I am reading an unabridged translation of Les Miserables at the moment, and in it Victor Hugo writes poetically as to the state of traditional monastic convents a few hundred years ago. Things have only gotten worse from there. He writes;

“In spite of philosophy and progress, the monastic spirit survives in the full nineteenth century, and a strange ascetic revival astonishes, at this moment, the civilized world. The persistence of antiquated institutions in perpetuating themselves resembles the determination of rancid perfume to cling to our hair, the claim of spoiled fish to be eaten, the struggle of a child’s garment to clothe a man, and the tenderness of corpses returning to embrace the living. Ingrates! Cries the garment. I protected you in bad weather; why are you tired of me? I come from the open sea, says the fish; I have been the rose, says the perfume; I have loved you, says the corpse; I have civilized you, says the convent. To this there is only one reply, – Once upon a time.”

If anyone asks why I do not seek a traditional monastic existence if I am so pious and have “found God,” I would tell them that those institutions were the first hunting grounds of Satan and have long since been nullified as to their desired effects.

He continues,

In speaking of convents, those abodes of error and innocence, of lost paths and good intentions, of ignorance and piety, of torture and martyrdom, we must nearly always say yes and no.

A convent is a contradiction, the aim is salvation, the means sacrifice, supreme egotism resulting in supreme self-denial. The motto of monachism seems to be “Abdicate in order to reign.””

If I am going to live a Godly life it will be right here, in everyday society. Mine is the burgeoning of a new way of life. That is, the same life, but a new outlook and perspective for everything in it. And with this new perspective comes a new freedom and a lightened load.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”

I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.”

You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”

The One who comes from above is above all. The one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all.”

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.”

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

I will live the simple life of a secular hermit. For I enjoy the invisible labor of contemplation very much. On this, Hugo writes,

“A faith is a necessity for man. Woe to him who believes nothing. To be absorbed is not to be unoccupied, there is an invisible labor as well as a visible labor. To contemplate is to labor, to think is to act. Crossed arms toil and folded hands perform, a glance at heaven is a work done. Thales remained four years motionless, and created philosophy. Monks are not idlers, nor hermits sluggards. To think of the unseen worlds is a serious thing.”

One comment

  1. crossroman says:

    A good piece. The thing is though, that unless this contemplation results in benefit to others, it is pointless. The “unseen worlds” bid us to love others.


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