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York : Goetzel & Co, 1837. 2 vols. 12no,
Art. I.-Brownson on the Church and the Republic. Uni
versalist Quarterly and General Review. Boston: Tompkins. October, 1856.
It is not often that the secular or the Protestant periodicals of the country make any formal attempts to refute our arguments or to show the inconclusiveness of our reasoning in behalf of the Church ; and when they do make some such attempt, they ordinarily do it with so much levity, violence, or ignorance of the subject, that we cannot, without derogating from the dignity of our position, offer them any reply. The Universalist Quarterly Review, a respectable Protestant periodical published in Boston, and conducted with a fair share of learning and ability, offers, in its issue for last October, an exception to the general rule, and presents, upon the whole, an able and interesting criticism on the article, entitled The Church and the Republic, in this Review for July, 1856. We know not the author, but, though not perfectly master of his subject, he writes with a certain degree of courtesy and candor, and apparently with an earnest love of truth and justice. He opens his essay
with some reniarks on the influence of our writings, which cannot fail to be gratifying to our friends, and which will prove to them that, notwithstanding many discouragements and unfavorable appearances, our Review is silently doing its work, and making its mark even on the mind of non-Catholic Americans. Our readers will pardon us for reproducing them.
"Few American readers need to be told who or what is 0. A Brownson. Perhaps no man in this country bas, by the simple ef
NEW YORK SERIES.—VOL. II, NO. I. 1
fort of the pen, made himself more conspicuous, or has more distinctly impressed the peculiarities of his mind. Other writers may
. have a larger number of readers, but no one has readers of such various character. He has the attention of intelligent men of all sects and parties-men who read him without particular regard to the themes on which he spends his energies, or the sectarian or partisan position of which he may avow himself the champion. The extraordinary ingenuity of his logic, the vigor of his thought, and the clearness and directness of his style, will attract attention, regardless of the particular opinions which prove the occasion of bringing out these fascinating qualities.”—p. 400.
This is generous ; but the writer thinks there is, however, a grave defect in our mind.
“Mr. Brownson, however, is wanting in the highest characteristic of eloquence—he does not convince. He may puzzle and perplex those whose convictions differ from his own, but he will make few converts. His Protestant readers find in his productions a sort of intellectual gymnasium, for whatever may be the intrinsic merit of his argumentation, it will not be denied that it stimulates thought; but, of the many whom we know to be among his constant readers, we cannot name one who has been forced thereby into a change of conviction."-pp. 400, 401.
The author probably means that we fail to persuade. To convince is the province of logic, in which few even of our enemies regard us as deficient; to persuade is the province of eloquence, and to eloquence we lay no claim. A man may be persuaded by the eloquence of the writer or speaker without being logically convinced, and he may be convinced by reasoning without being persuaded. His understanding may be convinced, and yet his prejudices, mental habits, interests, feelings, passions, or affections may prevent him from following his convictions. His intellect is mastered, but his feelings and will are not persuaded. We may not have had great success in making converts, for converts are not made by human efforts alone; but there is a respectable number of persons, whose lives adorn their Catholic profession, who have assured us that they owe their conversion, under God, to our writings and lectures. The writer himself seems also to concede that we have not been wholly unsuccessful.
“ The secret of his apparent success in maintaining the claims of the Catholic Church will, if we mistake not, be found in the unwarrantable readiness with which Protestant readers accede to the premises of his argumentation. Protestantism does not claim infallibility; and certainly, in the form in which it has thus far been most popular, most egregious error has gone under its name. Those who have been reared under its Calvinistic phase, are little aware of the mongrel character of their beliefs--the arbitrary mingling of truth and error, which to them has the force of pure doctrine. And even those who have reached what we must deem a higher form of faith, still retain the impressions of early education, and unconsciously accede to notions wholly incompatible with the convictions which they formally avow.
From the mass of men, thus unconsciously under the influence of principles which their awakened judgment would repudiate, an ingenious disputant can easily elicit premises of argument, the logical sequence of which is revolting to their sensibilities.
“We have long been convinced that Protestants are to blame for whatever is perplexing in the argument by which it is attempted to maintain the dogmas of Catholicism. Indeed, if we must admit the principles of which the Calvinistic interpretation of Protestantisın is predicated, we see no way by which to resist the inference which the Catholic logician finds it easy to educe. Not one Protestant in ten will hesitate to admit the proposition, that God has revealed to mankind a perfect and complete system of religious truth; and the further proposition, that men are morally obligated to receive, and practically act up to, this revelation of truth, will find an equally prompt admission. Yet, out of these propositions, Mr. Brownson will construct an argument for the infallible interpreter,' which no skill of controversy can possibly resist. For, it will be asked, is it not preposterous to claim, that the just God has obligated his rational creatures to receive and practise a truth, without providing them with a sure means of ascertaining what that truth is ! Would it not be to tantalize his children, to require their belief in the truth, and at the same time to leave them, even after their most conscientious efforts to find it, in a state of uncertainty as to whether they had attained it? If God has made it the duty of man to believe the truth, and nothing but the truth, he must, if justice is one of its attributes, have furnished them an “infallible interpreter,' whereby they may know for a certainty what the truth is, and when they have received it! We must add, that the existence of an infallible interpreter admitted, the presumption that the Catholic Church is that interpreter, though not logical
, is, nevertheless, unquestionable. It is certain, that the Church or institution on which this marvellous gift has been bestowed will be aware of the fact that it possesses it, and will claim to exercise it; and as the Catholic Church is the only institution which professes to have such knowledge, and presumes to exercise such prerogative, it alone can be the infallible interpreter! And such essentially, in various forms of statement and application, is the reasoning with which Mr. Brownson oppposes Catholicism to Protestantism,-a method of argument which Calvinistic theologians find it no easy matter to confront.”pp. 401–403.
We commend this explanation of our apparent success to the attention of our readers, which, as indicating the state of mind of a large class of our countrymen, is not without significance. It justifies the hopes for then we have so often expressed. Even the writer himself can hardly be prepared to maintain that Almighty God has not
revealed to mankind a perfect and complete system of truth,” and that men are not “morally obligated to receive and practically act up to this revelation of truth.” If God has made us a revelation at all, he must have revealed perfect and complete truth, and all the truth on the points intended to be covered by the revelation ; and if he has revealed this truth, he must require us to receive and practically conform to it, since he must reveal it for a purpose, and there is no other purpose conceivable for which he could have revealed it. If he requires it, we are morally obliged to obey, for certainly we are morally bound to comply with all the requirements of God. To deny either of these propositions is tantamount to the denial that God has made us a revelation at all; and hence we have always maintained that no man who admits revelation can stop short of the Catholic Church, save at the expense of his logic. We wish, however, to remind our author, in passing, that to be an infallible interpreter of the revelation is not the only office of the Church, nor the only thing for which her existence is held by Catholics to be necessary in the order of salvation.
Our readers are aware that in our article on The Church and the Republic we were not offering an argument for the Church herself, or assigning a reason why men should become Catholics. We have never fallen into the absurdity of urging men to become Catholics for a temporal motive, or of urging that the Church must be the Church of God, because she is what is needed to sustain our Republic. We have never identified her with any particular political theory, form of government, order of society, or earthly cause whatever. All we have aimed at has been to remove the prejudices of our ron-Catholic