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There may exist a very high rate of moral or intellectual excitement, where the manners and mode of conduct indicate nothing but torpor.Just as, in some bottomless lakes, vehement under-currents or eddies make sport below, while the surface is still and stagnant. Not a few of our fanatics of the self-tormenting class come under this description.
There is too to be found, here and there, a pride of personal independence, and a misanthropic arrogance which, as it spurns every sort of mutuality, compels the soul to feed on its own substance. It might seem enough for such a one to refuse to draw its satisfactions from its fellows; but there is a malignant pride more excessive than this, and which even refuses to be so far dependent upon other men as to call them the objects of its hatred, or revenge. — There is a haughtiness so egregious that a man will contemn and torment himself, sooner than condescend to look abroad as if he stood in need of any beings as the objects of his ireful emotions. Although nature forbids that any such attempt at mental insulation should be altogether successful, yet the endeavour is made, and is renewed, day after day, by spirits of the order we describe. On the other hand, there are instances in which a mild meditative humour, perverted by some false system of belief, or excessive sensibilities that have chanced to be torn and outraged in the world, or much physical
timidity, combined with lofty and exquisite sentiments, produce the effect of introverting gloomy emotions upon the heart.
Instances of a mixed or mitigated kind present themselves on all sides. In truth the cases of pure fanaticism (our definition being kept in view*) are rare; or rather, are not readily separated from those dispositions with which it naturally consorts. Whether certain extravagant modes of conduct are to be attributed to sheer superstition; or whether there be nothing in them worse than an absurd enthusiasm, it may be impossible to affirm. The best we can do is to catch the distinctive features of each kind, as the ambiguous instances pass before us. Of all the facts which might be adduced (and they would soon fill volumes) illustrative of the system of monkish austerity, very few broadly and incontestibly exhibit the virulent motives which, nevertheless, the entire history of the system demonstrates to have been in secret operation throughout it. Especially is it to be observed, that the prevalence of a certain accredited and admired style of expressing the monkish doctrine conceals, or half conceals the passions that were working beneath the surface of its placid sanctity. No one who is conversant with the ascetic writers can have failed to discern the strong heavings of human nature under the pressure of that system, even when it might be disficult or impossible to adduce formal proof of the hidden commotion. What we have now to do is broadly to characterise this species of fanaticism ; - not such as it seems in the encomiastic pages of Theodoret,
* Page 30..
of Theodoret, Sozomen,Isidore, Macarius, Palladius, Cassian; or of Basil and Bernard; but such as, after a candid perusal of these writers, we are compelled to believe it to have been.1
There are three distinct elements upon which fanatical sentiment, when introverted, employs itself; and in each instance the product is very distinguishable. These are, Ist. The miseries, physical and mental, to which man is liable. 2d. A consciousness of personal guilt, and dread of retribution. And, 3d. The supposition of supererogatory or vicarious merit. The working of the soul upon each of these excitements demands to be briefly exhibited.
1st. There is a rebellion of proud hearts against the calamities to which human life is exposed, such as impels sometimes the disordered mind to take up its burden of woe spontaneously, rather than wait till it be imposed.-“If pain sorrow and want are to be my companions, I vow to have none beside.--I will run forward
· The Author having in another volume considered the Monkish institute and doctrine as the product and parent of Enthusiasm, has now only to advert to those stronger features of the system which mark it as Fanatical or virulent.
and embrace wretchedness. I will live for Misery, so that she may never overtake me, or set me as the mark of her arrow. Disappointment shall for me hold no shaft which I will not have wrenched from her cruel hand, ere it can be hurled. The power of bodily pain shall have no anguish in store which I will not freely have forestalled. Famine, thirst, heat and cold, shall assail me with no new lesson of distress.—No, for I will frequent their school. Every pang the flesh or the heart can feel, I will prevent by existing only for sorrow. Even that unknown futurity of evil which death may reveal, I will penetrate by continual meditation of horrors.So will I daily converse with ghastly despair, as to taste beforehand the very worst, and to nullify fear by familiarity.” Modes of feeling such as this, have been indulged ; and perhaps even now are not unknown to some. While we are looking only on the frivolous, the busy, and the sensual field of common life, as spread out around us, it may be hard to believe that the human mind has ever travelled on a path so deep-sunken. But if we turn aside a little from the beaten road, we shall find instances of this sort actually to belong to the history of man.
A desperate and sullen pride has always marked the oriental (polytheistic) austerities; and in India we see unmasked, that which in Europe has disguised itself under Christian modes of expression. Very little that offends against the
professed humility of the ascetic life is to be found on the pages of the writers who give us the principles and rules of the system, and who, for the most part, were themselves happy under it, as Enthusiasts.
What might be the bitterness of the heart in those who were its victims,
are left to surmise. There were more motives than one for imposing perpetual silence upon the inmates of the monastery. The founder of the order, or its reformer, might talk aloud, and declaim as he would upon the felicity of his condition ; for with him the fanaticism was of a sort that might be known and looked at ; but not so with the fraternity at large. A de Rancé or a Eustache de Beaufort may speak :but their companions must utter no whisper of their sorrows.
· St. Bernard, intending no doubt to recommend the monastic state, pleasantly compares the monks to the fish in a puddle !
“Sunt et in stagnis mundi pisces, qui in claustris Deo serviunt in spiritu et veritate. Meritò siquidem stagnis monasteria comparantur, ubi quodammodo incarcerati pisces evagandi non habeant libertatem.” (Serm. in Fest. S. Andr. Apost.) And a horrid prison, according to his own confession, was the monastery : “ Duro me carceri mancipavi.” (Epist. 237.) So much so, that it seemed to the saint himself the greatest of all miracles that men should be found who were willing to endure its discipline. Let us hear him when, on a high day, he is haranguing the fraternity : “Quid mirabilius, &c. ..., Quod majus miraculum, quando tot juvenes, tot adolescentes, tot nobiles, universi denique quos hic video, velut in carcere aperto tenentur sine vinculis, solo Dei timore confixi: quod in tanta perseverant afflictione pænitentiæ, ultra virtutem humanam, supra naturam, contra consuetudinem?” (Serm. in dedicat. eccles.) A general fact, on the ground of which we may argne more confidently than from the disguised language of men whose enslaved spirits knew nothing of ingenuousness, is this, that as the monastic system sprung up amid the