Page images



JANUARY, 1846.


Art. I.-"Du Prêtre, De La Femme, De La Famille." Spiritual

Direction, and Auricular Confession; their History, Theory, and Consequences. By M. MICHELET, Assistant Prof. in Faculty of Letters, &c. Phila.: James M. Campbell & Co. 1845.

The present condition of Popery presents a singular combination of weakness and strength. Weak in the power of inherent and prolonged vitality, it is yet strong, partly in the remaining forms of a once vigorous life, and partly in that sudden and feverish strength which is, perhaps, the last convulsive start of expiring nature. So weak that it requires the aid of Austrian bayonets and English frigates to retain possession of the very seat of its power : it is yet so strong, that this very protection is given as the price of its interposition to restrain Irish turbulence and German independence. Like a huge and creeping parasite, it grew and twined itself around the nations during the long night of the middle ages; * and though strong arms have torn away many of its folds, and let in the light of heaven; and though a slow and sure decay is working at its root, yet the gnarled trunk and twisted branches still retain their hold on the various ramifications that have sprung from the yet living roots of the old Roman Empire, with at once the tenacity of life and the rigidity of death. Its political element, the Papacy, as a civil power claiming certain exclusive civil and political rights, has become weak, imbecile, effete; an image of gold with feet of clay: while its spiritual element, Popery, the mystery of iniquity, the huge and fallen archangel of Christianity, still retains its power over the minds and hearts of men. The scarlet-robed queen, though degenerated into a wrinkled and shriveled hag, has still retained the privilege of her order, the terrific power of the curse.

Vol. VI.-1


This spiritual element within a few years past has been quickened into an amazing activity and semblance of life. This reviving is seen in the solemn aping of its senseless mummeries in the Puseyism of England and America; in the pertinacious and arrogant assertion of its claims to the control of the French system of education; in the growing exhibitions of its ancient intolerance in France, Switzerland, Austria, and Sardinia ; in the infamous outrages upon the feeble Society Islanders ; in the vast and increasing revenue of the Propaganda Society; in the steady and persevering effort, not so much to convert the heathen as to undermine and supplant every Protestant mission on the face of the earth ; in the secret but powerful agencies at work to cast the first seed into the virgin soil of that great hot-bed of futurity, the Mississippi Valley; and in the demands that are so boldly and insolently made for peculiar privileges in the common-school education of some of the states. These and many other facts indicate a return of unwonted energy into the decaying system of Giant Pope; which wiser heads than that of the dreaming tinker once supposed would ere this have been wrapped in its scarlet winding-sheet and laid in the great mausoleum of the past.

A natural result of this quickened energy of Popery, is a quickened resistance to its imperious and exclusive claims. Accordingly we find that in France the demand of the priests and Jesuits to have the control of the university, or great national system of education, has been met with firm and indignant opposition. The priest has attacked the philosopher, and it is therefore not a matter of wonder that the philosopher should retaliate upon the priest. When the former has left his appropriate sphere and intruded upon the domain of the latter, we cannot be surprised if the man of letters should be provoked even “ to carry the war into Africa," and show that these high-swelling words were at the least, vox et præterea nihil.

These remarks are necessary to explain one peculiarity of the work before us. Since the French Revolution, such has been the separation between secular and sacred things, that the men devoted to the one, have been almost necessarily presumed to be aloof from the other. Even in those countries where the ministers of religion are officers of the government, and the rulers of the state are in some sense rulers of the church, there has been until recently almost a tacit conventional understanding, that the spheres of temporal and spiritual jurisdiction were totally distinct, and that mutual intrusion was inadmissible. This state of things, however, whether right or wrong, is evidently passing away. Religion is


becoming daily a more active element in the civil and political movements of the world, and of consequence, civilians and politicians are rapidly becoming theologians.

The work of M. Michelet before us is one of the indications of this new era. We have here a treatise on polemics by a layman, a philosopher, a professor in the university, and a distinguished historian of France. Nor is this a flippant, shallow satire of the Voltaire school, but the profound historical and logical analysis, and earnest, thrilling appeal of a man who, whatever be his private opinions on the subject of Christianity, has deeply pondered and keenly felt a horrible evil. It forms a part of that controversy which has been waged for some time with no little bitterness between the university and the priesthood of France. Its immediate occasion was some remarks which the author felt impelled to make in the course of his historical lectures in the college of France. These remarks excited the ire of the Jesuits and priests, and led them to attack the distinguished lecturer with great acrimony and virulence, both in public and private. He was assailed from the pulpit and from the press, in the social circle and in the street. Even his own house was not sacred from their insolent intrusion, but was invaded by the pupils of the exasperated ecclesiastics, to drown by vociferation and insulting noise the utterance of the truth they were unwilling to hear and unable to answer. In sheer selfdefense, M. Michelet was forced to justify his allegations by an appeal to the public through the press; and the volume before us constitutes a part of this vindication. And well has he performed his task. The folly that could goad and drive a man of his intellectual force and historical attainments to the position of an assailant, in the very face of positive, unrepealed laws on the statute book of France, banishing from her soil the crafty, grasping, and turbulent followers of Loyola, is shown, by the recent resuscitation and virtual enforcement of these laws, and the sudden outburst of indignant feeling against these ecclesiastical Machiavellians, to have been but one of the symptoms of the prius dementat.

The object of the work is to develop something of the history, theory, and consequences of spiritual direction and auricular confession in the Romish Church of France. It consists of three parts. The first contains the history of spiritual direction during the seventeenth century. In this the author brings forward, as far as delicacy on the one hand and justice on the other will warrant, the theory of direction then first promulged. He gives a graphic and lively sketch of the Quietists and Mystics of that period, with proofs of the nature and tendency of their doctrines, even on such



hearts as those of a de Chantal and a Guyon, a Fenelon and a Bossuet. Some of the developments of this period are startling, and even horrible. The second part contains an elaborate and ingenious discussion of direction in general, and particularly the form that exists in the nineteenth century. It delineates the resemblances and differences between the church, the confessional, and the confessor of the middle ages, and those of the present day; the tremendous power of the system for evil on the heart of the confessor, on the penitent, and through her on society; the absolute power of the director; the internal condition of convents, and some of the horrible scenes that have been there enacted. He establishes results by the most unanswerable reasoning on the admitted rules that guide the confessor and director, and on undoubted facts that are enough to cause every husband, father, and brother in France to tremble. The description of the web that the priest slowly and gradually weaves first round his victim and then round himself, possesses a dramatic power of analysis and portraiture that thrills the heart alternately with burning indignation, painful compassion, and shuddering horror. The third part imbodies a brief sketch of the family, what it is, and what it ought to be: defining the present, and the proper position of the wife and mother; and contains an earnest appeal for maternal education.

Our object, however, is not to give any extended sketch of this book, so much as to pursue a train of reflection to which it will naturally give rise. We cannot but remember that the same system essentially is existing and operating in our midst ; a system which by its own profession is incapable of change, and which, therefore, indorses with its own hand the fair and legitimate developments of its principles elsewhere. And we cannot fail to consider that the same tremendous engine thus applied to social ends, may also be directed to civil and political ends with equal power. It therefore becomes a problem of most absorbing interest, what would be the result of such an application in a political system like our own? The solution of this problem involves a very wide range of discussion, historical, theological, and political, on which we cannot venture to enter within the limits of the present article.

We propose simply to select from among the topics included in this important inquiry, one, owing to its negative form among the least invidious, though not least important in its bearing on the general question, viz., the historical relation of Protestantism to our free institutions. This we will discuss by maintaining the proposition, that the Reformation of the sixteenth century is the source of American liberty. In order that we may have clearly before us the point of discussion, it may be necessary to explain somewhat the terms of this proposition. It will undoubtedly be admitted by every one, that there is a connection of cause and effect existing between historical events as real as that which is found in any other case. The movements of communities are related to each other as actually as the movements of individuals, for the very reason that they are but the aggregates of individual action. History when written and read as it ought to be is not a confused heap of links, but a chain : not a pile of building materials in which there is contact without connection, but an edifice, vast and glorious, though yet unfinished; with much of the rubbish of the work yet scattered about it, and much of the scaffolding not yet removed : but an edifice which, when it shall be viewed from the elevation of another world, will be found to have its foundations in the depths of chaos and its culminating dome in the heights of eternity: and like the tower of Pharos, whatever name be inscribed on its external coating now, when all that is adventitious is removed, it will be found to have engraved on its very structure the name of the builder and maker, God. The philosophy of history and the use of history consist in discovering and explaining this connection of its events, and learning from them the laws of human action. This connection in some cases is nearer, and in others more remote, but in every case really and actually existing.

Now we alledge that such a connection exists between the Reformation of the sixteenth century, and the American Revolution with its happy results, in such a sense that had the former never occurred, the latter would either never have been undertaken, or if undertaken would have been unsuccessful.

We do not assert that the Reformation was the sole or direct cause of this revolution ; but simply that it was though a remote yet an important cause, or rather a necessary prerequisite or preliminary movement, without which, or something analogous to it, this revolution could not have been effected. By this, we of course do not mean that nothing but this precise movement could have produced such a result; but only that in point of fact it did do so; and that without some such great regeneration in human society no such result ever could have been attained.

It may be further remarked that we do not regard the Reformation as an isolated fact in history. We sometimes hear facts referred to the Reformation as their cause, simply because they are post hoc, without inquiring whether they are also propter hoc: facts which in truth are the effects of causes entirely distinct, or of causes blended with it only to a limited extent.

The Reformation was

« PreviousContinue »