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THE ROMAN CATHOLIC RELIGION IN ITALY.*

OVER the door of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome are the words: "Sacro sancta Lateranensis Ecclesia, omnium urbis et orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput." This is no idle boast. The realm over which Augustus Cæsar swayed his sceptre was narrow, compared with that of his spiritual successor. The encyclical letter which emanates from the Quirinal Palace is addressed to one half the civilized world, and binds the consciences of a fourth of the human race. What is the complexion of this religion at home? What are its features when seen on its native soil? Does the heart of the great system beat with energy, or does it give signs of decay and dissolution? We are naturally interested in visiting the spring of a mighty river, in examining the elements of an influence that has shaped the destiny of the world through one third of its duration.

When viewed historically the subject is one of extraordi

* An Address delivered before the Theological Society, Dartmouth College, July 26, the Society for Religious Inquiry, University of Vermont, July 31, and the Knowles Rhetorical Society, Newton Theolog. ical Institution, August 22, 1848.

VOL. II.

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nary interest. It is often said that men are never aroused in the highest degree, except on religious grounds; that to accomplish a great and difficult political object, the conscience must be invoked; motives that reach beyond the grave must be appealed to. In Italy this complexity of motives, this intermingling of human passions with the awful sanctions of religion, this blending of civil and ecclesiastical interests, have been witnessed as they have been nowhere else. Political conspiracies have been concealed or disclosed on pain of eternal death. The darkest crimes against the State have been committed on the promise of God's forgiveness. The police have found their readiest coadjutors or their bitterest foes at the confessional. Elsewhere the State has trampled on the Church. In other countries, the Church is the obsequious handmaid of the political power, is chained to the chariot-wheel of kings and cabinets. In Rome an aged priest has united all the offices of the Jewish theocracy. Senators and armies, councils and courts, have done the bidding of a superannuated monk.

The extraordinary events which have rapidly followed each other, and which are now occurring, through all Southern and Western Europe, clothe this topic with especial interest. What effect will these political revolutions exert on the established and dominant religion? Will they essentially weaken its hold on the affections of the people? Will they undermine all prescriptive rights? If ecclesiastical reforms shall follow in the train of those which are municipal or civil, will such reforms endanger the supremacy of the Catholic system? Should all State patronage be withdrawn, has the Church a recuperative force so that she could adapt herself to the new order of society? Or, if the Catholic system should be utterly subverted, would any

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desirable form of Protestantism take its place? Would the destruction of that old hierarchy put an end to the spirit of bigotry and persecution? Wherein is a radical and nominal Protestantism better than that ancient church tyranny?

The subject, moreover, vitally concerns us as American scholars and Christians. Papal Europe, even Italy herself, looks to this country with eager curiosity and hope. Uncounted multitudes constantly find an asylum here. At the present time, in no national legislature except our own would the members of the Company of Jesus find upholders and apologists. With, in some respects, a feeble, negative, hesitating Protestantism, with paralyzing divisions in our own ranks, in the absence of comprehensive plans, and especially of a gentle and Christian spirit in our religious discussions, there may be imminent danger to our institutions. Exact acquaintance with the spirit of those with whom we have to deal, becomes a necessity which cannot well be exaggerated.

Our object, in the first place, will be to point out some of the causes of the growth of the Roman Catholic system in Italy, and of its existence through so many ages. It is customary to think of that hierarchy as founded on error exclusively, on childish superstitions, or on stupendous falsehoods. The judgments often passed upon it are indignant and summary, rather than discriminating and just, - the decisions of a heated zeal, not of patient and dispassionate inquiry. Now it is inconceivable that a system could have existed so long, unless it had some sound and vigorous roots. If it had not possessed ingredients of truth and permanence, it would have been torn up ages ago, utterly prostrated in some of the rude shocks it has encountered. Its

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inherent vigor is demonstrated by its existence for fifteen hundred years.

The Roman Catholic system is characterized by extraordinary contrasts and heterogeneous elements. In one aspect it is so weak that it seems to be tottering to its fall; in another, its strength is impregnable. Now it should seem that it must yield to the force of irrefragable argument and uncontradicted fact; now the Protestant advocate feels that he himself needs weapons of the keenest temper and an arm of practised ability. No one who has looked into he Romish system will despise it. No one who has encountered the Romish dialectics can fail to be impressed with their unmatched subtlety.

1. The long duration and flourishing state of the Roman Catholic system in Italy, have been owing in a degree to the physical features of the country and to the historical associations. Italy is the native region of beauty. The water, the earth, the air, the sunlight, seem to have an inherent and peculiar charm. A distinguished German painter, Angelica Kaufmann, said that she could not paint away from Rome; there was an artistic quality in the water. Much of the delightful scenery is admirably fitted to give effect to the gorgeous ceremonial of the Romish Church. The volcanic regions of the South, with their constant chemical changes, afford many facilities for a deceptive and imposing superstition.

The Papal religion is one that cometh by observation, by pomp and outward circumstance. It needs the open air. In the bleak regions of the North it is robbed of half its impressiveness. Some of the most striking portions of its ritual cannot be displayed within the walls of a church. Its crosses must be consecrated at the road-side. Its torches

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