Page images

Does the Breviary produce effects analogous to the character of its contents, and commensurate to the extent of the use of it by the Roman Catholics? Does it everywhere degrade faith into credulity, and devotion into sentimentality? That it does so among Roman Catholics, in Italy, in Spain, in Portugal, and in all other countries where the religion of Rome predominates; is a matter of general notoriety. It would afford an additional praise of the reformed religion, if it could be proved that the Roman Catholics of Great Britain and Ireland, had been preserved from the injurious effects which the true book of their church, has so widely produced among their foreign brethren. It is possible that the class of Roman Catholics to whom I have addressed myself in these letters, and who alone are likely to

read them, have never since their childhood exa

nature of this kind of devotion, that in male saints it generally has the Virgin for its object. The life of St. Bernard contains descriptions of visions, which would be unfit for the eye of the public in any other book. Hagiography, however, gives great liberty both to writers and painters. The picture of the vision I allude to, I have seen in a convent of Cistercian Nuns. The Breviary however omits the story which forms its subject.


mined the devotional books published in England for the use of the sincerely pious among them. If they should be well acquainted with such books, they will not require any further proof of the perfect agreement between the minds and feelings of such persons, and those which I have instanced from the Breviary. Such as may have forgotten the character of their devotional books would do well to reperuse them. I will, however, in the mean time, give one or two specimens, from the TWELFTH London edition, of the DEVOTION AND OFFICE OF THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS". I have so much exceeded the length which I proposed to give this letter, that I will not detain my readers much longer upon this subject. The ostensible Roman Catholics of England, I mean such as appear in the character of specimens of their religious communion, are so dexterous in the useof theological distinctions, so practised in the pious work of throwing a cloak over the nakedness of their spiritual parent, that the Protestant public

* Extracts from this book will be found in an Appendix, after the Notes to these Letters.

will hardly expect the following rule of belief, upon matters not strictly of dogmatic faith, prevalent among the pious and sincere Roman Catholics of these realms. The rule applies to the subject of revelations and miracles, such as the Roman Church records in her Breviary. “The public is in possession of many writings of holy women, who have yielded to advice and obeyed their spiritual directors. They contain an account of many revelations, celestial visions, and other extraordinary graces, which they have received from God. Now I reason thus: either these writings were penned by the saints, or they were not. If they were, either they designedly published a falsehood, or were themselves deluded, and have given us idle dreams. Will you suppose that they were not the real authors of these works? You shock every idea of reason and common sense. The man who will venture to deny that St. Theresa wrote her life, may doubt of her existence. But you will say she was deluded, and her imagination deluded all she wrote. The delusion must be the work of the evil spirit, which no Catholic can believe to have had any tion ; but where is the line drawn, where, indeed, can it be drawn, to point the beginning of excess? Must I again revive the memory of the victims whom I have seen perish in their youth, from the absolute impossibility of moderating the enthusiasm which their church thus encourages? It is chiefly among the tender and delicate of the female sex, that the full effects of these examples are seen. How can a confessor prescribe limits to the zeal of an ardent mind, which is taught to please God by tormenting a frail body? Teach an enthusiastic female that self-inflicted death will endear her to her heavenly bridegroom, and she will press the rope or the knife to her lips. Distant danger is lighter than a feather to hearts once swollen with the insane affections of religious enthusiasm. Talk to them about the duty of preserving life, and they will smile at the good natured casuistry, which would moderate their pursuit of a more noble and more disinterested duty— that of loving their God above their own lives. Their church has besides, practically dispensed the duty of self-preservation in favour of penance.

Does not the young victim read of her model Saint Theresa, that “her ardour in punishing the body was so vehement as to make her use hairshirts, chains, nettles, scourges, and even to roll herself among thorns, regardless of a diseased constitution?”—Is she not told that St. Rose, “ from a desire to imitate St. Catharine”, wore, day and night, three folds of an iron chain round her waist; a belt set with small needles, and an iron crown armed inside with points? That she made to herself a bed of the unpolished trunks of trees, and that she filled up the interstices with pieces of broken pottery 2” She did all this in spite of her “tortures from sickness,” and by this means she obtained the frequent visits of saints and angels; and heard Christ himself uttering the words, “Rose of my heart, be thou my bride.” Can the poor, weak, visionary recluse doubt the reality of scenes attested by her church, or question the lawfulness of slow self-murder, supported by the brightest of her commended models t? * Observe the effect of the proposed models. The Breviary records a number of similar imitations: every one acquainted with Roman Catholics must have seen them repeated every day.

+ St. Theresa.... “ Per duodeviginti annos gravissimis morbis et variis tentationibus vexata, constantissimë meruit

« PreviousContinue »