and not by the substance you call triangle. The universal–the abstract right angle, or any other abstract form–is only an idea, a concept, to which reality, individuality, or what we might call energy is wanting. The only true energy, except man’s free will, is God.”
“Very good, Mr. Abelard! we can now reach our issue. You affirm that, just as the line does not exist in space, although the eye sees little else in space, so the triangle does not exist in this crystal, although the crystal shows eight of them, each perfect. You are aware that on this line which does not exist, and its combination in this triangle which does not exist, rests the whole fabric of mathematics with all its necessary truths. In other words, you know that in this line, though it does not exist, is bound up the truth of the only branch of human knowledge which claims absolute certainty for human processes. You admit that this line and triangle, which are mere figments of our human imagination, not only exist independent of us in the crystal, but are, as we suppose, habitually and invariably used by God Himself to give form to the matter contained within the planes of the crystal. Yet to this line and triangle you deny reality. To mathematical truth, you deny compulsive force. You hold that an equilateral triangle may, to you and all other human individuals, be a right-angled triangle if you choose to imagine it so. Allow me to say, without assuming any claim to superior knowledge, that to me your logic results in a different conclusion. If you are compelled, at one point or another of the chain of being, to deny existence to a substance, surely it should be to the last and feeblest. I see nothing to hinder you from denying your own existence, which is, in fact, impossible to demonstrate. Certainly you are free, in logic, to argue that Socrates and Plato are mere names–that men and matter are phantoms and dreams. No one ever has proved or ever can prove the contrary, Infallibly, a great philosophical school will some day be founded on that assumption. I venture even to recommend it to your acute and sceptical mind; but I cannot conceive how, by any process of reasoning, sensual or supersensual, you can reach the conclusion that the single form of truth which instantly and inexorably compels our submission to its laws–is nothing.”
Thus far, all was familiar ground; certainly at least as familiar as the Pons Asinorum; and neither of the two champions had need to feel ruffled in temper by the discussion. The real struggle began only at this point; for until this point was reached, both positions were about equally tenable. Abelard had hitherto rested quietly on the defensive, but William’s last thrust obliged him to strike in his turn, and he drew himself up for what, five hundred years later, was called the “Coup de Jarnac”:–
“I do not deny,” he begins; “on the contrary, I affirm that the universal, whether we call it humanity, or equilateral triangle, has a sort of reality as a concept; that it is something; even a substance, if you insist upon it. Undoubtedly the sum of all individual men results in the concept of humanity. What I deny is that the concept results in the individual. You have correctly stated the essence of the point and the line as sources of our concept of the infinite; what I deny is that they are divisions of the infinite. Universals cannot be divided; what is capable of division cannot be a universal. I admit the force of your analogy in the case of the crystal; but I am obliged to point out to you that, if you insist on this analogy, you will bring yourself and me into flagrant contradiction with the fixed foundations of the Church. If the energy of the triangle gives form to the crystal, and the energy of the line gives reality to the triangle, and the energy of the infinite gives substance to the line, all energy at last becomes identical with the ultimate substance, God Himself. Socrates becomes God in small; Judas is identical with both; humanity is of the divine essence, and exists, wholly and undivided, in each of us. The equilateral triangle we call humanity exists, therefore, entire, identical, in you and me, as a subdivision of the infinite line, space, energy, or substance, which is God. I need not remind you that this is pantheism, and that if God is the only energy, human free will merges in God’s free will; the Church ceases to have a reason for existence; man cannot be held responsible for his own acts, either to the Church or to the State; and finally, though very unwillingly, I must, in regard for my own safety, bring the subject to the attention of the Archbishop, which, as you know better than I, will lead to your seclusion, or worse.”
Whether Abelard used these precise words is nothing to the point. The words he left on record were equivalent to these. As translated by M. de Remusat from a manuscript entitled: “Glossulae magistri Petri Baelardi super Porphyrium,” the phrase runs: “A grave heresy is at the end of this doctrine; for, according to it, the divine substance which is recognized as admitting of no form, is necessarily identical with every substance in particular and with all substance in general.” Even had he not stated the heresy so bluntly, his objection necessarily pushed William in face of it. Realism, when pressed, always led to pantheism. William of Champeaux and Bishop or Archbishop Hildebert were personal friends, and Hildebert’s divine substance left no more room for human free will than Abelard saw in the geometric analogy imagined for William. Throughout the history of the Church for fifteen hundred years, whenever this theological point has been pressed against churchmen it has reduced them to evasion or to apology. Admittedly, the weak point of realism was its fatally pantheistic term.
Of course, William consulted his friends in the Church, probably Archbishop Hildebert among the rest, before deciding whether to maintain or to abandon his ground, and the result showed that he was guided by their advice. Realism was the Roman arch–the only possible foundation for any Church; because it assumed unity, and any other scheme was compelled to prove it, for a starting-point. Let us see, for a moment, what became of the dialogue, when pushed into theology, in order to reach some of the reasons which reduced William to tacit abandonment of a doctrine he could never have surrendered unless under compulsion. That he was angry is sure, for Abelard, by thus thrusting theology into dialectics, had struck him a full blow; and William knew Abelard well:–
“Ah!” he would have rejoined; “you are quick, M. du Pallet, to turn what I offered as an analogy, into an argument of heresy against my person. You are at liberty to take that course if you choose, though I give you fair warning that it will lead you far. But now I must ask you still another question. This concept that you talk about– this image in the mind of man, of God, of matter; for I know not where to seek it–whether is it a reality or not?”
“I hold it as, in a manner, real.”
“I want a categorical answer–Yes or No!”
“Distinguo! (I must qualify.)”
“I will have no qualifications. A substance either is, or not. Choose!”
To this challenge Abelard had the choice of answering Yes, or of answering no, or of refusing to answer at all. He seems to have done the last; but we suppose him to have accepted the wager of battle, and to answer:–
“Good!” William rejoins; “now let us see how your pantheism differs from mine. My triangle exists as a reality, or what science will call an energy, outside my mind, in God, and is impressed on my mind as it is on a mirror, like the triangle on the crystal, its energy giving form. Your triangle you say is also an energy, but an essence of my mind itself; you thrust it into the mind as an integral part of the mirror; identically the same concept, energy, or necessary truth which is inherent in God. Whatever subterfuge you may resort to, sooner or later you have got to agree that your mind is identical with God’s nature as far as that concept is concerned. Your pantheism goes further than mine. As a doctrine of the Real Presence peculiar to yourself, I can commend it to the Archbishop together with your delation of me.”
Supposing that Abelard took the opposite course, and answered:–
“No! my concept is a mere sign.”
“A sign of what, in God’s name!”
“A sound! a word! a symbol! an echo only of my ignorance.”
“Nothing, then! So truth and virtue and charity do not exist at all. You suppose yourself to exist, but you have no means of knowing God; therefore, to you God does not exist except as an echo of your ignorance; and, what concerns you most, the Church does not exist except as your concept of certain individuals, whom you cannot regard as a unity, and who suppose themselves to believe in a Trinity which exists only as a sound, or a symbol. I will not repeat your words, M. du Pallet, outside this cloister, because the consequences to you would certainly be fatal; but it is only too clear that you are a materialist, and as such your fate must be decided by a Church Council, unless you prefer the stake by judgment of a secular court,”
In truth, pure nominalism–if, indeed, any one ever maintained it– afforded no cover whatever. Nor did Abelard’s concept help the matter, although for want of a better refuge, the Church was often driven into it. Conceptualism was a device, like the false wooden roof, to cover and conceal an inherent weakness of construction. Unity either is, or is not. If soldiers, no matter in what number, can never make an army, and worshippers, though in millions, do not make a Church, and all humanity united would not necessarily constitute a State, equally little can their concepts, individual or united, constitute the one or the other. Army, Church, and State, each is an organic whole, complex beyond all possible addition of units, and not a concept at all, but rather an animal that thinks, creates, devours, and destroys. The attempt to bridge the chasm between multiplicity and unity is the oldest problem of philosophy, religion, and science, but the flimsiest bridge of all is the human concept, unless somewhere, within or beyond it, an energy not individual is hidden; and in that case the old question instantly reappears: What is that energy?
Abelard would have done well to leave William alone, but Abelard was an adventurer, and William was a churchman. To win a victory over a churchman is not very difficult for an adventurer, and is always a tempting amusement, because the ambition of churchmen to shine in worldly contests is disciplined and checked by the broader interests of the Church: but the victory is usually sterile, and rarely harms the churchman. The Church cares for its own. Probably the bishops advised William not to insist on his doctrine, although every bishop may have held the same view. William allowed himself to be silenced without a judgment, and in that respect stands almost if not quite alone among schoolmen. The students divined that he had sold himself to the Church, and consequently deserted him. Very soon he received his reward in the shape of the highest dignity open to private ambition–a bishopric. As Bishop of Chalons-sur-Marne he made for himself a great reputation, which does not concern us, although it deeply concerned the unfortunate Abelard, for it happened, either by chance or design, that within a year or two after William established himself at Chalons, young Bernard of Citeaux chose a neighbouring diocese in which to establish a branch of the Cistercian Order, and Bishop William took so keen an interest in the success of Bernard as almost to claim equal credit for it. Clairvaux was, in a manner, William’s creation, although not in his diocese, and yet, if there was a priest in all France who fervently despised the schools, it was young Bernard. William of Champeaux, the chief of schoolmen, could never have gained Bernard’s affections. Bishop William of Chalons must have drifted far from dialectics into mysticism in order to win the support of Clairvaux, and train up a new army of allies who were to mark Abelard for an easy prey.
Meanwhile Abelard pursued his course of triumph in the schools, and in due time turned from dialectics to theology, as every ambitious teacher could hardly fail to do. His affair with Heloise and their marriage seem to have occupied his time in 1117 or 1118, for they both retired into religious orders in 1119, and he resumed his lectures in 1120. With his passion for rule, he was fatally certain to attempt ruling the Church as he ruled the schools; and, as it was always enough for him that any point should be tender in order that he should press upon it, he instantly and instinctively seized on the most sensitive nerve of the Church system to wrench it into his service. He became a sort of apostle of the Holy Ghost.
That the Trinity is a mystery was a law of theology so absolute as in a degree to hide the law of philosophy that the Trinity was meant as a solution of a greater mystery still. In truth, as a matter of philosophy, the Trinity was intended to explain the eternal and primary problem of the process by which unity could produce diversity. Starting from unity alone, philosophers found themselves unable to stir hand or foot until they could account for duality. To the common, ignorant peasant, no such trouble occurred, for he knew the Trinity in its simpler form as the first condition of life, like time and space and force. No human being was so stupid as not to understand that the father, mother, and child made a trinity, returning into each other, and although every father, every mother, and every child, from the dawn of man’s intelligence, had asked why, and had never received an answer more intelligible to them than to philosophers, they never showed difficulty in accepting that trinity as a fact. They might even, in their beneficent blindness, ask the Church why that trinity, which had satisfied the Egyptians for five or ten-thousand years, was not good enough for churchmen. They themselves were doing their utmost, though unconsciously, to identify the Holy Ghost with the Mother, while philosophy insisted on excluding the human symbol precisely because it was human and led back to an infinite series. Philosophy required three units to start from; it posed the equilateral triangle, not the straight line, as the foundation of its deometry. The first straight line, infinite in extension, must be assumed, and its reflection engendered the second, but whence came the third? Under protest, philosophy was compelled to accept the symbol of Father and Son as a matter of faith, but, if the relation of Father and Son were accepted for the two units which reflected each other, what relation expressed the Holy Ghost? In philosophy, the product of two units was not a third unit, but diversity, multiplicity, infinity. The subject was, for that reason, better handled by the Arabs, whose reasoning worked back on the Christian theologists and made the point more delicate still. Common people, like women and children and ourselves, could never understand the Trinity; naturally, intelligent people understood it still less, but for them it did not matter; they did not need to understand it provided their neighbours would leave it alone.
The mass of mankind wanted something nearer to them than either the Father or the Son; they wanted the Mother, and the Church tried, in what seems to women and children and ourselves rather a feeble way, to give the Holy Ghost, as far as possible, the Mother’s attributes- -Love, Charity, Grace; but in spite of conscientious effort and unswerving faith, the Holy Ghost remained to the mass of Frenchmen somewhat apart, feared rather than loved. The sin against the Holy Ghost was a haunting spectre, for no one knew what else it was.
Naturally the Church, and especially its official theologists, took an instinctive attitude of defence whenever a question on this subject was asked, and were thrown into a flutter of irritation whenever an answer was suggested. No man likes to have his intelligence or good faith questioned, especially if he has doubts about it himself. The distinguishing essence of the Holy Ghost, as a theological substance, was its mystery. That this mystery should be touched at all was annoying to every one who knew the dangers that lurked behind the veil, but that it should be freely handled before audiences of laymen by persons of doubtful character was impossible. Such license must end in discrediting the whole Trinity under pretence of making it intelligible.
Precisely this license was what Abelard took, and on it he chose to insist. He said nothing heretical; he treated the Holy Ghost with almost exaggerated respect, as though other churchmen did not quite appreciate its merits; but he would not let it alone, and the Church dreaded every moment lest, with his enormous influence in the schools, he should raise a new storm by his notorious indiscretion. Yet so long as he merely lectured, he was not molested; only when he began to publish his theology did the Church interfere. Then a council held at Soissons in 1121 abruptly condemned his book in block, without reading it, without specifying its errors, and without hearing his defence; obliged him to throw the manuscript into the fire with his own hands, and finally shut him up in a monastery.
He had invited the jurisdiction by taking orders, but even the Church was shocked by the summary nature of the judgment, which seems to have been quite irregular. In fact, the Church has never known what it was that the council condemned. The latest great work on the Trinity, by the Jesuit Father de Regnon, suggests that Abelard’s fault was in applying to the Trinity his theory of concepts.
“Yes!” he says; “the mystery is explained; the key of conceptualism has opened the tabernacle, and Saint Bernard was right in saying that, thanks to Abelard, every one can penetrate it and contemplate it at his ease; ‘even the graceless, even the uncircumcised.’ Yes! the Trinity is explained, but after the manner of the Sabellians. For to identify the Persons in the terms of human concepts is, in the same stroke, to destroy their ‘subsistances propres.'”
Although the Saviour seems to have felt no compunctions about identifying the persons of the Trinity in the terms of human concepts, it is clear that tourists and heretics had best leave the Church to deal with its “subsistances propres,” and with its own members, in its own way. In sum, the Church preferred to stand firm on the Roman arch, and the architects seem now inclined to think it was right; that scholastic science and the pointed arch proved to be failures. In the twelfth century the world may have been rough, but it was not stupid. The Council of Soissons was held while the architects and sculptors were building the west porch of Chartres and the Aquilon at Mont-Saint-Michel. Averroes was born at Cordova in 1126; Omar Khayyam died at Naishapur in 1123. Poetry and metaphysics owned the world, and their quarrel with theology was a private, family dispute. Very soon the tide turned decisively in Abelard’s favour. Suger, a political prelate, became minister of the King, and in March, 1122, Abbot of Saint-Denis. In both capacities he took the part of Abelard, released him from restraint, and even restored to him liberty of instruction, at least beyond the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Paris. Abelard then took a line of conduct singularly parallel with that of Bernard. Quitting civilized life he turned wholly to religion. “When the agreement,” he said, “had been executed by both parties to it, in presence of the King and his ministers, I next retired within the territory of Troyes, upon a desert spot which I knew, and on a piece of ground given me by certain persons, I built, with the consent of the bishop of the diocese, a sort of oratory of reeds and thatch, which I placed under the invocation of the Holy Trinity … Founded at first in the name of the Holy Trinity, then placed under its invocation, it was called ‘Paraclete’ in memory of my having come there as a fugitive and in my despair having found some repose in the consolations of divine grace. This denomination was received by many with great astonishment, and some attacked it with violence under pretext that it was not permitted to consecrate a church specially to the Holy Ghost any more than to God the Father, but that, according to ancient usage, it must be dedicated either to the Son alone or to the Trinity.”
The spot is still called Paraclete, near Nogent-sur-Seine, in the parish of Quincey about halfway between Fontainebleau and Troyes. The name Paraclete as applied to the Holy Ghost meant the Consoler, the Comforter, the Spirit of Love and Grace; as applied to the oratory by Abelard it meant a renewal of his challenge to theologists, a separation of the Persons in the Trinity, a vulgarization of the mystery; and, as his story frankly says, it was so received by many. The spot was not so remote but that his scholars could follow him, and he invited them to do so. They came in great numbers, and he lectured to them. “In body I was hidden in this spot; but my renown overran the whole world and filled it with my word.” Undoubtedly Abelard taught theology, and, in defiance of the council that had condemned him, attempted to define the persons of the Trinity. For this purpose he had fallen on a spot only fifty or sixty miles from Clairvaux where Bernard was inspiring a contrary spirit of religion; he placed himself on the direct line between Clairvaux and its source at Citeaux near Dijon; indeed, if he had sought for a spot as central as possible to the active movement of the Church and the time, he could have hit on none more convenient and conspicuous unless it were the city of Troyes itself, the capital of Champagne, some thirty miles away. The proof that he meant to be aggressive is furnished by his own account of the consequences. Two rivals, he says, one of whom seems to have been Bernard of Clairvaux, took the field against him, “and succeeded in exciting the hostility of certain ecclesiastical and secular authorities, by charging monstrous things, not only against my faith, but also against my manner of life, to such a point as to detach from me some of my principal friends; even those who preserved some affection for me dared no longer display it, for fear. God is my witness that I never heard of the union of an ecclesiastical assembly without thinking that its object was my condemnation.” The Church had good reason, for Abelard’s conduct defied discipline; but far from showing harshness, the Church this time showed a true spirit of conciliation most creditable to Bernard. Deeply as the Cistercians disliked and distrusted Abelard, they did not violently suppress him, but tacitly consented to let the authorities buy his silence with Church patronage.
The transaction passed through Suger’s hands, and offered an ordinary example of political customs as old as history. An abbey in Brittany became vacant; at a hint from the Duke Conan, which may well be supposed to have been suggested from Paris, the monks chose Abelard as their new abbot, and sent some of their number to Suger to request permission for Abelard, who was a monk of Saint-Denis, to become Abbot of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys, near Vannes, in Brittany. Suger probably intimated to Abelard, with a certain degree of authority, that he had better accept. Abelard, “struck with terror, and as it were under the menace of a thunderbolt,” accepted. Of course the dignity was in effect banishment and worse, and was so understood on all sides. The Abbaye-de-Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys, though less isolated than Mont-Saint-Michel, was not an agreeable winter residence. Though situated in Abelard’s native province of Brittany, only sixty or eighty miles from his birthplace, it was for him a prison with the ocean around it and a singularly wild people to deal with; but he could have endured his lot with contentment, had not discipline or fear or pledge compelled him to hold his tongue. From 1125, when he was sent to Brittany until 1135 when he reappeared in Paris, he never opened his mouth to lecture. “Never, as God is my witness,–never would I have acquiesced in such an offer, had it not been to escape, no matter how, from the vexations with which I was incessantly overwhelmed.”
A great career in the Church was thus opened for him against his will, and if he did not die an archbishop it was not wholly the fault of the Church. Already he was a great prelate, the equal in rank of the Abbe Suger, himself, of Saint-Denis; of Peter the Venerable of Cluny; of Bernard of Clairvaux. He was in a manner a peer of the realm. Almost immediately he felt the advantages of the change. Barely two years passed when, in 1127, the Abbe Suger, in reforming his subordinate Abbey of Argenteuil, was obliged to disturb Heloise, then a sister in that congregation. Abelard was warned of the necessity that his wife should be protected, and with the assistance of everyone concerned, he was allowed to establish his wife at the Paraclete as head of a religious sisterhood. “I returned there; I invited Heloise to come there with the nuns of her community; and when they arrived, I made them the entire donation of the oratory and its dependencies … The bishops cherished her as their daughter; the abbots as their sister; the laymen as their mother.” This was merely the beginning of her favour and of his. For ten years they were both of them petted children of the Church.
The formal establishment of Heloise at the Paraclete took place in 1129. In February, 1130, on the death of the Pope at Rome, a schism broke out, and the cardinals elected two popes, one of whom took the name of Innocent II, and appealed for support to France. Suger saw a great political opportunity and used it. The heads of the French Church agreed in supporting Innocent, and the King summoned a Church council at Etampes to declare its adhesion. The council met in the late summer; Bernard of Clairvaux took the lead; Peter the Venerable, Suger of Saint-Denis, and the Abbot of Saint-Gildas-de- Rhuys supported him; Innocent himself took refuge at Cluny in October, and on January 20, 1131, he stopped at the Benedictine Abbey of Morigny. The Chronicle of the monastery, recording the abbots present on this occasion,–the Abbot of Morigny itself, of Feversham; of Saint-Lucien of Beauvais, and so forth,–added especially: “Bernard of Clairvaux, who was then the most famous pulpit orator in France; and Peter Abelard, Abbot of Saint-Gildas, also a monk and the most eminent master of the schools to which the scholars of almost all the Latin races flowed.”
Innocent needed popular support; Bernard and Abelard were the two leaders of popular opinion in France. To attach them, Innocent could refuse nothing. Probably Abelard remained with Innocent, but in any case Innocent gave him, at Auxerre, in the following November, a diploma, granting to Heloise, prioress of the Oratory of the Holy Trinity, all rights of property over whatever she might possess, against all assailants; which proves Abelard’s favour. At this time he seems to have taken great interest in the new sisterhood. “I made them more frequent visits,” he said, “in order to work for their benefit.” He worked so earnestly for their benefit that he scandalized the neighbourhood and had to argue at unnecessary length his innocence of evil. He went so far as to express a wish to take refuge among them and to abandon his abbey in Brittany. He professed to stand in terror of his monks; he excommunicated them; they paid no attention to him; he appealed to the Pope, his friend, and Innocent sent a special legate to enforce their submission “in presence of the Count and the Bishops.”
Even since that, they would not keep quiet. And quite recently, since the expulsion of those of whom I have spoken, when I returned to the abbey, abandoning myself to the rest of the brothers who inspired me with less distrust, I found them even worse than the others. It was no longer a question of poison; it was the dagger that they now sharpened against my breast. I had great difficulty in escaping from them under the guidance of one of the neighbouring lords. Similar perils menace me still and every day I see the sword raised over my head. Even at table I can hardly breathe … This is the torture that I endure every moment of the day; I, a poor monk, raised to the prelacy, becoming more miserable in becoming more great, that by my example the ambitious may learn to curb their greed.
With this, the “Story of Calamity” ends. The allusions to Innocent II seem to prove that it was written not earlier than 1132; the confession of constant and abject personal fear suggests that it was written under the shock caused by the atrocious murder of the Prior of Saint-Victor by the nephews of the Archdeacon of Paris, who had also been subjected to reforms. This murder was committed a few miles outside of the walls of Paris, on August 20, 1133. The “Story of Calamity” is evidently a long plea for release from the restraints imposed on its author by his position in the prelacy and the tacit, or possibly the express, contract he had made, or to which he had submitted, in 1125. This plea was obviously written in order to serve one of two purposes:–either to be placed before the authorities whose consent alone could relieve Abelard from his restraints; or to justify him in throwing off the load of the Church, and resuming the profession of schoolman. Supposing the second explanation, the date of the paper would be more or less closely fixed by John of Salisbury, who coming to Paris as a student, in 1136, found Abelard lecturing on the Mont-Sainte- Genevieve; that is to say, not under the license of the Bishop of Paris or his Chancellor, but independently, in a private school of his own, outside the walls. “I attached myself to the Palatine Peripatician who then presided on the hill of Sainte-Genevieve, the doctor illustrious, admired by all. There, at his feet, I received the first elements of the dialectic art, and according to the measure of my poor understanding I received with all the avidity of my soul everything that came from his mouth.”
This explanation is hardly reasonable, for no prelate who was not also a temporal lord would have dared throw off his official duties without permission from his superiors. In Abelard’s case the only superior to whom he could apply, as Abbot of Saint-Gildas in Brittany, was probably the Pope himself. In the year 1135 the moment was exceedingly favourable for asking privileges. Innocent, driven from Rome a second time, had summoned a council at Pisa for May 30 to help him. Louis-le-Gros and his minister Suger gave at first no support to this council, and were overruled by Bernard of Clairvaux who in a manner drove them into giving the French clergy permission to attend. The principal archbishops, a number of bishops, and sixteen abbots went to Pisa in May, 1135, and some one of them certainly asked Innocent for favours on behalf of Abelard, which the Pope granted.
The proof is a papal bull, dated in 1136, in favour of Heloise, giving her the rank and title of Abbess, accompanied by another giving to the Oratory of the Holy Trinity the rank and name of Monastery of the Paraclete, a novelty in Church tradition so extraordinary or so shocking that it still astounds churchmen. With this excessive mark of favour Innocent could have felt little difficulty in giving Abelard the permission to absent himself from his abbey, and with this permission in his hands Abelard might have lectured on dialectics to John of Salisbury in the summer or autumn of 1136. He did not, as far as known, resume lectures on theology.
Such success might have turned heads much better balanced than that of Abelard. With the support of the Pope and at least one of the most prominent cardinals, and with relations at court with the ministers of Louis-le-Gros, Abelard seemed to himself as strong as Bernard of Clairvaux, and a more popular champion of reform. The year 1137, which has marked a date for so many great points in our travels, marked also the moment of Abelard’s greatest vogue. The victory of Aristotle and the pointed arch seemed assured when Suger effected the marriage of the young Prince Louis to the heiress Eleanor of Guienne. The exact moment was stamped on the facade of his exquisite creation, the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, finished in 1140 and still in part erect. From Saint-Denis to Saint-Sulpice was but a step. Louis-le-Grand seems to stand close in succession to Louis-le-Gros.
Fortunately for tourists, the world, restless though it might be, could not hurry, and Abelard was to know of the pointed arch very little except its restlessness. Just at the apex of his triumph, August 1, 1137, Louis-le-Gros died. Six months afterwards the anti- pope also died, the schism ended, and Innocent II needed Abelard’s help no more. Bernard of Clairvaux became Pope and King at once. Both Innocent and Louis-le-Jeune were in a manner his personal creations. The King’s brother Henry, next in succession, actually became a monk at Clairvaux not long afterwards. Even the architecture told the same story, for at Saint-Denis, though the arch might simulate a point, the old Romanesque lines still assert as firmly as ever their spiritual control. The fleche that gave the facade a new spirit was not added until 1215, which marks Abelard’s error in terms of time.
Once arrived at power, Bernard made short work of all that tried to resist him. During 1139 he seems to have been too busy or too ill to take up the affair of Abelard, but in March, 1140, the attack was opened in a formal letter from William of Saint-Thierry, who was Bernard’s closest friend, bringing charges against Abelard before Bernard and the Bishop of Chartres. The charges were simple enough:- –
Pierre Abelard seized the moment, when all the masters of ecclesiastical doctrine have disappeared from the scene of the world, to conquer a place apart, for himself, in the schools, and to create there an exclusive domination. He treats Holy Scripture as though it were dialectics. It is a matter with him of personal invention and annual novelties. He is the censor and not the disciple of the faith; the corrector and not the imitator of the authorized masters.
In substance, this is all. The need of action was even simpler. Abelard’s novelties were becoming a danger; they affected not only the schools, but also even the Curia at Rome. Bernard must act because there was no one else to act: “This man fears you; he dreads you! if you shut your eyes, whom will he fear? … The evil has become too public to allow a correction limited to amicable discipline and secret warning.” In fact, Abelard’s works were flying about Europe in every direction, and every year produced a novelty. One can still read them in M. Cousin’s collected edition; among others, a volume on ethics: “Ethica, seu Scito teipsum”; on theology in general, an epitome; a “Dialogus inter Philosophum, Judaeum et Christianum”; and, what was perhaps the most alarming of all, an abstract of quotations from standard authorities, on the principle of the parallel column, showing the fatal contradictions of the authorized masters, and entitled “Sic et Non”! Not one of these works but dealt with sacred matters in a spirit implying that the Essence of God was better understood by Pierre du Pallet than by the whole array of bishops and prelates in Europe! Had Bernard been fortunate enough to light upon the “Story of Calamity,” which must also have been in existence, he would have found there Abelard’s own childlike avowal that he taught theology because his scholars “said that they did not want mere words; that one can believe only what one understands; and that it is ridiculous to preach to others what one understands no better than they do.” Bernard himself never charged Abelard with any presumption equal to this. Bernard said only that “he sees nothing as an enigma, nothing as in a mirror, but looks on everything face to face.” If this had been all, even Bernard could scarcely have complained. For several thousand years mankind has stared Infinity in the face without pretending to be the wiser; the pretension of Abelard was that, by his dialectic method, he could explain the Infinite, while all other theologists talked mere words; and by way of proving that he had got to the bottom of the matter, he laid down the ultimate law of the universe as his starting-point: “All that God does,” he said, “He wills necessarily and does it necessarily; for His goodness is such that it pushes Him necessarily to do all the good He can, and the best He can, and the quickest He can … Therefore it is of necessity that God willed and made the world.” Pure logic admitted no contingency; it was bound to be necessitarian or ceased to be logical; but the result, as Bernard understood it, was that Abelard’s world, being the best and only possible, need trouble itself no more about God, or Church, or man.
Strange as the paradox seems, Saint Bernard and Lord Bacon, though looking at the world from opposite standpoints, agreed in this: that the scholastic method was false and mischievous, and that the longer it was followed, the greater was its mischief. Bernard thought that because dialectics led wrong, therefore faith led right. He saw no alternative, and perhaps in fact there was none. If he had lived a century later, he would have said to Thomas Aquinas what he said to a schoolman of his own day: “If you had once tasted true food,”–if you knew what true religion is,–“how quick you would leave those Jew makers of books (literatoribus judaeis) to gnaw their crusts by themselves!” Locke or Hume might perhaps still have resented a little the “literator judaeus,” but Faraday or Clerk-Maxwell would have expressed the same opinion with only the change of a word: “If the twelfth century had once tasted true science, how quick they would have dropped Avicenna and Averroes!” Science admits that Bernard’s disbelief in scholasticism was well founded, whatever it may think of his reasons. The only point that remains is personal: Which is the more sympathetic, Bernard or Abelard?
The Church feels no doubt, but is a bad witness. Bernard is not a character to be taken or rejected in a lump. He was many-sided, and even toward Abelard he showed more than one surface. He wanted no unnecessary scandals in the Church; he had too many that were not of his seeking. He seems to have gone through the forms of friendly negotiation with Abelard although he could have required nothing less than Abelard’s submission and return to Brittany, and silence; terms which Abelard thought worse than death. On Abelard’s refusal, Bernard began his attack. We know, from the “Story of Calamity,” what Bernard’s party could not have certainly known then,–the abject terror into which the very thought of a council had for twenty years thrown Abelard whenever he was threatened with it; and in 1140 he saw it to be inevitable. He preferred to face it with dignity, and requested to be heard at a council to meet at Sens in June. One cannot admit that he felt the shadow of a hope to escape. At the utmost he could have dreamed of nothing more than a hearing. Bernard’s friends, who had a lively fear of his dialectics, took care to shut the door on even this hope. The council was carefully packed and overawed. The King was present; archbishops, bishops, abbots, and other prelates by the score; Bernard acted in person as the prosecuting attorney; the public outside were stimulated to threaten violence. Abelard had less chance of a judicial hearing than he had had at Soissons twenty years before. He acted with a proper sense of their dignity and his own by simply appearing and entering an appeal to Rome. The council paid no attention to the appeal, but passed to an immediate condemnation. His friends said that it was done after dinner; that when the volume of Abelard’s “Theology” was produced and the clerk began to read it aloud, after the first few sentences the bishops ceased attention, talked, joked, laughed, stamped their feet, got angry, and at last went to sleep. They were waked only to growl “Damnamus–namus,” and so made an end. The story may be true, for all prelates, even in the twelfth century, were not Bernards of Clairvaux or Peters of Cluny; all drank wine, and all were probably sleepy after dinner; while Abelard’s writings are, for the most part, exceedingly hard reading. The clergy knew quite well what they were doing; the judgment was certain long in advance, and the council was called only to register it. Political trials were usually mere forms.
The appeal to Rome seems to have been taken seriously by Bernard, which is surprising unless the character of Innocent II inspired his friends with doubts unknown to us. Innocent owed everything to Bernard, while Abelard owed everything to Innocent. The Pope was not in a position to alienate the French Church or the French King. To any one who knows only what is now to be known, Bernard seems to have been sure of the Curia, yet he wrote in a tone of excitement as though he feared Abelard’s influence there even more than at home. He became abusive; Abelard was a crawling viper (coluber tortuosus) who had come out of his hole (egressus est de caverna sua), and after the manner of a hydra (in similitudinem hydrae), after having one head cut off at Soissons, had thrown out seven more. He was a monk without rule; a prelate without responsibility; an abbot without discipline; “disputing with boys; conversing with women.” The charges in themselves seem to be literally true, and would not in some later centuries have been thought very serious; neither faith nor morals were impugned. On the other hand, Abelard never affected or aspired to be a saint, while Bernard always affected to judge the acts and motives of his fellow-creatures from a standpoint of more than worldly charity. Bernard had no right to Abelard’s vices; he claimed to be judged by a higher standard; but his temper was none of the best, and his pride was something of the worst; which gave to Peter the Venerable occasion for turning on him sharply with a rebuke that cut to the bone. “You perform all the difficult religious duties,” wrote Peter to the saint who wrought miracles; “you fast; you watch; you suffer; but you will not endure the easy ones–you do not love (non vis levia ferre, ut diligas).”
This was the end of Abelard. Of course the Pope confirmed the judgment, and even hurried to do so in order that he might not be obliged to give Abelard a hearing. The judgment was not severe, as judgments went; indeed, it amounted to little more than an order to keep silence, and, as it happened, was never carried into effect. Abelard, at best a nervous invalid, started for Rome, but stopped at Cluny, perhaps the most agreeable stopping-place in Europe. Personally he seems to have been a favourite of Abbot Peter the Venerable, whose love for Bernard was not much stronger than Abelard’s or Suger’s. Bernard was an excessively sharp critic, and spared worldliness, or what he thought lack of spirituality, in no prelate whatever; Clairvaux existed for nothing else, politically, than as a rebuke to them all, and Bernard’s enmity was their bond of union. Under the protection of Peter the Venerable, the most amiable figure of the twelfth century, and in the most agreeable residence in Europe, Abelard remained unmolested at Cluny, occupied, as is believed, in writing or revising his treatises, in defiance of the council. He died there two years later, April 21, 1142, in full communion, still nominal Abbot of Saint-Gildas, and so distinguished a prelate that Peter the Venerable thought himself obliged to write a charming letter to Heloise at the Paraclete not far away, condoling with her on the loss of a husband who was the Socrates, the Aristotle, the Plato, of France and the West; who, if among logicians he had rivals, had no master; who was the prince of study, learned, eloquent, subtle, penetrating; who overcame everything by the force of reason, and was never so great as when he passed to true philosophy, that of Christ.
All this was in Latin verses, and seems sufficiently strong, considering that Abelard’s philosophy had been so recently and so emphatically condemned by the entire Church, including Peter the Venerable himself. The twelfth century had this singular charm of liberty in practice, just as its architecture knew no mathematical formula of precision; but Peter’s letter to Heloise went further still, and rang with absolute passion:–
Thus, dear and venerable sister in God, he to whom you are united, after your tie in the flesh, by the better and stronger bond of the divine love; he, with whom, and under whom, you have served the Lord, the Lord now takes, in your place, like another you, and warms in His bosom; and, for the day of His coming, when shall sound the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God descending from heaven, He keeps him to restore him to you by His grace.
The schoolmen of the twelfth century thought they could reach God by reason; the Council of Sens, guided by Saint Bernard, replied that the effort was futile and likely to be mischievous. The council made little pretence of knowing or caring what method Abelard followed; they condemned any effort at all on that line; and no sooner had Bernard silenced the Abbot of Saint-Gildas for innovation than he turned about and silenced the Bishop of Poitiers for conservatism. Neither in the twelfth nor in any other century could three men have understood alike the meaning of Gilbert de la Poree, who seems to one high authority unworthy of notice and to another, worthy of an elaborate but quite unintelligible commentary. When M. Rousselet and M. Haureau judge so differently of a voluminous writer, the Council at Rheims which censured Bishop Gilbert in 1148 can hardly have been clear in mind. One dare hazard no more than a guess at Gilbert’s offence, but the guess is tolerably safe that he, like Abelard, insisted on discussing and analyzing the Trinity. Gilbert seems to have been a rigid realist, and he reduced to a correct syllogism the idea of the ultimate substance–God. To make theology a system capable of scholastic definition he had to suppose, behind the active deity, a passive abstraction, or absolute substance without attributes; and then the attributes–justice, mercy, and the rest– fell into rank as secondary substances. “Formam dei divinitatem appellant.” Bernard answered him by insisting with his usual fiery conviction that the Church should lay down the law, once for all, and inscribe it with iron and diamond, that Divinity–Divine Wisdom- -is God. In philosophy and science the question seems to be still open. Whether anything ultimate exists–whether substance is more than a complex of elements–whether the “thing in itself” is a reality or a name–is a question that Faraday and Clerk-Maxwell seem to answer as Bernard did, while Haeckel answers it as Gilbert did; but in theology even a heretic wonders how a doubt was possible. The absolute substance behind the attributes seems to be pure Spinoza.
This supposes that the heretic understands what Gilbert or Haeckel meant, which is certainly a mistake; but it is possible that he may see in part what Bernard meant and this is enough if it is all. Abelard’s necessitarianism and Gilbert’s Spinozism, if Bernard understood them right, were equally impossible theology, and the Church could by no evasion escape the necessity of condemning both. Unfortunately, Bernard could not put his foot down so roughly on the schools without putting it on Aristotle as well; and, for at least sixty years after the Council of Rheims, Aristotle was either tacitly or expressly prohibited.
One cannot stop to explain why Aristotle himself would have been first to forbid the teaching of what was called by his name in the Middle Ages; but you are bound to remember that this period between 1140 and 1200 was that of Transition architecture and art. One must go to Noyon, Soissons, and Laon to study the Church that trampled on the schools; one must recall how the peasants of Normandy and the Chartrain were crusading for the Virgin in 1145, and building her fleches at Chartres and Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives while Bernard was condemning Gilbert at Rheims in 1148; we must go to the poets to see what they all meant by it; but the sum is an emotion–clear and strong as love and much clearer than logic–whose charm lies in its unstable balance. The Transition is the equilibrium between the love of God–which is faith–and the logic of God–which is reason; between the round arch and the pointed. One may not be sure which pleases most, but one need not be harsh toward people who think that the moment of balance is exquisite. The last and highest moment is seen at Chartres, where, in 1200, the charm depends on the constant doubt whether emotion or science is uppermost. At Amiens, doubt ceases; emotion is trained in school; Thomas Aquinas reigns.
Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas of Aquino were both artists,–very great artists, if the Church pleases,–and one need not decide which was the greater; but between them is a region of pure emotion–of poetry and art–which is more interesting than either. In every age man has been apt to dream uneasily, rolling from side to side, beating against imaginary bars, unless, tired out, he has sunk into indifference or scepticism. Religious minds prefer scepticism. The true saint is a profound sceptic; a total disbeliever in human reason, who has more than once joined hands on this ground with some who were at best sinners. Bernard was a total disbeliever in scholasticism; so was Voltaire. Bernard brought the society of his time to share his scepticism, but could give the society no other intellectual amusement to relieve its restlessness. His crusade failed; his ascetic enthusiasm faded; God came no nearer. If there was in all France, between 1140 and 1200, a more typical Englishman of the future Church of England type than John of Salisbury, he has left no trace; and John wrote a description of his time which makes a picturesque contrast with the picture painted by Abelard, his old master, of the century at its beginning. John weighed Abelard and the schools against Bernard and the cloister, and coolly concluded that the way to truth led rather through Citeaux, which brought him to Chartres as Bishop in 1176, and to a mild scepticism in faith. “I prefer to doubt,” he said, “rather than rashly define what is hidden.” The battle with the schools had then resulted only in creating three kinds of sceptics:–the disbelievers in human reason; the passive agnostics; and the sceptics proper, who would have been atheists had they dared. The first class was represented by the School of Saint-Victor; the second by John of Salisbury himself; the third, by a class of schoolmen whom he called Cornificii, as though they made a practice of inventing horns of dilemma on which to fix their opponents; as, for example, they asked whether a pig which was led to market was led by the man or the cord. One asks instantly: What cord?–whether Grace, for instance, or Free Will?
Bishop John used the science he had learned in the school only to reach the conclusion that, if philosophy were a science at all, its best practical use was to teach charity–love. Even the early, superficial debates of the schools, in 1100-50, had so exhausted the subject that the most intelligent men saw how little was to be gained by pursuing further those lines of thought. The twelfth century had already reached the point where the seventeenth century stood when Descartes renewed the attempt to give a solid, philosophical basis for deism by his celebrated “Cogito, ergo sum.” Although that ultimate fact seemed new to Europe when Descartes revived it as the starting-point of his demonstration, it was as old and familiar as Saint Augustine to the twelfth century, and as little conclusive as any other assumption of the Ego or the Non-Ego. The schools argued, according to their tastes, from unity to multiplicity, or from multiplicity to unity; but what they wanted was to connect the two. They tried realism and found that it led to pantheism. They tried nominalism and found that it ended in materialism. They attempted a compromise in conceptualism which begged the whole question. Then they lay down, exhausted. In the seventeenth century the same violent struggle broke out again, and wrung from Pascal the famous outcry of despair in which the French language rose, perhaps for the last time, to the grand style of the twelfth century. To the twelfth century it belongs; to the century of faith and simplicity; not to the mathematical certainties of Descartes and Leibnitz and Newton, or to the mathematical abstractions of Spinoza. Descartes had proclaimed his famous conceptual proof of God: “I am conscious of myself, and must exist; I am conscious of God and He must exist.” Pascal wearily replied that it was not God he doubted, but logic. He was tortured by the impossibility of rejecting man’s reason by reason; unconsciously sceptical, he forced himself to disbelieve in himself rather than admit a doubt of God. Man had tried to prove God, and had failed: “The metaphysical proofs of God are so remote (eloignees) from the reasoning of men, and so contradictory (impliquees, far-fetched) that they make little impression; and even if they served to convince some people, it would only be during the instant that they see the demonstration; an hour afterwards they fear to have deceived themselves.” Moreover, this kind of proof could lead only to a speculative knowledge, and to know God only in that way was not to know Him at all. The only way to reach God was to deny the value of reason, and to deny reason was scepticism:–
En voyant l’aveuglement et la misere de l’homme et ces contrarietes etonnantes qui se decouvrent dans sa nature, et regardant tout l’univers muet, et l’homme sans lumiere, abandonne a lui-meme et comme egare dans ce recoin de l’umvers, sans savoir qui l’y a mis, ce qu’il y est venu faire, ce qu’il deviendra en mourant, j’entre en effroi comme un homme qu’on aurait porte endormi dans une ile deserte et effroyable, et qui s’eveillerait sans connaitre ou il est et sans avoir aucun moyen d’en sortir. Et sur cela j’admire comment on n’entre pas en desespoir d’un si miserable etat. Je vois d’autres personnes aupres de moi de semblable nature, et je leur demande s’ils sont mieux instruits que moi, et ils me disent que non Et sur cela, ces miserables egares, ayant regarde autour d’eux, et ayant vu quelques objets plaisants, s’y sont donnes et s’y sont attaches Pour moi je n’ai pu m’y arreter ni me reposer dans la societe de ces personnes, en tout semblables a moi, miserables comme moi, impuissants comme moi. Je vois qu’ils ne m’aideraient pas a mourir, je mourrai seul, il faut donc faire comme si j’etais seul or, si j’etais seul, je ne batirais pas des maisons, je ne m’embarrasserais point dans des occupations tumultuaires, je ne chercherais l’estime de personne, mais je tacherais settlement a decouvrir la verite.
Ainsi, considerant combien il y a d’apparence qu’il y a autre chose que ce que je vois, j’ai recherche si ce Dieu dont tout le monde parle n’aurait pas laisse quelques marques de lui. Je regarde de toutes parts et ne vois partout qu’ obscuritd. La nature ne m’offre rien que ne soit matiere de doute et d’inquietude. Si je n’y voyais rien qui marquat une divinite, je me determinerais a n’en rien croire. Si je voyais partout les marques d’un Createur, je me reposerais en paix dans la foi. Mais voyant trop pour nier, et trop peu pour m’assurer, je suis dans un etat a plaindre, et ou j’ai souhaite cent fois que si un Dieu soutient la nature, elle le marquat sans Equivoque; et que, si les marques qu’elle en donne sont trompeuses, elle les supprimat tout a fait; qu’elle dit tout ou rien, afin que je visse quel parti je dois suivre.
When I see the blindness and misery of man and the astonishing contradictions revealed in his nature, and observe the whole universe mute, and man without light, abandoned to himself, as though lost in this corner of the universe, without knowing who put him here, or what he has come here to do, or what will become of him in dying, I feel fear like a man who has been carried when asleep into a desert and fearful island, and has waked without knowing where he is and without having means of rescue. And thereupon I wonder how man escapes despair at so miserable an estate. I see others about me, like myself, and I ask them if they are better informed than I, and they tell me no. And then these wretched wanderers, after looking about them and seeing some pleasant object, have given themselves up and attached themselves to it. As for me I cannot stop there, or rest in the company of these persons, wholly like myself, miserable like me, impotent like me. I see that they would not help me to die, I shall die alone, I must then act as though alone, but if I were alone I should not build houses, I should not fret myself with bustling occupations, I should seek the esteem of no one, but I should try only to discover the truth.
So, considering how much appearance there is that something exists other than what I see I have sought whether this God of Whom every one talks may not have left some marks of Himself. I search everywhere, and see only obscurity everwhere. Nature offers me nothing but matter of possible doubt and disquiet. If I saw there nothing to mark a divinity, I should make up my mind to believe nothing of it. If I saw everywhere the marks of a Creator, I should rest in peace in faith. But seeing too much to deny, and too little to affirm, I am in a pitiable state, where I have an hundred times wishes that, if a God supports nature, she would show it without equivocation; and that, if the marks she gives are deceptive, she would suppress them wholly; that she say all of nothing, that I may see my path.
This is the true Prometheus lyric, but when put back in its place it refuses to rest at Port-Royal which has a right to nothing but precision; it has but one real home–the Abbaye-de-Saint-Victor. The mind that recoils from itself can only commit a sort of ecstatic suicide; it must absorb itself in God; and in the bankruptcy of twelfth-century science the Western Christian seemed actually on the point of attainment; he, like Pascal, touched God behind the veil of scepticism.
The schools had already proved one or two points which need never have been discussed again. In essence, religion was love; in no case was it logic. Reason can reach nothing except through the senses; God, by essence, cannot be reached through the senses; if He is to be known at all, He must be known by contact of spirit with spirit, essence with essence; directly; by emotion; by ecstasy; by absorption of our existence in His; by substitution of his spirit for ours. The world had no need to wait five hundred years longer in order to hear this same result reaffirmed by Pascal. Saint Francis of Assisi had affirmed it loudly enough, even if the voice of Saint Bernard had been less powerful than it was. The Virgin had asserted it in tones more gentle, but any one may still see how convincing, who stops a moment to feel the emotion that lifted her wonderful Chartres spire up to God.
The Virgin, indeed, made all easy, for it was little enough she cared for reason or logic. She cared for her baby, a simple matter, which any woman could do and understand. That, and the grace of God, had made her Queen of Heaven. The Trinity had its source in her,– totius Trinitatis nobile Triclinium,–and she was maternity. She was also poetry and art. In the bankruptcy of reason, she alone was real.
So Guillaume de Champeaux, half a century dead, came to life again in another of his creations. His own Abbey of Saint-Victor, where Abelard had carried on imaginary disputes with him, became the dominant school. As far as concerns its logic, we had best pass it by. The Victorians needed logic only to drive away logicians, which was hardly necessary after Bernard had shut up the schools. As for its mysticism, all training is much alike in idea, whether one follows the six degrees of contemplation taught by Richard of Saint- Victor, or the eightfold noble way taught by Gautama Buddha. The theology of the school was still less important, for the Victorians contented themselves with orthodoxy only in the sense of caring as little for dogma as for dialectics; their thoughts were fixed on higher emotions. Not Richard the teacher, but Adam the poet, represents the school to us, and when Adam dealt with dogma he frankly admitted his ignorance and hinted his indifference; he was, as always, conscientious; but he was not always, or often, as cold. His statement of the Trinity is a marvel; but two verses of it are enough:–
Digne loqui de personis
Vim transcendit rationis,
Quid sit gigni, quid processus,
Me nescire sum professus,
Sed fide non dubia.
Qui sic credit, non festinet,
Et a via non declinet
Servet fidem, formet mores,
Nec attendat ad errors
Quos damnat Ecclesia.
Of the Trinity to reason
Leads to license or to treason
What is birth and what procession
Is not mine to make profession,
Save with faith unswerving.
Thus professing, thus believing,
Never insolently leaving
The highway of our faith,
Duty weighing, law obeying,
Never shall we wander straying
Where heresy is death.
Such a school took natural refuge in the Holy Ghost and the Virgin,- -Grace and Love,–but the Holy Ghost, as usual, profited by it much less than the Virgin. Comparatively little of Adam’s poetry is expressly given to the Saint Esprit, and too large a part of this has a certain flavour of dogma:–
Qui procedis ab utroque
. . . . . . . . . Amor Patris, Filiique Par amborum et utrique
Compar et consimilis!
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made nor created nor begotten, but proceeding.
The whole three Persons are coeternal together; and coequal.
This sounds like a mere versification of the Creed, yet when Adam ceased to be dogmatic and broke into true prayer, his verse added a lofty beauty even to the Holy Ghost; a beauty too serious for modern rhyme:–
Oh, juvamen oppressorum,
Oh, solamen miserorum,
Da contemptum terrenorum!
Ad amorem supernorum
Consolator et fundator,
Habitator et amator,
Pelle mala, terge sordes,
Et discordes fac Concordes,
Et affer praesidium!
Oh, helper of the heavy-laden,
Oh, solace of the miserable,
Of the poor, the refuge,
Give contempt of earthly pleasures! To the love of heavenly treasures
Lift our hearts’ desire!
Consolation and foundation,
Dearest friend and habitation
Of the lowly-hearted,
Dispel our evil, cleanse our foulness, And our discords turn to concord,
And bring us succour!
Adam’s scholasticism was the most sympathetic form of mediaeval philosophy. Even in prose, the greatest writers have not often succeeded in stating simply and clearly the fact that infinity can make itself finite, or that space can make itself bounds, or that eternity can generate time. In verse, Adam did it as easily as though he were writing any other miracle,–as Gaultier de Coincy told the Virgin’s,–and any one who thinks that the task was as easy as it seems, has only to try it and see whether he can render into a modern tongue any single word which shall retain the whole value of the word which Adam has chosen:–
Ne periret homo reus
Redemptorem misit Deus,
Visitavit quos amavit
Nosque vitae revocavit
Gratia non meritum.
Infinitus et Immensus,
Quem non capit ullus sensus
Nec locorum spatia,
Ex eterno temporalis,
Ex immenso fit localis,
Ut restauret omnia.
To death condemned by awful sentence, God recalled us to repentance,
Sending His only Son;
Whom He loved He came to cherish;
Whom His justice doomed to perish, By grace to life he won.
Whom no human eye can see
Or human thought contain,
Made of infinity a space,
Made of Immensity a place,
To win us Life again.
The English verses, compared with the Latin, are poor enough, with the canting jingle of a cheap religion and a thin philosophy, but by contrast and comparison they give higher value to the Latin. One feels the dignity and religious quality of Adam’s chants the better for trying to give them an equivalent. One would not care to hazard such experiments on poetry of the highest class like that of Dante and Petrarch, but Adam was conventional both in verse and thought, and aimed at obtaining his effects from the skilful use of the Latin sonorities for the purposes of the chant. With dogma and metaphysics he dealt boldly and even baldly as he was required to do, and successfully as far as concerned the ear or the voice; but poetry was hardly made for dogma; even the Trinity was better expressed mathematically than by rhythm. With the stronger emotions, such as terror, Adam was still conventional, and showed that he thought of the chant more than of the feeling and exaggerated the sound beyond the value of the sense. He could never have written the “Dies Irae.” He described the shipwreck of the soul in magnificent sounds without rousing an emotion of fear; the raging waves and winds that swept his bark past the abysses and up to the sky were as conventional as the sirens, the dragons, the dogs, and the pirates that lay in wait. The mast nodded as usual; the sails were rent; the sailors ceased work; all the machinery was classical; only the prayer to the Virgin saved the poetry from sinking like the ship; and yet, when chanted, the effect was much too fine to bear translation:–
Ave, Virgo singularis,
Mater nostri Salutaris,
Quae vocaris Stella Maris,
Stella non erratica;
Nos in hujus vitae mari
Non permitte naufragari,
Sed pro nobis Salutari
Tuo semper supplica!
Saevit mare, fremunt venti,
Fluctus surgunt turbulenti;
Navis currit, sed currenti
Tot occurrunt obvia!
Hic sirenes voluptatis,
Draco, canes cum piratis,
Mortem pene desperatis
Haec intentant omnia.
Post abyssos, nunc ad coelum
Furens unda fert phaselum;
Nutat malus, fluit velum,
Nautae cessat opera;
Contabescit in his malis
Homo noster animalis;
Tu nos, Mater spiritalis,
Finer still is the famous stanza sung at Easter, in which Christ rises, the Lion of Judah, in the crash of the burst gates of death, at the roar of the Father Lion:–
Sic de Juda, leo fortis,
Fractis portis dirae mortis,
Die surgens tertia,
Rugiente voce patris
Ad supernae sinum matris
Tot revexit spolia.
For terror or ferocity or images of pain, the art of the twelfth century had no use except to give a higher value to their images of love. The figures on the west portal of Chartres are alive with the spirit of Adam’s poetry, but it is the spirit of the Virgin. Like Saint Bernard, Adam lavished his affections on Mary, and even more than Saint Bernard he could claim to be her poet-laureate. Bernard was not himself author of the hymn “Stella Maris” which brought him the honour of the Virgin’s personal recognition, but Adam was author of a dozen hymns in which her perfections were told with equal fervour, and which were sung at her festivals. Among these was the famous
Salve, Mater Pietatis,
Et totius Trinitatis
a compliment so refined and yet so excessive that the Venerable Thomas Cantimpratensis who died a century later, about 1280, related in his “Apiarium” that when “venerabilis Adam” wrote down these lines, Mary herself appeared to him and bent her head in recognition. Although the manuscripts do not expressly mention this miracle, they do contain, at that stanza, a curious note expressing an opinion, apparently authorized by the prior, that, if the Virgin had seen fit to recognize the salutation of the Venerable Adam in this manner, she would have done only what he merited: “ab ea resalutari et regratiari meruit.”
Adam’s poems are still on the shelves of most Parisian bookshops, as common as “Aucassins” and better known than much poetry of our own time; for the mediaeval Latin rhymes have a delightful sonority and simplicity that keep them popular because they were not made to be read but to be sung. One does not forget their swing:–
Infinitus et Immensus;
Oh, juvamen oppressorum;
The organ rolls through them as solemnly as ever it did in the Abbey Church; but in mediaeval art so much more depends on the mass than on the measure–on the dignity than on the detail–that equivalents are impossible. Even Walter Scott was content to translate only three verses of the “Dies Irae.” At best, Viollet-le-Duc could reproduce only a sort of modern Gothic; a more or less effaced or affected echo of a lost emotion which the world never felt but once and never could feel again. Adam composed a number of hymns to the Virgin, and, in them all, the feeling counts for more, by far, than the sense. Supposing we choose the simplest and try to give it a modern version, aiming to show, by comparison, the difference of sound; one can perhaps manage to recover a little of the simplicity, but give it the grand style one cannot; or, at least, if any one has ever done both, it is Walter Scott, and merely by placing side by side the “Dies Irae” and his translation of it, one can see at a glance where he was obliged to sacrifice simplicity only to obtain sound:–
Dies irae, dies illa,
Solvet seclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sibylla.
Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando judex est venturus,
Cuncta stride discussurus!
Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.
That day of wrath, that dreadful day, When heaven and earth shall pass away,
What power shall be the sinner’s stay? How shall he meet that dreadful day?
When shrivelling like a parched scroll The flaming heavens together roll;
When louder yet and yet more dread Swells the high trump that wakes the dead.
As translation the last line is artificial.
The “Dies Irae” does not belong, in spirit, to the twelfth century; it is sombre and gloomy like the Last Judgments on the thirteenth- century portals; it does not love. Adam loved. His verses express the Virgin; they are graceful, tender, fervent, and they hold the same dignity which cannot be translated:–
In hac valle lacrimarum
Nihil dulce, nihil carum,
Suspecta sunt omnia;
Quid hic nobis erit tutum,
Cum nec ipsa vel virtutum
Tuta sit victoria!
Caro nobis adversatur,
Mundus cami suffragatur
In nostram perniciem;
Hostis instat, nos infestans,
Nunc se palam manifestans,
Nunc occultans rabiem.
Et peccamus et punimur,
Et diversis irretimur
O Maria, mater Dei,
Tu, post Deum, summa spei,
Tu dulce refugium;
Tot et tantis irretiti,
Non valemus his reniti
Ne vi nec industria;
Mortis rompe retia!
In this valley full of tears,
Nothing softens, nothing cheers,
All is suspected lure;
What safety can we hope for, here, When even virtue faints for fear
Her victory be not sure!
Within, the flesh a traitor is,
Without, the world encompasses,
A deadly wound to bring.
The foe is greedy for our spoils,
Now clasping us within his coils,
Or hiding now his sting.
We sin, and penalty must pay,
And we are caught, like beasts of prey, Within the hunter’s snares.
Nearest to God! oh Mary Mother!
Hope can reach us from none other, Sweet refuge from our cares;
We have no strength to struggle longer, For our bonds are more and stronger
Than our hearts can bear!
You who rest the heavy-laden,
You who lead lost souls to Heaven, Burst the hunter’s snare!
The art of this poetry of love and hope, which marked the mystics, lay of course in the background of shadows which marked the cloister. “Inter vania nihil vanius est homine.” Man is an imperceptible atom always trying to become one with God. If ever modern science achieves a definition of energy, possibly it may borrow the figure: Energy is the inherent effort of every multiplicity to become unity. Adam’s poetry was an expression of the effort to reach absorption through love, not through fear; but to do this thoroughly he had to make real to himself his own nothingness; most of all, to annihilate pride; for the loftiest soul can comprehend that an atom,–say, of hydrogen,–which is proud of its personality, will never merge in a molecule of water. The familiar verse: “Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?” echoes Adam’s epitaph to this day:–
Haeres peccati, natura filius irae,
Exiliique reus nascitur omnis homo. Unde superbit homo, cujus conceptio culpa, Nasci poena, labor vita, necesse mori?
Heir of sin, by nature son of wrath,
Condemned to exile, every man is born. Whence is man’s pride, whose conception fault, Birth pain, life labour, and whose death is sure?
Four concluding lines, not by him, express him even better:–
Hic ego qui jaceo, miser et miserabilis Adam, Unam pro summo munere posco precem.
Peccavi, fateor; veniam peto; parce fatenti; Parce, pater: fratres, parcite; parce, Deus!
One does not conceive that Adam insisted so passionately on his sins because he thought them–or himself–important before the Infinite. Chemistry does hot consider an atom of oxygen as in itself important, yet if it wishes to get a volume of pure gas, it must separate the elements. The human soul was an atom that could unite with God only as a simple element. The French mystics showed in their mysticism the same French reasonableness; the sense of measure, of logic, of science; the allegiance to form; the transparency of thought, which the French mind has always shown on its surface like a shell of nacre. The mystics were in substance rather more logical than the schoolmen and much more artistic in their correctness of line and scale. At bottom, French saints were not extravagant. One can imagine a Byzantine asserting that no French saint was ever quite saintly. Their aims and ideals were very high, but not beyond reaching and not unreasonable. Drag the French mind as far from line and logic as space permits, the instant it is freed it springs back to the classic and tries to look consequent.
This paradox, that the French mystics were never mystical, runs through all our travels, so obstinately recurring in architecture, sculpture, legend, philosophy, religion, and poetry, that it becomes tiresome; and yet it is an idea that, in spite of Matthew Arnold and many other great critics, never has got lodgment in the English or German mind, and probably never will. Every one who loves travel will hope that it never may. If you are driven to notice it as the most distinctive mark of French art, it is not at all for the purpose of arguing a doubtful law, but only in order to widen the amusement of travel. We set out to travel from Mont-Saint-Michel to Chartres, and no farther; there we stop; but we may still look across the boundary to Assisi for a specimen of Italian Gothic architecture, a scheme of colour decoration, or still better for a mystic to compare with the Bernadines and Victorians. Every one who knows anything of religion knows that the ideal mystic saint of western Europe was Francis of Assisi, and that Francis, though he loved France, was as far as possible from being French; though not in the least French, he was still the finest flower from the French mediaeval garden; and though the French mystics could never have understood him, he was what the French mystics would have liked to be or would have thought they liked to be as long as they knew him to be not one of themselves. As an Italian or as a Spaniard, Francis was in harmony with his world; as a Frenchman, he would have been out of place even at Clairvaux, and still more among his own Cordeliers at the doors of the Sorbonne.
Francis was born in 1186, at the instant when French art was culminating, or about to culminate, in the new cathedrals of Laon and Chartres, on the ruins of scholastic religion and in the full summer of the Courts of Love. He died in 1226, just as Queen Blanche became Regent of France and when the Cathedral of Beauvais was planned. His life precisely covered the most perfect moment of art and feeling in the thousand years of pure and confident Christianity. To an emotional nature like his, life was still a phantasm or “concept” of crusade against real or imaginary enemies of God, with the “Chanson de Roland” for a sort of evangel, and a feminine ideal for a passion. He chose for his mistress “domina nostra paupertas,” and the rules of his order of knighthood were as visionary as those of Saint Bernard were practical. “Isti sunt fratres mei milites tabulae rotundae, qui latitant in desertis”; his Knights of the Round Table hid themselves for their training in deserts of poverty, simplicity, humility, innocence of self, absorption in nature, in the silence of God, and, above all, in love and joy incarnate, whose only influence was example. Poverty of body in itself mattered nothing; what Francis wanted was poverty of pride, and the external robe or the bare feet were outward and necessary forms of protection against its outward display. Against riches or against all external and visible vanity, rules and laws could be easily enforced if it were worth while, although the purest humility would be reached only by those who were indifferent and unconscious of their external dress; but against spiritual pride the soul is defenceless, and of all its forms the subtlest and the meanest is pride of intellect. If “nostra domina paupertas” had a mortal enemy, it was not the pride beneath a scarlet robe, but that in a schoolmaster’s ferule, and of all schoolmasters the vainest and most pretentious was the scholastic philosopher. Satan was logic. Lord Bacon held much the same opinion. “I reject the syllogism,” was the starting-point of his teaching as it was the essence of Saint Francis’s, and the reasons of both men were the same though their action was opposite. “Let men please themselves as they will in admiring and almost adoring the human mind, this is certain:–that, as an uneven mirror distorts the rays of objects according to its own figure and section, so the mind … cannot be trusted …” Bacon’s first object was the same as that of Francis, to humiliate and if possible destroy the pride of human reason; both of them knew that this was their most difficult task, and Francis, who was charity incarnate, lost his self-control whenever he spoke of the schools, and became almost bitter, as though in constant terror of a poison or a cancer. “Praeodorabat etiam tempora non longe ventura in quibus jam praesciebat scientiam inflativam debere esse occasionem ruinae.” He foresaw the time not far off when puffed-up science would be the ruin of his “domina paupertas.” His struggle with this form of human pride was desperate and tragical in its instant failure. He could not make even his novices understand what he meant. The most impossible task of the mind is to reject in practice the reflex action of itself, as Bacon pointed out, and only the highest training has sometimes partially succeeded in doing it. The schools–ancient, mediaeval, or modern–have almost equally failed, but even the simple rustics who tried to follow Francis could not see why the rule of poverty should extend to the use of a psalter. Over and over again he explained vehemently and dramatically as only an Italian or a Spaniard could, and still they failed to catch a notion of what he meant.
Quum ergo venisset beatus Franciscus ad locum ubi erat ille novitius, dixit ille novitius: “Pater, mihi esset magna consolatio habere psalterium, sed licet generalis illud mihi concesserit, tamen vellem ipsum habere, pater, de conscientia tua.” Cui beatus Franciscus respondit: “Carolus imperator, Rolandus et Oliverus et omnes palatini et robusti viri qui potentes fuerunt in proelio, prosequendo infideles cum multa sudore et labore usque ad mortem, habuerunt de illis victoriara memorialiter, et ad ultimum ipsi sancti martyres sunt mortui pro fide Christi in certamine. Nunc autem multi sunt qui sola narratione eorum quae illi fecerunt volunt recipere honorem et humanam laudem. Ita et inter nos sunt multi qui solum recitando et praedicando opera quae sancti fecerunt volunt recipere honorem et laudem; … postquam habueris psalterium, concupisces et volueris habere breviarium; et postquam habueris breviarium, sedebis in cathedra tanquam magnus prelatus et dices fratri tuo:–Apporta mihi breviarium!”
Haec autem dicens beatus Franciscus cum magno fervore spiritus accepit de cinere et posuit super caput suum, et ducendo manum super caput suum in circuitu sicut ille qui lavat caput, dicebat: “Ego breviarium! ego breviarium!” et sic reiteravit multoties ducendo manum per caput. Et stupefactus et verecundatus est frater ille … Elapsis autem pluribus mensibus quum esset beatus Franciscus apud locum sanctae Mariae de Portiuncula, juxta cellam post domum in via, praedictus frater iterum locutus est ei de psalterio. Cui beatus Franciscus dixit: “Vade et facias de hoc sicut dicet tibi minister tuus!” Quo audito, frater ille coepit redire per viam unde venerat. Beatus autem Franciscus remanens in via coepit considerare illud quod dixerat illi fratri, et statim clamavit post cum, dicens: “Expecta me, frater! expecta!” Et ivit usque ad eum et ait illi: “Revertere mecum, frater, et ostende mihi locum ubi dixi tibi quod faceres de psalterio sicut diceret minister tuus.” Quum ergo pervenissent ad locum, beatus Franciscus genuflexit coram fratre illo, et dixit: “Mea culpa, frater! mea culpa! quia quicunque vult esse frater Minor non debet habere nisi tunicam, sicut regula sibi concedit, et cordam et femoralia et qui manifesta necessitate coguntur calciamenta.”
So when Saint Francis happened to come to the place where the novice was, the novice said: “Father, it would be a great comfort to me to have a psalter, but though my general should grant it, still I would rather have it, father, with your knowledge too.” Saint Francis answered: “The Emperor Charlemagne, Roland and Oliver, and all the palatines and strong men who were potent in battle, pursuing the infidels with much toil and sweat even to death, triumphed over them memorably [without writing it?], and at last these holy martyrs died in the contest for the faith of Christ. But now there are many who, merely by telling of what those men did, want to receive honour and human praise. So, too, among us are many who, merely by reciting and preaching the works which the saints have done, want to receive honour and praise; … After you have got the psalter, you will covet and want a breviary; and after getting the breviary, you will sit on your throne like a bishop, and will say to your brother: ‘Bring me the breviary!'”
While saying this, Saint Francis with great vehemence took up a handful of ashes and spread it over his bead; and moving his hand about his head in a circle as though washing it, said: “I, breviary! I, breviary!” and so kept on, repeatedly moving his hand about his head; and stupefied and ashamed was that novice. … But several months afterwards when Saint Francis happened to be near Sta Maria de Portiuncula, by the cell behind the house on the road, the same brother again spoke to him about the psalter. Saint Francis replied: “Go and do about it as your director says.” On this the brother turned back, but Saint Francis, standing in the road, began to reflect on what he had said, and suddenly called after him: “Wait for me, brother! wait!” and going after him, said: “Return with me, brother, and show me the place where I told you to do as your director should say, about the psalter.” When they had come back to it, Saint Francis bent before the brother, and said: “Mea culpa, brother, mea culpa! because whoever wishes to be a Minorite must have nothing but a tunic, as the rule permits, and the cord, and the loincloth, and what covering is manifestly necessary for the limbs.”
So vivid a picture of an actual mediaeval saint stands out upon this simple background as is hardly to be found elsewhere in all the records of centuries, but if the brother himself did not understand it and was so shamed and stupefied by Francis’s vehemence, the world could understand it no better; the Order itself was ashamed of Saint Francis because they understood him too well. They hastened to suppress this teaching against science, although it was the life of Francis’s doctrine. He taught that the science of the schools led to perdition because it was puffed up with emptiness and pride. Humility, simplicity, poverty were alone true science. They alone led to heaven. Before the tribunal of Christ, the schoolmen would be condemned, “and, with their dark logic (opinionibus tenebrosis) shall be plunged into outer darkness with the spirits of the darkness.” They were devilish, and would perish with the devils.
One sees instantly that neither Francis of Assisi nor Bacon of Verulam could have hoped for peace with the schools; twelfth-century ecstasy felt the futility of mere rhetoric quite as keenly as seventeenth-century scepticism was to feel it; and yet when Francis died in 1226 at Assisi, Thomas was just being born at Aquino some two hundred kilometres to the southward. True scholasticism had not begun. Four hundred years seem long for the human mind to stand still–or go backward; the more because the human mind was never better satisfied with itself than when thus absorbed in its mirror; but with that chapter we have nothing to do. The pleasantest way to treat it was that of Saint Francis; half-serious, half-jesting; as though, after all, in the thought of infinity, four hundred years were at most only a serio-comic interlude. At Assisi, once, when a theologian attacked Fra Egidio by the usual formal arraignment in syllogisms, the brother waited until the conclusions were laid down, and then, taking out a flute from the folds of his robe, he played his answer in rustic melodies. The soul of Saint Francis was a rustic melody and the simplest that ever reached so high an expression. Compared with it, Theocritus and Virgil are as modern as Tennyson and ourselves.
All this shows only what Saint Francis was not; to understand what he was and how he goes with Saint Bernard and Saint Victor through the religious idyll of Transition architecture, one must wander about Assisi with the “Floretum” or “Fioretti” in one’s hand;–the legends which are the gospel of Francis as the evangels are the gospel of Christ, who was reincarnated in Assisi. We have given a deal of time to showing our own sceptical natures how simple the architects and decorators of Chartres were in their notions of the Virgin and her wants; but French simple-mindedness was already complex compared with Italian. The Virgin was human; Francis was elementary nature itself, like sun and air; he was Greek in his joy of life:–
… Recessit inde et venit inter Cannarium et Mevanium. Et respexit quasdam arbores juxta viam in quibus residebat tanta multitudo avium diversarum quod nunquam in
partibus illis visa similis multitudo. In campo insuper juxta praedictas arbores etiam multitudo maxima residebat. Quam multitudinem
sanctus Franciscus respiciens et admirans, facto super eum Spiritu Dei, dixit sociis: “Vobis hic me in via exspectantibus, ibo et praedicabo sororibus nostris aviculis.” Et intravit in campum ad aves quae residebant in terra. Et statim quum praedicare incepit omnes aves in arboribus residentes descenderunt ad eum et simul cum aliis de campo immobiles perman serunt, quum tamen ipse inter eas iret plurimas tunica contingendo. Et nulla earum penitus movebatur, sicut recitavit frater Jacobus de Massa, sanctus homo, qui omnia supradicta habuit ab ore fratris Massei, qui fuit unus de iis qui tune erant socii sancti patris.
Quibus avibus sanctus Franciscus ait: “Multum tenemini Deo, sorores meas aves, et debetis eum semper et ubique laudare propter liberum quem ubique habetis volatum,
propter vestitum duplicatum et triplicatum, propter habitum pictum et ornatum, propter victum sine vestro labore paratum, propter cantum a Creatore vobis intimatum, propter numerum ex Dei benedictione multiplicatum, propter semen vestrum a Deo in area reservatum, propter elementum aeris vobis deputatum. Vos non seminatis neque metitis, et Deus vos pascit; et dedit vobis flumina et fontes ad potandum, montes et colles, saxa et ibices ad refugium, et arbores altes ad nidificandum; et quum nec filare nec texere sciatis, praebet tam vobis quam vestris filiis necessarium indumentum. Unde multum diligit vos Creator
qui tot beneficia contulit. Quapropter cavete, sorores mes aviculae, ni sitis ingratae sed semper laudare Deum studete.”
… He departed thence and came between Cannara and Bevagna; and near the road he saw some trees on which perched so great a number of birds as never in those parts had been seen the like. Also in the field beyond, near these same trees, a very great multitude rested on the ground. This multitude, Saint Francis seeing with wonder, the spirit of God descending on him he said to his companions: “Wait for me on the road, while I go and preach to our sisters the little birds.” And he went into the field where the birds were on the ground. And as soon as he began to preach, all the birds in the trees came down to him and with those in the field stood quite still, even when he went among them touching many
with his robe. Not one of them moved, as Brother James of Massa related, a saintly man who had the whole story from the mouth of Brother Masseo who was one of those then with the sainted father.
To these birds, Saint Francis said: “Much are you bound to God, birds, my sisters, and everywhere and always must you praise him for the free flight you everywhere have; for the double and triple covering; for the painted and decorated robe; for the food prepared without your labour; for the song taught you by the Creator; for your number multiplied by God’s blessing; for your seed preserved by God in the ark; for the element of air allotted to you. You neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you; and has given you rivers and springs to drink at, mountains and hills, rocks and wild goats for refuge, and high trees for nesting; and though you know neither how to spin nor to weave, He gives both you and your children all the garments you need. Whence much must the Creator love you, Who confers so many blessings. Therefore take care, my small bird sisters, never to be ungrateful, but always strive to praise God.”
Fra Ugolino, or whoever wrote from the dictation of Brother James of Massa, after the tradition of Brother Masseo of Marignano reported Saint Francis’s sermon in absolute good faith as Saint Francis probably made it and as the birds possibly received it. All were God’s creatures, brothers and sisters, and God alone knew or knows whether or how far they understand each other; but Saint Francis, in any case, understood them and believed that they were in sympathy with him. As far as the birds or wolves were concerned, it was no great matter, but Francis did not stop with vertebrates or even with organic forms. “Nor was it surprising,” said the “Speculum,” “if fire and other creatures sometimes revered and obeyed him; for, as we who were with him very frequently saw, he held them in such affection and so much delighted in them, and his soul was moved by such pity and compassion for them, that he would not see them roughly handled, and talked with them with such evident delight as if they were rational beings”:–
Nam quadam vice, quum sederet juxta ignem, ipso nesciente, ignis invasit pannos ejus de lino, sive brachas, juxta genu, quumque sentiret calorem ejus nolebat ipsum extinguere. Socius autem ejus videns comburi pannos ejus cucurrit ad eum volens extinguere ignem; ipse vero prohibuit ei, dicens: “Noli, frater, carissime, noli male facere igni!” Et sic nullo modo voluit quod extingueret ipsum. Ille vero festinanter ivit ad fratrem qui erat guardianus ipsius, et duxit eum ad beatum Franciscum, et statim contra voluntatem beati Francisci, extinxit ignem. Unde quacunque necessitate urgente nunquam voluit extinguere ignem vel lampadem vel candelam, tantum pietate movebatur ad ipsum. Nolebat etiam quod frater projiceret ignem vel lignum fumigantem de loco ad locum sicut solet fieri, sed volebat ut plane poneret ipsum in terra ob reverentiam illius cujus est creatura.
For once when he was sitting by the fire, a spark, without his knowing it, caught his linen drawers and set them burning near the knee, and when he felt the heat he would not extinguish it; but his companion, seeing his clothes on fire, ran to put it out, and he forbade it, saying: “Don’t, my dearest brother, don’t hurt the fire!” So he utterly refused to let him put it out, and the brother hurried off to get his guardian, and brought him to Saint Francis, and together they put out the fire at once against Saint Francis’s will. So, no matter what the necessity, he would never put out fire Or a lamp or candle, so strong was his feeling for it; he would not even let a brother throw fire or a smoking log from place to place, as is usual, but wanted it placed gently (piano) on the ground, out of respect for Him Whose creature it is.
The modern tourist, having with difficulty satisfied himself that Saint Francis acted thus in good faith, immediately exclaims that he was a heretic and should have been burned; but, in truth, the immense popular charm of Saint Francis, as of the Virgin, was precisely his beresies. Both were illogical and heretical by essence;–in strict discipline, in the days of the Holy Office, a hundred years later, both would have been burned by the Church, as Jeanne d’Arc was, with infinitely less reason, in 1431. The charm of the twelfth-century Church was that it knew how to be illogical–no great moral authority ever knew it better–when God Himself became illogical. It cared no more than Saint Francis, or Lord Bacon, for the syllogism. Nothing in twelfth-century art is so fine as the air and gesture of sympathetic majesty with which the Church drew aside to let the Virgin and Saint Francis pass and take the lead–for a time. Both were human ideals too intensely realized to be resisted merely because they were illogical. The Church bowed and was silent.
This does not concern us. What the Church thought or thinks is its own affair, and what it chooses to call orthodox is orthodox. We have been trying only to understand what the Virgin and Saint Francis thought, which is matter of fact, not of faith. Saint Francis was even more outspoken than the Virgin. She calmly set herself above dogma, and, with feminine indifference to authority, overruled it. He, having asserted in the strongest terms the principle of obedience, paid no further attention to dogma, but, without the least reticence, insisted on practices and ideas that no Church could possibly permit or avow. Toward the end of his life, his physician cauterized his face for some neuralgic pain:–
Et posito ferro in igne pro coctura fienda, beatus Franciscus volens confortare spiritum suum ne pavesceret, sic locutus est ad ignem: “Frater mi, ignis, nobilis et utilis inter alias creaturas, esto mihi curialis in hac hora quia olim te dilexi et diligam amore illius qui creavit te. Deprecor etiam creatorem nostrum qui nos creavit ut ita tuum calorem temperct ut ipsum sustinere valeam.” Et oratione finita signavit ignem signo crucis.
When the iron was put on the fire for making the cotterie, Saint Francis, wishing to encourage himself against fear, spoke thus to the fire: “My brother, fire, noblest and usefullest of creatures, be gentle to me now, because I have loved and will love you with the love of Him who created you. Our Creator, too, Who created us both, I implore so to temper your heat that I may have strength to bear it.” And having spoken, he signed the fire with the cross.
With him, this was not merely a symbol. Children and saints can believe two contrary things at the same time, but Saint Francis had also a complete faith of his own which satisfied him wholly. All nature was God’s creature. The sun and fire, air and water, were neither more nor less brothers and sisters than sparrows, wolves, and bandits. Even “daemones sunt castalli Domini nostri”; the devils are wardens of our Lord. If Saint Francis made any exception from his univeral law of brotherhood it was that of the schoolmen, but it was never expressed. Even in his passionate outbreak, in the presence of Saint Dominic, at the great Chapter of his Order at Sancta Maria de Portiuncula in 1218, he did not go quite to the length of denying the brotherhood of schoolmen, although he placed them far below the devils, and yet every word of this address seems to sob with the anguish of his despair at the power of the school anti-Christ:–
Quum beatus Franciscus esset in capitulo generali apud Sanctam Mariam de Portiuncula … et fuerunt ibi quinque millia fratres, quamplures fratres sapientes et scientiati iverunt ad dominum Ostiensem qui erat ibidem, et dixerunt ei: “Domine, volumus ut suadetis fratri Francisco quod sequatur consilium fratrum sapientium et permittat se interdum duci ab eis.” Et allegabant regulam sancti Benedicti, Augustini et Bernardi qui docent sic et sic vivere ordinate. Quae omnia quum retulisset cardinalis beato Francisco per modum admoni admonitionis, beatus Franciscus, nihil sibi respondens, cepit ipsum per manum et duxit eum ad fratres congregatos in capitulo, et sic locutus est fratribus in fervore et virtute Spirit us sancti:–
“Fratres mei, fratres mei, Dominus vocavit me per viam simplicitatis et humilitatis, et bane viam ostendit mini in veritate pro me et pro illis qui volunt mini credere et imitari. Et ideo volo quod non nominetis mihi aliquam regulam neque sancti Benedicti neque sancti Augustini neque sancti Bernardi, neque aliquam viam et formam vivendi praeter illam quae mihi a Domino est ostensa misericorditer et donata. Et dixit mihi Dominus quod volebat me esse unum pauperem et stultum idiotam [magnum fatuum] in hoc mundo et noluit nos ducere per viam aliam quam per istam scientiam. Sed per vestram scientiam et sapientiam Deus vos confundet et ego confido in castallis Domini [idest dasmonibus] quod per ipsos puniet vos Deus et adhuc redibitis ad vestrum statum cum vituperio vestro velitis nolitis.”
When Saint Francis was at the General Chapter held at Sancta maris de Portiuncula … and five thousand brothers were present, A number of them who were schoolmen went to Cardinal Hugolino who was there, and said to him: “My lord, we want you to persuade Brother Francis to follow the council of the learned brothers, and sometimes let himself be guided by them.” And they suggested the rule of Saint Benedict or Augustine or Bernard who require their congregations to live so and so, by regulation. When the cardinal had repeated all this to Saint Fancis by way of counsel, Saint Francis, making no answer, took him by the hand and led him to the brothers assembled in Chapter, and in the fervour and virtue of the Holy Gost, spoke thus to the brothers:
“My brothers, my brothers, God has called me by way of simplicity and humility, and has shown me in verity this pather for me and those who want to believe and follow me; so I want you to talk of no Rule to me, neither Saint Bendict nor Saint Augustine nor Saint Bernard, nor any way or form of Life whatever except that which God has mercifully pointed out and granted to me. And God said that he wanted me to be a pauper [poverello] and an idiot–a great fool–in this world, and would not lead us by any other path of science than this. But by your science and syllogisms God will confound you, and I trust in God’s warders, the devils, that through them God shall punish you, and you will yet come back to your proper station with shame, whether you will or no.”
The narration continues: “Tunc cardinalis obstupuit valde et nihil respondit. Et omnes fratres plurimum timuerunt.”
One feels that the reporter has not exaggerated a word; on the contrary, he softened the scandal, because in his time the Cardinal had gained his point, and Francis was dead. One can hear Francis beginning with some restraint, and gradually carried away by passion till he lost control of himself and his language: “‘God told me, with his own words, that he meant me to be a beggar and a great fool, and would not have us on any other terms; and as for your science, I trust in God’s devils who will beat you out of it, as you deserve.’ And the Cardinal was utterly dumbfounded and answered nothing; and all the brothers were scared to death.” The Cardinal Hugolino was a great schoolman, and Dominic was then founding the famous order in which the greatest of all doctors, Albertus Magnus, was about to begin his studies. One can imagine that the Cardinal “obstupuit valde,” and that Dominic felt shaken in his scheme of school instruction. For a single instant, in the flash of Francis’s passion, the whole mass of five thousand monks in a state of semi- ecstasy recoiled before the impassable gulf that opened between them and the Church.
No one was to blame–no one ever is to blame–because God wanted contradictory things, and man tried to carry out, as he saw them, God’s trusts. The schoolmen saw their duty in one direction; Francis saw his in another; and, apparently, when both lines had been carried, after such fashion as might be, to their utmost results, and five hundred years had been devoted to the effort, society declared both to be failures. Perhaps both may some day be revived, for the two paths seem to be the only roads that can exist, if man starts by taking for granted that there is an object to be reached at the end of his journey. The Church, embracing all mankind, had no choice but to march with caution, seeking God by every possible means of intellect and study. Francis, acting only for himself, could throw caution aside and trust implicitly in God, like the children who went on crusade. The two poles of social and political philosophy seem necessarily to be organization or anarchy; man’s intellect or the forces of nature. Francis saw God in nature, if he did not see nature in God; as the builders of Chartres saw the Virgin in their apse. Francis held the simplest and most childlike form of pantheism. He carried to its last point the mystical union with God, and its necessary consequence of contempt and hatred for human intellectual processes. Even Saint Bernard would have thought his ideas wanting in that “mesure” which the French mind so much prizes. At the same time we had best try, as innocently as may be, to realize that no final judgment has yet been pronounced, either by the Church or by society or by science, on either or any of these points; and until mankind finally settles to a certainty where it means to go, or whether it means to go anywhere,–what its object is, or whether it has an object,–Saint Francis may still prove to have been its ultimate expression. In that case, his famous chant– the “Cantico del Sole”–will be the last word of religion, as it was probably its first. Here it is–too sincere for translation:–
CANTICO DEL SOLE
… Laudato sie, misignore, con tucte le tue creature spetialmente messor lo frate sole
lo quale iorno et allumini noi per loi et ellu e bellu e radiante cum grande splendore de te, altissimo, porta significatione.
Laudato si, misignore, per sora luna e le stelle in celu lai formate clarite et pretiose et belle.
Laudato si, misignore, per frate vento et per aere et nubilo et sereno et onne tempo per lo quale a le tue creature dai sustentamento.
Laudato si, misignore, per sor aqua la quale e multo utile et humile et pretiosa et casta. Laudato si, misignore, per frate focu per lo quale enallumini la nocte
ed ello e bello et jocondo et robustoso et forte.
Laudato si, misignore, per sora nostra matre terra la quale ne sustenta et governa
et produce diversi fructi con coloriti flori et herba. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Laudato si, misignore, per sora nostra morte corporale de la quale nullu homo vivente po skappare guai acquelli ke morrano ne le peccata mortali….
The verses, if verses they are, have little or nothing in common with the art of Saint Bernard or Adam of Saint-Victor. Whatever art they have, granting that they have any, seems to go back to the cave-dwellers and the age of stone. Compared with the naivete of the “Cantico del Sole,” the “Chanson de Roland” or the “Iliad” is a triumph of perfect technique. The value is not in the verse. The “Chant of the Sun” is another “Pons Seclorum”–or perhaps rather a “Pons Sanctorum”–over which only children and saints can pass. It is almost a paraphrase of the sermon to the birds. “Thank you, mi