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Hon. Canon in Norwich Cathedral, Hon. Fellow of Worcester College,
Oxford, and Hon. Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge






[These Essays have appeared at various times in "The Nineteenth
Century," and are now printed with some alterations, corrections, and











Sweet St. Francis of Assisi, would that he were here again! - _Lord

When King Richard of England, whom men call the Lion-hearted, was
wasting his time at Messina, after his boisterous fashion, in the
winter of 1190, he heard of the fame of Abbot Joachim, and sent for
that renowned personage, that he might hear from his own lips the words
of prophecy and their interpretation.

Around the personality of Joachim there has gathered no small amount of
_mythus._ He was, it appears, the inventor of that mystical method of
Hermeneutics which has in our time received the name of "the year-day
theory," and which, though now abandoned for the most part by sane men,
has still some devout and superstitious advocates in the school of Dr.
Cumming and kindred visionaries.

Abbot Joachim proclaimed that a stupendous catastrophe was at hand.
Opening the Book of the Revelation of St. John he read, pondered, and
interpreted. A divine illumination opened out to him the dark things
that were written in the sacred pages. The unenlightened could make
nothing of "a time, times, and half a time" [Footnote: Dan. xii. 7.];
to them the terrors of the 1,260 days [Footnote: Rev. xi 3.] were an
insoluble enigma long since given up as hopeless, whose answer would
come only at the Day of Judgment. Abbot Joachim declared that the key
to the mystery had been to him revealed. What could "a time, times, and
half a time" mean, but three years and a half? What could a year mean
in the divine economy but the _lunar_ year of 360 days? for was not the
moon the symbol of the Church of God? What were those 1,260 days but
the sum of the days of three years and a half? Moreover, as it had been
with the prophet Ezekiel, to whom it was said, "I have appointed thee a
day for a year," so it must needs be with other seers who saw the
visions of God. To them the "day" was not as our brief prosaic day - to
them too had been "appointed a day for a year." The "time, times, and
half a time" were the 1,260 days, and these were 1,260 years, and the
stupendous catastrophe, the battle of Armageddon, the reign of
Antichrist, the new heavens and the new earth, the slaughter and the
resurrection of the two heavenly witnesses, were at hand. Eleven
hundred and ninety years had passed away of those 1,260. "Hear, O
heavens, and give ear, O earth," said Joachim; "Antichrist is already
born, yea born in the city of Rome!"

Though King Richard, in the strange interview of which contemporary
historians have left us a curious narrative, exhibited much more of the
spirit of the scoffer than of the convert, and evidently had no faith
in Abbott Joachim's theories and his mission, it was otherwise with the
world at large. At the close of the twelfth century a very general
belief, the result of a true instinct, pervaded all classes that
European society was passing through a tremendous crisis, that the dawn
of a new era, or, as they phrased it, "the end of all things" was at

The Abbot Joachim was only the spokesman of his age who was lucky
enough to get a hearing. He spoke a language that was a jargon of
rhapsody, but he spoke vaguely of terrors, and perils, and earthquakes,
and thunderings, the day of wrath; and because he spoke so darkly men
listened all the more eagerly, for there was a vague anticipation of
the breaking up of the great waters, and that things that had been
heretofore could not continue as they were.

Verily when the thirteenth century opened, the times were evil, and no
hope seemed anywhere on the horizon. The grasp of the infidel was
tightened upon the Holy City, and what little force there ever had been
among the rabble of Crusaders was gone now; the truculent ruffianism
that pretended to be animated by the crusading spirit showed its real
character in the hideous atrocities for which Simon de Montfort is
answerable, and in the unparalleled enormities of the sack of
Constantinople in 1204. For ten years (1198 - 1208) through the length
and breadth of Germany there was ceaseless and sanguinary conflict. In
the great Italian towns party warfare, never hesitating to resort to
every kind of crime, had long been chronic. The history of Sicily is
one long record of cruelty, tyranny, and wrong - committed, suffered, or
revenged. Over the whole continent of Europe people seem to have had no
_homes;_ the merchant, the student, the soldier, the ecclesiastic were
always on the move. Young men made no difficulty in crossing the Alps
to attend lectures at Bologna, or crossing the Channel to or from
Oxford and Paris. The soldier or the scholar was equally a free-lance,
ready to take service whereever it offered, and to settle wherever
there was dread to win or money to save. No one trusted in the
stability of anything. [Footnote: M. Jusserand's beautiful book, "La
Vie Nomade," was not published till 1884, _i.e.,_ a year after this
essay appeared.]

To a thoughtful man watching the signs of the times, it may well have
seemed that the hope for the future of civilization - the hope for any
future, whether of art, science, or religion-lay in the steady growth
of the towns. It might be that the barrier of the Alps would always
limit the influence of Italian cities to Italy and the islands of the
Mediterranean; but for the great towns of what is now Belgium and
Germany what part might not be left for them to play in the history of
the world? In England the towns were as yet insignificant communities
compared with such mighty aggregates of population as were to be found
in Bruges, Antwerp, or Cologne; but even the English towns _were_
communities, and they were beginning to assert themselves somewhat
loudly while clinging to their chartered rights with jealous tenacity.
Those rights, however, were eminently exclusive and selfish in their
character. The chartered towns were ruled in all cases by an oligarchy.
[Footnote: Stubbs, "Constitutional History," vol. i. Section 131.] The
increase in the population brought wealth to a class, the class of
privileged traders, associated into guilds, who kept their several
_mysteries_ to themselves by vigilant measures of protection. Outside
the well-guarded defences which these trades-unions constructed, there
were the masses - hewers of wood and drawers of water - standing to the
skilled artizan of the thirteenth century almost precisely in the same
relation as the bricklayer's labourer does to the mason in our own
time. The _sediment_ of the town population in the Middle Ages was a
dense slough of stagnant misery, squalor, famine, loathsome disease,
and dull despair, such as the worst slums of London, Paris, or
Liverpool know nothing of. When we hear of the mortality among the
townsmen during the periodical outbreaks of pestilence or famine,
horror suggests that we should dismiss as incredible such stories as
the imagination shrinks from dwelling on. What greatly added to the
dreary wretchedness of the lower order in the towns was the fact that
the ever-increasing throngs of beggars, outlaws, and ruffian runaways
were simply left to shift for themselves. The civil authorities took no
account of them as long as they quietly rotted and died; and, what was
still more dreadful, the whole machinery of the Church polity had been
formed and was adapted to deal with entirely different conditions of
society from those which had now arisen.

The idea of the parish priest taking the oversight of his flock, and
ministering to each member as the shepherd of the people, is a grand
one, but it is an idea which can be realized, and then only
approximately, in the village community. In the towns of the Middle
Ages the parochial system, except as a _civil_ institution, had broken

The other idea, of men and women weary of the hard struggle with sin,
and fleeing from the wrath to come, joining together to give themselves
up to the higher life, out of the reach of temptation and safe from the
witcheries of Mammon, - that too was a grand idea, and not unfrequently
it had been carried out grandly. But the monk was nothing and did
nothing for the townsman; he fled away to his solitude; the rapture of
silent adoration was his joy and exceeding great reward; his nights and
days might be spent in praise and prayer, sometimes in study and
research, sometimes in battling with the powers of darkness and
ignorance, sometimes in throwing himself heart and soul into art which
it was easy to persuade himself he was doing only for the glory of God;
but all this must go on far away from the busy haunts of men, certainly
not within earshot of the multitude. Moreover the monk was, by birth,
education, and sympathy, one with the upper classes. What were the
rabble to him? [Footnote: The 20th Article of the Assize of Clarendon
is very significant: "Prohibet dominus rex ne monachi... recipiant
_aliquem de minuto populo in monachum,_ vel canonicum vel fratrem,"
&c. - Stubbs, "Benedict Abbas," pref. p. cliv.] In return the townsmen
hated him cordially, as a supercilious aristocrat and Pharisee, with
the guile and greed of the Scribe and lawyer superadded.

Upon the townsmen - whatever it may have been among the countrymen - the
ministers of religion exercised the smallest possible _restraint._ Nay!
it was only too evident that the bonds of ecclesiastical discipline
which had so often exercised a salutary check upon the unruly had
become seriously relaxed of late, both in town and country; they had
been put to too great a strain and had snapped. By the suicidal methods
of Excommunication and Interdict all ranks were schooled into doing
without the rites of religion, the baptism of their children, or the
blessing upon the marriage union. In the meantime it was notorious that
even in high places there were instances not a few of Christians who
had denied the faith and had given themselves up to strange beliefs, of
which the creed of the Moslem was not the worst. Men must have received
with a smile the doctrine that Marriage was a Sacrament when everybody
knew that, among the upper classes at least, the bonds of matrimony
were soluble almost at pleasure. [Footnote: Eleanor of Aquitaine,
consort of Henry II., had been divorced by Louis VII. of France.
Constance of Brittany, mother of Arthur - Shakespeare's idealized
Constance - left her husband, Ranulph, Earl of Chester, to unite herself
with Guy of Flanders. Conrad of Montferat divorced the daughter of
Isaac Angelus, Emperor of Constantinople, to marry Isabella, daughter
of Amalric, King of Jerusalem, the bride repudiating her husband
Henfrid of Thouars. Philip II. of France married the sister of the King
of Denmark one day and divorced her the next; then married a German
lady, left her, and returned to the repudiated Dane. King John in 1189
divorced Hawisia, Countess of Gloucester, and took Isabella of
Angouleme to wife, but how little he cared to be faithful to the one or
the other the chronicles disdain to ask.] It seems hardly worth while
to notice that the observance of Sunday was almost universally
neglected, or that sermons had become so rare that when Eustace, Abbot
of Flai, preached in various places in England in 1200, miracles were
said to have ensued as the ordinary effects of his eloquence.
Earnestness in such an age seemed in itself miraculous. Here and there
men and women, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, raised
their sobbing prayer to heaven that the Lord would shortly accomplish
the number of his elect and hasten his coming, and Abbot Joachim's
dreams were talked of and his vague mutterings made the sanguine hope
for better days. Among those mutterings had there not been a speech of
the two heavenly witnesses who were to do - ah! what were they not to
do? And these heavenly witnesses, who were they? When and where would
they appear?

Eight years before King Richard was in Sicily a child had been born in
the thriving town of Assisi, thirteen miles from Perugia, who was
destined to be one of the great movers of the world. Giovanni
Bernardone was the son of a wealthy merchant at Assisi, and from all
that appears an only child. He was from infancy intended for a
mercantile career, nor does he seem to have felt any dislike to it. One
story - and it is as probable as the other - accounts for his name
Francesco by assuring us that he earned it by his unusual familiarity
with the French language, acquired during his residence in France while
managing his father's business. The new name clung to him; the old
baptismal name was dropped; posterity has almost forgotten that it was
ever imposed. From the mass of tradition and personal recollections
that have come down to us from so many different sources it is not
always easy to decide when we are dealing with pure invention of pious
fraud, and when with mere exaggeration of actual fact, but it scarcely
admits of doubt that the young merchant of Assisi was engaged in trade
and commerce till his twenty-fourth year, living in the main as others
live, but perhaps early conspicuous for aiming at a loftier ideal than
that of his everyday associates, and characterized by the devout and
ardent temperament essential to the religious reformer. It was in the
year 1206 that he became a changed man. He fell ill - he lay at Death's
door. From the languor and delirium he recovered but slowly - when he
did recover old things had passed away; behold! all things had become
new. From this time Giovanni Bernardone passes out of sight, and from
the ashes of a dead past, from the seed which has withered that the new
life might germinate and fructify, Francis - why grudge to call him
Saint Francis? - of Assisi rises.

Very early the young man had shown a taste for Church restoration. The
material fabric of the houses of God in the land could not but exhibit
the decay of living faith; the churches were falling into ruins. The
little chapel of St. Mary and the Angels at Assisi was in a scandalous
condition of decay. It troubled the heart of the young pietist
profoundly to see the Christian church squalid and tottering to its
fall while within sight of it was the Roman temple in which men had
worshipped the idols. There it stood, as it had stood for a thousand
years - as it stands to this day. Oh, shame! that Christian men should
build so slightly while the heathen built so strongly!

To the little squalid ruin St. Francis came time and again, and poured
out his heart, perplexed and sad; and there, we are told, God met him
and a voice said, "Go, and build my church again." It was a "thought
beyond his thought," and with the straightforward simplicity of his
nature he accepted the message in its literal sense and at once set
about obeying it as he understood it.

He began by giving all he could lay his hands on to provide funds for
the work. His own resources exhausted, he applied for contributions to
all who came in his way. His father became alarmed at his son's
excessive liberality and the consequences that might ensue from his
strange recklessness; it is even said that he turned him out of doors;
it seems that the commercial partnership was cancelled: it is certain
that the son was compelled to make some great renunciation of wealth,
and that his private means were seriously restricted. That a man of
business should be blind to the preciousness of money was a sufficient
proof then, as now, that he must be mad.

O ye wary men of the world, bristling with the shrewdest of maxims,
bursting with the lessons of experience, ye of the cool heads and the
cold grey eyes, ye whom the statesman loves, and the tradesman trusts,
cautious, sagacious, prudent; when the rumbling of the earthquake tells
us that the foundations of the earth are out of course, we must look
for deliverance to other than you! A grain of enthusiasm is of mightier
force than a million tons of wisdom such as yours; then when the hour
of the great upheaval has arrived, and things can no longer be kept

"Build up my church!" said the voice again to this gushing emaciated
fanatic in the second-rate Italian town, this dismal bankrupt of
twenty-four years of age, "of lamentably low extraction," whom no
University claimed as her own, and whom the learned pundits pitied. At
last he understood the profounder meaning of the words. It was no
temple made with hands, but the _living_ Church that needed raising.
The dust of corruption must be swept away, the dry bones be stirred;
the breath of the divine Spirit blow and reanimate them. Did not the
voice mean that? What remained but to obey?

In his journeyings through France it is hardly possible that St.
Francis should not have heard of _the poor men of Lyons_ whose peculiar
tenets at this time were arousing very general attention. It is not
improbable that he may have fallen in with one of those translations of
the New Testament into the vernacular executed by Stephen de Emsa at
the expense of Peter Waldo, and through his means widely circulated
among all classes. [Footnote: See "Facts and Documents Illustrative of
the History, Doctrine, and Rites, of the Ancient Albigenses and
Waldenses," by the Rev. S. R, Maitland, London, 8vo., 1832, p. 127 _et
seq._] Be it as it may, the words addressed by our Lord to the seventy,
when he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of heaven, seemed to St.
Francis to be written in letters of flame. They haunted him waking and
sleeping. "The lust of gain in the spirit of Cain!" what had it done
for the world or the Church but saturate the one and the other with
sordid greed? Mere wealth had not added to the sum of human happiness.
Nay, misery was growing; kings fought, and the people bled at every
pore. Merchants reared their palaces, and the masses were perishing.
Where riches increased, there pride and ungodliness were rampant. What
had corrupted the monks, whose lives should be so pure and exemplary?
What but their vast possessions, bringing with them luxury and the
paralysis of devotion and of all lofty endeavour? It was openly
maintained that the original Benedictine Rule could not be kept now as
of yore. One attempt after another to bring back the old monastic
discipline had failed deplorably. The Cluniac revival had been followed
by the Cluniac laxity, splendour, and ostentation. The Cistercians, who
for a generation had been the sour puritans of the cloister, had become
the most potent religious corporation in Europe; but theirs was the
power of the purse now. Where had the old strictness and the old
fervour gone? Each man was lusting for all that was not his own; but
free alms, where were they? and pity for the sad, and reverence for the
stricken, and tenderness and sympathy? "O gentle Jesus, where art Thou?
and is there no love of Thee anywhere, nor any love for Thy lost sheep,
Thou crucified Saviour of men?"

* * * * * * *

Knocking at his heart - not merely buzzing in his brain - the words kept
smiting him, "Provide neither gold nor silver nor brass in your purses,
neither scrip for your journey, neither two coats, nor yet staves, for
the workman is worthy of his meat!" Once men had changed the face of
the world with no other equipment. Faith then had removed mountains.
Why not again? He threw away his staff and shoes; he went forth with
literally a single garment; he was girt with a common rope round his
loins. He no more doubted of his mission, he no more feared for the
morrow than he feared for the young ravens that he loved and spake to
in an ecstasy of joy.

Henceforth there was "not a bird upon the tree but half forgave his
being human;" the flowers of the field looked out at him with special
greetings, the wolf of the mountains met him with no fierce glare in
his eye. Great men smiled at the craze of the monomaniac. Old men shook
their grey heads and remembered that they themselves had been young and
foolish. Practical men would not waste their words upon the folly of
the thing. Rich men, serenely confident of their position, affirmed
that they knew of only one who could overcome the world - to wit, the
veritable hero, he who holds the purse-strings. St. Francis did not
speak to these. "Oh, ye miserable, helpless, and despairing; ye who
find yourselves so unutterably forlorn - so very, very far astray; ye
lost souls whom Satan has bound through the long weary years; ye of the
broken hearts, bowed down and crushed; ye with your wasted bodies
loathsome to every sense, to whom life is torture and whom death will
not deliver; ye whose very nearness by the wayside makes the traveller
as he passes shudder with uncontrollable horror lest your breath should
light upon his garments, look! I am poor as you - I am one of
yourselves. Christ, the very Christ of God, has sent me with a message
to you. Listen!"

It is observable that we never hear of St. Francis that he was a
sermon-maker. He had received no clerical or even academical training.
Up to 1207 he had not even a license to preach. It was only after this
that he was - and apparently without desiring it - ordained a deacon. In
its first beginnings the Franciscan movement was essentially moral, not
theological, still less intellectual. The absence of anything like
dogma in the sermons of the early Minorites was their characteristic.
One is tempted to say it was a mere accident that these men were not
sectaries, so little in common had they with the ecclesiastics of the
time, so entirely did they live and labour among the laity of whom they
were and with whom they so profoundly sympathized.

The secret of the overwhelming, the irresistible attraction which St.
Francis exercised is to be found in his matchless simplicity, in his
sublime self-surrender. He removed mountains because he believed
intensely in the infinite power of _mere goodness_. While from the
writhing millions all over Europe - the millions ignorant, neglected,
plague-stricken, despairing - an inarticulate wail was going up to God,
St. Francis made it articulate. Then he boldly proclaimed: "God has
heard your cry! It meant this and that. I am sent to you with the good
God's answer." There was less than a step between accepting him as the
interpreter of their vague yearnings and embracing him as the
ambassador of Heaven to themselves.

St. Francis was hardly twenty-eight years old when he set out for Rome,
to lay himself at the feet of the great Pope Innocent the Third, and to
ask from him some formal recognition. The pontiff, so the story goes,
was walking in the garden of the Lateran when the momentous meeting
took place. Startled by the sudden apparition of an emaciated young
man, bareheaded, shoeless, half-clad, but - for all his gentleness - a
beggar who would take no denial, Innocent hesitated. It was but for a
brief hour, the next he was won.

Francis returned to Assisi with the Papal sanction for what was,
probably, a draught of his afterwards famous "Rule." He was met by the
whole city, who received him with a frenzy of excitement. By this time
his enthusiasm had kindled that of eleven other young men, all now
aglow with the same divine fire. A twelfth soon was added - he,
moreover, a layman of gentle blood and of knightly rank. All these had
surrendered their claim to everything in the shape of property, and had
resolved to follow their great leader's example by stripping themselves
of all worldly possessions, and suffering the loss of all things. They
were beggars - literally barefooted beggars. The love of money was the
root of all evil. They would not touch the accursed thing lest they
should be defiled - no, not with the tips of their fingers. "Ye cannot
serve God and Mammon."

Beggars they were, but they were brethren - _Fratres (Frères)_. We in

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