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But I must advert to some of the hard practices which the Catholic religion requires of her votaries. There is that practice of confessing to the priest. Is not that hard! Truly it is. I think I should find it hard to tell every thing, even the most secret thoughts, to any body called a priest. And then to have to perform whatever penance he might please to prescribe. Yes, it is hard-so hard, and so absurd too that God has never required it at our hands. He says to the sinner, come right to me with your broken heart, and make
your confession to me, for he is “in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.”
Again, fasting is reckoned among the hard things of the Catholic religion-and indeed it is hard not to eat when one is hungry. But that is not their idea of fasting. Their lea of fasting is in acc ance with what St. Paul says to Timothy in his prediction concerning them, an“ abstaining from meats,” or “whatsoever is sold in the shambles.” Now there is nothing so very hard in that restriction. He must be very dif. ficult who cannot satisfy his appetite out of all the variety of the vegetable kingdom, when he has moreover the liberty of the entire fish market.
But there is one thing about the Catholic religion, in view of which I suppose I must admit it to be the hardest religion. It belongs strictly neither to faith nor practice. You will guess that I have in
mindPurgatory. Now, as a doctrine, there are many things about it hard to be believed, as, for example, that material fire should be able to act on an immaterial spirit, and thereby purify it too. But hard as purgatory is to be believed, it is still harder to be suffered. Yes, it is
hard, after having gone through the whole routine of the sacraments, and lived long a good Catholic, then to die, and go into an intense fire. It is so hard that I, for my part, prefer the religion of poor Lazarus, whom the angels took straight to heaven; and of the penitent malefactor, who spent a part of the day on which he died, in Paradise. By the way, St. Paul could not have been thinking of Purgatory when he said, “to me to die is gain.” But I forget that he lived before the time of the Catholic religion.
32. More about Penance.
Let us hear both sides. In my former article on this subject, I objected to the translation doing penance, in the Douay Bible. But have the Catholics nothing to say in justification of their rendering? I suppose that whatever they have to say is expressed in a certain note on Matthew, 3: 2. “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” is the edifying translation of the passage.
Our attention is then directed to this note, “agite pænitentiam, metanoeite," which word, according to the use of the Scriptures and the holy fathers, does not only signify repentance and amendment of life, but also “punishing past sins by fasting and such like penitential exercises.” This is the
Now here is an acknowledgment that the ideas of repentance and amendment are intended in the ori
ginal word. Why then is a translation of it adopted, which excludes both repentance and amendment. If the original includes them, yet their translation does not. A man may do penance, and yet neither repent nor amend-neither be sorry nor better. These translators must have thought that repentance and amendment, though included in the original word, were of little importance, otherwise they would not have suppressed them in their translation. They must have judged them too insignificant to be taken notice of in their standard version ! As for us Protestants, we think that to be sorry and to reform are very important parts of repentance.
But, besides repentance and amendment, they say the original word signifies “punishing past sins, by fasting,” &c. This is their assertion. Where are their fs? I would like to some of them, for the dictionaries tell us another story. Well, they appeal to the Scriptures and the fathers, “ according to the use of the Scriptures and the holy fathers." Here are two authorities, though of very unequal weight in my estimation. I wish these translators had said where the Scriptures use this word in their sense. I suppose they would, if they had been able. The truth is, the word is never so used. It does not include this idea of theirs. Punishing! Repentance don't mean punishing. Punishing past sins! This is no very eligible phrase. It is quite too figurative for an explanatory note. And punishing them, how? By fasting. How does fasting punish sin? I cannot see how any fasting punishes sin; but I am sure the Catholic fasting does not. Do you know what Catholics mean by fasting? Not abstaining from food. No, to
But changing their kind of food. Only abstain from meats, according to the prediction, 1 Tim. 4:3, and you may eat what else you please. Fasting, according to the opinions held by Catholics in the region of country where I live, and I suppose it is so elsewhere, consists in reducing one's self down to the low diet of fish, (after all their kinds,) eggs, oysters, terrapins, with all manner of vegetables, and every variety of desert! That is fasting, because there is no butchers' meat eaten. You may eat what is sold anywhere else but in the shambles. Now I cannot see any thing very punitive in such fasting. A man's sin must be exceedingly sensitive to feel the infliction of such abstinence. I do not believe that sin is to be starved out of the soul in this way.
It is well enough sometimes to try the value of an explanation upon a passage in which the thing explained occurs, as for example, “ God now commandeth all men every where to punish their past sins by fasting and such like penitential exercises.” How does that sound? Do you really think that it is what the Lord meant.
33. A Fast-Day Dinner.
Some plain, honest people may be surprised at the heading of this article, because it implies a dinner of some sort on a day of fasting, whereas, according to their old-fashioned notions there should be no dinner fast;
at all on a fast day. And truly fasting did formerly imply partial, at least, if not total abstinence from food during the period of the fast. It was thought that eating to the full was incompatible with genuine fasting. Indeed it was considered that eating at all broke a fast. I suppose no one doubts that Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the pious Jews in general, abstained entirely from food on their days of fasting. Who has an idea that they ate any dinner on those days ? But mind has marched a great way since those men flourished. Whether its march has always been forward, I leave others to determine. Now, according to the views which prevail in that church which cannot go wrong, and which don't make mistakes even when she contradicts herself, abstinence is not essential to
and a fast-day dinner, so far from being no dinner at all, as some puritanical christians still contend it should be, is a rare repastone of the very best dinners in the whole week. I ought to say here that some Protestants have imbibed this doctrine of the infallible church, and very complacently practice according to it. We have a great many Protestants among.us who do not protest as thoroughly or as strenuously as we think they should.
What put me in mind of this subject was the following incident. As I was sitting at table the other day, the topic of conversation was a very delicate preparation of eggs. I took no particular interest in it, until one of the company remarked that when she resided in the family of Mr. A., a distinguished Catholic, that dish was always a part of their fast-day dinner. This arrested my attention. Fast-day dinner! exclaimed I. Who ever heard of a dinner on a fast-day?