[6. Popular Religion

[Note 1] {426} This Writer uses much rhetoric against a Lecture of mine, in which I bring out, as honestly as I can, the state of countries which have long received the Catholic Faith, and hold it by the force of tradition, universal custom, and legal establishment; a Lecture in which I give pictures, drawn principally from the middle ages, of what, considering the corruption of the human race generally, that state is sure to be,—pictures of its special sins and offences, sui generis, which are the result of that Faith when it is separated from Love or Charity, or of what Scripture calls a "dead faith," of the Light shining in darkness, and the truth held in unrighteousness. The nearest approach which this Writer is able to make towards stating what I have said in this Lecture, is to state the very reverse. Observe: we have already had some instances of the haziness of his ideas concerning the "Notes of the Church." These Notes are, as any one knows who has looked into the subject, certain great and simple characteristics, which He who founded the Church has stamped upon her in order to draw both the reason and the imagination of men to her, as being really a divine work, and a religion distinct from all other religious communities; the principal of these Notes being that she is Holy, One, Catholic, and Apostolic, as the Creed says. Now, to use his own word, he has the incredible "audacity " to say, that I have declared, not the divine characteristics of the Church, but the sins and scandals in her, to be her Notes,—as if I made God the Author of evil. He says distinctly, "Dr. Newman, with a kind of desperate audacity, will dig forth such scandals as Notes of the Catholic Church." This is what I get at his hands for my honesty. Blot twenty-nine.

Again, he says, "[Dr. Newman uses [Note 2]] the blasphemy and profanity which he confesses to be so common in {427} Catholic countries, as an argument for, and not against the 'Catholic Faith.'"—p. 50. That is, because I admit that profaneness exists in the Church, therefore I consider it a token of the Church. Yes, certainly, just as our national form of cursing is an evidence of the being of a God, and as a gallows is the glorious sign of a civilized country,—but in no other way. Blot thirty.

What is it that I really say? I say as follows: Protestants object that the communion of Rome does not fulfil satisfactorily the expectation which we may justly form concerning the True Church, as it is delineated in the four Notes, enumerated in the Creed; and among others, e.g. in the Note of sanctity; and they point, in proof of what they assert, to the state of Catholic countries. Now, in answer to this objection, it is plain what I might have done, if I had not had a conscience. I might have denied the fact. I might have said, for instance, that the middle ages were as virtuous, as they were believing. I might have denied that there was any violence, any superstition, any immorality, any blasphemy during them. And so as to the state of countries which have long had the light of Catholic truth, and have degenerated. I might have admitted nothing against them, and explained away every thing which plausibly told to their disadvantage. I did nothing of the kind; and what effect has this had upon this estimable critic? "Dr. Newman takes a seeming pleasure," he says, "in detailing instances of dishonesty on the part of Catholics."—p. 50. Blot thirty-one. Any one who knows me well, would testify that my "seeming pleasure," as he calls it, at such things, is just the impatient sensitiveness, which relieves itself by means of a definite delineation of what is so hateful to it.

However, to pass on. All the miserable scandals of Catholic countries, taken at the worst, are, as I view the matter, no argument against the Church itself; and the reason which I give in the Lecture is, that, according to the proverb, Corruptio optimi est pessima. The Jews could sin in a way no other contemporary race could sin, for theirs was a sin against light; and Catholics can sin with a depth and intensity with which Protestants cannot {428} sin. There will be more blasphemy, more hatred of God, more of diabolical rebellion, more of awful sacrilege, more of vile hypocrisy in a Catholic country than any where else, because there is in it more of sin against light. Surely, this is just what Scripture says, "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida!" And, again, surely what is told us by religious men, say by Father Bresciani, about the present unbelieving party in Italy, fully bears out the divine text: "If, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world ... they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandments delivered unto them."

And what is true of those who thus openly oppose themselves to the truth, as it was true of the Evil One in the beginning, will in an analogous way be true in the case of all sin, be it of a heavier or lighter character, which is found in a Catholic country:—sin will be strangely tinged or dyed by religious associations or beliefs, and will exhibit the tragical inconsistencies of the excess of knowledge over love, or of much faith with little obedience. The mysterious battle between good and evil will assume in a Catholic country its most frightful shape, when it is not the collision of two distinct and far-separated hosts, but when it is carried on in hearts and souls, taken one by one, and when the eternal foes are so intermingled and interfused that to human eyes they seem to coalesce into a multitude of individualities. This is in course of years, the real, the hidden condition of a nation, which has been bathed in Christian ideas, whether it be a young vigorous race, or an old and degenerate; and it will manifest itself socially and historically in those characteristics, sometimes grotesque, sometimes hideous, sometimes despicable, of which we have so many instances, medieval and modern, both in this hemisphere and in the western. It is, I say, the necessary result of the intercommunion of divine faith and human corruption.

But it has a light side as well as a dark. First, much which seems profane, is not in itself profane, but in the {429} subjective view of the Protestant beholder. Scenic representations of our Lord's Passion are not profane to a Catholic population; in like manner, there are usages, customs, institutions, actions, often of an indifferent nature, which will be necessarily mixed up with religion in a Catholic country, because all things whatever are so mixed up. Protestants have been sometimes shocked, most absurdly as a Catholic rightly decides, at hearing that Mass is sometimes said for a good haul of fish. There is no sin here, but only a difference from Protestant customs. Other phenomena of a Catholic nation are at most mere extravagances. And then as to what is really sinful, if there be in it fearful instances of blasphemy or superstition, there are also special and singular fruits and exhibitions of sanctity; and, if the many do not seem to lead better lives for all their religious knowledge, at least they learn, as they can learn nowhere else, how to repent thoroughly and to die well.

The visible state of a country, which professes Catholicism, need not be the measure of the spiritual result of that Catholicism, at the Eternal Judgment Seat; but no one could say that that visible state was a Note that Catholicism was divine.

All this I attempted to bring out in the Lecture of which I am speaking; and that I had some success, I am glad to infer from the message of congratulation upon it, which I received at the time, from a foreign Catholic layman, of high English reputation, with whom I had not the honour of a personal acquaintance. And having given the key to the Lecture, which the Writer so wonderfully misrepresents, I pass on to another head.]

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Notes

1. 6. Popular Religion. This section was not reprinted in 1865.
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2. These are Dr. Newman's [ ].
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