Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Catholic Doctrine Of The Eucharist. Part 30.



Faith in the Eucharist, which at every moment powerfully excites confidence, love, and the spirit of sacrifice, constantly upholds prayer in the degree of perfection to which it has been raised by Christianity; whilst wherever this faith has been altered or rejected, prayer necessarily retrogades towards its primitive imperfection, a thing no longer tolerable, for under the empire of religion fully developed, it is a grating discord, which disturbs the harmony of the whole. A striking comparison will tend to illustrate these observations. The Lutheran belief in the Eucharist, is that which differs least from the Catholic, which latter has been entirely rejected by the Calvinists. The English system, notwithstanding the strong quotations from her most talented divines, which I have extracted from the works of the learned Julius Vindex, and which will appear in the Second Letter of the series; yet I most positively maintain, that her foundation is Calvinistic, oscilating between Wittenberg and Geneva, in as much as, according to Bishop Buinet, it considers as indifferent the dogma of the real presence, so strenuously maintained, for the moment of communion, by the primitive Lutherans, but rejected with such horror as an impious tenet by the fanaticism of the ancient Calvinists. A celebrated Catholic theologian has well remarked, that Lutheranism, notwithstanding the ferocious temper of its founder, presented from its very origin a milder character in point of piety, when contrasted with the repulsive harshness of Calvinism, though established by a man less violent. The character of the English system is intermediate; the Calvinists think it too devout, the Lutherans not sufficiently so. Hence the three principal fractions of Protestantism are distinguished by a corresponding relation to piety as they recede from or approximate to the generative dogma of Catholic piety. I am far from supposing that the peculiar character of each of these sects has been determined by this cause alone; but in order to account for the phenomenon, it should not be forgotten that the moral as well as the physical world has its affinities and combinations. This law, which may be demonstrated by the history of many ancient sects, showed itself in Jansenism, the last of modern heresies. One of the first effects of its anti-social doctrine was to estrange from communion the stern controvertist, who contended to the last for the rarity of grace, was naturally impelled by his sombre logic to publish the manifesto of his sect against frequent communion. Impervious to the mysteries of love, Jansetical devotion is cold and heartless. It stands self-convicted of wanting the grace of prayer.

The Eucharist is in Catholicism the centre of those pious communities known under the name of congregations. They have existed at all times and places under ever-variable forms, for they are precisely destined to correspond to the moral wants of times and places. The outcry against these institutions, considered in themselves, argues at least a profound ignorance of human nature. As besides the tenets common to all, there are various modes of conceiving them—every individual, country, and period, having its peculiar intelligence; in the same manner, and for the same reason, besides that fund of piety which is common to all Christians, there are modes equally diversified of feeling religion. When a certain number of individuals agree in their ideas and feelings, these analogous dispositions necessarily tend to associate, and for that purpose seek an exterior and appropriate form. This tendency produces in the intellectual order schools of Christian philosophy; and in the sentimental; congregations of piety. Their suppression would reduce piety to a geometrical equality, to a state of inactivity opposed to the law of nature; which so far from impeding, stimulate the free and varied development of individual power and energy. But those particular societies, by the very fact of having each its mode of life, would soon form as many different modes of worship, were they not based on those of general worship. This is what the Church does, in giving them the altar of sacrifice for a centre, and frequent communion as their first law. The Eucharistic devotion, which is of general obligation, is to the particular forms of devotion which every individual may adopt, what the symbol is to their different systems; it is both the foundation and the rule. Catholicism maintains in point of piety as of government, something fixed and common, for such is, in every possible order of things, the necessary support of all individual activity and existence; variety in the midst of unity, such is Catholicism—such is nature. Frequent communion continually leads back the soul to itself. This sort of action, sensible at every period of the Church, is more perceptible in the middle ages. The interior of monasteries exhibited a vision of the angelic life amid the ferocity of a barbarous age. The religious orders which cultivated the soil of Europe, still accomplished more, they reclaimed the moral waste of the soul. The Cenobites were obliged by their rule often to approach the sacred table. The divine word which alone resounded in the depths of their solitude, and which was prolonged in the silence of their meditations, daily reminded them of the perfection which a familiarity with the Holy of Holies demanded from them. This thought continually excited them to acquire the knowledge of their own hearts; they cultivated those with exceeding care, that they might carry to the most august as well as to the sweetest of all mysteries, the purest and most delicate flower of human affection. The ascetic works of that period are marked by an exquisite refinement of feeling. From the cloister it gradually made its way into the world, and directing itself to other objects, inspired chivalry with that mysticism of love and honour which has exercised such powerful influence on the manners and literature of the Christian world. The asceticism of the middle ages has handed down an inimitable work, to which Catholics, Protestants, and Philosophers have agreed to pay the best tribute of admiration, viz., that of the Heart. How wonderful, my Lord Bishop, that a small book of mysticism, the production of such an age, should have imparted a deeper tone of reflection to the meditative genius of Leibnitz, and kindled almost to enthusiasm the cold temperament of Fontenelle! No person has ever read a page of the Imitation, particularly in the hour of affliction, who did not say in concluding, this reading has done me good. Next to the Bible, this work is the sovereign friend of the soul; but where did the poor solitary who wrote it find that inexhaustible love ? For never would he have written with so much power and sweetness had he not loved much. He solves the question for us himself; every line in his book on the Sacrament is a commentary of the preceding one; all the relations which I have now considered, present but imperfectly the influence of this principle of love; to understand it fully, we should feel it. Are the wonders of the heart to be despised as valueless; and if marks of the divinity exist any where, where shall they be sought for if not in the inspirations of virtue ? As for my part I bow with deeper reverence to the accents that sanctify the soul, than to the voice of genius. Let us then listen to them in respectful silence. The Eucharist, they tell us, is an integral part of the two worlds, a temple placed on the boundaries of Earth and Heaven. There is effected an union between the types of the one, and the realities of the other, and the communion is accomplished as if beneath the half-opened vestibule of the invisible sanctuary where the eternal union is consummated. Whilst the senses are detained in the visible order, the soul feels the pressure of the invisible; it enters into it—it partakes of its substance, like a man placed at the limits of this present material system, who, stretching forth his hand, grasps the boundaries of a higher world. There then passes within the soul what human language would fear to profane by expressing. To that confused murmur of the passions, which as yet agitates the faithful soul, like the last struggle of life, succeeds a profound peace. Shortly after, a commotion sweet as it is powerful, announces the presence of the Deity, and immediately holy desires, prayer, patience, and the spirit of sacrifice, often languid, are again revived. All that is divine within her kindles at the moment j the mental eye becomes purified, and receives some rays of that light which is reflected from a brighter world. Emotions which combine all that is touching in sentiment with all that is calm in reflection, attest the renewed harmony of the spirit and of the senses. We may frequently feel on other occasions the joys of virtue; here alone we are inebriated with all its delights. You would fondly wish to retain these exquisite sensations, but your efforts are vain; they have been shed on the soul, but to imbue her with the sense of that word of happiness, the name of which belongs to a lost language, whose idiom spoken by the children of Adam, contains but the wreck. But the more clearly the soul comprehends that word, the more deeply does she feel that it is not of this world. Until she shall have deposited at the portals of heaven the burthen of terrestrial virtues, until the moment shall have arrived when she shall be freed for ever from hope; the joys of the captive soul will be marked by suffering, the pleasures of this world becomes insipid, its happiness a burthen; and whoever is deeply versed in life must acknowledge, that the great miracle of communion is to render it tolerable. These raptures of love mingled with sorrow impart at that solemn moment a sublime expression to the countenance. That of joy is rarely so; because joy is so fugitive and false, that it appears to give to the human figure a senseless and undignified expression. Sorrow, on the contrary, almost always ennobles the countenance. But the instinct of our primeval destiny, alarmed by the contrast, seeks another dignity than that of sorrow. The true condition of man is the reparation of his misery, and his countenance never exhibits a nobler terrestrial aspect than when he embodies the expression of that mystery of sorrow and grace, on receiving the impress of a divine joy in the abyss of his sufferings. Mark that Christian who adores his Saviour within his soul; would you not say, that if that mouth, closed by recollection, were to open, a voice would come forth, attempting, though in a plaintive tone, the canticles of heaven ? It would blend the sighs of man with the rapture of an angelic spirit.