From the London Sunday Times.
DECLINE AND FALL OF THE PAPACY.
It may be gathered from the study of history that states and institutions often appear to be recovering new strength at the very moment they are about to be extinguished for ever. They send forth a glare, like an expiring lamp, which startles and deceives the eye, till the blackness of darkness succeeds, leaving no room for scepticism. In this way the papacy appears at this moment to be throwing forth its dying light, bewildering the weak, inspiring the strong with contempt, but, at the same time, displaying numerous phenomena calculated to perplex even the most clear-sighted. While in the last agonies in Italy, the land of its birth, it appears to be spreading and acquiring power in several regions north of the Alps, as an ancient tree, sometimes, in spring, exhibits a profusion of green foliage at the extremity of its branches, while the trunk is falling rapidly a prey to incurable rottenness. How these things are brought about it is difficult to explain, though it be perfectly intelligible that familiarity with the workings of Romanism, and a long experience of its evils, may have inspired the inhabitants of the sub-Alpine peninsula with the desire to adopt a new creed, while those who once accepted the teaching of the Reformation are in many cases panting to escape from the light which has shone around them during three hundred years, and take refuge once more in congenial darkness.
Englishmen, writing from Italy, are often misled by prejudices and traditions. Most of our countrymen, through some extraordinary influence unintelligible to me, uphold the established order of things in the Peninsula, even to the very papacy. They look on it as a temporal power, organised for temporal purposes, and are easily betrayed into violent hostility when called upon to explain their views respecting the political significance of the late movements. With them a republic is necessarily a revolutionary government, and though we ourselves owe whatever liberty we possess to a revolution, they seem to regard with extreme jealousy the efforts of all other nations at emancipating themselves by the same means. However, when religion comes to be the question under consideration, they will sometimes consent to lay aside their prejudices and common-places, and to admit that the regeneration of Italy can never be accomplished through any other agency than that of a Protestant republic.
While Rome was in the enjoyment of its freedom, the Diodati bible was printed and circulated in great numbers. The people acquired and studied it, and discovered in every page fresh lessons of democracy. In many cases they heard for the first time of the equality of mankind, of the christian doctrine of universal brotherhood, and aspired to that perfect freedom which is based on the recognition of these doctrines.
It was a dread of the importance of this fact that led the Pope to accept the aid of foreign bayonets, because he well knew that a few years of republican government would have entirely removed the ground from under the feet of the papacy, and left it totally disconnected with the popular belief and sympathies. It was hoped that in Italy as well as in Austria, the sword would be able to extirpate all obnoxious opinions. But both at Vienna, at Rome, and throughout all Italy, a movement has been begun which can never more be arrested till it shall have levelled all the dens of superstition, introducing truth into the church of St. Peter, illuminating the dark places of the Vatican, and infusing into the whole atmosphere of Italy a renovating spirit.
Symptoms extremely significant have recently appeared in Tuscany, where, in consequence of the freedom allowed by the revolutionary government, Protestantism sprang up with miraculous rapidity, and found converts, not only in the capital—where a congregation of about three hundred exists—but likewise in all the provincial cities where the errors of the papacy are earnestly abjured, and belief in Christianity founded extensively on the scriptures. For a diffusion of the knowledge of these circumstances, Europe is indebted to the Swiss Protestant Church established at Florence. It long existed in complete obscurity, its ministers preaching habitually in French, though for the accommodation of the inhabitants of the Grisons, the service was performed once a month in German and Italian. To the teaching of this little obscure church the Florentines came first by twos and threes, but as a knowledge of the light spread the visitors multiplied, first into scores, and then into hundreds, until at length the government became alarmed. Recourse was then had to persecution, and in the course of last month numbers were seized and dragged before the police courts, confessedly in contravention of the existing law, but in conformity with some law which, they say, is to be hereafter enacted. But, as among our puritanical forefathers, the adoption of the truths of Christianity makes men bold, and accordingly, the Italian converts, setting their government at defiance, resolved to prosecute the studies on which they had entered, and adhere resolutely to their new faith.
Here are facts on which Cardinal Wiseman and the proselyte makers of this country ought seriously to reflect. While they are making converts by degrees among us, Protestantism, is making converts by thousands in Italy, where, in the course of a few years, the principles of the Reformation will overpass every barrier and spread from sea to sea—
“Nor Alp, nor Appenine, can keep them out,
Nor fortified redoubt.”
It is, probably, a conviction of this truth that makes Pio Nono sigh for the seclusion of a monastery, where he may soothe his bigoted conscience by practising those fantastical rites and ceremonies most agreeable to a weak, fluctuating, and pusillanimous mind. Among his vicars apostolical, bishops, and archbishops in the north, ambition in most places supplies the place of piety; believing probably in no creed of any kind, they assumed the exterior semblance of belief for the purpose of obtaining an empire over the feeble-minded, among whom we must reckon these wretched clergymen who, having once been Protestants, could mechanically shut their eyes, reject the truth, adopt error in its stead, and apostasies from that religion whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, to that foul Golgotha where an infallible old pedant sits dreamingly among the decaying relics of deceased bigotry and idolatry.
In saying this I am by no means endeavouring to reconcile you with the audacious aggressions of the Pope, or with that party still more odious and obnoxious, who, entrenched in the very citadel of Protestantism, are basely seeking to betray it into the hands of Rome. The Puseyites are only so many traitors in the camp; those among them who have more honesty than the rest have lifted the mask and gone over to the Vatican, but a majority, more acute and politic, are labouring to reconcile the temporalities of Protestantism with the doctrines of Rome. To them fasting in a hair-cloth shirt has no attractions; they prefer a lazy luxurious life, led at the expense of silly congregations, who, in return for being indulged in spiritual drunkenness readily contribute the good things of mammon to these who administer to their intoxication.
When Lord John Russell wrote his letter to the Bishop of Durham he seems to have contemplated sweeping Puseyism clear out of the church. He has since apparently discovered reasons for changing his mind, since they who are the accepted interpreters of his views no longer expect from him so energetic and thorough a reformation. But of this it is yet too early to judge. Lord John Russell may do his duty honestly, though it would be far more consistent with the spirit of Whiggery to deal in large promises and small performances. But at all events the aggression of the Pope must be met, and in their usually unsatisfactory manner, ministers have already promised so much to the country.
But, as has often been said, there is no legislating for religion, though you may settle by act of parliament the visible emoluments of priests and the organization of ecclesiastical establishments. Over opinions you can exercise openly no effectual control, though, as has been proved in Italy and Spain, you may prevent the spread of truth, and impart something like a perpetuity to error by surrounding your church with a circumvallation of pains and penalties, and making it exile or martyrdom to depart ever so short a distance from its pale. If men will quit the truth to go back to the worship of error, you will find it impossible to deter them by the faggot or the stake. There is no absurdity for which men will not hazard their lives.
“Some have worshipped rats, and some
For that church suffered martyrdom.”
And the worship of a rat is as respectable as the worship of a saint, especially if the saint has been canonised for wearing a hair-cloth shirt, and feeding on vermin and raw vegetables.
Wherever Romanism has felt it safe to apply all its machinery to the process of proselyte making, it has had recourse to the most absurd and monstrous means of conversion. It is related of the Russian government that when desirous of compelling certain Mahommedan tribes to submit to the rite of baptism, it surrounded them with an overwhelming military force, and left them no choice but to be cut off, or retreat across a river. Their choice may be easily foreseen; and while they were in the water a Russian priest read the service of baptism and pronounced them all to be good Christians. Cardinal Wiseman would willingly do the same if he could—duck us in the Thames, and call us Papists. I will vent5ure to predict, however, that Romanism is destined to acquire no further political development in this country. A few men of morbid imaginations—a few women of excitable temperament, who easily substitute passion for devotion—a few poor children, ignorant and helpless—may go over to the Romish persuasion, but the mass of the people are too well educated to be caught in the trap of the Jesuits. They know that political servitude must always accompany spiritual servitude, and that poverty, insignificance, and social degradation would be the inevitable consequence of taking the Pope, like the Old Man of the Sea, upon their shoulders. Cardinal Wiseman, a person of vulgar ambition, but great shrewdness, now perceives distinctly that he has overshot his mark, and, accordingly, shrinks from entering our law-courts to try the legality of the course he recommends to Pio Nono, whom he has contributed to bewilder and degrade in the sight of Christendom.
I return to the main point, and reiterate my affirmation that the Papacy is in its last agonies. Its spiritual dominion is at an end, as it could not fail to be when the support of the temporal power was removed. For spiritual dominion means priestcraft, and priests will not care to be crafty unless there is a great deal to be got by it for them and their friends. Now, Popery all over Europe has long been growing less and less lucrative. No doubt a few men like Cardinal Wiseman draw large prizes; but the majority of Popish priests have to struggle with something like apostolical poverty, with nothing like the spirit of apostles to sustain them. I speak, of course, of comparative poverty, because a priest even in Ireland invariably contrives to live much better than the class from which he is raised or lowered to the level of the ecclesiastical body. But they no longer enjoy the voluptuous ease, riches, and power as of old. Their pride, pomp, and ambition have been reduced to small dimensions, and every day that passes over our heads will behold the whole system dwindling still more and more. All real Protestants would rather accept the Koran for their guide than the degrading traditions of the Romish church for a Mohammedan is at least a worshipper of God, whereas the servile disciple of Romanism crawls at the feet of the most contemptible personages, living or dead.
Accordingly, as knowledge spreads, it is fair to infer that the dominions of the Vatican will be circumscribed, for whatever education gains is lost to Rome. A correct mental discipline, and a belief in the legends and traditions of a superstitious church, are things by their nature incompatible. No fear, therefore, of popery ever gaining the ascendant; but this conviction should not be suffered to relax our endeavours to punish the insolence of the Pope and of those bloated and servile instruments he has long employed to diffuse superstition among us. We should all unite heartily in accelerating the descent of the old idolatry over the inclined plain which is conducting it to its proper place. A Papist is an individual of the past, the remnant of a species professedly extinct, save in those isolated specimens which have been left to excite our wonder and astonishment at the depth of degradation to which humanity can be made to descend.
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