« PreviousContinue »
to stem the overbearing tendencies of their age; and from that time it may be considered as forming part of the discipline of the Western Church-a discipline theoretically maintained, but in practice constantly violated in almost every part of Europe.
The East and the West, as is well known, came to a decided separation on this great point of ecclesiastical discipline. Either the usage was by no means so general in the East during the fourth century as Jerome intimates, or it fell into desuetude, or was so repugnant to the clergy that, at a later period, the council in Trullo, which finally regulated the Eastern practice, demanded celibacy only from the bishop. Such has continued to be the practice in the Greek Church. The reasons for this difference seem to lie on the surface. In the East the monks were more secluded within themselves;. they dwelt aloof from general society; they did not spread as in the West, particularly the later orders, through every rank ; nor wander abroad as apostles and missionaries, and later as mendicants and preachers, into every corner of the earth. They did not indeed always remain in their calm contemplative solitude; they were fierce partisans in religious, sometimes in civil warfare; they rushed from their caves in Nitria, or their cells on the side of Athos, into the streets of Alexandria and Constantinople—and by their surpassing ferocity sometimes almost shamed the worst cruelty of the rabble. But they acted thus in bodies, and on occasions: they were not the perpetual, busy rivals of the clergy in every district and in every parish. But the chief cause was that there was Papacy-no power which could enforce a law contrary to the general sentiment of mankind. Justinian, a sort of caliph, who almost openly assumed and undoubtedly exercised a religious as well as civil supremacy--who legislated for the clergy, for their mode of election, their position and duties, as freely as
* Is this what is called stout-hearted defence of the orthodox faith,' which, with other monastic virtues, reigned among the quietly succeeding generations of the Egyptian cenobites and solitaries ?- Life of St. Adamnan, p. 120.
with respect to any civil arrangements of the empire — was disposed to limit rather than favour the celibacy of the clergy. But so completely had the lawful marriage of the clergy become a tenet of the Greek Church that, in the disputes between the Eastern and Western Churches in the ninth and tenth centuries, it was one of the points most bitterly bandied to and fro as a mark of orthodoxy or heterodoxy.
In the West, we have said, from the time of Pope Siricius the celibacy of the clergy was the law of the Church; but it was a law which was so opposed to the common feelings of mankind, that it was for some centuries eluded, defied, and even resisted by main force. In the North of Europe, in England during parts of the Saxon period, in Germany, if we receive as authority the indignant declamations of the high advocates of celibacy, the breach was at least as common as the observance of the rule. If it was an evil, it was an evil of vast extent, and inveterate in the manners of the clergy, against which Hildebrand for the first time wielded the thunders of the Vatican with much success. Even in Italy the Lombard clergy, especially those of Milan, boldly asserted their liberty of marriage : they declared that they had a tradition from St. Ambrose himself whom the Church of Milan professed to venerate with almost as much honour as Rome did St. Peter) which allowed them the same latitude as prevailed in the Greek Church. It needed the sword of a fierce crusader, Herlembard, to hew asunder the bonds which united the clergy to their wives, whom it was the policy of the hostile party to brand with the odious name of concubines, while they retaliated on the unmarried clergy by far more odious appellations. But the history of this European strife is yet to be written with philosophic equity and Christian tenderness. On the Milanese chapter we have two remarkable authorities, the historians Arnulphus and Landulphus, who were partisans of the married clergy—the most curious perhaps of all Muratori's curious collections of mediæval history. Hildebrand, a wise man in his generation, knew that the
power of the Pope through the clergy and over the clergy depended on their celibacy; and for that reason alone, to the extent that the Papacy was beneficial to mankind, so was the celibacy of the clergy. But at what sacrifice this advantage was bought can only be estimated by a long historical disquisition, which for the present at least we must decline.
But, even in the Church of Rome, it may be said, for other times, other manners :—the celibacy of the clergy, according to all their best writers, is a question of discipline, not of doctrine. It rests on ecclesiastical authority, and is repealable by ecclesiastical authority. Nor is this our concern. With St. Paul, with our Lord himself, as we humbly and reverently believe, the whole is a simple question of usefulness (we take the word in no vulgar or debasing sense) to the cause of God and man. By Christendom, without the pale of Rome, the relation of the clergy to the people must be considered entirely with regard to their fitness for their high calling—the general fitness of the whole order, not of an individual here and there designated for some special service, or called upon by some particular exigences to isolate himself from the common condition of his order. Take first the effect of celibacy upon the character of man. Möhler has drawn out this argument with such singular fairness and beauty that we are surprised that he did not convince himself. We are really astonished as we survey the vague and false metaphysics by which he attempts to refute his own better understanding, and, we are almost inclined to suspect, the remonstrance of his own heart.
The power of selfishness (selbst-sucht), which is inwoven with our whole being, is altogether broken by marriage; and by degrees love, becoming more and more pure, takes its place. When the man marries he gives himself up entirely to another being; in this affair of life he first goes out of himself, and inflicts the first deadly wound on his egotism. By every child with which his marriage is blessed Nature renews the same attack on his selfishness; the man lives ever less for himself, and more, even without being distinctly conscious of it, for others; in the same degree as the family increases the selfishness diminishes ; and his heart expands out of its former narrow exclusiveness.
What agony during the sickness of the wife; what sadness when the children are in danger! Through all this the feeling becomes more pure, more holy. As his income is liberally dispensed among many, so his whole inward life is shared among them. This family life is the only strong ground from which the life of the individual becomes more public, i.e. his love becomes more full and expansive. How many new relationships and connections are not partly the immediate, partly the more remote consequence of marriage ; in the love to the wife all her relations are blended; by and bye the sons and daughters form new ties, and in the like proportion the heart of the father expands. The canon law wisely prohibited in rude times the marriage of relations, even in very distant degrees, in order to enlarge that circle of connections which to uncivilised and rude natures, which were always disposed to draw back within themselves, was extremely difficult. After all this necessary training, the moral strength has sufficient energy to love the native land (das vaterland) and then mankind. But the unmarried, who without observing these gradations indicated by nature, would soar at once to the utmost height, in fact never emancipates himself from this selfishness; he attempts the flight of Icarus, which is sure to fail; as one who from the lowest step of a ladder would with one spring rise to the fiftieth, does not only get no higher than the lowest, but sinks powerless to the ground, and perhaps has not the courage to make a new attempt : thus is it with the unmarried. And so reason shows unanswerably what doubtful experience leaves uncertain, that want of feeling and selfishness necessarily cling to an unmarried life.- Werke, vol. i. p. 249.
And Möhler's reply to this is a subtle paradox, that the love of wife and children is but disguised selfishness; that in them we love but ourselves : as if friendship, patriotism, we venture to say religion itself, may not by the same argument be reduced to pure selfishness. God has so knit together our temporal and eternal interests, that it is really impossible, however our language may assume a lofty tone, or we may endeavour to withdraw our thoughts into a higher order of things, that we should altogether lose sight of the reward that is set before us.'
But is the language of experience so uncertain on this point ? Is it not an axiom confirmed by all history, that those who are most severe to themselves are apt to be most severe to others ? Where did persecution ever find its most willing lictors—its most merciless executioners? Was it not in the convent? Those that are nightly flogging themselves are least scrupulous in applying the scourge; and it is too often he that would suffer death for the faith who would inflict death. We speak of the system, and we appeal to history. No doubt many a meek hermit has dwelt aloof, who, with his Budhist aspirations towards absorption into the Deity, felt the Budhist sensitiveness with regard to everything having life. In many cloisters the produce of the sweat of monkish brows has been distributed in lavish charity to the poor. In many more, during times of religious peace, and when no ecclesiastical passions were called forth, their boundless hospitality, their gentle habits, have spread, as it were, an atmosphere of love and holiness around them. In some, as in the Benedictines of France for instance, that best praise of learning—its tendency to soften the manners
-has been exemplified in the highest degree. But on the great general principle we fearlessly appeal to the whole annals of the Church. Perhaps the monkish institutes should have the excuse, or the palliation, that they were composed in hard times for hard men. But what sentences of unfeeling, unmitigated, remorseless cruelty do they contain—what delight do they seem to have in torturing the most sensitive fibres of the heart--in searing the most blameless emotions of human nature! And we must take the freedom to say, that in all the semi-monkish, or rather ultra-monkish literature, which is now poured out upon Protestant England with such rapidity, besides the arrogance, there is a hardness, a harshness, an incipient cruelty of disposition, which in such gentle and Christian hearts as we know to be among the writers, can only be the effect of a bad and unchristian system. They sternly compel themselves to theologic hatred. Their biographies are strangely at issue with their motto-Mansueti hereditabunt terram :'-the meek Becket !-the humble Innocent III.! From this text the teacher even vindicates an interdict by which a whole people was consigned, as far as the privation of most of the means of grace, to everlasting damnation for the sins of their rulers!