Imatges de pÓgina
[ocr errors]

and partly because Aquinas, whom he controverts whenever he can, had affirmed the contrary, he felt so little certainty about the matter, that, after proposing two other opinions respecting the Virgin's conception, he adds—" Which of these three suppositions is the true one, God ouly knows !" But as in those days, opinions were esteemed pious in the exact ratio of the absurdity and superstition which they involved, the followers of Scotus quickly improved their master's conjecture into an absolute certainty, and inculcated the doctrine with such assiduity and success, that in about a century it was espoused by the principal European universities and the great majority of the religious orders. The arguments which were used in support of this cause, may be reduced to this one of Bellarmine's :-“ Since it is certain that God could have preserved her from the stain of original sin, no reason can be assigned for his not doing so, except his unwillingness ;' and on the strength of this notable piece of reasoning, the boldest advocates of the doctrine jump to the conclusion that the Deity not only was willing thus to preserve her, but that he certainly has done so! The audacity with which such propositions are advanced, is perfectly amazing to those who are accustomed to think and speak of God's secret proceedings with becoming modesty and reverence. We could select fifty confident assertions made by Mr. Alban Butler, and five hundred from the lucubrations of the Franciscans and Jesuits, respecting God's views and purposes in this matter, not one of which has the least countenance from Scripture or the earlier Fathers, or deserves any better appellation than that of a presumptuous guess at a point, which never has been made the subject of a divine revelation, and which could not possibly become known without one. Where, for instance, shall we find any scriptural authority for the following conceit of Bernardinus de Bustis; "If the host should fall into the stinking mire, or into the mouth of a mad dog or a swine, who would consecrate it into the body of Christ ? No less absurd would it be, if of her who had rolled in the filth of sin, and been worried in the mouth of a stinking devil, the pure body of our Saviour had been formed;" or for the assertion of Novarinus, that it would have grieved the Virgin more to have contracted this defilement than to have been damned or annihilated; or the still more sweeping one of the author of “ Contemplations on the Life and Glory of Holy Mary,” that “Innocency is much more honourable and valuable than sanctification, and therefore it becomes a most perfect Mediator much rather to preserve the innocency of some one, than only to purchase the sanctification of all .9" Could the force of blasphemy go much further than this?

Our readers will, we trust, join with us in pitying the condition of the Church, who thought herself possessed of every truth necessary or useful to be known, and yet had remained eleven centuries in profound ignorance of this important mystery. It is not known who the puzzle. pated mortal was whose crazy brain first hatched it, nor would it be worth while to rescue him from oblivion. The story most commonly received attributes the origin of the festival to St. Anselm, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, who, as we are assured by Petrus de Natalibus and others, was once in imminent danger of perishing in a storm off the coast of Normandy, and had already commended his soul to God and the Virgin Mary. On a sudden, a venerable looking man, arrayed in the habit of a Bishop, came towards the ship, walking on the surface of the sea, and told Anselm, that if he would escape the danger, he must make a solemn promise to keep the feast of the blessed Virgin's Conception every year on the eighth of December. Being asked who he was ?” he replied, “I am the Bishop Nicholas, and I have been sent by the Mother of God to reveal this to you, and to rescue you from your present peril." Upon this, Anselm promised and vowed that he would

do as he was directed, after which, a fair wind arose and they got safe to shore. Thus the said festival was first instituted in Anselm's own monastery, and was afterwards introduced into the Church at Canterbury, when he was promoted to that See.* There is, however, good reason to doubt whether any such festival was instituted either in France or England in the time of Anselm, nor is it likely that he, who in his genuinet writings speaks of the Virgin as having partaken of the infection of original sin, should be very zealous in honouring her immaculate conception. The first religious body who are certainly known to have celebrated it, are the Canons of Lyons, about the year 1140 ; and it is also known that by so doing they incurred the indignation of St. Bernard, who wrote them a long epistle of reproof and remonstrance, still extant. Mr. Alban Butler, with his usual good faith, tells us that “ St. Bernard reproved the canons of St. Lyons, because by their own private authority they celebrated a feast of the Immaculate Conception, without consulting the Roman See;” thus leaving his readers to infer that St. Bernard made no objections to the principle of the feast, or the truth of the doctrine. An extract or two from the epistle, will shew what an adept Mr. Butler is in keeping truth out of sight, when the production of it would be likely to excite reflections disadvantageous to his Church.

“We can never sufficiently wonder,” says Bernard, “at the boldness of some of you in introducing a feast totally unknown to the Church, neither supported by reason, nor countenanced by any tradition. Are we to think ourselves wiser or more devout than our forefathers, -and is it not a dangerous presumption to take a thing upon ourselves which they never authorised? Let her conception also be honoured, say they, since it preceded her birth; because, had not this conception preceded, her birth could not be honoured, as it would not have been. Might not any body for the same reason celebrate a festival for their father and mother, and go back even to their remotest ancestors? Then we should have a prodigious number of feasts indeed, more suitable for the eternity of the next life than the scanty limits of the present one. But they produce a writing of heavenly revelation, as they chuse to call it; as if any one might not as easily produce a writing, in which the Virgin should direct the observation of a similar feast for her parents, according to the commandment of God, which says, 'Honour thy . father and mother.'s I am not apt to be moved by such writings, which are neither supported by reason nor by any certain authority.

What reason can there be for introducing a feast of the ConcepIn the additions to the Golden Legend, Anselm is introduced relating the very very same adventure, not however as having happened to himself, but to Helsinus, abbot of Ramsey! Two other accounts of the origin of the festival are given in the same anthentic repository, but as the stories on which they are founded are somewhat indelicate, we refrain from transcribing them.

The treatises on the Immaculate Conception attributed to St. Anselm, are confes. sedly spurious. The first public mention of the festival in this country appears to have been at the Council of Oxford in 1222, wherein people are left at liberty to ob. serve it or not. In 1328, the Council of London, under Archbishop Mepham, prescribes - the regular observance of it, and attributes its first institution to Anselm; but many fables were circulated at that time in order to prop up the credit of the doctrine, and Anselm's participation in the affair was probably one of them. The Greeks are said to observe the same festival, but it does not appear that they knew of it before the twelfth century, or that they even then solemnized it on the same grounds as the Latins.

This, it must be confessed, would have been quite as much to the purpose, as any text which has hitherto been produced in favour of the Immaculate Conception. Si. Bernard little thought that in a few centuries after his time, his Church would do the very thing which he represents as so absurd, by instituting festivals in honour of the Virgin's supposed parents, on the credit of documents not a whit more authentic than those revelations which he treats with such contempt. The writing which he speaks of was probably the story of the apparition of St. Nicholas to Anselm, or the abbot of Ramsey.

tion? How can it be maintained that a conception which proceeds not from the Holy Ghost, but rather from sin, can be holy; or how can they fabricate a holyday on account of a thing which is noi holy in itself? The Church may truly have reason to pride herself because of a festival which honours sin or gives countenance to a false holines8 !-but, whatever people may think, she will never be brought to approve of an innovation contrary to her usual custom, which is the mother of rashness, the sister of superstition, and the daughter of levity. Moreover, if they had proceeded rightly in introducing this festival, they should have consulted the Holy See, and not followed blindly and inconsiderately the suggestions of some hair-brained ideots."

Our readers will perceive that the want of the Holy See's sanction was very far from being the only reason why Bernard censured the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The deservedly great reputation of this last of the Fathers, and the almost universal deference paid to his opinions, seem to have imposed some restraint on this growing, superstition,-at least we do not find that any divine of note ventured to stand forth in its defence for more than a hundred and fifty years. Some ohscure writers ventured indeed to cavil at the above epistle, particularly an English monk named Nicholas, who, in a letter written some time after Bernard's death, pretended that the saint had appeared to one of the monks of Clairvaux, with a black spot on his breast, intimating that his unfavourable opinion of the Virgin's immaculate conception had been a blot on the purity of his faith, and that he seriously repented having ever opposed thai doctrine ! This fabulist was properly chastised for his temerity by Petrus Cellensis, Bishop of Chartres, who, in a reply written with considerable spirit, says-" I believe the Gospel-not dreams-respecting the blessed Virgin, and if I be otherwise minded than I ought, God will reveal this also when and how he pleases. In the mean time, while the voice is above the firmament, and does not descend so low as to us, I beg that the darkness of our ignorance may be enlightened, not by thee, but by the Father of Lights."

The festival continued in this state for about a century, patronized by the ignorant and superstitious, and disapproved by the rational and sober-minded. Among the eminent divines who raised their voices against it, may be specified John Beleth and Durandus, who, in their respective treatises on Divine Ofices, mention the festival as more worthy of being censured than observed; and those who judge of religious matters by the rules of reason and Scripture, will probably be inclined to think that they were wiser or more honest than the whole tribe of the zealous Immaculists.

But, towards the end of the fourteenth century, the tide began to turn decidedly in favour of the latter, chiefly owing to the restless and meddling activity of the Franciscans, and the protection and patronage of the university of Paris,—which went so far as to bind all its members by oath to defend the Immaculate Conception to the utmost of their power. As the Dominicans obstinately refused to take this oath, they were excluded from the faculty of Theology for more than twenty years,-forbidden to preach or to hear confessions, -and became so odious, that the common people not only refused them alms, but insulted and persecuted them in every possible way. Their unpopularity was not confined to Paris, but extended to almost every part of Europe. The females in particular, thinking the honour of their own sex was at stake, were peculiarly inveterate in their hostility to all impugners of the doctrine ; and the women of Mantua hit upon the ingenious expedient of refusing every sort of relief to the begging friars, unless they asked for it in honour of the Immaculate Conception ; a plan which, if universally and steadily acted upon, must have eventually compelled the Dominicans to retract their opinion, or to die of hunger. The grounds of this fierce contention were the most trifling and childish that can be imagined. The Dominicans maintained as zealously as their adversaries that the Virgin was perfectly holy from her mother's womb; that she had/the entire use of reason, and the knowledge of most divine truths and mysteries long before her birth; with a variety of other propositions, equally extravagant, and irreconcileable to Scripture and common sense. They were also willing to allow that her sanctification almost immediately succeeded her conception, the most rigid among them not insisting upon her continuance io sin for more than a single moment, others reducing the time to the third part of a moment, and others being willing to admit that she was freed from this stain as quickly as the divine omnipotence was able to effect it. All these concessions, however, did not satisfy the Immaculists, who were bent upon having all or nothing, and would have rather seen every member of the Dominican order hanged, than allow that the Virgin's soul had been in the mouth of a stinking devil for a moment, or even the thousandth part of one. But as their adversaries had greatly the advantage of them in arguments from the Fathers and from Scripture, the chief weapons which they relied upon were the miracles and revelations by which the doctrine has been attested, and the contrary opinion stigmatized as abominable and false. Not only was Bernard seen with a black spot on his breast, but St. Thomas Aquinas, whose authority had helped ahove that of all others to harden the Dominicans in their unbelief, had also appeared to a certain Bishop of Padua, and assured him that he had changed his mind and was become a zealous Immaculist. Great and heavy judgments, too, were said to have fallen upon the opposers of the doctrine. One Dominican, preach. ing against it, was reported to have fallen down senseless, and to have died soon after ; another was struck dumb in the midst of his discourse, and carried home raving, mad; a third, more desperately wicked than the rest, who made a point of asserting in every discourse he preached that the Virgin was conceived in sin, was attacked by a wolf, and strangled in his very pulpit ; and a baker at Barcelona, who, instead of keeping the day of the Conception holy, irreverently presumed to work at his trade, found the loaves which he had put into the oven turned into lumps of filth and blood! On the strength of those miracles, and of revelations vouchsafed to different people of note, especially to the famous Swedish saint, Bridget, the Council of Basil defined the doctrine to be true and implicitly to be believed. Had this been done a little sooner, it would have become an article of faith, and the gainsayers must either have submitted or have been cut off from the unity of the Church : but as the Council had completely lost its infallibility by quarreling with Pope Eugenius--whom it had even presumed to depose-its decree is generally regarded as a mere dead letter,—the Church of Rome being much more concerned to uphold the dignity of the Pope than the contested prerogatives of the Virgin Mary. A great impression was made by the revelations granted to St. Bridget, who was generally regarded as a prophetess of the first rank, but the Dominicans dexterously parried them by those of St. Catherine of Sienna, to whom it was as clearly revealed that the conception was not immaculate as to St. Bridget that it was: and as Catherine had the notable faculty of smelling wicked souls, it might be reasonably inferred that she would be no less able to distinguish true revelations from false ones. This contradiction has greatly perplexed many devout Romanists, and their embarrassment has been greatly increased by the Popes, who, instead of deciding between the two, have formally approved the revelations of both saints in the mass-as certainly given by divine inspiration.

The matter was again agitated in the Council of Trent, but the Dominican interest was so powerful in that synod, that any attempt to renew the decree of the Council of Basil was out of the question. The affair was, therefore, compounded by a declaration that the Council did not mean to comprehend the Virgin Mary in its decree respecting original sin, which truly oracular decision left the point precisely where it found it. Several of the prelates there assembled seem to have been conscious that the dispute was ridiculous, and discreditable to the Church, from the anxiety which they expressed that silence should be imposed on both parties, and that it should be strictly forbidden to teach, preach, or write any thing on either side of the question. The controversy did indeed slumber in some measure till the beginning of the seventeenth century, at which time it burst forth in Spain into a fiercer flame than ever, and the two contending parties were so exasperated against each other, that a civil war was seriously apprehended. Two decrees were successively promulgated by Paul V. forbidding the disputants to censure or speak uncharitably of each other's opinions, but as this did not allay the flame, Philip III. King of Spain, sent a solemn embassy,* pathetically intreating that the Pope would interpose in his character of supreme judge of controversies, and set the matter at rest by a solemn definition, one way or other. The first ambassadors not being able to get any thing besides evasive answers, the king sent others “

more and more honourable than they," one of whom-the Bishop of Sosa, went furnished with the heavy artillery of a cart-load of treatises, memorials, commendatory epistles, and so forth. These he continued to fire off at his Holiness, week after week, and month after month, and exhausted all his rhetoric in attempting with the most persevering importunity to make the dumb oracle give sentence in his favour. He represented the disturbances in Spain, the breach of unity and charity in the Church, the advantage which the heretics derived from those contests,-and laid great stress on the miracles and revelations by which the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had been attested, observing, nevertheless, that a favourable decision from the Pope would establish the truth of the miracles which had been thus wroughi. He endeavoured to get rid of the arguments alleged on the other side from the Fathers, by representing that notwithstanding their venerable authority, they were nevertheless fallible: that Augustine had admitted of himself that he might err, and that if Aquinas had been then living, he would have been of a different opinion; concluding that all doctors since the Apostles, who were not Popes, were liable to be deceived. After which, addressing himself to the Pontiff, he exclaimed—“In thee alone, and the bishops in thy chair, no error has place ; in thee truth is established, and in thy seat has set up her venerable and perpetual throne; from that throne no lie can ever arise !” The Pope listened to his long-winded barangues and memorials with admirable patience, but knowing of what consequence it was not to come to a rupture with the Dominicans, he was as immoveable as the rock of the capitol. He replied that he had done what he could; that the matter required more ample consideration ; that though the opinion of the Immaculists was pious and highly probable, a good deal might be said on the other side ; that what he was requested to do was not a thing within the limits of human diligence, or which from motives of necessity, or worldly importunity, or the power of kings, may be immediately granted, until the Spirit from on high should dictate what ought to be determined in such a weighty controversy. He declared moreover, , that God had not yet inspired, nor his conscience dictated to him, any thing more than was contained in the decrees already promulgated.” The poor Bishop, finding the Pontiff equally

• A full account of those important negociations is given by the Franciscan, Wad. ding, in a book published at Louvain. A.D. 1624.

« AnteriorContinua »