Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

BROWNSON'S

QUARTERLY REVIEW.

OCTOBER, 1847.

,

Art. I. - The Exercise of Faith impossible except in the

Catholic Church. By W. G. PENNY, late Student of Christ Church, Oxford. Philadelphia : Henry MÖGrath. 1847. 24mo. pp. 216.

Mr. Penny is a convert from Anglicanism, and a young man of great worth and promise. The little work he has given us here was for the most part written while he was passing into the Church, and retains some traces of his transitionstate ; but it indicates learning, ability, and a turn for scholastic theology not common in Oxford students. It is written in a free, pure, earnest spirit, mild but firm, and, though not always exact in thought or expression, is a very valuable controversial tract, and may, with slight reservations, be cheerfully recommended to all who are willing to seek for the truth, and to embrace it when they find it.

The recent converts from the Anglican Establishment are making large contributions to our English Catholic literature. We give their productions a cordial welcome, for, though they are in some respects immature, and not always critically exact, they breathe a free and earnest spirit, and are marked by a docile disposition, and a deep and tender piety. Nevertheless, the greater part of them are, perhaps, too local and temporary in their character to be of any general or permanent utility. They are almost exclusively confined to the controversy between their authors and their former High-church associates. Where that controversy is the only or principal one remaining between Catholics and Protestants, they are no doubt not only val. uable, but all we could desire. Yet, after all, that controversy is not the important one ; it affects, in reality, only a small por

53

NEW SERIES.

VOL. I. NO. IV.

who bave recently been converted, as from the hundreds of undistinguished individuals who have been gathered in, and whose names have not been gazetted. If we may say this of England, where distinguished individuals still count for something, much more may we say it of our own beloved country. When and where the people yield readily to the influence and example of their social chiefs, true wisdom may be to penetrate first of all into the palace and the castle, and labor to convert royalty and nobility ; but by no means can it be here in this coun

; try, where princes and nobles are at a discount, and the chiefs of the people are their chiefs only by being their slaves, consulting and exaggerating their tendencies. The controlling influences of modern society are in the lower instead of the higher ranks, - perhaps, in a religious point of view, with few exceptions, it has always been so. Ireland lost her princes and nobles, but she did not lose her faith ; because it had become identified with her national life, integral in her nationality, and she could no more part with the one than with the other. In seeking to restore an unbelieving or heretical country to the faith or the unity of the Church, if we may rely on the lessons of history, the irue policy in general, and especially now and here, is to begin at the base of society, and seek first to convert the common people.

Believing, therefore, as we do, that the Church has been divinely commissioned to teach all nations, and wishing, as we are bound in charity to wish, to add this nation as another rich gem to her crown, it becomes our duty to study and ascertain the religious state and tendencies of the great body of the American people, properly so called. This may be a difficult and even a delicate task. It is not every one who can comprehend his own age and country, and there are not many who can do it at all, unless they have shared their passions, unless their own hearts have beaten in unison with theirs, and they have been raised by divine grace above them to a position from which they can overlook the mêlée, and calmly survey all the movements and evolutions going on below. The Catholic who has lived apart and studied only works written for other times and countries, as well as the Protestant whose vision has all his lifetime been contracted to his own petty sect, is very likely to mistake the true object of vision, or to see it only through a disturbing medium.

Catholicity is immovable and inflexible, one and the same always and everywhere ; for the truth never varies. He who he must labor to make an impression on that portion of the American population which is in an especial sense the repository of peculiarly American thought, principles, passions, affections, traditions, and tendencies, — the indigenous portion, the least affected by foreign culture and influences ; and it is only in proportion as he reaches and gains the attention of these, that he can flatter himself that he is advancing in the work of converting the country.

These are not Episcopalians, nor distinguished individuals, whatever the sect to which they may appertain. The conversion of a very considerable number of distinguished individuals may take place with scarcely a perceptible effect on the great body of the American people ; because these individuals do not represent the general thought and tendency of the country; because their example has little weight with the people at large ; and because they are, for the most part, under foreign rather than native influences. The peculiarly American people are democratic, and generally distrust whatever rises above the common level. Distinguished individuals count for less here than in any other country of the globe. With us the individual loses himself in the crowd, and leads the crowd only by sharing their passions and consenting to be their organ. It is, therefore, on the crowd that we must operate, if we would effect any thing. The multitude govern, and it is their views and feelings, their tastes and tendencies, that decide the fate or determine the character of the country. These are now all either not for us or strongly against us ; and our great and pressing work is to turn them into the Catholic channel. Hence, the important thing for us to study and address is the views and feelings, tastes and tendencies, not of distinguished individuals who may seem to be leaders, but of the great body of the common people. When we hear of the conversion of a distinguished individual, we rejoice for his sake, for he has a soul to save, and his conversion places him in the way of salvation ; but when we hear of the conversion of large numbers from the middle and lower classes, we give thanks and rejoice for our country's sake, for we see in it a token that God himself is at work in the heart of the people, and preparing the conversion of the nation itself, — that our holy religion is penetrating the living mass of American society, and subjecting it to the truth, beauty, and sanctity of the Gospel

. We hope even the conversion of England, not so much from the large numbers of individuals eminent for their rank, talents, and acquirements, try,

[ocr errors]

who have recently been converted, as from the hundreds of undistinguished individuals who have been gathered in, and whose names have not been gazetted. If we may say this of England, where distinguished individuals still count for something, much more may we say it of our own beloved country. When and where the people yield readily to the influence and example of their social chiefs, true wisdom may be to penetrate first of all into the palace and the castle, and labor to convert royalty and nobility ; but by no means can it be here in this coun

where princes and nobles are at a discount, and the chiefs of the people are their chiefs only by being

their slaves, consulting and exaggerating their tendencies. The controlling influences of modern society are in the lower instead of the higher ranks, – perhaps, in a religious point of view, with few exceptions, it has always been so. Ireland lost her princes and nobles, but she did not lose her faith ; because it had become identified with her national life, integral in her nationality, and she could no more part with the one than with the other. In seeking to restore an unbelieving or heretical country to the faith or the unity of the Church, if we may rely on the lessons of history, the true policy in general, and especially now and here, is to begin at the base of society, and seek first to convert the common people.

Believing, therefore, as we do, that the Church has been divinely commissioned to teach all nations, and wishing, as we are bound in charity to wish, to add this nation as another rich gem to her crown, it becomes our duty to study and ascertain the religious state and tendencies of the great body of the American people, properly so called. This may be a difficult and even a delicate task. It is not every one who can comprehend his own age and country, and there are not many who can do it at all, unless they have shared their passions, unless their own hearts have beaten in unison with theirs, and they have been raised by divine grace above them to a position from which they can overlook the mêlée, and calmly survey all the movements and evolutions going on below. The Catholic who has lived apart and studied only works written for other times and countries, as well as the Protestant whose vision has all his lifetime been contracted to his own petty sect, is very likely to mistake the true object of vision, or to see it only through a disturbing medium.

Catholicity is immovable and inflexible, one and the same always and everywhere ; for the truth never varies. He who

,

knows it in one age or country knows it in all. But with the sects it is far otherwise. They must needs obey the natural laws of development, strengthened and intensified by demoniacal influence. Their spirit and tendency, indeed, are always and everywhere the same, but their forms change under the very eye of the spectator, and are rarely the same for any two successive moments. Strike where Protestantism is, and it is not there. It is in perpetual motion, and exemplifies, so far as itself is concerned, the old heathen doctrine that all things are in a perpetual flux. You can never count on its remaining stationary long enough for you to bring your piece to a rest and take deliberate aim. You must shoot it on the wing; and if you are not marksman enough to hit it flying, you will have, however well charged and well aimed your shot, only your labor for your pains. It is never enough to take note either of its past or its present position ; but we must always regard the direction in which it is moving, and the celerity with which it moves; and if we wish our shot to tell, we must aim, not at the point where it was, or where it now is, but at the point where it will be when a ball now fired may reach it. To ascertain this point requires either long practice or exact science. Yet it is less difficult than it may seem at first sight. We as Catholics, if we recollect ourselves, know perfectly well that the point to which all the sects are moving, with greater or less celerity, is the denial of God in the order of grace, and therefore of all supernatural revelation and religion. To this tends the inevitable and necessary development of Protestantism. This development may be hastened or retarded by circumstances, but it must sooner or later reach this fatal termination, if suffered to follow its natural course. There is an invincible logic in the human race, which pushes them on to the last consequences of their premises ; and when, as in the Protestant rebellion, they have adopted premises which involve as their last consequence the rejection of the order of grace, and the assertion, if the word may be permitted us, of mere naturism, they will inevitably draw that consequence, and become theoretical and practical unbelievers, unless previously induced to change their premises.

The early Catholic controversialists clearly foresaw and distinctly announced that the Protestant premises involved the rejection of all revealed religion, and in every age since our divines have continued to reassert the same; but, unhappily, in no age or country has this been enough to arrest the mad

« AnteriorContinuar »