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ON THE CHARACTER AND GENIUS OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC RELIGION.
Much ingenuity has been displayed, and much learning misemployed, in discovering and defending the Notes of the True Church: tomes of controversial theology have been exhausted upon the subject, and the enquirer, whose soul's health was interested in the question, has been either deterred from enquiry by its magnitude, and compelled to swallow the opiate of implicit faith, or else perplexed and doubting to trust without examination to guides, who surpassed him only in the substitution of blind assurance for honest hesitation, and in having acquired learning useless and misused. If not more learned than our fathers, we seem to know the value of time a little better; common sense has broken the cobwebs in which learned sophistry had involved the religious interests of Man; Milner's three notes are posting fast to the bourne, whither Bellarmine's fifteen had preceded them; and another half-century will, perhaps, see, by the blessing of God, one substituted for all, both by the Protestant and the Roman Catholic, a conscientious adherence to Scriptural truth.
At that time, which will assuredly come, though its arrival may be delayed-at that time, when the Idols of Christianity, like those of Paganism, will be given to the moles, and to the bats;" when the Baal and Nebo of a spurious faith, however the professors may term it, will bow down and stoop, and the Dagon of this world's devices will fall before the ark of the revealed word-at that time men will look back with astonish- · ment upon the devices which they invented, and the systems of
which they enslaved themselves; they will look, with the intenseness of the shipwrecked mariner, upon the rocks and shoals which had well-nigh proved their destruction, and will regard, with amazement and humiliation, the human-erected edifices, under whose roofs they had sheltered themselves from the piercing light of God's word. Among those edifices, that founded on the seven hills, has not been the least distinguished;-its walls have been consolidated by time, and its front adorned with the spoils of reason: its portentous shadow has darkened long-past ages, and its deep recesses have witnessed and concealed the artifices of human cunning, and the heavings of human ambition, mingled with the tears of real penitence, and the bursts of agonized contrition.
It is not enough to account for the thraldom with which the See of Rome has so long pressed down even powerful and struggling minds, to ring, with sceptical flippancy, the changes upon ignorance, and priestcraft, and remorse. There has been ignorance, and Popery has used it; there is priestcraft, and Popery employs it; even the profligate will be visited with remorse, and Popery has purchased temporal aggrandizement, by trafficking with the tears and sighs of her votaries. This is all conceded;—but in this Popery does not differ from other false or corrupted systems: besides, to account for the phenomenon it must be shewn, that there is something in the system of Rome, which enables it to wield, with peculiar power, the weapons of ignorance, priestcraft, and remorse-it must be shewn, that this same system was equally calculated to meet the blaze of science and to work in the darkness of ignorance, to overpower or silence the researches of the eighteenth, as well as the turbulence of the sixteenth century; to turn to its use the learning of Mabillon, the piety of Fenelon, the acuteness of Pascal, as well as the fanaticism of Francis, and the brutality of Bonner. Considering it merely in a psychological point of view, the question is not without interest, and is connected with many of the most remarkable phenomena of the human mind-in a religious point of view, it is of indefinite importance, for, if we can discuss the secret power which this tremendous system has possessed, we may be enabled to discover the relative weakness in our nature; and if Popery be, indeed, the religion of unregenerate man, even Protestants the most anxious may dread, lest there may lurk in themselves more inherent tendencies to it than they were at first aware of.
When we survey the system of the Church of Rome in its rise and its progress, in the extent of its triumphs and the consolidation of its power, in the decline of its dominion and its recent attempts at resuscitation, we must be struck by one of its characteristics to which, perhaps, more than any other, that progress has been owing; and by which those triumphs have been prolonged. It is impossible that a set of opinions and practices could have had votaries through so many ages, and from such various quarters; it is impossible that the prince and the peasant, the warrior and the monk, the philosopher, in the full blaze of science, and the ferocious
barbarian; it is impossible that all these could have confessed its sway and received its fetters, were there not very much in the system which was congenial with human nature in the abstract; and very much which shifted and varied with the persons to whom it was applied. Like the magic garment in the nursery tale, it must have relaxed or contracted its folds, according to the moral dimensions of the recipient and were we to name the peculiarity of Romanism, as a religious system, we would express it in one word, APPLICABILITY. Other systems have been invented to suit the characters and genius of individuals, or times, or nations; the creed of Manes was the monstrous product of Orientalized Christianity; the visions of Hindooism subdue the weak and imaginative professors of the creed of Brama; ferocity in public, and indulgence in private life, find shelter under the relaxed robes of Islamism, and each has reckoned its converts by thousands; but they are still confined and local; the one was indigenous in Asia, and never flourished in Europe; the absurdities of Hindoo superstition offend the taste even of those who patronize under another name, its processions or penances; and the desarts of Arabia are the birthplace and limit of Mahomedanism. Not so with Popery: it not only finds, in human nature, a powerful and effective ally, but when that human nature has been varied and transmuted, this system has changed with it-retaining the same name, and aiming at the same power, it has, Proteus like, altered its shape and its dimensions, and on the coast of Coromandel, at the Court of Pekin, under the mildness of an Italian, or the rigours of a British sky, it presents far different features and characters, while its identity is preserved by the same compromising applicability to human nature, and the same insatiable thirst for domination.
Look at this system as it pervades Spain and Italy, revelling in the uncontrolled power which has been conferred on it ;-look at it in Great Britain, assuming the decorum of moderation, and professing to be the advocate for the Rights of Man;-see it in this country, coalescing alternately with the Infidel who denies the sacred Scriptures, and the politician who abuses them; acting the demagogue in the Association, the partisan in the press, and the tyrant in the cottage, inciting her clergy to violence, when she can do it with safety, and stretching the broad shield of her infallibility over them to cover their retreat. Compare her in these different situations and say, if the power she has obtained is more remarkable than the pliability which she has manifested. In the dark ages she had her miracles and wonders to amaze and terrify the credulous; in enlightened periods she has learning and sophistry to confound. For the devout she has solitude and meditation; for the timid, purgatory and penance; for the profligate, indulgences and absolution: the inquisitive she baffles or satisfies, with her scholastic distinctions and divisions; and to the indolent or the ignorant she extends her dogma. of implicit faith. Is her penitent fearful of a sin, yet desirous of its enjoyment? she pro pounds to him by the mouth of her casuists, that the opinion of
one doctor may render an opinion probable; and what opinion, however erroneous has not been defended by some one doctor? Is her penitent addicted to a course of incorrect living,she compensates for such by other acts, weighing against each other good deeds and evil. Is he imperfect in his repentance, she has her doctrines of attrition to sooth him; does he die in terror, she consoles him by the temporary sufferings of purgatory; does he shrink from the fear of eternal punishment, she presents her pastors to the trembling wretch, who offer to take his salvation on themselves, and to submit to the wrath of God in his place. For the gloomy she provides fastings, and macerations, and scourges; to the gay she presents processions, and festivals, and jubilees; the serious she sets to work in the learned labours of her mysteries; and the fanatical she employs in forming a new, or reforming a worn-out order, cheering them by the distant prospect of beatification.-A system so admirably adapted to human nature, which can thus vary with the varying character of its subject, and can confer on every change the stamp of infallibility, must have succeeded; the magnitude of its claims confounded the inquirer into their foundation; the compromising morality of the system enlisted on its side the advocate and the slave of the world;-the deep tone of piety which marks many of its services, gratified the feeling of the devout; the ambitious found in it a useful ally; the profligate a gentle censor; the enthusiast an incentive to his visions; and the learned an approver of his labours.
Wide-spread as has been the dominion which the Church of Rome has exercised over the minds of men, it has been, we conceive, the result of this adaptation to their characters, their circumstances, their virtues and their vices; and while the unbending nature of Protestantism disclaims an alliance with the principles to which Romanism owes its triumphs-a compliance with these principles decorates, in India, the Roman Priest with the insignia of the Bramin, and in Rome confers the majesty and assumption of empire on " the Servant of the servants of God."Many have wondered, that in a system so apparently at variance with the details of Scripture, so much genuine piety should be found as marks the characters of the Pascals, the Arnolds, the Fenelons, and the Quesnels. The question is not, on our principle, difficult of solution. The system would have been imperfect if it did not possess attractions for such spirits, aliments for such minds. Abstracted from the world, and superior to its attractions, deeply spiritualized, and devoted to the service of God, they neutralized by scriptural nourishment much of the poison of the Church under which they lived; and for the grosser parts of her system found in themselves a repellent principle, which prevented them dwelling on them as to confute or desert them. Be it remembered, too, that such men, living in communion with God, have never found favour with the See of Rome. The condemnation of Fenelon has marked the extent to which a mind like his can yield to usurped authority; the agitations produced by the Bull