A few words more.
We blame the church when she is saturated with intrigues,
we despise the spiritual which is harsh toward the temporal;
but we everywhere honor the thoughtful man.
We salute the man who kneels.
A faith; this is a necessity for man. Woe to him who believes nothing.
One is not unoccupied because one is absorbed. There is visible
labor and invisible labor.
To contemplate is to labor, to think is to act.
Folded arms toil, clasped hands work. A gaze fixed on heaven
is a work.
Thales remained motionless for four years. He founded philosophy.
In our opinion, cenobites are not lazy men, and recluses are not idlers.
To meditate on the Shadow is a serious thing.
Without invalidating anything that we have just said, we believe
that a perpetual memory of the tomb is proper for the living.
On this point, the priest and the philosopher agree. We must die.
The Abbe de la Trappe replies to Horace.
To mingle with one's life a certain presence of the sepulchre,--
this is the law of the sage; and it is the law of the ascetic.
In this respect, the ascetic and the sage converge. There is a
material growth; we admit it. There is a moral grandeur; we hold
to that. Thoughtless and vivacious spirits say:--
"What is the good of those motionless figures on the side of mystery?
What purpose do they serve? What do they do?"
Alas! In the presence of the darkness which environs us,
and which awaits us, in our ignorance of what the immense
dispersion will make of us, we reply: "There is probably no work
more divine than that performed by these souls." And we add:
"There is probably no work which is more useful."
There certainly must be some who pray constantly for those who
never pray at all.
In our opinion the whole question lies in the amount of thought
that is mingled with prayer.
Leibnitz praying is grand, Voltaire adoring is fine. Deo erexit Voltaire.
We are for religion as against religions.
We are of the number who believe in the wretchedness of orisons,
and the sublimity of prayer.
Moreover, at this minute which we are now traversing,--a minute which
will not, fortunately, leave its impress on the nineteenth century,--
at this hour, when so many men have low brows and souls but little
elevated, among so many mortals whose morality consists in enjoyment,
and who are busied with the brief and misshapen things of matter,
whoever exiles himself seems worthy of veneration to us.
The monastery is a renunciation. Sacrifice wrongly directed is
still sacrifice. To mistake a grave error for a duty has a grandeur
of its own.
Taken by itself, and ideally, and in order to examine the truth
on all sides until all aspects have been impartially exhausted,
the monastery, the female convent in particular,--for in our
century it is woman who suffers the most, and in this exile
of the cloister there is something of protestation,--the female
convent has incontestably a certain majesty.
This cloistered existence which is so austere, so depressing,
a few of whose features we have just traced, is not life, for it
is not liberty; it is not the tomb, for it is not plenitude;
it is the strange place whence one beholds, as from the crest of a
lofty mountain, on one side the abyss where we are, on the other,
the abyss whither we shall go; it is the narrow and misty frontier
separating two worlds, illuminated and obscured by both at the
same time, where the ray of life which has become enfeebled is mingled
with the vague ray of death; it is the half obscurity of the tomb.
We, who do not believe what these women believe, but who, like them,
live by faith,--we have never been able to think without a sort
of tender and religious terror, without a sort of pity, that is
full of envy, of those devoted, trembling and trusting creatures,
of these humble and august souls, who dare to dwell on the very brink
of the mystery, waiting between the world which is closed and heaven
which is not yet open, turned towards the light which one cannot see,
possessing the sole happiness of thinking that they know where it is,
aspiring towards the gulf, and the unknown, their eyes fixed motionless
on the darkness, kneeling, bewildered, stupefied, shuddering,
half lifted, at times, by the deep breaths of eternity.