Page images

and there we have some desperate ostentatious act of submission, endured with the air of a martyr. What can a bishop do by power even over his clergy? What may he not do by gentle influence ?

All this may be very melancholy, and to those who have less faith in the vital powers of Christianity, in whatever form it may adapt itself to the infinite varieties of the human mind, and to every stage of civilization, it may lead to utter despair. But let us rather look back to the causes of this decay of authority with quiet impartiality. Nothing is more easy than to denounce the infidelity of the age--to deplore the irrevocable past—with the almost enviable unfairness, though not always with the beautiful feeling and eloquence of the author of the • Mores Catholici,' to recall all that was poetical, tranquil, holy, in what that writer is pleased to call the Ages of Faith, and to be totally silent on the unutterable miseries, and crimes, and cruelties of those fierce times. But trace the growth of ecclesiastical power, and we trace its decay. The one legitimate extreme penalty which belongs to the Church, however that Church may be ruled, is excommunication. Penance in its various forms can, of course, only be enforced on a reluctant member by the dread of that last and capital punishment. No sooner had the Roman emperors been converted to Christianity than excommunication became connected with civil disabilities. It was not merely a religious, but likewise a secular punishment. In the high days of ecclesiastical power it even smote, as it were, the State itself with civil disability. The excommunicated king, according to the loftiest theory, was thereby deposed. Even where the sentence of deposition was either not issued, or was despised by the refractory son of the Church, public opinion inflicted a kind of civil disability. The excommunicated monarch was, even to his subjects, as it were, a leper, and all allegiance which he might still receive or enforce was at best doubtful and precarious. But by the constitution of most kingdoms, by the great common law of Europe, excommunication has entirely lost this alliance with civil dis

ability. Some privileges may still be withheld, some offices be refused to dissentients from the dominant faith, from those who are self-excommunicated (for all separation is self-excommunication) from the Church, whether it call itself Catholic, or be a national or otherwise self-incorporated society—but that is all.

Beyond this; that kind of civil incapacity which was inflicted by public opinion, that open or that tacit proscription which dooms those without the pale of the Church to inferiority, has likewise, for the most part, practically disappeared. The sympathies of men are so entirely in favour of toleration, that the Roman Catholic Church, as well as every the smallest sect (of which the theory equally is, and must be, exclusive salvation within its own or some limited pale) is perpetually at issue with its own principle. Its authority is gone when men can despise that authority and be none the worse, either as to their worldly situation or their estimation in society, and where they themselves dread no eternal consequences. Where excommunication does not certainly imply (if unrepealed) absolute exclusion from heaven, where it has lost its spiritual as well as its temporal terrors, then and there its power has either altogether ceased, or is so reduced as almost to be deprived of its controlling efficacy. When any one may in a Roman Catholic country become a Protestant (excepting where feuds, as in Ireland, run high), however he may distress his friends or family, without losing caste; where a man, excluded from one religious community (at least on purely religious grounds), is at once received into another-what is excommunication ? It is already incurred by the voluntary renunciation of relationship. I banish you, says, with Coriolanus, every proud, or at least selfconfident, seceder. But if deprived of this ultima ratio, how shall ecclesiastical authority enforce its smaller penalties for smaller offences ? The conscience of the individual has become his sole judge; whether he fears or whether he defies Church censure, absolutely depends on his own individual conviction of the validity or invalidity of Church censure. If, indeed, we

bemoan the loss of godly discipline, if we think those wiser or more safe who still bow themselves to its humiliating and it may be sanctifying control, we should first remember that it was because it ceased to be godly discipline, and stooped to be worldly discipline, that it has been so entirely lost.

And was penitential discipline so efficacious ? All that we know of the state of morals and of manners, when it was at its height, is not much in its favour. According to our own modes of feeling are we quite sure that doing penance and being put to open shame would be productive of inward contrition ? and notwithstanding the contempt and pity which is felt and expressed towards our degenerate age, we believe that our aversion to ostentatious penitence, to that self-atoning confrontation of shame, is a sign of our moral advancement, of our genuine rather than affected religious sensibility.

What mission, then, remains to the clergy in a state of society which thus repudiates their authority? The noblest, the most sublime, because the most quietly, secretly, unostentatiously, beneficent; in many, perhaps in most, places ill-rewarded, often entirely disinterested service; and that without awakening the old justifiable jealousies, and therefore without encountering the hostility, which perpetually struggled against a presumptuous, arrogant, dictatorial, meddling, sacerdotal power. To be the administrators of the holy, the sanctifying sacraments of our faith ; to be the ministers of a Church ceremonial, simple but solemn, affecting, impressive-a ceremonial not to be regulated by pedantic adherence to antiquated forms, but instinct with spiritual life; not the revival of a symbolism, which has ceased to be a language, and become a hieroglyphic-a hieroglyphic without a Champollion; neither a sort of manual exercise of Church postures, which have lost their meaning—an orderly parade of genuflexion, and hand-clasping, and bowing the head,

-but a ceremonial set forth, if possible, with all that is grand and beautiful in art (for nothing is grand or beautiful which has not an infelt harmony with its purpose)—the most solemn and effective music, the purest and most impressive architecture

-everything which may separate the worship of God from the ordinary and vulgar daily life of man—all that really enforces reverence-excludes the world; calms, elevates, truly spiritualizes the soul-all which asserts, heightens, purifies devotionthat devotion daily fed and maintained, where it may be practicable, with daily service. The mission of the clergy is to be more than the preachers of the Gospel, the example of the Gospel in all its assiduous and active love. In each parish throughout the kingdom to head the model family of order, of peace, of piety, of cheerfulness, of contentedness, of resignation in affliction, of hopefulness under all circumstances. To be the almoner (the supplementary almoner over and above the necessarily hard measure of legal alms) of those who cannot be their own. To be the ruler, as such a clergy will be, by the homely poetic precept of domestic life:

And if she rule him, never shows she rules.

The religion of such a clergy will not be the religion of the thirteenth century, nor of the ninth century, nor of the fourth century, but it will be the, in many respects, better religion of the nineteenth. Let us boldly say, that the rude and gross and material piety of former ages was an easy task as compared to rational, intelligent piety in the present. Mere force is not strength, but force under command. The cilice and the scourge are but coarse and vulgar expedients to subdue the will to the yoke of Christian faith and love. What is the most flagellant asceticism, the maceration of the body, to the self-denial of a great mind, above all the transitory excitement, the bustle and fashion of the religionism of his day, but sternly and hopefully striving for the truth, holding with steady equipoise the balance of reason and faith ?

Of all things, such a clergy will be utterly abhorrent to all tampering with truth; they will place themselves high above even the suspicion of profiting by untruth—not, we grieve to say, under existing circumstances, the least difficult of our trials. For among a truth-loving people like ourselves — at

least comparatively truth-loving the sure effect of the slightest dishonesty of purpose or language will be the total estrangement of the confidence and the respect of the people.

Thus, then, it is (writes one of the biographers of the Saints): some there are which have no memorial, and are as though they have never been ; others are known to have lived and died, and are known in little else: they have left a name, but they have left nothing besides; or the place of their birth, or of their abode, or of their death, or some one or other striking incident of their life gives a character to their memory ; or they are known by martyrologies, or services, or by the traditions of a neighbourhood, or by the titles or decorations of a church: or they are known by certain miraculous inter positions which are attributed to them; or their deeds and sufferings belong to countries far away, and the report of them comes musical and low over the broad sea. Such are some of the small elements which, when more is not known, faith is fain to receive, love dwells on, meditation unfolds, disposes, and forms, till by the sympathy of many minds, and the concert of many voices, and the lapse of many years, a certain whole figure is developed with words and actions, a history and a character, which is indeed but the portrait of the original, yet is as much as a portrait, an imitation rather than a copy, a likeness on the whole ; but in its particulars more or less the work of imagination. It is but collateral and parallel to the truth; it is the truth under assumed conditions; it brings out a true idea, yet by inaccurate or defective means of exhibition ; it savours of the age, yet it is the offspring from what is spiritual and everlasting. It is the picture of a Saint, who did other miracles, if not these; who went through sufferings, who wrought righteousness, who died in faith and peace of this we are sure; we are not sure, should it so happen, of the when, the where, the how, the why, and the whence. -- Life of St. Gundleus,

Pp. 4, 5.

There is a work of which our readers perhaps have heard much, but know little; the Life of Jesus,' by Strauss. We have sometimes contemplated an attempt to give our readers some notion of this book, but have been deterred partly by general doubts as to the expediency of such a course; partly by the difficulty of fairly translating the peculiar mode of thought and expression, which is not merely German, but German according to a special philosophy—that of Hegel. It is done to our hands by this unconscious Hegelite; alter a few words, and we are reading Strauss, unfolding the process by

« PreviousContinue »