« PreviousContinue »
which, though held up to the eye on any side, and without artificial assistance, shall always present the same beauty and purity. But it is the characteristic of error, that it
may, by the assistance of an artful setting, and by a certain play of light thrown upon it, produce the appearance of being without fault; but, if it be slightly turned, or shown under another angle, it instantly discovers its imperfections. It was evidently, with this feeling, that the apostles acted, and thus, by them, was Christianity preached ; namely, it was considered by them a system, intended to meet the wants of all mankind, so that its true evidence resided in the mind of every individual, as well as in the general feelings and wants of the entire human race. They felt that, whatever characteristic of truth their hearers might have adopted, whether the counterpart of a previous revelation, or the certain conclusions of profound philosophy, whether drawn from the yearnings of human nature after perfection, or from individual consciousness of misery and ignorance, whether consisting in the harmonious beauty of all the parts of a system, or in strong evidence in favour of special propositions, any would equally lead to the verification of Christianity. Thus, therefore, when they preached to the Jews—who possessed the volume of the old law, and in it types, prophecies, and other foreshadowings, of the dispensation that was to come the task was simply, to assume what these already believed, and show them its counterpart, and fulfilment in the truths of Christianity, and in the character of our Saviour ; and, thus they generally won their way to conviction, through principles already believed.* When Philip met the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia on the highway, he found him reading a certain passage in the prophet Isaiah ; and, from that passage alone, he convinced him of the truth of Christianity, and admitted him to baptism. He was searching for something that would correspond to the description there given : Philip merely proposes to him what a simple comparison led him to see, must be the counterpart to what he had read; and he, instantly, yielded himself a captive to faith, and
* Acts, ü. ïïi.
adopted all the scheme of Christianity, implied in the baptismal rite.* But, when St. Paul goes among the Gentiles, and stands before the learned Athenians, he does not appeal to prophecies, wherein they believed not and which they knew not; for, he does not consider it necessary, that they should in a manner first become Jews, before they can be brought to Christianity. He has recourse to a totally different character of evidence; he preaches to them—men of a philosophic and studious mind—a sublimer morality than they had been accustomed to hear : he presents to them, the striking doctrine of the resurrection; he shows them the futility and absurdity of their idolatry; he quotes to them the words of their own poets, to prove how necessary a purer belief in God, such as he preached, was to the human soul; he intimates, that, already among them, was discernible a dissatisfaction with their present religion, and a certain longing after a better faith, from their having erected an altar “ to the unknown God.” He lays hold of those threads, which he found already prepared in the minds of his hearers, he attaches to them the evidences of Christianity, and, thus ensures the introduction of its doctrines within their breasts.t
When we come down to a later period, we find the same practice in the Church-for in the first century, and in the second, and in the third, we see a totally different system of motives, whereupon religion was preached, and received by men. We find, for instance, that in the first century, it was the courage of the martyrs, the seeing how flesh and blood could endure tortures and death in support of a religion, which brought the greater portion of converts to the truth. In the following centuries, a new system of evidences was introduced. The study of philosophy, which, under the patronage of the Antonines in the west, and through the impulse of the great Platonist schools in the east, was become very prevalent, led to the examination of christianity in connexion with the systems of ancient Greece. It was soon seen, that in them all were problems innumerable, regarding the nature of God, the human mind, the origin and end of man, which
* Acts, viii. + Ibid. xvii.
all the acuteness and meditation of sages had not been able to solve, and whose solution, however interesting and necessary, they even acknowledged to be out of reason's power. But when christianity was examined, it was discovered to present a full and consistent answer to every query, a satisfactory solution of every doubt, and a perfect code of ethics and mental philosophy. And this was considered by the Justins, the Clements, the Origens, and other philosophical minds, a sufficient evidence of its truth. For, as we should not require other proof that a key was made for a certain lock, than finding that it at once insinuates himself through all its complicated wards, and fits in them, and moves among them without grating or feeling resistance, and easily turns the bolts which they kept drawn, so did the true religion then, and so does it now, require no better demonstration of its being truly made for the mind and soul of man, and of its having come from the same all-wise artist's hands as created them,—than the simple discovery of how admirably it winds into all their recesses, and fits into all their intricate mazes, turning at will the bars, and opening the entrance of all the secret mysteries of self-knowledge.
And in modern times, the same variety of motives is perceptible in the writing of those who have, within these late years, joined the Catholic faith. I do not allude, so much, to what has occurred in this country ; because, however great may have been the spread of the Catholic religion since the commencement of this century amongst us, however frequent the conversions which we hear of, and see all this is, in one respect, as nothing to what goes forward elsewhere. For while with us the work of conversion, with several brilliant exceptions, has been chiefly confined to persons of a less literary class, on the Continent—and I speak particularly of Germany, there is hardly a year, and there has not been for some time back, in which some individuals have not embraced the Catholic religion, who were previously distinguished in their own country, as men of first-rate abilities, and deep learning; often
holding important situations, and particularly, employed as professors in Protestant universities. Now, many of these have published the motives which brought them to the Catholic religion. I have perused or heard many of their accounts, and some are written in a highly philosophic spirit, and the arguments are conducted with a terseness and closeness which, in this country, could be hardly popular. But, what I wish principally to note, their motives are as varied as the different pursuits in which each of them was engaged. You will find one who has made history the study of his life, and who taught that branch of learning in one of the most celebrated universities, announce to you, that he has become a Catholic, simply by applying the principles of his study to the facts recorded in the annals of Europe.* You may hear another draw his arguments from motives connected with the philosophy of the human mindfrom his discovering, that only in the Catholic religion can he find a system of it adapted to the wants of man; and another, whose enthusiasm has first been kindled by observing, that the principle of all that is beautiful in art and in nature is nowhere to be found, except in the Catholic religion.t You will read a political economist, who tells you, that, having made a deep study of that science, he was forced to admit, that only in Catholic morality he could discover the principles whereon it could be honestly conducted, and so was led to the practical adoption of its creed. Another, by watching that very event which has been considered, by some, a proof of the demoralizing power of the Catholic religion, by a deep attentive study of the dreadful tragedies of the French revolution, became a Catholic; and has since written profound treatises connected with public rights. ||
These are but a few out of many instances which I could quote ; but, now, mark the difference between all these motives
* Prof. Phillips, late of Berlin, now of Munich.
See De Coux's First Lecture on Political Economy.
and those I before explained. I said, that the motives given by Protestants for their adhesion to their religion, did not lead to the principle of conviction—to the adoption of the only grounds on which Protestantism is based. A man may be a Protestant for those reasons which are ordinarily given, without his being brought by that circumstance to the personal examination of each doctrine, to that deep study of God's written word, upon which alone his religion allows he can be a Protestant. But, in every one of the cases to which I have referred, no matter whence the conviction came, no matter what was the first impulse, or the line of argument which brought any individual into communion with the Catholic faith
the grounds of connection or adhesion necessarily ended in the principle of conviction. For none of these men became Catholics by discovering the principles of political economy, or of history, or of the fine arts, or of philosophy, in the Catholic religion. These various motives produced admiration and esteem for it; but, however learned or distinguished, we should not, and could not, have called any of them ours, though they had persevered in these sentiments, unless they had specifically adopted the Catholic principle of Church authority, and submitted their understanding and mind implicitly to its teaching. Here, then, we have a characteristic difference between the groundwork of the two religions. For, on the one hand, there is no security given in the profession of Protestantism, that its fundamental principle of individual examination has been practically adopted : while, on the other, no man can be for one instant a Catholic, without the vital principle of catholicity being actually embraced ; nay, no man can become a Catholic save through, and by its reception. The Catholic Church is thus as a city to which avenues lead from every side, towards which men may travel from any quarter, by the most diversified roads,—by the thorny and rugged ways of strict investigationby the more flowery paths of sentiment and feeling ; but, arrived at its precincts, all find that there is but one gate whereby they may enter, but one door to the sheep-fold, narrow and