Monasteries, which have once been consecrated with the consent of the bishop, shall remain monasteries for ever, and the property belonging to them shall be preserved, and they shall never again become secular dwellings. And they who shall permit this to be done shall be liable to ecclesiastical penalties.
Ancient Epitome of Canon XXIV.
A monastery erected with the consent of the bishop shall be immovable. And whatever pertains to it shall not be alienated. Whoever shall take upon him to do otherwise, shall not be held guiltless.
Joseph Ægyptius, in turning this into Arabic, reads: “And whoever shall turn any monastery into a dwelling house for himself…let him be cursed and anathema.” The curious reader is referred on this whole subject to Sir Henry Spelmans History and Fate of Sacrilege, or to the more handy book on the subject by James Wayland Joyce, The Doom of Sacrilege. 292
The secularization of monasteries was an evil which grew with their wealth and influence. At a Council held by the patriarch Photius in the Apostles church at Constantinople, it is complained that some persons attach the name of “monastery” to property of their own, and while professing to dedicate it to God, write themselves down as lords of what has been thus consecrated, and are not ashamed to claim after such consecration the same power over it which they had before. In the West, we find this abuse attracting the attention of Gregory the Great, who writes to a bishop that “rationalis ordo” would not allow a layman to pervert a monastic foundation at will to his own uses (Epist. viii., 31). In ancient Scotland, the occasional dispersion of religious communities, and, still more, the clan-principle which assigned chieftain-rights over monasteries to the descendants of the founder, left at Dunkeld, Brechin, Abernethy, and elsewhere, “nothing but the mere name of abbacy applied to the lands, and of abbot borne by the secular lord for the time” (Skenes Celtic Scotland, ii., 365; cf. Andersons Scotland in Early Christian Times, p. 235). So, after the great Irish monastery of Bangor in Down was destroyed by the Northmen, “non defuit,” says St. Bernard, “qui illud teneret cure possessionibus suis; nam et constituebantur per electionem etiam, et abbates appellabantur, servantes nomine, etsi non re, quod olim exstiterat” (De Vita S. Malachiæ, vj.). So in 1188 Giraldus Cambrensis found a lay abbot in possession of the venerable church of Llanbadarn Vawr; a “bad custom,” p. 285 he says, “had grown up, whereby powerful laymen, at first chosen by the clergy to be “œconomi” or “patroni et defensores,” had usurped “totum jus,” appropriated the lands, and left to the clergy nothing but the altars, with tithes and offerings (Itin. Camb. ii., 4). This abuse must be distinguished from the corrupt device whereby, in Bedes later years, Northumbrian nobles contrived to gain for their estates the immunities of abbey-lands by professing to found monasteries, which they filled with disorderly monks, who lived there in contempt of all rule (Bede, Ep. to Egbert, vij.). In the year of his birth, the first English synod had forbidden bishops to despoil consecrated monasteries (Bede, iv., 5).
This canon is found in the Corpus Juris Canonici, Gratians Decretum, Pars II., Causa XIX., Quæst. III., canon iv.
The reader may like to see the vow on this subject taken by King Charles I. of England, and which was made public by Archbishop Sheldon after the Restoration. The vow is as follows:
“I do here promise and solemnly vow, in the presence and service of Almighty God, that if it shall please the Divine Majesty of his infinite goodness to restore me to my just Kingly rights, and to re-establish me in my throne, I will wholly give back to his Church all those impropriations which are now held by the Crown; and what lands soever I do now or should enjoy, which have been taken away either from any episcopal see or any cathedral or collegiate church, from any abbey or other religious house, I likewise promise for hereafter to hold them from the Church under such reasonable fines and rents as shall be set down by some conscientious persons, whom I propose to choose with all uprightness of heart to direct me in this particular. And I humbly beseech God to accept of this my vow, and to bless me in the design I have now in hand through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“Oxford, April 13, 1646.”