And as we may learn from this byegone type of saintly workers in their social life, in the principles (that is) which guided them as members of a community, — so most assuredly we may sit at the feet of very many of them in their individual holiness, and learn from them how better and more truly to follow Christ our Lord. We may find warmth in their footsteps, as faint and weary, and with many a sad stumble, we follow them across the sad world's snow. "Languor was not in their hearts, nor weakness in their words, nor weariness on their brows".
"Servants of God ! or sons Shall I not call you ? because Not as servants ye knew Your Father's innermost mind— His who unwillingly sees One of His little ones lost".
It would be quite impossible to call before you the multitudes of noble figures with white robes and palms in their hands which would arise at the bidding of a student of history. Shall it be St. Anselm, after his stormy yet noble archiepiscopate, in his hour of death, like the humblest brother of his old monastery at Bec, laid on sackcloth, over which were strewed ashes in the shape of the cross, and so, amid prayers and low chants, and fervent blessings, calmly and happily breathing his last among his weeping friends ? Shall it be St. Edmund of Canterbury, with the pallor of his beautiful countenance " growing a fair shining red," as he spoke in his lecture-ioom at Oxford of God and holy things; or as he sprinkled with dust the few coins, his sole possession, which lay loose in his window-sill,—saying ashes to ashes, dust to dust ? Or shall it be St. Thomas Aquinas, with his daily prayer, " Give me, O Lord, a noble heart, which no earthly affection can drag down " ? Or shall it be St. Bonaventura pointing in silence to his crucifix, when he was asked the source of his vast learning; and found washing the meanest vessels of his monastery, when they brought him the hat of a cardinal from Rome? Or shall it be St. Bernardin of Siena, whose pure and modest presence, even as a boy, hushed and overawed at once every evil word of his companions ? Or shall it be a ruler like Gregory the Great, the son of a poor carpenter, yet towering so high in the might of conscious integrity,— so utterly superior to the world by complete indifference to its interests,—that the guilty Emperor of Germany cowered in terror before his look, and at his feet ? Or St. Bernard of Clairvaux, rebuking princes, upholding popes, firing all Europe to a new crusade, living in utter poverty, daily asking himself the stern question, " Bernarde, ad quid venisti ? " " Bernard, wherefore art thou here ?" These are but stray gleams from lives of steady radiance. But go into our National Gallery, or any great collection of pictures, and there— for amid the dust and weariness of life it is well to refresh our souls with things holy and beautiful — gaze on the pictures of Fra Angelico of Fiesole, if you would see the heavenly calm of spirit to which some of the monks attained. Il beato—as he is often called, for he was never canonised—was a monk of that famous monastery of San Marco, at Florence, which, at the same epoch, also sent forth the eloquent, fiery, undaunted Savonarola, to thunder his impassioned denunciations against the gross corruptions of the Church and of the world. In every cell of that monastery of San Marco is painted a crucifixion by this holy painter. He painted them on his knees, and with streaming tears. Never would he receive one penny for them. Never would he alter a line when once painted, for he painted the faces of his visions, and looked on them as sent by inspiration. And inspired, indeed, they were, by the spirit of holy love; by the stainless purity of a life which turned to the Divine as a flower to the sunlight; by the calm, unsullied innocence of one whose soul was as a weaned child. Look at the tender rose, and gold, and violet—the delicate springtide colourings of his pictures ;—look at the angelic and saintly faces, so untroubled, so unlike those around us— pure and bright as the blue of heaven when there is not one cloud to stain it;—look at the rapt, exquisite devotion, radiating outward as from an inward flame, which pervades the whole canvas as with a subtle lambency like the atmosphere of paradise. Alike the Sinaitic thunder-ings of Savonarola, and the " soft, silent pictures " of Fra Angelico were the outcome of life in that monastic self-sacrifice. It was the self-discipline of the monkish cell which fired the indignation and strengthened the courage of the one to face the storms of hatred and the agonies of martyrdom. It was the self-discipline of the monkish cell which made the other so despise the world that,— wholly dead to rank and ambition,—he refused the Archbishopric of Florence, and nominated a brother monk instead, who in his turn became the best and holiest Archbishop by whom Florence had ever been ruled. And how came it that types of virtue so different —the one so magnificent in its power and fearlessness, the other so perfect in its love and peace—were fostered in the same cloistral shade? It came from what Milton called " the unresistible might of weakness which shakes the world;" it came from the indefinite fruitfulness of self-sacrifice ; it came from that spiritual force of chastity, of self-denial, "which knows how to weep, to pray, to love; which knows how to be poor, unknown, despised; harder than a diamond against pride and corruption; more tender than a mother towards all that suffers and that seeks.'
Deeply, I fear, does this age need to take to heart the stern, inexorable necessity of such self conquest. It was the central conception of monasticism, it may well be the central lesson of modern civilisation. " Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to subdue the lusts thereof".
Saintly Workers, p. 69.