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WILLITOFT, OR PROTESTANT PERSECUTION.*
[From Brownson's Quarterly Review for January, 1853.] We have read this little work with much pleasure, as an interesting and valuable contribution to our American Catholic literature. The author has a cultivated mind, a high order of ability, and a dash, at least, of real genius. His. style, though slightly inclining to the florid, and sometimes deficient in flexibility and naturalness, is that of a practised writer, and not surpassed in force and beauty by that of any of our popular writers. In its graver parts it is marked by a calm and subdued strength, which is refreshing in these days, when almost every writer scorns repose, and is perpetually striving to appear stronger than he is.
The work is dedicated by an American, we are told, to the Catholics of England, "to remind them of the constancy of their forefathers in the midst of persecution.” It is a. tale of tragic interest, designed to show the persecutions to which Catholics and their Protestant friends were subjected in the days of James I. of England, and the evil passions which combined with the laws to harass them. It portrays in lively colors the labors, sacrifices, and martyrdom of the devoted clergy, who braved the laws and the hostility of the people to bear to the faithful the succors of religion, and to keep alive the embers of faith in once Catholic England.
A considerable portion of the book is taken up with an account of the conversion, labors, and martyrdom of William Scott, a real historical personage, we are told. He wasan Anglican law-student, but, being converted to the Catholic faith, became a Benedictine monk, was placed on the mission in England, and finally hanged, drawn, and quartered for daring to exercise in the land of his fathers the functions of his ministry.
The polemical portion of the work is given in the form of conversations between Scott and Father Tichbourne and young Alton, who tries to persuade him to give up all religion. The conversation with Alton is brilliant, and the argument for infidelity is put with great eloquence and force ; but, we are sorry to add, is not very thoroughly refuted. Scott, indeed, exposes one of Alton's sophisms, but he is far enough from meeting the real point of the argument. It strikes us that, in these times of doubt, when the tendency is not to simple heresy, but to the rejection of all religion, the author would have done well not to have put the argument of the infidel so strongly, unless he had allowed himself more space, and undertaken more seriously to refute it; for n the minds of more than one of his readers that argument will tell as much against all religion as against Protestantism. Few men in these days, unless orthodox and devont Catholics, are much shocked by the grossest infidelity, and there are few Protestants who would not renounce all religion sooner than become Catholics. Indeed, the tendency of the age is to approve Protestantism precisely because, in principle, it is the rejection of every thing the Catholic understands by religion. Believing firmly ourselves, we very naturally suppose that, when we have shown that Protestantism involves the total rejection of Christianity, we have offered what in Protestant minds must weigh heavily against it; but, unhappily, we have only offered what noto a few of them will regard as a capital argument for it. It seems to us, then, that when we put the infidel's argument in its strongest form, and its most dazzling light, we should at the same time point out clearly to even ordinary capacities its utter fallacy.
*Wilitoft, or the Days of James the First. A Tale.
The controversy between the young student and Father Tichbourne is, upon the whole, more satisfactorily conducted. Father Tichbourne's argument is unhackneyed, ingenious, and perfectly conclusive against the Anglicanism professed by Scott; but that, we apprehend, is an Anglicanism seldom, if ever, found in an Anglican mind. Anglicans are Protestants, and as really Protestants as Puritans or Unitarians are, and, with all their talk about the church, no more admit the church, in the Catholic sense, than does
other class of modern Protestants. Some of them may affect great respect for the church's teaching, but it is all affectation. No Anglican believes in a church teaching. The very essence of Anglicanism, under the point of view from which we must here consider it, is to make doctrine the test of the teacher, and not the teacher the test of doctrine. It obtains somewhow or nohow, without the church, what it calls orthodoxy, and then calls this or that the true church because it professes to believe it. It is always a great mistake to suppose that the real question between a genuine Anglican and the Catholic is ever, as the author supposes, whether the Anglican or the Catholic is the church our Lord instituted. No Anglican is so great a simpleton as to rest his cause on the decision of that question. The Anglican's radical conception of what the church is, and was designed to be, is fundamentally different from the Catholic conception, and till you have compelled him to admit the church in the Catholic sense, it is idle to enter into any discussion with him as to which organized body is the true Catholic Church. The truth is, Anglicanism never acknowledges that our Lord instituted a teaching church, in the proper sense of the term ; and hence evidence of the identity of our church as a corporate body with the apostolic church is no evidence to him that it is the true church, ont of which salvation is impossible. It is not till the Anglican is more than half converted from his Anglicanism, that arguments tending to identify our church as a corporation, or an organic body, with the church of the apostles, will have any real weight with him. Father Tichbourne's reasoning, it strikes us, is, therefore, much bettter adapted to those who are nearly prepared to abandon Anglicanism than to Anglicans in general.
The author's good Anglicans, his conscientious Anglicans, seem to us, also, to be adorned with more Christian graces and virtues than we can reasonably expect in the adhering members of any heretical establishment. Does the author award to Anglicanism the note of sanctity, and hold that all the change a true Anglican needs is a change of belief on a few points of doctrine? We are at a loss to understand why the author, and, indeed, our English and American Catholic popular writers generally, are accustomed to manifest a respect for Anglicans which they never show to those whom Anglicanism denominates dissenters. All our author's good Protestants, and especially all his converts, are Anglicans, while all his villains are either renegade Catholics or Puritans. For ourselves, we confess that we have less respect for Anglicanism than for Puritanism. The Puritan, of course, has always a bad minor, but he sometimes has a good major, and his conclusion is generally logical ; the Anglican, on the contrary, has a bad major as well as minor, and his conclusion never follows from his premises. Anglicanism is the most absurd and ridiculous, as well as the most. haughty and cruel ism, to which Protestantism has given birth. Puritanism in New England was never so intolerant as Episcopalianism was in Virginia and Maryland, and if Puritans persecuted us in England, the laws they put in force against us were all enacted by Anglicans. It is idle, however, to draw comparisons between sect and sect, and the proper course is to regard all Protestants, taken generally, as gentiles, or as apostates, and to predicate of them only such virtues as are possible in the natural order. Hence it would not, perhaps, be amiss if our novelists, who can convert whom they please in their romances, should convert some wicked people as well as those good and pious souls who are only innocently in error, and insist on conversion to Catholicity as the conversion of sinners, not merely as the conversion of the just. They would thus do something to check the pride of us who are converts, and bear some slight testimony against the Pelagian tendency of the age.
In one instance our author raises a delicate question, which, we think, he had better not have done, unless he was prepared to answer it differently.
“ 'I would know first,' a new idea starting up in his mind as he was about to warn the priest of his danger, whether you hold that the pope can absolve citizens and subjects from their allegiance to their king and country.'
“* A8 I live, it is no doctrine of the Catholic Church,' said Father Tich. bourne, solemnly. 'Popes have stood up as umpires between the sovereign and the people,—but they have ever been found upon the side of liberty. They have excommunicated the licentious tyrant,—they have proclaimed the point where obedience ceased to be a virtue. And there,' continued the old man, rising up to his full height, there the duty of obedience ceases.'
“Whilst you are discussing this point with me, a danger hangs over you ;—perhaps the officers of the law, of our common sovereign, are seeking you as a violator of that law,- -as a traitor to your country. Will you submit to that law, or will you avoid or resist it?'
“ I am a man of peace,' replied Father Tichbourne, calmly, 'I can resist no force. I may well avoid the hand of unrighteous violence. The law of God is more binding than the law of man ; therefore the law of man forbids me in vain to obey the law of God. I will suffer its penalty without complaint, that is the only obedience I will yield to it'” (pp. 43, 44).
Father Tichbourne comes very near being forsworn, and saves himself only by a special pleading more ingenious than satisfactory. The popes, in some circumstances, can depose sovereigns and absolve subjects from their allegiance, for they have frequently done so, and the argument ab actu ad posse, we believe, is allowed to be valid. An author may, if he chooses, observe the disciplina arcani, and no doubt sometimes should, for we live in a wicked world, in which we are to be as wise as serpents, while we are as harmless as doves; but he has no right to raise a question and give it an untrue or only a partially true answer. His duty is to answer truly. How far the power of the pope extends, it is for the pope himself, not for us, his spiritual subjects, to determine. We know he has exercised the deposing and absolving power, and we cannot reconcile it to our Catholic conscience to say that he has exercised that power without possessing it. That he has ever deposed a sovereign or absolved subjects, except in accordance with the law of God, or ever will, or ever can, we do not believe, for he does not make the law which binds sovereigns and subjects, he only keeps and administers it. That he always in regard to sovereigns and subjects exercises the powers with which God intrusts him on the side of right, of justice, and therefore of liberty, we, of course, firmly believe, for we hold him to be the vicar of Christ on earth, and under the especial protection of the Holy Ghost, and because we have, and can have, no better evidence of what is right and just than his decision. The author himself says the popes have excommunicated the licentious tryant and proclaimed the point where obedience ceased to be a virtue, and there the duty of obedience ceases. What more do we say? What is the use of quibbling on terms? Do the popes proclaim or declare with judicial authority for the Catholic conscience where obedience ceases to be a virtue, and therefore where the duty of obedience ends? If no, then all you say is mere verbiage; if yes, then he does absolve the subject from his allegiance, and has authority to do it, and you might just as well have said so in so many words, as to have begun by solemnly denying it, and to have ended by explaining away your denial.
We know how offensive the Catholic doctrine on this point is to statesmen and men of the world, but nevertheless, if we mean to be Catholics, we must stand by it. We did not make the doctrine, and are not responsible for it. God will take care of his own doctrine; all we have to do is to be faithful to it through good report and through evil