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in the conditions of human society, is the Virginal Life, which is a special imitation of our Lord and of His Mother.
The human soul surrendered up to its Maker on the one hand, as these three virtues alone can surrender it, and delivered on the other from the anxieties of wealth, the care of a family, the turmoil of secular ambition, can throw itself into works of charity for the good of others in forms as various as the needs of human misery, or its own natural bias and inclination. There is not a single work of mercy conceivable for the execution of which a religious institute may not be formed, * and very few indeed are there for which such institutes do not actually exist. But remove the tie of charity which encloses these hearts together in its triple bond, remove the vow which consecrates their condition, and makes it stable and permanent, remove the sacrifice which joins to God and severs from the world, then, even were it possible for the heart to remain the same, yet the efforts of each would be desultory, unconnected, often conflicting; the benefit of association and coöperation would be lost; continuity of action and singleness of aim would depart. But there is something beyond this. Who has not seen the Sisters of St. Vincent, as if vested with an unseen robe of mail bestowed by their religious consecration, pass among the
* "Nec est aliquod opus misericordiæ ad cujus executionem religio institui non possit, etsi non sit hactenus instituta.” S. Thomas, ut supra.
other sex in the continual work of charity, with eyes and hearts so simply fixed upon that work, that the very thought of danger comes not near them, as the thought of profanation comes not to those who meet them? And this spiritual independence, which is here so striking, because it rests upon those who mix largely with the world, belongs to the religious consecration as such and to all its various rules. Take it away, and woman would relapse into her natural condition of her sex’s dependence; but with it, as Mary stood by the side of the Cross, so she stands in virtue of "the crucified life," the tenderness of her sex unchanged, but a superhuman power supporting it within and guarding it without. If the heart therefore could remain the same, without the religious consecration, the place and work would be far different. But we know how far short of the truth this would be. It is impossible for the heart to remain the same without the bracing of this triple bond. The innate selfishness of man would resume its sway when the power of the three concupiscences should be set free, and that total surrender to God withdrawn. The law of civilisation is that each one labour for himself; it is the effect of Christian charity alone to labour for others without reward and at the cost of self.
Then consider how wonderful is the wide-spread and continuous fecundity of the religious life. It is not a transient ardour of devotion springing up
and then dying away, but a fountain perpetually welling forth in all ages and countries. Take one instance as a specimen. St. Benedict lived in the middle of the sixth century. There are said to have been already thirty-seven thousand religious houses which own him as their remote or immediate patriarch. But the Benedictine sap is not yet dried up, and hundreds of these houses counted each a life of centuries, and how many souls in each who lived and died under that rule. Yet the spiritual progeny of St. Augustine may almost vie with that of St. Benedict in number, since it has counted as many as one hundred and fifty different variations of his rule, * fighting under his standard; and the children of St. Francis, St. Dominic, and St. Ignatius perhaps exceed it in the prodigious influence which they have exercised upon the world around. It required eight large volumes more than a century since to give some account of the Religious Orders: and the mere catalogue of the different rules, their names, and descent, would confound with its multitude and intricacy. The internal life of each rule is a world by itself; the mass of the rules a universe, with its clusters of distinct stars; and in each star a crowd of souls, a crowd in number, yet every one distinct in its own grace and beauty, and because of this distinction rendering to the Sovereign a homage yielded by no other, who have all gone through life on the strength of that triple vow, giving their hearts to the King fair in form above the sons of men, despising the world because they were enamoured of the beauty of Him who made and redeemed the world, yet giving out to that world the fragrance of unceasing works of charity. More than fourteen centuries ago, St. Augustine wrote a treatise upon holy Virginity. It may be termed in strictest truth a manual of history setting forth the principles illustrated in the lives of a vast innumerable multitude since his time: a manual of a history which is not yet closed, nor shall ever be closed while man lives upon the earth. So permanent in its marvellous beauty and its unrivalled fecundity is that superhuman love, reflected by Him who was despised by man for man's sake upon the souls who choose Him for their own portion instead of earthly wealth, affection, and honour. Such the multitudinous variety of those virginal choirs, whose song St. Ambrose described as attuned by Mary at their head, the song of triumph that they had passed over the flood of the world without being tossed by its billows. How, he cries, will She embrace each one, and lead them before the Lord, exclaiming, Here is one who has kept her nuptial faith with
* Helyot, tom, ii. p. 1.
O quantis illa virginibus occurret, quantas complexa ad Dominum trahet, dicens, Hæc torum Filii mei, Hæc talamos nuptiales immaculato servavit pudore.” De Virg. lib. ii, 2, 16.
We can now recur to the rule of Virginity or Continence as manifested through all the centuries of the Christian Church in two great permanent institutions, manifested as a condition of the clerical life, as the basis of the religious life. Its own character, its intrinsic excellence, we have touched upon; its source, in the conduct of our Lord and of His Mother; its special consecration as a following of their example. Now let us view it in another light, and note its correspondence in the spiritual order to marriage in the natural order. Exactly as marriage provides for the animal increase of the race, the Virginal Life, with its subordinate form the Life of Continence, provides for the propagation of the Christian society. For this depends on the work of the Clergy and the Religious Orders.' Of the latter the Virginal Life is simply the basis; of the former it is the necessary condition for all freedom from worldly ties, for zeal, for energy, for endurance, for independence of wealth, for deliverance from ambition; for all, in short, which makes it a divine and not a human institution, an office representing hrist, not a profession of life. Let us consult history again, and the witness of eighteen centuries. By whom was the Christian faith first spread over the Roman empire in the three quarters of the world which border on the Mediterranean sea ? Who made Europe, and Asia, and Northern Africa Christian? Missionaries who lived in continence,