Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ing crowns of gold. And here, says a Benedictine' historian, the greatness of his sanctity must be observed ; they were not any Angels who came to escort him, but those only of the highest orders in the hierarchy of heaven, even Cherubim and Seraphim themselves. They arranged themselves in order before the Saint, and addressed him, saying, “Hail, our Dunstan! if thou art ready, come, and enter into our fellowship!” But the Saint made answer, “Holy spirits, ye know that upon this day Christ ascended into heaven: it is my duty to refresh the people of God both with words and with the sacrament at this time, and therefore I cannot come to-day.” In condescension to his wishes, a farther respite than he required was granted, and they promised to return for him on the Saturday.

Accordingly, on Ascension-day, St. Dunstan officiated for the last time; he preached upon the mysteries of religion as he had never preached before, such was the fervour with which the prospect of his near glorification inspired him; and when he gave the people his blessing, his countenance became like that of an angel, and was suffused with a splendour, wherein it was apparent that the Holy Spirit was pleased to make its presence visible. He then exhorted them to remember him and his exhortations, for the time of his departure was at hand, and he must no longer abide among them. At this, such lamentations were set up as if the world were at an end, and the day of judgement had begun; and the priest, who hitherto had doubted whether what he had beheld during the night were a vision, or an actual appearance, knew now that

now that it was real, and with tears and groans related before the congregation all that he had seen and heard. The saint, after taking his last meal, re-entered the church, and fixed upon the spot for his grave. He then went to his bed, and as he lay there, surrounded by his monks, he and the bed whereon he was lying were thrice, by some unseen power, elevated from the floor to the ceiling, and gently ? lowered again, while the attendants, as if terrified at the prodigy, and believing that their Saint, like Elijah, was to be translated in the body, started from the bed-side, and clung to the walls and door-posts. Saturday came, and the Cherubim and Seraphim, according to their promise, descended to escort him: they were not, indeed, 1 Yepes, t, v. ff. 123.

2 Osbern, 375.

visible to others, but he saw them; and as the monks knew this, the people believed it: “See,” says one of his biographers, “ how he hath been honoured whom God thought worthy of honour! see in what manner he hath entered into the joy of his Lord, who was found faithful over the talents of doctrine committed to his charge!” The multitude, as they attended his funeral, beat themselves with open hands, and lacerated their faces, a ceremony of heathen mourning which had not yet been abrogated; and the saint was deposited in the cathedral over which he had presided, there to work miracles, and attract pilgrims and devotees to his shrine.

The life of Dunstan is thus given at length, because a more complete exemplar of the monkish character, in its worst form, could not be found : because there is scarcely any other miraculous biography in which the machinery is so apparent, and because it rests upon such testimony, that the Romanists can neither by any subtlety rid themselves of the facts, nor escape from the inevitable inference. The most atrocious parts are matter of authentic history; others, which, though less notorious, authenticate themselves by their consistency, are related by a contemporary monk, who declares that he had witnessed much of what he records, and heard the rest from the disciples of the saint. The miracles at his death are not found in this author, because the manuscript from which his work was printed was imperfect, and broke off at that point: they are found in a writer of the next century, who was Precentor of the church at Canterbury, and enjoyed the friendship and confidence of Lanfranc, the first Norman archbishop. Whether, therefore, those miracles were actually performed by the monks, or only averred by them as having been wrought, either in their own sight, or in that of their predecessors, there is the same fraudulent purpose, the same audacity of imposture; and they remain irrefragable proofs of that system of deceit which the Romish Church carried on everywhere till the time of the Reformation, and still pursues wherever it retains its temporal power or its influence.'

1 This account of St. Dunstan's life, with the view here taken of his character, is further elucidated and authenticated in the Vindiciæ Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ, or letters to Charles Butler, Esq., comprising Essays on the Romish Religion, and vindicating the Book of the Church, pp. 2,1—261.

F

66

CHAPTER VII.

CORRUPTION OF MANNERS AMONG THE ANGLO-SAXONS-FOREIGN

CLERGY INTRODUCED BY THE NORMAN CONQUEST-PROGRESS OF THE PAPAL USURPATIONS.

IF Dunstan had been succeeded by men of similar talents and temper, and England had remained undisturbed by invasions, the priesthood might have obtained as complete an ascendency as in ancient Egypt, or in Tibet, founded upon deceit, and upheld by uncommunicated knowledge, and unrelenting severity. There might have been some immediate good in the triumph of cunning over force, inasmuch as such a system would have tamed the barbarians whom it subdued; but it would have rendered them as unprogressive as the Chinese, and at a lower stage in civilization. Time was not allowed for this. The Danes renewed their ravages: the monasteries underwent a second spoliation : Dunstan’s immediate successor at Canterbury was put to death by these barbarous invaders : the learning which he had revived was extinguished, and the yoke of his ecclesiastical discipline was thrown off.

The Danes, during their short dominion, conformed to the religion of the country, and the conversion of their native land was completed in consequence. This good arose from a conquest which, in other respects, degraded the English nation. Indeed, they had shown an unhappy readiness at receiving any imported vices. From the Saxons who frequented England during times of peace, they are said to have learnt manners more ferocious than their own; habits of dissolute effeminacy from the Flemings; and now, from the Danes, excessive gluttony and drunk

Such was the general depravity, that the Norman conquest, if considered in its immediate evils, may appear as much a dispensation of divine justice upon an abandoned people as it proved to be of mcy in its results. Even the forms of Christianity were in danger of being lost through the criminal ignor

enness.

ance of the clergy, who could scarcely stammer out a service which they did not understand: one who had any knowledge of the Latin grammar was regarded as a prodigy of learning. Dunstan would have established an order of things in which the monks, by directing the consciences of the great, should have possessed and exercised the real power; a state not less pernicious had ensued, in which the clergy became the abject menials of the chiefs, and were consequently held in contempt. Such was their degradation, and such the irreverence with which the half-converted barbarians conformed to the religious usages of the age, that the nobles, instead of attending at church, would have matins and mass performed in the chambers where they were in bed with their wives or concubines. The condition of the country accorded in other respects with this sample of its manners. A horrid tyranny was exercised over the peasants; the lords, for the sake of supplying their own prodigal excesses, seized their goods, and sold their persons to foreign slave-dealers. Girls were kidnapped for this abominable traffic; and it was common for these petty tyrants to sell their female vassals for prostitution at home, or to foreign traders, even though they were pregnant by themselves. When such actions were so frequent as to become a national reproach, no heavier afflictions could fall upon the nation than its offences deserved.

After the battle of Hastings, William obtained easy possession of the crown.

The nobles, for the sake of present safety or advantage, submitted to a foreign Prince, whom, had there been a head to unite them, they might have successfully opposed ; engaging afterwards, as the yoke galled them, in partial insurrections, they were destroyed piecemeal, and their domains transferred to the Norman chiefs. The clergy opposed him with a more determined spirit of resistance; and the Conqueror found their enmity so inveterate, that he made an ordinance for excluding the native monks and priests from all dignities in the Church. So strictly was it observed, and so extensive was the compulsory transfer of property which ensued upon the conquest, that in the course of the next generation, among all the Bishops, Abbots, and Earls of the realm, not one was to be found of English birth. To accelerate this object Wil 'am deprived many prelates of their sees, and appointed foreigners in their stead.

Some fled into Scotland, deeming their persons in danger; and matter of accusation was easily found against others, in the part which they had taken, or in the relaxed morals which had infected all ranks during the late distempered times. Stigand the Primate was one of those who were thus deposed; the real cause of his removal was that he had refused to crown the Conqueror, and had taken an honourable part in exciting the men of Kent to demand and obtain a confirmation of their customs. Lanfranc, Abbot of St. Stephen's at Caen, an Italian by birth, was the person

whom William selected to succeed him. A man more eminent for talents and learning could not have been found; but being either unwilling to remove to a turbulent country, or apprehensive that he might be called upon to contend with a prince who was resolute in his purposes as well as politic, he pleaded his ignorance of the language and of the barbarous people as a reason for wishing to decline the promotion. Yielding, however, to the king's wishes, he at length accepted it; and one of his first measures was to give the farther sanction of the Church to the new government, by imposing, at a council held under his directions, certain penances upon those who had killed or wounded any of William's men at the battle of Hastings; the archers were enjoined to fast three Lents, because as none could tell what execution had been done by his arrows, it behoved all to consider themselves guilty ; but a commutation was permitted in money, or by building or repairing churches.

In further condescension to William's system, he proceeded to deprive Wulstan, Bishop of Worcester, for insufficiency in learning, and for his ignorance of the French tongue; for even this, in the insolence of iniquitous power, was deemed a sufficient cause.

Wulstan was a man who had escaped the contagion of those dissolute times. His habits were simple, his life exemplary, his character decided ; and on this urgent occasion he was not wanting to himself. The synod before which he was summoned was held in Westminster Abbey, and Lanfranc there called upon him to deliver up his pastoral staff. Upon this the old man rose, and holding the crosier firmly in his hand, replied, “I know, my Lord Archbishop, that of a truth I am not worthy of this dignity, nor sufficient for its duties. I knew it

| Milo Crispinus. Acta Sanctorum, Maii, t. vi. 839.

« AnteriorContinuar »