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LECTURE THE SEVENTH.
ON THE PRACTICAL SUCCESS OF THE CATHOLIC RULE
OF FAITH IN CONVERTING HEATHEN NATIONS.
LUKE xi. 20.
“ But if I, in the finger of God, cast out devils, undoubtedly the
kingdom of God is come upon you.” In the Gospel which the Church has selected for
edification in the service of this day, it is related how our Blessed Saviour cast out the devil from one that was blind, and deaf, and dumb. In the words of my text, he concludes, from this circumstance, that, seeing how this wonderful power could not be attributed to any human or earthly agency, but must have come from God, his hearers were bound to acknowledge, that the kingdom of God was really, in his person, brought among them. Now, as the venerable Bede observes, in his commentary on this passage, what, on this occasion, was done in the body, is daily performed in spirit, in the Church of God, by the conversion of men unto the faith; inasmuch as, the devil being thence expelled, their eyes are first opened to see the light of God's truth, and afterwards, their tongues being loosed, they are allowed to join in his praise. And as this efficacy and power was assumed by our blessed Saviour, for a proof that the kingdom of God was indeed with him, and through him was presented to the acceptance of the Jews; so may we say, that in the parallel power of the Church is to be found a similar demonstration, that where it at present exists, there also is the kingdom of Christ.
Such, my brethren, is the topic on which I wish to occupy your attention this evening; it is but a completion of the task which I commenced at our last meeting; when, having laid before you the touchstone of the rule of faith, which exists in the
power of effecting conversion among such as know not Christ, I entered upon the application of this proof to that principle of religion, to that ground-work of faith, which is held to be essential by those who differ from us on this head. Exclusively making use, with the exception of one or two immaterial confirmatory instances, of documents put forth by persons who have a natural interest in their respective establishments for propagating Christianity among the heathen, I showed you how it was acknowledged, that hitherto no success had attended their labours; but that, in every country, in the east and the west, the preaching of Christianity, with that sanction, and upon that basis, which their religion required, had proved abortive. I then promised to go into the other side of the question ; and, from the progress and the actual state of similar efforts made, and daily making, by Catholic missionaries, to prove that the divine blessing does appear to rest on their labours, and that they have succeeded in the very field where the others acknowledge themselves to have failed; yea, and that they have succeeded, according to the confession of their very rivals.
This, then, is the task on which I am now about to enter. It was originally my intention, as I believe I hinted in the first instance,* to begin my narrative from rather a remote period; I wished to commence the history of Catholic conversion from those centuries in which it is universally acknowledged that the peculiar doctrines of the Church of Rome, as they are called, were sufficiently established, to prove the identity of that Church which then sent forth missionaries with the present Roman Catholic Church. I should have commenced probably from the seventh or eighth century; but I soon found that it was quite impossible to condense even into a lengthened discourse, the facts which this plan would oblige me to bring before your consideration ; and besides, however my case may in some respects appear to suffer by laying aside what I consider a very powerful support, I think that you will Ajru 1221 D 104] .. . See p. 147. . . . '.'.
naturally take more interest in those circumstances and occurrences which are nearer your own time, and which can be put more fairly in contrast with what I exposed at our last meeting. For there might be differences of circumstances in former times; there might be causes in operation which cannot now be discovered; and consequently the success which attended the early missionaries sent out by the Church, or rather by the See of Rome, to convert nations, as in the north of Europe, may be supposed to have depended on peculiar circumstances which now no longer act.
It is for these reasons, therefore, that I shall confine myself to later times. But I cannot pass over one event, and that is the conversion of this country-I mean its last conversion, after the Saxon occupation, to the Christian religion. It is a very interesting and important enquiry for any person endowed with a truly candid and reflecting mind, and at the same time possessing the patience to look minutely into the circumstances of the case, to see what were the causes that produced that almost instantaneous, yet lasting and univeral effect, which the preaching of the first missionaries, sent by St. Gregory into this country, did produce. Now it was generally thought at the time when this conversion was made, and by the individuals themselves who wrought it, that no power could have effected it, and that no power did effect it, except the gift of miracles, which they believed to have been granted for that purpose by God. In discussing the subject of the continuance of miracles in the Church of Christ, the late Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford says, that when in later periods persons sent to preach the gospel were placed in circumstances similar to those of the Apostles, there can be no difficulty in acknowledging that God may have furnished them with the same means as were granted in the first instance, and may have given them the power of working such signs and wonders, as would effect the conversion of a people.”* And, in fact, there can be no material or valid ob
* Lectures on the Ecclesiastical History of the 2nd and 3d Centuries.
jection to that power having been granted for ends precisely similar to those for which it was given to the Apostles. Nor can I believe that any one acquainted with the life, the writings, and the character of the great Pontiff—justly called “The Great”—who sent those missionaries into our country, will hesitate to pronounce him a person infinitely above all suspicion of craftiness, or an attempt to deceive mankind. And I believe, too, that whoever considers the circumstances under which those who first landed with Christianity on our shores, came to the task—the dangers which they encountered—the advantages which they renounced—their feeble prospect, humanly speaking, of producing any effect in a country whose language to them was strange, and whose natives must have looked on them with jealousy—will hardly for a moment imagine that anything but the purest and best of motives could have instigated thrm to undertake so toilsome and so thankless a work.
And yet we find that St. Augustin writes to the holy Pontiff, that he himself believed God to have performed, through his hands, such signs and wonders as led these islanders to embrace the faith of Christ; and we have the answer of the holy Pontiff, in which he exhorts him not to allow himself to be puffed up, and made vain by the communication of this supernatural gift ; and so convinced was he of its reality, that we have another letter of his, wherein he communicates the intelligence to the bishops of the East, as a new proof of the assistance afforded by Christ to his Church, in her office of conversion. There is surely here every appearance of sincerity on both sides ; there can be no reason to think that there could have been any motive for fiction or deceit ; for as the work of conversion was effectually performed, that was a merit and a matter of consolation sufficient to enable them to dispense with such false and disingenuous acts, if under any circumstances they had been possible. This reasoning is so obvious, that even writers exceedingly opposed to the Catholic doctrine of miracles, have acknowledged that they must attri