Page images



alism, go on the first principle of Protestantism, and all those who see the necessity of an authoritative guide and teacher, one after another come back to the Catholic Church."

And Catholicism is achieving conquests of no inconsiderable importance; not among the poor and unlearned, but in the ranks of the clergy, and the most cultivated and accomplished classes of the laity. No one ventures to accuse them of unworthy motives; the clergy quit their benefices and fellowships, many a tender tie is painfully severed by the conscientious deserters of Protestantism, but they dare not pause; they see that the principle of private judgment, the exercise of human reason, must inevitably throw them into the grasp of “infidelity'—a ridiculous, painted phantom, whose imaginary features and attributes have arisen from superstitious ignorance and fear, and priestly skill in calamny, but to them a horrible reality, a monster of pride, cruelty, and license. No sooner do they find that they are approaching this dreaded chimera than they fly without closer examination, and casting human reason beneath their feet, rush into the dungeon of Rome as their only refuge. They are equally afraid of remaining quietly and patiently in the dark, and of boldly gazing into the light of day, and can find repose and con. solation only in the dull glimmer of that nursery-prison, where they can be amused and excited, quieted and reassured in every paroxysm of terror and doubt by the scarecrows for the devil, the pass-tickets for heaven and hell, and all the tawdry paraphernalia of the infallible church. Rationalists need not fear the progress of Catholicism. It is one painful symptom of a curative process. The fear of the priest-begotten monster, infidelity, is filling the Papal dungeon at one door, but reason and science are emptying it at the other. While one convert delivers himself up bound to Rome, ten Christians become sceptics through the impossibility of reconciling Christian doctrines, Bible history, and Bible morality, with civilised morals and modern science.

Religious controversialists of every shade of opinion are now co-operating in a very striking manner; all their arguments tend to the destruction of Christianity. Our Catholic friends demonstrate most effectually that Protestantism, logically carried out,




can only lead to infidelity; while Protestant partisans and his. torians render valuable assistance in exposing the cruelty, fraud, extortion, lies, and juggling, which have in past and present ages been found necessary by the infallible Church to keep herself in working condition and eke out the omnipotence of her everpresent Lord.

Rationalism is receiving its avowed and its concealed recruits from all the Protestant sects, and in a less degree from the Church of Rome. The specific and notorious unscrupulousness of that Church is causing a more or less secret but increasing defection wherever she is best known, and even in England, where her practice is necessarily more guarded and moderate. But, on the whole, there is no faith so difficult to escape from as the Catholic, because its fundamental principle is the only reasonable one, supposing the Christian revelation to be true, and because its entire system of education and discipline is compact, consistent, watchful, and inexorable.

The Anglican Church has for many years beheld with helpless wonder and horror the numerous desertions from her ranks to those of Rome and Rationalism ; she has struggled faintly against both movements, but has at last been roused to a scream of rage and alarm at the recent Papal aggression, outward and visible sign of Catholic success. Conscious of her innate weak. ness, she calls for the aid of the secular arm, Perhaps the Church may ask for renewed coercive measures to put down the enemies of all religion, when Rationalism has become more energetic and more conspicuous. That will be one of her last convulsions, and the time may not be so far distant as the outward appearance of society might lead the superficial observer to suppose.

Society swarms with concealed unbelievers, some compelled, or strongly urged, by their necessities to hide their obnoxious opinions, others held back by a wish to be neutral and respectable,

*“And lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world ” Matthew, chap. xxviii., verse 20. A text much relied on by the Catholics.



or by the influence of that short-sighted and dangerous paradox,that religion, although untrue, is useful as a means of inculcating morality and restraining men from vice and violence, and that therefore it would be imprudent to disavow or attack it. They have perhaps observed that irreligious and democratic principles are very frequently found together, they have always believed that democracy must produce violence and ruin; and they think religion an indispensable barrier against anarchy and license, and, in short, “that it keeps the people quiet.” Surely a falsity, and a decaying falsity, must form a sorry defence against any danger. Better try to build up something more solid while there is yet time. And what is to be shut out by this barrier of wholesome superstition ? Democracy ? Impossible! Often as religion has tried to check the advance of science and liberty, it has never succeeded. When the people is fit for real selfgovernment it will assume it. Democracy is coming, and, instead of lamenting and fearing it, and thwarting it, it would be better to make ready for it, to accept it, and to guide it. Christianity cannot keep out democracy, but it now remains the chief obstacle to the vigorous prosecution of such a system of education and moral culture as shall erect a really substantial barrier against the unfettered passions, the burning desires and ignorant hopes of a revolutionised and untaught populace, and gradually prepare the nation, without convulsion or violence, for the peaceful acknowledgment and exercise of democratic power, for the government of the wisest and the best.

But what, it is asked, have the denial and rejection of the Christian faith to do with social peace and safety, and with the progress of mankind ? Would it not, the contrary, be a dangerous experiment to risk the destruction of the long-established motives, sanctions, and terrors, by which a harmless superstition restrains the ignorant from crime? Would it not be cruel to deprive those whose lives are miserable through extreme poverty, injustice, or disease, of the consolations and hopes which Christianity affords? In exactly the same manner it was urged by an Edinburgh reviewer, that some falsities and some errors were eminently beneficial to society, and that truth was not always




favourable to virtue. “ In the greater events of life," says the reviewer, “how often might the value of erroneous belief be felt! If, for example, it were a superstition of every mind that the murderer, immediately on the perpetration of his guilt, must himself expire by sympathy, a new motive would be added to the side of virtue; and the only circumstance to be regretted would be, not that the falsehood would produce effect, since that effect would be only serviceable, but that perhaps the good effect would not be of long duration, as it would be destroyed for ever by the rashness of the first daring experimenter. The visitation of the murderer by the nightly ghost, which exists in the superstitions of so many countries, and which forms a great part of that complex and unanalysed horror with which the crime continues to be considered after the belief of the superstition itself has ceased, has probably been of more service to mankind that the truths of all the sermons that have been preached on the corresponding prohibition in the Decalogue.” The dangerous error contained in this passage, and supported with some ingenuity and at considerable length by the reviewer, has been exposed and refuted by Samuel Bailey, in the note to his “Essays on the Formation and Publication of Opinions ;" a few sentences will show how clearly and convincingly. “The writer must have had strange views of the nature of the human mind, and have made little use of the lessons to be gathered from the history of the race, to suppose, what is necessarily implied in his argument, that a gross error could exist independent and insulated, deprived of all its pernicious relations and accompaniments, stripped of its power in every way, except in that particular direction which he has chosen to imagine. He seems to have fallen into the common practice of looking only at a single direct and immediate consequence of the error, unconscious of the necessity of expanding his view over the whole circle of its influence and connections. A single appeal to our own consciousness, a single glance at our fellow-men suffices to show that one doctrine is necessarily connected with other doctrines; that when one truth is established, other dependent truths spring up around it; that, for any given error to prevail, a number of other errors must prevail at the same



time. This is the reason, universally applicable, why error, taking in the whole of its concomitants and consequences, never can be beneficial. It never can have a preponderance of good effects, because its existence implies related, collateral, co-ordinate errors, and is incompatible with that completeness of knowledge and perfection of reason, which are indispensable to the highest degree of human happiness."

" To all these considerations it may be added that a morality founded on the exhibition of false consequences to the imagination is insecure and unstable. The delusion is constantly open to suspicion and exposure. The imputed consequences are often obscurely felt, if not clearly seen, to be fictitious, and a degree of practical scepticism is induced, which destroys their influence on the conduct without replacing it by motives of a higher, because of a more rational, character."

The artificial maintenance of an effete religion by the more en. lightened members of society, for the alleged purpose of the moral restraint of the ignorant, can in fact only be consistently defended by those who advocate, in the words of the author whom we have just quoted, “ the profound policy of those mothers, who raise up dark and dismal images of dustmen, beggars, chimneysweeps, and other nursery bugbears, to enforce their authority over unmanageable children." Doubtless a child may sometimes be restrained from disobedience by this clumsiest species of mysterious intimidation; possibly a man may sometimes be deterred from crime by the fear of hell; but, to bring the question to the shortest issue, are tbese the most powerful and efficient motives for correct conduct (it cannot be said for virtuous action), and if not, do they not preclude the introduction of more perfect moral discipline ? A Christian parent would feel alarmed at the bare idea of scientific and rational instruction in morality, at any motives being supplied for well-doing except the love of God and the fear of damnation ? such a system of moral culture would be stigmatised as Pagan or atheistical.

All Christian moral teaching is diluted and adulterated with superstitious dogmata; and indeed, excepting mere desultory and lifeless precepts, Christianity does not, and cannot sanction

« PreviousContinue »