« PreviousContinue »
disfigured, that she clings with affection. It is but an earthly and almost unchristian grief, which sobs when the grave
closes over the bier of a departed loved one; but the soul flies upward to a more spiritual affection, and refuses to surrender the hold which it had upon the love and interest of the spirit that hath fled. Cold and dark as the sepulchral vault, is the belief that sympathy is at an end, when the body is shrouded in decay; and that no further interchange of friendly offices may take place between those who have laid them down to sleep in peace, and who for a while strew fading flowers upon their tomb. But sweet is the consolation to the dying man, who conscious of imperfection, believes that even after his own time of merit is expired, there are others to make intercession on his behalf; soothing to the afflicted survivors the thought, that, instead of unavailing tears, they possess more powerful means of actively relieving their friend, and testifying their affectionate regret, by prayer and supplication. In the first moments of grief, this sentiment will often overpower religious prejudice, cast down the unbeliever on his knees, beside the remains of his friend, and snatch from him an unconscious prayer for rest; it is an impulse of nature, which for the moment, aided by the analogies of revealed truth, seizes at once upon this consoling belief. But it is only like the flitting and melancholy light which sometimes plays as a meteor over the corpses of the dead; while the Catholic feeling, cheering, though with solemn dimness, resembles the unfailing lamp which the piety of the ancients is said to have hung before the sepulchres of their dead. It prolongs the tenderest affections beyond the gloom of the grave, and it infuses the inspiring hope, that the assistance which we on earth can afford to our suffering brethren, will be amply repaid when they have reached their place of rest, and make of them friends, who, when we in our turns fail, shall receive us into everlasting mansions.
LECTURE THE TWELFTH.
2 COR. ii. 10. “ To whom ye have forgiven any thing, I also. For what I for.
give, if I have forgiven any thing, for your sakes have I done
it in the person of Christ." AMONG the innumerable misrepresentations to which our religion is constantly subjected, there are some which a Catholic clergyman feels a peculiar reluctance in exposing, from the personal feelings which must be connected with their refutation. When our doctrine on the blessed Eucharist, or the Church, or the saints of God, is attacked, and we rise in its defence, we feel within ourselves, a pride and a spirit resulting from the very cause; there is an inspiring ardour infused by the very
theme; we hold in our hand the standard of God Himself, and fight His own battle; we gather strength from the altar which is blasphemed, and are reminded of our dignity and power, by the very
robe which we wear; or we are refreshed by the consciousness that they whose cause we defend, are our brethren, who look down with sympathy upon our struggle.
But when the petty and insidious warfare begins, which professes to aim at the man and not at the cause, when, from principles of faith, or great matters of practice, the attack is changed into crimination of our ministry, and insinuation against our character; when the Catholic priest stands before his people, to answer the charge of having turned religion into a traffic, and corrupted her doctrines to purchase influence over their conscience and their purse, he must surely recoil from meeting even as a calumny, that, against which his heart
revolts, and finds his very feelings, as a member of the society wherein he lives with respect, almost too strong for that office of meekness and charity which duty imposes for the undeceiving of the beguiled, and the maintenance of truth.
These sentiments are spontaneously excited in my breast, by the recollection of the very severe attacks and bitter sarcasms which the topic of this evening's discourse has for ages excited. Indulgences—pardon for sins, past and future, the sale of forgiveness for the grossest crimes, at stipulated sums; these mixed up with invectives against the rapacity of the Church, and the venality of its ministers and agents, have been fruitful themes of ridicule and reproof, of sarcasm and declamation, against us, from the days of Luther, to the irreconcileable hostility of our modern adversaries.
That abuses have existed regarding the practice of Indulgences, no one will deny; and I shall
sufficient regarding them before the close of my lecture: that they were made the ground for the dreadful separation of the sixteenth century, must be deeply regretted; for no such abuses could justify the schism that ensued. But, my brethren, here, as in almost every other instance, the misrepresentation which has been made of our doctrine, chiefly proceeds from misapprehension, from the misunderstanding of our real belief. I shall therefore pursue in its regard, the same method as I have invariably followed; that is, state in the simplest terms the Catholic doctrine, and explain its connexion with other points; and after that, proceed to lay before you its proofs, and meet such few objections as their very exposition does not anticipate. In fact, my discourse this evening will be little more than a rapid sketch of the history of Indulgences.
In treating of Satisfaction, I endeavoured to condense the proofs of our belief, that God reserves some temporal chastisement for sin, after its guilt and eternal punishment have been remitted; and that by the voluntary performance of expiatory works, we may disarm the anger of God, and mitigate the inflictions which his justice had prepared. This doctrine I
must beg of you to bear in mind, as essential for understand. ing what we mean by an Indulgence.
Many ot' you have probably heard, that this word signifies a licence to sin, given even before-hand for sins to be perpetrated: at any rate, a free pardon for past sins. This is, in fect, the most ienient form in which our doctrine is popularly represented. And yet, mitigated as it is, it is far from correct. For I fear many here present will be inclined to incredulity, when I tell them that it is no pardon for sin of any sort, past, present, or future!
What then is an Indulgence? It is no more than a remission by the Church, in virtue of the keys, or the judicial authority committed to her, of a portion, or the entire, of the temporal punishment due to sin. The infinite merits of Christ form the fund whence this remission is derived: but besides, the Church holds that, by the communion of Saints, penitential works perfornied by the just, beyond what their own sins might exact, are available to other members of Christ's mystical body; that, for instance, the sufferings of the spotless Mother of God, afflictions such as probably no other human being ever felt in the soul,—the austerities and persecutions of the Baptist, the friend of the Bridegroom, who was sanctified in his mother's womb, and chosen to be an angel. before the face of the Christ,—the tortures endured by numberless martyrs, whose lives had been pure from vice and sin,the prolonged rigours of holy anchorites, who, flying from the temptations and dangers of the world, passed many years in penance and contemplation, all these made consecrated and valid through their union with the merits of Christ's passion,
were not thrown away, but formed a store of meritorious blessings, applicable to the satisfaction of other sinners.
It is evident that, if the temporal punishment reserved to sin, was anciently believed to be remitted through the penitential acts, which the sinner assumed, any other substitute for them, that the authority imposing or recommending them, received as an equivalent, must have been considered by it truly of equal value, and as acceptable before
God. And so it must be now. If the duty of exacting such satisfaction devolves upon the Church,—and it must be the same now as it formerly was,—she necessarily possesses at present the same power of substitution, with the same efficacy, and, consequently, with the same effects. And such a substitution is what constitutes all that Catholics understand by the name of an Indulgence.
The inquiry into the grounds of this belief and practice, will necessarily assume an historical form. For it is an investigation into the limitations or the extent of a power, which can only be conducted by examining precedents, on its exercise by those in whom it first was vested, and by those who received it from them. For the power itself is included in the commission given by Christ to his Apostles, to forgive or to retain sins. If the authority here deputed be of a judicial form, and if part of the weight imposed by sin be the obligation to satisfy the divine justice, the extent of this obligation necessarily comes under the cognizance of the tribunal. No one will, I think, deny that this application of the power committed, was made in the primitive Church. No one will contend, that satisfaction was not enacted, and that the pastors of the Church did not think themselves, I will not say allowed, but obliged, to impose a long train of penitential inflictions, in punishment of sin. Something of this matter I have already touched upon; more I shall have occasion to say to-day. For the present, I am only stating my case. Well then, the Church having, in ancient times, considered herself competent to superintend the discharge of satisfaction due for sin, and having claimed and exercised the right of exacting, in her presence, full and severe expiation, in virtue of the commission above cited; and we having thus proved its extension to the imposition of penance, it remains for us to see, whether she went one step further, and claimed and exercised the right and power laxing the rigour of those inflictions, without a diminution of their value, and ascertain on what ground this relaxation was made. For, if we discover that the substitution ofalesser punish.