« PreviousContinue »
would scarcely dare to utter to her mother, to herself, is, with but a thin wooden partition, to be whispered, but distinctly whispered—and that not now to a hoary and venerable prelate, not to a monk pale with fasting and emaciated with study and prayer, and bowed to the earth with premature age—not to one who retires again with her secret to his lonely cell—but one in the full vigour, it may be, of manly beauty, whom she meets at every corner of the street, perhaps in her common society, and as a welcome guest in the quiet saloon of her own home.
M. Michelet sets forth with his usual graphic power, and at least with that probable truth which may suggest serious reflection, another scene (his pamphlet, like his history, is all scenes) in which a devotee, not quite so ignorant of the world, may pass from one excitement to another:
Quel lieu, je vous prie, plus puissant que l'église sur l'imaginationplus riche en illusions, plus fascinateur ? C'est l'église justement qui ennoble l'homme, vulgaire ailleurs, qui le grandit, l’exagère, lui prête sa poésie.
Voyez-vous cette solennelle figure qui, sous l'or et la pourpre des habits pontificaux, monte avec la pensée d'un peuple, la prière de dix mille hommes, au triomphal escalier du chœur de Saint-Denis ? Le voyez-vous encore, qui sur tout ce peuple à genoux, plane à la hauteur des voûtes, porte la tête dans les chapiteaux parmi les têtes ailées des anges, et de la lance la foudre ? ... Eh bien ! c'est lui cet archange terrible, qui tout à l'heure descend pour elle, et maintenant doux et facile, vient, là-bas, dans cette chapelle obscure l'entendre aux heures languissantes de l'après-midi ! Belle heure ! orageuse et tendre (et pourquoi donc le cœur nous bat-il si fort ici ?). Comme elle est déjà sombre cette église ? il n'est pourtant pas tard encore. La grande rose du portail flamboie au soleil couchant. . . . Mais c'est toute autre chose au cheur; des ombres graves s'y étendent, et derrière c'est l'obscurité. Une chose étonne et fait presque peur, d'aussi loin que
l'on regarde ; c'est, tout au fond de l'église, ce mystère de vieux vitraux qui, ne montrant plus de dessin précis, scintillent dans l'ombre comme un illisible grimoire de caractères inconnus. . . . La chapelle n'en est pas moins obscure; vous n'en distinguez plus les ornements, les délicates nervures qui se nouaient à la voûte; l'ombre s'épaississant arrondit et confond les formes. Mais, comme si cette chapelle sombre n'était pas encore assez sombre, elle enferme dans un coin l'étroit réduit de chêne noir, où cet homme ému, cette femme tremblante, réunis si près l'un de l'autre, vont causer tout bas de l'amour de Dieu.—Pp. 204–206.
We have done some violence to ourselves in quoting this passage, of which, however brilliant, we can neither altogether approve the spirit or the tone; but it furnishes a conclusive argument. Where such men can write fearlessly and unrebuked, at least by any dominant, we say not universal, feeling, of the confessional in such language, is it not a sign that its authority, and therefore that its use, has passed away? If not awful, it must be dangerous, or worse than dangerous. It is idle to denounce, as some may be inclined to denounce, the irreverence, the sacrilegious insolence, the impiety of such writers; the page is read from one end of France to the other : and how large a part of France will hail it as the vivid expression of its own sentiments! Can the confessional regain its awfulness in the face of such remonstrance—be that remonstrance just or not--with the historic certainty that in the Church of Rome itself it is but of recent date? For though confession is as old as Christianity, the compulsory confession to the priest was first enjoined by an authoritative decree in the pontificate of Innocent III.?
Christianity must never be degraded to a mere moral law; it must never for an instant forget its loftier mission of making the Invisible visible; of raising the soul far above this sublunary sphere: but while it is above, it must not be against the moral sentiment, the enlightened moral sentiment of mankind; it must harmonize with it jealously, severely, and without suspicion. Priestly influence may silence it, may pervert it, may substitute for it some other absorbing impulse; but the indissoluble wedlock of Christian faith and perfect morals cannot be long violated with impunity. Christianity has not emancipated woman to submit her to another dominion than that of her husband.
2 With the author of a book which has just reached us, De la Confession, et du Célibat des Prêtres, par Francisque Bouvier, we would both willingly augur, and devoutly pray for the increasing influence of the Pulpit, rather than of the Confessional. This work, though of considerable ability, and with much knowledge of the subjoct, is not written in the calm tone, or with that severe accuracy of learning, which is demanded in this grave controversy. The quotations are strangely loose, some of the references incorrect-almost all to author or volume, without chapter or page. In one place, among the authorities cited is Tripartite (p. 414); a newly discovered ecclesiastical historian - we presume, an impersonation of the Historia Tripar:ita.
But the influence of the Confessional is nothing to that of the Direction. The confessor receives his penitents in the church, at appointed hours; the director, at his own time, in the private house :
Au confesseur on dit les péchés; on ne lui doit rien de plus. Au directeur on dit tout, on se dit soi-même et les siens, ses affaires, ses intérêts. Celui à qui l'on confie le plus grand intérêt, celui du salut éternel, comment ne lui confierait-on pas de petits intérêts temporels, le mariage de ses enfants, le testament qu'on projette, etc.? Le confesseur est obligé au secret ; il se tait, ou devrait se taire. Le directeur n'a point cette obligation. Il peut révéler ce qu'il sait, surtout à un prêtre, à un autre directeur. Supposons dans une maison une vingtaine de prêtres (ou un peu moins, par égard pour la loi d'association) qui soient les uns confesseurs, les autres directeurs des mêmes personnes ; comme directeurs, ils peuvent échanger leurs renseignements, mettre en commun sur une table mille ou deux mille consciences, en combiner les rapports ; comme les pièces d'un jeu d'échecs, en régler d'avance les mouvements, les intérêts, et se distribuer à eux-mêmes les rôles qu'ils doivent jouer pour mener le tout à leurs fins.-P. 225.
It is this Direction which, withdrawing confession from its last control—the solemnity of the church--from the partial publicity, the dignity of a sacred ceremony–introduces into the family one that is not of the family, but who rules it with despotic sway; who knows more of the intimate thoughts of the husband than the wife, of the wife's than her husband; who has an authority greater than that of the parent over the child, because the child intuitively feels that it is the Director, not the parent, who determines everything. Thus all that is delightful in affection, its spontaneity, is checked and chilled; mutual confidence passes through the intervention of a third person; love itself becomes timid and surreptitious—it has lost all its free and unrestrained effusion. It is now no longer the eye of God, whose eternal providence is watching over the development of the affections, the growth of the individual moral being, and the reciprocal influence of members of a harmonious family upon each other; but the prying, curious, sleepless, importunate, inevitable eye of a man — who is present in the most intimate intercourse, hears every word, coldly watches every emotion; whom habitual hypocrisy vainly attempts to elude, and habitual servitude only can satisfy. This assuredly is a temptation to spiritual tyranny to which human nature should not be exposed. A Rodin is the inevitable consequence of the system. The confession, too, of one must involve the conduct of others : thus it is an universal delation by a religious police, with an espionage in every family. The director is to the wife another husband, to the friend a more intimate friend, to the statesman far more than his secretary, to the king nearer than his minister. This direction, though not confined to the Jesuits, was the great secret of the Jesuit power; and, no doubt, of the Jesuit ruin. It would be a curious speculation how far the decrepitude of the old royal families of Europe, which led to the triumph of the French revolutionary principles, may be traced to direction. Hereditary malady, no doubt, in many cases surrendered the enfeebled sovereign, without resistance, to this secret domination ; but it is a melancholy truth, that in scarcely any instance did this close religious superintendence restrain, we say not the follies, but the grosser vices of these kings. Trace it from the soft and easy rule of Father Cotton down to the Père Tellier, down to the accommodating directors of Louis XV., and throughout almost the whole line of Spanish Bourbons. While even this poor advantage-poor as far as their subjects were concerned—was not obtained, the affairs of the kingdom were left to upstart favourites made or unmade by this secret influence — or they were abandoned to total neglect. To maintain that power—that sovereignty above the sovereign—that abasement of the temporal below the spiritual dominion-which the Gregorys and Innocents sought by the bolder means of direct aggression, of haughty pretension, of spiritual force and violence, but which was far more fully exercised by being behind the throne rather than above itwhat sacrifice could be too great ? Christian morality went first : had not Pascal, with his fearless irony, forbade the divorce, it would have been complete. Monarchy, which ceased to rule, fell into contempt. The whole mind of Roman Catholic Europe, which by an education, cold, minute, laborious, Jesuitism strove to engross and keep down to a dead level of mediocrity, woke up suddenly, opened its wondering eyes, and mistook the brilliant meteor of the Voltairian philosophy for the sunlight of truth. Religion itself, without the poetry of the older Catholicism, or the more severely reasoning faith of Protestantism, which this order had been inculcating from the cradle to the grave, on the peasant, on the sovereign_to which they had been endeavouring to enslave literature, arts, philosophy—was suddenly found dead. With all the rising generation as it would have seemed-at their disposition, they had not a man of talent or vigour to stand in the breach : it was as if their triumph had smitten the whole Church with barrenness. While this vast spiritual police seemed omnipotent as omnipresent - while by every kind of intrigue, by correspondence throughout and far beyond the civilized nations, by a freemasonry which communicated with the rapidity and the secresy of the electric telegraph, it appeared to rule the world, it was put down, as it were, by acclamation. The suppression of this wonderful Society—for wonderful it was in its rise—in its progress to almost universal dominion -in the extraordinary characters of its first founders—in its reconquest of half Germany from Protestantism, in its foreign missions, which, after astonishing Christendom with their boasted success, were disclaimed by more than one Pope, as compromising the truth and the purity of religion ;—their suppression is the evidence of their utter weakness in what appeared their hour of strength: they were still directors of half the consciences in a large part of Europe, when they were at once and contemptuously discharged. The Pope was