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[From Brownson's Quarterly Review for January, 1852.)
This is an American reprint of an English work by the Rev. Edward Price, formely editor, we believe, of Dolman's Magazine. It appears to have been suggested by a work which enjoyed some popularity a few years since, entitled Passages from the Diary of Physician. It is written with more than ordinary literary taste and ability, and the several scenes it sketches, most of them undoubtedly drawn from the life, are intensely interesting. They could have been sketched only by a missionary priest, of large experience among the poor and the vicious of our modern commercial cities, although it is evident that the author has borrowed much of the grouping and coloring from his own lively imagination.
The author has laid bare the moral wounds festering in our modern overgrown cities, and perhaps has given us even too vivid a picture of the vice and immorality with which the faithful missionary necessarily becomes acquainted in the discharge of his duty. But he seems to have done it from pure and praiseworthy motives, for the purpose of showing the power of religion to heal the worst moral maladies, to triumph over the hardest bearts, and to relieve and console the most miserable of our race. He manifests great tenderness to the fallen, and suffers no moral leprosy to disgust him with a soul for whom our Lord has died; and he everywhere shows a tendency to excuse the depraved, and to find in the most abandoned some tokens of grace. He has no sourness, no harshness; but, as is invariably the case with the true priest, the deeper the wounds, the greater the sinner, the more does his heart open to him, and the warmer flows his charity, to rescue him from his degradation, to cleanse his soul, to make him whole, and prepare him for the banquet of divine love. This is as it should be.
* Sick Calls: from the Diary of a Missionary Priest. By the Rev. EDWARD PRICE, M. A. New York: 1851.
Sinners are gained by love, and won over to our Lord, not by severity, but by the infinite tenderness of the Gospel.
Some of our occasional readers may be surprised to hear us say this, for we are supposed by not a few to have no bowels of compassion, to be dry, hard, severe, unrelenting. Perhaps we are, and whether so or not is of no importance to the public. Yet there is an obvious distinction between severity in the enunciation of principles, and harshness in their application to individuals. Principles, Christian doctrines, dogmas of faith, are not ours, they are our Master's, and are strict, unbending, immutable. When we are called upon to proclaim these, we have no option with regard to them; we have no right to harden or to soften them; we must proclaim them as they have been taught us, with unswerving and scrupulous fidelity, let them condemn whom they may. If it is our office to declare the law, we must declare it according to the mind of the Lawgiver. But in the application of the law to the condemnation of this or that individual, we must always lean to the side of mercy, and give him the benefit of every extenuating circumstance; and even when we must condemn him, we cannot be too careful to show that it is the law that condemns him, not a poor, frail mortal like himself.
As laymen and reviewers, we have nothing to do with the application of the law to individual cases; we are only permitted to defend the truth against error, to speak, under correction of our pastors, of the law, and its condemnation of those who break it. We may say, Out of the church there is no salvation, because the church has herself so de fined; we may pronounce Protestantisin a damnable heresy, for the church has anathematized it, and even natural reason rejects it; we may assert that no Protestant, living and dying a Protestant, can ever see God, and therefore declare all who are Protestants are out of the
way of salvation, because the church says it, and we, in being received into her communion, promised to say as much. To say this, and to add that none but Catholics can, under any circumstances, be saved, is in these days regarded as harsh, even cruel, and if we do so, it is supposed by many Catholics as well as heretics, that we forget the charity of the Gospel, and neglect the mercy with which we should always temper judgment. But it should be borne in mind, that in saying this we are not judging, but simply repeating the revealed and declared judgments of God, which are not our judgments, but the law or rule according to which we are to form our jndyments. Whether the truths we repeat are harsh or not, the responsibility does not rest on us; but we know no right that any man has to suppose it possible for God to be harsh, severe, or unkind. St. Peter_says expressly that there is no other name than that of Jesus under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved. Neither is there salvation in any other. God was not obliged to save any man, and all salvation is the free gift of God, for we are saved by grace. God could, without any right of complaint on our part, fix the conditions on which he would or would not save those who have sinned against him. If he has fixed those conditions, and declared that he will save none who are not joined to the communion of the church, it is not harshness, but simple charity, to tell the truth, and say distinctly and energetically, Out of the church there is no salvation. We should be wanting in charity if we did not.
The charge of severity against those who insist on the doctrine of exclusive salvation, which the church unqnestionably teaches, arises froin confounding the stern and unflinching statement of what the law is with its application to individuals. “Other sheep have I,” says our Lord, “who are not of this fold, them also must I bring." The Lord knoweth them that are his, and we are never at liberty to say that none are elected but those already in the church. Nor are we at liberty, without supernatural revelation, to pronounce on the future fate of even those who have appar ently died out of the Catholic communion. If they really died out of that communion, we know they are lost; but whether they did so die or not, in all ordinary cases, it is not for us to judge. We know the law, and we know it admits in this case of no exception, of no dispensation; but we do not know but this or that individual, whom we supposed obnoxious to its penalty, may not, in a way we know not, have been brought in reality into the fold before the soul was separated from the body. We may, indeed, have no reason to believe it, but, as it was possible, we cannot say that it was not so, and therefore we cannot pronounce on its doom. As long as there is life there is hope, and therefore we can never say of any living man that he will certainly go to hell; and as we know not the actual state in which any particular soul has left the body, we cannot say that any particular departed soul is damned, although we may have strong reasons for believing, and none for not believing, it. Our judgments here must be conditional, not absolute, and we must stop with saying of the living, if they die heretics or infidels they cannot be saved, and of the dead, if they have died in heresy or infidelity they are damned.
In regard to sin of every description, in teaching, in laying down the law, we must always be most rigid, for the law knows no compromise, and the judgment is certain if the sin is incurred; and here is as far as we can go. The priest, indeed, can go further; he is appointed to judge those sinners who come to him and confess or accuse themselves of their sins. But in judging them, while he holds the law in its strictness, he takes note of all the circumstances of the acts confessed, and is careful to give the self-accused the benefit of whatever may tend to extenuate his offence. He tempers his judgment with mercy, and takes good care that he does not pronounce a heavier penalty than has been actually incurred. Moreover, knowing the frailty, the rottenness of human nature, the seductions of the world, and the temptations of Satan, he will, even when he must condemn, and it would seem even in proportion as he must condemn, melt in tenderness to the poor sinner, and clasp him to his bosom with a supernatural charity. We apprehend that confessors feel the greatest tenderness for those penitents who have had the greatest sins to confess, the deepest and most loathsome moral wounds to disclose. The penitent, all polluted with sin, who has nothing but a long catalogue of the inost loathsome moral diseases to lay bare before his confessor, is the least likely to be rudely repulsed, and is the most sure of being treated with tenderness, and having the most favorable construction put upon his sins that they will bear. The tribunal of penance is established in mercy, and solely to heal the wounds of the soul, and to cleanse it from its pollutions; and God gives to his ministers the graces that fit them to make it not only effectual, but even attractive to those who need and will frequent it.
In our various degrees, we all in judging, not of sin itself, not of its inherent malignity, but of individuals, are to aim at the same supernatural charity, and to overflow with real love and tenderness towards those whom we regard as sin
Our Lord did not refuse to eat with publicans and sinners, for he came not to call the just, but sinners to repentance. The humble publican, who smites on his heart and exclaims, “God be merciful to me a sinner!" is preferred to the proud Pharisee, who stands and enumerates his. virtues, and thanks God that he is not as other men. Not always are those the world brands with infamy the most guilty before God; and who are we that we should be harsh and unrelenting to our fellow-men, however depraved they may be? Who of us has not had, and has not had every day, nay, a hundred times a day, to say, "God, be merciful to me a sinner”? We may not have fallen so low as this poor brother or sister, but dare we say we should not have fallen even lower if we had been equally tempted or equally exposed ? Alas ! no one can boast over another, and no one has any thing whereof to glory but the cross of Christ which redeemeth from sin. Severe, then, as we ourselves are, and must be, in the work we are permitted to perform, and perhaps in our personal disposition, for no man thoroughly knows his own heart, we like that tone of tenderness to sinners, and even aggravated sinners, which
pervades this little volume. The author contrives to make us love the sinner, and ready to die for him, without making us in the least tolerant of his sin. He makes us weep with the sinner, and rejoice with him, as the waters of penance wash away his pollutions and permit us to see his soul, resplendent through the grace of the sacrament with supernatural purity and loveliness.
Yet, perhaps, the author makes a little too much of the merely human sentiments. The distinguishing mark of the disciples of Christ is love; and this love a large portion of the uncatholic world translate into philanthropy, and an. other portion into mere family affections, and not a few, we fear, into a lower species of love still. We have these errors to guard against. The love, which is the badge of the Christian, is not sensual love, is not merely a human sentiment, whether called philanthropy or any thing else, but charity, a supernatural love, not possible but in a heart that has been regenerated and elevated by divine grace, and which consists in loving God supremely, and our neighbor as ourselves in and for him. It presupposes faith, therefore belief of the truth, and is never found out of the church of God. The human sentiments, which are not elevated by grace, and which are purely within the natural order, are of no value in relation to our final destiny, and, even though not sinful in themselves, seldom fail, owing to our corrupt nature, to become a temptation and a snare to those who indulge them. Philanthropy, as we see it now displayed,