Lecture 9. The Religious State of Catholic Countries No Prejudice to the Sanctity of the Church

World no fit Judge
Objection:—Catholics Profane, Superstitious
Contrasting Conceptions of Faith
State of the Multitude
Sacred Truths as Facts
Examples of Profaneness
Catholic Faith and Protestant Opinion
Blessedness of Catholics


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{261} 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, {262} 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 {263} 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 {264} 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 {265} 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.


Today, then, I shall suppose an objector to reply to what I have said in the following manner: viz., I {266} 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 {267} 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 {268} Church, both by the Evangelical section of the Establishment, and by your own.


Now I will, on the whole and in substance, admit the fact to be as you have stated it; and next I will grant, that to no national differences can be attributed a character of religion so specific and peculiar. It is too uniform, too universal, to be ascribed to anything short of the genius of Catholicism itself; that is, to its principles and influence acting upon human nature, such as human nature is everywhere found. I admit both your fact and your account of the fact; I accept it, I repeat, in general terms what you have said; but I would add to it, and turn a particular fact into a philosophical truth. I say, then, that such a hard, irreverent, extravagant tone in religion, as you consider it, is the very phenomenon which must necessarily result from a revelation of divine truth falling upon the human mind in its existing state of ignorance and moral feebleness.

The wonder and offence which Protestants feel arises, in no small measure, from the fact that they hold the opinions of Protestants. They have been taught a religion, and imbibed ideas and feelings, and are suffering under disadvantages, which create the difficulty of which they complain; and, to remove it, I shall be obliged, as on some former occasions, against my will, {269} to explain a point of doctrine:—Protestants, then, consider that faith and love are inseparable; where there is faith, there, they think, are love and obedience; and in proportion to the strength and degree of the former, are the strength and degree of the latter. They do not think the inconsistency possible of really believing without obeying; and, where they see disobedience, they cannot imagine there the existence of real faith. Catholics, on the other hand, hold that faith and love, faith and obedience, faith and works, are simply separable, and ordinarily separated, in fact; that faith does not imply love, obedience, or works; that the firmest faith, so as to move mountains, may exist without love,—that is, real faith, as really faith in the strict sense of the word as the faith of a martyr or a doctor. In other words, when Catholics speak of faith they are contemplating the existence of a gift which Protestantism does not even imagine. Faith is a spiritual sight of the unseen; and since in matter of fact Protestantism does not impart this sight, does not see the unseen, has no experience of this habit, this act of the mind—therefore, since it retains the word "faith," it is obliged to find some other meaning for it; and its common, perhaps its commonest, idea is, that faith is substantially the same as obedience; at least, that it is the impulse, the motive of obedience, or the fervour and heartiness which attend good works. In a word, faith is hope or it is love, or it is a mixture {270} of the two. Protestants define or determine faith, not by its nature or essence, but by its effects. When it succeeds in producing good works, they call it real faith; when it does not, they call it counterfeit—as though we should say, a house is a house when it is inhabited; but that a house to let is not a house. If we so spoke, it would be plain that we confused between house and home, and had no correct image before our minds of a house per se. And in like manner, when Protestants maintain that faith is not really faith, except it be fruitful, whether they are right or wrong in saying so, anyhow it is plain that the idea of faith, as a habit in itself, as a something substantive, is simply, from the nature of the case, foreign to their minds, and that is the particular point on which I am now insisting.

Now faith, in a Catholic's creed, is a certainty of things not seen but revealed; a certainty preceded indeed in many cases by particular exercises of the intellect, as conditions, by reflection, prayer, study, argument, or the like, and ordinarily, by the instrumental sacrament of Baptism, but caused directly by a supernatural influence on the mind from above. Thus it is a spiritual sight; and the nearest parallel by which it can be illustrated is the moral sense. As nature has impressed upon our mind a faculty of recognising certain moral truths, when they are presented to us from without, so that we are quite sure that veracity, for instance, benevolence, and purity, are {271} right and good, and that their contraries involve guilt, in a somewhat similar way, grace impresses upon us inwardly that revelation which comes to us sensibly by the ear or eye; similarly, yet more vividly and distinctly, because the moral perception consists in sentiments, but the grace of faith carries the mind on to objects. This certainty, or spiritual sight, which is included in the idea of faith, is, according to Catholic teaching, perfectly distinct in its own nature from the desire, intention, and power of acting agreeably to it. As men may know perfectly well that they ought not to steal, and yet may deliberately take and appropriate what is not theirs; so may they be gifted with a simple, undoubting, cloudless belief, that, for instance, Christ is in the Blessed Sacrament, and yet commit the sacrilege of breaking open the tabernacle, and carrying off the consecrated particles for the sake of the precious vessel containing them. It is said in Scripture, that the evil spirits "believe and tremble;" and reckless men, in like manner, may, in the very sight of hell, deliberately sin for the sake of some temporary gratification. Under these circumstances, even though I did not assume the Catholic teaching on the subject of faith to be true (which in the present state of the argument I fairly may do, considering whom I am addressing), though I took it merely as an hypothesis probable and philosophical, but not proved, still I would beg you to consider whether, as an hypothesis, {272} it does not serve and suffice to solve the difficulty which is created in your minds by the aspect of Catholic countries. This, too, at least I may say: if it shall turn out that the aspect which Catholic countries present to the looker-on is accounted for by Catholic doctrine, at least that aspect will be no difficulty to you when once you have joined the Catholic Church, for, in joining the Church, you will be, of course, accepting the doctrine. Walk forward, then, into the Catholic Church, and the difficulty, like a phantom, will, as a matter of necessity, disappear. And now, assuming the doctrine as an hypothesis, I am going to show its bearing upon the alleged difficulty.


The case with most men is this: certainly it is the case of any such large and various masses of men as constitute a nation, that they grow up more or less in practical neglect of their Maker and their duties to Him. Nature tends to irreligion and vice, and in matter of fact that tendency is developed and fulfilled in any multitude of men, according to the saying of the old Greek, that "the many are bad," or according to the Scripture testimony, that the world is at enmity with its Creator. The state of the case is not altered, when a nation has been baptized; still, in matter of fact, nature gets the better of grace, and the population falls into a state of guilt and disadvantage, in one {273} point of view worse than that from which it has been rescued. This is the matter of fact, as Scripture prophesied it should be: "Many are called, few are chosen;" "the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net gathering together of every kind." But still, this being granted, a Catholic people is far from being in the same state in all respects as one which is not Catholic, as theologians teach us. A soul which has received the grace of baptism receives with it the germ or faculty of all supernatural virtues whatever,—faith, hope, charity, meekness, patience, sobriety, and every other that can be named; and if it commits mortal sin, it falls out of grace, and forfeits these supernatural powers. It is no longer what it was, and is, so far, in the feeble and frightful condition of those who were never baptized. But there are certain remarkable limitations and alleviations in its punishment, and one is this: that the faculty or power of faith remains to it. Of course the soul may go on to resist and destroy this supernatural faculty also; it may, by an act of the will, rid itself of its faith, as it has stripped itself of grace and love; or it may gradually decay in its faith till it becomes simply infidel; but this is not the common state of a Catholic people. What commonly happens is this, that they fall under the temptations to vice or covetousness, which naturally and urgently beset them, but that faith is left to them. Thus the many are in a condition which is absolutely novel and {274} strange in the ideas of a Protestant; they have a vivid perception, like sense, of things unseen, yet have no desire at all, or affection, towards them; they have knowledge without love. Such is the state of the many; the Church at the same time is ever labouring with all her might to bring them back again to their Maker; and in fact is ever bringing back vast multitudes one by one, though one by one they are ever relapsing from her. The necessity of yearly confession, the Easter communion, the stated seasons of indulgence, the high festivals, Lent, days of obligation, with their Masses and preaching,—these ordinary and routine observances and the extraordinary methods of retreats, missions, jubilees, and the like, are the means by which the powers of the world unseen are ever acting upon the corrupt mass, of which a nation is composed, and breaking up and reversing the dreadful phenomenon which fact and Scripture conspire to place before us.

Nor is this all: good and bad are mixed together, and the good is ever influencing and mitigating the bad. In the same family one or two holy souls may shed a light around and raise the religious tone of the rest. In large and profligate towns there will be planted here and there communities of religious men and women, whose example, whose appearance, whose churches, whose ceremonies, whose devotions,—to say nothing of their sacerdotal functions, or their charitable ministrations,—will ever be counteracting the intensity {275} of the poison. Again, you will have vast multitudes neither good nor bad; you will have many scandals; you will have, it may be, particular monasteries in a state of relaxation; rich communities breaking their rule and living in comfort and refinement, and individuals among them lapsing into sin; cathedrals sheltering a host of officials, many of whom are a dishonour to the sacred place; and in country districts, priests who set a bad example to their flock, and are the cause of anxiety and grief to their bishops. And besides, you will have all sorts of dispositions and intellects, as plentiful of course as in a Protestant land: there are the weak and the strong-minded, the sharp and the dull, the passionate and the phlegmatic, the generous and the selfish, the idle, the proud, the sceptical, the dry-minded, the scheming, the enthusiastic, the self-conceited, the strange, the eccentric; all of whom grace leaves more or less in their respective natural cast or tendency of mind. Thus we have before us a confused and motley scene, such as the world presents generally; good and evil mingled together in all conceivable measures of combination and varieties of result; a perpetual vicissitude; the prospect brightening and then overcast again; luminous spots, tracts of splendour, patches of darkness, twilight regions, and the glimmer of day; but in spite of this moral confusion, in one and all a clear intellectual apprehension of the truth.

Perhaps you will say that this conflict of good and {276} evil is to be seen in a Protestant country in just the same way: that is not the point; but this,—that, in a Catholic country, on the mixed multitude, and on each of them, good or bad, is written, is stamped deep, this same wonderful knowledge. Just as in England, the whole community, whatever the moral state of the individuals, knows about railroads and electric telegraphs; and about the Court, and men in power, and proceedings in Parliament; and about religious controversies, and about foreign affairs, and about all that is going on around and beyond them: so, in a Catholic country, the ideas of heaven and hell, Christ and the evil spirit, saints, angels, souls in purgatory, grace, the Blessed Sacrament, the sacrifice of the Mass, absolution, indulgences, the virtue of relics, of holy images, of holy water, and of other holy things, are of the nature of facts, which all men, good and bad, young and old, rich and poor, take for granted. They are facts brought home to them by faith; substantially the same to all, though coloured by their respective minds, according as they are religious or not, and according to the degree of their religion. Religious men use them well, the irreligious use them ill, the inconsistent vary in their use of them, but all use them. As the idea of God is before the minds of all men in a community not Catholic, so, but more vividly, these revealed ideas confront the minds of a Catholic people, whatever be the moral state of that people, taken one by one. They are facts attested by {277} each to all, and by all to each, common property, primary points of thought, and landmarks, as it were, upon the territory of knowledge.


Now, it being considered, that a vast number of sacred truths are taken for granted as facts by a Catholic nation, in the same sense as the sun in the heavens is a fact, you will see how many things take place of necessity, which to Protestants seem shocking, and which could not be avoided, unless it had been promised that the Church should consist of none but the predestinate; nay, unless it consisted of none but the educated and refined. It is the spectacle of supernatural faith acting upon the multitudinous mind of a people; of a divine principle dwelling in that myriad of characters, good, bad, and intermediate, into which the old stock of Adam grafted into Christ has developed. If a man sins grossly in a Protestant country, he is at once exposed to the temptation of unbelief; and he is irritated when he is threatened with judgment to come. He is threatened, not with what to him is a fact, but with what to him is at best an opinion. He has power over that opinion; he holds it today, whether he shall hold it tomorrow he cannot exactly say; it depends on circumstances. And, being an opinion, no one has a right to assume that it is anything more, or to thrust it upon him, and to threaten him with it. This is what is to him {278} so provoking and irritating. Protestants hold that there is a hell, as the conclusion of a syllogism; they prove it from Scripture; it is from first to last a point of controversy, and an opinion, and must not be taken for granted as immutable. A vicious man is angry with those who hold opinions condemnatory of himself, because those opinions are the creation of the holders, and seem to reflect personally upon him. Nothing is so irritating to others as my own private judgment. But men are not commonly irritated by facts; it would be irrational to be so, as it is in children who beat the ground when they fall down. A bad Catholic does not deny hell, for it is to him an incontestable fact, brought home to him by that supernatural faith, with which he assents to the Divine Word speaking through Holy Church; he is not angry with others for holding it, for it is no private decision of their own. He may indeed despair, and then he blasphemes; but, generally speaking, he will retain hope as well as faith, when he has lost charity. Accordingly, he neither complains of God nor of man. His thoughts will take a different turn; he seeks to evade the difficulty; he looks up to our Blessed Lady; he knows by supernatural faith her power and her goodness; he turns the truth to his own purpose, his bad purpose; and he makes her his patroness and protectress against the penalty of sins which he does not mean to abandon. Such, I say, is the natural effect of having faith and hope without the saving grace of divine love. {279}

Hence, the strange stories of highwaymen and brigands devout to the Madonna. And, their wishes leading to the belief, they begin to circulate stories of her much-coveted compassion towards impenitent offenders; and these stories, fostered by the circumstances of the day, and confused with others similar but not impossible, for a time are in repute. Thus, the Blessed Virgin has been reported to deliver the reprobate from hell, and to transfer them to purgatory; and absolutely to secure from perdition all who are devout to her, repentance not being contemplated as the means. Or men have thought, by means of some sacred relic, to be secured from death in their perilous and guilty expeditions. So, in the middle ages, great men could not go out to hunt without hearing Mass, but were content that the priest should mutilate it and worse, to bring it within limits. Similar phenomena occur in the history of chivalry: the tournaments were held in defiance of the excommunications of the Church, yet were conducted with a show of devotion; ordeals, again, were even religious rites, yet in like manner undergone in the face of the Church's prohibition. We know the dissolute character of the medieval knights and of the troubadours; yet, that dissoluteness, which would lead Protestant poets and travellers to scoff at religion, led them, not to deny revealed truth, but to combine it with their own wild and extravagant profession. The knight swore before Almighty God, His Blessed Mother, and— {280} the ladies; the troubadour offered tapers, and paid for Masses, for his success in some lawless attachment; and the object of it, in turn, painted her votary under the figure of some saint. Just as a heathen phraseology is now in esteem, and "the altar of hymen" is spoken of, and the trump of fame, and the trident of Britannia, and a royal cradle is ornamented with figures of Nox and Somnus; so in a Catholic age or country, the Blessed Saints will be invoked by virtuous and vicious in every undertaking, and will have their place in every room, whether of palace or of cottage. Vice does not involve a neglect of the external duties of religion. The Crusaders had faith sufficient to bind them to a perilous pilgrimage and warfare; they kept the Friday's abstinence, and planted the tents of their mistresses within the shadow of the pavilion of the glorious St. Louis. There are other pilgrimages besides military ones, and other religious journeys besides the march on Jerusalem; but the character of all of them is pretty much the same, as St. Jerome and St. Gregory Nyssen bear witness in the first age of the Church. It is a mixed multitude, some members of it most holy, perhaps even saints; others penitent sinners; but others, again, a mixture of pilgrim and beggar, or pilgrim and robber, or half gipsy, or three-quarters boon companion, or at least, with nothing saintly, and little religious about them. They will let you wash their feet, and serve them at table, and the hosts have {281} more merit for their ministry than the guests for their wayfaring. Yet, one and all, saints and sinners, have faith in things invisible, which each uses in his own way.


Listen to their conversation; listen to the conversation of any multitude of them or any private party: what strange oaths mingle with it! God's heart, and God's eyes, and God's wounds, and God's blood: you cry out, "How profane!" Doubtless; but do you not see, that their special profaneness over Protestant oaths, lies, not in the words, but simply in the speaker, and is the necessary result of that insight into the invisible world, which you have not? You use the vague words "Providence," or "the Deity," or "good-luck," or "nature:" you would use more sacred words did you believe in the things denoted by them: Catholics, on the contrary, whether now or of old, realise the Creator in His supernatural works and personal manifestations, and speak of the "Sacred Heart," or of "the Mother of mercies," or of "our Lady of Walsingham," or of "St. George, for merry England," or of loving "St. Francis," or of dear "St. Philip." Your people would be as varied and fertile in their adjurations and invocations as a Catholic populace, if they had as rich a creed. Again, listen how freely the name of the evil spirit issues from the mouth even of the better sort of men. What is meant by this very {282} off-hand mention of the most horrible object in creation, of one who, if allowed, could reduce us to ashes by the very hideousness of his countenance, or the odour of his breath? Well, I suppose they act upon the advice of the great St. Anthony; he, in the lonely wilderness, had conflicts enough with the enemy, and he has given us the result of his long experience. In the sermon which his far-famed biographer puts into his mouth, he teaches his hearers that the devil and his host are not to be feared by those who are within the fold, for the Good Shepherd has put the wolf to flight. Henceforth, the evil spirit could do no more than frighten them with empty noises (except by some particular permission of God), and could only pretend to do what was now really beyond his power. The experience of a saint, I suppose, is imprudently acted on by sinners; not as if Satan's malice were not equal to any assault upon body or soul; but faith accepts the word that his rule over the earth is now broken, and that any child or peasant may ordinarily make sport of him and put him to ridiculous flight by the use of the "Hail Mary!" or holy water, or the sign of the cross.

Once more, listen to the stories, songs, and ballads of the populace; their rude and boisterous merriment still runs upon the great invisible subjects which possess their imagination. Their ideas, of whatever sort, good, bad, and indifferent, rise out of the next {283} world. Hence, if they would have plays, the subjects are sacred; if they would have games and sports, these fall, as it were, into procession, and are formed upon the model of sacred rites and sacred persons. If they sing and jest, the Madonna and the Bambino, or St. Joseph, or St. Peter, or some other saint, is introduced, not for irreverence, but because these are the ideas that absorb them. There is a festival in the streets; you look about: what is it you see? What would be impossible here in London. Set up a large Crucifix at Charing Cross; the police would think you simply insane. Insane, and truly: but why? why dare you not do it? why must you not? Because you are averse to the sacred sign? Not so; you have it in your chamber, yet a Catholic would not dare to do so, more than another. It is true that awful, touching, winning Form has before now converted the very savage who gazed upon it; he has wondered, has asked what it meant, has broken into tears, and been converted ere he knew that he believed. The manifestation of love has been the incentive to faith. I cannot certainly predict what would take place, if a saint appealed to the guilty consciences of those thousand passers-by, through the instrumentality of the Divine Sign. But such occurrences are not of every day; what you would too securely and confidently foretell, my brethren, were such an exhibition made, would be, that it would but excite the scorn, the rage, {284} the blasphemy, of the out-pouring flocking multitude, a multitude who in their hearts are unbelievers. Alas! there is no idea in the national mind, supernaturally implanted, which the Crucifix embodies. Let a Catholic mob be as profligate in conduct as an English, still it cannot withstand, it cannot disown, it can but worship the Crucifix; it is the external representation of a fact, of which one and all are conscious to themselves and to each other. And hence, I say, in their fairs and places of amusement, in the booths, upon the stalls, upon the doors of wine-shops, will be paintings of the Blessed Virgin, or St. Michael, or the souls in purgatory, or of some Scripture subject. Innocence, guilt, and what is between the two, all range themselves under the same banners; for even the resorts of sin will be made doubly frightful by the blasphemous introduction of some sainted patron.


You enter into one of the churches close upon the scene of festivity, and you turn your eyes towards a confessional. The penitents are crowding for admission, and they seem to have no shame, or solemnity, or reserve about the errand on which they are come; till at length, on a penitent's turning from the grate, one tall woman, bolder than a score of men, darts forward from a distance into the space he has vacated, to the disappointment of the many who have waited {285} longer than she. You almost groan under the weight of your imagination that such a soul, so selfish, so unrecollected, must surely be in very ill dispositions for so awful a sacrament. You look at the priest, and he has on his face a look almost of impatience, or of good-natured compassion, at the voluble and superfluous matter which is the staple of her confession. The priests, you think, are no better than the people. My dear brethren, be not so uncharitable, so unphilosophical. Things we thoroughly believe, things we see, things which occur to us every day, we treat as things which do occur and are seen daily, be they of this world, or be they of the next. Even Bishop Butler should have taught you that "practical habits are strengthened by repeated acts, and passive impressions grow weaker by being repeated upon us." It is not by frames of mind, it is not by emotions, that we must judge of real religion; it is the having a will and a heart set towards those things unseen; and though impatience and rudeness are to be subdued, and are faulty even in their minutest exhibitions, yet do not argue from them the absence of faith, nor yet of love, or of contrition. You turn away half satisfied, and what do you see? There is a feeble old woman, who first genuflects before the Blessed Sacrament, and then steals her neighbour's handkerchief, or prayer-book, who is intent on his devotions. Here at last, you say, is a thing absolutely indefensible and {286} inexcusable. Doubtless; but what does it prove? Does England bear no thieves? or do you think this poor creature an unbeliever? or do you exclaim against Catholicism, which has made her so profane? but why? Faith is illuminative, not operative; it does not force obedience, though it increases responsibility; it heightens guilt, it does not prevent sin; the will is the source of action, not an influence, though divine, which Baptism has implanted, and which the devil has only not eradicated. She worships and she sins; she kneels because she believes, she steals because she does not love; she may be out of God's grace, she is not altogether out of His sight.

You come out again and mix in the idle and dissipated throng, and you fall in with a man in a palmer's dress, selling false relics, and a credulous circle of customers buying them as greedily as though they were the supposed French laces and India silks of a pedlar's basket. One simple soul has bought of him a cure for the rheumatism or ague, the use of which might form a case of conscience. It is said to be a relic of St. Cuthbert, but only has virtue at sunrise, and when applied with three crosses to the head, arms, and feet. You pass on, and encounter a rude son of the Church, more like a showman than a religious, recounting to the gaping multitude some tale of a vision of the invisible world, seen by Brother Augustine of the Friars Minors, or by a holy Jesuit {287} preacher who died in the odour of sanctity, and sending round his bag to collect pence for the souls in purgatory; or of some appearance of our Lady (the like of which has really been before and since), but on no authority except popular report, and in no shape but that which popular caprice has given it. You go forward, and you find preparations in progress for a great pageant or mystery; it is a high festival, and the incorporated trades have each undertaken their special religious celebration. The plumbers and glaziers are to play the Creation; the barbers, the Call of Abraham; and at night is to be the grandest performance of all, the Resurrection and Last Judgment, played by the carpenters, masons, and blacksmiths. Heaven and hell are represented,—saints, devils, and living men; and the chef d'ouvre of the exhibition is the display of fireworks to be let off as the finale. "How unutterably profane!" again you cry. Yes, profane to you, my dear brother—profane to a population which only half believes; not profane to those who, however coarse-minded, however sinful, believe wholly, who, one and all, have a vision within, which corresponds with what they see, which resolves itself into, or rather takes up into itself, the external pageant, whatever be the moral condition of each individual composing the mass. They gaze, and, in drinking in the exhibition with their eyes, they are making one continuous and intense act of faith. {288}

You turn to go home, and, on your way, you pass through a retired quarter of the city. Look up at those sacred windows; they belong to the convent of the Perpetual Adoration, or to the poor Clares, or to the Carmelites of the reform of St. Theresa, or to the nuns of the Visitation. Seclusion, silence, watching, meditation, is their life day and night. The immaculate Lamb of God is ever before the eyes of the worshippers; or at least the invisible mysteries of faith ever stand out, as if in bodily shape, before their mental gaze. Where will you find such a realised heaven upon earth? Yet that very sight has acted otherwise on the mind of a weak sister; and the very keenness of her faith and wild desire of approaching the Object of it, has led her to fancy or to feign that she has received that singular favour vouchsafed only to a few elect souls; and she points to God's wounds, as imprinted on her hands, and feet, and side, though she herself has been instrumental in their formation.


In these and a thousand other ways it may be shown, that that special character of a Catholic country, which offends you, my brethren, so much, that mixture of seriousness and levity, that familiar handling of sacred things, in word and deed, by good and bad, that publication of religious thoughts and practices, so far as it is found, is the necessary consequence {289} of its being Catholic. It is the consequence of mixed multitudes all having faith; for faith impresses the mind with supernatural truths, as if it were sight, and the faith of this man, and the faith of that, is one and the same, and creates one and the same impression. The truths of religion, then, stand in the place of facts, and public ones. Sin does not obliterate the impression; and did it begin to do so in particular cases, the consistent testimony of all around would bring back the mind to itself, and prevent the incipient evil. Ordinarily speaking, once faith, always faith. Eyes once opened to good, as to evil, are not closed again; and, if men reject the truth, it is, in most cases, a question whether they have ever possessed it. It is just the reverse among a Protestant people; private judgment does but create opinions, and nothing more; and these opinions are peculiar to each individual, and different from those of any one else. Hence it leads men to keep their feelings to themselves, because the avowal of them only causes in others irritation or ridicule. Since, too, they have no certainty of the doctrines they profess, they do but feel that they ought to believe them, and they try to believe them, and they nurse the offspring of their reason, as a sickly child, bringing it out of doors only on fine days. They feel very clear and quite satisfied, while they are very still; but if they turn about their head, or change their posture ever so little, the vision {290} of the Unseen, like a mirage, is gone from them. So they keep the exhibition of their faith for high days and great occasions, when it comes forth with sufficient pomp and gravity of language, and ceremonial of manner. Truths slowly totter out with Scripture texts at their elbow, as unable to walk alone. Moreover, Protestants know, if such and such things be true, what ought to be the voice, the tone, the gesture, and the carriage attendant upon them; thus reason, which is the substance of their faith, supplies also the rubrics, as I may call them, of their behaviour. This some of you, my brethren, call reverence; though I am obliged to say it is as much a mannerism, and an unpleasant mannerism, as that of the Evangelical party, which they have hitherto condemned. They condemn Catholics, because, however religious they may be, they are natural, unaffected, easy, and cheerful, in their mention of sacred things; and they think themselves never so real as when they are especially solemn.


And now, my brethren, I will only observe, in conclusion, how merciful a providence it has been, that faith and love are separable, as the Catholic creed teaches. I suppose it might have been, as Luther said it is, had God so willed it—faith and love might have been so intimately one, that the abandonment of the {291} latter was the forfeiture of the former. Now, did sin not only throw the soul out of God's favour, but at once empty it of every supernatural principle, we should see in Catholics, what is, alas! so common among Protestants, souls brought back to a sense of guilt, frightened at their state, yet having no resource, and nothing to build upon. Again and again it happens, that, after committing some offence greater than usual, or being roused after a course of sin, or frightened by sickness, a Protestant wishes to repent; but what is he to fall back upon? whither is he to go? what is he to do? He has to dig and plant his foundation. Every step is to be learned, and all is in the dark; he is to search and labor, and after all for an opinion. And then, supposing him to have made some progress, perhaps he is overcome again by temptation; he falls, and all is undone again. His doctrinal views vanish, and it can hardly be said that he believes anything. But the Catholic knows just where he is and what he has to do; no time is lost when compunction comes upon him; but, while his feelings are fresh and keen, he can betake himself to the appointed means of cure. He may be ever falling, but his faith is a continual invitation and persuasive to repent. The poor Protestant adds sin to sin, and his best aspirations come to nothing; the Catholic wipes off his guilt again and again; and thus, even if his repentance does not endure, and he has not strength to persevere, in a {292} certain sense he is never getting worse, but ever beginning afresh. Nor does the apparent easiness of pardon operate as an encouragement to sin, unless, indeed, repentance be easy, and the grace of repentance to be expected, when it has already been quenched, or unless we come to consider past repentance to avail, when it is not persevered in.

And, above all, let death come suddenly upon him, and let him have the preparation of a poor hour; what is the Protestant to do? He has nothing but sights of this world around him; wife, and children, and friends, and worldly interests; the Catholic has these also, but the Protestant has nought but these. He may, indeed, in particular cases, have got firm hold of his party's view of justification or regeneration; or it may be, he has a real apprehension of our Lord's divinity, which comes from divine grace. But I am speaking, not of the more serious portion of the community, but of the popular religion; and I wish you to take a man at random in one of our vast towns, and tell me, has he any supernatural idea before his mind at all? The minutes hasten on; and, having to learn everything, supposing him desirous of learning, he can practise nothing. His thoughts rise up in some vague desire of mercy, which neither he nor the bystanders can analyze. He asks for some chapter of the Bible to be read to him, but rather as the expression of his horror and bewilderment, than as the token of his {293} faith; and then his intellect becomes clouded, and he dies.

How different is it with the Catholic! He has within him almost a principle of recovery, certainly an instrument of it. He may have spoken lightly of the Almighty, but he has ever believed in Him; he has sung jocose songs about the Blessed Virgin and Saints, and told good stories about the evil spirit, but in levity, not in contempt; he has been angry with his heavenly Patrons when things went ill with him, but with the waywardness of a child who is cross with his parents. Those heavenly Patrons were ever before him, even when he was in the mire of mortal sin and in the wrath of the Almighty, as lights burning in the firmament of his intellect, though he had no part with them, as he perfectly knew. He has absented himself from his Easter duties years out of number, but he never denied he was a Catholic. He has laughed at priests, and formed rash judgments of them, and slandered them to others, but not as doubting the divinity of their function and the virtue of their ministrations. He has attended Mass carelessly and heartlessly, but he was ever aware what really was before him, under the veil of material symbols, in that august and adorable action. So, when the news comes to him that he is to die, and he cannot get a priest, and the ray of God's grace pierces his heart, and he yearns after Him whom he has neglected, it is with no {294} inarticulate, confused emotion, which does but oppress him, and which has no means of relief. His thoughts at once take shape and order; they mount up, each in its due place, to the great Objects of faith, which are as surely in his mind as they are in heaven. He addresses himself to his Crucifix; He invokes the Precious Blood or the Five Wounds of his Redeemer; he interests the Blessed Virgin in his behalf; he betakes himself to his patron Saints; he calls his good Angel to his side; he professes his desire of that sacramental absolution, which from circumstances he cannot obtain; he exercises himself in acts of faith, hope, charity, contrition, resignation, and other virtues suitable to his extremity. True, he is going into the unseen world; but true also, that that unseen world has already been with him here. True, he is going to a foreign, but not to a strange place; judgment and purgatory are familiar ideas to him, more fully realised within him even than death. He has had a much deeper perception of purgatory, though it be a supernatural object, than of death, though a natural one. The enemy rushes on him, to overthrow the faith on which he is built; but the whole tenor of his past life, his very jesting, and his very oaths, have been overruled, to create in him a habit of faith, girding round and protecting the supernatural principle. And thus, even one who has been a bad Catholic may have a hope in {295} his death, to which the most virtuous of Protestants, nay, my brethren, the most correct and most thoughtful among yourselves, however able, or learned, or sagacious—if you have lived not by faith but by private judgment—are necessarily strangers.

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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