Page images

or enticing children, but can such rules prevent the natural working of a system? Can they prevent friends and relations, at the persuasion of the priest, or as a means of getting a burden off their hands, or for the more creditable object of securing a provision for the child himself, putting the child into training for the monastic life; and can they make the child know of the existence of such rules, or give him the power to take advantage of them? It is ludicrous to suppose that they can. These rules, then, exist on paper; they are very convenient to refer to and parade when a charge is brought; but it is a mockery of common sense to pretend that they can be any solid safeguard against the exertion of a complete practical control over a child, in the matter of choosing this profession of life for him. Indeed it must be observed, that the principal authorities of the Roman Church hardly disclaim this result, or rather positively approve of it. The whole discussion in Thomassinus implies that it is a very good thing to dedicate children from the earliest years to a monastic life; and eminent casuists, of whom one, Medina, was himself present at the Council of Trent, interpret the restrictions of the Council in favour of allowing not only a parental dedication of children, but the reception of them within the monastic walls themselves, before the age of reason; though it is allowed that a licence from Rome is necessary in this case. It is admitted indeed by these casuists that children are no longer obliged now, as they were in the middle ages, by the laws of Church or State, to ratify the parental dedication by taking the vows themselves, but they add that they ought, and would be expected so to do.

The prevailing sentiment, then, in the Roman Church, is in favour of beginning the monastic life in childhood before the age of reason. Under the influence of this general idea children are brought up and put into training for that life, while they are no more than children. And finally, the inexorable vow is taken by them at an age when, if they are no longer children, they are certainly not men,-at the boyish age of sixteen.

The practical treatment of this subject by the Church of Rome, thus — independently of the question of vows, which is a distinct question, and into which we do not here enterexpressly contradicts the treatment of it in Scripture; and whereas Scripture describes the qualification for the state of celibacy as a special gift of God, not given to all; in Roman practice, on the contrary, it is regarded simply as a power, which any Christian whatever has; and its possession is counted on in the case of any chance person, picked up out of the mass, with the same confidence with which the ordinary faculties, moral and intellectual, are counted on. It is treated

as a mere matter of education, as if youth could be brought by education to the true celibate frame, just as they are brought by education to the power of reading and writing. It is quite true, that up to a certain point, we have the full right to reckon up an individual's possession of moral and religious powers; and it is that right which justifies us in bringing up any man whatever to be a Christian, notwithstanding the trials and responsibilities of the Christian state. But those moral and religious powers which we have a right to reckon on, are those which enable a man to lead an ordinary Christian life, and those only. We know that to every baptized person these powers are guaranteed, and therefore we have a right to educate any baptized person for the ordinary Christian trial. The case is altered when the trial which is contemplated is an extraordinary one, and when no guarantee exists for powers and gifts capable of surmounting it. If we commit any chance person to such a trial, we do it upon our own responsibility, notwithstanding any training which we may give him ; and if he fails, and falls into greater sin thereby, we share his guilt. But the Roman Church does commit chance persons to this extraordinary trial. She commits them to it at an age, when she cannot possibly know whether they bave the special gift or not. The Gospel treats the trial as one for individuals here and there to encounter, she regards it as a trial for the mass; for a chance pick out of the mass is on the same level with the mass. The Gospel prescribes to the individual a searching examination of himself, in order to ascertain the presence of this gift; the Roman Church practically requires no self-examination at all, for she commits him irrevocably to the trial, before he has the power to make it.

But we shall be told, that we do not calculate sufficiently on the grace of the new dispensation, and the powers of a renewed nature. We hear somebody saying,-You talk like a pagan. This trial is indeed too difficult for the natural man, but the Holy Spirit enables the members of the Church to meet this, and much greater. We have already answered this plea. We can know no more about the grace of the new dispensation and its operation in members of the Church, than what the Bible tells us. And the Bible expressly says, that this grace does not include the gift in question; this gift being a special one, given to some, and not to other members of the Church.

Now observe the natural results of a system which thus contradicts the rule and counsel of Scripture on this subject. The first result is, that many fail in the trial to which they are so unwarrantably exposed. The next is, that discipline is obliged to relax, and lower its estimate of the sin. Too many fall, to




enable ecclesiastical authority to exercise primitive severity toward the offenders ; for the standard which the Court takes must always depend considerably on the practice of the people. The law cannot afford to have too many transgressors, and must shut its eyes. From connivance to promotion the step is short. The man's formal position is not touched; his own ambition, his serviceableness to the body, his talents, eloquence, knowledge, if he possesses them, remain. He is made use of for carrying on the system, and the system gives him his wages.

Such is the picture which the late trial before the Queen's Bench has placed before our eyes. It is very hard to suppose, judging by ordinary rules, that the long toleration and promotion of a man, known to have the character which Achilli had, could have gone on, if that class of offences had not lost, in the priestly and monastic order, that rarity which keeps up the standard of their guilt. Imagine it to be a rare, a most extraordinary thing for a cleric to commit such a crime: and that one day it is discovered that a particular cleric has plunged into the deepest crimes of this sort : would there not be something unaccountable in the immediate promotion of such a man to preside over ecclesiastical seminaries, and preach Lent sermons? The converse then approves itself, and is required to satisfy that want which we feel, as rational creatures, for some consistent account of the facts which come before us. He was promoted, because the estimate of his offence was not a high one: and the estimate was not high, because the offence itself was not sufficiently rare. A whole state of things is before us, which is perfectly intelligible upon this supposition, but which without it is not intelligible.

It is true, cases like that of Achilli do not turn up every day. But we cannot argue from the fact that they do not come out, to the fact that they do not happen. Should we, for example, but for the single circumstance that Achilli had turned Protestant, have ever heard one single word of the enormities of this particular person, Achilli ? To us it appears very evident we should not. They would have been inscribed in the register of the Episcopal Court of Viterbo, in the register of the Holy Office at Rome; they would have occupied the reports of the police: but the registers of Italian Church Courts, and the reports of Italian police are not public documents. Who in this country would have been a bit the wiser for information contained in these occult rolls of parchment and secret ledgers ? Achilli was in bad odour again in society ; but the bad odour which surrounds a man is after all often a very limited one. A particular circle knows certain things against him ; but out of this circle these facts do not transpire. By cases of immorality

the sea.

coming out, we mean their coming out so as to be known to the world at large ;—those of Achilli would have never come out in this sense, would never have reached Protestant ears, had he not turned Protestant. Then, Viterbo, Rome, Capua, Naples, which had been all so silent hitherto, could speak out; the police could supply, upon solicitation, useful extracts from their black book to appear in our contemporary, the 'Dublin.' The bad odour in which Achilli had lived could then be wafted across

The Holy Office could send a voice from its caverns, and anybody and everybody that knew anything against the heretic could communicate it to the English press. But where was all this information before ? Where it would have remained for ever after, had not Achilli become a convert,-in the confinement of official parchment, and the narrow circle of towns-talk? We cannot argue then from the fact that such cases do not come out and reach Protestant ears, to the fact that they do not occur. Of course, such cases are kept snug, are confined to the friendly knowledge of members of the communion. It is not to be expected that one religion should communicate its own scandals for the triumph of another. We observe in the evidence of some of the witnesses at the recent trial, sufficient proof of a systematic concealment of priestly scandals. A witness on being asked by the counsel whether she had told her own mother of her fall, replies, ‘No, because the Confessor forbade my mentioning it, as Achilli was an ecclesiastic. The concealment was used toward her own dearest and nearest relation; and the reason for it was not natural shame and remorse, but the religious duty of hiding the immorality of a priest. And where such a course is urged by a Priesthood as a religious duty upon the people, it is not difficult to guess on what a large scale concealment may take place. A double wall of concealment thus hides the misdemeanours of the priestly body from the eyes of the world at large. There is a cover at the fountain-head, and if they penetrate through this, they only ordinarily find their way into an inner and home circle of earsa local sphere, the scandal of which never reaches the great world. But individual cases may let out a whole state of things.

There is only one answer we can think of to these observations, viz. that immorality in priests alienates them in heart from their own communion, and leads to their conversion to Protestantism; so that the fact which occasions the publication of such crimes, and therefore the publication itself, is coextensive with their occurrence. But will the assertion be seriously made, that immorality and conversion do thus go together. If it is, all we can say is, that it does not deserve serious notice;

[ocr errors]

it is an assertion and no more; and it is in violent contradiction to numerous disclosures mediæval and modern.

Will it be objected that this is an invidious line of remark, and that we are wanting to make out as bad a case as possible for the Roman Church, and squeezing out by inference what we cannot obtain by regular evidence? We answer-Here is a case before us.

We did not go to look for it; it has been obtruded upon our eyes; but coming as it does before us, we must and ought to have some view or other about it. It is no little matter : it is an important and weighty disclosure of some of the interior of a system of which we are generally obliged to be external spectators only; it is one of those large facts which support an argument. Nor does it by any means stand alone; but it is a type of a regular class of discoveries which time after time take place respecting the Roman system and its working. No one, indeed, can look at all the circumstances of Achilli's case, and really suppose it to be a single case.

We shall end with two cautions to the Romanist party, as regards their language about individuals, and about their own system; cautions which this whole discussion has very naturally suggested.

First, with respect to the individual Achilli, and such like offenders, our Romanist friends call them wolves. They are very free in the use of this term : it is their account of them : they are 'wolves,' and that is all that is to be said. The Roman Catholic Editor of the Report before us appends to his labours a motto from S. Augustine :- Let not the sheep discard their clothing, because the wolf sometimes conceals himself therein.' Now this is a true account in part, but it is only a part of the truth; and we shall not allow it to pass without supplying it with its proper complement. The wolf Achilli concealed himself in sheep's clothing :'-granted : but when did he conceal himself therein? At the age of seventeen. At that early age he took the inexorable vow, assumed the monastic habit, and committed himself once and for all to an extraordinary state of life, and extraordinary trials. Can the first step, then, and that is a most important one, in this career of concealment be properly called his own act? 'He put on,' says our contemporary, in

' 'innocent youth and with guileless heart, before God's altar, the holy habit, as the wedding garment of the Lamb.' But, in the name of Scripture and of reason, we ask, is 'innocent youth' the age at which such an ordeal should be imposed? Can 'an innocent youth' know himself and his own powers ? can he search his own heart, and find if he is steadfast, has no necessity, has power over his own will, has effectively decreed in his own heart. Our contemporary describes with a sentimental glow the sup


« PreviousContinue »