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Thus, thanks to the Episcopate, reputed representative of the tradition of the twelve apostles, the Church wrought out, without weakening herself, the most difficult of transformations. She passed from the conventual state, if I may say so, to the laic condition—from the condition of a little chapel of visionaries to the state of the Church opened to all, and, consequently, exposed to imperfections. What seemed destined never to be anything but a dream of fanatics had become a durable religion. To become a Christian, whatever Hermas and the Montanists said, one doesn’t need to be a saint. Obedience to ecclesiastical authority is now what makes the Christian, much more than spiritual gifts. These spiritual gifts shall be even suspected henceforth, and shall frequently expose the most favoured by grace to become heretics. Schism is the ecclesiastical crime par excellence. For dogma, again, the Christian Church possessed already a centre of orthodoxy which called heresy everything that leaves the received type; it had also an average morality which could be that of all the world, and not draw people forcibly, as that of the abstinents did, to the end of the world. In repulsing the Gnostics the Church had repulsed the refinements of dogma; in rejecting the Montanists it rejected the refinements of holiness. The excesses of those who dreamed of a spiritual church, a transcendant perfection, struck against common sense and the established Church. The masses, already considerable, who entered the 135Church and constituted the majority, brought down the moral temperature to the lowest possible level. In politics the question was in the same position. The exaggerations of the Montanists, their furious declamations against the Roman Empire, their hatred against Pagan society, could not be the act of everyone. The empire of Marcus-Aurelius was very different from that of Nero. With him there had been no reconciliation to hope for; with the former, one might expect it. The Church and Marcus-Aurelius pursued, in many points of view, the same end. It is clear that the bishops would have abandoned to the secular arm all the saints of Phrygia, if such a sacrifice had been the price of the alliance which would have put into their hands the spiritual direction of the world.

Charismas, indeed, and other supernatural exercises, excellent for maintaining the fervour of little congregations of the illuminated, became impracticable in the large churches. Extreme severity as to the rules of penitence was an absurdity and a meaningless thing, if one aspired to nothing else than a conventicle of so-called pure ones. A people is never made up of the spotless, and the simple believer needed to be admitted to repentance more than once. It was therefore admitted that one might be a member of the Church without being either a hero or an ascetic; it was sufficient for this that one was submissive to his bishop. The saints implored; the struggle between individual holiness and that of the hierarchy is not finished yet, but the middle view shall gain; it will be possible to sin without ceasing to be a Christian. The hierarchy shall prefer even the sinner who employs the ordinary means of reconciliation to the proud ascetic who justifies himself, or who believes that he has no need of justification.

It never will be given to either of these two 136principles to annihilate the other. Alongside the Church of all there will be the Church of the saints; alongside of the age there will be the convent; alongside the simple believer there will be the “religious.” The kingdom of God, such as Jesus has preached it, being impossible in the world as it is, and the world being determined not to change, what must be done then, if not to found little kingdoms of God, a kind of islets in an irremediably perverse ocean, where the application of the Gospel is made to the letter, and where that distinction between precepts and some counsels which serve, in the worldly Church, as a valve to escape from impossibilities? The religious life is one in some sort logically necessary in Christianity. A grand organism finds it the means of developing all that exists in its bosom in germ. The ideal of perfection which lies at the base of the Galilean preaching of Jesus, and which some true disciples always will determinedly maintain, cannot exist in the world; it is needful, therefore, to create, that this idea may be realisable, some enclosed worlds, monasteries, where poverty, self-denial and reciprocal correction, obedience and chastity should be rigorously practised. The Gospel is really rather the Enchiridion of a convent than a code of morality; it is the essential rule of all monastic order; the perfect Christian is a monk; the monk is consequently a Christian; the convent is the place where the Gospel, always Utopian elsewhere, becomes a reality. The code which claims to teach the imitation of Jesus Christ is a book for the cloister. Satisfied to know that the morality preached by Jesus is practised somewhere, the laity will console itself with its mundane connections, and will easily become used to believe that such lofty maxims are not made for it. Buddhism has resolved the question in another way. Every 137one is a monk there a part of his life. Christianity is content if it has some part in the places where true Christianity is practised; the Buddhist is content provided that at one point of his life he has been a perfect Buddhist.

Montanism was an exaggeration; it could not but perish. But, like all exaggerations, it left deep traces. The Roman Christian was in part its work. Its two great enthusiasms, chastity and martyrdom, remained the two fundamental elements of Christian literature. It was Montanism which invented this strange association of ideas, created the martyr Virgin, and, introducing the female charm into the most gloomy accounts of sufferings, inaugurated that bizarre literature from which Christian imagination to the beginning of the fourth century could not release itself. The Montanist Acts of St. Perpetua and the martyrs of Africa, breathing forth their faith in charismas, full of an extreme rigorism and a burning ardour, impregnated with a strong savour of slave love, mixing the finished images of a skilful æsthetic with the most fanatical dreams, opened the series of these works of austere voluptuousness. The search for martyrdom became a fever impossible to govern. The circumcellious, running through the country in mad bands seeking death, forcing people to martyr them, making this access of gloomy hysteria become an epidemic.

Chastity in marriage remained one of the bases in the interest of Roman Christians. Now there was there another Montanist idea. Like the false Hermas, the Montanists stirred unceasingly the dangerous ember which they might well have allowed to sleep with its concealed fires, but that it was imprudent to extinguish it violently. The precautions they took in this matter evidence a certain preoccupation, more lascivious at bottom than the liberty of 138the man of the world; in any case these precautions are such as aggravate the evil, or at least betray it, bringing it to life. An excessive tenderness in regard to temptation we must gather from this exaggerated apprehension of beauty, from those interdicts against the toilette of women and especially on dressing their hair, which are found in every page of the Montanist writings. The woman who, by the most innocent turn given to her hair, seeks to please and conveys the conviction that she is pretty, becomes, in the speech of these bitter sectaries, as culpable as she who excites to lewdness. The demon of the hair will be charged with her punishment. Aversion to marriage came from motives which must be sought for there. The pretended chastity of the Encratites was often only an unconscious deception.

A romance which was certainly of Montanist origin, since we find in it arguments to prove that women have the right to instruct and to administer the sacraments, turns entirely on this rather dangerous ambiguity. We speak of Thécla. However rough and provoking is the romance of the saints Nerea and Achilea, nothing could be more voluptuously chaste; marriage has never been treated with a more naïve immodesty. Let one read in Gregory of Tours the delicious legend of the “Two Lovers of Auvergne,” in the Acts of John the piquant story of “Drusiana,” in the Acts of Thomas the tale of “The Betrothed Spouses of India,” in St. Ambrose the story of the Virgin of Antioch with the adulterer; and then one can understand how the ages which nourished such recitals can, without merit, be described as having renounced profane love. One of the mysteries most profoundly held by the founders of Christianity is that chastity is a pleasure, and that modesty is one of the forms of love. The people who are afraid of 139women are generally those who love them most. How often may it be said with justice to the ascetic: Fallit te incautum pietas tua. In certain portions of the Christian community there was seen appearing, at different times, the idea that women ought never to be seen, that the life which befits them is a life of seclusion, according to the habit which has prevailed in the Mussulman East. It is easy to see to what a degree, if such a thought had prevailed, the character of the Church would have been changed. What, in fact, distinguishes the church from the mosque and even from the synagogue is, that the woman enters freely there and on the same footing as the man, although separated or even veiled. It appears as if their Christianity would have been, as Islamism was later on, a religion for men, from which the woman is almost altogether excluded. The Catholic Church took care not to commit this fault. Women had the functions of the diaconate in the Church, and were engaged in it with man in subordinate but frequent affairs. Baptism, the eucharistic communion, and works of charity took them apart from the customs of the East. Here again the Catholic Church formed the medium among the exaggerations of the different sects with a rare sense of tact.

Thus is explained that singular mixture of timid modesty and soft abandon which characterise moral sentiment in the primitive churches. Away with the vile suspicions of vulgar debauches, incapable of understanding such innocence! Everything was pure in these holy freedoms; but it was necessary also to be pure to be able to enjoy it. Legend shows us the Pagans jealous of the privilege which the priest has of perceiving one moment in baptismal nudity her who, by the holy immersion, becomes his spiritual sister. What should be said of the “holy kiss” which was the ambrosia of these chaste generations, 140of that kiss which, like the consolamentum of the Cathares, was a sacrament of strength and love, and whose remembrance, mingled with the most solemn impressions of the Eucharistic act, was sufficient for days to fill the soul with a kind of perfume? Why was the Church so beloved, that to re-enter it when they had left it men went anticipating death? Because it was a school of infinite joys. Jesus was really in the midst of his own. More than a hundred years after his death, he was still the master of learned pleasures, the initiator into transcendant secrets.

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