Слике страница
PDF
ePub

'Heaveistian Chuucally tur

trainee naturch, whickham

of Oswald's exile in Iona, the usurper Aeduin had married the daughter of the Christian King of Kent, and been himself converted by the preaching of Paulinus, who brought the queen to York, and was appointed bishop of that see by Gustus, Archbishop of Canterbury. The people of Bernicia and Deira ostensibly embraced Christianity ; but in the course of a short time Aeduin was slain by the heathen Penda of Mercia and the apostate Caedwalla of Wales, who took possession of the country. The infant Christian Church was trampled under foot, and Paulinus fled back to Kent. After a year had elapsed, during which time the land was given up to paganism, Oswald, who was then aged thirty, and the rightful heir to the Anglic throne by the death of his brother, invaded Northumbria, and won back his kingdom in a battle, which was termed that of the ‘Heavenly Field,' near Hexham. His first care was to restore the Christian Church, which had been swept away, and for this purpose he naturally turned to Iona, where he had himself been trained in the faith. The monks at once responded to the call. A missionary priest was first sent to York, who is represented as having been so severe and uncompromising that his mission failed, and he was recalled. Whereupon a great council was held at Iona, under the presidency of the Abbot Segine, and the monk Aidan having been found, by the wise counsel he gave, endowed with the 'grace of a singular discretion,' it was decided that he should be consecrated bishop and sent forthwith into Northumbria. There he speedily planted the Celtic Church, with precisely the same monastic organisation as in Iona. He followed the usual Columban system by selecting a small island on the Northumbrian coast, named Lindisfarne, as the site of a monastery, where he was to rule as abbot bishop, instead of fixing his episcopal see in York. ·

This Northumbrian Church, established A.D. 635, proved nobly efficient in missionary work; Bede tells us that the Gospel of Truth was preached throughout all the provinces of the Angles over which Oswald reigned. The people were baptised, churches were built, and monasteries founded on land freely given by the King for that purpose. Lindisfarne, since called “the Holy Island,' continued, however, to be the central religious establishment of the kingdom, whence for sixteen years Bishop Aidan administered the affairs of his diocese. Before his death, the Easter controversy was renewed with great violence through the action of an Irish abbot who had adopted the Roman computation, and sought to induce the Abbot of Iona to follow his example and abandon

the customs he had received from his fathers. The controversy spread over the whole Celtic Church, and its course is fully detailed by Mr. Skene.

A fatal schism grew up on this subject in the Church of Iona, and Adamnan, the biographer of Columba, took no small share in it, as he adopted the Roman use during his tenure of the abbacy, while his monks adhered pertinaciously, against his will, to the ancient Celtic customs. Finally, some eighty years after the mission of Bishop Aidan, matters reached such a crisis that when the Abbot Duncadh of Iona, with some of the monks, gave in their adhesion to the Roman custom, the opposing section elected another abbot. One year later, on the death of Duncadh, Naiton, King of the Picts, who had adopted the Roman use, drove the rival abbot and his monks out of the kingdom. The Columban Church of Northumbria had ceased, thirty years earlier, to have any right to that distinctive name, when the clerics who would not conform to the Roman system had been forcibly ejected from it.

It is, however, only on this one vexed question of the Easter festival that we find any changes in the Celtic Church during the seventh century when these events were taking place, excepting such as indicate progress in letters and general culture; for instance, we have the appearance at this time of a new functionary in all the monasteries, who was termed the 'scriba,' whose duties were to transcribe the ancient records, and to act as teacher 'and public lecturer. Writings still extant indicate a high standard of cultivation. The following is a prayer written by one of them at the end of the Gospels, of which he had made a fair copy :

"O God, whose mercy is unbounded and whose holiness passeth speech, with humble voice have I boldness to implore that. like as Thou didst call Matthew to be a chosen Apostle from the receipt of custom, so of Thy compassion Thou wilt vouchsafe me to direct my steps during this life into the perfect way; and place me in the angelic choir of the Heavenly Jerusalem, that on the everlasting throne of endless joy I may be deemed worthy to join the harmonious praises of archangels in ascribing honour to Thee; through Thy onlybegotten Son, who liveth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit throughout all ages. Amen.' The same scribe, in writing out the enumeration of the Apostles by S. Matthew, places in the margin opposite the name of Judas Iscariot the word “Wretch.'

The Celtic Church at this time most rigidly enforced celibacy on the monastic clergy, and there was no trace then of the innovations of the secular element, which some two or

instan bert Win the standing kene Bridge

three centuries later allowed the marriage even of abbots and other laxities. There was, however, the singular arrangement of double monasteries, with monks and nuns under the same roof; one of the largest of these being the Abbey of Coldingham, where the brethren and sisters were governed by the abbess Æbba, and these mixed communities seem generally to have had an abbess for their superior instead of an abbot. One bishop was still in these days considered sufficient for the consecration of priests, and the Holy Eucharist was held to be the one great act of worship which alone, so to speak, was deserving of the name.

We now pass to the third period of the Celtic Church, that of the eremitical clergy. As usual at the commencement of a new epoch, we find one representative man, who gave a sudden impulse to that special form of lifelong devotion which sought God in absolute solitude and separation from the world. There had been from the first occasional instances of monks who became complete anchorets, but S. Cuthbert was the first who established the eremitical life as a system in the Celtic Church. His early history is very obscure, notwithstanding his important influence on the religion of his day. Mr. Skene rejects the legend of his having been trained along with S. Bridget, for the very sufficient reason that she died more than a century before he existed ; but, after an exhaustive examination of the conflicting accounts he comes to the following conclusions :-S. Cuthbert was born about the year 626, the son of an Irish chieftain and an Aglic mother, and he was brought by the latter to Britain for his education. He was twenty-five years old before he became a monk, but he seems to have been religiously-minded from the first, since Bede states that 'on a certain night, when he was extending his long vigils in prayers, as was his wont, he had a vision, in which he saw the soul of Bishop Aidan of Lindisfarne being carried to heaven by choirs of the heavenly host, and he resolved, in consequence, to enter a religious house and put himself under monastic discipline. Notwithstanding the great reputation of the Monastery of Lindisfarne at that period, Cuthbert chose in preference to enter the Abbey of Mailros (Melrose), allured by the fame of the exalted virtues of its prior, Boisil.' Ten years later Cuthbert himself became Prior of Melrose, on the death of Boisil, under the abbot Eata ; but already during this interval he had for some time led the life of a solitary.

In the year A.D. 664 the Monastery of Lindisfarne was placed, at the suggestion of Bishop Colman, under the care of

Eata, who thus became abbot of that house, as well as of Melrose. He at once transferred his prior Cuthbert to Lindisfarne, 'there to teach the rules of monastic perfection with the authority of a superior, and to illustrate it by becoming an example of virtue ;' the saint remained twelve years in charge of this monastery, ruling it well and wisely, but throughout this period he was in the habit of constantly retiring to a solitary place on the rocky coast, in order to contend as a recluse with the invisible enemy by prayer and fasting. Finally he seems to have been unable to withstand the irresistible impulse to live in absolute solitude with his God, in a spot remote from the abode of men. He chose for this purpose the island of Farne, distant nearly three miles from the mainland, and constructed in it an anchoret's cell, of which Bede gives an elaborate description. The wall of unwrought stones was circular, and Cuthbert made it very high by hollowing out the earth inside, in order, as his chronicler says,‘by this means to curb the petulance of his eyes as well as of his thoughts, and to raise his whole mind to heavenly desires,' since he could see nothing from his mansion but the sky. The cell was divided into two parts, an oratory and an ordinary dwellingplace, and there ‘Cuthbert, the man of God,' abode in solitude eight years. He seems, however, to have seen his monks when they resorted to him for direction, and in this manner to have still governed his monastery. In the year 684 he was most reluctantly obliged to leave his beloved solitude, in consequence of his appointment as Bishop of Hagustald (Hexham), being, however, by an arrangement with Abbot Eata, almost immediately transferred to the bishopric of Lindisfarne. Cuthbert's consecration took place in the city of York; seven bishops meeting at the consecration, 'among whom Theodore was Primate.'. It is an interesting fact, not noticed by Mr. Skene, that this ceremony brought the Celtic Church indirectly into contact with the Orthodox communion of the East, the Primate being Theodore of Tarsus, whom the Eastern Church gave to her Western sister, and whose position as Archbishop of Canterbury is still looked upon as à connecting link between the Oriental Christians and ourselves.

It was only in the spirit of obedience that Cuthbert consented to accept the responsible office which drew him from his retirement, but he performed the duties imposed upon him with much zeal for two years. Then he felt that his end drew near, and desiring to meet death in holy solitude, he resigned his bishopric, after making a visitation of his diocese, and returned to his rude cell in the island of Farne. We have not space for the beautiful account of his death, given by Herefrid, a monk who attended him to the last, but the manner in which his release was announced to the brethren in the Monastery of Lindisfarne is too striking to be omitted. Some of the monks had crossed from the other island, and had spent the night outside the cell in watching and prayer, and when they heard from Herefrid that the saint had expired‘it happened that in the order of nocturnal lauds they were at that moment chanting the sixtieth psalm, and forthwith one of them ran and lighted two candles, and holding one in each hand he went up to a higher place, to show to the brethren who remained in the Monastery of Lindisfarne that the holy soul of Cuthbert had now departed to the Lord, for such was the signal agreed upon among them to notify his most holy death. And when the monk who was intently watching afar off on the opposite watch-tower of the island of Lindisfarne saw this, for which he had been waiting, he ran quickly to the church, where the whole congregation of the monks were assembled to celebrate the solemnities of nocturnal psalmody, and it happened that they also, when he entered, were singing the beforementioned psalm.'

The body of Cuthbert was then brought in a boat to Lindisfarne, and 'deposited in a stone coffin in the Church of the Blessed Apostle S. Peter, on the right side of the altar.'

The life of solitary contemplation led by S. Cuthbert soon came to be recognised throughout the Celtic Church as beyond all question the highest form of religious asceticism. A writer of the seventh century classifies all monks at that time under three heads—the cænobites, who lived together in the monasteries ; hermits, belonging to no community, who withdrew into desert places; and anchorets, like Cuthbert, who, having been perfected in cænobitical life, 'shut themselves up in cells apart from the aspect of men, insensible to all, and living in the sole contemplation of God.' These last were held to have chosen the more excellent way; they were spoken of as 'saints who went from virtue to virtue, and the God of gods was seen of them in Zion. Finally, as the passionate impulse towards this life of lonely adoration spread far and wide throughout the Church, the vast numbers who adopted it were considered entitled to call themselves in a peculiar sense the people of God. Their secret self-mortification and devotion was said to be a cultus or religio singularly acceptable to the Heavenly Father, and the name of Deicolæ-'God-worshippers '-—was given to them, as distinct from the Christicolæ, or cænobitical monks, and also from ordinary Christians, who were sometimes included in

« ПретходнаНастави »