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There is, however, an objection to the theory which has been advanced. “ If there be a recognition of friends in another world, the righteous may recognize near and dear friends on the left hand of the Judge. Members of the same family may feel that they are separated for ever. Parents and children may know that either the one or the other is among the lost. And this could not but mar the happiness of the redeemed.”
But to this objection, three replies may be suggested. First, an apparent difficulty must not shake our confidence in an established truth. If the preceding considerations have shown that such recognition will, beyond a doubt, take place, even if this objection could not be answered, it would not be fatal to the views we have advanced. The proper course to be pursued is, not, to renounce the truth because we cannot answer an objection ; but to acknowledge our incompetency to meet and refute the objection. The difficulty is not in the former, but in the latter. Let us therefore hold to the revealed truth. We do so in regard to other topics, though they involve mysteries which we cannot understand ; and seem liable to objections, which, by reason of the weakness of our powers, or the imperfections of our present state, we are not able to refute. “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
But, secondly, we do not feel this objection to be a difficulty. In that world of light into which the righteous shall enter, we believe that they will attain to such enlarged views of the glorious perfections of God, of the reasons of his administration, of the spotless beauty of his character, of the rectitude of all his proceedings, of the justice of his sentence against the ungodly, and that they will so fully acquiesce in his blessed will, whatever that will may be, that the events referred to will not, in the least degree, disturb their happiness. Their will may be so identified with God's, that they would, as the circumstances shall be, deprecate any other arrangement in respect to the affairs of the universe, than he shall ordain. With our present feelings, we cannot, perhaps, comprehend how this shall be. Our hearts may revolt from such an anticipation. But we do not yet know the power of perfect conformity to the will of God. Christian attainments on earth and in heaven may be very dif
ferent. We pray now that the will of God may be done. But then it will seem so unutterably desirable that it should be done, that the single wish for its accomplishment will absorb every other consideration.
And, thirdly, if this solution will not satisfy us, another yet remains. We state it in the words of bishop Mant: - If requisite for the fulfilment of their joy, God himself, we may humbly presume, will providentially interpose ; and counteract by some merciful agency of his own any tendency to the diminution of the delight, which he has prepared and promised for them that love him.”
The subject of the following paper, however uninteresting it may appear to some, I am persuaded has strong claims on the consideration of intelligent readers. The prevalence of monasticism constitutes a remarkable feature in the history of mankind. What fact more strange, in all the strange history of our race, than that millions upon millions of human beings, in different countries, under widely different forms of religion and government, and from the remotest periods of time, should cut themselves off from human society, and from all the enjoyments of social and domestic lise, and consign themselves to gloomy cloisters, to deserts, mountains, and caverns, and there subject themselves, often, to the most revolting austerities and cruelties of which their natures were capable? The subject surely is sufficiently startling, on the bare announcement of it, to awaken curiosity, and excite a profoundly interested attention.
Monasticism may have been thought by some to be specifically Christian, and to date its origin subsequent to the age of the apostles. But this is an inadequate and erroneous view of the subject. The practice is of heathen, and not of Christian origin. The religions of the East, both Boodhism and Braminism, have had their ascetics and recluses,VOL. VII.-NO. XXV.
their Yooges and Fakirs, from a period long anterior to the Christian era. They have them in great numbers now. It has been estimated that, in India alone, there are not less than 2,000,000 of this class of beings, at the present time. And a more abject and miserable class cannot possibly be conceived. Here is one man standing motionless as a statue, perhaps on one leg, till he has lost entirely the power of walkiny. Another has his arms erected over his head, till they have become fixed in that position, and cannot be taken down. A third is supporting himself on his hands and head, with his feet projecting upwards; or is hanging, head lowest, on the limb of a tree. A fourth is sitting in ashes, before a slow fire, till his flesh (what remains of it) is roasted or dried up. A fifth has half buried himself in an ant-heap, to be tortured and devoured by the voracious insects. These are but some of the forms of religious torture among the recluses of the East,—tortures which have been perpetuated for thousands of years,—in the endurance of which the miserable sufferers hope to propitiate the favor of their gods, while they become objects of the most profound veneration to men.
Nor was the ancient monasticism confined to a single nation, or class of nations. It spread itself all over southern and south-eastern Asia, and penetrated Egypt, Syria, and Greece. Not a few of the ancient Grecian philosophers, more especially the Pythagoreans, were monastics in their course of life. The elder Pliny has told us of a singular race of beings, dwelling among palm trees on the borders of the Dead Sea, who had perpetuated their existence through a very long period, in lone celibacy, and without property. The reason he assigns for their extraordinary seclusion, is, a weariness of society,—a disgust and satiety of the world.
The Essenes were a sect of Jewish monastics, which existed long previous to the time of Christ. They inhabited the deserts of Syria and Egypt, and held their property in common. They paid a strict regard to the moral precepts of the law, but neglected the ceremonial ; except what relates to personal cleanliness, keeping the Sabbath, and making an annual present to the temple at Jerusalem. They lived, for the most part, in a state of celibacy, and perpetuated their society, by adopting and educating the children of others. They bound all those whom they initiated, by the
most solemn oaths, to observe the rules, and keep the secrets of the fraternity.
Besides the Essenes proper, there was another and stricter class of Jewish monastics, called Therapeuts. Detaching themselves from all secular affairs, these retired into solitary places, and devoted themselves wholly to what they considered a religious life. They professed to seek their only happiness in secret contemplations of the Divine nature and character.
There have been monastics, not only among Pagans and Jews, but also among the followers of Mohammed. The Soofies, and Dervishes, and other enthusiasts of Islamism, have spread themselves from the Mediterranean to the Ganges, and from the mountains of Tartary to the Indian and Atlantic oceans. The ascetics of the Turkish and Persian empires are divided into numerous sects. Many of them spend their days and nights in prayers and fastings, and in various forms of bodily infliction and mortification. By incantations, howlings, violent dances, frightful gesticulations, and continual repetitions of the sacred name of Allah, they strive to secure the favor of their prophet, and to impress the multitude with a sense of their own pre-eminent sanctity.
I have presented these statements for the purpose of showing, that monasticism is not peculiar to Christians; that it prevailed extensively, both among Jews and Pagans, long anterior to the birth of Christ; and prevails to this day, in various nations, which do not bear the Christian name.
Although there is nothing in Christianity, properly interpreted, which goes to favor the monastic spirit, still this spirit began, very early, to exhibit itself in the church of Christ; and it is to these manifestations of it that I propose more particularly to direct attention. I shall,
I. Present a brief history of monasticism among Christians.
The first Christian ascetics, who appeared in the second century, did not seclude themselves from the society of their brethren ; but dwelt among them, and labored in various ways to promote their good. Their peculiarities consisted chiefly in their opposition to marriage, and in their wearing a peculiar, philosophic garb. They professed to observe, not only the precepts of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, but
those higher counsels of the Saviour, which they pretended had come down to them, by tradition, from the apostles.
The next form of monasticism, which meets us in the church, is that of the anchorets or hermits. About the middle of the third century, a great number of Christians, either driven by persecution, or impelled by other causes, fled into the deserts, and took refuge in caverns, islets, and other inaccessible places, where they indulged their contemplations, and practised their devotions, in lonely security. The countries most frequented by the anchorets were Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, and the wildest parts of Asia Minor. They continued to increase, without any prescribed rules, or form of government, till in the next century the deserts literally swarmed with them. It is said that not less than 100,000 were to be found in Egypt alone.
Pachomius and Anthony were the first who gave to the monks of Egypt a rule, and formed them into regular communities. The laws which they gave were soon carried into other countries, and from this period,--the early part of the fourth century,--monasticism became in some degree systematized. It began to assume an organic form.
The monks of this period are divided by Cassian into three classes: the Cænobites, the Anchorets, and the Sarabaites. The former of these classes lived in communities, each containing from one to five thousand inhabitants. Their establishments were surrounded by a high wall, enclosing their wells and gardens, and all else that was necessary for their support, so as to leave them no pretext for any farther intercourse with a world which they had professed to abandon for ever. Their discipline was rigid, but not barbarous. Their principal food was bread and water. They assembled for worship twice every twenty-four hours; once during the day, and once in the night. The hour of their night-prayer was indicated by the declining stars, which, in the cloudless atmosphere of upper Egypt, shine with a perpetual lustre.
There was much in their worship and mode of life, which, in a superstitious age, and to minds of a peculiar structure, was fascinating and imposing. They seemed, indeed, to have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts. They seemed like strangers and pilgrims on the earth, who were seeking a better, that is a heavenly country.