Page images
PDF
EPUB

Now, all that the Blessed Virgin does in the first vision is to bid John the Evangelist disclose to the young man a complete formulary of the mystery of godliness. Upon which the Evangelist, still in the dream, expresses his willingness to accede to the wishes of the Mother of God, and accordingly recites a full and perfect creed. And all this dream at last rests on the authority of a panegyric of the Wonder-worker, written a century after.

But, after all, the unconscious parent of the deification of the Virgin is Arianism ! Had the ungodly Arians never afflicted the Church, the Virgin might have remained in modest subordination, and still have dwelt secluded from divine honours :

There was one other subject on which the Arian controversy had a more intimate, though not an immediate, influence. Its tendency to give a new interpretation to the texts which speak of our Lord's subordination, has already been noticed ; such as admitted of it were henceforth explained more prominently of His manhood than of His Economy or His Sonship. But there were other texts which did not admit of this interpretation, but which, without ceasing to belong to Him, might feem more directly applicable to a creature than to the Creator. He indeed was really the Wisdom in whom the Father eternally delighted,' yet it would be but natural it, under the circumstances of Arian misbelief, theologians looked out for other than the Eternal Son to be the immediate object of such descriptions. And thus the controversy opened a question which it did not settle. It discovered a new sphere, if we may so speak, in the realms of light, to which the Church had not yet assigned its inhabitant. Arianism had admitted that our Lord was, both the God of the Evangelical covenant and the actual Creator of the Universe ; but even this was not enough, because it did not confess Him to be the One, Everlasting, Infinite, Supreme Being, but to be made by Him. It was not enough with that heresy to proclaiin Him to be begotten ineffably before all worlds; not enough to place Him high above all creatures as the type of all the works of God's hands; not enough to make Him the Lord of His Saints, the Mediator between God and man, the Object of Worship, the Image of the Father; not enough, because it was not all, and between all, and anything short of all, there was an infinite interval. The highest of creatures is levelled with the lowest in comparison of the One Creator Himself. That is, the Nicene Council recognized the eventful principle, that, while we believe and profess any being to be a creature, such a being

is really no God to us, though honoured by us with whatever high titles and with whatever homage. Arius or Asterius did all but confess that Christ was the Almighty; they said much more than St. Bernard or St. Alphonso have since said of St. Mary ; yet they left him a creature and were found wanting. Thus there was a wonder in heaven;' a throne was seen, far above all created powers, mediatorial, intercessory; a title archetypal; a crown bright as the morning star; a glory issuing from the Eternal Throne; robes pure as the heavens; and a sceptre over all; and who was the predestined heir of that Majesty ? Who was that Wisdom, and what was her name, 'the Mother of fair love, and fear, and holy hope,''exalted like a palm-tree in Engaddi, and a rose-plant in Jericho,'created from the beginning before the world' in God's counsels, and · in Jerusalem was her power ?' The vision is found in the Apocalypse, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. The votaries of Mary do not exceed the true faith, unless the blasphemers of her Son came up to it. The Church of Rome is not idolatrous, unless Arianism is orthodoxy.-Pp. 404-406.

Not the least curious part of this extraordinary passage is its coincidence with one in a work which Mr. Newman appears to have read, but whose principles of development arrive at very different conclusions from those of Mr. Newman :

It is possible that the controversies about the Trinity and the divine

the Virgin, of angels, of saints, and martyrs. The great object of the victorious, to a certain extent, of both parties was the closest approximation, in one sense the identification, of the Saviour with the unseen and incomprehensible Deity. Though the human nature of Christ was as strenuously asserted in theory, it was not dwelt upon with the same earnestness and constancy as his divine. To magnify-to purify this from all earthly leaven-was the object of all eloquence. Theologic disputes on this point withdrew or diverted the attention from the life of Christ, as simply related in the Gospels. Christ became the object of a remoter, a more awful adoration. The mind began, therefore, to seek out, or eagerly to seize, some other more material beings, in closer alliance with human sympathies. The constant propensity of man to humanize his Deity, checked, as it were, by the receding majesty of the Saviour, readily clung with its devotion to humbler objects. The weak wing of the common and unenlightened mind could not soar to the unapproachable light in which Christ dwelt with the Father; it dropped to the earth, and bowed itself down before some less mysterious and infinite object of veneration. In theory it was always a dis. tinct and inferior kind of worship; but the feelings, especially impassioned devotion, know no logic : they pause not; it would chill them to death if they were to pause for these fine and subtle distinctions. The gentle ascent by which admiration, reverence, gratitude and love swelled up to awe, to veneration, to worship-both as regards the feelings of the individual and the general sentiment—was imperceptible. Men passed from rational respect for the remains of the dead — the communion of holy thought and emotion which might connect the departed saint with his brethren in the flesh- to the superstitious veneration of relics, and the deification of mortal men, by so easy a transition that they never discorered the precise point at which they transgressed the unmarked and unwatched boundary.—Milman's Hist. of Christianity, vol. iii. p. 339.

It was to fill up this chasm, then, caused by this honourable relegation of the Saviour to a height inaccessible to human devotion, that a new and more humanitarian worship became necessary. But even suppose such a necessity, grant that this condescension of the Church to her weak and perplexed disciples was a wise indulgence; is this, if you will, admirable expedient to be a perpetual law of Christianity? Is this creatureworship (take it in its loftiest sense) to be for ever interposedand by all Christians in every state of intelligence between the soul of man and his one Redeemer? Is Christ never to descend again, and to resume his direct communion with his own ? Is all mankind to be kept without in the vestibule, and never be allowed to approach, even in thought, to the Holy of Holies?

We deny not, we dissemble not the justice of Mr. Newman's animadversions on what we with him should call vulgar Protestantism, (he would once have called it popular' Protestantism,) but which he now charges on the most spiritual and enlightened, as well as on the lowest and most fanatic Protestantism :

It must be asked, whether the character of Protestant devotion towards our Lord has been that of worship at all; and not rather such as we pay to an excellent human being, that is, no higher devotion than that which Catholics pay to St. Mary, differing from it, however, in being familiar, rude, and earthly. Carnal minds will ever create a carnal worship for themselves; and to forbid them the service of the Saints will have no tendency to teach them the worship of God. P. 438.

In the fear, then, lest coarse minds should worship coarsely, must the attempt never be made to spiritualize and purify their worship? Are we for ever to give them that to worship which God has not commanded, or rather which, by the whole jealous Triunism of the New Testament, he seems solemnly, earnestly, awfully to interdict? We know who has said “God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Must those who aspire to fulfil—some of whom nobly, we believe, succeed in fulfilling, the Lord's high commandsmust they be forced and bound down by the canons and the creed of an inflexible and unrelenting Church to the common level ?

But is the worship of the Saints, or even the worship of the Virgin Mary, always so unfamiliar, so refined, so heavenly? It is easy for a mind of Mr. Newman's religious delicacy, or poetic apprehensiveness—it is easy for men of fine taste, the born mental aristocracy of Romanism (like the author, for instance, of the • Mores Catholici'), to cull out all that is pure, touching, gentle, and venerable from antiquity in Mediæval Christianity, and repudiate, or studiously, skilfully, or at least really conceal all which is gross, material, and grovelling. Nor shall anything tempt us to wound the feelings of any high-minded Roman Catholic by an ungenerous disclosure of the coarseness or the wild Antinomianism, to say nothing of the debasing superstitions of their popular religion. But the very purest feeling to which the worship of the Virgin appealed, was it not, exquisite though it be, earthly? What was it in Jure matris impera filio-or where less peremptory language implies the more modest maternal influence? But dare we therefore take up into heaven these feelings, though perhaps the most heavenly upon the earth ; and intrude them, in their plain and positive significance, unveiled by figurative language, into the region of pure spirit? Is the metaphoric phrase, condescend

ingly adopted in regard to our humbler nature, to be daringly exalted into that of transcendental beings ?

We return to the general question of Preservative Additions. As regards most Christians without the pale of Rome, the admission that these doctrines or usages are additions to the creed revealed by our Lord and his Apostles, to the Sacraments and rites of direct divine institution, will appear an absolute abandonment of all the ground hitherto most perseveringly maintained by Roman controversialists.

To those of more moderate and inquiring minds there cannot but appear something of mistrust in the strength of a citadel which must be defended by outworks, the gradual and slow surrender of which may delay the attack upon the great castlekeep. The fact that preservative additions are thought necessary, or even useful, looks as if we did not think our main position absolutely impregnable. Infidelity is so strong that we have, in modern phrase, some instalments with which we may for a time put off its importunate demands. It is only by paying Danegelt of our superfluous treasures that we are to avert for a season the inevitable victory of unbelief.

But suppose that · base counsel' has not thus been taken of our fears. There is one important point which has not altogether escaped Mr. Newman's observation—that these preservative additions have an invariable tendency to usurp more than their proper place: their development knows not where to cease. The splendid parasitical plant, if it does not choke the life of the tree, hides it altogether by its overtopping luxuriance, by its rich and gorgeous clusters. Mr. Newman has attempted to meet the objection, that the cultus of the Virgin Mary obscures the divine glory of her Son, by showing that His worship has a special province in the ritual of Rome; and that, in some later books of devotion, especially the Spiritual Exercises' of Loyola, the Virgin holds a secondary and intermediate place. No doubt the wonderful sagacity of the founders of the Jesuit order had seen that Mediæval Christianity must condescend to accommodate itself in some degree to the advanced state of the human

« PreviousContinue »