The real point of Dr. Manning’s letter is to assert the contradictory of the statement, “that the Church of England is in God’s hands the great bulwark against infidelity in this land.” This saying was not mine, but that of one of the deepest thinkers and observers in the Roman Communion. I see that I did not say this distinctly. My words were: “While I know that a very earnest body of Roman Catholics rejoice in all the workings of God the Holy Ghost in the Church of England (whatever they think of her), and are saddened by what weakens her who is, in God’s
Hands, the great bulwark against infidelity in this land, others seemed to be in an ecstasy of triumph at this victory of Satan.” In this last category, I would say at once, that I did not include Cardinal Wiseman or Dr. Manning. They “wrote gravely, as I said, although I certainly thought Dr. Manning’s letter dry, hard, unsympathizing. He seemed to me so intent on proving his point against the Church of England, for the sake of those whom he wished to detach from it, that all sorrow for the triumph of Satan was dried up. I said nothing of this. But I imagined that he identified the glory of God with the gaining fresh converts to the Roman Church; and so he seemed to me to forget, that each blow which he thought ought to help to detach us from the English communion, was destructive to souls and a dishonour to God.
The saying itself, that “the Church of England is, in God’s hands, the great bulwark against infidelity in this land,” relates plainly only to a present fact. It does not aver, that the Church of England is the best possible bulwark; but only, as a matter of fact, that it is at this moment in God’s Providence a real and chief bulwark against it. Of course, any Roman Catholic must think that the Roman Communion, if it were of the same extent in this land as the English Church is now, would be a much stronger bulwark. But this is not the question. ...
A very thoughtful writer in the Roman Communion has said, “I prefer the open infidelity of the nineteenth century to the hidden infidelity of the middle ages; for we know now what we have to meet.” The English Reformation cannot have been the cause of the infidelity of the middle ages, or of that which our countrymen found on their first renewed intercourse with Italy. It was not the cause of the unbelief, which absorbed successively the young Italians who went up to the capital under the late régime in Naples. For the causes of that unbelief are well known. Nor did it
originate the worship of the Goddess of Reason in the first French Revolution, since Catholic bishops and priests apostatised. Since it did not occasion the apostasy of Renan, why should it be charged with the heathenism of Colenso?
The middle classes in France, I have been told by well-informed French Catholics, are well-nigh lost to the faith. I remember the time when processions in France and Catholic Germany were attended only by a few women and children. It is said that when the churches were reopened in
Paris after the first revolution, there were only fifty communicants at Easter. There has been, blessed be God, a great restoration of faith there, as among ourselves also. It is sad to point out a common misery, the destroyer of souls here and there. Yet so much is clear, that it is wrong to charge upon the English Church a terrible evil, under which every other part of the Catholic Church has suffered. It is more to our purpose to consider those grounds which Dr. Manning alleges for his assertion.