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John Lord
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 266 pages of information about Beacon Lights of History, Volume 05.

SAINT BERNARD.

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A.D. 1091-1153.

MONASTIC INSTITUTIONS.

One of the oldest institutions of the Church is that which grew out of monastic life.  It had its seat, at a remote period, in India.  It has existed, in different forms, in other Oriental countries.  It has been modified by Brahminical, Buddhistic, and Persian theogonies, and extended to Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor.  Go where you will in the East, and you see traces of its mighty influence.  We cannot tell its remotest origin, but we see everywhere the force of its ideas.  Its fundamental principle appears to be the desire to propitiate the Deity by penances and ascetic labors as an atonement for sin, or as a means of rising to a higher religious life.  It has sought to escape the polluting influences of demoralized society by lofty contemplation and retirement from the world.  From the first, it was a protest against materialism, luxury, and enervating pleasures.  It recognized something higher and nobler than devotion to material gains, or a life of degrading pleasure.  In one sense it was an intellectual movement, while in another it was an insult to the human understanding.  It attempted a purer morality, but abnegated obvious and pressing duties.  It was always a contradiction,—­lofty while degraded, seeking to comprehend the profoundest mysteries, yet debased by puerile superstitions.

The consciousness of mankind, in all ages and countries, has ever accepted retribution for sin—­more or less permanent—­in this world or in the next.  And it has equally accepted the existence of a Supreme Intelligence and Power, to whom all are responsible, and in connection with whom human destinies are bound up.  The deeper we penetrate into the occult wisdom of the East,—­on which light has been shed by modern explorations, monumental inscriptions, manuscripts, historical records, and other things which science and genius have deciphered,—­the surer we feel that the esoteric classes of India, Egypt, and China were more united in their views of Supreme Power and Intelligence than was generally supposed fifty years ago.  The higher intellects of Asia, in all countries and ages, had more lofty ideas of God than we have a right to infer from the superstitions of the people generally.  They had unenlightened ideas as to the grounds of forgiveness.  But of the necessity of forgiveness and the favor of the Deity they had no doubt.

The philosophical opinions of these sages gave direction to a great religious movement.  Matter was supposed to be inherently evil, and mind was thought to be inherently good.  The seat of evil was placed in the body rather than in the heart and mind.  Not the thoughts of men were evil, but the passions and appetites of the body.  Hence the first thing for a good man to do was to bring the body—­this seat of evil—­under subjection, and, if

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