Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

And especially, by this disposition of things, shall we learn, as regards religious and ethical inquiries, how little we can effect, however much we exert ourselves, without that blessing; for, as if on set purpose, He has made this path of thought rugged and circuitous above other investigations, that the very discipline inflicted on our minds in finding Him, may mould them into due devotion to Him when He is found. "Verily, Thou art a hidden God, the God of Israel, the Saviour," is the very law of His dealings with us. Certainly we need a clue into the labyrinth which is to lead us to Him; and who among us can hope to seize upon the true starting-points of thought for that enterprise, and upon all of them, to understand their right direction, to follow them out to their just limits, and duly to estimate, adjust, and combine the various reasonings in which they issue, so as safely to arrive at what is worth any labour to secure, without a special illumination from Himself? Such are the dealings of Wisdom with the elect soul. "She will bring upon him fear, and dread, and trial; and She will torture him with the tribulation of Her discipline, till she try him by Her laws, and trust his soul. Then She will strengthen him, and make Her way straight to him, and give him joy." (“Grammar of Assent,” p. 344.)

FIRST PRINCIPLES.

THIS is what we call an enlightened age; we are to have large views of things; everything is to be put on a philosophical basis; reason is to rule; the world is to begin again; a new and transporting set of views is about to be exhibited

to the great human family. Well and good; have them, preach them, enjoy them, but deign to recollect the while, that there have been views in the world before you; that the world has not been going on up to this day without any principles whatever; that the Old Religion was based on principles, and that it is not enough to flourish about your "new lamps," if you would make us give up our "old" ones. Catholicism, I say, had its First Principles before you were born; you say they are false; very well, prove them to be so; they are false, indeed, if yours are true; but not false merely because yours are yours. While yours are yours it is self-evident, indeed, to you, that ours are false; but it is not the common way of carrying on business in the world, to value English goods by French measures, or to pay a debt in paper which was contracted in gold. Catholicism has its First Principles. Overthrow them, if you can; endure them, if you cannot. It is not enough to call them effete, because they are old, or antiquated because they are ancient. It is not enough to look into our Churches, and cry "It is all a form, because divine favour cannot depend on external observances;" or, "It is all a bondage, because there is no such thing as sin;" or, "a blasphemy, because the Supreme Being cannot be present in ceremonies;" or, "a mummery, because prayer cannot move Him;" or, "a tyranny, because vows are unnatural ;” or, "hypocrisy, because no rational man can credit it at all ?" I say here is endless assumption, unmitigated hypothesis, reckless assertion. Prove your, "because," "because," "because;" prove your First Principles, and if you cannot, learn philosophic moderation. Why may not my First Principles contest the prize with yours? they have been longer in the world, they have lasted longer, they have done harder work, they have seen rougher service! You sit in your easy-chairs, you dogmatize in your

lecture-rooms, you wield your pens: it all looks well on paper: you write exceedingly well: there never was an age in which there was better writing, logical, nervous, eloquent, and pure,-go and carry it all out in the world. Take your First Principles, of which you are so proud, into the crowded streets of our cities, into the formidable classes which make up the bulk of our population; try to work society by them. You think you can; I say you cannot— at least, you have not as yet; it is to be seen if you can. "Let not him that putteth on his armour boast as he who taketh it off." Do not take it for granted that that is certain which is waiting the test of reason and experiment. Be modest until you are victorious. My principles, which I believe to be eternal, have at least lasted eighteen hundred years; let yours live as many months. That man can sin, that he has duties, that the Divine Being hears prayer, that He gives His favours through visible ordinances, that He is really present in the midst of them, these principles have been the life of nations; they have shown they could be carried out; let any single nation carry out yours, and you will have better claim to speak contemptuously of Catholic rites, of Catholic devotions, of Catholic belief. ("Present Position of Catholics," p. 293.)

THE ETHICS OF CULTURE.

(I.)

THE embellishment of the exterior is almost the beginning and the end of philosophical morality. This is why it aims at being modest rather than humble; this is how it

can be proud at the very time that it is unassuming. To humility indeed it does not even aspire; humility is one of the most difficult of virtues, both to attain and to ascertain. It lies close upon the heart itself, and its tests are exceedingly delicate and subtle. Its counterfeits abound; however, we are little concerned with them here, for, I repeat, it is hardly professed, even by name, in the code of ethics which we are reviewing. As has been often observed, ancient civilization had not the idea, and had no word to express it; or rather, it had the idea, and considered it a defect of mind, not a virtue, so that the word which denoted it conveyed a reproach. As to the modern world, you may gather its ignorance of it by its perversion of the somewhat parallel term "condescension." Humility, or condescension, viewed as a virtue of conduct, may be said to consist, as in other things, so in our placing ourselves in our thoughts on a level with our inferiors. It is not only a voluntary relinquishment of the privileges of our own station, but an actual participation or assumption of the condition of those to whom we stoop. This is true humility, to feel and to behave as if we were low; not to cherish a notion of our importance while we affect a low position. Such was St. Paul's humility, when he called himself "the least of the saints;" such the humility of those many holy men who have considered themselves the greatest of sinners. It is an abdication, as far as their own thoughts are concerned, of those prerogatives or privileges to which others deem them entitled. Now it is not a little instructive to contrast with this idea,-with this theological meaning of the word "condescension,"-its proper English sense; put them in juxtaposition, and you will at once see the difference between the world's humility and the humility of the Gospel. As the world uses the word, "condescension" is a stooping indeed

H

of the person, but a bending forward unattended with any the slightest effort to leave by a single inch the seat in which it is so firmly established. It is the act of a superior, who protests to himself, while he commits it, that he is superior still, and that he is doing nothing else but an act of grace towards those on whose level, in theory, he is placing himself. And this is the nearest idea which the philosopher can form of the virtue of self-abasement; to do more than this is, to his mind, a meanness, or an hypocrisy, and at once excites his suspicion and disgust. What the world is, such it has ever been; we know the contempt which the educated pagans had for the martyrs and confessors of the Church, and it is shared by the anti-Catholic bodies of this day.

Such are the ethics of Philosophy, when faithfully represented; but an age like this, not pagan, but professedly Christian, cannot venture to reprobate humility in set terms, or to make a boast of pride. Accordingly, it looks out for some expedient by which it may blind itself to the real state of the case. Humility, with its grave and selfdenying attributes, it cannot love; but what is more beautiful, what more winning, than modesty? What virtue, at first sight, simulates humility so well? Though what, in fact, is more radically distinct from it? In truth, great as is its charm, modesty is not the deepest or the most religious of virtues. Rather it is the advanced guard or sentinel of the soul militant, and watches continually over its nascent intercourse with the world about it. It goes the round of the senses; it mounts up into the countenance; it protects the eye and ear; it reigns in the voice and gesture. Its province is the outward deportment, as other virtues have relation to matters theological, others to society, and others to the mind itself. And being more superficial than other virtues, it is more easily disjoined

« ForrigeFortsæt »