Part IV. Religious

Section 1. Protestantism

1. Protestantism and Historical Christianity

{223} WHATEVER be historical Christianity, it is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this. And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean that every Protestant writer has felt it; for it was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them; but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone; men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it. It is shown by the long neglect of ecclesiastical history in England, which prevails even in the English Church. Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicaea and Trent, except as affording one or two passages to illustrate its wild interpretations of certain prophesies of St. Paul and St. John. It is melancholy to say it, but the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the unbeliever Gibbon. German Protestantism, on the other hand, has been of a bolder character; it has calmly faced and carefully surveyed the {224} Christianity of eighteen hundred years, and it frankly avows that it is a mere religion of man, and the accident of a period. It considers it a syncretism of various opinions, springing up in time and place, and forming such combinations, one with another, as their respective characters admitted. It considers it as the religion of the childhood of the human mind, and curious to the philosopher as a phenomenon. And the utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is true, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene, as its Post-tridentine period. I have elsewhere observed on this circumstance: "So much must the Protestant grant, that if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off every vestige of what it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: so that 'when they rose in the morning' her true seed 'were all dead corpses'—nay, dead and buried—and without grave-stone. 'The waters went over them; there was not one of them left; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters.' Strange antitype, indeed, to the early fortunes of Israel!—then the enemy was drowned, and 'Israel saw them dead upon the seashore.' But now, it would seem, water proceeded as a flood 'out of the serpent's mouth,' and covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead bodies 'lay in the streets of the great city.' Let him take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition; his notion of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship; his denial of the virtues of the Sacraments, or of the ministerial commission, or of the visible Church; {225} or his doctrine of the divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed instrument of religious teaching; and let him consider how far Antiquity, as it has come down to us, will countenance him in it. No; he must allow that the alleged deluge has done its work; yes, and has in turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up in the earth, mercilessly as itself was merciless." [Note 1]

That Protestantism, then, is not the Christianity of history, it is easy to determine. ("Essay on Development," p. 5.)

2. Bible Religion

THERE is in the literary world just now an affectation of calling religion a "sentiment;" and it must be confessed that usually it is nothing more with our own people, educated or rude. Objects are barely necessary to it. I do not say so of old Calvinism, or Evangelical religion; I do not call the religion of Leighton, Beveridge, Wesley, Thomas Scott, or Cecil a mere sentiment; nor do I so term the high Anglicanism of the present generation. But these are only denominations, parties, schools, compared with the national religion of England in its length and breadth. "Bible Religion" is both the recognized title and the best description of English religion.

It consists, not in rites or creeds, but mainly in having the Bible read in church, in the family, and in private. Now I am far indeed from undervaluing that mere knowledge of Scripture which is imparted to the population {226} thus promiscuously. At least in England, it has to a certain point made up for great and grievous losses in its Christianity. The reiteration again and again in fixed course in the public service of the words of inspired teachers under both Covenants, and that in grave majestic English, has in matter of fact been to our people a vast benefit. It has attuned their minds to religious thoughts; it has given them a high moral standard; it has served them in associating religion with compositions which, even humanly considered, are among the most sublime and beautiful ever written; especially, it has impressed upon them the series of Divine Providences in behalf of man from his creation to his end, and, above all, the words, deeds, and sacred sufferings of Him in whom all the Providences of God centre.

So far the indiscriminate reading of Scripture has been of service; still, much more is necessary than the benefits which I have enumerated, to answer to the idea of a Religion; whereas our national form professes to be little more than thus reading the Bible and living a correct life. It is not a religion of persons and things, of acts of faith and of direct devotion; but of sacred scenes and pious sentiments. It has been comparatively careless of creed and catechism; and has in consequence shown little sense of the need of consistency in the matter of its teaching. Its doctrines are not so much facts, as stereotyped aspects of facts; and it is afraid, so to say, of walking round them. It induces its followers to be content with this meagre view of revealed truth; or, rather, it is suspicious, and protests, or is frightened, as if it saw a figure in a picture move out of its frame, when our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, or the Holy Apostles, are spoken of as real beings, and really such as Scripture implies them to be. I am not denying that the assent which it inculcates and elicits {227} is genuine as regards its contracted range of doctrine, but it is at best notional. What Scripture especially illustrates from its first page to its last, is God's Providence; and that is nearly the only doctrine held with a real assent [Note 2] by the mass of religious Englishmen. Hence the Bible is so great a solace and refuge to them in trouble. I repeat, I am not speaking of particular schools and parties in England, whether of the High Church or the Low, but of the mass of piously-minded and well-living people in all ranks of the community. ("Grammar of Assent," p. 53.)

3. Puritanism

PURITANISM [Note 3]is a very peculiar creed, as being based on no one principle, but propping itself up upon several, and those not very concordant ... And thus it contains within it the seeds of ruin, which time only is required to develop. At present, not any one principle does it carry out logically; nor does it try to adjust and limit one by the other; but as the English language is partly Saxon, partly Latin, with some German, some French, {228} some Dutch, and some Italian, so this religious creed is made up of the fragments of religion, which the course of events has brought together and has imbedded in it, something of Lutheranism, and something of Calvinism, something of Erastianism, and something of Zuinglianism, a little Judaism, and a little dogmatism, and not a little secularity, as if by hazard. It has no straightforward view on any one point on which it professes to teach; and, to hide its poverty, it has dressed itself out in a maze of words, which all inquirers feel and are perplexed with, yet few are able to penetrate. It cannot pronounce plainly what it holds about the Sacraments, what it means by unity, what it thinks of Antiquity, what fundamentals are, what the Church; what again it means by faith. It has no intelligible rule for interpreting Scripture, beyond that of submission to the arbitrary comments which have come down to it, though it knows it not, from Zwingle or Melancthon. "Unstable as water, it cannot excel." It is but the inchoate state or stage of a doctrine, and its final resolution is in Rationalism. This it has ever shown when suffered to work itself out without interruption. ("Essays Crit. and Hist.," vol. I., p. 293.)

4. Muscular Christianity

THERE are few religions which have no points in common; and these, whether true or false, when embraced with an absolute conviction, are the pivots on which changes take place in that collection of credences, opinions, prejudices, and other assents, which make up what is called a man's {229} selection and adoption of a form of religion, a denomination, or a Church. There have been Protestants whose idea of enlightened Christianity has been a strenuous antagonism to what they consider the unmanliness and unreasonableness of Catholic morality, an antipathy to the precepts of patience, meekness, forgiveness of injuries, and chastity. All this they have considered a woman's religion, the ornament of monks, of the sick, the feeble, and the old. Lust, revenge, ambition, courage, pride—these, they have fancied, made the man, and want of them the slave. No one could fairly accuse such men of any great change of their convictions, if they were one day found to have taken up the profession of Islam. ("Grammar of Assent," p. 241.)

5. English Religious Ideas

(I.)

NOW let me attempt to trace out how the English mind, in these last centuries, has come to think there is nothing good in that Religion which it once thought the very teaching of the Most High. Consider, then, this: most men, by nature, dislike labour and trouble; if they labour, as they are obliged to do, they do so because they are obliged. They exert themselves under a stimulus or excitement, and just as long as it lasts. Thus they labour for their daily bread, for their families, or for some temporal object which they desire; but they do not take on them the trouble of doing so without some such motive cause. {230} Hence, in religious matters, having no urgent appetite after truth, or desire to please God, or fear of the consequences of displeasing Him, or detestation of sin, they take what comes, they form their notions at random, they are moulded passively from without, and this is what is commonly meant by "private judgment." "Private judgment" commonly means passive impression. Most men in this country like opinions to be brought to them, rather than to be at the pains to go out and seek for them. They like to be waited on, they like to be consulted, for they like to be their own centre. As great men have their slaves or their body-servants for every need of the day, so, in an age like this, when every one reads and has a voice in public matters, it is indispensable that they should have persons to provide them with their ideas, the clothing of their mind, and that of the best fashion. Hence the extreme influence of periodical publications at this day, quarterly, monthly, or daily; these teach the multitude of men what to think and what to say. And thus it is that, in this age, every one is, intellectually, a sort of absolute king, though his realm is confined to himself or to his family; for at least he can think and say, though he cannot do, what he will, and that with no trouble at all, because he has plenty of intellectual servants to wait on him. Is it to be supposed that a man is to take the trouble of finding out truth, when he can pay for it? So his only object is to have cheap knowledge; that he may have his views of revelation, and dogma, and policy, and conduct—in short, of right and wrong—ready to hand, as he has his table-cloth laid for his breakfast, and the materials provided for the meal. Thus it is, then, that the English mind grows up into its existing character. There are nations naturally so formed for speculation, that individuals, almost as they eat and drink and work, will originate doctrines and follow {231} out ideas; they, too, of course have their own difficulties in submitting to the Church, but such is not the Englishman. He is in his own way the creature of circumstances; he is bent on action; but as to opinion he takes what comes, only he bargains not to be teased or troubled about it. He gets his opinions anyhow, some from the nursery, some at school, some from the world, and has a zeal for them, because they are his own. Other men, at least, exercise a judgment upon them, and prove them by a rule. He does not care to do so, but he takes them as he finds them, whether they fit together or not, and makes light of the incongruity, and thinks it a proof of common sense, good sense, strong shrewd sense, to do so. All he cares for is, that he should not be put to rights; of that he is jealous enough. He is satisfied to walk about, dressed just as he is. As opinions come, so they must stay with him; and, as he does not like trouble in his acquisition of them, so he resents criticism in his use.

When, then, the awful form of Catholicism, of which he has already heard so much good and so much evil—so much evil which revolts him, so much good which amazes and troubles him—when this great vision, which hitherto he has known from books and from rumour, but not by sight and hearing, presents itself before him, it finds in him a very different being from the simple Anglo-Saxon to whom it originally came. It finds in him a being, not of rude nature, but of formed habits, averse to change and resentful of interference; a being who looks hard at it, and repudiates and loathes it, first of all, because, if listened to, it would give him much trouble. He wishes to be let alone; but here is a teaching which purports to be revealed, which would mould his mind on new ideas, which he has to learn, and which, if he cannot learn thoroughly, he must borrow from others. The very notion of a theology {232} or a ritual frightens and oppresses him; it is a yoke, because it makes religion difficult, not easy. There is enough of labour in learning matters of this life, without concerning oneself with the revelations of another. He does not choose to believe that the Almighty has told us so many things, and he readily listens to any person or argument maintaining the negative. And, moreover, he resents the idea of interference itself; "an Englishman's house is his castle;" a maxim most salutary in politics, most dangerous in moral conduct. He cannot bear the thought of not having a will of his own, or an opinion of his own, on any given subject of inquiry, whatever it be. It is intolerable, as he considers, not to be able, on the most awful and difficult of subjects, to think for oneself; it is an insult to be told that God has spoken and superseded investigation.

(II.)

And, further still, consider this: strange as it may be to those who do not know him, he really believes in that accidental collection of tenets, of which I have been speaking; habit has made it all natural to him, and he takes it for granted; he thinks his own view of things as clear as day, and every other view irrational and ludicrous. In good faith and in sincerity of heart, he thinks the Englishman knows more about God's dealings with men than any one else; and he measures all things in heaven and earth by the floating opinions which have been drifted into his mind. And especially is he satisfied and sure of his principles; he conceives them to be the dictates of the simplest and most absolute sense, and it does not occur to him for a moment that objective truth claims to be sought, and a {233} revealed doctrine requires to be ascertained. He himself is the ultimate sanction and appellate authority of all that he holds. Putting aside, then, the indignation which, under these circumstances, he naturally feels in being invited to go to school again, his present opinions are an effectual bar to his ever recognizing the divine mission of Catholicism, for he criticizes Catholicism simply by those opinions themselves which are antagonists of it, and takes his notes of truth and error from a source already committed against it. And thus you see that frequent occurrence, of really worthy persons unable to reconcile their minds, do what they will, to the teaching and the ways of the Catholic Church. The more they see of her members, the more their worst suspicions are confirmed. They did not wish, they say, to believe the popular notions of her anti-Christian character; but really, after what they have seen of her authorities and her people, nothing is left to them but an hostility to her, which they are loth to adopt. They wish to think the best of every one, but this ecclesiastical measure, that speech, that book, those persons, those expressions, that line of thought, those realized results, all tend one way, and force them to unlearn a charitableness which is as pernicious as it is illusory. Thus they speak; alas, they do not see that they are assuming the very point in dispute; for the original question is, whether Catholics or they are right in their respective principles and views, and to decide it merely by what is habitual to themselves is to exercise the double office of accuser and judge. Yet multitudes of sober and serious minds and well-regulated lives look out upon the Catholic Church and shrink back again from her presence, on no better reasons than these. They cannot endure her; their whole being revolts from her; she leaves, as they speak, a bad taste in their mouths; all is so novel, so strange, so {234} unlike what is familiar to them, so unlike the Anglican Prayer-Book, so unlike some favorite author of their own, so different from what they would do or say themselves, requires so much explanation, is so strained and unnatural, so unreal and extravagant, so unquiet, nay, so disingenuous, so unfeeling, that they cannot even tolerate it. The Mass is so difficult to follow, and we say prayers so very quickly, and we sit when we should stand, and we talk so freely when we should be reserved, and we keep Sunday so differently from them, and we have such notions of our own about marriage and celibacy, and we approve of vows, and we class virtues and sins on so unreasonable a standard; these and a thousand such details are, in the case of numbers, decisive proofs that we deserve the hard names which are heaped on us by the world.

(III.)

Recollect, too, that a great part of the actions of every day, when narrowly looked into, are neither good nor bad in themselves, but only in relation to the persons who do them, and the circumstances or motives under which they are done. There are actions, indeed, which no circumstances can alter; which, at all times, and in all places, are duties or sins. Veracity, purity, are always virtues—blasphemy always a sin; but to speak against another, for instance, is not always detraction, and swearing is not always taking God's name in vain. What is right in one person, may be wrong in another; and hence the various opinions which are formed of public men, who, for the most part, cannot be truly judged, except with a knowledge of their principles, characters, and motives. Here is {235} another source of misrepresenting the Church and her servants; much of what they do admits both of a good interpretation and a bad; and when the world, as I have supposed, starts with the hypothesis that we are hypocrites or tyrants, that we are unscrupulous, crafty, and profane, it is easy to see how the very same actions which it would extol in its friends, it will unhesitatingly condemn in the instance of the objects of its hatred or suspicion. When men live in their own world, in their own habits and ways of thought, as I have been describing, they contract, not only a narrowness, but what may be called a one-sidedness of mind. They do not judge of us by the rules they apply to the conduct of themselves and each other; what they praise or allow in those they admire is an offence to them in us. Day by day, then, as it passes, furnishes, as a matter of course, a series of charges against us, simply because it furnishes a succession of our sayings and doings. Whatever we do, whatever we do not do, is a demonstration against us. Do we argue? men are surprised at our insolence or effrontery. Are we silent? we are underhand and deep. Do we appeal to the law? it is in order to evade it. Do we obey the Church? it is a sign of our disloyalty. Do we state our pretensions? we blaspheme. Do we conceal them? we are liars and hypocrites. Do we display the pomp of our ceremonial, and the habits of our Religious? our presumption has become intolerable. Do we put them aside and dress as others? we are ashamed of being seen, and skulk about as conspirators. Did a Catholic priest cherish doubts of his faith, it would be an interesting and touching fact, suitable for public meetings. Does a Protestant minister, on the other hand, doubt of the Protestant opinions? he is but dishonestly eating the bread of the Establishment. Does a Protestant exclude Catholic books from his house? he is a good father and {236} master. Does a Catholic do the same with Protestant tracts? he is afraid of the light. Protestants may ridicule a portion of our Scriptures under the name of the Apocrypha: we may not denounce the mere Protestant translation of the Bible. Protestants are to glory in their obedience to their ecclesiastical head; we may not be faithful to ours. A Protestant layman may determine and propound all by himself the terms of salvation: we are bigots and despots if we do but proclaim what a thousand years have sanctioned. The Catholic is insidious, when the Protestant is prudent; the Protestant frank and honest, when the Catholic is rash or profane. Not a word that we say, not a deed that we do, but is viewed in the medium of that one idea, by the light of that one prejudice, which our enemies cherish concerning us; not a word or a deed but is grafted on the original assumption that we certainly come from below, and are the servants of Antichrist. ("Occasional Sermons," p. 148.)

6. A Protestant View of Conversions

ONE word here as to the growth of Catholicism, of conversions, and converts—the Prejudiced Man has his own view of it all. First, he denies that there are any conversions or converts at all. This is a bold game, and will not succeed in England, though I have been told that in Ireland it has been strenuously maintained. However, let him grant the fact, that converts there are, and he has a second ground to fall back upon; the converts are weak and foolish persons—notoriously so; all their friends think so; there is not a man of any strength of character or {237} force of intellect among them. They have either been dreaming over their folios, or have been caught with the tinsel embellishments of Popish worship. They are lack-a-daisical women, or conceited young persons, or silly squires, or the very dregs of our large towns, who have nothing to lose, and no means of knowing one thing from another. Thirdly, in corroboration:—they went over, he says, on such exceedingly wrong motives; not any one of them but you may trace his conversion to something distinctly wrong; it was love of notoriety; it was restlessness; it was resentment; it was lightness of mind; it was self-will. There was trickery in his mode of taking the step, or inconsiderateness towards the feelings of others. They went too soon, or they ought to have gone sooner. They ought to have told every one their doubts as soon as ever they felt them, and before they knew whether or not they should overcome them or no: if they had clerical charges in the Protestant Church, they ought to have flung them up at once, even at the risk of afterwards finding they had made a commotion for nothing. Or, on the other hand, what, forsooth, must these men do when a doubt came on their mind, but at once abandon all their clerical duty and go to Rome, as if it were possible anywhere to be absolutely certain? In short, they did not become Catholics at the right moment; so that, however numerous they may be, no weight whatever attaches to their conversion. As for him, it does not affect him at all; he means to die just where he is; indeed, these conversions are a positive argument in favour of Protestantism; he thinks still worse of Popery, in consequence of these men going over, than he did before. His fourth remark is of this sort: they are sure to come back. He prophesies that by this time next year, not one of them will be a Catholic. His fifth is as bold as the first;—they have come {238} back. This argument, however, of the Prejudiced Man, admits at times of being shown to great advantage, should it so happen that the subjects of his remarks have, for some reason or other, gone abroad; for then there is nothing to restrain his imagination. Hence, directly a new Catholic is safely lodged two or three thousand miles away, out comes the confident news that he has returned to Protestantism; when no friend has the means to refute it. When this argument fails, as fail it must, by the time a letter can be answered, our Prejudiced Man falls back on his sixth common-place, which is to the effect that the converts are very unhappy. He knows this on the first authority; he has seen letters declaring or showing it. They are quite altered men, very much disappointed with Catholicism; restless, and desirous to come back except from false shame. Seventhly, they are altogether deteriorated in character; they have become harsh, or overbearing, or conceited, or vulgar. They speak with extreme bitterness against Protestantism; have cast off their late friends, or seem to forget that they ever were Protestants themselves. Eighthly, they have become infidels;—alas! heedless of false witness, the Prejudiced Man spreads the news about, right and left, in a tone of great concern and distress; he considers it very awful. Lastly, when every resource has failed, and in spite of all that can be said, and surmised, and expressed, and hoped, about the persons in question, Catholics they have become and Catholics they remain, the Prejudiced Man has a last resource, he simply forgets that Protestants they ever were. They cease to have antecedents; they cease to have any character, any history to which they may appeal; they merge in the great fog, in which, to his eyes, everything Catholic is enveloped; they are dwellers in the land of romance and fable; and, if he dimly contemplates them {239} plunging and floundering amid the gloom, it is as griffins, wiverns, salamanders, the spawn of Popery, such as are said to sport in the depths of the sea, or to range amid the central sands of Africa. He forgets he ever heard of them; he has no duties to their names; he is released from all anxiety about them. They die to him. ("Present Position of Catholics," p. 243.)

7. Protestant Texts

PROTESTANTS judge of the Apostles' doctrine by "texts," as they are commonly called, taken from Scripture, and nothing more; and they judge of our doctrine too, by "texts" taken from our writings, and nothing more. Picked verses, bits torn from the context, half sentences, are the warrant of the Protestant Idea of what is Apostolic truth, on the one hand, and, on the other, of what is Catholic falsehood. As they have their chips and fragments of St. Paul and St. John, so have they their chips and fragments of Suarez and Bellarmine; and out of the former they make to themselves their own Christian religion, and out of the latter our Anti-Christian superstition. They do not ask themselves sincerely, as a matter of fact and history, What did the Apostles teach then? Nor do they ask sincerely, and as a matter of fact, What do Catholics teach now? They judge of the Apostles, and they judge of us, by scraps, and on these scraps they exercise their private judgment,—that is, their Prejudice, ... and their Assumed Principles, ... and the process ends in their bringing forth, out of their scraps from the {240} Apostles, what they call "Scriptural Religion," and out of their scraps from our theologians, what they call Popery.

The first Christians were a living body; they were thousands of zealous, energetic men, who preached, disputed, catechized, and conversed from year's end to year's end. They spoke by innumerable tongues, with one heart, and one soul, all saying the same thing. All this multitudinous testimony about the truths of Revelation, Protestants narrow down into one or two meagre sentences, which at their own will and pleasure they select from St. Paul, and at their own will and pleasure they explain, and call the Gospel. They do just the same thing with us. Catholics, at least, have a lively illustration and evidence of the absurdity of Protestant private judgment as exercised on the Apostolic writings, in the visible fact of its absurdity as exercised on themselves. They, as their forefathers, the first Christians, are a living body; they, too, preach, dispute, catechize, converse with innumerable tongues, saying the same thing, as our adversaries confess, all over the earth. Well, then, you would think the obvious way was, if they would know what we really teach, to come and ask us, to talk with us, to try to enter into our views, and to attend to our teaching. Not at all; they do not dream of doing so; they take their "texts;" they have got their cut-and-dried specimens from our divines, which the Protestant tradition hands down from generation to generation, and, as by the aid of their verses from Scripture, they think they understand the Gospel better than the first Christians, so, by the help of these choice extracts from our works, they think they understand our doctrine better than we do ourselves. They will not allow us to explain our own books. So sure are they of their knowledge, and so superior to us, that they have no difficulty in setting us right, and in accounting for our {241} contradicting them. Sometimes Catholics are "evasive and shuffling," which, of course, will explain everything; sometimes they simply "have never been told what their creed really is;" the priest keeps it from them, and cheats them; as yet, too, perhaps they are "recent converts," and do not know the actual state of things, though they will know in time. Thus Protestants judge us by their "texts;" and by "texts" I do not mean only passages from our writers, but all those samples of whatever kind, historical, ecclesiastical, biographical, or political, carefully prepared, improved, and finished off by successive artists for the occasion, which they think so much more worthy of credit and reliance as to facts, than us and our word, who are in the very communion to which those texts relate. Some good personal knowledge of us, and intercourse with us, not in the way of controversy or criticism, but what is prior—viz., in the way of sincere inquiry, in order to ascertain how things really lie, such knowledge and intercourse would be worth all the conclusions, however elaborate and subtle, from rumours, false witnessings, suspicions, romantic scenes, morsels of history, morsels of theology, morsels of our miraculous legends, morsels of our devotional writers, morsels from our individual members, whether unlearned or intemperate, which are the "text" of the traditional Protestant view against us ... Yet any one is thought qualified to attack or to instruct a Catholic in matters of his religion; a country gentleman, a navy captain, a half-pay officer, with time on his hands, never having seen a Catholic, or a Catholic ceremonial, or a Catholic treatise, in his life, is competent, by means of one or two periodicals and tracts, and a set of Protestant extracts against Popery, to teach the Pope in his own religion, and to refute a Council. ("Present Position of Catholics," p. 322.) {242}

8. Protestant Image Worship

A PROTESTANT blames Catholics for showing honour to images; yet he does it himself. And first, he sees no difficulty in a mode of treating them, quite as repugnant to his own ideas of what is rational, as the practice he abominates; and that is the offering insult and mockery to them. Where is the good sense of showing dishonour, if it be stupid and brutish to show honour? Approbation and criticism, praise and blame, go together. I do not mean, of course, that you dishonour what you honour; but that the two ideas of honour and dishonour so go together, that where you can apply (rightly or wrongly, but still) where it is possible to apply the one, it is possible to apply the other. Tell me, then, what is meant by burning Bishops, or Cardinals, or Popes in effigy? Has it no meaning? Is it not plainly intended for an insult? Would any one who was burned in effigy feel it no insult? Well, then, how is it not absurd to feel pain at being dishonoured in effigy, yet absurd to feel pleasure at being honoured in effigy? How is it childish to honour an image, if it is not childish to dishonour it? This only can a Protestant say in defence of the act which he allows and practises, that he is used to it, whereas to the other he is not used. Honour is a new idea, it comes strange to him, and, wonderful to say, he does not see that he has admitted it in principle already in admitting dishonour, and after preaching against the Catholic who crowns an image of the Madonna, he complacently goes his way, and sets light to a straw effigy of Guy Fawkes.

But this is not all; Protestants actually set up images {243} to represent their heroes, and they show them honour without any misgiving. The very flower and cream of Protestantism used to glory in the statue of King William on College Green, Dublin; and, though I cannot make any reference in print, I recollect well what a shriek they raised some years ago, when the figure was unhorsed. Some profane person one night applied gunpowder, and blew the King right out of his saddle, and he was found by those who took interest in him, like Dagon, on the ground. You might have thought the poor senseless block had life, to see the way people took on about it, and how they spoke of his face, and his arms, and his legs; yet those same Protestants, I say, would at the same time be horrified, had I used "he" and "him" of a crucifix, and would call me one of the monsters described in the Apocalypse did I but honour my living Lord as they their dead king. ("Present Position of Catholics," p. 322.)

9. The Right of Private Judgment or the Private Right of Judgment?

FOR all the haranguing and protesting which goes on in Exeter and other halls, this great people is not such a conscientious supporter of the sacred right of Private Judgment as a good Protestant would desire. Why should we go out of our way, one and all of us, to impute personal motives in explanation of the conversion of every individual convert, as he comes before us, if there were in us, the public, an adhesion to that absolute, and universal, and unalienable principle, as its titles are set forth in {244} heraldic style, high and broad, sacred and awful, the right, and the duty, and the possibility of Private Judgment? Why should we confess it in the general, yet promptly and pointedly deny it in every particular, if our hearts retained more than the "magni nominis umbra," when we preached up the Protestant principle? Is it not sheer wantonness and cruelty in Baptist, Independent, Irvingite, Wesleyan, Establishment-man, Jumper, and Mormonite, to delight in trampling on and crushing these manifestations of their own pure and precious charter, instead of dutifully and reverently exalting, at Bethel, or at Dan, each instance of it, as it occurs, to the gaze of its professing votaries? If a staunch Protestant's daughter turns Roman, and betakes herself to a convent, why does he not exult in the occurrence? Why does he not give a public breakfast, or hold a meeting, or erect a memorial, or write a pamphlet in honour of her, and of the great undying principle she has so gloriously vindicated? Why is he in this base, disloyal style muttering about priests, and Jesuits, and the horrors of nunneries, in solution of the phenomenon, when he has the fair and ample form of Private Judgment rising before his eyes, and pleading with him, and bidding him impute good motives, not bad, and in very charity ascribe to the influence of a high and holy principle, to a right and a duty of every member of the family of man, what his poor human instincts are fain to set down as a folly or a sin. All this would lead us to suspect that the doctrine of Private Judgment, in its simplicity, purity, and integrity—Private Judgment, all Private Judgment, and nothing but Private Judgment—is held by very few persons indeed, and that the great mass of the population are either stark unbelievers in it, or deplorably dark about it; and that even the minority, who are in a manner faithful to it, have glossed and corrupted the true sense of it {245} by a miserably faulty reading, and hold, not the Right of Private Judgment, but the Private Right of Judgment; in other words, their own private right, and no one's else. ("Essays Crit. and Hist.," vol. II., p. 339.)

10. The Rationale of Protestant Persecution

I MIGHT leave Protestants to unravel the mystery how it is that, after all their solemn words against persecution, they have persecuted, whenever, wherever, and however they could, from Elizabeth down to Victoria, from the domestic circle up to the Legislature, from black looks to the extremity of the gibbet and the stake; I might leave them, but I am tempted to make them one parting suggestion. I observe, then, it is no accident that they unite in their history this abjuration with this practice of religious coercion; the two go together. I say it boldly and decidedly, and do not flinch from the avowal—Protestants attempt too much, and they end in doing nothing. They go too far; they attempt what is against nature, and therefore impossible. I am not proving this; it is a separate subject; it would require a treatise. I am only telling the Protestant world why it is they ever persecute in spite of their professions. It is because their doctrine of private judgment, as they hold it, is extreme and unreal, and necessarily leads to excesses in the opposite direction. They are attempting to reverse nature, with no warrant for doing so; and nature has its ample revenge upon them. They altogether ignore a principle which the Creator has put {246} into our breasts, the duty of maintaining the truth, and, in consequence, they deprive themselves of the opportunity of controlling, restraining, and directing it. So was it with the actors in the first French Revolution; never were there such extravagant praises of the rights of reason; never so signal, so horrible a profanation of them. They cried "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," and then proceeded to massacre the priests, and to hurry the laity by thousands to the scaffold or the river-side.

Far other is the conduct of the Church. Not to put the matter on higher and doctrinal grounds, it is plain, if only to prevent the occurrence of injustice and cruelty, she must—to use a phrase of the day—direct impulses, which it is impossible from the nature of man to destroy. And in the course of eighteen hundred years, though her children have been guilty of various excesses, though she herself is responsible for isolated acts of most solemn import, yet for one deed of severity with which she can be charged, there have been hundreds of her acts, repressive of the persecutor and protective of his victims. She has been a never-failing fount of humanity, equity, forbearance, and compassion, in consequence of her very recognition of natural ideas and instincts, which Protestants would vainly ignore and contradict; and this is the solution of the paradox stated by the distinguished author  [Note 4], to the effect that the Religion which forbids private judgment in matters of Revelation, is historically more tolerant than the Religions which uphold it. His words will bear repetition: "We find, in all parts of Europe, scaffolds prepared to punish crimes against religion; scenes which sadden the soul were everywhere witnessed. Rome is one exception to the rule; Rome, which it has been attempted to represent a monster {247} of intolerance and cruelty. It is true, that the Popes have not preached, like the Protestants, universal toleration; but the facts show the difference between the Protestants and the Popes. The Popes, armed with a tribunal of intolerance, have scarce spilt a drop of blood; Protestants and Philosophers have shed it in torrents." ("Present Position of Catholics," p. 220.)

11. Protestantism Drifting into Scepticism

DISPUTANTS may maintain, it they please, that religious doubt is our natural, our normal state; that to cherish doubts is our duty; that to complain of them is impatience; that to dread them is cowardice; that to overcome them is inveracity; that it is even a happy state, a state of calm philosophic enjoyment, to be conscious of them;—but after all, unavoidable or not, such a state is not natural, and not happy, if the voice of mankind is to decide the question. English minds, in particular, have too much of a religious temper in them, as a natural gift, to acquiesce for any long time in positive, active doubt. For doubt and devotion are incompatible with each other; every doubt, be it greater or less, stronger or weaker, involuntary as well as voluntary, acts upon devotion, so far forth, as water sprinkled, or dashed, or poured out upon a flame. Real and proper doubt kills faith, and devotion with it; and even involuntary or half-deliberate doubt, though it does not actually kill faith, goes far to kill devotion; and religion without devotion is little better than a burden, and soon becomes a superstition. Since, then, this is a day of {248} objection and of doubt about the intellectual basis of Revealed Truth, it follows that there is a great deal of secret discomfort and distress in the religions potion of the community, the result of that general curiosity in speculation and inquiry which has been the growth among us of the last twenty or thirty years [Note 5].

The people of this country, being Protestants, appeal to Scripture, when a religious question arises, as their ultimate informant and decisive authority in all such matters; but who is to decide for them the previous question, that Scripture is really such an authority? When, then, as at this time, its divine authority is the very point to be determined, that is, the character and extent of its inspiration and its component parts, then they find themselves at sea, without the means of directing their course. Doubting about the authority of Scripture, they doubt about its substantial truth; doubting about its truth, they have doubts concerning the Object which it sets before their faith, about the historical accuracy and objective reality of the picture which it presents to us of our Lord. We are not speaking of wilful doubting, but of those painful misgivings, greater or less, to which we have already referred. Religious Protestants, when they think calmly on the subject, can hardly conceal from themselves that they have a house without logical foundations, which contrives, indeed, for the present to stand, but which may go any day—and where are they then?

Of course Catholics will bid them receive the Canon of Scripture on the authority of the Church, in the spirit of St. Augustine's well-known words: "I should not believe the Gospel, were I not moved by the authority of the Catholic Church." But who, they ask, is to be voucher in {249} turn for the Church, and for St. Augustine? Is it not as difficult to prove the authority of the Church and her doctors as the authority of the Scriptures? We Catholics answer, and with reason, in the negative; but since they cannot be brought to agree with us here, what argumentative ground is open to them? Thus they seem drifting, slowly, perhaps, but surely, in the direction of scepticism. ("Discussions and Arguments," p. 366.)

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Notes

1. ["Hist. Sketches," vol. I. p. 418.]
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2. ["Real" and "Notional" are here used in a technical sense, which Dr. Newman explains thus:—"In Notional Assent ... the mind contemplates its own creations, instead of things; in Real, it is directed towards things, represented by the impressions which they have left upon the imagination." ("Grammar of Assent," p. 72.)]
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3. [Dr. Newman uses this term to denote the system of opinion received by the party in the Anglican Church known as "Evangelical."]
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4. Balmez' Protestantism, trans., p. 166.
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5. [This passage was written in 1866.]
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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