Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

common life.—The amount is, that Catholicism derives little aid from Protestant divisions. In an age as unimproved in Christianity as the present, these divisions are promising symptoms. They prevent men from settling down in a rude Christianity. They keep alive inquiry and zeal. They are essential to freedom and progress. Without these, Protestantism would be only a new edition of Catholicism ; and the old pope would certainly beat any new one who could be arrayed against him. Do you ask me, how I think Catholicism may be most successfully

I know but one way. Spread just, natural, ennobling views of religion. Lift men above Catholicism, by showing the great spiritual purpose of Christianity. Violence will avail nothing. Romanism cannot be burned down, like the convent at Charlestown. That outrage bound every Catholic faster to his Church, and attracted to it the sympathies of the good. Neither is Popery to be subdued by virulence and abuse. The priest can call as hard names as the Protestant pastor. Neither do I think that any thing is to be gained by borrowing from the Catholic church her forms, and similar means of influence. Borrowed forms are peculiarly formal. No sect will be benefited by forms which do not grow from its own spirit. A sect which has true life, will seize by instinct the emblems and rites, which are in accordance with itself; and without life, it will only find in borrowed rites its winding-sheet. It is not uncommon to hear persons who visit Catholic countries, recommending the introduction of this or that usage of Romanism among ourselves. For example, thay enter Catholic churches and see at all hours worshippers before one or another altar, and contrasting with this the desertion of our houses of worship during the week, doubt whether we are as pious, and wish to open the doors of our sanctuaries, that Protestants may at all hours approve themselves as devoted as the Papists. Now such recommendations show a misconception of the true foundation and spirit of Roman usages. In the case before us, nothing is more natural than that Catholics should go to churches or public places to pray. In the first place, in the southern countries of Europe, where Catholicism first took its form, the people live in public. They are an outdoor people. Their domestic occupations go on in the outward air. That they should perform their private devotions in public, is in harmony with all their habits. What a violence it would be to ours ! In the next place, the Catholic believes that the church has a peculiar sanctity. A prayer offered from its floor finds its way to heaven more easily than from any other spot. The pernicious superstition of his religion carries him to do the work of his religion in one consecrated place, and therefore he does it the less elsewhere. Again : Catholic churches are attractive from the miraculous virtue ascribed to the images which are worshipped there. Strange, monstrous as the superstition is, yet nothing is more common in Catholic countries than the ascription of this or that supernatural agency to one or another shrine or statute. A saint, worshipped at one place, or under one image will do more, than if worshipped elsewhere. I recollect asking an Italian, why a certain church of rather humble appearance, in a large city, was so much frequented. He smiled, and told me, that the Virgin, who was adored there, was thought particularly propitious to those who had bought tickets in the lottery. Once more, we can easily conceive why visiting the churches, for daily prayer, has been encouraged by the priesthood. The usage brought the multitude still more under priestly power, and taught them to associate their most secret aspirations of piety with the church. Who, that takes all these circumstances into consideration, can expect Protestants to imitate the Catholics in frequenting the church for secret devotion, or can wish it? Has not Jesus said, “ When thou prayest, go into thy closet, and shut thy door, and pray to thy Father, who seeth in secret ?" Catholicism says, “When thou prayest, go into the public church, and pray before the multitude.” Of the little efficacy of this worship we have too painful proofs. The worship of the churches of Italy is directed chiefly to the Virgin. She is worshipped as the Virgin. The great idea of this Catholic deity is purity, chastity; and yet, unless all travellers deceive us, the country where she is worshipped is disfigured by licentiousness, beyond all countries of the civilised world. I return to my position. We need borrow nothing from Catholicism. Episcopacy retained (did not borrow) as much of the ritual of that church as is wanted in the present age, for those among us who have Catholic propensities. Other sects, if they need forms, must originate them, and this they must do not mechanically, but from the promptings of the spiritual life, from a thirst for new modes of manifesting their religious hopes and aspirations. Woe to that church, which looks round for forms to wake it up to spiritual life. The dying man is not to be revived by a new dress, however graceful. The disease of a languid sect is too deep to be healed by ceremonies. It needs deeper modes of cure. Let it get life, and it will naturally create the emblems or rites which it needs to express and maintain its spiritual force.

The great instrument of influence and dominion in the Catholic Church, is one which we should shudder to borrow, but which may still give important hints as to the means of promoting religion. I refer to Confession. Nothing too bad can be said of this. By laying open the secrets of all hearts to the priests, it akes the priest the master of all. Still, to a good man it gives the power of doing good, a power, which I doubt not, is often conscientiously used. It gives to the religious teacher an access to men's minds and conscience, such as the pulpit does not furnish. Instead of scattering generalities among the crowd, he can administer to each soul the very instruction, warning, encouragement it needs. In Catholic countries there is little preaching, nor is it necessary. The confessional is far more powerful than the pulpit. And what do we learn from this? That Protestants should adopt confession ? No. But the question arises, whether the great principle of confession, that on which its power rests, viz. access to the individual mind, may not be used more than it is by Protestant teachers; whether such access may not be gained by honourable and generous means, and so used as to be guarded against abuse. Preaching is now our chief reliance ; but preaching is an arrow which shoots over many heads, and flies wide of the hearts of more. Its aim is too vague

to do much execution. It is melancholy to think how little clear knowledge on the subject of duty and religion, is communicated by the pulpit, and how often the emotion which it excites, for want of clear views, for want of wisdom, runs into morbidness or excess. No art, no science is taught so vaguely as religion from the pulpit. No book is so read or expounded as the Bible is, that is, in minute fragments, and without those helps of method, by which all other branches are taught. Is not a freer, easier, opener communication with his pupils needed, than the minister does or can hold from the pulpit ? Should not modes of teaching and intercourse be adopted, by which he can administer truth to different minds, according to their various capacities and wants. Must not he rely less on preaching, and more on more familiar communication.

This question becomes of more importance, because it is very plain that preaching is becoming less and less efficacious. Preaching is not now what it was in the first age of Christianity. Then, when there was no printing, comparatively no reading, Christianity could only be spread by the living voice. Hence to preach became synonymous with teaching. It was the great means of access to the multitude. Now the press preaches incomparably more than the pulpit. Through this, all are permitted to preach. Woman, if she may not speak in the church, may speak from the printing room, and her touching expositions of religion, not learned in theological institutions, but in the schools of affection, of sorrow, of experience, of domestic change, sometimes make their way to the heart more surely than the minister's homilies. The result is, that preaching does not hold the place now, which it had in dark and unrefined ages. The minister addresses from his pulpit many as well educated as himself, and almost every parishioner has at home better sermons than he hears in public. The minister, too, bas competitors in the laity, as they are so called, who very wisely refuse to leave to him the monopoly of public speaking, and who are encroaching on his province more and more. In this altered condition of the world, the ministry is to undergo important changes. What they must be, I have not time now to inquire. I will only say, that the vagueness which belongs to so much religious instruction from the pulpit, must give place to a teaching which shall meet more the wants of the individual, and the wants of the present state of society. Great principles must be expounded in accommodation to different ages, capacities, stages of improvement, and an intercourse be established by which all classes may be helped to apply them to their own particular conditions. How shall Christianity be brought to bear on the individual, and on society at the present moment, in its present struggles? This is the great question to be solved, and the reply to it will determine the form which the Christian ministry is to take. I imagine, that in seeking the solution of this problem, it will be discovered, that the ministry must have greater freedom than in past times. It will be discovered, that the individual minister must not be rigidly tied down to certain established modes of operation, that he must not be required to cast his preaching into the old mould, to circumscribe himself to the old topics, to keep in motion a machinery which others

Y

[ocr errors]

have invented, but that he will do most good if left to work according to his own nature, according to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within his own breast. I imagine it will be discovered, that as justice may be administered without a wig, and the executive function without a crown or sceptre, so Christianity may be administered in more natural and less formal ways than have prevailed, and that the minister in growing less technical, will find religion becoming to himself and others, a more living reality. I imagine, that our present religious organizations will silently melt away, and that hierarchies will be found no more necessary for religion than for literature, science, medicine, law, or the elegant and useful arts. But I will check these imaginings. The point from which I started was, that Catholicism might teach us one element of an effectual ministry, that the Protestant teacher needs and should seek access to the individual mind, beyond what he now possesses ; and the point at which I stop is, that this access is to be so sought and so used, as not to infringe religious liberty, the rights of private judgment, the free action of the individual mind. Nothing but this liberty can secure it from the terrible abuse to which it has been exposed in the Catholic Church.

In the free remarks, which I have now made on certain denomina. tions of Christians, I have been influenced by no unkindness or disrespect towards the individuals who compose them. In all sects I recognise joyfully true disciples of the common Master. Catholicism boasts of some of the best and greatest names in history, so does Episcopacy, so Presbyterianism, &c.

I exclude none.

I know that Christianity is mighty enough to accomplish its end in all. I cannot however speak of religious any more than of political parties, without betraying the little respect I have for them as parties. There is no portion of human history more humbling than that of sects. When I meditate on the grand moral, spiritual purpose of Christianity, in which all its glory consists ; when I consider how plainly Christianity attaches importance to nothing but to the moral excellence, the disinterested, divine virtue, which was embodied in the teaching and life of its founder ; and when from this position I look down on the sects which have figured, and now figure in the church ; when I see them making such a stir about matters generally so unessential; when I see them seizing on a disputed and disputable doctrine, making it a watch-word, a test of God's favour, a bond of communion, a ground of self-complacency, a badge of peculiar holiness, a warrant for condemning its rejectors, however imbued with the spirit of Christ; when I see them overlooking the weightier matters of the law, and laying infinite stress here on a bishop and prayer-book, there on the quantity of water applied in baptism, and there on some dark solution of an incomprehensible article of faith ; when I see the mock dignity of their exclusive claims to truth, to churchship, to the promises of God's word; when I hear the mimic thunderbolts of denunciation and excommunication, which they delight to hurl; when I consider how their deep theology, in proportion as it is examined, evaporates into words, how many opposite and extravagant notions are covered by the same broad shield of mystery and tradition, and how commonly the persuasion of infallibility

is proportioned to the absurdity of the creed; when I consider these things, and other matters of like import, I am lost in amazement at the amount of arrogant folly, of self-complacent intolerance, of almost incredible blindness to the end and essence of Christianity, which the history of sects reveals. I have indeed profound respect for individuals in all communions of Christians. But on sects, and on the spirit of sects, I must be allowed to look with grief, shame, pity, I had almost said, contempt. In passing these censures, I claim no superiority. I am sure there are thousands of all sects, who think and feel as I do in this particular, and who, far from claiming superior intelligence, are distinguished by following out the plain dictates, the natural impulses, and spontaneous judgments of conscience and common sense.

Is is time for me to finish this letter, which indeed bas grown under my hands beyond all reasonable bounds. But I must add a line or two in reply to your invitation to visit you. You say, that Kentucky will not exclude me for my opinions on slavery. I rejoice to hear it, not for my own sake, but for the sake of the country. I rejoice in a tolerant spirit, wherever manifested. What you say accords with what I have heard, of the frank, liberal character of Kentucky. All our accounts of the West make me desire to visit it. I desire to see nature under new aspects; but still more to see a new form of society. I hear of the defects of the West ; but I learn that a man there feels himself to be a man, that he has a self-respect which is not always to be found in older communities, that he speaks his mind freely, that he acts more from generous impulses, and less from selfish calculations. These are good tidings. I rejoice that the intercourse between the East and West is increasing. Both will profit. The West may learn from us the love of order, the arts which adorn and cheer life, the institutions of education and religion, which lie at the foundation of our greatness, and may give us in return the energies and virtues which belong to and distinguish a fresher state of society. Such exchanges I regard as the most precious fruits of the Union, worth more than exchanges of products of industry, and they will do more to bind us together as one people.

You press me to come and preach in your part of the country. I should do it cheerfully if I could. It would rejoice me to bear a testimony, however feeble, to great truths in your new settlements. I confess, however, that I fear, that my education would unfit me for great usefulness among you. I fear that the habits, rules, and criticisms under which I have grown up, and almost grown old, have not left me the freedom and courage which are needed in the style of address best suited to the western people. I have fought against these chains. I have laboured to be a free man, but in the state of the ministry and of society here, freedom is a hard acquisition. I hope the rising generation will gain it more easily and abundantly than their fathers.

I have only to add, my young brother, my best wishes for your usefulness. I do not ask for you enjoyment. I ask for you some. thing better and greater, something which includes it, even a spirit to live and die for a cause, which is dearer than your own enjoyment.

« AnteriorContinuar »