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We are inclined, at the risk of every suspicion of prejudice, and without dissembling the defects and abuses inseparable from every system, which must be carried out by men of every degree of zeal, conscientiousness, or fidelity, to consider the theory of the Church of England as that which for the present state of the Christian mind is nearest to perfection. This theory of course breaks up all vast overgrown parishes into smaller practicable circuits, or at least supplies them with ministers of religion answerable to their extent. The theory we apprehend to be this:- that in every parish (besides the general pastoral care of the clergy over the education of the young) every mature and reasonable Christian should have a clergyman whom he can consult under all religious doubts, and even moral difficulties, which may perplex his mind; that he should command his presence in sickness and on the deathbed; that whenever he needs advice or consolation he should be sure of receiving it with affectionate promptitude, and with profound interest in his welfare: but that in ordinary cases the Christian should be governed entirely by his own conscience, that conscience of course awakened and enlightened by the regular exhortations from the pulpit, or even private and friendly admonition, administered with discretion. The Confessional, we cannot be too devoutly thankful to Almighty God, has never been part of the Protestant English ritual. And it is, perhaps, the gravest practical question raised by M. Michelet's work, whether the confessional will be long endured by Roman Catholic France. We perceive indeed some yearnings in a certain school among ourselves after this practice ;at least after that which promises the sacerdotal power, which they covet, but which they cannot obtain by more legitimate means, the priestly absolution. But though here and there, from that passion for novelty which disguises itself under reverence for ancient usage, it may acquire some votaries ; though even in the form of religion the most opposed to everything which is thought popish, something very congenial may creep in, as the confidential relation of experiences' to the
favourite preacher; yet the jealous household seclusion of English manners will secure us from any great or dangerous abuse of this influence. The Englishman would repel the private entry of the clergyman, if he thought his visits too frequent or assiduous, as he would that of the Queen's officer, from the inviolable castle of his home.
The age of the confessional, of spiritual direction according to the sense which it bore during the Jesuit dominion over the human mind, is gone by. It is fatal to the clergy, whom it invests in power too great for mortal man-in power, when assigned to an order gathered from all classes and characters of men, destructive of proper religious influence :—and no less fatal, we are persuaded, to pure Christian morality and to high Christian virtue. There is, to our calm judgement, a primary and irremediable incompatibility with the true rules of Christian responsibility in this absolute assumption of dominion on one side over the inward being of our fellow, and the surrender of it on the other. The great broad principles of Christian law and of Christian duty can never be mistaken. The healthful conscience, in the general conduct of life, even in the discharge of religious service, ought to be its own sufficient guide. It is as sure a symptom of mental or spiritual disease to be constantly consulting the priest, as of bodily malady or valetudinarianism to be constantly consulting the physician. There are fearful, painful, miserable sicknesses of both mind and spirit; and in God's name let them have all which skill, and gentleness, and wisdom, and Christian consolation and instruction can bestow. Let the mind which is afflicted by racking doubt have the pious adviser to satisfy its fearful questionings. Be there the learned divine to grapple with wayward scepticism—with the daring desperation of the unbeliever. Let those perhaps more dangerous doubts which arise from redoubled and extreme affliction—the maddening and wicked thought of the injustice of God in seemingly assigning all his blessings to one class, all wretchedness to anotherbe allayed by wise and tender argument. Let remorse for
crime take counsel on the best means of reconciliation with God- of restitution, or of reparation for injury to man; let sorrow never want the sympathising prayer, the soothing exhortation ; let the house of sickness be visited with kindly and regular consolation; the death-bed be smoothed by the hand of Christian hope and peace. But foster not habits of irresolution and dependence; keep not the mind in a fretful state of anxiety; teach man consciousness in his own strength—that strength which God will give to all ; encourage no one to surrender himself as the subject of morbid moral anatomy-to have the hand perpetually on the religious pulse, or the probe in the most vital parts. It is still worse if this intercourse degenerates, as it often will, into a form. The priest, if at times more rigid, punctilious, and exacting to the anxious, will at times be too easy and compromising to the more careless. Confession on one side and absolution on the other become acts of religious courtesy, and there is so much facility in discharging his debts that the penitent is careless how soon or to what extent he may accumulate a new score. The security which it gives must be as perilous as its most cruel austerity.
The mental and spiritual childhood of man is passed-let him learn to go alone as a moral and responsible being. The clergy must be constantly supplying motives and principles for self-government, not assume to be the executive of human action. Among the savages of Paraguay that might be a wise and beneficial government which, were it possible, would be destructive to religion itself in Europe. All attempts, in Jesuit phrase, emmaillotter l'âme, will not merely be an utter and ridiculous failure, but a signal disruption of all the salutary restraints of religion. This is at best, even when administered neither with harsh nor harassing severity, nor as dangerous facility, but a religion of awe; its votaries may submit to the severest mortifications, but it is because they are enjoined; they may make the most prodigal sacrifices, pour their whole fortune at the feet of the priest—but it is desperate prodigality, wrung forth by fear; its obedience is
servile; it is usually the dread of man rather than of the Maker-the stern rebuke, the terrible interdict of the human voice rather than that of God within the conscience. It may anticipate and prevent much crime and vice; it may incite to what is called virtue: but the virtue altogether wants the dignity of being free, spontaneous, unforced; it is the tribute of the slave, wrung from him by a despotic satrap, not poured by voluntary love and homage at the feet of the King of kings.
Each of these objections would require to be wrought out into a long and careful chapter. We must look to history, which speaks with sufficient distinctness, and to those other sources of authentic information which have ventured to betray the secrets of the Confessional. We must look around us at once with calm and dispassionate inquiry. Among the English Roman Catholics, the confessional is kept under, as it were, by the dependence of the clergy upon the laity-by that rigorous good sense which is part of the English character, and which cannot but be maintained by the constant presence of a rival faith. In Ireland, however it may seem ineffective or lenient as to crimes of blood, it is generally acknowledged, as regards the relations of man and woman, not merely to be irreproachable, but highly beneficial: we are willing to believe that it is so. In Southern countries the result is far different: the fearful revelations in the early life of Mr. Blanco White are strong enough as to Spain. M. Michelet may colour darkly as to former times in France, yet is his colouring untrue? It is when we thus come to its practical workings on a refined and dissolute state of society, that we feel still more the necessity, yet the difficulty, of confining ourselves within our appointed limits. The subject, to do it complete justice, demands a long historical induction. When men in general were children, the clergy alone men, there might be some better excuse for this perpetual interference of parental authority. But in countries where, we presume not to say from national temperament, but from civil convulsions, in general fatal to morals, or from
unknown causes, dissoluteness of manners prevails to a wide extent; there it would be no liberal courtesy, but a base abandonment of truth, to disguise our convictions of its irremediable, unavoidable tendency to the deepest demoralization. When we see it stimulating human passions—passions expressing themselves in that ambiguous amatory language which applies equally to earth and heaven, but still betraying the lower nature even in the presence of such stainless men as St. Francis de Sales or Fénélon (look at the words of Madame du Chastel, quoted by Michelet), or even before the awful Bossuet himself—we almost tremble to imagine what it must have been at the command of the worldly, the ambitious, the sensual, and unscrupulous priest. Even where it did not perhaps especially and peculiarly corrupt the clergy, did not the confessional in certain hands lower the general morality of nations ? Did it not frame a system of evasion, of compromise, of equivocation, at which Christendom stood aghast ? For the Confessional is the parent of all those huge tomes of casuistry which now repose in ponderous slumbers on the shelves of ecclesiastical libraries, but which are ever distilled into small manuals—even now, we lament to say, placed in the hands of the younger clergy. This casuistry, as M. Michelet justly observes, was addressed to the world when it was reeking with all the foam and mire of the civil wars. read of crimes which probably were never committed but by the terrible soldiers of the Duke of Alva-or those Coropanies, in the thirty years' war, without country, without law, without God—vraies Sodomes errantes dont l'ancienne eut eu horreur.' This is among the strongest points of the Anti-Jesuit party; and if the clergy of France make common cause with—if they do not disclaim—this education of the priestly mind in the theory of all possible or impossible criminality, the moral indignation of mankind will shake off their yoke as a pestilence. Books of very recent date have been forced upon our notice (one bearing the name of the bishop of an important see), of which we write with the calmest deliberation, that if