude to sufferers which was general in the Middle Ages. But Francis gave all he had to help beggars and lepers, to the great annoyance of his parents and friends. Finally, he gave up all his possessions, even the clothes he wore, and putting on a coarse robe of brown wool he renounced the world and vowed he would wed none other than "My Lady Poverty.
Francis retained all his former joy in life, despite the squalor and poverty in which he chose to live. Nor did he confine his help and sympathy to human beings; many stories are told of his kindness to animals and birds. bow he would set free caged birds, and how he persuaded the savage wolf of Agobio to give up his marauding ways. Soon after others joined Francis, like him disgusted at the heartlessness and faithlessness of the world, and at last he decided to Found an order of Friars who should preach simply to the people and nurse the sick and comfort the wretched.
Franciscans are the members of the religious order established by Francis (St.) of Assisi about 1210. They are also called Minorites, or Fratres Minores ('lesser friars'), which was the name given them by their founder in token of humility, and sometimes Gray Friars, from the colour of their garment.
Francis (St.) himself collected nuns in 1209. Clara was their prioress; hence they were called the nuns of St. Clara. The nuns were also divided into branches, according to the severity of their roles. The Urbanists were a branch founded by Pope Urban IV.; they revered Isabella (St.) daughter of Louis VIII. of France, as their mother. Francis (St.) also founded in 1221 a third order, of both sexes, for persons who did not wish to take the monastic vows, and yet desired to adopt a few of the easier observances. They are called Tertiarians or Tertiaries, and were very numerous in the 13th century. From them proceeded several heretical fraternities, as the Fraticelli and Beghards.
Pope Innocent III. (1198-1216) encouraged Francis to carry on his work, but the Franciscan Order did not receive formal sanction until 1223.
When Francis died, in 1226, his Order was well known, and his followers were to be seen all over Europe, for they filled a place in medieval society and supplied a quality that had long been lacking. The monks led holy lives, many of them, in the seclusion of their monasteries, but they did not go out into the world to grapple with unhappiness and disease at first hand, nor did they keep in touch with the world, for they lived in a world apart; each monastery a little world to itself.
|The order was distinguished by vows of absolute poverty
and a renunciation of the pleasures of the world, and was intended to serve the church by its care of the religious
state of the people. The rule of the order destined them to beg and to preach. The popes granted them extensive
privileges, and they had an evil repute as spies, frequenting the courts of princes and the homes of noblemen,
and the landed gentry. Early in the 15th century they split up into two branches, the Conventuals
and the Observants or Sabotiers.
The former went barefooted, wore a long gray cassock and cloak and hood of large dimensions, covering the breast
and back, and a knotted girdle. The Observants wore wooden sandals, a cassock, a narrow hood, a short cloak with
a wooden clasp, and a brown robe.
In France the members of the order not belonging to any particular sect are called Cordeliers, from the cord which they tie about them. The Capuchins, so called from the peculiar kind of hood or cowl (capuce) which they wear, originated in a reform introduced among the Observantists by Matthew of Baschi in the early part of the 16th century, and although it received the approbation of different popes within a short time after its foundation, it did not receive the sight of electing a particular general and become an independent order till 1619.
|Franciscans wore "Brown" but Francis and his followers were known as the "Grey" Friars.||The whole number of Franciscans and Capuchins in the 18th century amounted to 115,000 monks, in 7000 convents.|
Dominicans, are also called predicants, or preaching friars (proedicatores), at their origin (1216, at Toulouse) they were governed by the rule of Augustine (St.), perpetual silence, poverty, and fasting being enjoined upon them; and the principal object of their institution was to preach against heretics.
Their distinctive dress consists of a white habit
and scapular with large black mantle, and hence they have been commonly known as Black Friars.
They were almost from the first a mendicant order.
Soon the Friars made their way to the
Universities, and here their influence was great. The two Orders preserved their individuality, reflecting the
spirit of their founders, for Dominic was known as "the Hammer of the heretics," while Francis was "The Father of the Poor ".
The Dominicans aimed their mission at the more educated classes, the Franciscans appealing to the souls of the poor while tending their bodies. The former were sometimes called - with a typically medieval pun - "Domini canes," "the Lord's watchdogs," to protect the Lord's flock against ravening heretic wolves.
Both Orders played an important part in affairs, sometimes as emissaries of the Pope, or as negotiators and advisers in political crises.
In this connection they traveled some distance from the original intention of their founders, and the simple piety and mysticism of the first members spent itself, until dissension's arose within the Orders themselves, and the seeds of corruption were sown.
The Dominicans wore black habits
and were called "Black'
In the early thirteenth century both
black and gray habits were welcomed among all those who were poor, or sick, or in any way distressed.
In 1425 they obtained permission to receive donations, and ceased to belong to the mendicant orders, paying more attention to politics and theological science. With the Franciscans, their great rivals, they divided the honour of ruling in church and state till the 16th century, when the Jesuits gradually superseded them in the schools and courts. They spread rapidly not only in Europe, but in Asia, Africa and America. In England there were fifty-eight Dominican houses at the dissolution of the monasteries, and the Blackfriars locality in London took its name from one of their establishments.
They obtained new importance in 1620 by being appointed to the censorship of books for the church. Amongst notable Dominicans we may mention Savonarola, Las Casas, and Lacordaire. There are still establishments of the Dominicans both in England and Ireland.