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mate to monasticism and monastics, and speaks of Symeon the stylite as “that angel upon earth, that citizen, in the flesh, of the heavenly Jerusalem.”! Theodoret, in his history of thirty distinguished monks, ex. presses unbounded admiration of the men “who in a mortal and passible body appeared impassible, and emulated the incorporeal nature.” His narrative, too, is plentifully sprinkled with accoun:3 of miracles. He describes, for example, how James of Nisibis dried up a stream by his curse, and brought premature tokens of old age upon some maidens who were washing their garments in the same, because they had failed to treat him with becoming modesty and reverence; how he was ready to undo the curse, and answered the request of the people that the stream should be restored. “Such,” remarks the historian, “was the miracle of this new Moses, which indeed was not wrought by the stroke of a rod, but by the sign of the cross.”? Reference might also
2 be made to flattering tributes of emperors who deigned to consult some noted recluse on the most important affairs of the State, or enacted laws in behalf of the monastic profession.3
It should be observed, however, that some who were most free in their encomiums give evidence that many of the monks were by no means patterns of purity and self-denial. The same Jerome who exhausts rhetoric in praise of monasticism speaks of those whose excessive austerities had induced a chronic melancholy; of others
i Hist. Eccl., i. 13.
2 Hist. Relig., i. 3 So Justinian, in prohibiting one member of a household from placing restraint upon another wishing to enter the monastic life. (Novella cxxiii. ; Cod., I. iii. 53; I. iii. 55.)
who veiled a worldly heart and a luxurious life under the cloak of the solitary, and made spoil out of the too ready confidence of nobles and women; of others whose pride expressed itself in uncharitable judgments, in disdain toward their ecclesiastical superiors, and in frequenting of public places in order that their piety might be duly exhibited and admired.
4. CONTRIBUTIONS TO CHRISTENDOM. — Augustine testified, as the result of his own observation, that the best and the worst of men were to be found among monks. A similar variety may be affirmed of the contributions of monasticism, as a whole, to the life and thought of the Church. Whatever may be its place, or lack of place, under more normal conditions of society, it unquestionably had a certain mission in the era of abnormal conditions to which the more conspicuous part of its history belongs. Its protest against worldliness, if eccentric and one-sided, was still in many instances earnest, and administered a stimulus to the religious sentiment in not a few minds. Its cloisters performed an important part, as recruiting stations for the missionary field. It brought waste districts under cultivation, and in an age of decline supplied the best examples of agriculture to be found in Europe. In times of disruption and disorganization, it provided for learning numerous sanctuaries, which even rude warriors respected, and thus served as an instrument for handing down the literary treasures of antiquity. It is not easy to over-estimate the conserving office fulfilled by the transcribers whom the cloisters educated and sheltered.
1 See in particular, Epist. cxxv.
On the other hand, however, there were pernicious results growing out of monasticism. As it advanced in popularity, its greatest commendation - namely, its moral earnestness- - too often succumbed ; and the cloister, which was founded as a seminary of virtue, degenerated into a school of vice. By the unhealthy isolation which it prescribed, it ministered oftentimes to an abnormal thirst after the magical, and was instrumental in burdening the Church with overgrown lists of spurious miracles. Finally, its association of special sanctity with a special style of living tended to becloud the minds of men as respects their conceptions of Christian privilege and duty. Emphasis was unduly withdrawn from the grand idea of sanctifying the ordinary relations and business of life. Indications early appear of the judgment that only monks can be expected to be religious in a very eminent degree, and that the ordinary Christian does very well in being content with a lower standard.
In a full catalogue of the distinguished men of the era it would be appropriate to mention Didymus, who, in spite of blindness, became a distinguished teacher in the theological school of Alexandria ; Cyril of Jerusalem, a theologian of more than average fruitfulness; Ephræm, the leading poet and divine of Syria in the fourth century, whose mystical piety and enthusiastic asceticism had much influence upon the people of that region; and Hilary of Poitiers, one of the most prominent and steadfast champions of the orthodox faith which the Latin Church supplied against Arianism. But we pass by these, and many others, and limit our attention to those whose character and influence in a special degree summon to an interested attention.
ATHANASIUS. — “The victorious Athanasius, who had acquired as many crowns as he had engaged in conflicts," – such was the verdict of Theodoret as he reviewed his career. Alert, incisive, eloquent, possessed of indomitable perseverance, great in soul (though small in body), Athanasius was well fitted to make a deep impress upon his own and upon succeeding ages.
As a theologian and a controversialist, the great Alexandrian was not altogether above the faulty polemics of the age. He applied harsh and contemptuous epithets to his Arian opponents. But that may be said of him which cannot be said of some of those opponents; namely, that his violence was confined to words, and did not pass on into deeds. He showed himself, however, abundantly capable of calm argumentation ; and, if he sometimes used fiery words, there was, at least, back of them the fire of a great conviction. He believed that the divinity of Christ was the sacred ark of Christianity; that no perfect mediation can be secured, that Christianity cannot claim to be the absolute religion, unless the divine essence was truly in Christ. “From this point of view,” says Baur, “Athanasius apprehended the gist of the controversy; always finally summing up all his objections to the Arian doctrine with the chief argument, that the whole substance of Christianity, all reality of redemption, every thing which makes Christianity the perfect salvation, would be utterly
null and meaningless if He who is supposed to unite man with God in real unity of being were not Himself absolute God, or of one substance with the absolute God, but only a creature among creatures.” 1
As an administrator, Athanasius was possessed of eminent tact. Few men could have steered with a firmer hand through such a seething whirlpool of agitation and passion as was Alexandria in his time. Gibbon, while he sees in his dogmatic zeal a token of fanaticism, emphatically acknowledges his capacity to rule. “Athanasius,” he says, “ displayed a superiority of character and abilities, which would have qualified him, far better than the degenerate sons of Constantine, for the government of a great monarchy.”? Athanasius
also be viewed as the hero of perilous encounters and romantic adventures. A mark for slanderous accusations, five times exiled from his charge, pursued even with murderous intent by his foes, he had abundant occasion to employ all the resources of a versatile genius. A noted example of his skill in foiling a plot appears in his answer to a council of bishops at Tyre. This council was bent upon his overthrow, and charged him with having murdered a certain Arsenius ; also with having atrociously mutilated his body by cutting off the right hand. Fortunately for the accused bishop, Arsenius was discovered, and held subject to the order of Athanasius. Having obtained the testimony of certain in the council that they knew the mutilated man, he brought him into their presence, and obtained their reluctant acknowledgment that this seemed to be the very person in question. “Then, turning back the
1 Kirchengeschichte, ii. 97. 2 Chap. xxi.