One might have said that these waves were gilt by the oil of the catechumens, and the sacred Chrism, which the Church exorcises on the Saturday of Holy Week, and above them heaven half-opened its tabernacle of clouds, out of which came a clear sun like a monstrance of molten gold in a Blessed Sacrament of flames.
It was a Benediction of nature, a genuflection of trees and flowers, singing in the wind, incensing with their perfume the sacred Bread which shone on high, in the flaming custody of the planet.
Durtal looked on in transport. He desired to cry aloud his enthusiasm and his Faith to the landscape; he felt a joy in living. The horror of existence counted for nothing when there were such moments, as no earthly happiness can give. God alone had the power of thus filling a soul, of making it overflow, and rush in floods of joy; and He alone could also fill the basin of sorrows, as no event in this world could do. Durtal had just tried it; his spiritual sufferings and joys attained under the divine imprint an acuteness, which people most humanly happy or unhappy cannot even suspect.
This idea brought him back to the terrible distresses of the evening before. He endeavoured to sum up what he had been able to observe of himself in this Trappist monastery.
First, the clear distinction between body and soul; then the action of the demon, insinuating and obstinate, almost visible, while the heavenly action remained, on the contrary, dull and veiled, appeared only at certain moments, and seemed at others to vanish for ever.
And all this, when felt and understood, had an appearance simple in itself, but scarcely explaining itself. The body appearing to throw itself forward to the rescue of the soul, and no doubt borrowing from it its will, to help it when it fainted, was unintelligible. How a body could itself react obscurely, and yet show, all at once, so strong a decision that it pressed its companion into a vice, and prevented its flight—
"It is as mysterious as the rest," thought Durtal, and as in a dream he continued,
"The secret action of Jesus in His Sacrament is not less strange. If I may judge by what has happened to me; a first communion exasperates the action of the devil, while a second represses it.
"Ah, and how I put myself in line with all my calculations! In taking shelter here I thought myself pretty sure of my soul, and that my body would trouble me; whereas just the contrary has been the case.
"My stomach has grown vigorous and shown itself fit to support an effort of which I should never have thought it capable, and my soul has been below everything, vacillating and dry, so fragile, so feeble!
"But we will let all that alone."
He walked about, lifted from earth by a confused joy. He grew vaporized in a sort of intoxication, in a vague etherization, in which arose, without his even thinking of formulating words, acts of thanksgiving; it was an effort of thanks of his soul, of his body, of his whole being, to that God whom he felt living in him, and diffused in that kneeling landscape which also seemed to expand in mute hymns of gratitude.
The hour which struck by the clock in the portico reminded him it was breakfast time. He went to the guest-house, cut himself a slice of bread and butter with some cheese, drank half a glass of wine, and was about to go out again when he reflected that the horary of the offices was changed.
"They must be different from those of the week," he thought; and he went up into his cell to consult his placards.
He found only one, that of the rule of the monks themselves, which contained the regulations for the Sunday practices for the cloister; and he read:
EXERCISES OF THE COMMUNITY FOR ALL ORDINARY SUNDAYS.
1. Rise. Little Office. Prayer till 1.30. 2. Grand Canonical Office chanted. 5.30. Prime, Morning Mass, 6 o'clock. 6.45. Chapter Instructions. Great Silence. 9.15. Asperges, Tierce, Procession. 10. High Mass. 11.10. Sext and special examination. 11.30. Angelus, Dinner. 12.15. Siesta, Great Silence.
2. End of Repose. None. 4. Vespers and Benediction. 5.45. Quarter of an hour for Prayer. 6. Supper. 7. Reading before Compline. 7.15. Compline. 7.30. Salve, Angelus. 7.45. Examination of conscience and Retreat. 8. Bed time, Great Silence.
Note.—After the Cross of September, no siesta. None is at 2 o'clock; Vespers at 3; Supper at 5; Compline at 6, and bed time at 7.
Durtal copied this rule for his use on a scrap of paper. "In fact," he said to himself, "I have to be in chapel at 9.15 for Asperges, High Mass and the Office of Sext, afterwards at 2 for None, then at 4 for Vespers and Benediction, and lastly at 7.30 for Compline.
"Here is a day which will be occupied, without counting that I got up at half-past two this morning," he concluded; and when he reached the chapel, about nine o'clock, he found the greater part of the lay brothers on their knees, the others saying their rosary; and when the clock struck all returned to their place.
Assisted by two fathers in cowls, the prior, vested in a white alb, entered, and while the antiphon "Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et mundabor" was sung, all the monks in succession defiled before Father Maximin, standing on the steps, turning his back to the altar; and he sprinkled them with holy water, while they regained their stalls, each making the sign of the cross.
Then the prior descended from the altar, and came to the entrance to the vestibule, where he dispersed the water crosswise, traced by the sprinkler over the oblate, and over Durtal.
At last he vested, and went to celebrate the sacrifice.
Then Durtal was able to think over his Sundays at the Benedictine nuns.
The "Kyrie Eleison" was the same but slower and more sonorous, more grave on the prolonged termination of the last word; at Paris the voices of the nuns drew it out and put a gloss on it at the same time, turned into satin its final sound, rendered it less dull, less spaced, less ample. The "Gloria in Excelsis" differed; that of La Trappe was more primitive, more mounting, more sombre, interesting by its very barbarism, but less touching, for in its forms of adoration, in the "Adoramus te," for example, the "te" did not detach itself, did not drop like a tear of amorous essence, like an avowal retained by humility on the tip of the lips; but it was when the Credo arose, that Durtal could uplift himself at ease.
He had never yet heard it so authoritative, and so imposing; it advanced, chanted in unison, developing its slow procession of dogmas, in sounds well furnished and rigid, of a violet almost obscure, a red almost black, growing lighter towards the end, till it expired in a long and plaintive Amen.
In following the Cistercian office Durtal could recognize the morsels of plain chant still preserved in parish masses. All the part of the Canon, the "Sursum Corda," the "Vere Dignum," the Antiphons, the "Pater," remained intact. Only the "Sanctus" and the "Agnus Dei" were changed.
Massive, built up, as it were, in the Roman style, they draped themselves in the colour, glowing and dull, which clothes, in fact, the offices of La Trappe.
"Well," said the oblate, when, after the ceremony, they sat at the table of the refectory; "well, what do you think of our High Mass?"
"It is superb," answered Durtal. And he said dreamily, "Would that one could have the whole complete! to bring here, instead of this uninteresting chapel, the apse of St. Severin; hang on the walls the pictures of Fra Angelico, Memling, Gruenewald, Gerard David, Roger van den Weyden, Bouts; add to these, admirable sculptures such as those of the great door of Chartres, altar screens of sculptured wood, such as those of the Cathedral of Amiens, what a dream!"
"Yet," he went on after a silence, "this dream has been a reality, it is evident. This ideal church existed for ages, everywhere in the Middle Ages! The chant, the goldsmith's work, the panels, the sculptures, the tissues were all attractive; the liturgies possessed, to give them value, fabulous caskets, but all that is far off."
"But you certainly cannot say," replied M. Bruno, with a smile, "that the church ornaments are ugly here!"
"No; they are exquisite. First, the chasubles have not the shapes of a miner's apron, and they do not hoist themselves up on the shoulders of the priest, that excrescence, that puffing like the ear of a little donkey lying back, which the vestment makers use at Paris.
"Nor is it any more that cross in stripe or woven, filling all the stuff, falling like a sack-coat over the back of the celebrant; the Trappist chasubles have kept the old form, as the old image makers and the old painters preserved them in their religious scenes; and that cross with four leaves, like those which the Gothic style chiselled on the walls of its churches, is related to the very expanded lotus a flower so full-blown that its falling petals droop."
"Without counting," pursued Durtal, "that the stuff which seems cut in a sort of flannel or thick soft felt must have been plunged in threefold dyes, for it takes a depth, and a magnificent clearness of tone. The religious trimming-makers could trim these watered and plain silks with silver and gold, yet never attain to give a colour at once so vehement and so familiar to the eye as that crimson with sulphur-yellow flowers, which Father Maximin wore the other day."
"Yes, and the mourning chasuble with its lobed crosses, and its discreet white fullings, in which the Father abbot vested himself, the day on which he communicated us, is not it also a caress for the eyes?"
Durtal sighed: "Ah! if the statues in the chapel showed a like taste!"
"By the way," said the oblate, "come and salute that Notre Dame de l'Atre, of which I have spoken to you, found among the remains of the old cloister."
They rose from table, passed along a corridor, and struck into a lateral gallery, at the end of which they stopped before a statue of life size, in stone.
It was heavy and massive, representing in a robe of long folds, a peasant woman, crowned, and round-cheeked, holding on her arm a child who blessed a ball.
But in this portrait of a robust peasant woman, sprung from Burgundy or Flanders, there was a candour, a goodness almost tumultuous, which sprang from her smiling face, her innocent eyes, her good and large lips, indulgent, ready for all forgiveness.
She was a rustic Virgin made for the humble lay brothers; she was not a great lady who could hold them at a distance, but she was indeed the nursing mother of their souls, their true mother. "How was it they had not understood her here? how instead of presiding in the chapel, did she grow chill at the end of a corridor?" cried Durtal.
The oblate turned the conversation—"I warn you," he said, "that Benediction will not take place after Vespers as your placard indicates, but directly after Compline; this latter office will therefore be advanced a quarter of an hour at least."
And the oblate went up to his cell, while Durtal went towards the large pond. There he lay down on a bed of dry reed, looking at the water which broke in wavelets at his feet. The coming and going of these limited waters, folding back on themselves, yet never overpassing the basin they had hollowed for themselves, led him on into long reveries.
He said to himself that a river was the most exact symbol of the active life; one follows it from its source through all its courses across the territories it fertilizes; it has fulfilled its assigned task before it dies, immersing itself in the gaping sepulchre of the seas; but the pond, that tamed water, imprisoned in a hedge of reeds which it has itself caused to grow in fertilizing the soil of its bank, has concentrated itself, lived on itself, not seemed to achieve any known work, save to keep silence and reflect on the infinite of heaven.
"Still water troubles me," continued Durtal. "It seems to me that unable to extend itself, it grows deeper, and that while running waters borrow only the shadows of things they reflect, it swallows them without giving them back. Most certainly in this pond is a continued and profound absorption of forgotten clouds, of lost trees, even of sensations seized on the faces of monks who hung over it. This water is full, and not empty, like those which are distracted in wandering about the country and in bathing the towns. It is a contemplative water, in perfect accord with the recollected life of the cloisters.
"The fact is," he concluded, "that a river would have here no meaning; it would only be passing, would remain indifferent and in a hurry, would be in all cases unfit to pacify the soul which the monastic water of the ponds appeases. Ah! in founding Notre Dame de l'Atre, Saint Bernard knew how to fit the Cistercian rule and the site.
"But we must leave these fancies," he said, rising; and, remembering that it was Sunday, he transferred himself to Paris, and revisited in thought his halts on this day in the churches.
In the morning St. Severin enchanted him, but he ought not to thrust himself into that sanctuary for the other Offices. Vespers there were botched and mean; and if it were a feast day the organ master showed himself possessed by the love of ignoble music.
Occasionally Durtal had taken refuge at St. Gervais, where at least they played at certain times motets of the old masters; but that church was, as well as St. Eustache, a paying concert, where Faith had nothing to do. No recollection was possible in the midst of ladies who fainted behind, their faces in their hands, and grew agitated in creaking chairs. These were frivolous assemblies for pious music, a compromise between the theatre and God.
St. Sulpice was better, where at least the public was silent. There, moreover, Vespers were celebrated with more solemnity and less haste.
In general the seminary reinforced the choir, and rendered by this imposing choir they rolled on majestically sustained by the grand organ.
Chanted, only in half, and not in unison, reduced to a state of couplets, given, some by a baritone, others by the choir, they were twisted and frizzled by a curling iron, but as they were not less adulterated at the other churches, there was every advantage in listening to them at St. Sulpice, whose powerful choir, very well led, had not, as for example at Notre Dame, those dusty voices which break at the least whisper.
This only became really odious when, with a formidable explosion, the first strophe of the Magnificat struck the arches.
The organ then swallowed up one stanza out of two, and under the seditious pretext that the length of the Office of incensing was too long to be filled up entirely by singing, M. Widor, seated at his desk, rolled forth stale fragments of music splashed about above, imitating the human voice and the flute, the bagpipe and the bassoon, or indeed, tired of affectations, he blew furiously on the keys, ending by imitating the roll of locomotives over iron bridges, letting all the stops go.
And the choirmaster, not wishing to show himself inferior to the organist in his instinctive hatred of plain chant, was delighted, when the Benediction began, to put aside Gregorian melodies and make his choristers gurgle rigadoons.
It was no longer a sanctuary, but a howling place. The "Ave Maria," the "Ave Verum," all the mystical indecencies of the late Gounod, the rhapsodies of old Thomas, the capers of indigent musicasters, defiled in a chain wound by choir leaders from Lamoureux, chanted unfortunately by children, the chastity of whose voices no one feared to pollute in these middle-class passages of music, these by-ways of art.
"Ah," thought Durtal, "if only this choirmaster, who is evidently an excellent musician; for indeed, when he must, he knows how to get executed better than anywhere else in Paris, the 'De Profundis' with organ accompaniment, and the 'Dies Irae'; if only this man would as at St. Gervais give us some Palestrina and Vittoria, some Aichinger and Allegri, some Orlando Lasso and De Pres; but no, he must detest these masters also, consider them as archaic rubbish, good to send into the dust-heaps."
And Durtal continued,
"What we hear now at Paris, in the churches, is wholly incredible! Under pretence of managing an income for the singers, they suppress half the stanzas of canticles and hymns, and substitute, to vary the pleasure, the tiresome divagations of an organ.
"There they howl the 'Tantum Ergo' to the Austrian National air; or what is still worse, muffle it up with operatic choruses, or refrains from canteens. The very text is divided into couplets which are ornamented like a drinking song with a little burthen.
"The other Church sequences are treated in the same manner.
"And yet the Papacy has formally forbidden, in many bulls, that the sanctuary should be soiled by those liberties. To cite one only, John XXII., in his Extravagant 'Doctor Sanctorum,' expressly forbade profane voices and music in churches. He prohibited choirs at the same time to change plain chant into fiorituri. The decrees of the Council of Trent are not less clear from this point of view, and more recently still a regulation of the Sacred Congregation of Rites has intervened to proscribe musical rioting in holy places.
"Then what are the parish-priests doing who, in fact, have musical police charge in their churches? Nothing, they laugh at it.
"Nor is this a mere phrase, but with those priests who, hoping for receipts, permit on fete days the shameless voices of actresses to dance gambols to the heavy sounds of the organ, the poor Church has become far from clean.
"At St. Sulpice," Durtal went on, "the priest tolerates the villainy of jolly songs which are served up to him; but at least he does not, like the one at St. Severin, allow strolling women players to lighten up the Office by the shouts of such voices as remain to them. Nor has he accepted the solo on the English horn which I heard at St. Thomas one evening during the Perpetual Adoration. In short, if the grand Benedictions at St. Sulpice are a shame, the Complines remain in spite of their theatrical attitude really charming."
And Durtal thought of those Complines of which the paternity is often attributed to Saint Benedict; they were in fact the integral prayer of the evenings, the preventive adjuration, the safeguard against the attempts of the Demon, they were in some measure the advanced sentinels of the out-posts placed round the soul to protect it during the night.
And the regulation of this entrenched camp of prayer was perfect. After the benediction the best trained voice, the most threadlike of the choir, the voice of the smallest of the children, sang forth the short lesson taken from the first Epistle of Saint Peter, warning the faithful that they must be sober and watch, not allow themselves to be surprised unexpectedly. A priest then recited the usual evening prayers; the choir organ gave the intonation, and the psalms fell, chanted one by one, the twilight psalms, in which before the approaches of night peopled with goblins, and furrowed by ghosts, man calls God to aid, and prays Him to guard his sleep from the violence of the ways of hell, the rape of the lamias that pass.
And the hymn of Saint Ambrose, the "Te lucis ante terminum," made still more precise the scattered meaning of these psalms, gathering it up in its short stanzas. Unfortunately, the most important, that which foresees and declares the luxurious dangers of darkness, was swallowed up by the full organ. This hymn was not rendered in plain chant at St. Sulpice as at La Trappe, but was sung to a pompous and elaborate air, an air full of glory, with a certain proud attractiveness, originating no doubt in the eighteenth century.
Then there was a pause—and man, feeling himself more sheltered, behind a rampart of prayers, recollected himself, more assured, and borrowed innocent voices to address new supplications to God. After the chapter read by the officiant, the children of the choir chanted the short response "In manus tuus Domine, commendo spiritum meum," which rolled out, dividing in two parts, then doubled itself, and resolved at the last its two separate portions by a verse, and part of an antiphon.
And after that prayer there was still the canticle of Simeon, who, as soon as he had seen the Messiah, desired to die. This "Nunc dimittis," which the Church has incorporated in Compline to stimulate us at eventide to self-examination—for none can tell whether he shall wake on the morrow—was raised by the whole choir, which alternated with the responses of the organ.
In fact, to end this Office of a besieged town, to take its last dispositions and try to repose in shelter from a violent attack, the Church built up again a few prayers, and placed her parishes under the tutelage of the Virgin, to whom it chanted one of the four antiphons which follow, according to the Proper.
"At La Trappe Compline was evidently less solemn, less interesting than at St. Sulpice," concluded Durtal, "for the monastic breviary is, for a wonder, less complete for that Office than the Roman breviary. As for Sunday Vespers, I am curious to hear them."
And he heard them; but they hardly differed from the Vespers adopted by the Benedictine nuns of the Rue Monsieur; they were more massive, more grave, more Roman, if it may be said, for necessarily the voice of women drew them out into sharp points, made them like acute arches, as it were, in Gothic style, but the Gregorian tunes were the same.
On the other hand they resembled in nothing those at St. Sulpice, where the modern sauces spoilt the very essences of the plain chants. Only the Magnificat of La Trappe, abrupt, and with dry tone, was not so good as the majestic, the admirable Royal Magnificat chanted at Paris.
"These monks are astonishing with their superb voices," said Durtal to himself, and he smiled as they finished the antiphon of Our Lady, for he remembered that in the primitive Church the chanter was called "Fabarius cantor," "eater of beans," because he was obliged to eat that vegetable to strengthen his voice. Now, at La Trappe, dishes of beans were common; perhaps that was the secret of the ever young monastic voices.
He thought over the liturgy and plain chant while smoking cigarettes, in the walks, after Vespers.
He brought to mind the symbolism of those canonical hours which recalled every day to the Christian the shortness of life in summing up for him its image from infancy to death.
Recited soon after dawn, Prime was the figure of childhood; Tierce of youth; Sext the full vigour of age; None the approaches of old age, while Vespers were an allegory of decrepitude. They belonged, moreover, to the Nocturns, and were sung about six o'clock in the evening, at that hour when, at the time of the Equinoxes, the sun sets in the red cinder of the clouds. As for Compline, it resounds when night, the symbol of death, has come.
This canonical Office was a marvellous rosary of psalms; every bead of each of these hours bore reference to the different phases of human existence, followed, little by little, the periods of the day, the decline of destiny, to end in the most perfect of offices, in Compline, that provisional absolution of a death, itself represented by sleep.
And if, from these texts so wisely selected, these Sequences so solemnly sealed, Durtal passed to the sacerdotal robe of their sounds, to those neumatic chants, that divine psalmody all uniform, all simple, which is plain chant, he had to admit, that except in Benedictine cloisters, an organ accompaniment was everywhere added, that plain chant had been put forcibly in modern tonality, and it disappeared under vegetations which stifled it, became everywhere discoloured, amorphous and incomprehensible.
One only of its executioners, Niedermayer, showed himself at least pitiful. He tried a system more ingenious and more honest. He reversed the terms of torture. Instead of wishing to make plain chant supple and to thrust it into the mould of modern harmony, he constrained that harmony to bend itself to the austere tonality of plain chant. He thus preserved its character, but how far more natural would it have been to leave it solitary and not obliged it to tow an useless companion and awkward following?
Here at least at La Trappe it lived and spread in all security, without treason on the part of the monks. There was always sameness of sound, it was always chanted without accompaniment in unison.
He was able to satisfy himself about this truth once more after supper, that evening, when at the end of Compline the father sacristan lighted all the candles on the altar.
At that moment, in the silence of the Trappists on their knees, their head in their hands, or their cheek resting on the sleeve of their great cowl, three lay brothers entered, two carrying torches, and another preceding them with a censer, and behind them a few paces, came the prior with his hands joined.
Durtal looked at the changed costume of the three brothers. They had no longer their robes of serge, made of bits and scraps, stained mud colour, but robes of violet-brown, like plums on which was spread the white twilling of a new surplice.
While Father Maximin, vested in a copy of milky white, woven with a cross in orange yellow, placed the Host in the monstrance, the thurifer put down the censer, on the coals of which melted tears of real incense. Contrary to what takes place in Paris, where the censer, swung before the altar, sounds against its chains, and is like the clear tinkling of a horse which, as he lifts his head, shakes his curb and bit, the censer at La Trappe remained immovable before the altar, and smoked by itself behind the officiants.
And everyone chanted the imploring and melancholy antiphon "Parce Domine," then the "Tantum Ergo," that magnificent song, which could be almost acted, so clear in their changes are the sentiments which succeed each other in their rhymed sequence.
In the first stanza it seems indeed to shake the head gently, to put forward the chin, so to speak, so as to affirm the insufficiency of the senses to explain the dogma of the real presence, the finished avatar of the Bread. It is then admiring and reflective; then that melody so attentive, so respectful, does not wait to affirm the weakness of the reason, and the power of faith, but in the second stanza it goes forward, adores the glory of the three Persons, exults with joy, only recovers itself at the end, where the music adds a new sense to the text of Saint Thomas, in avowing in a long and mournful Amen the unworthiness of those present to receive the Benediction of the Flesh placed upon that cross which the monstrance is about to trace in the air.
And slowly, while unrolling its coil of smoke, the censer spread, as it were, a blue gauze before the altar, while the Blessed Sacrament was lifted like a golden moon, amid the stars of the tapers, sparkling in the growing darkness of that fog, the bells of the abbey sounded with musical and sweet strokes. And all the monks bowed low with their eyes closed, then recovered themselves and entoned the "Laudate" to the old melody which is also sung at Notre Dame des Victoires at the Benediction in the evening.
Then one by one, having genuflected before the altar, they went out, while Durtal and the oblate returned to the guest-house, where Father Etienne was waiting for them.
He said to Durtal: "I would not go to bed without knowing how you have borne the day;" and as Durtal thanked him, assuring him that this Sunday had been very peaceful, Father Etienne smiled and revealed in a word, that under their reserved attitude all at La Trappe were more interested in their guest than he had himself believed.
"The reverend Father abbot and the Father prior will be glad when I give them this answer," said the monk, who wished Durtal good-night, pressing his hand.
At seven o'clock, just as he was preparing to eat his bread, Durtal encountered Father Etienne.
"Father," he said, "to-morrow is Tuesday; the time of my retreat has expired, and I am going; how should I order a carriage for Saint Landry?"
The monk smiled. "When the postman brings the letters I can charge him with the commission, but let us see; are you in a great hurry to leave us?"
"No, but I would not trespass...."
"Listen, since you are so well broken in to the life at La Trappe, stay here two days more. The Father procurator must go to settle a dispute at Saint Landry. He will take you to the station in our carriage. So you will avoid some expense, and the journey hence to the railroad will seem to you less long, since there will be two of you."
Durtal accepted, and as it rained, he went up to his room. "It is strange," he said, as he sat down, "how impossible one finds it in a cloister to read a book; one wants nothing, one thinks of God by Himself, and not by the volumes which speak about Him."
Mechanically he had taken up from a heap of books one in octavo, which he had found on his table the day he took possession of his cell; it bore the title "Manresa," or the "Spiritual Exercises" of Ignatius of Loyola.
He had already run through the work at Paris, and the pages which he turned over afresh did not change the harsh, almost hostile, opinion which he had retained of this book.
The fact is that these exercises leave no initiative to the soul; they consider it as a soft paste good to run into a mould; they show it no horizon, no sky. Instead of trying to stretch it, and make it greater, they make it smaller deliberately; they put it back into the cases of their wafer box, nourish it only on faded trifles, on dry nothings.
This Japanese culture of deformed toes which remain dwarf; this Chinese deformation of children planted in pots, horrified Durtal, who closed the volume.
He opened another, the "Introduction to the Devout Life," by Saint Francis de Sales.
Certainly he found no need to read it again, in spite of its affectations, and its good nature, at first charming, but which ends by making you sick, by making the soul sticky with sweets with liqueurs in them, and lollypops; in a word, that work so much praised by Catholics was a julep scented with bergamot and ambergris. It was like a fine handkerchief shaken in a church in which a musty smell of incense remained.
But the man himself, the Bishop Saint Francis de Sales, was suggestive; with his name was called up the whole mystical history of the seventeenth century.
And Durtal recalled the memories he had kept of the religious life of that time. There were then in the Church two currents:
That of the high Mysticism, as it was called, originating from Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross; and this current was concentrated on Marie Guyon.
And another that of so-called temperate Mysticism, of which the adepts were Saint Francis de Sales and his friend the celebrated Baroness de Chantal.
It was naturally this second current which triumphed. Jesus, putting Himself within the reach of drawing-rooms, descending to the level of women of the world, a moderate and proper Jesus, only dealing with the soul of His creature just enough to give it one attraction the more, this elegant Jesus became all the fashion; but Madame Guyon, whose source was above all Saint Teresa, who taught the mystical theory of love, and familiar intercourse with heaven, raised the opposition of the whole clergy who abominated Mysticism without understanding it; she exasperated the terrible Bossuet, who accused her of the fashionable heresy, Molinism and Quietism. She refuted, unhappy as she was, this trouble without much difficulty, but he persecuted her for it none the less; he was furious against her, and had her imprisoned at Vincennes; revealed himself obstinate, surly, and atrocious.
Fenelon, who tried to conciliate these two tendencies in preparing a small Mysticism neither too hot nor too cold, a little less lukewarm than that of Saint Francis de Sales, and above all things much less ardent than that of Saint Teresa, ended in his turn by displeasing the cormorant of Meaux, and though he abandoned and denied Madame de Guyon, whose friend he had been for long years, he was persecuted and tracked down by Bossuet, condemned at Rome, and sent in exile to Cambrai.
And here Durtal could not but smile, for he remembered the desolate complaints of his partisans weeping for this disgrace, representing thus as a martyr this archbishop whose punishment consisted in quitting his post as courtier at Versailles to go at last and administer his diocese, in which he appeared till then to have never resided.
This mitred Job, who remained in his misfortune Archbishop and Duke of Cambrai, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and rich, so unhappy because he was obliged to visit his flock, well shows the state of the episcopate under the redundant reign of the great king. It was a priesthood of financiers and valets.
Only there was at any rate a certain attraction, there was talent in every case; while now bishops are not for the most part less intriguing nor less servile, but they have no longer either talent or manners. Caught in part, in the fishpond of bad priests, they show themselves ready for everything, and turn out to be souls of old usurers, low jobbers, beggars, when you press them.
"It is sad to say it, but so it is," concluded Durtal. "As for Madame Guyon," he went on, "she was neither an original writer nor a saint; she was only an unwelcome substitute for the true mystics; she was presuming and certainly lacked that humility which magnified Saint Teresa and Saint Clare; but after all she burst into a flame, she was overcome by Jesus; above all, she was not a pious courtier, a bigot softened by a court like the Maintenon.
"After all, what a time for religion it was? All its saints have something formal and restricted, wordy and cold, which turns me away from them. Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Chantal ... No, I prefer Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Bernard, Saint Angela ... The Mysticism of the seventeenth century is all the fashion with its emphatic and mean churches, its pompous and icy painting, its solemn poetry, its gloomy prose.
"But look," he said, "my cell is still neither swept nor set in order, and I am afraid that in lingering here I may give some trouble to Father Etienne. It rains, however, too hard to allow of my walking in the wood; the simplest thing is to go and read the Little Office of Our Lady in the chapel."
He went down there; it was at this hour almost empty; the monks were at work in the fields or in the factory; two fathers only, on their knees before the altar of Our Lady, were praying so absorbedly that they did not even hear the opening of the door.
And Durtal, who had placed himself near them opposite the porch which gave upon the high altar, saw them reflected in the sheet of glass, placed before the shrine of the Blessed Guerric. This sheet had indeed the effect of a mirror, and the white fathers were in the depths of it, lived in prayers under the table, in the very heart of the altar.
And he also appeared there in a corner, reflected, at the back of the shrine, near the sacred remains of the monk.
At one moment he lifted his head, and saw that the round window in the apse, behind the altar, reproduced on its glass ornamented with grey and blue, the marks engraved on the reverse of the medal of Saint Benedict, the first letters of its imperative formulas, the initials of its distiches.
It might have been called an immense clear medal, sifting a pale light, straining it through prayers, not allowing them to penetrate to the altar till sanctified and blessed by the Patriarch.
And while he was dreaming, the clock struck; the two Trappists regained their stalls, while the others entered.
Waiting thus in the chapel, the hour of Sext had struck. The abbot advanced. Durtal saw him again for the first time since their conversation; he seemed less ill, less pale; he marched majestically in his great white cowl, at the hood of which hung a violet acorn, and the fathers bowed, kissing their sleeve before him; he reached his place, which was designated by a wooden cross standing before a stall, and all enfolded themselves with a great sign of the cross, bowed to the altar, and the feeble imploring voice of the old Trappist rose: "Deus in adjutorium meum intende."
And the Office continued, in the monotonous and charming pitch of the doxology, interrupted by profound reverences, large movements of the arm lifting the sleeve of the cowl as it fell to the ground, to allow the hand freedom to turn the pages.
When Sext was over Durtal went to rejoin the oblate.
They found on the table of the refectory a little omelette, leeks cooked in a sauce of flour and oil, haricots and cheese.
"It is astonishing," said Durtal, "how in regard to mystics, the world errs on preconceived ideas, on the old string. Phrenologists declare that mystics have pointed skulls; now here that their form is more visible than elsewhere, because they are all hairless and shaven, there are no more heads like eggs than anywhere else. I looked this morning at the shape of their heads, no two are alike. Some are oval and depressed, others like a pear and straight, some have lumps on them, and some have none; and it is just the same with faces; when they are not transfigured by prayer they are ordinary. If they did not wear the habit of their order, no one could recognize in these Trappists predestined beings living out of modern society, in the full Middle Ages, in absolute dependence on a God. If they have souls which are not like those of other people, they have, after all, faces and bodies like those of the first comer."
"All is within," said the oblate. "Why should elect souls be enclosed in fleshly prisons different to others?"
This conversation, which continued on different points of Trappist life, ended by turning on death in a monastery, and M. Bruno revealed some details.
"When death is near," he said, "the Father abbot traces on the ground a cross in blessed ashes covered with straw, and the dying man is placed on it wrapped in serge cloth.
"The brothers recite near him the prayers of the dying, and at the moment of his death the response 'Subvenite Sancti Dei' is chanted in choir. The Father abbot incenses the body, which is washed while the monks sing the Office of the Dead in another room.
"Then his regular habit is put on the dead monk, and he is borne in procession to the church, where he lies on a stretcher with his face uncovered, until the hour destined for the funeral.
"Then on the way to the cemetery the community intones no longer the chant of the dead, the psalms of grief, and the sequences of regret, but rather 'In exitu Israel de AEgypto,' which is the psalm of deliverance, the free song of joy.
"And the Trappist is buried without a coffin, in his robe of stuff, his head covered with his hood.
"Lastly, during thirty days, his place remains empty in the refectory, his portion is served as usual, but the brother porter distributes it to the poor.
"Ah! the happiness to die thus," said the oblate, as he ended, "for if one dies after having honestly fulfilled one's task in the order, one is assured of eternal happiness, according to the promises made by our Lord to Saint Benedict and to Saint Bernard!"
"The rain is over," said Durtal; "I should like to visit to-day that little chapel at the end of the park of which you spoke to me the other day. Which is the shortest way to reach it?"
M. Bruno told him the way, and Durtal went off, rolling a cigarette, to gain the great pond, thence he struck a path to the left and mounted a lane of trees.
He slipped on the wet ground, and got on with difficulty. At last, however, he gained a clump of chestnuts, which he skirted. Behind these rose a dwarf tower topped by a very small dome, pierced by a door. To the left and right of this door, on sockets where ornaments of the Romanesque epoch still were seen under the velvety crust of moss, two stone angels were still standing.
They belonged, evidently, to the Burgundian school, with their big round heads, their hair puffed and divided into waves, their fat faces with turned-up noses, their solid draperies with hard folds. They also came from the ruins of the old cloister, but the interior of the chapel was unfortunately thoroughly modern; it was so small that the feet of him who knelt at the altar almost touched the wall at the entrance.
In a niche veiled by white gauze a Virgin smiled with extended hands. She had blue plaster eyes and apple-shaped cheeks. She was wearisome in her insignificance, but her sanctuary retained the warmth of places always shut up. The walls, hung with red calico, were dusted, the floor was swept, and the holy water basins full; superb tea roses flourished in pots between the candelabra. Durtal then understood why he had so often seen M. Bruno walking in this direction with flowers in his hand; he was going to pray in this place, which he loved no doubt because it was isolated in the profound solitude of this Trappist monastery.
"Excellent man!" cried Durtal, thinking over the affectionate services, the fraternal care the oblate had had for him; and he added, "He is a happy man too, for he is self-contained, and lives so placidly here.
"And, indeed," he went on, "where is the good of striving, if not against oneself? to agitate oneself for money, for glory, to conduct oneself so as to keep others down, and gain adulation from them, how vain a task!
"Only the Church, in decking the temporary altars of the liturgical year, in forcing the seasons to follow step by step the life of Christ, has known how to trace for us a plan of necessary occupations, of useful ends. She has given us the means of walking always side by side with Jesus, to live day by day with the Gospels; for Christians she has made time the messenger of sorrows and the herald of joys; she has entrusted to the year the part of servant of the New Testament, the zealous emissary of worship."
And Durtal reflected on the cycle of the liturgy which begins on the first day of the religious year, with Advent, then turns with an insensible movement on itself till it returns again to its starting-point, to the time when the Church prepares by penitence and prayer to celebrate Christmas.
And turning over his prayer-book, seeing the extraordinary circle of offices, he thought of that prodigious jewel, that crown of King Recceswinthe preserved in the Museum of Cluny.
The liturgical year was, like it, studded with crystals and jewels by its admirable canticles and its fervent hymns set in the very gold of Benedictions and Vespers.
It seemed that the Church had substituted for that crown of thorns with which the Jews had surrounded the temples of the Saviour, the truly royal crown of the Proper of the Seasons, the only one which was chiselled in a metal precious enough, with art pure enough to dare to place itself on the brow of a God.
And the grand Lapidary had begun his work by incrusting, in this diadem of offices, the hymn of Saint Ambrose, and the invocation taken from the Old Testament, the "Rorate Coeli," that melodious chant of expectation and regret, that obscure gem violet-coloured; the lustre declares itself then, when after each of its stanzas rises the solemn prayer of the patriarchs, calling for the longed-for presence of Christ.
And the four Sundays of Advent disappeared with the turned pages of the prayer-book; the night of the Nativity was come. After the "Jesu Redemptor" of Vespers, the old Portuguese chant, the "Adeste Fideles," arose at Benediction from every lip. It was a sequence of a truly charming simplicity, an old carving wherein defiled the shepherds and the kings to a popular air appropriate to great marches, apt to charm, to aid by the somewhat military rhythm of its steps, the long lines of the faithful quitting their cottages to go to the distant churches in the towns.
And imperceptibly, like the year in an invisible rotation, the circle turned, and stopped at the Feast of the Holy Innocents, where there flourished out, like a flower from a slaughter-house, on a shoot culled from a soil irrigated by the blood of lambs, this sequence, red, and smelling of roses, the "Salvate Flores Martyrum" of Prudentius; the crown moved again, and the hymn of the Epiphany, the "Crudelis Herodes" of Sedudius, appeared in its turn.
Now the Sundays grew heavy, the violet Sundays when the "Gloria in Excelsis" is no more heard, when the "Audi Benigne" of Saint Ambrose is chanted, and the "Miserere," that cinder-coloured psalm, which is perhaps the most perfect masterpiece which the Church has ever drawn from her store-houses of plain chants.
It was Lent, when the amethysts fade in the moist grey of onyxes, in the embrowned white of quartz, and the magnificent invocation, "Attende Domine," rose beneath the arches. Sprung like the "Rorate Coeli" from the sequences of the Old Testament, this humble and contrite chant, enumerating the deserved punishments of sins, became, if not more sorrowful, at all events more grave and more pressing when it confirmed, when it resumed in the initial stanza of its burthen, the avowal of shame already confessed.
And suddenly on this crown there burst out after the expiring fires of Lent, the flaming ruby of the Passion. On the upturned yellow of the sky a red cross was raised, while majestic shouts and despairing cries proclaimed the blood-stained fruit of the tree; and the "Vexilla Regis" was again repeated the following Sunday at the Feast of Palms, which joined to that Sequence of Fortunatus the green hymn which it accompanied with a silky noise of palms, the "Gloria laus et honor" of Theodulph.
Then the fires of precious stones grew grey and died. To the glowing coals of gems succeeded the dead cinders of obsidians, black stones scarcely swelling, without a gleam above the tarnished gold of their mountings; one entered no Holy Week, everywhere the "Pange Lingua" and the "Stabat Mater" wailed under the arches, and then came the "Tenebrae," the lamentations, and the psalms, whose knell shook the flame of the brown waxen tapers, and after each halt, at the end of each of the psalms, one of the tapers expired, and its column of blue smoke evaporated still under the lighted circumference of the arches, while the choir recommenced the interrupted series of complaints.
And the crown turned once more; the beads of this musical rosary still ran on, and all changed. Jesus had risen, and songs of joy issued from the organs. The "Victimae Paschali Laudes" exulted before the gospel of the masses, and at the Benediction the "O Filii et Filiae," created indeed to be intoned by the wild jubilations of crowds, ran and sported in the joyous hurricane of the organs, which uprooted the pillars and unroofed the naves.
And the feasts rung in with bells followed at longer intervals. At Ascension the heavy and clear crystals of Saint Ambrose filled with their luminous water the tiny basin of the catkins; the fire of rubies and garnets lighted up again with the crimson hymn and scarlet sequence of Pentecost the "Veni Creator" and "Veni Spiritus." The Feast of the Trinity passed, signalized by the stanzas of Gregory the Great; and for the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, the liturgy could exhibit the most marvellous jewel case of its dower, the Office of Saint Thomas, the "Pange Lingua," the "Adore Te," the "Sacris Solemniis," the "Verbum Supernum," and above all the "Lauda Sion," that pure masterpiece of Latin poetry and scholasticism, that hymn so precise, so lucid in its abstraction, so firm in its rhymed words, round which is rolled the melody perhaps the most enthusiastic, the most supple in plain chant.
The circle displaced itself again, showing on its different faces the twenty-three to twenty-eight Sundays which defile after Pentecost, the green weeks of the time of Pilgrimage, and stopped at the last feast, at the Sunday after the Octave of All Saints, at the Dedication of Churches which the "Coelestis Urbs" incensed, old stanzas of which the ruins were badly consolidated by the architects of Urban VIII., old jewels, on which the troubled water slept and was reanimated only in rare lights.
The juncture of the religious crown, of the liturgical year, was then made at the masses, in which the gospel of the last Sunday after Pentecost, the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, repeats, as well as the Gospel according to Saint Luke, recited on the first Sunday in Advent, the terrible predictions of Christ on the desolation of the time, on the end of the world.
"This is not all," Durtal continued, who was interested in this run through his prayer-book. "In this crown of the Proper of the Seasons are inserted, like smaller stones, the sequences of the Proper of Saints which fill the empty places, and finish the round of the circle.
"First the pearls and gems of the Blessed Virgin, the limpid jewels, the blue sapphires and rose rubies of her antiphons; then the aquamarine, so lucid and pure, of the 'Ave Maris Stella,' the topaz, pale as tears, of the 'O Quot nudis Lacrymarum' on the Feast of the Seven Dolours, the hyacinth, colour of dried blood, of the 'Stabat;' then were told the feasts of the Angels and the Saints, the hymns dedicated to the Apostles and the Evangelists, to the Martyrs, whether solitary or in couples, both out of and during the Paschal season, to the Confessors, Pontiffs, and non-Pontiffs, to Virgins, to Holy Women, all Feasts differentiated by special Sequences, by special Proses of which some are very simple, like those stanzas made in honour of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, by Paul the Deacon.
"There still remains All Saints, with the 'Placare Christe,' and the three blows on the alarm bell, the knell in triplets of the 'Dies Irae,' which resounds on the day set apart for the Commemoration of the Dead.
"What an immense fund of poetry, what an incomparable estate of art the Church possesses!" he cried, closing his book; and many memories rose for him at this excursion into his prayer-book.
On how many evenings had the sadness of life been dissipated in listening to these proses chanted in the churches!
He thought over again of the suppliant voice of Advent, and recalled one evening, when he had wandered under a fine rain along the quays. He had been driven from home by ignoble visions, and at the same time had been harassed by the increasing disgust of his vices. He had ended by being brought up against his will at St. Gervais.
In the chapel of the Virgin, some poor women were prostrate. He had knelt, tired and dazed, his soul so ill at ease, that he slumbered without power to wake himself. Some men and boys of the choir were installed in the chapel, with two or three priests; they had lighted candles, and the voice, light and sustained, of a child, had in the dark of the church chanted the long antiphons of the "Rorate."
In the state of overwhelming sadness in which he was stagnant, Durtal felt himself open and bleeding to the bottom of his soul; then a voice older and less trembling, which understood the words it said, narrated ingenuously, almost without confusion, to the Just One, "Peccavimus et facti sumus tanquam immundus nos."
And Durtal took up these words, and spelt them over in terror, thinking, "Ah! yes, we have sinned and become like the leprous, O Lord!" And the chant continued, and in His turn, the Most High borrowed that same innocent organ of childhood, to declare to man His pity, and to confirm to him the pardon assured by the coming of the Son.
And the evening had ended by the Benediction in plain chant, in the midst of the silence and prostration of unhappy women.
Durtal remembered how he left the church refreshed, freed from his hauntings, and he had gone away in the drizzling rain, surprised that the way was so short, humming the "Rorate," of which the air had taken possession of him, ending by seeing in it the personal touch of a kindly unknown.
And there were other evenings ... the Octave of the Feast of All Souls at St. Sulpice and at St. Thomas Aquinas, where, after the Vespers of the Dead, they brought out again the old Sequence which has disappeared from the Roman Breviary, the "Lanquentilus in Purgatorio."
This church was the only one in Paris which had retained these pages of the Gallican hymnal, and had them sung by two basses without a choir; but these singers, so poor as a rule, no doubt were fond of this air, for if they did not sing it with art, at least they put a little soul into its delivery.
And this invocation to the Madonna, in which she was adjured to save the souls in Purgatory, was as sorrowful as the souls themselves, and so melancholy, so languid, that the surroundings were forgotten, the ugliness of that sanctuary of which the choir was a theatre scene, surrounded by closed dressing-rooms and garnished with lustres, one might think oneself for a few moments far from Paris, far from that population of devout women and servant girls, which attend that place in the evening.
"Ah! the Church," he said to himself, as he descended the path which led to the great pond, "what a mother of art is she!" and suddenly the noise of a body falling into the water interrupted his reflections.
He looked behind the hedge of reeds and saw nothing but great circles running on the water, and all at once in one of these rings a small dog-like head appeared holding a fish in its mouth; the beast raised itself a little out of the water, showed a thin body covered with fur, and gazed on Durtal quietly with its little black eyes.
Then in a flash it passed the distance which separated it from the bank, and disappeared under the grasses.
"It is the otter," he said to himself, remembering the discussion at table between the stranger priest and the oblate.
And he went to gain the other pond, when he encountered Father Etienne.
He told him his adventure.
"Impossible!" cried the monk, "no one has ever seen the otter; you must have mistaken it for a water rat, or some other animal, for that beast, for which we have watched for years, is invisible."
Durtal gave him a description of it.
"It is certainly the otter," admitted the guest-master, surprised.
It was evident that this otter lived in the pond in a legendary state. In monotonous lives, in days like those in a cloister, it took the proportions of a fabulous subject, of an event whereof the mystery would occupy intervals seized between prayers and offices.
"We must point out to M. Bruno the exact spot where you remarked it, for he will begin to hunt it again," said Father Etienne after a silence.
"But how can it trouble you in eating your fish, since you do not angle for them?"
"I beg your pardon; we fish for them to send them to the Archbishop," answered the monk, who went on: "Still, it is very strange that you saw the beast!"
"When I leave this," thought Durtal, "they will certainly speak of me as the gentleman who saw the otter."
While talking, they had arrived at the cross pond.
"Look," said the father, pointing out the swan, who rose in a fury, beat his wings, and hissed.
"What is the matter with him?"
"The matter is that the white hue of my habit infuriates him."
"Ah! and why?"
"I do not know; perhaps he wants to be the only one who is white here; he spares the lay brothers, while as for a father ... wait, you will see."
And the guest-master walked quietly towards the swan.
"Come," he said to the angry creature, who splashed him with water; and he held out his hand which the swan snapped.
"See," said the monk, showing the mark of a red pinch printed on the flesh.
And he smiled, holding his hand, and quitted Durtal, who asked himself whether, in acting thus, the Trappist were not wishing to inflict on himself some corporal punishment to atone for some distraction the evening before; some peccadillo.
"That stroke of the beak must have pinched him horribly, for the tears came into his eyes. How could he expose himself with joy to such a bite?"
And he remembered that one day at the office of None, one of the young monks made a mistake in the tone of an antiphon; at the moment that the office ended, he knelt before the altar, then he lay his whole length on the tiles on his face, his mouth pressed on the ground, till the stroke of the prior's bell gave him the order to get up.
This was a voluntary punishment for a negligence committed, a forgetfulness. Who knows whether Father Etienne did not in his turn punish himself for a thought he deemed to border on sin, in getting himself thus pinched?
He consulted the oblate on the point in the evening, but M. Bruno contented himself with a smile, without answering.
And when Durtal spoke to him of his speedy departure for Paris, the old man shook his head.
"Considering," he said, "the fear and the discomfort that Communion caused you, you would act wisely if you approach the Holy Table immediately on your return."
And seeing that Durtal did not reply, but hung his head,
"Believe a man who has known these trials; if you do not force yourself while you are still under the warm impression of La Trappe, you will float between desire and regret without advancing; you will be ingenious in discovering excuses for not making your confession; you will try to think it impossible to find in Paris an abbe who understands you. Now allow me to assure you nothing is more false. If you desire an expert and easy confidant, go to the Jesuits; if you wish above all a zealous-souled priest, go to St. Sulpice.
"You will find there honest and intelligent ecclesiastics, excellent hearts. In Paris, where the clergy of the parishes are so mixed, they are at the top of the basket of the priesthood, and, as may be imagined, they form a community, live in cells, do not dine out; and as the Sulpician rule forbids them to aspire to honours, or places, they do not run the chance of becoming bad priests by ambition. Do you know them?"
"No; but to resolve that question, which in fact constantly troubles me, I count on a priest whom I often see, on the very man who, in fact, sent me into this Trappist monastery.
"And that," he went on, "makes me remember," and he rose to go to Compline, "that I have as yet forgotten to write to him. It is true that now it is too late, I should arrive at his house almost as soon as my letter. It is strange, but by force of walking in one's own, by force of living to oneself, the days run by, and there is no time to do anything here!"
He had hoped for his last day at La Trappe a morning of quiet, when his mind might lounge, a mixture of spiritual siesta and of working, charmed by a round of offices, and not at all that the idea persistent and obstinate that he must quit the monastery next day, would spoil all the pleasures he had promised himself.
Now that he had no longer to cleanse himself, and pass under the winnowing of confession, to present himself for the Communion in the morning, he remained irresolute, not knowing any longer how to occupy his time, terrified by the recommencement of that life of the world which would upset all the barriers of forgetfulness, and would get at him at once above all the broken defences of the cloister.
Like a captured animal, he began to rub against the bars of his cage, made the tour of the enclosure, filling his sight with those places where he had tasted hours so kindly and so cruel.
He felt in himself a shaking of the ground, a disturbance of soul, an absolute discouragement before the prospect of re-entering into his habitual existence, of mixing himself anew with the coming and going of men, and he experienced at the same time a great fatigue of brain.
He dragged himself along the walks in a state of complete discomfort, in one of those attacks of religious spleen which determine, while they last during years, the "taedium vitae" of the cloisters. He had a horror of any life but this, and the soul overwrought by prayers was failing in a body insufficiently rested and ill-nourished; it had no further desire, asked only to be let alone, to sleep, to fall into one of those states of torpor in which everything becomes indifferent, in which one ends by losing consciousness gently, by being stifled without suffering.
He might well, to re-act on him as a consolation, promise himself to assist in Paris at the offices of the Benedictine nuns, that he would keep himself on the outskirts of society, to himself; and he was at once obliged to answer that these subterfuges are impossible, that the very movement of the town is against all decoys, that isolation in a chamber is in no degree like the solitude of a cell, that masses celebrated in a chapel open to the public cannot be likened to the private Offices of the Trappists.
Then what is the good of trying to misunderstand? It is with the soul as with the body, which is better on the sea shore, or in the mountains, than shut up in a town. There is a better spiritual air even at Paris, in certain religious quarters of the left bank, than in the districts situated on the other bank, more lively in certain churches, more pure, for example, at Notre Dame des Victoires than in churches such as La Trinite and the Madeleine.
But the monastery was, as it were, the true shore and high plateau of the soul. There the atmosphere was balsamic, strength returned, lost appetite for God was there recovered, there was health succeeding weakness, a regimen, fortified and sustained, instead of languor and the restricted exercises of the towns.
The conviction that no trickery was possible to him at Paris brought him to the ground. He wandered from cell to chapel, from chapel to woods, awaiting the dinner hour with impatience, in order to be able to speak to someone, for in his disorder a new need arose. For more than a week he had spent the whole afternoon without opening his lips; he did not suffer from it, was even satisfied with his silence, but since he was pressed by this idea of departure he could not keep silence any longer, thought aloud in the walks to assuage the sensations of his swelling heart, that stifled him.
M. Bruno was too sagacious not to guess the uneasiness of his companion, who became by turns taciturn and over talkative during the meal. He made, however, as though he saw nothing, but after he had said grace he disappeared, and Durtal, who was strolling near the great pond, was surprised to see him coming in his direction with Father Etienne.
They greeted him, and the Trappist with a smile proposed to him, if he had made no other plan, to pass his time in visiting the convent, and especially the library, which the Father prior would be delighted to show him.
"If convenient to me! I shall be delighted!" cried Durtal.
All three returned towards the abbey; the monk lifted the latch of a little door fashioned in a wall near the church, and Durtal entered a minute cemetery, planted with wooden crosses on grass graves.
There was no inscription, no flower in this enclosure which they traversed; the monk pushed another door, which opened on a long corridor smelling of rats. At the end of this gallery, Durtal recognized the staircase he had ascended one morning for his confession in the prior's room. They left it on their right, turned into another gallery, and the guest-master led them into an immense hall, pierced by high windows, decorated with eighteenth century pier-glasses, and grisailles; it was furnished only with benches and stalls, above which was a single chair sculptured and painted with abbatial arms, which marked the place of Dom Anselm.
"Oh! this chapter-house has nothing monastic," said Father Etienne, designating the profane pictures on the walls; "we have kept just as it was the drawing-room of this old chateau, but I beg you to believe that this decoration hardly pleases us."
"And what takes place in this hall?"
"Well, we meet here after mass; the chapter opens by reading the martyrology, followed by the concluding prayers of Prime. Then we read a passage from the rule, and the Father abbot comments on it. Lastly, we practise the exercise of humility, that is to say, that whoever among us has committed any fault against the rule, prostrates himself, and avows it before his brethren."
They went thence to the refectory. This room had also a high ceiling, but was smaller, and garnished with tables in form of a horse-shoe. A kind of large cruets, each containing two half-bottles of wine and water, separated by a water bottle, and before them, instead of glasses, cups of brown earthenware, with two handles, were placed at equal distances. The monk explained that these sham cruets with three branches indicated the place of two covers, each monk having a right to his half bottle of drink, and partaking with his neighbour the water in the bottle.
"This pulpit," said Father Etienne, pointing out a large wooden box fixed against the wall, "is destined for the reader of the week, the father who reads during the meal."
"How long does the meal last?"
"Just half an hour."
"Yes; and the cookery which we eat is delicate in comparison with that which is served to the monks," said the oblate.
"I should lie if I were to affirm that we make good cheer," answered the guest-master. "Do you know that the hardest thing to bear, in the earlier time especially, is the want of seasoning in our dishes. Pepper and spices are forbidden by our rule, and as no salt-cellar has place on our table, we swallow our food just as it is, and it is for the most part scarcely salted.
"On certain days in summer, when one sweats in big drops, this becomes almost impossible, the gorge rises. Yet one must begin upon this warm paste, and at least swallow a sufficient quantity not to give out before the next day; we look at each other discouraged, unable to get any further; there is not another word to define our dinner in the month of August, it is a punishment."
"And all, the Father abbot, the prior, the fathers, the brethren, have the same food?"
"All. Now come and see the dormitory."
They ascended to the first floor. An immense corridor, furnished like a stable with wooden boxes, extended before them, closed at each end by a door.
"This is our lodging," said the monk, as he stopped before one of these cases. Cards were placed on them, affixing the name of each monk, and the first bore a ticket with this inscription: "The Father Abbot."
Durtal felt the bed against one of the two walls.
It was as rough as a carding comb, and as biting as a file. It was composed of a simple quilted paillasse extended on a plank; no sheets, but a prison coverlet of grey wool, a sack of straw instead of pillows.
"God! it is very hard," said Durtal, and the monk laughed.
"Our habits soften the roughness of this straw mattress," he said; "for our rule does not allow us to undress, we may only take off our shoes, therefore we sleep entirely clad, our head wrapped in our hood."
"And it must be cold in this corridor swept by all the winds," added Durtal.
"No doubt the winter is rough here, but it is not that season which alarms us; we live pretty well, even without fire in time of frost, but the summer—! If you knew what it is to wake in habits still steeped in sweat, not dried since the evening before, it is terrible!
"Then, though because of the great heat we have often hardly slept, we must before dawn jump out of bed, and begin at once the great night office, the Vigils, which last at least two hours. Even after twenty years of Trappist life, one cannot but suffer at that getting up; in chapel you fight against sleep which crushes you, you sleep while you hear a verse chanted, you strive to keep awake, in order to be able to chant another, and fall asleep again.
"One ought to be able to turn the key on thought, and one is incapable of it.
"Truly, I assure you that even beyond the corporal fatigue which explains that state in the morning, there is then an aggression of the demon, an incessant temptation to make us recite the office badly."
"And you all undergo this strife?"
"All; and this does not hinder," concluded the monk, whose face was radiant, "this does not hinder us from being very happy here.
"Because all these trials are nothing beside the deep and intimate joys which our good God gives us. Ah! He is a generous Master; he pays us a hundred-fold for our poor sorrows."
As they spoke, they had passed through the corridor and had arrived at its other end.
The monk opened the door, and Durtal was astounded to find himself in a vestibule just opposite his own cell.
"I did not think," he said, "that I was living so near you."
"This house is a regular labyrinth—but M. Bruno will take you to the library where the Father prior is waiting for you; for I must go to my business. We shall meet presently," he said, with a smile.
The library was situated on the other side of the staircase by which Durtal reached his chamber. It was large, furnished with shelves from top to bottom, occupied in the middle by a sort of counter table on which also were spread rows of books.
Father Maximin said to Durtal,
"We are not very rich, but at any rate we possess tools for work fairly complete on theology and the monography of the cloisters."
"You have superb volumes," cried Durtal, who looked at magnificent folios in splendid bindings with armorial bearings.
"Wait; here are the works of Saint Bernard in a fine edition," and the monk presented to Durtal enormous volumes, printed in heavy letters on crackling paper.
"When I think that I promised myself to make acquaintance with Saint Bernard in this very abbey which he founded, and here I am on the eve of my departure, and have read nothing!"
"You do not know his works?"
"Yes; scattered fragments of his sermons and of his letters. I have run through some selectae mediocres of his works, but that is all."
"He is our chief master here; but he is not the only one of our ancestors in Saint Benedict whom the convent possesses," said the monk with a certain pride. "See," and he pointed out on the shelves some heavy folios, "here: 'Saint Gregory the Great,' 'Venerable Bede,' 'Saint Peter Damian,' 'Saint Anselm.' ... And your friends are there," he said, following Durtal with a glance as he read the titles of the volumes, "'Saint Teresa,' 'Saint John of the Cross,' 'Saint Magdalen of Pazzi,' 'Saint Angela,' 'Tauler,' ... and she who like Sister Emmerich dictated her conversations with Jesus during her ecstasy." And the prior took from the range of books in octavo, "The Dialogues of Saint Catherine of Siena."
"That Dominican nun is terrible for the priests of her time," the monk went on. "She insists on their misdeeds, reproaches them roundly with selling the Holy Spirit, with practising sortilege, and with using the Sacrament to compose evil charms."
"And there are besides the disorderly vices of which she accuses them in the series concerning the sin of the flesh," added the oblate.
"Certainly, she does not mince her words, but she had the right to take up that tone, and menace in the name of the Lord, for she was truly inspired by Him. Her doctrine was drawn from divine sources. 'Doctrina ejus infusa non acquisita,' says the Church in the bull of her canonization. Her Dialogues are admirable; the pages in which God exposes the holy frauds which He sometimes uses to recall men to good, the passages in which she treats of the monastic life, of that barque which possesses three ropes: chastity, obedience, and poverty, and which faces the tempest under the conduct of the Holy Spirit, are delightful. She reveals herself in her work the pupil of the well-beloved disciple and of Saint Thomas Aquinas. One might believe that one heard the Angel of the School paraphrasing the last of the Evangelists."
"Yes," said the oblate, striking in, "if Saint Catherine of Siena does not give herself to the high speculations of Mysticism; if she does not analyze like Saint Teresa the mysteries of divine love, nor trace the itinerary of souls destined to the perfect life, she reflects directly at least the conversations of Heaven. She calls, she loves! You have read, sir, her treatises on Discretion and Prayer?"
"No. I have read Saint Catherine of Genoa, but the books of Saint Catherine of Siena have never fallen into my hands."
"And what do you think of this collection?"
Durtal looked at the title, and made a face.
"I see that Suso hardly delights you."
"I should tell a lie if I assured you that the dissertations of this Dominican pleased me. First, however illuminated the man may be, he does not attract me. Without speaking of the frenzy of his penances, what scrupulousness of devotion and narrowness of piety was his! Think that he could not decide on drinking till he had first, as a preliminary, divided his beverage into five parts. He thought thus to honour the five wounds of the Saviour, and, moreover, he swallowed his last mouthful in two gulps to call up before himself the water and the blood which flowed from the side of the Word.
"No! these sort of things would never enter into my head; I would never admit that such practices would glorify Christ.
"And remark well that this love of pounding things small, this passion for small blessings, is found in all his work. His God is so difficult to content, so scrupulous, so meddling, that no one would ever get to heaven if they believed what he said. This God of his is the fault-finder of eternity, the miser of paradise.
"On the whole, Suso expands himself in impetuous discourses on trifles; then what with his insipid allegories, his morose 'Colloquy on the Nine Rocks' knocks me down."
"You will, however, admit that his study on the Union of the Soul is substantial, and that the 'Office of the Eternal Wisdom' which he composed is worth reading?"
"I cannot say, Father, I do not now remember that Office; but I recollect tolerably well the treatise on 'Union with God,' it seems to me more interesting than the rest, but you will admit that it is very short ... and then Saint Teresa has also elucidated that question of human renunciation and divine fruition; and, hang it then...!"
"Come," said the oblate, with a smile, "I give up the attempt to make you a fervent reader of the good Suso."
"For us," said Father Maximin, "if we had a little time to work, this ought to be the leaven of our meditations, the subject of our reading;" and he took down a folio which contained the works of Saint Hildegarde, abbess of the Convent of Rupertsberg.
"She, you see, is the great prophetess of the New Testament. Never, since the visions of Saint John at Patmos, has the Holy Spirit communicated to an earthly being with such fulness and light. In her 'Heptachronon' she predicts Protestantism and the captivity of the Vatican; in her 'Scivias, or Knowledge of the Ways of the Lord,' which was edited, according to her recital, by a monk of the Convent of Saint Desibode, she interprets the symbols of the Scriptures, and even the nature of the elements. She also wrote a diligent commentary on our rules and enthusiastic pages on sacred music, on literature, on art, which she defines admirably; a reminiscence, half-effaced, of a primitive condition from which we have fallen since Eden. Unfortunately, to understand her, it is necessary to give oneself to minute researches and patient studies. Her apocalyptic style has something retractile, which retreats and shuts itself up all the more when one will open it."
"I am well aware that I am losing my little Latin," said M. Bruno. "What a pity there is not a translation of her works, with glosses to help."
"They are untranslatable," said the father, who went on,
"Saint Hildegarde is, with Saint Bernard, one of the purest glories of the family of Saint Benedict. How predestinate was that virgin, who was inundated with interior light at the age of three, and died at eighty-two, having lived all her life in the cloister!"
"And add that she was as a permanent state, prophetical!" cried the oblate. "She is like no other woman saint; all in her is astonishing, even the way in which God addresses her, for He forgets that she is a woman, and calls her 'man.'
"And she," added the prior, "employs, when she wishes to designate herself, the singular expression, 'the paltry form.' But here is another writer who is dear to us," and he showed Durtal the two volumes of Saint Gertrude. "She is again one of our great nuns, an abbess truly Benedictine, in the exact sense of the word, for she caused the Holy Scriptures to be explained to her nuns, wished that the piety of her daughters should be based on science, that this faith should be sustained by liturgical food, if I may say so."
"I know nothing of her but her 'Exercises,'" observed Durtal, "and they have left with me the memory of echoed words, of things said again from the sacred books. So far as one may judge from simple extracts, she does not appear to have original expression, and to be far below Saint Teresa or Saint Angela."
"No doubt," answered the monk. "But she comes near Saint Angela by the gift of familiarity when she converses with Christ, and also by the loving vehemence of what she says; only all this is transformed on leaving its proper source; she thinks liturgically; and this is so true, that the least of her reflections at once presents itself to her clothed in the language of the Gospels and the Psalms.
"Her 'Revelations,' her 'Insinuations,' her 'Herald of Divine Love,' are marvellous from this point of view; and then her prayer to the Blessed Virgin is exquisite which opens with this phrase: 'Hail, O white lily of the Trinity, resplendent, and always at rest....'
"As a continuation of her works, the Benedictine Fathers of Solesmes have edited also the 'Revelations' of Saint Mechtilde, her book on 'Special Grace,' and her 'Light of the Divinity'; they are there on that shelf...."
"Let me show you," said in his turn M. Bruno, "guides wisely marked out for the soul which escapes from itself, and will attempt to climb the eternal mountains," and he handed to Durtal the "Lucerna Mystica" of Lopez Ezquerra, the quartos of Scaramelli, the volumes of Schram, the "Christian Asceticism" of Ribet, the "Principles of Mystic Theology" of Father Seraphin.
"And do you know this?" continued the oblate; the volume he offered was called "On Prayer," was anonymous, and bore at the bottom of its first page "Solesmes, printed at the Abbey of Saint Cecilia," and above the printed date, 1886, Durtal made out the word written in ink, "Confidential."
"I have never seen this little book, which seems moreover to have never been brought into the market. Who is the author?"
"The most extraordinary nun of our time, the abbess of the Benedictine nuns at Solesmes. I regret only that you are going so soon, for I should have been happy to let you read it.
"As far as the document is concerned, it is of a most extraordinary science, and it contains admirable quotations from Saint Hildegarde and Cassien: as far as Mysticism is concerned, Mother Saint Cecilia evidently only reproduces the works of her predecessors, and she tells us nothing very new. Nevertheless, I remember a passage which seems to me more special, more personal. Wait...."
And the oblate turned over a few pages. "Here it is:
"'The spiritualized soul does not appear exposed to temptation properly so-called, but by a divine permission it is called upon to conflict with the Demon, spirit against spirit.... The contact with the Demon is then perceived on the surface of the soul, under the form of a burn at once spiritual and sensible.... If the soul hold good in its union with God, if it be strong, the pain, however sharp, is bearable; but if the soul commit any slight imperfection, even inwardly, the Demon makes just so much way, and carries his horrible burning more forward, until by generous acts the soul can repulse him further."
"This touch of Satan, which produces an almost material effect on the most intangible parts of our being, is, you will admit, at least curious," concluded the oblate, as he closed the volume.
"Mother Saint Cecilia is a remarkable strategist of the soul," said the prior, "but ... but ... this work, which she edited for the daughters of her abbey, contains, I think, some rash propositions which have not been read without displeasure at Rome."
"To have done with our poor treasures," he continued, "we have only on this side," and he pointed out a portion of the book-cases which covered the room, "long-winded works, the 'Cistercian Menology,' 'Migne's Patrology,' dictionaries of the lives of the saints, manuals of sacred interpretation, canon law, Christian apology, Biblical exegesis, the complete works of Saint Thomas, tools of work which we rarely employ, for as you know we are a branch of the Benedictine trunk vowed to a life of bodily labour and penance; we are men of sorrow for God, above all things. Here is M. Bruno, who uses these books; so do I at times, for I have special charge of spiritual matters in this monastery," added the monk with a smile.
Durtal looked at him; he handled the volumes with caressing hands, brooded over them with the blue lustre of his eye, laughed with the joy of a child as he turned their pages.
"What a difference between this monk who evidently adores his books, and the prior with his imperious profile and silent lips who heard his confession the second day;" then thinking of all these Trappists, the severity of their countenances, the joy of their eyes, Durtal said to himself that these Cistercians were not at all as the world believed, solemn and funereal people, but that, quite the contrary, they were the gayest of men.
"Now," said Father Maximin, "the reverend Father abbot has charged me with a commission; knowing that you will leave us to-morrow, he is anxious, now that he is better, to pass at least some minutes with you. He will be free this evening: will it trouble you to join him after Compline?"
"Not at all; I shall be glad to talk with Dom Anselm."
"That is understood, then."
They went downstairs. Durtal thanked the prior, who re-entered the enclosure of the corridors, and the oblate, who went up to his cell. He trifled about, and in spite of the torment of his departure, which haunted him, reached the evening without too much trouble.
The "Salve Regina," which he heard perhaps for the last time thus sung by male voices; that airy chapel built of sound, and evaporating with the close of the antiphon, in the smoke of the tapers, stirred him to the bottom of his soul; the Trappist monastery showed itself truly charming this evening. After the office, they said the Rosary, not as at Paris, where they recite a Pater, ten Aves, and a Gloria, and so over again; here they said in Latin a Pater, an Ave, a Gloria, and began again till in that manner they had finished several decades.
This rosary was said on their knees, half by the prior, half by all the monks. It went at so rapid a pace that it was scarcely possible to distinguish the words, but as soon as it was ended, at a signal there was a great silence, and each one prayed with his head in his hands.
And Durtal took notice of the ingenious system of conventual prayers: after the prayers purely vocal like these, came mental prayer, personal petitions, stimulated and set a-going by the very machine of paternosters.
"Nothing is left to chance in religion; every exercise which seems at first useless has a reason for its being," he said to himself, as he went out into the court. "And the fact is, that the rosary, which seems to be only a humming-top of sounds, fulfils an end. It reposes the soul wearied with the supplications which it has recited, applying itself to them, thinking of them; it hinders it from babbling and reciting to God always the same petitions, the same complaints; it allows it to take breath, to take rest, in prayers in which it can dispense with reflection, and, in fact, the rosary occupies in prayer, those hours of fatigue in which one would not pray.... Ah! here is the Father abbot."
The Trappist expressed to him his regret at visiting him only thus for a few moments; then after he had answered Durtal, who inquired after the state of his health, which he hoped was at last re-established, he proposed to him to walk in the garden, and begged him not to inconvenience himself by not smoking cigarettes if he had a mind to do so.
And the conversation turned on Paris. Dom Anselm asked for some information, and ended by saying with a smile, "I see by scraps of newspapers which come to me, that society just now is infected with socialism. Everyone wishes to solve the famous social question. How does that get on?"
"How does that get on? Why, not at all! Unless you can change the souls of workmen and masters, and make them disinterested and charitable between to-day and to-morrow, in what can you expect these systems to end?"
"Well," said the monk, enwrapping the monastery with a gesture, "the question is solved here.
"As wages do not exist, all sources of conflicts are suppressed.
"As every task is according to aptitudes and powers, the fathers who are not strong-shouldered and big-armed fold the packages of chocolate, or make out the bills, and those who are robust dig the ground.
"I add that the equality in our cloisters is such that the prior and the abbot have no advantage over the other monks. At table the portions, and in the dormitory the paillasses, are identical. The sole profits of the abbot consist on the whole in the inevitable cares arising from the moral conduct and the temporal administration of an abbey. There is therefore no reason why the workmen of a convent should go on strike," concluded the abbot with a smile.
"Yes, but you are minimists, you suppress the family and woman, you live on nothing, and expect the only real recompense for your labours after death. How can you make the people in the towns understand that?"