Lecture 4. True Testimony Insufficient for the Protestant View

Role of False Witness
Scandal in the Church
Disorders in Both Catholic and Protestant Churches
    Comparison of Celibate and Married Clergy
    Human Nature the Common Source of Faults
Popular Demand for Catholic Scandal
Two Testimonies Against the Church
    Blanco White
        His Life
        His Charges
        Public Reception of His Charges
    Maria Monk
        Her Life
        Her Method and Charges
        Public Reception of Her Charges
Conclusion - Public Prefers Sensation, Falsehood


Top | Contents | Works | Home

{127} I CAN fancy, my Brothers, that some of you may have been startled at a statement I made at the close of my Lecture of last week. I then said, that the more fully the imputations which were cast upon us were examined, the more unfounded they would turn out to be; so that the great Tradition on which we are persecuted is little short of one vast pretence or fiction. On this you may be led to ask me whether I mean to deny all and everything which can be advanced to the disadvantage of the Catholic Church, and whether I recommend you to do the same? but this was not my meaning. Some things which are charged against us are doubtless true, and we see no harm in them, though Protestants do; other charges are true, yet, as we think, only go to form ingenious objections; others again are true, and relate to what is really sinful and detestable, as we allow as fully as Protestants can urge: but all these real facts, whatever their worth taken altogether, do not go any way towards proving true the Protestant Traditionary View of us; they are vague and unsatisfactory, and, to apply a common {128} phrase, they beat about the bush. If you would have some direct downright proof that Catholicism is what Protestants make it to be, something which will come up to the mark, you must lie; else you will not get beyond feeble suspicions, which may be right, but may be wrong. Hence Protestants are obliged to cut their ninth commandment out of their Decalogue. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour" must go, must disappear; their position requires the sacrifice. The substance, the force, the edge of their Tradition is slander. As soon as ever they disabuse their minds of what is false, and grasp only what is true,—I do not say they at once become Catholics; I do not say they lose their dislike to our religion, or their misgivings about its working;—but I say this, either they become tolerant towards us, and cease to hate us personally,—or, at least, supposing they cannot shake off old associations, and are prejudiced and hostile as before, still they find they have not the means of communicating their own feelings to others. To Protestantism False Witness is the principle of propagation. There are indeed able men who can make a striking case out of anything or nothing, as great painters give a meaning and a unity to the commonest bush, and pond, and paling and stile: genius can do without facts, as well as create them; but few possess the gift. Taking things as they are, and judging of them by the long run, one may securely say, that the anti-Catholic Tradition could not be kept alive, would die of exhaustion, without a continual supply of fable.

I repeat, not everything which is said to our disadvantage is without foundation in fact; but it is not {129} the true that tells against us in the controversy, but the false. The Tradition requires bold painting; its prominent outline, its glaring colouring, needs to be a falsehood. So was it at the time of the Reformation; the multitude would never have been converted by exact reasoning and by facts which could be proved; so its upholders were clever enough to call the Pope Antichrist, and they let the startling accusation sink into men's minds. Nothing else would have succeeded; and they pursue the same tactics now. No inferior charge, I say, would have gained for them the battle; else, why should they have had recourse to it? Few persons tell atrocious falsehoods for the sake of telling them. If truth had been sufficient to put down Catholicism, the Reformers would not have had recourse to fiction. Errors indeed creep in by chance, whatever be the point of inquiry or dispute; but I am not accusing Protestants merely of incidental or of attendant error, but I mean that falsehood is the very staple of the views which they have been taught to entertain of us.

I allow there are true charges which can be brought against us; certainly, not only do I not deny it, but I hardly could deny it without heresy. I say distinctly, did I take upon me to deny everything which could be said against us, I should be proving too much, I should startle the Catholic theologian as well as Protestants; for what would it be but implying that the Church contains none within her pale but the just and holy? This was the heresy of the Novatians and Donatists of old time; it was the heresy of our Lollards, and others, such as Luther, who maintained that bad men are not members of the Church, that none but the predestinate {130} are her members. But this no Catholic asserts, every Catholic denies. Every Catholic has ever denied it, back to the very time of the Apostles and their Divine Master; and He and they deny it. Christ denies it, St. Paul denies it, the Catholic Church denies it; our Lord expressly said that the Church was to be like a net, which gathered of every kind, not only of the good, but of the bad too. Such was His Church; it does not prove then that we are not His Church, because we are like His Church; rather our being like the Primitive Christian body, is a reason for concluding that we are one with it. We cannot make His Church better than He made her; we must be content with her as He made her, or not pretend to follow Him. He said, "Many are called, few are chosen;" men come into the Church, and then they fall. They are not indeed sinning at the very time when they are brought into His family, at the time they are new born; but as children grow up, and converts live on, the time too frequently comes, when they fall under the power of one kind of temptation or other, and fall from grace, either for a while or for good. Thus, not indeed by the divine wish and intention, but by the divine permission, and man's perverseness, there is a vast load of moral evil existing in the Church; an enemy has sown weeds there, and those weeds remain among the wheat till the harvest. And this evil in the Church is not found only in the laity, but among the clergy too; there have been bad priests, bad bishops, bad monks, bad nuns, and bad Popes. If this, then, is the charge made against us, that we do not all live up to our calling, but that there are Catholics, lay and clerical, who may be proved to be worldly, revengeful, licentious, slothful, {131} cruel, nay, may be unbelievers, we grant it at once. We not only grant it but we zealously maintain it. "In a great house," says St. Paul, "there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some indeed unto honour, but some unto dishonour." There are, alas, plenty of children of the Church, who by their bad lives insult and disgrace their Mother.

The Church, it is true, has been promised many great things, but she has not been promised the souls of all her children. She is promised truth in religious teaching; she is promised duration to the end of the world; she is made the means of grace; she is unchangeable in Creed and in constitution; she will ever cover the earth; but her children are not infallible separately, any more than they are immortal; not indefectible, any more than they are ubiquitous. Therefore, if Protestants wish to form arguments which really would tell against us, they must show, not that individuals are immoral or profane, but that the Church teaches, or enjoins, or recommends, what is immoral or profane; rewards, encourages, or at least does not warn and discountenance, the sinner; or promulgates rules, and enforces practices, which directly lead to sin;—and this indeed they try to do, but they find the task not near so pleasant as the short and easy method of adopting strong, round, thorough-going statements, which are not true.

We do not then feel as a difficulty, on the contrary we teach as a doctrine, that there are scandals in the Church. "It must needs be, that scandals come; nevertheless, woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh." There are, to all appearance, multitudes of Catholics who have passed out of the world unrepentant, {132} and are lost; there are multitudes living in sin, and out of grace; priests may and do fall, in this or that country, at this or that time, though they are exceptions to the rule; or there may be parties or knots of ecclesiastics, who take a low view of their duty, or adopt dangerous doctrines; or they may be covetous, or unfeeling, as other men, and use their power tyrannically, or for selfish, secular ends. There may be a declension and deterioration of the priesthood of a whole country. There may be secret unbelievers, both among clergy and laity; or individuals who are tending in their imaginations and their reasonings to grievous error or heresy. There may be great disorders in some particular monastery or nunnery; or a love of ease and slothful habits, and a mere formality in devotion, in particular orders of Religious, at particular seasons. There may be self-indulgence, pride, ambition, political profligacy, in certain bishops in particular states of society, as for instance, when the Church has been long established and abounds in wealth. And there may have been Popes before now, who to the letter have fulfilled the awful description of the unfaithful servant and steward, who began to "strike the men servants and maid servants, and to eat and drink and be drunken." All this may be granted; but before the admission can avail as an argument against the Catholic Church, one thing has to be examined, whether on the whole her influence and her action is on the side of what is wrong, or rather (as is the case) simply powerful on the side of good; one thing has to be proved, that the scandals within her pale have been caused by her principles, her teaching, her injunctions, or, which pretty nearly comes to the same thing, that they do not also {133} exist, and as grievously (Catholics would say, they exist far more grievously), external to her.


Now here is the flaw in the argument. For instance, it is plausibly objected that disorders not only sometimes do, but must occur, where priests are bound to celibacy. Even the candid Protestant will be apt to urge against us, "You must not argue from the case of the few, from persons of high principle and high education; but taking the run of men, you must allow that the vow will not be kept by numbers of those who have got themselves to take it." Now I will not reply, as I might well do, by pointing out the caution which the Church observes in the selection of her priests; how it is her rule to train them carefully for many years beforehand with this one thought in view, that priests they are to be; how she tries them during their training; how she takes one and rejects another, not with any reflection on those who are rejected, but simply because she finds they are not called to this particular state of life; how, when she has selected a man, a hundred provisions and checks in detail are thrown around his person, which are to be his safeguard in his arduous calling; lastly, how, when he is once called to his high ministry, he has, unless he be wonderfully wanting to himself, the power of divine grace abundantly poured upon him, without which all human means are useless, but which can do, and constantly does, miracles, as the experience, not of priest merely, but of every one who has been converted from a life of sin, will abundantly testify;—I might enlarge on considerations such as these, but I put them {134} aside, because I wish to address myself to the question of fact.

When, then, we come to the matter of fact, whether celibacy has been and is, in comparison of the marriage vow, so dangerous to a clerical body, I answer that I am very sceptical indeed that in matter of fact a married clergy is adorned, in any special and singular way, with the grace of purity; and this is just the very thing which Protestants take for granted. What is the use of speaking against our discipline, till they have proved their own to be better? Now I deny that they succeed with their rule of matrimony, better than we do with our rule of celibacy; and I deny it on no private grounds, or secret means of information, or knowledge of past years. I have lived in one place all my days, and know very few married clergymen, and those of such excellence and consistency of life, that I should feel it to be as absurd to suspect any of them of the lightest impropriety in their conduct, as to suspect the Catholic priests with whom I am well acquainted; and this is saying a great deal. When I speak of a married ministry, I speak of it, not from any knowledge I possess more than another: but I must avow that the public prints and the conversation of the world, by means of many shocking instances, which of course are only specimens of many others, heavier or lighter, which do not come before the world, bring home to me the fact, that a Protestant rector or a dissenting preacher is not necessarily kept from the sins I am speaking of, because he happens to be married: and when he offends, whether in a grave way or less seriously, still in all cases he has by matrimony but exchanged a bad sin for a worse, and has become {135} an adulterer instead of being a seducer. Matrimony only does this for him, that his purity is at once less protected and less suspected. I am very sceptical, then, of the universal correctness of Protestant ministers, whether in the Establishment or in Dissent. I repeat, I know perfectly well, that there are a great number of high-minded men among the married Anglican clergy who would as soon think of murder, as of trespassing by the faintest act of indecorum upon the reverence which is due from them to others; nor am I denying, what, though of course I cannot assert it on any knowledge of mine, yet I wish to assert with all my heart, that the majority of Wesleyan and dissenting ministers lead lives beyond all reproach; but still allowing all this, the terrible instances of human frailty of which one reads and hears in the Protestant clergy, are quite enough to show that the married state is no sort of testimonial for moral correctness, no safeguard whether against scandalous offences, or (much less) against minor forms of the same general sin. Purity is not a virtue which comes merely as a matter of course to the married any more than to the single, though of course there is a great difference between man and man; and though it is impossible to bring the matter fairly to an issue, yet for that very reason I have as much right to my opinion as another to his, when I state my deliberate conviction that there are, to say the least, as many offences against the marriage vow among Protestant ministers, as there are against the vow of celibacy among Catholic priests. I may go very much further than this in my own view of the matter, and think, as I do, that the priest's vow is generally the occasion of virtues which a married clergy does not {136} contemplate even in idea; but I am on the defensive, and only insist on so much as is necessary for my purpose.

But if matrimony does not prevent cases of immorality among Protestant ministers, it is not celibacy which causes them among Catholic priests. It is not what the Catholic Church imposes, but what human nature prompts, which leads any portion of her ecclesiastics into sin. Human nature will break out, like some wild and raging element, under any system; it bursts out under the Protestant system; it bursts out under the Catholic; passion will carry away the married clergyman as well as the unmarried priest. On the other hand, there are numbers to whom there would be, not greater, but less, trial in the vow of celibacy than in the vow of marriage, as so many persons prefer Teetotalism to the engagement to observe Temperance.

Till, then, you can prove that celibacy causes what matrimony certainly does not prevent, you do nothing at all. This is the language of common sense. It is the world, the flesh, and the devil, not celibacy, which is the ruin of those who fall. Slothful priests, why, where was there any religion whatever, established and endowed, in which bishops, canons, and wealthy rectors were not exposed to the temptation of pride and sensuality? The wealth is in fault, not the rules of the Church. Preachers have denounced the evil, and ecclesiastical authorities have repressed it, far more vigorously within the Catholic pale, than in the English Establishment, or the Wesleyan Connexion. Covetous priests! shame on them! but has covetousness been more rife in cardinals or abbots {137} than in the Protestant Bench, English or Irish? Party spirit, and political faction! has not party, religious and political, burnt as fiercely in high-church rectors and radical preachers, as in Catholic ecclesiastics? And so again, to take an extreme case,—be there a few infidels among the multitudes of the Catholic clergy: yet among the Anglican are there really none, are there few, who disbelieve their own Baptismal Service, repudiate their own Absolution of the Sick, and condemn the very form of words under which they themselves were ordained? Again, are there not numbers who doubt about every part of their system, about their Church, its authority, its truth, its articles, its creeds; deny its Protestantism, yet without being sure of its Catholicity, and therefore never dare commit themselves to a plain assertion, as not knowing whither it will carry them? Once more, are there not in the Establishment those who hold that all systems of doctrine whatever are founded in a mistake, and who deny, or are fast denying, that there is any revealed truth in the world at all? Yet none of these parties, whatever they doubt, or deny, or disbelieve, see their way to leave the position in which they find themselves at present, or to sacrifice their wealth or credit to their opinions. Why, then, do you throw in my teeth that Wolsey was proud, or Torquemada cruel, or Bonner trimming, or this abbot sensual, or that convent in disorder; that this priest ought never to have been a priest, and that nun was forced into religion by her father; as if there were none of these evils in Protestant England, as if there were no pride in the House of Lords now, no time-serving in the House of Commons, no servility in {138} fashionable preachers, no selfishness in the old, no profligacy in the young, no tyranny or cajolery in matchmaking, no cruelty in Union workhouses, no immorality in factories? If grievous sin is found in holy places, the Church cannot hinder it, while man is man: prove that she encourages it, prove that she does not repress it, prove that her action, be it greater or less, is not, as far as it goes, beneficial:—then, and not till then, will you have established a point against her.

For myself, my Brothers of the Oratory, I never should have been surprised, if, in the course of the last nine months of persecution some scandal in this or that part of our English Church had been brought to light and circulated through the country to our great prejudice. Not that I speak from any knowledge or suspicion of my own, but merely judging antecedently and on the chance of things. And, had such a case in fact been producible, it would, in the judgment of dispassionate minds, have gone for nothing at all, unless there is to be no covetous Judas, no heretical Nicolas, no ambitious Diotrephes, no world-loving Demas, in the Church of these latter lays. Fraud in a priest, disorder in a convent, would have proved, not more, perhaps less, against Catholicism, than corruption in Parliament, peculation in the public offices, or bribery at elections tells against the British Constitution. Providentially no such calamity has occurred: but oh, what would not our enemies have paid for only one real and live sin in holy places to mock us withal! O light to the eyes, and joy to the heart, and music to the ear! O sweet tidings to writers of pamphlets, newspapers, {139} and magazines; to preachers and declaimers, who have now a weary while been longing, and panting, and praying for some good fat scandal, one, only just one, well-supported instance of tyranny, or barbarity, or fraud, or immorality, to batten upon and revel in! What price would they have thought too great for so dear a fact, as that of one of our bishops or one of our religious houses had been guilty of some covetous aim, or some unworthy manœuvre. Their fierce and unblushing effort to fix such charges where they were impossible, shows how many eyes were fastened on us all over the country, and how deep and fervent was the aspiration that at least some among us might turn out to be a brute or a villain. To and fro the Spirit of false witness sped. She dropped upon the floor of the Parliament House in the form of a gentleman of Warwickshire, and told how a nun had escaped thereabouts from a convent window, which in consequence had ever since been crossed with iron bars: but it turned out that the window had been attempted by thieves, and the bars had been put up to protect the Blessed Sacrament from them. Then she flitted to Nottingham, and, in the guise of a town newspaper's correspondent, repeated the tale with the concordant witness, as she gave out, of a whole neighbourhood, who had seen the poor captive atop of the wall, and then wandering about the fields like a mad thing: but the Editor in London discovered the untruth, and unsaid in his own paper the slander he had incautiously admitted. Next she forced her way into a nunnery near London, and she assured the Protestant world that then and there an infant had suddenly appeared among the {140} sisterhood; but the two newspapers who were the organs of her malice had to retract the calumny in open court, and to ask pardon to escape a prosecution.

Tales, I say, such as these showed the animus of the fabricators: but what, after all, would they have really gained had their imputations been ever so true? Though one bad priest be found here or there, or one convent be in disorder, or there be this or that abuse of spiritual power, or a school of ecclesiastics give birth to a heresy, or a diocese be neglected, nay, though a whole hierarchy be in declension or decay, this would not suffice for the argument of Protestantism. And Protestantism itself plainly confesses it. Yes, the Protestant Tradition must be fed with facts, more wholesale, more stimulating, than any I have enumerated, if it is to keep its hold on the multitude. Isolated instances of crime, or widespread tepidity, or imperfections in administration, or antiquated legislation, such imputations are but milk-and-water ingredients in a theme so thrilling as that of Holy Church being a sorceress and the child of perdition. Facts that are only possible, and that only sometimes occur, do but irritate, by suggesting suspicions which they are not sufficient to substantiate. Even falsehood, that is decent and respectable, is unequal to the occasion. Mosheim and Robertson, Jortin and White, raise hopes to disappoint them. The popular demand is for the prodigious, the enormous, the abominable, the diabolical, the impossible. It must be shown that all priests are monsters of hypocrisy, that all nunneries are dens of infamy, that all bishops are the embodied plenitude of savageness and perfidy. {141} Or at least we must have a cornucopia of mummery, blasphemy, and licentiousness,—of knives, and ropes, and faggots, and fetters, and pulleys and racks,—if the great Protestant Tradition is to be kept alive in the hearts of the population. The great point in view is to burn into their imagination, by a keen and peremptory process, a sentiment of undying hostility to Catholicism; and nothing will suffice for this enterprise but imposture, in its purest derivation from him whom Scripture emphatically calls the father of lies, and whose ordinary names, when translated, are the accuser and the slanderer.

This I shall prove as well as assert; and I shall do so in the following way. You know, my Brothers of the Oratory, that from time to time persons come before the Protestant public, with pretensions of all others the most favourable for proving its charges against us, as having once belonged to our Communion, and having left it from conviction. If, then, Protestants would know what sort of men we really are whom they are reprobating, if they wish to determine our internal state, and build their argument on a true foundation, and accommodate their judgment of us to facts, here is the best of opportunities for their purpose. The single point to ascertain is, the trustworthiness of the informants; that being proved, the testimony they give is definite; but if it is disproved, the evidence is worthless.

Now I am going to mention to you the names of two persons, utterly unlike each other in all things except in their both coming forward as converts from Catholicism; both putting on paper their personal {142} experience of the religion they had left; both addressing themselves especially to the exposure of the rule of celibacy, whether in the priesthood or in convents; and, moreover, both on their first appearance meeting with great encouragement from Protestants, and obtaining an extensive patronage for the statements they respectively put forward. One was a man, the other a woman; the one a gentleman, a person of very superior education and great abilities, who lived among us, and might be interrogated and cross-examined at any time; the woman, on the other hand, had no education, no character, no principle, and, as the event made manifest, deserved no credit whatever. Whatever the one said was true, as often as he spoke to facts he had witnessed, and was not putting out opinions or generalising on evidence; whatever the other said was, or was likely to be, false. Thus the two were contrasted: yet the truth spoken against us by the man of character is forgotten, and the falsehood spoken against us by the unworthy woman lives. If this can be shown, do you need a clearer proof that falsehood, not truth, is the essence of the Protestant Tradition.


The Rev. Joseph Blanco White, who is one of the two persons I speak of, was a man of great talent, various erudition, and many most attractive points of character. Twenty-five years ago, when he was about my present age, I became acquainted with him at Oxford, and I lived for some years on terms of familiarity with him. I admired him for the simplicity and openness of his character, the warmth of his {143} affections, the range of his information, his power of conversation, and an intellect refined, elegant, and accomplished. I loved him from witnessing the constant sufferings, bodily and mental, of which he was the prey, and for his expatriation on account of his religion. At that time, not having the slightest doubt that Catholicism was an error, I found in his relinquishment of great ecclesiastical preferment in his native country for the sake of principle, simply a claim on my admiration and sympathy. He was certainly most bitter-minded and prejudiced against everything in and connected with the Catholic Church; it was nearly the only subject on which he could not brook opposition; but this did not interfere with the confidence I placed in his honour and truth; for though he might give expression to a host of opinions in which it was impossible to acquiesce, and was most precipitate and unfair in his inferences and inductions, and might be credulous in the case of alleged facts for which others were the authority, yet, as to his personal testimony, viewed as distinct from his judgments and suspicions, it never for an instant came into my mind to doubt it. He had become an infidel before he left Spain. While at Oxford he was a believer in Christianity: after leaving it he fell into infidelity again; and he died, I may say, without any fixed belief at all, either in a God or in the soul's immortality.

About the period of my acquaintance with him, he wrote various works against the Catholic Church, which in a great measure are repetitions of each other, throwing the same mass of testimonies, such as they are, into different shapes, according to the occasion. {144} And since his death, many years after the time I speak of, his Life has been published, repeating what is substantially the same evidence. Among these publications one was written for the lower classes; it was entitled, "The Poor Man's Preservative Against Popery;" and, if I mistake not, was put upon the catalogue of Books and Tracts of the great Church of England Society, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. No work could be sent into the world with greater advantages; published under the patronage of all the dignitaries of the Establishment, put into the hands of the whole body of the clergy for distribution, at a low price, written in an animated style, addressed to the traditionary hatred of the Catholic Church existing among us, which is an introduction to any book, whatever its intrinsic value; and laden with a freight of accusation against her, which, as far as their matter was concerned, and the writer's testimony extended, were true as well as grave.

When I began collecting materials for this Lecture, not being able to lay my hand upon the publication at home, I sent for a copy to the Christian Knowledge depôt in this town, and to my surprise, I was told it was no longer in print. I repeated the application at the Society's office in London, and received the same reply. Now certainly there are reasons why a Society connected with the National Church should wish to withdraw the work of a writer, who ended, not only with hating the Papacy, but with despising the Establishment; yet considering its facts were so trustworthy, and its evidence so important, the Society hardly would have withdrawn it, if there had been any good reason for continuing it in print. Such a reason {145} certainly would have been its popularity; I cannot conceive how persons, with the strong feelings against the Catholic religion entertained by the members of that Society, having given their solemn approbation, not only to the principle of a certain attack upon it, but to the attack itself, and being confident that the facts related were true, could allow themselves in conscience to withdraw it, on account of subsequent religious changes in the writer, supposing it actually to enjoy a sufficient popularity, and to be doing good service against Catholicism; and therefore I conclude, since it was withdrawn, that in spite of the forced circulation which the Society gave it, it had not made any great impression on the mass of men, or even interested the Established clergy in its favour. But anyhow, it never at any time was known, in matter of fact, as far as I can make out, to the population at large,—for instance, to the masses of a town such as this,—whatever consideration it may have enjoyed in the circles of the Establishment. Here, then, is a solemn testimony delivered against Catholics of which the basis of facts is true, which nevertheless has no popularity to show, is sustained at first by a forced sale, and then is abandoned by its very patrons; and now let us consider the character of the facts of which it consists.

They are such as the writer himself was very far from thinking a light imputation on the Church he had abandoned. He considered he had inflicted on Catholicism a most formidable blow, in giving his simple evidence against it; and it must be allowed that some of his facts are of a very grave nature. He was the subject and the witness of a most melancholy {146} phenomenon, an Apostasy from the Catholic Faith. About a hundred and fifty years ago a school of infidelity arose in Protestant England; the notorious Voltaire came over here from France, and on his return took back with him its arguments, and propagated them among his own countrymen. The evil spread; at length it attacked the French Catholic clergy, and during the last century there was a portion of them, I do not say a large portion, but an influential, who fraternised with the infidel, still holding their places and preferments in the Church. At the end of the century, about the time of the first sanguinary French Revolution, the pestilence spread into Spain; a knot of the Spanish clergy became infidels, and as a consequence, abandoned themselves to a licentious life. Blanco White was one of these, and amid the political troubles in his country during the first years of this century, he managed to escape to England, where he died in the year 1841.

Now there was one circumstance which gave a particularly shocking character to the infidelity of these Spanish ecclesiastics, while it made it more intense. In France the infidel party was not afraid to profess itself infidel; and such members of the clerical body as were abandoned enough to join it, did so openly; frequented its brilliant meetings and lived shamelessly, like men of fashion and votaries of sin. It was otherwise in Spain; the people would not have borne this; public opinion was all on the side of the Catholic religion; such as doubted or disbelieved were obliged to keep it to themselves, and thus if they were ecclesiastics, to become the most awful of hypocrites. There can be hypocrites in the Church, as there may be {147} hypocrites in any religion; but here you see what a hypocrite is in the Catholic Church, as seen in fact; not a person who takes up a religious profession in order to gratify some bad end, but, for the most part, one who has learned to disbelieve what he professes, after he has begun to profess it [Note 1]. However, such a person is, on any explanation, an object of horror; and in Spain it was increased by the impatience, irritation, and fever of mind, which the constraint they lay under occasioned to these unhappy men. Their feelings, shut up within their breasts, became fierce and sullen; oppressed by the weight of the popular sentiment, they turned round in revenge upon its object, and they hated Catholicism the more, because their countrymen were Catholics [Note 2]. They became a sort of secret society, spoke to each other only in private, held intercourse by signs, and plunged into licentiousness, even as a relief to the miserable conflicts which raged within them.

Earth could not show, imagination could not picture, Satan could not create, a more horrible spectacle. You will say, how was it possible? how could men who had, I will not merely say given themselves to God, but who had tasted the joy and the reward of such devotion, how could they have the heart thus to change? Why, the perpetrators of the most heinous {148} crimes, men who have sold themselves to the world, and have gained their full price from it, even they look back with tears to those days of innocence and peace which once were theirs, and which are irrecoverably gone. Napoleon said that the day of his first communion was the happiest day of his life. Such men, too, actually part company with the presence of religion; they go forward on their own course, and leave it behind them in the distance. Their regret is directed to what not merely is past, but is away. But these priests were in the very bosom of the Church; they served her altars, they were in the centre of her blessings; how could they forget Jerusalem who dwelt within her? how could they be so thankless towards her sweetness and her brightness, and so cruel towards themselves? how could one who had realised that the Strong and Mighty, that the Gracious, was present on the Altar, who had worshipped there that Saviour's tender Heart, and rejoiced in the assurance of His love, how could he go on year after year (horrible!) performing the same rites, holding his Lord in his hands, dispensing Him to His people, yet thinking it all an idle empty show, a vain superstition, a detestable idolatry, a blasphemous fraud, and cursing the while the necessity which compelled his taking part in it? Why, in the case of one who ever had known the power of religion, it is incomprehensible; but, as regards the melancholy instance we are contemplating, it would really seem if you may take his own recollection of his early self in evidence of the fact, that he never had discovered what religion was. Most children are open to religious feelings, Catholic children of course more than others; some indeed, might complain that, as {149} they advance to boyhood, religion becomes irksome and wearisome to them, but I doubt whether this is true of Catholic youth, till they begin to sin. True, alas, it is, that the nearer and more urgent excitement of guilty thoughts does render the satisfactions and consolations of Paradise insipid and uninviting; but even then their reason tells them that the fault is with themselves, not with religion; and that after all heaven is not only better, but pleasanter, sweeter, more glorious, more satisfying than anything on earth. Yet, from some strange, mysterious cause, this common law was not fulfilled in this hapless Spanish boy; he never found comfort in religion, not in childhood more than in manhood, or in old age. In his very first years, as in his last, it was a yoke and nothing more; a task without a recompense.

Thus he tells us, he "entertains a most painful recollection" of the "perpetual round of devotional practices" in which he was compelled to live. He "absolutely dreaded the approach of Sunday. Early on the morning of that formidable day, when he was only eight years old, he was made to go with his father to the Dominican convent," [Note 3] always for Mass, and every other week for confession. He did not get his breakfast for two hours, then he had to stand or kneel in the Cathedral, I suppose at High Mass, for two hours longer. Well, the second two hours probably was, as he says, a considerable trial for him. Again, from three to five he was in another church, I suppose for Vespers and Benediction. Then his father and he took a walk, and in the evening his father visited the sick in an hospital, and took his son with him. Perhaps {150} his father's treatment of him, if we are to trust his recollection and impression of it, might be injudicious; he was lively, curious, and clever, and his father, who was a truly good, pious man, it may be, did not recollect that the habits of the old are not suitable in all respects to children. Mr. Blanco White complains, moreover, that he had no companions to play with, and no books to read; still, it is very strange indeed, that he never took pleasure in Mass and Benediction; he calls his Sunday employments a "cruel discipline;" [Note 4] he describes his hearing Mass as "looking on while the priest went through it;" [Note 5] speaking of a season of recreation granted to him, he mentions his religious duties as the drawbacks "on the accession of daily pleasures" he had obtained. However, "Mass, though a nuisance, was over in half an hour; confession, a more serious annoyance, was only a weekly task;" [Note 6] and, as if to prove what I alluded to above, that no fascination of sin had at this time thrown religion into the shade, he adds, "My life was too happy in innocent amusement to be exposed to anything that might be the subject of painful accusation." No; it was some radical defect of mind. In like manner, saying office was to him never anything else than a "most burdensome practice." [Note 7] "Another devotional task, scarcely less burdensome," was—what, my Brothers, do you think? "Mental Prayer," or "Meditation;" of which he gives a detailed and true description. He adds, "Soon after I was ordained a priest ... I myself was several times the leader of this mystical farce." [Note 8] In his boyhood and youth he had to read half an hour, and to meditate on his knees another half. This for {151} such a boy, might be excessive; but hear how he comments upon it: "To feel indignant, at this distance of time, may be absurd; but it is with difficulty that I can check myself when I remember what I have suffered in the cause of religion. Alas! my sufferings from that source are still more bitter in my old age." [Note 9]

That a person, then who never knew what Catholicism had to give, should abandon it, does not seem very surprising; the only wonder is how he ever came to be a priest. If we take his own account of himself it is evident he had no vocation at all: he explains the matter, however, very simply, as far as his own share in it is concerned, by telling us that he chose the ecclesiastical state in order to avoid what he felt to be more irksome, a counting-house. "I had proposed to be sent to the navy, because at that time the Spanish midshipman received a scientific education. I could not indeed endure the idea of being doomed to a life of ignorance. This was easily perceived, and (probably with the approbation of the divines consulted on this subject) no alternative was left me. I was told I must return to the odious counting-house, from which I had taken refuge in the Church. I yielded, and in yielding mistook the happiness of drying up my mother's tears for a reviving taste for the clerical profession." [Note 10]


No wonder, under such circumstances, that Mr. Blanco White became an unbeliever; no wonder that {152} his friends and associates became unbelievers too, if their history resembled his. It was the case of active inquisitive minds, unfurnished with that clear view of divine things which divine grace imparts and prayer obtains. The only question which concerns us here is, Were there many such ecclesiastics in the Spanish Church? If so, it certainly would be a very grave fact; if not so, it is most melancholy certainly, but not an argument, as I can see, against Catholicism, for there are bad men in every place and every system. Now it is just here that his testimony fails; there is nothing that I can find in his works to prove that the dreadful disease which he describes had spread even so widely as in France. In the first place, he only witnesses to a small part of Spain. He seems to have only been in three Spanish cities in his life: Seville, Madrid, and Cadiz [Note 11]; and of these, while Seville is the only one of which he had a right to speak, the metropolis and a seaport are just two of the places, where, if there was laxity, you would expect it to he found. Again, Spain is not, like England, the seat of one people, an open country, with easy communication from sea to sea. On the contrary, you have populations so different, that you may call them foreign to each other; separated, moreover, not only morally, but by the mountain barriers which intersect the country in every direction; one part does not know another, one part is not like another, and therefore Mr. Blanco White's evidence is only good as far as it extends. You cannot infer the state of the northern dioceses from a southern; of Valentia, by what you {153} are told of Seville. Inspect then his narrative itself, and see what it results in. It amounts to this—that in the first years of this century there were a few priests at Seville who had studied Jansenistic theology, and largely imported French philosophy, and that they ended in becoming infidels, and some of them unblushing hypocrites. I cannot find mention of any except at Seville: and how many there? You may count them. First, "I became acquainted with a member of the upper clergy, a man of great reading, and secretly a most decided disbeliever in all religion." Secondly, "Through him I was introduced to another dignitary, a man much older than either of us, who had for many years held an office of great influence in the diocese, but who now lived in a very retired way. He was also a violent anti-Christian, as I subsequently found." [Note 12] Thirdly, an intimate friend of his own, who was promoted from Seville to a canonry of Cordova, and who had been chaplain to the Archbishop of Seville [Note 13]. Fourthly, himself. I am not able to number more, as given on his own personal knowledge [Note 14], though he certainly thought many others existed [Note 15]; but this is {154} ever the case with men who do wrong; they quiet the voice within them by the imagination that all others are pretty much what they are themselves. I do not then trust his inferences.

And so again, as he fell into immoral practices himself, so did he impute the same to the mass of the Spanish clergy, whom he considered as "falling and rising, struggling and falling again," [Note 16] in a continual course; but here too, from the nature of the case, he could not speak of many on his personal knowledge. Nor was it to be supposed that a priest, who was {155} both disbelieving what he professed, and was breaking what he had vowed, should possess friends very different from himself. He formed the eighth of a group of ecclesiastics whom he much admired. One of these, as we have seen, was an infidel, but apparently only one; none of them, however, were blameless in their moral conduct. Besides these friends of his, he mentions a priest of a religious congregation, who had been his own confessor, in which capacity "he had no fault to find with him, nor could he discover the least indication of his not acting up to the principles he professed," [Note 17] who, however (as he was told by a young atheist merchant who knew the priest's "secret courses" well, and, "as he had afterwards sufficient {156} ground to be convinced," if such a vague statement is a sufficient testimony to the fact), "sinned and did penance by rotation." [Note 18] Another, too, is mentioned laden with similar guilt, with whom he had been intimate, but whom he describes as deficient in mere natural principle: this man got involved in money matters and died of vexation [Note 19].

Ten, or, if it were, twenty bad ecclesiastics form a most melancholy catalogue certainly, but are not more, after all, than Protestants have scraped together and made apostates of, out of the zealous Catholic clergy of Ireland; and, as no one dreams of taking such melancholy cases as specimens of the Irish Church, neither are Mr. Blanco White's friends specimens of the Spanish. He says, indeed, "hundreds might be found," still not on his personal knowledge; and I for one cannot receive his second-hand information. However, in any case you must recollect first, that it was a time apparently of great religious declension, when Spain had imitated France, and a judgment was on the point of coming down upon the country. The Jesuits, the flower of the priesthood, whom as he says himself, "their bitterest enemies have never ventured to charge with moral irregularities," had been barbarously expelled by the government. The Congregation of St. Philip Neri took their place, but though {157} they did a great deal, they had not strength, single-handed, to stem the flood of corruption. Moreover you must consider the full number of clergy in a given place or neighbourhood, before you form a judgment upon their state as a whole. The whole number of clergy of Spain at this time amounted to 125,000 persons; of these the seculars were as many as 60,000. In the Cathedral of Seville alone 500 Masses were said daily; and the city was divided into twenty-six parishes, and contained besides between forty and fifty ecclesiastical establishments in addition to the monasteries [Note 20]. The real question before us simply is, whether the proportion of bad priests at that time in the city and diocese of Seville was greater than the proportion of bad married clergy in England in the reign, we will say, of George the Second. It is to be remembered, too, that Catholic priests know each other far more intimately than is possible in the case of a married clergy; in a large city bad priests herd together: married clergymen, in respectable station, would sin each by himself, and no one of them can turn king's evidence against the rest.

This being the extent of Mr. Blanco White's evidence about the secular priests, about monks and friars he frankly tells us he knows next to nothing, though he thinks them "gross and vulgar." But here, as in the case of the secular clergy, he suspects and believes much evil which he does not know, and which those only will receive who have implicit reliance on his judgment. As to nuns, he speaks of those of them whom he knew, as being for the most part ladies of {158} high character and unimpeachable purity [Note 21]; though some were otherwise, at least to some extent. He seems to allow that reluctant nuns were comparatively few; though he says that many were tormented by scruples, and all would have been much happier had {159} they married. But this is his opinion, as distinct from his testimony; and in like manner he has other strong opinions on the miseries inflicted on men and women by celibacy [Note 22]; but I have no reliance on his judgment—nor had any one, I think, who knew him, he had so much prejudice, and so little patience—while I have the fullest confidence in his word, when he witnesses to facts, and facts which he knew.

Such is this remarkable evidence, remarkable in the witness, and in the things witnessed, remarkable as coming from a person who had special means of knowing a Catholic country, and whose honour you may depend upon; unlike such men as Ciocci and Achilli, and others, who also have left the Church and borne witness against her, whom no sensible man credits. Here is a man you can trust; and you see how little he has to say to the purpose of Protestantism after all. He makes the most indeed of his little, but he gives us the means of judging for ourselves. Here is no conspiracy of evil, no deep-laid treachery, no disguised agents prowling about, no horrible oaths, no secret passages, trapdoors, dungeons, axes, racks, and thumbscrews; no blood and fire, no screams of despair, no wailing of children, no spectres born of feverish guilt, and flitting before the mental eye. Here is little more than what happens {160} every day in England; for I suppose that here in Protestant England there are secret unbelievers, and men who are fair and smooth, but inwardly corrupt, and many a single female wasted by weariness and sadness, and many a married woman cursing the day she ever took her vow; for these things must be, though they ought not to be, while the nature of man is the same. And moreover, as I have said, the popular voice seems to bear me out in the view I am taking; for this testimony, given under such favourable circumstances against the Church, has been let drop out of print; for it was after all tame; it did not do its work; it did not go far enough; it was not equal to the demand; it was not in keeping with the great Protestant Tradition.


No, it must contain something huge, enormous, prodigious, because the people love story books, and do not like dry matter of fact. How dull is history, or biography, or controversy, compared with a good romance, the Lives of highwaymen, a collection of ghost stories, a melodrama, a wild-beast-show, or an execution! What would a Sunday newspaper be without trials, accidents, and offences? Therefore the poor Catholic is dressed up like a scarecrow to gratify, on a large scale, the passions of curiosity, fright, and hatred. Something or other men must fear, men must loathe, men must suspect, even if it be to turn away their minds from their own inward miseries. Hence it is, if a stranger comes to a small town, that he furnishes so inexhaustible a supply of gossip to his neighbours, about who he is, what he {161} was, whom he knows, why he comes, and when he will go. If a house is empty for a while, it is sure to be haunted. When learning began to revive, your student was the object of curious horror; and Dr. Faustus, the printer and (as the nursery rhyme goes) schoolmaster, was made a magician, and is still drawn as such in poems and romances. When, then, a Catholic Church is opened in a place, or a monastic body takes up its abode there, its novelty and strangeness are a call for fiction on those who have a talent for invention; and the world would be seriously disappointed, if all sorts of superstition were not detected in the Church's rites, and all sorts of wickedness in her priests and nuns.

The popular appetite does not clamour long in vain. It asks, and it is answered. Look at that poor degraded creature, strolling about from village to village, from settlement to farmhouse, among a primitive and simple population. She has received an injury in her head when young; and this has taken away, in part, her responsibility, while it has filled her brain with wild ideas, and given it a morbid creative power. Ere she is grown up she leaves her home, and flits here and there, the prey of any one who meets with her. Catholics are all round about her; as a child she has been in a Catholic school, and perhaps she has from time to time wandered into Catholic churches. She enters, she peers about; still and demure, yet with wild curious eyes, and her own wanton thoughts. She sees, at first glance, the sanctity and gravity of the ceremonial: she is struck with the appearance of modesty, whether in the sacred ministers or in the nuns; but her evil heart instantly suggests {162} that what shows so well is nothing but a show, and that close under the surface lies corruption. She contemplates the whole scene, she cannot forget it; but she asks herself, What if it be but a solemn mockery cloaking bad deeds? The words, the actions, so calm, so gentle, the words of peace, the sacramental actions, she carries them off with an accurate memory; those verses and responses, those sweet voices, those blessings, and crossings, and sprinklings, and genuflections. But what if they all be a cloak? And when the priest went out, or when he spoke to any one, what was it all about? And when he was in his confessional, and first one penitent, and then another came to him, what could they be saying? Ah, what indeed! what if it all be but a cloak for sin? There is the point. What if it be but a jest? Oh, the pleasant mischief! the stirring, merry fancy! to think that men can look so grave, yet love sin; that women, too, who pretend so much, need not be better than she is herself; that that meek face, or those holy hands, belong to a smooth hypocrite, who acts the angel and lives the devil! She looks closer and closer, measuring the limbs, scanning the gestures, and drinking in the words of those who unconsciously go about their duties in her presence; and imputing meanings to the most harmless and indifferent actions. It really is as she suspected, and the truth breaks upon her more and more. Her impure imagination acts upon her bodily vision, and she begins to see the image of her own suspicions in the objects she is gazing on. A sort of mirage spreads through the sacred building, or religious house, and horrors of all kind float across her brain. {163} She goes away, but they pursue her;—what may not have taken place amid those holy rites, or within those consecrated walls? The germ of a romance is already fermenting in her brain, and day after day it becomes more developed in its parts, and more consistent in its form.

Poor sinful being! She finds herself in a Penitentiary! no, sure, it is a religious house; so she will consider it, so will she henceforth speak of it; everything she sees there speaks to her of her feverish dream; the penitents become nuns; the very rooms, windows, passages, and stairs, she recognizes them as conventual, the very convent which her fancy has been framing. Things utterly separate from each other are confused together in her bewildered mind; and when she comes into the world again, she thinks herself a nun escaped from confinement, and she now begins to recollect scenes of indescribable horror, which gradually become clearer and clearer. Now, Protestant public, the hour is come; you have craved after lies, and you shall have your fill; you have demanded, and here is the supply. She opens her mouth; she lifts her voice; your oracle, your prophet, your idol, O Protestant public, is about to speak; she begins her "Awful Disclosures." Who is this hapless creature, very wicked, very mischievous, yet much to be pitied? It is Maria Monk.

My Brothers, in what I have been saying, I have but given substance in my own way to the facts recorded of her; but those facts are simply as I have stated them. The history of the wretched impostor was traced out and given to the world immediately on the publication of her romance. It was deposed {164} by divers witnesses that she was born of parents who had lived at Montreal in Canada, about the year 1816. When about seven years old, she broke a slate pencil on her head, and had been strange ever since; at the age of eight she frequented a convent school; when about fourteen or fifteen she left her mother's roof; and is found successively in the service of several persons, an hotel-keeper, a farmer, a tradesman, and others, and then for a time was dependent on charity. From one of her mistresses she absconded with a quantity of wearing-linen; she was discharged by two others for her bad conduct, and was generally looked upon as a person of at least doubtful character. Then she made her appearance at Montreal itself, declaring she was daughter to Dr. Robertson, a magistrate of the city, who had kept her chained in a cellar for four years. This attempt failing, she next went off to the United States, appeared at New York, and then began a second and more successful tale against one of the convents of the city she had left, from which she said she had escaped. She was taken up by a party of New York Protestants, who thoroughly believed her, and reduced her story to writing. Who was the author is not quite certain; two names have been mentioned, one of them a person connected with this town. In this book, whoever wrote it, she gives a minute description of her imaginary convent in Montreal, and of some of the nuns and others she professed to have known there. On the slander making its way to Montreal, Protestants carefully went over the calumniated convent; and they reported, after minute inspection, that it in no respect answered to her account of it; indeed, {165} it was certain she had never been within it. It was proved, on the other hand, that her description did distinctly answer to a Penitentiary of which she had lately been an inmate, and whence she was dismissed for bad conduct; and further, that the account she gave of her nuns in the convent answered to some of her fellow-penitents. Moreover, there is something about the book more remarkable still, not indeed as it concerns her, but as it concerns the argument I have in several of these Lectures been pursuing. I have insisted much on the traditional character of the fable, of which Catholics are the victims. It is the old lie, brought up again and again. Now this is most singularly exemplified in the infamous work I am speaking of. On its appearance the newspapers of the day asserted, without contradiction, that it was in great measure a mere republication of a work printed in the year 1731, under the title of "The Gates of Hell opened, or a Development of the Secrets of Nunneries." "Maria Monk's Pamphlet," says a Liverpool paper, "is a verbatim copy of that work, the only difference being a change of names." The editor of a Boston paper "pledged himself that this was the fact;" and the editor of another "was ready to make affidavit that the original work was in his possession a few months previously, when it had been lent to the publishers of Maria Monk's Disclosures." To show this he copied out passages from both works, which were the same word for word [Note 23].

Here, then, you have a witness who is prepared to {166} go any lengths in support of the Protestant Tradition, however truth or principle may lie in her way; and offensive as it will be to you to listen, and painful to me to read, you must, for the sake of the contrast between her and Mr. Blanco White, submit to one or two of those passages from her romance, which I am able without impropriety to quote.

Now, I will give you the key to the whole book considered as a composition, and its burden, and (what may be called) its moral, as addressed to the Protestant world. It is an idea, which, as I have already said, was naturally suggested to an impure mind, and forcibly addressed itself to a curious reader. Mankind necessarily proceeds upon the notion that what is within discloses itself by what is without; that the soul prompts the tongue, inspires the eye, and rules the demeanour; and such is the doctrine of Holy Writ, when it tells us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Hence, when strangers visit a nunnery, and see the order, cheerfulness, and quiet which reigns through it, they naturally take all this as the indication of that inward peace and joy which ought to be the portion of its inmates. And again, when strangers attend Mass, and observe the venerable and awful character of the rite, they naturally are led to think that the priest is "holding up pure hands," and is as undefiled in heart as he is grave in aspect. Now it is the object of this Narrative to reverse this natural association, to establish the contrary principle, and to impress upon the mind that what is within is always what the outward appearance is not, and that the more of saintliness is in the exterior, the more certainly is {167} there depravity and guilt in the heart. Of course it must be confessed, there have been cases where what looked fair and beautiful was but a whited sepulchre, "full within of dead men's bones and of all filthiness;" such cases have been and may be, but they are unnatural surely, not natural; the exception, not the rule. To consider this as the rule of things, you must destroy all trust in the senses; when a man laughs, you must say he is sad; when he cries, you must say he is merry; when he is overbearing in words, you must call him gentle; and when he says foolish things, you must call him wise; all because sad hearts sometimes wear cheerful countenances, and divine wisdom sometimes has condescended to look like folly. It is reported to have been said by an able diplomatist, that the use of words is to disguise men's thoughts; but the very wit of the remark lies in the preposterous principle it ironically implies. Yet still to the run of readers there is something attractive in this perverted and morbid notion, both from a sort of malevolence and love of scandal, which possesses the minds of the vulgar, and from the wish to prove that others, who seems religious, are even worse than themselves; and besides, from the desire of mystery and marvel, which prompts them, as I have said before, to have recourse to some monstrous tale of priestcraft for excitement, as they would betake themselves to a romance or a ghost story.

Thus she says in one place, or rather the writers, whoever they may be:—"I have often reflected how grievously I had been deceived in my opinions of a nun's condition—all the holiness of their lives, I now found, was merely pretended. The appearance of {168} sanctity and heavenly-mindedness which they had shown among us novices, I found was only a disguise, to conceal such practices as would not be tolerated in any decent society in the world; and, as for joy and peace like that of heaven, which I had expected to find among them, I learned too well that they did not exist there." [Note 24]

Again, speaking of a picture of the infernal pit, at which the nuns were looking, she introduces a nun saying something so dreadful, that the reader hardly knows whether to laugh or to cry at it. "I remember she named the wretch who was biting at the bars of hell, with a serpent gnawing his head, with chains and padlocks on, Father Dufresne; and she would say, Does he not look like him, when he comes in to catechism with his long solemn face, and begins his speeches with, 'My children, my hope is that you have lived very devout lives?'" [Note 25]

In such passages, the object of the writer is to familiarise the reader's imagination to the notion that hypocrisy is the natural and ordinary state of things, and to create in him a permanent association between any serious act whatever and inward corruption. She makes the appearance of religion to be the presumption, not of reality, but of hollowness, and the very extravagance of her statements is their plausibility. The reader says, "It is so shocking, it must be true; no one could have invented it."

It is with a view to increase this unnatural plausibility that the writer or writers dwell minutely on various details which happen, or might easily happen, in Catholic churches and convents. For instance, {169} they say, "The old priest ... when going to administer (the Blessed Sacrament) in any country place, used to ride with a man before him, who rang a bell as a signal. When the Canadians heard it, whose habitations he passed, they would come and prostrate themselves to the earth, worshipping it as God." Of course; it is so; Catholics do worship the Blessed Sacrament, because they believe It to be our Lord Himself. Therefore we will say so in our book, for we wish to lie naturally, we wish to root our imposture in a foundation of truth.

Again; "The bell rang at half-past six to awaken us. The old nun who was acting as night-watch immediately spoke aloud, 'Behold the Lord cometh!' The nuns all responded, 'Let us go and meet Him.' Presently, we then knelt and kissed the floor." [Note 26]

Now observe the effect of all this. When a person, who never was in a Catholic church or convent, reads such particulars; when he reads, moreover, of the lattice-work of the confessional, of the stoup of holy water, and the custom of dipping the finger into it, of silence during dinner, and of recreation after it; of a priest saying Mass with his hands first joined together, and then spread, and his face to the altar; of his being addressed by the title of "my father," and speaking of his "children," and many other similar particulars; and then afterwards actually sees some Catholic establishment, he says to himself, "This is just what the book said;" "here is quite the very thing of which it gave me the picture;" and I repeat he has, in consequence of his reliance on it, so associated the acts of the ceremonial, the joined {170} hands or the downcast eyes, with what his book went on slanderously to connect them, with horrible sin, that he cannot disconnect them in his imagination; and he thinks the Catholic priest already convicted of hypocrisy, because he observes those usages which all the world knows that he does observe, which he is obliged to observe, and which the Church has ever observed. Thus you see the very things, which are naturally so touching and so beautiful in the old Catholic forms of devotion, become by this artifice the means of infusing suspicion into the mind of the beholder.

Yes; all this outward promise of good is but a beautiful veil, hiding behind it untold horrors. Let us lift it, so far as we may do so without sharing in the writer's sin. Our heroine has passed through her noviciate, and proceeds to take the vows. Then she learns suddenly the horrors of her situation; she was, in fact, in a house of evil spirits; she represents herself, as was very natural, supposing she had been a religious person, overcome by distress, and unable to resign herself to her lot; and she was told by the Mother Superior, "that such feelings were very common at first, and that many other nuns had expressed themselves as I did, who had long since changed their minds. She even said, on her entrance into the nunnery she had felt like me. Doubts, she declared, were among our greatest enemies. They would lead us to question every path of duty, and induce us to waver at every step. They arose only from remaining imperfections, and were always evidences of sin; our only way was to dismiss them immediately, to repent, to confess them. They were deadly sins, {171} and would condemn us to hell if we should die without confessing them. Priests, she insisted, could not sin. It was a thing impossible. Everything they did and wished was of course right." [Note 27]

Now, my Brothers, you know there is a divine law written on the heart by nature, and that the Catholic Church is built on that law, and cannot undo it. No Priest, no Bishop, no Council can make that right which is base and shameful. In this passage the false witness would make the Protestant world believe that nuns are obliged to obey their confessors in commands strictly sinful, and horrible, and blasphemous. How different from the true witness, Mr. Blanco White! He said all he could against convents; he never hinted that religious women were taught by the priests that priests could not possibly sin, could not possibly issue a sinful command, could not possibly have a sinful wish; and therefore must be obeyed whatever they ask; he never hinted, from any experience of his, that in matter of fact they did make any sinful suggestions. His quarrel with the Catholic religion was that it was too strict, not that it was too lax; that it gave rise to nervousness, scruples, and melancholy. His utmost accusation (except as regards the unbelieving few) was that he knew some persons, and he believed there were others, who sinned, knew their sin, came and confessed it, and sinned again. There was no calling evil good, and good evil. Let her continue her revelations:—

"She also gave me another piece of information, which excited other feelings in me scarcely less dreadful. Infants were sometimes born in the convent, {172} but they were always baptised, and immediately strangled. This secured their everlasting happiness; for the baptism purified them from all sinfulness, and being sent out of the world before they had time to do anything wrong, they were at once admitted into heaven. How happy, she exclaimed, are those who secure immortal happiness for such little beings. Their little souls would thank those who killed their bodies, if they had it in their power [Note 28].

"So far as I know, there were no pains taken to preserve secrecy on this subject ... I believe I learned through the nuns that at least eighteen or twenty infants were smothered, and secretly buried in the cellar, while I was a nun." [Note 29]

The nuns, according to her account, underwent the same fate, if they would not resign themselves to the mode of life in all its details, for which alone, as it would seem, the nunnery was set up. She gives an account of the murder of one of them; and after quoting this, I consider I may fairly be excused from quoting any more.

"I entered the door," she says, "my companions standing behind me, as the place was so small as hardly to hold five persons at a time. The young nun was standing alone, near the middle of the room; she was probably about twenty, with light hair, blue eyes, and a very fair complexion." [Note 30] The poor victim is brought to the Bishop, who, the writer says, "it was easy to perceive, considered her fate to be sealed, and was determined she should not escape. In reply to some of the questions put to her she was silent; to others I heard her voice reply that she did not repent of {173} words she had uttered, though they had been reported by some of the nuns who had heard them; that she had firmly resolved to resist any attempt to compel her to the commission of crimes which she detested. She added that she would rather die than cause the murder of harmless babes. 'That is enough, finish her!' said the Bishop. Two nuns instantly fell upon the woman; and in obedience to directions given by the Superior, prepared to execute her sentence. She still maintained all the calmness and submission of a lamb." Then they gag her and throw her on a bed. "In an instant," the narrative proceeds, "another bed was thrown upon her. One of the priests sprung like a fury upon it with all his force. He was speedily followed by the nuns, until there were as many upon the bed as could find room, and all did what they could, not only to smother, but to bruise her ... After the lapse of fifteen or twenty minutes, and when it was presumed that the sufferer had been smothered and crushed to death, (the priest) and the nuns ceased to trample upon her, and stepped from the bed. All was motionless and silent beneath it. They then began to laugh," &c.

But I surely need not continue trash such as this, which is as stupid as it is atrocious. In like manner she tells us the number of nuns killed, the number who killed themselves, the various penances and tortures which were common, gags, hot irons, glass chewing, and the "cap;" the cells, and everything which is proper furniture of such an abode. She concludes the book with a solemn reflection, how hard it is to think aright after thinking wrong. "The Scriptures," she is made to say, "always affect me {174} powerfully when I read them; but I feel that I have but just begun to learn the great truths, in which I ought to have been early instructed ... The first passage of Scripture that made any serious impression on my mind, was the text on which the chaplain preached on the Sabbath after my introduction into the house, 'Search the Scriptures:'"—and so the book ends.

I have now described, first, the character of the writer, next, the character of her book; one point alone remains, its reception by the public. The calumny first appeared in 1836, it still thrives and flourishes in 1851. I have made inquiries, and I am told I may safely say that in the course of the fifteen years that it has lasted, from 200,000 to 250,000 copies have been put into circulation in America and England. The edition I have used is printed at Nottingham in the present year. A vast number of copies has been sold at a cheap rate, and given away by persons who ought to have known it was a mere blasphemous fiction. At this very time the book is found, I believe, in some of the parochial lending libraries of this place, and I hear rumours concerning some of the distributors, which, from the respect I wish to entertain towards their names, I do not know how to credit. Nor have these various efforts been without visible fruit, at least in America. A nunnery was burned down at Charlestown; and at New York fifty houses, inhabited by Catholics, were also destroyed by fire, which extended to the Cathedral.


And thus I have completed, my Brothers, the contrast I proposed to set before you. A writer of {175} name, of character, of honour, of gentleman-like feeling, who has the entrée of the first and most intellectual circles of the metropolis, and is the friend of the first Protestant ecclesiastics of his day, records his testimony against Catholicism; it is in the main true, and it fails:—a worthless stroller gets her own testimony put into writing; it is a heap of fables, and it triumphantly succeeds. Let, then, the Protestant public be itself the judge:—its preference of Maria Monk to Blanco White reveals a great fact;—truth is not equal to the exigencies of the Protestant cause; falsehood is its best friend.

Nor let it be imagined, my Brothers, that I have unfairly selected my examples, in order to serve a purpose. Inhabitants of Birmingham ought, more than others, to acquit me of this. Only two years have I been here, and each of these two has been signalised by accusations against Catholics, similar, in the disreputableness of their authors, and in the enormity of their falsehood, and in the brilliancy of their success, to the calumnies of Maria Monk. Two years ago it was Jeffreys; last year it was Teodore. You recollect how Jeffreys acted his part, how he wept, and prayed, and harangued, and raised a whole population against an innocent company of monks; and how he was convicted of fraud, and confessed his guilt, and was sent to prison. You also recollect how an impostor, called Teodore, declaimed such shocking things, and wrote such indecent pamphlets against us, that they cannot have been intended for any other purpose than to afford merriment to the haunts of profligacy and vice; yet he was followed for a time, was admitted into Protestant places of {176} worship, and honoured as a truth-telling oracle, till at length he was plainly detected to be what every one from the first would have seen he really was, were it usual to do the same common justice to Catholics which every Protestant considers his due;—for falsehood is the basis of the Protestant Tradition.

On the other hand, I might give you other instances similar to that of Mr. Blanco White. I might point to Mr. Steimnitz, who, within the last ten years, began his noviciate among the Jesuits, left them, turned Protestant, and published an account of the community he had quitted. He wrote to expose them, and abounded in bitterness and invective; but as to his facts, so little had he to produce from his own personal knowledge to the disadvantage of the Institution he was attacking, and so severely did he disappoint the Protestants for whom he wrote, that they considered his work what they called a Jesuitical trick, and said that he was pretending to attack the good fathers in order really to set them off to advantage; for truth does but prejudice the Protestant Tradition.

Falsehood succeeds for a generation, or for a period; but there it has its full course and comes to an end. Truth is eternal; it is great, and will prevail. The end is the proof of things. Brothers of the Oratory, surely we shall succeed, because "they say all manner of evil against us falsely for His Name's sake."

Top | Contents | Works | Home


1. E.g., Mr. Blanco White says of one of the Spanish ecclesiastics whom he introduces, "He was . . . one of those, who, having originally taken their posts in the foremost ranks of asceticism, with the most sincere desire of improvement for himself and others, are afterwards involved in guilt by strong temptation, and reduced to secret moral degradation, by want of courage to throw off the mask of sanctity." Life, vol. i. p. 121.
Return to text

2. I think I have heard him say that he had lost his knowledge of the Spanish tongue, not having the heart to keep it up.
Return to text

3. P. 11.
Return to text

4. P. 12.
Return to text

5. P. 26.
Return to text

6. P. 32.
Return to text

7. P. 27.
Return to text

8. P. 29.
Return to text

9. P. 29. He goes on to say that he prefers to the vague word "religion" the use of "true Christianity," but this he gave up at last.
Return to text

10. P. 52.
Return to text

11. On one occasion he ran down to Salamanca from Madrid, apparently for a day or two.
Return to text

12. P. 114.
Return to text

13. P. 17. I consider this to be the person mentioned in the "Evidences," p. 132, whom accordingly I have not set down as a separate instance.
Return to text

14. On his visit to Salamanca, he saw Melendez, a Deist (p. 128), who had been one of the judges of the Supreme Court at Madrid; a poet, too; whether an Ecclesiastic does not appear.
Return to text

15. Life, p. 117. "Many other members of the clergy." If he had a definite knowledge of others, or more than suspicion, I cannot understand his not giving us the number, or the rank, or the diocese, in short, something categorical, instead of an indirect allusion. The question, then, simply is, what his suspicions are worth. "Among my numerous acquaintance in the Spanish clergy, I have never met with any one, possessed of bold talents, who has not, sooner or later, changed from the most sincere piety to a state of unbelief." (Doblado's Letters, v.) I observe—1. He had experience only of one diocese. 2. He evidently, by the very form of his words, does not speak of what he knew, when he says, "who has not sooner or later." 3. Observe, "possessed of bold talents." In like manner, he would, I think, have said, that when he was at Oxford, every one, "of bold talents," agreed with Archbishop Whately, then resident in the University (and my friend as well as his); but every one knows how small Dr. Whately's party was. I do not notice a passage in the "Poor Man's Preservative" (Dial. i. pp. 32, 33), for he is speaking of laity, and what he says of the clergy is very vague. After all, though I have a right to ask for proof, it is not necessary for my argument to deny, that the infidel party might have been as large in Spain even as in France; though in fact it seems to have been no larger than the small band of Apostates boasted of by the "Priests' Protection Society" in Dublin.
Return to text

16. Evid. p. 132. Again he says, "hundreds might be found" who live "a life of systematic vice" (p. 135). How very vague is "hundreds!" and "hundreds" out of 60,000 seculars, and 125,000 ecclesiastics in all, as I shall mention presently in the text. (Ibid. p. 133.) He speaks vaguely of the "crowd" of priests; and he says the best of them, and he knew the best from confession, "mingled vice and superstition, grossness of feeling, and pride of office, in their character." I suspect that coarseness with him was one great evidence of vice; he despised uneducated persons. "I am surprised," he says of Tavora, Bishop of the Canary Islands (p.129), "that a man of his taste and information accepted the Bishopric of a semi-barbarous portion of the Spanish dominions:" and this, though he attributes it "to his desire of improving the moral and intellectual state of those islands."
Return to text

17. This conscientiousness in his duty is remarkable in this priest, even if his account of him ought to be believed (for it stands on different grounds from those cases which he knew). Of himself, too, he says, his resolution was to do his duty to his charge, though an unbeliever. "I will not put myself forward in the Church. I will not affect zeal: whatever trust is put in me, as a confessor, I will conscientiously prove myself worthy of. I will urge people to observe every moral duty. I will give them the best advice in their difficulties, and comfort them in their distress. Such were the resolutions I made, and which, indeed, I always (sic) kept, in regard to the confidence reposed in my priestly office. In that respect I may positively and confidently assert, that I never availed myself of the privileges of my priesthood for anything immoral" (Life, vol. i. p. 112). This being the case, his intention in consecrating and administering the sacraments was valid, even though he was an unbeliever. I think my memory cannot play me false in saying, that in answer to a question once put to him, he declared emphatically that the bad priests never made use of the confessional for immoral purposes: he said, "They daren't. It would raise the people." Moreover, as time went on, he himself withdrew altogether from clerical duty. He speaks of another of the party, who having "for many years held an office of great influence in the diocese, now lived in a very retired way" (p. 114). I say all this in order to show what little bearing the unbelief of this small knot of priests had upon the Catholic population among whom they lived.
Return to text

18. Life, p. 121.
Return to text

19. Life, p. 104. He speaks (Evidences, p. 135) of two priests who died of love. "Love, long resisted, seized them, at length, like madness. Two I knew who died insane." Even granting it, I suppose it was love of particular objects. May not Protestants fall in love with persons who will not have them, or who are married? Dying for love is certainly an idea quite known in England, still more so, perhaps, in the South.
Return to text

20. Laborde, vol. ii.
Return to text

21. He has a most intense notion that they are "prisoners;" but that does not hinder his admitting that they are willing prisoners. He thinks the majority live in "a dull monotony" (Life, p. 67). It is not wonderful that he should take the formal Parliamentary view of nuns, considering that from his youth, as I have said, he, though a Catholic, had apparently as little sense of the Real Presence (the true and sufficient Paraclete of a Nunnery) as the House of Commons has. The following expressions sketch his idea of a nunnery; let it be observed, vice (except as an accident) is absent:—"The minute and anxious narrative of a nervous recluse" (p. 66). "A sensible woman confined for life" (Ibid.) "A soul troubled with all the fears of a morbid conscience" (p. 67). "The word Nunnery is a byword for weakness of intellect, fretfulness, childishness. In short, nun is the superlative of old woman" (p. 69). "Some of them were women of superior good sense, and models of that fortitude which," &c. (Ibid.) "One of those excellent persons" (Ibid.) "The greater part of the nuns whom I have known, were beings of a much higher description, females whose purity owed nothing to the strong gates and high walls of the cloister" (Evid. p. 135). "Some there are, I confess, among the nuns, who never seem to long for freedom; but the happiness boasted of in convents is generally the effect of an honourable pride of purpose, supported by a sense of utter hopelessness" (Ibid. p.136). "Suppose but one nun in ten thousand wished vehemently for that liberty" (p. 137). "The reluctant nuns, you say, are few;—vain, unfeeling sophistry" (p. 139). "The most sensitive, innocent, and ardent minds" (Ibid. p. 141). "Crime makes its way into" (observe, not is congenial to) "those recesses" (Ibid. p. 135). "It is a notorious fact, that the nunneries in Estramadura and Portugal" (not, that are in Seville and Andalusia) "are frequently infected with vice of the grossest kind" (Ibid. p. 135). "Souls more polluted than those of some never fell within my observation, &c." (Life, vol. i. p. 70). Observe, "souls;"—to the soul he limits the sin, and he puts the word in italics, to show that this really is his meaning, and he adds "some." When it comes to the soul, the evidence is very vague; and this, out of 500, in Seville alone! Such on the whole is his evidence against convents: how little of fact, how much of suspicion, contempt, and hatred! how much, again, of involuntary admission in favour of their religious condition!
Return to text

22. The simple question is, whether more nuns are eaten up with scruples—more are restless and discontented—more are old women or old maids—more sin grossly, than unmarried women in a Protestant country. Here, as before, I am allowing for argument's sake, the worst side of things; and nothing of all this, be it observed, even if granted, disproves—(1.) the religiousness of the great majority; (2.) the angelical saintliness of many; (3.) the excellence and utility of the institution itself, after all drawbacks; which are the points a Catholic maintains.
Return to text

23. For these facts, vide "A complete Refutation of Maria Monk's atrocious Plot," &c., by the Rev. R. W. Wilson (now Bishop of Hobart Town), Nottingham, 1837.
Return to text

24. P. 116.
Return to text

25. P. 82.
Return to text

26. P. 39.
Return to text

27. P. 35.
Return to text

28. P. 35.
Return to text

29. P. 120.
Return to text

30. P. 75.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home

Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright © 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.