« AnteriorContinuar »
THE ROMAN CHURCH.*
By F. H. HEDGE. It seems to me, on many accounts, important that we should not underrate the present significance and actual strength of Romanism ; but chiefly on this account, because a just estimate of the power and position of that Church is necessary in order to appreciate aright the Roman Christian idea; and a right understanding of the Roman Christianity is essential to a right understanding of our own-of Protestant Christianity as distinguished from the Roman. To know ourselves truly, we must know ourselves relatively, we must measure ourselves with others. It is good for us occasionally to collate these different versions of Christianity, and to judge ourselves by comparing the old and the new. Whatever may be our impression of the errors and corruptions of the Roman Church, it will hardly be denied that a Church which has reached such a point of command, and acquired such breadth of dominion, and, what is more, has stood its ground against such a combination of contrary forces as the two last centuries have levelled against it, has, on the whole, a good right to be and to thrive; that, with all its corruptions, there must be some sterling excellence in such a Church. There must be a good deal of truth and a good deal of virtue at the bottom of such success. Protestants may talk about “ Babylon," and all that, but a power like this never yet based itself on mere corruption. In the long run, success does not side with falsehood. God will not stand by a lie for ever; and certainly of this Church it may be said, in the old Hebrew plirase, that the Lord of Hosts hath been on her side. It is worth our while to study the elements of this success, not for the sake of adopting them,--that would be like adopting another man's eyes or nose, but in order that we may judge correctly of the comparative merits and defects of the two systems.
One very essential element in the success of Romanism is its lofty consciousness, its ecclesiastical consciousness, the Church spirit, the sense of Divine right. Protestantism, as Mr. Martineau very justly characterises it,
*"Out of the Cloud" is unavoidably postponed, with other matter, till our next number, by reasou of the Editor's indisposition,
VOL. VI, NEW SERIES, VOL. II.
“has no self-knowledge.” “Possessed by a spirit which it did not under“stand, aiming at one thing and realizing another," it “has always mistaken “ its own nature and place in history." But Romanism has always understood itself, has always known its end and seen its way. Always conscious of its strength, and confident in its destiny, it bas moved onward with no faltering step in the path of empire to which it conceived itself called in him who was to have the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. It conceives itself called to rule the nations by ruling the mind. The consciousness of such a call was manifest long before the Roman Bishop became the head of Christendom, in the early determination of the Western Church to authoritative settlements of theological questions. The genius of the East inclined to speculation, to free thought and large discourse in matters of religion. The West, ordained to deal with barbarous and unreasoning tribes, who could accept a final proposition, but could make nothing of theories, found it necessary to have opinion fixed in comprehensive and immutable statements. The Greek mind judged of truth by an intellectual standard, and would have every point philosophically legitimated ; the Western judged by the standard of expediency, and wished to have all things ecclesiastically settled. Whether philosophically correct, or not, mattered little in their estimation; opinion must be canonically correct, by all means. It would have no open questions. It had the sagacity to perceive that these questions of metaphysical theology admit of no final solution by the intellect, and that the only way to secure any show of unanimity was by a solution ab extra ; which, if it did not satisfy the intellect, might do what was next best-keep it in order. The long controversy between the orthodox party and the Arians, which agitated the fourth century, was in some sort a struggle between the Western and Eastern Churches, the West being mostly united on the orthodox side. It was from that quarter that the great Bishop of Alexandria derived his chief countenance and support. In fact, though all the ecumenical councils were held in Asia Minor, there is reason to believe that the prevailing influence in those councils, and their decisions, represented the opposite end of the Mediterranean more fully and distinctly than they did its eastern borders.
A more striking instance of the consciousness, and a very essential condition of the ecclesiastical power of Rome, is the subordination of the secular to the spiritual. This Divine order, which Christianity inaugurated almost as soon as it had governments on its side, the Roman Church has never, in principle, abandoned to this day; and the newest controversy within the limits of the Church turns on that very point. The indebtedness of mankind to the Christian Church, as a barrier against secular tyranny, has never, I think, been acknowledged to its fullest extent. Such a thing as a public censure of government was unknown in the Roman empire since the dictatorship of Cæsar, until Christians assumed the purple. The first Christians, it is true, did not obey the laws which compelled them to violate their conscience, but they did not criticize them. No one dreamed of criticizing government, until government, by becoming nominally Christian, became amenable to a higher law. And when Hilary of Poictiers and old Athanase fulminated their invectives against Constantius, the Roman world stood aghast at the boldness which dared to judge, where others had only learned to obey. The subordination of the secular to the spiritual was consummated, at a very early period, in the Western Empire. And such as the ascendancy of the Church feeling not only over private interest, but over the moral sense, that, even when the government acted justly, the Church overruled its decisions, if they seemed to affront its own dignity or to contradict its own interest. The Christians at Callinicum had wantonly destroyed a Jewish synagogue. The Emperor Theodosius very justly sentenced •them to rebuild it at their own expense. Ambrose opposed the decree as an insult to the Christian Church, which ought not on any pretence to be made instrumental in promoting the cause of Judaism. He defended the conduct of the Christians in this act. They had only retaliated, and that very imperfectly, the ancient persecutions of the Jews. He took the responsibility upon himself, and insisted that the authors of the outrage should be held guiltless. And the ruler of the world submitted to his dictation, as he did on that other inore momentous occasion, when, for eight months, the church at Milan was closed against him until he had accomplished the penance exacted by the inflexible bishop for his Thessalonian enormity.
Closely connected with the Church feeling of which I speak, and perhaps a product of it, at all events a very important constituent of the power and success of that body, is the fervent faith of its members in the articles and doctrines of their communion. We hear of the unbelief of professed Romanists among the educated classes in the European capitals. I suppose that to be somewhat exaggerated. But allowing the fact, the sceptics at most are reckoned only by hundreds, the believers by millions. And such believers! The faith of the Romanist is not, as that of the Protestant is apt to be, a mere theoretical admission, or a practical acquiescence, but an assurance amounting to the uttermost possible degree of certitude. Said an individual of that Church to a member of one of the Calvinistic Churches of the city in which I live, “Why do you exclude Unitarians and Universalists “ from your Church ? " The answer was, “ Because we believe them to be in “ error on points of vital moment in religion.” “But do you know that they "are wrong ?” “ Why, we think we have sufficient reason for believing so.” “But unless you are absolutely certain, you have no right to exclude them.” “ How is it, then, with you ? " retorted the Calvinist; “you excommunicate
all Protestants withont distinction.” “Yes, because they are all alike « wrong in matters of faith.” “ That is, you think so."" Not at all,” said the Romanist; “there is no thinking about it; we simply know that you are "wrong as well as we know that you are alive.” Such has been in all periods the faith of Rome-unquestioning, unreasoning, unwavering the faith of the will. It was faith like this that overthrew the Irminsul on the banks of the Lippe, and compelled the iron Vikingr to receive the baptism of Ansgar. It was this that motived the great reaction of the fifteenth century, that rolled back the tide of the Reformation, and secured to the Vatican the fairest portions of Europe,-France, Austria, Bavaria, Poland, Belgium,-already on the point of secession, and assigned to Protestantism an early boundary line, beyond which it has made no conquest for two hundred years.
Still another source of the peculiar power of the Roman Church, is the preponderance which it gives to the feelings over the intellect, the ascendancy it accords to the devotional over the dogmatic in religion. It addresses the sentiments more than the understanding. Romanism puts theology in the background and worship in the foreground, devotion first and theory last. The Romanists as a body, it must be acknowledged, are more devout than the Protestants as a body. Their churches, in the countries where that faith prevails, are always open ; and every day, and almost every hour of the day, you may find there worshippers who have turned aside from their vocations to spend a few moments in prayer. And when matins or vespers sound, you see them flocking to the church which is nearest the scene of their labour, in the guise and condition in which the summons finds them- the labourer with his frock and his sabots, the maid with her basket or pail placed beside her as she kneels, the mother with her babe at her breast, the child, like Goethe's Margaret, “ Halb Kinderspiel, halb Gott im Herzen.” There they kneel, while the din of the world, heard faintly without, like the breaking of the distant surf, gives one the feeling of an island of sanctity in a wild, roaring, godless sea; and the solemn aisles and vast spaces, dwarfing the human figure, supply a new and solemn perspective to human life; and the “ antique pillars' massy proof," and the plaintive chanting of the priests, and the curling incense, and the sculpturcd saints and “ever-dying” martyrs, produce an impression of unearthly and eternal reality projected into this mortal, which no other experience awakens in a like degree.
Romanism addresses itself to the sentiments. Not only so, it addresses itself to the senses and the sensuous understanding. Instead of cold abstractions, it gives sensible images; it deals in the concrete, it puts things for words. It does not descant on transubstantiation, but uplifts the consecrated wafer, and bids the people kneel to the præsens numen in the host. It does not discuss the subject of Atonement, but puts a crucifix before them wherever they go, “ by the way, in the places of the paths.” It does not argue the question of intercession, but points them to the Virgin. It does not philosophize on the efficacy of prayer, but puts a string of beads in their hands, and tells them, so many Aves for this thing, and so many PaterNosters for that. It is also greatly indebted for its influence to establishing an intimate relation with the whole of life. It does not dismiss its disciples at the door of the church, but follows them to their homes with its ordinances and its sacraments. At home and abroad its eye is upon them, its banner is over them, its symbols attend them. These are its elements of power.
“ THERE are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in “thy philosophy.” So says the poetical, sensitive, Hamlet to the matter-of-fact Horatio. And, indeed, there are more things in earth, at least, than the philosophy of many others than Horatio can in any wise explain. Here is Mr. Brown, a man of excellent judgment in trade, knows when to buy and when to sell, obeys to the letter the politico-economical maxim about buying in the cheapest, and selling in the dearest, market; he never made a wrong entry in his ledger in his life, and, as a business man, is perfection itself. Now for all this we blame not Mr. Brown ; on the contrary, we esteem Mr. Brown a very “respectable” person. In his sphere Brown is an excellent man, but neither is the highest excellence his, nor does his sphere comprehend the entire of Life's Philosophy. Such men have a pat little theory of life which is fitting and suitable for their little souls; but then, unfortunately, they are too apt to drag this little theory of theirs about with them, and every man who is too long or too short, too high or too low, for this, their standard, is set down as a fool, a fanatic, a rogue, or something of that sort. This is a thing which cannot be too much condemned, seeing that so many amongst us are led by men of the Brown stamp; these “practical men,” so called, being too apt to thrust themselves and their opinions impudently forward. So it is that many a noble heart has been broken, many a grand soul misunderstood, many a man, who should have stood a hero to his time and to posterity, been reviled as a fanatic or a knave,
J, L. G.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE REFORMATION.-XL.
SAVONAROLA. ACCORDING to some men's views of Religion, it is a thing which has nothing whatever to do with this world. Their teaching is that politics, science, education, and other matters pertaining to various splieres of thought and action among men, are to be viewed as things altogether, if not alien to, at least quite apart from, Religion. The doctrine we believe and teach is exactly opposed to this. We believe that Religion is intended to sanctify and elevate all the pursuits of men. We do not believe that to be Religion which divorces itself from human life as a whole. The Religion we would have men accept--while it directs the soul upward to God, while it points men to a blessed Hereafter--does not ignore their duties as men and citizens. We would teach such a Religion as will make men better citizens, better fathers, better, in short, in all the relations of life, than without it they can possibly be. An altogether different Religion, in fact, to that taught in the Churches and Chapels, where the object is not to teach men how to do their duty in this world, but to keep their minds bent upon what are called “spiritual “things,” in which, rightly considered, there is very little spirituality. We would create a Church of the Future which shall effect what the Churches of the Past and Present have entirely failed to effect-a real elevation of humanity to that position which belongs to it of right, and for which God designed it.
Jerome Savonarola, above all others among the Reformers of the Past, was cognisant of the truth that Religion has to do with this world as well as the next, and, both in word and action, taught men that the political and everyday affairs of men have a religious side to them. We shall see, in looking at his life, that he was a man above creeds, whose religion was one of action, and who believed that the best way of getting to Heaven was by performing God's laws here on Earth. It is in this respect that the Protestant Churches have been greater failures than in any other, having occupied themselves with miserable theological quibbles, and not with the life of the people, or the means of progress for man. The old Church did to some extent, and still does, enter into the everyday life of those in communion with it ; herein, indeed, lies the strength of Roman Catholicism- this is the secret of its power over those who are sufficiently ignorant to accept its false teachings, or willing to submit themselves to the intellectual slavery it enforces. Let us recognise the fact, however, and not be so unjust as to deny that Roman Catholicism had some truth mixed with its many errors. Let us aceept the truth which it, in common with all that has been widely accepted at any time, has for us, and make it part of a nobler religious system ; always remembering this, too, that no Church can ever be strong which ignores the claims of humanity in its common and everyday relations.
On the 21st September, 1452, Savonarola was born in the City of Ferrara. Looking back through 400 years into that city of splendour, luxury, and vice, we may realize, dimly though it be, somewhat of the strange world into which he had come; and of the equally strange home. The father of him, Nicolo, was a gay, reckless, spendthrift courtier,-a hanger-on in the Ducal Palace of Ferrara,-a strange father for such a son ; his mother was one of those gentle, loving, pure-souled women, whom we sometimes find allied to men like Nicolo, who, while he loved her, was continually outraging her feelings and her tastes. Early was the boy Jerome thus brought into contact with