It’’s a term used by Hugo to describe Bossuet and Joly! As here, in Preliminary Gayeties:
Laigle de Meaux, as the reader knows, lived more with Joly than elsewhere. He had a lodging, as a bird has one on a branch. The two friends lived together, ate together, slept together. They had everything in common, even Musichetta, to some extent. They were, what the subordinate monks who accompany monks are called, bini.
following christ’s example, early missionaries traveled the roman empire and beyond in pairs of both mixed and same genders. these pairs didn’t just work together for reasons of safety or convenience; the church fathers make it clear that there was a spiritual benefit in companionship. we see this argument reproduced in thomas aquinas’s caetana aurea, a biblical commentary composed of fragments from earlier commentaries:
- “The disciples of Christ are called two by two [bini], and sent two by two [bini],since charity implies more than one, as it is written, “Woe to him that is alone.” [Eccles 4:10] Two persons lead the Israelites out of Egypt: two bring down the bunch of grapes from the Holy Land, that men in authority might ever join together activity and knowledge, and bring forward two commandments from the Two Tables, and be washed from two fountains, and carry the ark of the Lord on two poles, and know the Lord between the two Cherubim, and sing to Him with both mind and spirit.” [link]
there’s something valuable and holy about working in pairs, then, rather than being alone. certain tasks can only be accomplished through fellowship with a companion.
thus, both Donougher and the French editor (whose name escapes me) are right in that bini relates to priests walking in pairs during processions. but the meaning of the reference for Joly and Bossuet becomes all the more powerful when we understand the deep spiritual significance of this choreography. the comfort that Joly and Bossuet derive from one another’s presence, the way that their friendship deepens their commitment to the revolution, the way that they join “activity and knowledge” together in their actions….all of that fits perfectly with monastic partnership.
And I’ll add that the way Joly and Legle are described is–well, if this was a musical it would be a Bright Reprise of the way Hugo describes monasteries, which “only need Liberty to be the ideal Republic”. And Bossuet and Joly HAVE liberty in their association with the world, as much as anyone can. So that’s some pretty heavy symbolism getting dropped on a couple of goofballs who are about to spend the morning before the revolution getting drunk and making terrible puns. But that’s all part of Hugo’s point, here, and is actually part of the big political speech coming up; the real ideal society will be happy and community-based rather than Gloriously Martial and hierarchy based.
– But okay that way lies Hugo-level digression! Yeah sorry BRIEF ANSWER, it’s an unusual term that Hugo uses for Bossuet and Joly, so some people (me included clearly) also use it to identify things about them! Hope that helps! 😀