Page images
PDF
EPUB

LETTER VI.

Rome the enemy of mental improvement: the direct tendency of her Prayer-book, the Breviary, to cherish credulity and adulterate Christian virtue.

I coulD not connect the subject of my preceding Letter with any other, without doing the greatest violence to the overpowering feelings which the recollection of celibacy and monachism, never fail to raise in me. I now proceed to show the natural opposition which exists between the spiritual power assumed by the church of Rome, and the improvement of the human understanding. After this I shall close my subject with numerous proofs of her disregard of truth, in the dissemination of a timid, superstitious, and credulous spirit, the best security of her influence among mankind.

The long list of illustrious writers, members of the Roman Catholic communion, with which the first part of my charge will be met, is well known to me. I would allow that list to be doubled : I would grant every one of your boasted authors the whole weight of learning and abilities which you allot to them by your own scale of merit; yet it would remain to be proved, that vigour of mind and comprehensiveness of knowledge were, in such instances, attained in accordance with the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, and not, as I am ready to show, in the very teeth of its spirit. The resources of the human mind, when once in motion after knowledge, are innumerable. Fear and restraint may force it into devious and crooked paths, not without injury to its moral - qualities; but no power on earth can prevent the

exertion of its activity. It is curious to observe the invariable accuracy with which certain principles, true or false, will work; and how perfectly analogous their effects will be when applied to the most different objects. We see the assumption of supernatural infallibility, gradually leading the popes to attempt the subjection of all Christian powers. A criminal ambition might often mix in their political plans and views; but the impulse which threatened the thrones of Europe, was independent of the individual temper of the popes. The mildest, humblest individual, believing himself an infallible guide to salvation, must have considered the removal of every obstacle to that paramount object, a part, not only of his privilege, but his duty. He would, therefore, strive to reduce all human power, so as to suit his views of spiritual rule. The declaration that Christ's kingdom is not of this world, would not prevent a conscientious Pope from checking any temporal power, which he conceived to oppose the interests of the next. On the same grounds, and from the very same principle, has Rome been, at all times, the declared enemy of mental independence. She, it is true, confines her open claims, in this case, to points of Christian faith, as to spiritual supremacy in the former. But remove opposition in both, and you will see her become as great a tyrant over the human intellect, as she was at one time over the governments of Christendom. There is, in fact, a greater connexion between the learned and scientific opinions of men and their religious tenets, than between moral practice and civil al

legiance. Hence the rights of the Roman Catholic church to prescribe limits to the mind are still openly contended for, while the indirect dominion of the popes over Christian kings and their people, is only timidly whispered within the walls of the Vatican. But how does it happen that Italy and France have produced men of extraordinary eminence, notwithstanding their mental subjection to Rome? —I might answer this question by another: How is it that the talent of Spain and Portugal has been rendered abortive?—The tendency of moral as well as physical agents must be estimated, not by that which they fail to affect, but by the condition of what is fairly submitted to their action. Will you have an adequate notion of the fetters laid by Rome upon the human mind? examine the intellect of such as wear them really, not ostensibly. Would you ascertain the true practical consequences of any law 2 observe its results, where it is not eluded. The Roman Catholic restraints on the understanding, have been and are still actively enforced in Spain; whereas the weakmess of the papal government has never been able to put the Italian inquisitions into full activity. France was always free from that scourge; and the confinement of a few authors to the Bastille, was a poor substitute for the Autos-da-Fe of the unfortunate Spanish Peninsula. But has not the influence of Roman Catholic infallibility, even in those less oppressed countries, disturbed the best efforts of the human intellect, closed up many of the direct roads to knowledge, and forced ingenuity to skulk in the pursuit of it like a thief? Sound the antiquarian, the astronomer, the natural philosopher of Italy; and the characteristic shrug of their shoulders will soon tell you that they have gone the full stretch of the chain they are forced to wear. What if the chain be already snapt at every link, and kept together by threads? Reckon, if you can, the struggles, the sighs, the artifices, the perjuries which have brought it to that state. Look at Galileo on his knees: see the commentators of Newton prefixing a declaration to his immortal Principia, in which, by a solemn falsehood, they avoid the fate of the unhappy Florentine astronomer. “Newton,” say the great mathematicians, Le Seur and Jacquier, “assumes,

in his third book, the hypothesis of the earth's

« PreviousContinue »