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political economy? Why did He not assume the state and pomp of a great king, or at least the garb of a great political philosopher, to renovate the social condition, by remodeling society itself, through His superior authority and wisdom? We do not read that He did any thing of all this; or that, in fact, He either directly or indirectly alluded in His discourses to any of those great improvements which distinguish modern from ancient society.
We read on the contrary, that He spoke continually in praise of poverty, of humility, of self-denial, of separation from the world in heart and affection, of leaving all things for His name's sake, of selling all things, and giving the proceeds to the poor, and of then taking up our cross and following Him, that we might have a reward in a better world. The poor, the miserable, the diseased, and the forsaken, were His favorites, and those who abounded in riches and reveled in luxury were the objects of His aversion. In a word, He taught, both by word and by example, an utter contempt for the things most prized in this world, and a constant aspiration after those of the world to come; and this is a distinctive feature of His holy religion. Therefore, if we even admit that Protestant countries are, in a worldly point of view, more prosperous than Catholic countries, and that this prosperity is owing to the Protestant religion, it would not thence follow that Protestantism is the religion of Christ, and that Catholicity is not. On the contrary, the presumption would be, that a religion, which thus tends primarily to promote mere worldly comforts, is of the earth, earthly ; that it is not at least that sublime and supernatural system taught by Jesus Christ, and intended to raise mankind above this world. Thus the whole reasoning of Protestants upon the alleged superiority of Protestant countries is based upon false principles, and falls to the ground of itself; or, if it prove any thing, clearly leads to the inference, that Protestantism, in its ends, objects, and very nature, is a different thing altogether from original Christianity.
In thus attempting to show the utter inconclusiveness of a popular argument against Catholicity and in favor of Protestantism, we do not mean to imply, that the temporal prosperity of a nation or of an individual is incompatible with the profession and practice of true Christianity; far from it. A people may be wealthy, and yet be composed of true Christians; but they will not necessarily be true Christians because they are wealthy, nor wealthy because they are true Christians.
The two things are not incompatible, yet they are not necessarily associated together. On the contrary, from the very genius and nature of Christianity, we would be naturally led to infer, that they are oftener found apart than united. And this is all that the argument calls for. So much for the soundness of the principles, which lie at the foundation of this whole argument against Catholicity.
We will now proceed to examine the two positions of modern Protestant writers, stated at the commencement of this paper; and we will begin with the one which ascribes the alleged superiority of Protestant over Catholic countries to the influence of the Protestant religion.
I. Assuming the fact as established, is the mode of accounting for it eitler satisfactory or logical? Is the superiority in question necessarily the result of a difference in religion ? May it not be accounted for on other principles ; such as, a difference of character in different masses of population, a difference of climate, of social habits, of agricultural or commercial facilities, of government? We think it may, and that such is the only rational or consistent theory by which we can satisfactorily account for the difference, if a difference really exist to be accounted for; which, as we trust to show in the sequel, is more than doubtful. And we shall be fully borne out in this by the unexceptionable authority and conclusive reasoning of Mr. Laing himself, as we shall see. If people are prosperous, wealthy, and happy, merely because they are Protestants, then all Protestant nations should be prosperous, wealthy, and happy ; which is very far from being the case. If we except England, the Protestant countries of Europe have really little to boast of, in any of these respects, over their Catholic neighbors.
If commercial activity, and manufacturing industry and skill, be prominent elements of social prosperity and national wealth, then we freely admit, that England stands forth proudly pre-eminent above all other European nations, whether Protestant or Catholic. She is, confessedly, the most commercial and enterprising nation in the world. Her commerce covers the ocean, and, like a mighty collossus, bestrides the earth. Her manufactures seek and find a market in the new and in the old world, in the islands of the Pacific and in those of the Indian ocean, in Australasia and in China. But is all this successful commercial and manufacturing enterprise a necessary result of her Protestantism? Can it not be explained on other principles altogether? Her insular position, the natural activity of her people, their all-absorbing love of wealth, the colonial policy and grasping ambition of her government, her unscrupulousness as to the means so the end be secured, and many other considerations of a similar character, may account for the fact, much more satisfactorily than her profession of the Protestant religion.
To listen to the declamation of some English writers on the vast commercial superiority of their country, one would almost imagine that no other nation, especially that no Catholic nation, had ever won laurels in this field of human activity, and that all the glory and all the triumphs were reserved to England, under the quickening influence of the Protestant reformation. Is such really the fact? Who gave the first impulse to this species of enterprise ? Who were the first pioneers of modern maritime discovery, and thereby laid the foundations of modern commerce? Who discovered a new world, and opened a new and boundless field to commercial adventure ? The Catholic Columbus, sent out, in 1492, by the Catholic sovereigns of Catholic Spain. Who first doubled the Cape of Good Hope ? The Catholic Vasco de Gama, sent out, in 1497, by Catholic Portugal. Who first discovered the East Indies and Brazil ? The Catholic mariner, Pedro Alvarez Cabral, likewise in the service of
Portugal !! Who first discovered that power ful modern ager t, steam, and applied it to navigation ? The Catholic Spaniard, Blasco de Garay, who, in 1543, made the first suocessful experiment of the kind in the harbor of Barcelona, in presence of the Emperor, Charles V, and of all his court.? And, long before any of these triumphs of modern times in the field of discovery and enterprise, who first awakened Europe to a sense of the atility and importance of exploring the resources of remote lands? What Catholic pioneers were they, who, in the good old Catholic times, centuries before the reformation had dawned on the world, first stirred up a noble emulation in the minds of men by their glowing accounts of distant countries, and stimulated them to enter at once upon the brilliant path of discovery? The Catholic navigators and travelers, the Venitian brothers, Nicholas and Maffeo Polo, in the thirteenth century,' and the Catholic Mandeville, in the fourteenth.' Who contributed, more perhaps than any other body of men, to the stock of geographical and statistical knowledge, and thereby increased so much the resources of modern commerce? The Catholic missionaries, in different centuries, who traversed the most distant countries on their errand of divine mercy, and who freely communicated to the world the knowledge they had gleaned in their extensive travels. And these noble harbingers of civilization, be it ever remembered, were the special agents of the Catholic Church, and were generally, if not always, sent out by the Roman Pontiffs. If these things are so, Protestant England should not surely boast of having done everything in this department of human knowledge and activity.
It is a fact, notorious to all who have but glanced at the pages of history, that, centuries before England had attained to her present commercial pre-eminence, the Catholic republics of Venice, Genoa, Florence, and Pisa, in Italy, and the Catholic towns which composed the Hanseatic League of the middle ages, in Germany, were the great commercial carriers of the world, and occupied :he high position which England now occupies. It is another fact equally notorious, that the Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal were far in advance of England, in commercial activity and successful maritime enterprise, during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and the greater part of the seventeenth century; and that, during a portion of the same period, and for a century later, Catholic France was able to contend with her, and often with brilliant success, for maritime pre-eminence. It is only within the last century that England has been able fully to establish her claim to be mistress of the high seas, and the arbitress of commerce. It is, then, as clear as the light of day, that England does not owe her present superiority to the influence of the Protestant religion, but to other circumstances altogether.
i for these and several other facts of similar import, see Irving's "Columbus,” vol. ii, p. 76, Feqq. - Edit. New York, 1831
2 For an account of this experiment, see " A Year in Spain,” vol. I, p. 47.- Edit. New York, 1880. 3 Their different voyages were made between the years 1255 and 1295, when they returned loaded with riches, See Irving's Columbus, ii, 290, seqq.- - Edit. supra. 4 Betweer 1332 and 1372. when he died at Teige, in France. Ibid. p. 303, eram
And what are these circumstances? Has England any reason to boast of them? Or rather, has she not reason to blush and to bide her face with shame, as often as they are recalled to her remembrance? Who were the first pioneers of English commerce, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? What was their character, and what their standing in veridical history? How do they compare with the early Catholic navigators, in honor, elevation of views, and common honesty? If there is any truth in history, as set forth even by such of our own Protestant writers as Irving, Bancroft, and Prescott, the early Catholic navigators were, in general, men of high bearing and chivalrous character, who would not stoop to do a mean thing; while the early English navigators, such as Gosnold, Gilbert, and Weymouth, and, we may add, Raleigh, Drake, and Hawkins, were unscrupulous, bold, bad men, as dishonest as they were enterprising; little better, in fact, than accomplished buccaniers and pirates. Yes, pirates ; they deserve no softer name; for they made it a rule to seize upon the property and possessions of the Spaniards, Portuguese, and French, whenever opportunity offered, and in time of profound peace as well as of war. And what is more remarkable, the English gove ernment, instead of punishing them for their robberies on the high seas, or their unprincipled aggressions on the often defenseless colonies of its Catholic neighbors, winked at their excesses, and even rewarded them for their boldness and success. If Protestantism inclined England to adopt this line of policy, and if Protestantism formed the character of her early navigators, then is Protestantism fully welcome to all the glory of having laid the foundation of England's commercial greatness in modern times, Perhaps, the secret of her success may be, that, as a nation, she was emancipated by the reformation from the harassing thraldom of a conscience; and her Catholic neighbors, not having been vouchsafed the same amount of light or freedom, still went on in the old fashioned way of doing what is right, and committing consequences to God. We do not assert this as a fact; we merely offer it as a theory, -as plausible at least, and as well founded, as that which ascribes England's modern greatness to her Protestantism.
But if Catholicity be true, and Protestantism false, how and why could God's providence permit that the Catholic countries above named should decline, and that Protestant England should attain to so unexampled a prosperity ? We might answer this question — which has often puzzled the simple-minded inquirer — by asking another of a similar import: why does God often permit wicked men to accumulate wealth and roll in luxury, while the virtuous are often poor, miserable, and on the verge of starvation? Why are Jews generally wealthy, and Christians often poor and destitute? Is it because the wicked are more the favorites of heaven than the good? Or is it for a precisely contrary reason ;- that according tu the views of God, who takes in eternity along with time, riches are usually a curse, and poverty a blessing. Is it because the virtuous, who seek after eternal blessings and disparage those of time, are reseryed for
bigher recompense than this world can bestow; and the wicked, who seek only this world, and have to expect no ulterior reward, are often remunerated for their merely human virtues with merely human and temporal blessings? Is it that the awful saying of our Blessed Lord, in reference to the proud Pharisees who sought only human praise — THEY HAVE RECEIVED THEIR REWARD — is verified in their regard ? Has England received her reward in this world, and is she to look for nothing beyond it? Are her grasping ambition, and her quenchless desire to accumulate wealth and to extend her power by all means, whether lawful or not, really deserving of any higher reward ? The day of judgment will reveal this, and many other awful things, in regard both to individuals and to nations. Till then, other nations less favored may hold up their heads, and bide their time, with bosoms filled with hope.
II. But let us look a little more closely into this boasted commercial greatness of England, and see how it affects the masses of the English population, how far it promotes their worldly happiness, and how their social condition compares with that of their Catholic neighbors on the continent of Europe. This will naturally bring us to the examination of the second question proposed above: whether it be really a fact that England and other Protestant nations are so much in advance of Catholic countries in social condition and in the comforts of every day life.
Is it, then, true, that superior commercial activity and greater skill in manufactures are the means best calculated to promote the general happiness of a people? Do they enrich the masses, or do they not rather enrich the few at the expense of the many ? Look at England, and what do you see? A land of the boldest social contrasts : overgrown fortunes in the few, and squalid misery in the many; splendid palaces, and miserable hovels; men and women rolling in brilliant equipages, and haggard multitudes crying aloud for bread to prevent starvation, at their very carriage windows; speculators amassing enormous wealth in the manufacturing distriets, and a mass of wretched operatives worked almost to death, and nearly starving in the midst of their hard labor to sustain life;' immense profits realized by avaricious capitalists, while the price of labor is cut
1 That great poet and humorist, the late Thomas Hood, has admirably hit off the condition of the laboring poor in England, in his Song of the Shirt." We will insert three stanzas of this whimsical, bat feeling little poem, in which the poor, hard-worked female operative is represented as holding a ad soliloquy with herself on her hard condition. The case may apply as well to laborers of the other sex, if not even better. * But why do I talk of death,
That shattered roof – and this naked floor That phantom of grisly bone ;
A table -- a broken chair I hardly fear his terrible shape,
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank It seems so like my own :
For sometimes falling there.
“O! but to breathe the breath O God! that bread should be so dear,
of the cowslip and primrose sweet And flesh and blood so cheap!
With the sky above my head
And the grass beneath my feet, * Work, work, work!
For only one short hour, My labor never flags ;
To feel as I used to feel, And what are its wages ? A bed of straw Before I knew the woes of wan, & crust of brea:1 - and rags.
And the work that costs a meal!"