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THE LIVES OF THE FATHERS,
AND OTHER PRINCIPAL SAINTS
“THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS” is republished. This work—this in estimable work, is at length given to the public. Hitherto the circulatior of it was confined to those who could afford to purchase it in TWELVE volumes, and at a proportionate price. It is now stereotyped, printed in good character, on fine paper, and published at a price not only below its value, but below the hopes of the publisher it is therefore now, and for the first time, that “THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS” are, properly speaking, given to the public.
And what is the nature and character of this work, which is thus placed within the reach of almost every family in Ireland? We presume to say, that “The Lives of the Saints” is an historical supplement to the Old and New Testaments; an illustration of all that God has revealed, and of all the sanctity which his divine grace has produced among the children of men. It is a history, not so much of men, as of all ages and nations; of their manners, customs, laws, usages, and creeds. It is a succinct, but most accurate and satisfactory account of all that the Church of God has done or suffered in this world from the creation to almost our own days: an account not extracted from authentic records only, but one which exhibits at every page the living examples, the speaking proofs, of whatever it sets forth or asserts. As drawings taken by an artist, and afterwards carved on plates of steel or copper, present to us views of a country, or of the productions of the earth and sea, so “The Lives of the Saints” exhibit to the reader images the most perfect of whatever the human race, in times past, has yielded to God in return for his countless mercies.
But “The Lives of the Saints” are not confined to history, though they embrace whatever is most valuable in history, whether sacred, ecclesiastical, or profane. No! This work extends farther; it presents to the reader a mass of general information, digested and arranged with an ability and a candor never surpassed. Here, no art, no science, is left unnoticed. Chronology, criticism, eloquence, painting, sculpture, architecture—in a word, whatever has occupied or distinguished man in times of barbarism or of civilization; in peace or in war; in the countries which surround us, or in those which are far remote; in these latter ages, or in times over which centuries upon centuries have reversed; all, all of these are treated of, not flippantly nor ostentatiously but with a sobriety and solidity peculiar to the writer of this work.
But there is one quality which may be said to characterize “The Lives of the Saints.” It is this that here the doctrines of the Catholic Church are presented to us passing through the ordeal of time unchanged and unchangeable, while her discipline is seen to vary from age to age; like as a city fixed and immoveable, but whose walls, ramparts, and outworks, undergo, from one period to another, the necessary changes, alterations, or repairs. Here are pointed out the persecutions which the Saints endured,—persecutions which patience overcame, which the power of God subdued. Here are traced the causes of dissension in the Church; the schisms and heresies which arose; the errors which the pride and passions of bad men gave birth to; the obstinacy of the wicked,—the seduction of the innocent,—the labors and sufferings of the just; the conflicts which took place between light and darkness,—between truth and error; the triumph, at one time of the city of God,—at another, the temporary exaltation of the empire of Satan. In this work, we see the great and powerful leaders of God’ people, the pastors and doctors of the Church, displaying lights given them from heaven, and exercising a courage all-divine; while crowds of the elect are presented to us in every age retiring from the world, hiding their lives with Christ in God, and deserving, by their innocence and sanctity, to be received into heaven until Christ, who was their life, will again appear, when they also will appear along with him in glory. Here we behold the Apostles, and their successors in the several ages, calling out to the nations who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, “Arise, thou who sleepest, and Christ will enlighten thee!”—men of God, and gifted with his power, who, by preaching peace, enduring wrongs, and pardoning injuries, subdued the power of tyrants, stopped the mouths of lions, upturned paganism, demolished idols planted everywhere the standard of the cross, and left to us the whole world illuminated by the rays of divine truth. Here is seen the meek martyr who possessed his soul in patience,—who, having suffered the loss of goods, the loss of kindred, the loss of fame, bowed down his head beneath the axe, and sealed, by the plentiful effusion of his blood, the testimony which he bore to virtue and to truth. Here the youthful virgin, robed in innocence and sanctity, clothed with the visible protection of God, is seen at one time to yield up her frame, unfit, as yet, for torments, to the power of the executioner; while her spirit, ascending like the smoke of incense, passed from earth to heaven. At another time we behold her conducted, as it were, into the wilderness by the Spirit; where, having left the house of her father, the allurements of the world, and the endearments of life, she dedicates her whole being to the service of God, and to the contemplation of those invisible goods which he has reserved for those who love him.
In “The Lives of the Saints” we behold the prince and the peasant, the warrior and the sage, the rich and the poor, the old and the young, the peasant and the mechanic, the shepherd and the statesman, the wife and the widow, the prelate, the priest, and the recluse,—men and women of every class, and age, and degree, and condition, and country, sanctified by the grace of God, exhibiting to the faithful reader models for his imitation, and saying to him, in a voice which he cannot fail to understand, “Go thou and do likewise.”
It is on this account we have ventured to designate “The Lives of the Saints” an historical supplement to the Old and New Testaments. We think this work deserves to be so considered, on account of the close resemblance it bears to the historical portions of holy writ. Let the divine economy, in this respect, be for a moment the subject of the reader’s consideration.
When God was pleased to instruct men unto righteousness, he did so, as the whole series of revelation proves, by raising up from among the fallen children of Adam men and women of superior virtue,—men and women whose lives, like shining lights, could direct in the ways of peace and justice the footsteps of those who looked towards them. He did more: he caused the lives of those his servants whom he sanctified and almost glorified in this world, to be recorded by their followers; and his own Spirit did not disdain to inspire the men who executed a work so salutary to mankind. From Adam to Noe, from Noe to Abraham, from Abraham to the days of Christ, what period is not marked by the life of some eminent saint; and what portion of the Old Testament has always been and still is most interesting to true believers? Is it not that which instructs us as to the life and manners of those patriarchs, prophets, and other holy persons of whom we ourselves are according to the promise, the seed and the descendants? The innocence of Abel, the cruel deed of Cain, the piety of Seth, the fidelity and industry of Noe, furnish to us the finest moral instruction derived from the primeval times. The life of Abraham is perhaps the most precious record in the Old Testament! Who even now can read it, and not repose with more devotion on the providence of God? Who can contrast his life and conduct with that of all the sages of paganism and not confess there is a God; yea! a God who not only upholds this world, and fills every creature in it with his benediction, but who also conducts by a special providence all those who put their trust in him,—a God who teaches his elect, by the unction of his Spirit, truths inaccessible to the wise of this world; and who makes them, by his grace, to practise a degree of virtue to which human nature unassisted is totally unable to attain? The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, is exceedingly glorified by the virtues of those great men; and that glory is exalted, and we are led to adore it, because the lives of those men have been written for our instruction. Is not Moses the keystone, as it were, of the Jewish covenant? Are they not his trials, his meekness, his attachment to God and to God’s people, his incessant toils, and patience, and long suffering, even more than the miracles wrought by his interposition, which render the law published by him, and the ministry established by him, worthy of all acceptation in our eyes? Who can contemplate the rejection of Saul, and the election of David,—the wisdom of Solomon in early life, and his utter abandonment in his latter days,—and not be stricken with a salutary dread of the inscrutable judgments of a just God? Who can read the life of Judith, and not wonder?—of Susanna, and not love chastity and confide in God? Who has read the prophecies of Isaiah, and not believed the gospel which he foretold? And what example of a suffering Saviour so full, so perfect, and expressive, as that exhibited in the life of Jeremiah? If thus, then, from the beginning to the day of Christ, the Spirit of God instructed mankind in truth and virtue, by writing for their instruction “the Lives of the Saints,” what can better agree with the ways of that God, than to continue the record—to prolong the narrative? If this mode of instruction has been adopted by the master, should it not be continued by the servant?—if employed when the people of God were only one family, should it not be resorted to when all nations were enrolled with that people? if this mode of instruction was found useful when the knowledge of the Lord was confined to one province, should it not be preserved when that knowledge covered the whole earth even as the waters cover the sea? And is it not therefore with justice we have said that “The Lives of the Saints” might not improperly be designated “an historical supplement to the Old and New Testaments?”
And in good truth, who can peruse the life of Peter, and not be animated with a more lively faith? Who can read of the conversion of Paul, of his zeal and labor, and unbounded love,—who can enter with him into the depths of those mysterious truths which he has revealed, and contemplate along with him the riches of the glory of the grace of God, and not esteem this world as dung; or experience some throes of those heavenly desires, which urged him so pathetically to exclaim, “I wish to be dissolved, and to be with Christ?” Who can read the life of the evangelist John, and not feel the impulse of that subdued spirit, of that meek and humble charity, which so eminently distinguished him as the “beloved disciple of the Lord?” And if we advance through the several ages that have elapsed since our Saviour ascended into heaven, we shall find each and all of them instructing us by examples of the most heroic virtue. The age of the martyrs ended, only to make room for that of the doctors and ascetics; so that each succeeding generation of the children of God presents to us the active and contemplative life equally fruitful in works of sanctification. An Athanasius, a Jerom, a Chrysostom, or an Augustin, are scarcely more precious as models in the house of God, than an Anthony, a Benedict, an Arseneus, or a Paul. Nor has the Almighty limited his gifts, or confined the mode of instruction to those primitive times when the blood of the Mediator was as yet warm upon the earth, and the believers in him filled more abundantly with the first-fruits of the Spirit. No; he has extended his grace to every age! Only take up the history of those holy persons, men and women, whose lives shed a lustre upon the Church within these last few centuries, and you will acknowledge that the arm of the Lord is not shortened, and, to use the words of the Psalmist, that “Sanctity becometh the house of the Lord unto length of days,” or to the end of time.
As therefore it hath pleased God to raise up for our help and edification so many and so perfect models of Christian perfection, and disposed by his allwise providence that their lives should have been written for our instruction, we should not be faithful co-operators with the grace given to us, if we did not use our best efforts to learn and to imitate what our Father in heaven has designed for our use.
But “The Lives of the Saints” are a history, not so much of men, as of all ages and nations,—of their manners, customs, laws, usages, and creeds. And in this licentious age, an age of corrupted literature, when that worldly wisdom or vain philosophy which God has declared to be folly, is again revived; in this age, when history has failed to represent the truth, and is only written for base lucre’s sake, or to serve a sect or party, what can be so desirable to a Christian community, as to have placed in their hands a sincere and dispassionate account of the nations which surround us, and of the laws and manners and usages, whether civil or religious, which have passed, or are passing into the abyss of time? If the wisdom of God warns us “to train up youth in the way in which they should walk.” and promises that “even when old they will not depart from it,” there is no duty more sacred, or more imperative or parents and pastors, than to remove from their reach such books as are irreligious, immoral, or untrue, and to place in their hands such works only as may serve to train their minds and affections to the knowledge of truth and to the love of virtue.
History is, of its nature, pleasing and instructive; it leaves after it the most lasting impressions; and when youth, as at present, is almost universally taught to read, and works of fiction or lying histories placed constantly in their way, is it not obvious that every parent and every pastor should be careful not only to exclude from their flocks and families such impious productions, but also to provide the youth committed to their care with works of an opposite description? But we make bold to say, that in no work now extant can there be found condensed so vast a quantity of historical information as is contained in “THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS:” nor is it the store of knowledge here amassed which renders the work, as a history, of so much value; but it is the judicious arrangement, the undoubted candor, the dispassionate judgment of men, manners, and things, which the venerable historian everywhere displays.
He has been able to trace events to their true causes; to point on the influence of religion upon human policy, and of that policy on the Church of God; to exhibit the rise and fall of states and empires,—the advancement or declension of knowledge,—the state of barbarism or civilization which prevailed in the several countries of the world,—the laws, the manners, the institutions, which arose, were changed, improved, or deteriorated, in the kingdoms and empires which brought forth the elect of God in every age: but in his narration there is always found to prevail a spirit, wanted in almost every history written in our times—a spirit which assigns to the power and providence of God the first place in the conduct of human events, and which makes manifest to the unbiased reader the great and fundamental truth of the Christian Religion, that “all things work together to the good of those who, according to the purpose or design of God, are called to be Saints.”
The great characteristic, however, of this work, and that which, perhaps, in these times and in this country, constitutes its chief excellence, is, that it exhibits to the reader the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic Church,—the former always the same, “yesterday, to-day, and forever”—the latter receiving impressions from abroad, and moulding itself to the places, times, and circumstances, in which the Church herself was placed. In other works may be found arguments and proofs in support of the dogmas of faith and the doctrines of the Catholic Church, set forth in due order and becoming force; but such works are of a controversial nature, and not always suited to the taste or capacity of every class of readers: not so “The Lives of the Saints.” This work presents to is the religion of Christ as it was first planted as it grew up, and flourished, and covered with its shade all tribes, and tongues, and peoples, and nations. The trunk of this mighty tree is placed before our eyes, standing in the midst of time, with ages and empires revolving about it, its roots binding and embracing the earth, its top touching the heavens, its branches strong and healthful—bearing foliage and fruits in abundance. But to drop this allegory. “The Lives of the Saints” demonstrate the doctrines of the Church, by laying before us the history of the most precious portion of her children of her martyrs, her doctors, her bishops; of holy and devout persons of all ranks and conditions; of what they believed, and taught, and practised, in each and every age: so that if no Gospel had been written, or liturgy preserved, or decree recorded, we should find in “The Lives of the Saints” sufficient proofs of what has always, and in every place, and by all true believers, been held and practised in the Church of God.
In this work there is no cavilling about texts, no disputes about jurisdiction, no sophisms to delude, no imputations to irritate no contradictions to confound the reader; but in place of all these there is found in it a simple detail of the truths professed, and of the virtues practised by men and women, who were not only the hearers of the law but the doers thereof. Whosoever seeks for wisdom as men seek for gold, will find it in the perusal of “The Lives of the Saints:” for here not theory or speculation, but living examples, make truth manifest, and exhibit at once and together all the marks of the Church of God in the life and conduct of her children. These children will all be found to say the same thing, and to have no divisions among them,—no difference of creed—no collision of belief. They will be found to have denied themselves, to have taken up the cross, to have followed Christ, and to have convinced the world by their sanctity that they were the children of God—that they were perfect even as their heavenly. Father was perfect. These children of the Church will be found a Catholic or universal people, collected from all ages and nations, offering the same sacrifice, administering or receiving the same sacraments, and yielding to the same authority a reasonable obedience. Finally, there will be found included in this great family the Apostle and their disciples, and the descendants of those disciples,—faithful men keeping the deposite of the faith, or transmitting it to others through all the vicissitudes to which this world is a prey, even to that hour when the dead will arise and come to judgment. Thus it is that “The Lives of the Saints” put to silence the gainsayers, and convince, not by argument, but by historical and incontrovertible details of facts and of the lives of men, that the Church of God is one, that she is holy, that she, though universal, is not divided, that she is built upon the Apostles, as upon an immoveable foundation, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone. This work strips schism of her mask, and stops the mouth of heresy. It points out, with an evidence not to be impeached, the day of separation,—when schism commenced, and the hour of revolt and rebellion, when the heretic said, like Lucifer, in the pride of his heart, “I WILL NOT SERVE.” If ever there was a work which rendered almost visible and tangible to the sight and touch of men that promise of the Redeemer to his Church, “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against her,” surely this work is “THE LIVES OF THE SAINTS.”
Who, therefore, is a Catholic, and would not possess such a treasure? How great is the benefit derived to the public from the low price and convenient form in which this work is given to them! If infidelity, and immorality, and heresy have opened wide their mouths, and are everywhere devouring their victims, is it not a blessing from God that the children of the Church should be preserved from them, and fed with the wholesome food of pious reading? If the spirit of error or of that worldly wisdom which is folly with God, has filled our shops and streets with circulating poison in the shape of books, is not the Spirit of truth, and of HIM who has overcome the world, to have also such means of instruction as may save and strengthen those whom God, by his grace, has translated into the kingdom of his beloved Son? Accept, therefore gentle reader, of “The Lives of the Saints;” which, for their own worth’s sake, and for your good, we have endeavored to recommend. And with it permit us also to recommend to your pious prayers the spiritual wants of him who has thus addressed you.
THE LIFE AND WRITINGS
REV. ALBAN BUTLER:
OBSERVATIONS ON SOME SUBJECTS OF SACRED AND
BY CHARLES BUTLER, ESQ.
BARRISTER AT LAW
Quare quis tandem me reprehendat, st quantum cæteris ad festos dies ludorum celebrandos, quantum ad alias voluptates, et ad ipsam requiem animi et corporis cunceditur temporis: Quantum alit tempestivis convivlis, quantum aleæ, quantum pilæ, tantum mihi egomet ad hæc studia recolenda, sumpsero.
CIC. PRO ARCHIA
THE Reverend Alban Butler was the second son of Simon Butler, Esq., of Appletree, in the county of Northampton, by Miss Ann Birch, daughter of Thomas Birch, Esq., of Gorscot, in the county of Stafford. His family, for amplitude of possessions, and splendor of descent and alliances, had vied with the noblest and wealthiest of this kingdom, but was reduced to slender circumstances at the time of his birth. A tradition in his family mentions, that Mr. Simon Butler (our author’s grandfather) was the person confidently employed by the duke of Devonshire and the earl of Warrington, in inviting the prince of Orange over to England; that he professed the protestant religion, and that his great zeal for it was his motive for embarking so warmly in that measure; but that he never thought it would be attended with the political consequences which followed from it that, when they happened, they preyed greatly on his mind; that to fly from his remorse, he gave himself up to pleasure; and that in a few years he dissipated a considerable proportion of the remaining part of the family estate, and left what he did not sell of it heavily encumbered.
At a very early age our author was sent to a school in Lancashire, and there applied himself to his studies with that unremitted application which, in every part of his life, he gave to literature. Sacred biography was even then his favorite pursuit. A gentleman, lately deceased, mentioned to the editor that he remembered him at this school, and frequently heard him repeat, with a surprising minuteness of fact and precision of chronology, to a numerous and wondering audience of little boys, the history of the chiefs and saints of the Saxon æra of our history. He then also was distinguished for his piety, and a punctual discharge of his religious duties. About the age of eight years he was sent to the English college at Douay. It appears, from the diary of that college, that Mr. Holman, of Warkworth, (whose memory, for his extensive charities, is still in benediction in Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire,) became security for the expenses of his education. About this time he lost his father and mother. The latter, just before she died wrote to him and his two brothers the following beautiful letter:
“MY DEAR CHILDREN,
“Since it pleases Almighty God to take me out of this world, as no doubt wisely foreseeing I am no longer a useful parent to you, (for no person ought to be though necessary in this world when God thinks proper to take them out;) so I hope you will offer the loss of me with a resignation suitable to the religion you are of, and offer yourselves. He who makes you orphans so young, without a parent to take care of you, will take you into his protection and fatherly care, if you do love and serve him who is the author of all goodness. Above all things, prepare yourselves while you are young to suffer patiently what afflictions he shall think proper to lay upon you, for it is by this he trieth his best servants. In the first place give him thanks for your education in the true faith, (which many thousands want;) and then I beg of you earnestly to petition his direction what state of life you shall undertake, whether it be for religion, or to get your livings in the world. No doubt but you may be saved either way, if you do your duty to God, your neighbor, and yourselves. And I beg of you to make constant resolutions rather to die a thousand times, if possible, than quit your faith; and always have in your thoughts what you would think of were you as high death as I now think myself. There is no preparation for a good death but a good life. Do not omit your prayers, and to make an act of contrition and examen of conscience every night, and frequent the blessed sacraments of the church. I am so weak I can say no more to you, but I pray God bless and direct you, and your friends to take care of you. Lastly, I beg of you never to forget to pray for your poor father and mother when they are not capable of helping themselves: so I take leave of you, hoping to meet you in heaven, to be happy for all eternity.
“Your affectionate mother,
Though our author’s memory for the recollection of dates was, in his very earliest years, remarkable, he found, when he first came to the college, great difficulty in learning his lessons by heart; so that, to enable him to repeat them in the school as well as the other boys, he was obliged to rise long before the college hour. By perseverance, however, he overcame this disheartening difficulty. Even while he was in the lowest schools, he was respected for his virtue and learning. One of his school-fellows writes thus of him: “The year after Mr. Alban Butler’s arrival at Douay, I was placed in the same school, under the same master, he being in the first class of rudiments, as it is there called, and I in the lowest. My youth and sickly constitution moved his innate goodness to pay me every attention in his power and we soon contracted an intimacy that gave me every opportunity of observing his conduct, and of being fully acquainted with his sentiments. No one student in the college was more humble, more devout, more exact in every duty, or more obedient or mortified. He was never reproved or punished but once; and then for a fault of which he was not guilty. This undeserved treatment he received with silence, patience, and humility. In the hours allotted to play he rejoiced in the meanest employments assigned to him by his companions, as to fetch their balls, run on their errands, &c. &c. Though often treated with many indignities by his thoughtless companions, on purpose to try his patience, he never was observed to show the least resentment, but bore all with meekness and patience. By the frequent practice of these virtues he had attained so perfect an evenness of temper, that his mind seemed never ruffled with the least emotion of anger. He restricted himself in every thing to the strictest bounds of necessity. Great part of his monthly allowance of pocket-money, and frequently of his daily food, went to the poor. So perfectly had he subjected the flesh to the spirit, that he seemed to feel to resistance from his senses in the service of God and his neighbor.”
As he advanced in age his learning and virtue became more and more conspicuous. Monsieur Pellison,* in his life of the famous Huet, bishop of Avranches, observes, that “from his tenderest youth he gave himself to study; that at his rising, his going to bed, and during his meals, he was reading, or had others to read to him; that neither the fire of youth, the interruption of business, the variety of his employments, the society of his friends, nor the hustle of the world, could ever moderate his ardor of study.” The same may be said of our author. He generally allowed himself no more than four hours sleep, and often passed whole nights in study and prayer. All his day was spent in reading. When he was alone, he read; when he was in company, he read; at his meals, he read; in his walks, he read; when he was in a carriage, he read; when he was on horseback, he read; whatever he did be read. It was his custom to make abridgments of the principal works he perused, and to copy large extracts from them; several bulky volumes of them have fallen into the hands of the editor. Many were surprised to see the rapidity with which he read, or rather ran through books, and at the same time acquired a full and accurate knowledge of their contents.
After our author had completed the usual course of study, he was admitted an alumnus of Douay college, and appointed professor of philosophy. The Newtonian system of philosophy was about that time gaining ground in the foreign universities. He adopted it, in part, into the course of philosophy which he dictated to the students. He read and considered with great attention the metaphysical works of Woolfe and Leibnitz. He did not admire them, and thought the system of pre-established harmony laid down in them irreconcilable with the received belief or opinions of the Roman Catholic church on the soul; and that much of their language, though susceptible of a fair interpretation, conveyed improper notions, or, at least, sounded offensively to Catholic ears. The late Mr. John Dunn, his contemporary at the college, frequently mentioned to the editor the extreme caution which our author used in inserting any thing new in his dictates, particularly on any subject connected with any tenet of religion. After teaching a course of philosophy, he was appointed professor of divinity. On this part of his life the editor has been favored by a gentleman deservedly famed for his erudition and piety, the reverend Robert Bannister, with a long letter, of which the reader is presented with an extract.
“I was contemporary with Mr. Alban Butler in Douay college eight years; viz. from October, 1741, to October, 1749. But as I was but a boy the greater part of that time, I had not any intimacy with him, nor was I capable of knowing any thing concerning his interior, the manner of his prayer, or the degrees to which he ascended in it, or any extraordinary communications or elevations to which the Holy Ghost, the great master and teacher of contemplation, might raise him. All that I can say is, that he opened Douay college great door to me and a gentleman whom I knew not, but who was so good as to bring me from Lisle in his coach, on Sunday between ten and eleven, the 15th of October, 1741; and the first sight of him appeared to me then so meek and so amiable, that I thought I would choose him for my ghostly father; but another, I suppose in rotation, adopted me. Mr. Alban was my sole master in my first year of divinity in 1749, and dictated the two treatises De Decalogo et De Incarnatione; he also presided over my defensions upon those two treatises, and over Mr. James Talbot’s (the late bishop of London) upon universal divinity. As to heroic acts of virtue, which strike with admiration all that see or hear of them, I cannot recollect more than a uniform, constant observance of all the duties of a priest, professor, and confessarius. He was always at morning meditations, seldom omitted the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the mass, which he said with a heavenly composure, sweetness, and recollection; studying and teaching assiduously, dictating with an unwearied patience so equally and leisurely, that every one could, if he wished to do it, write his dictates in a clear and legible hand; nor do I remember that he ever sent a substitute to dictate for him; so exact and punctual he was in his duty as a professor. I never knew one more ready to go to the confession-seat, at the first intimation of any, even the least or youngest boy. He heard his penitents with wonderful meekness; and his penetration, learning, judgment, and piety, were such as to move them to place in him a singular confidence. He frequently visited the military hospital, to instruct, exhort, and hear the confessions of Irish soldiers. He sometimes assembled a number of them (when they happened to be quartered in Douay) in the college-church of St. Thomas of Canterbury, and preached to them. In one of his sermons I remember he told them, for their example and encouragement, that there are more soldiers saints than of any other vocation, or state, or condition. As poor, and often distressed, Irish men and women frequently came to Douay, he was always ready to relieve them, and administer both corporal and spiritual succors. It can never be forgotten what attention, solicitude, and care he had, in the year 1745, of our English soldiers, wounded and maimed, who were brought prisoners to Douay, and quartered in the barracks, in great numbers, after the battle of Fontenoy. He animated both by words and example all the young priests, and all in holy orders at the college, to visit them, to instruct and instil into them serious thoughts of saving their souls by embracing the only saving faith, and by true repentance. He also procured for them temporal succor and relief so beneficently, that the duke of Cumberland, then generalissimo of the British and allied armies, being informed of it, promised him a special protection whensoever he came over into England. Scarce any thing affords one a better proof of Mr. Alban’s eminent spirit of piety and great understanding, discretion, and light in spiritual matters, than his familiarity and friendship with M. Jean Baptiste de Villêrs, president of the seminary des Evêques in the university of Douay, who died October the 7th, 1746, the death of a saint, after having lived the life of one for seventy-eight years. This M. de Villêrs was eminent in all supernatural and moral virtues, but he concealed them under an amiable simplicity, and a plain unaffected behavior or exterior, unless charity and zeal for the glory of God and salvation of souls required their open and full exertion; and, notwithstanding his great learning, (which he had acquired by an excellent genius and diligent application to sacred studies,) and his great and solid fund of piety, he was as docile as an infant; so timorous and diffident of his own judgment, that he would neither do nor decide any thing without counsel. With this sentiment of diffidence and humility, he often visited (says M. Leroy, the faithful imitator and writer of the history of his life) a young professor, a foreigner, (that is, Alban Butler,) and passed an hour or two in his company in the afternoon, once every week, and sometimes twice, several years, until his edifying death. Their conversation together was solely about various points of morality; about the direction of souls, and the methods of arriving at perfection in every action and intention; how to teach devout persons a habit of making continual aspirations to God, by acts of love, oblation, entire sacrifice of their hearts, of humility, &c. M. de Villêrs would not suffer more than half a small fagot to be kindled for him in the severest weather, saying to Mr. Alban, ‘the other part may serve some poor person.’ As to wine, or any other liquor, he never drank any but at meal-time. I remember to have heard an instance of Mr. Alban’s meekness, for I am not a witness of it. When he was presiding over one of his students in divinity in the public hall of Douay college, a disputant, who was probably much offended at some proposition in the thesis, as being opposite to some favorite opinion of his school or religious family, said to him with intolerable rudeness, habes mel in ore, sed fel in corde: to which he made no reply, nor showed the least resentment. Mr. Alban Butler was totally averse to the system of probabilism, and to all assertions that favor laxity in morals. This is evident from the dictates which he delivered to us, from his treatise De Decalogo, de actibus humanis, in his Epitome moralis sacramentorum, &c. It is still more evident from his Epitome de sex prioribus conciliis œcumenicis in calce tractatus de Incarnatione, that he had the highest veneration for the holy see, and for him who sits in the chair of St. Peter; that he constantly held and maintained the rights and singular prerogatives of St. Peter and his successors, in calling, presiding over, and confirming general or œcumenical councils; the pope’s superiority over the whole church, and over the whole college of bishops, and over a general council; the irreformability of his doctrinal decisions in points of faith and morals; his supreme power to dispense (when there is cause) in the canons of general councils; in short, the plenitude of his authority over the whole church, without exception or limitation, Nihil excipitur ubi distinguitur nihil.”
From the letter of which we have presented the reader with an extract, it appears what our author’s sentiments were on the nature and extent of the spiritual power of the see of Rome. It has frequently been said that he was the editor of doctor Holden’s Analysis Fidei: had this been the fact, it would have been a strong proof of an alteration of his sentiments on those points; but, after particular inquiry, the editor finds the assertion to be wholly unfounded.
On the celebrated questions, Of the infallibility of the Pope, and his right to the deposing power, our author thus expresses himself in one of his letters on Mr. Bower’s History of the Popes: “Mr. Bower having been educated in the Catholic schools, could not but know that, though some private divines think that the pope, by the assistance of some special providence, cannot err in the decisions of faith solemnly published by him, with the mature advice of his council, or of the clergy or divines of his church, yet that this is denied by others; and that the learned Bossuet, and many others, especially of the school of Sorbon, have written warmly against that opinion; and that no Catholic looks upon it as an article or term of communion. It is the infallibility of the whole church, whether assembled in a general council, or dispersed over the world, of which they speak in their controversial disputations. Yet this writer, at every turn, confounds these two things together only to calumniate and impose on the public. If he had proved that some popes had erred in faith, he would have no more defeated the article of supremacy, than he would disinherit a king by arraigning him of bad policy. The Catholic faith teaches the pope to be the supreme pastor of the church established by Christ, and that this church, founded by Christ on a rock, shall never be overcome by hell, or cease to be his true spouse. For he has promised that his true Spirit shall direct it in all truth to the end of the world. But Mr. Bower never found the infallibility of the pope in our creed; and knows very well that no such article is proposed by the church, or required of any one. Therefore the whole chain of his boastings which is conducted through the work falls to the ground.
“What he writes against the deposing power in popes, certainly cannot be made a reproach against the Catholics of England, France, Spain, &c. It is a doctrine neither taught nor tolerated in any Catholic kingdom that I know of, and which many Catholics write as warmly against as Mr. Bower could wish.”
While our author continued at the college of Douay, his first publication made its appearance: this was his Letters on the History of the Popes, published by Mr. Archibald Bower. That gentleman had entered into the society of Jesus, and acquired a reputation for learning and talents. He came into England, embraced the religion of the established church, and endeavored to recommend himself to the favor of his new friends by his History of the Lives of the Popes. He also published an account of his escape from Italy, and of his motives for quitting it. The truth of the account became a subject of controversy. It was disbelieved, not only by Catholics but by Protestants. Dr. Douglas, the present bishop of Salisbury, Wrote an excellent pamphlet to expose its falsehood and absurdity. It carried great improbability on the face of it. Mr. Bower was a lively writer, and defended himself with adroitness; but he was not equal to the composition of the history which he undertook to write. He was of the numerous list of authors who, when they sit down to write, have to learn what they shall write, rather than to write what they have already learned. The errors which our author exposes in his letters are sometimes the errors of a very young writer. The letters are written with ease and good-humor; they show various and extensive learning, a vigorous and candid mind. They met with universal applause.
In the year 1745, our author accompanied the late earl of Shrewsbury and the honorable James Talbot and Thomas Talbot on their travels through France and Italy. He wrote a full, entertaining, and interesting account of them. As it will be published, the editor makes no extracts from it in this place. He was always solicitous that the noble personages committed to his care should see whatever deserved attention, and be introduced to persons distinguished by their rank, talents, or virtue. He drew out for them a comparative view of the Greek, Roman, and Gothic architecture; an account of the different schools of painting; and an abridgment of the lives, and remarks on the different characters, of the most eminent painters. These will be found in his travels. He kept them from all stage entertainments:—“The stage entertainments,” he says, in one of his letters, “I can give no account of, as we never would see any; they being certainly very dangerous, and the school of the passions and sin, most justly abhorred by the church and the fathers. Among us, Collier, Law, &c.; among the French, the late prince of Condi, Doctor Voisin, Nicole, &c., have said enough to satisfy any Christian; though Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Chrysostom, are still more implacable enemies of the stage. However, we saw the stages for their architecture, where this was curious.” His opinion of the evil tendency of stage entertainments continued with him through life.
On his return from his travels our author was sent on the English mission. He had long been engaged in his great work of the Lives of the Saints, and was they bringing it to a conclusion. He naturally, therefore, wished to be settled in London, for the convenience of its public libraries, and the opportunities it affords of intercourse with men of letters. But the vicar-apostolic of the middle district claimed him as belonging to that district, and appointed him to a mission in Staffordshire. This was a severe mortification to our author; he respectfully remonstrated; but the vicar-apostolic was inexorable, and required his immediate obedience. A gentleman who lived in the same house with him at the time, has mentioned to the editor, that he was with him when the summons came; and that on receiving it, he appeared much hurt, retired for half an hour to his oratory, and soon after set off for his country mission.
From Staffordshire he removed to Warkworth, the seat of Francis Eyre, esquire, to whom these sheets are dedicated. He had the highest opinion of a good missioner, and frequently declared that he knew of no situation so much to be envied, while the missioner had a love of his duties, and confined himself to them: none so miserable, when the missioner had lost the love of them, and was fond of the pleasures of life. “Such a one,” he used to say, “would seldom have the means of gratifying his taste for pleasure; he would frequently find that, in company, if he met with outward civility, he was the object of silent blame; and that if he gave pleasure as a companion, no one would resort to him as a priest.” He had a manuscript written by a Mr. Cox, an English missioner, who lived in the beginning of the present century, in which these sentiments were expressed forcibly and with great feeling: he often mentioned it. But no person was less critical on the conduct of others, none exacted less from them, than our author. He was always at the command of a fellow-clergyman, and ready to do him every kind of good office. To the poor, his door was always open. When he resided in London, in quality of chaplain to the duke of Norfolk, he was under no obligation, strictly speaking, of attending to any person except the duke himself and his family; but he was at the call of every one who wanted any spiritual or temporal assistance which it was in his power to afford. The poor, at length, flocked to him in such numbers, that, much in opposition to his wishes, his brother, with whom he then lived, was obliged to give general orders that none of them should be admitted to him. He was ever ready to oblige. Mons. Olivet relates of Huet, the bishop of Avranches, that he was so absorbed in his studies as sometimes to neglect his pastoral duties; that once a poor peasant waited on him respecting some matter of importance, and was refused admittance, “his lordship being at his studies:” upon which the peasant retired, muttering, with great indignation, “that he hoped they should never have another bishop who had not finished his studies before he came among them,” but our author’s “being at his studies,” was never a reason with him for refusing to see any one. It was often unpleasant to observe how much his good-humor, in this respect, was abused.
Our author did not remain long in Staffordshire. Edward, duke of Norfolk, (to whom the present duke is second in succession,) applied to the late Mr. Challoner for a person to be his chaplain, and to superintend the education of Mr. Edward Howard, his nephew and presumptive heir. Mr. Challoner fixed upon our author to fill that situation. His first residence, after he was appointed to it, was at Norwich in a house generally called the duke’s palace. Thither some large boxes of books belonging to him were directed, but by mistake were sent to the bishop’s palace. The bishop opened them, and finding them full of Roman Catholic books, refused to deliver them. It has been mentioned, that after the battle of Fontenoy, our author was very active in serving the English prisoners, and that the duke of Cumberland returned him thanks for his conduct, and made him an offer of his services, if he should have occasion for them after his return to England. On this seizure of his books, our author applied to the duke; his highness immediately wrote to the bishop, and soon after the books were sent to their owner.
Mr. Edward Howard, by our author’s advice, was first sent to the school of the English clergy, at a small village near Douay, called Esquerchin, of which the most pious and respectable Mr. Tichborne Blount, was president. After some years he was sent to complete his education at Paris: and thither our author accompanied him Mr. Edward Howard was the Marcellus of the English Catholics never did a noble youth raise greater expectations; but he was suddenly taken ill and died after an illness of a few days. On that melancholy occasion the family expressed great pleasure in the recollection of the religious education he had received from our author.
During our author’s stay at Paris he finally completed and sent to the press his great work on the Lives of the Saints. We have seen that, from his tenderest years, he had discovered his turn for sacred biography. At a very early period of his life he conceived the plan of his work; and from that time pursued it with undeviating attention. He qualified himself for an able execution of it, by unremitted application to every branch of profane or sacred literature connected with it. He was a perfect master of the Italian, Spanish, and French languages. The last he spoke and wrote with fluency and purity. He was also perfect master of the Latin and Greek languages. At an advanced period of his life he mentioned to the editor that he could then understand the works of St. John Chrysostom as easily in the original as in the Latin interpretation: but that the Greek of Saint Gregory Nazianzen was too difficult for him. A few years before he died he amused himself with an inquiry into the true pronunciation of the Greek language, and in preparing for the press some sheets of an intended Greek grammar. To attain that degree of knowledge of the Greek language is given to few: Menage mentions that he was acquainted with three persons only who could read a Greek writer without an interpreter. Our author had also some skill in the oriental languages. In biblicareading, in positive divinity, in canon law, in the writings of the fathers, in ecelesiastical antiquities, and in modern controversy, the depth and extent of his erudition are unquestionable. He was also skilled in heraldry: every part of ancient and modern geography was familiar to him. He had advanced far beyond the common learning of the schools in the different branches of philosophy; and even in botany and medicine he was deeply read. In this manner he had qualified himself to execute the work he undertook.
The present section is intended to give An account of some of the principa. works he consulted in the composition of it. It will contain, 1st, some remarks on the attention of the church, during the early ages of Christianity, to preserve the memory of the martyrs and saints: 2dly, some account of the acts of the martyrs: 3dly, some account of the sacred calendars: 4thly, some account of the Martyrologies: 5thly, some account of the Menæon and Menologies of the Greek church 6thly, some account of the early Agiographists: 7thly, some account of the Bollandists: and, 8thly, some account of the process of the beatification and canonization of saints.
IX. 1. The Roman Catholic church has ever been solicitous that the lives and miracles of those who have been eminent for their sanctity should be recorded for the edification of the faithful. St. Clement the Second, successor of St. Peter in the see of Rome, is said to have divided the fourteen districts of that city among seven notaries, assigning two districts to each of them, with directions to form a minute and accurate account of the martyrs who suffered within them. About one hundred and fifty years from that time, pope Fabian put the notaries under the care of deacons and subdeacons. The same attention to the actions and sufferings of the martyrs was shown in the provinces. Of this, the letter of the church of Smyrna, giving an account of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp, the letter of the churches of Lyons and Vienne, giving an account of the martyrs who suffered in those cities; and the letter of St. Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, to Fabius, the bishop of Antioch, or the martyrs who suffered under the emperor Decius, are remarkable instances. ‘Our ancestors,” says Pontius, in the beginning of the acts of St. Cyprian, “held those who suffered martyrdom, though only catechumens, or of the lowes: rank, in such veneration, as to commit to writing almost every thing that related to them.” Nor was this attention confined to those who obtained the crown of martyrdom. Care was taken that the lives of all should be written who were distinguished by their virtues, particularly if they had been favored with the gift of miracles.
IX. 2. The lives of the martyrs and saints, written in this manner, were called their acts. They were often collected into volumes. One of the earliest of these collections was made by Eusebius, the father of church history. Some of the lives he inserted in the body of his great historical work: he also published a separate collection of them; it was greatly esteemed, but has not reached our time: many others were published. These accounts of the virtues and sufferings of the martyrs were received by the faithful with the highest respect. They considered them to afford a glorious proof of the truth of the Christian faith, and of the holiness and sublimity of its doctrines. They felt themselves stimulated by them to imitate the heroic acts of virtue and constancy which they placed before their eyes, and to rely on the assistance of heaven when their own hour of trial should arrive. Thus the vocal blood of the martyrs was a powerful exhortation, both to induce the infidel to embrace the faith of Christ, and to incite the faithful to the practice of its precepts The church, therefore, always recommended the frequent reading of the acts of the martyrs, and inserted the mention of them in her liturgy. This Ruinart proves by many examples: he also shows that the greatest care was taken to procure the genuine acts of the martyrs; or, when they could not be had, to procure exact accounts of their trials and sufferings. By this means the church was in possession of authentic histories of the persecutions she had suffered, and through which she had finally triumphed over paganism, and of particular accounts of the principal sufferers. The greatest part of them was lost in the general wreck which sacred and profane literature suffered from the barbarians who overturned the Roman empire. In every age, however, some were found who carefully preserved whatever they could save of those sacred treasures. Copies were frequently made of them; and thus in this, as in every other important branch of Christian learning, the chain of tradition has been left unbroken. Much, however, of these sacred documents of church history has been irretrievably lost; and, speaking generally, the remaining part came down to us in an imperfect state. Hence Vives, at the end of the fifteenth century, exclaimed, “What a shame it is to the Christian world, that the acts of our martyrs have not been published with greater truth and accuracy!” The important task of publishing them in that manner was at length undertaken by Dom Ruinart, a Maurist monk, in his Acta primorum martyrum sincera et selecta. He executed it in a manner that gained him universal applause. His prefatory discourse, respecting the number of martyrs, has been generally admired. An invaluable accession to this branch of sacred literature was published by Stephen Evodius Assemani, in two volumes folio, at Rome in 1748. The title of the work expresses its contents: “Acta Sanctorum Martyrum orientalium et occidentalium editore Stephano Evodio Assemano, qui textum Chaldaicum recensuit, notis vocalibus animavit, Latine vertit, et annotationibus illustravit.” It is to be observed, that the eastern and western martyrs mentioned in this place, are not the martyrs of the eastern or Greek church, and the martyrs of the Latin or western church, in which sense the words eastern and western are generally used by ecclesiastical writers. By the eastern martyrs, Assemani denotes the martyrs who suffered in the countries which extend from the eastern bank of the Euphrates, over Mesopotamia and Chaldea to the Tigris and the parts beyond it; by the western, he denotes the martyrs who suffered in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. Stephen Assemani was the nephew of Joseph Assemani, whose Kalendaria will be mentioned in another place. Joseph was first præfect of the Vatioan library; Stephen was archbishop of Apamea; both of them were Maronite monks, and sent into the east by pope Clement XII. to purchase manuscripts.
IX. 3. It was the pious custom of the early Christians to celebrate yearly the memory of the martyrs, on the days on which they suffered. On that day the martyr was considered to be born to a life of glory and immortality, and, with respect to that second life, it was called the day of his birth. The different churches, therefore, were careful to preserve an exact account of the particular days on which the martyrs obtained the crown of martyrdom. The book which contained this account was called a Calendar. At first the calendar contained the mention of the martyrs only; but, in the course of time, the confessors, or those who, without arriving at the glory of martyrdom, had confessed their faith in Christ by their heroic virtues, were admitted to the same honor. The calendars were preserved in the churches; a calendar of the church of Rome was published by Boucher another by Leo Alatius; a third by Joannes Fronto, chancellor of Paris, and canon regular of the church of St. Genevieve at Paris. A most ancient calendar of the church of Carthage was published by Mabillon. But under this head no publication is more respectable than Joseph Assemani’s Kalendaria Ecclesiæ universæ notis illustrata.
IX. 4. The calendars gave rise to the Martyrologies; the object of them was to collect, in one volume, from the calendars of the different churches, the names of the martyrs and confessors throughout the world, with a brief mention of the day of their decease, and the place in which they suffered, or which they had illustrated by their birth, their residence, their rank, or their virtues. The Roman Martyrology is mentioned in the following terms by St. Gregory, (Lib. 8. Epist. Indict. 1.) in a letter to Eulogius, the bishop of Alexandria: “We,” says his holiness, “have the names of almost all the martyrs collected into one volume, and referred to the days on which they suffered; and we celebrate the solemn sacrifice of the mass, daily in their honor. But our calendar does not contain the particulars of their sufferings; it only mentions their names, and the place and time of their martyrdom.” The Roman calendar seems to have been adopted generally through the western church. It certainly was received in England. At the council held a Shovesham in 747, by Cuthbert, the archbishop of Canterbury, it was ordered, “That throughout the year, the feasts of the saints should be celebrated on the days appointed by the Martyrology of the church of Rome, with the proper psalms.” It was once generally believed to have been composed by St. Jerom; but this opinion is now universally rejected. It suffered much in the middle ages. Pope Gregory XIII., immediately after he had completed the great work of reforming the calendar, used the most earnest endeavors to procure a correct edition of the Roman Martyrology. He committed the care of it to some of the most distinguished writers of his time on ecclesiastical subjects. Among them, Bellarmin, Baronius, and Gavant deserve particular mention. With this edition Baronius himself was not satisfied. He published another edition in 1586: and afterwards, at the instigation of cardinal Sirlet, published a still more correct edition, with notes, in 1598. He prefixed to his edition a dissertation, in which he appears to have exhausted the subject. A further correction of the Roman Martyrology was made by pope Urban VIII. They were all surpassed by that published by pope Benedict XIV. at Cologne, in 1751. But the most useful edition is that published at Paris, in 1661, by father Lubin, an Angustinian friar. It is accompanied with excellent notes and geographical tables. Politus, an Italian divine, published, in 1751, the first volume of a new edition of the Roman Martyrology. It comprises the month of January, but the plan of annotation is so extended, that it fills five hundred folio pages of the smallest print; from the time of Drackenborch’s edition of Livy, so prolix a commentary had not been seen. Among other principal Martyrologies, is that of the Venerable Bede. After several faulty editions of it had appeared, it was correctly published by Henschenius and Papebroke, and afterwards by Smith, at the end of his edition of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History. Notwithstanding Bede’s great and deserved celebrity, the Martyrology of Usuard, a Benedictine monk, was in more general use; he dedicated it to Charles the Bald, and died about 875. It was published by Solerius at Antwerp, in 1714, and by Dom Bouillard, in 1718; but the curious still seek for the earlier edition by Molanus, in 1568, as, in the subsequent editions, some parts of it were omitted. Another Martyrology of renown is that of Ado; he was archbishop of Vienne, in Dauphiné, and died in 875. The best edition of it is that by Roswede, in 1613, published at Rome in 1745.—Such have been the exertions of the church of Rome, to perpetuate the memory of those who have illustrated her by their virtues. During the most severe persecutions, in the general wreck of the arts and sciences, in the midst of the public and private calamities which attended the destruction of the Roman empire, the providence of God always raised some pious and enlightened men, who preserved the deposite of faith, and transmitted to future times the memory of whatever had been most virtuous in former ages or their own.
IX. 5. The Greek church has also shown great attention to preserve the memory of the holy martyrs and saints. This appears from her Menæon and Menologia. The Menæon. is divided into twelve months, and each month is contained in a volume. An the saints, whose festivals occur in that month, have their proper day assigned to them in it: the rubric of the divine office, to be performed on that day, is mentioned; the particulars of the office follow; an account of the life and actions of the saint is inserted; and sometimes an engraving of him is added. If it happen that the saint has not his peculiar office, a prose or hymn in his praise is generally introduced. The greater solemnities have an appropriate office. From this the intelligent reader will observe that the Menæon of the Greeks is nearly the same as a work would be, which should unite in itself the Missal and Breviary of the Roman Catholic church. It was printed in twelve volumes in folio at Venice. Bollandus mentions that Raderus, a Tyrolese Jesuit, had translated the whole of the Menæon, and pronounced it to be free from schism or heresy.
The Menologium answers to the Latin Martyrology. There are several Menologia, as, at different times, great alterations have been made in them. But the ground-work of them all is the same, so that they are neither wholly alike nor wholly different. A translation of a Menologium into Latin by cardinal Sirlet, was published by Henry Canisius, in the third volume of his Lectiones Antiquæ. The Greek original, with a new version, was published by Annibal Albani, at Urbino, in 1727. From these works it is most clear that the Greek church invokes the saints, and implores their intercession with God: “Haud obscure ostendit,” says Walchius, “Græcos eo cultu prosequi homines in sanctorum ordinem ascriptos, ut illos invocent.” Bib. Theologica, vol. iii. 668. From the Menæon, and the Menologium, Raderus published a collection of pious and entertaining narratives, under the title of Viridarum Sanctorum. It is to be wished that some gentleman would employ his leisure in a translation of it. We should then be furnished, from the works of the Agiographists of the eastern church, with a collection of pious and instructing narratives, similar to those in the well-known Histoires Choisies. One of the most curious articles inserted in the Acta Sanctorum of the Bollandists, is the Muscovite or Russian Calendar, with the engravings of the saints. It was first published by father Possevin. He praises the Russians for the great attention to decency which they observe in their pictures and engravings of holy subjects. He mentions that the Russians, who accompanied him in his return to Rome, observed with surprise in the Italian paintings of saints, a want of the like attention. Father Papebroke, when he cites this passage, adopts the remark, and loudly calls on Innocent XII. to attend to the general decency of all public paintings and statues. A Greek Calendar of the Saints in hexameter verse accompanies the Russian Calendar, in the Acta Sanctorum; both are illustrated with notes by father Papebroke.
IX. 6. We proceed to the Lives of the Saints, written by individuals. For these our attention must be first directed to the Agiographists of the Greek church. The eighth century may be considered as the period when Grecian literature had reached its lowest state of depression; in the ninth, Bardas Cæsar, the brother of the empress Theodora, protected letters; from that time they were constantly cultivated by the Greeks; so that Constantinople, till it was taken by Mahomet, was never without its historians, poets, or philosophers. Compared with the writings of the ancients, their compositions seem lifeless and unnatural; we look among them in vain either for original genius or successful imitation. Still they are entitled to our gratitude; many of the precious remains of antiquity have come down to us only in their extracts and abridgments; and their voluminous compilations have transmitted to us much useful information which has no other existence. Sacred biography, in particular, has great obligations to them. The earliest work on that subject we owe to the care which the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus bestowed on the literary education of his son; an example which, at the distance of about six hundred years, was successfully rivalled by the elegant edition of the Delphin Classics, published under the auspices of Lewis XIV. But the Greek emperor had this advantage over the French monarch, that he himself was the author of some of the works published for the use of his son. In the first (published by Lerch and Reisch at Leipsie, in 1751) he describes the ceremonial of the Byzantine court; the second (published by Banduri, in his Imperium Orientale) is a geographical survey of the provinces, or, as he calls them, the Themata of the empire; the third, which some ascribe to the emperor Leo, his father, describes the prevailing system of military tactics; the fourth delineates the political relations and intercourse of the court of Byzantium with the other states. His Geoponics (published by Nicholas Niclas at Leipsic, in 1731, in two volumes, 8vo.) were written with a view of instructing his subjects in agriculture. By his direction, a collection of historical examples of vice and virtue was compiled in fifty-three books, and Simeon Metaphrastes, the great logothete, or chancellor of the empire, composed his Lives of the Saints. Several of them were published, with a Latin translation, by the care of Lipoman, the bishop of Verona. Cardinal Beilarmin accuses Metaphrastes of giving too much loose to his imagination. “He inserts,” says the cardinal, “such accounts of conversations of the martyra with their persecutors, and such accounts of conversions of bystanders, as exceed belief. He mentions many and most wonderful miracles on the destruction of the temples and idols, and on the death of the persecutors, of which nothing is said by the ancien historians.” We next come to Jacobus de Voragine, a Dominican friar and areh bishop of Genoa, in 1292. His Golden Legend was the delight of our ancestors during the ages which preceded the revival of letters. The library of no monastery was without it. Like the essays of Montaigne, it was to be found on the shelf of every private person; and, for a long time after the invention of printing, no work more often issued from the press. After enjoying the highest degree of reputation, it lost much of its celebrity, in consequence of the Lives of Saints published by Mombrutius in two immense volumes, in folio, about the year 1480, from manuscripts in the library of the church of St. John of Lateran and in consequence of the Lives of Saints published by Surius, a Carthustar monk. The first edition of Surius’s work was published in 1570–75, in six volumes; the second appeared in 1578, the third and most complete was published, in twelve volumes, in 1615. That he frequently shows too much credulity, and betrays a want of taste, must be admitted; but his works are allowed to breathe a spirit of piety; his candor, and desire to be accurate, are discernible in every part of his writings; and his learning, for the age in which he lived, was considerable. In Ribadeneira the line of ancient Agiographists respectably finishes.
While candor and good taste must allow that, even in the best of the compilations we have mentioned, there is a great want of critical discernment, and that they are wholly deficient in eleganee, and the artificial beauties of composition, justice requires that their defects should not be exaggerated. Still less should an intention to deceive, even on the pretence of edification, be imputed to them. Whatever may have been either the error or the criminality of some of her members, the church herself, in this, as in every other instance, has always inculcated the duty of sincerity and truth, and reprobated a deviation from them, even on the specious pretenee of producing good. On this subject our author thus foreibly expresses himself, in one of his letters on Mr. Bower’s History of the Lives of the Popes: “It is very unjust to charge the popes or the Catholic church with countenancing knowingly false legends; seeing all the divines of that communion unanimously condemn all such forgeries as lies in things of great moment, and grievous sins; and all the councils, popes, and other bishops, have always expressed the greatest horror of such villanies; which no cause or circumstances whatever can authorize, and which, in all things relating to religion, are always of the most heinous nature. Hence the authors, when detected, have been always punished with the utmost severity. Dr. Burnet himself says, that those who feigned a revelation at Basil, of which he gives a long detail, with false circumstances, in his letters on his travels, were all burnt at stakes for it, which we read more exactly related by Surius in his Commentary on his own times. The truth is, that many false legends of true martyrs were forged by hereties, as were those of St. George, condemned by pope Gelasius, as many false gospels were soon after the birth of Christianity, of which we have the names of near fifty extant. Other wicked or mistaken persons have sometimes been guilty of a like imposture. A priest at Ephesus forged acts of St. Paul’s voyages, out of veneration for that apostle, and was deposed for it by St. John the evangelist, as we learn from Tertullian. To instance examples of this nature would form a complete history; for the church has always most severely condemned all manner of forgeries. Sometimes the more virtuous and remote from fraud a person is, the more unwilling he is to suspect, an imposture in others. Some great and good men have been imposed upon by lies, and have given credit to false histories, but without being privy to the forgery, and nothing erroneous, dangerous, or predicial was contained in what they unwarily admitted. However, if credulity in private histories was too easy in any former age, certainly skepticism and infidelity are the characters of this in which we live. No histories, except those of holy scripture, are proposed as parts of divine revelation or articles of faith; all others rest upon their bare historical authority. They who do not think this good and sufficient in any narrations, do well to suggest modestly their reasons; yet may look upon them at least as parables, and leave others the liberty of judging for themselves without offence. But Mr. Bower says, p. 177, ‘The Roman Breviary is the most authentie book the church of Rome has, after the scripture,; it would be less dangerous, at least in Italy, to deny any truth revealed in the scripture, than to question any fable related in the Breviary.’ Catholic divines teach that every little in the holy scriptures is sacred divinely inspired, and the word of God dictated by the Holy Ghost. Even the denoitions of general councils do not enjoy an equal privilege; they are indeed the oracles of an unerring guide in the doctrine of faith; which guide received, together with the scriptures, the true sense and meaning of the articles of faith contained in them; and, by the special protection of the Holy Ghost, invariably preserves the same by tradition from father to son, according to the promises of Christ. But the church receives no new revelation of faith, and adds nothing to that which was taught by the apostles: 2dly, Its decisions are not supernaturally infallible in matters of fact, as scripture histories are, but only in matters of faith. Nor do Catholics say that its expressions, even in decisions of faith, are strictly dictated by the Holy Ghost, or suggested from him, by any immediate revelation or inspiration; but only that the church is directed by his particular guidance, according to his divine truths, revealed and delivered to his church by his apostles. As to the Roman Breviary, the prayers consist, for the greatest part, of the psalms, and other parts of the holy scriptures, to which the same respect is due which we pay to the divine books. The short lessons from the Homilies, or other works of approved fathers, especially those fathers who are mentioned by Gelasius I. in his decree, carry with them the authority of their venerable authors. As it was the custom in the primitive ages to read, in the churches or assemblies, the acts of the most illustrious martyrs, of which frequent mention is made in those of St. Polycarp, &c., some short histories of the martyrs and other saints have been always inserted in the Breviary, to which only an historical assent is due, whence they have been sometimes altered and amended. These are chiefly such as are judged authentic and probable by the cardinals Baronius and Bellarmin, who revised those lessons, in the last correction under Clement VIII. Gavant, who was himself one of the revisers of the Breviary, and secretary to the congregation, writes thus, (in Breviair. sect. 5, c. 12, n. 15, p. 18:) ‘The second lessons from the histories of the saints were revised by Bellarmin and Baronius, who rejected what could be justly called in question: in which difficult task they thought it best to restore the truth of history with the least change possible, and to retain those things which had a certain degree of probability, and had the authority of some grave voucher, though the contrary sentiment had perhaps more patrons.’ In computing the years of the popes, the chronology of Baronius was judged the most exact, and retained. Historical facts, nowise revealed or contained in scripture, cannot be made an object of divine faith. If edifying histories are inserted in the church-office, they stand upon their own credit. Such only ought to be chosen which are esteemed authentic. This rule has been always followed when any were compiled. If the compilers are found afterwards to have been mistaken, it is nowhere forbid to correct them.* This has been often done by the order of several popes.”
IX. 7. Among the modern collections of the Lives of Saints, of which our author availed himself, in the work we are speaking of, the histories which different religious have written of their own orders, hold a distinguished place. But he was indebted to no work so much as the Acta sanctorum of the Bollandists. That noble collection was first projected by Father Roswede of the society of Jesus. He died before he had completely digested his plan. Fortunately for the lovers either of sacred history or sacred literature, it was taken up by Father Bollandus of the same society, and has been carried down to the eleventh day of October inclusive. Those who, after Bollandus’s decease, succeeded him in his undertaking, were from him called Bollandists.
As far as the editor has been able to learn, the work was composed by the following authors, and published in the number of volumes and years following:
No. of Vols. all in folio.
Years of their appearance.
Bollandus and Henschenius.
Bollandus and Henschenius.
Henschenius and Papebrochius.
Henschenius and Papebrochius.
Henschenius, Papebrochius, Baertius, and Janningus.
Henschenius, Papebrochius, Baertius, Janningus, and Sollerius.
Janningus, Sollerius, Pinius, Cuperius and Boschinus.
Sollerius, Pinius. Cuperius, Boschius, and Stiltingus
Pinius, Stiltingus, Limpenus, Veidius, Suyskenius Pericrius, and Cleus.
Stiltingus, Suyskenius, Perierius Byeus, Buæus, Gnesquierus, Hubenns, and Fronsonus.
Antwerp was the scene of the labors of the Bollandists. They were engaged on them, when the enemies of every thing sacred arrived there under Pichegrû. The most eminent of the Bollandists was Father Papebroke, a rival of the Petaviuses, the Sirmonds, and Mabillons: one of these men who exalt the character of the society to which they belong, and the age in which they live. The Spanish Inquisition condemned some of the volumes in which he was concerned, but afterwards retracted the censure. Several dissertations, replete with various and profound erudition, are interspersed in the body of the work; they are equally distinguished by the learning, and the soundness and sobriety of criticism which appear in them. It would be an irreparable loss to the Christian world that the work should not be completed. The principal dissentations have been printed, in three volumes folio, at Venice, in 1749–59. Those who wish to see an account of the controversy which produced or was occasioned by the sentence of the Inquisition, may consult the Acta Eruditorum, 1696, p. 132–500.
IX. 8. Another source of information, of which our author availed himself in the composition of his work, was the Acts of the Beatification and Canonization of the Saints.
The name of Martyr was given by the ancient church to those who had suffered death for the faith of Christ; the name of Confessor was applied to those who had made a public profession of their faith before the persecutors. It was afterwards extended to those who had edified the church by their heroic virtues. St. Martin of Tours is generally supposed to have been the first saint to whom the title of confessor was applied in the last sense.
Originally, every bishop had the privilege of canonizing saints, or declaring them entitled to the honors which the Catholic church bestows on her saints. The council of Cologne, cited by Ivo of Chartres, forbids the faithful to show any public mark of veneration to any modern saint, without the permission of the diocesan. A capitulary of Charlemagne in 801 is to the same effect.
Pope Alexander III. is supposed to have been the first pope who reserved the exclusive privilege of canonizing saints to the holy see. It was recognised by the church of France at a council at Vienne, in which the bishops, addressing themselves to pope Gregory IX., expressly say, “that no sanctity, however eminent, authorizes the faithful to honor the memory of a saint, without the permission of the holy see.”
The present mode of proceeding in the canonization of saints, principally takes its rise from the decree of pope Urban VIII., dated the 13th of March, 1625. By that he forbade the public veneration of every new saint, not beatified or canonized; and particularly ordered that no one, even in private, should paint the image of any person, whatever might be his reputation for sanctity, with a crown or circle of light round his head; or expose his picture in any sacred place, or publish a history of his life, or a relation of his virtues and miracles, without the approbation of his diocesan: that if, in a work so approved of, the person were called saint, or blessed, those words should only be used to denote the general holiness of his life, but not to anticipate the general judgment of the church. His holiness adds a form of protestation to that effect, which he requires the authors to sign, at the beginning and end of their works. This regulation of pope Urban is so strictly attended to, that a single proof of the infraction of it, and even the omission of a definite sentence that there has been no infraction of it, makes the canonization of the saint impossible, and invalidates the whole of the proceedings. The only exception is, in favor of those saints who are proved to have been immemorially venerated for a hundred years and upwards, before 1634, the year in which pope Urban’s bull was confirmed.
The beatification of a saint is generally considered as a preliminary to his canonization. It is a kind of provisional permission, authorizing the faithful to honor the memory of the person beatified; but qualified as to the place or manner. A decree of pope Alexander VIII. in 1659, prohibits the faithful from carrying those honors farther than the bull of beatification expressly permits.
The proceedings of a beatification or canonization are long, rigorous, and expensive. 1st, The bishop of the diocese institutes a process, in the nature of an information, to inquire into the public belief of the virtues and miracles of the proposed, and to ascertain that the decree we have mentioned of pope Urban VIII. has been complied with: this proceeding begins and ends with the bishop, his sentence being conclusive. 2dly, The acts of this proceeding, with the bishop’s sentence, are sealed up, then taken to the congregation of rites, and deposited with the notary. 3dly, The solicitors for the congregation petition for publication of the proceedings. 4thly, This is granted; and the proceedings, being first legally verified, are opened before the cardinal-president of the congregation. 5thly, The pope is then requested to refer the business to a particular cardinal to report upon it. 6thly, This being granted, the writings of the proposed, if he be the author of any, are laid before the cardinal-reporter. 7thly, He appoints a commission to assist him, and, with their assistance, makes his report. If one formal error against faith, one direct opinion contrary to morals, be found in them, it puts a total end to the proceedings, unless the author, in his life, expressly retracted it. “A general protestation,” says Benedict XIV., “the most sincere submission of all his opinions to the authority of the Catholic church, saves the author from criminality, but does not prevent the effect of this rigorous exclusion.” 8thly, Hitherto the proceedings are not in strictness before the pope; but, from this stage of the business, the affair wholly devolves on his holiness. He signs a commission to the congregation of rites to institute and prosecute the process of beatification; but, before this commission is granted, ten years must have expired, from the time when the acts of the diocesan were first lodged with the congregation of rites. 9thly, The congregation of rites appoints commissaries, whom the pope delegates, to inform themselves of the virtues and miracles of the proposed. The commissaries usually are bishops, and the bishop of the diocese where the proposed is buried is usually one of them; but laymen are never employed. The proceedings of the commissaries are secret, and carried on and subscribed with the strictest order and regularity, and in great form; the last step in their proceedings is to visit the tomb of the deceased, and to draw out a verbal process of the state in which his remains are found. The original of the proceedings is left with the bishops; a legalized copy is taken of them, and returned by a sworn courier to the congregation of rites. 10thly, The solicitors for the congregation then pray for what is called a decree of attribution, or that an inquiry may be made into each particular virtue and miracle attributed to the proposed: 11thly, Upon this, they proceed to make the inquiry, beginning with the virtues and ending with the miracles; but of the former they can take no notice in this stage of the business, till fifty years from the time of the proposed’s decease: in the case of a martyr, his martyrdom alone, with proof both of the heroism with which it was suffered, and of its having been suffered purely and absolutely in the cause of Christ, is supposed to make an inquiry into his virtues unnecessary. 12thly, The final determination of the cause is settled in three extraordinary congregations, called the antepreparatory, the preparatory, and the general. The virtues to be approved of must be of the most heroic kind: the number of miracles is, in strictness, limited to two. The pope collects the votes of the assembly; and two-thirds of it, at least, must agree in opinion, before they come to a resolution. He then pronounces what is called a private sentence, before the promoter and the secretary of the congregation of St. Peter. 13thly, A general congregation is then held, to determine whether it be advisable to proceed to the beatification of the proposed. 14thly, Three consistories are afterwards held. 15thly, The pope then signs the brief of beatification. The publication of it is performed in the church of the Vatican. The solicitor for the beatification presents the brief to the cardinal-prefect; he remits it to the cardinal-archpriest of the church where the ceremony is held. The cardinal-archpriest reads it aloud; the Te Deum is sung, a collect in honor of the beatified is read, and mass is solemnized in his honor. 16thly, When the proceedings for the beatification are completed, the proceedings for the canonization begin. But it is necessary that, before anything be done in them, new miracles should be wrought. When the solicitor for the canonization is satisfied that he can prove by judicial evidence the existence of these miracles, he present is a petition for resuming the cause. 17thly, Three congregations extraordinary, a general assembly, and three consistories, are held for the purpose of pronouncing on the new miracles, and determining whether it be prudent to proceed to canonization. 18thly, This being determined upon, the pope issues the brief of canonization, and, soon after, the ceremonial follows. It begins by a solemn procession: an image of the saint is painted on several banners. When the procession arrives at the church where the ceremony is performed, the pope seats himself on his throne, and receives the usual homage of the court. The solicitor for the cause and the consistorial advocate place themselves at the feet of his holiness, and request the canonization; the litanies are sung; the request is made a second time; the Veni Creator is sung: the request is made a third time; the secretary announces that it is the will of the pope to proceed immediately upon the canonization; the solicitor requests that the letters of canonization may be delivered in due form; his holiness delivers them, and the first prothonotary calls on all the assembly to witness the delivery. The Te Deum is sung, and high mass is solemnized.
The decree of canonization is usually worded in these terms: “To the glory of the Holy Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic faith, and the increase of the Christian religion: In virtue of the authority of Jesus Christ, of the holy apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent invocations of the heavenly light, with consent of our venerable brethren, the cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops, present at Rome, we declare the blessed N. to be a saint, and we inscribe him as such in the catalogue of the saints. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
Such is the outline of the process of canonization. It must be added, that the strictest evidence is required of every thing offered in proof. It is laid down as a universal rule, which admits of no exception, that the same evidence shall be required, through the whole of the process, as in criminal cases is required to convict an offender of a capital crime; and that no evidence of any fact shall be received, if a higher degree of evidence of the same fact can possibly be obtained. Hence, a copy of no instrument is admitted, if the original be in existence; no hearsay witness is received, if ocular testimony can be produced. The rigorous examination of every circumstance offered to be proved has excited the surprise of intelligent Protestants. Miracles, which to them seemed proved to the utmost degree of demonstration, have, to their surprise, been rejected. Whatever there is most awful in religion, most sacred in an oath, or most tremendous in the censures of the church, is employed in the process of canonization to elicit truth and detect falsehood. Every check and countercheck is used, which slowness of proceeding, or a repetition of it in other stages and under different forms, can effect. The persons employed in it are the members of the Roman Catholic church, the most exalted by their rank, and the most renowned for their virtues and talents. When the proceedings are concluded, they are printed and exposed to the examination of the whole world. The sixth volume of the celebrated treatise of Benedict XIV. on the beatification and canonization of saints, contains the acts of the saints canorized by himself.
With these helps our author sat down to his work. We may suppose him addressing to the saints, whose lives he was about to write, a prayer similar to the beautiful prayer addressed to them by Bollandus at the end of his general preface, and which may be thus abridged: “Hail, ye citizens of heaven! courageous warriors! triumphant over the world! from the blessed scenes of your everlasting glory, look on a low mortal, who searches everywhere for the memorials of your virtues and triumphs. Show your favor to him; give him to discover the valuable monuments of former times; to distinguish the spurious from the legitimate; to digest his work in proper order and method; to explain and illustrate whatever is obscure. Take under your protection all who have patronized or assisted him in his undertakings: obtain for all who read his work, that they imitate the examples of virtue which it places before their eyes; and that they experience how sweet, how useful, and how glorious it is to walk in your steps.”
In the preface to the French translation, the work is said to have cost our author the labor of thirty years. It was his practice, when he began to write the life of any saint, to read over and digest the whole of his materials, before he committed any thing to paper. His work evidently shows, that his mind was full of its subject, and that what he wrote was the result of much previous information and reflection. On many occasions he must have written on subjects which were new to him; but, such is the mutual connection and dependence of every branch of literature, that a mind stored like his was already in possession of that kind of knowledge, which would make him apprehend, with great ease, whatever he had to learn; and would instruct him, though the subject were new to him, where he might express himself decisively, and where he should doubt. How extensive and prefound his general knowledge was, appears from this, that a person who happens to have made any subject, treated of by him, his particular study, will seldom read what our author has written upon it without finding in it something original, or, at least, so happily expressed or illustrated, as to have the merit of originality. In some instances, as in his account of the Manichæans, in the life of St. Augustine, and of the crusades, in the life of St. Lewis, he shows such extent and minuteness of investigation, as could only be required from works confined to those subjects. In other instances, where his materials are scanty, so that he writes chiefly from his own mind, as in the lives of St. Zita or St. Isidore of Pelusium, he pours an unpremeditated stream of piety, which nothing but an intimate acquaintance with the best spiritual writers could produce.
The sameness of a great number of the most edifying actions which our author had to relate, made it difficult for him to avoid a tiresome uniformity of narrative: but he has happily surmounted this difficulty. Another difficulty he met with, was the flat and inanimate style of the generality of the writers from whom his work was composed. Happy must he have been, when the authors he had to consult were St. Jerome, Scipio, Maffei, Bouhours, or Marsollier. But most commonly they were such as might edify but could not delight. He had then to trust to his own resources for that style, that arrangement, those reflections, which were to engage his reader’s attention. In this he has certainly succeeded. Few authors on holy subjects have possessed, in a higher degree, that indescribable charm of style which rivets the reader’s attention to the book, which never places the writer between the book and the reader, but insensibly leads him to the conclusion, sometimes delighted, but always attentive and always pleased.
His style is peculiar to himself; it partakes more of the style of the writers of the last century than of the style of the present age. It possesses great merit, but sometimes is negligent and loose. Mr. Gibbon mentioned it to the editor in warm terms of commendation; and was astonished when he heard how much of our author’s life had been spent abroad. Speaking of our author’s Lives of the Saints, (vol. iv. 457,) he calls it “a work of merit,—the sense and learning belong to the author—his prejudices are those of his profession.” As it is known what prejudice means in Mr. Gibbon’s vocabulary, our author’s relatives accept the character.
Having lived so long in the schools, he must have had a strong predilection for some of the opinions agitated in them; and frequent opportunities of expressing it occurred in his work. He seems to have cautiously avoided them: a single instance, perhaps, is not to be found, where any thing of the kind is discoverable in any of his writings. He has carefully brought before the reader every circumstance arising from his subject, that could be offered in proof or illustration of the particular tenets of the Roman Catholic church; but he does it without affectation, and rather leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions, than suggests them to him. Those expressions which good manners and good taste reject, are never to be found in his works.
But the chief merit of his works is, that they make virtue and devotion amiable: be preaches penance, but he shows its rewards; he exhorts to compunction, but be shows the sweetness of pious sorrow; he enforces humility, but he shows the blessedness of an humble heart; he recommends solitude, but he shows that God is where the world is not. No one reads his work who does not perceive the happiness, even in this world, of a holy life, or who does not wish to die the death of a saint. Most readers of it will acknowledge that, sometimes at least, when they have read it, every worldly emotion has died within them, and they have felt them selves in a disposition of mind suited to receive the fines impressions of religion.
At the finishing of his work he gave a very edifying instance of humility. The manuscript of the first volume having been submitted to Mr. Challoner, the vicarapostolic of the London district, he recommended the omission of all the notes, not excepting that beautiful note which gave an account of the writings of St. John Chrysostom. His motive was, that, by being made less bulky, the work might be made less expensive, and, consequently, more generally useful. It is easy to suppose what it must have cost our author to consign to oblivion the fruit of so much labor and so many vigils. He obeyed, however, and to this circumstance it is owing, that, in the first edition, the notes in question were omitted.
XI. 1. It has been objected to our author’s work on the Lives of the Saints, that the system of devotion which is recommended by it, is, at best, suited to the cloister. But no work has ever appeared, in which the difference between the duties of a man of the world and the duties of a religious is more strongly pointed out. Whenever the author has occasion to mention any action of any saint, which is extraordinary or singular in its nature he always observes, that it is of a kind rather to be admired than imitated.
XI. 2. It has been objected, that the piety which it inculcates is of the ascetic kind, and that the spirit of penance, voluntary mortification, and contempt of the world, which it breathes everywhere, is neither required nor recommended by the gospel. But no difference can be found between the spirit of piety inculcated by our author, and that inculcated by the most approved authors of the Roman Catholic church. Less of penance, of voluntary mortification, or of contempt of the world, is not recommended by Rodriguez, by Thomas of Kempis, by St. Francis of Sales, by Bourdaloue, or Massillon, than is recommended by our author. Speaking of those “who confound nature with grace, and who look on the cross of Jesus Christ as an object foreign to faith and piety;—It was not thus,” says Massillon, in his sermon on the Incarnation, “it was not thus that the apostles announced the gospel to our ancestors. The spirit of the gospel is a holy eagerness of suffering, an incessant attention to mortify self-love, to do violence to the will, to restrain the desires, to deprive the senses of useless gratifications; this is the essence of Christianity, the soul of piety. If you have not this spirit, you belong not, says the apostle, to Jesus Christ; it is of no consequence that you are not of the number of the impure or sacrilegious of whom the apostle speaks, and who will not be admitted into the kingdom of Christ. You are equally strangers to him; your sentiments are not his; you still live according to nature; you belong not to the grace of our Saviour; you will therefore perish, for it is on him alone, says the apostle, that the Father has placed our salvation. A complaint is sometimes made that we render piety disgusting and impracticable, by prohibiting many pleasures which the world authorizes. But, my brethren, what is it we tell you? allow yourselves all the pleasures which Christ would have allowed himself; faith allows you no other mix with your piety all the gratifications which Jesus Christ would have mixed in his; the gospel allows no greater indulgence.—O my God, how the decisions of the world will one day be strangely reversed! when worldly probity and worldly regularity, which, by a false appearance of virtue, give a deceitful confidence to so many souls, will be placed by the side of the crucified Jesus, and will be judged by that model! To be always renouncing yourselves, rejecting what pleases, regulating the most innocent wishes of the heart by the rigorous rules of the spirit of the gospel, is difficult, is a state of violence. But if the pleasures of the senses leave the soul sorrowful, empty, and uneasy, the rigors of the cross make her happy. Penance heals the wounds made by herself; like the mysterious bush in the scripture, while man sees only its thorns and briers, the glory of the Lord is within it, and the soul that possesses him possesses all. Sweet tears of penance! divine secret of grace! O that you were better known to the sinner!” “The pretended esprits forts,” says Bourdaloue, in his sermon on the scandal of the cross, and the humiliations of Jesus Christ, the noblest of all his sermons, in the opinion of the cardinal de Maury, “do not relish the rigorous doctrines announced by the Son of God in his gospel; self-hatred, self-denial, severity to one’s self. But when Christ established a religion for men, who were to acknowledge themselves sinners and criminals, ought he, as St. Jerome asks, to have published other laws? What is so proper for sin as penance? what is more of the nature of penance, than the sinner’s harshness and severity to himself? Is there any thing in this contrary to reason? They are astonished at his ranking poverty among the beatitudes; that he held up he cross as an attraction to his disciples to follow him; that he declared a love of contempt was preferable to the honors of the world. In all this I see the depth of his divine counsels.” Such is the language of Bourdaloue and Massillon, preaching before a luxurious court, to the best-informed and most polished audience in the Christian world. It is apprehended that no other language is found in our author’s Lives of the Saints.
XI. 3. Some (but their number is small) have imputed to our author too much credulity respecting miracles. A chain of agiographists might be supposed: on the first link of it we might place Surius, as possessing the utmost degree of the belief of miracles, consistent with any degree of judgment; on the last we might place Baillet and Launoy, as possessing the utmost degree of the belief of miracles, consistent with any degree of deference to the general opinions of pious Catholics. Between them we might place in succession, according to their respective degrees of supposed belief, Ribadeneira, Baronius, the Bollandists, Tillemont, and Fleury With which of these writers shall we class our author? certainly neither with Surius, nor with Baillet or Launoy. The middle links represent those to whom the most liberal Roman Catholic will not impute too much credulity, or the most credulous too much freedom. Perhaps our author should rank with the Bollandists, the first of this middle class; and generally he who thinks with father Papebroke on any subject of ecclesiastical literature, may be sure of thinking right. To those who wholly deny the existence of miracles these sheets are not addressed; but the Roman Catholic may be asked on what principle he admits the evidence for the miracles of the three first centuries, and rejects the evidence for the miracles of the middle age; why he denies to St. Austin. St. Gregory, the venerable Bede, or St. Bernard, the confidence he places in St. Justin, St. Irenæus, or Eusebius.
Some years after our author had published the Lives of the Saints, he published the Life of Mary of the Cross; a nun in the English convent of the Poor Clares at Rouen. It is rather a vehicle to convey instruction on various important duties of a religious life, and on sublime prayer, than a minute account of the life and actions of the nun. It was objected to this work, as it had been to the Saints’ Lives, that it inculcated a spirit of mystic prayer, the excesses of which had been formally condemned, and the propriety of which, even in a very qualified view of it was doubtful.
It must be admitted by those who urge this objection, that, both in the Saints lives and in the work of which we are speaking, our author uses very guarded expressions. He always takes care to mention that, in the practices of devotion, as in every other practice, the common is the safest road: that many of the greatest saints have, through the whole of their lives, confined themselves to the usual modes of prayer and meditation; that the gift of contemplation is given to few; that, like every other practice of devotion, contemplation has its dangers; and that, without a perfect spirit of humility, it is much exposed to illusion; but he delivers, at the same time, an explicit opinion, that contemplation is a gift of heaven; that the happiness of a soul on whom God bestows it, is above description; and that every joy which this life affords is contemptible in comparison of it. This certainly is catholic doctrine.
It is natural to suppose that, at a time when every art and science was deluged in a quantity of barbarous words, and metaphysics were carried into every subject, the doctrine of prayer would often be involved in similar intricacies and refinements. The fact certainly is, that many writers of the middle age, on the subject of prayer, introduced into their writings a wonderful degree of metaphysical subtilty. But, if their doctrine be divested of those subtilties, and expressed in plain language, it will be found that nothing in what our author, with other spiritualists, calls mystical theology, contradicts common sense. With them he divides the progress of a Christian, in his advances towards perfection, into three stages, the purgative, the contemplative, and the unitive. In the first stage he places sinners on their first entrance, after their conversion into a spiritual life; who oewail their sins, are careful to avoid relapsing into them, endeavor to destroy their bad habits, to extinguish their passions; who fast, watch, pray, chastise the tlesh, mourn, and are blessed with a contrite and humble heart. In the second stage he places those who divest themselves of earthly affections, study to acquire purity of heart, and a constant habit of virtue, the true light of the soul; who meditate incessantly on the virtues and doctrines of Christ, and thereby inflame themselves to the imitation of him. Those he supposes to be arrived at the third stage whose souls, being thus illuminated, are united to God, and enjoy his peace which passeth understanding. According to our author, the prayer of a person who is arrived at the last stage, is very different from that of a beginner in spiritual life. To present a pious subject to his mind, to place it in the various points of view in which it should be considered, to raise the devout sentiments which the consideration of it should produce, and to form the resolutions which those sentiments should inspire, must, our author observes, be a work of exertion to a beginner. But when once he has arrived at that state of perfection as to have detached himself from those objects which are the usual incitements to sin, and to which, from the natural propensity of the human heart, the imaginations of man foreibly lead, and when an ardent love of virtue, piety, and whatever relates to them, is habitual in her; then, our author supposes, that what before was exertion becomes the usual state of the soul; a thousand causes of distraction cease to exist, and all the powers of the mind and affections of the heart rest with case and pleasure on the subject of her meditation: God communicates to her his perfections; he enlightens her in the mysteries of religion, and raises in her admirable sentiments of wonder and love. This our author calls the prayer of contemplation. In process of time, he supposes that the habit of devotion mereases: that the soul acquires a stronger aversion from every thing that withholds her from God, and a more ardent desire of being united to him; and that, by continually meditating on the sublime truths and mysteries of Christianity, she is disengaged from earthly affections, is always turned to God, and obtains a clearer view of his perfections, of her obligations to him, and of the motives which entitle him to her love. Then, according to our author, every thing which is not God becomes irksome to her, and she is united to him in every action and every thought. At first, the soul, by our author’s description, calls to her mind the presence of God; afterwards she habitually recollects it; at length every thing else disappears, and she lives in him. Even in the first stage, when the sinner first turns from vice, and determinately engages in the practice of a virtuous life, our author pronounces that the comforts which she experiences in reflecting on the happiness of the change, exceed the joys of this world: he supposes her to say, in the words of Bourdaloue, (Sur la Choix mutuel de Dieu et de l’Ame Religieuse,) “I have chosen God, and God has chosen me: this reflection is my support and my strength, it will enable me to surmount every difficulty, to resist every temptation, to rise above every chagrin and every disgust.” From the moment this choice is made, he supposes, with the same eloquent preacher, in his sermon for the feast of St. Mary Magdalen, “that the soul, exposed till then to all the vexations which the love of the world inevitably occasions, begins to enjoy a sweet tranquillity; conscience begins to experience the interior joy of pious hope and confidence in the mercies of God, and to feel the holy unction of grace; in the midst of her penitential austerities she comforts and strengthens herself by the thought, that she is making some satisfaction and atonement to God for her sins, that she is purifying her heart, and disposing it to receive the communications of heaven.” This comfort and sensation of happiness, he observes, must necessarily increase as the charms of virtue are unveiled to the soul, and she acquires a continual habit of thinking on God. “Who can express,” he makes the soul exclaim with the same author, “the secret delights which God bestows on a heart thus purified and prepared! how he enlightens her! how he inflames her with divine love! with what visitations he favors her! what holy sentiments and transports he excites in her!” but, when she lives for God alone, then, in our author’s language, God communicates himself with her, and her happiness, as far as happiness is attainable in this life, is complete. Here, according to Thomas of Kempis, (and what Catholic recuses his authority?) begins the familiaritas stupenda nimis. “What is the hundred-fold of reward,” cries Bourdaloue, (Sermon sur le Renoncement Religieuse,) “that thou, O God, hast promised to the soul which has left every thing for thee? It is something more than I have said upon it: it is something that I cannot express: but it is something with which, sinful and weak as I am, God has more than once favored me.”—“Thou promisedst me a hundred-fold,” says St. Bernard: “I feel it; thou hast more than performed thy promise.” Necessitas quod cogit, defendit In defence of our author, this short exposition of his doctrine seemed necessary: and it may be confidently asked in what it differs from the doctrine of Rodriguez, of St. Francis de Sales, of Bourdaloue, or of many other authors, in whom the universal opinion of the Catholic world recognises, not only true devotion and piety, but extreme good sense and moderation. Nor should it be forgotten that, if the prelates assembled at Issy. in 1695, declared, (Art. 22,) “that, without any extraordinary degrees of prayer, a person may become a very great saint,” they had previously declared. (Art. 21,) “that even those which are passive, and approved of by St. Francis of Sales and other spiritualists, cannot be rejected.” The authors on these subjects, whom our author particularly recommended, were Balthazar, Alvarez de Paz, and St. Jure. The latter was one of the Jesuits who came into England during the reign of Charles the First. His most celebrated work is, a Treatise on the Knowledge and Love of God, in five volumes,—a noble effusion of the sublimest piety. The only work by which he is known in this country is, his Life of the Baron de Renty: our author esteemed it much, but thought it censurable for mentioning, in terms of commendation, the mode in which the baron, to save his honor, indirectly put himself in the way of fighting a duel.
Another spiritualist, whom our author greatly admired, was the celebrated Henry Marie de Boudon. He frequently mentioned, in terms of the highest admiration, the humility and resignation with which Boudon bore the calumnies of his prelate and fellow-clergy. He often related that part of his life, when, being abandoned by the whole world, a poor convent of religious received him into their house, and he knelt down to thank God that one human being still existed who was kindly disposed to him. His writings are numerous: the style of them is not elegant, and they abound with low expressions; but they contain many passages of original and sublime eloquence. Our author was also a great admirer of the works of Father Surin, particularly his Fondemens de la Vie Spirituelle, edited by Father Bignon. In this species of writing, few works, perhaps, will give the reader so much pleas ure as the Morale de l’Evangile, in 4 vols. 8vo., by Father Neuvile, brother to the celebrated preacher of that name. It is to be hoped that it will be translated into English.* Our author greatly lamented the consequences of the altercation between Fenelon and Bossuet. He thought the condemnation which had been passed in it on the abuses of devotion, had brought de itself into discredit, and thrown a ridicule on the holiness of an interior. . . . Of Fenelon he always spoke with the highest respect. One of the editors of the last edition of his works is now in England: he has declared that it appeared from Fenelon’s papers, that his exertions, to the very last, to ward off the sentence of the condemnation of his works, were most active. This enhanced the value of his sacrifice. Our author thought that Valart had abundantly proved that Thomas of Kempis was not the author of the Imitation of Christ: but that he had not proved it to he written by Gersen, the abbot of Vercelli: he also differed from Valart in his opinion of the general merit of the works of Thomas of Kempis; his treatises De Tribus Tabernaculis and De Verâ Compunctione (the latter particularly) he thought excellent.*
Some time after our author’s return to England, from his travels with Mr. Edward Howard, he was chosen president of the English College at St. Omer’s. That college was originally founded by the English Jesuits. On the expulsion of the society from France, the English Jesuits shared the fate of their brethren.
On his being named to the presidency of the English college at St. Omer’s, doubts were suggested to him on the justice or propriety of his accepting the presidency of a college which, in fact, belonged to others. He advised with the bishop of Amiens and the bishop of Boulogne upon this point, and they both agreed in opinion that he might safely accept it.
He continued president of the college of St. Omer’s till his decease. It was expected by his friends, that his office of president would leave him much time for his studies; but these expectations wholly failed. He was immediately appointed vicar-general to the bishops of Arras, St. Omer’s, Ipres, and Boulogne. This involved him in an immensity of business; and, his reputation continually increasing, he was consulted from every part of France on affairs of the highest moment. The consequence was, that, contrary to the wishes and expectations of his friends, he never was so little master of his time as he was during his residence at St. Omer’s. The editor has been favored with the following letter, which will show the esteem in which our author was had by those who, at the time we speak of lived in habits of intimacy with him.
“You have occasioned me, sir, to experience a heartfelt satisfaction in allowing me an intercourse with you on the subject of the late Mr. Butler, your uncle; and to communicate to you the particulars within my knowledge, concerning the life, the eminent virtues, and uncommon abilities of that celebrated gentleman. Never was I acquainted with any of my contemporaries who was at once so learned, so pious, so gentle, so modest; and, whatever high opinion might be conceived of him from a perusal of his immortal work on the Lives of the Saints,—that masterpiece of the most extensive erudition, of the most enlightened criticism, and of that unction which commands the affections,—such an opinion is greatly inferior to the admiration which he inspired in those persons who, like myself, had the happiness to live in intimate connection with him. The paternal kindness, and, I am bold to say it, the tender friendship with which he honored my youth, have indelibly engraved on my heart the facts I am about to relate to you with the most scrupulous exactness. Monsieur de Conzie, now bishop of Arras, having been raised to the see of St. Omer’s in 1766, caused me to be elected a canon in his cathedral church: he nominated me one of his vicars-general, and I repaired thither on the 5th of October, 1767.
“That prelate, whose high reputation dispenses with my encomiums, mentioned your uncle to me on the very day of my arrival. ‘I am here possessed,’ said he, ‘of a hidden treasure; and that is Mr. Butler, the president of the English college. I for the first time saw him,’ added he, ‘during the ceremony of my installation. He was kneeling on the pavement in the midst of the crowd; his countenance and deportment had something heavenly in them: I inquired who he was, and upon his being named to me, I caused him, though reluctant, to be conducted to one of the first stalls in the choir. I will entreat him,’ said moreover the prelate, ‘to favor you with his friendship: he shall be your counsel; you cannot have a better.’ I made answer, that Monsieur de Beaumont, the illustrious archbishop of Paris, in whose palace. I had enjoyed the invaluable benefit of passing two years, had often spoken of him to me in the most honorable terms; that he had commissioned me, at my departure, to renew to him the assurance of his particular esteem; and that I would neglect nothing to be thought worthy of his benevolence.
“I was so happy as to succeed in it within a short time. His lordship, the bishop, condescended to wish me joy of it, and intrusted me with the design he had formed of honoring the assembly of his vicars-general, by making him our colleague. I was present when he delivered to him his credentials; which moment will never forsake my remembrance. I beheld your dear uncle suddenly casting himself at the prelate’s knees, and beseeching him, with tears in his eyes, not to lay that burden upon him. Ah! my lord, said he to him, I am unable to fill so important a place; nor did he yield but upon an express command: Since you require it shall be so, said he, I will obey; that is the first of my duties. What an abundant source of reflections was this for me, who was then but twenty-six years of age. It was then especially that I resolved to make up for my inexperience, by taking him for my guide who had been giving me that great example of Christian humility.
“The bishop had already showed him his confidence, by placing his own nephew in the English college, as also that of the bishop of Senlis, his friend, and the son of one of his countrymen. I had the charge of visiting them frequently. I used to send for them to dine with me on every school holiday. If one of them had been guilty of a fault, the punishment I inflicted was, that he should desire Mr. Butler to keep him at home. But it almost always proved useless; he would himself bring me the delinquent, and earnestly solicit his pardon; Depend upon it, said he to me one day, he will behave better for the future. I asked him what proof he had of it. Sir, answered he, in the presence of the lad, he has told me so. I could not forbear smiling at such confidence in the promises of a school-boy of ten years old; but was not long before I repented. In a private conversation he observed to me, that one of the most important rules in education is to impress children with a persuasion that the vices we would keep them from, such as lying and breaking one’s word, are too shocking to be thought possible. A maxim this worthy of the great Fenelon, his beloved model, and which common tutors do not so much as surmise.
“Those three youths, our common functions of vicars-general, the delightful company of your uncle, and the frequent need I had of drawing from that source of light, carried me almost every day to the English college. I could delineate to you, sir, his ordinary course of life in the inward administration of that house; I could tell you of his assiduousness at all the exercises; of his constant watchfulness; of the public and private exhertations he made to his pupils, with that persuasive eloquence we meet with in his writings; of his pious solicitude for all their wants; and of their tender attachment to him. His room was continually filled with them. He never put on the harsh and threatening magisterial look: he was like a fond mother surrounded by her children; or he was rather, according to the expression,* the eagle not disdaining to teach her young ones to soar, and carrying them on her expanded wings, to save them from a fatal fall. But I leave to his worthy co-operators the satisfaction of detailing to you those particulars, which I only transiently beheld, and which I never saw without being affected. How many interesting anecdotes will they have to acquaint you with!
“Every instant that Mr. Butler did not dedicate to the government of his college he employed in study; and, when obliged to go abroad, he would read as he walked along the streets. I have met him with a book under each arm, and a third in his hands, and have been told that, travelling one day on horseback, he fell a reading, giving the horse his full liberty. The creature used it to eat a few ears of corn that grew on the road-side. The owner came in haste, swearing he would be indemnified. Mr. Butler, who knew nothing of the damage done, no sooner perceived it, than, blushing, he said to the countryman, with his usual mildness, that his demand was just; he then draws out a louis d’or, and gives it to the fellow, who would have been very well satisfied with a few pence, makes repeated apologies to him, easily obtains forgiveness, and goes on his way.
“Notwithstanding such constant application, the extensiveness of his knowledge was next to a prodigy. Whenever I happened to consult him on any extraordinary question, upon which the authors most familiar to us were silent, he would take me to the library of the abbey of St. Bertin, would ask for old writers, whose names I was scarce acquainted with, and point out to me, even before I had opened them, the section and chapter in which I should find my difficulty solved.
“Nor would I have you think, sir, that the ecclesiastical sciences were the only that he had applied to. A couple of anecdotes I am going to relate, and which I could hardly have believed had I not been witness to them, will prove to you that every kind of information was reunited in his intellect, without the smallest confusion.
“Monsieur de Conzie, after his translation from the bishopric of St. Omer’s to that of Arras, invited him to come and see him there. My brother vicars and myself sought one day for a question which he should not be able to answer, and thought we had found one. Accordingly, we asked him what was the name of a pear called, in French, bon Chrétien, before the coming of Christ, and Christianity. There are, answered he, two systems on that point; and then quotes us two modern naturalists, sets forth their opinions, and unfolds to us the authorities with which they backed them. I had the curiosity to ascertain one of those quotations, and found it accurate to a tittle.
“A few days after, the bishop of Arras, having his drawing-room filled with company, Mr. President was announced: the bystanders thinking it to be the first president of the council d’Artois, opened him a gangway to come at the prelate; they behold a priest enter, whom, by his bashful and modest looks, they take for some country curate, and, by a simultaneous motion, they close up the passage which they had made. The bishop, who had already descried his dear president of the English college, perceived also the motion and resolved to put the authors of it to the blush. He observed in one corner of the room a group of military men; he goes up to them, and, finding they were conversing upon the question keenly debated at that time, whether in battle the than order, observed in our days, be preferable to the deep order of the ancients; he called to Mr. Butler, and asked him what he thought of it. I then heard that amazing man talk on the art of war with the modest tone of a school-boy, and the depth of the most consummate military man. I observed admiration in the countenance of all those officers; and say several of them, who, being too far off, stood up upon chairs to hear and see him They altogether put to him questions upon questions, and each of his answers caused fresh applause.
“His lordship left us to go and join another group, consisting of magistrates, who were discussing a point of common law; and, in like manner, called upon had oracle, who, by the sagacity of his reflections, bore away all suffrages, and united their several opinions.
“The prelate, next, taking him by the hand, presented him to the ladies, seated round the fireplace, and asked him, whether the women in ancient times wore their head-dresses as high as ours then did. Fashions, answered he, like the spokes of a wheel turning on its axis, are always replaced by those very ones which they have set aside. He then described to us the dresses, both of the men and women, in the various ages of our monarchy: and, to go still further back, added he, the statue of a female Druid has been found, whose head-dress measured half a yard in height; I have been myself to see it, and have measured it.
“What astonished me most was, that studies so foreign to the supernatural objects of piety, shed over his soul neither aridity nor lukewarmness. He referred all things to God, and his discourse always concluded by some Christian reflections, which he skilfully drew from the topic of the conversation. His virtue was neither minute nor pusillanimous: religion had, in his discourse as well as in his conduct, that solemn gravity which can alone make it worthy of the Supreme Being. Ever composed, he feared neither contradictions nor adversities: he dreaded nothing but praises. He never allowed himself a word that could injure any one’s reputation; his noble generosity was such, that, as often as I happened to prize in his presence any one of his books, or of the things belonging to him, I the same day found them in my possession. In short, I will confess it, to my confusion, that for a long time I sought to discover a failing in him; and I protest, by all that is most sacred, that I never knew one in him. These are the facts, sir, you were desirous of knowing; in the relation of which I have used no exaggeration, nor have had any thing to dissemble. I have often related these facts to my wondering friends, as a relief to my heart; and indeed, notwithstanding the distance of time, they recur as fresh to my remembrance as if just transacted before my eyes.
“I was at a distance from St. Omer’s when death robbed me of my respectable friend.” Time has not alleviated the sorrow which the loss of him fixed deeply in my breast. I have preciously preserved some of his presents, and carefully concealed them at my leaving France. May I one day find again those dear pledges of a friendship, the recollection of which is, in our calamities, the sweetest of my consolations. I have the honor to be, with the highest regard, sir, your most obedient, &c.
“L’Abbé de la SEPOUZE.
“At the Hague, December 30, 1794.”
During our author’s stay at St. Omer’s, a thesis was printed and publicly defended, in a neighboring university, which excited his attention. Mr. Joseph Berington presided at the defensions of it. It certainly contained many propositions which were offensive to pious ears; but respectable persons are said to have declared, that it contained nothing materially contrary to the faith of the Roman Catholic church; and the editor feels it a duty incumbent on him to add, that one of the bishops, to whom our author was grand-vicar, mentioned to the editor, that he thought his vicar had shown too much vivacity on that occasion.
Both from our author’s letters, and from what is recollected of his conversations, it appears that he often explicitly declared that, if powerful measures were not adopted to prevent it, a revolution in France would take place, both in church and state. He thought irreligion, and a general corruption of manners, gained ground everywhere. On the decay of piety in France, he once mentioned in confidence to the editor a circumstance so shocking, that even after what has publicly happened, the editor does not think himself justifiable in mentioning it in this place. He seems to have augured well on the change of ministry which took place on the expulsion of the Choiseuls. He was particularly acquainted with the cardinal de Bernis, and the mareschal de Muy. Of the latter he writes thus in one of his letters: “Mr. de Muy, who has sometimes called upon me, and often writes to me, as the most affectionate of friends, is unanimously called the most virtuous and upright nobleman in the kingdom. The late dauphin’s projects in favor of religion he will endeavor to execute. He is minister of war. The most heroic piety will be promoted by him by every method: if I gave you an account of his life, you would be charmed by so bright a virtue.”
Our author had projected many works besides those which we have mentioned. Among them his Treatise on the Moveable Feasts may be reckoned. He very much lamented that he had not time to complete: what he had prepared of it. he thought too prolix, and, if he had lived to revise it, he would have made great alterations in it. Some time after his decease, it was published under the inspection of Mr. Challoner. He proposed writing the lives of bishop Fisher and sir Thomas More, and had made great collections, with a view to such a work some of them are in the hands of the editor, and are at the command of any person to whom they can be of use. He had begun a treatise to explain and establish the truths of natural and revealed religion; he was dissatisfied with what Bergier had published on those subjects. He composed many sermons, and an immense number of pious discourses. From what remained of the three last articles, the three volumes of his discourses, which have appeared since his decease, were collected The editor is happy in this opportunity of mentioning his obligations to the Rev Mr. Jones, for revising and superintending the publication of them. They are acknowledged to possess great merit; the morality of them is entitled to great praise the discourse on conversation shows a considerable knowledge of life and manners Having mentioned his sermons, it is proper to add, that as a preacher he almost wholly failed. His sermons were sometimes interesting and pathetic: but they were always desultory, and almost always immeasurably long. The editor has lately published his Short Life of Sir Toby Matthews.
He was very communicative of his manuscripts, and consequently many of them were lost; so that, on an attentive examination of them, after his decease, none but those we have mentioned were thought fit for the press.
The number of letters written by our author exceeds belief; if they could be collected, they would be found to contain an immense mass of interesting matter on many important topics of religion and literature. He corresponded with many persons of distinction, both among the communicants with the see of Rome, and the separatists from her. Among the former may be reckoned the learned and elegant Lambertini, who afterwards, under the name of Benedict XIV., was honored with the papal crown: among the latter may be reckoned Dr. Louth, the bishop first of Oxford, afterwards of London, the celebrated translator of Isaiah. In a Latin note on Michaelis, our author speaks of that prelate as his intimate acquaintance, “necessitate conjunctissimus.”
He had the happiness to enjoy the friendship and esteem of many persons distin guished by rank, talents, or virtue. The holy bishop of Amiens spoke of him in the highest terms of admiration and regard. In the life written in French of the excellent prelate, he is mentioned “as the most learned man in Europe.” He is styled by father Brotier, in his preface to his edition of Tacitus, “sacra eruditione perceleber.” The late Mr. Philips, in the preface to his life of cardinal Pole, mentioning the edition of his letters by cardinal Quirini, expresses himself thus: “They were procured for the author by Mr. Alban Butler, to whom the public is indebted for the most useful and valuable work which has appeared in the English language on the Lives of the Saints, and which has been so much esteemed in France, that it is now translating into the language of a country celebrated for biography, with large additions by the author. This gentleman’s readiness on all occasions to assist the author in his undertaking, was answerable to his extensive knowledge and general acquaintance with whatever has any relation to erudition.” Our author was not satisfied with the French translation of his work: the writers professed to translate it freely; but he thought that they abused the privilege of free translation, that they misrepresented his meaning, that their style was affected, and that the devotional cast which he had labored to give the original, was wholly lost in their translation. The editor has heard that a translation of it was begun in the Spanish and Italian languages, but he has seen no such translation. Dr. Kennicot spoke loudly of our author’s readiness and disinterested zeal to oblige. Even the stern Mr. Hollis mentions him in his memoirs with some degree of kindness. No person was more warmly attached to his friends. With his affectionate and generous disposition, no one was more sensible of unkindness than he was; but none forgave it more readily. It was his rule to cultivate those who were inimical to him by every mark of attention and act of kindness; and rather to seek than avoid an intercourse with them. His incessant attention to his studies frequently made him absent in society: this sometimes produced whimsical incidents.
Whatever delight he found in his literary pursuits, he never sacrificed his religious duties to them, or permitted them to trespass on his exercises of devotion. Huet, whom, from his resemblance to our author in unremitted application to study the editor has often had occasion to mention, laments his own contrary conduct is very feeling terms: “I was entirely carried,” says he, (De Rebus ad eum Pertinentibus, 174,) ‘by the pleasure found in learning: the endless variety which it affords had taken up my thoughts, and seized all the avenues of my mind, that I was altogether incapable of any sweet and intimate communication with God. When I withdrew into religious retirement, in order to recollect my scattered thoughts, and fix them on heavenly things, I experienced a dryness and insensibility of soul by which the Holy Spirit seemed to punish this excessive bent to learning.” This misfortune our author never experienced. A considerable portion of his time was devoted to prayer. When it was in his power, he said mass every day; when he travelled, he rose at a very early hour, that he might hear it: he never neglected the prayer of the Angelus, and, when he was not in the company of strangers, he said it on his knees. He recommended a frequent approach to the sacrament of the altar: some, under his spiritual direction, communicated almost every day. The morale sevère of the Jansenists he strongly reprobated in discourse, and no person receded further from it in practice: but he was an admirer of the style of the gentlemen of Port Royal, and spoke with praise of their general practice of avoiding the insertion of the pronoun I in their writings. He thought the Bible should not be read by very young persons, or by those who were wholly uninformed: even the translation of the whole divine office of the church he thought should not be given to the faithful promiscuously. In the printed correspondence of Fenelon, a Ions letter by him on frequent communion, and one on reading the Bible, (they deserve to be translated and generally read,) express exactly our author’s sentiments on those subjects. All singularity in devotion was offensive to him. He exhorted every one to a perfect discharge of the ordinary duties of his situation, to a conformity to the divine will, both in great and little occasions, to good temper and mildness in his intercourse with his neighbor, to an habitual recollection of the divine presence, to a scrupulous attachment to truth, to retirement, to extreme sobriety. These, he used to say, were the virtues of the primitive Christians, and among them, he said, we should always look for perfect models of Christian virtue. Fleury’s account of them, in his Manners of the Christians, he thought excellent, and frequently recommended the perusal of it. He exhorted all to devotion to the Mother of God; many, under his care, said her office every day. The advantage of mental prayer he warmly inculcated. In the conduct of souls he was all mildness and patience: motives of love were oftoner in his mouth than motives of fear: “for to him that loves, nothing,” he used to say, with the author of the Imitation of Christ, “is difficult.” He often sacrificed his studies and private devotions to the wants of his neighbor. When it was in his power he attended the ceremony of the salut at the parish church; and on festivals particularly solemnized by any community of the towns in which he resided, he usually assisted at the divine service in their churches. He was very abstemious in his diet; and considered systematic sensuality as the ultimate degradation of human nature. He never was heard to express so much disgust, as at conversations where, for a great length of time, the pleasures of the table, or the comparative excellence of dishes, had been the sole topic of conversation; yet he was very far from being an enemy to rational mirth, and he always exerted himself to entertain and promote the pleasures of his friends. In all his proceedings he was most open and unreserved: from selfishness none could be more free. Dr. Kennicot often said that, of the many he had employed in his great biblical undertaking, none had shown more activity or more disinterestedness than our author. He was zealous in the cause of religion, but his zeal was without bitterness or animosity: polemic acrimony was unknown to him. He never forgot that in every heretic he saw a brother Christian; in every infidel he saw a brother man. He greatly admired Drouen de Sacramentis, and Boranga’s Theology. Tournely he preferred much to his antagonist Billouart. He thought Houbigant too bold a critic, and objected some novelties to the Hebraizing friars of the Rue St. Honoré. He believed the letters of Ganganelli, with the exception of two or three at most, to be spurious. Their spuriousness has been since placed beyond controversy by the Diatribe’ Clementine, published in 1777. Caraccioli, the editor of them, in his Remerciement à l’Auteur de l’Année Littéraire de la part de l’Editeur des Lettres dv Pape Ganganelli, acknowledges that he filled sixty pages at least of them with thoughts and insertions of his own compositions. In the handwriting of a gentleman remarkable for his great accuracy, the editor has before him the following account of our author’s sentiments on usury: “Mr. Alban Butler’s opinion of receiving interest for money, in a letter dated the 20th of June, 1735, but copied anno 1738.—In England, and in some other countries, the laws allow of five per cent., and even an action at law for the payment of it. This is often allowable in a trading country; and, as it is the common practice in England, I shall not blame any one for taking or even exacting interest-money; therefore will say nothing against it in general: but, in my own regard, I am persuaded it is not warrantable in conscience, but in three eases; viz. either for a gain ceasing, as merchants lend money which they would otherwise employ in trade, lucrum cessans: or, secondly, some detriment the lender suffers by it, damnum emergens: or, thirdly, some hazard in the principal money, by its being exposed to some more than ordinary danger in being recovered safely. Some time afterwards the said Alban Butler was convinced there was no occasion of scruple in receiving interest for money, so that it was at a moderate or low rate of interest; and that there was reason to believe the borrower made full the advantage of the money that he paid for it by the interest.”
Our author’s love of learning continued with him to the last. Literary topics were frequently the subject of his familiar conversation. He was a great admirer of what is called the simple style of writing; and once mentioned that, if he could acquire a style by wishing for it, he should wish for that of Herodotus. He thought the orator appeared too much in Cicero’s philosophical works, except his Offices; that work he considered to be one of the most perfect models of writing which have come down to us from antiquity. He professed to discover the man of high breeding and elegant society in the commentaries of Cæsar; and to find expressions in the writings of Cicero which showed a person accustomed to address a mob, the fæx Romani populi. He believed the works of Plato had been much interpolated; and once mentioned, without blame, father Hardouin’s opinion that they were wholly a fabrication of the middle age. Of the modern Latin poets, he most admired Wallius, and in an illness desired his poems to be read to him. He himself sometimes composed Latin poetry. He preferred the Paradisus Ammæ to its rival prayer-book, the Cæleste Palmetum. Of the last he spoke with great contempt. The little rhyming offices, which fill a great part of it, are not very interesting; but the explanation in it of the psalms in our Lady’s office, of the psalms in the office for the dead, of the gradual and seven penitential psalms, and of the psalms sung at vespers and complin, is excellent. A person would deserve well of the English Catholics who should translate it into English. The Cæleste Palmetum was the favorite prayer-book of the Low Countries. By Foppen’s Bibliotheca Belgica, it appears that the first edition of it was printed at Cologne, in 1660, and that, during the first eight years after its publication, more than 14,000 copies of it were sold. Most readers will be surprised, when they are informed that our author preferred the sermons of Bossuet to those of Bourdaloue: but in this he has not been absolutely singular; the celebrated cardinal de Maury has avowed the same opinion; and, what is still more extraordinary, it has also been avowed by father Neuville. Bossuet’s Discourse upon Universal History may be ranked among the noblest efforts of human genius that ever issued from the press. In the chronological part of it, the seenes pass rapidly but distinctly; almost every word is a sentence, and every sentence presents an idea, or excites a sentiment of the sublimest kind. The third part of it, containing his reflections on the events which produced he rise and fall of the ancient empires of the earth, is not inferior to the celebrated work of Montesquieu on the greatness and fall of the Roman empire; but, in the second part, the genius of Bossuet appears in its full strength. He does not lead his reader through a maze of argumentation; he never appears in a stretch of exertion; but, with a continued splendor of imagery, magnificence of language, and vehemence of argument, which nothing can withstand, he announces the sublime truths of the Christian religion, and the sublime evidence that supports them, with a grandeur and force that overpower and disarm resistance. Something of this is to be found in many passages of his sermons; but, in general, both the language and the arguments of them are forced and unnatural. His letters to the nuns are very interesting. Let those who affect to talk slightingly of the devotions of the religious, recollect that the sublime Bossuet bestowed a considerable portion of his time upon them. The same pen that wrote the discourse on universal history, the funeral oration of the prince of Condé, and the History of the Variations, was at the command of every religious who requested from Bossuet a letter of advice or consolation. “Was he at Versailles, was he engaged on any literary work of importance, was he employed on a pastoral visit of his diocese, still,” say the Benedictine editors of his works, “he always found time to write to his correspondents on spiritual concerns.” In this he had a faithful imitator in our author. No religious community addressed themselves to him who did not find in him a zealous director, an affectionate and steady friend. For several among the religious he had the highest personal esteem. Those who remember him during his residence at St. Omer’s, will recollect his singular respect for Mrs. More, the superior of the English convent of Austins at Bruges. He was, in general, an enemy to the private pensions of nuns; (see Boudon’s Letter Sur le Reláchement qui s’est introduit dans l’Observation du Væu de Pauvreté Lettres de Boudon, vol. 1, p. 500;) but in this, as in every other instance, he wished the reform, when determined upon, to proceed gently and gradually.
All who have had an opportunity of observing the English communities since their arrival in this country, have been edified by their amiable and heroic virtues. Their resignation to the persecution which they have so undeservedly suffered, their patience, their cheerfulness, their regular discharge of their religious observances, and, above all, their noble confidence in Divine Providence, have gained them the esteem of all who know them. At a village near London, a small community of Carmelites lived for several months, almost without the elements of fire water, or air. The two first (for water, unfortunately, was there a vendible commodity) they could little afford to buy; and from the last (their dress confining them to their shed) they were excluded. In the midst of this severe distress, which no spectator could behold unmoved, they were happy. Submission to the will of God, fortitude, and cheerfulness, never deserted them. A few human tears would fall from them when they thought of their convent; and with gratitude, the finest of human feelings, they abounded; in other respects they seemed of another world. “Whatever,” says Dr. Johnson, “withdraws us from the power of our senses; whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of human beings.” It would be difficult to point out persons to whom this can be better applied than these venerable ladies, whose lives are more influenced by the past, the distant, or the future, or so little influenced by the present.
Our author was not so warm on any subject as the calumnies against the religious of the middle age: he considered the civilization of Europe to be owing to them. When they were charged with idleness, he used to remark the immense tracts of land, which, from the rudest state of nature, they converted to a high state of husbandry in the Hercynian wood, the forests of Champagne and Burgundy, the morasses of Holland, and the fens of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. When ignorance was imputed to them, he used to ask, what author of antiquity had reached us, for whose works we were not indebted to the monks. He could less endure that they should be considered as instruments of absolute power to enslave the people: when this was intimated, he observed that, during the period which immediately followed the extinction of the Carlovingian dynasty, when the feudal law absolutely triumphed over monarchy, the people were wholly left to themselves, and must have sunk into an absolute state of barbarism, if it had not been for the religious establishments. Those, he said, softened the manners of the conquerors, afforded refuge to the vanquished, preserved an intercourse between nations: and, when the feudal chiefs rose to the rank of monarchs, stood as a rampart between them and the people. He thought St. Thomas of Canterbury a much injured character. He often pointed out that rich tract of country, which extends from St. Omer’s to Liege, as a standing refutation of those who asserted that convents and monasteries were inimical to the populousness of a country: he observed, that the whole income of the smaller houses, and two-thirds of the revenues of the greater houses, were constantly spent within twenty miles round their precincts; that their lands were universally let at low rents; that every abbey had a school for the instruction of its tenants, and that no human institution was so well calculated to promote the arts of painting, architecture, and sculpture, works in iron and bronze, and every other species of workmanship, as abbeys or monasteries, and their appendages. “Thus,” he used to say, “though the country in view was originally a marsh, and has for more than a century wholly survived its commerce, it is the most populous country in Europe; and presents on the face of it as great a display of public and private strength, wealth, and affluence, as can be found in any other part of the world.” Fortunately for him he did not live to be witness to the domiciliary visit which, in our times, it has received from France. What would he have thought, if any person had told him, that, before the expiration of the century in which he lived, the French themselves would, in perfect hatred of Christ, destroy he finest churches of France? At their profanation of his favorite church of St. Bertin, in the town of St. Omer’s, that is said to have happened which Victor Vitensis relates to have happened in the persecution of the Vandals, (Hist. Pers. Van. 31:) “Introeuntes maximo cum furore, corpus Christi et sanguinem pavimento sparserunt, et illud pollutis pedibus calcaverunt.”
Our author enjoyed through life a good state of health, but somewhat impaired it by intense application to study. Some years before his decease he had a slight stroke of the palsy, which affected his speech. He died on the 15th of May, 1773, in the sixty-third year of his age. A decent monument of marble was raised to his memory in the chapel of the English college at St. Omer’s, with the following inscription upon it, composed by Mr. Bannister:
R. D. Albanus Butler (Bouteillier) Prænobilis Anglus.
Sacerdos et Alumnus Collegii Anglorum Duaci.
Ibidem S. T. Professor, Postmodum Missionarius in Patria.
Præes II. Collegii Regii Anglorum Audomari.
Illustrissimorum Philomelien. Deboren. Atrebaten Audomaren
Ex vetustâ Ortus prosapiâ.
Iu utrisque Angliæ et Galliæ Regnis
Amplà et Florente.
Summis acceptissimus, Infimis benignus,
Omnium necessitatibus inserviens,
Propter Doctrinam et Ingenium, Doctissimis,
Propter Pietatem, Bonis omnibus,
Nobilissimæ Juventutis Iustitutionem,
Sacrarum Virginum curam,
Reverendissimorum Antistitum negotia,
Suscepit, promovit, expedivit,
Opere, Scriptis, Hortatubus.
Sanctorum rebus gestis a Puertiâ inhærens,
Acta omnia peruoscens,
Mentem et Sapientiam alté imbibeus,
Multa scripsit de Sanctorum vitis,
Plena Sanctorum Spiritu, librata judicio, pohta stylo,
Summæ ubertatis et omnigenæ eruditionis.
A postolicæ sedis et omnis officii semper observantissimus.
Pie obiit 15 Mensis Maii 1773.
Natus annis 63. Sacerdos 39. Præses 7
Hoc mœrens posuit Carolus Butler
Monumentum Pietatis suæ in Patruum Amacti
As in corporal distempers a total loss of appetite, which no medicines can restore, forebodes certain decay and death; so in the spiritual life of the soul, a neglect or disrelish of pious reading and instruction is a most fatal symptom. What hopes can we entertain of a person to whom the science of virtue and of eternal salvation doth not seem interesting, or worth his application? “It is impossible,” says St. Chrysostom,1 “that a man should be saved, who neglects assiduous pious reading or consideration. Handicraftsmen will rather suffer hunger and all other hardships than lose the instruments of their trade, knowing them to be the means of their subsistence.” No less criminal and dangerous is the disposition of those who misspend their precious moments in reading romances and play-books, which fill the mind with a worldly spirit, with a love of vanity, pleasure, idleness, and trifling; which destroy and lay waste all the generous sentiments of virtue in the heart, and sow there the seeds of every vice, which extend their baneful roots over the whole soil. Who seeks nourishment from poisons? What food is to the body, that our thoughts and reflections are to the mind: by them the affections of the soul are nourished. The chameleon changes its color as it is affected by sadness, anger, or joy; or by the color upon which it sits: and we see an insect borrow its lustre and hue from the plant or leaf upon which it feeds. In like manner, what our meditations and affections are, such will our souls become, either holy and spiritual or earthly and carnal. By pious reading the mind is instructed and enlightened, and the affections of the heart are purified and inflamed. It is recommended by St. Paul as the summary of spiritual advice.2
Devout persons never want a spur to assiduous reading or meditation. They are insatiable in this exercise, and, according to the golden motto of Thomas à Kempis, they find their chief delight in a closet, with a good book.* Worldly and tepid Christians stand certainly in the utmost need of this help to virtue. The world is a whirlpool of business, pleasure, and sin. Its torrent is always beating upon their hearts, ready to break in and bury them under its flood, unless frequent pious reading and consideration oppose a strong fence to its waves. The more deeply a person is immersed in its tumultuous cares, so much the greater ought to be his solicitude to find leisure to breathe, after the fatigues and dissipation of business and company; to plunge his heart, by secret prayer, in the ocean of the divine immensity, and, by pious reading, to afford his soul some spiritual refection; as the wearied husbandman, returning from his labor, recruits his spent vigor and exhausted strength, by allowing his body necessary refreshment and repose.
The lives of the saints furnish the Christian with a daily spiritual entertainment, which is not less agreeable than affecting and instructive. For in sacred biography the advantages of devotion and piety are joined with the most attractive charms of history. The method of forming men to virtue by example, is, of all others, the shortest, the most easy, and the best adapted to all circumstances and dispositions. Pride recoils at precepts, but example instructs without usurping the authoritative air of a master; for, by example, a man seems to advise and teach himself. It does its work unperceived, and therefore with less opposition from the passions, which take not the alarm. Its influence is communicated with pleasure. Nor does virtue here appear barren and dry as in discourses, but animated and living, arrayed with all her charms, exerting all her powers, and secretly obviating the pretences, and removing the difficulties which self-love never fails to raise. In the lives of the saints we see the most perfect maxims of the gospel reduced to practice, and the most heroic virtue made the object of our senses, clothed as it were with a body, and exhibited to view in its most attractive dress. Here, moreover, we are taught the means by which virtue is obtained, and learn the precipices and snares which we are to shun, and the blinds and by-ways in which many are bewildered and misled in its pursuit. The example of the servants of God points out to us the true path, and leads us as it were by the hand into it, sweetly inviting and encouraging us to walk cheerfully in the steps of those that are gone before us.
Neither is it a small advantage that, by reading the history of the saints, we are introduced into the acquaintance of the greatest personages who have ever adorned the world, the brightest ornaments of the church militant, and the shining stars and suns of the triumphant, our future companions in eternal glory. While we admire the wonders of grace and mercy, which God hath displayed in their favor, we are strongly moved to praise his adorable goodness. And, in their penitential lives and holy maxims, we learn the sublime lessons of practical virtue, which their assiduous meditation on the divine word, the most consummate experience in their deserts, watchings, and commerce with heaven, and the lights of the Holy Ghost, their interior Master, discovered to them. But it is superfluous to show from reason the eminent usefulness of the example, and the history of the saints, which the most sacred authority recommends to us as one of the most powerful helps to virtue. It is the admonition of St. Paul, that we remember our holy teachers, and that, having the end of their conversation before our eyes, we imitate heir faith.3
For our instruction the Holy Ghost himself inspired the prophets to record the lives and actions of many illustrious saints in the holy scriptures. The church could not, in a more solemn manner, recommend to us to have these great models often before our eyes, than by inserting in her daily office an abstract of the lives of the martyrs and other saints; which constant sacred custom is derived from the primitive ages, in which the histories of the martyrs were publicly read at the divine office, in the assemblies of the faithful, on their annual festivals. This is testified of the acts of St. Polycarp in the life of St. Pionius, and, by St. Austin,4 of those of SS. Perpetua and Felicitas. &c. The council of Africa, under Aurelius, archbishop of Carthage, in 397, mentions the acts of the martyrs being allowed to be read in the church on their anniversary days.5 St. Cæsarius permitted persons that were sick and weak, ‘to hear the histories of the martyrs sitting, when they were o’ an uncommon length; but complained that some who were healthful unreasonably took the same liberty.6
All great masters of a spiritual life exceedingly extol the advantages which accrue to souls from the devout reading of the lives of eminent saints; witness St. Nilus,7 St. Chrysostom, and others. Many fathers have employed their pens in transmitting down to posterity the actions of holy men. And the histories of saints were the frequent entertainment and delight of all pious persons, who ever found in them a most powerful means of their encouragement and advancement in virtue, as St. Bonaventure writes of St. Francis of Assisium. “By the remembrance of the saints, as by the touch of glowing stones of fire, he was himself enkindled, and converted into a divine flame.” St. Stephen of Grandmont read their lives every day, and often on his knees. The abbot St. Junian, St. Antoninus, St. Thomas, and other holy men are recorded to have read assiduously the lives of the saints, and by their example to have daily inflamed themselves with fervor in all virtues. St. Boniface of Mentz sent over to England for books of the lives of saints,8 and, by reading the acts of the martyrs, animated himself with the spirit of martyrdom. This great apostle of Germany, St. Sigiran and others, always carried with them in their journeys the acts of the martyrs, that they might read them wherever they travelled. It is related of St. Anastasius the martyr, that “while he read the conflicts and victories of the martyrs, he watered the book with his tears, and prayed that he might suffer the like for Christ. And so much was he delighted with this exercise that he employed in it all his leisure hours.” St. Teresa declares how much the love of virtue was kindled in her breast by this reading, even when she was a child. Joseph Scaliger, a rigid Calvinist critic, writes as follows on the acts of certain primitive martyrs:9 “The souls of pious persons are so strongly affected in reading them, that they always lay down the book with regret. This every one may experience in himself. I with truth aver, that there is nothing in the whole history of the church with which I am so much moved: when I read them I seem no longer to possess myself.”
It would be very easy to compile a volume of the remarkable testimonies of eminent and holy men concerning this most powerful help to virtue, and to produce many examples of sinners, who have been converted by it to an heroic practice of piety. St. Austin mentions two courtiers who were moved on the spot to forsake the world, and became fervent monks, by accidentally reading the life of St. Antony.10 St. John Columbin, from a rich, covetous, and passionate nobleman, was changed into a saint, by casually reading the life of St. Mary of Egypt.11 The duke of Joyeuse, marshal of France, owed his perfect conversion to the reading of the life of St. Francis Borgia, which his servant had one evening laid on the table. To these the example of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and innumerable others might be added. Dr. Palafox, the pious bisnop of Osma, in his preface to the fourth tome of the letters of St. Teresa, relates, that an eminent Lutheran minister at Bremen, famous for several works which he had printed against the Catholic church, purchased the life of St. Teresa, written by herself, with a view of attempting to confute it; but, by attentively reading it over, was converted to the Catholic faith, and from that time led a most edifying life. The examples of Mr. Abraham Woodhead and others were not less illustrious.
But, to appeal to our own experience—who is not awakened from his spiritual lethargy, and confounded at his own cowardice, when he considers the fervor and courage of the saints? All our pretences and foolish objections are silenced, when we see the most perfect maxims of the gospel demonstrated to be easy by example. When we read how many young noblemen and tender virgins have despised the world, and joyfully embraced the cross and the labors of penance, we feel a glowing flame kindled in our own breasts, and are encouraged to suffer afflictions with patience, and cheerfully to undertake suitable practices of penance. While we see many sanctifying themselves in all states, and making the very circumstances of their condition, whether on the throne, in the army, in the state of marriage, or in the deserts, the means of their virtue and penance, we are persuaded that the practice of perfection is possible also to us, in every lawful profession, and that we need only sanctify our employment by a perfect spirit, and the fervent exercises of religion, to become saints ourselves, without quitting our state in the world. When we behold others, framed of the same frail mould with ourselves, many in age or other circumstances weaker than ourselves, and struggling with greater difficulties, yet courageously surmounting, and trampling upon all the obstacles by which the world endeavored to obstruct their virtuous choice, we are secretly stung within our breasts, feel the reproaches of our sloth, are roused from our state of insensibility, and are forced to cry out, “Cannot you do what such and such have done?” But to wind up this discourse, and draw to a conclusion; whether we consult reason, authority, or experience, we may boldly affirm that, except the sacred writings, no book has reclaimed so many sinners, or formed so many holy men to perfect virtue, as that of The Lives of Saints.
If we would read to the spiritual profit of our souls, our motive must be a sincere desire of improving ourselves in divine love, in humility, meekness, and other virtues. Curiosity or vanity shuts the door of the heart to the Holy Ghost, and stifles in it all affections of piety. A short and humble petition of the divine light ought to be our preparation; for which we may say with the prophet, “Open thou mine eyes, and I will consider the wonderful things of thy law.”12 We must make the application of what we read to ourselves, entertain pious affections, and form particular resolutions for the practice of virtue. It is the admonition of a great servant of God,13 “Whatever good instructions you read, unless you resolve and effectually endeavor to practise them with your whole heart, you have not read to the benefit of your soul. For knowledge without works only accuseth and condemneth.” Though we cannot imitate all the actions of the saints, we can learn from them to practise humility, patience, and other virtues in a manner suiting our circumstances and state of life; and can pray that we may receive a share in the benedictions and glory of the saints. As they who have seen a beautiful flower-garden, gather a nosegay to smell at the whole day; so ought we, in reading, to cull out some flowers, by selecting certain pious reflections and sentiments with which we are most affected; and these we should often renew during the day; lest we resemble a man who, having looked at him self in the glass, goeth away, and forgetteth what he had seen of himself.
AN INTRODUCTORY DISCOURSE
THE lives of the principal martyrs, fathers, and other more illustnous saints, whose memory is revered in the Catholic church, are here presented to the public. An undertaking of this kind seems not to stand in need of an apology. For such are the advantages and so great the charms of history, that, on every subject, and whatever dress it wears, it always pleases and finds readers. So instructive it is, that it is styled by Cicero, “The mistress of life,”1 and is called by others, “Moral philosophy exemplified in the lives and actions of mankind.”2 But, of all the parts of history, biography, which describes the lives of great men, seems both the most entertaining, and the most instructive and improving. By a judicious choice and detail of their particular actions, it sets before our eyes a living image of those heroes who have been the object of the admiration of past ages; it exhibits to us a portraiture of their interior virtues and spirit, and gives the most useful and enlarged view of human nature. From the wise maxims, experience, and even mistakes of great men, we learn the most refined lessons of prudence, and are furnished with models for our imitation. Neither is the narration here interrupted, nor the attention of the reader hurried from one object to another, as frequently happens in general history. On these and other accounts are the lives of eminent personages the most agreeable and valuable part of history. But, in the lives of the saints, other great advantages occur. Here are incidentally related the triumphs of the church, the trophies of the most exalted virtue, and the conversion of nations. What are profane histories better than records of scandals? What are the boasted triumphs of an Alexander or a Cæsar but a series of successful plunders, murders, and other crimes? It was the remark of the historian Socrates, that if princes were all lovers of peace and fathers of their people, and if the lives of men were a uniform and steady practice of piety, civil history would be almost reduced to empty dates. This reflection extorted from the pen of a famous wit of our age, in his history of the empire of the West since Charlemagne, the following confession: “This history is scarcely any more than a vast scene of weaknesses, faults, crimes, and misfortunes; among which we find some virtues, and some successful exploits, as fertile valleys are often seen among chains of rocks and precipices. This is likewise the case with other histories.”3 But the lives of the saints are the history of the most exemplary and perfect virtue and prowess. While therefore all other branches of history employ daily so many pens, shall this, which above all others deserves our attention, be alone forgotten? While every other part of the soil is daily raked up. shall the finest spot be left uncultivated? Our antiquaries must think themselves obliged by this essay, as the greatest part of these saints have been the objects of the veneration of the whole Christian world during several ages. Their names stand recorded in the titles of our churches, in our towns, estates, writings, and almost every other monument of our Christian ancestors. If the late learned bishop Tanner, by his Notitia Monastica, deserved the thanks of all lovers of antiquity, will they not receive favorably the history of those eminent persons of whom we meet so frequent memorials?
Besides the principal saint for each day, in this collection is added a short account of some others who were very remarkable in history, or famous among our ancestors. The English and Scottish churches had, by the mutual intercourse and neighborhood of the nations, a particular devotion to several French saints, as appears from all their ancient breviaries, from a complete English manuscript calendar, written in the reign of Edward IV., now in my hands, and from the titular saints of many monasteries and parishes. Our Norman kings and bishops honored several saints of Aquitain and Normandy by pious foundations which bear their names among us: and portions of the relics of some French saints, as of St. Salvius, kept in the cathedral of Canterbury, have rendered their names illustrious in this kingdom. The mention of such, were it but for the satisfaction of our antiquaries, &c., will, it is to be hoped, be pardoned. Though the limits of this work would not allow long abstracts of these secondary lives, yet some characteristical circumstances are inserted, that these memoirs might not sink into a bare necrology, or barren list of dates and names. For, unless a narration be supported with some degree of dignity and spirit, and diversified by the intermixture of various events, it deserves not the name of history; no more than a plot of ground can be called a garden, which is neither variegated with parterres of flowers, nor checkered with walks and beds of useful herbs or shrubs. To answer the title and design of this work, a short account is given of those fathers whose names are famous in the history of the church, and in the schools, but who have never been honored among the saints. But such fathers or other eminent persons are spoken of only in notes upon the lives of certain saints, with which they seem to have some connection. It was the compiler’s intention to insert among the lives of the saints an account of none to whom public veneration has not been decreed by the authority of the Holy See, or at least of some particular churches, before this, on many just accounts, was reserved to the chief pastor of the church. The compiler declares that the epithets of Saint and Blessed are never employed in this work, but with entire submission to the decrees of Urban VIII. on this subject; and that if they are anywhere given to persons to whom the supreme pastors of the church have never juridically granted this privilege, no more is meant by them, than such persons are esteemed holy and venerable for the reputation of their virtue; not that they are publicly honored among the saints. The same is to be understood of miracles here related, which have not been judicially examined and approved, the part of an historian differing entirely from an authentic decision of the supreme judge.
The actions of several apostles and other illustrious saints were never committed to writing: and, with regard to some others, the records of their transactions, by falling a prey to the moths or flames, have perished in the general wreck: yet their names could not be omitted. If their history affords little to gratify vain curiosity, at least a heart which seeks and loves God will find, even in these scanty memoirs, every thing interesting and entertaining. If the names of some saints have been transmitted down to us without particular accounts of their lives,* their virtues shine with no ess lustre in heaven; and this very circumstance is pleasing and favorable to humility, which studies and loves to lie concealed and unknown; and it was pointed out by the hidden life of Christ. It is also objected, that certain actions of some saints, which were performed by a special instinct of the Holy Ghost, are to us rather objects of admiration than imitation: but even in these we read lessons of perfect virtue, and a reproach of our own sloth, who dare undertake nothing for God. But some may say, What edification can persons in the world reap from the lives of apostles, bishops, or recluses? To this it may be answered, that though the functions of their state differ from ours, yet patience, humility, penance, zeal, and charity, which all their actions breathe, are necessary virtues in all persons. Christian perfection is in its spirit and essence everywhere the same, how much soever the means or exercises may vary. Though edification be the primary view in works of this nature, the other ends of history are not neglected, as it becomes more entertaining and useful in proportion as it is more clear, complete, and important. This, it is hoped, will excuse certain short digressions which are sometimes inserted, and which the laws of correct writing allow when not too long, frequent, or foreign, when they have a natural connection with the subject, and when the want of regularity is compensated by greater perspicuity and utility. This liberty is more freely taken in parts which would have otherwise seemed barren. Notes are added, which seemed useful to the bulk of those for whom this work was designed, or likely to attract the curiosity of some to whom these lives would otherwise have seemed obscure, or not sufficiently interesting. This method repders sacred biography a more universal improvement in useful knowledge, and by enlarging the view, becomes more satisfactory and engaging.
Certain critics of this age, as they style themselves, are displeased with all histories of miracles, not considering that these wonders are, in a particular manner, the works of God, intended to raise our attention to his holy providence, and to awake our souls to praise his goodness and power, often also to bear testimony to his truth. Entirely to omit the mention of their would be an infidelity in history, and would tend, in some measure, to obstruct the great and holy purposes for which they were effected. Yet a detail of all miracles, though authentically attested, is not the design of this work. Wherefore, in such facts, it seemed often sufficient to refer the reader to the original records But miracles may be the subject of a particular disquisition.
A tedious sameness in the narration hath been carefully avoided, and in relating general virtues, it is hoped that the manner, diction, and thoughts will be found new. Where memoirs allowed it, such a collection of remarkable actions and sayings of the saints hath been selected as seems neither trifling nor redundant; and may serve to express their character and spirit. In this consists the chief advantage of biography, as in painting, a portraiture draws its life from the strength of the features. By this singular excellency doth Plutarch charm his readers, cover, or at least compensate for, his neglect of style and method, and other essential blemishes, and make even the most elegant writers who have attempted a supplement to his lives,* to appear tedious and dull to one who hath first read his work What eloquence could furnish so fine a description, or convey so strong a idea of the pride of Alexander, as the short answers of that prince to the Cynic philosopher, or to Darius? or of the modesty of Phocion, as the well-chosen circumstances of his disinterestedness and private life?†
In these lives of the saints pious reflections are sometimes interspersed though in general sparingly, not to swell the volume, or seem to suspect the judgment of the reader, or to forestall the pleasure of his own reflections. The study and exercise of virtue being the principal end which every good Christian ought to propose to himself in all his actions and undertakings, and which religious persons have particularly in view in reading the lives of saints, in favor of those who are slow in forming suitable reflections in the reading, a short instruction, consisting of maxims drawn from the writings or example of each saint, is subjoined to the principal life for each day, which may be omitted at discretion. A succinct account of the writings of the fathers is given in marginal notes, as a key to young theologians in studying their works: their ascetical lucubrations are principally pointed out, in which their spirit is often discovered, even to better advantage than in the best histories which are left us of their actions.
The compiler’s first care in this work, hath been a most scrupulous attachment to truth, the foundation, or rather the soul of all history, especially of that which tends to the advancement of piety and religion. The indagation is often a task both nice and laborious. If we weigh the merit of original authors, some we shall find careless and injudicious, and many write under the bias of party prejudice, which strangely perverts the judgment. By this, James Basnage could, in his History of the Jews, (b. 6,) notoriously mistake and misrepresent, by wholesale, the clearest authorities, to gratify his prepossession against an incontestable miracle, as the most learned Mr. Warburton hath demonstrated in his Julian, (b. 2, ch. 4.) Some write history as they would a tragedy or a romance; and, seeking at any rate to please the reader, or display their art, often sacrifice the truth for the sake of a fine conceit, of a glittering thought, or a point of wit.‡ Another difficulty is, that ancient writings have sometimes suffered much by the bold rashness of modern critics, or in the manuscripts, by the slips of careless copiers.§ Again, authors who polish the style, or abridge the histories of others, are seldom to be trusted; and experience will show us the same of translations. Even Henry Valois, the most learned and celebrated Greek interpreter, is accused of having sometimes so far mistaken the sense of Eusebius, as to have given in his translation the contradictory of the meaning of his author.
A greater mischief than all these have been the forgeries of impostors, especially heretics. Indeed, if the father of lies, by the like instruments, found means to counterfeit forty-eight or fifty false gospels, of which a list is given by Calmet,5 is it surprising that, from the same forge, he should have attempted to adulterate the histories of certain saints? But the vigilance of zealous pastors, and the repeated canons of the church, show, through every age, how much all forgeries and imposture were always the object of their abhorrence. Pope Adrian I., in an epistle to Charlemagne, mentions this constant severe law of the church, and says, that no acts of martyrs are suffered to be read which are not supported by good vouchers.* The council in Trull0,6 and many others down to the present age, have framed canons for this purpose, as F. Honoratus of St. Mary shows.7 Pope Gelasius I., in his famous Roman council in 494, condemns the false acts of St. George, which the Arians had forged,8 &c. Tertullian9 and St. Jerom10 inform us, that, in the time of the apostles, a certain priest of Asia, out of veneration for St. Paul and St. Thecla, forged false acts of their peregrinations and sufferings; but for this crime he was deposed from the priesthood by St. John the Evangelist. No good end can, on any account, excuse the least lie; and to advance that pious frauds, as some improperly call them, can ever be lawfully used, is no better than blasphemy. All wilful lying is essentially a sin, as Catholic divines unanimously teach, with St. Austin, against the Prisciallianists. It is contrary and most hateful to the God of truth, and a heinous affront and injury offered to our neighbor: it destroys the very end and use of speech, and the sacred bond of society, and all commerce among men; for it would be better to live among dumb persons, than to converse with liars. To tell any lie whatsoever in the least point relating to religion, is always to lie in a matter of moment, and can never be excused from a mortal sin, as Catholic divines teach.11 Grotius, the Protestant critic, takes notice that forgeries cannot be charged upon the popes, who, by the most severe canons, forbid them, punish the authors if detected, and give all possible encouragement to judicious critics.12 This also appears from the works of innumerable learned men among the Catholics, and from the unwearied labors with which they have given to the public the most correct editions of the ancient fathers and historians. Good men may sometimes be too credulous in things in which there appears no harm. Nay, Gerson observes,13 that sometimes the more averse a person is from fraud himself, the more unwilling he is to suspect imposture in others. But no good man can countenance and abet a known fraud for any purpose whatever. The pretence of religion would exceedingly aggravate the crime.
If any particular persons among the monks could be convicted of having attempted to palm any false writing or lie on the world, the obligations of their profession would render their crime the more odious and enormous. But to make this a charge upon that venerable order of men in any age, is a most unjust and a notorious slander. Melchior Cano, who complains of interpolations which have crept into some parts of sacred biography, justifies the monks from the infamous imputation which some, through ignorance or malice, affect to cast upon them;14 and Mabillon has vindicated them more at large.15 On their diligence and scrupulosity in general, in correctly copying the manuscripts, see Dom. Coutant,16 and the authors of the new French Diplomatique.17 In me Pemtential of St. Theodore the Studite, a penance is prescribed for a monk who had made any mistake in copying a manuscript. In 1196, in the general chapter of the Cistercians, it was ordered that the church of Lyons and the monastery of Cluni should be consulted about the true reading of a passage in a book to be copied. An ciently, books were chiefly copied and preserved in monasteries, which for several ages were the depositories of learning. Mr. Gurdon18 and Bishop Tanner19 take notice, that in England the great abbeys were even the repositories of the laws, edicts of kings, and acts of parliament. The history of Wales was compiled and kept through every age, by public authority, in the monastery of Ystratflur for South Wales, where the princes and noblemen of that country were interred; and in the abbey of Conwey for North Wales, which was the burying-place of the princes of that part. Conringius,20 a German Protestant, writes, “In the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries there is scarce to be found, in the whole Western church, the name of a person who had written a book, but what dwelt, or at least was educated in a monastery.” Before universities were erected, monasteries, and often the palaces of bishops, were the seminaries of the clergy, the nurseries for the education of young noblemen, and the great schools of all the sciences. To the libraries and industry of the monks we are principally indebted for the works of the ancients which we possess. Grateful for this benefit, we ought not to condemn them because, by a fatality incident to human things, some works are come down to us interpolated or imperfect.*
Accidental causes have given frequent occasions to mistakes, which, when we consider, we cannot be surprised if sometimes good men have been deceived by false memoirs. As to authors of wilful forgeries, we have no name harsh enough to express, nor punishment equal to their crime. But the integrity even of Geoffry of Monmouth is no longer impeached, since it hath been proved that in his British history he was not the author of the fables which he published upon the credit of other vouchers.
Nevertheless, upon these, and the like accounts, history calls aloud for the discernment of criticism. And many learned men, especially of the monastic order, have, for our assistance, with no less industry than success separated in ancient writings the sterling from the counterfeit, and by collating manuscripts, and by clearing difficult points, have rendered the path in this kind of literature smooth and secure. The merit of original authors hath been weighed; we have the advantage of most correct editions of their works; rash and groundless alterations of some modern critics, and the blunders of careless copiers or editors are redressed; interpolations foisted into the original writings are retrenched; and a mark hath been set on memoirs of inferior authority. Moreover, the value of ancient manuscripts being known, ample repositories of such monuments have been made, curious lists of which are communicated to the public, that any persons may know and have recourse to them. It must also be added, that the laborious task of making the researches necessary for this complicated work, hath been rendered lighter by the care with which several judicious and learned men have compiled the lives of many particular saints. Thus have Mabillon and Bulteau writ the lives of the saints of the order of St. Benedict; the elegant Touron of that of St. Dominick; Le Nain, of the Cistercian order: Tillemont, the Maurist Benedictin monks, and Orsi, those of the principal fathers of the church, &c.* The genuine acts of the primitive martyrs, the most valuable monument of ecclesiastical history have been carefully published by Ruinart. Some of them are presidial acts, i. e. extracted from the court registers; others were written from the relations of eye-witnesses of undoubted veracity. To this treasure an accession, which the learned Orsi and others doubt not to call of equal value, hath been lately made by the publication of the genuine acts of the martyrs of the East, or of Persia, and of the West, or Palestine, in two volumes, folio, at Rome. Those of the East were written chiefly by St. Maruthus, a neighboring bishop of Mesopotamia: the others seem to contain the entire work of Eusebius on the martyrs of Palestine, which he abridged in the eighth book of his history Both parts were found in a Chaldaic manuscript, in a monastery of Upper Egypt, and purchased by Stephen Evodius Assemani, archbishop of Apamea, and his uncle Joseph Simonius Assemani, first prefect of the Vatican library, at the charges of pope Clement XII., who had sent the former into the East on that errand. The manuscripts are deposited in the Vatican library. Joseph Assemani is known in the republic of letters by his invaluable Oriental library, his Italicæ Historiæ Scriptores, his Kalendaria Ecclesiæ Universæ notis Illustrata, &c., and Stephen, by his share in the publication of the works of St. Ephrem, and by the Acta Martyrum Orientalium et Occidentalium. The learned Jesuits at Antwerp, Bollandus and his continuators, have given us the Acta Sanctorum, enriched with curious remarks and dissertations, in forty-one large volumes in folio, to the 5th day of September. To mention other monuments and writers here made use of, would be tedious and superfluous. The authorities produced throughout the work speak for themselves: the veracity of writers who cannot pretend to pass for inspired, ought to be supported by competent vouchers.
The original authors are chiefly our guides. The stream runs clear and pure from the source, which in a long course often contracts a foreign mixture; but the lucubrations of many judicious modern critics have cast a great light upon ancient historians: these, therefore, have been also consulted and compared, and their labors freely made use of.