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And what this worthy old lady says to herself, in her quiet, simple, amiable way, is what we are all of us constrained to express, nearly every day that passes, as we look at the pictures of ourselves and our creed which the anti-Catholic world is perpetually thrusting into our hands. The world will insist
upon it that it knows us and our religion better than we do ourselves. Though we never happen to hear them, we are taught all sorts of abominations. Our houses are infested with Jesuitical spies, though nobody finds them out except our Protestant protectors. When we intend to adore God above all things, somehow or other, by a kind of spiritual legerdemain, we are twisted into worshippers of wooden images. Whatever we are, whatever we do, whatever we wish, whatever we are taught, whatever we feel,--it is quite certain that we ourselves are altogether in the dark about it; and the only people who can enlighten us are the devotees of Luther, Cranmer, Henry VIII., and Queen Elizabeth.
The range of subjects in which we are supposed to be thus ignorant is about as extensive as the whole field of Catholic doctrine and practice. On some points, undoubtedly, it is condescendingly admitted that we stand less in need of illumination than in others; but on the whole, it may be safely said that there is not one detail of dogma, morals, or custom, in which most Protestants do not conceive that they understand Catholicism better than Catholics understand it themselves.
We are not now about to detail all the metaphysical phenomena of a state of mind so singular as this, or to show how it is that so remarkable a delusion should have got possession of innumerable understandings otherwise sufficiently candid and rational. Nor do we propose to indicate the exact character of the various perversions of Catholic doctrine and morals which the world is contented to accept as undoubted truth. We confine ourselves to one of the causes which thus warp the Protestant intellect, and one of the instances in which it rests satisfied with convictions as wide as possible from the real facts of the case. The popular notion of " Popish priestcraft," and the popular reasoning by which this notion is set up, will serve as an illustration at once of the enlightenment, the reasonableness, and the consistency of that congeries of opinions which goes by the generic name of Protestantism.
As to conveying to the uninitiated Catholic reader any complete conception of the popular notion of a “ Popish priest,” we utterly despair of doing it. It is so foreign to every thing that good and religious Catholics ever knew by their own experience, that it would be difficult to persuade them that any reasonable adult Englishman or Englishwoman, of average
faculties and decent education, could ever accept so strange a picture as a portrait of the real, living, actual priesthood. Perhaps the prevailing idea of a “priest" may be most briefly described as that of a compound of the conspirator, the conjuror, and the fanatic. How such a composition is produced on English soil, and from families of every rank,-noble, gentle, commercial, and plebeian,—the world vouchsafes not to tell us. It looks upon a “priest” as a mysterious and inexplicable fact,-a“ thing” which somehow exists, with a certain nature of its own, like an apple, an egg, or a lion; and it no more considers itself bound to explain how it is that humanity is capable of acquiring this priest-nature, than to say why an apple is not an egg, and an egg is not a lion. By what process
little round-faced boy, very fond of his mother and sisters, and thinking only of sugar-plums and bread-and-butter, is finally manipulated into a beetle-browed, black-coated, skulking “ Popish priest,” our philosophic friends do not trouble themselves to inquire. There he stands, at any rate, a “priest;. with his heart's blood chilled, his affections (such as they are) centered only on the advancement of his “order," i, e. his brother clergy; regarding a layman much as a shearer does a sheep, namely a thing to be shut up in a pen, kept in order by dogs, and carefully clipped of its wool. His studies lie in whimsical rubrics, ridiculous ceremonies, and abstruse casuistry, designed to confound right and wrong, and make himself, as a priest, the sole ruler of the lay conscience. When he sees Protestants, he only wishes he could have them in his own power, and make them acquainted with the faggot and stake. If his eye glances on a Bible, he is ready almost to stamp with rage and shake with agitation; and when he gets into the confessional, and has his miserable devotees kneeling at his feet, then imagination fails to realise the nature of his iniquitousness, and Exeter Hall turns hastily to the Apocalypse, and rejoices to believe that some day the cup of the abominations of the scarlet lady will be full to overflowing.
Of course, it is not every Protestant who is gobemouche enough to accept all this rubbish about the Catholic priesthood; but we really believe that there are very few indeed who are not more or less infected with these anile terrors and preposterous theorisings. Every body believes that “priestcraft” is a standing and universally spread failing (to call it by the mildest word) among the Catholic clergy, as a body. They are convinced that a priest is more or less a spiritual despot, who is personally absolute ruler among his flock; and that the whole clerical community are banded together to keep things quiet and comfortable, to throw dust into lay eyes, and to hide from
the light of day certain things which nobody but themselves, (always, of course, excepting their Protestant censors)-ever heard of. They divide the entire Catholic body into two sections, having interests adverse to and irreconcilable with each other—the lay section and the clerical section. And they suppose that the latter assume a right to dictate to the former, to silence their doubts, to decree what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false, by a sort of official claim to infallibility. The opinion of a layman they consider to be ipso facto extinguished by that of a priest; not because the latter may be better informed, not because he is a competent theologian, not because he is licensed by his proper Bishop to preach the Word of God,--but by the possession of some secret information as to the principles, the history, or the tactics of the Catholic Church, not accessible to the general body of the faithful. And as they conceive that this clerical assumption is unwarrantable and unchristian, they further hold that it is only supported by some sort of combination of the clergy against the laity; and that the former are perpetually engaged in planning or carrying out schemes for the maintenance of their official superiority, and for preventing the latter from asserting those rights which they know to be really their due. This supposition, we repeat, may take different shapes, and be more or less consciously maintained by different Protestants; but we are confident that
them do not suppose that the interests of the Catholic clergy and laity are necessarily antagonistic to one another, and that duplicity on the part of the clergy is one chief means by which the laity are kept in the wished-for subordination.
The rational answer to these accusations is simply this,-that if the laity are enslaved, either in thought or action, to' the clergy, it is the most extraordinary slavery that ever was heard of; for the laity themselves have not yet found it out. If they are in a bondage, it looks and feels so astonishingly like freedom, that none but hunters after mares'-nests could ever detect the difference. No doubt there are certain points in which a layman is in the position of an inferior, a disciple, or a subject; but it is equally true that in return he exacts certain services from the clergy with an almost merciless rigour, which makes the notion of servitude on his part, and of craft on the part of the priesthood, the merest absurdity. The fact is, that every one, priest as well as layman, bishop as well as priest, owes an entire and unreserved obedience to the Church; and no man has the right to force his personal opinion upon any one, or to require any course of action as obligatory, except so far as it is distinctly enjoined by the Church herself.
Of course the various offices and ranks of the various members of the one Church are extremely different, and place individuals in different relative situations. There are the rulers and the ruled, the teachers and the taught, the channels of grace, and the receivers of grace; but notwithstanding all these differences, there is one grand similarity among all. The ruler is the administrator of laws which control himself as firmly as his subjects. The teacher declares the Word of God, not as he interprets it for himself, but as the Church puts it into his
. mouth. The priest who gives absolution to his penitents has to go himself, not as a priest, nor yet as a layman, but as a sinner, and ask the absolution which he gives to others. The Pope himself receives absolution for his sins, in precisely the same way, and on precisely the same terms, as the humblest Irish peasant or English mechanic. · If, in conversation or writing, the opinion of an ecclesiastic on points of morals or discipline is usually deferred to, this is because, as a rule, a priest is better informed on such subjects than a layman. But he is so by his studies and training; and not by his having access to some mysterious arcana, hidden from profane eyes, or by his possessing a personal gift of infallibility denied to the unprivileged understanding of the laity.
Undoubtedly in practice there will be found instances in which an ecclesiastic may be betrayed into an exaggeration of the rights of his position or order. Who denies this? who claims immaculate perfection for the Catholic clergy? They themselves never pretend to it. Of course there are dictatorial people every where, and timid people, and people afraid of being reasoned with, and annoyed at having what they say called in question; and there are people who snub the poor, and think more of the rights of a superior than of his duties. Such people, we say, are every where; and if such people become ecclesiastics, of course they carry their infirmities into the priesthood, and only overcome them as they advance in the spiritual life. But to pretend that such exaggerations of superior claims are more common among the Catholic clergy than elsewhere, is directly in the face of all facts. Nay, we have little scruple in saying that, take them as a body, they are free from these faults to a degree that is quite remarkable, and which can scarcely be understood by those who are not themselves Catholics. And still further, there are individuals: to be found among them, and that very frequently, and in every country and ecclesiastical rank, whose modesty, gentleness, and horror of self-assertion and tyrannical dogmatism are such as it would be hopeless to look for any where outside the Catholic Church. All this we assert in the most distinct and positive manner, declaring that where cases are to be found of an opposite character, they are only exceptions to a general rule, and so comparatively rare, that it would be absurd to take them as proofs of the general relations between the clergy and the laity.
In forming their opinions of Catholics, Protestants confound the administration of the Sacraments, and the enforcement of Catholic discipline, with an exaction of submission in matters of opinion and of conduct in which the Church herself leaves things open to the individual judgment. They themselves have no discipline, no complete body of consistent doctrine accessible and comprehensible to all. Their only discipline consists in the clauses of a few. Acts of Parliament, the decisions of a few lawyers, or the customs of a few dissenting sects. Their body of doctrine is neither more nor less than every man's private opinion. , Only a very small minority among them believe in the sacerdotal character of the Chris, tian ministry. And hence it follows that they totally misinterpret the nature of the position held by the priesthood among Catholics. In their system there is no recognised, no possible place for such a thing as a priest; and accordingly they can see in a Catholic priest neither more nor less than a usurper, and consequently a tyrant. The Catholic feeling of the penitent in the confessional towards the confessor is one which it never enters their heads to conceive. They never dream that we habitually regard him as a father, and that the notion that the confessional is a sort of magician's chamber, where the impostor plays most powerfully on the imaginations and fears of his dupes, is the phantom of a morbid brain. They know nothing of our feelings by their own experience. Only conceive going to confession to Dr. Philpotts, Dr. Blomfield, or Dr. Samuel Wilberforce! Or even to a worthier, though not a wiser man, the present Archbishop of Canterbury! Fancy the whole round of Anglican clergy, rural and oppidan, High Church, Low Church, Broad Church, and no Church,-just think, with all their worth and respectability, of the exquisite absurdity of kneeling down and confessing one's most secret sins to them, and receiving absolution at their hands! The most solemn of countenances must relax into a smile at the
The fact is, priestcraft is characteristically not a Catholic, but a Protestant vice. There is very little of it amongst us, and there is a vast amount of it among
those who are so ready to impute it to us alone. If you want to see illustrations of the tyranny of opinion, listen to the preachings and conversations of the loudest declaimers against Popish: priestcraft.