Lecture 7. Assumed Principles the Intellectual Ground of the Protestant View

Another Cause of Antagonism Against Catholic Church
    Some Wish to be Fair
    Catholic System Seems Unreasonable
    Conclude Catholics Are Unbelieving, Dishonest
    Argument Has Influence with Educated
First Principles
    Their Nature
    Required for Thinking
    Sovereign, Irresponsible, Unconscious
    Hidden Cause of Disputes
Romans versus Christians
    Religious Toleration
    Meekness and Humiliation
Catholics have First Principles too
    Self-Evident Absurdity to Protestants
    Catholic Side
    My Belief in Specific Miracles
Concluding Advice


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{271} THERE is a great and a growing class in the community, who wish to be fair to us, who see how cruelly we are dealt with, who are indignant at the clamour, and see through the calumnies, and despise the prejudice, which are directed against us, who feel themselves to be superior to the multitude in their feelings and their judgments, who aim at thinking well of all men, all persuasions, all schools of thought, and of Catholics in the number, and to like each for what is good in it, though they may not follow it themselves. Being thus candid, and, in a certain sense, unbiassed, they readily acknowledge the grandeur of the Catholic Religion, both in history and in philosophy; they wish to be good friends with it; they delight to contemplate its great heroes; they recognise, perhaps, with almost enthusiastic admiration, the genius and other gifts of the intellect, which in every age have been so profusely found among its adherents. They know and they like individual Catholics; they have every {272} desire to like us in all respects; they set their minds towards liking us, our principles, our doctrines, our worship and our ways. As far as can be said of men, they really have no prejudice. In this interesting and excellent state of mind, they take up one of our books, sincerely wishing to get on with it; alas, they are flung back at once; they see so much which they cannot abide at all, do what they will. They are annoyed at themselves, and at us; but there is no help for it; they discover, they feel that between them and us there is a gulf. So they turn from the subject in disgust, and for a time perhaps are in bad humour with religion altogether, and have a strong temptation to believe nothing at all. Time passes; they get over the annoyance, and perhaps make a second attempt to adjust their own feelings with our doctrines, but with no better success. They had hoped to have found some middle term, some mode of reconciliation; they did not expect agreement, but at least peace; not coincidence, but at least a sort of good understanding and concurrence:—whereas they find antagonism. No: it is impossible; it is melancholy to say it, but it is no use disguising the truth from themselves; they cannot get over this or that doctrine or practice; nay, to be honest, there is no part they can acquiesce in; each separate portion is part of a whole. They are disappointed, but they never can believe, they never can even approve; if the Catholic system be true, faith in it must be a gift, for reason does not bear it out.

What are the things which so offend the candid and kindly-disposed persons in question? So many, that they do not know where to begin, nor where to end. {273} It is the whole system of Catholicism; our miracles, and our relics, and our legends of saints; and then our doctrine of indulgences, and our purgatory; and our views of sin, and of the virtue of penances; and our strange formalities in worship; in a word, all is extravagant, strained, unnatural, where it is not directly offensive, or substantially impossible. They never could receive any part of it, they are sure; they would find it as hard to receive one part as the whole. They must lose their moral identity, and wake up with a new stock of thoughts, principles, and argumentative methods, ere they could ever endure it.

If such is the feeling of even candid and kind men, what will be the impression produced by Catholicism on the prejudiced? You see it is a cause of shrinking from us quite independent of prejudice, for it exists among those who are not prejudiced; but it may be joined with prejudice, and then the aversion and abhorrence entertained towards us will be intense indeed. In that case, reason (that is, what the person in question takes to be such)—reason and passion will go together.

Further, consider that it is not individuals merely, here and there, but vast multitudes who are affected precisely in the same way at hearing our doctrines; millions, whole nations. Each member of them bears witness to the rest; there is the consent, intimate, minute, exact, absolute, of all classes, all ranks, all ages, all dispositions. All this is a fact; we see it before us: do we require anything more to account for the position we hold in a Protestant country? So strong does the persuasion become, that Catholicism is indefensible, that our opponents become aggressive; {274} they not only spurn our creed and our worship themselves, but they are (as they think) in a condition to maintain that we too in our hearts despise both the one and the other as really as they. They will not believe that educated men can sincerely accept either; they do not hold them, therefore no one else can hold them. They conclude, therefore, that we disbelieve what we teach and practise; and in consequence, that we are hypocrites, as professing one thing, and thinking another. Next they come to a third conclusion, that since no one acts without motives, we must have a motive in professing without believing, and it must be a bad motive; for instance, gain or power: accordingly we are, first, unbelievers; secondly, liars; thirdly, cheats and robbers. And thus you have full-blown Priestcraft; here you have Popery simply detected and uncloaked: and observe the course of the argument;—Catholic Priests are infidels, are hypocrites, are rogues, why? simply, because Protestants think Catholic doctrine and Catholic worship irrational.


Here then, Brothers of the Oratory, you see I have pointed out to your notice a cause of the feeling which is cherished towards us and our religion, altogether distinct from any other I have hitherto mentioned; and perhaps the most important of all. I say the most important, because it influences not only the multitude of men, but the men of thought, of education, of candour, those who are conscious they do wish to do us justice. The instinctive rising of the mind, of the intellect, of the reason (so they would say themselves, though, of course, and, as you will {275} see, I am not going to allow it), opposes itself to the Catholic system. Is not our cause hopeless? how can we ever overcome so overwhelmingly formidable a fact?

I acknowledge its force is very great; this is the argument to which men mean to point, when they talk of education, light, progress, and so on, being the certain destruction of Catholicism. They think our creed is so irrational that it will fall to pieces of itself, when the sun of reason is directed in upon the places which at present it is enveloping. And I repeat (without of course allowing for an instant that this spontaneous feeling, if so it may be called, is synonymous with reason), I acknowledge that it is a most tremendous obstacle in the way of our being fairly dealt with. And our enemies, I say again, are in great triumph about it; they say, "Let in education upon them; leave them to reason; set the schoolmaster upon them." Well, I allow this "reason" (to use for the moment their own designation of it), is a serious inconvenience to us: it is a hindrance in our path; but I do not think it so invincible a weapon as they consider it; and on this simple ground,—because, if it were so ready, so safe, and so complete a method as they would have it, I consider they would have been slower to take other methods; for instance, slower to hang, to disembowel, to quarter, to imprison, to banish. If this "reason" would do their work for them so well, I do not think they would have established their "reason," instead of leaving it to fight its own battles; I do not think we should have had so many laws passed in favour of "Reason," and against us the Irrational. If this "Reason," as they choose to call it, made such short work with Catholicism, they {276} would not have been so frightened at what they call "Popish Aggression," or have directed a stringent Act of Parliament against a poor twentieth part of the population of England. If this innate common sense, as they desire to consider it, were so crushing, so annihilating to our claims, to our existence, why the thousands of fables, fictions, falsehoods, fallacies, put out against us? why Maria Monk, and Jeffreys, and Teodore, and Achilli? Allowing, then, as I do, the importance of the phenomenon which I have been mentioning, feeling most fully that it requires careful consideration, granting that we may be fairly asked what we have to say to it, and that we ought to account for its existence,—nevertheless, I do not think it is so decisive an argument as its own upholders would make it, else it ought to have altogether superseded all others.

In truth, the spontaneous feeling against our doctrines and worship, of which I have been speaking, has far greater influence with educated men than with the many; it is to the educated class what absurd fiction and false-witness are to the multitude: the multitude is credulous, the educated classes are speculative; the multitude is sensitive of facts, true or false, the educated classes of theories, sound or unsound; though I do not deny that the educated classes are credulous too, and the multitude theorists. This, then, is pretty much the state of the case; and as in former Lectures I have directed your attention, my Brothers, to the fables and falsehoods circulated against us, as one special cause of the odium which attaches to the Catholic Name, so this evening I propose to give you some description of those views, {277} theories, principles, or whatever they are to be called, which imbue the educated and active intellect, and lead it, as it were, instinctively and spontaneously, first to pronounce the creed and worship of Catholicism absurd, and next by inference to pronounce its professors hypocritical.

I fear I have got upon a dry subject; I must make some demand on your attention, yet I cannot help it. All subjects are not equally amusing, equally easy; still it is too important a subject to omit. Did I do so, I should be said to be evading the most difficult part of the whole controversy. It is, indeed, the most important of all I have to treat; so important, that I cannot do justice to it in one Lecture, which is all I mean to give to it. So I have a double difficulty about it; one lies in my writing, the other in your attending; but I must do my best.


You may recollect, that, in my Lecture last week, in speaking of prejudice, I alluded to opinions and conclusions, which often went by the name of prejudices, yet should more properly be called Prejudgments or Presumptions; for this reason, because they rest on argumentative grounds, and are abandoned by their upholders when those grounds fail them, whereas a Prejudice is held tenaciously against reason. Thus a man may hold as a general fact, that Blacks are inferior to Whites in the gifts of intellect, and might thereby be led to expect that a certain Black whom he met, would be unequal to play his part in English society; but he might yield at once when evidence was brought in proof of the ability of the {278} particular individual in question; or again, he might yield to argument directed against his view altogether. Here would be a presumption without a prejudice. On the other hand, if he still persisted that the particular Black was weak-minded and incapable, against fact, or if he refused to reconsider his grounds, when there was reason for his doing so, then certainly he would be justly called prejudiced.

There is no difficulty so far; but, observe, there are opinions and beliefs which do not depend on previous grounds, which are not drawn from facts for which no reasons can be given, or no sufficient reasons, which proceed immediately from the mind, and which the holder considers to be, as it were, part of himself. If another person doubts them, the holder has nothing to show for their truth except that he is sure that they are true: he cannot say, "I will reconsider my reasons," for he has no reasons to consider. What, then, is to make him abandon them? what is to touch them? He holds them, and continues to hold them, whatever is urged against him to the contrary; and thus these opinions and beliefs look like prejudices, though they are not. They are not prejudices, because prejudices are opinions formed upon grounds, which grounds the prejudiced person refuses to examine; whereas these opinions which I am speaking of have from the first no grounds at all, but are simple persuasions or sentiments, which came to the holder he cannot tell how, and which apparently he cannot help holding, and they are in consequence commonly called First Principles. For instance, that all Blacks are unintellectual would be a prejudice, if obstinately held against facts; whereas the obstinate belief that God cannot punish in hell is rather a first {279} principle than a prejudice, because (putting aside the authority of Revelation) it can hardly be said to come within the reach of facts at all. From what I have said, it is plain that First Principles may be false or true; indeed, this is my very point, as you will presently see. Certainly they are not necessarily true; and again, certainly there are ways of unlearning them when they are false: moreover, as regards moral and religious First Principles which are false, of course a Catholic considers that no one holds them except by some fault of his own; but these are further points, and some of them beyond my present subject, which is not theological; however, I mention them to prevent misconception.

Now that there must be such things as First Principles—that is, opinions which are held without proof as if self-evident,—and, moreover, that every one must have some or other, who thinks at all, is evident from the nature of the case. If you trace back your reasons for holding an opinion, you must stop somewhere; the process cannot go on for ever; you must come at last to something you cannot prove; else, life would be spent in inquiring and reasoning, our minds would be ever tossing to and fro, and there would be nothing to guide us. No man alive, but has some First Principles or other. Even if he declares that nothing can be known for certain, then that is his First Principle. He has got his place in philosophy ready marked out for him; he is of the sect called Academics or Pyrrhonists, as the case may be, and his dogma is either "Nothing can be known in itself;" or "Nothing can be known even for practical purposes." Any one may convince himself of the truth of what I am saying, who examines his own {280} sentiments; for instance, supposing, on meeting a particular person, you said you would have nothing to do with him politically, and gave as your reason, because he belonged to a certain political party. And, supposing, on being asked why you disliked that party, you answered, because their very principle was to stand upon their own rights; and then supposing you were asked why it was wrong to stand on one's own rights, and you answered again, because it was selfish and proud; and being asked once more, why selfishness and pride were wrong, supposing you answered that selfishness and pride were bad feelings, because they were the feelings of the bad angels, who stood upon their supposed rights against their Maker; or, to sum up the whole in Dr. Johnson's famous saying, because "the devil was the first Whig,"—why, in that case, you see, you would have come to a First Principle, beyond which you could not get. I am not saying whether your reasoning, or your First Principle, was true or false; that is quite another matter; I am but illustrating what is meant by a First Principle, and how it is that all reasoning ultimately rests upon such. It would be your First Principle, in the case supposed, a principle for which no reason could be given, that the bad angels are to be avoided; thence it would follow that what is like them is to be avoided; and from that again, it followed that pride and selfishness are to be avoided; and from that again, that the particular political party in question is to be avoided. This, I repeat, is what is called a First Principle, and you see what a bearing it has both upon thought and upon action.

It is a First Principle that man is a social being; {281} a First Principle that he may defend himself; a First Principle that he is responsible; a First Principle that he is frail and imperfect; a First Principle that reason must rule passion.

I will set down one or two other instances of First Principles by way of further illustration.

The celebrated Roman patriot Cato stabbed himself when besieged at Utica, rather than fall into the hands of Cæsar. He thought this a very great action, and so have many others besides. In like manner Saul, in Scripture, fell on his sword when defeated in battle; and there have been those who have reproached Napoleon for not having blown out his brains on the field of Waterloo. Now, if these advocates of suicide had been asked why they thought such conduct, under such circumstances, noble, perhaps they would have returned the querist no answer, as if it were too plain to talk about, or from contempt of him, as if he were a person without any sense of honour, any feeling of what becomes a gentleman, of what a soldier, a hero, owes to himself. That is, they would not bring out their First Principle from the very circumstance that they felt its power so intensely; that First Principle being, that there is no evil so great in the whole universe, visible and invisible, in time and eternity, as humiliation.

Again, supposing a medical man were to say to his patient that he could not possibly get well unless he gave up his present occupation, which was too much for his health; supposing him to say, "As to the way of your doing this—how you are to make your livelihood if you give it up; or again, how you are to become a proficient in your present trade, or art, or {282} intellectual pursuit; or again, how, if you take that step, you can keep up your religious connections; all these questions I have nothing to do with; I am only speaking to you as a medical man;"—nothing could be kinder or more sensible than such language; he does not make his own medical enunciations First Principles; he delivers his opinion, and leaves it to the patient to strike the balance of advantages. But it is just possible, to take an extreme case, that he might take another line. He might be so carried away by his love for his own science (as happens commonly to men in any department of knowledge), as to think that everything ought to give way to it. He might actually ridicule religious scruples as absurd, and prescribe something which would be simply unlawful to a religious man; and he might give as a reason for such advice, that nature required it, and there was an end of the matter. In such case he would be going so far as to make the principles of his own science First Principles of conduct; and he would pronounce it impossible that moral duty ought in any case to interfere with or supersede the claims of animal nature.

I will take a third instance:—I believe that some time ago various benevolent persons exerted themselves in favour of the brute creation, who endure so much wanton suffering at the hands of barbarous owners. Various speculations were set afloat in consequence, and various measures advocated. I think I have heard that one doctrine was to the effect that it was wrong to eat veal, lamb, and other young meat, inasmuch as you killed creatures which would have enjoyed a longer life, and answered the purpose of food {283} better, had you let them live to be beef and mutton. Again, shrimp sauce, it was said, ought to give way to lobster; for in the latter case you took one life away, in the former a hundred. Now the world laughed at all this, and would not condescend to reason; perhaps could not, though it had the best of the question; that is, perhaps it had not put its ideas sufficiently in order to be able to reason. However, it had reasons, and these reasons will be found traceable up to this First Principle, which expresses the common theory of all mankind in their conduct towards the inferior animals—viz., that the Creator has placed them absolutely in our hands, that we have no duties to them, and that there is as little sin except accidentally, and in the particular case, in taking away a brute's life, as in plucking a flower or eating an orange. This being taken for granted, all questions are in their substance solved, and only accidental difficulties remain.

I have said enough to show you what important, what formidable matters First Principles are. They are the means of proof, and are not themselves proved; they rule and are not ruled; they are sovereign on the one hand, irresponsible on the other: they are absolute monarchs, and if they are true, they act like the best and wisest of fathers to us: but, if they are false, they are the most cruel and baneful of tyrants. Yet, from the nature of our being, there they are, as I have said; there they must ever be. They are our guides and standards in speculating, reasoning, judging, deliberating, deciding, and acting; they are to the mind what the circulation of the blood and the various functions of our animal organs are to the {284} body. They are the conditions of our mental life; by them we form our view of events, of deeds, of persons, of lines of conduct, of aims, of moral qualities, of religions. They constitute the difference between man and man; they characterize him. As determined by his First Principles, such is his religion, his creed, his worship, his political party, his character, except as far as adventitious circumstances interfere with their due and accurate development; they are, in short, the man.

One additional remark must be made, quite as important as the foregoing. I just now said that these First Principles, being a man's elementary points of thinking, and the ideas which he has prior to other ideas, might be considered as almost part of his mind or moral being itself. But for this very reason, because they are so close to him, if I may so speak, he is very likely not to be aware of them. What is far off, your bodily eyes see; what is close up to you is no object for your vision at all. You cannot see yourself; and, in somewhat the same way, the chance is that you are not aware of those principles or ideas which have the chief rule over your mind. They are hidden for the very reason they are so sovereign and so engrossing. They have sunk into you; they spread through you; you do not so much appeal to them as act from them. And this in great measure is meant by saying that self-knowledge is so difficult; that is, in other words, men commonly do not know their First Principles.

Now to show you that they have this subtle and recondite character. For instance, two persons begin to converse; they come upon some point on which {285} they do not agree: they fall to dispute. They go on arguing and arguing perhaps for hours; neither makes way with the other, but each becomes more certain his own opinion is right. Why is this? How is it to be explained? They cannot tell. It surprises them, for the point is so very clear; as far as this they are agreed, but no further; for then comes the difference, that where one says yes, the other says no, and each wonders that the other is not on his side. How comes each to be so positive when each contradicts the other? The real reason is, that each starts from some principle or opinion which he takes for granted, which he does not observe he is assuming, and which, even if he did, he would think too plain to speak about or attempt to prove. Each starts with a First Principle, and they differ from each other in first principles.

For instance, supposing two persons to dispute whether Milton was or was not a poet; it might so happen, that they both took for granted that every one knew what a poet was. If so, they might go on arguing to the end of time and never agree, because they had not adjusted with each other the principles with which they started.

Now, here the mistake is very obvious; it might, however, very easily be a First Principle which did not come so prominently forward in the discussion. It might come in by the by, neither party might see it come in at all, or even recognise it to himself as a proposition which he held in the affirmative or negative, and yet it might simply turn the decision this way or that.

Thus again it happens, to take an instance of {286} another kind, that we cannot tell why we like some persons and dislike others, though there are reasons, if we could reach them; according to the lines,—

"I do not like thee, Dr. Fell;
The reason why I cannot tell."

Or a person says, "I do not know how it is that this or that writer so comes home to me, and so inspires me; I so perfectly agree with him," or "I can so easily follow his thoughts." Both feelings may be accounted for, at least in many cases, by a difference or agreement in First Principles between the speaker and the person spoken of, which shows itself in the words, or writings, or deeds, or life of the latter, when submitted to the criticism of the former.

Sometimes two friends live together for years, and appear to entertain the same religious views; at the end of the time they take different courses; one becomes an unbeliever, the other a Catholic. How is this? Some latent and hitherto dormant First Principle, different in each, comes into play, and carries off one to the East, the other to the West. For instance, suppose the one holds that there is such a thing as sin; the other denies it,—denies it, that is, really and in his heart, though at first he would shrink from saying so, even to himself, and is not aware he denies it. At a certain crisis, either from the pressure of controversy or other reason, each finds he must give up the form of religion in which he has been educated; and then this question, the nature of sin, what it is, whether it exists, comes forward as a turning-point between them; he who does not believe in it becomes an unbeliever; he who does, becomes a Catholic. {287}

Such, then, are First Principles; sovereign, irresponsible, and secret;—what an awful form of government the human mind is under from its very constitution!


There are many of these First Principles, as I have called them, which are common to the great mass of mankind, and are therefore true, as having been imprinted on the human mind by its Maker. Such are the great truths of the moral law, the duties, for instance, of justice, truth, and temperance. Others are peculiar to individuals, and are in consequence of no authority; as, for instance, to take a case which cannot often occur, the opinion that there is no difference between virtue and vice. Other principles are common to extended localities; men catch them from each other, by education, by daily intercourse, by reading the same books, or by being members of the same political community. Hence nations have very frequently one and the same set of First Principles, of the truth of which each individual is still more sure, because it is not only his own opinion, but the opinion of nearly every one else about him. Thus, for instance, it was the opinion of the ancient pagan Romans, that every one should follow the religion of his own country, and this was the reason why they persecuted the first Christians. They thought it exceedingly hard that the Christians would take up a religion of their own, and that, an upstart religion, lately imported from Palestine. They said, "Why cannot you be contented to be as your ancestors? we are most liberal on the point of religion; we let a Jew follow Jewish rites, {288} and an Egyptian the rites of Egypt, and a Carthaginian the Punic; but you are ungrateful and rebellious, because, not content with this ample toleration, you will be introducing into your respective countries a foreign religion." They thought all this exceedingly sensible, and, in fact, unanswerable; statesmen of all parties and all the enlightened men and great thinkers of the Empire gave in their adhesion to it; and on this First Principle they proceeded to throw our poor forefathers to the beasts, to the flame, and to the deep, after first putting them to the most varied and horrible tortures. Such was the power of an imperial idea, and a popular dogma; such is the consequence of a First Principle being held in common by many at once; it ceases to be an opinion; it is at once taken for truth; it is looked upon as plain common sense; the opposite opinions are thought impossible; they are absurdities and nonentities, and have no rights whatever.

In the instance I have mentioned, the folly and the offence, in the eyes of the Romans, was proselytising; but let us fancy this got over, would the Christian system itself have pleased the countrymen of Cato at all better? On the contrary, they would have started with his First Principle, that humiliation was immoral, as an axiom; they would not have attempted to prove it; they would have considered it as much a fact as the sun in heaven; they would not have even enunciated it, they would have merely implied it. Fancy a really candid philosopher, who had been struck with the heroic deaths of the Martyrs, turning with a feeling of good will to consider the Christian ethics; what repugnance would he not feel towards them on {289} rising up from the study! to crouch, to turn the cheek, not to resist, to love to be lowest! Who ever heard of such a teaching? It was the religion of slaves, it was unworthy of a man; much more of a Roman; yet that odious religion in the event became the creed of countless millions. What philosophers so spontaneously and instinctively condemned has been professed by the profoundest and the noblest of men, through eighteen centuries;—so possible is it for our First Principles to be but the opinions of a multitude, not truths.

Now be quite sure, my Brothers, that I make clear to you the point on which I am animadverting in these instances. I am not blaming Cato and his countrymen for using their First Principles, whatever they were, while they believed them: every one must use such opinions as he has; there is nothing else to be done. What I should blame in them would be their utterly despising another system with which they did not sympathize, and being so sure that they were right; their forgetting that the Christians might have First Principles as well as they, and opposite ones; their forgetting that it was a question of First Principles; that the contest was not ended—that it had not begun. They viewed Christianity with disgust, at first sight. They were repelled, thrown back, they revolted from the Religion, and they took that mere feeling of theirs as an evidence that the Religion really was wrong and immoral. No, it only showed that either the Religion or they were wrong, which of the two had still to be determined. Christians had their First Principles also; "blessed are the meek," "blessed are the persecuted," "blessed are the pure-hearted." {290} These First Principles the Pagans had no right to ignore. They chose to apply their own First Principles, as decisive tests, to the examination of the precepts and practice of the Church, and by means of them they condemned her; but if they had applied Christian principles as the measure of her precepts and her practice, they would, on the contrary, have been forced to praise her. All depends on which set of principles you begin by assuming.

The same thing takes place now. A dispassionate thinker is struck with the beauty and the eloquence of the rites and ceremonies of the Catholic Church; he likes to be present at them, but he says they are addressed of course only to the imagination, not to the reason. They are indefensible in the eye of reason. What does he mean? Why this, when he explains himself:—he says he cannot understand how the Divine Being needs propitiating—is He not good? what can be the use of these ceremonies? why, too, such continual prayer? why try to get others to pray for you too, and for your object, whatever it is? what the use of novenas? why betake yourselves to saints? what can they do for you? So he might go on, speaking against the whole system of deprecatory and intercessory prayer, and we might be grieved and perplexed at such a line of thought in so candid a man, and we should ask ourselves how it came to be. Now if it turned out at length that the said critic disbelieved the virtue of prayer altogether, or that the Divine Being was really moved by it, or that it was of any good whatever beyond the peace and sereneness which the exercise poured over the soul, I think you would consider that this fact quite explained {291} those criticisms of his which distressed you; you would feel that it was nugatory to argue points of detail with one, who, however candid, differed from you in principle; and, while you would not quarrel with him for having his own First Principles (seriously as you thought of them theologically), your immediate charge against him would be that he had forgotten that a Catholic has First Principles too, and forgotten also that we have as much right to have our theory of prayer as he to have his own. His surprise and offence constitute no proof even to himself that we are wrong; they only show, that, as we have our First Principles, which we consider true, but which are not capable of proof, so has he his. The previous question remains—Which set of principles is true? He is a theorist, using his theory against our practice, as if our practice might not have its own theory also. But, in fact, he does not dream that we have any intellectual principles whatever as the basis of what we do; he thinks he is the only intellectual man; he has mind on his side, it never came into our heads to have it; we do not know what mind is. Thus he imagines and determines, knowing nothing whatever of our acute, profound, subtle philosophers, except by name, and ridding himself of the trouble of reading their works by nicknaming them schoolmen or monks.

Topic - Bigotry and Prejudice


Now I have come to the point at which the maintenance of private opinion runs into bigotry. As Prejudice is the rejection of reason altogether, so Bigotry is the imposition of private reason,—that is, {292} of our own views and theories of our own First Principles, as if they were the absolute truth, and the standard of all argument, investigation, and judgment. If there are any men in the world who ought to abstain from bigotry, it is Protestants. They, whose very badge is the right of private judgment, should give as well as take, should allow others what they claim themselves; but I am sorry to say, as I have had occasion to say again and again, there is very little of the spirit of reciprocity among them; they monopolize a liberty which, when they set out, they professed was to be for the benefit of all parties. Not even the intellectual, not even the candid-minded among them, are free from inconsistency here. They begin by setting up principles of thought and action for themselves; then, not content with applying them to their own thoughts and actions, they make them the rule for criticizing and condemning our thoughts and actions too; this, I repeat, is Bigotry. Bigotry is the infliction of our own unproved First Principles on others, and the treating others with scorn or hatred for not accepting them. There are principles, indeed, as I have already said, such as the First Principles of morals, not peculiar or proper to the individual, but the rule of the world, because they come from the Author of our being, and from no private factory of man. It is not bigotry to despise intemperance; it is not bigotry to hate injustice or cruelty; but whatever is local, or national, or sectional, or personal, or novel, and nothing more, to make that the standard of judging all existing opinions, without an attempt at proving it to be of authority, is mere ridiculous bigotry. "In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas," is ever the rule {293} of a true philosopher. And though I know in many cases it is very difficult to draw the line, and to decide what principles are, and what are not, independent of individuals, times and places, eternal and divine, yet so far we may safely assert,—that when the very persons who hold certain views, confess, nay, boast, nay, are jealously careful, that those views come of their own private judgment, they at least should be as jealous and as careful to keep them to their own place, and not to use them as if they came distinctly from heaven, or from the nature of things, or from the nature of man. Those persons, surely, are precluded, if they would be consistent, from using their principles as authoritative, who proclaim that they made them for themselves. Protestants, then, if any men alive, are, on their own showing, bigots, if they set up their First Principles as oracles and as standards of all truth.

This being considered, have we not, my Brothers, a curious sight before us? This is what we call an enlightened age: we are to have large views of things; everything is to be put on a philosophical basis; reason is to rule: the world is to begin again; a new and transporting set of views is about to be exhibited to the great human family. Well and good; have them, preach them, enjoy them, but deign to recollect the while, that there have been views in the world before you: that the world has not been going on up to this day without any principles whatever; that the Old Religion was based on principles, and that it is not enough to flourish about your "new lamps," if you would make us give up our "old" ones. Catholicism, I say, had its First Principles {294} before you were born: you say they are false; very well, prove them to be so: they are false, indeed, if yours are true; but not false merely because yours are yours. While yours are yours it is self-evident, indeed, to you, that ours are false; but it is not the common way of carrying on business in the world, to value English goods by French measures, or to pay a debt in paper which was contracted in gold. Catholicism has its First Principles, overthrow them, if you can; endure them, if you cannot. It is not enough to call them effete because they are old, or antiquated because they are ancient. It is not enough to look into our churches, and cry, "It is all a form, because divine favour cannot depend on external observances;" or, "It is all a bondage, because there is no such thing as sin;" or, "a blasphemy, because the Supreme Being cannot be present in ceremonies;" or, "a mummery, because prayer cannot move Him;" or, "a tyranny, because vows are unnatural;" or, "hypocrisy, because no rational man can credit it at all." I say here is endless assumption, unmitigated hypothesis, reckless assertion; prove your "because," "because," "because;" prove your First Principles, and if you cannot, learn philosophic moderation. Why may not my First Principles contest the prize with yours? they have been longer in the world; they have lasted longer, they have done harder work, they have seen rougher service. You sit in your easy-chairs, you dogmatize in your lecture-rooms, you wield your pens: it all looks well on paper: you write exceedingly well: there never was an age in which there was better writing; logical, nervous, eloquent, and pure,—go and carry {295} it all out in the world. Take your First Principles, of which you are so proud, into the crowded streets of our cities, into the formidable classes which make up the bulk of our population; try to work society by them. You think you can; I say you cannot—at least you have not as yet; it is yet to be seen if you can. "Let not him that putteth on his armour boast as he who taketh it off." Do not take it for granted that that is certain which is waiting the test of reason and experiment. Be modest until you are victorious. My principles, which I believe to be eternal, have at least lasted eighteen hundred years; let yours live as many months. That man can sin, that he has duties, that the Divine Being hears prayer, that He gives His favours through visible ordinances, that He is really present in the midst of them, these principles have been the life of nations; they have shown they could be carried out; let any single nation carry out yours, and you will have better claim to speak contemptuously of Catholic rites, of Catholic devotions, of Catholic belief.

What is all this but the very state of mind which we ridicule, and call narrowness, in the case of those who have never travelled? We call them, and rightly, men of contracted ideas, who cannot fancy things going on differently from what they have themselves witnessed at home, and laugh at everything because it is strange. They themselves are the pattern men; their height, their dress, their manners, their food, their language, are all founded in the nature of things; and everything else is good or bad, just in that very degree in which it partakes, or does not partake, of them. All men ought to get up at half-past eight, {296} breakfast between nine and ten, read the newspapers, lunch, take a ride or drive, dine. Here is the great principle of the day—dine; no one is a man who does not dine; yes, dine, and at the right hour; and it must be a dinner, with a certain time after dinner, and then, in due time, to bed. Tea and toast, port wine, roast beef, mince-pies at Christmas, lamb at Easter, goose at Michaelmas, these are their great principles. They suspect any one who does otherwise. Figs and maccaroni for the day's fare, or Burgundy and grapes for breakfast!—they are aghast at the atrocity of the notion. And hence you read of some good country gentleman, who, on undertaking a Continental tour, was warned of the privations and mortifications that lay before him from the difference between foreign habits and his own, stretching his imagination to a point of enlargement answerable to the occasion, and making reply that he knew it, that he had dwelt upon the idea, that he had made up his mind to it, and thought himself prepared for anything abroad, provided he could but bargain for a clean table-cloth and a good beef-steak every day.

Here was a man of one idea; there are many men of one idea in the world: your unintellectual machine, who eats, drinks, and sleeps, is a man of one idea. Such, too, is your man of genius, who strikes out some new, or revives some old view in science or in art, and would apply it as a sort of specific or as a key to all possible subjects; and who will not let the world alone, but loads it with bad names if it will not run after him and his darling fancy, if it will not cure all its complaints by chemistry or galvanism, {297} by little doses or great, if it will not adopt the peaked shoes of Edward III., or the steeple hats of the Puritans. Such again are those benevolent persons who, with right intentions, but yet, I think, narrow views, wish to introduce the British constitution and British ideas into every nation and tribe upon earth; differing, how much! from the wise man in the Greek epic, whose characteristic was that he was "versatile," [Note 1] for he had known "the cities and the mind of many men." History and travel expand our views of man and of society; they teach us that distinct principles rule in different countries and in distinct periods; and, though they do not teach us that all principles are equally true, or, which is the same thing, that none are either true or false, yet they do teach us, that all are to be regarded with attention and examined with patience, which have prevailed to any great extent among mankind. Such is the temper of a man of the world, of a philosopher. He may hold principles to be false and dangerous, but he will try to enter into them, to enter into the minds of those who hold them; he will consider in what their strength lies, and what can be said for them; he will do his best to analyze and dissect them; he will compare them with others; and he will apply himself to the task of exposing and disproving them. He will not ignore them;—now, what I desiderate at the present day in so many even candid men, and of course much more in the multitude which is uncandid, is a recognition that Catholics have principles of their own; I desiderate a study of those principles, a fair representation, a refutation. It is not enough, {298} that this age has its principles too; this does not prove them true; it has no right to put ours on one side, and proceed to make its own the immediate touchstones and the sufficient tribunals of our creed, our worship, our ecclesiastical proceedings, and our moral teaching. Topics - Bigotry and Prejudice


Topic - Miracles To show in how very many instances these remarks apply to the criticisms and judgments passed by Protestants upon the details of Catholic teaching and belief, is simply impossible, on such an occasion as this.—It would be to write a book. I will take one instance, but even to that I cannot hope to do full justice; but it will be something to have drawn your attention to what seems to me an important line of thought, and to the mode of using it in the controversy in which we are engaged.

I will take, then, one of those subjects, of which I spoke in the opening of this Lecture as offensive to Protestants—viz., our belief in the miracles wrought by the relics and the prayers of the saints, which has given both occasion and scope to so many reports and narratives to their honour, true, doubtful, or unfounded, in the Catholic Church. I suppose there is nothing which prejudices us more in the minds of Protestants of all classes than this belief. They inspect our churches, or they attend to our devotions, or they hear our sermons, or they open our books, or they read paragraphs in the newspapers; and it is one and the same story—relics and miracles. Such a belief, such a claim, they consider a self-evident absurdity; they are too indignant even to laugh; they toss the {299} book from them in the fulness of anger and contempt, and they think it superfluous to make one remark in order to convict us of audacious imposture, and to fix upon us the brand of indelible shame. I shall show, then, that this strong feeling arises simply from their assumption of a First Principle, which ought to be proved, if they would be honest reasoners, before it is used to our disadvantage.

You observe, my Brothers, we are now upon a certain question of controversy, in which the argument is not directly about fact. This is what I noticed in the opening of this Lecture. We accuse our enemies of untruth in most cases; we do not accuse them, on the whole, of untruth here. I know it is very difficult for prejudice such as theirs to open its mouth at all without some misstatement or exaggeration; still, on the whole, they do bear true, not false witness in the matter of miracles. We do certainly abound, we are exuberant, we overflow with stories which cause our enemies, from no fault of ours, the keenest irritation, and kindle in them the most lively resentment against us. Certainly the Catholic Church, from east to west, from north to south, is, according to our conceptions, hung with miracles. The store of relics is inexhaustible; they are multiplied through all lands, and each particle of each has in it at least a dormant, perhaps an energetic virtue of supernatural operation. At Rome there is the True Cross, the Crib of Bethlehem, and the Chair of St. Peter; portions of the Crown of Thorns are kept at Paris; the Holy Coat is shown at Trèves; the Winding-Sheet at Turin; at Monza, the iron crown is formed out of a Nail of the Cross; and another Nail is claimed for the Duomo {300} of Milan; and pieces of our Lady's Habit are to be seen in the Escurial. The Agnus Dei, blessed medals, the scapular, the cord of St. Francis, all are the medium of divine manifestations and graces. Crucifixes have bowed the head to the suppliant, and Madonnas have bent their eyes upon assembled crowds. St. Januarius's blood liquefies periodically at Naples, and St. Winifred's well is the scene of wonders even in an unbelieving country. Women are marked with the sacred stigmata; blood has flowed on Fridays from their five wounds, and their heads are crowned with a circle of lacerations. Relics are ever touching the sick, the diseased, the wounded, sometimes with no result at all, at other times with marked and undeniable efficacy. Who has not heard of the abundant favours gained by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, and of the marvellous consequences which have attended the invocation of St. Antony of Padua? These phenomena are sometimes reported of Saints in their life-time, as well as after death, especially if they were evangelists or martyrs. The wild beasts crouched before their victims in the Roman amphitheatre; the axe-man was unable to sever St. Cecilia's head from her body, and St. Peter elicited a spring of water for his jailor's baptism in the Mamertine. St. Francis Xavier turned salt water into fresh for five hundred travellers; St. Raymond was transported over the sea on his cloak; St. Andrew shone brightly in the dark; St. Scholastica gained by her prayers a pouring rain; St. Paul was fed by ravens; and St. Frances saw her guardian Angel. I need not continue the catalogue; here what one party urges, the other admits; they join issue over a fact; that fact is the {301} claim of miracles on the part of the Catholic Church; it is the Protestants' charge, and it is our glory.

Observe then, we affirm that the Supreme Being has wrought miracles on earth ever since the time of the Apostles: Protestants deny it. Why do we affirm, why do they deny? we affirm it on a First Principle, they deny it on a First Principle; and on either side the First Principle is made to be decisive of the question. Our First Principle is contradictory of theirs; if theirs be true, we are mistaken; if ours be true, they are mistaken. They take for granted that their First Principle is true; we take for granted that our First Principle is true. Till ours is disproved, we have as much right to consider it true as they to consider theirs true; till theirs is proved, they have as little ground for saying that we go against reason, as for boasting that they go according to it. For our First Principle is our reason, in the same sense in which theirs is their reason, and it is quite as good a reason. Both they and we start with the miracles of the Apostles [Note 2]; and then their First Principle or presumption, against our miracles, is this, "What God did once, He is not likely to do again;" while our First Principle or presumption, for our miracles, is this, "What God did once, He is likely to do again." They say, It cannot be supposed He will work many miracles; we, It cannot be supposed He will work few.

I am not aiming at any mere sharp or clever stroke {302} against them; I wish to be serious and to investigate the real state of the case, and I feel what I am saying very strongly. Protestants say, miracles are not likely to occur often; we say they are likely to occur often. The two parties, you see, start with contradictory principles, and they determine the particular miracles, which are the subject of dispute, by their respective principles, without looking to such testimony as may be brought in their favour. They do not say, "St. Francis, or St. Antony, or St. Philip Neri did no miracles, for the evidence for them is worth nothing," or "because what looked like a miracle was not a miracle;" no, but they say, "It is impossible they should have wrought miracles." Bring before the Protestant the largest mass of evidence and testimony in proof of the miraculous liquefaction of St. Januarius's blood at Naples, let him be urged by witnesses of the highest character, chemists of the first fame, circumstances the most favourable for the detection of imposture, coincidences, and confirmations the most close and minute and indirect, he will not believe it; his First Principle blocks belief. On the other hand, diminish the evidence ever so much, provided you leave some, and reduce the number of witnesses and circumstantial proof; yet you would not altogether wean the Catholic's mind from belief in it; for his First Principle encourages such belief. Would any amount of evidence convince the Protestant of the miraculous motion of a Madonna's eyes? is it not to him in itself, prior to proof, simply incredible? would he even listen to the proof? His First Principle settles the matter; no wonder then that the whole history of Catholicism finds so little response in his {303} intellect or sympathy in his heart. It is as impossible that the notion of the miracle should gain admittance into his imagination, as for a lighted candle to remain burning, when dipped into a vessel of water. The water puts it out.


The Protestant, I say, laughs at the very idea of miracles or supernatural acts as occurring at this day; his First Principle is rooted in him; he repels from him the idea of miracles; he laughs at the notion of evidence for them; one is just as likely as another; they are all false. Why? Because of his First Principle: there are no miracles since the Apostles. Here, indeed, is a short and easy way of getting rid of the whole subject, not by reason, but by a First Principle which he calls reason. Yes, it is reason, granting his First Principle is true; it is not reason, supposing his First Principle is false. It is reason, if the private judgment of an individual, or of a sect, or of a philosophy, or of a nation, be synonymous with reason; it is not reason, if reason is something not local, nor temporal, but universal. Before he advances a step in his argument, he ought to prove his First Principle true; he does not attempt to do so, he takes it for granted; and he proceeds to apply it, gratuitous, personal, peculiar as it is, to all our accounts of miracles taken together, and thereupon and thereby triumphantly rejects them all. This, forsooth, is his spontaneous judgment, his instinctive feeling, his common sense,—a mere private opinion of his own, a Protestant opinion; a lecture-room opinion; not a world-wide opinion, not an instinct ranging through {304} time and space, but an assumption and presumption, which, by education and habit, he has got to think as certain, as much of an axiom, as that two and two make four; and he looks down upon us, and bids us consider ourselves beaten, all because the savour of our statements and narratives and reports and legends is inconsistent with his delicate Protestant sense,—all because our conclusions are different, not from our principles and premisses, but from his.

And now for the structure he proceeds to raise on this foundation of sand. If, he argues, in matter of fact, there be a host of stories about relics and miracles circulated in the Catholic Church, which, as a matter of First Principle, cannot be true; to what must we attribute them? indubitably to enormous stupidity on the one hand, and enormous roguery on the other. This, observe, is an immediate and close inference:—clever men must see through the superstition; those who do not see through it must be dolts. Further, since religion is the subject-matter of the alleged fictions, they must be what are called pious frauds, for the sake of gain and power. Observe, my Brothers, there is in the Church a vast tradition and testimony about miracles: how is it to be accounted for? If miracles can take place, then the truth of the miracle will be a natural explanation of the report, just as the fact of a man dying satisfactorily accounts for the news that he is dead; but the Protestant cannot so explain it, because he thinks miracles cannot take place; so he is necessarily driven, by way of accounting for the report of them, to impute that report to fraud. He cannot help himself. I repeat it; the whole mass of accusations which Protestants bring {305} against us under this head, Catholic credulity, imposture, pious frauds, hypocrisy, priestcraft, this vast and varied superstructure of imputation, you see, all rests on an assumption, on an opinion of theirs, for which they offer no kind of proof. What then, in fact, do they say more than this, If Protestantism be true, you Catholics are a most awful set of knaves?—Here, at least, is a most intelligible and undeniable position.

Now, on the other hand, let me take our own side of the question, and consider how we ourselves stand relatively to the charge made against us. Catholics, then, hold the mystery of the Incarnation; and the Incarnation is the most stupendous event which ever can take place on earth; and after it and henceforth, I do not see how we can scruple at any miracle on the mere ground of its being unlikely to happen. No miracle can be so great as that which took place in the Holy House of Nazareth; it is indefinitely more difficult to believe than all the miracles of the Breviary, of the Martyrology, of Saints' lives, of legends, of local traditions, put together; and there is the grossest inconsistency on the very face of the matter, for any one so to strain out the gnat and to swallow the camel, as to profess what is inconceivable, yet to protest against what is surely within the limits of intelligible hypothesis. If, through divine grace, we once are able to accept the solemn truth that the Supreme Being was born of a mortal woman, what is there to be imagined which can offend us on the ground of its marvellousness? Thus, you see, it happens that, though First Principles are commonly assumed, not proved, ours in this case {306} admits, if not of proof, yet of recommendation, by means of that fundamental truth which Protestants profess as well as we. When we start with assuming that miracles are not unlikely, we are putting forth a position which lies imbedded, as it were, and involved, in the great revealed fact of the Incarnation.

So much is plain on starting; but more is plain too. Miracles are not only not unlikely, they are positively likely; and for this simple reason, because, for the most part, when God begins He goes on. We conceive that when He first did a miracle, He began a series; what He commenced, He continued: what has been, will be. Surely this is good and clear reasoning. To my own mind, certainly, it is incomparably more difficult to believe that the Divine Being should do one miracle and no more, than that He should do a thousand; that He should do one great miracle only, than that He should do a multitude of less besides. This beautiful world of nature, His own work, He broke its harmony; He broke through His own laws which He had imposed on it; He worked out His purposes, not simply through it, but in violation of it. If He did this only in the lifetime of the Apostles, if He did it but once, eighteen hundred years ago and more, that isolated infringement looks as the mere infringement of a rule: if Divine Wisdom would not leave an infringement, an anomaly, a solecism on His work, He might be expected to introduce a series of miracles, and turn the apparent exception into an additional law of His providence. If the Divine Being does a thing once, He is, judging by human reason, likely to do it again. This surely is common {307} sense. If a beggar gets food at a gentleman's house once, does he not send others thither after him? If you are attacked by thieves once, do you forthwith leave your windows open at night? If an acquaintance were convicted of a fraud, would you let that be the signal for reposing confidence in him, as a man who could not possibly deceive you? Nay, suppose you yourselves were once to see a miracle, would you not feel that experience to be like passing a line? should you, in consequence of it, declare, "I never will believe another if I hear of one?" would it not, on the contrary, predispose you to listen to a new report? would you scoff at it and call it priestcraft for the reason that you had actually seen one with your own eyes? I think you would not; then I ask what is the difference of the argument, whether you have seen one or believe one? You believe the Apostolic miracles, therefore be inclined beforehand to believe later ones. Thus you see, our First Principle, that miracles are not unlikely now, is not at all a strange one in the mouths of those who believe that the Supreme Being came miraculously into this world, miraculously united Himself to man's nature, passed a life of miracles, and then gave His Apostles a greater gift of miracles than He exercised Himself. So far on the principle itself; and now, in the next place, see what comes of it.

This comes of it,—that there are two systems going on in the world, one of nature, and one above nature; and two histories, one of common events, and one of miracles; and each system and each history has its own order. When I hear of the miracle of a Saint, my first feeling would be of the same kind as if it {308} were a report of any natural exploit or event. Supposing, for instance, I heard a report of the death of some public man; it would not startle me, even if I did not at once credit it, for all men must die. Did I read of any great feat of valour, I should believe it, if imputed to Alexander or Cœur de Lion. Did I hear of any act of baseness, I should disbelieve it, if imputed to a friend whom I knew and loved. And so, in like manner, were a miracle reported to me as wrought by a member of Parliament, or a Bishop of the Establishment, or a Wesleyan preacher, I should repudiate the notion: were it referred to a saint, or the relic of a saint, or the intercession of a saint, I should not be startled at it, though I might not at once believe it. And I certainly should be right in this conduct, supposing my First Principle be true. Miracles to the Catholic are facts of history and biography, and nothing else; and they are to be regarded and dealt with as other facts; and as natural facts, under circumstances, do not startle Protestants, so supernatural, under circumstances, do not startle the Catholic [Note 3]. They may or may not have taken place in particular cases; he may be unable to determine which; he may have no distinct evidence; he may suspend his judgment, but he will say, "It is very possible;" he never will say, "I cannot believe it." {309}

Take the history of Alfred: you know his wise, mild, beneficent, yet daring character, and his romantic vicissitudes of fortune. This great king has a number of stories, or, as you may call them, legends, told of him. Do you believe them all? no. Do you, on the other hand, think them incredible? no. Do you call a man a dupe or a blockhead for believing them? no. Do you call an author a knave and a cheat who records them? no. You go into neither extreme, whether of implicit faith or of violent reprobation. You are not so extravagant; you see that they suit his character, they may have been; yet this is so romantic, that has so little evidence, a third is so confused in dates or in geography, that you are in matter of fact indisposed towards them. Others are probably true, others certainly. Nor do you force every one to take your own view of particular stories; you and your neighbours think differently about this or that in detail and agree to differ. There is in the Museum at Oxford, a jewel or trinket said to be Alfred's; it is shown to all comers: I never heard the keeper of the Museum accused of hypocrisy or fraud for showing, with Alfred's name appended, what he might or might not himself believe to have belonged to that great king: nor did I ever see any party of strangers, who were looking at it with awe, regarded by any self-complacent bystander with scornful compassion. Yet the relic is not to a certainty Alfred's. The world pays civil honour to it on the probability; we pay religious honour to relics, if so be, on the probability. Is the Tower of London shut against sightseers, because the coats of mail or pikes there may have half legendary tales connected with them? {310} why then may not the country people come up in joyous companies, singing and piping, to see the Holy Coat at Trèves? There is our Queen again, who is so truly and justly popular; she roves about in the midst of tradition and romance; she scatters myths and legends from her as she goes along; she is a being of poetry, and you might fairly be sceptical whether she had any personal existence. She is always at some beautiful, noble, bounteous work or other, if you trust the papers. She is doing alms-deeds in the Highlands; she meets beggars in her rides at Windsor; she writes verses in albums, or draws sketches, or is mistaken for the housekeeper by some blind old woman, or she runs up a hill, as if she were a child. Who finds fault with these things? he would be a cynic, he would be white-livered, and would have gall for blood, who was not struck with this graceful, touching evidence of the love which her subjects bear her. Who could have the head, even if he had the heart, who could be so cross and peevish, who could be so solemn and perverse, as to say that some of the stories may be simple lies, and all of them might have stronger evidence than they carry with them? Do you think she is displeased at them? Why, then, should He, the Great Father, who once walked the earth, look sternly on the unavoidable mistakes of His own subjects and children in their devotion to Him and His? Even granting they mistake some cases in particular, from the infirmity of human nature, and the contingencies of evidence, and fancy there is or has been a miracle here or there when there is not;—though a tradition, attached to a picture, or to a shrine, or to a well, be very doubtful; though one relic be sometimes mistaken for another, {311} and St. Theodore stands for St. Eugenius, or St. Agathocles;—still, once take into account our First Principle, that He is likely to continue miracles among us, which is as good as the Protestant's, and I do not see why He should feel much displeasure with us on account of this error, or should cease to work wonders in our behalf. In the Protestant's view, indeed, who assumes that miracles never are, our thaumatology is one great falsehood; but that is his First Principle, as I have said so often, which he does not prove but assume. If he, indeed, upheld our system, or we held his principle, in either case he or we should be impostors; but though we should be partners to a fraud, if we thought like Protestants, we surely are not, because we think like Catholics.


Such, then, is the answer which I make to those who would urge against us the multitude of miracles recorded in our Saints' Lives and devotional works, for many of which there is little evidence, and for some next to none. We think them true in the sense in which Protestants think the details of English history true. When they say that, they do not mean to say there are no mistakes in it, but no mistakes of consequence, none which alter the general course of history. Nor do they mean they are equally sure of every part; for evidence is fuller and better for some things than for others. They do not stake their credit on the truth of Froissart or Sully, they do not pledge themselves for the accuracy of Doddington or Walpole, they do not embrace as an Evangelist, Hume, Sharon Turner, or Macaulay. And yet they do not think it necessary, on the other hand, to commence {312} a religious war against all our historical catechisms, and abstracts, and dictionaries, and tales and biographies, through the country; they have no call on them to amend and expurgate books of archeology, antiquities, heraldry, architecture, geography, and statistics, to rewrite our inscriptions, and to establish a censorship on all new publications for the time to come. And so as regards the miracles of the Catholic Church; if, indeed, miracles never can occur, then, indeed, impute the narratives to fraud; but till you prove they are not likely, we shall consider the histories which have come down to us true on the whole, though in particular cases they may be exaggerated or unfounded. Where, indeed, they can certainly be proved to be false, there we shall be bound to do our best to get rid of them; but till that is clear, we shall be liberal enough to allow others to use their private judgment in their favour, as we use ours in their disparagement. For myself, lest I appear in any way to be shrinking from a determinate judgment on the claims of some of those miracles and relics, which Protestants are so startled at, and to be hiding particular questions in what is vague and general, I will avow distinctly, that, putting out of the question the hypothesis of unknown laws of nature (that is, of the professed miracle being not miraculous), I think it impossible to withstand the evidence which is brought for the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius at Naples, and for the motion of the eyes of the pictures of the Madonna in the Roman States. I see no reason to doubt the material of the Lombard crown at Monza; and I do not see why the Holy Coat at Trèves may not have been what it professes to be. I firmly believe that portions of the True {313} Cross are at Rome and elsewhere, that the Crib of Bethlehem is at Rome, and the bodies of St. Peter and St. Paul also. I believe that at Rome too lies St. Stephen, that St. Matthew lies at Salerno, and St. Andrew at Amalfi. I firmly believe that the relics of the saints are doing innumerable miracles and graces daily, and that it needs only for a Catholic to show devotion to any saint in order to receive special benefits from his intercession. I firmly believe that saints in their life-time have before now raised the dead to life, crossed the sea without vessels, multiplied grain and bread, cured incurable diseases, and superseded the operation of the laws of the universe in a multitude of ways. Many men, when they hear an educated man so speak, will at once impute the avowal to insanity, or to an idiosyncrasy, or to imbecility of mind, or to decrepitude of powers, or to fanaticism, or to hypocrisy. They have a right to say so, if they will; and we have a right to ask them why they do not say it of those who bow down before the Mystery of mysteries, the Divine Incarnation. If they do not believe this, they are not yet Protestants; if they do, let them grant that He who has done the greater may do the less [Note 4].


And now, Brothers of the Oratory, I have come to the end of a somewhat uninteresting, but a necessary discussion. Your lot is cast in the world; you are not gathered together, as we are, into the home and under the shadow of St. Phillip; you mix with men of all opinions. Where you see prejudice, there, indeed, it is no use to argue; prejudice thinks its first {314} principles self-evident. It can tell falsehoods to our dishonour by the score, yet suddenly it is so jealous of truth, as to be shocked at legends in honour of the saints. With prejudiced persons then, you will make no way; they will not look the question in the face; if they condescend to listen for a moment to your arguments it is in order to pick holes in them, not to ascertain their drift or to estimate their weight. But there are others of a different stamp of whom I spoke in the opening of this Lecture, candid, amiable minds, who wish to think well of our doctrines and devotions, but stumble at them. When you meet with such, ask them whether they are not taking their own principles and opinions for granted, and whether all they have to say against us is not contained in the proposition with which they start. Entreat them to consider how they know their existing opinions to be true; whether they are innate and necessary; whether they are not local, national, or temporary; whether they have ever spread over the earth, ever held nations together; whether they have ever or often done a great thing. If they say that penances are absurd, or images superstitious, or infallibility impossible, or sacraments mere charms, or a priesthood priestcraft, get them to put their ideas into shape and to tell you their reasons for them. Trace up their philosophy for them, as you have traced up their tradition; the fault lies in the root; every step of it is easy but the first. Perhaps you will make them Catholics by this process; at least you will make them perceive what they believe and what they do not, and will teach them to be more tolerant of a Religion which unhappily they do not see their way to embrace.

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1. [Polutropos].
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2. I am arguing with Protestants; if unbelievers are supposed, then they use virtually Hume's celebrated argument, which still is a Presumption or First Principle—viz., it is impossible to fancy the order of nature interrupted.
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3. Douglas, succeeding Middleton, lays down the sceptical and Protestant First Principle thus: "The history of miracles (to make use of the words of an author, whose authority you will think of some weight) is of a kind totally different from that of common events; the one to be suspected always of course, without the strongest evidence to confirm it; the other to be admitted of course, without as strong reason to suspect it," &c.—Criterion, p. 26.
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4. Vide Note 2 at the end of the volume.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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