Page images
PDF
EPUB

preachers are better and wiser than they really are, and less still, if possible, is gained by refusing to acknowledge the merits they

really possess.

The sermons of Cardinal Wiseman are, unfortunately, not likely to be read by many Protestants : even the very title of them, Sermons on our Lord Jesus Christ, and on His Blessed Mother, would be sufficient to repel almost every Protestant reader. For this exaltation of the Virgin Mary is precisely the feature of Romanism for which an ordinary Protestant in our own day has least toleration. The political mischiefs of Popery, the foreign supremacy which it implies, and its everlasting meddling with the internal and private affairs of every nation in which it is dominant-these things which chiefly roused the indignation of our forefathers, and which they were determined at any cost to be rid of, have been for us so completely destroyed, that we have almost forgotten that they ever existed. Moreover, the cultus of St. Mary is one of those differences, one of those marked characteristics of Romanism, which not even the most superficial observer can fail to perceive. In the Oxford Declaration, and in the recent decision of the university in the case of Professor Jowett, there is precisely that assumption of infallibility, and that determination to put down opposition, not by force of reason, but by some form more or less refined of physical force, out of which every Romanist error could, and out of which, if left alone, the worst of Romanist errors unquestionably would, arise; and yet neither the Oxford Declaration nor the mean and shabby injustice of the University to the Regius professor of Greek, would have been possible with out the energetic and enthusiastic co-operation of the evangelical party. But every evangelical clergyman, by virtue simply of having two eyes in his head, can see an image of the Virgin and Child if he goes into a Roman Catholic chapel; and as he looks upon what he cannot but regard as impiety and idolatry, it is not impossible that the same evil spirit may visit him which possessed the cruellest of the inquisitors, when they tortured and burned the bodies of men for the good of souls. Yet, surely, it is worth while to reflect that all power is of God; and that everything which lives, lives by virtue of what is good in it, not by virtue of what is evil. A naked unsophisticated lie is almost as rare as perfect truth; nay, it is probably more rare. Even superstition must have some foundation of reverence for that which ought to be above us. It is not the object of this paper, and it is wholly unnecessary, to repeat those arguments against the Romanist cultus of St. Mary, which have long ago satisfied every intelligent Protestant. But many arguments offered by Pro

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

testants who are not intelligent, are very far indeed from being satisfactory, and are completely demolished in Cardinal Wiseman's sermons. Surely in this even the narrowest bigot should find cause for thankfulness and rejoicing. We ought to be devoutly thankful when we discover that even those of our fellowChristians whom we believe to be in error, are not so much in error as we supposed they were. It may seem to us dangerous and profane, and even idolatrous, to reverence the Virgin as the Roman Catholic Church reverences her ; but it should be some consolation for us to discover that the Roman Church does by no means reverence her as it reverences Almighty God. If we have sometimes thought that not only in pictures and images, but even in the thoughts and affections of Roman Catholic Christians, the Virgin is greater and more beautiful than the child, we ought to be thankful to be assured that her greatness, and beauty, and love, are regarded as the effect and continual revelation of the love and glory of Jesus Christ. If, out of reverence to the Bible, we often wonder how Christian people can believe what seems to us incredible, and fail to perceive what seems to us obvious, we ought to be glad to learn that their beliefs and disbeliefs are not the rejection of Holy Scripture, but only interpretations of it which differ from ours. If we sometimes think that they, too, confidently attribute infallibility to the traditions and councils of the Church, and to the successor of St. Peter, we should candidly acknowledge that they regard such infallibility as the illumination of that Spirit whom Jesus Christ promised should lead His Church into the whole truth. And if we reject as unauthoritative the explanations of Cardinal Wiseman, we should, at any rate, be candid enough to hold him no longer responsible for those errors which in plain language he repudiates.

The cultus of the saints, though it has unhappily degenerated into superstition, yet rests like so many other superstitions on genuine reverence and love. It is the Church's testimony to the fact that Christ has abolished death, and that in Him heaven and earth, the seen and the unseen, are united. It is the Church's testimony that the nearer God's children come to Him the more perfectly they love one another, and do God's commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word.

“Your mother, the Church, will tell you,” says Cardinal Wiseman, as you read the names in the Catholic Calendar, * These are my children; this is the birthday to life, to true and eternal life, of a brother of yours, a child of mine, nursed in the same bosom that bore you, fed with the same milk which has given vigour to you, taught by the same mouth from which you

6

have learned ; this was a child of mine, to whom his Lord and Father gave five talents, and sent away to a distant region from Himself, or rather He withdrew Himself from him, and those talents by his trading he has doubled in the sight of his Lord; he has been a merchant, and has laid up for himself treasures in heaven, where the moth consumes not, and the rust destroyeth not. It is a St. Francis, who gave up all for Christ, that he might the more completely win and embrace Christ; it is a St. Vincent of Paul, who, whatever were the riches which the great ones of the world poured into his open arms, lavished them again with no less open hands on the poor of Christ, and, for all that he cast away,

laid
up

ten times the amount in heaven : this is the child far away from us, whose birthday we commemorate. And the other, tliis was Lawrence or Stephen, a child full of ardour, and zeal, and the love of God, who went forth to fight His battles; who fought, who conquered and triumphed, and he now reigns glorious in heaven, and his name is a very benediction in the mouths of all.' And you come and tell me that it is folly to think more of them, that they are dead, and for ever gone, whose bones are crumbled to dust, whose souls have forgotten men. And I ask, in return, Is it your opinion that heaven is a place in which, whatever is honourable to man, whatever is most precious to his soul, whatever is most beautiful in his nature, after the corruption of sin has defiled it, that love, in short, which is the very nature of God, is a thing not only unknown there, but banished thence, and never to be admitted ? Tell me, then, that you consider heaven to be a place in which the soul is to employed for eternity, in looking or diving into the unfathomable abyss of love which God is, and seeing that that love is a love not merely sleeping and inactive, but exercising itself in ten thousand ways, with all the resources of infinite power, and yet believe that in that ocean you must not love what God loves.

“Tell me that you believe heaven to be a looking into the face of Christ, and there wondering for ever at the infinite love, and tenderness, and mercy, and compassion, and affection beaming from it, and those wounds received that men might be redeemed at such a price.- Tell me, that it consists in the happiness of loving your Saviour for what He has done for man, and endeavouring as much as possible to be like to Him, and that yet you must contrive not to love that which is the

very spring of all which you admire in Him, and endeavour not to be like Him in that in which He is most amiable to us. For there He is interesting Himself for men, shewing His wounds, and pleading still by them with His heavenly Father, and we are to

1

understand that we must not join in such an office, and must not take delight therein ?-Tell me how you understand heaven to be the association of holy souls, united by a bond of the strictest mutual love forming their very life, and yet when one who has been dear to you on earth comes into that same happy region in which you enjoy bliss, it is to be understood that you will receive him as a stranger, you will know nothing of him, and it will be a glory to you that your heart is unfettered by the ties of duty, gratitude, or love?—Tell me, have you accepted heaven from God on these conditions ? Have

you insisted that when your soul has been called forth from this earth, and you are to ascend to heaven, that instant—that moment, it is your intention for if it is God's will it ought to be—to forget child and wife and parents, and to care no more for them? Oh, if the precept of renouncing father and mother and whatever we love on earth for Christ's sake, be not truly the price, of which we obtain a hundredfold enjoyment hereafter, hard, indeed, would be the condition, were it thus made the terms, not for obtaining more, but for losing even that for ever!

There is a truth in this extract which neither Romanist nor Protestant can afford to lose, and which the narrower forms of Protestantism are in great danger of losing. If heaven be a state of inactivity and forgetfulness, it is unquestionably a misfortune for any earnest and loving man to go there. There is a great abundance of reasons why our reverence for those holy men and women who have passed out of this world, nay, why even our belief that they love and are eager to help those who are still struggling with the difficulties, and often losing their way in the mist and darkness of the world, should take a very different form of expression from that which we find in the Roman Church. But it would be far better even to ask the intercession of departed saints on our behalf, as we continually do ask the prayers of those holy men and women who are still living in our midst, than that we should believe that death has power to rob God's children of their love, and zeal, and work. In fact, we attach far too great importance to death, as the controversy now so earnest about the future state of the wicked only too clearly demonstrates; we are in danger of regarding it as a great gulf, which not only the love of man but the love of God Himself, is unable to cross. There are not a few divines who seem to believe that it changes not only the circumstances and accidents of human beings, but even the very essence of human nature ; so that after death, suffering can bring no regret, punishment no

pp. 296-299.

improvement, the knowledge of what sin really is no repentance, the love of God no hope, the redemption of Christ no salvation.

There is a large part of Cardinal Wiseman's teaching which seems to us to rest upon a very slender foundation, either of Scripture or reason ; indeed, it is to him no valid ground of objection to any doctrine whatever, that it is wholly irrational and unintelligible. But, even for the wildest doctrinal follies, he must have some foundation; and it may

Protestants to learn, that a foundation which, in any case, is to him completely satisfactory, is the Bible. Not, indeed, the Bible interpreted according to the whims and fancies of ignorance or prejudice, for that would not be the Bible at all; but the Bible interpreted by the wise and learned, and by the tradition not of yesterday, not of new sects, come newly up, which our fathers knew not, not of me one nation or race, but by that which covers the whole earth, and reaches back to the beginnings of Christendom. And surely this is only a more emphatic and more consistent form of the same teaching which is common among ourselves, which is implied in the work of the ministry and the vocation of the preacher.

astonish

many

• The extract that follows in the text must be taken, not as the authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, but only at the most as Cardinal Wiseman's opinion of what his Church does not forbid him to teach. But no Cardinal can overrule the decrees of the Council of Trent, which has long ago determined the use that the faithful may make of the Holy Scriptures: “ Præterea ad coercenda petulantia ingenia decernit, ut nemo, suæ prudentiæ innixus, in rebus fidei et morum ad ædificationem doctrinæ Christianæ pertinentium, sacram Scripturam ad suos sensus contorquens, contra eum sensum, quem tenuit et tenet sancta mater ecclesia, cujus est judicare de vero sensu et interpretatione Scripturarum sanctarum, aut etiam contra unanimem consensum Patrum ipsam Scripturam sacram interpretari audeat, etiamsi hujusmodi interpretationes nullo unquam tempore in lucem edendæ forent. Qui contravenerint per ordinarios declarentur, et pænis a jure statutis puniantur"-- Sessio iv. Decret. de editione et usu Sacrorum Librorum). At the same time, it ought not to be denied that there is a certain flexibility about the practice of the Roman Catholic Church, especially in Protestant countries, which is a real benefit, however inconsistent it may seem with many of the Romanist pretensions. Infallibility and science, infallibility and intellectual liberty and culture are wholly incompatible; and the fate of the Home and Foreign Review, with Cardinal Wiseman's recent Pastoral, must surely have done something towards convincing English Catholics of that fact. But a Bible without note or comment, is, on the one hand, impossible, because every translation in itself implies a commentary; and, on the other hand, it is undesirable, because the most ignorant people require to be taught not to repeat, parrot-like, mere words of Scripture, but to get at the real meaning of those words. It is impossible for any Englishman to begin the study of the Holy Scriptures without a bias in one direction or another; and, besides that, the Bible, though above all other books “it is not for an age, but for all time,” was actually produced at a remote period, and in places far distant from those we live in, and in the midst of social and political surroundings wholly unlike those with which we are familiar. The study of the Bible, therefore, must necessarily be far more fruitful under judicious guidance. If we teach men that it is one of their most solemn duties to read the Bible from one

« PreviousContinue »