« PreviousContinue »
book which I am writing, I shall secure by copy-right, and intend it shall bring me bread, if not fame.” “This treatise which I hold in my hand, and in which I have marked certain paragraphs, contains valuable hints for the improvement of my farm or garden;" and so on. Utility is the guide which directs our studies; and utility with us is money. Of show, also, our American ambition is, after all, sufficiently fond.
We see the same thing in the productions of the pulpit. How miserably inane are most of the sermons we hear-now, not even “moral essays" composed with care; but a few long apostrophes without their points, pressed home with all the unction of a faultless decorum, and brought to a solemn close in twenty-five minutes by the watches of the gratified audience. Instead of the catechetical discourses of St. Ambrose, and other of the ancient fathers, an hour long, and in which the whole congregation received questions and gave answers out of Scripture, we have now a few rhapsodical, windy periods, to feed souls with. Let any mistaken young preacher attempt “rightly to divide the word of God;" let him dare to be solid, thorough, Scriptural, and close-not to say learned and his yawning hearers will go away, exclaiming, “How dull!” “How insufferably tedious!" The truth is, sound, scholarlike, and, withal, practical preaching is not relished now-a-days; the folks must have their dinners; and not even the luxury of painted windows, delicious music, and stuffed pews can sustain them through more than half an hour's sitting at the very utmost.
If the justice of these observations be denied, then how comes it that we are so easily deceived? How comes it, that we are so quickly imposed on by every doctrinal novelty, however absurd ?“ Judea and all Jerusalem going out” after such prophets as Miller, Matthias, Joe Smith, Owen, and others! Errors, too, on the other side of the line find a congenial soil in our midst. It would seem that radicalism and superstition could not possibly grow together in the same field; and that, if the tendency of our democratic institutions be not, as we would fain hope, toward the former of these extremes, it must certainly restrain us from approaching the latter of them. Such, however, is not the case. Disguise it as we may, there is among us a growing taste for the splendid paraphernalia of superstition. Grand edifices, sonorous music, priestly evolutions, pictorial robes, pleasant perfumes of the smoking incense, and all the other "pomp and circumstance” of church parade, have ever been attractive to the popular mass. They "touch, taste, and handle” these things, just so fast as they can find company enough at their side to wipe off the blush occa
sioned by their Puritan recollections. As for the doctrines concerned, gone are the good old days when parents were not ashamed to carry their Testaments and their catechisms in their pockets, that they might teach their precious contents “to the child, when they lay down and when they rose up, when they sat in the house and when they walked in the way with him.” Novelty takes. Foreign importations are fashionable-as well in creeds as in clothes. Newman's Hagiology and Pusey's sacramental mysticism are better than the heir-loom of our religious fathers. This thumbing of our Bibles has got to be a dull business. True, the dogma may startle us a little at first, because new; but it is plausibly defended; we do not remember any Scripture texts which are against it; it certainly is beyond our comprehension—but so is the Trinity; repeated views render it familiar; from being familiar it becomes agreeable; and so, when circumstances and influences are sufficiently propitious, we then embrace it. Certain it is, as may be seen from statistics, that the distinctive tenets of the Romish Church are and have been, for the last ten years, gaining far beyond the ratio of the national census. There is no body of Christians in the land whose churches, colleges, schools, and asylums, are multiplying at the rate of theirs. It is entirely untrue, to say that only foreigners compose their assemblies. A proportion of these, and in the cities a pretty handsome proportion, consists of native Americans; who sit gazing at their seductive pageantry, and who care little what doctrine is delivered, so long as they are delighted with the sensuous system of sights and sounds which is displayed around them. Our sons and daughters may be found in all their seminaries. A fondness for their peculiar style of worship is extending itself to other sanctuaries, not called by their name; and many of their usages are often defended by those who do not yet profess ostensibly to conform thereto. And our republican antipathy, not against their persons, but against their superstitious practices, appears to be fast dying out. We are, on the whole, gradually loosening our hold upon the ground which we once chose for ourselves. The thing may be slow, may be insensible in its progress; but it is nevertheless taking place.
Now, at a time like this, it is not enough merely to circulate the Scriptures-even the Papists are doing this in their Douay. They must be preached, expounded, taught, and enforced. Those passages of them which are alledged in support of false doctrine, should be examined, critically explained, and presented in the form of short treatises; and the people be induced, if possible, to read them. A tract, pointedly written on each of the most important texts in con
troversy, is, perhaps, what most of all things we need just now. And it is a gratifying sight, when our Biblical critics can so far rise above the influence of their academic habits, as to be able to touch cleverly the point at issue; and will, moreover, condescend to write something smaller than folios, and in a dialect which we can understand, as well as in a size which we can afford to buy. Such a book is now before us ;-may it find readers !
The discourse at Capernaum has often been abused to the support of transubstantiation. Wrest this and two or three more places from its supporters, and not a shadow of a color for this idolatrous dogma is left. The sixth of John is, however, the locus which is most imperatively urged in its favor; and Dr. Turner “has done a good work” in clearing it from the sacramental meshe which have been cast around it, and placing the chapter in its true light before us.
The first part of his Essay is an examination of Dr. Nicholas Wiseman's four lectures on the discourse, published not long ago in England, and more lately in this country, by Eugene Cummiskey of Philadelphia, with its oriental quotations printed in a manner sufficiently amusing to the learned.
This Dr. Wiseman is a sort of Magnus Apollo, " or great man," as we say, in the Romish communion-having, some time prior to his present work, given to the world a course of lectures on the “Principal Doctrines and Practices of the Catholic Church;" while his book on the connection of revealed religion with the natural sciences has earned him no little celebrity among those who are not exactly aware how easy it is to make a book when one has a good library. If we mistake not, he has received a cardinal's cap; he is also distinguished for the suavity with which he entertains Protestant inquirers after “Catholic truth;" insomuch that individuals of this description frequently resort to him from that side of the water, and sometimes also, as we hear, from this. His manners, as well as his explanations, are, we infer, well calculated to soften down the features of the church of which he seems to be a kind of public representative. It may be proper to add, that he is a member of the society of Jesuits.
But how comes Dr. Wiseman to attempt the proof of transubstantiation on such ground as this? Is it exactly in character for a Roman Catholic divine to come before the world with a critical exegesis of Scripture in his hand? Can he be ignorant how unfriendly his church is to this mode of proving her doctrines ? Does that church ever encourage-except when compelled by the force of circumstances—these appeals to the law and the testimony?"
Are not the decisions of popes and the decrees of councils her infallible tribunal? Must not we be silent, and believe as we are bidden? Father Simon, one of their most celebrated writers and one of the greatest oriental scholars of his age, has even asserted,—with regard to the Old Testament at least, -—"that a greater part of the Hebrew words are equivocal, and that their signification is entirely uncertain ;” and that, " for this reason, when a translator employs in his version the interpretation which he thinks the best, he cannot absolutely say that that interpretation expresses truly what is written in the original. There is always good ground to doubt whether the sense which he gives be the true sense, because there are other meanings which are equally probable.” Again : “The Protestants do not consider, that the most learned Jews doubt almost everywhere concerning the proper signification of the Hebrew words, and that Hebrew lexicons composed by them commonly contain nothing but uncertain conjectures." This was said with the specious view of recommending traditional authority, and was intended to drive us either into infidelity or into the Church of Rome. It is true, Bossuet repudiated this assertion of Simon, affirming that it went to undermine Christianity itself.* But the bishop of Meaux, it will be remembered, was a Jansenist. The collected voice of the Church of Rome would have then sanctioned, and would unquestionably now sanction, the doctrine of Richard Simon, as it respects not only the Old Testament, but the whole of the sacred writings. Her principle ever has been, and is now, that the people should not be invited to read the Scriptures critically, if at all. Tradition must reach over our shoulder as we read, and point out with her finger the meaning of “that which is written.”
We say, then, that Dr. Wiseman has not acted agreeably with the esprit du corps of his church. We are not used to hear Scripture quoted and appealed to by such mouths. It looks too much like the devil, coming, as Burkitt quaintly says, “to Christ with a Bible under his arm,” when he quoted a verse from the Psalms, “It is written," &c. And whether the cardinal really thinks his own church too dogmatic, or whether he finds it expedient to conform a little more to the genius of the age, and so would humor our Protestant pertinaciousness, or whether he honestly believes that such an absurdity as transubstantiation can be defended on Scripture grounds; in either case, such a procedure is not consistent, is not homogeneous, with the system he maintains; it is a
Campbell's Third Preliminary Dissertation,
piece of new cloth stitched upon an old garment; and the success of the enterprise is what might have been expected, from one who ventures on ground with which he is not very well acquainted, and on which he cannot with any consistency tread.
The gist of the whole controversy lies in the nine consecutive verses, beginning with the 51st and ending with the 59th of the chapter. Before and after this portion, all agree that there is no intended reference to the sacrament. “Dr. Wiseman admits, that until the 48th or 51st verse, 'the discourse refers entirely to believing in Christ;' and that on this point Protestants and Roman Catholics are both agreed.'"-Essay, p. 3. How, then, comes our Lord all at once to change the subject, without giving the least intimation of it? How comes he to pass from a general doctrine to a particular institution, without saying a single word to apprise his hearers thereof? Dr. Wiseman, however, tells us that such is really the fact. He finds this transition; and the stepping-stones of it are the 48th, 49th, 50th, and part of the 51st verses. Here the great Teacher is detected gliding tacitly over from the subject of faith in general, to that of the sacrament in particular. A number of arguments are invented to support this transition. That there is anything in the language expressive of such a change, he does not pretend. But for a case of similar silence he goes to Matt. xxiv, XXV; where the Saviour passes from the destruction of Jerusalem to the destruction of the world in the last day, without verbally announcing the change of subject. But there, Christ speaks as a prophet-here, as a preceptor: there, like one of those ancient seers, he sweeps the whole vista of future time at a glance—here, he is discoursing familiarly to the multitude. The cases, therefore, are not parallel.
Another argument for his transition is the difference of phraseology. “Our opponents,” he says, “suppose the phrases in the two portions of the discourse to be parallel, and to refer equally to faith. By this reasoning it will follow, that to eat his flesh, verses 54-57, means the same as to possess the bread of life mentioned in verses 32, 33, 35;" whereas, after showing that “the phrases which occur in the first part of the discourse were calculated to convey to the minds of those who heard the Saviour the idea of listening to his doctrines and believing in him, and the more so as he had positively explained them in this sense,” he affirms, “that after the transition a totally different phraseology occurs, which, to his hearers, could not possibly convey that meaning, nor any other save that of a real eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood."-Essay, pp. 21, 13.