A thing is good in the eyes of its maker if it accomplishes that for which it was made. A watch that does not tell time, a knife that does not cut, and a soul that does not love God are three utterly useless things. And why? Because they are no good for what they were made. The watch exists solely to tell the hour, the blade to cut and the soul to love and serve its Maker. Failing in this, there is no more reason for their being. Their utility ceasing, they themselves cease to exist to a certain extent, for a thing is really no longer what it was, when it fails to execute that for which it came into being.
Charity, in a word, amounts to this, that we love God, but to the extent of not offending Him. Anything that falls short of such affection is something other than charity, no matter how many tags and labels it may wear. If I beheld a brute strike down an aged parent, I would not for a moment think that affection was behind that blow; and I could not conceive how there could be a spark of filial love in that son's heart until he had atoned for his crime. Now love is not one thing when directed towards God, and another where man is concerned.
The great hypocrisy of life consists in this that people make an outward showing of loving God, because they know full well that it is their first duty; yet, for all that, they do not a whit mend their ways, and to sin costs them nothing. They varnish it over with an appearance of honesty and decency, and fair-minded men take them for what they appear to be, and should be, and they pass for such. These watches are pretty to look upon, beautiful, magnificent, but they are stopped, the interior is out of order, the main-spring is broken, the hands that run across the face lie. These blades are bright and handsome, but they are dull, blunt, full of nicks, good enough for coarse and vulgar work, but useless for the fine, delicate work for which they were made.
The master mechanic and artist of our souls who wants trustworthy timepieces and keen blades, will not be deceived by these gaudy trinkets, and will reject them. Others may esteem you for this or that quality, admire this or that qualification you possess, be taken with their superficial gloss and accidental usefulness. The quality required by Him who made you is that your soul be filled with charity, and proven by absence of sin.
CHAPTER XXVIII. LOVE OF NEIGHBOR.
THE precept, written in our hearts, as well as in the law, to love God, commands us, at the same time, to love the neighbor. When you go to confession, you are told to be sorry for your sins and to make a firm purpose of amendment. These appear to be two different injunctions; yet in fact and reality, they are one and the same thing, for it is impossible to abhor and detest sin, having at the same moment the intention of committing it. One therefore includes the other; one is not sincere and true without the other; therefore one cannot be without the other. So it is with love of God and of the neighbor; these two parts of one precept are coupled together because they complete each other, and they amount practically to the same thing.
The neighbor we are to love is not alone those for whom we naturally have affection, such as parents, friends, benefactors, etc., whom it is easy to love. But our neighbor is all mankind, those far and those near, those who have blessed us and those who have wronged us, the enemy as well as the friend; all who have within them, as we have, the image and likeness of God. No human being can we put outside the pale of neighborly love.
As for the love we bear others, it is of course one in substance, but it may be different in degree and various in quality. It may be more or less tender, intense, emphatic. Some we love more, others, less; yet for all that, we love them. It is impossible for us to have towards any other being the same feelings we entertain for a parent. The love a good Christian bears towards a stranger is not the love he bears towards a good friend. The love therefore that charity demands admits a variety of shades without losing its character of love.
When it comes to loving certain ones of our neighbors, the idea is not of the most welcome. What! Must I love, really love, that low rascal, that cantankerous fellow, that repugnant, repulsive being? Or this other who has wronged me so maliciously? Or that proud, overbearing creature who looks down on me and despises me?
We have said that love has its degrees, its ebb and flow tide, and still remains love. The low water mark is this: that we refuse not to pray for such neighbors, that we speak not ill of them, that we refuse not to salute them, or to do them a good turn, or to return a favor. A breach in one of these common civilities, due to every man from his fellow-man, may constitute a degree of hatred directly opposed to the charity strictly required of us.
It is not however necessary to go on doing these things all during life and at all moments of life. These duties are exterior, and are required as often as a contrary bearing would betoken a lack of charity in the heart. Just as we are not called upon to embrace and hug an uninviting person as a neighbor, neither are we obliged to continue our civilities when we find that they are offensive and calculated to cause trouble. But naturally there must be charity in the heart.
We should not confound uncharity with a sort of natural repugnance and antipathy, instinctive to some natures, betraying a weakness of character, if you will, but hardly what one could call a clearly defined fault. There are people who can forgive more easily than forget and who succeed only after a long while in overcoming strong feelings. In consequence of this state of mind, and in order to maintain peace and concord, they prefer the absence to the presence of the objects of their antipathy. Of course, to nourish this feeling is sinful to a degree; but while striving against it, to remove prudently all occasions of opening afresh the wound, if we act honestly, this does not seem to have any uncharitable malice.
Now all this is not charity unless the idea of God enter therein. There is no charity outside the idea of God. Philanthropy, humanity is one thing, charity is another. The one is sentiment, the other is love—two very different things. The one supposes natural motives, the other, supernatural. Philanthropy looks at the exterior form and discovers a likeness to self. Charity looks at the soul and therein discovers an image of God, by which we are not only common children of Adam, but also children of God and sharers of a common celestial inheritance. Neither a cup of water nor a fortune given in any other name than that of God is charity.
There are certain positive works of charity, such as almsgiving and brotherly correction, etc., that may be obligatory upon us to a degree of Serious responsibility. We must use prudence and intelligence in discerning these obligations, but once they clearly stand forth they are as binding on us as obligations of justice. We are our brothers' keepers, especially of those whom misfortune oppresses and whose lot is cast under a less lucky star.
CHAPTER XXIX. PRAYER.
NO word so common and familiar among Christians as prayer. Religion itself is nothing more than a vast, mighty, universal, never ceasing prayer. Our churches are monuments of prayer and houses of prayer. Our worship, our devotions, our ceremonies are expressions of prayer. Our sacred music is a prayer. The incense, rising in white clouds before the altar, is symbolical of prayer. And the one accent that is dinned into our ears from altar and pulpit is prayer.
Prayer is the life of the Christian as work is the life of the man; without one and the other we would starve spiritually and physically. If we live well, it is because we pray; if we lead sinful lives, it is because we neglect to pray. Where prayer is, there is virtue; where prayer is unknown, there is sin. The atmosphere of piety, sanctity, and honesty is the atmosphere of prayer.
Strange that the nature and necessity of prayer are so often misunderstood! Yet the definition in our Catechism is clear and precise. There are four kinds of prayer; adoration, thanksgiving, petition for pardon, and for our needs, spiritual and bodily.
One need be neither a Catholic nor a Christian to see how becoming it is in us to offer to God our homage of adoration and thanksgiving; it is necessary only to believe in a God who made us and who is infinitely perfect. Why, the very heathens made gods to adore, and erected temples to thank them, so deep was their sense of the devotion they owed the Deity. They put the early Christians to death because the latter refused to adore their gods. Everywhere you go, under the sun, you will find the creature offering to the Creator a homage of worship.
He, therefore, who makes so little of God as to forget to adore and thank Him becomes inferior to the very pagans who, sunk in the darkness of corruption and superstition as they were, did not, however, forget their first and natural duty to the Maker. Neglect of this obligation in a man betrays an absence, a loss of religious instinct, and an irreligious man is a pure animal, if he is a refined one. His refinement and superiority come from his intelligence, and these qualities, far from attenuating his guilt, only serve to aggravate it.
The brute eats and drinks; when he is full and tired he throws himself down to rest. When refreshed, he gets up, shakes himself and goes off again in quest of food and amusement. In what does a man without prayer differ from such a being?
But prayer, strictly speaking, means a demand, a petition, an asking. We ask for our needs and our principal needs are pardon and succor. This is prayer as it is generally understood. It is necessary to salvation. Without it no man can be saved. Our assurance of heaven should be in exact proportion to our asking. "Ask and you shall receive." Ask nothing, and you obtain nothing; and that which you do not obtain is just what you must have to save your soul.
Here is the explanation of it in a nutshell. The doctrine of the Church is that when God created man, He raised him from a natural to a supernatural state, and assigned to him a supernatural end. Supernatural means what is above the natural, beyond our natural powers of obtaining. Our destiny therefore cannot be fulfilled without the help of a superior power. We are utterly incapable by ourselves of realizing the end to which we are called. The condition absolutely required is the grace of God and through that alone can we expect to come to our appointed end.
Here is a stone. That that stone should have feeling is not natural, but supernatural. God, to give sensation to that stone, must break through the natural order of things, because to feel is beyond the native powers of a stone. It is not natural for an animal to reason, it is impossible. God must work a miracle to make it understand. Well, the stone is just as capable of feeling, and the animal of reasoning, as is man capable of saving his soul by himself.
To persevere in the state of grace and the friendship of God, to recover it when lost by sin, are supernatural works. Only by the grace of God can this be effected. Will God do this without being asked? Say rather will God save us in spite of ourselves, or unknown to ourselves. He who does not ask gives no token of a desire to obtain.
CHAPTER XXX. PETITIONS.
FOR all spiritual needs, therefore, prayer is the one thing necessary. I am in the state of sin. I desire to be forgiven. To obtain pardon is a supernatural act. Alone I can no more do it than fly. I pray then for the grace of a good confession—I prudently think myself in the state of grace. Were I for a moment left to my depraved nature, to the mercy of my passions, I should fall into the lowest depths of iniquity. The holiest, saintliest of men are just as capable of the greatest abominations as the blackest sinner that ever lived. If he does not fall, and the other does, it is because he prays and the other does not.
Some people have certain spiritual maladies, that become second nature to them, called dominant passions. For one, it is cursing and swearing; for another vanity and conceit. One is afflicted with sloth, another with uncleanness of one kind or another. To discover the failing is the first duty, to pray against it is the next. You attack it with prayer as you attack a disease with remedies. And if we only used prayer with half the care, perseverance and confidence that we use medicines, our spiritual distemper would be short-lived.
A person who passes a considerable time without prayer is usually in a bad state of soul. There is probably no one, who, upon reflection, will fail to discover that his best days were those which his prayers sanctified, and his worst, those which had to get along without any. And when a man starts out badly, the first thing he takes care to do is to neglect his prayers. For praying is an antidote and a reminder; it makes him feel uneasy while in sin, and would make him break with his evil ways if he continued to pray. And since he does not wish to stop, he takes no chances, and gives up his prayers. When he wants to stop, he falls back on his prayers.
This brings us to the bodily favors we should ask for. You are sick. You desire to get well, but you do not see the sense of praying for it; for you say, "Either I shall get well or I shall not." For an ordinary statement that is as plain and convincing as one has a right to expect; it will stand against all argument. But the conclusion is not of a piece with the premises. In that case why do you call in the physician, why do you take nasty pills and swallow whole quarts of vile concoctions that have the double merit of bringing distress to your palate and your purse? You take these precautions because your most elementary common sense tells you that such precautions as medicaments, etc., enter for something of a condition in the decree of God which reads that you shall die or not die. Your return to health or your shuffling off of the mortal coil is subject to conditions of prudence, and according as they are fulfiled or not fulfiled the decree of God will go into effect one way or the other.
And why does not your sane common sense suggest to you that prayer enters as just such a condition in the decrees of God, that your recovery is just as conditional on the using of prayer as to the taking of pills?
There are people who have no faith in drugs, either because they have never used any or because having once used them, failed to get immediate relief. Appreciation of the efficacy of prayer is frequently based on similar experience.
To enumerate all the cures effected by prayer would be as bootless as to rehearse all the miracles of therapeutics and surgery. The doctor says: "Here, take this, it will do you good. I know its virtue." The Church says likewise: "Try prayer, I know its virtue." Your faith in it has all to do with its successful working.
As in bodily sickness, so it is in all the other afflictions that flesh is heir to. Prayer is a panacea; it cures all ills. But it should be taken with two tonics, as it were, before and after. Before: faith and confidence in the power of God to cure us through prayer. After: resignation to the will of God, by which we accept what it may please Him to do in our case; for health is not the greatest boon of life, nor are sickness and death the greatest evils. Sin alone is bad; the grace of God alone is good. All other things God uses as means in view of this supreme good and against this supreme evil. Faith prepares the system and puts it in order for the reception of the remedy. Resignation helps it work out its good effects, and brings out all its virtue.
Thus prayer is necessary to us all, whether we be Christians or pagans, whether just or sinners, whether sick or well. It brings us near to God, and God near to us, and thus is a foretaste and an image of our union with Him hereafter.
CHAPTER XXXI. RELIGION.
AS far back as the light of history extends, it shows man, of every race and of every clime, occupied in giving expression, in one way or another, to his religious impressions, sentiments, and convictions. He knew God; he was influenced by this knowledge unto devotion; and sought to exteriorize this devotion for the double purpose of proving its truth and sincerity, and of still further nourishing, strengthening, safeguarding it by means of an external worship and sensible things. Accordingly, he built temples, erected altars, offered sacrifices, burnt incense; he sang and wept, feasted and fasted; he knelt, stood and prostrated himself—all things in harmony with his hopes and fears. This is worship or cult. We call it religion, distinct from interior worship or devotion, but supposing the latter essentially. It is commanded by the first precept of God.
He who contents himself with a simple acknowledgment of the Divinity in the heart, and confines his piety to the realm of the soul, does not fulfil the first commandment. The obligation to worship God was imposed, not upon angels—pure spirits, but upon men—creatures composed of a body as well as a soul. The homage that He had a right to expect was therefore not a purely spiritual one, but one in which the body had a part as well as the soul. A man is not a man without a body. Neither can God be satisfied with man's homage unless his physical being cooperate with his spiritual, unless his piety be translated into acts and become religion, in the sense in which we use the word.
There is no limit to the different forms religion may take on as manifestations of intense fervor and strong belief. Sounds, attitudes, practices, etc., are so many vehicles of expression, and may be multiplied indefinitely. They become letters and words and figures of a language which, while being conventional in a way, is also natural and imitative, and speaks more clearly and eloquently and poetically than any other human language. This is what makes the Catholic religion so beautiful as to compel the admiration of believers and unbelievers alike.
Of course, there is nothing to prevent an individual from making religion a mask of hypocrisy. If in using these practices, he does not mean what they imply, he lies as plainly as if he used words without regard for their signification. These practices, too, may become absurd, ridiculous and even abominable. When this occurs, it is easily explained by the fact that the mind and heart of man are never proof against imbecility and depravity. There are as many fools and cranks in the world as there are villains and degenerates.
The Church of God regulates divine worship for us with the wisdom and experience of centuries. Her sacrifice is the first great act of worship. Then there are her ceremonies, rites, and observances; the use of holy water, blessed candles, ashes, incense, vestments; her chants, and fasts and feasts, the symbolism of her sacraments. This is the language in which, as a Church, and in union with her children, she speaks to God her adoration, praise and thanksgiving. This is her religion, and we practice it by availing ourselves of these things and by respecting them as pertaining to God.
We are sometimes branded as idolaters, that is, as people who adore another or others than God. We offer our homage of adoration to God who is in heaven, and to that same God whom we believe to be on our altars. Looking through Protestant spectacles, we certainly are idolaters, for we adore what they consider as simple bread. In this light we plead guilty; but is it simple bread? That is the question. The homage we offer to everything and everybody else is relative, that is, it refers to God, and therefore is not idolatry.
As to whether or not we are superstitious in our practices, that depends on what is the proper homage to offer God and in what does excess consist. It is not a little astonishing to see the no-creed, dogma-hating, private-judgment sycophants sitting in judgment against us and telling us what is and what is not correct in our religious practices. We thought that sort of a thing—dogmatism—was excluded from Protestant ethics; that every one should be allowed to choose his own mode of worship, that the right and proper way is the way one thinks right and proper. If the private-interpreter claims this freedom for himself, why not allow it to us! We thought they objected to this kind of interference in us some few hundred years ago; is it too much if we object most strenuously to it in them in these days! It is strange how easily some people forget first principles, and what a rare article on the market is consistency.
The persons, places and things that pertain to the exterior worship of God we are bound to respect, not for themselves, but by reason of the usage for which they are chosen and set aside, thereby becoming consecrated, religious. We should respect them in a spiritual way as we respect in a human way all that belongs to those whom we hold dear. Irreverence or disrespect is a profanation, a sacrilege.
CHAPTER XXXII. DEVOTIONS.
THERE is in the Church an abundance and a rich variety of what we call devotions—practices that express our respect, affection and veneration for the chosen friends of God. These devotions we should be careful not to confound with a thing very differently known as devotion—to God Himself. This latter is the soul, the very essence of religion; the former are sometimes irreverently spoken of as "frills."
Objectively speaking, these devotions find their justification in the dogma of the Communion of Saints, according to which we believe that the blessed in heaven are able and disposed to help the unfortunate here below. Subjectively they are based on human nature itself. In our self-conscious weakness and unworthiness, we choose instinctively to approach the throne of God through His tried and faithful friends rather than to hazard ourselves alone and helpless in His presence.
Devotion, as all know, is only another name for charity towards God, piety, holiness, that is, a condition of soul resulting from, and at the same time, conducive to, fidelity to God's law and the dictates of one's conscience. It consists in a proper understanding of our relations to God—creatures of the Creator, paupers, sinners and children in the presence of a Benefactor, Judge and Father; and in sympathies and sentiments aroused in us by, and corresponding with, these convictions. In other words, one is devoted to a friend when one knows him well, is true as steel to him, and basks in the sunshine of a love that requites that fidelity. Towards God, this is devotion.
Devotions differ in pertaining, not directly, but indirectly through the creature to God. No one but sees at once that devotion, in a certain degree is binding upon all men; a positive want of it is nothing short of impiety. But devotions have not the dignity of entering into the essence of God-worship. They are not constituent parts of that flower that grows in God's garden of the soul—charity; they are rather the scent and fragrance that linger around its petals and betoken its genuine quality. They are of counsel, so to speak, as opposed to the precept of charity and devotion. They are outside all commandment, and are taken up with a view of doing something more than escaping perdition "quasi per ignem."
For human nature is rarely satisfied with what is rigorously sufficient. It does not relish living perpetually on the ragged edge of a scant, uncertain meagerness. People want enough and plenty, abundance and variety. If there are many avenues that lead to God's throne, they want to use them. If there are many outlets for their intense fervor and abundant generosity, they will have them. Devotions answer these purposes.
Impossible to enumerate all the different practices that are in vogue in the Church and go under the name of devotions. Legion is the number of saints that have their following of devotees. Some are universal, are praised and invoked the world over; others have a local niche and are all unknown beyond the confines of a province or nation. Some are invoked in all needs and distresses; St. Blase, on the other hand is credited with a special power for curing throats, St. Anthony, for finding lost things, etc. Honor is paid them on account of their proximity to God. To invoke them is as much an honor to them as an advantage to us.
If certain individuals do not like this kind of a thing, they are under no sort of an obligation to practise it. If they can get to heaven without the assistance of the saints, then let them do so, by all means; only let them be sure to get there. No one finds devotions repugnant but those who are ignorant of their real character and meaning. If they are fortunate enough to make this discovery, they then, like nearly all converts, become enthusiastic devotees, finding in their devotions new beauties, and new advantages every day.
And it is a poor Catholic that leaves devotions entirely alone, and a rare one. He may not feel inclined to enlist the favor of this or that particular saint, but he usually has a rosary hidden away somewhere in his vest pocket and a scapular around his neck, or in his pocket, as a last extreme. If he scorns even this, then the chances are that he is Catholic only in name, for the tree of faith is such a fertile one that it rarely fails to yield fruit and flowers of exquisite fragrance.
Oh! of course the lives of all the saints are not history in the strictest sense of the word. But what has that to do with the Communion of Saints? If simplicity and naivete have woven around some names an unlikely tale, a fable or a myth, it requires some effort to see how that could affect their standing with God, or their disposition to help us in our needs.
Devotions are not based on historical facts, although in certain facts, events or happenings, real or alleged, they may have been furnished with occasions for coming into existence. The authenticity of these facts is not guaranteed by the doctrinal authority of the Church, but she may, and does, approve the devotions that spring therefrom. Independently of the truth of private and individual revelations, visions and miracles, which she investigates as to their probability, she makes sure that there is nothing contrary to the deposit of faith and to morals, and then she gives these devotions the stamp of her approval as a security to the faithful who wish to practise them. A Catholic or non-Catholic may think what he likes concerning the apparitions of the Virgin at Lourdes; if he is dense enough, he may refuse to believe that miracles have been performed there. But he cannot deny that the homage offered to Our Lady at Lourdes, and known as devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes, is in keeping with religious worship as practised by the Church and in consonance with reason enlightened by faith, and so with all other devotions.
A vase of flowers, a lamp, a. burning candle before the statue of a saint is a prayer whose silence is more eloquent than all the sounds that ever came from the lips of man. It is love that puts it there, love that tells it to dispense its sweet perfume or shed its mellow rays, and love that speaks by this touching symbolism to God through a favorite saint.
CHAPTER XXXIII. IDOLATRY AND SUPERSTITION.
THE first and greatest sinner against religion is the idolater, who offers God-worship to others than God. There are certain attributes that belong to God alone, certain titles that He alone has a right to bear, certain marks of veneration that are due to Him alone. To ascribe these to any being under God is an abomination, and is called idolatry.
The idols of paganism have long since been thrown, their temples destroyed; the folly itself has fallen into disuse, and its extravagances serve only in history "to point a moral or adorn a tale." Yet, in truth, idolatry is not so dead as all that, if one would take the pains to peruse a few pages of the current erotic literature wherein people see heaven in a pair of blue eyes, catch inspired words from ruby lips and adore a well trimmed chin-whisker. I would sooner, with the old-time Egyptians, adore a well-behaved cat or a toothsome cucumber than with certain modern feather-heads and gum-drop hearts, sing hymns to a shapely foot or dimpled cheek and offer incense to "divinities," godlike forms, etc. The way hearts and souls are thrown around from one to another is suggestive of the national game; while the love they bear one another is always infinite, supreme, without parallel on earth or in heaven.
No, perhaps they do not mean what they say; but that helps matters very little, for the fault lies precisely in saying what they do say; the language used is idolatrous. And a queer thing about it is that they do mean more than half of what they say. When degenerate love runs riot, it dethrones the Almighty, makes gods of clay and besots itself before them.
What is superstition and what is a superstitious practice? It is something against the virtue of religion; it sins, not by default as unbelief, but by excess. Now, to be able to say what is excessive, one must know what is right and just, one must have a measure. To attempt to qualify anything as excessive without the aid of a rule or measure is simply guesswork.
The Yankee passes for a mighty clever guesser, outpointing with ease his transatlantic cousin. Over there the sovereign guesses officially that devotion to the Mother of God is a superstitious practice. This reminds one of the overgrown farmer boy, who, when invited by his teacher to locate the center of a circle drawn on the blackboard, stood off and eyed the figure critically for a moment with a wise squint; and then said, pointing his finger to the middle or thereabouts: "I should jedge it to be about thar'." He was candid enough to offer only an opinion. But how the royal guesser could be sure enough to swear it, and that officially, is what staggers plain people.
Now right reason is a rule by which to judge what is and what is not superstitious. But individual reason or private judgment and right reason are not synonyms in the English or in any other language that is human. When reasoning men disagree, right reason, as far as the debated question is concerned, is properly said to be off on a vacation, a thing uncommonly frequent in human affairs. In order, therefore that men should not be perpetually at war concerning matters that pertain to men's salvation, God established a competent authority which even simple folks with humble minds and pure hearts can find. In default of any adverse claimant the Catholic Church must be adjudged that authority. The worship, therefore, that the Church approves as worthy of God is not, cannot be, superstition. And what is patently against reason, or, in case of doubt, what she reproves and condemns in religion is superstitious.
Leaving out of the question for the moment those species of superstition that rise to the dignity of science, to the accidental fame and wealth of humbugs and frauds, the evil embraces a host of practices that are usually the result of a too prevalent psychological malady known as softening of the brain. These poor unfortunates imagine that the Almighty who holds the universe in the hollow of His hand, deals with His creatures in a manner that would make a full-grown man pass as a fool if he did the same. Dreams, luck-pieces, certain combinations of numbers or figures, ordinary or extraordinary events and happenings—these are the means whereby God is made to reveal to men secrets and mysteries as absurd as the means, themselves. Surely God must have descended from His throne of wisdom.
Strange though it appear, too little religion—and not too much—leads to these unholy follies. There is a religious instinct in man. True religion satisfies it fully. Quack religion, pious tomfoolery, and doctrinal ineptitude foisted upon a God-hungry people end by driving some from one folly to another in a pitiful attempt to get away from the deceptions of man and near to God. Others are led on by a sinful curiosity that outweighs their common-sense as well as their respect for God. These are the guilty ones.
It has been said that there is more superstition—that is belief and dabbling in these inane practices—to-day in one of our large cities than the Dark Ages ever was afflicted with. If true, it is one sign of the world's spiritual unrest, the decay of unbelief; and irreligion thus assists at its own disintegration. The Church swept the pagan world clean of superstition once; she may soon be called upon to do the work over again.
CHAPTER XXXIV. OCCULTISM.
SPIRITISM as a theory, a science, a practice, a religion, or—I might add—a profitable business venture, is considered an evil thing by the Church, and by her is condemned as superstition, that is, as a false and unworthy homage to God, belittling His majesty and opposed to the Dispensation of Christ, according to which alone God can be worthily honored. This evil has many names; it includes all dabbling in the supernatural against the sanction of Church authority, and runs a whole gamut of "isms" from fake trance-mediums to downright diabolical possession.
The craft found favor with the pagans and flourished many years before the Christian era. Wondrous things were wrought by the so-called pythonic spirit; evidently outside the natural order, still more evidently not by the agency of God, and of a certainty through the secret workings of the "Old Boy" himself. It was called Necromancy, or the Black Art. It had attractions for the Jews and they yielded to some extent to the temptation of consulting the Python. For this reason Moses condemned the evil as an abomination. These are his words, taken from Deuteronomy:
"Neither let there be found among you any one that consulteth soothsayers, or observeth dreams and omens; neither let there be any wizard, nor charmer, nor any one that consulteth pythonic spirits or fortune tellers, or that seeketh the truth from the dead. For the Lord abhorreth all these things; and for these abominations He will destroy them."
The Black Art had its votaries during the Middle Ages and kept the Church busy warning the faithful against its dangers and its evils. Even so great a name as that of Albert the Great has been associated with the dark doings of the wizard, because, no doubt, of the marvelous fruits of his genius and deep learning, which the ignorant believed impossible to mere human agency. As witchcraft, it nourished during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The excesses to which it gave rise caused severe laws to be enacted against it and stringent measures were taken to suppress it. Many were put to death, sometimes after the most cruel tortures. As is usually the case, the innocent suffered with the guilty. The history of the early New England settlers makes good reading on the subject.
Some people claim that the spiritism of to-day is only a revival of old-time witchery and necromancy, that it is as prevalent now as it was then, perhaps more prevalent. "Only," as Father Lambert remarks, "the witch of to-day instead of going to the stake as formerly, goes about as Madam So-and-So, and is duly advertised in our enlightened press as the great and renowned seeress or clairvoyant, late from the court of the Akoorid of Swat, more recently from the Sublime Porte, where she was in consultation with the Sultan of Turkey, and more recently still from the principal courts of Europe. As her stay in the city will be brief, those who wish to know the past or future or wish to communicate with deceased friends, are advised to call on her soon. Witchcraft is as prevalent as it ever was, and the witches are as real. They may not have cats on their shoulders or pointed caps, or broomsticks for quick transit, but they differ from the witches of the past only in being liberally paid, instead of liberally punished."
The Church does not deny the possibility of intercourse between the living and the souls of the dead; she goes farther and admits the fact that such intercourse has taken place, pointing, as well she may, to the Scriptures themselves wherein such facts are recorded. The lives of her saints are not without proof that this world may communicate with the unknown. And this belief forms the groundwork, furnishes the basic principles, of Spiritism.
Nevertheless, the Church condemns all attempts at establishing such communication between the living and the dead, or even claiming, though falsely, such intercourse. If this is done in the name of religion, she considers it an insult to God, Who thereby is trifled with and tempted to a miraculous manifestation of Himself outside the ordinary channels of revelation. As an instrument of mere human curiosity, it is criminal, since it seeks to subject Him to the beck and call of a creature. In case such practices succeed, there is the grave danger of being mislead and deceived by the evil spirit, who is often permitted, as the instrument of God, to punish guilty men. When resorted to, as a means of relieving fools of their earnings, it is sacrilegious; and those who support such impious humbugs can be excused from deadly sin only on the grounds of lunacy.
Hypnotism and Mesmerism differ from Spiritism in this, that their disciples account for the phenomena naturally and lay no claim to supernatural intervention. They produce a sleep in the subject, either as they claim, by the emanation of a subtile fluid from the operator's body, or by the influence of his mind over the mind of the subject They are agreed on this point, that natural laws could explain the phenomenon, if these laws were well understood.
With this sort of a thing, as belonging to the domain of science and outside her domain, the Church has nothing whatever to do. This is a theory upon which it behooves men of science to work; they alone are competent in the premises. But without at all encroaching on their domain, the Church claims the right to pronounce upon the morality of such practices and to condemn the evils that flow therefrom. So great are these evils and dangers, when unscrupulous and ignorant persons take to experimenting, that able and reliable physicians and statesmen have advocated the prohibition by law of all such indiscriminate practices. Crimes have been committed on hypnotized persons and crimes have been committed by them. It is a dangerous power exercised by men of evil mind and a sure means to their evil ends. It is likewise detrimental to physical and moral health. Finally, he who subjects himself to such influence commits an immoral act by giving up his will, his free agency, into the hands of another. He does this willingly, for no one can be hypnotized against his will; he does it without reason or just motive. This is an evil, and to it must be added the responsibility of any evil he may be made to commit whilst under this influence. Therefore is the Church wise in condemning the indiscriminate practice of hypnotism or mesmerism; and therefore will her children be wise if they leave it alone. It is not superstition, but it is a sin against man's individual liberty over which he is constituted sole guardian, according to the use and abuse of which he will one day be judged.
CHAPTER XXXV. CHRISTIAN SCIENCE.
A RECENTLY discovered sin against the First Commandment is the worship of Mrs. Eddy, and it is commonly called Christian Science. This sacrilegious humbug was conceived in the brain of an old woman up in New Hampshire and, like the little demon of error that it is, it leaped forth, after a long period of travail, full-fledged and panoplied, and on its lips were these words: "What fools these mortals be!" Dame Eddy gets good returns from the sacrilegio-comic tour of her progeny around the country. Intellectual Boston is at her feet, and Boston pays well for its amusements.
It is remarkable for an utter lack of anything like Christianity or science. It is as Christian as Buddhism and as scientific as the notions of our early forefathers concerning the automobile. It is a parody on both and like the usual run of parodies, it is a success.
The average man should not attempt to delve down into the mysterious depths of mind and matter which form the basis of this system. In the first place, it is an impossible task for an ordinary intelligence; then, again, it were labor lost, for even if one did get down far enough one could get nothing satisfactory out of it. The force of Eddyism lies in its being mysterious, incomprehensible and contradictory. These qualities would kill an ordinary system, but this is no ordinary system. The only way to beat the Christian Scientist is to invite him to focus all the energy of his mind on a vulgar lamp-post and engrave thereon the name of the revered Eddy—this to show the power of mind. Then to prove the non-existence of matter, ask him to consent to your endeavoring to make a material impression on his head with an immaterial hammer.
Of course this is not what he meant; but what he did mean will become by no means clearer after the wearisome, interminable lengths to which he will go to elucidate. The fact is that he does not know it himself, and no one can give what he does not possess. True philosophy tells us to define terms and never to employ expressions of more than one meaning without saying in what sense we use them. Contempt of this rule is the salvation of Christian Science, and that is where we lose.
Yet there is something in this fad after all. Total insanity is never met with outside state institutions, and these people are at large. The ravings of a delirious patient are often a monstrous mass of wild absurdities; but, if you question the patient when convalescent, you will sometimes be surprised to find they were all founded on facts which had become exaggerated and distorted. There is no such thing as pure unadulterated error. All of which is meant to convey the idea that at the bottom of all fraud and falsehood there is some truth, and the malice of error is always proportionate with the amount of truth it has perverted.
The first truth that has been exaggerated beyond recognition is this, that a large proportion of human diseases are pure fiction of morbid imaginations, induced by the power of the mind. That such is the case, all medical men admit. Thus, the mind may often be used as a therapeutic agent, and clever physicians never fail to employ this kind of Christian Science. Mrs. Eddy is therefore no more the discoverer of the "malade imaginaire" than Moliere. When you' distort this truth and write books proclaiming the fact that all ills are of this sort, then you have Eddyism up to date. Mrs. Eddy gathers her skirts in her hand and leaps over the abyss between "some ills" and "all ills" with the agility of a gazelle. Yes, the mind has a wonderful power for healing, but it will make just as much impression on a broken leg as on a block of granite. So much for the scientific part of the theory.
The method of healing of Jesus Christ and that of the foundress of Christian Science are not one and the same method, although called by the name of faith they appear at first sight to the unwary to be identical. There is a preliminary act of the intelligence in both; there is the exercise of the will power; and a mention of God in Eddyism makes it look like a divine assistance. To the superficial there is no difference between a miracle performed at Lourdes by God at the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and a "cure" effected by the Widow of New Hampshire hills.
Yet there is a wide difference, as wide as the abyss between error and truth. In faith healing, God interposes and alone does the healing. It is a miracle, a suspension of the ordinary laws of nature. Faith is not a cause, but an essential condition. In Christian Science, it is the mind of the patient or of Mrs. Eddy that does the work. It is God only in the sense that God is one with the patient. Mind is the only thing that exists, and the human mind is one with the Mind which is God. Then again this cure instead of being in opposition to the normal state of things like a miracle, itself establishes a normal state, for disease is abnormal and in contradiction with the natural state of man. Mental healing, according to this system sets the machine going regularly; miracles put it out of order for the moment. Christian Science therefore, repudiates the healing method of Jesus by faith and sets up one of its own, thereby forfeiting all title to be called Christian.
Being, therefore, neither Christian nor scientific, this new cult is nothing but pure nonsense, like all superstitions; the product of a diseased mind swayed by the demon of pride, and should be treated principally as a mental disorder. The chief, and only, merit of the system consists in illustrating the truth, as old as the world, that when men wander from the House where they are fed with a celestial nourishment, they will be glad to eat any food offered them that has a semblance of food, even though it be but husks and refuse. Man is a religious animal; take away the true God, and he will adore anything or everything, even to a cucumber. However limited otherwise, there is no limit to his religious folly.
CHAPTER XXXVI. SWEARING.
"THOU shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God in vain."
A name is a sign, and respect for God Himself, as prescribed by the First Commandment through faith, hope, charity, prayer and religion, naturally implies respect for the name that stands for and signifies God. Your name may, of itself, be nothing more than mere sound; but used in relation to what it represents, it is as sacred, and means as much to you, as your very person, for whatever is addressed to your name, whether of praise or blame, is intended to reach, and does effectively reach, yourself, to your honor or dishonor. You exact therefore of men, as a right, the same respect for your name as for your person; and that is what God does in the Second Commandment.
The name of God represents all that He is. He who profanes that name profanes a sacred thing, and is guilty of what is, in reality, a sacrilege. To use it with respect and piety is an act of religion which honors God. Men use and abuse this holy name, and first of all, by swearing, that is, by taking oaths.
In the early history of mankind, we are told, swearing was unknown. Men were honest, could trust each other and take each other's word. But when duplicity, fraud and deception rose out of the corrupt heart of man, when sincerity disappeared, then confidence disappeared also, no man's word was any longer good. Then it was that, in order to put an end to their differences, they called upon God by name to witness the truth of what they affirmed. They substituted God's unquestioned veracity for their own questioned veracity, and incidentally paid homage to His truth; God went security for man. Necessity therefore made man swear; oaths became a substitute for honesty.
A reverent use of the name of God, for a lawful purpose, cannot be wrong; on the contrary, it is good, being a public recognition of the greatest of God's attributes—truth. But like all good things it is liable to be abused. A too frequent use of the oath will easily lead to irreverence, and thence to perjury. It is against this danger, rather than against the fact itself of swearing, that Christ warns us in a text that seems at first blush to condemn the oath as evil. The common sense of mankind has always given this interpretation to the words of Christ.
An oath, therefore, is a calling upon God to witness the truth of what we say, and it means that we put our veracity on a par with His and make Him shoulder the responsibility of truthfulness.
To take an oath we must swear by God. To swear by all the saints in the calendar would not make an oath. Properly speaking, it is not even sufficient to simply say: "I swear," we must use the name of God. In this matter, we first consider the words. Do they signify a swearing, by God, either in their natural sense or in their general acceptation? Or is there an intention of giving them this signification? In conscience and before God, it is only when there is such an intention that there is a formal oath and one is held to the conditions and responsibilities thereof.
Bear in mind that we are here dealing for the moment solely with lawful swearing. There are such things as imprecation, blasphemy, and general profanity, of which there will be question later, and which have this in common with the oath, that they call on the name of God; the difference is the same that exists between bad and good, right and wrong. These must therefore be clearly distinguished from religious and legal swearing.
There is also a difference between a religious and a legal oath. The religious oath is content with searching the conscience in order to verify the sincerity or insincerity of the swearer. If one really intends to swear by God to a certain statement, and employs certain words to express his intention, he is considered religiously to have taken an oath. If he pronounces a formula that expresses an oath, without the intention of swearing, then he has sworn to nothing. He has certainly committed a sin, but there is no oath. Again, if a man does not believe in God, he cannot swear by Him; and in countries where God is repudiated, all attempts at administering oaths are vain and empty. You cannot call, to attest the truth of your words, a being that does not exist, and for him who does not believe in God, He does not exist.
The purely legal oath considers the fact and supposes the intention. If you swear without deliberation, then, with you lies the burden of proving it; since the law will allow it only on evidence and will hold you bound until such evidence is shown. When a person is engaged in a serious affair, he is charitably supposed to know what he is talking about; if it happens that he does not, then so much the worse for him. In the case of people who protest beforehand that they are infidels or agnostics, or who being sworn on the New Testament, disclaim all belief in Christ, there is nothing to be done, except it be to allow them to attest by the blood of a rooster or by the Great Horn Spoon. Then, whatever way they swear, there is no harm done.
CHAPTER XXXVII. OATHS.
THE first quality of an oath is that it be true. It is evident that every statement we make, whether simple or sworn, must be true. If we affirm what we know to be false we lie, if we swear to what we know to be false, we perjure ourselves. Perjury is a sacrilegious falsehood, and the first sin against the Second Commandment.
If, while firmly believing it to be true, what we swear to happens to be false, we are not guilty of perjury, for the simple reason that our moral certitude places us in good faith, and good faith guarantees us against offending. The truth we proclaim under oath is relative not absolute, subjective rather than objective, that is to say, the statement we make is true as far as we are in a position to know. All this holds good before the bar of conscience, but it may be otherwise in the courts where something more than personal convictions, something more akin to scientific knowledge, is required.
He who swears without sufficient certitude, without a prudent examination of the facts of the question, through ignorance that must be imputed to his guilt, that one takes a rash oath—a sin great or small according to the gravity of the circumstances. It is not infrequently grievous.
Some oaths, instead of being statements, are promises, sworn promises. That of which we call God to witness the truth is not something that is, but something that will be. If one promises under oath, and has no intention of redeeming his pledge; or if he afterwards revokes such an intention without serious reasons, and fails to make good his sworn promise, he sins grievously, for he makes a fool and a liar of Almighty God who acts as sponsor of a false pledge. Concerning temperance pledges, it may here be said that they are simple promises made to God, but not being sworn to, are not oaths in any sense of the word.
Then, again, to be lawful, an oath must be necessary or useful, demanded by the glory of God, our own or our neighbor's good; and it must be possible to fulfil the promise within the given time. Otherwise, we trifle with a sacred thing, we are guilty of taking vain and unnecessary oaths. There can be no doubt but that this is highly offensive to God, who is thus made little of in His holy name.
This is the most frequent offense against the Second Commandment, the sin of profane swearing, the calling upon God to witness the truth of every second word we utter. It betrays in a man a very weak sense of his own honesty when he cannot let his words stand for themselves. It betokens a blasphemous disrespect for God Himself, represented by that name which is made a convenient tool to further every vulgar end. It is therefore criminal and degrading, and the guilt thereby incurred cannot be palliated by the plea of habit. A sin is none the less a sin because it is one of a great many. Vice is criminal. The victim of a vice can be considered less guilty only on condition of seriously combating that vice. Failing in this, he must bear the full burden of his guilt.
Are we bound to keep our oaths? If valid, we certainly are. An oath is valid when the matter thereof is not forbidden or illicit. The matter is illicit when the statement or promise we make is contrary to right. He who binds himself under oath to do evil, not only does not sin in fulfiling his pledge, but would sin if he did redeem it. The sin he thus commits may be mortal or venial according to the gravity of the matter of the oath. He sinned in taking the oath; he sins more grievously in keeping it.
The binding force of an oath is also destroyed by fraud and deception. Fear may have a kindred effect, if it renders one incapable of a human act. Likewise a former oath may annul a subsequent oath under certain conditions.
Again, no man in taking an oath intends to bind himself to anything physically or morally impossible, or forbidden by his superiors; he expects that his promise will be accepted by the other party, that all things will remain unchanged, that the other party will keep faith, and that there will be no grave reason for him to change his mind. In the event of any of these conditions failing of fulfilment his intention is not to be held by his sworn word, and his oath is considered invalidated. He is to be favored in all doubts and is held only to the strict words of his promise.
The least therefore we have to do with oaths, the better. They are things too sacred to trifle with. When necessity demands it, let our swearing honor the Almighty by the respect we show His holy name.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. VOWS.
VOWS are less common than oaths, and this is something to be thankful for, since being even more sacred than oaths, their abuse incidental to frequent usage would be more abominable. The fact that men so far respect the vow as to entirely leave it alone when they feel unequal to the task of keeping it inviolate, is a good sign—creditable to themselves and honorable to God.
People have become accustomed to looking upon vows as the exclusive monopoly of the Catholic Church and her religious men and women. Such things are rarely met with outside monasteries and convents, except in the case of secular priests. 'Tis true, one hears tell occasionally of a stray unfortunate who has broken away from a state voluntarily, deliberately, chosen and entered upon, and who struggles through life with a violated vow saddled upon him. But one does not associate the sacred and heroic character of the vow with such pitiable specimens of moral worth.
The besom of Protestant reform thought to sweep all vows off the face of the earth, as immoral, unlawful, unnatural or, at least, useless things. The first Coryphei broke theirs; and having learned from experience what troublesome things they are, instiled into their followers a salutary distaste for these solemn engagements that one can get along so well without. From disliking them in themselves, they came to dislike them in others, and it has come to this that the Church has been obliged to defend against the change of immorality an institution that alone makes perfection possible. Strange, this! More sad than strange.
First of all, what is a vow? It is a deliberate promise made to God by which we bind ourselves to do something good that is more pleasing to Him than its omission would be. It differs from a promissory oath in this, that an oath makes God a witness of a promise made to a third party, while in a vow there is no third party, the promise being made directly to God. In a violated oath, we break faith with man; in a broken vow, we are faithless to God. The vow is more intimate than the oath, and although sometimes the words are taken one for the other, in meaning they are widely different.
Resolutions or purposes, such as we make in confession never to sin again, or in moments of fervor to perform works of virtue, are not vows. A promise made to the Blessed Virgin or the saints is not a vow; it must be made directly to God Himself.
A promise made to God to avoid mortal sin is not a vow, in the strict sense of the word; or rather such a promise is outside the ordinary province of the vow, which naturally embraces works of supererogation and counsel. It is unnecessary and highly imprudent to make such promises under vow. A promise to commit sin is a blasphemous outrage. If what we promise to do is something indifferent, vain and useless, opposed to evangelical counsels or generally less agreeable to God than the contrary, our promise is null and void as far as the having the character of a vow is concerned.
Of course, in taking a vow we must know what we are doing and be free to act or not to act. If then the object of the vow is matter on which a vow may validly be taken, we are bound in conscience to keep our solemn engagement. What we forbid ourselves to do may be perfectly lawful and innocent, but by that vow we forfeit the right we had to do it, and for us it has become sinful. The peculiar position in which a vow places a man in relation to his fellow-men concerning what is right and wrong, is the characteristic of the vow that makes it the object of much attention. But it requires something lacking in the outfit of an intelligent man to perceive therein anything that savors of the unnatural, the unlawful or the immoral.
Concerning those whom a vow has constituted in a profession, we shall have a word to say later. Right here the folly, to say nothing stronger, of those who contract vows without thinking, must be apparent to all. No one should dare take upon himself or herself such a burden of his or her own initiative. It is an affair that imperiously demands the services of an outside, disinterested, experienced party, whose prudence will well weigh the conditions and the necessity of such a step. Without this, there is no end to the possible misery and dangers the taking of a vow may lead to.
If through an act of unthinking foolishness or rash presumption, you find yourself weighed down with the incubus of a vow not made for your shoulders, the only way out is to make a clean breast of the matter to your confessor, and follow his directions.
CHAPTER XXXIX. THE PROFESSIONAL VOWS.
THE professional vow is a triple one, and embraces the three great evangelical counsels of perfect chastity, poverty and obedience. The cloister is necessary for the observance of such engagements as these, and it were easier for a lily to flourish on the banks of the Dead Sea, or amid the fiery blasts of the Sahara, than for these delicate flowers of spirituality to thrive in the midst of the temptations, seductions and passions of the every day world of this life. Necessity makes a practice of these virtues a profession.
It is good to be chaste, good to be obedient, good to be voluntarily poor. What folly, then, to say that it is unlawful to bind oneself by promises of this kind, since it is lawful to be good—the only thing that is lawful! It is not unlawful, if you will, to possess riches, to enjoy one's independence, to wed; but there is virtue in foregoing these pleasures, and virtue is better than its defect, and it is no more unlawful to do better than to do good.
If it is lawful to contract a solemn engagement with man, why not with God? If it is lawful for a short time, why not for a long time? If it is lawful for two years, why not for ten, and a lifetime! The engagement is no more unlawful itself than that to which we engage ourselves.
The zealous guardians of the rights of man protest that, nevertheless, vows destroy man's liberty, and should therefore be forbidden, and the profession suppressed. It is along this line that the governmental machine is being run in France at present. If the vow destroys liberty, these fanatics are doing what appears dangerously near being the same thing.
There is a decided advantage in being your own slave-master over having another perform that service for you. If I do something which before God and my conscience I have a perfect right to do, if I do it with deliberate choice and affection, it is difficult to see wherein my liberty suffers. Again, if I decide not to marry—a right that every man certainly has—and in this situation engage myself by vow to observe perfect chastity—which I must do to retain the friendship of God—I do not see how I forfeit my liberty by swearing away a right I never had.
In all cases, the more difficult an enterprise a man enters upon and pursues to a final issue, the more fully he exercises his faculty of free will. And since the triple vow supposes nothing short of heroism in those who take it, it follows that they must use the very plenitude of their liberty to make the thing possible.
The "cui bono" is the next formidable opponent the vow has to contend with. What's the good of it? Where is the advantage in leading such an impossible existence when a person can save his soul without it? All are not damned who refuse to take vows. Is it not sufficient to be honest men and women?
That depends upon what you mean by an honest man. A great saint once said that an honest man would certainly not be hanged, but that it was by no means equally certain that he would not be damned. A man may do sundry wicked and crooked things and not forfeit his title to be called honest. The majority of Satan's subjects were probably honest people in their day.
The quality of being an honest man, according to many people, consists in having the privilege of doing a certain amount of wickedness without prejudice to his eternal salvation. The philosophy of this class of people is summed up in these words: "Do little and get much; make a success of life from the standpoint of your own selfishness, and then sneak into heaven almost by stealth and fraud." That is one way of doing business with the Lord. But, there are greater things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.
Human natures differ as much as pebbles on the sea shore. One man's meat has often proven poison to another. In the religion of Jesus Christ there is something more than the Commandments given to Moses. Love of God has degrees of intensity and perfection. Such words as sacrifice, mortification, self-denial have a meaning as they have always had. God gives more to some, less to others; He demands corresponding returns. These are things Horatio ignores. Yet they are real, real as his own empty and conceited wisdom.
CHAPTER XL. THE PROFESSION.
ONE of the advantages of the monastic life, created by vows, is that it is wholly in keeping with human nature such as God created it. Men differ in their spiritual complexion more widely even than they do in mental caliber and physical make-up. All are not fitted by character and general condition for the same 'career; we are "cut out" for our peculiar tasks. It is the calling of one to be a soldier, of another to be a statesman, because each is best fitted by nature for this particular walk of life. The born poet, if set to put together a machine, will, in the majority of cases, make a sorry mess of the job, and a bricklayer will usually prove to be an indifferent story-writer.
So also one is called to be a good Christian, while his brother may be destined for a more perfect life. If there are vocations in the natural life, why should there not be in the supernatural, which is just as truly a life? If variety of aptitudes and likes determine difference of calling, why should this not hold good for the soul as well as for the body and mind? If one should always follow the bent of one's legitimately natural inclinations, no fault can reasonably be found if another hearkens to the voice of his soul's aspirations and elect a career in harmony with his nature.
There are two roads on which all men must travel to their destiny. One is called the way of Precept, the other the way of Counsel. In each the advantages and inconveniences are about equally balanced. The former is wide and level with many joys and pleasures along the way; but there are many pitfalls and stumbling blocks, while on one side is a high, steep precipice over which men fall to their eternal doom. Those destined by Providence to go over this road are spiritually shod for the travel; if they slip and tumble, it is through their own neglect.
Some there are to whom it has been shown by experience—very little sometimes suffices—that they have, for reasons known alone to God, been denied the shoe that does not slip; and that if they do not wish to go over the brink, they must get off the highway and follow a path removed from this danger, a path not less difficult but more secure for them. Their salvation depends on it. This inside path, while it insures safety for these, might lead the others astray. Each in his respective place will be saved; if they exchange places, they are lost.
Then again, if you will look at it from another standpoint, there remains still on earth such a thing as love of God, pure love of God. And this love can be translated into acts and life. Love, as all well know, has its degrees of intensity and perfection. All well-born children love their parents, but they do not all love them in the same degree. Some are by nature more affectionate, some appreciate favors better, some receive more and know that more is expected of them.
In like manner, we who are all children of the Great Father are not all equally loving and generous. What therefore is more natural than that some should choose to give themselves up heart, soul and body to the exclusive service of God? What is there abnormal in the fact that they renounce the world and all its joys and legitimate pleasures, fast, pray and keep vigil, through pure love of God? There is only one thing they fear, and that is to offend God. By their vows they put this misfortune without the pale of possibility, as far as such a thing can be done by a creature endowed with free will.
Of course there are those for whom all this is unmitigated twaddle and bosh. To mention abnegation, sacrifice, etc., to such people is to speak in a language no more intelligible than Sanskrit. Naturally one of these will expect his children to appreciate the sacrifices he makes for their happiness, but with God they think it must be different.
There was once a young man who was rich. He had never broken the Commandments of God. Wondering if he had done enough to be saved, he came to the Messiah and put the question to Him. The answer he received was, that, if he were sinless, he had done well, but that there was a sanctity, not negative but positive, which if he would acquire, would betoken in him a charity becoming a follower of a Crucified God. Christ called the young man to a life of perfection. "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, give to the poor, then come, and follow me." It is not known whether this invitation was accepted by the young man; but ever since then it has been the joy of men and women in the Catholic Church to accept it, and to give up all in order to serve the Maker.
Scoffers and revilers of monasticism are a necessary evil. Being given the course of nature that sometimes runs to freaks, they must exist. Living, they must talk, and talking they must utter ineptitudes. People always do when they discourse on things they do not comprehend. But let this be our consolation: monks are immortal. They were, they are, they ever shall be. All else is grass.
CHAPTER XLI. THE RELIGIOUS.
OWING to the disturbance over things religious in France, vows and those who exemplify them in their lives are receiving of late a large share of public attention. On this topic, it seems, every one is qualified to speak; all sorts of opinions have been ventilated in the religious, the non-religious, and the irreligious press, for the benefit of those who are interested in this pitiful spasm of Gallic madness against the Almighty and His Church. The measure of unparalleled tyranny and injustice, in which antipathy to religious orders has found expression, is being favorably and unfavorably commented upon. But since monks, friars and nuns seldom find favor with the non Catholic world, the general verdict is that the religious, like the anarchist, must go; society is afraid of both and is safe from neither.
To Catholics who understand human nature and have read history, this condition of things is not surprising; it is, we might venture to say, the normal state of mind in relation to things so intensely Catholic is religious vows. Antagonism against monasticism was born the day Luther decided to take a wife; and as long as that same spirit lingers on earth we shall expect this antagonism to thrive and prosper. Not only that, but we shall never expect the religious to get a fair hearing for their cause. The hater, open or covert, of the habit and cowl is whole-souled or nothing in his convictions. And he believes the devil should be fought with his own weapons.
We do not expect all men to think as we do concerning the merits of the religious profession. To approve it without restriction would be to approve the Church. To find no wrong in it would be indicative of a dangerous Romish tendency. And we are not prepared to assert that any such symptoms exist to an alarming extent in those who expatiate on religious topics these latter days. There will be differences of opinion on this score, as on many others, and one fellow's opinion is as good, to himself, as another's.
There are even objections, to many an honest man, serious objections, that may be brought up and become legitimate matter for discussion. We take it for granted that intelligent men do not oppose an institution as venerable as monasticism without reasons. Contention between people who respect intelligence is always based on what has at least a semblance of truth, and has for its object to detect reality and label it as distinct from appearance.
We go farther, and admit that there have been abuses in this system of perfection, abuses that we were the first to detect, the first to deplore and feel the shame of it. But before we believed it, we investigated and made sure it was so. We found out very often that the accusations were false. Scandalmongers and dishonest critics noted the charges, but forgot to publish the verdict, and naturally with the public these charges stand. No wonder then that such tales breed antipathy and hatred among those who are not in position to control facts.
A queer feature about this is that people do not give religious credit for being human. That they are flesh and blood, all agree; that they should err, is preposterous. A hue-and-cry goes up when it becomes known that one of these children of Adam has paid the penalty of being human. One would think an angel had fallen from heaven. We notice in this attitude an unconscious recognition of the sanctity of the religious state; but we see behind it a Pharisaic spirit that exaggerates evil at the expense of justice.
Now, if the principle that abuse destroys use is applied to all things, nothing will remain standing, and the best will go first. Corruptio optimi pessima. Everything human is liable to abuse; that which is not, is divine. Religious and laymen, mortals all, the only time it is beyond our power to do wrong is when we are dead, buried, and twenty-four hours underground. If in life we make mistakes, the fault lies, not in our being of this or that profession, but in being human. Whatever, therefore, the excesses that religious can be proven guilty of, the institution itself must not be held responsible, unless it can be shown that there exists a relation of cause and effect. And whoever reasons otherwise, abuses the intelligence of his listeners.
We desire, in the name of honesty and fairness, to see less of that spirit that espies all manner of evil beneath the habit of a religious; that discovers in convents and monasteries plotting against the State in favor of the Papacy, the accumulation of untold wealth by oppression and extortion for the satisfaction of laziness and lust, iniquity of the deepest dye allied to general worthlessness. Common sense goes a long way in this world. If it were only a less rare commodity, and if an effective tribunal could be erected for the suppression of mendacity, the religious would appear for the first time in history in their true colors before the world, and light would shine in darkness.
CHAPTER XLII. THE VOW OF POVERTY.
ONE objection to the vow of poverty that has a serious face on it, and certainly looks wicked, is that it does not prevent the accumulation of great wealth, as may be seen in the cases of the Philippine Friars and the French orders. This is one difficulty; here is another and quite different: the wealth of the religious is excessive, detrimental to the well-being of the people and a menace to the State. Taken separately, it is easy to dispose of these charges and to explain them away. But if you put them together in one loose, vague, general imputation of avarice, extortion and injustice, and hurl the same at a person unable to make distinctions, the shock is apt to disconcert him for a moment.
The first indictment seems to hint at a contradiction, or at least an incompatibility, between the profession of poverty and the fact of possessing wealth. We claim that the one does not affect the' other, that a religious may belong to a rich order and still keep his vow inviolate. The vow in the religious is individual and personal; the riches collective. It is the physical person that is poor; the moral being has the wealth. Men may club together, put their means into a common fund, renounce all personal claim thereto, live on a meagre revenue and employ the surplus for various purposes other than their needs. The personal poverty of such as these is real.
This is the case of the religious. Personally they do not own the clothes on their backs. The necessaries of life are furnished them out of a common fund. What remains, goes through their hands for the glory of God and in charity to fellow-man. The employment to which these men devote their lives, such as prayer, charity, the maintenance and conducting of schools and hospitals, is not lucrative to any great extent. And since very few Orders resort to begging, the revenue from capital is the only means of assuring existence. It is therefore no more repugnant for religious to depend on funded wealth than it was for the Apostolic College to have a common purse. The secret reason for this condition of things is that works of zeal rarely yield abundant returns, and man cannot live on the air of heaven.
As to the extent of such wealth and its dangers, it would seem that if it be neither ill gotten nor employed for illegitimate purposes, in justice and equity, there cannot be two opinions on the subject. Every human being has a right to the fruit of his industry and activity. To deny this is to advocate extreme socialism and anarchy and, he who puts this doctrine into practice, destroys the principle on which society rests. The law that strikes at religious corporations whose wealth accrues from centuries of toil and labor, may to-morrow consistently confiscate the goods and finances of every other corporation in the realm. If you force the religious out of land and home, why not force Morgan, Rockefeller & Co., out of theirs! The justice in one case is as good as in the other.
It is difficult to see how the people suffer from accumulated wealth, the revenues from which are almost entirely devoted to the relief of misery and the instruction of the ignorant. The people are the sole beneficiaries. There is here none of the arrogance and selfishness that usually characterize the possession of wealth to the embitterment of misery and misfortune. The religious, by their vow and their means, can share the condition of the poor and relieve it. If there is any institution better calculated to promote the well-being of the common people, it should be put to work. When the moneyed combinations whose rights are respected, show themselves as little prejudicial to the welfare of the classes, the religious will be prepared to go out of existence.
Everyone is inclined to accept as true the statement, on record as official, that the wealth of the Religious Orders in France is at the bottom of the trouble. We are not therefore a little astonished to learn from other sources that it is rather their poverty, which is burdensome to the people. The religious are not too rich, but too poor. They cannot support themselves, and live on the enforced charity of the laborer. French parents, not being equal to the task of maintaining monasteries and supporting large families, limited the number of their children. The population fell off in consequence. The government came to the relief of the people and cast out the religious.
And here we have the beautiful consistency of those who believe that any old reason is better than none at all. The religious are too poor, their poverty is a burden on the people; the religious are too rich, their riches are prejudicial to the welfare of the people. One reason is good; two are better. If they contradict, it is only a trifling matter. As for us, we don't know quite where we stand. We can hear well enough, amid the din of denunciation, the conclusion that the religious must go; but we cannot, for the life of us, catch the why and wherefore. Is it because they are too poor? or because they are too rich? or because they are both? We might be justified in thinking: because they are neither, but because they are what they are— religious, devoted to the Church and champions of Her cause. This reason is at least as good as the two that contradict and destroy each other. In this sense, is monastic poverty a bad and evil thing?
CHAPTER XLIII. THE VOW OF OBEDIENCE.
WHAT kind of obedience is that which makes religious "unwilling to acknowledge any superior but the Pope?" We have been confidently informed this is the ground given in several instances for their removal. And we confess that, if the words "acknowledge" and "superior" are used in certain of the meanings they undoubtedly have, there is good and sufficient ground for such removal. At the same time we submit that the foregoing phrase is open to different interpretations of meaning, several of which would make out this measure of repression to be one of rank injustice.
The studied misrule and abuse of language serves a detestable purpose that is only too evident. A charge like the above is true and false, that is to say, it is neither true nor false; it says nothing, unless explained, or unless you make it say what you wish. It is a sure, safe, but cowardly way of destroying an enemy without being obliged to admit the guilt to oneself.
Now the religious, and Catholic laity as well, never think of acknowledging, in the full acceptation of the word, any other spiritual superior than the Pope, and there can be nothing in this deserving repression. Again, no Catholic may consistently with Catholic principles, refuse to accept as legitimate the legally constituted authority of the country in which he resides. As to a man's views on the different forms of government, that is nobody's business but his own. But whether he approves or disapproves in theory, his life and conduct must conform with the laws justly enacted under the form of Government that happens to be accepted. To depart from this rule is to go counter to Catholic teaching, and no religious order does so without incurring strict censure.
The vow of obedience in a religious respects Caesar as well as God. It cannot validly bind one to violate the laws of State any more than to violate the law of God. This vow does not even concern itself with civil and political matters; by it the religious alone is affected, the citizen looks out for himself. But the citizen is already bound by his conscience and the laws of the Church to respect and obey lawful authority.
A good religious is a good citizen, and he cannot be the former, if he is not the latter. As a mere Catholic, he is more liable to be always found on the side of good citizenship, because in his religion he is taught, first of all, to respect authority on which all his religious convictions are based. There is a natural tendency in a Protestant, who will have nothing to do with authority in spiritual matters, to bring this state of mind over with him into temporary affairs; being self-willed in greater things, he is fore-inclined to be self-willed in lesser. The Catholic and, for a greater reason, the religious knows less of this temptation; and the better Catholic and religious he is, the farther removed he is from possible revolt against, or even disrespect of, authority.
Against but one Order of all those repressed can the charge of insubordination be brought with any show of truth. The Assumptionists made the mistake of thinking that they could with impunity criticise the doings of the Government, just as it is done in Paris every day by the boulevard press. It is generally conceded that, considering the well-known attitude of the Government towards the order, this was a highly imprudent course for a religious paper to pursue. But their right to do so is founded on the privilege of free speech. It takes very little to find abuse of free speech in the utterances of the clergy or religious in France. They are safe only when they are silent. If there were less docility and more defiance in their attitude, if the French Catholics relied less on God and more on man for redress, they would receive more justice than they have been receiving.
The punishment meted out to the religious for their insubordination has had, we are told, a doleful effect on the temporal power of the Pope, an interesting patch of which has been broken up by the new French law. It is a mystery to us how this law can affect the temporal power of the Pope any more than the political status of Timbuctoo. It is passably difficult to make an impression on what has ceased to exist these thirty years. We thought the temporal power was dead. This bit of news has been dinned into our ears until we have come to believe. No conference, synod or council is considered by our dissenting friends without a good strong sermon on this topic. Strange that it should resurrect just in time to lose "an interesting patch" of itself! This is cruelty. Why not respect the grave? We recommend the perusal of the obituary of the temporal power written in Italian politics since the year 1870. We believe the tomb is carefully guarded.
CHAPTER XLIV. THE VOW OF CHASTITY.
RELIGIOUS are sometimes called celibates. Now, a celibate, one of the bachelor persuasion, is a person who considers himself or herself good enough company in this life, and chooses single blessedness in preference to the not unmixed joys of wedlock. This alone is sufficient to make one a celibate, and nothing more is required. Religious do not wed; but, specifically, that is all there is in common between them. All celibates are not chaste; celibacy is not necessarily chastity, by a large majority. Unless something other than selfishness suggests this choice of life, the word is apt to be a misnomer for profligacy. And one who takes the vow of celibacy does not break it by sinning against the Sixth Commandment; he is true to it until he weds. The religious vow is something more than this.
Again, chastity, by itself, does not properly designate the state of religious men and women. Chastity is moral purity, but purity is a relative term, and admits of many degrees. It is perfect or imperfect. There is a conjugal chastity; while in single life, it may concern itself with the body, with or without reference to the mind and heart. Chastity reaches its highest form when it excludes everything carnal, what is lawful as well as what is unlawful, thoughts and desires as well as deeds.
This is the chastity that is proper to religious, and it is more correctly called virginity. This is the natural state of spirits who have no bodies; cultivated in the frail flesh of children of Adam, it is the most delicate flower imaginable. Considering the incessant struggle it supposes in those who take such a vow against the spirit within us that is so strong, the taking and keeping of it indicate a degree of fortitude little short of heroism. Only the few, and that few relying wholly on the grace of God, can aspire to this state.
From a spiritual point of view, there can be no question as to the superiority of this state of life over all others. The teaching of St. Paul to the Corinthians is too plain to need any comment, not to mention the example of Christ, His Blessed Mother, His disciples and all those who in the course of time have loved God best and served Him most generously.
Prescinding from all spiritual considerations and looking at things through purely human eyes, vows of this sort must appear prejudicial to the propagation of the species. In fact, they go against the law of nature which says: increase and multiply, so we are told.
If that law is natural as well as positive, it is certain that it applies to man collectively, and not individually. It is manifested only in the instinct that makes this duty a pleasure. Where the inclination is lacking, the obligation is not obvious. That which is repugnant is not natural, in any true sense of the word; whether this repugnance be of the intellectual or spiritual order, it matters not, for our nature is spiritual as truly as it is animal. The law of nature forces no man into a state that is not in harmony with his sympathies and affections.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that to a certain extent the race suffers numerically from an institution that fosters abstention from marriage. To what extent, is an entirely different question. Not all laymen marry. It is safe to say that the vast majority of religious men, vow or no vow, would never wed; so that the vow is not really to blame for their state, and the consequences thereof. As for women, statistics show it to be impossible for all to marry since their number exceeds that of men.
Now, marriage with the fair sex, is very often a matter of competition. Talent, beauty, character, disposition and accomplishments play a very active role in the acquisition of a husband. Considering that the chances of those who seek refuge under the veil are not of the poorest, since they are the fairest and best endowed of our daughters, it would seem to follow that their act is a charity extended to their less fortunate sisters who are thereby aided to success, instead of being doomed to failure by the insufficiency of their own qualifications.
Be this as it may, what we most strenuously object to, is that vows be held responsible for the sins of others. In some countries and sections of countries, the population is almost stationary in marked contrast to that of others. Looking for the cause for this unnatural phenomenon, there are who see it in the spread of monasticism, with its vow of chastity. They fail to remark that not numerous, but large families are the best sign of vigor in a nation. Impurity, not chastity, is the enemy of the race. Instead of warring against those whose lives are pure, why not destroy that monster that is gnawing at the very vitals of the race, sapping its strength at the very font of life, that modern Moloch, to whom fashionable society offers sacrifice more abominable than the hecatombs of Carthage. This iniquity, rampant wherever the sense of God is absent, and none other, is the cause which some people do not see because they have good reasons for not wanting to see. It is very convenient to have someone handy to accuse of one's own faults. It is too bad that the now almost extinct race of Puritans did not have a few monks around to blame for the phenomenon of their failure to keep abreast of the race.
If celibacy, therefore, means untrammeled vice, and marriage degenerates into New Englandism, the world will get along better with less of both. Vows, if they have no other merit, respect at least the law of God, and this world is run according to that law.
CHAPTER XLV. BLASPHEMY.
TO blaspheme is to speak ill of God; blasphemy is an utterance derogatory to the respect and honor due to God. Primarily, it is a sin of the tongue; but, like all other sins, it draws its malice from the heart. Thus, a thought may be blasphemous, even though the blasphemy remain unexpressed; and a gesture, oftentimes more expressive than a word, may contain all the malice of blasphemy. This impiety therefore may be committed in thought, in word and in deed.
Blasphemy addresses itself directly to God, to His attributes and perfections which are denied, or ridiculed; to Jesus Christ and the Blessed Sacrament; indirectly, through His Mother and His saints, through Holy Scripture and religion, through the Church and her ministers in their quality of ministers,—all of which, being intimately and inseparably connected with the idea of God, cannot be vilified without the honor of God being affected; and, consequently, all contempt and irreverence addressed to them, takes on the nature of blasphemy. An indirect sin of blasphemy is less enormous than a direct offense, but the difference is in degree, not in kind.
All error that affects God directly, or indirectly through sacred things, is blasphemy whether the error consist in a denial of what is true, or an attribution of what is false. Contempt, ridicule, scoffing and sneering, where are concerned the Holy and things holy, are blasphemous. He also blasphemes who attributes to a creature what belongs to God alone, or can be said only of holy things, who drags down the sacred to the level of the profane.
Revilings against God are happily rare; when met with, they are invariably the mouthings of self-styled atheists or infidels whose sanity is not always a patent fact. Heretics are usually blasphemous when they treat of anything outside Jesus Christ and the Bible; and not even Christ and Scripture escape, for often their ideas and utterances concerning both are as injurious to God as they are false and erroneous. Finally, despair and anger not infrequently find satisfaction in abusing God and all that pertains to Him.
Nothing more abominable can be conceived than this evil, since it attacks, and is in opposition to, God Himself. And nothing shows up its malice so much as the fact that blasphemy is the natural product and offspring of hate; it goes to the limit of human power in revolt against the Maker. It is, however, a consolation to know that, in the majority of cases, blasphemy is found where faith is wanting or responsibility absent, for it may charitably be taken for granted that if the blasphemer really knew what he was saying, he would rather cut out his tongue than repeat it. So true is it that the salvation of many depends almost as much on their own ignorance as on the grace of God.
There is a species of blasphemy, not without its degree of malice, found sometimes in people who are otherwise God-fearing and religious. When He visits them with affliction and adversity, their self-conscious righteousness goes out and seeks Comparison with prosperous ungodliness, and forthwith comments on strange fact of the deserving suffering while the undeserving are spared. They remark to themselves that the wicked always succeed, and entertain a strong suspicion that if they were as bad as others certain things would not happen.
All this smacks dangerously of revolt against the Providence of God. Job's problem is one that can be solved only by faith and a strong spiritual sense. He who has it not is liable to get on the wrong side in the discussion; and it is difficult to go very far on that side without finding Providence at fault and thus becoming guilty of blasphemy. For, to mention partiality in the same breath with God's care of the universe, is to deny Him.
The daily papers, a few years ago, gave public notoriety to two instances of blasphemy, and their very remarkable punishment, for it is impossible not to see the hand of God in what followed so close upon the offending. A desperate gambler called upon the Almighty to strike him dumb, if in the next deal a certain card turned up. It did turn up, and at the last accounts the man had not yet spoken. Another cast from his door a vendor of images and crucifixes with a curse and the remark that he would rather have the devil in his house than a crucifix. The very next day, he became the father of what came as near being the devil as anything the doctors of that vicinity ever saw. These are not Sunday-school stories invented to frighten children; the facts occurred, and were heralded broadcast throughout the land.
Despair urged the first unfortunate to defy the Almighty. In the other 'twas hatred for the Church that honors the image of Christ crucified as one honors the portrait of a mother. The blasphemy in the second case reached God as effectively as in the first, and the outrage contained in both is of an order that human language is incapable of qualifying.
CHAPTER XLVI. CURSING.
TO bless one is not merely to wish that one well, but also to invoke good fortune upon his head, to recommend him to the Giver of all goods. So, too, cursing, damning, imprecation, malediction—synonymous terms— is stronger than evil wishing and desiring. He who acts thus invokes a spirit of evil, asks God to visit His wrath upon the object cursed, to inflict death, damnation, or other ills. There is consequently in such language at least an implicit calling upon God, for the evil invoked is invoked of God, either directly or indirectly. And that is why the Second Commandment concerns itself with cursing.
Thus it will be seen that this abuse of language offends against religion and charity as well. To the malice of calling down evil upon a brother's head is added the impiety of calling upon God to do it, to curse when He should be prayed to bless.
Of course all depends on what is the object of our imprecations. One species of this vice contains blasphemy pure and simple, that is, a curse which attains something that refers to God in an especial manner, and as such is cursed. The idea of God cannot be separated from that of the soul, of faith, of the Church, etc. Malediction addressed to them reaches God, and contains all the malice of blasphemy.
When the malediction falls on creatures, without any reference to their relationship to God, we have cursing in its proper form with a special malice of its own. Directly, charity alone is violated, but charity has obligations which are binding under pain of mortal sin. No man can sin against himself or against his neighbor without offending God.
A curse may be, and frequently is, emphasized with a vow or an oath. One may solemnly promise God in certain contingencies that he will damn another to hell; or he may call upon God to witness his execrations. The malice of two specific sins is here accumulated, the offense is double in this one abominable utterance; nothing can be conceived more horrible, unless it be the indifferent frequency with which it is perpetrated.
The guilt incurred by those who thus curse and damn, leaving aside the scandal which is thereby nearly always given, is naturally measured by the degree of advertence possessed by such persons. Supposing full deliberation, to curse a fellow-man or self, if the evil invoked be of a serious nature, is a mortal sin.
Passion or habit may excuse, if the movement is what is called "a first movement," that is, a mechanical utterance without reflection or volition; also, if the habit has been retracted and is in process of reform. If neither damnation nor death nor infamy nor any major evil is invoked, the sin may be less grievous, but sin it always is. If the object anathematized is an animal, a thing, a vice, etc., there may be a slight sin or no sin at all. Some things deserved to be cursed. In damning others, there may be disorder enough to constitute a venial sin, without any greater malice.
Considering the case of a man who, far removed from human hearing, should discover too late, his forgetfulness to leave the way clear between a block and a fast-descending and ponderous ax, and, in a fit of acute discomfort and uncontrollable feeling consequential to such forgetfulness, should consign block, ax, and various objects in the immediate vicinity to the nethermost depths of Stygian darkness: in such a case, we do not think there would be sin.