Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Neither Angels, Nor Devils

"Popes, then, though they are infallible in their office, as Prophets and Vicars of the Most High, and though they have generally been men of holy life, and many of them actually saints, have the trials, and incur the risks of other men. Our doctrine of infallibility means something very different from what Protestants think it means. And so again, all the inconsistencies which they think they find in what we teach of the sanctity of the Priesthood compared with the actual conduct of a portion of the members of it, would vanish, if they understood that a priest, in a Catholic sense, as in St. Paul's sense, is one "who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that err, for that he himself also is encompassed with infirmity." Yet, strange to say, so little are they aware of our real doctrine on the subject, that even since these Lectures began, it has been said to me in reference to them in print, "A vulgar error in your Church is, that the Priests are so divinely protected that one of them can hardly err, can hardly sin. This notion is now at an end, as far as you are concerned." Most marvellous! This writer's idea, and the idea of most Protestants is, that we profess that all Priests are angels, but that really they are all devils. No, neither the one nor the other; if these Protestants came to us and asked, they would find that we taught a far different doctrine—viz., that Priests were mortal men, who were intrusted with high gifts for the good of the people, that they might err as other men, that they would fall if they were not watchful, that in various times and places large numbers had fallen, so much so, that the Priesthood of whole countries had before now apostatized, as happened in great measure in England three centuries ago, and that at all times there was a certain remnant scattered about of priests who did not live up to their faith and their profession; still that, on the whole, they had been, as a body, the salt of the earth and the light of the world, through the power of divine grace, and that thus, in spite of the frailty of human nature, they had fulfilled the blessed purposes of their institution. But not in one or two points merely, but in everything we think and say and do, as Catholics, were we but known, what a reformation would there not at once follow in the national mind in respect to us! British fair dealing and good sense would then recover their supremacy; and Maria Monks and Teodores would find their occupation gone. We should hear no more of the laity being led blindfold, of their being forced to digest impossibilities under menace of perdition, of their struggles to get loose continually overmastered by their superstition, and of their heart having no part in their profession. The spectres of tyranny, hypocrisy, and fraud would flit away with the morning light. There would be no more dread of being burned alive by Papists, or of the gutters overflowing with Protestant blood. Dungeons, racks, pulleys, and quick-lime would be like the leavings of a yesterday's revel. Nor would the political aims and plots and intrigues, so readily imputed to us, seem more substantial; and though I suppose, there is lying, and littleness, and overreaching, and rivalry, to be found among us as among other sons of Adam, yet the notion that we monopolized these vile qualities, or had more than our share of them, would be an exploded superstition. This indeed would be a short and easy way, not of making Protestants Catholics, but of reversing their ridiculous dreams about us,—I mean, if they actually saw what they so interminably argue about. But it is not to be:—first comes in the way that very love of arguing and of having an opinion, to which my last words have alluded. Men would be sorry indeed that the controversy should be taken from the region of argument and transferred to that of fact. They like to think as they please; and as they would by no means welcome St. Paul, did he come from heaven to instruct them in the actual meaning of his "texts" in Romans iii. or Galatians ii., so they would think it a hardship to be told that they must not go on maintaining and proving, that we were really what their eyes then would testify we were not. And then, too, dear scandal and romancing put in their claim; how would the world go on, and whence would come its staple food and its cheap luxuries, if Catholicism were taken from the market? Why it would be like the cotton crop failing, or a new tax put upon tea. And then, too, comes prejudice, "like the horseleech, crying, Give, give:" how is prejudice to exist without Catholic iniquities and enormities? prejudice, which could not fast for a day, which would be in torment inexpressible, and call it Popish persecution, to be kept on this sort of meagre for a Lent, and would shake down Queen and Parliament with the violence of its convulsions, rather than it should never suck a Catholic's sweet bones and drink his blood any more."

-John Henry Newman in Present Position of Catholics in England.

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