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of what he had read."^ That there was in his language
an elevation and wisdom, which are not indeed to be
taken apart from his holy life, but which were the es-
pecial cause of the attention paid to his words, is mani-
fest from the unwearied earnestness with which his last
discourses were received by the six Bishops who waited
upon him, among whom was the famous St. Peter, sur-
named Chrysologus, one of the Doctors of the Church,
and then Bishop of Ravenna. ^ The moral endowments
which he evinced before his conversion distinguished
him throughout. He retained all his firmness of pur-
pose, courage in difficulties, command over his own will
and that of others, presence of mind, penetration and
prudence. But Clu'istianity taught him resignation in
suffering, charity which flowed over the least of his
actions, forgetfulness of self in common danger, a spirit
of reserve strongly contrasted with his former tendency
to ostentation.^

' Const, ch. xxiii. Surius. B. i.

■'■ Conf. also, ch. xxxiii. " Assidebant jugiter obsequentes
sex venerabiles saccrdotes." " Dum cum Episcopis sermones
conferret de religione."

^ " Sed semper secreti obumbratione notitiam suppressit."
Ch. xvi. Surius.



St. Germa7i founds a Monastery.

One of the first acts which displayed German's zeal for
the Church over which he was appointed, was also
highly characteristic of the age in wliich he lived. The
fifth century was the period wliich introduced the mo-
nastic system in Gaul and other Western countries.
The East had got the start of a hundred years. Ger-
man was the first to institute it at Auxerre. No posi-
tive declaration of the causes which led him to found a
monastery has been transmitted, except that whicli was
obvious enough to a Saint of those times, " the advance-
ment of religion."! g^t it requires very little stretch
of imagination to understand the chain of circumstances
which gave the impulse. First, however, let us ascer-
tain the fact itself.

At the north-east of Auxerre, separated by the river
Yonne from the town itself, as it then was, he built the
first monastery which had been seen in that district.
It was dedicated to St. Cosmas and St. Damianus, Mar-
tyrs, and subsequently obtained the name of St. Ger-
mans. Afterwards it again changed its appellation and
was called St. Marian, from one of the holy brethren
who gave lustre to the institution. Tiiis is not the
monastery which Avas celebrated as the Abbey St. Ger-
mans of Auxerre at a later period, the fame of which
far eclipsed St. Marian. St. Marian, however, was the
original foundation, and under its vauUs the body of

' Ad profectum religionis. Const.


German himself reposed, until it was translated to the
larger convent in the ninth century. It is now no
longer standing, one column alone exists to testify the
spot of its situation. But before it fell into ruin one
might have seen the very cell of the good Bishop, where
he retired when he visited the monastery. It could be
entered ouly by a small opening, and in a kneeling pos-
ture. This place was the witness of his many prayers
and mortifications. St. Allodius, probably the same
who succeeded him in the Bishopric, was the first
Abbot or Archimandrite, as he was called ; and after
him St. INIamertinus Avas elected, the conversion of
whom holds a prominent rank in the history of our
Saint. These are the only Abbots known before the
twelfth century ; when the order of the Premonstrants
was established at St. Marian. After various changes,
the monastery was finally destroyed by the Calvinists,
in 1567, among the other acts of their sacrilegious

We must now retm-n to those causes which doubtless
influenced German's mind, and which will furnish the
most satisfactory explanation to be obtained concernino-
the rule and discipline of the new monastery.

There were at this time three principal religious
houses in France, that of Marmontier, near Tours, in-
stituted by St. Martin, that of St. Victor, at Marseilles,
founded by Cassian, and that of Lerins, an island to the
south of France, where iSt. Honoratus retired. Which
of these was the model of that at Auxerre ? Not Mar-
montier, because it had scarcely any rule at all in its
origin. Lerins, on the other hand, in process of time
adopted the constitutions of Cassian as well as St. Victor.
The rule of Cassian wliich he established at Marseilles
was that which attracted the chief notice, and we shall


see that there were many associations which would par-
ticularly recommend it to German. But we must take
np the subject somewhat liigher.

Enmity to institutions as well as to men and persua-
sions is an active principle whicli exercises the human
ingenuity in the discovery of everything which tells
ao-ainst the devoted object. But love is one of far
greater energy, as it never faileth, " and endureth all
things ;"^ it is ever ardent and indefatigable in the sup-
port of the cause it has espoused. Much, then, has been
written to weaken the foundations of monasticism, but
much more has been written for the establishment of
its claims. Indeed, if any plausible work lias been
composed to throw discredit upon it, the labours of
love have furnished apparently the chief materials ;
and as heretics learn even the history of heresy from
the Church, the enemies of the coenobitic life have
o-ained their information from its very advocates.
This persuasion may afford sufficient ground for the
view here taken of its origin.^

Four modifications of the monastic system are ob-
servable in the early ages. The ascetics, properly so
called, ai'e its first representatives. They existed in
the times of the Apostles ; nay, they were always in
the Church, under the Judaic dispensation, before the
Christian. Celibacy, fasting, prayer, silence, watching,
and mortification, were the practice of their profession.
It does not appear that in the earliest times of Chris-
tianity they separated from the general community.
The Church itself, when compared with the rest of the

' 1 Corinth. 13.
= See Fleury. Discours. Hist. Eccl. Heliot Discours. pre-


world, was a monastery. And while the fervour of the
whole body countenanced strictness and austerity, sepa-
ration was superseded. When the numbers of Chris-
tians increased, and all ranks, j^rofessions, and pursuits
acknowledged the standard of the cross, the temptations
of the world entered into the Church's bosom. This
was the signal for the first general retreat. The her-
mits, or anchorites, forthwith fixed their abode in the
deserts. Nor did their behaviour meet with any dis-
approbation. They were called the people of God in a
special sense, their example was professed from the
pulpit to the multitude, and their prayers were allowed
to have a peculiar efficacy for the rest of the world.

Such were the two first stages of the monastic spirit.
When the hermits had filled the deserts, they began to
draw near to each other, and to fix their habitations or
cells in close vicinity to each other. These religious
societies abounded in Egypt during the fourth century.
They resembled little cities, where each man had his
own house, and all met, morning and evening, to pray
together. St. Martin's monastery, at Tours, was at
first nothing else than a community of this kind.
Finally, in the midst of these, arose in Egypt the
fourth class of monks, those which were destined to
prevail — the Coenobites. They cast all their substance
into one common stock, assembled under one roof, con-
formed to one rule, and submitted to one superior.
The Abbot, or Archimandrite, thus obtained a distinct
position. After this model have all future monastic in-
stitutions been framed, though there were in the fourth
and fifth centuries some characteristics which do not
exist at present.^ There seems to be reason in the

' Guizot. France.


remark of a modern historian, that a principle of lib-
erty was the basis of monasteries at their origin, No
obligation of perpetual residence, other than that of
decency, obtained. A set of devout persons congre-
gated to practise a rule of life impracticable in the
world ; but they were not, at least in the west, bound
by vows before the sixth century, when St. Benedict
fomided his order. There were even instances when
those who had attained a higli degree of perfection
retked from their monastery to live the Ufe of hermits.
Another prominent feature of the institution was, that
monks were regarded as laymen, and had actually few
among them who were ordained. Like other classes
of men distinct from the clergy, they were subject to
the same kind of episcopal jurisdiction ; nor had they
for a long time any appointed priests for themselves,
but were members of the tliocese and parish in which
they lived, and attended one common church with the
rest of the people. Many reasons, however, would
have, and in fact, did supervene, to require peculiar
ministers for themselves, without recurring to the in-
vidious motive of vieiug with the secular clergy, which
is assigned by some. Still it is manifest that till the
tenth centuiy the monastic houses were never emanci-
pated from the episcopal rule. In 451, a few yeai\>;
after the foundation of German's monastery, the fol-
lowing canon was enacted by the council of Cluilcedon.
" Let those who have sincerely and in truth adopted
the solitary life, be honoured as is just. But whereas
some, who are in appearance and name monks, throw
confusion into the civil and ecclesiastical affairs, by
wandering into towns, and attempting to establish of
their own accord monasteries, it is decreed that no one
sliall build or found a monastery or a chapel, without


the sanction of the Bishop of the city. Let the monks
in every city and country be subject to' the Bishops,
live quietly, apply themselves to fasting and prayer,
and remain on the spot where they have made renvtn-
ciation of the world. Careless of external things, let
them continue in their seclusion, unless the contrary be
ordered by the Bishop of the place for some necessary
work." Allusion is here made to the Sarabaites and
Messalians, fanatics, who, under pretence of strictness,
committed many excesses, and were generally repro-
bated by good men. The authority of the Bishop was
thus positively declared, while the honour due to the
monastic body was sanctioned by the same decree. At
that time, no exception to ejDiscopal rule was claimed
by any appeal to the Pope. If we may attribute par-
tiality to the see of Rome, it inclined certainly to the
side of the clergy against the monks. There are angry
expressions on record, of Pope Celestine, who lived
about this very time. They were called forth by the
great tendency of the age to escape from ecclesiastical
obedience, and by the excesses of fanaticism. The dis-
cipline and order of the hierarchy were the great
object at which the Church of Rome aimed in the
fifth century. And to this, not to any settled disap-
probation of the system, must be attributed the occa-
sional rebukes which the Popes directed against the
monks. At Rome, as well as in the rest of Christen-
dom, religious houses had been established, and after
the first impression of strangeness had rapidly passed
away, obtained the same favour as elsewhere.^

' The passages alluded to by Guizot, in his endeavour to
establish the contrary opinion, can hardly be said to make for
him ; the opposite inference would be best drawn from them,
especially when compared with others of the same writers.


Monasticism was introduced into the West in the
following manner. In 340, St. Athanasius, during
the troubles occasioned by the Arians, came to Rome,
and there made known the practices of Antony and
other P^gyptian monks. ^ Convents were established
forthwith in that city. St. Eusebius, of Vercelli, car-
ried out the same plan in other parts of Italy, and soon
after Milan followed the example.- Hence St. Martin
issued to found a monastery at Toui's, as we have seen.
Two thousand persons in process of time are said to
have congregated under his discipline.-' But no fixed
rule such as afterwards was instituted, determined all
their actions. Sulpitius Severus, the' biograplier of
St. Martin, describes their habits after tliis manner :■*
" St. Martin made himself a monastery about two miles
out of the city. So secret and retired was the place,
that he did not miss the solitude of the desert. On one
side it was bounded by the high and precipitous rock
of a mountain, on the other the level was shut in by the
river Loii-e, which makes a gentle bend. There was
but one way into it, and that very narrow. His own
cell was of wood. Many of the bretliren made tliem-
selves dwellings of the same kind, but most hollowed
out the stone of the mountain which was above them.
There were eighty scholars (at that time) who were
under training after the pattern of tlieir saintly master.
No one had aught his own ; all things were thrown
into a common stock. It was not lawful as to most

' See Giesler. Church Hist. Monastic System.

'- Mabillon Acta, S. S. Ord. Bon. Prccfat. § 7.

' He'liot. Discours prelim, and torn. v. p. 61.
■» Vid. Transl. Church of the Fathers, and compare the origi-
nal. Ed. Octav. Lugd. p. 498, 500, 517, 51G, 541, 551, 566;
the whole of the first dialogue.


monks to buy or sell any thing. They had no art
except that of transcribing, which was assigned to the
younger ; the older gave themselves up to prayer.
They seldom left their cell, except to attend the place
of prayer. They took their meal together after the
time of fasting. No one tasted wine except compelled
by bodily weakness. Most of them were clad in cam-
el's hair ;^ a softer garment was a crime, and what of
course makes it more remarkable is, that many of them
were accounted noble, who, after a very different edu-
cation, had forced themselves to this humility and
patience, and we have lived to see a great many of
them BisJiojys."^

There was indeed much in this institution which
would influence the feelings of German, but it was
as yet too indefinite to be used as a model for his
own, and something more to the purpose had been
introduced in Ms time by Cassian, from which Mar-
moutier itself may afterwards have borrowed. Cas-
sian, according to some, was a Scythian by birth ;
but more probably he was a native of Provence, in
France. In his early youth he went to Palestine, and
then became a monk, at Bethlehem. After this, with
one companion, he visited the deserts of Egypt, and
familiarised himself with the habits of the chief orders
of solitaries.' He then went to Constantinople, was
ordained deacon by St. Chrysostom, and passing tlu-ough
Rome, came into France, and stopped at Marseilles,
where he received the Priesthood and built a monastery
in honour of St. Peter and St. Victor the Martyi-. This

" See the print in Heliot, torn. i. p. 160.
- Sacerdotes. Tiiat this is the sense of the word in the Fa-
thers of the fourth and fifth centuries, see Ducange ad vocem.
■■' He'liot, torn. v. p. 154. Fleury Hist. Eccl. Lib. xxiv.


was in 409. lie also founded a convent for women.
He introduced the customs of the P>gyptian monks ;
and his rule, which he explained in his books concern-
ing monastic institutions, became the chief pattern
in France till the reform of St. Benedict. The most
famous monastery of all, namely, that of Lerins, which
St. Honoratus founded a year after that of St. Victor,
in 410, certainly borrowed many of its regulations
from Cassian, who began to write about 420. And
with this establishment German would have been well
acquainted from a variety of sources, among which was
his intimacy with St. Hilary of Aries, who had been
Abbot of Lerins, and St. Lupus of Troyes, once a monk
of the same place, and the brother of the famous Vin-
centius Lirinensis.

Although the works of Cassian convey the most defi-
nite idea to be obtained of the rise of Monasticism in
Gaul, yet the introduction of Egyptian customs there
described naturally was attended with some changes,
owing to the climate and different education of the
natives. Moreover it is tlie remark of the writer
himself, that no uniform plan was carried out in
any country, and that there were nearly as many
forms and rules as there were cells and monasteries.
And such was the state of things till St. Benedict,
in the sixth century, brought in a more perfect code.
Till then, the superior's will was sometimes the
law ; sometimes custom and tradition authorized any
particular form ; again sometimes a few statutes were
written. The unanimity and consent of the monks
was the i)ledge of their obedience and conformity,
as perhaps would be the case were the monastic sys-
tem reviving in our own country. There was, so to
say, but one order of monks at the time, all subjected


to one main law, renunciation of the world, and ascetic
life. Nevertheless a type existed of all the institutions
of the fourth and fifth centuries ; namely, the Egyptian
coenobites. St. Basil adopted their usages in Asia
Minor, St. Athanasius brought them into repute in
Italy, and Cassian established them in Gaul. The prin-
cipal alterations which were here made regarded the
food and clothing of the Western monks. The natives
of Gaul could not content themselves with the very
scanty allowance of the Egyptians, nor could they en-
dure the cold of a noi'theru climate without additional
covering. 1 "We cannot, said Cassian, be content with
simple socks, and with one tunic, on account of the
severity of the winter, and so small a hood as the
Egyj)tians wear, would provoke laughter rather than
edify the people." Moreover, the practice of manual
labour was frequently laid aside, and reading and
writing substituted. Thus, under St. Martin, the
monks had been taught to transcribe books. Lerins it
is well known was the seat of learning and literary
occupations. Another deviation not to be overlooked,
was the use recommended by Cassian of daily prayers
in common, after the example of some monks in Pales-
tine. For whereas the Egyptians only assembled for
nocturns and vespers, other eastern monks observed
the hours also of tierce, sext, and nones. ^

It would exceed the limits of these pages to enter
into any further details concerning the customs of these
religiovis institutions. The spirit however which pre-
sided over them may be in part understood by the fol-

• The saying was : " Edacitas in Graecis gula est, in Gallls
natura." Sulp. Sever.

- Fleury Hist. Eccl. Lib. xxiv.


lowing sketch of the Egyptians extracted from Cassian's
works. ^ " They came together, he says, to pray at even-
ing and night, and each time recited twelve psalms,
according to the instructions given, as they believed, to
their forefathers, by an angel who came and sang eleven
psalms among them, with a prayer after each, and tlien
added a twelfth, with a hallelujah, after which he disap-
peared. They read also two lessons, one out of the Old
Testament, and one out of the New ; except on Satur-
days, Sundays, and the Easter season, at which times
tliey only read the New Testament, at one lesson the
Epistles or the Acts, at the other the Gospels. After
each Psalm, they prayed standing, with their hands ex-
tended, then prostrated tliemselves for an instant, and
arose immediately for fear of falling asleep, copying the
motions of him who directed the prayers. A j)rofound
silence reigned in the assembly however large it might
be. One voice alone was heard, namely, that of the
Chanter who recited the Psalm, or of the Priest who
said the Prayer. The Chanter stood upright ; the rest
were seated on low stools, because their fasting and
labour rendered them unfit for a standing posture. If
the Psalms were long, they divided them, desirous not
to recite much and rapidly, but to pay great attention.
The signal for prayer was given by a liorn, and one was
appointed to awake tlie brethren for tlie nightly prayer.
On Saturdays and Sundays they assembled at nine in
the morning for the Holy Communion."^

' See Fleury Hist. Eccl. Lib. xx., and more at length, Cellier
Aut. Eccl. torn. xiii.

- It does not appear that Saturday was ever kept up in the
West, as it was in the East, with that reverence which the Jew-
ish Sabbath had taught the Eastern nation.



St German and St. Mamertinus.

One clay, as German was coming out at the door of
the monastery he had founded, he was met by a young
man who had lost the sight of one of his eyes and the
use of an arm. The young man, on perceiving him,
fell down at his feet and did obeisance.^ German had
been apprized by divine communication of the visit,
and when the stranger earnestly entreated his assist-
ance, he answered, " Be not afraid, but have confi-
dence," and stretching out his hand, raised the suppli-
ant and kissed him on the chin. But the stranger
drew back, exclaiming, " Far be it from thee, man of
God ; my lips as yet are not purified from the em-
brace of the devil's altars." " Nay," returned German,
" I am assured that this very night thou hast been
pm-ged from this pollution." The Bishop then took
him by the hand, and led him through the monastery
into the cell which he had reserved for himself, when-
ever he came to the place. ^ He there made him sit
down, and questioned him on the cause of his arrival.
Not satisfied with the account he received, he rebuked
the young man for concealing some important circum-
stance, adding that he had been acquainted already
with every thing. He afterwards conducted him to
the town of Auxerre, and entered the church, where
the clergy and a number of laymen were assembled.

' Quem procidens in terram adoravi." — Const.
" See Hericus de Mir. 22.


In the hearing of all, he then desired the stranger to give
a complete ^'elation of all that had happened to him.
Whereupon the young man, who perceived nothing
could be concealed, addressed the multitude in the
following manner : — ^

" My name is Mamertinus : I was a servant of Idols,
and an ardent worshipper of Jupiter and tlie rest of the
false gods, insomuch that it was with difficulty I could
be dragged away from their images. On one occasion,
while I was paying my wretched veneration to their
statues, suddenly I lost the sight of one of my eyes,
and one of my hands Avithered up. Supposing I had
incurred their displeasure by some transgression, I
poured forth abundant tears of penitence, and implored
their foi'giveness. As I was one day returning to the
temple of the gods to repeat my lamentations, I was
met by one Sabinus, who was clad in the habit of a
monk, and wore the tonsure. After we had exchanged
some words, he asked the cause of my affliction, and
the religion I professed. " The religion of Jupiter,
Mercuiy, and Apollo and the other gods," was my
answer, " and I am hastening to obtain absolution and
soundness of body at their altars." " You err," replied
Sabinus, " because you know not the truth, and this is
the real cause of your sufferings. Had those gods
whom you worship any knowledge and understanding,
they would not remain blind, dumb, deaf, void of
smelling, motionless, mutilated, or bound with iron and
lead, as we see them. Of them does the Holy >Scrip-
ture speak when it says, ^ ' They have mouths and speak

' Mamertinus published the account himself, and it is inserted
in Constantius's Life of St. German.
- Ps. 1 15.


not ; eyes have they and see not ; they have ears and
hear not ; noses have they and smell not.' And with
regard to their worshippers, the same Psalmist pro-
ceeds to say, ' They that make them are like unto
them, and so are all such as put their trust in them.'
Consider the punishment prepared for worshipjiers of
statues, and then apply it to yourself. If yoix would
recover your sight and touch, follow my injunctions.
In the Church of Auxerre there is a man of eminent
holiness, called German, (whose minister I am among
the clergy.) Christ manifests himself to him as it
were face to face, and the most wonderful cvu'es are

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanLives of the English saints (Volume 2) → online text (page 16 of 33)