Home

Previous page

Chapter III

Chapter II: Monastic Life


Even this slight sketch of the inner life of an Abbey may show that it was not one of laziness and repose. Many gifts and faculties were called into exercise. Outside altogether of the offices of devotion there was plenty for a man of energy to do. He could work in the garden or the field. He could assist the sacrist in the church, the cook in the kitchen, the cellarer in his pantry. He could peruse books in the library, write in the scriptorium, attend the sick in the infirmary, knead in the bakehouse, or, under the superintendence of the almoner, minister to the wants of the poor. There is a letter from the great abbot, Peter of Clugny, [5] to a monk in some distant monastery affiliated to that celebrated convent which illustrates what has been said regarding the opportunities afforded by the monastic life for activity both of brain and of hand. It is of special interest, as Paisley was likewise a cell of Clugny. After having spoken of prayer and meditation, he says, “But I know, my most dearly beloved, that these are difficult of attainment, and that it is not easy for anyone to pass his life in these pursuits only. Let these things there¬fore be followed by manual labour; that when the mind is fatigued with spiritual things, and being cast down by the weight of flesh, falls from the highest to the lowest things—it be turned, not to the vain conversation of men, but to the exercise of the body. Trees cannot be planted, fields cannot be watered, and no agricultural work can be carried on consistently with perpetual seclusion; but, what is more useful, instead of the plough you may take in hand the pen, and instead of marking the fields with furrows, you may store page after page with sacred letters, and the word of God may be sown on the parchment, which, when the harvest is ripe, that is when the book is completed, may fill hungry readers with abundant fruits, and so heavenly bread may dispel the deadly famine of the soul. If, however, from injuring your sight, or from headache, or from its wearisome sameness, you cannot or will not be content with this one manual employment,—make a variety of other handy-works,—make combs for combing and cleaning the heads of the brethren; with skilful hand and well instructed foot turn needle cases, hollow out vessels for wine, or try to put them together,—and if there are any marshy places near weave mats, (an ancient monastic employment), on which you may always, or frequently sleep,—may bedew with daily or frequent tears and wear out with frequent genuflection before God, or, as Jerome says, ‘Weave little baskets with flags or make them of wicker.’ Filling up all the time of your blessed life with these and similar works of holy purpose you will leave no room for your adversaries to intrude into your heart or into your cell: but when God hath filled all with his virtues there shall be no room for the devil, none for sloth, none for the other vices.” These advices from the Archabbot of Clugny we may be sure found some to put them in practice in the subordinate Abbey of Paisley. Entering in at the stately gatehouse, after having satisfied the jealous porter, we find, not a scene of idleness and sloth, but of toil and bustle; or if an holy calm pervades all things the echo of the chanted Psalms tells us the reason. We see the lighted windows, the priest before the altar, the chanter at the head of the choir, the abbot with his mitre standing in his stall with his crozier in his hand. Then darkness falls upon all and we are back from the Middle Ages amid the prose of the nineteenth century.


[5] Maitland's Dark Ages, pages 451, 452.