Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

remain in darkness, we shall be found standing upright, looking heavenward, our Reason unshackled, in all the dignity and energy of our native manhood.

16. Better roam for aye, than rest

Under the impious shadow of a roof unblest.' --DE VERE."

pp. 31-43.

The author accepts the challenge, and proceeds to prove that Protestantism does not and cannot, and that Catholicity can and does, fulfil the conditions demanded by the Earnest Seeker ; and, as far as we can judge, does it with a force of argument, beauty of expression, and felicity of illustration that leaves little to be desired. There can be no doubt that what is called Evangelical Protestantism is utterly unable to meet the demands of reason or the wants of the heart, and no one who knows Catholicity can doubt its capacity to do both. Calvinism proceeds on the principle that our nature has been totally corrupted by the Fall, and that men as they are now born are incapable of thinking a good thought or performing a good deed. Hence it teaches that all the acts of the unregenerate, even their prayers, are sins. Catholicity proceeds on the principle that, though by the Fall man has lost all power, prior to regeneration, to perform acts meritorious of eternal life, he yet retains his essential nature, -reason and free-will, and can discover and embrace truth, and perform acts really good, in the natural order. Hence the Church condemns the proposition : “ All the works of infidels are sins," and asserts the reality of natural truth and virtue. Catholicity presupposes reason or natural truth as the preamble in the logical order to revelation, and nature as the recipient of grace, and therefore accepts natural reason and our natural affections, and elevates them to a higher order, purifies and strengthens them, instead of decrying and condemning them.

It will be seen that the author boldly accepts the principle that “what contradicts reason contradicts God.” There is nothing startling in this principle to Catholics, though they do not usually express it in this way, for it is more reverent and less dangerous to say, what contradicts the word of God contradicts reason, making thus the revelation the criterion of reason, not reason the criterion of the revelation. When we say, what contradicts reason con

NEW YORK SERIES.- VOL. II. NO. IV. 31

tradicts God, we have the appearance of favoring the rule of private judgment, and of justifying Rationalists in setting up their private opinions as the criteria of revealed truth. There are comparatively few who can practically distinguish between reason and their own mental habits and prejudices, or so to speak, between reason and their own view of reason, that is to say, between reason and their own private judgment. To the mass of men brought up in a Protestant community, nothing appears more contradictory to reason than the various dogmas and practices of the Catholic Church, and they really are contradictory to their reason, that is, to reason as modified or perverted by their anti-Catholic habits and prejudices. Certainly, reason taken strictly, in its own essential nature, approves or teaches nothing that does not accord with the teachings and usages of the Church. But men do not generally so take reason in practice. They do not easily divest themselves of their habits and prejudices. They reason as they are. In practice they confound their habits and prejudices with reason itself, and conclude that whatever contradicts them, contradicts reason. Hence the rule, as stated, is not regarded generally as a safe practical rule, and although strictly true, for God is present in reason as well as in revelation, and his veracity is the same in the one as in the other, the author, we presume, would not lay it down if he did not regard it as in no danger of being abused by the class of minds he is addressing, and also as necessary in some sort to give a strong denial to the denunciations of reason by so-called Orthodox Protestantism. He has thought it proper and in the highest degree prudent to show the earnest seeker after truth, who is revolted by the depreciation of reason and nature by Calvinism, that on this point Catholicity is totally different, and not the enemy, but the warm friend of reason. In this he is certainly right, and giving the right direction to Catholic controversy.

We must bear in mind that the author addresses his book not indiscriminately to all classes of non-Catholics; but to that class who have cast off Protestantism, fallen back on simple nature, have become earnest seekers after religion, and are prepared to accept it the moment that they see that it meets their intellectual and moral wants, and that they can embrace it without denying the plain dictates of reason or forfeiting the rights and dignity of their human nature. He thinks this class includes a majority of the adult portion of our population. On this point, however, we are not able to agree with him. We may be wrong, but we are not, with what knowledge we have of our countrymen, able to believe that they have as yet, to any great extent, cast off false Christianity, absolutely got rid of all the various forms of Protestantism, and now stand in simple unprejudiced nature, prepared to receive Catholic truth in proportion as it is clearly, distinctly, and affectionately presented. It is true, as the author states, that the majority of the adult population have been said, on respectable authority, to profess no religion ; but I attribute the fact, if it be a fact, not to the keenness of their intelligence which has seen through the hollowness of Protestantism, and rejected it from a conviction that it is essentially unreasonable and false, dishonorable to God and unfit for man; but to their indifference to religion itself, to their want of seriousness, earnestness in the affairs of the soul, and to their insane devotion to the world and its goods. They are not precisely skeptics, but are to Protestantism what cold, dead, and worldly Catholics are to Catholicity. Awaken them to a sense of their religious obligations, make them feel the necessity of attending to their salvation, and they unite with some one of the various Protestant sects, the one in which their infancy was trained, or to which accident determines them. A General Jackson, old and on the brink of eternity, unites with the Presbyterians, a Henry Clay with the Episcopalians. The American mind properly so called, whatever we may say of it or hope from it, is as yet thoroughly Protestant. Protestantism, chiefly under the Calvinistic or Methodistic phase, has had the forming of the American religious character, and what of religion the American people have is cast in a Protestant mould, and when quickened into life and activity runs in a Protestant channel.

A change is, no doubt, taking place with as great a rapidity as we could reasonably expect, and we look for large accessions to the Church from conversions, but not so much from mong those who have cast off all religion, as from among those who really believe the Christian truth Protestantism retains, and who see that it is incomplete, fragmentary, insufficient for itself, and are led from a view of its defective and broken character to seek its unity and integrity in the Catholic Church. We are all of us liable to be deceived by relying too much on our own peculiar experience, and taking what, after all, was only our own clique, coterie, or party, as representative of the whole country. It is evident to any one who reads the book before us, and has been acquainted with the New England Transcendentalists, that the author has taken them as the representatives of the class he addresses, and as an index to the direction likely to be taken by the American mind. But every thing in this country changes so rapidly that a reasonable induction from a state of facts which existed yesterday becomes absurd to-day, though it should chance to be reasonable again to-morrow. The Transcendentalists, with Ralph Waldo Emerson for their high priest, Margaret Fuller for their high priestess, and The Dial for their organ, never a numerous or a very powerful party, have nearly all disappeared, and are as hard to find in New England now as are the Saint-Simonians in France. They were able, in their best estate, to find little response from the national heart, and were, after all, an exotic transplanted to our American garden from Germany, rather than a plant of native origin and growth, and we think but little account should be made of them in estimating the tendencies of the American people.

There has been, if we are not much mistaken, since the palmy days of Transcendentalism, a reaction in the American mind towards Evangelicalism. The naked pantheism of the Transcendentalists, and the tendency of their speculations and utterances to foster a weak sentimentalism, never slow to run into a demoralizing sensualism ; the rationalistic tendencies of the Unitarian preaching and literature ; and the bold, unblushing infidelity of Theodore Parker and his friends, together with the attacks of the Catholic press, have alarmed, to some extent, the better portion of the American people, and produced a reaction in favor not directly of Catholicity, but of more conservative forms of Protestantism. I may be mistaken, but I think the American people are more Evangelical to-day than they were fifteen or twenty years ago. But I also

[ocr errors]

believe them nearer the Church, because I believe them less Rationalistic, and more deeply impressed with those elements of Protestantism which have been retained from Catholicity. Protestants have, to some extent, changed their front. Alarmed by the extravagances and ultraisms of a portion of their own number, and pressed from without by Catholicity, which insists on its right to hold them responsible for all these extravagances and ultraisms, they are now falling back, not as they were on simple nature, but on the truth the Reformers retained. We hope much from this reaction, for it will give us some elements of Christian truth in the Protestant mind to which we can make our appeals. We therefore think the class of minds the author addresses not so large as he supposes, nor in fact so large as it was fifteen or twenty years ago.

The direction of the leading American mind has changed, and our hopes are now from the more serious and religious among non-Catholics, rather than from those who still retain their Rationalistic and Transcendentalist tendencies. In addressing ourselves to Rationalists and Transcendentalists, and in accepting their principle and method, there may be danger of doing more to confirm them in their present tendencies than to win them to the Church ; for it may well happen that they will be more deeply impressed with our strong assertions in favor of reason and nature, than with our arguments, clear and conclusive as they may be, designed to prove that Catholicity meets all the demands of intellect and all the wants of the heart. They have not, with individual exceptions, any very deep or painful sense of the need of something above reason and nature, and are far better satisfied with themselves as they are, than we who know from our religion and from our own experience the insufficiency of reason and nature alone commonly imagine. It is only when divine grace is operating on them or striving with them, that they experience those internal longings or those deep aspirations to something above nature, which create so much misery in the bosoms of non-Catholics. However strictly accordant reason and nature may be with Catholicity, or however necessary it may be to enable man to attain to his supernatural beatitude, reason and nature do not of themselves aspire to it, for they do and can of themselves aspire only to a beatitude in their own order, that is to say, a natural beatitude.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »