Book 2, Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair from 955 AD to 975 – Origin of Monasteries in England
He was sensible that so long as the monks were indulged in marriage, and were permitted to rear families, they never could be subjected to strict discipline, or reduced to that slavery under their superiors, which was requisite to procure to the mandates, issued from Rome, a ready and zealous obedience. Celibacy, therefore, began to be extolled, as the indispensable duty of priests, and the pope undertook to make all the clergy throughout the western world renounce at once the privilege of marriage a fortunate policy, but at the same time an undertaking the most difficult of any, since he had the strongest propensities of human nature to encounter, and found, that the same connexions with the female sex, which generally encourage devotion, were here unfavourable to the success of his project.
It is no wonder, therefore, that this masterstroke of art should have met with violent contradiction, and that the interests of the hierarchy, and the inclinations of the priests, being now placed in this singular opposition, should, notwithstanding the continued efforts of Rome, have retarded the execution of that bold scheme during the course of nearly three centuries.
One of the grounds of quarrel between King Edwy and Dunstan had been the favour which the former had shown to the secular clergy, in opposition to the attempts made by the latter to dispossess them in favour of the monastic orders. These had been gradually acquiring power, wealth, and influence, and a fierce rivalry existed between them and the old regular clergy, which was destined to have important consequences. The Anglo-Saxon Monasteries at first consisted of mere assemblages of religious people, around the habitation of some person eminent for sanctity, which led an eremitical life, and presided as Abbot.
He often acted as a preceptor of youth to obtain subsistence. Such was Malmesbury in its origin. Elphegus re-founded the Abbey of Bath nearly in the same manner. The first Monastery of Abingdon in the latter end of the seventh century was one of this description. The building was round in the eastern and western parts, and in the circuit of it, were twelve habitations and as many chapels, in which were a like, number of monks who ate, drank, and slept there. They were not inclosed by a high wall, nor did any one go to the gate except from manifest necessity, or the use of the house, and then with license of the abbot.
A woman never entered the place, nor did any but the twelve monks and the abbot, the thirteenth, reside there. They had a house at the gate for a locutory, where they conversed with acquaintances and friends, and on Sundays, and the principal feasts they assembled at mass, and ate together. Alfred founded a monastery with different orders intermixed, and Osbern, a Norman monk, says, that before the reformation by Dunstan in the reign of Edgar, “there was no common rule of living, and that the name of abbot was scarce heard of, but that devotees, singly or with companions, emigrated from their native places, and set up schools until they had obtained an endowment.”
The first Anglo-Saxon monasteries in the era mentioned were merely convents of secular clerks, who, though they were bound by certain rules, and daily performed the sacred offices, yet enjoyed all the privileges of other clerks, and were even married. Exceptions, though not numerous, may be found to this affirmation, but it is sufficient to observe, that the monastic orders, over every quarter of the globe, before the ninth century, when the Benedictine absorbed all the other orders, followed various rules and methods of living, altered them at pleasure, and were not only negligent in observing them, but were licentious and profligate to a proverb, though learning and study received encouragement.
Chapter 8, Edwy the Fair
Chapter 8, Origin of Monasteries in England
Their Rules and Practice
Chapter 8, Dunstan
Chapter 8, Archbishop Dunstan and the Clergy
Categories: Book 2