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Ch. 9: Pagan Origin of the Monastic Orders


We have shown in the previous chapters that the monastic vows are in conflict, not only with the requirements of moral goodness, but with the dictates of reason, the principles of personal improvement, and the interests and progress of society. We have shown, also, that they were assumed not for the humble purpose of acquiring spiritual perfection, but for the ambitious purpose of obtaining riches, power, and dominion. From these considerations, and from the fact that the monachal orders form an elementary part of the constitution of the Catholic Church, we have inferred that she is rather a political than a religious institution; and that while politics form her nature and principles, religion is assumed as an ornament and disguise.

We will now adduce a few facts tending to show that monkish orders originated, not from Christianity; that they existed in pre-historic ages; and that so far as they constitute the Catholic Church, she is a heathen, and not a Christian institution.

It is well known that the Carmelite monks claim Elijah, the prophet, as their founder. Among the ancient personages whom they assert belonged to their order, they enumerate Pythagoras, the Gallic Druids, all the prophets and holy men mentioned in the Old and New Testament, the Apostles, the Essenes, and the ancient hermits. Although amid the wrangling of the monastic orders for preeminence, this claim has rigorously been contested, yet Pope Benedict III. allowed the Carmelites to erect in the Vatican the statue of Elijah as the founder of their order. This permission, so far as the concession of the infallible father is authority, places the antiquity of the monachal order remotely beyond that of Christianity; acknowledges its institution to have originated from Judaism; and grants that its rules and principles were adopted by ancient Pagan fraternities.

That identical institutions have flourished in Asia from the remotest historical periods, admits not of a question. The present Sufism of Arabia is but a modified form of an ancient system of pantheistical mysticism, which taught that through the observance of ascetic practices the animal passions could be destroyed, the soul purified and assimilated to God, and a beatific state attained whose tranquility nothing could disturb. The Gymnosophists, the naked philosophers of India, were an order of monks, who practised the most excruciating penance; and who, in their eagerness to become pure, sometimes burnt themselves alive. The God Fo, born in Cashmere B. C. 1027, the author of the Braminical religion, strenuously advocated monachal institutions. The different orders of the monks and hermits which originated from his allegorical and mystical teaching, assumed the vows of unconditional obedience and absolute poverty. The monks resided in monasteries, and the hermits in deserts. They both practised the most rigorous penance, professed to aspire after absolute purity, but in their conduct and principles they were grovelling, intriguing, profligate and ambitious. Buddha, born B. C. 1029, two years after Fo, founded the monastic order of the Buddhists. His convents were governed by superiors who were subject to the absolute authority of the patriarch, or, as he was officially styled, the Apostolic Successor. The functions and authority of the Buddhistic superiors were similar to those of the Catholic orders; and the pretensions and dignity of the patriarch were one and the same with those of the Pope of Rome. The monks lived in monasteries, assumed the vows of obedience, poverty and celibacy, and admitted virgins to social intercourse. Jeseus Christna, born B. C. 3,500, the incarnate redeemer of the Hindoos, whose birth, life, and miracles resemble those of Jesus Christ, (see "Bible in India,") alludes in his discourses to monks and hermits as being at his time ancient, flourishing and venerated orders. The Hindoo and Mohammedan Fakirs are classes of monks who vow obedience, poverty and celibacy, retire from the world, pass their time in silent contemplation, and acquire the veneration of the populace by the practice of absurd and cruel penance. The Essenes, who flourished in Egypt and Palestine before the Christian era, were an organization of monks who derived their theological principles from the God Theuth, the founder of the Egyptian religious ceremonies.

From the above enumerated facts the conclusion is irresistible, that the Catholic monastic orders are neither of Christian origin, nor inconsistent with the doctrines and worship of Paganism.

A Romish missionary who visited China, observing the similarity which subsisted between the Chinese and the Catholic religion, declared that the devil must have preceded him, and converted the nation to Christianity, in order to cheat the church out of the credit of the enterprise. A more learned but less pious authority concluded from the same analogy, that Catholicism did not convert Paganism, but that Paganism converted Catholicism.

We will now conclude our examination of the Catholic monastic orders, with a few general remarks.

The monastic vows are not only a bold abnegation of the authority of reason and conscience, but a crafty device to delude the credulous, and secretly to acquire riches, power and influence. Although they were assumed by the monks as perpetual obligations, yet they were evaded, modified, or abrogated as interest and policy suggested. The mendicant orders, which assumed the vow of perpetual and absolute poverty, artfully labored to amass fortunes; and soon betrayed a secret design of acquiring hierachal importance and supremacy. The Franciscans, who solemnly obligated themselves to remain forever poor, incessantly grasped after riches. When they had built nunneries, convents, and became the proprietors of extensive domains, they abrogated their vow of perpetual poverty, lest it should invalidate their title to vast possessions which they held. With equal duplicity and ambition, they assumed, upon their first organization, a vow of perpetual ignorance; abjuring the acquisition of any intellectual accomplishment, and consecrating themselves strictly to the preaching of the gospel. But becoming enchanted with the magnificence of the papal crown, and wishing to wield its immense power and lucrative patronage in behalf of their order, and perceiving that literary acquirements would facilitate the accomplishment of this object, they annulled their vow of perpetual ignorance, and began to devote themselves to the acquisition of some degree of profane erudition. Having acquired immense wealth and popularity, and removed by art or bribery every obstacle to the success of their ambition, they placed on the apostolic throne, from their own order, Nicholas V., Alexander V., Sixtus IV., and Clement XIV. The Dominicans, who were established to preach against infidels and heretics, adopted at the commencement of their career the money-making devices of the mendicant orders; but when their revenues had become so great, and their domains so extensive that they had attracted a covetous glance from the secular power, they prudently annulled the vows by which they had been acquired, lest the profane avariciousness of princes should cause their sequestration.

The Jesuits professed to have a holy abhorrence of riches, but thankfully accepted costly presents, opulent legacies, vast tracts of land, and the pecuniary means of erecting numerous stately structures. While this pious fraternity resolved not to accept any ecclesiastical dignity, it secretly and artfully labored to acquire all the privileges of the mendicant orders, all the advantages of the secular clergy, and to make the members of its order superior to those of any other, and its general next in power and importance to the pope. By hypocrisy, intrigue, and cringing sycophancy, these unscrupulous monks obtained rights and privileges enjoyed by no other ecclesiastical corporation. They not only obtained exemption from all civil and episcopal taxes, and from all amenability to any other power than that of the pope; but also the authority of absolving from all sins and ecclesiastical penalties; of changing the object of the vows of the laity; and of acquiring churches and domains without restriction. They were privileged also to suit their dress to circumstances, their conduct to peculiarities, their profession to the views of others; to be accommodating and complaisant while pursuing a political enterprise, and under the mask of any external appearance to prosecute in secret what might excite opposition if openly avowed. They were allowed to become actual merchants, mechanics, showmen, actors, and to adopt any profession calculated to facilitate the accomplishment of a design, and to throw off the mask whenever they thought expedient. Organized on the principles of deception, and unrestricted in their privileges, they secretly labored for their own aggrandizement, while they publicly professed to be sacrificing their interests to the salvation of mankind. They became professors of universities and tutors of schools, that they might select the brightest minds of the rising generation, and mould them to their purposes. They became the spiritual guides of females of rank and opulence, that they might avail themselves of their influence and control their wealth. They became the confessors of princes, that they might penetrate their intentions, ferret out their secrets, watch over their conduct, and enslave and govern their minds. They became the governors of colonies, in order to grasp secular revenues, and to exercise the political power in behalf of their interests. They established seminaries and boarding schools for both sexes, in order to acquire dominion over the young; they sought to occupy the confessional, in order to discover all domestic and governmental secrets; and they labored to monopolize the pulpit, in order to manufacture public opinion, and influence the general tone of society in their favor.

The numerous divisions into which the religious orders were divided, and their different degrees of austerity, enabled the church to suit its policy to the corruption or purity, the ignorance or learning of the nation it sought to proselyte and govern. Under its direction the monks flattered every power they were ordered to subvert, and blushed at no sycophancy that facilitated the accomplishment of an object. Governed by unnatural vows, they sacrificed freedom, the source of natural sentiment, to credulity and blind submission The most absurd and criminal injunctions of a superior or general were obeyed without compunction or remorse. If they aspired after perfection, it was by sacrificing the virtues of life. If they strove to obtain personal purity, it was by violating the laws of their being. They sought to atone for offences by scourging their backs, ironing their limbs, chaining themselves to rocks, passing their lives in caves, in days without food, in nights without sleep, in years without speaking; subsisting without money, propagating without women, acquiring the respect of the world they despised, the riches they contemned, and the dignity they abjured. They were a palpable deception, yet an object of universal veneration. By cunning and obsequiousness they sought and obtained power; by duplicity and fraud they amassed fortunes; by luxury and tyranny they oppressed the world. Every species of absurdity, art, hypocrisy, avarice, ambition and despotism, under the guise of sanctity was embodied in their organization, and illustrated in their conduct.

The doctrines which they taught were often as pernicious as their professions were false, and their conduct crafty. As the accommodating morality of their religion allowed them to adopt any profession, or any mode of life that would favor the success of a design, so the license of their sophistry enabled them to construe the maxims of virtue according to any standard that would justify the conduct dictated by their interest or sycophancy. By the pliancy of their moral code they consecrated the basest means to pious ends. By the subterfuge of perplexing interpretations, mental reservations, and an artful ambiguity of language, they excused and sanctioned perjury and every other crime. They taught that offences were justified, if, when committed, the criminal thought differently from what he said or done; and that a mental reservation nullified the obligation of any promise, of any contract, or of any treaty. The perversions of the maxims of virtue by which they sought to justify the crimes of others, they applied to their own conduct in the broadest sense. In 1809, when the papal archives were brought to France, the startling fact became public that the holy fathers had been in the habit of availing themselves of pious subterfuges. It then appeared that while they had made contracts, and issued bulls in conformity with the demands of temporal princes, they had at the same time nullified, by virtue of mental reservations, such of them as were obnoxious.

The absurdities and perniciousness of their moral code were not exceeded by those of their penal code. According to the doctrines of Catholicity the guilt of every crime may be expiated by the performance of penance. To regulate the priest in prescribing this mode of punishment, the church furnished him with an ecclesiastical body of laws, which he as carefully as prudently concealed from the eyes of the intelligent. All priests were enabled, by the use of this code, to understand the true orthodox degree of punishment which had been authoratively decided should be inflicted on penitents, for the commission of any offence of word, thought or deed; and a uniformity in the administration of penal prescriptions was maintained, which harmonized with the divine inspiration by which the confessor pretended to be guided in the matter. Fasts, prayers, self-torture, abstinence from business, were, by the authority of the ecclesiastical code, declared to be the divinely appointed methods of expiating the guilt of rape, of fornication, of adultery, of robbery, of murder, and of every degree and species of crime. These offences being very henious in their nature, and very frequently committed by those who believed in the ability of the church to absolve them from their guilt, and time being required for the performance of the atoning penance, it is easy to see that an ordinary Catholic sinner was in eminent danger of incurring a debt which would require several centuries of penance to liquidate. Here was a dilemma. Long fasting would starve him; long abstinence from business would empoverish him; and either expedient would prevent him from being a source of revenue to the church; and, in fact, defeat the object of the holy sacrament of penance. To obviate this difficulty the ingenious method of indulgences was adopted. By this happy expedient provision was made for the relief of all criminals at stipulated prices, graduated according to their pecuniary circumstances. A penance imposed on a rich sinner for one year's indulgence in the commission of a particular offence, was, by this crafty device, allowed to be cancelled by the payment of twenty shillings to the priest; and if the sinner was poor, by the payment of nine shillings. Yet even by this indulgence and charitable discrimination, as every separate offence required the atonement of a separate penance, few sinners escaped incurring less than a debt of three hundred years, or of two hundred pounds sterling. The liquidation of such an obligation during the dark ages would consume a small fortune; but the expansive benevolence of the church, touched at the sorrows of her contrite members, graciously accepted their land after she had exhausted their purse.

As crime had its degrees of turpitude, the ecclesiastical code prescribed degrees of severity in punishing it. Whoever could not pay with their purse had to pay with their body. Three thousand lashes, and the repetition of a portion of the Psalter, were prescribed as an indispensable satisfaction for any crime whose penance required a year to discharge; and fifteen thousand lashes and the repetition of the whole Psalter, for any crime whose penance required five years to discharge. A year's penance was taxed at three thousand lashes, a century's at three hundred thousand lashes, and five centuries at fifteen hundred thousand lashes. 13

These scourgings were always sanctified by the repetition of psalms. As vicarious flagellation did not impair the revenues of the church, it was not objected to; and a sinner would often expiate his guilt by vigorously laying the stripes it demanded on the back of an accommodating friend. The skill and hardihood of St, Dominic was able to discharge the penitential lashes of a century in six days; and his pious example was attempted to be imitated even by ladies of fashion and quality.

The monasteries were ambiguous, oppressive corporations. If they have at times preserved the literary treasures of the ancients, they have impaired their authority by numerous corruptions and interpolations. If they have sometimes established institutions for the education of youth, they have generally usurped the fortunes of their patrons. If they have ever been places of refuge for the proscribed, they have always been the means of oppressing industry, and restricting freedom. If they have been schools for the correction of error, and improvement in virtue, yet the absurdities and immoralities taught within their sanctuaries, and the crimes notoriously practised therein, have inflicted deeper injury on the cause of truth, and on the interest of public morals, than can be atoned for by any usefulness or virtue which they could possess, or can pretend to claim. Their virtues were accidents; their vices natural offsprings. They were financial institutions. The labor performed by their inmates as a penance, was made a lucrative source of revenue. The articles which they manufactured were represented as capable of imparting a peculiar blessing to the purchaser, making them cheap at any price. A simple badge of a religious order, to which were ascribed divine virtue, and an unlimited amount of indulgences, was sold to lay members at the price of a respectable fortune. The tutors with which the monasteries furnished schools, the professors which they gave to colleges, the confessors with which they supplied princes, and the spiritual guides with which they provided the affluent of both sexes, were benevolently granted upon the payment of exorbitant sums of money. Gold being the source of power and luxury, it became the governing principle of the church. For it she granted indulgences to violate the laws of heaven and earth; threatened and repealed excommunications; and merchandised every spiritual blessing, all the prerogatives of heaven, and all the privileges of earth. Gold supplied the place of contrition, atoned for the offences of criminals, released sinners from purgatory, and opened to guilt the gates of Paradise. As it more ably than any thing else increased the power and dominion of the church, it was a more adorable object than the deity, a more precious savior than Christ, a more sanctifying possession than the Holy Ghost. As all had sinned, all had to pay; and as all were totally depraved, all had to be liberal. The confessor was judge; and as he was interested in the amount, he was likely to be exorbitant in the demand. The sin of total depravity, which all had inherited from the forbidden fruit which Adam had eaten, empowered a priest to demand of a penitent the surrender of the whole of his fortune.

With extraordinary financial ingenuity, the church converted not only the crimes of her members, but the virtues of her departed saints, into a lucrative source of revenue. Happily conceiving that the saints, some of whom had been executed as malefactors, had performed more good works than was necessary for the salvation of their souls, she inferred that the superabundant quantity of their goodness might be dealt out to the destitute without detriment to the owners. With more cupidity than reason, the church laid claim to these works of supererogation, and began to vend them at exorbitant prices. The exhaustlessness of the store, and the scarcity of the article among her members, made the enterprise a very profitable speculation.

After disposing of a great portion of heaven, and finding it exceedingly remunerative, her inveterate disposition to traffic led her to examine the saints more carefully, and see if they had not other disposable material for the exercise of her commercial ingenuity. She was not long in discovering that the bones of the saints were likely to be deemed as valuable as their virtues had been, and might prove as marketable. This discovery induced an industrious search for their graves, and a careful excavation of them. The bones of Samuel, the judge of Israel, which had slept for five hundred years in Palestine, were exhumed and transported to Rome. St. Stephen having appeared in a dream to a pious man, and informed him where his corpse reposed, the locality was immediately examined by bishops and priests in company with the dreamer. Unmistakable proofs appeared as to the existence of a grave, but some honest doubts arose as to it being the identical one in which St. Stephen had been deposited; yet they all vanished upon opening the coffin, for such celestial odors arose from the corpse, and such devout reverence was manifested by the trees and rocks in the vicinity, that the most sceptical was satisfied of the genuineness of the relics. A saint's tomb being equal in value to a gold mine, it was natural for the church to seek for it with great eagerness. But the deep earnestness of her enthusiasm blunted the acuteness of her judgment. It sometimes led her to mistake the bones of cats, of dogs, and of jackals for those of saints; and as there is no difference between the bones of thieves and murderers and those of saints, and as both classes have often been regarded by law as synonymous, and interred together in the same field, the former were frequently gathered up in mistake for the latter. But however mortifying were such errors, they did not prove as unfortunate as might have been expected; for until anatomy and history had rectified them, the bones of pigs, of jackals, and of malefactors, brought as good prices as the veritable bones of saints, were as eagerly sought after; and what is very remarkable, performed as many and as great miracles.

We do not pretend to assert that the religious orders, even the most objectionable of them, did not in some instances render valuable aid to the cause of education and humanity The sanctity and disinterestedness with which their profession was invested, though generally assumed, were sometimes real. But the corrupt and pernicious principles which entered into their constitution, were too self-evident to be concealed from the eyes of mankind; and too revolting to escape the animadversion of some of the more noble and courageous members of their fraternity. Some of the clergy, and many of the learned men of the age boldly complained of their base immorality. Their aversion to reform, and the worldly policy which characterized their religious profession, sunk them in the estimation of the enlightened and philanthropic. Their pernicious intermeddling in political affairs, their cunning and obsequiousness, their busy and intriguing spirit, and the powerful confederacy of their orders, made them objects of suspicion to jurists and statesmen. The numerous exemptions which they enjoyed under the protection of the laws, their privileges nullifying the jurisdiction of the civil authority over them, their overgrown power, and the base accommodation of principle to circumstances, by which they labored to advance the pope's pretension to supreme dominion, rendered their existence in a government a political solecism. But notwithstanding these palpable facts, the force of habit and of education, the deep-rooted reverence which existed in the public mind for the spiritual guides, the superstitious dread of their anathemas, and the servile temper which monarchical government engenders in the minds of subjects, all conspired to conciliate Christendom to the deep degradation inflicted on society by the monastic orders, until their arrogant conduct towards some powerful monarch had surpassed the limits of his forbearance. It was then that the discontent and indignation which their outrageous conduct had created in the public mind, but which superstition had held in check, broke forth in bold and explicit demands for reformation. Reforms, consequently, were not only projected, but peremptorily enforced. The temporal and spiritual powers of the monastic orders were restricted by the abolishment of their exemptions. Sov-reigns appropriated many of their rich estates to education and charitable purposes; and sometimes to their own use. Even Catholic princes obliged the monks to submit to unpleasant restrictions, or to purchase exemption at an enormous rate. The different orders, one after the other, were abrogated on account of some intolerable conduct. The Jesuists were abolished in England on account of the political plotting of its members; in Holland for having caused the assassination of Maurice de Nassau; in Portugal for an attempt to murder Joseph I.; in Spain, and its colonies, for conspiring against the government; in Italy for licentiousness; and in France, as the decree expresses, because "Their doctrine destroys the law of nature, that rule of morals which God has inscribed on the heart of man. Their dogmas break all bounds of civil society, authorizing theft, perjury, falsehood, the most inordinate and criminal impiety, and generally all passions and wickedness; teaching the nefarious principle of secret compensation, equivocation and mental reservation; extirpating every sentiment of humanity in their sanction of homicide and parricide; subverting the authority of government, and, in fine, overthrowing the practice and foundation of religion, and substituting in their stead all sorts of superstition, with magic, blasphemy, and adultery." That their conduct and principles are of the most execrable description, the history of all nations affords melancholy evidence. They attempted to dethrone Queen Elizabeth, but defeated in that, sought to murder her. They caused the assassination of the Prince of Orange. They endeavored to poison Maximillion I., King of Austria. They attempted to murder Henry IV., and Louis XV. They poisoned Pope Clement XIII., for having attempted to abolish them, and Pope Clement XIX., for having abrogated their order, although he did it with mental reservations. Loaded with the crimes of ages, and the curses of nations, they were abolished with different limitations in every part of Europe; and as they were the most powerful of the monastic orders, the others rapidly incurred the sentence of the same degradation. But notwithstanding all this, the Jesuistical order, so execrable in its principles, so dangerous to public peace and morals, and so justly reprobated by all enlightened men and governments, was restored by Pope Pius VII., who intimated that it would reappear in the same authority in which it fell. Again these monks are traversing the world, arresting the progress of science, demoralizing society, and plotting treason and rebellion in the advancement of the pope's claims to supreme temporal and spiritual dominion, until the foundation of independent government begins to quake; until the pillars of constitutional liberty begin to totter; until despotism dares insult the ears of freemen with the boldness of its prophecies; and until statesmen and patriots turn pale as they view the portentous vapors darkling the political horizon, which may gather into a storm, whose rain will be the blood of nations, and whose thunder will shake governments to atoms.