Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

in developing the barbaric elements of the middle ages, and realizing them independently of the Greek and Roman elements, and also of Catholicity. This they attempted, and their success would be the restoration, not of cultivated and polished gentilism, but of rude, unpolished, barbaric heathenism, after the Teutonic and Scandinavian modes.

We are not disposed to deny that the schoolmen were defective in taste. They wrote barbarous Latin, and were seldom good Greek scholars; their humor was grotesque rather

; than delicate, and their jokes smacked of men who live among themselves, remote from the great world; their forms were dry and rigid, and their rules too narrow and too unelastic for the play of the free spirit and expansive genius of man. The humanists, in combating them and substituting the purer taste and the more symmetrical and graceful forms of ancient art, did a valuable service to the cause of human culture and refinement. So the romanticists, in freeing us from the fetters of a dead classicism, from the narrow and pedantic rules of men who servilely copied the exterior forms, but were incapable of producing in the free and original spirit, of the ancient classics, and permitting us to move more at our ease, according to our natural dispositions, have served the cause of good literature. By their excavations of medieval romance from the tombs of cen-turies, and their importations from the old mystic East, they have enlarged our literary horizon and augmented our literary materials, for which we cheerfully render them all fitting ackowledgment. But as the humanists, along with their classicism, revived old gentile theories and speculations, by which they ruined philosophy and shook the faith of no small part of Christendom while professing to labor to confirm it, so the romanticists, to the extent of their influence, must revive the old barbaric heathenism, and tend to ruin literature, art, philosophy, and through them both religion and civilization. The humanists gave us heathenism, but it was cultivated heathenism, which, as to its forms, was repugnant neither to good taste nor to Christianity; the romanticists, the humanists of our time, give us heathenism to an equal extent, and what is worse, rude, uncouth, barbaric heathenism, with its grotesque images, its gigantic figures, its huge disproportioned shapes, its hideous and grinning monsters, which no Christian art can baptize, no power can lick into a Christian shape, inform with a Christian soul, or train to a civilized behaviour. Do the best possible, it will always remain the man-bear of recent German romance.

a

Nothing would be more amusing, if the matter were not so grave, than to see our romanticists parading the old mediæval romances, chronicles, ballads, lays, and roundelays, as genuine specimens of Christian literature. Indeed, the irony is too obvious to be witty; Even if sometimes the thought and sentiment happen to be Christian, the form is barbarian. "The medieval romancers frequently profane Christian thoughts and expressions, as the old magicians profaned the Sacred Host in their spells; but the substance of their works is always derived from heathen sources. The troubadours of Provence are moved by their own corrupt passions, and sing under Arabic, Moorish, and Manichean influences; the trouvères of Normandy, the bards of Armorica and Wales, the minnesingers of Germany, recite or sing, for the most part, the old barbaric and heathen memories and superstitions of their respective nations, which long survived, and are not even yet wholly extinct, in the heart of the old Celtic, Scandinavian, and Teutonic families. To call the medjæval literature proceeding from these sources Christian is only to prove how far we have lost, or never received, the true conception of Christianity. In admiring such a literature, we give no evidence of a return towards Catholicity; we only show that we are doing our best to return to the state of the barbaric nations before the church had commenced the work of their conversion, and are trying to satisfy our souls with mere vagaries, or to enrich ourselves with the débris of old barbaric nationalities, idolatries, and superstitions.

As to the middle ages themselves, we conclude, with an Italian writer, that “they are admirable for their Christian genius, and the nations then, so far as they were animated by the Catholic idea, undoubtedly far surpassed the most cultivated people of gentile antiquity; but except that which they derived, in effect, from religion, we know not what there is in their annals to be admired, and the modern encomiasts of fendalism, chivalry, Gothic architecture, &c., appear to nis little reasonable and very dull.” In all those lofty qualities of the civilized man, in themselves indifferent to vice or virtue, the man of medieval history appears to us far inferior to the man of Greek' and Roman antiquity. Compared with the latter, he seems to us a mere dwarf, stunted and warped in his growth by a one-sided and incomplete culture. We find in the medieval man, the moment he steps out of religion, very little of that simplicity,

naturalness, repose, sustained courage, prudent energy, sedate strength, greatness of soul, constancy of will, firmness of resolution, or force of character, which so strikes and charms us in the men of classic antiquity. There is, as Gioberti—a writer whom we like for some things, and dislike for many—has well suggested, a considerable distance between the men of Plutarch and Livy, and the romantic heroes and lion-hearted warriors of Boiardo and Ariosto, with their mad adventures and their silly love-makings.

The causes of this inferiority of the mediæval man, and perhaps equally of the man of our times, we have no space to consider now at length. The remote cause of it lies, no doubt, in the depravity of human nature, in consequence of which men will do a thousand times more to improve themselves and society for the sake of self, or of worldly or human greatness, than they will for the sake of God, or at the command of duty. Hence, in a certain sense, all those religions which are the most consonant to corrupt human nature, and give the largest scope to selfish and worldly motives, will always, for a time at least, be more favorable to the growth of the qualities we have named than Christianity itself. Hence we should look for more striking manifestations of them under paganism, Mahometanism, Protestantism, or modern radicalism, than under Catholicity; for these impose fewer restraints on our motives of action. Christianity, if there is any truth in what we have said in the course of this article, demands, along with her supernatural virtues, the highest human excellence, because she demands for her permanent home in a nation, and her free and regular action on the mass of the people, the highest and truest civilization. But she cannot encourage the cultivation of human greatness for the sake of self, society, or the world; for though she recognizes and uses these as means, she will never suffer them to be sought as ends. Here is her_glory, her strength, and at the same time her weakness. Paganism could suffer us to cultivate and perfect our natures for their own sake, and permit us to propose human greatness as our end. Protestantism virtually, if not avowedly, does thị same. The church not only tolerates, but seeks, the improvement of society, its progress and perfection, yet only for the sake of the purposes of our present existence, and as facilitating the operation of the means of securing eternal life. Radicalism or socialism disdains to look so high or so far, and is content to propose the progress and perfection of society for its own sake. As the motives paganism, Protestantism, and radicalism propose or tolerate are those which are the most agreeable to fallen nature, we can easily understand that, for a time, their adherents should be more remarkable for the qualities we have pointed out than the great body of Catholics, who cultivate them only from parer, loftier, and more distant motives, therefore motives less powerful for a depraved will and a corrupt concupiscence. Here, undoubtedly, is the real cause of the inferiority of the modern to the ancient man,an inferiority which results from his actual moral and religious superiority.

Thongh the remote cause is in the corruption of human nature, and the fact that paganism imposed less restraint on its operations than Catholicity, the proximate cause of this inferiority is in the schism which has always existed, since the institution of the church, between the secular and the spiritual elements of society. The secular element has never been brought into harmony with the spiritual. The church could not do it at first, because the state was pagan, and persecuted her; and it took her full three hundred years to convert it. But she had no sooner converted it, than the barbarians began their invasion, and she had to commence her struggle against barbarism, which, in part, still continues. She has never been able to baptize secular life, and to institute a culture as perfect for it as that which she has always sustained is for the religious life. The secular order has therefore, from the first, remained outside of Christianity, and the secular mind has never been informed with the Christian spirit. The spirit of all secular art, secular literature, secular science, even when cultivated by Catholics, is and always has been, from Nero to Mazzini, unchristian. This is obvious to every one. Whenever we leave the religious order, escape its external control, and abandon ourselves instinctively to secular pursuits, or in any degree yield to the spirit of the secular order, however pure our intentions in the outset, however firm our faith, sincere and earnest our attachment to our religion, we are imperceptibly borne away in a direction hostile to Christianity, and, ere we suspect danger, are sunk in the quicksands of vice or dashed against the rocks of heresy or infidelity. We have a striking proof of this in La Mennais, another in Padre Ventura, and still another, we fear, in Gioberti,three of the greatest, and, in various ways, most extraordi

nary men of our times. All three set out sincere, earnest, and enlightened Catholic priests, with rare philosophical genius and attainments, and rarer knowledge of the spirit and tendencies of the age. La Mennais has fallen to the lowest depths ; Ventura has, by his recent conduct at Rome, outraged the feelings of the whole Catholic world; and Gioberti, as his case now stands, or as it is known to us, we must regard as having betrayed his religion and forfeited all his claims upon sincere Catholics. What can more clearly prove that the secular order remains even to this day unbaptized, and that whoever follows its spirit is sure to find himself on the side against the religion of God?

Our modern literature is all full of this schism between the two orders, and the secret of most of the movements of our times is the effort to heal it. From Pusey to Parker, Ventura to Proudhon, the Hegelians to the Fourierists and Icarians, the harmony of the two orders is the secret, in general the avowed, object. But, unhappily, nearly all efforts not only fail, but tend to widen the breach ; because they are efforts to heal the schism by harmonizing the spiritual with the secular, instead of the secular with the spiritual. Here is the grand difficulty. As friends of religion, we are obliged to hold on, in most countries, to things as they are,

—to desist from efforts to effect such educational improvements and social ameliorations as are good in themselves, such as are really needed, and such as we are most anxious to effect,—because we cannot, in the present state of the world, make a single move in their behalf, without throwing the power into the hands of the men who would subject the spiritual order to the secular, destroy the whole influence of religion, and with it the very conditions of civilization. The certain evil that would follow would infinitely ontweigh the good we could effect. If any one doubts it, he has but to meditate on the exile of the Holy Father at Gaëta, and consider what during the last year has taken place at Rome. The Holy Father attempted wise and judicious reforms in his states, and, in consequence, was driven from his throne, not by the men opposed to them, but by the very men who clamored for them, who feasted him a whole year for them, and in whose favor they were more especially effected. The very attempt on his part to ameliorate the temporal order drove him into exile, and gave up his dominions to as miserable a set of infidel vagabonds, as cowardly a set of miscreants, as the sweepings of all Italy

« AnteriorContinuar »