Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

with a pack of fiendish dogs, and was driven away by his strenuous exertions; and that Angels had borne him down where it was not possible for him to have descended without supernatural assistance. Divested of such machinery, the fact appears to be, that in an access of delirium, or perhaps in his sleep, he had got into the church, by some perilous mode of descent, which he would not have attempted in his senses; he himself at the time might easily believe this to be miraculous, and from thenceforth he was regarded as a youth from whom something extraordinary was to be looked for.

As soon as he had attained the requisite age, he entered into minor orders, in conformity to the desire of his parents, and took the clerical habit in the monastery wherein he had been educated. He was now equally remarkable for diligence in his studies, for his various accomplishments, and for manual dexterity; he composed music, he played upon the harp, organ, and cymbals, wrought metals, worked as an artist in wax, wood, ivory, silver, and gold, and excelled in design, in painting, and in calligraphy. The Archbishop, his uncle, introduced him to the palace, where he soon became a favourite with King Athelstan, whom he delighted by his skill in music, and who sometimes employed him in hearing and adjudging causes. There were, however, persons who accused him of studying the historical songs and magical verses of their heathen forefathers, a charge almost as serious as that of heresy in succeeding ages ; and an instance of that art which he afterwards practised more successfully was brought against him in proof of the accusation. A noble woman, who intended to embroider some rich vestments as a present for the church, requested Dunstan to trace the pattern for her; he hung his harp upon the wall, while he was thus employed, and the tune and words of a well-known anthem were heard distinctly to proceed from it, although no human hand was near. The matron and her maidens ran out, exclaiming that Dunstan was wiser than he ought to be ; ventriloquism was not suspected, and as his life was not yet such as might entitle him to perform miracles, the premature trick was ascribed to magic. He was banished from the court, and men who, for some unexplained cause, hated him, pursued and

Osbern, Acta SS. Mai. t. iv. p. 360.

1

overtook him, bound him hand and foot, trampled upon him, and threw him into a marsh, leaving him there, as they thought, to perish.

Escaping, however, from this danger, he went to his uncle Elphege, Bishop of Winchester, who advised him to become a monk. Dunstan inclined to prefer a married life ; the Prelate upon this is said to have prayed that God would please to correct him in this error, and the young man being soon afflicted with a dangerous disease, took upon himself the obligations of monachism, under the influence of severe pain and the fear of death. He now returned to Glastonbury, and there built for himself a miserable cell against the wall of the monastery, more like a grave than the habitation of a living man. It was five feet long, two and a half wide, and not above four in height, above the ground; but the ground was excavated, so that he could stand upright in it, though it was impossible for him to lie there at full length. The door filled up one side, and the window was in the door. This was his forge and workshop, as well as his dwelling-place, and this was the scene of the most notorious miracle in the monastic history of England ; for here it was that the Devil, who annoyed him sometimes in the shape of a bear, sometimes of a dog, a serpent, or a fox, came one night in a human form to molest him, while he was working at the forge ; and looking in at the window, began to tempt him with wanton conversation. Dunstan, who had not at first recognised his visitor, bore it till he had heated his tongs sufficiently, and then with the red-hot instrument seized him by the nose.' So he is said to have declared to the neighbours, who came in the morning to ask what those horrible cries had been which had startled them from their sleep: and the miraculous story obtained for him the credit which he sought.

A widow of the royal family, who had retired to a cell adjoining the monastery, was advised in her last illness by Dunstan to divest herself of all her property before she died, that the Prince of this world, when she was departing, might find upon her nothing of his own. She bestowed the whole

upon the personals he distributed among the poor, and settled the

1 Osbern, 363.

him ;

estates upon the church at Glastonbury, transferring to it also his own ample patrimony which had now devolved upon him. When Edmund succeeded his brother Athelstan, Dunstan was recalled to court, but was again dismissed to his convent, through the influence of those who dreaded his overweening ambition, or disliked his views. The King, narrowly escaping from death in a stag-hunt, in the moment of his danger and deliverance, repented of his conduct towards him ; and as this was attended by an immediate profusion of miracles, made him Abbot of Glastonbury, where he then introduced the Benedictine rule, being the first Abbot of that order in England. Edmund also confirmed and enlarged the privileges which former kings, from the days of Cuthred and Ina, had conferred upon this most ancient church, making the town of Glastonbury more free than other places, and granting to its Abbot power as well in causes known as unknown, in small and in great, above and under the earth, on dry land and in water, in woods and in plains, and inhibiting under God's curse any one, either Bishop, Duke, Prince, or their servants, from entering to exercise authority there. This privilege was written in letters of gold, in a splendid book of the Gospels, which he presented to the church.

After Edmund's death, Dunstan retained the same favour with Edred his successor, who deposited part of the royal deeds and treasures in his monastery, and would have made him Bishop of Crediton. Dunstan, in opposition to the King's wishes, and the entreaties of the Queen-mother, declined this promotion, and recommended another person to the see.

The motives for his conduct are explained by a vision which he related to the King on the following morning. St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Andrew, he said, had appeared to him in the night, and the former had chastised him with a ferule, for having refused to be of their fellowship: they warned him not to commit that sin a second time, nor to refuse the primacy when it should be offered him ; and they told him that he must one day travel to Rome. He had resolved upon reforming, or rather re-modelling, the AngloSaxon Church, a task for which he was qualified by his rank, his connexions, his influence at court, his great and versatile ta

i Osbern, 367.

lents, and more than all, it must be added, by his daring ambition, which scrupled at nothing for the furtherance of its purpose.

Dunstan would in any age or station have been a remarkable man, but no times could have suited him so well as the dark age of priestcraft in which he flourished. In the decay and dissolution to which human societies and institutions are subject, civilized nations become barbarous, and barbarous ones sink into so savage a state that all remembrance of their former civilization is lost, scarcely a wreck remaining. This utter degradation is prevented by priestcraft there only where the prevalent superstition is connected with learning and the arts. Christianity, in the days of Dunstan, was as much a system of priestcraft as that which at this day prevails in Hindostan or Tibet ; but with this mighty difference, that whereas inquiry can only show the priest of a false religion, how every thing which he teaches and professes to believe is mere imposture or delusion, the Christian minister, even in the darkest times of Popery, might ascertain by strict investigation that the history of his religion is true, and that the divinity of its precepts is proved by their purity, and their perfect adaptation to the nature of man, in its strength and in its weakness. Such as the Romish Church then was, however defiled, it was the salt of the earth, and the sole conservative principle by which Europe was saved from the lowest and most brutal barbarism ; and they who exerted themselves to strengthen its power, may have easily believed that they were acting meritoriously, even when their motives were most selfish, and the means to which they resorted most nefarious.

The strength of the Church depended upon its unity, and that upon the supremacy of Rome. To establish and support that supremacy the Popes were in those times encouraging the regular in opposition to the secular clergy; and to effect this they took advantage of a revolution in monachism of which St. Benedict, an Italian peasant, had been unconsciously the author. Benedict had formed a rule for the monks under his direction, which, because it was milder and less unreasonable than the manner of life prescribed in any former institutions of the kind, prevailed gradually to the extinction for awhile of all others in the western Church. His monasteries were at first independent of each

other; but they soon found the convenience of associating for the better defence of their privileges; and this was favoured by provincial Councils, because the object of preserving discipline was promoted by it, till the Benedictines throughout Christendom became at length members of one body, under one General. Wise Princes encouraged them as the only instructors of youth, and the best promoters of civilization. The Popes had a further object in view: the tendency of national churches was to continue independent of the papal power; but the Regulars belonged to · their Order, not to their country, and owing their exemption from episcopal jurisdiction to the Popes, they for their own sake supported the Roman see in all its usurpations.

Another great object of the Popes at this time was that of compelling the clergy to celibacy. Nothing in ecclesiastical history is more certain than that no such obligation was imposed during the three first centuries. After that time it was gradually introduced, first by requiring that no person should marry after ordination, then by insisting that married men, when they were ordained, should separate from their wives. This prohibition, for which Scripture affords not the slightest pretext, was long resisted, and was held by the clergy of this country in general disregard when Dunstan undertook the task of reforming the Anglo-Saxon Church. It needed reformation in many respects : the clergy were grossly ignorant, and partook the coarse dissolute manners of their countrymen, which of late years had been greatly worsened by communication with the Danes. Dunstan was supported in his intentions by Odo the Primate. This prelate, who was the son of a Dane, had been a warrior, and even after he was made a Bishop, fought by the side of King Athelstan. When the primacy was offered him, he would not accept it, till he had professed among the Benedictines; and accordingly he went for that purpose to Fleury, then the most celebrated seat and seminary of the order, whither the body of Benedict had been translated. Such Christianity as Odo's had done little to mitigate the stern and unfeeling temper which he derived from his Danish blood : the interests of his order took place with him of the duties of his profession, and he therefore with all his authority assisted Dunstan in the enterprise which he had undertaken. Their object was to make the clergy put away their

« AnteriorContinuar »