"There is not a man in Europe who
talks bravely against the Church, but owes it to the Church
that he can talk at all."—Cardinal Newman.
The foregoing account of our Abbey has
been written, of course, from a Protestant point of view. It
would not have been honest or natural in me to have written
it from any other. But while this is the case, I have not
been consciously unfair to the Old Faith; and hope I have
not written anything that will give offence to those who
still hold by it. Religion, in my eyes, is a much grander
thing than theology.
Several things have been recorded
which don't reflect much credit on those who did them; but
the persons who did them are alone responsible. It is not
fair to burden a party for the sins of their forefathers.
And the only thing we have to do, is to look back on the
past as impartially as we can, and draw from it the lessons
Some people have a great reverence
for the Past. The Old casts its glamour over them, and makes
them its captives. They bow down before the Antique, and
surrender themselves to its guidance. For my part, I have a
greater longing for the Future than for the Past. It is in
the Future, I believe, that the world's true grandeur lies.
The course of the human race is onward and upward; and I
have faith in the God who guides us.
But while I am a true Protestant in
thought and sympathy, I trust I have fairness enough in me
to speak a good word for those who deserve it. Bitterness is
not a heavenly feeling, whether in Protestant or Catholic.
Why quarrel with the high, because it is not the highest ?
The man who is narrow in his sympathies, makes but a poor
judge of others.
The old monks of whom we have been
treating, had their faults, of course, like others. But far
be it from me to say that they had not their virtues too. We
are before them, I believe, in the matter of creed and
enlightenment; but in the matter of holy living, and honest
work, and devout communion with God, I am not sure that we
are before them at all.
As to the whole system of
monasteries and monkish communities generally, it is
difficult, perhaps, for us in this nineteenth century to
give a right opinion. For these people lived in days very
different from ours. They lived in an age of darkness and
violence. And they lived at a time, too, when the ideal of
religion was more towards meditation than work. Hence we can
easily see how gladly such asylums as monasteries were
hailed by quiet, pious souls. They were to them what the ark
was to Noah's dove. But quiet, pious lives are apt to become
selfish lives, and the spirit of the world will penetrate
even into a monk's cell. An unnatural life never can be a
healthy life, and is sure to revenge itself in some way. A
strict mechanical system of religious observances, such as
these monks followed, is very apt to banish the spiritual
instincts, and substitute formalism for piety. In some cases
this did not follow, but in many cases it did; and the
general conclusion formed by the country, was that the
system had failed.
But before now turning our Abbey's
face to the wall, I would like to make a concluding
reflection or two, as we stand amid its ruins. And the first
is as to its extreme age. It was founded more than six
hundred years ago. Before the days of Bruce and Wallace;
before the days when Alexander III. hurled back the Norsemen
at Largs; while yet Scotland was a poor semi-savage,
half-settled country, with a population not exceeding that
of modern Glasgow—these walls were built. Europe was at that
time fighting the wars of the Crusades, for the rescue of
the Holy Land out of the hands of the infidel; England was
struggling for her Magna Charta, with unworthy kings;
America was not yet discovered, and Australia not yet
dreamed of. In these far back days it came into the heart of
a kindly man, living in this district, to build an Abbey,
for the glory of God and the good of his fellow-men.
Scotland was not then cultivated as
it now is. The greater part of the land now filled by green
fields or waving harvests, was then filled by bog or forest.
The wolf and the wild boar roamed at large. The roads were
few, rough, and narrow. Those who travelled, did so on foot
or on horseback. Even goods, when they needed to be conveyed
from place to place, were conveyed on pack-horses, led in
long strings by drivers, just as caravans in the desert are
at this day. The houses of the common people were mere huts,
such as we would not put cattle in now-a-days. And the
houses of the gentry were tall, narrow castles, built on a
rock on the sea-shore, or by the side of some lonely glen.
The country was so insecure that nobody dared travel alone.
They did not even dare to live in solitary farm-houses, as
we do now. Each had to build his hut under the protection of
some friendly castle, or in some neighbouring town.
The common people were utterly
unlearned. Very few even of the barons could sign their
names; and scarcely anybody but churchmen could read. Such
books as then existed were written in Latin—printing not
being invented, and English, as a written language, almost
unknown. Religion was at a low ebb. The great profession was
that of arms—and everybody carried weapons by his side.
Every baron was more or less of a robber; and the rule they
went by was the simple plan—
That they should take who have the
And they should keep who can.
It was in these dark and troubled
days that our Abbey walls were reared,—like an ark in the
deluge,—like a star of hope in a stormy sky.
The next reflection I would make,
is as to the form of faith and worship here practised; and
this was what we call the Roman Catholic form.
The first religion of this country
was Paganism. Our ancestors worshipped those which were no
gods. But by and by, through the labours of St. Columba and
his successors, a knowledge of Christianity was spread among
us. Good men came, who lived in cells by the mountain side,
and taught our heathen forefathers to turn from their idols
to the only living and true God. These are the men after
whom so many of our towns are named, and to whose honour so
many of our churches were dedicated. Kirk-oswald, Kilkerran,
Chapel-Donan, Kirkbride, Colmonell, Kilmarnock, and
Kirkcudbright. These men were called Culdees, and they
served their day and generation well. But a day came when
they ceased to do so; and the country was fast sinking into
darkness again, when Malcolm Canmore, one of our kings,
brought as his bride from England, the saintly Margaret
Atheling, who introduced the then vigorous Church of Rome.
Her son David spread abbeys of the new faith over a great
part of Scotland, and his nobles imitated his example.* It
was in imitation of King David's example, that Duncan
M'Dowall, of Turn-berry, founded the Abbey of Crossraguel.
In this way the Romish church was established, in room of
that of the Culdees. The worthy men who had been our first
Christian missionaries, were now superseded by a more
imposing ritual and a more vigorous organisation. And
although we, in these days, are apt to look down on the
Romish church, we must remember that in those days the
establishment of that church was almost as great an advance
as was the establishment of the Protestant church, three
hundred years after.
* Scotland at one time
contained not fewer than one hundred and twenty
monasterieSj and twenty nunneries.
My next and last reflection is as
to the object of our Abbey. It was at once a church, a
college, and a place of hospitality. "The Abbeys of
Scotland," says Dr. Lees, "filled a position which no other
institution could have done. They furnished, in the midst of
distraction, a refuge for many a quiet and studious spirit.
While kings and nobles were fighting around them, their
inmates fostered the arts of peace. They were the
agriculturists and the schoolmasters of the time. In the
library of the Abbey were written those chronicles, without
which most of the past history of Scotland would be a blank.
They provided, too, for the poor and the helpless, when no
legal provision existed. The poverty-stricken wretch, driven
from the castle-door, could always find a sanctuary in the
Abbey, and a little food from the porter at the gate. In a
wild country, without inns, they furnished a resting-place
for the traveller; and in them he was always sure of a
supper and a bed. In Scotland, too, the abbots assisted
largely in carrying on the affairs of state; for they were
almost the only men in the country who had the time and the
ability. They, likewise, sat in Parliament, and were
treasurers, chamberlains, judges. Above all, the Abbeys were
the great witnesses against feudal caste; with them was
neither high-born nor low-born, rich nor poor. The meanest
ploughman's son entering there, might become the lord of
knights and the counsellor of kings and princes."
Such are some of the reflections
that might enter one's mind, as he stands amid the ruins of
Crossraguel. But while doing so, a soft voice may be heard
issuing from the old building itself, telling its own tale
and teaching its own lessons, which may haply be reported
1. See from me the munificence of
ancient times. Six hundred years ago men could give right
royally to the cause of God. Probably the old Earl of
Carrick gave more to the cause of religion, in proportion to
his means, than any man of modern times. Let us give him his
meed of praise. Where his ashes now lie, we know not; but
his name should be cherished by us at least.
2. See from me the respect due to
all efforts for other? good. We have many ancient castles in
this district; but none of them excite the interest that the
old Abbey does. And the reason is, that the castles were
built for their owners' use; the Abbey was built for the
good of the country. The castles, too, speak of war that
passes away; while the Abbey speaks of peace and love, which
endure for ever.
3. See from me the good that was in
ancient times, and in another form of faith. It is a mistake
to suppose that we have a monopoly of all the good that ever
was. We excel in knowledge, but that is not everything.
Depend upon it, there were good men lived within these
walls,—perhaps quite as good as any that are living now.
4. See from me how error cannot
last. Truth alone is eternal. The old order changes and
gives place to the new. Not that the new is perfect, but
that it is nearer perfection than the.old. The Roman
Catholic church, in the days of the Reformation, had become
an eyesore and an encumbrance, and needed to be swept away.
This was done rudely; but the times were rude, and the
struggle had become deadly. The Roman Catholic church had
taken the sword, and she perished therewith. May the
Protestant church learn to depend solely on the weapons of
truth and love,-the only weapons God will bless in the end!
Lastly, learn from me, the Divine
lesson of patience and charity. Here have I stood now for
three hundred years in ruins. The people who lived within my
walls had, doubtless, their own share of sins and frailties.
They had, also, their own share of worth and goodness. But
all are now hushed in the silence of death. When, therefore,
you look at my moul'dering walls, with the lichens covering
them, and the ferns sprouting out of the crevices, and the
green turf covering the very pavement which the bare feet of
the old monks had worn,—can you not learn from the hand of
nature itself, to throw the mantle of charity over the
failures of the men of the past, and remember only the good,
and the truth, and the love that were in them ?