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The only “come " they hear is the priest's call. I pity them.
But it is no wonder that the priests treat the people as they do, for if they allowed them to know what the Lord says to them, they would be very apt to go directly to God in Christ, and leave the priest out of the question. And then where would be the importance of the priest ? and his emolument, where?
16. A Catholic Book Reviewed.
I happened to lay my hand the other day on a little book entitled, “ The Christian's Guide to Heaven, a Manual for Catholics,” to which was appended some hymns. The book was published in Baltimore by a respectable Catholic bookseller, and under the sanction of the Archbishop. Well, said I to myself, this is good authority. I will look into this book. I know what Protestants say of Catholics. I will see now what Catholics say of themselves. Men cannot complain when we take their own account of themselves; and I like the way of judging people out of their own mouths, because it shuts their mouths so far as reply is concerned. I resolved that I would compare the statements and doctrines of this book professing to be a guide to heaven, with the statements and doctrines of that bigger book which is the Protestant's guide to heaven. You will know that I mean the Bible. That is our manual—that the guide we consult and follow, However, if a book agrees with the Bible, that is enough.
So I began to read ; and one of the first things that I came to was, “ Conditions of plenary indulgences." Indulgences! thought I. What does a Christian want of indulgences? He is apt enough to indulge himself. And how are indulgences to help him to heaven? I should rather pronounce self-denial the road. Indulgences not partial, but plenary! I should think plenary indulgence on any condition was enough to ruin one.
If by indulgence the Catholics mean pardon, they have chosen an unfortunate way to express it. Why not say full pardon, instead of plenary indulgence ? But I suppose pardon expresses what God exercises, and indulgence what the church grants. I should like to know, however, what right the church has to grant any thing of the kind.
Well, the conditions enumerated were four. I took note only of the first, which was in these words: “To confess their sins with a sincere repentance to a priest approved by the bishop.” This begins very well, and goes on well for a time. Confession of sin, with sincere repentance, is truly a condition of pardon. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” But what a pity the condition did not stop there, or if any thing was added in regard to the object of the confession, that it did not designate God as the being to whom the sins should be confessed. The sins are all done against him, and why should they not be told to him? I cannot get rid of the notion that we ought to confess our sins to God, the being whom we have offended by them. But no, says this guide to heaven, the confession must be made to
a priest; it is good for nothing without it. If the publican, of whom we read, had lived now, it would have been quite irregular, according to the Catholic notion, that he should have gone down to his house justified, when he confessed only to God. And the penitent must take care what sort of a priest it is to whom he confesses, else he might as well remain impenitent. It must be a priest approved by the bishop. . Well, now, this is a queer arrangement, that our pardon should be suspended on such a condition—that angels, in other words, must wait before they express any joy that a sinner has repented, until he has gone and told his sins to a priest approved by a bishop! Who suspended it there, I wonder ? Not Isaiah. Read his 55th chapter. Nor Peter, nor Solomon, nor John, nor Paul. Read them and see. There is not a word in the Bible about confessing to a priest. So I found that the two guides did not agree in this matter. The Catholic Manual said the confession must be to a priest; but the holy Scriptures insist on no such thing, but direct that the confession be made to God.
This thought occurred to me: What if a sinner confess his sins with a sincere repentance, though not to a priest, what is to be done with his soul ? Must pardon be denied him, and he be consigned to perdition, because, though he confessed penitently, yet he did it not to a priest ? Really this is making rather too much of the priest. It is making too important a character of him altogether. I do not believe that our salvation is so dependent on the deference we pay the priest.
Before the conditions, on one of which I have been remarking, are mentioned, there is this general statement: "Plenary indulgences granted to the faithful
throughout these states, at the following times ;" and then follows a specification of nine different seasons when plenary indulgences may be had. I did not know before that pardons were confined to any set times; I always supposed that they might be had summer and winter, night and day, and at any hour of either-in short, whenever a penitent heart breathes its desire to God. My mistake must have arisen from the fact that I have been in the habit of consulting the Bible on these matters. I never saw "The Christian's Guide to Heaven” before in my life. I have always used the Bible as a guide, for want of a better.
Now that I am on the subject of confession, I may as well make another reference to the manual. There is an article or chapter headed “The Confiteor.” In it the person wishing to be guided to heaven makes this confession, from which it will appear that Catholics do not confine their confessions to the priest, but extend them to many other beings : "I confess to Almighty God, to blessed Mary, ever virgin, to blessed Michael the archangel, to blessed John the Baptist, to the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and to all the saints, that I have sinned.” Now, I do not see the use of naming so many. The confession, I think, should have stopped with the first mentioned— Almighty God. What have the rest to do with it? How is it their business? The person has not sinned against them. Surely every sinner may say to God, “ Against thee, thee only have I sinned,” since David could. Besides, this coupling of these creatures with the Creator, as worthy equally with himself to receive our confessions of sin, savors strongly of idolatry. Confession is made to them on the same principle that prayer is. Each is an act of worship-one of those things which should be confined exclusively to God. I wonder the Catholics will not be satisfied with one great and glorious object of worship, God, the Father, Son, and Spirit. Why will they in their devotions associate creatures with the Creator? The book I am reviewing contains numerous and very offensive examples of it. I shall continue the review in my next.
17. The Review of the Catholic Book continned.
The next thing that struck me as worthy of notice in the perusal of the book was this—that the devout Catholic is represented as making the following solemn declaration concerning the Holy Scriptures : “Neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the fathers." I smiled when I read this, and I thought within myself, if that is his determination, he will not be likely ever to take them at all. What an intention this, which the Catholic expresses-never to attach any meaning to a passage which he may read in the Bible, until he has first ascertained whether certain ancient persons called the fathers all agreed in any interpretation of it, and if so, what that interpretation is! What should give such authority and weight to the interpretation of the fathers ? Why cannot we ascertain what the Bible means as well as they could ? What helps had they which we have not ? and why