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of mercy. In this way the great institution of the Virginal Life fulfilled throughout the divine society the office of spiritual parentage. As from father and mother came the life of nature, so from it came the life of human science and divine knowledge; and the words of a great writer in the fourth century have been fulfilled over more than a thousand years in innumerable instances: “Christ is born of a Virgin: ye women, cultivate the Virginal Life, that you may become mothers of Christ.”
But, thirdly, works of corporal mercy have ever in the divine society fallen to the special lot of those who professed the Virginal Life. Acts of Parliament may establish poor-laws, by the operation of which, for the first time in the history of the world, those who are relieved will conceive for their supporters not love but hatred, and abodes for the poor be created, over the door of which the poor see written, “Who enter here must leave all hope behind.” Voluntary subscriptions may even support hospitals of great efficiency as to the material aid of food and medical treatment.
But to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, minister to the infirm, seeing in each one an image of Christ, to be treated with tenderness and honour; this, as a rule, and gratuitously, has been done by no class of men or women save those who have first made to God the sacrifice of the virginal, or at least the continent life; nor is there a single work of mercy, to repeat again the words of St. Thomas, for the execution of which a religious institution may not be formed, even if it be not yet formed.
A single community, among the multitude created by the divine society, may serve to represent all this class of works, that of the Sisters of St. Vincent of Paul. From their central house in Paris they have gone into all lards, winning hearts, while they minister to bodily needs. Not from them do the poor turn with dread of their charity. Even the Mahometan revilers of their Faith have learnt to reverence the fold of their garments, from experience of the spirit which it covers. But for all this dedication of self for the good of others force is given by the profession of the unmarried life. Thus alone is it rendered possible. Thus alone as a fact does it exist. And this is the secret of that unrepining cheerfulness which attends on their ministration, and communicates itself to others by the secret sympathy of charity.
Now the noblest works for the good of others in which man can be engaged fall under these three classes : that of maintaining and propagating religion; that of forming the human character by education; that of administering to human infirmities by acts of mercy. And the evidence of history, by induction from many times and countries, is this, that wherever the Virginal Life does not exist as an institution, these works, if pursued, are only pursued as a profession. They may be followed with much zeal and ability, and even with con
siderable success; but still it will be as a means of livelihood; not for the sake of others, but for the sake of self. Remuneration in some shape will be their motive power. And no less does it follow, from the evidence of history, that where the Virginal Life is cultivated, and exhibits itself in various institutions, it will throw itself especially upon these three classes of works. The dedication and sacrifice which lie at the root of it will communicate themselves to these works, as conducted by it, will give to them a high and superhuman character, a power of attraction over the hearts of men, which come from that divine Original of sacrifice, whose signet is the Virginal Life. And in this case no human remuneration will be the spring of these works; neither praise, nor power, nor wealth, nor pleasure will call them forth or reward them. Rather they will flourish amid poverty, self-denial, and humility, in those who exercise them, and be the fruit not of political economy, but of charity.
III. A great Christian writer, who stood between the old pagan world and the new society which was taking its place, and who was equally familiar with both, made, near the end of the fourth century, the following observation :* “ The Greeks have had some men, though it was but few, among them, who, by the force of philosophy, came to despise riches; and some too who could control the irascible part of man; but the flower of Virginity was nowhere to be found among them. Here they always gave precedence to us, confessing that to succeed in such a thing was to be superior to nature and more than man. Hence their profound admiration for the whole Christian people. The Christian host derived its chief lustre from this portion of its ranks.” And again he notes the existence in his time of three different sentiments respecting this institution: “ The Jews,” he says, "turn with abhorrence from the beauty of Virginity, which indeed is no wonder, since they treated with dishonour the very Son of the Virgin Himself: the Greeks, however, admire it, and look up to it with astonishment; but the Church of God alone cultivates it.” After fifteen hundred years we find the same sentiments in three great classes of the world. The pagan nations among whom Catholic missionaries
* S. Chrysostome, tom. i. 249 A.
go forth reproduce the admiration of Greek and Latin pagans; they reverence that which they have not the strength to follow, and are often drawn by its exhibition into the fold. But there are nations who likewise reproduce the Jewish abhorrence of the Virginal Life. And as the Jews worshipped the unity of the Godhead, like the Christians, and so seemed to be far nearer to them than pagan idolaters, and yet turned with loathing from this
product of Christian life, so these nations might seem from the large portions of Christian doctrine which
* S. Chrys, trepl napdevias, i. tom. i. 268.
they still hold to be nearer to Christianity than the Hindoo or the Chinese; and yet their contempt and dislike of the Virginal Life and its wonderful institutions seems to tell another tale. But now, as fifteen hundred years ago, whether men outside admire or abhor, the Church alone cultivates the Virginal Life. Now, as then, it is her glory and her strength, the mark of her Lord, and the standard of His power, the most special sign of His presence and operation. If, says the same writer, * "you take away its seemliness and its continuity of devotion, you cut the very sinews of the Virginal Estate: so, when it is possessed together with the best conduct of life, you have in it the root and support of all good things. Just as a rich fruitful soil nurtures a root, so a good conduct bears the fruits of Virginity. Or, to speak with greater truth, the crucified life is at once both its root and its fruit.” Which words we may interpret to mean that the special imitation of our Lord, which gives birth to it, likewise leads it on to unworldliness, piety, and disregard of every thing which fetters the soul's free flight to its Maker.
Nor is it possible that such an example, produced again and again in the midst of society, should not have a wide effect beyond those in whom it works, and beyond all the works which it produces, though these be the fairest fruits of denying self in behalf of others. How great is the
* περί παρθενίας, 1xxx, 332.