We find in the Ami de la Religion of the 27th of.September, an interesting article, the substance of which we lay before our readers. It will exhibit to those who peruse it, the evidence that they who in our republics would be considered saints of the highest grade, have deeply imbibed the worst spirit of the worst infidels that tortured unhappy France in the days of her wildest anarchy. The Abbe Auger, parish priest of Saint Antoine at Compiegne, has lately published a history of the Carmelite convent which formerly existed at Compiegne, and which has been restored and re-established within the last year, chiefly by the exertions of this good man who writes its history. Alter giving the account of the supposed origin of the Carmelite order, he states its reformation by St. Theresa, its introduction into France, and then enters upon the history of the convent of the Annunciation at Compeigne. This monastery was founded in 1641’by Madame de Louvancourt, widow Trudaine, and furnished many bright examples of rare piety. Compeigne being a royal residence, the nuns were frequently visited by the princes and princesses of France, as well as by the principal nobility- During the preparation of the monastery, the colony occupied the royal castle: and several young ladies of the most distinguished houses in the realm, who preferred the austerities of a cloister to the pleasures of the world, retired within its peaceful precincts, where they uninterruptedly devoted themselves to the practice of the counsels of the gospel.

When the revolutionary tempest spread so much desolation on every side, and swept, the fragments of the church of France into the surrounding regions, this house could not escape ; on the 5th of September, 1792, the good nuns were driven from their abode.—  Obliged to disperse, they still lingered with sorrowing affliction in the vicinity of their beloved home, and were received with hospitality and tenderness into the families of several of their neighbours; they endeavored, as far as circumstances would permit, to observe their rule, trusting that at no distant day they would be permitted to reassemble; they lifted their pure hands, their ardent hearts, and frequent supplications to the Father of mercies for their scourged land and their persecuted religion. Though wicked tyrants, blaspheming the sacred name of liberty, rioted in licentiousness and in blood at the head of what was called a state, yet did those dear daughters love their country, and weep over its sufferings. But they too were claled [sic] upon to suffer more. They were denounced —On the 24th of June, the festival of St. John the Baptist, who was beheaded at the request of a dancing girl, to satiate the revenge of an incestuous adultress, they were sought alter and arrested. From the prisons of Compeigne, they were handed over to the revolutionary tribunal of Paris, and by that were consigned to the scafffold and the executioner. On the 17th of July, the crowd assembled round the guillotine at the barriere du Trone, heard at a distance the voices of the Sisterhood, as surrounded by their guards, they moved in solemn procession to the gates of death! It was not the wail of lamentation, it was not the cry of distress; it was not the shriek of terror; but it was the loud and sweet and full and swelling modulation of the holy chaunt, to which the infuriated multitude, now misled, had not been always insensible- Never—O never, did finer melody issue from the choir of that holy Sisterhood than the grand Te Deum now bursting from their lips; occasionally it was relieved by the more tender touching pathos of the Salve Regina and the inviting strain of the Veni Creator Spiritus. One after another did this lovely group of victims ascend with unfaultenng alacrity to the executioner; the diminished volume of sound continually making known the increasing ravage of the axe, until the dying note of the last victim was heard upon this earth, long after her sister spirits had united their enraptured praises to the triumphant chorus of the host of heaven. Their mutilated bodies were piled around their countenances were placid even in death as the beholders of the heap of heads testify; their monastery was extinguished in their blood. But France has rekindled the torch of her Faith, and she successively relumes those beacons which guide her children in (he path to holiness on earth and to happiness in Heaven. Robespierre, eleven days after this event, fell from his power, and he is now numbered with the execrated dead, and the desolated monastery of Compiegne again inhabited by Carmelite nuns, resounds with the praises of the Lord! Perhaps before the lapse of 43 years, Mount Benedict would again smile under the cultivation of the Ursulines! Perhaps Massachusetts would yet do justice, and make a tardy atonement!

Shepherd of the Valley, Volume 4, Number 21, 19 March 1836
Access the article at the Catholic News Archive



Yet the citizens of a twentieth-century world need nothing so much as a poet to sing a path through its tangled philosophies and its prostitute science. Even religious, dwarfed often enough by their own accomplishments, goaded by ever-increasing demands for new activities, need desperately what the busy world values so little and what St. Thomas prized so intensely: the silence and the song.

World problems today tend to dwarf the individual. In unhappy Europe, men are murdered by block rather than by unit. We have learned to splinter the very atom of God’s creation. Our scientists have peered down the tunneled mysteries of creative substance and won the dubious honor of dismembering it. It is all so vast a field of woe, this world of ours, vast beyond the courage of a man or the hope of a heart.

So it seems from the false perspective of a Godless modern society. But there is quite another perspective, and to gain it brings a shock of sheer joy. It is God’s perspective. It is the view of the angel of the schools, St. Thomas. It is the discovery of that modern intellectual giant who was both a physical and mental twin to Aquinas, Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Other men have stood in the panoramic chaos of society and been disheartened to near-despair. They forgot the Blessed Sacrament. Chesterton stood beside the tabernacle and remembered. And he rejoiced with St. Thomas. Because he had the tenderness peculiar to very great love, Chesterton could write of the tabernacle as “the little window where God sits all the year.” Because he had the true perspective on the universe and on eternity, he could add, “The little window whence the world looks small and very dear.” Here is the very core of religious values.

It is God, God truly present in the world in the Blessed Sacrament who is vast, overwhelming, infinite, and omnipotent. It is the world which is small. And a world aware that its mighty God has delighted to dwell with the children of men is a very dear world.

Sister Mary Francis, P.C., “The Silence and the Song” ,Review for Religious (March 1955)

As the saints marched off to war and church leaders sought to define increasingly distinct codes of knightly and clerical behavior, a culture of martial asceticism was taking hold in the monasteries and hermitages of the Latin West. There are only a few scattered references to holy loricati in early-medieval sources, but there is ample evidence of armor-clad ascetics for the period after 1050.

It is perhaps understandable that historians of medieval Christianity have overlooked the loricati when one considers that they hardly form a coherent group. In the first place, they come not from a single geographical area but from various regions of England, France, the empire, and Italy. Moreover, their social backgrounds widely; some were noblemen, and even served as knights before converting religious life, while others came from quite modest backgrounds. The entire spectrum of ecclesiastical offices is represented in their vitae, as priests, monks, high-ranking prelates were associated with this ascetic practice, but many loricati lived on the fringes of the institutional church as hermits and holy men only loosely affiliated with a particular monastic order or community.

The records of their martially inflected ascetic exploits, written by admiring monks across the Latin West, not only hint at the existence of a martial ascetic subculture but are particularly valuable as evidence of monks’ concern with warfare, holiness, and masculinity in a period when the definitions of all three concepts were in a state of flux.

Katherine Allen Smith, “Saints in Shining Armor: Martial Asceticism and Masculine Models of Sanctity, ca. 1050- 1250,” Speculum (2008)

To judge by the hagiographical evidence, the penitential wearing of armor mostly fallen out of favor with monastic hagiographers by 1250. There are several possible explanations for the loricati‘s decline in the changing religious and social world of the later Middle Ages. Oratores and bellatores, whose simultaneously competitive and symbiotic relationship helped structure society throughout much of the Latin West in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, increasingly found themselves in socioeconomic and spiritual competition with new groups after 1200. Monks and warriors now needed to define themselves in opposition not to one another primarily but to other rivals, such as friars and burghers, who appropriated for themselves many of the functions and discourses that had hitherto defined the two older orders. Shifts in devotional practices may also have rendered the martial asceticism of the loricati obsolete. As the spiritual lives of later medieval Christians came to focus in a meditative and imitative sense on Christ’s bodily sufferings during the Passion, ascetic practices that commemorated this suffering in some way came to the forefront of devotional culture, while others, perhaps including martial asceticism, receded into the background.

Katherine Allen Smith, “Saints in Shining Armor: Martial Asceticism and Masculine Models of Sanctity, ca. 1050- 1250,” Speculum (2008)

In the earliest monastic communities, monks described themselves as milites Christi and exhorted those who chose lives of prayer and ascetic privation to protect themselves against carnal temptations and demonic assaults through use of spiritual armor. When patristic writers like Tertullian, Cassian, and invoked the armatura Dei, it was typically in connection with the heroism martyrs or the struggles of the desert fathers, and early exegetes glossed descriptions of the spiritual soldier’s arms as references to the challenges of monastic life. In the early Celtic tradition holy men girded themselves with armor through the recitation of special prayers, or Loricae, litanies invoking protection for an individual’s soul and body against demonic attacks. But undoubtedly the most famous spiritual soldier of the early church was the fourth-century Roman soldier-turned-bishop Martin of Tours, whose declaration because “I am a soldier of Christ, I am not allowed to fight” would have familiar to later churchmen through the highly influential Vita Martini by Sulpicius Severus. Not only saints but monks and the clergy more generally were considered milites Christi in the early Middle Ages; Pope Gregory I (r. 590-604) the term as a synonym for priests, and every novice who studied the Rule Benedict knew the master had envisioned life in the cloister as a kind of service and the cenobitic community as a divine militia. […]

As several scholars have noted, a similar martial ethos permeates contemporary Cluniac texts, as the early-tenth-century vita of Gerald of Aurillac by Odo of Cluny. In her reading of Cluniac liturgical performance as a form of spiritual warfare, Barbara Rosenwein memorably characterized the life of monks at Cluny in this period “ritualized re-enactment[s] of the life of the knight,” in which battles against devil satisfied the aggressive impulses that these men, had they remained world, would have channeled into temporal warfare.

Katherine Allen Smith, “Saints in Shining Armor: Martial Asceticism and Masculine Models of Sanctity, ca. 1050- 1250,” Speculum (2008)

Within the newly reformed society envisioned by reforming popes like Leo IX (r. 1049-54), Gregory VII (r. 1073-85), and their successors, the values of celibacy and passivity were imposed on priests as well as monks, who were banned from bearing weapons, participating in warfare, and engaging in sexual relations with women. Even monks’ traditional monopoly on spiritual warfare came under attack, as after 1050 the phrase miles Christi, used since late antiquity primarily in monastic contexts, came increasingly to refer to lay warriors who fought to defend the interests of the church. Nevertheless, monks continued to describe themselves as an order of spiritual warriors and to describe daily rituals like prayer and the performance of Mass as battles. Monastic hagiographers of the eleventh and twelfth centuries also began to celebrate saintly loricati, holy men who stood for a new current of martial asceticism, in greater numbers than ever before.

Katherine Allen Smith, “Saints in Shining Armor: Martial Asceticism and Masculine Models of Sanctity, ca. 1050- 1250,” Speculum (2008)

Agriculture was sunk to a low ebb at the decadence of the Roman Empire. Marshes covered once fertile fields, and the men who should have tilled the land spurned the plow as degrading. The monks left their cells and their prayers to dig ditches and plow fields. The effort was magical. Men once more turned back to a noble but despised industry, and peace and plenty supplanted war and poverty. So well recognized were the blessings they brought, that an old German proverb among the peasants runs, ‘It is good to live under the crozier.’ They ennobled manual labor, which, in a degenerate Roman world, had been performed exclusively by slaves, and among the barbarians by women. For the monks it is no exaggeration to say that the cultivation of the soil was like an immense alms spread over a whole country. The abbots and superiors set the example, and stripping off their sacerdotal robes, toiled as common laborers. Like the good parson whom Chaucer portrays in the prologue to the “Canterbury Tales”:

“‘This noble ensample unto his scheep he gaf That first he wroughte and after that he taughte.’

When a Papal messenger came in haste to consult the Abbot Equutius on important matters of the Church, he was not to be found anywhere, but was finally discovered in the valley cutting hay. Under such guidance and such example the monks upheld and taught everywhere the dignity of labor, first, by consecrating to agriculture the energy and intelligent activity of freemen often of high birth, and clothed with the double authority of the priesthood and of hereditary nobility, and, second, by associating under the Benedictine habit sons of kings, princes, and nobles with the rudest labors of peasants and serfs.”

Henry M. Goodell, “The Influence of the Monks in Agriculture and Christian Civilization” (Sacred Heart Review, 3 December 1910)

To an extent which is still not fully appreciated, the drive for social justice in the past decade has been a metaphor, in the lives of many of those participating in it, for their own sexual liberation. It was in radical political circles that sometimes militant forms of transgressive sexual behavior were most fully accepted and even applauded. Many religious who began convinced that racial justice or war was the gravest moral problem of the age ended by placing their own vows of chastity in that central place. […] Many priests and religious, after sojourns in the fields of social concern, found suitable spouses for themselves and retired to the suburbs. It is especially ironic that countless “radical” Catholics have chosen both to support the sexual revolution and to attack the consumer society, without apparently appreciating how the former grows naturally out of the latter.

James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)

It is one of the choicer ironies of the postconciliar era that, as nuns seek to become priests, priests get married, and married people get divorced in even greater numbers. Each group regards its own “need” – for priesthood, for marriage, for sanctioned divorce – as one whose fulfillment will quiet the deep dissatisfaction which make it unhappy in its present state of life. Each thinks its salvation lies just over the horizon; none appears to reflect on whether its restlessness has roots deeper than the vocational conditions which trouble it.

James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)

The inevitable failure of much postconciliar “reform” could have been predicted solely on the basis of the use of the world itself. Classically, in the Church, “reform” has meant a recalling of believers to a stricter and more demanding kind of discipleship. The men and women honored with the name of “reformers” in religious life preached revitalization through closer adherence to the original spirit and rules of the community, often in the face of entrenched worldliness and lay customs. Reformers like St. Teresa of Avila encountered resistance and opposition primarily from contemporaries who, being comfortable within a permissive ambience, felt threatened by the demand that they return to a stricter way of life.

Conditions fairly common in the religious life of today – the ignoring of cloister, the abandonment of the prescribed habit, secular occupations, enjoyment of worldly amusements, sexual adventures – were precisely the conditions which the great reformers of the past found intolerable, and against which they inveighed ceaselessly.”

James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)