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THE SUCCESS OF CATHOLIC MISSIONS.
LUKE XI, 20
“ But if I by the finger of God cast out devils ; doubtless the kingdom
of God is come upon you.”
In the Gospel which the church presented to your meditation in the service of this day, it is related how our blessed Saviour cast out a devil from one that was blind, and deaf, and dumb. He draws from this circumstance, in the words of my text, a strong proof that, inasmuch as such wonderful power could not be attributed to any human, or any other agency, but that which came from God, his hearers must in consequence acknowledge that the kingdom of God was really in his person brought among them. Now, as the venerable Bede observes, in his commentary on this passage, what on that occasion was done in the body, is daily performed in spirit in the church of Christ, by the conversion of men unto the faith. Inasmuch,” says he," as the devil being thence expelled, their eyes are first opened to see the light of God's truth; and, afterwards, their tongues being loosened, they are employed in his praise.” And, in the same way as this, efficacy and power was, by our blessed Saviour, used as a proof that the kingdom of God was indeed, with him and through him, presented to the acceptance of the Jews; so, ma
we say, that the same proof is to be followed by a similar demonstration—that, where that power at present exists, there also is the kingdom of Christ.
Such, my brethren, is the topic on which I wish to occupy your attention this evening—that is, upon the completion of the task which I commenced at our last meeting; when, having laid before you the touchstone, as it were, of the true rule of faith, which was to be found in the power that it had of being an instrument in the conversion of those
who knew not Christ, I entered into the application of this proof to that principle of religion, to that ground work of faith, which is held as essential by those who differ from us on this head. I showed you, making use, excepting in one or more merely confirmatory instances, but otherwise, making use exclusively of documents put forth by persons having a natural interest in the establishments to which they belonged, for propagating the name of Christ among the heathen; I showed you from these, that hitherto it was acknowledged that no success had attended their labours, but, that in every country, the East and the West, the presentation of Christianity, with those sanctions, and upon the basis which their religion required, had proved abortive.
I then promised to go into the other side of the question, and to show you, from the progress, from the actual state of those efforts which had been made, and are daily making, by Catholic Missionaries, for the purpose of converting infidels and heathens to the faith of Christ - to show you, that the divine blessing does appear to rest upon their efforts; and that they succeeded in tbat very field where the others acknowledge that they have failed; yea, and that they succeeded according to the confession of those very individuals. Such is, therefore, the task upon which I enter.
It was originally my intention, as I believe I did in part intimate, to begin my account from rather a remote period. It was my intention to have commenced the history of the Catholic conversions from those centuries in which it is universally acknowledged, by those who differ from us in belief, that the peculiar doctrines, as they are called, of the Church of Rome, were established sufficiently for it to be said, that the Church which sent out its Missionaries was precisely the same as that which now bears the name of the Roman Catholic church ; and I should have commenced, probably, from the seventh or the eighth century. But I soon found that it would be quite impossible for me to condense into even a lengthened discourse, the materials which tbis would have obliged me to bring before your consideration; and, therefore, I think that, however my cause may in some respect appear to suffer by laying aside what I consider a very powerful support to it, yet I think that you will naturally take more interest in those circumstances, in those occurrences, which are nearer our own time, and which can be put fairly in contrast with what I exposed to you at our last meeting.
There may be a difference of circumstances in former times, (for there might be causes in operation which cannot now be discovered, and, consequently, the success which attended those Missionaries, who were sent forth by the See of Rome to convert the nations, for instance of the North of Europe, may be supposed to have bad power, dependent upon circumstances, which now no longer can act), and it is on this account, therefore, that I wish merely to confine myself to later times.
But I cannot pass over one circumstance, that is, the case of the conversion of this country, after the invasion of the Saxons, to the Christian religion. It would be a very interesting, and a very important inquiry to any person endowed with a true, candid, philosophic mind, and, at the same time, having the patience to look minutely into the circumstances of the case, to inquire, what were the causes that produced the almost instantaneous, the durable, the general effect which the preaching of the first emissaries, or missionaries, who were sent by St. Gregory into this country, did produce?
Now, it is singular, that at the time when this happened, and by the individuals themselves, it was considered that no power could have produced it, and that no power did produce it, but the gift of performing miracles, which they believe to have been granted by Christ on that occasion. I will observe, in the first place, that, in discussing the subject of the continuance of miracles in the Church of Christ, the late Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford says, “ There can be no difficulty in acknowledging, that'when in later periods any persons sent forth to preach the gospel were placed in similar circumstances to those of the apostles, there can be no difficulty in acknowledging that God may have assisted them by the same power as he did in the first instance, and that he may bave given them the power of working such signs and wonders as might be necessary for the conversion of this people; and, in fact, there can be no more rational, no more philosophical objection to the existence of such a power at that period, when wanting to produce precisely similar ends, than there could be to its exercise by the first Apostles.”
Now, I believe that there is not one who is acquainted with the life, with the writings, and with the character of the great Pontiff, justly called THE GREAT, who sent these Missionaries into our country, but will acknowledge him to be a person infinitely above all suspicion of anything like craft, or an attempt to deceive mankind; and I believe that no one who considers the circumstances under which these men, who first landed with Christianity on our shores, came to the task, the dangers which they braved, and that which they renounced, the very feeble prospect, as it were, which they could have of producing any great effect in a country whose very language they did not understand, and wherein they must be considered with jealousy and hatred, almost as enemies, there is hardly one who can for a moment imagine that anything but the purest and the best of motives could have instigated them to undertake so toilsome and so thankless a task. And yet we find that St. Austin did write to that holy Pontiff, that it had pleased God, through his hands, to perform such signs in the presence of these idolaters, as bad led them to embrace in consequence the faith of Christ : and we have the answer of the holy Pontiff, in which he exhorts him, not
to allow himself to be puffed up, or made in the slightest degree vain, by the communication this supernatural gift: and so convinced was he of its reality, that we have another letter of his, in which he communicates the fact to the bishops of the East, as a new proof of the assistance afforded by Christ to his church in the task of conversion.
Now there is so much appearance of sincerity on both sides, that there is little reason to think that there could have been any motive for any fiction or deceit; because, as the work of conversion was really performed, it was a merit and a consolation to the individuals sufficient to dispense with any such false and such disingenuous arts. His arguments are such, that even Protestants, exceedingly opposed to the Catholic doctrine of miracles, have acknowledged that in this instance they must attribute the conversion of this country to that circumstance. And, merely to give one authority for that opinion, that of Fuller, he thus writes, “ This admonition of Gregory is with me, and ought to be with all unprejudiced persons, an argument beyond exception, that though no discreet man will believe Austin's miracles in the latitude of monkish relations, he is ignorant and uncharitably peevish and morose who utterly denies some miracles to have been wrought by him.”
I mention this instance, and have dwelt thus at length, to show how, at least in the belief of those who undertook the work, in these ages
it was supposed that God did assist them, so as to show, that by the finger of God working through them, they could prove to this nation that the kingdom of God bad come among them: and it would be difficult for us to find any ground why, coming down to later times (as, for instance, in the case of St. Francis Xavier, the great converter of a considerable portion of India, and other parts of the East), we should not allow the exercise of a similar power. For, as I do not mean to enter at all into this question, I only wish to say, that, as the conversions which took place were unparalleled also in modern times, so you shall see that the conversions be did produce were as permanent, produced as stable and durable congregations of Christians as those of Austin in England, or the Apostles in the provinces they converted; and there can be no reason for supposing that God may not have exercised his power as much then as he did on a former occasion, though it is acknowledged that even then all the doctrines of the Church of Rome were preached by these Missionaries. Indeed, so much so, that we have bad a treatise written by the present Bishop of Salisbury, to endeavour to prove that the British Church was not a Romish Church till they came;
that the Britons, who retired to Wales, had preserved their independency of the See of Rome, and that Austin cruelly and tyrannically subjected them to that authority. To conclude these remarks, I will only observe that Hackluyt, Tavernier, and Baldeus, three Protestant writers, not very remote from that time, acknowledge,
from their own experience in the East, that it was firmly believed, by all the Indians in the South of India, that St. Francis Xavier had performed such miracles as obliged them to become members of the Christian religion.
But, not to dwell any longer upon what is merely preliminary to what I have to advance, let us now see what is the actual state, the present condition of the Missions established in different parts of the world, under the direction and authority of the Holy See ; and, as on a former occasion, I laid before you a slight sketch of the instruments employed, of the resources and means which were brought into action for this important work, I will premise a few observations upon the same subject with regard to our Missions.
: In the first place, there is a congregation existing at Rome, consisting of a number of the first dignitaries of the church, who devote themselves expressly to the superintendence of the Catholic Missions. It is well known by the name of “ The Congregation of the Propaganda.” It has a large establishment: there is a college attached to it, in which there are generally about one hundred individuals from every nation almost under the sun. It has another college for Chinese at Naples; and it bas a college also, under its immediate direction, in the East; and it is from these, principally, that its Missionaries are drawn. The numbers sent forth must, consequently, be very limited; I should say not more than three or four in one year. However, it does receive into its service persons willing to undertake the task and labour of being Missionaries in foreign parts. . It has also the co-operation of most of the religious orders, several of whom have houses expressly dedicated to the education of ecclesiastics for the same purpose ; but still, even with these additions, it may be very much doubted—indeed, I can speak from personal knowledge, that the number of Missionaries whom it sends forth does not amount to ten in the year. There is also an Associ. ation, in France, of private individuals for the same purpose—or, rather, there are two distinct ones. There is a college in Paris, under the direction of experienced ecclesiastics, where persons are trained, by a necessary preparation, who feel themselves called to this holy work ; and there are also these two Societies, which, however, are only voluntary aggregations, for the purpose of subscribing the means towards the support of Missionaries in the East.
The means at the disposal of these bodies, are very far from being as great as might be supposed. It is not necessary, perhaps, to enter very fully into the subject, because, not having at this moment accurate and official returns, I do not wish to say anything that is vague and unsatisfactory. But I am quite sure that all the contributions of the two Societies in France, which are the great support of the Eastern Missions, and the income of the Propaganda, which can be devoted to