Conversations of an Old Man No. II
Brownson's Quarterly Review, April, 1850
Art. IV. Conversations of an Old Man and his Young
Friends. No. II.
F. All you say seems plausible enough, and perhaps follows logically from principles that cannot very well be denied ; but there is always danger in pushing matters to extremes. I am a Catholic as well as you, and, unlike you, have been one from my infancy, and I would rather die than give up my Church. I am a "Catholic of the Catholics," and have no need to be instructed by neophytes in my religion, however much my seniors in years. Pushing the principles of our religion to their last consequences, and taking extreme views of all questions of practical life, can do no good, is impolitic, subjects our Church to unnecessary odium, and imposes too heavy a burden upon us who mingle in the world, and have more or less to do with " our separated brethren." Virtue, the Philosopher tells us, is the mean between two extremes.
B. I am very happy to hear my young friend say that he is a Catholic, a fact which I own I had not even suspected. As a neophyte I stand rebuked. But I have heard of Catholics who will fight to the death for their religion, as a point of honor, who yet will not live it. The test of a man's love of Catholicity is in living it. If ye love me, says our Lord, keep my commandments ; and this we must do, if we would enter into eternal life. Extremes are dangerous, no doubt; but it is always well to understand our terms. Virtue, in a certain sense, may be the mean between two extremes, but I have never understood that the extremes were more and less of virtue itself. Too little virtue to be virtue is not virtue at all, and I have never been aware that a man can have too much virtue to be virtuous ; at any rate, I do not think any of us are likely to sin by an excess of virtuous action. Extremes are not in pushing true principles to their logical consequences, but in false principles themselves. A man can no more have an excess of truth than he can of virtue.
R. But what we object to is, that you are ultra. You were always, we have been told, even when a Protestant, disposed to be ultra in every thing. You would push your Protestantism, your notions of government and society, to such extremes, that no one could act with you. And now you push your Catholicity to extremes.
B. Beyond Catholicity itself ?
U. No; I do not precisely say that; but you push it farther than it seems to me necessary to go. You are too rigid, too uncompromising, nay, to be plain, you are too bigoted and intolerant.
B. Bigotry is the obstinate adherence to one's own opinions, without any solid reason for them, and a blind intolerance of whatever contradicts them. If half that is said of my frequent changes be true, I must have very little obstinate attachment to any opinions, and in those matters which are really matters of opinion, it might be difficult to adduce an instance in which I have shown myself intolerant. Nor am I aware that in matters which are mine, and of which I have the disposal, I have been thus far in my life remarkable for my rigidness, or want of liberality. The tendency to push matters to extremes has never been one of my besetting sins, and I have always been ready to accept any compromise that seemed expedient, if it involved no compromise of principle or dereliction from the truth. But I confess I am not and never was one of those who could say, " Good Lord," and " Good Devil," not knowing into whose hands I might fall. As to ultra Catholicity, I do not understand it. You might as well call a man ultra orthodox, as if one could be orthodox, and at the same time more or less than orthodox. Orthodoxy is a definite quantity, and one has it, or has it not. It is not a creation of mine, nor of yours, and all that either of us has to do is to accept it as prescribed to us by the Church. You can either hold it or not hold it, but you cannot both hold it and not hold it at the same time. You are bound to go as far as your religion requires you to go, or you sin by defect ; and if you go beyond what it permits, you sin by excess. The medium is not something arbitrary, left to your will and caprice or to mine ; it is determined by the truth itself. If I go beyond the truth, I certainly go too far, and you, if you go not as far as the truth, go not far enough. As you concede that I do not go beyond Catholic truth itself, it strikes me that, instead of charging me with the sin of ultraisrn, you would do much better to humble yourself and do penance for your short-comings.
F. All this looks plausible, I grant, and yet I see no need of being so very strict. There is no need of exaggeration.
B. All exaggeration is wrong, and to be condemned ; but as long as one is within the bounds of truth, I do not see how he can be guilty of exaggeration. Then I do not understand what you mean when you say that there is no need of being so very strict. I must be as strict as truth and virtue, or I fall into error and sin. You doubtless remember that the early Christians were so very strict as to choose rather to undergo the most cruel tortures, to suffer death in its most frightful shapes, than to offer a single grain of incense to Jupiter or to the statues of Caesar. Do you think they were foolish, ultra, more strict than their religion required them to be, and that they might, with credit to their religion, and without sin in themselves, have offered incense as the pagan magistrate commanded ?
M. That was all very well in the Martyrs, and we honor them for it; but what your young friends contend is, that it is not necessary to place ourselves in opposition to our age, and to shut ourselves out from all communion with our kind, because they do not happen to be of our way of thinking.
B. I was not aware before that Catholicity, the Catholic Church, the Immaculate Spouse of God, the Mother of all the faithful, is a way of thinking. " Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence" (Ps. i. 1); but I do not remember that a blessing is anywhere pronounced upon those who follow the counsels of the ungodly, or hold communion with the workers of iniquity. " What participation hath justice with injustice ? or what fellowship hath light with darkness ? or what concord hath Christ with Belial ? And what part hath the faithful with the unbeliever ?" (2 Cor. vi. 14, 15.) In matters not of religion the faithful may, no doubt, have intercourse with such heretics as are tolerated, and they are certainly not required or permitted to oppose the age in any respect in which the age is right. But we cannot conform to the age wherein the age is wrong without sin, for that is precisely what is meant by sinful conformity to the world. That would bring us into bondage to the world, into bondage to sin, from which it is the design of our religion to free us. This setting up the age as a standard is by no means Catholic, and to fall in with the children of this age in their worship of it is as much idolatry as that which the early Christians resisted unto death.
F. You mistake our meaning. We do not advocate full conformity to the age ; all we mean is, that, as the age manifestly tends to popular institutions, to the extension of popular liberty, it is an exaggeration of Catholic doctrine to contend that we should resist this tendency, fight against the people, and exert ourselves to uphold old abuses and despotic rulers.
B. My young friend certainly does not sin by an excess of clearness and precision in his ideas. If he would take a little pains to distribute things according to their categories, and to keep those things distinct in his reasoning which are distinct in their nature, I cannot believe that it would do him any serious harm. Catholic truth does not, of course, require us to uphold abuses or despotic rulers. In asserting things are abuses, and rulers despots, you assert your right as a Catholic to resist them, and, within the limits of prudence and charity, your duty to resist them. All that is clear enough. But before you can pronounce a ruler a despot in the bad sense of the word, you must prove that he is not a legitimate ruler, that he is a usurper, a tyrant, an oppressor; and before you can call things abuses, you must know that they are not legitimate uses.
O. But it must always be right to favor the democratic tendency, to support popular institutions, and to struggle even unto death for liberty. What more glorious than to die fighting bravely for liberty, equality, fraternity ?
B. Our company is too small, my young friend, to make it worth our while to get into the heroics. You can leave " Cam-byses' vein" till you come before the crowd. It demands very little expenditure of thought to move a large audience ; wind is the chief thing requisite for that. But in a small company, where each one present is cool, declamation is out of place. There it is necessary, if you would produce a favorable impression, to have clear and precise ideas, and to clothe them in appropriate language. When you address only a dozen, you speak to a dozen critics. When you address five thousand, all individuality is merged in the crowd, and you speak not even to one. Save your big words, liberty, equality, fraternity, till you have the mob before you. I heard those words, and screamed them in a tolerably strong voice, from the very top of my lungs, long before you were born. They were as popular in my boyhood as they are in yours, and they who screamed them then had as little love or understanding of them as have those who are loudest and foremost in vociferating them now. To tell you the honest truth, those big words are rather stale, and in very bad taste. You must wait till a new crop of fools is produced, before you can commend yourself by using them. Liberty, understood as the liberty of reason, of justice, of truth, is always a good, always to be defended, always to be asserted at all hazards ; but understood as the liberty of passion, of man's inferior nature, it is any thing but good ; it is only another name for slavery, for neither the individual nor the community is, or in the nature of things can be, free, save in governing and restraining the passions, as I never cease repeating to you, and as all young men, and, I am sorry to say, some old men, are always prone to forget. Liberty is in justice, and so is equality. Of each, justice is the measure. What is just is equal, and he who is subjected to no unjust restraint is free. And fraternity is only in the Catholic communion.
0. But you evade the question of democracy, and do not tell us whether it is or is not always right to fall in with the democratic tendency.
R. I have the example of the early Christians before me, and I have read the lives of many martyrs, who would not have been doomed to death for their religion, but who would have been permitted to live, and even have been loaded with honors, if they would only sacrifice to Casar, that is, to the state, or temporal authority, to which they owed civil allegiance. I am persuaded, nay, I know, they did well, and I would rather be crowned with them, than enjoy the pleasures of the senses for a season, and be sent to hell at last. I never sacrifice to the temporal authority. I obey it for God's sake, in all things it commands, which are not of sin, which are not incompatible with my love and duty to God. Beyond that, I have only one answer to give it, " We ought to obey God rather than men." Where democracy is the law I obey it, not because it is democracy, but because it is the law ; and I hold that I am bound to sustain popular institutions, simply for the reason that I am bound, and to the extent and only to the extent that I am bound, to sustain the laws of my country. Where monarchy or aristocracy is the law, I say precisely the same of it, as I very plainly intimated in our former conversation.
0. But suppose the people in an undemocratic state, in a monarchy or an aristocracy, should come to the belief that their condition would be essentially improved by changing the existing form of government, and adopting the democratic, would they not have a right to do so, and ought not every one, as a friend to liberty, to wish them success, aid them in the attempt to do so, and sympathize with them if defeated.
B. That depends on the sense in which you understand the word people, and on the fact whether their belief is well or ill founded. If you mean by people the state, they have, undoubtedly, the right to make such changes in the form of their civil polity, not suicidal, as may seem to them good ; but I am not bound to wish them success, or to aid them in effecting such changes, or to regret their defeat, if the changes are foolish, uncalled for, and likely to be productive only of evil. If you mean by people the people not as the state, but as subjects of the state, they have no such right, for they are, in that sense, bound to obey the law.
R. Then you deny popular sovereignty, that the people are sovereign.
B. That, again, depends on the sense in which you take the word people. If by people you mean the state, I do not deny their sovereignty, under God ; for I admit that the state is sovereign, and, within the limits of the moral law, may do what it pleases. If you mean by people, not the people as the state, but the people as subjects of the state, I deny their sovereignty ; for it would be a contradiction in terms to assert it. They who are held to obey the law, in the sense in which they are held to obedience, are not free to abrogate or change the law. You cannot very logically assume democracy, and from your assumption conclude it.
F, Here is where I complain of you. You admit, indeed, that you are bound to uphold a democratic government where it is the law, but only because it is the law, not because it is the inherent right of every people.
B. That is to say, you complain of me, not because I refuse to obey Caesar where he has legitimate authority to command, but because I will not sacrifice to him as God. Decidedly, my young Catholic friend, you would have been in little danger of martyrdom, had you lived even in the reign of Nero, Decius, Maximianus, or Diocletian.
F. You are too severe. We live in a democratic country, and you know that the great charge against our Church is, that she is hostile to democracy ; and the interests of our Church herself require us to refute that charge, by showing that she is favorable to democracy.
B. The great charge against the Church in the time of the pagan Emperors was, that she was hostile to the heathen gods. Suppose some liberal-minded Catholic had risen up and said to his brethren, We live in an idolatrous country, and the great charge against our Church is, that she is hostile to idolatry ; her interests therefore require us to refute this charge by burning incense to Caesar. What would the old Saints have replied to him, do you think ?
M. The cases are not parallel. Democracy is lawful, but idolatry is never lawful.
B. Precisely. Idolatry can never be tolerated, because it is never lawful; but we may conform to democracy because it is lawful. Certainly, where it is the law democracy is lawful, and there the Church commands us to sustain it; but where it is not the law, but monarchy or aristocracy is, there democracy is not lawful, and to undertake to show that there our Church favors it would be to attempt to show a falsehood, and to prove that our religion favors sedition and rebellion, and that by becoming Catholics we are emancipated from the civil law, no great recommendation of Catholicity to statesmen, I should think. It would be a much better reason for expelling her from the state, than for introducing her. In a word, my young Catholic friend, it would be well for you and me to remember that the Church does not rest upon our shoulders, that she has a more powerful supporter than either of us, and that the most effectual method we can adopt of serving her interests is to demean ourselves as her faithful children, believe what she teaches, do what she commands, and leave the care of protecting her to Him whose spouse she is. The best security we can give our heretical countrymen, or which they as lovers of our institutions can ask, is, that our Church is wedded to no particular form of civil polity, and commands us always to obey the law, and to discharge faithfully and conscientiously our duties as citizens and as subjects.
For my part, I pity the blindness and malice of those who urge the charge to which you refer ; and I pity still more the silly Catholic, who, in order to get rid of it, tries to prove that his Church is democratic, runs into the wild extremes of radicalism in order to prove that his religion has no influence on his politics, throws up his cap and grows frantic with joy whenever he hears of a rebellion, and hails as a patriot and a saint every despicable scoundrel, whose only merit is that he is a rebel, and has succeeded in kindling the flames of civil war in his country. He may call himself what he pleases, but he is a disgrace to his religion, a living scandal, and unworthy the name of man, much less that of Catholic. No, no, never applaud yourself for being a Catholic of that stamp ; call yourself a heathen at once, put on avowedly the livery of the Devil, so that all men can see and mark you for what you are.
F. You may be as severe as you please ; but I shall never be persuaded that I cannot be a good Catholic and a good democrat.
B. You can be a good Catholic and a good democrat, if you properly understand yourself. A firm and loyal supporter of democracy, where it is the established order, that is, where it is the law, you not only can be, but, if a good Catholic, must be ; but a democrat in the sense that democracy is the inherent right of the people everywhere, and that the multitude in every country has the right, when it chooses, to overthrow existing legal governments for the sake of introducing it, or, in other words, that democracy is universally the legitimate and only legitimate form of government, and that every other form of government is illegitimate, tyrannical, a usurpation, and therefore null and void from the beginning, which is the modern European, and, to some extent, American, sense of the word, you cannot be, and at the same time a good Catholic. If you take the word in this sense, you make Caesar God, and can worship him only by disavowing the law, and falling into sheer idolatry.
F. But suppose the government of a country dissolved, to have wholly forfeited its rights, so that there is no legitimate government existing ; would not the people have the right, in such country and in such case, to establish a democracy, although the previous government had been monarchical?
B. If, as you suppose, the previously existing government is really and totally dissolved, and no political constitution remains in force, the people are thrown back under natural law, and are free to reconstitute the state as seems to them good, in the democratic, the aristocratic, or the monarchical form, just as they please. The right of the multitude, where there are no legal institutions, to establish the democratic order is no more to be questioned, than their obligation to sustain that order where it is the law. What I deny is, that every form of government but the democratic is, in itself considered, illegal, illegitimate, or tyrannical; and that the people, as subjects of a state, have the right to rebel against any existing legal government not democratic, for the sake of introducing democracy. The right to resist tyranny I am not the man to deny, and that the tyranny of the prince, according to the reasoning of the American Declaration of Independence, absolves the subject from his allegiance, I have always held, and, as a Catholic, must hold, unless I would condemn the principles and practice of my own Church. It is only on this principle that I defend, or am able to defend, the power which she has claimed and exercised of deposing Catholic sovereigns when they became tyrants, and absolving their subjects from their allegiance. The doctrine of the Divine right of kings and passive obedience, as preached by Anglican ministers of the seventeenth century, I no more hold than did Bellarmin, Duperron, or the Spanish Jesuit, Suarez. No Catholic, without temerity, could hold it; for every Catholic must hold that civil power is a trust, and, like all trusts, may be forfeited, and is forfeited when exercised manifestly against the legitimate end of government, that is, the public good. The inamissibility of political power has just as little credit with Catholics as the inamissibility of grace. I have no respect for the memory of Dutch WiJliam, but I have never felt that, were I an Englishman, I should be obliged to uphold the cause of the Stuarts, or refuse allegiance to the Guelfs. I do not believe in the legality of the present French republic, for the Constituent Assembly was not freely elected ; but I do not feel it necessary to make myself the champion of the Bourbons, or the enemy of the Bonapartes. The Bourbon family have done enough, a hundred times over, to forfeit their original right to the crown of France, and Louis the Eighteenth was in my eyes no more a legitimate French sovereign than was Napoleon. If the Bourbons, after the. Restoration, had given the Church her freedom, and abandoned the old Gallican traditions, they would hardly have been driven a second time into exile. A new restoration may take place, and become legitimate, but nothing in my judgment necessarily prevents either the republic or the empire from also becoming legitimate. For my own part, not being called upon to legislate for France, or to decide what her interest requires, I have no preferences on the subject, except that I must prefer any thing to Red Republicanism. Nor do I bring under the rule I have laid down colonies and conquered nations. A conquered nation, as long as it remains a nation, retains the right to assert, when it can do so with prudence, its national independence ; for the right of self-government is inherent and inalienable in every nation as long as it is a nation, that is, as long as it has not by its own consent, expressed or implied, become merged in another. With regard to colonies the case is less clear ; but I have no doubt that they can arrive at majority, and when they do that they may throw off the authority of the mother country and set up for themselves. What I deny is simply what in modern times is called the " sacred right of insurrection," or the right of the multitude to rebel against a government that only exercises its constitutional powers, and to seek, by way of revolution, lo change the administrators or the form of the government, for the sake of what they regard as political or social amelioration. But after a revolution has been effected, the old order destroyed, and a new order established, capable of answering the just ends of government, I hold myself bound to accept and obey the new government, not, indeed, because the people had a right to effect the revolution and introduce it, but because, now it is established, it cannot be opposed without compromising the public good, which I am bound in morals to consult.
I am not opposed to popular governments as such, but I am opposed to the principles on which you young democrats defend them ; for those principles are repugnant to all government, to democratic governments themselves, as well as to others. It is just as easy to defend what is good on sound as on unsound principles. If you want merely to sustain your democratic institutions, it suffices to put them under the safeguard of law, and of that religion which makes it binding upon us in conscience to obey the law. But if you wish, under the pretext of establishing democracy., merely to assert the right of rebellion, insurrection, revolution, then I grant my principles will not aid you. And here is precisely why I oppose you. I find no fault with you for believing that democracy is the best form of government for every nation, though I myself believe no such thing ; but what I do find fault with you for is the assertion of the right of the mob in every nation to introduce it against existing law and order, whenever they judge it expedient. This would be to assert the universal right of rebellion, which is the negation of all government, and as incompatible with the maintenance of democratic as of any other government, as I should suppose the democrat himself might see and understand.
You young and unreflecting democrats defend democracy on the Jacobinical or revolutionary principle. It is to that principle I object, and we may have, as we have had, in our own country occasion to see and deplore its mischief. It manifests itself in various sections of our country, and ever and anon we are threatened with a dissolution of the Union. Just now, one class of fanatics are threatening to dissolve the Union, because slavery is legalized in some of the States ; and another class threaten to dissolve it, because there is resistance made to extending slavery where it now does not legally exist. The ringleaders of both, if not madmen, would deserve punishment for their disloyalty, and would not be suffered to run at large, if public sentiment had not already sanctioned the revolutionary principle, and taken from power all its sacredness. With the revolutionary principle fermenting in the minds and hearts of the people, there can be no government, or none but a government of mere physical force. Abandon your revolutionary doctrines, reassert loyalty as a virtue, and advocate your democratic in-situtions on the ground that they are the law, and that every man is bound to obey the law, and I am as good a democrat as any of you. But as for advocating democracy on principles which deny law, undermine all government, and leave every one at the mercy of the irresponsible will of the majority, I cannot do it; and if you maintain that I must, or be no democrat, then 1 am, and thank God that I am, no democrat. I demand a government of law, not of arbitrary will, whether your will or mine, the will of the majority or of the minority.
J. What you say is very just, but your distinctions are too subtile and abstract for the popular mind ; and you will be generally supposed to maintain doctrines that you do not.
B. Possibly so. But you offer in this a strong argument against democracy itself. It is true, any distinctions that do not lie on the surface, that require a little patient thought and power of discrimination, are too subtile and abstract for the popular mind taken collectively, although within the comprehension of almost every one taken singly. Here is the difficulty you always have in popular governments, unless the people are Catholics, and have that intellectual culture which the hearty love and practice of their religion is always sure to give, and not otherwise to be obtained. The great body of the poorest and least educated class of our Catholic population, the " ignorant Irish," as people are fond of saying, can understand any of the distinctions I have made, although never taught to read or write ; and no Catholic, except a mongrel Catholic, who, because he has mingled with heretics, read their books, listened to their political harangues, and caught up a portion of their slang, fancies he is learned, and a bit of a philosopher and politician to boot, will stumble at any of them. I have had some experience in this matter. I. have addressed, on the subject of which we have been speaking, both Protestant audiences and Catholic, and have even been astonished at the difference between them. To the Protestant I am obliged to simplify my language, to multiply my illustrations, and use all the precautions I would if addressing a class of pupils on one of the lower forms, and yet find that I make myself only imperfectly understood ; while, to a Catholic audience, made up in no small part of laborers and servant-girls, I can speak right on in my own natural way, as I do to you, and feel always sure of being very generally understood, and of having my distinctions marked and appreciated. My audience are religious, and their religion has given them understanding. If one has got something to say of serious importance, something that is really worth saying and necessary to be said, something not superficial, but solid and profound, it is a pleasure to address a genuine unsophisticated Catholic audience. Your words are sure to tell; they do not bound back to you, as does your axe when chopping cork. It is my experience in this respect that has convinced me that a Catholic country, a really Catholic country, can be well governed under a democracy, and that a Protestant or an infidel country cannot be.
A Protestant country cannot be, because Protestantism is illogical, unintellectual, both in itself and in its influence. Ask a Protestant what he believes ; he can tell you, within certain limits, what he does not believe, but in vain does he try to tell you, in any clear or precise manner, what he does believe. In mere worldly matters, or material interests, he may be shrewd, and show intellectual acuteness and clearness, but in all other matters, in all that pertains to great principles of justice, or the higher order of intellectual and moral truth, he no sooner opens his mouth to speak, than you see that his mind is darkened, that his mental perception is dull, and his ideas are muddy and confused. He even regards all mental clearness, distinctness, and precision of thought as scholastic sub-tilties, to be despised by every man of common sense. Indeed, if you show a tendency to distinct, clear, and exact thought, he will make it the ground of reproach to you, and will applaud himself that he is above such littleness. Hence it is that Protestantism and Protestant culture, however powerful they may be in overthrowing an old established order, or obscuring and rendering ineffectual well-settled principles, are peculiarly unfitted to sustain popular institutions. Hence, as a general rule, popular freedom has little prevalence in Protestant countries. England is the freest Protestant country in Europe, and she is less free than she was when Catholic. Ours is the only really free country in the world where the majority of the people call themselves Protestant, and we owe our freedom to the accidents of our situation, and to the fact that the colonists were very generally dissenters from the Anglican Establishment, identified with the Anglican monarchy, not at all to Protestantism as such.
Nothing will save freedom here but the prevalence of Catholicity. Wild and reckless fanaticism is at work with our institutions, undermining law, and preparing the way for anarchy and despotism ; principles are widely disseminated by all parties, that are incompatible with the existence of society itself; ever and anon, parties growing more and more formidable for their numbers and influence, spring up amongst us, and seek to translate their false principles into facts, or to make the country practically conform to them. In vain do you seek to arrest the evil. To do so. you must draw, now and then, even nice distinctions, and call upon the people to discriminate. But your distinctions are condemned as vain sublilties, as above the comprehension of the people, as unpopular, and making you unpopular ; and the very men who see and feel their importance will make them subjects of ridicule with the people, and bid the rabble hoot at you for expressing them. Democracy itself has a natural tendency to merge the individual in the crowd, to bring every thing down to a commonplace level, and to superinduce the habit of asking, not, What is true and just ? but, What will the people say ? What will go down with the people ? It is only by virtue of the presence of a highly intellectual religion, like the Catholic, a religion that leaves us neither to reason without faith, nor to faith without reason, but gives us reason with faith, and faith with reason, that is adapted to the human soul, appeals to man's spiritual nature, and by its august offices, its solemn prayers, its public instructions, and private meditations, keeps the mind and heart in constant exercise on the highest order of truth, that the levelling and deadening influence of democracy can be neutralized, and the mental activity and discrimination necessary to its preservation and wholesome operation can be secured. The very objection you urge against me is conclusive against your favorite democracy, unless you have the Church present as the religion of the great majority of the people. Protestant or godless democracy, like that which is popularly preached at home and abroad, would very soon plunge the most civilized nation into barbarism.
The considerations you suggest only show the necessity of the Catholic Church, under a political and social point of view no less than under a religious, to the salvation of society as well as to the salvation of the soul. It is necessary to inspire that spirit of self-sacrifice, that heroic virtue, without which society becomes a field of blood, or a mere charnel-house. All the evils of society spring from pride and the predominance of the flesh, and no greater absurdity was ever sent up to us from the pit, than that of attempting to maintain order and social prosperity by playing off" the pride and lust of one against the pride and lust of another. Less absurd were those grave philosophers of Laputa, who attempted to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. You cannot extract virtue from vice, nor develop social order and well-being from the elements of disorder and ruin. You can remove the evils only so far as you succeed in removing or in subduing the pride and lust from which they spring. It needs no great philosophy to know this, andj still less, one would suppose, to perceive that you neither remove nor subdue the causes by employing them and providing for their universal activity.
Your modern reformers, socialists, communists, Red Republicans, and radical democrats, are a stupid race of mortals, and as blind as they are destructive. They all undertake to obtain from unmitigated selfishness the results, which, in the nature of things, can be obtained only from the severest and most self-denying virtue. All their schemes are based on the principle, that selfishness is to be made to produce the results of the most perfect disinterestedness, or that pure selfishness, having a perfectly open field and fair play, is the equivalent of pure disinterested affection. What falsehood ! What nonsense ! Yet these men call themselves philosophers, the great lights of our age ! Alas ! "if the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness ! "
As long as ignorance and sin remain, as long as men retain their vicious propensities and passions, there will be evil in the world, and there is not a more consummate fool than he who looks for a perfect civil polity, or a perfect state of society. Something to mitigate, even to ameliorate, no doubt, may be done, but can be done in no merely outward way. Nothing can be done further than you can reach the individual mind and heart, and bring them into harmony with the will of God, as he has revealed it in his word, and proclaims it through the voice of his Church, Men will never succeed in ameliorating their earthly condition till they learn to live for heaven alone, till they see all things in the light of God as their supreme good, and seek to modify them only at the bidding of divine charity.
You young men, even some of you who call yourselves Catholics, forget this. You have suffered yourselves to be seduced by the tempter. Protestantism and infidelity have no power over you, when they attack directly your Church or her dogmas ; there you are on your guard and are firm ; but you lmve not been equally on your guard against their indirect attacks, their attacks through your social affections and sentiments, your love of political liberty, intensified by long ages of Protestant misrule and oppression in the countries of your birth or descent, and your desire of worldly prosperity and social position. Through these the tempter assails you ; through these he whispers to you honeyed words, makes you sweet promises, and excites brilliant hopes, only to undermine your faith, to entangle you in his snares, and to drag you down to hell, to hell both here and hereafter. Here is your danger ; here is your weak side. You listen with the open hearts of generous youth, with the confidence of unsuspecting innocence, to the soft words of the betrayer, as to an angel of light. You are caught, you are led on from step to step, till you find yourselves far from the home of your fathers, far from the affectionate embrace of your mother, in arms against your Church, false to all your vows to God, false to yourselves, a grief to all good men and angels, and a joy only to the enemies of religion, who, while accepting the treason, despise the traitor. The very devils despise those they are able to seduce, and so do their children and servants, infidels, heretics, and schismatics.
Nay, my young friends, if you would be free and noble, and honored even, listen never to the siren voice of the charmer. The entrance of the career into which she would seduce you may be bright and flowery, but its progress grows darker and rougher at every step, till it finally ends abruptly in the blackness of eternal despair. I know that career which you are tempted to believe opens into life. I entered it as innocent and as full of hope as yourselves, and, as I fondly trusted, with motives pure and holy. Alas ! how was I deceived ! I lost my innocence, my virtue, every thing that a man should hold dear and sacred, found myself the companion of scoffers and blasphemers, a chief among the revilers of God's truth and God's law, and have gained only a stock of bitter experience, and a source of continual regret. Fear God, my young friends, and keep his commandments, for this is the whole of man. Be true to God, and he will never abandon you; serve him as he commands, with promptitude and fidelity, and fear nothing for your earthly prosperity, or for the spread and maintenance of liberty.