The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 72

The Cloister

The Dominicans, or preaching friars, once the most powerful order in Europe, were now on the wane; their rivals and bitter enemies, the Franciscans, were overpowering them throughout Europe; even in England, a rich and religious country, where under the name of the Black Friars, they had once been paramount.

Therefore the sagacious men, who watched and directed the interests of the order, were never so anxious to incorporate able and zealous sons and send them forth to win back the world.

The zeal and accomplishments of Clement, especially his rare mastery of language (for he spoke Latin, Italian, French, high and low Dutch), soon transpired, and he was destined to travel and preach in England, corresponding with the Roman centre.

But Jerome, who had the superior’s ear, obstructed this design.

“Clement,” said he, “has the milk of the world still in his veins, its feelings, its weaknesses let not his new-born zeal and his humility tempt us to forego our ancient wisdom. Try him first, and temper him, lest one day we find ourselves leaning on a reed for a staff.

“It is well advised,” said the prior. “Take him in hand thyself.”

Then Jerome, following the ancient wisdom, took Clement and tried him.

One day he brought him to a field where the young men amused themselves at the games of the day; he knew this to be a haunt of Clement’s late friends.

And sure enough ere long Pietro Vanucci and Andrea passed by them, and cast a careless glance on the two friars. They did not recognize their dead friend in a shaven monk.

Clement gave a very little start, and then lowered his eyes and said a paternoster.

“Would ye not speak with them, brother?” said Jerome, trying him.

“No brother: yet was it good for me to see them. They remind me of the sins I can never repent enough.”

“It is well,” said Jerome, and he made a cold report in Clement’s favour.

Then Jerome took Clement to many death-beds. And then into noisome dungeons; places where the darkness was appalling, and the stench loathsome, pestilential; and men looking like wild beasts lay coiled in rags and filth and despair. It tried his body hard; but the soul collected all its powers to comfort such poor wretches there as were not past comfort. And Clement shone in that trial. Jerome reported that Clement’s spirit was willing, but his flesh was weak.

“Good!” said Anselm; “his flesh is weak, but his spirit is willing.”

But there was a greater trial in store.

I will describe it as it was seen by others.

One morning a principal street in Rome was crowded, and even the avenues blocked up with heads. It was an execution. No common crime had been done, and on no vulgar victim.

The governor of Rome had been found in his bed at daybreak, slaughtered. His hand, raised probably in self-defence, lay by his side severed at the wrist; his throat was cut, and his temples bruised with some blunt instrument. The murder had been traced to his servant, and was to be expiated in kind this very morning.

Italian executions were not cruel in general. But this murder was thought to call for exact and bloody retribution.

The criminal was brought to the house of the murdered man and fastened for half an hour to its wall. After this foretaste of legal vengeance his left hand was struck off, like his victim’s. A new-killed fowl was cut open and fastened round the bleeding stump; with what view I really don’t know; but by the look of it, some mare’s nest of the poor dear doctors; and the murderer, thus mutilated and bandaged, was hurried to the scaffold; and there a young friar was most earnest and affectionate in praying with him, and for him, and holding the crucifix close to his eyes.

Presently the executioner pulled the friar roughly on one side, and in a moment felled the culprit with a heavy mallet, and falling on him, cut his throat from ear to ear.

There was a cry of horror from the crowd.

The young friar swooned away.

A gigantic monk strode forward, and carried him off like a child.

Brother Clement went back to the convent sadly discouraged. He confessed to the prior, with tears of regret.

“Courage, son Clement,” said the prior. “A Dominican is not made in a day. Thou shalt have another trial. And I forbid thee to go to it fasting.” Clement bowed his head in token of obedience. He had not long to wait. A robber was brought to the scaffold; a monster of villainy and cruelty, who had killed men in pure wantonness, after robbing them. Clement passed his last night in prison with him, accompanied him to the scaffold, and then prayed with him and for him so earnestly that the hardened ruffian shed tears and embraced him Clement embraced him too, though his flesh quivered with repugnance; and held the crucifix earnestly before his eyes. The man was garotted, and Clement lost sight of the crowd, and prayed loud and earnestly while that dark spirit was passing from earth. He was no sooner dead than the hangman raised his hatchet and quartered the body on the spot. And, oh, mysterious heart of man! the people who had seen the living body robbed of life with indifference, almost with satisfaction, uttered a piteous cry at each stroke of the axe upon his corpse that could feel nought. Clement too shuddered then, but stood firm, like one of those rocks that vibrate but cannot be thrown down. But suddenly Jerome’s voice sounded in his ear.

“Brother Clement, get thee on that cart and preach to the people. Nay, quickly! strike with all thy force on all this iron, while yet ’tis hot, and souls are to be saved.”

Clement’s colour came and went; and he breathed hard. But he obeyed, and with ill-assured step mounted the cart, and preached his first sermon to the first crowd he had ever faced. Oh, that sea of heads! His throat seemed parched, his heart thumped, his voice trembled.

By-and-by the greatness of the occasion, the sight of the eager upturned faces, and his own heart full of zeal, fired the pale monk. He told them this robber’s history, warm from his own lips in the prison, and showed his hearers by that example the gradations of folly and crime, and warned them solemnly not to put foot on the first round of that fatal ladder. And as alternately he thundered against the shedders of blood, and moved the crowd to charity and pity, his tremors left him, and he felt all strung up like a lute, and gifted with an unsuspected force; he was master of that listening crowd, could feel their very pulse, could play sacred melodies on them as on his psaltery. Sobs and groans attested his power over the mob already excited by the tragedy before them. Jerome stared like one who goes to light a stick; and fires a rocket. After a while Clement caught his look of astonishment, and seeing no approbation in it, broke suddenly off, and joined him.

“It was my first endeavour,” said he apologetically. “Your behest came on me like a thunderbolt. Was I? — Did I? — Oh, correct me, and aid me with your experience, Brother Jerome.”

“Humph!” said Jerome doubtfully. He added, rather sullenly after long reflection, “Give the glory to God, Brother Clement; my opinion is thou art an orator born.”

He reported the same at headquarters, half reluctantly. For he was an honest friar though a disagreeable one.

One Julio Antonelli was accused of sacrilege; three witnesses swore they saw him come out of the church whence the candle-sticks were stolen, and at the very time. Other witnesses proved an alibi for him as positively. Neither testimony could be shaken. In this doubt Antonelli was permitted the trial by water, hot or cold. By the hot trial he must put his bare arm into boiling water, fourteen inches deep, and take out a pebble; by the cold trial his body must be let down into eight feet of water. The clergy, who thought him innocent, recommended the hot water trial, which, to those whom they favoured, was not so terrible as it sounded. But the poor wretch had not the nerve, and chose the cold ordeal. And this gave Jerome another opportunity of steeling Clement. Antonelli took the sacrament, and then was stripped naked on the banks of the Tiber, and tied hand and foot, to prevent those struggles by which a man, throwing his arms out of the water, sinks his body.

He was then let down gently into the stream, and floated a moment, with just his hair above water. A simultaneous roar from the crowd on each bank proclaimed him guilty. But the next moment the ropes, which happened to be new, got wet, and he settled down. Another roar proclaimed his innocence. They left him at the bottom of the river the appointed time, rather more than half a minute, then drew him up, gurgling and gasping, and screaming for mercy; and after the appointed prayers, dismissed him, cleared of the charge.

During the experiment Clement prayed earnestly on the bank.

When it was over he thanked God in a loud but slightly quavering voice.

By-and-by he asked Jerome whether the man ought not to be compensated.

“For what?”

“For the pain, the dread, the suffocation. Poor soul, he liveth, but hath tasted all the bitterness of death. Yet he had done no ill.”

“He is rewarded enough in that he is cleared of his fault.”

“But being innocent of that fault, yet hath he drunk Death’s cup, though not to the dregs; and his accusers, less innocent than he, do suffer nought.”

Jerome replied somewhat sternly —

“It is not in this world men are really punished, Brother Clement. Unhappy they who sin yet suffer not. And happy they who suffer such ills as earth hath power to inflict; ’tis counted to them above, ay, and a hundred-fold.”

Clement bowed his head submissively.

“May thy good words not fall to the ground, but take root in my heart, Brother Jerome.”

But the severest trial Clement underwent at Jerome’s hands was unpremeditated. It came about thus. Jerome, in an indulgent moment, went with him to Fra Colonna, and there “The Dream of Polifilo” lay on the table just copied fairly. The poor author, in the pride of his heart, pointed out a master-stroke in it.

“For ages,” said he, “fools have been lavishing poetic praise and amorous compliment on mortal women, mere creatures of earth, smacking palpably of their origin; Sirens at the windows, where our Roman women in particular have by lifelong study learned the wily art to show their one good feature, though but an ear or an eyelash, at a jalosy, and hide all the rest; Magpies at the door, Capre n’ i giardini, Angeli in Strada, Sante in chiesa, Diavoli in casa. Then come I and ransack the minstrels’ lines for amorous turns, not forgetting those which Petrarch wasted on that French jilt Laura, the sliest of them all; and I lay you the whole bundle of spice at the feet of the only females worthy amorous incense; to wit, the Nine Muses.”

“By which goodly stratagem,” said Jerome, who had been turning the pages all this time, “you, a friar of St. Dominic, have produced an obscene book.” And he dashed Polifilo on the table.

“Obscene? thou discourteous monk!” And the author ran round the table, snatched Polifilo away, locked him up, and trembling with mortification, said, “My Gerard, pshaw! Brother What’s-his-name had not found Polifilo obscene. Puris omnia pura.”

“Such as read your Polifilo — Heaven grant they may be few — will find him what I find him.”

Poor Colonna gulped down this bitter pill as he might; and had he not been in his own lodgings, and a high-born gentleman as well as a scholar, there might have been a vulgar quarrel.

As it was, he made a great effort, and turned the conversation to a beautiful chrysolite the Cardinal Colonna had lent him; and while Clement handled it, enlarged on its moral virtues: for he went the whole length of his age as a worshipper of jewels.

But Jerome did not, and expostulated with him for believing that one dead stone could confer valour on its wearer, another chastity, another safety from poison, another temperance.

“The experience of ages proves they do,” said Colonna. “As to the last virtue you have named, there sits a living proof. This Gerard — I beg pardon, Brother Thingemy — comes from the north, where men drink like fishes; yet was he ever most abstemious. And why? Carried an amethyst, the clearest and fullest coloured e’er I saw on any but noble finger. Where, in Heaven’s name, is thine amethyst? Show it this unbeliever!”

“And ’twas that amethyst made the boy temperate?” asked Jerome ironically.

“Certainly. Why, what is the derivation and meaning of amethyst? {a} negative, and {methua} to tipple. Go to, names are but the signs of things. A stone is not called {amethustos} for two thousand years out of mere sport, and abuse of language.”

He then went through the prime jewels, illustrating their moral properties, especially of the ruby, the sapphire, the emerald, and the opal, by anecdotes out of grave historians.

“These be old wives’ fables,” said Jerome contemptuously. “Was ever such credulity as thine?”

Now credulity is a reproach sceptics have often the ill-luck to incur; but it mortifies them none the less for that.

The believer in stones writhed under it, and dropped the subject. Then Jerome, mistaking his silence, exhorted him to go a step farther, and give up from this day his vain pagan lore, and study the lives of the saints. “Blot out these heathen superstitions from thy mind, brother, as Christianity hath blotted them from the earth.”

And in this strain he proceeded, repeating, incautiously, some current but loose theological statements. Then the smarting Polifilo revenged himself. He flew out, and hurled a mountain of crude, miscellaneous lore upon Jerome, of which, partly for want of time, partly for lack of learning, I can reproduce but a few fragments.

“The heathen blotted out? Why, they hold four-fifths of the world. And what have we Christians invented without their aid? painting? sculpture? these are heathen arts, and we but pigmies at them. What modern mind can conceive and grave so god-like forms as did the chief Athenian sculptors, and the Libyan Licas, and Dinocrates of Macedon, and Scopas, Timotheus, Leochares, and Briaxis; Chares, Lysippus, and the immortal three of Rhodes, that wrought Laocoon from a single block? What prince hath the genius to turn mountains into statues, as was done at Bagistan, and projected at Athos? What town the soul to plant a colossus of brass in the sea, for the tallest ships to sail in and out between his legs? Is it architecture we have invented? Why, here too we are but children. Can we match for pure design the Parthenon, with its clusters of double and single Doric columns? (I do adore the Doric when the scale is large), and for grandeur and finish, the theatres of Greece and Rome, or the prodigious temples of Egypt, up to whose portals men walked awe-struck through avenues a mile long of sphinxes, each as big as a Venetian palace. And all these prodigies of porphyry cut and polished like crystal, not rough hewn as in our puny structures. Even now their polished columns and pilasters lie o’erthrown and broken, o’ergrown with acanthus and myrtle, but sparkling still, and flouting the slovenly art of modern workmen. Is it sewers, aqueducts, viaducts?

“Why, we have lost the art of making a road — lost it with the world’s greatest models under our very eye. Is it sepulchres of the dead? Why, no Christian nation has ever erected a tomb, the sight of which does not set a scholar laughing. Do but think of the Mausoleum, and the Pyramids, and the monstrous sepulchres of the Indus and Ganges, which outside are mountains, and within are mines of precious stones. Ah, you have not seen the East, Jerome, or you could not decry the heathen.”

Jerome observed that these were mere material things. True greatness was in the soul.

“Well then,” replied Colonna, “in the world of mind, what have we discovered? Is it geometry? Is it logic? Nay, we are all pupils of Euclid and Aristotle. Is it written characters, an invention almost divine? We no more invented it than Cadmus did. Is it poetry? Homer hath never been approached by us, nor hath Virgil, nor Horace. Is it tragedy or comedy? Why, poets, actors, theatres, all fell to dust at our touch. Have we succeeded in reviving them? Would you compare our little miserable mysteries and moralities, all frigid personification, and dog Latin, with the glories of a Greek play (on the decoration of which a hundred thousand crowns had been spent) performed inside a marble miracle, the audience a seated city, and the poet a Sophocles?

“What then have we invented? Is it monotheism? Why, the learned and philosophical among the Greeks and Romans held it; even their more enlightened poets were monotheists in their sleeves.

{Zeus estin ouranos, Zeus te gy Zeus toi panta}
saith the Greek, and Lucan echoes him:
‘Jupiter est quod cunque vides quo cunque moveris.’

“Their vulgar were polytheists; and what are ours? We have not invented ‘invocation of the saints.’ Our sancti answers to their Daemones and Divi, and the heathen used to pray their Divi or deified mortal to intercede with the higher divinity; but the ruder minds among them, incapable of nice distinctions, worshipped those lesser gods they should have but invoked. And so do the mob of Christians in our day, following the heathen vulgar or by unbroken tradition. For in holy writ is no polytheism of any sort or kind.

“We have not invented so much as a form or variety of polytheism. The pagan vulgar worshipped all sorts of deified mortals, and each had his favourite, to whom he prayed ten times for once to the Omnipotent. Our vulgar worship canonized mortals, and each has his favourite, to whom he prays ten times for once to God. Call you that invention? Invention is confined to the East. Among the ancient vulgar only the mariners were monotheists; they worshipped Venus; called her ‘Stella maris,’ and ‘Regina caelorum.’ Among our vulgar only the mariners are monotheists; they worship the Virgin Mary, and call her the ‘Star of the Sea,’ and the ‘Queen of Heaven.’ Call you theirs a new religion? An old doubtlet with a new button. Our vulgar make images, and adore them, which is absurd; for adoration is the homage due from a creature to its creator; now here man is the creator; so the statues ought to worship him, and would, if they had brains enough to justify a rat in worshipping them. But even this abuse, though childish enough to be modern, is ancient. The pagan vulgar in these parts made their images, then knelt before them, adorned them with flowers, offered incense to them, lighted tapers before them, carried them in procession, and made pilgrimages to them just to the smallest tittle as we their imitators do.”

Jerome here broke in impatiently, and reminded him that the images the most revered in Christendom were made by no mortal hand, but had dropped from heaven.

“Ay,” cried Colonna, “such are the tutelary images of most great Italian towns. I have examined nineteen of them, and made drafts of them. If they came from the sky, our worst sculptors are our angels. But my mind is easy on that score. Ungainly statue or villainous daub fell never yet from heaven to smuggle the bread out of capable workmen’s mouths. All this is Pagan, and arose thus. The Trojans had Oriental imaginations, and feigned that their Palladium, a wooden statue three cubits long, fell down from heaven. The Greeks took this fib home among the spoils of Troy, and soon it rained statues on all the Grecian cities, and their Latin apes. And one of these Palladia gave St. Paul trouble at Ephesus; ’twas a statue of Diana that fell down from Jupiter: credat qui credere possit.”

“What, would you cast your profane doubts on that picture of our blessed Lady, which scarce a century agone hung lustrous in the air over this very city, and was taken down by the Pope and bestowed in St. Peter’s Church?”

“I have no profane doubts on the matter, Jerome. This is the story of Numa’s shield, revived by theologians with an itch for fiction, but no talent that way; not being orientals. The ‘ancile’ or sacred shield of Numa hung lustrous in the air over this very city, till that pious prince took it down and hung it in the temple of Jupiter. Be just, swallow both stories or neither. The ‘Bocca della Verita’ passes for a statue of the Virgin, and convicted a woman of perjury the other day; it is in reality an image of the goddess Rhea, and the modern figment is one of its ancient traditions; swallow both or neither.

‘Qui Bavium non odit amet tua carmina, Mavi.’

“But indeed we owe all our Palladiuncula, and all our speaking, nodding, winking, sweating, bleeding statues, to these poor abused heathens; the Athenian statues all sweated before the battle of Chaeronea, so did the Roman statues during Tully’s consulship, viz., the statue of Victory at Capua, of Mars at Rome, and of Apollo outside the gates. The Palladium itself was brought to Italy by Aeneas, and after keeping quiet three centuries, made an observation in Vesta’s Temple: a trivial one, I fear, since it hath not survived; Juno’s statue at Veii assented with a nod to go to Rome. Antony’s statue on Mount Alban bled from every vein in its marble before the fight of Actium. Others cured diseases: as that of Pelichus, derided by Lucian; for the wiser among the heathen believed in sweating marble, weeping wood, and bleeding brass — as I do. Of all our marks and dents made in stone by soft substances, this saint’s knee, and that saint’s finger, and t’other’s head, the original is heathen. Thus the footprints of Hercules were shown on a rock in Scythia. Castor and Pollux fighting on white horses for Rome against the Latians, left the prints of their hoofs on a rock at Regillum. A temple was built to them on the spot, and the marks were to be seen in Tully’s day. You may see, near Venice, a great stone cut nearly in half by St. George’s sword. This he ne’er had done but for the old Roman who cut the whetstone in two with his razor.

‘Qui Bavium non odit amet tua carmina, Mavi.’

“Kissing of images, and the Pope’s toe, is Eastern Paganism. The Egyptians had it of the Assyrians, the Greeks of the Egyptians, the Romans of the Greeks, and we of the Romans, whose Pontifex Maximus had his toe kissed under the Empire. The Druids kissed the High Priest’s toe a thousand years B.C. The Mussulmans, who, like you, profess to abhor Heathenism, kiss the stone of the Caaba: a Pagan practice.

“The Priests of Baal kissed their idols so.

“Tully tells us of a fair image of Hercules at Agrigentum, whose chin was worn by kissing. The lower parts of the statue we call Peter are Jupiter. The toe is sore worn, but not all by Christian mouths. The heathen vulgar laid their lips there first, for many a year, and ours have but followed them, as monkeys their masters. And that is why, down with the poor heathen!

Pereant qui ante nos nostra fecerint.

“Our infant baptism is Persian, with the font and the signing of the child’s brow. Our throwing three handfuls of earth on the coffin, and saying dust to dust, is Egyptian.

“Our incense is Oriental, Roman, Pagan; and the early Fathers of the Church regarded it with superstitious horror, and died for refusing to handle it. Our Holy water is Pagan, and all its uses. See, here is a Pagan aspersorium. Could you tell it from one of ours? It stood in the same part of their temples, and was used in ordinary worship as ours, and in extraordinary purifications. They called it Aqua lustralis. Their vulgar, like ours, thought drops of it falling on the body would wash out sin; and their men of sense, like ours, smiled or sighed at such credulity. What saith Ovid of this folly, which hath outlived him?

‘Ah nimium faciles, qui tristia crimina coedis

Fluminea tolli posse putetis aqua.’

Thou seest the heathen were not all fools. No more are we. Not all.”

Fra Colonna uttered all this with such volubility, that his hearers could not edge in a word of remonstrance; and not being interrupted in praising his favourites, he recovered his good humour, without any diminution of his volubility.

“We celebrate the miraculous Conception of the Virgin on the 2nd of February. The old Romans celebrated the Miraculous Conception of Juno on the 2nd of February. Our feast of All Saints is on the 2nd November. The Festum Dei Mortis was on the 2nd November. Our Candlemas is also an old Roman feast; neither the date nor the ceremony altered one tittle. The patrician ladies carried candles about the city that night as our signoras do now. At the gate of San Croce our courtesans keep a feast on the 20th August. Ask them why! The little noodles cannot tell you. On that very spot stood the Temple of Venus. Her building is gone; but her rite remains. Did we discover Purgatory? On the contrary, all we really know about it is from two treatises of Plato, the Gorgias and the Phaedo, and the sixth book of Virgil’s Aeneid.

“I take it from a holier source: St. Gregory,” said Jerome sternly.

“Like enough,” replied Colonna drily. “But St. Gregory was not so nice; he took it from Virgil. Some souls, saith Gregory, are purged by fire, others by water, others by air.

“Says Virgil —

‘Aliae panduntur inanes,

Suspensae ad ventous, aliis sub gurgite vasto

Infectum eluitur scelus, aut exuritur igni.’

But peradventure, you think Pope Gregory I lived before Virgil, and Virgil versified him.

“But the doctrine is Eastern, and as much older than Plato as Plato than Gregory. Our prayers for the dead came from Asia with Aeneas. Ovid tells, that when he prayed for the soul of Anchises, the custom was strange in Italy.

‘Hunc morem Aeneas, pietatis idoneus auctor

Attulit in terras, juste Latine, tuas.’

The ‘Biblicae’ Sortes,’ which I have seen consulted on the altar, are a parody on the ‘Sortes Virgilianae.’ Our numerous altars in one church are heathen: the Jews, who are monotheists, have but one altar in a church. But the Pagans had many, being polytheists. In the temple of Pathian Venus were a hundred of them. ‘Centum que Sabaeo thure calent arae.’ Our altar’s and our hundred lights around St. Peter’s tomb are Pagan. ‘Centum aras posuit vigilemque sacraverat ignem.’ We invent nothing, not even numerically. Our very Devil is the god Pan, horns and hoofs and all; but blackened. For we cannot draw; we can but daub the figures of Antiquity with a little sorry paint or soot. Our Moses hath stolen the horns of Ammon; our Wolfgang the hook of Saturn; and Janus bore the keys of heaven before St. Peter. All our really old Italian bronzes of the Virgin and Child are Venuses and Cupids. So is the wooden statue, that stands hard by this house, of Pope Joan and the child she is said to have brought forth there in the middle of a procession. Idiots! are new-born children thirteen years old? And that boy is not a day younger. Cupid! Cupid! Cupid! And since you accuse me of credulity, know that to my mind that Papess is full as mythological, born of froth, and every way unreal, as the goddess who passes for her in the next street, or as the saints you call St. Baccho and St. Quirina: or St. Oracte, which is a dunce-like corruption of Mount Soracte, or St. Amphibolus, an English saint, which is a dunce-like corruption of the cloak worn by their St. Alban, Or as the Spanish saint, St. Viar: which words on his tombstone, written thus, ‘S. Viar,’ prove him no saint, but a good old nameless heathen, and ‘praefectus Viarum,’ or overseer of roads (would he were back to earth, and paganizing of our Christian roads!), or as our St. Veronica of Benasco, which Veronica is a dunce-like corruption of the ‘Vera icon,’ which this saint brought into the church. I wish it may not be as unreal as the donor, Or as the eleven thousand virgins of Cologne, who were but a couple.”

Clement interrupted him to inquire what he meant. “I have spoken with those have seen their bones.”

“What, of eleven thousand virgins all collected in one place and at one time? Do but bethink thee, Clement. Not one of the great Eastern cities of antiquity could collect eleven thousand Pagan virgins at one time, far less a puny Western city. Eleven thousand Christian virgins in a little, wee, Paynim city!

‘Quod cunque ostendis mihi sic incredulus odi.’

The simple sooth is this. The martyrs were two: the Breton princess herself, falsely called British, and her maid, Onesimilla, which is a Greek name, Onesima, diminished. This some fool did mis-pronounce undecim mille, eleven thousand: loose tongue found credulous ears, and so one fool made many; eleven thousand of them, an’ you will. And you charge me with credulity, Jerome? and bid me read the Lives of the Saints. Well, I have read them, and many a dear old Pagan acquaintance I found there. The best fictions in the book are Oriental, and are known to have been current in Persia and Arabia eight hundred years and more before the dates the Church assigns to them as facts. As for the true Western figments, they lack the Oriental plausibility. Think you I am credulous enough to believe that St. Ida joined a decapitated head to its body? that Cuthbert’s carcass directed his bearers where to go, and where to stop; that a city was eaten up of rats to punish one Hatto for comparing the poor to mice; that angels have a little horn in their foreheads, and that this was seen and recorded at the time by St. Veronica of Benasco, who never existed, and hath left us this information and a miraculous handkercher? For my part, I think the holiest woman the world ere saw must have an existence ere she can have a handkercher or an eye to take unicorns for angels. Think you I believe that a brace of lions turned sextons and helped Anthony bury Paul of Thebes? that Patrick, a Scotch saint, stuck a goat’s beard on all the descendants of one that offended him? that certain thieves, having stolen the convent ram, and denying it, St. Pol de Leon bade the ram bear witness, and straight the mutton bleated in the thief’s belly? Would you have me give up the skilful figments of antiquity for such old wives’ fables as these? The ancients lied about animals, too; but then they lied logically; we unreasonably. Do but compare Ephis and his lion, or, better still, Androcles and his lion, with Anthony and his two lions. Both the Pagan lions do what lions never did’ but at the least they act in character. A lion with a bone in his throat, or a thorn in his foot, could not do better than be civil to a man. But Anthony’s lions are asses in a lion’s skin. What leonine motive could they have in turning sextons? A lion’s business is to make corpses, not inter them.” He added, with a sigh, “Our lies are as inferior to the lies of the ancients as our statues, and for the same reason; we do not study nature as they did. We are imitatores, servum pecus. Believe you ‘the lives of the saints;’ that Paul the Theban was the first hermit, and Anthony the first Caenobite? Why, Pythagoras was an Eremite, and under ground for seven years; and his daughter was an abbess. Monks and hermits were in the East long before Moses, and neither old Greece nor Rome was ever without them. As for St. Francis and his snowballs, he did but mimic Diogenes, who, naked, embraced statues on which snow had fallen. The folly without the poetry. Ape of an ape — for Diogenes was but a mimic therein of the Brahmins and Indian gymnosophists. Natheless, the children of this Francis bid fair to pelt us out of the Church with their snowballs. Tell me now, Clement, what habit is lovelier than the vestments of our priests? Well, we owe them all to Numa Pompilius, except the girdle and the stole, which are judaical. As for the amice and the albe, they retain the very names they bore in Numa’s day. The ‘pelt’ worn by the canons comes from primeval Paganism. ’Tis a relic of those rude times when the sacrificing priest wore the skins of the beasts with the fur outward. Strip off thy black gown, Jerome, thy girdle and cowl, for they come to us all three from the Pagan ladies. Let thy hair grow like Absolom’s, Jerome! for the tonsure is as Pagan as the Muses.”

“Take care what thou sayest,” said Jerome sternly. “We know the very year in which the Church did first ordain it.”

“But not invent it, Jerome. The Brahmins wore it a few thousands years ere that. From them it came through the Assyrians to the priests of Isis in Egypt, and afterwards of Serapis at Athens. The late Pope (the saints be good to him) once told me the tonsure was forbidden by God to the Levites in the Pentateuch. If so, this was because of the Egyptian priests wearing it. I trust to his holiness. I am no biblical scholar. The Latin of thy namesake Jerome is a barrier I cannot overleap. ‘Dixit ad me Dominus Dens. Dixi ad Dominum Deum.’ No, thank you, holy Jerome; I can stand a good deal, but I cannot stand thy Latin. Nay; give me the New Testament! ’Tis not the Greek of Xenophon; but ’tis Greek. And there be heathen sayings in it too. For St. Paul was not so spiteful against them as thou. When the heathen said a good thing that suited his matter, by Jupiter he just took it, and mixed it to all eternity with the inspired text.”

“Come forth, Clement, come forth!” said Jerome, rising; “and thou, profane monk, know that but for the powerful house that upholds thee, thy accursed heresy should go no farther, for I would have thee burned at the stake.” And he strode out white with indignation.

Colonna’s reception of this threat did credit to him as an enthusiast. He ran and hallooed joyfully after Jerome. “And that is Pagan. Burning of men’s bodies for the opinions of their souls is a purely Pagan custom — as Pagan as incense, holy water, a hundred altars in one church, the tonsure, the cardinal’s, or flamen’s hat, the word Pope, the —”

Here Jerome slammed the door.

But ere they could get clear of the house a jalosy was flung open, and the Paynim monk came out head and shoulders, and overhung the street shouting,

“Affecti suppliciis Chrisitiani, genus hominum

Novas superstitionis ac maleficae,’”

And having delivered this parting blow, he felt a great triumphant joy, and strode exultant to and fro; and not attending with his usual care to the fair way (for his room could only be threaded by little paths wriggling among the antiquities), tripped over the beak of an Egyptian stork, and rolled upon a regiment of Armenian gods, which he found tough in argument though small in stature.

“You will go no more to that heretical monk,” said Jerome to Clement.

Clement sighed. “Shall we leave him and not try to correct him? Make allowance for heat of discourse! he was nettled, His words are worse than his acts. Oh ’tis a pure and charitable soul.”

“So are all arch-heretics. Satan does not tempt them like other men. Rather he makes them more moral, to give their teaching weight. Fra Colonna cannot be corrected; his family is all-powerful in Rome, Pray we the saints he blasphemes to enlighten him, ’Twill not be the first time they have returned good for evil, Meantime thou art forbidden to consort with him, From this day go alone through the city! Confess and absolve sinners! exorcise demons! comfort the sick! terrify the impenitent! preach wherever men are gathered and occasion serves! and hold no converse with the Fra Colonna!”

Clement bowed his head.

Then the prior, at Jerome’s request, had the young friar watched. And one day the spy returned with the news that Brother Clement had passed by the Fra Colonna’s lodging, and had stopped a little while in the street, and then gone on, but with his hand to his eyes and slowly.

This report Jerome took to the prior. The prior asked his opinion, and also Anselm’s, who was then taking leave of him on his return to Juliers.

Jerome. “Humph! He obeyed, but with regret, ay, with childish repining.”

Anselm, “He shed a natural tear at turning his back on a friend and a benefactor, But he obeyed.”

Now Anselm was one of your gentle irresistibles, He had at times a mild ascendant even over Jerome.

“Worthy Brother Anselm,” said Jerome, “Clement is weak to the very bone, He will disappoint thee, He will do nothing, great, either for the Church or for our holy order. Yet he is an orator, and hath drunken of the spirit of St. Dominic. Fly him, then, with a string.”

That same day it was announced to Clement that he was to go to England immediately with Brother Jerome.

Clement folded his hands on his breast, and bowed his head in calm submission.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59