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VI. Of Monastic Vows (Disputation XIII)
Response to Article XXVII
Although many and various matters have been introduced in this article by the suggestion of certain persons (Another text, Cod. Pflug., reads "Preachers"), nevertheless, when all are taken into consideration with mature thought, since monastic vows have their foundation in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and most holy men, renowned and admirable by miracles, have lived in these religious orders with many thousand thousands, and for so many centuries their ordinances and rules of living have been received and approved throughout the entire Christian world by the Catholic Church, it is in no way to be tolerated that vows are licentiously broken without any fear of God.
For, in the Old Testament, God approved the vows of the Nazarenes, Num 6:2 ff., and the vows of the Rechabites, who neither drank wine or ate grapes, Jer. 36:6, 19; while he strictly requires that the vow once made be paid, Deut. 23:21 f.; "It is ruin to a man after vows to retract," Prov. 20:25; "The vows of the just are acceptable," Prov. 15:8.
God also teaches specifically through the prophet that monastic vows please him. For in Isa. 56:4, 5 it is read as follows: "Thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbath, and choose the things that please me and take hold of my covenant, Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than that of sons and of daughters. I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off." But to what eunuchs does God make these promises? To those, undoubtedly, whom Christ praises, "which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake," Matt. 19:12; to those, undoubtedly, who, denying their own, come after Christ and deny themselves and follow him, Luke 9:23, so that they are governed no longer by their own will, but by that of their rule and superior.
In like manner, according to the testimony of the apostle, those virgins do better who, contemning the world and spurning its enticements, vow and maintain virginity in monasteries, than those who place their necks beneath the matrimonial burden. For thus St. Paul says, 1 Cor. 7:28: "He that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better." Also, concerning a widow, he continues: "She is happier if she so abide, after my judgment."
No one is ignorant of the holiness of the hermit Paul, of Basil, Anthony, Benedict, Bernard, Dominic, Franciscus, Wiliam, Augustine, Clara, Bridget, and similar hermits, who indeed despised the entire realm of the world and all the splendor of the age on account of love to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Moreover, the heresy of the Lampetians was condemned in most ancient times, which the heretic Jovinian attempted in vain to revive at Rome. Therefore, all things must be rejected which in this article have been produced against monasticism - viz. that monasteries succeeded vows.
Of the nunneries it is sufficiently ascertained that, though pertaining to the weaker sex, how in most cloisters the holy nuns persevered far more constantly to vows once uttered, even under these princes and cities, than the majority of monks; even to this day it has been impossible to move them from their holy purpose by any prayers, blandishments, threats, terrors, difficulties or distresses.
Wherefore, those matters are not to be admitted which are interpreted unfavorably, since it has been expressly declared in the Holy Scriptures that the monastic life, when kept with proper observance, as may by the grace of God be rendered by any monks, merits eternal life; and indeed Christ has promised to them a much more bountiful reward, saying: "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life," Matt. 19:29.
That monasteries, as they show, were formerly literary schools, is not denied; nevertheless, there is no ignorance of the fact that these were at first schools of virtues and discipline, to which literature was afterwards added.
But since no one putting his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of heaven, Luke 9:62, all marriages and breaking of vows by monks and nuns should be regarded as condemned, according to the tenor not only of the Holy Scriptures, but also of the laws and canons, "having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith," as St. Paul says, 1 Tim. 5:12. Moreover, that vows are not contrary to the ordinance of God as been declared with reference to the second article of the alleged abuses.
That they attempt to defend themselves by dispensations of the Pope is of no effect. For although the Pope has perhaps made a dispensation for the king of Aragon, who, we read, returned to the monastery after having had offspring, or for any other prince on account of the peace of the entire kingdom or province, to prevent the exposure of the entire kingdom or province to wars, carnage, pillage, debauchery, conflagrations, murders, - nevertheless, in private persons who abandon vows in apostasy such grounds for dispensations cannot be urged.
For the assumption is repelled that the vow concerns a matter that is impossible. For continence, which so many thousands of men and virgins have maintained, is not impossible. For although the wise man says ( Wisd. 8:21 ): "I knew that I could not otherwise be continent, unless God gave it me," nevertheless Christ promised to give it. "Seek," he says, "and ye shall find" Luke 11:9; Matt 18:28; and St. Paul says: "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it," 1 Cor. 10:13.
They are also poor defenders of their cause when they admit that the violation of a vow is irreprehensible, and it must be declared that by law such marriages are censured and should be dissolved, C. Ut. Continentiae, xxvii. Q. 1, as also by the ancient statutes of emperors. But when they allege in their favor C. Nuptiarum, They accomplish nothing, for it speaks of a simple not of a religious vow, which the Church observes also to this day. The marriages of monks, nuns, or priests, have therefore never been ratified.
Futile also is their statement that a votive life is an invention of men, for it has been founded upon the Holy Scriptures, inspired into the most holy fathers by the Holy Ghost.
Nor does it deny honor to Christ, since monks observe all things for Christ's sake and imitate Christ. False, therefore, is the judgement whereby they condemn monastic service as godless, whereas it is most Christian. For the monks have not fallen from God's grace, as the Jews of whom St. Paul speaks, Gal. 5:4, when they still sought justification by the law of Moses; but the monks endeavor to live more nearly to the Gospel, that they may merit eternal life. Therefore, the allegations here made against monasticism are impious.
Moreover, the malicious charge that is still further added, that those in religious orders claim to be in a state of perfection, has never been heard of by them; for those in these orders claim not for themselves a state of perfection, but only a state in which to acquire perfection - because their regulations are instruments of perfection, and not perfection itself. In this manner Gerson must be received, who does not deny that religious orders are states wherein to acquire perfection as he declares in his treatises, "Against the Proprietors of the Rule of St. Augustine", "Of Evangelical Counsels", "Of Perfection of Heart", and in other places.
For this reason the princes and cities should be admonished to strive rather for the reformation of the monasteries by their legitimate superiors than for their subversion - rather for the godly improvement of the monks than that they be abolished; as their most religious ancestors, most Christian princes, have done.
But if they will not believe holy and most religious fathers defending monastic vows, let them hear at least His Imperial Highness, the Emperor Justinian, in "Authentica," De Monachis, Coll. ii.
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