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MECHITARISTS


103


MECHITARISTS


to dismiss summarily any of his monks who should prove disorderly. They wear the beard, Oriental fasliion, and have a black habit — tunic, cloak and hood. In the engraving attached to the description, the Mechitarist would be undistinguishable from a regular hermit of St. Augustine, except for his beard. When, however. Pope Clement XI gave them his ap- proval, it was as monks under the rule of St. Benedict, and he appointed Mecliitar the first abbot. This was a great innovation ; nothing less than the introduction of Western monasticism into the East. There, up to this time, a monk undertook no duties but to fill his place in the monastery. He admitted no vocation but to save his soul in the cloister. He had, in theory, at least, broken off all relations with the outside world. He had no idea of making himself useful to mankind, or of any good works whatsoever save his choir duties, his prayers, his fastings, and the monastic observance. He oelonged to no religious order but was simply a monk. Now, as a Benedictine, he would be expected to devote liimself to some useful work and take some thought of his neighbour. It is clear, from P. Bonan- ni's description, that Mechitar and his monks wished this change and had already adopted the W'estern idea of the monk's vocation. The adoption of the Bene- dictine rule, therefore, was merely a recognition of their desire to devote themselves to apostolic work among their schismatic brethren, to instruct their ignorance, excite their devotion and bring them back into the communion of the one true Catholic and Apostolic Church. And it was also a security that they would not afterwards lapse into the apathy and inactivity associated in the Eastern mind with the life of the cloister. It is not quite accurate to speak of them as a Benedictine " Congregation ", though it is their custom- ary description. They are a new "Order" of monks living under the rule of St. Benedict, as distinct from the parent order as the Cistercians, Camaldolese, Sil- vestrines, or Olivetans. Hence we do not find them classed among the numerous congregations of the Benedictine order. .

Missionaries, WTitcrs, and educationists, devoted to the service of their Armenian brethren wherever they might be found, such were and are these Benedictines of the Eastern Church. Their subjects usually enter the convent at an early age, eight or nine years old, re- ceive in it their elementary schooling, spend about nine years in philosophical and theological study, at the canonical age of twenty-five, if sufficiently prepared, are ordained priests by their bishop-abbot, and are then employed by him in the various enterprises of the order. First, there is the work of the mission — not the conversion of the heathen, but priestly ministry to the Armenian comnmnities settled in most of the com- mercial centres of Europe. With this is joined, where needed and possilile, the apostolate of union with Rome. Ne.xt there is the education of the Armenian youth and, associated with this, the preparation and publication of good and useful Armenian literature.

The parent abbey is that of St. Lazzaro at Venice; next in importance is that at Vienna, founded in 1810; there is a large convent and college for lay-students at Padua, the legacy of a pious Armenian who dietl at Madras; in the year 1S46 another rich benefactor, Samuel Morin, founded a similar establishment at Paris. Other houses are in Austria-Hungary, Russia, Persia and Turkey — fourteen in all, according to the latest statistics, with one hundred and fifty-two monks, the majority of whom are priests. Not a great development for an order two hundred years old ; but its extension is necessarily restricted because of its exclusive devotion to persons and things Armenian. Amongst their countrymen the influence of the monks has been not only directive in the way of holinegs and true service to God and His Church, but creative of a wholesome national ambition and self-respect. Apos- tles of culture and progress, they may be said, with


strict justice, to have preserved from degradation and neglect the language and literature of their country, and in so doing, have been the saviours of the Ar- menian race. Individually, the monks are distin- guished by their linguistic accomplishments, and the Vienna establishment has attracted attention by the institution of a Literary Academy, which confers honorary membership without regard to race or religion.

In every one of their many undertakings their foimder, Mechitar, personally showed them the way. To him they owe the initiative in the study of the Ar- menian writings of the fourth and fifth centuries, which has resulted in the development and adoption of a literary language, nearly as distinct from the vul- gar tongue as Latin is from Italian. Thus the modern Artnenian remains in touch with a distinguished and inspiring past, and has at his service a rich and impor- tant literature which otherwise would have been left, unknown or unheeded, to decay. Mechitar, with his Armenian "Imitation " and "Bible ", began that series of translations of great books, continued unceasingly during two centuries, and ranging from the early Fa- thers of the Church and the works of St. Thomas of Aquin (one of their first labours) to Homer and Virgil and the best known poets and historians of later days.

At one period, in connexion with their Vienna house, there existed an association for the propagation of good books, which is said to have distributed nearly half a million volumes, and printed and published six new works each year. To him also they owe the guidance of their first steps in exegesis — the branch of learning in which they have won most distinction — and the kindred studies of the Liturgy and the reli- gious history of their country. At S. Lazzaro he founded the printing press from which the most nota- ble of their productions have been issued, and com- menced there the collection of Armenian manuscripts for which their library has become famous. To any but members of the order the history of the Mechitar- ists has been uneventful, because of the quiet, untir- ing plodding along ancient, traditional paths, and the admiraljle fidelity to the spirit and ideals of their founder (see Mechitar).

It has been principally by means of the Mechitar- ists' innumerable periodicals, pious manuals, Bibles, maps, engravings, dictionaries, histories, geographies and other contributions to educational and popular literature, that they have done good service to the Armenian Church and nation. Following are the most valuable of their contributions to the common cause of learning. First, there is the recovery, in ancient Ar- menian translations, of some lost works of the Fathers of the Chm-ch. Among them may be noted "Letters (thirteen) of St. Ignatius of Antioch" and a fuller and more authentic "History of the Martyrdom of St. Ignatius"; some works of St. Ephrem the Syrian, notably a sort of "Harmony of the Gospels" and a " Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul " ; an excep- tionally valuable edition of "Eusebius's History". The publication of these works is due to the famous Mechitarist Dom J. B. Aucher, who was assisted in the last of them by Cardinal Mai. To Aucher also we are indebted for a German translation of the "Armenian Mis.sal" (Tubingen, 1845) and "Dom Johannis phil- osophi Ozniensis Armeniorum Catholici (a. d., 718) Opera" (Venice, 1534). Two original historical works may also be noted: "The History of Armenia", by P. Michel Tschamtschenanz (1784-6) and the "Quadro della storia letteraria di Armenia" by Mgr. PI. Sukias Somal (Venice, 1829).

Tschamtschenanz, Compendiose noiizie sulla congregazione dei monachi Armeni M echitaristici (Venice, 1819); Neumann, Essai d'une histoire de la LitUratuTe armenienne (Leipzig, 1836); Kalemkiar, line esquisse de Vactivite litteraire-tupographique de la congregation michitariste a Vienne; Goschler, Dictionnaire encyclopedique de la Thiol. Cathol., XIV, Art. Mechitaristes. J. C. Almond.