Vol. 3, Chapter IV (Cont’d) – St. Jerome as a Monk


S. Eus. Hieronymi: Opera omnia, ed. Erasmus (assisted by Oecolampadius), Bas. 1516-’20, 9 vols. fol.; ed. (Bened.) Martianay, Par. 1693-1706, 5 vols. fol. (incomplete); ed. Vallarsi and Maffei, Veron. 1734-’42, 11 vols. fol., also Venet. 1766 (best edition). Comp. especially the 150 Epistles, often separately edited (the chronological order of which Vallarsi, in tom. i. of his edition, has finally established).

For extended works on the life of Jerome see Du Pin (Nouvelle Biblioth. des auteurs Eccles. tom. iii. p. 100-140); Tillemont (tom. xii. 1-356); Martianay (La vie de St. Jerôme, Par. 1706); Joh. Stilting (in the Acta Sanctorum, Sept. tom. viii. p. 418-688, Antw. 1762); Butler (sub Sept. 30); Vallarsi (in Op. Hieron., tom. xi. p. 1-240); Schröckh (viii. 359 sqq., and especially xi. 3-254); Engelstoft (Hieron. Stridonensis, interpres, criticus, exegeta, apologeta, historicus, doctor, monachus, Havn. 1798); D. v. Cölin (in Ersch and Gruber’s Encycl. sect. ii. vol. 8); Collombet (Histoire de S. Jérôme, Lyons, 1844); and O. Zöckler (Hieronymus, sein Leben und Wirken. Gotha, 1865).

The most zealous promoter of the monastic life among the church fathers was Jerome, the connecting link between Eastern and Western learning and religion. His life belongs almost with equal right to the history of theology and the history of monasticism. Hence the church art generally represents him as a penitent in a reading or writing posture, with a lion and a skull, to denote the union of the literary and anchoretic modes of life. He was the first learned divine who not only recommended but actually embraced the monastic mode of life, and his example exerted a great influence in making monasticism available for the promotion of learning. To rare talents and attainments, indefatigable activity of mind, ardent faith, immortal merit in the translation and interpretation of the Bible, and earnest zeal for ascetic piety, he united so great vanity and ambition, such irritability and bitterness of temper, such vehemence of uncontrolled passion, such an intolerant and persecuting spirit, and such inconstancy of conduct, that we find ourselves alternately attracted and repelled by his character, and now filled with admiration for his greatness, now with contempt or pity for his weakness.

Sophronius Eusebius Hieronymus was born at Stridon, on the borders of Dalmatia, not far from Aquileia, between the years 331 and 342. He was the son of wealthy Christian parents, and was educated in Rome under the direction of the celebrated heathen grammarian Donatus, and the rhetorician Victorinus. He read with great diligence and profit the classic poets, orators, and philosophers, and collected a considerable library. On Sundays he visited, with Bonosus and other young friends, the subterranean graves of the martyrs, which made an indelible impression upon him. Yet he was not exempt from the temptations of a great and corrupt city, and he lost his chastity, as he himself afterward repeatedly acknowledged with pain.

About the year 370, whether before or after his literary tour to Treves and Aquileia is uncertain, but at all events in his later youth, he received baptism at Rome and resolved thenceforth to devote himself wholly, in rigid abstinence, to the service of the Lord. In the first zeal of his conversion he renounced his love for the classics, and applied himself to the study of the hitherto distasteful Bible. In a morbid ascetic frame, he had, a few years later, that celebrated dream, in which he was summoned before the judgment seat of Christ, and as a heathen Ciceronian, so severely reprimanded and scourged, that even the angels interceded for him from sympathy with his youth, and he himself solemnly vowed never again to take worldly books into his hands. When he woke, he still felt the stripes, which, as he thought, not his heated fancy, but the Lord himself had inflicted upon him. Hence he warns his female friend Eustochium, to whom several years afterward (a.d. 384) he recounted this experience, to avoid all profane reading: “What have light and darkness, Christ and Belial (2Co_6:14), the Psalms and Horace, the Gospels and Virgil, the Apostles and Cicero, to do with one another? … We cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of the demons at the same time.” But proper as this warning may be against overrating classical scholarship, Jerome himself, in his version of the Bible and his commentaries, affords the best evidence of the inestimable value of linguistic and antiquarian knowledge, when devoted to the service of religion. That oath, also, at least in later life, he did not strictly keep. On the contrary, he made the monks copy the dialogues of Cicero, and explained Virgil at Bethlehem, and his writings abound in recollections and quotations of the classic authors. When Rufinus of Aquileia, at first his warm friend, but afterward a bitter enemy, cast up to him this inconsistency and breach of a solemn vow, he resorted to the evasion that he could not obliterate from his memory what he had formerly read; as if it were not so sinful to cite a heathen author as to read him. With more reason he asserted, that all was a mere dream, and a dream vow was not binding. He referred him to the prophets, “who teach that dreams are vain, and not worthy of faith.” Yet was this dream afterward made frequent use of, as Erasmus laments, to cover monastic obscurantism.

After his baptism, Jerome divided his life between the East and the West, between ascetic discipline and literary labor. He removed from Rome to Antioch with a few friends and his library, visited the most celebrated anchorets, attended the exegetical lectures of the younger Apollinaris in Antioch, and then (374) spent some time as an ascetic in the dreary Syrian desert of Chalcis. Here, like so many other hermits, he underwent a grevious struggle with sensuality, which he described ten years after with indelicate minuteness in a long letter to his virgin friend Eustochium. In spite of his starved and emaciated body, his fancy tormented him with wild images of Roman banquets and dances of women; showing that the monastic seclusion from the world was by no means proof against the temptations of the flesh and the devil. Helpless he cast himself at the feet of Jesus, wet them with tears of repentance, and subdued the resisting flesh by a week of fasting and by the dry study of Hebrew grammar (which, according to a letter to Rusticus, he was at that time learning from a converted Jew), until he found peace, and thought himself transported to the choirs of the angels in heaven. In this period probably falls the dream mentioned above, and the composition of several ascetic writings, full of heated eulogy of the monastic life. His biographies of distinguished anchorets, however, are very pleasantly and temperately written. He commends monastic seclusion even against the will of parents; interpreting the word of the Lord about forsaking father and mother, as if monasticism and Christianity were the same. “Though thy mother” — he writes, in 373, to his friend Heliodorus, who had left him in the midst of his journey to the Syrian desert — “with flowing hair and rent garments, should show thee the breasts which have nourished thee; though thy father should lie upon the threshold; yet depart thou, treading over thy father, and fly with dry eyes to the standard of the cross. This is the only religion of its kind, in this matter to be cruel …. The love of God and the fear of hell easily, rend the bonds of the household asunder. The holy Scripture indeed enjoins obedience to parents; but he who loves them more than Christ, loses his soul …. O desert, where the flowers of Christ are blooming! O solitude, where the stones for the new Jerusalem are prepared! O retreat, which rejoices in the friendship of God! What doest thou in the world, my brother, with thy soul greater than the world? How long wilt thou remain in the shadow of roofs, and in the smoky dungeon of cities? Believe me, I see here more of the light.” The eloquent appeal, however, failed of the desired effect; Heliodorus entered the teaching order and became a bishop.

The active and restless spirit of Jerome soon brought him again upon the public stage, and involved him in all the doctrinal and ecclesiastical controversies of those controversial times. He received the ordination of presbyter from the bishop Paulinus in Antioch, without taking charge of a congregation. He preferred the itinerant life of a monk and a student to a fixed office, and about 380 journeyed to Constantinople, where he heard the anti-Arian sermons of the celebrated Gregory Nazianzen, and translated the Chronicle of Eusebius and the homilies of Origen on Jeremiah and Ezekiel. In 382, on account of the Meletian schism, he returned to Rome with Paulinus and Epiphanius. Here he came into close connection with the bishop, Damasus, as his theological adviser and ecclesiastical secretary, and was led by him into new exegetical labors, particularly the revision of the Latin version of the Bible, which he completed at a later day in the East.

At the same time he labored in Rome with the greatest zeal, by mouth and pen, in the cause of monasticism, which had hitherto gained very little foothold there, and met with violent opposition even among the clergy. He had his eye mainly upon the most wealthy and honorable classes of the decayed Roman society, and tried to induce the descendants of the Scipios, the Gracchi, the Marcelli, the Camilli, the Anicii to turn their sumptuous villas into monastic retreats, and to lead a life of self-sacrifice and charity. He met with great success. “The old patrician races, which founded Rome, which had governed her during all her period of splendor and liberty, and which overcame and conquered the world, had expiated for four centuries, under the atrocious yoke of the Caesars, all that was most hard and selfish in the glory of their fathers. Cruelly humiliated, disgraced, and decimated during that long servitude, by the masters whom degenerate Rome had given herself, they found at last in Christian life, such as was practised by the monks, the dignity of sacrifice and the emancipation of the soul. These sons of the old Romans threw themselves into it with the magnanimous fire and persevering energy which had gained for their ancestors the empire of the world. ‘Formerly,’ says St. Jerome, ‘according to the testimony of the apostles, there were few rich, few noble, few powerful among the Christians. Now it is no longer so. Not only among the Christians, but among the monks are to be found a multitude of the wise, the noble, and the rich.’… The monastic institution offered them a field of battle where the struggles and victories of their ancestors could be renewed and surpassed for a loftier cause, and over enemies more redoubtable. The great men whose memory hovered still over degenerate Rome had contended only with men, and subjugated only their bodies; their descendants undertook to strive with devils, and to conquer souls …. God called them to be the ancestors of a new people, gave them a new empire to found, and permitted them to bury and transfigure the glory of their forefathers in the bosom of the spiritual regeneration of the world.”

Most of these distinguished patrician converts of Jerome were women — such widows as Marcella, Albinia, Furia, Salvina, Fabiola, Melania, and the most illustrious of all, Paula, and her family; or virgins, as Eustochium, Apella, Marcellina, Asella, Felicitas, and Demetrias. He gathered them as a select circle around him; he expounded to them the Holy Scriptures, in which some of these Roman ladies were very well read; he answered their questions of conscience; he incited them to celibate life, lavish beneficence, and enthusiastic asceticism; and flattered their spiritual vanity by extravagant praises. He was the oracle, biographer, admirer, and eulogist of these holy women, who constituted the spiritual nobility of Catholic Rome. Even the senator Pammachius, son in-law to Paula and heir to her fortune, gave his goods to the poor, exchanged the purple for the cowl, exposed himself to the mockery of his colleagues, and became, in the flattering language of Jerome, the general in chief of Roman monks, the first of monks in the first of cities. Jerome considered second marriage incompatible with genuine holiness; even depreciated first marriage, except so far as it was a nursery of brides of Christ; warned Eustochium against all intercourse with married women; and hesitated not to call the mother of a bride of Christ, like Paula, a “mother-in-law of God.”

His intimacy with these distinguished women, whom he admired more, perhaps, than they admired him, together with his unsparing attacks upon the immoralities of the Roman clergy and of the higher classes, drew upon him much unjust censure and groundless calumny, which he met rather with indignant scorn and satire than with quiet dignity and Christian meekness. After the death of his patron Damasus, a.d. 384, he left Rome, and in August, 385, with his brother Paulinian, a few monks, Paula, and her daughter Eustochium, made a pilgrimage “from Babylon to Jerusalem, that not Nebuchadnezzar, but Jesus, should reign over him.” With religious devotion and inquiring mind he wandered through the holy places of Palestine, spent some time in Alexandria, where he heard the lectures of the celebrated Didymus; visited the cells of the Nitrian mountain; and finally, with his two female friends, in 386, settled in the birthplace of the Redeemer, to lament there, as he says, the sins of his youth, and to secure himself against others.

In Bethlehem he presided over a monastery till his death, built a hospital for all strangers except heretics, prosecuted his literary studies without cessation, wrote several commentaries, and finished his improved Latin version of the Bible — the noblest monument of his life — but entangled himself in violent literary controversies, not only with opponents of the church orthodoxy like Helvidius (against whom he had appeared before, in 384), Jovinian, Vigilantius, and Pelagius, but also with his long-tried friend Rufinus, and even with Augustine. Palladius says, his jealousy could tolerate no saint beside himself, and drove many pious monks away from Bethlehem. He complained of the crowds of monks whom his fame attracted to Bethlehem. The remains of the Roman nobility, too, ruined by the sack of Rome, fled to him for food and shelter. At the last his repose was disturbed by incursions of the barbarian Huns and the heretical Pelagians. He died in 419 or 420, of fever, at a great age. His remains were afterward brought to the Roman basilica of Maria Maggiore, but were exhibited also and superstitiously venerated in several copies in Florence, Prague, Clugny, Paris, and the Escurial.

The Roman church has long since assigned him one of the first places among her standard teachers and canonical saints. Yet even some impartial Catholic historians venture to admit and disapprove his glaring inconsistencies and violent passions. The Protestant love of truth inclines to the judgment, that Jerome was indeed an accomplished and most serviceable scholar and a zealous enthusiast for all which his age counted holy, but lacking in calm self-control and proper depth of mind and character, and that he reflected, with the virtues, the failings also of his age and of the monastic system. It must be said to his credit, however, that with all his enthusiastic zeal and admiration for monasticism, he saw with a keen eye and exposed with unsparing hand the false monks and nuns, and painted in lively colors the dangers of melancholy, hypochondria, the hypocrisy and spiritual pride, to which the institution was exposed.


42. St. Paula

Hieronymus: Epitaphium Paulae matris, ad Eustochium virginem, Ep. cviii. (ed. Vallarsi, Opera, tom. i. p. 684 sqq.; ed. Bened. Ep. lxxxvi). Also the Acta Sanctorum, and Butler’s Lives of Saints, sub Jan. 26.

Of Jerome’s many female disciples, the most distinguished is St. Paula, the model of a Roman Catholic nun. With his accustomed extravagance, he opens his eulogy after her death, in 404, with these words: “If all the members of my body were turned into tongues, and all my joints were to utter human voices, I should be unable to say anything worthy of the holy and venerable Paula.”

She was born in 347, of the renowned stock of the Scipios and Gracchi and Paulus Aemilius, and was already a widow of six and thirty years, and the mother of five children, when, under the influence of Jerome, she renounced all the wealth and honors of the world, and betook herself to the most rigorous ascetic life. Rumor circulated suspicion, which her spiritual guide, however, in a letter to Asella, answered with indignant rhetoric: “Was there, then, no other matron in Rome, who could have conquered my heart, but that one, who was always mourning and fasting, who abounded in dirt, who had become almost blind with weeping, who spent whole nights in prayer, whose song was the Psalms, whose conversation was the gospel, whose joy was abstemiousness, whose life was fasting? Could no other have pleased me, but that one, whom I have never seen eat? Nay, verily, after I had begun to revere her as her chastity deserved, should all virtues have at once forsaken me?” He afterward boasts of her, that she knew the Scriptures almost entirely by memory; she even learned Hebrew, that she might sing the psalter with him in the original; and continually addressed exegetical questions to him, which he himself could answer only in part.

Repressing the sacred feelings of a mother, she left her daughter Ruffina and her little son Toxotius, in spite of their prayers and tears, in the city of Rome, met Jerome in Antioch, and made a pilgrimage to Palestine and Egypt. With glowing devotion, she knelt before the rediscovered cross, as if the Lord were still hanging upon it; she kissed the stone of the resurrection which the angel rolled away; licked with thirsty tongue the pretended tomb of Jesus, and shed tears of joy as she entered the stable and beheld the manger of Bethlehem. In Egypt she penetrated into the desert of Nitria, prostrated herself at the feet of the hermits, and then returned to the holy land and settled permanently in the birthplace of the Saviour. She founded there a monastery for Jerome, whom she supported, and three nunneries, in which she spent twenty years as abbess, until 404.

She denied herself flesh and wine, performed, with her daughter Eustochium, the meanest services, and even in sickness slept on the bare ground in a hair shirt, or spent the whole night in prayer. “I must,” said she, “disfigure my face, which I have often, against the command of God, adorned with paint; torment the body, which has participated in many idolatries; and atone for long laughing by constant weeping.” Her liberality knew no bounds. She wished to die in beggary, and to be buried in a shroud which did not belong to her. She left to her daughter (she died in 419) a multitude of debts, which she had contracted at a high rate of interest for benevolent purposes.

Her obsequies, which lasted a week, were attended by the bishops of Jerusalem and other cities of Palestine, besides clergy, monks, nuns, and laymen innumerable. Jerome apostrophizes her: “Farewell, Paula, and help with prayer the old age of thy adorer!”


43. Benedict of Nursia

Gregorius M.: Dialogorum, l. iv. (composed about 594; lib. ii. contains the biography of St. Benedict according to the communications of four abbots and disciples of the saint, Constantine, Honoratus, Valentinian, and Simplicius, but full of surprising miracles). Mabillon and other writers of the Benedictine congregation of St. Maurus: Acta Sanctorum ordinis S. Benedicti in saeculorum classes distributa, fol. Par. 1668-1701, 9 vols. (to the year 1100), and Annales ordinis S. Bened. Par. 1703-’39, 6 vols. fol. (to 1157). Dom (Domnus) Jos. De Mège: Vie de St. Benoit, Par. 1690. The Acta Sanctorum, and Butler, sub Mart. 21. Montalembert: The Monks of the West, vol. ii. book iv.

Benedict of Nursia, the founder of the celebrated order which bears his name, gave to the Western monasticism a fixed and permanent form, and thus carried it far above the Eastern with its imperfect attempts at organization, and made it exceedingly profitable to the practical, and, incidentally, also to the literary interests of the Catholic Church. He holds, therefore, the dignity of patriarch of the Western monks. He has furnished a remarkable instance of the incalculable influence which a simple but judicious moral rule of life may exercise on many centuries.

Benedict was born of the illustrious house of Anicius, at Nursia (now Norcia) in Umbria, about the year 480, at the time when the political and social state of Europe was distracted and dismembered, and literature, morals, and religion seemed to be doomed to irremediable ruin. He studied in Rome, but so early as his fifteenth year he fled from the corrupt society of his fellow students, and spent three years in seclusion in a dark, narrow, and inaccessible grotto at Subiaco. A neighboring monk, Romanus, furnished him from time to time his scanty food, letting it down by a cord, with a little bell, the sound of which announced to him the loaf of bread. He there passed through the usual anchoretic battles with demons, and by prayer and ascetic exercises attained a rare power over nature. At one time, Pope Gregory tells us, the allurements of voluptuousness so strongly tempted his imagination that he was on the point of leaving his retreat in pursuit of a beautiful woman of previous acquaintance; but summoning up his courage, he took off his vestment of skins and rolled himself naked on thorns and briers, near his cave, until the impure fire of sensual passion was forever extinguished. Seven centuries later, St. Francis of Assisi planted on that spiritual battle field two rose trees, which grew and survived the Benedictine thorns and briers. He gradually became known, and was at first taken for a wild beast by the surrounding shepherds, but afterward reverenced as a saint.

After this period of hermit life he began his labors in behalf of the monastery proper. In that mountainous region he established in succession twelve cloisters, each with twelve monks and a superior, himself holding the oversight of all. The persecution of an unworthy priest caused him, however, to leave Subiaco and retire to a wild but picturesque mountain district in the Neapolitan province, upon the boundaries of Samnium and Campania. There he destroyed the remnants of idolatry, converted many of the pagan inhabitants to Christianity by his preaching and miracles, and in the year 529, under many difficulties, founded upon the ruins of a temple of Apollo the renowned cloister of Monte Cassino, the alma mater and capital of his order. Here he labored fourteen years, till his death. Although never ordained to the priesthood, his life there was rather that of a missionary and apostle than of a solitary. He cultivated the soil, fed the poor, healed the sick, preached to the neighboring population, directed the young monks, who in increasing numbers flocked to him, and organized the monastic life upon a fixed method or rule, which he himself conscientiously observed. His power over the hearts, and the veneration in which he was held, is illustrated by the visit of Totila, in 542, the barbarian king, the victor of the Romans and master of Italy, who threw himself on his face before the saint, accepted his reproof and exhortations, asked his blessing, and left a better man, but fell after ten years’ reign, as Benedict had predicted, in a great battle with the Graeco-Roman army under Narses. Benedict died, after partaking of the holy communion, praying, in standing posture, at the foot of the altar, on the 21st of March, 543, and was buried by the side of his sister, Scholastica, who had established, a nunnery near Monte Cassino and died a few weeks before him. They met only once a year, on the side of the mountain, for prayer and pious conversation. On the day of his departure, two monks saw in a vision a shining pathway of stars leading from Monte Cassino to heaven, and heard a voice, that by this road Benedict, the well beloved of God, had ascended to heaven.

His credulous biographer, Pope Gregory I., in the second book of his Dialogues, ascribes to him miraculous prophecies and healings, and even a raising of the dead. With reference to his want of secular culture and his spiritual knowledge, he calls him a learned ignorant and an unlettered sage. At all events he possessed the genius of a lawgiver, and holds the first place among the founders of monastic orders, though his person and life are much less interesting than those of a Bernard of Clairvaux, a Francis of Assisi, and an Ignatius of Loyola.


44. The Rule of St. Benedict

The Regula Benedicti has been frequently edited and annotated, best by Holstenius: Codex reg. Monast. tom. i. p. 111-135; by Dom Marténe: Commentarius in regulam S. Benedicti literalis, moralis, historicus, Par. 1690, in 4to.; by Dom Calmet, Par. 1734, 2 vols.; and by Dom Charles Brandes (Benedictine of Einsiedeln), in 3 vols., Einsiedeln and New York, 1857. Gieseler gives the most important articles in his Ch. H. Bd. i. Abtheil. 2, §119. Comp. also Montalembert, l.c. ii. 39 sqq.

The rule of St. Benedict, on which his fame rests, forms an epoch in the history of monasticism. In a short time it superseded all contemporary and older rules of the kind, and became the immortal code of the most illustrious branch of the monastic army, and the basis of the whole Roman Catholic cloister life. It consists of a preface or prologue, and a series of moral, social, liturgical, and penal ordinances, in seventy-three chapters. It shows a true knowledge of human nature, the practical wisdom of Rome, and adaptation to Western customs; it combines simplicity with completeness, strictness with gentleness, humility with courage, and gives the whole cloister life a fixed unity and compact organization, which, like the episcopate, possessed an unlimited versatility and power of expansion. It made every cloister an ecclesiola in ecclesia, reflecting the relation of the bishop to his charge, the monarchical principle of authority on the democratic basis of the equality of the brethren, though claiming a higher degree of perfection than could be realized in the great secular church. For the rude and undisciplined world of the middle age, the Benedictine rule furnished a wholesome course of training and a constant stimulus to the obedience, self-control, order, and industry which were indispensable to the regeneration and healthy growth of social life.

The spirit of the rule may be judged from the following sentences of the prologus, which contains pious exhortations: “Having thus,” he says, “my brethren, asked of the Lord who shall dwell in his tabernacle, we have heard the precepts prescribed to such a one. If we fulfil these conditions, we shall be heirs of the kingdom of heaven. Let us then prepare our hearts and bodies to fight under a holy obedience to these precepts; and if it is not always possible for nature to obey, let us ask the Lord that he would deign to give us the succor of his grace. Would we avoid the pains of hell and attain eternal life, while there is still time, while we are still in this mortal body, and while the light of this life is bestowed upon us for that purpose, let us run and strive so as to reap an eternal reward. We must then form a school of divine servitude, in which, we trust, nothing too heavy or rigorous will be established. But if, in conformity with right and justice, we should exercise a little severity for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, beware of fleeing under the impulse of terror from the way of salvation, which cannot but have a hard beginning. When a man has walked for some time in obedience and faith, his heart will expand, and he will run with the unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God’s commandments. May he grant that, never straying from the instruction of the Master, and persevering in his doctrine in the monastery until death, we may share by patience in the sufferings of Christ, and be worthy to share together his kingdom.” The leading provisions of this rule are as follows:

At the head of each society stands an abbot, who is elected by the monks, and, with their consent, appoints a provost (praepositus), and, when the number of the brethren requires, deans over the several divisions (decaniae), as assistants. He governs, in Christ’s stead, by authority and example, and is to his cloister, what the bishop is to his diocese. In the more weighty matters he takes the congregation of the brethren into consultation; in ordinary affairs only the older members. The formal entrance into the cloister must be preceded by a probation of novitiate of one year (subsequently it was made three years), that no one might prematurely or rashly take the solemn step. If the novice repented his resolution, he could leave the cloister without hindrance; if he adhered to it, he was, at the close of his probation, subjected to an examination in presence of the abbot and the monks, and then, appealing to the saints, whose relics were in the cloister, he laid upon the altar of the chapel the irrevocable vow, written or at least subscribed by his own hand, and therewith cut off from himself forever all return to the world.

From this important arrangement the cloister received its stability and the whole monastic institution derived additional earnestness, solidity, and permanence.

The vow was threefold, comprising stabilitas, perpetual adherence to the monastic order; conversio morum, especially voluntary poverty and chastity, which were always regarded as the very essence of monastic piety under all its forms; and obedientia coram Deo et sanctis ejus, absolute obedience to the abbot, as the representative of God and Christ. This obedience is the cardinal virtue of a monk.

The life of the cloister consisted of a judicious alternation of spiritual and bodily exercises. This is the great excellence of the rule of Benedict, who proceeded here upon the true principle, that idleness is the mortal enemy of the soul and the workshop of the devil. Seven hours were to be devoted to prayer, singing of psalms, and meditation; from two to three hours, especially on Sunday, to religious reading; and from six to seven hours to manual labor in doors or in the field, or, instead of this, to the training of children, who were committed to the cloister by their parents (oblati).

Here was a starting point for the afterward celebrated cloister schools, and for that attention to literary pursuits, which, though entirely foreign to the uneducated Benedict and his immediate successors, afterward became one of the chief ornaments of his order, and in many cloisters took the place of manual labor.

In other respects the mode of life was to be simple, without extreme rigor, and confined to strictly necessary things. Clothing consisted of a tunic with a black cowl (whence the name: Black Friars); the material to be determined by the climate and season. On the two weekly fast days, and from the middle of September to Easter, one meal was to suffice for the day. Each monk is allowed daily a pound of bread and pulse, and, according to the Italian custom, half a flagon (hemina) of wine; though he is advised to abstain from the wine, if he can do so without injury to his health. Flesh is permitted only to the weak and sick, who were to be treated with special care. During the meal some edifying piece was read, and silence enjoined. The individual monk knows no personal property, not even his simple dress as such; and the fruits of his labor go into the common treasury. He should avoid all contact with the world, as dangerous to the soul, and therefore every cloister should be so arranged, as to be able to carry on even the arts and trades necessary for supplying its wants. Hospitality and other works of love are especially commended.

The penalties for transgression of the rule are, first, private admonition, then exclusion from the fellowship of prayer, next exclusion from fraternal intercourse, and finally expulsion from the cloister, after which, however, restoration is possible, even to the third time.


45. The Benedictines. Cassiodorus

Benedict had no presentiment of the vast historical importance, which this rule, originally designed simply for the cloister of Monte Cassino, was destined to attain. He probably never aspired beyond the regeneration and salvation of his own soul and that of his brother monks, and all the talk of later Catholic historians about his far-reaching plans of a political and social regeneration of Europe, and the preservation and promotion of literature and art, find no support whatever in his life or in his rule. But he humbly planted a seed, which Providence blessed a hundredfold. By his rule he became, without his own will or knowledge, the founder of an order, which, until in the thirteenth century the Dominicans and Franciscans pressed it partially into the background, spread with great rapidity over the whole of Europe, maintained a clear supremacy, formed the model for all other monastic orders, and gave to the Catholic church an imposing array of missionaries, authors, artists, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes, as Gregory the Great and Gregory VII. In less than a century after the death of Benedict, the conquests of the barbarians in Italy, Gaul, Spain were reconquered for civilization, and the vast territories of Great Britain, Germany, and Scandinavia incorporated into Christendom, or opened to missionary labor; and in this progress of history the monastic institution, regulated and organized by Benedict’s rule, bears an honorable share.

Benedict himself established a second cloister in the vicinity of Terracina, and two of his favorite disciples, Placidus and St. Maurus, introduced the “holy rule,” the one into Sicily, the other into France. Pope Gregory the Great, himself at one time a Benedictine monk, enhanced its prestige, and converted the Anglo-Saxons to the Roman Christian faith, by Benedictine monks. Gradually the rule found so general acceptance both in old and in new institutions, that in the time of Charlemagne it became a question, whether there were any monks at all, who were not Benedictines. The order, it is true, has degenerated from time to time, through the increase of its wealth and the decay of its discipline, but its fostering care of religion, of humane studies, and of the general civilization of Europe, from the tilling of the soil to the noblest learning, has given it an honorable place in history and won immortal praise. He who is familiar with the imposing and venerable tomes of the Benedictine editions of the Fathers, their thoroughly learned prefaces, biographies, antiquarian dissertations, and indexes, can never think of the order of the Benedictines without sincere regard and gratitude.

The patronage of learning, however, as we have already said, was not within the design of the founder or his rule. The joining of this to the cloister life is duel if we leave out of view the learned monk Jerome, to Cassiodorus, who in 538 retired from the honors and cares of high civil office, in the Gothic monarchy of Italy, to a monastery founded by himself at Vivarium (Viviers), in Calabria in Lower Italy. Here he spent nearly thirty years as monk and abbot, collected a large library, encouraged the monks to copy and to study the Holy Scriptures, the works of the church fathers, and even the ancient classics, and wrote for them several literary and theological text-books, especially his treatise De institutione divinarum literarum, a kind of elementary encyclopedia, which was the code of monastic education for many generations. Vivarium at one time almost rivalled Monte Cassino, and Cassiodorus won the honorary title of the restorer of knowledge in the sixth century.

The Benedictines, already accustomed to regular work, soon followed this example. Thus that very mode of life, which in its founder, Anthony, despised all learning, became in the course of its development an asylum of culture in the rough and stormy times of the migration and the crusades, and a conservator of the literary treasures of antiquity for the use of modern times.


46. Opposition to Monasticism. Jovinian

I. Chrysostomus: Πρὸς τοὺς πολεμοῦτας τοῖς ἐπὶ τὸ μονάζειν ἐνάγουσιν (a vindication of monasticism against its opponents, in three books). Hieronymus: Ep. 61, ad Vigilantium (ed. Vallars. tom. i. p. 345 sqq.); Ep. 109, ad Riparium (i. 719 sqq.); Adv. Helvidium (a.d. 383); Adv. Jovinianum (a.d. 392); Adv. Vigilantium (a.d. 406). All these three tracts are in Opera Hieron. tom. ii. p. 206-402. Augustinus: De haeres. cap. 82 (on Jovinian), and c. 84 (on Helvidius and the Helvidians). Epiphanius: Haeres. 75 (on Aerius).

II. Chr. W. F. Walch: Ketzerhistorie (1766), part iii. p. 585 (on Helvidius and the Antidikomarianites); p. 635 sqq. (on Jovinian); and p. 673 sqq. (on Vigilantius). Vogel: De Vigilantio haeretico orthodoxo, Gött. 1756. G. B. Lindner: De Joviniano et Vigilantio purioris doctrinae antesignanis, Lips. 1839. W. S. Gilly: Vigilantius and his Times, Lond. 1844. Comp. also Neander: Der heil. Joh. Chrysostomus, 3d ed. 1848, vol. i. p. 53 sqq.; and Kirchengesch, iii. p. 508 sqq. (Torrey’s translation, ii. p. 265 sqq.). Baur: Die christliche Kirche von 4-6ten Jahrh. 1859, p. 311 sqq.

Although monasticism was a mighty movement of the age, engaging either the cooperation or the admiration of the whole church, yet it was not exempt from opposition. And opposition sprang from very different quarters: now from zealous defenders of heathenism, like Julian and Libanius, who hated and bitterly reviled the monks for their fanatical opposition to temples and idol-worship; now from Christian statesmen and emperors, like Valens, who were enlisted against it by its withdrawing so much force from the civil and military service of the state, and, in the time of peril from the barbarians, encouraging idleness and passive contemplation instead of active, heroic virtue; now from friends of worldly indulgence, who found themselves unpleasantly disturbed and rebuked by the religious earnestness and zeal of the ascetic life; lastly, however, also from a liberal, almost protestant, conception of Christian morality, which set itself at the same time against the worship of Mary and the saints, and other abuses. This last form of opposition, however, existed mostly in isolated cases, was rather negative than positive in its character, lacked the spirit of wisdom and moderation, and hence almost entirely disappeared in the fifth century, only to be revived long after, in more mature and comprehensive form, when monasticism had fulfilled its mission for the world.

To this class of opponents belong Helvidius, Jovinian, Vigilantius, and Aerius. The first three are known to us through the passionate replies of Jerome, the last through the Panarion of Epiphanius. They figure in Catholic church history among the heretics, while they have received from many Protestant historians a place among the “witnesses of the truth” and the forerunners of the Reformation.

We begin with Jovinian, the most important among them, who is sometimes compared, for instance, even by Neander, to Luther, because, like Luther, he was carried by his own experience into reaction against the ascetic tendency and the doctrines connected with it. He wrote in Rome, before the year 390 a work, now lost, attacking monasticism in its ethical principles. He was at that time himself a monk, and probably remained so in a free way until his death. At all events he never married, and according to Augustine’s account, he abstained “for the present distress,” (1Co_7:26) and from aversion to the encumbrances of the married state. Jerome pressed him with the alternative of marrying and proving the equality of celibacy with married life, or giving up his opposition to his own condition. Jerome gives a very unfavorable picture of his character, evidently colored by vehement bitterness. He calls Jovinian a servant of corruption, a barbarous writer, a Christian Epicurean, who, after having once lived in strict asceticism, now preferred earth to heaven, vice to virtue, his belly to Christ, and always strode along as an elegantly dressed bridegroom. Augustine is much more lenient, only reproaching Jovinian with having misled many Roman nuns into marriage by holding before them the examples of pious women in the Bible. Jovinian was probably provoked to question and oppose monasticism, as Gieseler supposes, by Jerome’s extravagant praising of it, and by the feeling against it, which the death of Blesilla (384) in Rome confirmed. And he at first found extensive sympathy. But he was excommunicated and banished with his adherents at a council about the year 390, by Siricius, bishop of Rome, who was zealously opposed to the marriage of priests. He then betook himself to Milan, where the two monks Sarmatio and Barbatian held forth views like his own; but he was treated there after the same fashion by the bishop, Ambrose, who held a council against him. From this time he and his party disappear from history, and before the year 406 he died in exile.

According to Jerome, Jovinian held these four points (1) Virgins, widows, and married persons, who have once been baptized into Christ, have equal merit, other things in their conduct being equal. (2) Those, who are once with full faith born again by baptism, cannot be overcome (subverti) by the devil. (3) There is no difference between abstaining from food and enjoying it with thanksgiving. (4) All, who keep the baptismal covenant, will receive an equal reward in heaven.

He insisted chiefly on the first point; so that Jerome devotes the whole first book of his refutation to this point, while he disposes of all the other heads in the second. In favor of the moral equality of married and single life, he appealed to Gen_2:24, where God himself institutes marriage before the fall; to Mat_19:5, where Christ sanctions it; to the patriarchs before and after the flood; to Moses and the prophets, Zacharias and Elizabeth, and the apostles, particularly Peter, who lived in wedlock; also to Paul, who himself exhorted to marriage, (1Co_7:36, 1Co_7:39) required the bishop or the deacon to be the husband of one wife, (1Ti_3:2, 1Ti_3:12) and advised young widows to marry and bear children. (1Ti_5:14; comp. 1Ti_2:15; Heb_13:4) He declared the prohibition of marriage and of divinely provided food a Manichaean error. To answer these arguments, Jerome indulges in utterly unwarranted inferences, and speaks of marriage in a tone of contempt, which gave offence even to his friends. Augustine was moved by it to present the advantages of the married life in a special work, De bono conjugali, though without yielding the ascetic estimate of celibacy. (2Co_9:6)

Jovinian’s second point has an apparent affinity with the Augustinian and Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverantia sanctorum. It is not referred by him, however, to the eternal and unchangeable counsel of God, but simply based on 1Jo_3:9, and 1Jo_3:18, and is connected with his abstract conception of the opposite moral states. He limits the impossibility of relapse to the truly regenerate, who “plena fide in baptismate renati sunt,” and makes a distinction between the mere baptism of water and the baptism of the Spirit, which involves also a distinction between the actual and the ideal church.

His third point is aimed against the ascetic exaltation of fasting, with reference to Rom_14:20, and 1Ti_4:3. God, he holds, has created all animals for the service of man; Christ attended the marriage feast at Cana as a guest, sat at table with Zaccheus, with publicans and sinners, and was called by the Pharisees a glutton and a wine-bibber; and the apostle says: To the pure all things are pure, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.

He went still further, however, and, with the Stoics, denied all gradations of moral merit and demerit, consequently also all gradations of reward and punishment. He overlooked the process of development in both good and evil. He went back of all outward relations to the inner mind, and lost all subordinate differences of degree in the great contrast between true Christians and men of the world, between regenerate and unregenerate; whereas, the friends of monasticism taught a higher and lower morality, and distinguished the ascetics, as a special class, from the mass of ordinary Christians. As Christ, says he, dwells in believers, without difference of degree, so also believers are in Christ without difference of degree or stages of development. There are only two classes of men, righteous and wicked, sheep and goats, five wise virgins and five foolish, good trees with good fruit and bad trees with bad fruit. He appealed also to the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, who all received equal wages. Jerome answered him with such things as the parable of the sower and the different kinds of ground, the parable of the different numbers of talents with corresponding rewards, the many mansions in the Father’s house (by which Jovinian singularly understood the different churches on earth), the comparison of the resurrection bodies with the stars, which differ in glory, and the passage: “He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully.” (2Co_9:6)


47. Helvidius, Vigilantius, and Aerius

See especially the tracts of Jerome quoted in the preceding section.

Helvidius, whether a layman or a priest at Rome it is uncertain, a pupil, according to the statement of Gennadius, of the Arian bishop Auxentius of Milan, wrote a work, before the year 383, in refutation of the perpetual virginity of the mother of the Lord — a leading point with the current glorification of celibacy. He considered the married state equal in honor and glory to that of virginity. Of his fortunes we know nothing. Augustine speaks of Helvidians, who are probably identical with the Antidicomarianites of Epiphanius. Jerome calls Helvidius, indeed, a rough and uneducated man, but proves by quotations of his arguments, that he had at least some knowledge of the Scriptures, and a certain ingenuity. He appealed in the first place to Mat_1:18, Mat_1:24, Mat_1:25, as implying that Joseph knew his wife not before, but after, the birth of the Lord; then to the designation of Jesus as the “first born” son of Mary, in Mat_1:25, and Luk_2:7; then to the many passages, which speak of the brothers and sisters of Jesus; and finally to the authority of Tertullian and Victorinus. Jerome replies, that the “till” by no means always fixes a point after which any action must begin or cease; (comp. Mat_28:20) that, according to Exo_34:19, Exo_34:20; Num_18:15 sqq., the “first born” does not necessarily imply the birth of other children afterward, but denotes every one, who first opens the womb; that the “brothers” of Jesus may have been either sons of Joseph by a former marriage, or, according to the wide Hebrew use of the term, cousins; and that the authorities cited were more than balanced by the testimony of Ignatius, Polycarp(?), and Irenaeus. “Had Helvidius read these,” says he, “he would doubtless have produced something more skilful.”

This whole question, it is well known, is still a problem in exegesis. The perpetua virginitas of Mary has less support from Scripture than the opposite theory. But it is so essential to the whole ascetic system, that it became from this time an article of the Catholic faith, and the denial of it was anathematized as blasphemous heresy. A considerable number of Protestant divines, however, agree on this point with the Catholic doctrine, and think it incompatible with the dignity of Mary, that, after the birth of the Son of God and Saviour of the world, she should have borne ordinary children of men.

Vigilantius, originally from Gaul, a presbyter of Barcelona in Spain, a man of pious but vehement zeal, and of literary talent, wrote in the beginning of the fifth century against the ascetic spirit of the age and the superstition connected with it. Jerome’s reply, dictated hastily in a single night at Bethlehem in the year 406, contains more of personal abuse and low witticism, than of solid argument. “There have been,” he says, “monsters on earth, centaurs, syrens, leviathans, behemoths …. Gaul alone has bred no monsters, but has ever abounded in brave and noble men, — when, of a sudden, there has arisen one Vigilantius, who should rather be called Dormitantius, contending in an impure spirit against the Spirit of Christ, and forbidding to honor the graves of the martyrs; he rejects the Vigils — only at Easter should we sing hallelujah; he declares abstemiousness to be heresy, and chastity a nursery of licentiousness (pudicitiam, libidinis seminarium) …. This innkeeper of Calagurris mingles water with the wine, and would, according to ancient art, combine his poison with the genuine faith. He opposes virginity, hates chastity, cries against the fastings of the saints, and would only amidst jovial feastings amuse himself with the Psalms of David. It is terrible to bear, that even bishops are companions of his wantonness, if those deserve this name, who ordain only married persons deacons, and trust not the chastity of the single.” Vigilantius thinks it better for a man to use his money wisely, and apply it gradually to benevolent objects at home, than to lavish it all at once upon the poor or give it to the monks of Jerusalem. He went further, however, than his two predecessors, and bent his main efforts against the worship of saints and relics, which was then gaining ascendency and was fostered by monasticism. He considered it superstition and idolatry. He called the Christians, who worshipped the “wretched bones” of dead men, ash-gatherers and idolaters. He expressed himself sceptically respecting the miracles of the martyrs, contested the practice of invoking them and of intercession for the dead, as useless, and declared himself against the Vigils, or public worship in the night, as tending to disorder and licentiousness. This last point Jerome admits as a fact, but not as an argument, because the abuse should not abolish the right use.

The presbyter Aerius of Sebaste, about 360, belongs also among the partial opponents of monasticism. For, though himself an ascetic, he contended against the fast laws and the injunction of fasts at certain times, considering them an encroachment upon Christian freedom. Epiphanius also ascribes to him three other heretical views: denial of the superiority of bishops to presbyters, opposition to the usual Easter festival, and opposition to prayers for the dead. He was hotly persecuted by the hierarchy, and was obliged to live, with his adherents, in open fields and in caves.