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Pere Felix on Progress

[From Brownson’s Quarterly Review for April, 1859]

            Pere Felix, we are told, is one of the most popular and effective preachers now in France.  His Conferences, or sermons, preached during the season of Lent, in the great church of Notre Dame, at Paris, draw crowds of men to hear them, and produce an impression on the lively Parisians hardly less profound than that formerly produced by the eloquent Lacordaire, or afterwards, by the earnest, gifted, and devoted Ravignan, whose loss to the French pulpit is still so deeply regretted.  They are written with great vivacity and force, with freedom and originality, in pure and beautiful French, and may be read with interest, instruction, and edification even by an Englishman or an American, which is more than can be said of most French sermons, written as they are to be spoken in public, not to be read in the closet.

            When we consider how familiar the topics the preacher has to discuss, how little of extrinsic interest he can bring to his aid from time, place, and circumstance, it is remarkable that we have so many good preachers; but when we consider the number of preachers there are, the variety, greatness, and sublimity of the themes presented by religion, the magnitude and pressing nature of the interests addressed, it is no less remarkable that we have so few.  A really great preacher is a rare phenomenon.  It is seldom we find even our most eloquent and learned divines making the most of the text or the Gospel for the day, or that we find them reasoning to us of sin, of justice, of judgment in the way that arrests the soul, convinces the mind, alarms the conscience, and makes the hardened sinner tremble, as did Felix before St. Paul, and cry out in tones of deep anguish and firm resolve, “What shall I do to be saved?” Why is this?  Not ordinarily for lack of learning, zeal, intellect, imagination, or sensibility.  A far larger number of preachers have all the essential gifts of the highest-class pulpit orator, than succeed in reaching even a moderate eminence.  Why is it, then, that of the immense number of preachers throughout the world, in all ages since the inauguration of the church, so few attain to the highest summit of excellence in their profession?

            Indolence and indifference do something, but cannot be regarded as the principal causes of failure, or as having much influence in preventing success.  We think a primary cause of ill success in our day, is owing to the training our young men receive- a training which, on the one hand, cramps and represses the natural genius of the man, and on the other sends him to learn what other men have thought and said, instead of forcing him to think for himself, and speak from his own mind and heart.  The student thinks, indeed, but what St. John the Golden Mouth, St. Augustine, St. Bernard, Bossuet, Fenelon, Bourdaloue, or Massillon have thought and said, instead of thinking out his subject itself.  The great fathers and great preachers he studies and cites- not simply authorities for doctrines or facts, but for their thoughts and language- became great by letting their own minds operate freely on the subjects they treated, by meditating the subject itself, not by contenting themselves with learning and repeating what those who had gone before them had thought and said, and by speaking out in their full tones, from their own full minds and hearts the free, warm, fresh, gushing thoughts and sentiments that came to them in their communion with nature and with God.  We mean not by this to underrate learning, or to speak disparagingly of various and laboriously acquired erudition.  No man can know too many things, or have too much learning, and few men will attain to real eminence unless they have a large fund of knowledge acquired from books.  But it matters little how many or how good books a man reads, unless he digests them, and assimilates their contents to his own mental life.  They will otherwise overload his stomach, produce flatulency, and impair or impede his vital functions.  Not seldom the erudite are the most wanting in judgment, in living and original thought.  They rely on their memory or their library, and forget that to think is the essential function of the rational soul.  A man who knows his theology well, so that he is always sure of his principles and never in danger of running against faith or morals, has in his own thoughts and observations, in his own life and experience, all the materials he wants; and he needs only to exercise his own mind freely on these materials, to give his own understanding, imagination, and sensibility, his own zeal and affection, fair play, in order to place himself on a level with the great fathers and preachers of past ages.  He has all they had; and if he will only permit himself to do as they did, and accustom himself, as they accustomed themselves, to read and meditate the Holy Scriptures daily, and to spend hours every day in meditating the mysteries of life, and especially the mysteries of our religion, he may rival them, be what they were, and effect what they effected.  No man comes too late into the world, or finds it foreclosed.  Always is there new work to be done; always is there a new field to be opened and cultivated; always is there a path to eminence; always a place and demand for the highest order of thought and action.  There is no reason in the world, out of themselves, why men today should not equal Fenelon or Bossuet, St. Francis of Sales or St. Bernard, St. Leo or St. Ambrose, St. Basil or St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. John Chrysostom or St. Augustine.  Nature has not exhausted her powers or grown old; grace is not worn out, nor have the inspirations of the Holy Spirit spent their force.  Men today, if they will, may live as near to nature and to God, the author of both nature and grace, as lived the great fathers, doctors, and preachers of the church in primitive ages.

            Too much thought is wasted in learning without assimilating the thoughts of others, and too little respect is paid to the intellect and reason with which the Creator creates every human soul.  God makes man to his own image.  We are taught to respect that image in others; we should learn to respect it equally in ourselves.  Reason is a not a special gift to certain men or certain ages, but a gift common to all men, and to all ages.  The creative act of God which gives us simultaneously existence and reason, is an ever-present and never-ceasing act.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If the fathers lived, moved and had their being in him, so do we live, move, and have our being in him, and his being illuminates our reason as it illuminated theirs.  What, then, had they that is denied us, or what means had they of attaining their respective paths to excellence, that we have not?

            The world is rendered sickly, infirm, and feeble, by the Protestant error of substituting a dead book, which speaks only as the reader gives it voice, for a living and ever-present teaching church.  Faith, indeed, was revealed in the beginning, and was finished when the promises made to the patriarchs were fulfilled; but though the revelation of faith was made, in what to us, as individuals, is the past, it is made to us equally in the present, and it is at all times a present and living revelation.  Faith is in the supernatural order what reason is in the natural; as the unchangeable essence and the ever-present and unceasing creative act of God creates reason always the same, and makes it an ever-present reason, so our Lord through his ever-abiding presence in his church, which is his body, makes faith unchangeable and always a present faith, or a present revelation.  Revelation is as present today as it was two thousand years ago, and save the individuals who actually saw our Lord in the flesh, we have all that had the contemporaries of the apostles.  The church which subsists and bears witness to the faith was their contemporary.  Peter, through his successor, teaches me today with as present, as living, and as authoritative a voice as that with which he spoke under the power of the Holy Ghost, who descended upon him with a cloven tongue of fire, to the representatives of all the nations gathered together at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost.  The church heard her angels sing the Gloria in Excelsis at the birth of our Lord;  she saw the infant Redeemer lying in the manger, and Mary his mother, and prostrated herself with the kings from the East, and worshipped him.  She was the eye-witness and the ear-witness of the great facts and events she narrates, and which embody the great mysteries of our faith.  Though born in time, not in time does she live.  Her existence is a present existence, catholic in time as in space, and spans the whole distance from the manger-cradle to the final consummation of the world.  She never falls into the past, living only as a thing of memory.  Individuals may be born and die, generations may pass on and pass off, but she persists through all changes of individuals and generations, and survives them unchanging and unchangeable.  She grows not old with individuals, becomes not hoary with length of days, and what she relates, and what she teaches, is not simply what she once saw and heard, but what she sees and hears now with as clear a sense, with as young and fresh a life, as when she went forth from that upper room in Jerusalem to subdue the world to her divine Lord.  To all individuals and to all ages and nations she is alike present, the one same living, teaching, governing church, creating by her actual presence a real, living faith, as the creative act of the ever-present God creates an ever-living, an ever-present natural reason.  If then in the natural order we of today have all the reason, all the advantages men in past ages had, so by means of the church, the representative on earth of the incarnate God, we have all the faith and all the advantages in the supernatural order the fathers, doctors, and preachers had, and there is no good reason why we should fail to equal them, if not even surpass them.

            We fall, in fact, far below them, but it is because we do not as they did, and because we suffer ourselves to be oppressed by them, crushed under their weight, instead of using them to instruct, to inspire, and to elevate us.  We have too little reliance on our own resources.  We have too little confidence in the native and inherent logic of the human mind, and still less in the real logic of things, to which we so rarely penetrate.  We dare not abandon ourselves to the natural operations of our own understandings, and lose all self-consciousness, as the Germans say, in the subject we are treating.  The preacher does not dare throw himself on as well as into his subject, and let it unfold itself according to its own nature and laws.  He holds himself back, and hinders the word, instead of giving it free course, and permitting it to run and be glorified.  He can neither trust it to itself nor himself to it.  He has the fear of the professor of rhetoric before his eyes, and is afraid he shall not preserve his “points,” or maintain a just proportion of parts in the several divisions of his sermon.  He is thinking more of producing a great sermon than of unfolding his subject, and sending its lessons home to the minds and the hearts of his hearers.  He forgets that the end of preaching is neither to produce a sermon nor to prove himself a great sermonizer; but to convince his hearers of some great truth, or to persuade them by the sweet motives of heaven or the startling horrors of sin and judgment to the practice of some duty, to enlighten the ignorant, to arouse the slothful, to quicken the dilatory, to strengthen the weak of purpose, and awaken the spiritually dead to newness of life- in a word, to win souls to his divine Master.  The rhetoricians are of no account; the rules of art can render little assistance, and the grace and excellency of human speech, as of human wisdom, are as often a hindrance as a help.  He must know only Christ and him crucified, and preach Christ, to the Jews a stumbling-block, to the Greeks foolishness, but to them that believe, the wisdom of God, and the power of God.  He must know, he must think only of the honor of his Master in the salvation of souls.

            Preaching is always addressed to the people, and therefore must be popular, in tone, style, and manner.  We mean not that it must be superficial, light, and flashy.  We have had in this city few abler or more popular preachers than the late Father John Larkin, in whom, let it be permitted us to say, we personally grieve the loss of a long-tried and very dear friend, a wise director, and a judicious adviser, whose place can never be supplied to us in this world- and he, as we all know, was remarkable for the learning, the solidity, depth, and originality of his sermons, which were replete with the profoundest and the deepest philosophy of life.  But he knew how to make obscure things plain, difficult things easy, and trite things grand and original.  But as preaching must be popular, it must address itself to the popular taste and manners, and deal with the actual habits and living interests of the people as they are, not simply as they once may have been.  The style of pulpit oratory that comports well with one age, or one country, may comport ill with another.  The French style would produce little effect on an English congregation, and the English style just as little on a French congregation.  To be effective it must be living, it must be real, it must be actual; and to be so, it must adapt itself to the people as they are, and speak to them in what are to them the tones and terms of the life they are actually living.  Much of our pulpit oratory loses its effectiveness by its stiff, strained, and artificial tones.  It fails to break through the wall of self-complacency, propriety, or indifference, with which almost every congregation surrounds itself when the preacher ascends the pulpit; it fails to penetrate at once to the citadel, and carry it before the garrison have had time to seize their arms, and rush to its defense.  The first words of a preacher should give him command of his audience, establish a magnetic chain of communication between him and them, so that he may speak with the combined force of their inspiration and his own.  He must give them no opportunity to think, while he is speaking, whether he speaks well or ill; but must hold them captive, prevent them from once thinking of him, and fox their minds and their hearts on the mysteries he is unfolding, the sublime truths he is uttering, or the awful lessons he is enforcing.  If he himself feels his subject, has his heart and soul saturated with it, forgets himself, and speaks in the strength and majesty of his theme, his tones, manners, and gestures will be natural, as are always those of a child till the masters have destroyed his simplicity, and attempted to make him live an artificial life, and his words and expressions will be the best that could be chosen.  The strained and artificial, the stiff and formal manner, too often found in the pulpit, destroys the effect, and leaves any impression but that the preacher is a live man speaking to live men and women.  The only really effective preachers we have, whether in the Catholic or non-Catholic pulpit, are those who abandon that manner, break through the artificial rules with which the professors have embarrassed them, and in which they can no more do battle for the Lord, than young David could fight the giant Goliath in Saul’s armor, and have ventured to speak out from their own full minds and hearts in their own simple, earnest, and natural tones, the thoughts that come to them, and in the words in which they spontaneously clothe themselves.

            Of the style and manner of Pere Felix as a pulpit orator, we cannot speak; but we presume they are French, as they should be in a French preacher addressing a French audience.  As a writer he thinks with clearness and force, and expresses himself with vigor, elegance, and grace.  Perhaps his style would bear condensation, but it is as easy, natural, and unaffected as is permissible in a modern French author.  To us Americans the French always seem a little artificial and theatrical, and Pere Felix is unmistakably  French.  He, however, shows that he has thought and meditated on the subjects themselves that he discusses, and has not merely acquired what others have said respecting them, and his two volumes of Conferences before us constitute one of the best and most original works touching the living problems of the age that we have recently seen from the French press.  They are not so erudite, so philosophical, so striking, or so original as the Conferences of Padre Ventura, reviewed by us a few years since; but they are sounder and more practical.  They are adapted more especially to the temper, taste, and thought of the French than of the English or the Americans, and yet he who should make them accessible to the English speaking public would render a valuable service to the cause of religion and morality.

            The adherents of the doctrine of progress, combated in these volumes, will recognize a candid, sincere, and conscientious opponent in Pere Felix, but they will most likely feel that he was not trained in their school, and has never been one of their number.  He has not the secret of the craft,- the password of the fraternity, and is unable to reproduce their doctrines from his own life and experience.  He is obliged in regard to them, to rely on speculation, not on experimental knowledge, and we must confess that his discourses are better fitted to guard the faithful against the seductions of the false doctrine than to convert its adherents to the true doctrine of progress.  He has seen that false doctrine only from the point of view of the party of its defenders.  He reproduces it for the Catholic mind, not for the non-Catholic mind.  So far as it is reducible to formal or logical propositions, he is exact enough, but he fails to reproduce it with the sentiments and affections with which it is associated in the minds of its adherents, and in the sharp and well-defined propositions in which he presents and refutes it, they will hardly recognize it.  He may have seized their doctrine under its purely logical aspects, but they feel that he has not seized- what is far more dear to them- the sentiments and affections which lead them to adopt it, and which, to their own minds and hearts, warrant their holding and defending it.

            This, we apprehend, is very generally felt by non-Catholics to be the case with our Catholic controversialists, and is one reason why our arguments produce so little effect on them.  They feel that in our reasoning against them, we combat by rigid logic what is not purely logical in its nature or origin.  Our logic may strike them as conclusive, as unanswerable indeed, but they, nevertheless, feel that they are not refuted, that there is something they have which justifies them in adhering to their opinions and insisting on them, which we have not recognized, and which our reasoning does not touch.  Hence, though we silence their logic, we do not convince them; we convict without convincing them.  It will not so, at least in all cases, or even generally, to attribute our ill success to their love of vice, to the corruption of their hearts, to their satanic pride, or to the depravity or obstinacy of their wills.  No man embraces error for its own sake.  In most men there is something besides logic; there is prejudice, passion, sentiment, affection; and these being different in Catholics and non-Catholics, the logic we use, though, as logic, the same in both, does not meet them.  Mankind are far more generally governed by their sentiments and affections than by their logic, and in comparatively few do the sentiments and affections and the logic coincide, or move in concert.  Sometimes they are good, and it is bad; sometimes it is good, and they are bad.  In our controversies it is necessary to address both, and to prove that we know the sentiments and affections, as well as the logic of those we oppose.  In refuting them it will rarely be enough, although that must be done, to reduce their doctrines to strict logical propositions.  We must reproduce or develop their sentiments and affections, or the non-logical phenomena which accompany their doctrines and are taken as integral in them.  While we develop and refute their doctrine from our standpoint, we must develop and refute it from theirs.  To be able to do this, when we have not lived ourselves their life, we must count ourselves ignorant of their errors till we understand thoroughly the ignorance that leads them to adopt it.  That is, we must, in the first instance, study their errors not to detect their falsehood, but the truth they contain, or to see them in a light in which, as far as they go, they really are not false, but true. The human mind constituted for truth, and never able to operate without truth as its object, never does and never can embrace the absolutely false, or the absolutely absurd.  It can embrace it only under an aspect which is neither false nor absurd.  We never fully and fairly apprehend the erroneous doctrines or opinions of others, till we see them in the light in which they see them, and detect the truth mingled in them, and which is that which really consecrates them in the minds of their adherents.  It is an easy thing for us, who are Catholics, and have the truth in its unity, universality, and integrity, to detect the errors or heresies of others, and to give them a logical refutation from our point of view; but the difficult thing is to understand how or whence men who have minds constructed like our own come to embrace these errors or heresies and to adhere to them apparently in good faith, even after we have demonstrated by strict logic their untenableness.  The fact is, we refute them from the point of view of the Catholic, but not form the point of view of the non-Catholic, or fail to show the non-Catholic that the truth he sees in them we also see and retain, and that what he is sure is just and good in his sentiments and affections, we also recognize as just and good in its proper place, and are as anxious to preserve as he is or can be.  Father Hecker, in his books, the Questions of the Soul and the Aspirations of Nature, has attempted to do this, and to some extent at least has done it, for a class of non-Catholics , and herein lies the great merit of his publications.

            Father Felix, however, must forgive us, if we say we think he has not done this, except to a very limited extent.  He has shown admirably, and conclusively refuted the errors of the modern advocates of progress, but he has not recognized, disengaged, and presented in its true place and light the truth of that doctrine.  The older we grow, the less inclined we are to wholesale condemnation, or to indiscriminate censure, and the more disposed we are to detect the truth which those who fall into error misapprehend, misinterpret, or misapply, and the just sentiments and honorable motives, which lead them to adhere to their errors, and which comport far better with Catholic than with non-Catholic doctrine.  We grow no less intolerant of error, but more ready to extenuate the fault of its adherents.  We feel that we have some right to be heard on the modern doctrine of progress,  for we once held it, and were, if not among its ablest, at least among its most earnest and resolute defenders.  Father Felix has refuted it from the point of view of Catholic faith and theology, but he gives no evidence that he has ever seen it in the light that seduces this age, and makes it the great word for the nineteenth century, as liberty was the great word for the eighteenth, and we may add, as reform was for the sixteenth century.  In the sixteenth century, reform had its true and false advocates, in the eighteenth, liberty had its true and false partisans, but nobody can deny that reform in the former period was rightfully the great word of the day, or that liberty was rightfully the great word of the latter.  The error in the sixteenth century was not in demanding reform, but in attempting it where it was not needed, or by means that would render the reform a greater evil than those it sought to redress.  So was it with liberty in the eighteenth century.  That century opened with the general triumph of the old Roman caesarism in nearly every continental state of Europe, and it was still doubtful whether it would not succeed with a restoration of the Stuarts in Great Britian.  It was not Catholicity that drove the Stuarts from the British throne, or that prevented them from recovering it, but their caesarism, their adherence to the doctrines of absolute monarchy, and their inability to govern as constitutional sovereigns, as the first magistrate, not as the sovereign proprietor of the nation.  The English warred against the Stuarts in defense of their liberties, as they had previously warred against Philip II in defense of their national independence, and in both cases against Catholicity, only so far as it accidentally presented itself as the ally of the enemy.

            It was a great misfortune that the English Catholics were in some sense obliged to link their cause with that of the unhappy Stuarts.  Catholics still suffer both in Great Britain and in our own country from the prejudice it exerted against them.  In both countries they suffer because their ancestors supported princes who sought to destroy English liberty and the rights of the Englishmen, not for their Catholicity, or any attachment they may have to the pope.  The prejudices the American people have against Spain today date back to Philip II and the Grand Armada, and it precisely the support the popes are said to have given to Spain in her attempts to get possession of England, and to the Stuarts in their attempts to recover the English throne, that makes it so difficult for us today to convince our countrymen that the papacy is not hostile to the independence of nations, and the liberty of the people.  To a Catholic it is easy to explain all the facts in the case without implicating our religion or the papacy, but it is not easy, and while there was danger, it was not possible, to explain them to non-Catholics.  It needed the noble movements of Pius IX, our present glorious pontiff, to disabuse the public, and to demonstrate that if some popes have appeared to oppose the independence of nations or of liberal institutions, it has been only because in the complication of civil and ecclesiastical affairs, growing out of a state of things which has ceased to exist, they could not defend the paramount interests of religion without appearing to do so; and that the papacy itself is never hostile to national independence or to the national liberties, when kept within the bounds of justice, and not made pretexts for denying the liberty of conscience and warring on the church of God.  The popes could not, in the state of things then existing, have done less than they did, without incurring the guilt of gross neglect of the interests of religion.  They did what their duty compelled them to do, but they failed, not because they were wrong,  but because they on whom alone they could rely to carry out their policy had so linked their cause of caesarism with Catholicity, that they could not protect the faith without advancing that of civil despotism, and because the English people were more firmly wedded to their national independence and their national liberties than they were to the church of God.  Still the policy has created a deep prejudice in the English and American mind against the papacy.

            But civil and political despotism at the beginning of the eighteenth century having everywhere triumphed on the continent, if we except Switzerland and San Marino, and still having a chance of triumphing in the British Isles, humanity would have been false to herself, and looking to the future, even false to the church, if she had not, with all the voice left her, demanded liberty.  That demand was not made only by Jansenists, Huguenots, and infidels, by men of debauched manners and lawless passions, but was made, and has been made in the sixteenth century the demand for reform, by many of the purest, the noblest, the loyalest, and the most enlightened and saintly men of the age.  The movement for liberty in the assembling of the states-general in France, and the disposition shown by Louis XVI to extend the freedom of his people, were hailed with approbation at Rome, as they were greeted with joy throughout the world, and the clergy were the first to join the tiers etat in the effort to recover the lost liberties of the nation,-  liberties lost by the Bourbons, aided by the Frenchman Richilieu, and the supple and astute Italian Mazarin.  The word liberty was a good word; its cause was a good, a noble, a just cause; but it was abused by an ultra-party, just as reform had been by the Protestant party.  So in the nineteenth century, progress is a good word, combining in itself the full significance of those two other great words, liberty and reform; its cause is a good, a holy, a sacred cause, which religion and humanity alike consecrate.  But, as in each of the former cases, it has its true and its false friends.

            Pere Felix does not deny, he even concedes this, and accepting progress, he attempts to distinguish between the true doctrine of progress by Christianity, and the false doctrine of progress by the inherent law of growth or natural development asserted by the age outside of the church.  But it is precisely here where he seems to us to fail.  He makes believe in his eloquent and masterly preliminary discourse, that he accepts the progress itself asserted by the age, and that he is about to dissent only as to the means, influences, and agencies, by which progress has been, and is to be effected; but as he proceeds he restricts progress wholly to the interior of man, and identifies it with the growth of grace in the soul, or with what is usually denominated Christian perfection.  That there is the progress he asserts, that it is the highest and most important progress that can be conceived, no Christian can for a moment doubt.  No progress that excludes this, or that does not in some sense subserve it, is worth the slightest effort.  But to restrict all progress to this interior Christian perfection is to sport with the age, is to play tricks on words, and to give the age a series of homilies on the four cardinal virtues and the seven deadly sins, when and where it looked for a Christian, philosophical, and practical discussion of the popular doctrine of progress.  Does the preacher mean to deny all other progress?  Does he mean that this progress is what the age is really demanding, and what would meet its real wants if it understood them?  Or does he mean to have us conclude that, if we secure this progress, all other progresses that can be really desired will be secured as a matter of course?  Let him mean which he will he does not meet the question as it is in the mind of his age, and therefore, though he has produced a very pious and valuable book, he has not produced precisely the book needed, or which his title, Le Progres par le Christianisme, Progress by Christianity, led us, perhaps through our fault, to expect.

            There certainly has been in modern society, out of the interior of the individual, or the spiritual life, unmistakable progress.  There has been progress in the science of politics, in the physical sciences, in industry and commerce.  There has been progress in legislation, political economy; in the construction of prisons, in prison discipline, in the diffusion of education, in the treatment of paupers, criminals, and the vicious.  There has been a large development of benevolence, and of the sentiment of humanity, whether always wisely directed or not.  There has been a marvellous progress in exploring, reducing, and utilizing the forces of nature.  Great changes have been effected among civilized nations as to the rights of peace and war, and men think today of slavery and the rights of man very differently from what they did a few generations or even a single generation back.  The world cries out with horror today against laws and practices, which almost since our own personal recollection excited no remark, and if thought of at all, were thought to be unavoidable and irremediable.  These are facts which nobody can deny.  It may be argued, with more or less truth, that these ameliorations have not been unaccompanied by facts of a contrary character, and that, though good in themselves, they have been brought about by means which have left man and society upon the whole, in a worse condition than formerly; so that, looking to the whole, to all the interests of man and society, there has been a deterioration rather than a progress.  We have ourselves argued in the same way; but we have never been disposed to deny that there has been a real progress in the respects named.  Is it not possible in the other respects to effect a corresponding progress?

            The eloquent preacher seems to us to overlook the fact that the pantheistic and socialistic doctrines on which the false doctrine of progress seems to be based, are with the advocates of progress only an after-thought, invented not for their own sake, but to justify them in asserting progress outside of the individual growth in grace to which he would confine it, and independently of the influences and agencies he admits.  Men did not become pantheists and then assert a pantheistic progress, or a progress in man and society by an inherent and natural law of development and growth like that of the embryon in the animal, or the seed in the vegetable.  They adopted belief in progress first, and then adopted the anti-Christian and pantheistic ground of defending it, because they were opposed, or imagined themselves opposed, by Christianity, and forbidden by the Christian religion to labor for it.  They are not refuted by refuting their pantheism, naturalism, or Pelagianism.  Indeed, the great body of the party care nothing for these absurdities, errors, or heresies, any more than, in the sixteenth century, the mass of the reform party out of the church cared for Luther’s doctrine of imputed righteousness or justification by faith alone, or the mass of the advocates of liberty, in the eighteenth, cared for the oratory of Anarcharis Clootz, the dreams of Condorcet, the materialism of D’Holbach, the atheism of the Herbertists, the communistic reveries of Barbeuf, or the theophilanthrophy of Revelliere-Lepaux.  The mass of the reform party wanted reform, and they adopted Luther’s doctrine, not because they believed it or cared for it, but because it was inscribed on the banner under which they fought, and was to them the symbol of the reform they demanded.  The eighteenth century demanded liberty, was terribly in earnest to gain it, but it never demanded liberty for the sake of holding and propagating the infidelity of its chiefs.  The party of progress today want freedom to labor for progress, and to effect it as a practical fact, but the mass of them never heard of Hegel, Leroux, Enfantin, or the pantheistic nonsense Pere Felix so triumphantly, and at the same time so pleasantly and wittily refutes in the volumes before us.  Great parties, great movements, do not begin in philosophy, in doctrine, but in instinct, sentiment, feeling, impelled by a practical motive, and seeking a practical end.  The only way to arrest them, when they take a wrong direction, is to head them off, is to take what they are driving at that is practicable and not repugnant to faith and morals, separate it from the false philosophy and absurd speculations with which it is connected, and make ourselves its defenders, although it is not precisely what we should ourselves have proposed, as the church authorized her missionaries to accept in heathen lands even the festivals of the heathen, in so far as not idolatrous, and to give them a Christian significance, or as she consecrates to Mary, to Christian devotion, the month of May, once sacred to a heathen goddess, after whom the month itself is named.  The question is not now what would have been the best way of dealing with the party of progress in the abstract, or before it had acquired strength, but how shall we deal with it today, when in one form or another it includes the greater part of the civilized world.  It is the practical, not the theoretical question, we must meet, and we must meet it not by seeking to recall the age to simple individual progress in Christian perfection, but by showing that, while the church is a supernatural kingdom, and has for her direct mission only the glory of God in the salvation of souls, she indirectly favors progress in the natural order by the Christian virtues she cultivates, and allows free efforts for all progress in natural society and institutions that is possible without coming in conflict with revealed truth and the moral law.

            Father Felix may be very right in saying that man aspires to the infinite, the perfect, but he must remember that we aspire only as we are inspired.  We certainly can attain to the infinite, the perfect in the supernatural order, only by means of Christianity, of union with Christ, in whom the human nature he assumed is elevated to be the nature of God.  But if, as he maintains, man naturally aspires to the infinite, to the perfect, how maintain that the perfect, the infinite, in the natural order, is attainable only by Christianity?  Where do we learn that the supernatural is needed as the complement of the natural?  We do not believe that man can attain to the infinite or the perfect, in the natural order, for we do not believe man naturally aspires to either, and what are so often spoken of as his natural aspirations, we believe are the effect of supernatural inspirations.  The natural cannot go out of the natural, and con no more aspire to the perfect than it can attain to it.  We cannot, therefore, with the preacher, resolve the movement for progress into the natural aspiration of man to the perfect.  It grows simply out of man’s natural aspiration to the better.  We cannot any more accept the doctrine that the desire for progress, as it manifests itself in this age, meets or can meet its full gratification in individual progress in Christian perfection, as the good father contends.  The church neither destroys nor supersedes natural society.  She does not even make natural society her special charge, or provide, or pretend to provide, for all its necessities and interests.  Even if all individuals should become saints, as eminent as any placed in the calendar, natural society would remain imperfect, governments would blunder, institutions might be oppressive, and though all would be done that could be done to solace the sufferer, yet the evils would not be removed.  The church has received a supernatural revelation, and is divinely assisted in all things pertaining to salvation.  She proclaims infallibly the law of God, whether revealed or natural; she can apply the infallible principle to the solution of any question of conscience that may arise between sovereign and sovereign, or between sovereign and subject; but she has not received any supernatural instructions as to the mode of constituting or administering temporal government, as such.  Place saints at the head of the government, and you have no guaranty for any thing but the purity of their motives.  Cardinal Ximenes, archbishop of Toledo, was a great and good man, but he did as much as any man Spain ever had to destroy Spanish liberties, to centralize power, and to prepare the way for modern caesarism.  Men equally wise, equally learned, equally upright, pious, and conscientious, differ, and honestly differ, in their views on all governmental and most social questions.  We must be on our guard, lest we throw on the church a responsibility that is not hers, and hold her accountable for all the evils in natural society in professedly Catholic states- evils which she never received the mission or the power to remove.  Natural society is responsible for itself, and must redress its evils by the natural virtues, whether the religion be Catholic or non-Catholic.

            The church aids natural society, but she does it by creating and sustaining the virtues which secure heaven.  She promotes indirectly its interests in promoting the interests of the supernatural society.  Highly important, then, is it that the supernatural virtues of which Pere Felix treats should be cultivated in the highest degree and as universally as possible.  We need then to sustain our republic, because without them we cannot for a long time sustain the natural virtues in the mass of the people without which no republic can be permanent.  But they cannot alone suffice for all the progress we need, and it is the pretence that progress in these is the only allowable progress that drives so many active and energetic minds in our age into the ranks of the enemies of religion.

            The growth of individuals in Christian perfection, or in the distinctively Christian virtues, is, and always must be, the progress sought by the church; for her mission is the conversion and salvation of the soul- to fit men for attaining their destiny in the world to come; and we shall not, we trust, be understood to complain of Pere Felix for insisting on this progress, fixing its point of departure, and its point of arrival, showing its lofty and sublime character, and pointing out the aids the soul finds and the obstacles she encounters in advancing to union in Christ with God.  We hope we estimate this progress, whatever may be our practical short-comings, as highly as he does, and we have no fear that he will get people too much in love with it, or too much engrossed with the means  of advancing in it.  What we complain of is his overlooking the fact and the necessity of progress in the natural society- not precisely for the sake of the world to come, but for the sake of that society itself to which we all belong, and in the bosom of which we after all must live, so long as we remain in the flesh.  We do not ask the church to labor for this progress, or to turn aside from her own divine mission, but we do not want Catholics to feel that it is lawful for them, keeping a good conscience, and working in none but lawful ways, and using none but lawful means, to labor, not precisely as members of the supernatural society, but in their capacity of members of natural society for progress in science, art, literature, government, legislation, political and civil liberty, agriculture, industry, and commerce, so as to make society as perfect as, with the imperfection of humanity, it may be.  The age attaches, no doubt, too much importance to what is called the progress of society or the progress of civilization, which, to the man whose eye is fixed on God and eternity, can appear of no great value.  But we must take our age as we find it, and accept as far as we lawfully can, respect even its prejudices where they are not sinful, in the hope of winning its regard for that higher progress proposed by the church, and possible only in her communion.  We do not seek to withdraw natural society from the spiritual control of the church, but we do want those who belong to natural society only to be aware that Catholicity does not make war on the natural virtues, or require us to withhold our sympathy from them in any respect in which they are really advancing the interests of humanity, though only for this life- we want them to understand that we are not indifferent  to those interests, and are ready to cooperate even with non-Catholics in promoting them, in so far as we are not required to neglect our duties or to do aught against our faith as Catholics.