Page images
PDF
EPUB

Aristocracy gave their names, and the Catholic priesthood gave their influence and assistance. In later days, the new method in which the Catholic claims were maintained, shewed that body in a very different aspect from what they formerly assumed. Driven for their education to foreign cloisters and the courts of despots, it was natural that, when they saw their religion persecuted after the fall of the Stuarts, they should unite its prosperity with the existence of that race, and become the supporters of its continuance, and of the continuance of its principles. They were Jacobites in politics, till oppression had almost driven political opinions from their minds, and they then retained in their doctrines a leaven of the divine right principles, which had before been their practice. It has been said, that all oppressed creeds maintain the principles of religious equality; but history shews the falsity of the statement as a general principle. Some of the sects of the Presbyterians in Scotland, in the time of their greatest persecution, looked on their sufferings, as the inflictions of a rival establishment, which they hoped to bring under in their turn; and it seems to be only where the popular voice is called into action, that the principles of religious freedom are urged. Accordingly when a new race of Catholic priests, principally educated in Ireland, saw the insolent supremacy of the English church no longer debated in small societies of clergymen, but involved in the struggle of a vast nation for freedom, they considered the religious distinctions on wider grounds. The persecutions which they, along with a whole people, had suffered for so many years, taught them a lesson, not merely on the text of one hierarchy getting the better of another, but on that of a hierarchy supported by the influence of the State, suppressing all other religious bodies. Thus they came to found their claims on the great principles of religious freedom, and were the active and energetic friends of the Association.

In the mean time in England, the ridiculous cry of no popery was raised, but unlike the period in which that mad bigot, Lord George Gordon lived, the people would not answer

io the call. Some of the hereditary legislators of the land, supported by a few of the elected, thrust themselves forward in support of the call, but they were all treated with contempt. Men laughed at their folly, and spurned at their cruel and grovelling superstition,

Why is this?

The answer is, that we are wiser and better than we were fifty years since. These Parsons are as ignorant and as vicious as their forefathers, and have preserved their bigotry and their superstition. But while they have stood still, the people have advanced. The Priests have lost their influence, and the people judge for themselves.

In the days of Lord George Gordon the people of London not only differed from the Catholics in matters of religion, but they also hated the Catholics because they did differ from them. Now the same difference exists as respects belief in religious matters, but the people have learned a wise lesson, and do not hate those who have come to conclusions opposite

to their own.

Is not this a great advance in wisdom? Is it not, also, a great advance in virtue? Let us understand the consequence of such a forbearing state of mind, and we shall then be able to appreciate its worth, and the folly and the vice of those who seek to change it.

This forbearance towards our neighbours in matters of religion is not a state of mind the consequences of which belong only to those matters. If I have taught myself to treat with respect and due consideration the opinions of my neigh

as to religion, I have also acquired a abit, the tendency of which is to lead me to view, with the same forbearance, all his other conscientious opinions—and this habit will lead me not merely to abstain from religious, but all other Persecution. I shall have learned to hear opinions opposite to my own, without offence, and in a calm and dispassionate spirit. I shall listen, and not shut my ears to conviction—I shall believe that I am not infallible—that I may, on some occasions, and important occasions too, be in error, while my neighbour

bour

may be in the right. Having acquired this modest and truly wise spirit, I shall be willing to hear the truth from whatever quarter it may come, and anxious to know what others may say, in order to judge of the correctness of my own conclu sions.

When the Reformation commenced, people were told, by the Catholics of those days, that every sort of vice would be the result of any change of religious opinions. The old Reformers, notwithstanding these fearful denunciations, went on in their work, and thoroughly altered, in many countries, the religious belief and ceremonial of the inhabitants. The result belied the prophecies of those who had foretold vice and licentiousness as the necessary consequences of change. The various Reformed communities. as they were called, were found to be quite as moral, good, kind, and virtuous, as the Catholics—so the people began to doubt of the importance of those knotty points of controversial theology which had perplexed and excited their forefathers. Time went on, and the mass of the people grew daily more instructed, both in Catholic and Protestant countries; and as religion always takes its form and character from the state of the public mind, the religion of the various Catholic and Protestant countries grew better.— We Protestants are not the Protestants of the days of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, neither are the Catholics the Catholics of those days. Just as the people of those days differed from their forefathers, who rushed in multitudes to Palestine, so we differ from them, who deliberately burned what they chose to call heretics, in Smithfield.

If you take two persons of the same country, who have been brought up in the same station of life, at the same period, but who are of different religions, one, for example, being a Catholic, the other a Protestant, they will be both of them, in their moral conduct, exceedingly similar. Take, for example, the women of England who happen to be Catholics, and compare them with the same classes of women who are Protestants, and you will find them equally good mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives. So with the men: the Catholics are just

as good citizens, as good husbands, fathers, brothers, as their Protestant fellow-citizens. And why is this? Because the morality by which both sects regulate their conduct is similar, and because the religion of both has been changed and purified by the improving state of the times. Philosophy has softened the asperities of the old faith. Calvin burned Servetes, King James burned the Anabaptists, because it was the approved method, in those days, of demonstrating the truth of religion. Men then proved,

“ By apostolic blows and knocks,

Their own opinions orthodox."

Calvin, in this matter, was not a whit worse for being a Protestant, neither was he better. Persecution was the vice of his age. It was then generally believed that incorrect belief was a crime; and as each man believed that he himself was in the right, it followed of course that he 'ought to punish all who differed from him. So the Catholic persecuted the Protestant and the Protestant the Catholic. Both the one and the other persecuted the Jew. In short, persecution was the order of the day.

But at the present day, having got rid of our terror of the Pope, we have allowed ourselves to look more closely into the truth of the statement, that incorrect belief is a crime. It is now almost universally admitted that this statement is wholly false. We have learned that belief does not depend upon the will. For example, a man shews me a green parrot. I may try my utmost to make myself believe it to be a blue one, and I shall fail. Let a man put his finger into the candle and endeavour to persuade himself that he does not feel pain ; when he has succeeded in this endeavour, (and I will give him permission to try as often as he pleases,) then, but not till then, he will have made some progress in proving belief to be dependent on a man's own will.

But it is of the very essence of crime to be the result of a man's intention. If, by a spasniodic action of my arin, I 16.

3 с

should inflict a grievous wound on one standing near me, I should not have committed a crime, because my will had nothing to do with the matter. It, then, my belief be wholly independent of my will, there can be no criminality in it, whatever it may be.

be. I am no more answerable for my believing that two, and two make four, than I am for believing that the roon in which I am sitting is of an agreeable temperature. *

Now, the mass of the people having by experience learned that their Catholic brethren were quite as good and moral as themselves, and it having become the feeling of all who really think about the matter, that our belief is not dependent on our will, and therefore not the subject of reprobation or reward, a spirit of forbearance to one another has been the general and highly beneficial consequence.

Fifty years ago, the great body of the people of London were in the most profound ignorance. A very small portion of the labouring people could read, and what they believed respecting Catholics was the result of the old women's tales with which they were constantly regaled. It was a favourite belief of that time, for example, that all the French people wore wooden shoes, that it was the object of the French king to conquer England, and that the result of that would be, that he would make all the people wear wooden shoes. The French King and the Pope were always united in these people's minds; that is, they believed them to act together for the subjugation of our country, and the constant cry was, * No Popery, no Wooden Shoes.An attempt was made to

A hasty objector might say, that indifference on the subject of belief would be the result of this doctrine. Such, howev.', would not be the case. Belief depends upon evidence. If the evidence be correct and complete, our beliei will be correct also. Now, the completeness of the evidence presented to our minds deperds materially upon ourselves--and no more important duty de. volves upon a man than that of seeking after evidence. To be content to hola an opinion upon a really important matter without having sought after and weighed the evidence on which it ought to rest, is a breach of a solemr. obligation, and deserves severe reprobation.

« PreviousContinue »