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indexes concern us, as members of the Roman Catholic Church, only so far as they are designed for the instruction of the faithful throughout the world. But what, after all, are these expurgatory indexes, about which we hear so much, and which are such frightful monsters to our Protestant brethren? They are simply matters of discipline, prepared by the highest pastoral authority in the Church, - not to encroach on the liberty of the press, for no book is likely to find a place in the index, if not published, — but to guard the faithful against the destructive effects of the licentiousness of the press. This is all.
Nobody, we presume, no matter of what religious persuasion, can recommend to all persons the indiscriminate reading of all manner of books and tractates which
may be published. There are books, and books even not without some value when read by persons prepared to profit by them, which no prudent parent would put into the hands of his children. It is not every book that is suitable for every person's reading. A full-grown man, well grounded in his principles, and strengthened and confirmed by divine grace, may perhaps read without injury almost any publication ; but what Christian father would not tremble to find his son, some eighteen or twenty years of age, reading Paine's Age of Reason, Volney's Ruins, or Baron d'Holbach's Système de la Nature ? or what Christian mother would willingly see her daughter reading Wolstonecraft's Rights of Woman, or the novels of Paul de Kock, Sir Lytton Bulwer, George Sand, or Eugene Sue, before experience, and maturity of thought and sentiment, had secured her against the subtle poison they contain ? Books are companions, and bad books are as dangerous as any other species of companions. Evil communications corrupt good manners, and we may be corrupted by reading bad books as well as by frequenting bad company. Every body knows this, and every father of a family, if he deserve at all the name, has virtually an index expurgatorius, which he does his best to enforce on all intrusted to his care. All admit its importance, so far as concerns children or young persons.
Would the Methodist bishops and elders tolerate Universalist, Unitarian, Papistical, or infidel books in their Sunday-school libraries, or recommend them to the members of their flock for family reading? Do not the American SundaySchool Union alter, expurgate, or amend the books they publish, to make them conform to their standard of orthodoxy and propriety? Do not the laws of Massachusetts, New York, nay, of every State in the Union that has a public school tem, institute an expurgatory index, by prohibiting all sectarian
books from being used in the schools, or introduced into the common school libraries ? And so far as relates to common schools in this Commonwealth, what is our Board of Education, with its learned Secretary, but a“ Congregation of the Index” ?
In all communities there are large numbers who are children as long as they live. Every clergyman, no matter of what denomination, can point to not a few in his congregation, who are by no means qualified for reading with profit, or without detriment, all manner of books or publications which may be issued ; and we know no clergyman that does not use his utmost influence to prevent the members of his flock from reading such works as in his judgment may prove injurious to them. Indeed, we see not how he could answer to his conscience and to his God, if he should not. Is he not, by virtue of his office, set an overseer, to watch over, guard, and promote their spiritual welfare ? Our early acquaintance with the Methodists, with whom in a good measure we were brought up, has led us to believe that their ministers are by no means remiss in this duty. Indeed, all the sects, unless we must except Unitarians and Universalists, do their best to prevent their respective members from reading publications hostile to their peculiar tenets. The Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists, are as strict in this respect as Catholics themselves. Each denomination has an expurgatory index, as much as the Church of Rome, - only it does not publish it, - and an index equally exclusive, to say the least. What, then, but rank hypocrisy, is this outcry against the Catholic Church? Wherein is her peculiar offence? Is it in the fact, that she publishes her index for the guidance of the faithful throughout the world, and does not profess one thing and do another ?
But, as we have said, the index is merely an affair of discipline, and simply points out the books not approved by the Church, which are not sound in the faith, or which cannot be read without danger to piety or morals. Yet the reading of the books placed in the index is not absolutely prohibited ; it is simply remitted to the discretion of the bishops or pastors, and may be allowed to any one, when any good reason can be assigned why it should be.
But we are told, or may be told, that the Church of Rome establishes a rigid censorship of the press. Not the Church of Rome, but the court of Rome; and not for the Church Universal, but for the Pope's temporal dominions. How rigid this censorship inay be we know not, nor does it concern us, who are not temporal subjects of the Pope, to inquire. The Pope, as temporal prince, is an independent sovereign, and is at liberty to govern his subjects in his own way, as much so as any other temporal prince. But it must be remembered that this question of the censorship of the press has two sides, or at least has something to be said in its favor ; for there is no country on earth that tolerates the unlimited freedom of the press. There are some Protestant countries in Europe, — Prussia, for instance, — which subject the press to the most rigid censorship ; so rigid, that the censors have been known to erase the word liberty, as “ treasonable.” England, indeed, boasts that her press is free ; she establishes no censorship ; and yet she restrains its liberty by treating as blasphemous libels the publications which contain certain doctrines. George Houston, — at present, we believe, one of the editors of the New York Herald, — was imprisoned two years and a half in London, for publishing an infidel work, entitled “ Ecce Homo.” Robert Taylor, also, was long imprisoned in Oakham jail for writing certain infidel works. We, in this country, claim to have a free press ; and yet Abner Kneeland, a few years since, was imprisoned in Boston for writing a certain newspaper paragraph; and one Dr. Knowlton was also, a short time before, imprisoned for publishing a certain infamous book.
There are publications which no civilized people can tolerate, and which no Christian people can suffer to circulate freely. All have their index expurgatorius. Some place more works in it, others sewer. The question between them is not one of principle, but one of more or less. The only difference in principle, too, between those nations which prosess to have a free press, and those which have a censorship, is, that the latter endeavour to prevent the mischief from being done, while the former only seek to punish the authors of it, after they have done it. Which is the wiser course we shall not undertake to decide. But one thing we will say, the licentiousness of the press should alarm every one who regards the moral and spiritual health of the people. The foods of obscene and corrupting novels and other cheap publications, which have of late inundated the country, are not to pass off without leaving terrible waste and destruction behind ; and unless the moral portion of the community, especially the clergy, in the bosom of their several flocks, use their utmost endeavours, and exert all their pastoral authority, to prevent these works from being read by the young, the unsuspecting, and the impressible, the most frightful corruption of morals and manners will soon spread over the whole land. The Methodist Quarterly Review, instead of bringing
false charges against the Church of Rome, would do a much greater service to God and the country, if it would use its influence to guard our young community from the blasting effects of the recent licentiousness of the Boston and New York presses. Here is an object worthy of all its holy zeal.
But the Review seeks to establish its proposition by alleging that the Church of Rome wages a deadly war upon liberty of mind and conscience. That the Church of Rome teaches, that conscience needs to be enlightened by the word of God before it can be followed as a safe guide, we freely admit; and that she also teaches, that private judgment in interpreting the word of God or articles of faith should yield to the Church, is by no means denied. Every Catholic believes the Holy Catholic Church infallible and authoritative. He believes that Christ has instituted a ministry which is competent to teach by authority, and competent because Christ is always with it, enabling it to teach the truth, and preventing it from teaching
So far as submission to this authority is a restriction on freedom of mind, the Catholic Church undoubtedly restricts it. But this no Catholic feels to be any restriction at all; for to him the decision of the Church is the highest conceivable evidence of truth; and it therefore guides him to the truth, instead of restraining him from embracing it. He feels it his blessed privilege to have an authority which cannot err, to decide for him, and set him right, where his own reason might lead him astray.
But must not this yielding to authority make one a mental slave, destroy all mental vigor, and tend to reduce or retain one in intellectual imbecility, in the most brutish ignorance ? Certainly, if the authority be human, or that of any one of our sects. The full force of this reply can be understood by none but a Catholic. The Catholic Church is divine, it is a supernatural institution, and supernaturally sustained and protected. It teaches all truth, that is, all truth pertaining to religion and morals. It decides positively on no other subject. It leaves, then, necessarily, the human mind free to discover and defend the truth on all subjects ; and both truth and error on all subjects, but the fundamental principles of religion and morals. Is not this liberty enough to satisfy any sober friend of freedom ? If you run athwart these fundamental principles, you are unquestionably arrested ; but why arrested? Because the Church will not tolerate your truth? Not at all. For all truth is homogeneous, and therefore, so long as you follow the truth, you cannot run athwart her decisions. You are arrested, then, because the Church cannot tolerate your error. You are free to advocate all truth, but not free to advocate all error. Here is all the restriction placed upon you; and surely this leaves ample room for the freest thought, and the fullest investigation of all subjects.
But any such restriction, imposed by any one of the sects, would, we grant, have the effect supposed; because no sect is Catholic, that is, no sect teaches all truth, and the authority of the sect is confessedly human. There are many religious truths which the Methodists, for instance, do not accept; and they have, moreover, no promise of the continued presence of the Holy Ghost to lead them into all truth. They do not even pretend that their decisions on matters of faith are the result of any but human wisdom. In subjecting us to them, they would subject us to human authority in matters of faith and conscience, which is the grossest tyranny ; they would also debar us from entertaining and defending all truth not embraced within their defective symbols. We should then be really reduced to slavery, and brutish ignorance and mental imbecility would quickly follow. The government of God is freedom, that of man is tyranny.
But why all this clamor against the Roman Catholic Church as to freedom of mind ? To hear our sectarians, one would think that they were the friends of freedom of thought and conscience. They talk of the right of private judgment, as if they really recognized it, and suffered every man to be his own judge of what is or is not true. All delusion! There is no religious denomination on earth, that allows unlimited freedom of mind, or the unrestricted right of private judgment. The Protestant rule is deceptive and self-contradictory. All Protestant sects professedly recognize the right of private judgment, but all in the same breath deny it. They affirm the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God, and the sole rule of faith and practice. Now, here is an authority set up at once above private judgment ; for no private judgment is permitted to decide against the word of God.
But “private judgment is free to interpret the word of God.” No such thing. The written word does not interpret itself, and is no rule till interpreted. Each sect puts its own interpretation on it ; and that interpretation each member of the sect must accept or acquiesce in, on pain of heresy and excommunication. The Methodists excommunicate from their communion the member who lapses into what they call heresy, and so do all the other sects. We ourselves, many years ago, were