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XXII. THE CHARGE OF IDOLATRY-HONOR AND
INVOCATION OF SAINTS.*
The curve and the straight line-The issue of the Puseyite movement-Its benefits-Origin of the
controversy concerning Idolatry in the Catholic Church-Palmer and Dr. Wiseman-Charge by the former-How met by the latter-Palmer's criterion applied against himself-His line of reasoning unfair-Three propositions laid dowa-And proved-Catholic doctrine stated— Testimony by the Council of Trent-The Missal and the Breviary – Why are the Saints honored and invoked !Passage from the late Pope's encyclical letter explained-Guardian angels - Objected passages explain themselves --Prayer of Cardinal Bona-Incident in the life of St. Alphonsus Liguori-St. Francis di Girolamo-The Pope's encyclical again-Palmer's Italics—The climax of idolatryColdness and enthusiasm in devotion-The devotion to the Virgin-Beautiful passage of Dr. Wiseman-Possible abuse no argument-Palmer's inconsistency-Passages from the ancient fathersHow he explains them-His glaring perversion of authorities---His work of supererogation--Faith and practice of the early Church-Beauty and sublimity of the Catholic doctrine-Devotion to the Virgin-A golden chain.
GEOMETERS tell us of a curved line, which can never come in actual contact with a straight line, to which it nevertheless constantly approxi. mates. This theorem in conic sections forcibly reminds us of the past relative positions of Puseyism and Catholicity. Though the former seemed for many years to be constantly approaching the latter, yet the range of its curvature never actually touched the straight line of Catholic truth. Whether the approximation will yet terminate in contact, in spite of mathematical rules, the future alone can reveal. One thing is certain, that if so auspicious a conjunction should ever take place, the result will be owing to a modification in the laws of the curve, and not to any change in the direction of the straight line; for truth moves always in a straight line, and it can never deflect either to the right or to the left, else it would cease to be truth.
Though the final issue of the Puseyite movement has not entirely been satisfactory, it has nevertheless exercised a beneficial influence on the religious mind of the age. It has awakened inquiry on the great and all important question of the Church; it has aroused the attention of the sober and reflecting to the grievous evils of sectarianism, and to the vast
1. *Letters to N. Wiseman, D. D., on the Errors of Romanism, in respect to the worship of Saints, Satisfactions, Purgatory, Indulgences, and the Worship of Images and Relics. By the Rev. William Palmer, M. A., of Worcester College, Oxford. Baltimore : Joseph Robinson. 1843.
II. The Character of the Rev. William Palmer, M. A., of Worcester College, as a Controversialist ; particularly with reference to his charge against Dr. Wiseman, of quoting, as Jenuine works of the Fathers, spurious and heretical productions, considered in a Letter to a Friend at Oxford By a late member of the University. From the London edition. Baltimore: Metropolitan Press. 1844. 12mo., pp. 96.
importance of religious unity; it has learnedly and eloquently set forth, in a new and more favorable light, many of the distinctive doctrines of Catholicity ; it has stimulated men's minds to inquire into the principles and institutions of the ancient Church; it has kindled up in the hearts of many Protestants a new fervor to explore the (to them) hitherto hidden treasures of Christian antiquity : and it has thus greatly promoted patristic learning among those who, before, either entirely neglected this useful branch of study, or treated it even with positive contempt. Such have been the principal benefits of Puseyism.
But it has done yet more than this. It has already been instrumental in conducting many ingenuous and learned Protestants to the very portals, and some others into the inner sanctuary, of the venerable Catholic temple. Irresistibly led, by the course of reasoning upon which they had entered, to the conclusion that Catholicity and Christianity are identical, these individuals did not consult their own interests or worldly reputation; they did not confer with flesh and blood ; but, spurning all mere human considerations, they straightway embraced what they believed to be the truth in Christ Jesus ; they denied themselves, took up their cross, and followed their Saviour in the narrow path that leads to life, in which He had walked.
To check this ever increasing tendency towards Roman Catholicism among their immediate disciples, and to prove their own orthodoxy to their Protestant friends, some of the principal Puseyite leaders published works or pamphlets fraught with bitter enmity against Rome, and filled with declamations of a strong attachment to the “no-popery" principles of the Anglican establishment. They maintained that the Catholic Church is one thing, and “popery” another; or that there is a broad and clearly marked distinction between Catholicity as unfolded in its official and recognized formularies and standards, and Catholicity as it actually exists at present, with the open sanction of the Church authorities, in Catholic countries on the continent of Europe. The forms of prayer and of worship contained in the Missal and the Breviary, as well as the doctrinal definitions of the Council of Trent, were according to them, almost entirely unexceptionable, or, at least, susceptible of a sense in accordance with their own views; but the interpretation of that worship, and of those doctrinal definitions, and the system of religion embodying or based upon them in Roman Catholic countries, they professed to view with a holy horror, as strongly savoring of superstition, and even of idolatry. They were almost ready to receive the law; they objected to the commentary put upon it by the practice of the Church.
Of all the Puseyite leaders, perhaps the most active and efficient in laboring to establish this distinction between Catholicity and “popery,” is the Rev. William Palmer, of Worcester College, Oxford. His letters to Dr. Wiseman on the “Errors of Romanism,” have been hailed by Anglicans on both sides of the Atlantio, as a triumphant refutation of the Roman Catholic system. We are not disposed to deny to Mr. Palmer the
credit of some learning, and of considerable ingenuity; we consider him no vulgar or common-place declaimer, but we cannot subscribe to the opinion that he is a very able controversialist, much less a sound or conclusive reasoner. We have already had occasion to show that he is not a correct or safe historian ; we shall now proceed to assign our reasons for believing that he is not a good theologian nor a sound logician. We hope to prove that his learning is much more apparent than real, and that his arguments are much more plausible than solid. All that we ask is an attentive and patient hearing; and we request it with the more confidence, as to accomplish our task it will not be necessary to go into any very lengthy investigation or any very tedious details. Mr. Palmer's learning as well as his arguments lie on the surface; and it will not be necessary to penetrate beyond the surface to establish the shallowness of the one, and the sophistry of the other. Strip his learning of all that it has borrowed from our most common-place theological, historical, and liturgical writers, and it will be meagre indeed ;- strip his reasoning of its false assumptions and glaring sophistry, and it will appear weak and powerless, almost beyond expression.
The immediate occasion which induced the publication of the work under consideration, was the appearance of a letter of Dr. Wiseman to Prof. Newman of Oxford, in answer to certain charges preferred by the latter gentleman against the Catholic Church. For some reason or other, Prof. Newman declined to answer this letter, and Mr. Palmer volunteered his services to answer it for him. He did not, however, confine himself to a mere answer, but he boldly charged the Catholic Church with encouraging and sanctioning idolatry among its members; and with derogating from, and practically denying the atonement of Christ, by its doctrines of satisfactions and indulgences.
To establish the former charge, to which we must confine our attention for the present, he alleged a number of passages from modern standard Catholic writers, and from received Catholic prayer-books; which, according to the interpretation he put upon them, teach that divine honors are given among Catholics to the saints, and especially to the Blessed Virgin. To this train of reasoning Dr. Wiseman replied in his “Remarks," by producing an array of passages from the ancient Greek and Latin fathers containing expressions of reverence for the saints, much stronger and “more offensive” than those to which Mr. Palmer had objected in Catholies of the present day. Mr. Palmer was seriously embarrassed; for he, too, professed an unbounded reverence for the doctrines taught by the ancient fathers, and for the usages of ancient Catholicity.
How did he extricate himself from the dilemma? He became desperate, and recklessly charged Dr. Wiseman with alleging, as genuine
1 In the Review of his Compendious Church History
2 See, for specifications under this head, and for proofs of Mr. Palmer's barefaced plagiarism, “The Character of Mr. Palmer as a Controversialist,” p. 62, note, et alibi passim.
8 It is almost unnecessary to state, that since this was written Dr. Newman has become a fervent Catholic.
testiinonies of the fathers, passages from spurious or heretical works ! The accusation was as grave as it was unfounded. It was promptly met, and triumphantly answered by the writer, the title of whose work stands second on our list, at the beginning of this article. He entered into a learned and detailed examination of all the specifications made by Mr. Palmer in his fifth letter to Dr. Wiseman ; and we think that no sober or impartial man can read attentively this able and searching critique, without being astonished at the utter recklessness of Mr. Palmer, and without repeating to himself the old adage : “A little learning is a dangerous thing."
We must be satisfied, for the present, with this general reference to the valuable little work which sets forth the character of Mr. Palmer as a controversialist; it is already before the American public, and it may speak for itself. To analyze its contents, and to enter fully into the merits of the literary and critical controversy between Mr. Palmer and Dr. Wisenian on patristic learning, would lead us much too far, and would greatly abridge, or wholly preclude, the line of investigation we propose to adopt.
Besides, we are content to waive this powerful argument from antiquity, and to confine ourselves to the examination of Mr. Palmer's reasoning, on its own intrinsic merits. The point at issue between us is just this: he maintains that the Roman Catholic Church of the present day, openly sanctions and practises idolatry; we boldly deny the charge, and pronounce his reasoning in support of it mere sophistry. He prefers, we indignantly repel, the Charge of Idolatry.'
After having adverted to the prejudices prevalent among Protestants against the Catholic Church, Mr. Palmer thus states the object he proposed to himself in writing these Letters to Dr. Wiseman :
" It will be my endeavor, in the following pages, to show that public opinion is not so grossly mistaken in these matters as you would fain have us imagine, and that, while it would be undoubtedly most unjust to attribute superstitious and idolatrous notions or practices to those individuals of your communion who disclaim them for themselves, the stain adheres most deeply to the community at large, and that the Roman is, emphatically, a corrupt Church,” ?
Now, we are perfectly willing to abide by his own test, and we say to him in the language of the Gospel : “Out of thy own mouth I judge thee, thou wicked servant." 3 He admits that it were "most unjust to attribute superstitious and idolatrous notions or practices to those of our communion who disclaim them for themselves." Well, we venture to assert that there is not in the wide world a single Catholic, male or female, gentle or simple, learned or unlearned, who does not expressly disclaim for himself or herself all superstitious and idolatrous notions and practices Whatever ; and we defy Mr. Palmer, or any one else, to prove the 1 Mr. Palmer endeavors to prove the Charge of Idolatry chiefly in Letters I, V, and VIII. 2 Letter I, p. 10.
3 St, Loke, xix, 24
contrary. To prove it, however, mere declamation and vague assertion will not do; we must have certain and well authenticated facts.
A long residence in Italy, and a tolerably extensive acquaintance with the religious feelings and usages of the Italians, enables us to say, with un hesitating certainty, that no Catholic in that beautiful country ever dreamed of being an idolater; and that, if Mr. Palmer were to go there and prefer his charge, the veriest old woman of them all would laugh at him for' his simplicity, and would pronounce him either a slanderer or a madman. We have had occasion to see this very experiment tried on an old Italian beggar-woman, and it resulted precisely as we have stated. If it be then an undoubted fact, that Catholics universally disclaim for themselves all practices of idolatry, Mr. Palmer, in preferring the charge against them, has proved himself guilty of the most grievous injustice, even according to his own showing.
But we are prepared to prove, that his specifications do not establish the grave and insulting accusation. They consist, as we have already intimated, of forms of invocation and prayer found in our prayer-books, in more or less extensive use amongst us, and of passages extracted from the writings of some of our standard authors. These he has torn from their connection, and wrested from their legitimate meaning, by a system of unnatural, exaggerated, and false interpretation. He has made them speak a language totally at variance with the intent and belief of those who employed them, thus thrusting down the throats of Catholics, in spite of all their protestations to the contrary, the odious charge of superstition and idolatry. This line of argument is unjust and unfair, on its very face. If there was, or could be any doubt as to the true meaning of those prayers or practices of piety, surely the interpretation put upon them by those persons among whom they are received and employed, should have some weight in settling their real signification. Any other canon of interpretation is delusive, unjust, and sophistical in the highest degree. What, for instance, would be thought of a system of interpretation which would put upon the thirty-nine articles, the homilies, and the liturgy of the Anglican church, a meaning directly at variance with that generally received among Anglicans ? What would be thought of the reasoning employed by a political charlatan, to prove by isolated and garbled extracts from the proceedings of congress, and from the records of our courts and state legislatures, that the American people, as a body, Are opposed to the great principles of her government embodied in our noble constitution? What, in fine, would be thought of a fanatic, who, by culling a text here, and another there, should endeavor to prove from the Bible a system of belief openly opposed to certain great principles which, as all Christians agree, are found in the Bible? Yet this course, iniquitous and absurd as it manifestly is, is precisely that adopted by Mr. Palmer to establish the Charge of Idolatry against the Catholic Church. And it is a sad thought, that a line of argument, which would be rejected with indignation in any other connection, should be deemed good enough.