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CARDINAL WISEMAN'S ESSAYS.*
(From Brownson's Quarterly Review for October, 1853.)
We are very glad to see these admirable essays of his Eminence Cardinal Wiseman, the greater part of which were originally published in The Dublin Review, collected and given to the public in these three handsomely printed volumes. They constitute one of the richest contributions that have recently been made to our English Catholic literature. They bear to us the marks of a varied and extensive erudition, which we seldom look for out of Italy or Germany; are written in a style of singular freshness and beauty, vivacity and force, ease and dignity, which may well be studied as a model. These essays are divided into three classes.
The first, which fills the first volume, consists of Scriptural essays, and papers designed to bring out the beauties of the Catholic ritual, of Catholic practices, and of Catholic devotions. The second class, making up the second volume, with the exception of the last article, is entirely devoted to the highchurch question, or, as it used to be called, the Oxford controversy. The third class is made up of essays of a more miscellaneous character, -historical, artistical
, archæological, and controversial; but all are subjects of great interest and importance to every Catholic. It is difficult to speak of these essays in language which to those who have not carefully read them will not seem to be exaggerated. They are marked by great clearness of apprehension and expression, depth and originality of thought, a rich imagination, a cultivated taste, and a tender devotional spirit. They are in style and manuer genuinely English, admirably adapted to the tastes and peculiarities of the English mind, but rigidly orthodox and even ascetic in their soul. We have in them great artistic beauty, high appreciation of the æsthetic, and a strong disposition to press into the service of religion sensibility, taste, and imagination, but we have nothing weak, morbid, or fanciful, and all is strong, healthy, and robust, under the regimen of good sense and enlightened devotion. We are pleased, delighted, charmed, as we read them, and at the same time enlightened, elevated and invigorated. The illustrious author seems to us with rare felicity to have hit the proper medium between the dry, formal, and stiff scholastic form, repulsive to all but the very devout or those very much interested in the subject treated, and the weak and sentimental tone, affected phraseology, and literary claptraps, which offend us in such writers as Chateaubriand, Orsini, and other well-meaning but not very healthy Frenchmen, who seek to arrest the attention of modern society by their literary capers, and by means of a pious romanticism to cheat their readers into a weakly faith and a sickly devotion, which wilt in the first hot summer's day, and expire in the first autumnal frost. These essays in style and manner are modern, adapted to the cultivated taste of the better classes of modern society, and may be commended as models to all our young men who aspire to make any valuable contributions to our Catholic literature. By studying them they will escape the dry and bald, the flashy and the sentimental, the turgid and the bombastic, the weak and the sickly, and above all
*Essays on Various Subjects. By his Eminence CARDINAL WISEMAN.
, the coarse and vituperative, which some of our Catholic journalists even seem to delight in, and which seems to have arisen from their excessive admiration of Cobbett, whose History of the Reformation in England appears, strangely enough, to be regarded by many Catholics as a standard Catholic work. Cobbett wrote an idiomatic, racy, and nervous English style, but his spirit was coarse, pugnacious, and savage, and whoever undertakes to imitate him is in great danger of catching and exaggerating his spirit without attaining to the excellence of his English. For ourselves, we cannot read any thing of Cobbett, without calling to mind Peter Porcupine, of the Philadelphia Political Register, the high Tory in America and the Radical in England, the nominal Anglican but real unbeliever, who made a sort of pilgrimage to the grave of Tom Paine at New Rochelle, for the purpose of translating the relics of that arch-infidel and drunken blasphemer to England, although, it is said, the bones he carried back with him were those, not of Tom Paine, but of a poor old negro who had been buried in the same grave; and we confess we cannot listen with patience to any thing he says, even when what he says is not reprehensible, The main facts of his History, which we are surprised to find the excellent Rohrbacher citing as his chief authority for his account of the reformation in England, are, we believe, as far as they go, substantially correct, but the spirit that pervades the work is that of an infidel scoffer. We always regret to see any alliance of Catholics with vulgar radicals, whose proffered aid should be spurned rather than accepted. No good can ever come of alliances with those who war against society and blaspheme God.
We are glad that his Eminence suffered himself to be prevailed upon to include in this collection the masterly papers published in The Dublin Review on the Oxford controversy. The Oxford movement was in its day a very remarkable movement, and the manner in which his Eminence met it, and followed it step by step, till most of the extraordinary men who commenced it were reconciled to the church, is full of interest and instruction. These essays, indeed, touch only a special phase of Protestantism, and by no means meet the general question between us and non-Catholics; but we can conceive nothing better adapted to the special purpose for which they were written. Their illustrious author evidently felt a deep interest in the movement and hoped much from it; he evidently had a sincere affection for the men engaged in it, and was most anxious to conciliate their goodwill to the church. He formed a very high estimate of their learning, their ability, their sincerity, and their honesty of purpose, but he made no concessions to them, and while he treated them with genuine courtesy, and cheerfully gave them credit for their good intentions, he met their errors. with uncompromising firmness, and refuted them in a calm, dignified, and manly manner. There is, however, running through these remarkable essays, a gentleness, a sweetness, an affectionateness, which we greatly admire, and should wish to see far more common in our controversial writings.
We cannot read these essays on the Oxford controversy without something like envy of their illustrious author, not, of course, for his talents, his genius, his erudition, his courteous manner, and his graceful and dignified style, for these are far above our humble aspirations, but for his public, for the men he had to refute, and to bring within the pale of the truth. He had a great and important movement setting towards the church to deal with, conducted by men of mistaken views indeed, advocating, in itself considered, an absurd and ridiculous theory, but sincere, honest, and loyal, well-bred, cultivated, eminent for their abilities and learning, who were too much in earnest to be cavillers, numerous enough to make it an object to address them specially, and respectable enough to enable one to address them in gentle and hopeful terms. To one who understood the Oxford movement, and knew something of the men engaged in it, there was much of interest and promise. One could so treat these men as to refute their errors and retain their respect, and even secure their affection. Some such there no doubt are in our own country, but their number is small, and they scarcely ripple the surface of the main current of Protestant life. They bear too small a proportion to our whole population to be made much account of in our public controversies. They do not succeed in determining the form which the controversy between us and non-Catholics must take, and we can avail ourselves of none of their concessions. The great mass of our Protestants are simply non-Catholics, and we are obliged to discuss the question with them very much as if we were discussing it with gentiles, and with gentiles engrossed with their foul superstitions, or laughing at their gods, light and flippant, and apparently incapable of treating any religious questions with seriousness and candor.
Protestantism here refuses to meet the Catholic question either on the field of erudition or on that of reason and common sense. It refuses to discuss it in a form in which it can be brought to an issue. We have conducted our Review as a Catholic review now for full nine
and have during all that time been publishing quarterly elaborate essays on the most momentous subjects that can engage the mind or the heart of man, and during all this long period in only one single instance have we obtained a response from a Protestant author who seemed serious, and to be governed by honesty and sincerity of purpose. The answers which Protestantism has had to offer to us have been some worn-out sophisms too puerile to be urged by any grave reasoner, palpable misstatements of what we maintain, newspaper squibs, and pointless jokes about our alleged frequent changes of opinion when a Protestant. And to Catholics at large she replies with literary forgeries, falsifications of history, unsupported assumptions, the filthy lectures of a Leahey and a Giustiniani, the declamations of aoisy demagogues, the ribaldry and tirades against our clergy and our religions of a Gavazzi, all brought forward in that loose and disjointed manner, that no human patience can work it into a shape that admits of a reply, and all snpported by no authority but the ignorance and prejudices of the multitude. It renews against us the policy of Voltaire and his associates against Christianity. “Lie, lie boldly, lie stontly, lie constantly; some of it will stick.” Regular controversy is thus out of the question, and we have no opportunity to display, if we had them, those traits of gentleness and consideration for our "separated brethren" that we so much admire in Cardinal Wiseman's Essays. The only thing we can do is to plant ourselves on our rights as Catholics, and continue our attacks on Protestantism, not as a form of heresy so much as a form of gentilism. This seems harsh and uncourteous, nay, as some say, uncharitable; but we can do no otherwise, till we have compelled Protestantism to become serious, and to enter earnestly and gravely on her defence. The mode of address we are obliged to adopt in order to make any impression on the mass of our countrymen is by no means that most agreeable to Catholic feeling, but it is here and now necessary, for all except a small minority, who are lost in the multitude of non-Catholics.
The questions to be discussed in different times and places are different, and the Catholic controversialist must meet them in the form in which they come up in his own time and place. His Eminence met them as they needed to be met in England from 1836 to 1844, and has written what is necessary at all times and places to meet that forın of Protestantism assumed by the tractarians; and nothing can be better adapted to the wants of those who still adhere to it in our own country. But the controversy with high-churchism is ended in England, and a very different class of questions there have now to be met, in reality the same that we have had to meet here from the first. It is there no longer a question of dogma, of forms, or of ecclesiastical policy, but is first a question of politics, and afterwards a question between religion and no religion, Christianity and heathenism. His Eminence has settled the question as to highchurchism, and shown that every high-churchman denies the Catholic Church only at the expense either of his conscience or of his logic. Frightened by his success in argument, Protestantism calls upon the civil authority for assistance, and, after her old instincts, seeks to entrammel and restrain by force what she is impotent to check by reason.