From the beginning of the world there have been two elements — the good and the bad — combating each other. “There must be scandals,” says our Lord; St. Michael and Lucifer combat each other in heaven; Cain and Abel in the family of Adam; Isaac and Ismael in the family of Abraham; Jacob and Esau in the family of Isaac; Joseph and his brethren in the family of Jacob; Solomon and Absalom in the family of David; St. Peter and Judas in the company of Our Lord Jesus Christ; the Apostles and the Roman emperors in the Church of Christ; St. Francis of Assisi and Brother Elias, in the Franciscan Order; St. Bernard and his uncle Andrew, in the Cistercian Order; St. Alphonsus and Father Leggio in the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer; orthodox faith and heresy and infidelity, in the Kingdom of God on earth; the just and the wicked, in all places; in fact, where is the country, the city, the village, the religious community or the family, howsoever small it may be, in which these two elements are not found in opposition. The parable of the sower and the cockle is everywhere verified; even should you be quite alone, grace and nature will combat each other. “And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household.” (Matthew 10:36) Strange to say, not only the good and the wicked are found in perpetual conflict; but God, for wise ends, permits that even the holiest and best of men are sometimes diametrically opposed to one another and even incite persecution one against the other, though each one may be led by the purest and holiest of motives.
There must be scandals — a fatal, though divine warning !
There must be storms in nature to purify the air from dangerous elements. In like manner, God permits storms — heresies — to arise in his Church on earth in order that the erroneous and impious doctrines of heretics may, by way of contrast, set forth in clearer light the true and holy doctrines of the Church. As light is in the midst of darkness, gold contrasted with lead, the sun among the planets, the wise among the foolish, so is the Roman Catholic Church among non-Catholics. “If two things of different natures,” says the Wise Man, “be brought into opposition, the eye perceives their difference at once.” “Good is set against evil, and life against death: so also is the sinner against the just man. And so look upon all the works of the Most High. Two and two, and one against another.” (Ecclesiasticus 33:15)
Christ, then, permits the storms of heresies to burst upon his Church, in order to bring forth into clearer light his divine doctrine, and to remove dangerous elements from his Mystic Body, the Roman Catholic Church.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, with the exception of the Greek schismatics, a few Lollards in England, some Waldenses in Piedmont, scattered Albigenses or Manicheans, and a few followers of Huss and Zisca among the Bohemians, all Europe was Roman Catholic. England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, — every civilized nation was in the unity of the Catholic faith. Many of these nations were at the height of their power and prosperity. Portugal was pushing her discoveries beyond the Cape of Good Hope, and forming Catholic settlements in the East Indies. Christopher Columbus, a Roman Catholic, had discovered America, under the patronage of the Catholic Isabella of Spain. England was in a state of great prosperity. Her two Catholic Universities of Oxford and Cambridge contained, at one time, more than fifty thousand students. The country was covered with noble churches, abbeys, and monasteries, and with hospitals where the poor were fed, clothed and instructed.
However, the progress of civilization tended to foster a spirit of pride, and encourage the lust of novelties. The prosperity of the Church led to luxury, and in many cases to a relaxation of discipline. There were, as there always have been, in every period of the Church, the days of the apostles not excepted, bad men in the Church. The wheat and tares grow together until the harvest. The net of the Church encloses good and bad. The writings of Wickliffe, Huss, and their followers, had unsettled the minds of many. Princes were restive under the check held by the Church upon their rapacity and lusts.
Henry VIII, for example, wanted to divorce a wife to whom he had been married twenty years, that he might marry a young and pretty one. He could not do this, so long as he acknowledged the spiritual supremacy of the Pope. Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, wanted two wives. No Pope would give him a dispensation to marry and live with two women at once. Then there were multitudes of wicked and avaricious nobles who wanted but an excuse to plunder the churches, abbeys, and monasteries, whose property was held in trust for the education of the people and the care of the poor, aged, and sick, all over Europe. Then there were priests and monks eager to embrace a relaxed discipline and many people who, incited by the cry of liberty, were ready to rush into license, and make war upon every principle of religion and social order, as soon as circumstances would favor the outbreak of this rebel spirit in individuals and masses.
Now, when God, says St. Gregory, sees in the Church many reveling in their vices, and, as St. Paul observes, believing in God, confessing the truth of his mysteries, but belying their faith by their works, he punishes them by permitting that, after having lost grace, they also lose the holy knowledge which they had of his mysteries, and that, without any other persecution than that of their vices, they deny the faith. It is of these David speaks, when he says: “Destroy Jerusalem to its foundations; ” (Psalms 136:7) leave not a stone upon stone. When the wicked spirits have ruined in a soul the edifice of virtue, they sap its foundation, which is faith. St. Cyprian, therefore, said: “Let no one think that virtuous men and good Christians ever leave the bosom of the Church; it is not the wheat that the wind lifts, but the chaff; trees deeply rooted are not blown down by the breeze, but those which have no roots. It is rotten fruits that fall off the trees, not sound ones; bad Catholics become heretics, as sickness is engendered by bad humors. At first, faith languishes in them, because of their vices; then it becomes sick; next it dies; because, since sin is essentially a blindness of spirit, the more a man sins, the more he is blinded; his faith grows weaker and weaker; the light of this divine torch decreases, and soon the least wind of temptation or doubt suffices to extinguish it.”
Witness the great defection from faith in the sixteenth century, when God permitted heresies to arise, in order to exercise his justice against those who were ready to abandon the truth, and his mercy toward those who remained attached to it; to prove, by trials those who were firm in the faith, and to separate them from those who loved error; to exercise the patience and charity of the Church, and to sanctify the elect; to give occasion for the illustration of religious truth and the holy Scripture; to make pastors more vigilant, and value more the sacred deposit of faith; in fine, to render the authority of tradition more clear and incontestable. Heresy arose in all its strength; Martin Luther was its ringleader and its spokesman.
Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar, a bold man and a vehement declaimer, having imbibed erroneous sentiments from the heretical writings of John Huss of Bohemia, took occasion from the publication of indulgences promulgated by Pope Leo X, to break with the Catholic Church and to propagate his new errors, in 1517, at Wittenberg, in Saxony. He first inveighed against the abuse of indulgences; then he called in question their efficacy; and at last totally rejected them. He declaimed against the supremacy of the See of Rome and condemned the whole Church, pretending that Christ had abandoned it, and that it wanted reforming, as well in faith as discipline. Thus this new evangelist commenced that fatal defection from the ancient faith, which was styled “Reformation.”
The new doctrines being calculated to gratify the vicious inclinations of the human heart, spread with the rapidity of an inundation. Frederick, Elector of Saxony, John Frederick, his successor, and Philip, Landgrave of Hesse became Luther’s disciples. Gustavus Ericus, King of Sweden and Christian III, King of Denmark, also declared in favor of Lutheranism. It secured a footing in Hungary. Poland, after tasting a great variety of doctrines, left to every individual the liberty of choosing for himself. Munzer, a disciple of Luther, set up for doctor himself, and, with Nicholas Stark, gave birth to the sect of Anabaptists, which was propagated in Suabia and other provinces in Germany, in the Low Countries. Calvin, a man of bold, obstinate spirit, and indefatigable in his labors, in imitation of Luther, turned reformer also. He contrived to have his new tenets received at Geneva, in 1541. After his death, Beza preached the same doctrine. It insinuated itself into some parts of Germany, Hungary, Bohemia, and became the religion of Holland. It was imported by John Knox, an apostate priest, into Scotland, where, under the name of Presbyterianism, it took deep root, and spread over the kingdom.
But among the deluded nations, none drank more deeply of the cup of error than England. For many centuries this country had been conspicuous in the Christian world for the orthodoxy of its belief as also for the number of its saints. But by a misfortune never to be sufficiently lamented, and by an unfathomable judgment from above, its Church shared a fate which seemed the least to threaten it. The lust and avarice of one despotic sovereign threw down the fair edifice, and tore it off the rock on which it had hitherto stood. Henry VIII, at first a valiant asserter of the Catholic faith against Luther, giving way to the violent passions which he had not sufficient courage to curb, renounced the supreme jurisdiction which the Pope had always held in the Church, presumed to arrogate to himself that power in his own dominions and thus gave a deadly blow to religion. He then forced his subjects into the same fatal defection. Once introduced, it soon overspread the land. Being, from its nature, limited by no fixed principle, it has since taken a hundred different shapes, under different names, such as: the Calvinists, Arminians, Antinomians, Independents, Kilhamites, Glassites, Haldanites, Bereans, Swedenborgians, New-Jerusalemites, Orthodox Quakers, Hicksites, Shakers, Panters, Seekers, Jumpers, Reformed Methodists, German Methodists, Albright Methodists, Episcopal Methodists, Wesleyan Methodists, Methodists North, Methodists South, Protestant Methodists, Episcopalians, High Church Episcopalians, Low Church Episcopalians, Ritualists, Puseyites, Dutch Reformed, Dutch non-Reformed, Christian Israelites, Baptists, Particular Baptists, Seventh-day Baptists, Hardshell Baptists, Softshell Baptists, Forty Gallon Baptists, Sixty Gallon Baptists, African Baptists, Free-will Baptists, Church of God Baptists, Regular Baptists, Anti-mission Baptists, Six Principle Baptists, River Brethren, Winebremarians, Menonites, Second Adventists, Millerites, Christian Baptists, Universalists, Orthodox Congregationalists, Campbellites, Presbyterians, Old School Presbyterians and New School Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians, United Presbyterians, The Only True Church of Christ, 573 Bowery, N.Y., up stairs, 5th story, Latter-day Saints, Restorationists, Schwenfelders, Spiritualists, Mormons, Christian Perfectionists, etc, etc, etc. All these sects are called Protestants because they all unite in protesting against their mother, the Roman Catholic Church.
Some time after, when the reforming spirit had reached its full growth, Dudithius, a learned Protestant divine, in his epistle to Beza, wrote: “What sort of people are our Protestants, straggling to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, sometimes to this side, sometimes to that? You may, perhaps, know what their sentiments in matters of religion are today, but you can never tell precisely what they will be tomorrow. In what article of religion do these churches agree which have cast off the Bishop of Rome? Examine all from top to bottom, and you will scarce find one thing affirmed by one which was not immediately condemned by another for wicked doctrine.”
The same confusion of opinions was described by an English Protestant, the learned Dr. Walton, about the middle of the last century, in his preface to his Polyglot, where he says: “Aristarchus heretofore could scarce find seven wise men in Greece; but with us, scarce are to be found so many idiots. For all are doctors, all are divinely learned: there is not so much as the meanest fanatic who does not give you his own dreams for the word of God. The bottomless pit seems to have been opened, from whence a smoke has arisen which has darkened the heavens and the stars, and locusts have come out with stings, a numerous race of sectaries and heretics, who have renewed all the ancient heresies, and invented many monstrous opinions of their own. These have filled our cities, villages, camps, houses and nay, our pulpits, too, and lead the poor deluded people with them to the pit of perdition.”
“Yes,” writes another author, “every ten years, or nearly so, the Protestant theological literature undergoes a complete revolution. What was admired during the one decennial period is rejected in the next, and the image which they adored is burnt to make way for new divinities; the dogmas which were held in honor, fall into discredit; the classical treatise of morality is banished among the old books out of date; criticism overturns criticism; the commentary of yesterday ridicules that of the previous day, and what was clearly proved in 1840, is not less clearly disproved in 1850. The theological systems of Protestantism are as numerous as the political constitutions of France — one revolution only awaits another.” ( Le Semeur, June, 1840.)
It is indeed utterly impossible to keep the various members of one single sect from perpetual disputes, even about the essential truths of revealed religion. And those religious differences exist not only in the same sect, not only in the same country and town, but even in the same family. Nay, the self-same individual, at different periods of his life, is often in flagrant contradiction with himself. Today he avows opinions which yesterday he abhorred, and tomorrow he will exchange these again for new ones. At last, after belonging, successively, to various new-fangled sects, he generally ends by professing unmitigated contempt for them all. By their continual disputes and bickerings, and dividing and subdividing, the various Protestant sects have made themselves the scorn of honest minds, the laughing-stock of the pagan and the infidel.
These human sects, the “works of the flesh,” as St. Paul calls them, alter their shape, like clouds, but “feel no blow,” says Mr. Marshall, because they have no substance. They fight a good deal with one another, but nobody minds it, not even themselves, nor cares what becomes of them. If one human sect perishes, it is always easy to make another, or half a dozen. They have the life of worms, and propagate by corruption. Their life is so like death that, except by the putridity which they exhale in both stages, it is impossible to tell which is which, and when they are buried, nobody can find their graves. They have simply disappeared.
The spirit of Protestantism, or the spirit of revolt against God and his Church, sprung up from the Reformers’ spirit of incontinency, obstinacy, and covetousness. Luther, in despite of the vow he had solemnly made to God of keeping continency, married a nun, equally bound as himself to that sacred religious promise; but, as St. Jerome says, “it is rare to find a heretic that loves chastity.”
Luther’s example had indeed been anticipated by Carlostadtius, a priest and ringleader of the Sacramentarians, who had married a little before; and it was soon followed by most of the heads of the Reformation. Zwinglius, a priest and chief of the sect that bore his name, took a wife. Bucer, a member of the order of St. Dominic, became a Lutheran, left his cloister and married a nun. OEcolampadius, a Brigitin monk, became a Zwinglian, and also married. Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, had also his wife. Peter Martyr, a canon-regular, embraced the doctrine of Calvin, but followed the example of Luther, and married a nun. Ochin, General of the Capuchins, became a Lutheran, and also married.
Thus the principal leaders in the Reformation went forth preaching the new gospel, with two marks upon them: apostasy from faith, and open violation of the most sacred vows. The passion of lust, as has been already said, hurried also Henry VIII of England into a separation from the Catholic Church, and ranked him among the Reformers.
Those wicked men could not be expected to teach a holy doctrine; they preached up a hitherto unheard-of “evangelical liberty,” as they styled it. They told their fellow-men that they were no longer obliged to subject their understanding to the mysteries of faith, and to regulate their actions according to the laws of Christian morality; they told that every one was free to model his belief and practice as it suited his inclinations. In pursuance of this accommodating doctrine, they dissected the Catholic faith till they reduced it to a mere skeleton, they lopped off the reality of the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, the divine Christian sacrifice offered in the Mass, confession of sins, most of the sacraments, penitential exercises, several of the canonical books of Scripture, the invocation of saints, celibacy, most of the General Councils of the Church, and all present Church authority; they perverted the nature of justification, asserting that faith alone suffices to justify man; they made God the author of sin, and maintained the observance of the commandments to be impossible.
As a few specimens of Luther’s doctrine take the following: “God’s commandments are all equally impossible.” (De Lib. Christ., t. ii., fol. 4.) “No sins can damn a man, but only unbelief.” (De Captiv. Bab., t. ii., fol. 171.) “ God is just, though by his own will he lays us under the necessity of being damned, and though he damns those who have not deserved it.” (Tom. ii., fol. 434, 480.) “God works in us both good and evil.” (Tom. ii., fol. 444.) “Christ’s body is in every place, no less than the divinity itself.” (Tom. iv., fol. 3;.) Then, for his darling principle of justification by faith, in his eleventh article against Pope Leo, he says: “Believe strongly that you are absolved, and absolved you will be, whether you have contrition or no.”
Again, in his sixth article: “The contrition which is acquired by examining, recollecting, and detesting one’s sins, whereby a man calls to mind his life past, in the bitternesses of his soul reflecting on the heinousness and multitude of his offenses, the loss of eternal bliss, and condemnation to eternal woe, this contrition, I say, makes a man a hypocrite, nay, even a greater sinner than he was before.”
Thus, after the most immoral life, a man has a compendious method of saving himself by simply believing that his sins are remitted through the merits of Christ.
As Luther foresaw the scandal that would arise from his own and such like sacrilegious marriages, he prepared the world for it, by writing against the celibacy of the clergy and all religious vows; and all the way up, since his time, he has had imitators. He proclaimed that all such vows “were contrary to faith, to the commandments of God, and to evangelical liberty.” (De Votis Monast.) He said again: “God disapproves of such a vow of living in continency, equally as if I should vow to become the mother of God, or to create a new world.” (Epist. ad Wolfgang Reisemb.) And again: “To attempt to live unmarried, is plainly to fight against God.”
Now, when men give a loose rein to the depravity of nature, what wonder if the most scandalous practices ensue. Accordingly, a striking instance of this kind appeared in the license granted, in 1539, to Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, to have two wives at once, which license was signed by Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, and five other Protestant preachers.
On the other hand, a wide door was laid open to another species of scandal: the doctrine of the Reformation admitted divorces in the marriage state in certain cases, contrary to the doctrine of the Gospel, and even allowed the parties thus separated to marry other wives and other husbands.
To enumerate the errors of all the Reformers would exceed the limits of this treatise. I shall therefore only add the principal heads of the doctrine of Calvin and the Calvinists:
- that baptism is not necessary for salvation;
- good works are not necessary;
- man has no free-will;
- Adam could not avoid his fall;
- a great part of mankind are created to be damned, independently of their demerits;
- man is justified by faith alone, and that justification, once obtained, cannot be lost; even by the most atrocious crimes;
- the true faithful are also infallibly certain of their salvation;
- the Eucharist is no more than a figure of the body and blood of Christ.
Thus was the whole system of faith and morality overturned. Tradition they totally abolished; and though they could not reject the whole of the Scripture, as being universally acknowledged to be the word of God, they had, however, the presumption to expunge some books of it that did not coincide with their own opinions, and the rest they assumed a right to explain as they saw fit.
To pious souls, they promised a return to the fervor of primitive Christianity; to the proud, the liberty of private judgment; to the enemies of the clergy, they promised the division of their spoils; to priests and monks who were tired of the yoke of continence, the abolition of a law which, they said, was contrary to nature; to libertines of all classes, the suppression of fasting, abstinence and confession. They said to kings who wished to place themselves at the head of the Church as well as of the State, that they would be freed from the spiritual authority of the Church; to nobles, that they would be emancipated from all dues and forced services.
Several princes of Germany and of the Swiss Cantons supported by arms the preachers of the new doctrines. Henry VIII imposed his doctrine on his subjects. The king of Sweden drew his people into apostacy. The court of Navarre welcomed the Calvinists; the court of France secretly favored them.
At length Pope Paul III convoked a General Council at Trent, in 1545, to which the heresiarchs had appealed. Not only all the Catholic bishops, but also all Christian princes, even Protestants, were invited to come.
But now the spirit of pride and obstinacy became most apparent. Henry VIII replied to the Pope that he would never entrust the work of reforming religion in his kingdom to any one except to himself. The apostate princes of Germany told the papal legate that they recognized only the emperor as their sovereign; the Viceroy of Naples allowed but four bishops to go to the council; the king of France sent only three prelates, whom he soon after recalled. Charles V created difficulties, and put obstacles in the way. Gustavus Vasa allowed no one to go to the council. The heresiarchs also refused to appear.
The council, however, was held in spite of these difficulties. It lasted over eighteen years, because it was often interrupted by the plague, by war, and by the deaths of those who had to preside over it. The doctrines of the innovators were examined and condemned by the council, at the last session of which there were more than three hundred bishops present; among whom were nine cardinals, three patriarchs thirty-three archbishops, not to mention sixteen abbots or generals of religious orders, and one hundred and forty-eight theologians. All the decrees published from the commencement were read over, and were again approved and subscribed by the Fathers. Accordingly, Pius IV in a consistory held on the 26th of January, in 1564, approved and confirmed the council in a book which was signed by all the cardinals. He drew up, the same year, a profession of faith conformable in all respects with the definitions of the council, in which it is declared that its authority is accepted; and since that time, not only all bishops of the Catholic Church, but all priests who are called to teach the way of salvation, even to children, nay, all non-Catholics, on abjuring their errors, and returning to the bosom of the Church, have sworn that they had no other faith than that of the holy Council.
The new heresiarchs, however, continued to obscure and disfigure the face of religion. As to Luther’s sentiments in regard to the Pope, bishops, councils, etc., he says in the preface to his book, De Abroganda Missa Privata: “With how many powerful remedies and most evident Scriptures have I scarce been able to fortify my conscience so as to dare alone to contradict the Pope and to believe him to be Antichrist, the bishops his apostles, and the universities his brothel-houses;” and in his book, De Judicio Ecclesiae de Gravi Doctrina, he says: “Christ takes from the bishops, doctors, and councils both the right and power of judging controversies, and gives them to all Christians in general.”
His censure on the Council of Constance, and those that composed it, is as follows: “All John Huss’ articles were condemned at Constance by Antichrist and his apostles,” (meaning the Pope and bishops), “in that synod of Satan made up of most wicked sophisters; and you, most holy Vicar of Christ, I tell you plainly to your face, that all John Huss’ condemned doctrines are evangelical and Christian, but all yours are impious and diabolical. I now declare,” says he, speaking to the bishops, “that for the future I will not vouchsafe you so much honor as to submit myself or doctrine to your judgment or to that of an angel from heaven.” (Preface to his book Adversus falso nominatum ordinem Episcoporum.) Such was his spirit of pride that he made open profession of contempt for the authority of the Church, councils, and Fathers, saying “All those who will venture their lives, their estates, their honor, and their blood, in so Christian a work as to root out all bishoprics and bishops, who are the ministers of Satan, and to pluck by the roots all their authority and jurisdiction in the world, — these persons are the true children of God and obey his commandments.” (Contra Statum Ecclesiae et falso nominatum ordinem Episcoporum)
This spirit of pride and obstinacy is also most apparent from the fact that Protestantism has never been ashamed to make use of any arguments, though ever so frivolous inconsistent, or absurd, to defend its errors, and to slander and misrepresent the Catholic religion in every way possible. It shows itself again in the wars which Protestantism waged to introduce and maintain itself. The apostate princes of Germany entered into a league, offensive and defensive, against the Emperor Charles V, and rose up in arms to establish Protestantism.
Luther had preached licentiousness, and reviled the emperor, the princes, and the bishops. The peasants lost no time in freeing themselves from their masters. They overran the country in lawless bands, burned down castles and monasteries, and committed the most barbarous cruelties among the nobility and clergy. Germany became at last the scene of desolation and most cruel atrocities during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). More than one hundred thousand men fell in battle; seven cities were dismantled; one thousand religious houses were razed to the ground; three hundred churches and immense treasures of statuary, paintings, books, etc., were destroyed.
But what is more apparent and better known than the spirit of covetousness of Protestantism? Wherever Protestantism secured a footing, it pillaged churches, seized Church property, destroyed monasteries, and appropriated to itself their revenues.
In France, the Calvinists destroyed twenty thousand Catholic churches; they murdered, in Dauphiné alone, two hundred and twenty-five priests, one hundred and twelve monks, and burned nine hundred towns and villages. In England, Henry VIII confiscated to the crown, or distributed among his favorites, the property of six hundred and forty-five monasteries and ninety colleges, one hundred and ten hospitals, and two thousand three-hundred and seventy-four free-chapels and chantries.
They even dared to profane, with sacrilegious hands, the remains of the martyrs and confessors of God. In many places they forcibly took up the saints’ bodies from the repositories where they were kept, burned them, and scattered their ashes abroad. What more atrocious indignity can be conceived? Are parricides or the most flagitious men ever worse treated? Among other instances, in 1562, the Calvinists broke open the shrine of St. Francis of Paula, at Plessis-Lestours; and finding his body uncorrupted fifty-five years after his death, they dragged it about the streets, and burned it in a fire which they had made with the wood of a large crucifix, as Billet and other historians relate.
Thus at Lyons, in the same year, the Calvinists seized upon the shrine of St. Bonaventure, stripped it of its riches, burned the Saint’s relics in the market-place, and threw his ashes into the river Saône as is related by the learned Possevinus, who was in Lyons at the time.
The bodies also of St. Irenaeus, St. Hillary, and St. Martin, as Surius asserts, were treated in the-same ignominious manner. Such, also, was the treatment offered to the remains of St. Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury whose rich shrine, according to the words of Stowe, in his annals, “was taken to the king’s use, and the bones of St. Thomas, by the command of Lord Cromwell, were burnt to ashes in September, 1538.”
The Catholic religion has covered the world with its superb monuments. Protestantism has now lasted three hundred years; it was powerful in England, in Germany, in America. What has it raised? It will show us the ruins which it has made, amidst which it has planted some gardens, or established some factories. The Catholic religion is essentially a creative power, built up, not to destroy, because it is under the immediate influence of that Holy Spirit which the Church invokes as the Creative Spirit, “Creator Spiritus.” The Protestant, or modern philosophical spirit, is a principle of destruction, of perpetual decomposition and disunion. Under the dominion of English Protestant power, for four hundred years, Ireland was rapidly becoming as naked and void of ancient memorials as the wilds of Africa.
The Reformers themselves were so ashamed of the progress of immorality among their proselytes, that they could not help complaining against it. Thus spoke Luther: “Men are now more revengeful, covetous, and licentious, than they were ever in the Papacy.” ( Postil. super Evang. Dom. i., Advent. ) Then again: “Heretofore, when we were seduced by the Pope, every man willingly performed good works, but now no man says or knows anything else than how to get all to himself by exactions, pillage, theft, lying, usury.” ( Postil. super Evang. Dom. xxvi., p. Trinit. )
Calvin wrote in the same strain: “Of so many thousands,” said he “who, renouncing Popery, seemed eagerly to embrace the Gospel, how few have amended their lives! Nay, what else did the greater part pretend to, than, by shaking off the yoke of superstition, to give themselves more liberty to follow all kinds of licentiousness?” (Liber de scandalis.) Dr. Heylin, in his History of the Reformation, complains also of “the great increase of viciousness” in England, in the reforming reign of Edward VI.
Erasmus says: “Take a view of this evangelical people, the Protestants. Perhaps ‘tis my misfortune, but I never yet met with one who does not appear changed for the worse.” (Epist. ad Vultur. Neoc.) And again:“Some persons,” says he, “whom I knew formerly innocent, harmless, and without deceit, no sooner have I seen them joined to that sect (the Protestants), than they began to talk of wenches, to play at dice, to leave off prayers, being grown extremely worldly, most impatient, revengeful, vain, like vipers, tearing one another. I speak by experience.” (Ep. ad Fratres Infer. Germanae.)
M. Scherer, the principal of a Protestant school in France, wrote, in 1844, that he beholds in his Reformed Church “the ruin of all truth, the weakness of infinite division, the scattering of flocks, ecclesiastical anarchy, Socinianism ashamed of itself, Rationalism coated like a pill, without doctrine, without consistency. This Church, deprived alike of its corporate and its dogmatic character, of its form and of its doctrine, deprived of all that constituted it a Christian Church, has in truth ceased to exist in the ranks of religious communities. Its name continues, but it represents only a corpse, a phantom, or, if you will, a memory or a hope. For want of dogmatic authority, unbelief has made its way into three-fourths of our pupils.” (L’ Etat Actual deL’Eglise Reformée en France, 1844.)
Such has been Protestantism from the beginning. It is written in blood and fire upon the pages of history. Whether it takes the form of Lutheranism in Germany, Denmark, and Sweden; Anglicanism in Great Britain, or Calvinism and Presbyterianism in Switzerland, France, Holland, Scotland, and America, — it has been everywhere the same. It has risen by tumult and violence; propagated itself by force and persecution; enriched itself by plunder, and has never ceased, by open force, persecuting laws, or slander, its attempt to exterminate the Catholic faith, and destroy the Church of Christ, which the fathers of Protestantism left from the spirit of lust, pride, and covetousness, — a spirit which induced so many of their countrymen to follow their wicked example; a spirit on account of which they would have been lost at all events, even if they had not left their mother, the One, Holy, Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.
The main spirit of Protestantism, then, has always been to declare every man independent of the divine authority of the Roman Catholic Church, and to substitute for this authority a human authority. Pope Pius IX spoke of Protestantism, in all its forms, as a “revolt against God, it being an attempt to substitute a human for a divine authority, and a declaration of the creature’s independence of the Creator.”
“A true Protestant, therefore,” says Mr. Marshall, “ does not acknowledge that God has a right to teach him; or, if he acknowledges this right, he does not feel himself bound to believe all that God teaches him through those whom God has appointed to teach mankind. He says to God: If thou teachest me, I reserve to myself the right to examine thy words, to explain them as I choose, and admit only what appears to me true, consistent, and useful.”
Hence St. Augustine says: “You, who believe what you please, and reject what you please, believe yourselves or your own fancy rather than the Gospel.” The faith of the Protestant, then, is based upon his private judgment alone; it is human. “As his judgment is alterable” says Mr. Marshall, “he naturally holds that his faith and doctrine is alterable at will, and is therefore continually changing it. Evidently, then, he does not hold it to be the truth; for truth never changes; nor does he hold it to be the law of God, which he is bound to obey; for if the law of God be alterable at will, it can only be altered by God himself, never by man, any body of men, or any creature of God.”