Note on Essay VIII

{380} THERE is an argument, in the foregoing pages, in behalf of the Anglican Church, which perhaps calls for remark from a Catholic. It is this:—that the Anglican Church is able to propagate its kind, and that fecundity is a sign of life, and life a sign of a divine origin, according to the words, "If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought."

And in the Essay which is soon to follow upon "the Catholicity of the Anglican Church," it is said "Life is a Note of the Church; she alone revives, even if she declines; heretical and schismatical bodies cannot keep life;" and I go on to insist on this proposition at great length. And it certainly expresses an important truth, when it is carried out in fulness in the instance of a particular principle or institution. For example, the idea of a Supreme Being may truly be said to be real, because of its obstinate vitality; but before the argument can be applied to in favour of the Anglican Church, the conditions under which it is valid must be investigated, and various emergent difficulties disposed of, which interfere with its availableness.

It must be recollected that in this very Essay, in which the vitality of Anglicanism is dwelt upon, it is conceded, that there are different kinds of life, and not all of them good kinds. Evil itself has a sort of life: and still more in cases in which good and evil are mixed together, in these good lives in spite of the evil, and evil seems to live because of the good which interpenetrates {381} it, and is its life. Accordingly I expressly say, "Each creature has its own life, and life is a principle of good or of evil according as it is in this creature or in that. And so with moral life; fanaticism implies life, so does bigotry, so does superstition; but none of them is true religion."—Supr., p. 364.

It does not then at once follow that, if a religion has life of any kind, therefore it is true; and I have carried out this admission to the disadvantage of Anglicanism, in a later publication, thus: "Life?—is it the religious 'life' of England, or of Prussia, or is it Catholic life, that is, the life which belongs to Catholic principles, [which is found in Anglicanism]? Else, we shall be arguing in a circle, if Protestants are to prove that they have that life, which manifests [supernatural grace], because they have, as they are sure to have, a life congenial and in conformity with Protestant principles. If then 'life' means strength, activity, energy, and well-being of any kind whatever, in that case doubtless the National Religion is alive. It is a great power in the midst of us; it wields an enormous influence; it represses a hundred foes; it conducts a hundred undertakings; it attracts men to its service, uses them, rewards them; it has thousands of beautiful homes up and down the country, where quiet men do its work, and benefit its people; it collects vast sums in the shape of voluntary offerings, and with them it builds churches, prints and distributes innumerable Bibles, books, and tracts, and sustains missionaries in all parts of the earth. In all parts of the earth it opposes the Catholic Church, denounces her as anti-Christian, bribes the world against her, obstructs her influence, apes her authority, and confuses her evidence. In all parts it is the religion of gentlemen, of scholars, of men of substance, and of men of no personal faith at all. If this be life,—if it be {382} life to impart a tone to the Court and the Houses of Parliament, to ministers of state, to law and literature, to universities and schools, and to society,—if it be life to be a principle of order in the population, and an organ of benevolence and almsgiving towards the poor,—if it be life to make men decent, respectable, and sensible, to embellish and refine the family circle, to deprive vice of its grossness, and to spread a gloss over avarice and ambition,—if indeed it is the life of religion to be the first jewel in the Queen's crown, and the highest step of her throne, then doubtless the National Church is replete, it overflows with life; but the question has still to be answered, Life of what kind? Heresy has its life, worldliness has its life; is the Establishment's life merely national life, or is it something more? is it Catholic life as well? is it supernatural life?"—Anglican Difficulties, Lect. ii.

The passage does not proceed to answer the last question; but it may be freely conceded by all Catholics, as it is conceded in other passages of the Lecture, from which the above is taken, that the Anglican body both has, and does apply to the benefit of the souls of its members, various divine doctrines and ordinances, which it carried with it, when it left its true home in the one only Church of God. As to that special Note of life, however, which the foregoing Essay insists on, growth and fecundity, this is in a certain sense possessed by heresies, as weeds thrive and spread more luxuriantly than wholesome and pleasant plants. One heresy too gives birth to a dozen. Then, as to success in various countries, which, when attaching to an idea or undertaking, is under conditions a genuine evidence of truth, it must be recollected that, if Anglicanism has spread among its kindred population in the United States, there have been, I think, {383} Wesleyans in Sweden, and Friends in the Low Countries, places strange to England in climate, language, and mental habits. Nestorianism, a Greek heresy, lasted for many centuries, and extended from China to Jerusalem. It had twenty-five archbishops, and its numbers, with the Monophysites, surpassed those of the Greeks and Latins together. It would be a better sign of life for Anglicans, if they succeeded in their present efforts with the Italians, who seem just now in want of a religion, or with the Spaniards or French, who also at this time offer something of a field for their exertions. That is real fecundity in an idea, which is capable of reproduction in many separate minds, strange or hostile to each other, in rival classes of society, and in various political constitutions and successive centuries. I have drawn out this argument elsewhere, and will here extract portions of it:—

"Catholics act according to their name; Catholics are at home in every time and place, in every state of society, in every class of the community, in every stage of cultivation. No state of things comes amiss to a Catholic priest; he has always a work to do, and a harvest to reap.

"Were it otherwise, had he not confidence in the darkest day, and the most hostile district, he would be relinquishing a principal Note, as it is called, of the Church. She is Catholic, because she brings a universal remedy for a universal disease. The disease is sin; all men have sinned; all men need a recovery in Christ; to all must that recovery be preached and dispensed. If then there be a preacher and dispenser of recovery, sent from God, that messenger must speak, not to one, but to all, he must be suited to all, he must have a mission to the whole race of Adam, and be cognizable {384} by every individual of it. I do not mean that he must persuade all, and prevail with all—for that depends upon the will of each; but he must show his capabilities for converting all by actually converting some of every time, and every place, and every rank, and every age of life, and every character of mind. If sin is a partial evil, let its remedy be partial; but if it be not local, not occasional, but universal, such must be the remedy. A local religion is not from God ... Judaism then was local because it was an inchoate religion; when it reached perfection within, it became universal without, and took the name of Catholic.

"Look around, my brethren, at the forms of religion now in the world, and you will find that one, and one only, has this Note of a divine origin. The Catholic Church has accompanied human society through the revolution of its great year; and is now beginning it again. She has passed through the full cycle of changes, in order to show us that she is independent of them all. She has had trial of East and West, of monarchy and democracy, of peace and war, of imperial and of feudal tyranny, of times of darkness and times of philosophy, of barbarousness and luxury, of slaves and freemen, of cities and nations, of marts of commerce and seats of manufacture, of old countries and young, of metropolis and colonies …

"How different, again I say, how different are all religions that ever were, from this lofty and unchangeable Catholic Church! They depend on time and place for their existence, they live in periods or in regions. They are children of the soil, indigenous plants, which readily flourish under a certain temperature, in a certain aspect, in moist or in dry, and die if they are transplanted. Their habitat is one article of their scientific {385} description. Thus the Greek schism, Nestorianism, the heresy of Calvin, and Methodism, each has its geographical limits. Protestantism has gained nothing in Europe since its first outbreak ...

"There is but one form of Christianity, my brethren, possessed of that real internal unity which is the primary condition of independence. Whether you look to Russia, England, or Germany, this Note of divinity is wanting. In this country, especially, there is nothing broader than class religions; the established form itself is but the religion of a class. There is one persuasion for the rich, and another for the poor; men are born in this or that sect; the enthusiastic go here, and the sober-minded and rational go there. They make money, and rise in the world, and then they profess to belong to the Establishment. This body lives in the world's smile, that in its frown; the one would perish of cold in the world's winter, and the other would melt away in the summer. Not one of them undertakes human nature: none compasses the whole man; none places all men on a level; none addresses the intellect and the heart, fear and love, the active and the contemplative. It is considered, and justly, as an evidence for Christianity, that the ablest men have been Christians; not that all sagacious or profound minds have taken up its profession, but that it has gained victories among them, such and so many, as to show that it is not the mere fact of ability or learning which is the reason why all are not converted. Such too is the characteristic of Catholicity; not the highest in rank, not the meanest, not the most refined, not the rudest, is beyond the influence of the Church; she includes specimens of every class among her children. She is the solace of the forlorn, the chastener of the {386} prosperous, and the guide of the wayward. She keeps a mother's eye for the innocent, bears with a heavy hand upon the wanton, and has a voice of majesty for the proud. She opens the mind of the ignorant, and she prostrates the intellect of the most gifted. These are not words; she has done it, she does it still, she undertakes to do it. All she asks is an open field, and freedom to act. She asks no patronage from the civil power: in former times and places she has asked it; and, as Protestantism also, has availed herself of the civil sword ... But her history shows that she needed it not, for she has extended and flourished without it. She is ready for any service which occurs; she will take the world as it comes; nothing but force can repress her. See, my brethren, what she is doing in this country now; for three centuries the civil power has trodden down the goodly plant of grace, and kept its foot upon it; at length circumstances have removed that tyranny, and lo! the fair form of the Ancient Church rises up at once, as fresh and as vigorous as if she had never intermitted her growth. She is the same as she was three centuries ago, ere the present religions of the country existed; you know her to be the same; it is the charge brought against her that she does not change; time and place affect her not, because she has her source where there is neither time nor place, because she comes from the throne of the Illimitable, Eternal God."—Discourses to Mixed Congregations.

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