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a supply of those without whom she would cease to be.
And looking at this institution as adopted by the Clergy, who are charged with a supernatural work, we cannot but note the correspondence of the means with the end. Their work is the edification of believers, the conversion of unbelievers, the maintenance of the Christian faith. But herein nothing rests upon temporal motives or supports. These are objects not to be gained by a calculation of temporal rewards, and accordingly they are pursued by those who have on them the mark and seal of what is above nature.
But the Virginal Life runs naturally out into the contempt of wealth and of ambition, into the renunciation of temporal goods, and of the pride which their attainment and enjoyment foster. And thus it appears complete and perfect in the institution of the religious life, which rests upon this triple sacrifice, and becomes thereby an offering to God of the whole man without reserve.
The profession of virginity or continence having become the mark and distinction of the clergy,* not only continues with them, but passes on and is incorporated with these two cognate sacrifices, and so becomes the root of the associated religious life. The greatest teachers and bishops of the fourth century, St. Athanasius, St. Basil, his friend St. Gregory, in the East; St. Ambrose, St. Martin, and St. Augustine, in the West, themselves introduce this life by their example as well as by their precepts. No sooner had St. Augustine, upon his conversion, renounced the intention of marriage, than he drew together a number of like-minded friends, who with him also gave up the possession of private goods, and the pursuit of every object of temporal ambition. St. Basil and his friend St. Gregory had a generation before done this, with an earlier and more perfect choice, inasmuch as they had not first tasted the pleasures of the world. St. Athanasius, driven by persecution to Treves and to Rome, publishes a life of St. Anthony, and spreads throughout the West an admiration of the marvellous virtues which he had witnessed in the Fathers of the desert. By and by the great legislator of the monastic life in the West, St. Benedict, arises, who systematises for all succeeding ages the religious institute, as based upon the three vows of continence, poverty, and obedience.
* S. Jerome, liv. Ep. ad Furiam, tom. i. 283 A. "Quasi et ipsi aliud sint quam Monachi; et non quicquid in Monachos dicitur redundet in Clericos, qui patres sunt Monachorum."
Let us state in the simplest and fewest words why the religious life rests upon these three
It is a state of men who aim at Christian perfection. But this perfection consists in charity. Now there are four degrees of charity; the first is to love God as much as He is loveable, that is, with a love as infinite as Himself. This degree of charity belongs only to the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. The second is to love Him not as much as He is loveable, but as much as the creature can love Him; and in this consists the happiness of the Blessed, whether angels or men. The third degree is to love Him neither so much as He is loveable, nor so much as the creature absolutely is capable of loving Him, but so much as a mortal creature can love Him, who removes every impediment in the way of that love, and surrenders himself wholly to it. This is the perfection aimed at by the religious life. The fourth degree is to love Him less indeed than this, but yet so much as to love nothing more than Him, and nothing equally with Him. And this degree is enjoined upon all men.* The distinction between this degree and the former one is shown in that answer of our Lord to the young man who stated that he had kept all the commandments from his youth, and who asked what yet was wanting? To which the reply was, prefaced by the words that our Lord looked upon and loved him, confirming thereby the truth of his statement, that he had kept the commandments, “ If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me."
Now the fittest means for attaining this third degree of charity, the highest attainable in this life, are those three virtues of Continence, Poverty, and Obedience. For it consists in two things, the total surrender of the creature to God, and the removal of all obstacles in the way of this surrender. The surrender consists in giving Him the mind by means of obedience, the body and all its affections by means of continence, and outward things by means of poverty. And these virtues remove likewise the obstacles to this surrender, for they are all summed up in that cupidity which has its triple growth in the three concupiscences, the desire of the body, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of the world, which these virtues severally cut off and extinguish.
* See S. Thomas, opusc. xviii. p. 115, and opusc. xix. p. 128; and Bellarmine, de Monachis, lib. ii. c. 2 and 3.
And inasmuch as this perfection aimed at is not a fleeting or changeable thing, but a durable state, which moreover derives its special value and excellence from its being a dedication of the creature to the Creator, and of the redeemed to the Redeemer, all these three virtues must be consecrated and ratified by a vow.
This is the permanent basis of the religious life, which then spreads itself out into three broad currents, subdivided into countless streams. For God can be loved in three ways, by contemplating Him, and the union arising from this; by serving Him in His members; and by the mixed life which joins the contemplation and the action of charity together. *
* Bellarmine, de Monachis, lib, ji. c. 3, who gives the partitions of Orders assigned in the text.
The contemplative life may be divided into many forms: such were those of St. Anthony, St. Pachomius, St. Benedict, St. Basil, St. Romuald, St. Bruno.
The active life is plainly divisible into as many forms as there are works of charity, such as are the care of the sick, whether in hospitals, or from house to house; the visiting of prisoners, the redeeming of captives, the burial of the dead.
The mixed life may be equally varied, as we see it in the great Orders of St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Ignatius, and so many others. These in particular have given themselves up with a most stedfast self-denial to the manifold work of education, becoming ever more complex and difficult with the advancing refinement of society, and demanding the more complete unselfishness, as the empire of the world prevails.
Thus the particular institutions of the religious life may be as diverse as the natural bent of men, one to solitude, one to active life, one to study, one to labour, one to soothing the pains of the mind, another those of the body, and so on; but one and all rest, and rest necessarily, on the triple vow of Continence, Poverty, and Obedience. And of these the root,* that which makes the other two feasible
* “Igitur per votum religionis abrenuntiatur illis quibus humanus animus maxime occupari consuevit, et a divinis obsequiis impediri. Quorum primum et principale est conjugium. Secundum est possessio divitiarum terrenarum. Tertium est propria voluntas, quia qui suæ voluntatis est arbiter solicitudinem habet de vitæ suæ gubernatione.” S. Thomas, opusc. xix. p. 128.