« PreviousContinue »
English Clergy demur to that opinion. They are unwilling to put it to the test, because persecution and coercion are avowed as justifiable and holy means of exacting conformity to the Roman-Catholic faith; and whosoever conscientiously professes it is bound by his tenets, and in certain situations by his oath, to overthrow to the utmost of his ability all opposition to it. The Church of England has ever been its most powerful adversary. The sincere Romanist, therefore, necessarily desires the removal of so powerful an obstacle to his zealous purpose; and it is an act of Christian prudence, nay, of benevolence, to prevent him from carrying his pernicious principles into effect, or at least to save him from the conflict between humanity and superstition, to refuse him no other privilege but that of political power, which would be exercised consistently with the doctrines he has embraced in harassing his fellow-christians, under the detested name of heretics.
But the Clergy who petition against the increase of power demanded by Roman Catholics, look to a still higher sanction than that of prudence and precaution for the measures they adopt: that sanction is the word of God. They find in the Holy Scriptures that the corruption of true religion is designated as the "abominable thing which God hateth; that the strong delusion which seduces man to "believe a lie," that the worship of images, the substitution of superstitious ceremonies and vain oblations and feigned miracles, with all the impostures of pious fraud, and the pretended mediation of saints and angels, for the pure worship of God, through the sole intercession of Jesus Christ,is marked by the finger of his avenging justice, and has always produced the baneful effects of moral turpitude and virtual irreligion.
Wherever that infatuation has prevailed, a base and servile temper has ensued in the people; a haughty domineering spirit in the priests; an unbelieving mind in the higher orders, and a relaxed tone of morality in all. Witness the depraved state of society, and the gross mixture of blind credulity with vitiated infidelity, which prevail under the connivance of the religious orders in countries subject to Romish usurpation. And if policy and worldly prudence have tempered its fierce spirit in this enlightened nation, and have concealed from the laity (to whose private virtues no one will refuse the tribute that is justly due) the real nature of that antichristian church; if its ministers dare not remove the vail that is upon the heart, nor reveal to the view of their blinded followers the terrific dogmas of the creed which they profess; is it not to a Protestant ascendancy, and a reformed Church, excluding from power and authority those enemies of liberty and truth, that this country is indebted for civil and religious freedom, and all the peculiar blessings it enjoys?
The extreme care of our Reformers to guard the people whom they emancipated from falling again under the yoke of spiritual tyranny, was founded therefore on the truest wisdom, when they instilled into their converts a just abhorrence of idolatry and transubstantiation and lying wonders, employing the most effective means to prevent their relapse into such pernicious errors. For this purpose they pointed out the examples of that defection from the true God, and the substitution of false and tutelary deities which overwhelmed the Jews in a succession of calamities, shewing, for our admonition, that the "Lord is a
jealous God." And however the wisdom which excluded the worship of the Roman-Catholic church from the eyes and hearts of Protestants may be now decried, and whatever sentiments may be entertained that the march of the human mind in this age of intellectual improvement and spiritual light can never retrograde into the labyrinths of ignorance and superstition, there does not appear to the Protestant Clergy any well-grounded reason for such a supposition.
It rather seems an unwarranted presumption, sufficiently confuted by the false and impudent pretensions to divine impulses to an immediate intercourse with heaven, and supernatural revelations which have been divulged and credited by enthusiastic visionaries in these our days with a sottishness equal at least to that of any other time or people, since these palpable proofs of mental imbecility render it no improbable contingency, that the bigoted faith of the Romanist may again stifle the freedom of religious inquiry, and the mummery of his vain worship supersede the reasonable service of the English Church. It is almost needless to remark the easy transition from one species of fanaticism to another, and the eagerness with which mankind grasp at every fallacious hope of obtaining the favour or averting the displeasure of an Almighty Judge, without renouncing the just objects of his anger: the propensity to vice still urging them to walk in the ways of sin, and the apprehension of its punishment persuading them to avoid its wages, by any subterfuges which hypocrisy or enthusiasm suggests. Added to which is the disposition to gaze, and wonder, and adore, so generally felt, especially by the lower classes, when the pomp and pageantry of solemn worship, with all the appendages of spiritual power, are presented to their senses; and a tremendous imprecation is thundered in their ears as the penalty of their refusal to obey the insolent usurper of divine authority. These and similar considerations have wrought a strong conviction in the minds of a Protestant Clergy, that the display of Roman-Catholic worship should be withheld, as much as may be, from the public view; that it should not therefore be countenanced by the State, nor introduced under its sanction to the notice, and possibly to the reverence of a fickle and easily deluded multitude, lest the sound faith and holy practice which remain among us should be perverted and destroyed.
But let it not be thought that the Clergy wish to interfere with the conscientious opinions of any Christian sect, nor to hinder the free and full exercise of those opinions, either in religious worship or any other species of devotion, provided it be not exhibited as a spectacle, honoured and dignified by the government, and upheld by the wealth and power of the State. They dread the effects which might result from the elevation of the host in our streets,-and what shall prevent it when the Roman-Catholic religion is reinstated in the seat of legal authority, and encouraged by the favour of the Senate? Is it to be expected that the high and overbearing ambition of its hierarchy will stay its course, temper its desire of pre-eminence, restrain its zeal for conversion, and withdraw its exclusive claims to the reverence and submission of the Christian world? Will it not again arrogate its supreme dominion on the grounds of infallible authority and unquestionable right ?-a right
above all other rights devolved on the ministers of that church, by one who calls him the Vicegerent of the King of Kings, and the Lord of all temporal Sovereigns!
Should that worship which is now secluded, be brought out of the private recesses in which it is performed with perfect security and with harmless inanity, and be publicly celebrated with triumph and ostentation, the event may well be contemplated with just alarm, whether it be mocked with insult and derision, or be respected with a species of religious awe. In the first case it would outrage the feelings, and offend the consciences of sincere but erring Christians; in the second case it would endanger that worship which consists in spirit and in truth. For how easily may the enemy sow his tares, how rapidly may the good seed, which the reformers sowed and martyrs nurtured, be choked or rooted up! Why should not that harvest of chaff, which flew before the winnower's fan when Cranmer, Latimer, and Hooper scattered it to the winds, again be collected by the agents of the wicked one to smother and conceal the bread of life? The corrupt doctrines of that Church, though happily confined at present within narrow bounds in this favoured country, still prevail over the far greater part of Christendom ;-it exercises an almost despotic sway in the sister island. If the impossibility of its gaining ground against the firm hold of the English Church be insisted on, does not experience contradict such an assertion? Has it not spread in Lancashire over a considerable district? Has it not been propagated with indefatigable zeal? Have not the measures best calculated to promote its success been planned by that Order which is deficient to none in worldly wisdom, policy, and learning, and little scrupulous in the artifices it employs to gain its ends? Has not the Society of Jesus been again established for the purpose of promoting both spiritual and temporal power in foreign states; and does it not burn with impatience and exert its utmost efforts to obtain a firm footing in the British isles, where it would compass heaven and earth to make one proselyte? And need any one be reminded of what that Order once did, to be warned against what it would do again? Can any one the least versed in ecclesiastical history be ignorant of the subtilty and violence which characterized that mighty defender of the Papal chair? "If they came in sheep's clothing, inwardly they were ravening wolves." The instruments they once employed may have been altered, according to the circumstances of the times; but the skill in applying them remains the same. The materials they wrought upon have undergone a revolution, but the weakness of human nature will always present fit objects of their treacherous instigations. The multitude, so easily misled by novelty, by high-sounding pretensions, by assumed sanctity, by ostentatious almsgiving, and many artifices best known to those who condescend to use them, are always liable to be deceived. Nor should it be forgotten that their attachment to the Established Church has been loosened by various means, and the stedfastness of their faith, together with the integrity of their minds, has been shaken to its foundation. The Socinian, the Antinomian, and the Puritan have, each in turn, or rather all at once, unsettled the opinions of many of the people, and prepared
them for the invasion of that religion which sets these jarring points at rest, by resolving all questions of a religious nature into the absolute unerring decisions of a pretended Catholic Church.
The English Clergy cannot contemplate the danger to which their flocks are exposed in such a crisis without serious apprehension. They are bound, if possible, to keep them beyond the reach of contagion, lest wandering from the fold of the great Shepherd, they become a prey to the destroyer:-lest stupid ignorance, and vain ceremonies, and bigoted superstition, and blind idolatry, bear down the wisdom and the substance of pure unadulterated Christianity.
To your candid judgment, my dear Sir, I submit the preceding reasons, however imperfectly stated, for my opposition to the Catholic claims:-reasons which, it is presumed, have influenced the great body of the Clergy. If they have no weight with you, I trust they are sufficient to account for the part which I have taken on that momentous question. You will observe that many arguments of great force have been waved (for they have been urged by much abler writers), and that the peculiar situation of Ireland has been scarcely noticed; yet how forcibly is the general argument strengthened by that particular case! The proceedings of the Roman Catholics in that distracted portion of the empire have shewn the spirit of their Church in its unchanged and real character. That spirit has grown every day more fervent, and its ebullitions have been more violent, as the authority which restrained it has been lessened or removed. Emboldened by success, it has unmasked the secret purposes of its ambition,-has renounced all terms and conditions which might temper its pernicious tenets, and has plainly shewn that nothing less than the re-establishment of papal power on the ruins of the Reformed Church will satisfy the agitators of that afflicted and benighted country. December, 1827.
I am, &c.
Mr. EDITOR,—In an article in a late number of the British Critic on Bishop Gleig's Letters to his Son, it is said that some writers" fiercely contend" that there is not such a thing as natural religion; and the reviewer gives three reasons for not coinciding with that conclusion, as it involves the question whether the being of a God be discoverable from the phænomena of nature, which the learned Bishop holds in the negative. Being one of those writers, but disclaiming all fierceness on the subject, I will, if you allow me a small space, attempt to point out the inconclusiveness of the reviewer's reasons, and add a few words on the importance of the subject in these times.
The reviewer thinks in the first place that there is a natural religion, because the most ignorant of mankind are, by an original law of their mental constitution, led to infer that wherever there is an effect, there must have been a cause adequate to its production. The action of this law is well called an irresistible belief.
That such a law acts through the passion of fear is well known. Fear leads the savage to look for the cause of the lightning by which he is alarmed; but this law as often leads him to embody that cause
in some witch or wizard or "salvage man" apprehended in his mind, as to a being whom we could with propriety take to be the mind's natural type of a Deity. But if the law of irresistible belief in cause and effect afforded sufficient grounds for the reviewer's argument, it would be constant in its operation. That it is not constant the reviewer admits by quoting a passage in the Bishop's work, which claims for the native Americans, and New Hollanders, and also for the Esquimaux, an ignorance of the Deity. The law, therefore, of irresistible belief does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that there is a Deity.
In the second place the reviewer sensibly observes that the question ought not to be confined to the rudest people; and he instances the nations of antiquity who believed in a great First Cause. Now the reviewer himself answers this argument by acknowledging that the ancients personified the physical powers or properties of the material world. Thus civilization led men to civilize the object of their fear ; and instead of propitiating an old woman, dressed up in skins and feathers, to pour libations to Jove and Bacchus. Here again the irresistible law led the cultivated mind to no proper type of the Deity.
That the religion of the Mythologists may strictly be called natural, I am ready to admit; for its utmost extent was to lead the people into error the moment they reasoned beyond the guide of those intuitive truths which experience supplies. It is true that Plato, Cicero, and Seneca did at times seem to ascribe the mundane system "in its plan and operations to the volition of one Great Mind;" but we have no proof that any of the ancients did of themselves excogitate such a notion: we do know, however, that their notions were indistinct and at variance one with another, and we are assured that in none of their writings is there preserved such a process of reasoning as can safely and correctly bring us to the same conclusion.
In the third (and last) place, the reviewer maintains" that St. Paul admitted the existence of such a system of natural religion, prior to the introduction of Christianity, as implied belief in the existence of God, and, consequently, the means of forming a natural worship, and of enforcing the obligations of the moral law:" and the reviewer quotes the 19th and 20th verses, which are to his purpose when taken alone; but the 18th verse confines the subject to those "who hold the truth in unrighteousness;" and the 21st verse supposes that those men at one time"knew God." Now as they could only hold the truth through a revelation, the meaning of natural religion cannot be maintained in this passage. It is sensibly remarked by the author of "The Knowledge of Divine Things from Revelation, not from Reason and Nature," that "the apostle is here so far from asserting the sufficiency of nature to discover the existence of a Deity, that his very argument is founded on the heathens being already convinced of this truth, and from thence shews the unreasonableness and impropriety of their idolatry."
I wish to observe on these and such like reasons, that they are not so clearly convincing as the importance of the truth which they would uphold demands. They do not demonstrate; they are not such as the mind ought to have, that it may rest upon them in security. We, who believe in the Scriptures, treat them as speculations; it is of