The basis of the life was the Benedictine rule, but the observance of abstinence and silence went beyond it in stringency.
There is some doubt about the genuineness of an ordinance attributed to Constantine, in which abstinence from public business was enforced for the seven days immediately preceding Easter Sunday, and also for the seven which followed it; the Codex Theodosianus, however, is explicit in ordering that all actions at law should cease, and the doors of all courts of law be closed during those fifteen days (1.
In these he holds aloof for the most part from theological controversy, and treats in an admirable tone and spirit the themes of faith, simplicity, the fear of God, poverty, greed, abstinence and unchastity.
How severely strict medieval abstinence was may be gauged from the fact that armies and garrisons were sometimes, in default of dispensations, as in the case of the siege of Orleans in 1429, reduced to starvation for want of Lenten food, though in full possession of meat and other supplies.
In many parts of Germany the seasons of Lent and Advent are still marked by the use of emblems of mourning in the churches, by the frequency of certain phrases (Kyrie eleison, Agnus Dei) and the absence of others (Hallelujah, Gloria in excelsis) in the liturgical services, by abstinence from some of the usual social festivities, and by the non-celebration of marriages.
Abjuring pomps and vanities, its citizens observed the ascetic regime of the cloister; half the year was devoted to abstinence and few dared to eat meat on the fasts ordained by Savonarola.
Many an earnest heart full of disappointment or enthusiasm has gone through a similar struggle, has learnt to look upon all earthly gains and hopes as worse than vanity, has envied the calm life of the cloister, troubled by none of these things, and has longed for an opportunity of entire selfsurrender to abstinence and meditation.
His monks were allowed proper clothes, sufficient food, ample sleep. The only bodily austerities were the abstinence from flesh meat and the unbroken fast till mid-day or even 3 P.M., but neither would appear so onerous in Italy even now, as to us in northern climes.
Attached to it all matters concerning indulgences; on the other hand, he transferred to the Congregation of the Council matters concerning the precepts of the Church such as fasting, abstinence and festivals.
Again not only was the church doctrine itself more or less consciously influenced by the Manichaean tenet of the diabolical origin of all matter, including the human body, but churchmen were also naturally tempted to compete in asceticism with the many heretics who held this tenet, and whose abstinence brought them so much popular consideration.