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general spirit of error adapting itself to any and every form of error, his reasoning is far from satisfying us that it is imperishable. The assertion that “its principle is immortal,” can in no case be accepted ; for all error must ultimately die, and only truth survive, if our Lord is to overcome all his enemies, and God, who is truth itself, is to be all in all. It is not to be supposed that they who are eternally lost continue to err and to sin for ever. They know and confess the truth at last, and it is their severest hell that they know and confess it when it is too late for it to liberate them. Understanding Protestantism to be the general spirit of error, we can concede it to be imperishable, in the sense that the world is imperishable ; for men will hate Christ and deny him as long as the world stands; but in no other sense are we prepared to concede it.
The author defines the essence of Protestantism to be hatred of the Church, and yet throughout his book distinguishes it from absolute infidelity or unbelief
. We do not see the propriety of this distinction, nor understand how he can consistently exclude from Protestantism any form of error that hatred may assume. He makes Protestantism not a particular, a specific heresy, but the frame in which any negation of religion under a religious garb may be set. We see no ground for this restriction, and it seems to us that it contradicts his own assertion that Protestantism is a circle capable of indefinite extension, and practically illimitable ; for if the circle can include only the denials of religion that wear a religious garb, it is not illimitable, or capable of indefinite extension.
The learned Abbé, we suspect, has been led into this real or apparent contradiction by neglecting to distinguish sharply between Protestants and Protestantism: Protestants are of all shades, from the Calvinist down to the Unitarian or rationalist, from the high-churchman down to the no-churchman. The great majority of them retain some shreds of Christian belief, read the Bible, look to Christ as the redeemer of mankind, and are governed more or less in their opinions, sentiments, and conduct by Christian tradition. It would be a great mistake, as well as gross injustice, to represent all or even many of them as actually or intentionally unbelievers in Christ, or to hold them to be, in the way of error, anything more than heretics. But Protestantism is not a form of heresy, is nothing in itself but hatred of Catholicity or hostility to the Church of God; and there are no lengths in the way of denial it will not go, if necessary for its gratification. It is potentially absolute infidelity.
This seems to be in reality the Abbé's own doctrine, and its truth is evident from the fact that the general tendency of Protestants is not towards Catholicity, but farther and farther from it. Individuals among them, in certain times and places, even in large numbers, manifest decided Catholic tendencies, and ultimately find their way back to the Church ; but whoever knows Protestants well, knows that the mass of them, if driven by Catholic polemics to choose between the Church and the denial of Christianity, indeed, of all religion, will not choose the Church. “If I can be saved only by becoming a Catholic, I do not wish to be saved,” said a Protestant minister to us one day. “I would rather be damned than be a Catholic." We politely assured him he could have his choice. This minister expressed only the too common sentiment of Protestants. A certain number among them when convinced that Catholicity and Christianity are identical, will, the grace of God moving and assisting, became Catholics ; but every day's experience shows that the larger number of them love Christianity less than they hate Catholicity, and will become infidels sooner than they will become Catholics. In doing so are they illogical? Do they teject Protestantism, or simply follow out its spirit to its last logical consequences ?
The learned Abbé restricts Protestantism to such negations as wear a religious garb, But with us, in what is called Free Religion, we have seen infidelity itself wearing the garb and speaking the language of religion. In France there are the positivists, real atheists, who clothe themselves with a religious vestment, adopt a ritual, and observe a regular worship. These, if the author insist on his restriction, must be included within the Protestant circle, and if these are included, it will be difficult to say what class of enemies of Christ and his Church are to be excluded. We see no good reason, therefore, for any restriction in the case. Protestantism is made up of negations, without any affirmation or positive truth of its own; and no reason can be assigned why we should not hold it capable of including within its circumference, without loss of identity or essential alteration, any or all errors against the Catholic Church, and if as yet only heretical with the many, why it is not capable in its developments of becoming downright apostacy or complete denial of Christianity.
Taken in this sense, we admit that Protestantism is not dead, nor dying ; but will continue to confront the Church to the end of time. The Church in this world is always the Church militant. She will always have her enemies with whom she can never make peace so long as she remains faithful to her Lord. “Think not," said our Lord, “ that I am come to send peace on the earth ; nay, a sword, rather.” The synagogue of Satan stands always over against the Church of God, and the world will always hate the Church as it hated our Lord himself; for she is not of the world as he was not of it. Yet we attach no great importance, if this be its meaning, to the proposition, “ Protestantism is imperishable," which the Abbé Martin labors hard and at great length to sustain ; for it is only saying in other words that hatred to the Church will continue to the consummation of the world.
But if the proposition means that Protestantism under its original, or even its present form, as held by the mass of Protestants, is imperishable, we can only say, nothing proves it to our satisfaction. That the essence of Protestantism, which the author defines to be hatred of Catholicity, will continue as long as the world stands, we do not doubt; but nothing proves to us that it may not change its form in the future as it has done in the past, or that the great body of Protestants may not gradually eliminate all that they have thus far retained of Christian tradition or Christian belief, reject even the Christian name, and lapse into pure Gentilism, as they are already lapsing into carnal Judaism.
The Abbé, while he is strictly correct when telling us what Protestantism is, that it is less a religion than the frame for the reception of all possible anti-Christian negations, yet seems in much of his reasoning with regard to its future to proceed as if he held Protestantism to be, not an immutable system indeed, but, after all, something definite and positive or affirmative. He knows as well as we do, and abundantly proves in his book, that Protestantism affirms nothing, contains as peculiar to itself no affirmative proposition whatever. The affirmative propositions held by Protestants are simply fragments of Catholic truth taught and held fast in their integrity by the Church long ages before Luther and Calvin were born, and constitute no part of Protestantism. The Protestantism is all in the perversion, corruption, or denial of Catholic truth. There is nothing in it of its own but its negations and hatred of the Church, her faith, her discipline, and her worship, to be continued, or that can be the subject of any predicate. Protestantism receives into its bosom one form of error as readily as another, and complete unbelief as the inchoate apostacy called heresy, though we readily grant that the majority of Protestants are not, as yet, prepared to accept infidelity pure and simple ; and many of them, we trust, are, in their intentions and dispositions, prepared to accept and obey the truth when made known to them, and may yet in God's gracious providence find their way into the Catholic communion and be saved.
The Reformers, or the fathers of the modern Protestant movement, did not intend to give up Christianity or the Church. They thought they could reject the papacy and the sacerdotal order, and still retain the Christian faith and the Christian Church. But they were not slow to discover that this was impracticable, and that, if they gave up the papacy and the sacerdotal order, they must give up the sacraments, save as unmeaning rites, infused grace, the merit of good works, the church as a living organism, the whole Mediatorial work of Christ in our actual regeneration, and fall back on immediatism, and deny all living or present Mediator between God and man. Their successors have found out that an irresistible logic carries them farther still, and requires them to reject all creeds and dogmas as superfluous, to resolve faith into confidence, and to rely solely on the immediate internal illumination and operations of the Holy Ghost. A new generation is beginning to discover that even this is too niuch, and is preparing to attribute to nature and the soul what its predecessors had attributed to the immediate supernatural operations of the Spirit. There is but one step farther, and you have reached the goal, that of resolving God himself into the human soul, or the identification of God with man and man with God, and not a few have already taken it.
Protestant experience has proved that the Catholic system is homogeneous, self-consistent, all of a piece, so to speak; woven without seam, and not to be parted; that it must either be accepted or rejected as a whole. We do not say that all or the majority of Protestants see this; but many of them see it, and their vanguard loudly proclaim it, and declare the issue to be, Catholicity or rationalism, that is, naturalism. There is no middle ground tenable, to a logical mind with a courage equal to its logic, between the two. It must be either the Church or the world, Catholicity or naturalism, God or atheism. We know great bodies move slow, and the great body of Protestants will not come to a full conviction of this to-day nor to-morrow; but they are tending to it, and can hardly fail, in the natural course of things, one day to reach it. Having reached it, we think the sincere and earnest Protestants, who love and study the Bible and mean to be Christians, will be gathered into the Catholic fold, and the others most likely, other things remaining as they are, will follow their Protestant spirit into naturalism, and give up Christian baptism and Christian faith altogether.
The author tells us that there are two very obvious tendencies among Protestants: the one a tendency to return to the Church, and the other a tendency to rationalism and complete infidelity ; but he thinks there will always remain in the non-Catholic body a certain number of honest, pious souls who shrink from unbelief, and yet, while they hold on to certain shreds of Christianity, will, from ignorance, prejudice, and other causes, continue to protest against the Catholic faith. He supposes that among Protestants there are large numbers of such persons who really believe in Jesus Christ, who really love his religion as far as they know it, who have real Christian piety, and actually believe themselves to be true Christians in faith and practice. These, he contends, preserve to Protestantism a certain religious and Christian character, and will prevent it from ever lapsing into complete unbelief and irreligion. They will always insist on some form of Christianity; and whatever the form they adopt, it will be Protestantism. He may be right; but we think, in discussing the future of Protestantism, he makes too much account of these pious persons; for if as well disposed as he assumes them to be, they can hardly fail, as time goes on and the real character of the Reformation becomes more and more manifest, to follow out their Christian tendency, and return to the communion of the Catholic Church.
Looking at the two tendencies among Protestants, studying them as thoroughly as we are able, and considering especially the essential nature of Protestantism, together with what we may call the logic of error —for error as well as truth has its logic—we think Protestantism, as pretending to be Christian, will, as we have said, finally disappear, and prove itself practically, as it is logically, the total rejection of the Christian religion, and therefore of Christ himself. In point of fact, Protestantism in its spirit and essence, as the author shows beyond contradiction, is only the revival under a modern form of the great Gentile Apostacy that followed the building of the Tower of Babel, and must, if it run its course, lapse either into no-religion, as it has already done with our modern scientists, or into demon-worship and gross idolatry and superstition, as is actually done with modern spiritists right under our eyes. We look, as we have already intimated, for a separation of the wheat from the chaff, and believe the time will come when the real issue will be made up, and the battle we must wage be not with heresy, but with undisguised and unmitigated infidelity, rationalism, naturalism, or pure secularism.
We cannot give a complete analysis of the Abbé Martin's work ; for it is itself little else than an analysis. But an interesting and important portion of it is devoted to the Protestant revival and propaganda, beginning in the latter half of the last century, and continued so vigorously in the present. Protestantism, seeking from the first the aid and protection of the princes, soon assumed in each country that adopted it, the form and state of a national religious establishment, defended and governed by the secular power. Having no true spiritual life within, and defended without and provided for