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APRIL, 185 0.
ART. I. - The Works of the Right Rev. JOHN ENGLAND,
First Bishop of Charleston, collected and arranged under the immediate Advice and Direction of his immediate Successor, the Right REV. IGNATIUS ALOYSIUS REYNOLDS. Baltimore: J. Murphy. 1849. 5 vols. Large 8vo. Double columns.
The wide-spread fame of Dr. England as an orator, a divine, a patriot, and a scholar, will doubtless be greatly enhanced by the publication of his works. Some acquire a high reputation for oratory in the pulpit or at the bar, whose discourses, when published, leave us astonished at the weakness of their reasoning, and the flimsiness of those ornaments of speech which fascinated multitudes. Not so with those of the illustrious Bishop of Charleston. His arguments are such as bear the severest scrutiny ; his discourses are the compositions of a skilful artist, who combines each part with the other in close union and harmony ; his images are natural and striking. It
It may, indeed, be a matter of surprise to those who peruse the solid and persuasive sermon which he delivered in the hall of Congress in 1926, and which we take to be a fair specimen of his doctrinal discourses, that he could succeed in arresting the attention of popular assemblies on matters better suited to a highly intellectual audience, such as that which he then addressed; but the fact is widely known, that the unlearned, as well as the philosophical inquirer, hung with delight for hours on his lips, whilst he descanted on the evidences of Christianity, and that children fancied they understood what he propounded. This NEW SERIES. - VOL. IV. NO. II.
is accounted for by the plain and clear language which he employed, by his illustrations, which brought sublime truths down to the level of the humblest intellects, and by the life and spirit which breathed throughout, since he acted, but without affectation, all that he spoke. The maxim of Demosthenes, that delivery is the chief qualification of an orator, was illustrated in him, since his long and profound discourses, without this charm, would necessarily have fatigued the attention of his hearers. His gesticulations were almost too animated for the pulpit; but they were perfectly in character, and they gave charm and effect to his appeals. As he stood, with folded arms, pausing at the close of some luminous argument, and surveying his audience, to discover whether they felt and acknowledged its force, all remained entranced. The effect of the oratorical pause was never seen to more advantage. The mind, surveying the chain of reasoning which, link by link, had been formed, admired its beauty, and felt happy in being encircled by its magic power, and made captive to truth. Interrogatories, with the responses, opportunely intermingled, relieved the seriousness of logical exercise, and fixed the attention of all on the point under consideration. We recollect to have heard him in the first Council of Baltimore, above twenty years ago, when he presented the claims of the Church to be our guide in the things of salvation, with a combination of argument and authority not easy to be resisted. At the close, he asked himself in the name of some votary of liberty, “Do you mean, then, to establish the despotisin of authority? Will you have us to renounce reason, and follow blindly the dictates of erring fellow-mortals? Will you deprive us of the liberty of thought?” To each of these questions he emphatically answered, “ No.” " What then?” said he. “I will only,” he replied, " that man be subject to God."
His descriptions were picturesque and animated, bringing, as it under the eyes of his audience the scenes which he represented. In treating of the evidence of miracles, he observed that the reality of death can be ascertained beyond all doubt, and, as is a corpse lay before the audience, he pointed to each symptom, — the stiffened limbs, the glazed eyes, the absence of all pulsation, the commencement of decomposition ; and, as he proceeded in his scrutiny, he demanded with earnestness, “Is he dead?” The oratorical pause which ensued, and which was wonderfully expressive, left the audience in deep reflection ; but on one occasion it was wellnigh being disturbed by almost ir
repressible laughter, produced by a somewhat ludicrous reminiscence. There sat in front of the pulpit the revered proto-sacerdos of the United States, who had been an actor in a scene not dissimilar. In the earlier part of his ministry in Kentucky, he had attended many times a chronic patient, whose sufferings made such an impression on his imagination, that his sleep was disturbed with the painful idea that the afflicted man was buried alive. The man died at length, during the absence of the missionary, who, however, returned in time to assist at the burial. Just before the coffin was deposited, its lid was raised to give the friends for the last time the opportunity of looking on the face of the departed. The priest demanded with earnestness, “ Is he dead ?” All stood silent and motionless, astonished at the unusual interrogatory, and unaware of the dream that disturbed the imagination of the good father ; but, on the repetition of the question, one of the by-standers, who was deemed halfwitted, and whose pronunciation was nasal, replied, “I reckon he is; he don't speak.” This curious occurrence had long passed away from the remembrance of the aged father ; but it was brought fresh to the mind of the younger priest, who sat at his side, and who in his boyhood had assisted at the interment. The vivid description of the Bishop would have infallibly convulsed him in any other place, but a sense of the sacredness of the temple and the solemnity of the occasion enabled him to preserve his gravity, and leave the audience under the influence of the powerful eloquence of the orator.
The outline of his general reasoning on this subject is found in the admirable discourse delivered in the hall of Congress, to which we have already referred. His arguments on the authority of the Church are dispersed throughout the collection of his works. "An Essay and Letters on Infallibility” are, with great propriety, placed at the commencement of the first volume, which will be found to exhibit that accuracy of statement and strength of reasoning which so eminently characterized him. We should be pleased to see it published apart, in pamphlet form, for general distribution, as one of the clearest and strongest essays adapted for general use. The letters to the Rev. Hugh Smith, a Protestant Episcopal minister in Georgia, “On the Judicial Office of the Catholic Church," treat of the same subject under a different point of view, with such happy variety of method, that the reader is not wearied by repetition, but finds delight, as well as an increase of information, in the new phases of the discussion. The same observation applies to the many essays contained in these volumes, in which the subject recurs. The author seems always to have had present to his mind all he had written, and when he found himself obliged to repeat the substance of former statements, he varied his expressions, or chose a new mode of argument directed to the same end. In his reasoning he appears like a builder engaged in the erection of a colossal monument ; he piles argument on argument till the logical structure rises in fair proportions to a height that surprises and overawes the beholder. We know of no work in which the authority of the Church, as a tribunal of doctrine, is treated with greater clearness of diction and power of reasoning, as well as variety of method.
We must, however, take leave to express our regret, that, whilst scrupulously tenacious of the defined doctrines, the illustrious prelate, in the early part of his career, was tinged with those theological opinions which pass under the name of Gallican. Our readers are aware that, ever since the Declaration of the French Assembly in 1682, as to the limits of Papal authority, these opinions have been generally ascribed to the clergy of France, although we believe the majority of that illustrious body never cordially accepted them. In their mildest form they are characterized by a narrow spirit of nationality, which claims for the French Church certain privileges, as immemorially enjoyed, and not to be interfered with or set aside by the Sovereign Pontiff. The most effectual refutation of these pretensions to restrict the exercise of the supreme authority was given by Divine Providence, which so disposed the course of events, that it became necessary, in order to preserve the Church of France from extinction, that Pius VII. should remove her ancient landmarks, and displace the occupants of her sees, to create a new hierarchy, and give her a new organization. This unprecedented act of sovereign ecclesiastical power was performed with the applause of the Catholic world, and with the acquiescence of most of the French prelates, who acknowledged its wisdom and necessity. In ordinary circumstances none are more willing than the pontiffs to respect the ancient usages of local churches. St. Gregory the Great, writing to Dominic, Bishop of Carthage, declared, that, as "he defended his own prerogatives, so he maintained inviolate the rights of the respective provinces.”
The relations of the Church to the civil power were, in truth, the great point at stake at the time of the Assembly of 1682. Louis XIV., in the pride of absolute sovereignty, had
encroached on the rights of several bishops, who invoked pontifical interference to prevent the extension of the royal prerogative, styled regalia, to matters of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Innocent XI. acted on their solicitation ; but in the strise which ensued, the bishops, overawed by the sovereign, weakly undertook to circumscribe the Papal power. No attempt had been made by the Pontiff to revive the claims of some of his predecessors to a paramount authority over princes, nor was there any likelihood of their revival; but Louis, feeling that it would annoy Innocent to have them formally denied, urged the prelates to declare against them. This declaration was offensive, as well as unnecessary ; it was an implied censure on the holy pontiffs, wbo, in the Middle Ages, had struggled against tyranny by wielding a power which, from whatsoever source it was derived, they actually possessed, and it was calculated to render the civil authority absolute and despotic, by removing moral restraint. Those who deny that the Pope had any divine right over civil governments, cannot on this account close their eyes to the evidence of history, that he was for ages appealed to by princes and their subjects, and that his judgment was sought as to the moral obligations by which they were mutually bound. It was scarcely fair, in these circumstances, to emit a declaration, which, even if true to the letter, was injurious to the memory of illustrious pontiffs, and prejudicial to royalty itself, by the irresponsible character which it ascribed to it. For our own part, we believe that the sanguinary scenes of the French Revolution may be traced to the absoluteness of the monarchy as it existed in the Great Louis, whose maxim was, “ L'état c'est moi.” The penalty paid by his unfortunate descendant is an atonement for the pride which spurned any superior but God in matters of temporal administration. Monarchs, as well as their subjects, are bound by the moral law, and the abuse of power, if not remedied by the legal deposition of the sovereign, according to the jurisprudence of the Middle Ages, provokes rebellion and bloodshed.
The learned prelate willingly acknowledged that the dispensing power, as it was called, was no usurpation, whilst he denied that it was held by divine right, and traced it to the concession and the institution of the princes and the people of Christendom.* We think it has a higher source. It may not be easy to prove the alleged acts of concession, much less the formal
* Vol. I. p. 168. Vol. II. p.