« PreviousContinue »
Rome would command peace and order. The great abstract question of education by the Church, or by the State, is of universal interest : the incorporation, or the dissociation of religion from the general system of instruction. Yet the manner, and even the principles on which the position and influence of the clergy in that system will be discussed, will depend on the circumstances of each country. In France, at present, the Church proclaims itself the advocate of full liberty of education; the University rests its exclusive claim on what it asserts to be the public weal, the actual constitution and the genius of the better and more French part of the people, on its nationality as established after the revolution. The clergy assert their right to open schools and seminaries upon the broad principles of religious freedom; their opponents disclaim all hostility to true religion, but in report, in novel, and in treatise, denounce the irreclaimable Jesuitism which, openly and contrary to law, is endeavouring to obtain possession of the public mind; and which, if not the boast (nous sommes tous Jésuites), has been the incautious admission of at least one ardent writer.
Is then the Christianity on which M. Michelet, and those who think and feel with M. Michelet, would open as he asserts their inmost hearts to their mothers and their wives, but on which the stern voice of the priest interdicts all sympathy, communion, and harmony—is this the religion—we say not of the Gospel in our high Protestant sense, but—of such a more rational and practically spiritualized Roman Catholicism as it were the worst arrogance of exclusiveness to deny might be imagined to arise, not by rudely rending off, but by quietly dropping the more unevangelic doctrines, and the haughty pretensions irreconcilable with a more enlightened age: such as might arise in the Church of Bossuet and Fénélon, purified in the fire of revolutionary degradation and suffering, taught wisdom and humility by the sad remembrance of times when Christian faith and Christian feelings were alike extinguished ; conscious of its own delinquencies (for the Church of Fénélon, of St. Vincent de Paul, was the Church of Dubois and Rohan); above all, national as becomes the Church of a great nation; intelligent as becomes that of an intellectual people; without the dishonest concession or compromise of one true Christian principle, but with no needless opposition to the state of the public mind; a purely and sublimely moral and religious, not a turbulent political power?—Is it religion with any depth and vitality, with any definite creed, with any commanding authority over the conscience, with any active zeal, any sincere love of Christ and his faith in its purity? Is it more than a something cold and negative--the fastidious or indignant repudiation of the follies and superstitions of an antiquated faith—more than a conscientious aversion, justified by profound historical inquiry, for the evils of the Confessional, with its manuals of all imaginable and unimaginable crimes ; for the Direction, with its dangerous intimacies and morbid excitements; the ultramontane pretensions of the clergy, and their revival of all the frauds and puerilities of mediæval miracle ? What religion, what Christianity would M. Michelet propose in place of that form of the faith which he considers absolutely irreconcilable with the state of the male mind in France ? What power, what influence would he leave to the priest? what should be his intercourse with the family? what his social and political position ? To us the writer's lofty phrases of the modern spirit, of liberty, and of the future' (de l'esprit moderne, de la liberte, et de l'avenir), convey no clear sense ; but they are coupled with some significant and ill-boding expressions about democratical sermons, which M. Michelet appears to hail as the only hope of improvement in the clergy. Now we must assert our impartial aversion to democratic as well as to absolutist sermons. If, as a distinguished partisan of the Church party has boldly declared, it is a contest between the sons of the Crusaders and the sons of Voltaire, we must be permitted to hold our sympathies in abeyance. We are as little disposed to that Mahometan fire and sword Christianity, as to the Antichristian philosophism of Ferney.
We are bound, indeed, to acknowledge that it would be the height of injustice to represent M. Michelet, the historian, as an infidel writer, or even as hostile to Roman Catholic Christianity. The strong charges of inconsistency which are brought against him are his fullest exculpation. Striking and eloquent passages from his History in favour of the monkish system, the power of the Papacy, the celibacy of the clergy, are adduced in triumphant refutation of his arguments in the present controversy. But even if these passages expressed the mature and deliberate opinions of M. Michelet, occurring as they do in their proper historical place, with reference to a remote age, and a totally different state of civilization, we must pronounce them utterly irrelevant, and without any legitimate bearing on the present question. We take the opportunity of protesting against the watchful industry with which every attempt to treat the Papacy and the religion of the Middle Ages with fairness and sound philosophy, is seized upon as an extorted concession of Protestant prejudice to the power of truth ; as an unwilling homage to the majesty of Rome; as an approximation worthy of every encouragement, to a recognition of the perpetual supremacy, the irrepealable sanctity of the whole creed and all the usages of Papal Christianity. As if any form of Christian belief was without its beneficial power; as if any amount of engrafted human invention could absolutely obscure the blessed light of Christ's faith : more especially a form of that faith so wonderfully, we will venture to add providentially, self-adapted to the dark ages, as that great Papal system, which it is as impossible to contemplate without awe, and even admiration and respect, as without gratitude that in his good time God was pleased either to shatter it to the ground, or to allow it to sink into natural decay and dissolution.
But this, in truth, is a writer whom we scarcely think it fair to bind down to the full meaning of his own most forcible and brilliant passages. M. Michelet is an historian of a very peculiar character, and in some of the qualifications of that noblest literary function, unrivalled, or almost unrivalled, in the present day. He is profound and indefatigable in research ; in his composition he has a singular felicity of arranging and grouping his facts almost in a dramatic form ; some parts of his narrative pass like scenes before the imagination ; he has practised skill and at times consummate success, not merely in the description, but in the impersonation of character; he has wonderful power in throwing himself back into other periods, and environing himself, as it were, with all the incidents of the time—he lives, and makes us live among the men, and the deeds, the passions and opinions of each successive period : and the age too lives again; it is M. Michelet's boast, and no ungrounded boast, constantly to renew its actual, peculiar, characteristic life. But in all these points it is the ambition of M. Michelet to be always striking. From his diligent, and, we believe, conscientious study of the old chronicles and records, he is constantly picking out, usually with judgement, always with acuteness, the slighter discriminating touches or incidents, the epigrams as it were of history : but on these he often lays very undue stress. He is so perpetually straining after the drama, and poetry, and romance of history, as sometimes almost to leave out the history itself. Instead of the calm and equable flow of the historian, rising occasionally to majesty, or stooping almost to familiarity, according to the character of the facts which he relates, we have a succession of lively and picturesque chapters, in which after all we find it difficult to trace the course of events. M. Michelet, in short, is often a brilliant writer on history, rather than an historian. He will not accuse us of estimating his ambition too low, when we say that he aspires to be the Shakspeare and Walter Scott as well as the Livy and Tacitus of French history; but there are two other unlucky weaknesses in M. Michelet, which even our sincere admiration of his genius must not permit us to disguise—one a dreamy sentimentalism, the other a claptrap adulation of national vanity, to which neither the English dramatist nor the novelist condescend, though possessing the privilege of poetry and romance. From the first they were
preserved by their masculine good sense, from the latter by the quiet consciousness of English greatness. Of M. Michelet's peculiar style and taste the volume before us abounds with striking illustrations; but in those extracts for which alone we shall trespass on the · Prêtre' we must be extremely guarded and careful. We are far too serious on such subjects to pursue throughout this history of spiritual flirtation, especially connected as it is with such high, and we believe blameless, names, in the satiric and glowing manner of our author. What present justification M. Michelet may have for thus withdrawing the veil from the Confessional, from the intercourse of the Director with his spiritual charge, ånd from the perilous workings of religious Quietism, we feel no temptation to inquire ; but there are two grave and solemn questions on which this book and this whole controversy cannot but fix every reflective mind, and on which we shall presume to offer a few, but we trust dispassionate, observations: the importance of the Family—of domestic virtue and happiness—to the peace and advancement of Europe, especially of France; and the relation of the Christian clergy to their people. With these two questions is connected a third, the celibacy of the clergy–a subject which abroad is assuming no inconsiderable importance even in the Roman Catholic Church ; and, as may hereafter appear, is not altogether without reviving interest among ourselves.
It may sound trite, even to puerility, that in the present social condition the Family is the sole guarantee for the stability of the State. In the powerlessness of government in the western countries of Europe, there is one great counterpoise to that anarchy which is perpetually impending from the ambition, the insubordinate passions, the means of agitating the public mind through the press, and even from the talents, eloquence, and greatness of those adventurers of society, who are constantly at every hazard, even of the peace of their country, at every sacrifice, even of their own happiness or their own lives, determined to force their way to distinction. This is the solid and substantial weight of those whose family ties