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THAT Cur ancient monasteries, whose history in all the minutie of detail, which though unknown to, or scarcely heeded by the writers of the past generation, is now fully placed at our disposal through the well-directed efforts of modern research, did in their day exercise a vast and powerful influence over the people of this land, both in a religious, as well as in a political and social point of view, is a proposition to which few persons will refuse their sament. However much these institutions may unsalted to the spirit of the age to use a familiar but frequently misapplied expression, there can be no doubt that in their day they were of inestimable advantage to the localities where chance lad placed them. We are accustomed at the present time to boast of our numerous charitable institutions, and perhaps to over-rate their importance in comparison with the efforts of a former age; we have our hospitals, our infirmaries, our orphanages, cur homes, our asylums, our parochial schools, our visiting wcieties; and the benefits which flow from the judicious administration of ti ese charities are undoubtedly of great magnitude: but we must not forget that many of the functions which are now dischargel by these institutions were the proper and special province of the monastery, and were in most cases faithfully and honestly fulfilled. It is this that the monastery held an important place in the social economy of car ancestors; it was not only a seminary of religion which provided for the spiritual
wants of the people, but it also looked to their material and physical requirements, which otherwise might have gone neglected or wholly unprovided for.
The monastery was, as it were, both in its educational and missionary aspect, what the university and the cathedral aim at; it kept up from among its inmates a constant and regular supply of candidates for holy orders,1 many of whom would go forth into the world, and carry into their future sphere of action much of the good governance and rule learnt in their mother monastery; while in the ranks of its permanent adherents there would not be wanting zealous and fervent priests to minister to the home population, and preach to them of the paths which lead unto peace. It was this missionary aspect which formed so bright a feature in the monastic system, and which even now in these days the Church of England is beginning to understand and to appreciate.
The modern school of thought teaches us to look upon monasteries as institutions which, though once beneficial or even necessary, are now, having done their work, effete and useless. They were according to some writers the authors of their own decay, and bore within themselves the seeds of dissolution, but that this is a grave truth I think has yet to be proved. In England they did undoubtedly fall, and the sixteenth century saw their destruction and demolition, but why was this? not, as I apprehend, because of their alleged inutility, or of any inherent weakness, but because of a fatal mistake to which
This is attested by our early episcopal registers, some of which, namely, those of the diocese of Hereford, I have had the opportunity of examining, through the kindness of the Registrar, whose courtesy I here beg leave to acknowledge. In these registers are contained full and detailed lists of the various persons admitted to holy
orders at each ordination, acolytes, subdeacons, deacons, and priests, and they are singularly interesting and valuable, because they fre quently mention the different monasteries from whence the candidates proceeded. They are well worthy of more time and attention than I could bestow upon them.
they had for generations clung. Proud as they were in the magnitude of their possessions, the power and ambition of their abbots, the splendour of their churches, and the attractiveness of their services, they yet paved the way for their own destruction, which, not heeding riches or power, came on slowly but steadily, and at last did its appointed work. And the primary cause of this was, as I take it, the overweening desire of the monasteries to free themselves from the wholesome discipline of episcopal visitation. Papal exemptions were eagerly sought to free them from this supposed interference, and many and bitter were the contests which placed the monastic and episcopal systems in unfriendly relations. The Chronicle of Evesham and the history of St. Augustine's Canterbury, among others, show us how this antagonism was fostered by the abbots, who carried things with a high hand, rendered higher still by these papal exemptions. Of this we have an apt illustration in the time of Richard, archbishop of Canterbury, in the reign of Henry II. In a letter which this prelate wrote to Pope Alexander III., about the year 1180, he complains first of the abbot of Malmesbury refusing obedience to the bishop of Salisbury, and then he inveighs bitterly against exemptions in these strong terms:
"Adversus primates et episcopos intumescunt abbates, "nec est, qui majoribus suis reverentiam exhibeat et honorem. Evacuatum est obedientiæ jugum, in qua "erat unica spes salutis, et prævaricationis antiquæ " remedium. Detestantur abbates habere suorum ex"cessuum correctorem, vagam impunitatis licentiam "amplectuntur, claustralisque militiæ jugum relaxant " in omnem desiderii libertatem. Hic est, quod monas"teriorum fere omnium facultates datæ sunt in direp"tionem et prædam. Nam abbates exterius curam "carnis in desideriis agunt, non curantes, dummodo "laute exhibeantur, et fiat pax in diebus eorum: "claustrales vero, tamquam acephali otio vacant et