by Augusta Theodosia Drane, O.P. (1910)
The death of Alcuin in no degree checked the intellectual movement to which he had communicated the first impulse. He had fairly done his work; and even after his death his influence survived in the disciples whom he had so carefully trained and who long supplied the public schools of the empire with a succession of excellent masters. St. Martin’s of Tours, indeed, declined under the government of Fredegise, and the Palatine scholars themselves did not pass into the best hands. After Alcuin’s withdrawal from court the school of the palace fell, as we have seen, first under the management of the Irishman Clement, who had a fancy for changing the whole method of instruction, and then under that of Claud, Bishop of Turin, a man of audacious opinions, the only one of the Western bishops who declared in favour of the Iconoclasts, and who likewise took up the heretical tenets of Felix of Urgel. The school continued to decline during the whole reign of Louis le Debonnaire; but it revived under his son and successor Charles the Bald, who followed the example of his illustrious grandfather, and gathered around him learned men from all countries, especially from England and Ireland. The crowds of scholars who flocked from the latter island is noticed by Henry of Auxerre, who says, that it seemed as if Ireland herself were about to pass over into Gaul, and it became a proverb during the reign of this monarch, that instead of speaking of the school of the palace, one should rather call the royal residence the palace of the schools. Charles was not merely an encourager of humane letters; he possessed a certain philosophical turn of mind which led him to indulge in abstruse speculations, and to encourage similar tastes in those around him. He addressed a capitular to the bishops of his kingdom, questioning them on their opinions as to the immateriality of the soul; and he placed at the head of his royal school a scholar more famous for the subtlety of his intellect than the orthodoxy of his views. John Scotus Erigena, an Irishman by birth, had early applied himself to the study of the Greek language and philosophy, and had embraced the chief doctrines of the Neo-Platonic school. He astonished the Western world by his translation of the works of St. Denys the Areopagite, an achievement which the Roman scholars, who still regarded their Transalpine neighbours as essentially barbarians, could hardly be brought to credit, and which exhorted compliments from Anastasius, the papal librarian, and some complaints from Pope Nicholas I., who would have been better pleased had the work been first submitted to ecclesiastical approval. Erigena’s free opinions won him no disfavour with Charles the Bald; nevertheless certain controversies, of which we shall have to speak hereafter, and in which he took an active part, drew from him the expression of heterodox sentiments which excited no little scandal. This was increased by the publication of his philosophical treatise, “De Natura Rerum,” in which he plainly put forth the doctrines of the Greek Platonists, and represented the Creator and the creature as essentially one and the same. Besides this radical Pantheistic error, which runs through all his works, his views on the subject of the supremacy of reason over authority are liberal in the extreme. “Authority,” he says, “emanates from reason, not reason from authority; true reason has no need to be supported by any authority. We must use reason first in our investigations and authority afterwards.” He also affirmed that the substance of man was his will. The only punishment of sin, he says, is sin; there is no eternal fire; even the lost enjoy a certain happiness, for they are not deprived of truth. These, and a thousand equally unsound passages, raised him a crowd of adversaries, all of whom he treated with that supercilious contempt which would seem necessarily to enter into the character of the scholastic heretic. “They are all deceived,” he writes, “owing to their ignorance of liberal studies; they have none of them studied Greek, and with a knowledge of the Latin language alone it is impossible for them to understand the distinctions of science.”
In 855 the Council of Valence, nothing dismayed at having to deal with a foe who was acquainted with Greek, examined his writings, declared certain propositions extracted from his treatise on Predestination to be the invention of the devil, and everywhere interdicted them from being read. Nevertheless, Erigena was not removed from his post at court; nor was it until ten years later, in 865, that he found himself obliged to retire, in consequence of the remonstrances addressed to the king by Pope Nicholas I., who required his removal from the Palatine academy, “where he was giving poison instead of bread, and mingling his tares with the wheat.” All authorities agree in regarding him as intellectually superior to any man of his age, though it is possible that his heterodox principles have had some share in winning him the extraordinary favour which he has found at the hands of Hallam and Guizot, who are willing, naturally enough, to make the most of one who in the Dark Ages set at nought the claims of authority, and raised the standard of independent reason. In spite, however, of the prominent position which he holds among men of letters, and the noisy eulogiums which have been heaped on him at the expense of his more orthodox contemporaries, I shall say no more of him in this place than that he withdrew from Gaul, and was succeeded in his office as Palatine scholasticus by the monk Mannon, who, after teaching with success for some years, returned to his monastery at Condat; after which we hear no more of the Palatine school till its revival, at the beginning of the tenth century, under the famous Remigius of Auxerre.
But the Palatine school by no means held the most important place in the educational institutions bequeathed by Charlemagne to the empire. The work begun by Alcuin was being far more successfully carried out in the monastic schools, especially those of Fulda, Rheims, and the two Corbys. The abbey of Fulda, mindful of its great origin, was one of the first to enter heartily into the revival of letters initiated by Charlemagne; and in order to fit the monks for the work to which they were called, it was resolved to send two of the younger brethren to study under Alcuin himself at Tours, that after being there imbued with all the liberal arts, they might return to their own monastery as teachers. The two chosen for this purpose were Hatto and Rabanus, and they accordingly began their studies at St. Martin’s in 802. The name of Maurus was bestowed by Alcuin on his favourite disciple, and was afterwards retained by Rabanus in addition to his own. He studied both sacred and profane sciences, as appears from the letter he addressed many years later to his old schoolfellow, Haimo, Bishop of Halberstadt, in which he reminds him of the pleasant days they had spent together in studious exercises, reading, not only the Sacred books, and the expositions of the Fathers, but also investigating all the seven liberal arts. In 813, being then twenty-five years of age, Rabanus was recalled to Fulda, by the abbot Ratgar, and placed at the head of the school, with the strict injunction that he was to follow in all things the method of his master Alcuin. The latter was still alive, and addressed a letter to the young preceptor, which is printed among his other works, and is addressed to “the boy Maurus,” in which he wishes him good luck with his scholars. His success was so extraordinary that the abbots of other monasteries sent their monks to study under him, and were eager to obtain his pupils as professors in their own schools. The German nobles also gladly confided their sons to his care, and he taught them with wonderful gentleness and patience. He carried out the system which had been adopted by Alcuin of thoroughly exercising his scholars in grammar before entering on the study of the other liberal arts. “All the generations of Germany,” says Trithemius, “are bound to celebrate the praise of Rabanus, who first taught them to articulate the sound of Greek and Latin.” At his lectures every one was trained to write equally well in prose or verse on any subject placed before him, and was afterwards taken through a course of rhetoric, logic, and natural philosophy, according to the capacities of each. From this time the school of Fulda came to be regarded as one of the first monastic seminaries of Europe, and held a rank at least equal to that of St. Gall. It had inherited the fullest share of the Anglo-Saxon spirit, and exhibited the same spectacle of intellectual activity which we have already seen working in the foundations of St. Bennet Biscop. Every variety of useful occupation was embraced by the monks; while some were at work hewing down the old forest which a few years before had given shelter to the mysteries of Pagan worship, or tilling the soil on those numerous farms which to this day perpetuate the memory of the great abbey in the names of the towns and villages which have sprung up on their site, other kinds of industry were kept up within doors, where the visitor might have beheld a huge range of workshops in which cunning hands were kept constantly busy on every description of useful and ornamental work in wood, stone, and metal. It was a scene, not of artistic _dilettanteism_, but of earnest, honest labour, and the treasurer of the abbey was charged to take care that the sculptors, engravers, and carvers in wood, were always furnished with plenty to do. Passing on to the interior of the building the stranger would have been introduced to the scriptorium, over the door of which was an inscription warning the copyists to abstain from idle words, to be diligent in copying good books, and to take care not to alter the text by careless mistakes. Twelve monks always sat here employed in the labour of transcription, as was also the custom at Hirsauge, a colony sent out from Fulda in 830; and the huge library which was thus gradually formed, survived till the beginning of the seventeenth century, when it was destroyed in the troubles of the thirty years’ war. Not far from the scriptorium was the interior school, where the studies were carried on with an ardour and a largeness of views, which might have been little expected from an academy of the ninth century. Our visitor, were he from the more civilised south, might well have stood in mute surprise in the midst of these fancied barbarians, whom he would have found engaged in pursuits not unworthy of the schools of Rome. The monk Probus is perhaps lecturing on Virgil and Cicero, and that with such hearty enthusiasm that his brother professors accuse him, in good-natured jesting, of ranking them with the saints. Elsewhere disputations are being carried on over the Categories of Aristotle, and an attentive ear will discover that the controversy which made such a noise in the twelfth century, and divided the philosophers of Europe into the rival sects of the Nominalists and Realists, is perfectly well understood at Fulda, though it does not seem to have disturbed the peace of the school. To your delight, if you be not altogether wedded to the dead languages, you may find some engaged on the uncouth language of their father-land, and, looking over their shoulders, you may smile to see the barbarous words which they are cataloguing in their glossaries; words, nevertheless, destined to reappear centuries hence in the most philosophic literature of Europe. The monks of Fulda derive their scholastic traditions from Alcuin and Bede, and cannot, therefore, neglect a study of the vernacular. Yet they are, I am sorry to say, beset with one weakness common to the scholars of the time, and are ashamed of their Frankish and Saxon names; and Hatto, Bruno, and Rechi, three of the best pupils of Rabanus, are known in his academy under the Latin soubriquets of Bonosus, Candidus, and Modestus. Brower, in his “Antiquities of Fulda,” has depicted the two last-named scholars from an illuminated manuscript of their monastery in which their portraits are introduced. Candidus, the assistant of Rabanus in the school, holds a book in one hand while with the other he points out to Modestus a passage on the page before him. From the open lips and extended hand of his pupil we surmise that he is reciting the words thus indicated. Both are clothed in the tunic without sleeves, scapular, and large capuce which then formed the Benedictine habit. It may be added that the school of Fulda would have been found ordered with admirable discipline. Twelve of the best professors were chosen and formed a council of seniors or doctors, presided over by one who bore the title of Principal, and who assigned to each one the lectures he was to deliver to the pupils.
In the midst of this world of intellectual life and labour, Rabanus continued for some years to train the first minds of Germany, and counted among his pupils the most celebrated men of the age, such as Lupus of Ferrières, Walafrid Strabo, and Ruthard of Hirsauge, the latter of whom was the first who read profane letters to the brethren of his convent “after the manner of Fulda.” Lupus was a monk of Ferrières, where he had been carefully educated by the abbot Aldric, who was a pupil of Sigulf, and had acted for some time as assistant to Alcuin in the school of Tours. Aldric afterwards became Archbishop of Sens, and sent Lupus to complete his education at Fulda, under Rabanus. Like all the scholars of Ferrières, Lupus had a decided taste for classical literature; the love of letters had been, to use his own expression, innate in him from a child, and he was considered the best Latinist of his time. His studies at Fulda were chiefly theological, and he applied to them with great ardour, without, however, forgetting “his dear humanities.” It would even seem that he taught them at Fulda, thus returning one benefit for another. The monastery was not far from that of Seligenstadt, where Eginhard, the secretary and biographer of Charlemagne, was their abbot. A friendship, based on similarity of tastes, sprang up between him and Lupus, and was maintained by a correspondence, much of which is still preserved. Lupus always reckoned Eginhard as one of his masters; not that he directly received any lessons from him, but on account of the assistance which the abbot rendered him by the loan of valuable books. In one of his earliest letters to this good friend he begs for a copy of Cicero’s “Rhetoric,” his own being imperfect, as well as for the “Attic Nights” of Aulus Gellius, which were not then to be found in the Fulda library. In another letter, he consults him on the exact prosody of certain Latin words, and begs him to send the proper size of the Uncial letters used in manuscripts of that century.
Among the fellow-students of Lupus at this time was Walafrid Strabo, a man of very humble birth, whose precocious genius had early made him known in the world of letters. In spite of the unfortunate personal defect which earned him his surname of Strabo, (or the lame), Walafrid’s Latin verses had gained him respect among learned men at the age of fifteen, and they are favourably noticed even by critics of our own time. He had received his early training in the monastery of Reichnau, the situation of which was well fitted to nurture a poetic genius. His masters had been Tetto and Wettin, the latter of whom was author of that terrible “Vision of Purgatory” which left an indelible impress on the popular devotion of Christendom. From Reichnau he was sent by his superiors to study at Fulda, where he acquired a taste for historical pursuits, and is said to have assisted in the compilation of the annals of the monastery. It was out of the Fulda library that he collected the materials for his great work, the Gloss, or Commentary on the Text of Scripture, gathered from the writings of the Fathers. It received many additions and improvements from subsequent writers, and, for more than six hundred years, continued to be the most popular explanation of the Sacred text in use among theologians. Returning to Reichnau, Walafrid was appointed to the office of scholasticus, and filled it with such success as fairly to establish the reputation of that monastic school. Ermanric, one of his pupils, says of him, that to the end of his life he continued to exhibit the same delightful union of learning and simplicity which had endeared him to his masters and school-fellows. Even after he was appoined abbot, he found his chief pleasure in study, teaching, and writing verses, and would steal away from the weightier cares of his office to take a class in his old school and expound to them a passage of Virgil. Neither old age nor busy practical duties dried up the fount of Abbot Walafrid’s inspiration, and we find him in his declining years writing his poems entitled “_Hortulus_,” wherein he describes with charming freshness of imagery, the little garden blooming beneath the window of his cell, and the beauty and virtue of the different flowers which he loved to cultivate with his own hands.
Another of the Fulda scholars contemporary with those named above, was Otfried, a monk of Weissemburg, who entered with singular ardour into the study of the Tudesque dialect. Rabanus himself devoted much attention to this subject, and composed a Latin and German glossary on the books of Scripture, together with some other etymological works, among which is a curious treatise on the origin of languages. Otfried took up his master’s favourite pursuits with great warmth, and the completion of Charlemagne’s German grammar is thought to be in reality his work, though generally assigned to Rabanus. On retiring to his own monastery, where he was charged with the direction of the school, he continued to make the improvement of his native language the chief object of his study. A noble zeal prompted him to produce something in the vernacular idiom which should take the place of those profane songs, often of heathen origin, which had hitherto been the only production of the German muse. Encouraged by a certain noble lady named Judith, to whom he confided his ideas, he conceived the plan of rendering into Tudesque verse the most remarkable passages from the Life of Our Lord, which he chose so happily, and wove together with so skilful a hand, that his work may be regarded as a Harmony of the Gospel narrative. It was accompanied with four dedicatory epistles, in one of which, addressed to Luitbert, Archbishop of Mentz, he complains of the neglect with which the Franks have hitherto treated their own language. Prudentius, Juvencus, and other Latin writers had written the Acts of the Lord in Latin verse, wherefore he now desired to attempt the same in his mother tongue. “I wish,” he says, “to write the Gospels, the history of our salvation, in the Frankish tongue. Now, therefore, let all men of good-will rejoice, and let those of the Frankish tongue also rejoice, and be glad, since we have lived to celebrate the praises of Christ in the language of our fathers.” The other epistles were addressed to the Emperor Louis, and to some of the monks of St. Gall, who were celebrated for the labour which they bestowed on the cultivation of the Tudesque dialect, and could therefore appreciate Otfried’s work at its full value. It had the effect which he anticipated; his verses became familiar in the mouths of those who had hitherto been acquainted only with the rude songs of their pagan ancestors, and dispelled much of the prejudice which existed against the use of the barbarous dialects for the purpose of religious instruction. And in 847, three months after Rabanus was raised to the see of Mentz, a decree was published by the provincial council, requiring every bishop to provide himself with homilies for the instruction of the people, translated out of Latin into Tudesque or Romanesque (as the Rustic Latin was sometimes called), that they might be understood by rude and ignorant persons.
The character of Rabanus may be gathered from that of his pupils. He was in every respect a true example of the monastic scholar, and took St. Bede for the model on which his own life was formed. All the time not taken up with religious duties he devoted to reading, teaching, writing, or “feeding himself on the Divine Scriptures.” The best lesson he gave his scholars was the example of his own life, as Eginhard indicates in a letter written to his son, then studying as a novice at Fulda. “I would have you apply to literary exercises,” he says, “and try as far as you can to acquire the learning of your master, whose lessons are so clear and solid. But specially imitate his holy life…. For grammar and rhetoric and all human sciences are vain and even injurious to the servants of God, unless by Divine grace they know how to follow the law of God; for science puffeth up, but charity buildeth up. I would rather see you dead than inflated with vice.”
Nevertheless, the career of Rabanus was far from being one of unruffled repose, and the history of his troubles presents us with a singular episode in monastic annals. The abbot Ratgar was one of those men whose activity of mind and body was a cross to every one about him. He could neither rest himself nor suffer anybody else to be quiet. The ordinary routine of life at Fulda, with its prodigious amount of daily labour, both mental and physical, did not satisfy the requirements of his peculiar organisation. He had a fancy for rearranging the whole discipline of the monastery, and was specially desirous of providing himself with more splendid buildings than those which had been raised by the followers of the humble Sturm. Every one knows that the passion for building has in it a directly revolutionary element; it is synonymous with a passion for upsetting, destroying, and reducing everything to chaos. Hence, the monks of Fulda had but an uncomfortable time of it, and what was worse, Ratgar was so eager to get his fine buildings completed, that he not only compelled his monks to work as masons, but shortened their prayers and masses, and obliged them to labour on festivals. Rabanus himself could claim no exemption; he had to exchange the pen for the trowel; and to take away all possibility of excuse, Ratgar deprived him of his books, and even of the private notes which he had made of Alcuin’s lectures. Rabanus was too good a monk to protest against his change of employment, and carried his bricks and mortar as cheerfully as ever he had applied himself to a copy of Cicero; but he did not conceive it contrary to religious obedience humbly to protest against the confiscation of his papers, and attempted to soften the hard heart of his abbot with a copy of verses. “O sweet father!” he exclaims, “most excellent shepherd of monks! I thy servant pray thee to be propitious, and to let thy tender pity hear me, who cry to thee though unworthy. O ever-compassionate Ruler! thy kindness in old time permitted me to study books, but the poverty of my understanding was a hindrance to me; and lest my wandering mind should lose all that my master taught me by word of mouth, I committed everything to writing. These writings in time formed little books, which I pray thee command to be returned to thy unworthy client. Whatever slaves possess is held by right of their masters, therefore all that I have written is thine by right. Nor do I petulantly claim these papers as my own, but defer all things to thy judgment; and whether thou grantest my petition or not, I pray God to grant thee all good things, and help thee to finish the good fight by an honourable course.”
Such a petition, so just, so modest, and so free from the least tinge of insubordination might have been thought capable of touching the hardest heart, but, says Rudolf his biographer, “he sang to a stone.” The building grievance at last grew to such a pitch, that the monks in despair appealed to Charlemagne, who summoned Ratgar to court to answer their charges, and appointed a commission of bishops and abbots to inquire into the whole matter. Their decision allayed the discord for a time, and so long as the emperor lived, Ratgar showed his monks some consideration. But no sooner was he dead than the persecution recommenced, and Rabanus, again deprived of his books and papers, seems to have consoled himself by making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He describes the unhappy state of Fulda at this time, in some very doleful verses addressed to one of the exiled monks; for, not content with overwhelming his brethren with fresh labours, Ratgar had turned many out of the monastery, chiefly the aged ones, whose temperate remonstrances annoyed him. We have in these verses a touching account of the farewell visit paid by the exiles before their departure to the tomb of St. Boniface, whom they conjured to intercede in their favour. Some of them did not rest content with a course of passive submission, but repaired once more to court and implored the Emperor Louis to apply some remedy to the abuses, which threatened to end in the disruption of the first religious house in his dominions. A new commission was therefore appointed, and the result was that Ratgar was deposed from office and banished from the monastery, while in his place was elected the holy and gentle St. Eigil, a disciple of St. Sturm, whose government presented a singular contrast to that of the harsh and haughty Ratgar. He did nothing without consulting his brethren, and made it his aim to heal the wounds which a long course of ill-treatment had opened in the community. To set his children an example of humility and paternal concord, he often served them at table, and especially during the feast of Christmas. In his overflowing love and charity, he petitioned, as a personal favour, that they would consent to the recall of poor Ratgar, and on his return it appeared that his humiliation had not been without a beneficial effect. He showed no disposition to disturb the peace of the community again, but as the twofold desire of commanding and of building was not wholly eradicted from his soul, they let him satisfy it in moderation, by constructing a small monastery on an adjoining hill, to which he afterwards removed himself. He seems to have made a good end, asking pardon of all those whom he had offended, and Fulda very soon recovered its former flourishing condition. Rabanus was restored to his books and his school immediately on the election of St. Eigil, and in 822, on the death of the good abbot, whose life was written by the monk Candidus, Rabanus was chosen his successor. To him this was a very sorrowful business, for, with the government of a community of one hundred and fifty monks on his hands, he was necessarily obliged to give up his scholars. He resigned them to the care of Candidus, in all that concerned the humane letters, reserving to himself, however, the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. Singularly enough, however, the man whose whole life had been passed in literary labour, evinced a talent for business not always found united to great scholarship. He kept up regular discipline, and put all the offices of the abbey in a state of thorough efficiency, completing many of the half-finished buildings of Ratgar, and enriching his treasury with a vast quantity of holy relics. He also looked so well after the farms and dependencies of the abbey as greatly to increase its revenues. Still the school was not neglected, and the lectures he delivered there were destined to be the seeds of a work important in the history of ecclesiastical literature. His pupils had been accustomed from time to time to ask him questions on the chief duties of ecclesiastics and their signification, and the proper manner of administering the Rites of Holy Church. His answers they noted down on their tablets, without, however, observing much method, and as the matter constantly increased in bulk and value, they begged him at length to revise their notes and arrange them in better order. The result was his celebrated Treatise De Institutione Clericorum, an invaluable monument of the faith and practice of the Church in the ninth century. It treats in three books of the Sacraments, the Divine office, the feasts and fasts of the Church, and the learning necessary for ecclesiastics, concluding with instructions and rules for the guidance of preachers. On the last subject he observes that three things are necessary in order to become a good preacher; first, to be a good man yourself, that you may be able to teach others to be so; secondly, to be skilled in the Holy Scriptures and the interpretations of the Fathers; thirdly, and above all, to prepare for the work of preaching by that of prayer. As to the studies proper to ecclesiastics, he distinctly requires them to be learned not only in the Scriptures, but also in the seven liberal arts, provided only that these are treated as the handmaids of theology, and he explains his views on this subject much in the same way as Bede had done before him. For the rest, he was an enemy to anything like narrowness of intellectual training. His own works, in prose and verse, embraced a large variety of subjects, some of them belonging to mystic theology, such as his book on the Vision of God and his poem on the Holy Cross, which, in spite of its inaccurate prosody, still raises the admiration of the reader from the elevation of its sentiments. He is also commonly reputed the author of the “Veni Creator.”
In 847, Rabanus was raised to the archiepiscopal see of Mentz, in which office he was called on to examine the errors of Gotteschalk, a man who, beginning life as a monk of Fulda, had quitted that monastery in disgust, and subsequently led a wandering and not very reputable life, though he appears to have considered himself attached to the monastery of Orbais. The opinions he broached on the subject of predestination being condemned by the council of Mentz, Rabanus sent him to his own metropolitan, Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims. The severity with which he was treated was disapproved even by many who condemned his doctrines, and a warm controversy arose, in the course of which Hincmar, who was far more a man of action than of the pen, bethought himself of employing on his side of the argument the genius of Scotus Erigena, then at the head of the Palatine school. Erigena was as yet only known to the learned world as a Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic scholar, and a man of surpassing wit and power of argument. His heterodox tendencies were not even suspected, and Hincmar congratulated himself on having engaged the services of one confessedly without a rival in the arena of letters. But his choice of an ally proved most unfortunate. Erigena opened fire on the opposite party with the assertion, characteristic enough of the self-sufficient sophist, that every question, on every imaginable subject, was capable of solution when submitted to the four philosophic rules of division, definition, demonstration, and analysis. To work he went, therefore, with his four rules, and while combating the ultra-predestination of Gottischalk, gave utterance to such free opinions on the subject of Divine Grace as raised against him all the theologians of France. Among these were St. Prudentius of Troyes, Amolan, Archbishop of Lyons, a Hebrew scholar whose wise and moderate manner of dealing with the subject aimed at refuting the errors of both the opposite partisans, and his successor, St. Remigius. The opinions put forth by Scotus had increased the difficulties of the question, and writers thickened on both sides. It is needless to say that neither Rabanus nor Hincmar were any way responsible for the errors broached by Scotus; nevertheless, the line of argument which they took did not satisfy the theologians of Valence and Lyons, and in the course of the controversy which troubled his declining years, Rabanus found himself opposed by his former pupil, Lupus of Ferrières. He died in 856, leaving his books to be equally divided between the abbeys of Fulda and St. Alban’s, of Mentz.
Meanwhile, Lupus of Ferrières had become abbot of his monastery, for Sigulf in his old age resigned his dignity, and chose to become the disciple of his former pupil. Lupus continued after his promotion to carry on his labours in the monastic school. The favour with which he was regarded by Charles the Bald was the occasion of much trouble to the poor scholar, who was constantly summoned to act as royal ambassador, and sometimes even to join the army and take part in active war. His monastery happened to be one of those which owed the king military service, and in an action fought in Angoumois between Charles and his nephew Pepin, Lupus, who had no taste at all for the life of a soldier, lost all his baggage and found himself a prisoner. So soon as he recovered his liberty he addressed a moving letter to the king, imploring him to set him free henceforth from his military engagements at any price. “Most willingly,” he says, “will I resume the office of professor in my monastery, for I desire nothing better than all my life to teach what I have learnt.” Charles appears to have seen that by persisting in his feudal claims he would only be making a very bad soldier out of an admirable scholar, so he suffered him to return to Ferrières, where he set about collecting a noble library, as well sacred as profane. As he wrote himself to Einard, he never grew weary of books; he took extraordinary pains in seeking for his treasures even in distant countries, in causing them to be transcribed, and sometimes in lovingly transcribing them himself. His interesting correspondence contains frequent allusions to these Bibliographical researches. At one time he asks a friend to bring him the “Wars of Catiline and of Jugurtha” by Sallust, and the “Verrines of Cicero.” At another, he writes to Pope Benedict III., begging him to send by two of his monks, about to journey to Rome, certain books which he could not obtain in his own country, and which he promises to have speedily copied and faithfully returned. They are, the “Commentaries of St. Jerome on Jeremias,” “Cicero de Oratore,” the twelve books of Quinctilian’s Institutes, and the “Commentary of Donatus on Terence.” With all his taste for the classics, however, Lupus had too much good sense not to see the importance of cultivating the barbarous dialects, and sent his nephew with two other noble youths to Prom, to learn the Tudesque idiom. In his school he made it his chief aim to train his pupils, not only in grammar and rhetoric, but also in the higher art of a holy life. The monastic seminaries were proverbially schools of good living as well as good learning, recte faciendi et bene dicendi, as Mabillon expresses it; and there was nothing that Lupus had more at heart than the inculcation of this principle, that the cultivation of head and heart must go together. “We too often seek in study,” he writes in his epistle to the monk Ebradus, “nothing but ornament of style; few are found who desire to acquire by its means purity of manners, which is of far greater value. We are very much afraid of vices of language, and use every effort to correct them, but we regard with indifference the vices of the heart.” His favourite Cicero had before his time lifted a warning voice against the capital error of disjoining mental from moral culture, and in the Christian system of the earlier centuries they were never regarded apart.
Lupus was not too great a scholar to condescend to labour for beginners, and drew up, for the benefit of his pupils, an abridgment of Roman history, in which he proposes the characters of Traian and Theodosius for the study of Christian princes. He was wont to boast of his double descent from Alcuin, as being a pupil of Sigulf and Rabanus, both of them disciples of the great master. His own favourite scholar Heiric, or Henry of Auxerre, indulged in a similar morsel of scholastic pride. He had studied under both Lupus and Haimo of Halberstadt, the former school-fellow of Rabanus, at St. Martin of Tours. Haimo seems to have lectured for some time at Ferrières, and Heiric tells us in some not inelegant verses that it was the custom of the two pedagogues to give their pupils a very pleasant sort of recreation, relating to them whatever they had found in the course of their reading that was worthy of remembrance, whether in Christian or Pagan authors. Heiric, who was somewhat of an intellectual glutton, and had a craving for learning of all sorts and on all imaginable subjects, made for himself a little book, in which he diligently noted down every scrap that fell from the lips of his masters. This book he subsequently published, and dedicated to Hildebold, Bishop of Auxerre. Heiric himself afterwards became a man of letters; he was appointed scholasticus of St. Germain’s of Auxerre, and was intrusted with the education of Lothaire, son of Charles the Bald, as we learn from the epistle addressed to that monarch which he prefixed to his life of St. Germanus, in which he speaks of the young prince, recently dead, as in years a boy, but in mind a philosopher. Another of his pupils was the famous Remigius of Auxerre, who, towards the end of the ninth century, was summoned to Rheims by Archbishop Fulk, to re-establish sacred studies in that city, and worked there in concert with his former schoolfellow, Hucbald of St. Amand, who attained a curious sort of reputation by his poem on bald men, each line of which began with the letter C, the whole being intended as a compliment to Charles the Bald. Fulk himself became their first pupil, and after thoroughly restoring the school of Rheims, Remigius passed on to Paris, where we shall have occasion to notice him among the teachers of the tenth century. From his time the schools of Paris continued to increase in reputation and importance, till they developed into the great university which may thus be distinctly traced through a pedigree of learned men up to the great Alcuin himself. This genealogy of pedagogues is of no small interest, as showing the efforts made in the worst of times to keep alive the spark of science and the persistence with which, in spite of civil wars and Norman invasions, the scholastic traditions of Alcuin were maintained.
We must not take leave of abbot Lupus without noticing one other pupil of his, more celebrated than any yet named, the great St. Ado of Vienne. He studied in the school of Ferrières under Sigulf, Aldric and Lupus, and from his school life his masters predicted his future sanctity. The jealousy of his companions obliging him to leave Ferrières, he removed to Prom, and placed himself under the discipline of the good abbot Marcward, and there taught the sacred sciences for some years, after which he found himself able to return to Ferrières. During the course of a journey into Italy he met with an ancient martyrology, which served as the basis on which he compiled his own, which was published in 858. Two years later he became Archbishop of Vienne, and in that office did much for the promotion of letters. The scholars of these dark ages were often bound together in ties of very close friendship, founded on mutual tastes, the recollection of early school days spent together under some wise and well-loved master, and the exchange of good offices in the shape of manuscripts lent and borrowed. If Ado’s intellectual superiority had made him enemies among a few of the more churlish spirits of Ferrières, his sweet and amiable disposition elsewhere earned him many friends. Among these was the Deacon Wandalbert, a monk of Prom, and the learned Florus of Lyons. When Ado left Prom, Wandalbert succeeded him as scholasticus, and a famous one he made. His peculiar line was natural philosophy, and in pursuing it he was not content with gathering up other men’s ideas, but observed and experimentalised for himself. He greatly excelled in poetry, and produced a martyrology written in verse, in which, besides hymns in honour of the different saints whom he commemorates, he contrives to introduce short poems descriptive of the seasons, the different rustic labours proper to each month, the beauties of nature under her different aspects, seed-time and harvest, the vintage and the chase; together with other more learned subjects, such as the movements of the heavenly bodies by which we regulate our time. He gives rules for telling the time by the length of shadow cast by the sun, though he is careful to remind the reader that these rules will not be the same in all countries, inasmuch as in those that lie more to the south the shadows will necessarily be shorter, the earth being then more directly under the solar rays.
We must now turn to the great abbey of Old Corby, where, as we have already seen, Adalhard, a Palatine scholar, and a prince of the blood-royal, had retired from the perils of a courtier’s life, and become abbot. Unusual importance attached to its monastic school, from the circumstance of its having been chosen by Charlemagne as the academy to which the youth of Saxony were sent for education, in order that on their return to their own country they might assist in planting the Church on a solid foundation. The master chosen for the task of rearing these future missionaries was Paschasius Radpert, one of the most remarkable men of his time. Originally of very humble birth, he owed his education to the charity of the nuns of Soissons, who first received the desolate child into their own out-quarters, and then sent him to some monks in the same city, under whose tuition he acquired a fair amount of learning, and addicted himself to the study of Virgil, Horace, Cicero, and Terence. He never forgot the kindness of his early benefactresses, and in after years dedicated his Treatise on the Virginity of the Blessed Virgin to the good nuns, styling himself therein their alumnus, or foster-son. The deep humility of this great scholar is spoken of by all his biographers as his characteristic virtue, and is apparent in a passage which occurs in his exposition of the 44th Psalm, which he dedicates to these same nuns. In it he refers to the fact of his having received the clerical tonsure in their Church, and, as it would seem, in their presence. After expressing the reverence he feels for those whose names are written in heaven, and whom he regards not only as the spouses of Christ, but as the choicest flowers in the garden of the Church, he goes on to say: “When I behold you I sigh bitterly to think that this sacred crown, which as a boy I received before the holy altar of the Mother of God, in the midst of your prayers and offices of praise, I lost long ago, exiled in the world’s wilderness, and stained by many worldly actions…. I pray you, therefore, when you lift up your hearts on high, be mindful of me also, and implore for me the divine grace, that the most clement Judge may restore to me my lost crown.” In fact, after receiving the tonsure in early youth, Paschasius, whose tastes for Terence and Cicero rather predominated at that time over his relish for more sacred studies, abandoned his first inclination for the cloister, and lived for some years a secular life. Touched at last by divine grace, he entered the abbey of Old Corby, and there made his profession under the abbot Adalhard. All the ardour he had previously shown in the pursuit of profane literature he now applied to the study of the Divine Scriptures. Yet he only devoted to study of any kind those “furtive hours,” as he calls them, which he was able to steal from the duties of regular discipline, and was never seen so happy as when engaged in the choral office or the meaner occupations of community life. Such, then, was the master chosen by Adalhard for the responsible office of scholasticus, and a very minute account is left us of his manner of discharging its duties. Every day he delivered lectures on the sacred sciences, besides preaching to the monks on Sundays and Festivals. His thorough familiarity with the best Latin authors appears from the frequent allusions to them which occur in his writings. Quotations from the classic poets drop from his pen, as it were, half unconsciously, and we are told that he continued to keep up his acquaintance with them, so far as was necessary for teaching others. But his own study was now chiefly confined to the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers; and among the latter, his favourites were St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, St. Bede, and St. Gregory the Great. “He did not approve,” says his biographer, “of the diligence displayed by some men of the time in explaining and meditating on profane authors.” In a passage which occurs in the preface to his exposition of St. Matthew’s Gospel, he blames those lovers of secular learning, “who seek various and divers expounders, that so they may attain to the understanding of beautiful lies concerning shameful things, and who will not pass over–I do not say a single page, but a single line or syllable, without thoroughly investigating it, with the utmost labour and vigilance, while at the same time they utterly neglect the Sacred Scriptures. I wonder,” he continues, “that the Divine words can be so distasteful to them, and that they can refuse to scrutinise the mysteries of God with the same diligence they so unweariedly bestow on the follies of profane tragedies and the foolish fables of the poets. Who can doubt that such labour is altogether thrown away, being bestowed on a thing undeserving of reward?” This was not the utterance of a narrow-minded bigot, who condemned pursuits and tastes to which he was himself a stranger. Few were more keenly alive than he to the charms of polite literature, neither did he at all condemn its use within proper limits, even among cloistered students. It would, indeed, have been a difficult matter to have eradicated the love of the beautiful from the heart of Paschasius. He possessed it in every shape, and was not merely a poet, but a musician also. In one of his writings he lets fall an observation which might be taken for a prose rendering of a verse of Shelley’s, although the Christian scholar goes beyond the infidel poet, and does not merely describe the sentiment which all have felt, but traces it to its proper source. Shelley complains that–
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
Paschasius explains the mystery: “There is no song to be found,” he says, “without a tone of sadness in it; even as here below there are no joys without a mixture of sorrow; for songs of pure joy belong only to the heavenly Sion, but lamentation is the property of our earthly pilgrimage.” His musical tastes were perfectly shared and understood by his master St. Adalhard, whose sensibility to the influence of melodious sounds is spoken of by his biographer Gerard. Even during his residence at the court of Charlemagne, it is said of him that “he was always so full of a sweet intention towards God, that if while assisting at the royal council he heard the sound of some chance melody, he had it not in his power to refrain from tears, for all sweet music seemed to remind him of his heavenly country.” The importance attached to the study of music by the Christian scholastics of these times is not a little remarkable. They inherited the traditions of the ancients, and with them regarded music as a science intimately associated with the knowledge of divine things. They were the true descendants of those holy fathers of old, who, as the son of Sirach tells us, “sought out musical tunes and published canticles, and were rich in virtue, studying beautifulness, and living at peace in their houses.” The narratives of our early English schools will sufficiently have illustrated the fact that music held a very prominent place in the system of education which held sway in the early centuries; and the theory on which this high esteem was based will nowhere be found better explained than in the writings of Rabanus. “Musical discipline,” he says, “is so noble and useful a thing, that without it no one can properly discharge the ecclesiastical office. For whatsoever in reading is correctly pronounced, and whatsoever in chanting is sweetly modulated, is regulated by a knowledge of this discipline; and by it we not only learn how to read and sing in the church, but also rightly perform every rite in the divine service. Moreover, the discipline of music is diffused through all the acts of our life. For when we keep the commandments of God, and observe His law, it is certain that our words and acts are associated by musical rhythm with the virtues of harmony. If we observe a good conversation, we prove ourselves associated with this discipline; but when we act sinfully, we have in us no music.”
Paschasius, then, was a poet and a musician, but he was also a scientific theologian, and one who was in some degree in advance of his age in the philosophic method he adopted when analysing the dogmas of faith. In the year 831 he wrote his famous treatise on the “Sacrament of the Altar,” which was specially intended for the instruction of his Saxon pupils, who required a plain and comprehensive exposition of that mystery. He composed it, therefore, in a very simple style, comparing it to “milk for babes;” and it is evident that in a treatise drawn up under such circumstances, for the instruction of young converts, the author would necessarily seek, not the setting forth of theological subtleties or private views, but the simple, straightforward statement of the Church’s doctrine as universally taught and believed by all the faithful. He declares in very express and distinct terms that “the substance of bread is not to be found in the Sacrament, and that there is present only the Real Body of Jesus Christ, the same that was born of the B. Virgin, and was crucified, and rose again, and ascended into Heaven.” The treatise was dedicated to Warin, abbot of New Corby, and excited no controversy until fifteen years later, when a second edition, dedicated to Charles the Bald, fell into the hands of Scotus Erigena, whose captious mind found matter of offence in the expressions used by Paschasius. He, accordingly, wrote in reply his treatise on the “Holy Eucharist,” of which no copy now exists; for, after being condemned by several Councils, all the copies that could be found were ordered to be burnt in 1059, in consequence of the use made of them by the Berengarian heretics. Paschasius defended his words by a simple appeal to the universal sense of Christendom, which, since the days of the Apostles, had never ceased to believe and confess this salutary doctrine.
At the time when this vexatious controversy broke out he was abbot of his monastery, and soon after retired from office, and joyfully returned to his cell and his studies, spending his last days in the completion of his greatest work, the “Commentary on St. Matthew’s Gospel.” Whether in public or private life, his lowliness of spirit was equally remarkable, while the self-sufficient presumption of his opponent Erigena exhibits an ugly example of that knowledge which puffeth up. In Paschasius we see the opposite virtue, which faileth not “when tongues shall cease and knowledge shall be destroyed.” He styled himself by no more honourable title than the “Monachorum Peripsema,” and in his last sickness imposed so strict an injunction on his brethren never to write his life, that they dared not disobey him, and thus many interesting particulars concerning him have necessarily been lost.
He left many disciples, among whom was Anscharius, who succeeded him in the government of his school, and of whom we must now say something. He had begun his school life very early, being sent to the monastery after his mother’s death, when a child of only five; and, says his biographer, Rembert, after the manner of young children, he showed at first a much greater liking for childish sports than for learning of any kind. At five this may perhaps be thought excusable, but there are those whom wisdom preventeth, and when they go forth they find her “sitting at their door.” And to Anscharius the love of wisdom was brought by Her who is herself “the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope; in whom is all grace of the way and of the truth, all hope of life and of virtue.” One night he seemed to find himself in a dark and gloomy place, out of which, when he sought to find some way of escape, he perceived a delightful path wherein Our Lady appeared to him surrounded by a crowd of saints clothed in white garments, among whom he recognised his mother. He ran towards her, stretching out his childish hands; whereupon the Blessed Virgin addressed him, saying: “My son, do you wish to come to your mother? Know that if you would share in her happiness you must fly from vanity, lay aside childish follies, and abide in holiness of life. For we detest all vice and idleness; neither can they who delight in such things be joined to our company.”
From this time Anscharius changed his conduct: he applied himself to his tasks, and spent his whole time in reading and meditation, and acquiring useful arts; so that his companions wondered at a change the cause of which was unknown to them. As he grew in years he was favoured with other heavenly visions, which I notice here, because it is often said, and doubtless with much truth, that the occupations of study and teaching have in them a direct tendency to dry up the sources of devotion. When, therefore, in studying the history of these ancient Christian schools we find among their teachers a succession of saints, and even of contemplatives, who enjoyed the most intimate communications with God, and were distinguished by the highest supernatural gifts, one cannot but ask wherein the difference lay; what divine secret they possessed enabling them to keep the sweet fountain of holy tears from drying up, so that they seem to have been wholly unconscious of the existence of any danger to the spiritual life in the occupations of study or teaching, and regarded such duties as in themselves spiritual. Possibly their safeguard lay in those happy retinacula of religious life of which St. Bede speaks, and which, as we have seen, were regarded as their first object even by scholars like Rabanus and Paschasius, who devoted to study only the “furtive hours” not claimed by prayer and obedience. And hence they created a tradition which was kept up in the Christian schools down to a far later period, the grand principle of which was to interweave spiritual with intellectual employment, and by timely interruptions, prevent the whole nature from being poured out over its mental work. In what manner this was effected in the collegiate foundations of the Middle Ages we shall have occasion to show hereafter; it is sufficient here to remind the reader that such a system was naturally supplied by the discipline of religious life in those cloistered schools which were the nurseries of Christian education. And the result was that the monastic teachers were something very unlike the modern notion of schoolmasters; they were not mere men of the rod and the grammar; and it cannot but strike us as remarkable how almost universally they are spoken of as enjoying, in a very special degree, the gift of prayer. This was preeminently the case with St. Anscharius, and some of his visions are related by his biographer, Rembert, who had heard them in confidence from his own lips. He mentions one remarkable revelation received by the saint in the early part of his religious life, whence he understood that he was to be called to preach the faith to heathen nations. Some of these supernatural incidents are related as mixed up with ordinary details of his life in the schools. While he was scholasticus of Old Corby it was his invariable custom, says Rembert, when going to and returning from the school, to turn aside into a little oratory dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and there pray awhile in secret. On one such occasion when he rose from his knees he saw standing at the entrance One clothed after the Jewish fashion, beautiful in countenance, from whose eyes went forth a Divine light. Recognising it to be our Lord Anscharius prostrated at His feet, but in a sweet voice He bid him rise, saying, “Confess thy sins, Anscharius, that thou mayst receive pardon.” “What need is there, O Lord,” said Anscharius, “that I should tell them to Thee, seeing that Thou knowest them all?” But he replied, “I know them, indeed, nevertheless I would have thee confess them that thou mayst be justified.” Anscharius accordingly declared all the sins he had ever committed since his childhood, and was consoled by the assurance that he had received their full remission. About the same time, continues Rembert, it happened that one of his little scholars, named Fulbert, received a blow with a slate from another lad, of so serious a nature that within a few days he died. When the accident was made known to Anscharius, the good master was overwhelmed with anguish at the thought of such a mischance having befallen a child committed to his care. During the time that Fulbert continued to linger, Anscharius never left his bedside, till at last, wearied out with sorrow and long watching, they persuaded him to take some repose. He fell into a heavy slumber, in which he was consoled by a gracious vision. He seemed to see the dear child carried up to heaven by the hands of the angels, and placed in the company of the martyrs; and, wondering at the sight, it was explained to him that because Fulbert had borne his wound with great patience, and had heartily loved and forgiven him from whom he had received the injury, and had prayed much for him, accepting his own premature death with loving submission to the Divine will, his sweetness and resignation had deserved from the Divine compassion so great a reward as to be placed among the holy martyrs. Anscharius was still absorbed in the joy of this revelation when he was roused by Witmar, a younger monk associated with him in the government of the school, who came to tell him that even at that very moment Fulbert had expired. He found that Anscharius already knew it, and doubtless, adds Rembert, this comfort had been given him by God that he might not grieve overmuch for the death of the child, but might rather rejoice at the happy state of his soul.
Anscharius was one of those chosen to colonise the monastery of New Corby, the mention of which requires a few words of explanation. The foundation of this daughter-house was the great work of St. Adalhard, who so soon as his young Saxons were sufficiently trained in learning and monastic discipline, consulted them on the possibility of their obtaining a suitable site for a foundation in their native land. After many difficulties had been raised and overcome, ground was procured, and the building of the abbey was begun. Adalhard repaired thither to superintend operations in company with Paschasius and his own brother Wala, who, brought up like himself as a soldier and a courtier, had in former years held military command in Saxony and won the affections of the people by his wise and gentle rule. When the Saxons saw their old governor among them again in the monastic habit, nothing could exceed their wonder and delight: they ran after him in crowds, looking at him, and feeling him with their hands to satisfy themselves that it was really he, paying no attention whatever to the presence of the abbot or any other of his companions. The first stone of the new abbey was laid on September 26, 822; Old Corby made over to the new colony all the lands held by the community in Saxony; the Emperor Louis gave them a charter, and some precious relics from his private chapel, and in a few years that great seminary was completed which was destined to carry the light of faith and science to the pagan natives of the farther North. It would be hard to say which of the two Corbies held the highest place in monastic history; a noble emulation existed between them, each trying to outstrip the other in the perfection of monastic discipline. New Corby, in her turn became the mother-house of a vast number of German colonies, over all of which she continued to maintain a certain superiority. A law was made obliging every abbot of these branch-houses to keep a chronicle of his monastery and send a copy of it to the Corby library; and by another law, every novice on the day of his profession was bound to present to the library some useful book. The library of new Corby grew to be one of great value and importance, and its catalogue, still preserved, exhibits the names of not a few Arabic and Hebrew works. It was here also that in the days of Leo X. was disinterred the famous manuscript of Tacitus, which may still be seen at Florence.
A monastery that cared so much for the formation of its library was not likely to be indifferent to its school. It was the boast of both Corbies in turns to possess Anscharius as their scholasticus, “that great preceptor,” as Mabillon calls him, for his reputation as a master was spread over all Germany. He was at the same time appointed to preach to the people, an office particularly agreeable to that apostolic spirit which he had never ceased to nurture in his heart. The time was approaching when the prophetic vision of former years, and the secret instincts of his own soul, were to be accomplished. In 826 Harold, king of Denmark, having embraced the faith, and been baptized with great pomp at Mentz, petitioned the Emperor Louis to give him some holy missionaries, who might accompany him home to Denmark, and plant the Church in that country. Wala, then abbot of New Corby, fixed on Anscharius, and he, mindful of the revelation which had long before assured to him the glory of an apostolic career, joyfully accepted the mission, heedless alike of the criticism of friends and enemies, who all found something to say against it. Anscharius turned a deaf ear to their reasonings and remonstrances, and withdrew to a certain vineyard in the neighbourhood of Aix-la-Chapelle, where he prepared for his new duties by a kind of spiritual retreat. Here he was sought out and discovered by a monk of Old Corby, named Aubert, and thinking that his visitor had only come to pester him with more advice, Anscharius bade him spare himself the trouble of arguing the question, as he had irrevocably made up his mind. “You have nothing to fear from me,” said Aubert, “my only reason for coming to you, is to beg you to accept me as your companion, if the abbot Wala can be brought to give his consent.” Anscharius joyfully welcomed him as a fellow labourer, and they soon after set out in company with the king. His majesty, however, was more than half a barbarian, and the equipment he provided for his missioners was not luxurious. The royal and ecclesiastical retinue embarked on board a very dirty boat, the only accommodation on board consisting of two miserable cabins in which king and missioners were packed together with very little ceremony. However, they arrived at last at their journey’s end, and began their labours by opening a little school in Friesland, where they received twelve children, among whom were the two sons of king Harold himself. A little later we find them passing on to Sweden, attacked on the way by pirates, and robbed of all their baggage, containing their library of forty books. Such were the humble beginnings of a great apostolate, which at its close found Anscharius Archbishop of Hamburgh, and papal legate, not only over the Scandinavian kingdoms, but also over Iceland and the distant shores of Greenland, which are expressly named in the Bull of Pope Gregory IV. One of the most successful means adopted by the saint for the propagation of the faith, was the purchase of young Danes who were offered for sale as slaves, and whom he then sent to Corby, whence, after receiving a Christian education, they returned to their own country as zealous missionaries.
It would take us too long, and probably prove but wearisome to the reader, were we to examine in detail the foundation and history of all the monastic schools of this period. Glance where we will, we shall find indications of the same intellectual activity struggling to make head against the darkness of a semi-barbarous age. The schools of Hirschau, Hirsfield, Fleury, and Prom, might all be made to furnish illustrations of the ardour with which scientific and literary pursuits were carried on by their scholars. But while passing over these and others, which have almost equal claims on our interest, it is impossible to leave without notice two houses whose prëeminent importance in the history of monastic studies has made their names especially venerable: I mean the abbeys of Reichnau, and St. Gall. The first foundation of St. Gall’s belongs indeed to a date far earlier than that of which we are now treating: it owed its origin to St. Gall, the Irish disciple of St. Columbanus, who, in the seventh century, penetrated into the recesses of the Helvetian mountains and there fixed his abode in the midst of a pagan population. Under the famous abbot St. Othmar, who flourished in the time of Pepin, the monks received the Benedictine rule, and from that time the monastery rapidly grew in fame and prosperity, so that in the ninth century it was regarded as the first religious house north of the Alps. It is with a sigh of that irrepressible regret called forth by the remembrance of a form of beauty that is dead and gone for ever, that the monastic historian hangs over the early chronicles of St. Gall. It lay in the midst of the savage Helvetian wilderness, an oasis of piety and civilisation. Looking down from the craggy mountains, the passes of which open upon the southern extremity of the lake of Constance, the traveller would have stood amazed at the sudden apparition of that vast range of stately buildings which almost filled up the valley at his feet. Churches and cloisters, the offices of a great abbey, buildings set apart for students and guests, workshops of every description, the forge, the bakehouse, and the mill, or rather mills, for there were ten of them, all in such active operation, that they every year required ten new millstones; and then the house occupied by the vast numbers of artisans and workmen attached to the monastery gardens too, and vineyards creeping up the mountain slopes, and beyond them fields of waving corn, and sheep speckling the green meadows, and far away boats busily plying on the lake and carrying goods and passengers–what a world it was of life and activity; yet how unlike the activity of a town! It was, in fact, not a town, but a house,–a family presided over by a father, whose members were all knit together in the bonds of common fraternity. I know not whether the spiritual or the social side of such a religious colony were most fitted to rivet the attention. Descend into the valley, and visit all these nurseries of useful toil, see the crowds of rude peasants transformed into intelligent artisans, and you will carry away the impression that the monks of St. Gall had found out the secret of creating a world of happy Christian factories. Enter their church and listen to the exquisite modulations of those chants and sequences peculiar to the abbey which boasted of possessing the most scientific school of music in all Europe; visit their scriptorium, their library, and their school, or the workshop where the monk Tutilo is putting the finishing touch to his wonderful copper images, and his fine altar frontals of gold and jewels, and you will think yourself in some intellectual and artistic academy. But look into the choir, and behold the hundred monks who form the community at their midnight office and you will forget everything, save the saintly aspect of those servants of God who shed abroad over the desert around them the good odour of Christ, and are the apostles of the provinces which own their gentle sway. You may quit the circuit of the abbey and plunge once more into the mountain region which rises beyond, but you will have to wander far before you find yourself beyond the reach of its softening, humanising influence. Here are distant cells and hermitages with their chapels, where the shepherds come for early mass; or it may be that there meets you, winding over the mountain paths of which they sing so sweetly, going up and down among the hills into the thick forests and the rocky hollows, a procession of the monks carrying their relics, and followed by a peasant crowd. In the schools you may have been listening to lectures in the learned, and even in the Eastern tongues; but in the churches, and here among the mountains, you will hear these fine classical scholars preaching plain truths, in barbarous idioms, to a rude race, who before the monks came among them sacrificed to the Evil One, and worshipped stocks and stones.
Yet, hidden away as it was among its crags and deserts, the abbey of St. Gall’s was almost as much a place of resort as Rome or Athens–at least to the learned world of the ninth century. Her schools were a kind of university, frequented by men of all nations, who came hither to fit themselves for all professions. You would have found here not monks alone and future scholastics, but courtiers, soldiers, and the sons of kings. The education given was very far from being exclusively intended for those aspiring to the ecclesiastical state; it had a large admixture of the secular element, at any rate in the exterior school. Not only were the Sacred sciences taught with the utmost care, but the classic authors were likewise explained; Cicero, Horace, Virgil, Lucan, and Terence were read by the scholars, and none but the very little boys presumed to speak in any tongue but Latin. The subjects for their original compositions were mostly taken from Scripture and Church history, and having written their exercises they were expected to recite them, the proper tones being indicated by musical notes. Many of the monks excelled as poets, others cultivated painting and sculpture, and other exquisite cloistral arts; all diligently applied to the grammatical formation of the Tudesque dialect and rendered it capable of producing a literature of its own. Their library in the eighth century was only in its infancy, but gradually became one of the richest in the world. They were in correspondence with all the learned monastic houses of France and Italy, from whom they received the precious codex, now of a Virgil or a Livy, now of the Sacred Books and sometimes of some rare treatise on medicine or astronomy. They were Greek students, moreover, and those most addicted to the cultivation of the “Cecropian Muse” were denominated the “fratres Ellenici.” The beauty of their early manuscripts is praised by all authors, and the names of their best transcribers find honourable mention in their annals. They manufactured their own parchment out of the hides of the wild beasts that roamed through the mountains and forests around them, and prepared it with such skill that it acquired a peculiar delicacy. Many hands were employed on a single manuscript. Some made the parchment, others drew the fair red lines, others wrote on the pages thus prepared; more skilful hands put in the gold and the initial letters, and more learned heads compared the copy with the original text, this duty being generally discharged during the interval between matins and lauds, the daylight hours being reserved for actual transcription. Erasure, when necessary, was rarely made with the knife, but an erroneous word was delicately drawn through by the pen, so as not to spoil the beauty of the codex. Lastly came the binders, who enclosed the whole in boards of wood cramped with ivory or iron, the Sacred Volumes being covered with plates of gold and adorned with jewels.
In such a school it was no wonder that the pupils of St. Gall, like those of Eton, became famous for their good writing. Ekhehard I. had a method in this as in everything else; if he found a boy dull over his grammar he set him to copy; arguing that nature was an economist in her gifts, and did not dispense all to all; and that often where the head was somewhat slow in learning, the deficiency was made up by an extra dexterity with the fingers. But boys were never employed on the Gospels, or Church service books, these being reserved for men of perfect age, who would bring greater care to their responsible task. We have even the copy ordinarily set for beginners in the monastic scriptorium, a doggerel line, introducing every letter of the alphabet:
“Adnexique globum Zephyrique Kanna secabant.”
That the labour of transcription was often exceedingly irksome, is evident from sundry notes scattered over these manuscripts. “As the sick man desireth health,” writes one, “even so doth the transcriber desire the end of his volume.” Another contents himself with the laconic observation, “written with great trouble;” but a third, who may be supposed to have been employed over a very tough copy, breaks out into verse, and exclaims at his last page:
“Libro completo Saltat scriptor pede læto.”
The monks of St. Gall were no less famous for their music than for their painting. Their musical tastes were inherited probably from their Irish founders, and were further improved by the teaching of those Roman cantors, whom we have seen in a former page sent into France, at Charlemagne’s request, to civilise the barbarous singing of his Frankish cantors. On their way back into Italy, one of them, to whom the St. Gall historians give the name of Romanus, was attacked by fever, and stopping at the Swiss monastery, was there charitably entertained and nursed by the brethren, who had excellent doctors among them. In return, he taught them the Roman chant, and bestowed on them the identical antiphonarium he had brought from Rome, making a certain case or instrument to contain it. “And to this day,” writes Ekhehard, “if there is any dispute about the singing, the error may be detected by consulting this book.” Moreover, this Romanus was the first who thought of assigning the letters of the alphabet to the musical notes, a system which Notker Balbulus afterwards explained, and which, being further elucidated by a certain friend of his named Lambert, was adopted throughout Germany.
Leaving a more particular notice of the studies and students of this great abbey for a future chapter, I must here add a few words on another religious house, the history of which is closely associated with that of St. Gall, and where the sciences flourished in equal perfection under the shelter of those lofty mountains which shut out the tumult of the world and the incursions of the barbarians. At the western extremity of the lake of Constance, just where it narrows towards the outlet of the Rhine, lies a green island sparkling like an emerald gem on the unruffled surface of the waters. There, half hidden amid the luxuriant foliage, you may still see the grey minster of that famous abbey called Augia by its Latin historians, but better known by its German name of Reichnau. Walafrid Strabo, the pupil of Rabanus and the chief chronicler of his time, was abbot of Reichnau in the ninth century, and in one of his poems has painted its situation in very exact terms. He gives the succession of abbots from St. Pirminius, who first established himself in the island in the reign of Pepin, and shows that the school was one of the very earliest which had at that time attained celebrity. I have already spoken of Walafrid’s fame as a master, but I cannot here omit mentioning his pupil and biographer, Ermenric, who has made himself known to us by a letter which he wrote after paying what seems to have been a very pleasant visit at St. Gall’s. Walafrid had sent him there for a holiday, and on his return he expressed the enjoyment it had given him, in an epistle addressed to abbot Grimoald. As soon as he crossed the lake, he says, he found himself welcomed by a group of illustrious men. “There,” he continues, “I found each one humbler and more patient than his fellow. I saw neither envy nor jealousy, but all were bound together with the triple chord of charity, simplicity, and concord. How shall I speak of the generosity of Engilbert, or the kindness of that most clever brother Hartmod? It would be impossible for me to do justice to the excellence which these servants of God had attained in so many of the arts, but you may judge of the birds by looking at the nests which they inhabit. Examine their cloister and you will agree with what I say. What else can I call Winhart but a second Dædalus? or Isenric but another Beseleel? for indeed the graving tool is never out of his hand, save when he stands at the altar to exercise his sacred ministry. And yet there is such humility among them that no one disdains the humblest employment, remembering those words of Scripture, ‘the prayer of the humble shall pierce the clouds.’”
Reichnau, however, had its own line of great masters, among whom Ermenric, who could do such generous justice to the excellence of others, was himself worthy to be reckoned. The most illustrious was, perhaps, the cripple Hermann Contractus, originally a pupil of St. Gall’s, who is said to have prayed that he might not regain the use of his limbs, but that he might receive instead a knowledge of the Scriptures. He was master of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic; he wrote treatises on history, poetry, ethics, astronomy, and mathematics; he calculated eclipses, and explained Aristotle, and, in spite of an impediment in his speech, his lectures were so learned that he had pupils from the most distant provinces of Italy. He set his own poems to music, made clocks and organs, and was as much revered for his sanctity as his universal genius. Many hymns and antiphons used by the Church are attributed to his pen, among others the Alma Redemptoris. But if Hermann was the most famous scholar of Reichnau, a yet greater celebrity, though of a different kind, attaches to the name of Meinrad. The story of his vocation to the eremitical life affords an apt illustration of the contemplative character already noticed as so frequently belonging to the early pedagogues: and as it presents us with an agreeable picture of a “whole play-day” in the Dark Ages, we will give it as it stands in the pages of the monk Berno. Meinrad was the son of a Swabian nobleman of the house of Hollenzollern, and had studied in the monastic school under abbot Hatto and his own uncle Erlebald. When the latter became abbot he appointed Meinrad to the care of the school which was attached to a smaller house dependent on Reichnau, and situated at a spot called Bollingen, on the lake of Zurich. He accordingly removed thither, and had singular success with his scholars, whom he inspired with great affection by reason of his gentle discipline. He used to take them out for walking parties and fishing parties, into what Berno, his biographer, calls “the wilderness,” a wilderness, however, which was adorned with a majestic beauty to which Meinrad was not insensible. One day he and his boys crossed the lake in a small boat, and landing on the opposite shore sought for some quiet spot where they might cast their fishing lines. Finding a little stream which flowed into the lake and gave good promise of trout, Meinrad left them to pursue their sport and strolled about, meditating on the joys of that solitary life after which he secretly pined. After a while, returning to his scholars, he found that their fishing had been unusually successful, and taking up their baskets, they retraced their steps to the village of Altendorf, where they entered the house of a certain matron to rest and refresh themselves with food. Whilst the boys ate and drank, and enjoyed themselves in their own way, Meinrad and their hostess engaged in conversation, and Meinrad, who was full of the thoughts to which his mountain walk had given rise, opened his whole heart to her. “Beyond all riches,” he said, “I desire to dwell alone in this solitude that so I might wholly give myself to prayer, could I but find some one who would minister to me in temporal things.” The good lady immediately offered to provide him with whatever he wanted, in order to carry out his design; and the result of that day’s fishing-party was the establishment of the former scholasticus of Bollingen in a little hermitage which he constructed for himself out of the wattled boughs of trees. But he found himself in one way disappointed; he had sought the desert to fly from the world, and the world followed him thither in greater throngs than he had ever encountered at Reichnau. The saints possess a strange power of attraction, and neither mountains nor forests are able to hide them. In his own day men compared St. Meinrad to the Baptist, because the multitudes went out into the wilderness to hear him preach penance and remission of sins. For seven years he continued to dispense the Word of Life to the pilgrims who gathered about him from all parts of Europe. But one day unable to resist his longing for retreat, he took his image of Our Lady, a missal, a copy of St. Benedict’s rule, and the works of Cassian, and laden with these, his only treasures, he plunged into the forest, and choosing a remote and secluded spot erected a rude chapel which he dedicated to Our Lady, and a yet ruder dwelling for himself. There he lived for thirty years, and at the end of that time he was assassinated in his hermitage by some ruffians who hoped to find some hidden treasure in his cell. His body was carried back to Reichnau, and in after years the great sanctuary of Einsidlen rose over the site of his hermitage, where is still venerated the image of Our Lady which he had formerly carried thither with his own hands.
We are now in a position to form some idea of the real character of these early monastic schools, and of the teaching which they conveyed. From the eighth to the twelfth century, the scholastic system underwent so little change, that we may select our illustrations indifferently from any part of that period, without risk of inaccuracy.
First, then, as to the schoolroom itself. In most cases the interior or claustral schools of monasteries and cathedrals were held in the cloisters. A strange contrast, indeed, to the luxurious requirements of modern times; but boarded floors, patent stoves, and easy-backed forms were luxuries undreamt of by the hardy Frankish or Gothic students who studied under Walafrid or Rabanus. It is not until the fifteenth century that we meet with a document hinting at the novelty of providing schoolrooms with boarded floors. The cloisters of York and Worcester, now so desolate and deserted, were once peopled with a busy race of scholars, who probably suffered often enough, like the pupils of Bede, from stiffened fingers and bleeding cracks. Even so late as the twelfth century, the schools of Paris were held in the cloisters of Nôtre Dame, and only removed thence when the repose of the canons was disturbed by the unruly crowds who rushed to listen to the lectures of Abelard. The number of scholars received into a monastery varied according to its size. At St. Riquier, where there were 300 monks, abbot Angilbert wished never to have less than a hundred children, the sons of dukes, counts, and kings. They were seldom or never left alone, and in the cloister or schoolroom the master’s seat was so arranged, that all were under his eye. It does not seem, however, that the surveillance in school-hours was carried out with any excessive rigidity, for we find frequent notice of the pranks and surreptitious consumption of good things perpetrated by the school boys in the temporary absence of their masters. In the dormitories, however, the discipline was more strict; there the lamp was kept constantly burning, and though there are no traces of an odious espionage, there is evidence of a constant, ever present vigilance. Awaked in the morning by the wooden signal board of the master, the children were conducted to the lavatory by the “pedagogues” or junior assistants of the school. These pedagogues were very numerous, and their duties were various. Among other things it belonged to them to see to the cleanliness and neatness of dress and person, a thing not at all despised in the Dark Ages. At Cluny, where in the twelfth century all the older monastic traditions of school discipline were resumed and perfected, it was not permitted for the children to sit together on benches, but each one had his own little box, in which he kept his writing materials, and which also served him for a seat. A midday siesta was allowed at Cluny, but no one was permitted to read or write on his bed. In all these regulations may plainly be seen a solicitude for order and good morals, together with a certain tone of refinement, which is more than we should expect, and which satisfies us how profoundly the whole subject of education had been studied by the medieval masters. Their ideas on the subject of punishment were in more simple accordance with those of Solomon than our fastidious age would approve. The rod, in fact, was so very generally used, that under the form of the ferule it afterwards became the badge of the bachelor in arts, and was solemnly delivered to him when he took his degree. Medieval schoolboys were not more fond of a flogging than those of later growth, and to escape it the scholars of St. Gall once adopted the extraordinary expedient of setting fire to the monastery. Yet with all this austerity of discipline, nothing is more certain than that the monastic masters possessed the secret of making themselves beloved, and that the love which they inspired was not the less familiar because mingled with respect. I may add, that at Cluny, though flogging was permitted, boxing on the ears was strictly prohibited, apparently with the view of allowing no indulgence to the irritated feelings of the master. Punishment, like everything else at Cluny, was administered in an orderly and methodical manner; in fact, the peculiar excellence of the Cluniacs lay in their manner of systematising everything, whether homely or sublime.
The masters in most large schools were very numerous, but none were allowed to hold any office until of mature age. At Fulda there were twelve professors and a principal (Principalis), besides assistants. In the cathedral schools, in like manner, there was the Archischolus and his assistants, and the Proscholus, or prefect of discipline. The reader will perhaps smile when he hears that one of the duties of the Proscholus was to teach the children how to walk, bow, and behave in presence of superiors. This, however, was a speciality of the Canons Regular. Learning was not the only qualification required in a master. He was to be of tried virtue. The office of teacher was a cure of souls, and so great was the honour in which it was held, that bishops even, who had formerly filled the post of scholasticus, not unfrequently affixed their old to their new title, when signing their names.
The education of the scholars began at a very early age, sometimes at five or six. The first task consisted in learning by heart certain portions of Holy Scripture, and specially of the Psalter. Even those who very early abandoned their books for the more congenial exercises of the tilt-yard, seldom did so till they had run through their Psalter: “decurso psalterio,” is a common expression used in speaking of a youth who had left school with the least possible smattering of an education. As for those who stayed a more reasonable time at school, they acquired, besides their profane learning, a familiarity with the Church office and with the words of Holy Writ, not certainly possessed by all scholars of the present day. This is abundantly illustrated by the histories of the times. Thus Einold of Toul, sitting at the window of his cell, hears a voice chanting the words, “I will give you the heritage of your father Jacob,” and at once concludes that it must be a schoolboy conning his morning’s task. How beautiful is that story which we find in the chronicle of Monte Cassino, of the monk Levitius, who, returning from Jerusalem, came to Mount Albaneta, where he proposed to build a monastery. As he was inspecting the site of his new foundation, he saw approaching him a little school boy, carrying his bag of books on his shoulders, and the thought came into his head that he would ask him if he could sing. The boy replying that he could, Levitius told him to sing the first thing he could remember, secretly resolving that he would place the church under the dedication of any saint the boy might happen to name. The little scholar thought a moment, and then intoned the Antiphon, Veni electa mea, which he sang with much sweetness. Levitius listened with delight, and the monastery which afterwards rose on the spot was dedicated to the Ever Blessed Virgin. Scholars of all ages were very largely exercised in what one old monk calls “the holy memory.” Learning by rote was used more generally than among ourselves, partly because books were rare, and all could not enjoy the luxury of a Psalter or Breviary for private use; and partly, because the teachers of old time sought to sanctify this power of the soul, by thoroughly informing it with holy words. Besides the Psalter, the novices of a religious house were expected to know the New Testament at least by heart, half-an-hour a day being assigned for the purpose.
The liberal arts were, as is well known, classed under two heads, the trivium, which included grammar, logic, and rhetoric; and the quadrivium, which embraced arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. This division is expressed in the well-known distich:–
Gram: loquitur. Dia. vera docet. Rhet. verba colorat. Mus. canit. Ar. numerat. Geo. ponderat. Ast. colit astra.
The trivium, with the Ecclesiastical chant, and so much of arithmetic as was required for the computation of the calendar, was taught in all schools; the quadrivium only in those which embraced the higher studies. Music was divided into two kinds, the cantus, which formed part of the routine of studies even in the lower schools, and musica, properly so called, which included the theory of music, a knowledge of the laws of sound, and the connection of harmony with numbers. And this explains how it was that a knowledge of music was in those days considered a proof that its possessor was a well-educated man: it evidenced that he had not only gone through the elementary studies of the trivium, but that he had completed his education in one of those higher schools in which the quadrivium also was taught. And these higher schools were frequented not only by ecclesiastics but by laics, whose inferiority to the clergy in point of mental culture has been greatly overstated, and where it existed, was the effect of accident rather than of system. Men who by force of necessity were called into the field at a very early age, and engaged in active military service during the greater part of their lives, had seldom much time to devote to study; but there was no sort of prejudice against their becoming as learned as they chose. Abbot Philip, of Good Hope, who lived in the time of St. Bernard, when the institution of Chivalry had certainly not tended to render the lay-nobles more studious, protests against the notion that learning is the exclusive apanage of the clergy. “Many laymen,” he says, “are well instructed in letters. When a prince can withdraw from the tumult of arms and business he should study himself in books just as he contemplates his face in a mirror.” And he proceeds to speak in commendation of the noble Count Charles who was “as prompt in meditating the Psalms as in drawing the sword to avenge outraged justice,” and Count Adolph “who ceased not to bless his parents for the good education they had given him.” Of Henry, Count of Champagne, it is said that between his warlike expeditions, when not engaged in the judicial duties of his rank, he delighted in withdrawing to some retired part of his castle and entertaining himself with a classic author or a volume of the Fathers. And in the Imperial library is still to be seen a fine copy of Valerius Maximus, written out for him by the monks of Provins. Every one is familiar with the name of Fulk the Good, Count of Anjou, against whose learning Hallam has directed so uncourteous a sneer. The story, threadbare as it is, affords too good an illustration of the subject to be omitted. He was accustomed to sing in choir with the canons of St. Martin’s of Tours, and when ridiculed by king Louis IV. of France, for the habit, sent to that monarch a pithy epistle to the following effect: “Know, sir, that an illiterate king is a crowned ass.” “It seems, then,” observes Hallam, “that with the monkish historians a knowledge of music passed for literature. The same writer calls Geoffrey Plantagenet optime literatus, which perhaps imports little more learning than was possessed by his ancestor, Fulk.” The monkish biographer here alluded to meant nothing of the kind, but he knew, as both Fulk and Louis also knew, that at that time a knowledge of music might be taken as a tolerably satisfactory token that the musician had studied at one of the higher schools, and completed the full course of the quadrivium. And such, indeed, was the case with Fulk, who, as the same biographer tells us a few pages further on, was well read in Cicero and Aristotle.
A methodical idea of the system of education which prevailed in the higher monastic schools, is given in a little manual called the “Doctrinale Puerorum,” the authority of which is beyond dispute. Though the production of the twelfth century, so little change took place in the system of studies from the time of Charlemagne to that of Lanfranc that it may be taken as equally descriptive of the method followed in the ninth and tenth. According to the writer of this manual a child as soon as he had learnt to read and write, set to work on the Latin Grammar of Donatus or Priscian, if he were so fortunate as to be able to provide himself with a book. The larger number of pupils probably had to depend on the oral instructions dictated by their master, and their own notes of his lessons. We know for certain that not only grammar, but rhetoric and the explanation of classic authors were taught orally, rules and examples being thus dictated and learnt by frequent repetition. From their ninth to their twelfth year the boys studied elementary Latin books, specially the Fables of Esop, and the poems of Christian authors, such as Theodulus, who, in the tenth century, wrote in verse the miracles of the Old and New Testaments, with the view of providing young children with suitable class-books. The Distichia Moralia, commonly attributed to Cato, a very old class-book, was probably the authorship of some Christian writer of the seventh century; and has found a home even in the Eastern languages. As the boys advanced in years, select portions from the works of Seneca, Ovid, Virgil, Persius, and Horace, but specially of Lucan and Statius were placed in their hands, explained and committed to memory, and these were followed by Cicero, Quinctilian, and the Latin version of Aristotle.
Some readers will, doubtless, be tempted to regard such an account of the ancient course of classical studies as a work of the imagination. They will call to mind the scruples of Alcuin and the condemnation passed by Paschasius on those who spent their time in the explanation of the profane poets. But it may be observed, that the very examples so often quoted to prove that the monks disapproved of the study of the classics, show us that at any rate they knew a good deal about them. Alcuin had studied Virgil himself before he forbade Sigulf to do so, and so had St. Odo, who prohibited the reading of the Mantuan bard, after he had seen in a vision a vessel full of serpents, which he understood to represent his works. And the strictures of Paschasius on those who neglected the Scriptures, while they weighed every line and syllable of Pagan authors, shows at least how extensively those authors were read. But it must strike every impartial reader that these prohibitions do, in fact, prove nothing at all as to the state of school studies. They apply entirely to the use of the classics, not among students, but among the monks themselves. Because it was thought undesirable that young ecclesiastics should spend their time in the study of the profane poets, and because their attention was rather directed by their superiors to the cultivation of sacred science, we must not, certainly, conclude in the face of evidence that the classics were excluded from the schools. Teachers in the ninth century were no less solicitous than those of the nineteenth to form the mind and the style of their scholars; their compositions are perhaps not quite so full of the _membra disjecta_ of Tully as a scholar of the Renaissance might have desired, yet he was certainly read, and though the imitations of Virgil and Ovid attempted by these obscure writers may be very indifferent, they could only have been produced by men who were perfectly familiar with the original writings of the Latin poets. Mabillon has not failed to draw the distinction between the studies pursued by monks and bishops, and those of masters and scholars. He quotes two passages very much to the point, in one of which Lanfranc declines entering into certain questions appertaining to secular literature, submitted to him by the monk Domnoald, because he says, “though in my youth I delighted in such things, I determined wholly to renounce them when I accepted the pastoral charge.” In the other passage St. Anselm writes to his old pupil, Maurice, and advises him to read Virgil, and the other good Latin authors, as much as he can, excepting always such passages as offend good morals.
This last condition is often insisted on; nor was it until the period of the classic Renaissance that the indiscriminate use of the classics by the young was tolerated. Rabanus in his book De Institutione Clericorum, while permitting the study of profane literature, even to clerics, stipulates that it be read for edification, and that whatever has a contrary tendency be put aside. The monastic scholars even recognised that reflection of primeval tradition which gleams through the pagan authors, and which, as Ozanam says, opened to Virgil the schools of the Middle Ages. What they did not allow was that the exclusive study of these models should be suffered to paganise the Christian mind, and they contrived, therefore, in explaining the works of Cicero or Plato to weave a Christian tone into the lessons by connecting them or comparing them with passages from the Holy Scriptures.
Latin was the only language universally cultivated, though the other learned tongues were not entirely neglected. Bede and Alcuin certainly possessed a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, and, no doubt, communicated their learning to some of their pupils. Greek, as we have seen, was studied at St. Gaul’s, and Charlemagne, who himself had some knowledge of that tongue, founded a Greek college at Osnaburgh, chiefly with a view to providing ecclesiastics whose familiarity with the language of the Eastern empire might be of service to him in his constant intercourse with Constantinople. Some writers whose aim it is to represent the learning of these centuries as altogether unworthy of notice, affect to doubt whether the Greek college, if proposed, were ever really founded; but the evidence of contemporary historians is positive on the point. “Do not wonder,” writes the chronicler of Ottberg, “that the abbot of Hermann should always have carried with him a Greek Testament, that learned man was well skilled in the Greek tongue, which he had learnt in the Caroline college at Osnaburgh, for in that foundation all the clergy were skilled in Greek as well as in Latin.” Louis the Debonnaire and Charles the Bald were both Greek scholars, and the latter monarch had a Greek and Latin glossary compiled for the use of the Church of Laon, which he would hardly have had done had there been none capable of using it. Florus, the learned deacon of the Church of Lyons, was well versed not only in Greek but Hebrew, as we learn from the following circumstance. A certain abbot, Hyldrade, sent him a Latin Psalter, begging him to correct it carefully, that it might serve as a copy for his monks to transcribe from. Among the many curious and valuable monuments of antiquity discovered by the late Cardinal Mai, is the reply of Florus to this request. From it we find that he had compared the Latin version of St. Jerome with the Septuagint, and suspecting that the text of St. Jerome had itself become corrupted by careless copying, had likewise collated it with the original Hebrew. He quotes what he calls “the well-known” letter of St. Jerome to two learned Celts, pointing out the errors in the vulgar copies; but Rohrbacher remarks that this letter was well-known only in the ninth century, for in ours it no longer exists. The whole letter of Floras is exceedingly valuable as evidence of the extraordinary learning and diligence bestowed on the correction of the Sacred Text.
Nevertheless, an examination of the catalogues of early monastic libraries, makes it clear that the study of Greek, if not wholly neglected, was exceptional, and certainly did not include any extensive acquaintance with ancient Greek literature. Among the books named as the favourites of St. Paschasius, we find the works of St. John Chrysostom; but in general the book collections are only rich in the Latin Fathers. Scotus Erigena evidently introduced a novelty when he translated the works of St. Denys the Areopagite, and the eagerness displayed by Louis the Debonnaire to possess a Latin version of the works of this author arose, perhaps, less from an interest in Greek letters, than from the opinion, then finding favour with Gallican scholars, which identified him with the Apostle of France. The mention, however, of any Greek poets or philosophers is exceedingly rare. Homer, as has been said, had been brought into England by Archbishop Theodore, and the St. Gall library contained the works of Sophocles, but these are certainly exceptions, and we may conclude that a knowledge of the Greek language was a rare accomplishment, from the extreme complacency with which the possession of a very superficial smattering of it was often regarded. Hincmar, of Rheims, warns his nephew to avoid the foolish affectation of some, who pick a handful of Greek words out of their glossaries to adorn their pages and give them a learned look; a folly too common also with our native scholars.
The sciences of arithmetic and geometry were probably taught in rather a meagre form, until the genius of Gerbert, in the tenth century, gave fresh impulse to these branches of learning. We have seen what difficulties attended their study in the days of St. Aldhelm; nevertheless the path of the young student was somewhat smoothed by pleasant devices, and the Anglo-Saxon masters quickened the brains of their pupils by problems and questions, some of which, such is the power of tradition, have kept their places in our own school-books. Arithmetical problems, such as the following, were propounded to the schoolboys of Alcuin and Rabanus: “The swallow once invited the snail to dinner; he lived just a league from the spot, and the snail travelled at the rate of one inch a day: how long was he before he dined?” Or, again: “An old man met a child; ‘Good day, my son,’ he said, ‘may you live as long as you have lived and as much more, and thrice as much as all that put together, and then if God give you one year more, you will be just a century old;’ how old was the boy?”
Besides the sciences above enumerated, some schools, and particularly those of England, taught a certain amount of natural philosophy, very imperfect, if compared with our own larger and more accurate knowledge of these subjects, yet valuable in its way, as directing the mind to a branch of learning where improvement could only be hoped for by patient and persevering observation. Geography, again, though in its infancy, was a favourite study with the Anglo-Saxons, and from none did it receive greater extension than from king Alfred, who added whole chapters to the science as it existed before his time. This, in common with a great many other branches of knowledge, was sometimes taught to tardy scholars by the help of verses. Several versified summaries of grammatical rules and geographical definitions are in existence in very early English, but for the credit of the geographers, I will not say in what quarter of the globe they place the land of Egypt.
We have yet to speak, however, of a far more important subject connected with the early monastic schools, the religious training of their pupils, and the sacred studies which they pursued. In nothing, probably, did the ancient system of education differ more widely from our own, than in the amount of vocal prayer in which children were expected to take a part. Of course we must bear in mind when reading of children assisting at all the Canonical Hours of the monastery in which they were educated, that in most cases the children spoken of were those “offered” by their parents and intended for the monastic state. They were the pupils of the interior or claustral schools; and it is probable that those belonging to the exterior school were subject to a less rigorous discipline. Still, in either case, they were children, with the propensities common to all children, whether of the ninth or nineteenth centuries; yet we find nothing to indicate that the choral attendance described by the Anglo-Saxon schoolboy in the dialogues of Ælfric, was found by experience to be excessive. “To-day,” says the boy, “I have done many things; this night, when I heard the knell, I arose from my bed and went to the church and sang Night-song with the brethren; after that we sang the service of All Saints and the morning Lauds; then followed Prime and the Seven Psalms, and the Litanies, and the first Mass; then Tierce, and the Mass of the day; then Sext; and then we ate and drank and went to sleep, and rose again and sang None; and now we are here before thee ready to hear what thou hast to say to us.” “Who awakens you for Night-song?” asks the interlocutor. “Sometimes,” answers the scholar, “I hear the knell, and rise of myself; but ofttimes the master arouseth me with his rod.”
If this attendance in choir surprise us as being daily required from young children, we must remember that the habits of the grown-up laity in early ages would be equally at variance with our own. The Divine Office of the Church was not then exclusively recited by priests and religious; the faithful assisted even at the Night-hours, and were constantly urged to do so. In the days of Charlemagne, as in those of St. John Chrysostom, rich and poor, men and women, took part in that sublime worship, and so eager were they in their desire to join in the chant, that it became necessary for abbots to issue injunctions, forbidding their monks to cut up their Psalters in order to distribute the leaves to seculars who solicited the precious fragments, certain devout women being foremost among the beggars. Without some knowledge of the habits of the time, we can form no tolerably fair judgment on the education which was of course fitted and adapted to those habits. The spirit of these early ages was pre-eminently Liturgical. The world was as yet too little civilised to furnish her children with those countless elegant methods of killing time which later ages have so marvellously multiplied; theatres had no existence, and even the superabundant games and pastimes so popular in the Middle Ages, were as yet unthought of. The people sought not merely their instruction, but their recreation also in the Church, and their education thoroughly fitted them to join in her ceremonies and ritual, which it is to be feared, by more cultivated intellects of a later generation, are too often but very imperfectly understood. The education of children partook, of course, of the character of the age; it was more or less ecclesiastical, even for those not intended for the religious or clerical state; and this has given rise to the very hasty conclusion that in the centuries of which we speak, education was given to none save those who aspired to the priesthood. But in point of fact the whole atmosphere of society was then so permeated with the Christian, and what we have ventured to denominate the Liturgical spirit, that children of seculars then received a training which, to modern eyes, appears exclusively suited to ecclesiastics.
The one branch of learning, therefore, which, in the judgment of the monastic teachers, exceeded in importance all the rest, was undoubtedly the study of the Scriptures. “In the study of the Scriptures,” says Mabillon, “consisted the whole science of the monks.” Scholastic theology was as yet unknown, and the Holy Scriptures and the commentaries of the Fathers formed the exclusive study of theologians. That alliance between faith and reason, wherein reason, exercising itself on revealed truth under the control and guidance of faith, built up the dogmas of the Church into a compact and well-ordered system, was the work of later centuries; the monastic scholars of the age of Charlemagne knew nothing about it. They had the Scriptures, interpreted by the Fathers, and the decrees of the Church, for their guides in dogma; and for discipline, the sacred Canons. With these they were abundantly satisfied. Placed in green pastures and by the side of running waters, they enjoyed the inheritance that had fallen to them, and sought for nothing more. Their divines, therefore, hardly aimed at the merit of original composition, and were content to study, to copy, and to compile the teaching, and often the very phraseology of St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, or St. Gregory. Hence the complaint not unjustly brought against them, is that, though tolerably acquainted with books, they were for the most part deficient in original argument. In fact, they sought to hand on the traditions of the Church pure and uncorrupted, rather than to earn for themselves a fame as original thinkers; and one of the marks of the age is an absence of the disputatious spirit which, if it diminishes their rank in the world of letters, forms the charm of their characters as men. There was nothing of the sophist or logician in those sweet and venerable countenances, the unruffled beauty of which is so often dwelt on by their biographers. True, indeed, controversies did arise, as we have seen in the beginning of this chapter, but they were out of harmony with the time. The character of Scotus Erigena, like his learning, was that of a man born out of due time; he belonged to the twelfth rather than to the ninth century, and his wrangling must have sounded strangely discordant in the ears of his contemporaries. The real spirit of the age was one of reverence for Tradition; and the large and active intellects of a Bede, a Boniface and a Paschasius, found all they sought and all they desired in the Positive Theology of the Church.
So much has been done in our time to dispel the vulgar illusion that the Scriptures were unknown and uncared for in the Dark Ages, that I need not here enter into any proof of what is now, or at least ought to be, an uncontroverted fact. Mr. Maitland’s “Essays” have convincingly proved that if the monks read nothing else they at least read the Bible. But what he has not shown with equal power, is the love, the enthusiasm with which, to use the expression of the biographer of Rabanus, they “fed themselves on the Divine Scriptures.” Like the Jews of old, they meditated on them, “sitting in the house or walking on a journey;” they were written “on the entry and on the doorposts.” At the tables of bishops and abbots, of nobles and of kings, the Scriptures were daily read aloud: the little child learnt from them his first lesson, and the old man died with their accent on his lips. What need had they of the fables of the poets, when the beauties of the inspired writers were graven on their memories, familiar as household words? How could they care to listen to what Ovid had to tell them of the Golden Age, they to whom the glowing imagery of the Prophet had painted the kingdom of the Son of Jesse, where the wolf was to dwell with the lamb, and the kid with the leopard, and a little child should lead them? And what great wonder was it if the degrading tales of heathen deities, even when sung by the Muse of Virgil, should fall somewhat flat and profitless on their ears, accustomed as they were to the sublime marvels of God’s dealings with His ancient people, and the history of the Incarnate Word?
It was not merely as the inspired Word of God that the Holy Scriptures were thus valued; but in the schools of which we are speaking they held the place of the great Christian classic. They were not a mere dry repertory of texts illustrative of doctrine, but they formed at once the favourite book of prayer, of meditation, of spiritual reading, and of recreative delight. Pondered on day and night, with all their hidden meaning laid open by the comments of the Fathers, what a treasury of wisdom, what a fountain of poesy was there! The very language of Scripture wonderfully harmonised with the daily monastic life, so patriarchal in its simplicity, its noble toils, and its humble duties of the shepherd, the husbandman, and the vinedresser. It harmonised with the scenes in the midst of which they lived, the mountains, and the wooded valleys, the fields standing thick with corn, the wilderness in its untrampled beauty, where rose up “the verdure of the reed and the bulrush,” and where the myrtle and the olive-tree grew by the running waters. It harmonised with their deep sympathy with the Beautiful, their intimate acquaintance with Nature in all her aspects, by day or by night, so familiar to the eyes of those who sanctified all hours by prayer, and to whom “the outgoings of the morning and of the evening were made joyful,” by the Matins and Vesper psalmody. But chiefly and above all, it harmonised with that thirst that devoured their souls for the true and living God; a thirst which made them weary of all things in which He was not to be found, which made all things sweet in which He had His part; which led them by a strange inspired ingenuity to turn all things to Him, to Christianise every study, to divinise every act; which taught them to create new arts to deck His sanctuary, new sciences to minister to His praise–a thirst which, unslaked by the choicest fountains of Gentile antiquity, drank deep and refreshing draughts at those streams of sacred poetry, out of which they framed the language of their daily Office, and which moulded the very fashion of their daily speech.
The Scriptures, then, were the Christian classics of the monks and their pupils. Their study was not confined to ecclesiastical students, but formed one of the chief branches of every Christian man’s education. And by their study we must understand, of course, not a mere familiarity with the dead letter, but an intimate knowledge of their spiritual sense. We may gather some idea of what was implied in the monastic study of the Scriptures, from a letter written by a certain monk of Citeaux to one of his friends, in which he draws out a compendious method for his guidance. Together with the different divisions of his subject, he advises him to read appropriate commentaries. Thus Josephus and Hegesippus are to be read with the Pentateuch and the Historical Books, and if any words occur of doubtful signification, the student is to consult the “Etymologies” of St. Isidore, and St. Jerome on the “Explanation of Hebrew Names;” and that other book on “Derivations,” “which is to be found in most large libraries,” and finally the “Gloss.” Certain passages of more importance, and summaries of the principal facts, are to be written out and committed to memory; and the writer proceeds to give directions on this point, adding, that on all the subjects he names it will be useful to consult St. Augustine “De Quæstionibus.” When the Historical Books have been carefully studied, the Prophetical Books may be begun. We are to note which prophecies are fulfilled, and which unfulfilled, and the exact time and circumstances under which each was written. After these the Books of instruction, and then the Gospels. In reading the Gospels, it will be necessary to have St. Jerome’s description of the “Holy Places of Palestine,” and the “Harmony of the Gospels.” And we must carefully observe where, when, and before whom our Lord’s Sermons were delivered, and His miracles worked. The rest of the New Testament is afterwards to be read. The student is then directed to read certain works on the Sacraments, on the reason for assigning different portions of Scripture to different seasons, and some of the works of St. Augustine. And when the literal sense of the Holy Books has been thus carefully studied, and not before, he may pass on to their allegorical and mystic interpretation, and read both Testaments through in the same order a second time, special authors being recommended to assist his comprehension of their spiritual sense.
This double method of study, in which the literal meaning of the Scriptures was made the basis of interpreting their spiritual signification, was begun very early, and even young children were considered capable of being introduced by degrees to the spiritual comprehension of the Sacred Books. So far from these being a treasure sealed up to all save the clergy, they formed the foundation stone of all education. Thus Thegan writes of the Emperor Louis le Debonnaire, that he had been perfectly instructed in the allegorical and mystical interpretation of the Scriptures, and we learn from St. Aldhelm’s treatise, “De Laudibus Virginitatis,” that the nuns for whom he intended it were not only accustomed to read the Old and New Testaments, together with the Commentaries of the Fathers, but that they also studied the historical, allegorical, and analogical senses of different passages. Nor is this by any means an exceptional case, for in the religious houses of women sacred studies were pursued with hardly less eagerness than in those of men.
And here the temptation presents itself to say something of the schools provided in the Dark Ages for the education of women, such as the royal house of Chelles, where the wise Bertilla presided over scores of English scholars sent by their parents to France, as we must needs suppose, for fashion’s sake, for there were certainly plenty of good schools to be found in England. Fashion, however, has much to do with the selection of a school, and Chelles was naturally popular with the English, having been founded in the seventh century by a princess of Anglo-Saxon blood.
Queen Bathildis, indeed, was not of royal birth; she was a poor maiden who had been sold as a slave into France, and attracting the attention of Clovis II., was raised by him to share his throne. Her first thought in her new position was to procure the abolition of slavery, or at least the amelioration of the condition of slaves. “She was,” says her biographer, “of a beautiful and cheerful countenance, to her husband an obedient wife, to the princes a mother, to boys and youths the best of counsellors; to all an amiable and gracious friend,” and he adds that among her other good deeds, “she was always exhorting and encouraging the youth around her to religious studies.” So soon as her son Clothaire was old enough to govern, Bathildis, who during his minority had acted as regent, retired to Chelles and spent the remainder of her days in the humble office of infirmarian. But her foundation had meanwhile acquired a great reputation for learning, which was yet further increased when Gisella, the sister of Charlemagne, and the pupil of Alcuin, assumed its government in the ninth century.
Nor must it be supposed that these examples of learning in the cloisters of nuns were confined to those communities which had caught their tone from the little knot of literary women educated by St. Boniface. It was the natural and universal development of religious life. We have but to glance back a century or two, and we shall find foundations of purely French origin, those of St. Cesarius of Arles, in which the nuns were to be seen reading even over their work, and busy at the transcription of the Sacred Books. And we might quote the account of St. Cesaria’s death, written by one of her devout children, which M. Guizot hesitates not to rank among the gems of literature. Or we might turn to the Latin poems of St. Radegundes, the Queen of Clothaire I., and the friend of Venantius Fortunatus, who composed his celebrated hymn “Vexilla regis” on occasion of the translation to her monastery at Poitiers of a relic of the true Cross. This royal nun of the sixth century was accustomed to read the Greek and Latin Fathers, and as her biographer tells us, was not only vultu elegans, but litteris erudita. She liked her disciples to be as learned as herself, insisted that all should be able to read, and should learn the Psalter by heart, and gathered together more than two hundred daughters of noble families, in whose company and instruction she took such passing great delight, that, says Baudoniva, one of them whom she had educated from a child and who afterwards wrote her life, she would address them in the tenderest terms, calling them her light, her life, and her chosen little plants.
The picture of St. Cesaria in the sixth century, and of St. Lioba in the eighth, is reproduced in that of St. Adelaide of Gueldres, abbess of Cologne in the tenth. She had enjoyed a learned education, and took great delight in collecting around her young virgins to whom she communicated her lessons with a truly maternal care. Every day she showed herself in the school, and propounded grammatical subtleties to her disciples; rewarding the diligent with caresses, and punishing the slothful with a severity for which her tender heart was wont afterwards often to reproach her. In fact, were I to repeat all that her biographer relates of her zeal in the matter of correction, I might convey the impression that the pupils of the abbess Adelaide lived under a rather terrible taskmistress. She sometimes visited the offenders with rods, and sometimes with a good box on the ear. The latter chastisement was even inflicted in choir when her pupils sang out of tune; but her biographer adds, it was never found necessary to administer it a second time, for the touch of her saintly hand had such power in it, as to cure all defects of voice and ear for the future. But yet she was a tender and a loving mother, and when she had punished any one, would conjure some of her sisters to go and console the poor victim whom she immediately began to compassionate. Nay, her love went so far, that besides the incessant thought she bestowed on providing her children with good food and raiment, she would steal into their dormitory in the winter nights, to find out if any were suffering from cold feet, and would warm them by rubbing them with her hands.
These examples are all of religious women; but we have direct evidence that even those who embraced a secular life were expected to receive a certain amount of education. Amalarius, of Metz, whose great work on the “Ecclesiastical Offices” appeared in the year 820, requires that young girls should learn the Psalter, the Books of Job and Proverbs, the Four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles. Perhaps there is no more interesting and decisive testimony as to the amount of learning to be found among the laity in the Dark Ages, than the curious will of Count Eberhard, of Terouanne, who died in 860, and left behind him a precious library, equalling in extent many of those possessed by religious houses. He directed that this library should, after his death, be divided among his children in the manner prescribed by his will. The four sons and four daughters each received their share, though the boys, naturally enough, obtained the lion’s share. Among the books named in the catalogue are treatises on law, military affairs, history, and natural philosophy, besides religious works.[ One of the books bequeathed to Gisla, is the “Enchiridion” of St. Augustine. We have besides incidental notices occurring in the biographies of the time, which represent mothers writing to their sons and conveying to them sound practical advice, and noble ladies keeping up a correspondence with learned ecclesiastics, who seem to have directed their studies. There was certainly no difficulty in the way of ladies obtaining an education if they chose, for the convents of Chelles, Farmoutier, Brie, and Andelys, all had excellent schools, and often enough English mistresses, whose teaching was held in special esteem. And Theodulph, of Orleans, does not seem to have been giving the princess Gisella a piece of advice at all out of harmony with the manners and ideas of the age, when he counselled her to divide her time equally between reading and the homely cares of the household, concluding his admonitions with the two following lines:
Assidue si ores, tibi si sit lectio crebra, Ipsa Deo loqueris, et Deus ipse tibi.
An attentive study of the history of the following centuries will convince us that if the dames and spinsters of the Middle Ages were not exactly blue-stockings, they perfectly understood the value of Theodulph’s counsels, and that they were often not only learned themselves, but the cause of learning in others. For not a few of the learned foundations in England owe their existence to the munificence of noble ladies, who, in this country at least, have ever shown themselves the nursing mothers of polite letters. But of this there will be more to say in its proper place.
Source: Augusta Theodosia Drane, Christian Schools and Scholars (1910) .