"Cosette," Book Seven: Chapter VII
Precautions to Be Observed in Blame
History and philosophy have eternal duties, which are, at the same time, simple duties; to combat Caiphas the High-priest, Draco the Lawgiver, Trimalcion the Legislator, Tiberius the Emperor; this is clear, direct, and limpid, and offers no obscurity.
But the right to live apart, even with its inconveniences and its abuses, insists on being stated and taken into account. Cenobitism is a human problem.
When one speaks of convents, those abodes of error, but of innocence, of aberration but of good-will, of ignorance but of devotion, of torture but of martyrdom, it always becomes necessary to say either yes or no.
A convent is a contradiction. Its object, salvation; its means thereto, sacrifice. The convent is supreme egoism having for its result supreme abnegation.
To abdicate with the object of reigning seems to be the device of monasticism.
In the cloister, one suffers in order to enjoy. One draws a bill of exchange on death. One discounts in terrestrial gloom celestial light. In the cloister, hell is accepted in advance as a post obit on paradise.
The taking of the veil or the frock is a suicide paid for with eternity.
It does not seem to us, that on such a subject mockery is permissible. All about it is serious, the good as well as the bad.
The just man frowns, but never smiles with a malicious sneer. We understand wrath, but not malice.