I CONSIDERED, in the preceding Lecture, the objection brought in this day against the Catholic Church, from the state of the countries which belong to her. It is urged, that they are so far behind the rest of the world in the arts and comforts of life, in power of political combination, in civil economy, and the social virtues, in a word, in all that tends to make this world pleasant, and the loss of it painful, that their religion cannot come from above. I answered, that, before the argument could be made to tell against us, proof must be furnished, not only that the fact was as stated (and I think it should be very closely examined), but especially that there is that essential connection in the nature of things between true religion and temporal prosperity, which the objection took for granted. That there is a natural and ordinary connection between them no one would deny; but it is one thing to say that prosperity ought to follow from religion, quite another to say that it must follow from it. Thus, health, for instance, may be expected from a habit of regular exercise; but no one would positively deny the fact that exercise had been taken in a particular case, merely because the patient gave signs of an infirm and sickly state of the body. And, indeed, there may be particular and most wise reasons in the scheme of Divine Providence, whatever be the legitimate tendency of the Catholic faith, for its being left, from time to time, without any striking manifestations of its beneficial action upon the temporal interests of mankind, without the influence of wealth, learning, civil talent, or political sagacity; nay, as in the days of St. Cyprian and St. Augustine, with the actual reproach of impairing the material resources and the social greatness of the nations which embrace it: viz., in order to remind the Church, and to teach the world, that she needs no temporal recommendations who has a heavenly Protector, but can make her way (as they say) against wind and tide.

 

This, then, was the subject I selected for my foregoing Lecture, and I said there were three reasons why the world is no fit judge of the work, or the kind of work, really done by the Church in any age:—first, because the world's measure of good and scope of action are so different from those of the Church, that it judges as unfairly and as narrowly of the fruits of Catholicism and their value, as the Caliph Omar might judge of the use and the influence of literature, or rather indefinitely more so. The Church, though she embraces all conceivable virtues in her teaching, and every kind of good, temporal as well as spiritual, in her exertions, does not survey them from the same point of view, or classify them in the same order as the world. She makes secondary what the world considers indispensable; she places first what the world does not even recognise, or undervalues, or dislikes, or thinks impossible; and not being able, taking mankind as it is found, to do everything, she is often obliged to give up altogether what she thinks of great indeed, but of only secondary moment, in a particular age or a particular country, instead of effecting at all risks that extirpation of social evils, which, in the world's eyes, is so necessary, that it thinks nothing really is done till it is secured. Her base of operations, from the difficulties of the season or the period, is sometimes not broad enough to enable her to advance against crime as well as against sin, and to destroy barbarism as well as irreligion. The world, in consequence, thinks, that because she has not done the world's work, she has not fulfilled her Master's purpose; and imputes to her the enormity of having put eternity before time.

And next, let it be observed that she has undertaken the more difficult work; it is difficult, certainly, to enlighten the savage, to make him peaceable, orderly, and self-denying; to persuade him to dress like a European, to make him prefer a feather-bed to the heather or the cave, and to appreciate the comforts of the fireside and the tea-table: but it is indefinitely more difficult, even with the supernatural powers given to the Church, to make the most refined, accomplished, amiable of men, chaste or humble; to bring, not only his outward actions, but his thoughts, imaginations, and aims, into conformity to a law which is naturally distasteful to him. It is not wonderful, then, if the Church does not do so much in the Church's way, as the world does in the world's way. The world has nature as an ally, and the Church, on the whole, and as things are, has nature as an enemy.

And lastly, as I have implied, her best fruit is necessarily secret: she fights with the heart of man; her perpetual conflict is against the pride, the impurity, the covetousness, the envy, the cruelty, which never gets so far as to come to light; which she succeeds in strangling in its birth. From the nature of the case, she ever will do more in repressing evil than in creating good; moreover, virtue and sanctity, even when realised, are also in great measure secret gifts, known only to God and good Angels; for these, then, and other reasons, the powers and the triumphs of the Church must be hid from the world, unless the doors of the Confessional could be flung open, and its whispers carried abroad on the voices of the winds. Nor indeed would even such disclosures suffice for the due comparison of the Church with religions which aim at no personal self-government, and disown on principle examination of conscience and confession of sin; but in order to our being able to do justice to that comparison, we must wait for the Day when the books shall be opened and the secrets of hearts shall be disclosed. For all these reasons, then, from the peculiarity, and the arduousness, and the secrecy of the mission entrusted to the Church, it comes to pass that the world is led, at particular periods, to think very slightly of the Church's influence on society, and vastly to prefer its own methods and its own achievements.

So much I have already suggested towards the consideration of a subject, to which justice could not really be done except in a very lengthened disquisition, and by an examination of matters which lie beyond the range of these Lectures. If then today I make a second remark upon it, I do so only with the object I have kept before me all along, of smoothing the way into the Catholic Church for those who are already very near the gate; who have reasons enough, taken by themselves, for believing her claims, but are perplexed and stopped by the counter-arguments which are urged against her, or at least against their joining her.

 

1.

Today, then, I shall suppose an objector to reply to what I have said in the following manner: viz., I shall suppose him to say, that "the reproach of Catholicism is, not what it does not do, so much as what it does; that its teaching and its training do produce a certain very definite character on a nation and on individuals; and that character, so far from being too religious or too spiritual, is just the reverse, very like the world's; that religion is a sacred, awful, mysterious, solemn matter; that it should be approached with fear, and named, as it were, sotto voce; whereas Catholics, whether in the North or the South, in the Middle Ages or in modern times, exhibit the combined and contrary faults of profaneness and superstition. There is a bold, shallow, hard, indelicate way among them of speaking of even points of faith, which is, to use studiously mild language, utterly out of taste, and indescribably offensive to any person of ordinary refinement. They are rude where they should be reverent, jocose where they should be grave, and loquacious where they should be silent. The most sacred feelings, the most august doctrines, are glibly enunciated in the shape of some short and smart theological formula; purgatory, hell, and the evil spirit, are a sort of household words upon their tongue; the most solemn duties, such as confession, or saying office, whether as spoken of or as performed, have a business-like air and a mechanical action about them, quite inconsistent with their real nature. Religion is made both free and easy, and yet is formal. Superstitions and false miracles are at once preached, assented to, and laughed at, till one really does not know what is believed and what is not, or whether anything is believed at all. The saints are lauded, yet affronted. Take medieval England or France, or modern Belgium or Italy, it is all the same; you have your Boy-bishop at Salisbury, your Lord of Misrule at Rheims, and at Sens your Feast of Asses. Whether in the South now, or in the North formerly, you have the excesses of your Carnival. Legends, such as that of St. Dunstan's fight with the author of all evil at Glastonbury, are popular in Germany, in Spain, in Scotland, and in Italy; while in Naples or in Seville your populations rise in periodical fury against the celestial patrons whom they ordinarily worship. These are but single instances of a widespread and momentous phenomenon, to which you ought not to shut your eyes, and to which we can never be reconciled;—a phenomenon in which we see a plain providential indication, that, in spite of our certainty,—first, that there is a Catholic Church, next, that it is not the religious communion dominant in England, or Russia, or Greece, or Prussia, or Holland; in short, that it can be nothing else but the communion of Rome,—still, that it is our bounden duty to have nothing to do with the Pope, the Holy See, or the Church of which it is the centre." Such is the charge, my brethren, brought against the Catholic Church, both by the Evangelical section of the Establishment, and by your own.

 

 

Comment