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XIMENES DE CISNEROS.
I. REFORMER AND MISSIONARY.
One of the most obvious points of difference between the great men of ancient and of modern times is, that formerly the same man gathered laurels in many fields, but now greatness is achieved in one pursuit, rather than in multifarious occupations. In Greece, for instance, “the titles of the poet, the philosopher, the historian, the statesman, and the general, not seldom formed a garland round the same head.” * This remark would apply equally to our own Elizabethan age, and to Western Europe during the Reformation; but it has a curious parallel in an epitaph at Alcala, which tells of him who “ now lies in the narrow sarcophagus," that "he laid the foundation of a great University; threw the cloak of the warrior over the sackcloth of the monk; and felt on his brow the weight of the helmet, and of the mitre; while his valour united the diadem and the cowl.” Ximenes de Cisneros, equally conversant with religion, jurisprudence, and letters, was the man whose life gave cause for so strange an inscription on his tomb.
He held a high place among the men of his day: for, however great might be the needs of his position, his powers were equal to the emergency. His hand was always steady to rule, and strong to strike; but we miss the gleam of generous sentiments. He never avenged personal injuries; and yet this is hardly a virtue : for, if he would not stoop to revenge, he disdained to love. He was not selfish, in the ordinary sense of the term : he merged himself in his plans. He was intensely practical, possessed by no theory, dazzled by no day-dream, softened by no pity; and thus he led his countrymen, but was never so far in advance of them as to be lost from their sight. He was always a Spaniard, and a Spaniard of his day. His genius could conceive gigantic schemes, apparently of the most incongruous character; and, while he sketched their outline, he never lost his grasp on their minutest details. The contemplation of his character inspires us with awe. We admire, and yet shrink from, the man himself, who looks down unlovingly on ordinary mortals, as stern rocks scowl on the flowers at their feet.
* Coleridge, Lecture on Milton, VOL. XI.- FIFTH SERIES.
Like many others who have “shaped the whispers of a throne,' Ximenes sprang from a poor family. Born at Torrelaguna, in 1436, he was first sent to the grammar-school of Alcala, and thence to Salamanca. In those days every road led to Rome; and it gives us no surprise to find the young Spaniard practising in the ecclesiastical courts of the Eternal City. He was recalled by the news of his father's death ; but, before leaving, he obtained a letter entitling him to the next benefice, of a certain value, that should fall vacant in the see of Toledo. When the benefice of Uzeda became vacant, Ximenes presented the letter, and claimed the post at the hands of the Archbishop Carillo. This prelate was a headstrong man, who stood but little in awe of the Pope; and, as a Council had declared these letters of expectation to be uncanonical, Carillo availed bimself of the plea, and refused to induct Ximenes into the living. But this was not all. Ximenes was thrown into prison by his diocesan, to punish his presumption; and for six years he persistently asserted his right to the benefice. At the end of that time, Carillo relented, and made Ximenes archpriest of Uzeda. From that time all was favourable. The evil star of his fortune set, and his life was successful. The great Cardinal Mendoza, into whose diocese Ximenes exchanged, appointed him vicargeneral, and gave him an opportunity for displaying his talents. All his friends now foretold a brilliant career. But he was smitten with an unaccountable melancholy; public life became distasteful; he threw up his office, and retired into a convent. Here his zeal knew no bounds : : even the strict discipline of the Franciscan Observantines was too lax. He longed for the solitude of a hermitage, as the only solace for his troubled heart. He therefore buried himself in the lone woods of Our Lady of the Chestnut-Grove; and there, clad in a hair-shirt, he paced to and fro, scourging himself unmercifully; and, poring over the Bible, bedewed it with bitter tears. Some fifteen years later a monk would pass through the same ordeal at Erfurth ; but with what a different result! Luther came forth a new man,—the herald of day to a benighted church; Ximenes went forth to rule Spain with an iron hand, and to inaugurate the most fearful reign of spiritual despotism that ever withered a nation's hopes. The German found liberty in God's word; the Spaniard held the same casket in his hands, but it yielded him no such treasure. How came this difference? Perhaps the solution is, that one sought with more humble self-renunciation than the other. Ximenes never learnt to hide himself, that he might see Christ.
A strong hand instinctively grasps a stout weapon; and, while Ximenes seemed to abandon the world, his monastic training prepared him to rule it. If he was in the convent, his fame was abroad. Men said, “He is as wise as St. Augustine, as holy as St. Jerome, as zealous as St. Ambrose.” When he came to court, on the summons of Mendoza, the courtiers fell back awe-stricken. He was more like some ancient anchoret, worn down with fasts and viġils, than any living man. He walked through all the pomp of the palace, lost in contemplation. Unexpectedly he was introduced to Isabella, but he showed no perturbation, and was as collected while talking with Royalty as though he addressed some lay-brother of his order. In two days he was made Queen's Confessor. The tide of fortune was now at its flood, and its set was irresistible. In two years, Ximenes was Provincial of his order in Spain; and another year saw him Archbishop of Toledo. As this last position was always associated with the Chancellorship of Spain, Ximenes was in a position second only to the Papacy; and so fully did “time bring round his revenges,” that the former prisoner of Santorcaz sat on the archiepiscopal throne of his oppressor, and converted the house of his bondage into a treasury.
Serious work awaited the Provincial of the Franciscans; he must be the reformer of the Religious orders in Spain. In that country the scandals of the so called “ Religious” were open, and even legalized ; for the laws of Spain sanctioned the concubinage of the clergy. Happily, this blot was found on no other code in Christendom. The abominations of the priesthood are seen, when we know that the king's mistress, if she lost her charms, was made an abbess, and base-born sons of hidalgos were thought fit persons to conduct monasteries. When a rumour came to the ears of some of these monks, that Ximenes was initiating their compulsory reform, a thousand of them passed over into Africa, abandoned the profession of Christianity, and, after astounding the “infidels" by their immoralities, died a thousand-fold more the children of the devil than the Mohammedans. Others intrenched themselves in their convents, and would only retire on the promise of pensions for life. A party of them marched out from their quarters, carrying a cross in mock procession, and chanting, “ When Israel came out of Egypt,"--their Canaan being a land of unbridled license. Ignorance fostered their immorality, and sloth turned the monasteries into hot-beds of vice. The offices of religion lost all meaning; neither priest nor people knew the significance of the words they said or sung. Devotion had degenerated into superstition ; worship, into mummery. All Europe festered with this sore; and the question, how it was to be cured, divided men into two parties. One party loudly proclaimed, that monachism was a deadly tree, its fruits evil, and its shade always fatal; they would cut it up root and branch, and in its stead would plant a generous vine. The other party did not dare to deny what all the world saw, and confessed that the fruit was evil; but, they contended, the vine had only degenerated, and skilful husbandry would restore it. To this party Ximenes belonged. His ambition was, to prune, not to eradicate; to reform, not to destroy.
To the task of reformation he brought this essential requisite,-a firm conviction that monachism was inherently good. He gloried in being a Franciscan. It was this which made him so striking a figure
among the courtiers.
The nobles of Spain affected a certain Oriental magnificence of costume; the Chancellor of the kingdom wore the habits of his order, as though he had been in his monastery. Nor would he abandon his silent protest against the luxury of the court, till a letter “under the Fisherman's seal” (as the style of the Pope runs) required him to alter his garb. After this, he worė silks and furs in public; but, like the old man in the fable, he soon discovered that he had only changed his conduct to bring down fresh objections on himself. A zealous court-preacher took occasion to blame him for his costly dress. Ximenes heard out the tirade, and, calmly throwing back his robes, showed his hair-shirt beneath. Thus he pleased the monks by his sackcloth, and the courtiers by his silks. This magnificence was laid aside when he left the court; for, as the Chancellor's muleteer said, somewhat saucily, one morning, “He could not dress as quickly as his master, who only tightened a rope, and shook himself like a wet spaniel.” As the statutes of St. Francis bound him to beg, the richest prelate in Spain presented to the admiring people the strange spectacle of a mendicant. His travelling companion alone murmured, because Ximenes often left the wallet empty ; and, as an improvement on that voluntary poverty which enchanted the devout, he proposed to take the commissariat department, and leave the Provincial to pray and meditate for both :—an arrangement which proved mutually agreeable. This sedulous observance of the Franciscan rules gave Ximenes a right to demand the same from every member of a religious order. If he, the Chancellor, remembered the hours of devotion at court, the monks could scarcely fail to observe them in the cloister.
Besides the moral power arising from his strict life, Ximenes had other sources of influence. As he was Provincial of the Franciscans, they were bound to obey him who entered that order ; as Chancellor of the kingdom, he possessed power that would be felt in every religious house in Spain ; as the favourite of Isabella, he could count upon royal favour to excuse any step that was not strictly legal. The Queen essayed the task of reform in her quiet, womanly way; and, sitting among the sisters, would strive to allure them to a chaste life. But the opponents of reformation were many; and, if the reformer looked to the throne for help, his enemies invoked the aid of the most astonishing of all the allies that impurity ever summoned to her aid, they supplicated the Pope. He readily prohibited all reform ; for the infamous Alexander VI. was the man whom Christians, at that time, called “His Holiness." The lax Conventuals rejoiced ; Isabella trembled, and bade her Confessor beware, for the “ holy father” did not approve of his course. The nobles were full of triumph at the discomfiture of the "good brother.” But their triumph was shortlived. This man, who defied Carillo, laughed at the thunders of the Vatican. One instance of the manner of the reformer will suffice to