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- The Coming of the Friars - 1/38 -


THE COMING OF THE FRIARS AND OTHER HISTORIC ESSAYS

BY THE REV. AUGUSTUS JESSOPP, D.D.

Hon. Canon in Norwich Cathedral, Hon. Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, and Hon. Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge

FOURTEENTH IMPRESSION

TO MY FRIEND AND SOMETIME TUTOR,

FRANCIS WHALLEY HARPER,

CANON OF YORK,

I OFFER THIS VOLUME AS A TOKEN OF MY GRATITUDE

[These Essays have appeared at various times in "The Nineteenth Century," and are now printed with some alterations, corrections, and additions.]

CONTENTS.

I. THE COMING OF THE FRIARS

II. VILLAGE LIFE IN NORFOLK SIX HUNDRED YEARS AGO

III. DAILY LIFE IN A MEDIEVAL MONASTERY

IV. THE BLACK DEATH IN EAST ANGLIA

V. THE BLACK DEATH IN EAST ANGLIA (_continued_)

VI. THE BUILDING UP OF A UNIVERSITY

VII. THE PROPHET OF WALNUT-TREE YARD

I.

THE COMING OF THE FRIARS.

Sweet St. Francis of Assisi, would that he were here again!--_Lord Tennyson._

When King Richard of England, whom men call the Lion-hearted, was wasting his time at Messina, after his boisterous fashion, in the winter of 1190, he heard of the fame of Abbot Joachim, and sent for that renowned personage, that he might hear from his own lips the words of prophecy and their interpretation.

Around the personality of Joachim there has gathered no small amount of _mythus._ He was, it appears, the inventor of that mystical method of Hermeneutics which has in our time received the name of "the year-day theory," and which, though now abandoned for the most part by sane men, has still some devout and superstitious advocates in the school of Dr. Cumming and kindred visionaries.

Abbot Joachim proclaimed that a stupendous catastrophe was at hand. Opening the Book of the Revelation of St. John he read, pondered, and interpreted. A divine illumination opened out to him the dark things that were written in the sacred pages. The unenlightened could make nothing of "a time, times, and half a time" [Footnote: Dan. xii. 7.] ; to them the terrors of the 1,260 days [Footnote: Rev. xi .3.] were an insoluble enigma long since given up as hopeless, whose answer would come only at the Day of Judgment. Abbot Joachim declared that the key to the mystery had been to him revealed. What could "a time, times, and half a time" mean, but three years and a half? What could a year mean in the divine economy but the _lunar_ year of 360 days? for was not the moon the symbol of the Church of God? What were those 1,260 days but the sum of the days of three years and a half? Moreover, as it had been with the prophet Ezekiel, to whom it was said, "I have appointed thee a day for a year," so it must needs be with other seers who saw the visions of God. To them the "day" was not as our brief prosaic day--to them too had been "appointed a day for a year." The "time, times, and half a time" were the 1,260 days, and these were 1,260 years, and the stupendous catastrophe, the battle of Armageddon, the reign of Antichrist, the new heavens and the new earth, the slaughter and the resurrection of the two heavenly witnesses, were at hand. Eleven hundred and ninety years had passed away of those 1,260. "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth," said Joachim; "Antichrist is already born, yea born in the city of Rome!"

Though King Richard, in the strange interview of which contemporary historians have left us a curious narrative, exhibited much more of the spirit of the scoffer than of the convert, and evidently had no faith in Abbott Joachim's theories and his mission, it was otherwise with the world at large. At the close of the twelfth century a very general belief, the result of a true instinct, pervaded all classes that European society was passing through a tremendous crisis, that the dawn of a new era, or, as they phrased it, "the end of all things" was at hand.

The Abbot Joachim was only the spokesman of his age who was lucky enough to get a hearing. He spoke a language that was a jargon of rhapsody, but he spoke vaguely of terrors, and perils, and earthquakes, and thunderings, the day of wrath; and because he spoke so darkly men listened all the more eagerly, for there was a vague anticipation of the breaking up of the great waters, and that things that had been heretofore could not continue as they were.

Verily when the thirteenth century opened, the times were evil, and no hope seemed anywhere on the horizon. The grasp of the infidel was tightened upon the Holy City, and what little force there ever had been among the rabble of Crusaders was gone now; the truculent ruffianism that pretended to be animated by the crusading spirit showed its real character in the hideous atrocities for which Simon de Montfort is answerable, and in the unparalleled enormities of the sack of Constantinople in 1204. For ten years (1198--1208) through the length and breadth of Germany there was ceaseless and sanguinary conflict. In the great Italian towns party warfare, never hesitating to resort to every kind of crime, had long been chronic. The history of Sicily is one long record of cruelty, tyranny, and wrong-- committed, suffered, or revenged. Over the whole continent of Europe people seem to have had no _homes;_ the merchant, the student, the soldier, the ecclesiastic were always on the move. Young men made no difficulty in crossing the Alps to attend lectures at Bologna, or crossing the Channel to or from Oxford and Paris. The soldier or the scholar was equally a free-lance, ready to take service whereever it offered, and to settle wherever there was dread to win or money to save. No one trusted in the stability of anything. [Footnote: M. Jusserand's beautiful book, "La Vie Nomade," was not published till 1884, _i.e.,_ a year after this essay appeared.]

To a thoughtful man watching the signs of the times, it may well have seemed that the hope for the future of civilization--the hope for any future, whether of art, science, or religion-lay in the steady growth of the towns. It might be that the barrier of the Alps would always limit the influence of Italian cities to Italy and the islands of the Mediterranean; but for the great towns of what is now Belgium and Germany what part might not be left for them to play in the history of the world? In England the towns were as yet insignificant communities compared with such mighty aggregates of population as were to be found in Bruges, Antwerp, or Cologne; but even the English towns _were_ communities, and they were beginning to assert themselves somewhat loudly while clinging to their chartered rights with jealous tenacity. Those rights, however, were eminently exclusive and selfish in their character. The chartered towns were ruled in all cases by an oligarchy. [Footnote: Stubbs, "Constitutional History," vol. i. Section 131.] The increase in the population brought wealth to a class, the class of privileged traders, associated into guilds, who kept their several _mysteries_ to themselves by vigilant measures of protection. Outside the well-guarded defences which these trades-unions constructed, there were the masses--hewers of wood and drawers of water--standing to the skilled artizan of the thirteenth century almost precisely in the same relation as the bricklayer's labourer does to the mason in our own time. The _sediment_ of the town population in the Middle Ages was a dense slough of stagnant misery, squalor, famine, loathsome disease, and dull despair, such as the worst slums of London, Paris, or Liverpool know nothing of. When we hear of the mortality among the townsmen during the periodical outbreaks of pestilence or famine, horror suggests that we should dismiss as incredible such stories as the imagination shrinks from dwelling on. What greatly added to the dreary wretchedness of the lower order in the towns was the fact that the ever-increasing throngs of beggars, outlaws, and ruffian runaways were simply left to shift for themselves. The civil authorities took no account of them as long as they quietly rotted and died; and, what was still more dreadful, the whole machinery of the Church polity had been formed and was adapted to deal with entirely different conditions of society from those which had now arisen.

The idea of the parish priest taking the oversight of his flock, and ministering to each member as the shepherd of the people, is a grand one, but it is an idea which can be realized, and then only approximately, in the village community. In the towns of the Middle Ages the parochial system, except as a _civil_ institution, had broken down.

The other idea, of men and women weary of the hard struggle with sin, and fleeing from the wrath to come, joining together to give themselves up to the higher life, out of the reach of temptation and safe from the witcheries of Mammon,--that too was a grand idea, and not unfrequently it had been carried out grandly. But the monk was nothing and did nothing for the townsman; he fled away to his solitude; the rapture of silent adoration was his joy and exceeding great reward; his nights and days might be spent in praise and prayer, sometimes in study and research, sometimes in battling with the powers of darkness and ignorance, sometimes in throwing himself heart and soul into art which it was easy to persuade himself he was doing only for the glory of God; but all this must go on far away from the busy haunts of men, certainly not within earshot of the multitude. Moreover the monk was, by birth, education, and sympathy, one with the upper classes. What were the rabble to him? [Footnote: The 20th Article of the Assize of Clarendon is very significant:


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