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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 20

Sunday Evening Lectures

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Sunday Evening Lectures.


The following lecture was delivered in the Mechanics' Institute on Sunday evening last, by G. C. Leech, Esq.

The maniacs of the old world are at each others' throats again. Three hundred thousand Prussians, with their backs to the Rhine, and the yet more numerous legions of France, hurrying across the plains of Gaul, are making ready for another vulture's feast in Europe. In a little time, vineyard and meadow, level and hill-side, will be incarnadined with blood. The prospect is one which must make every friend of humanity shudder. Is there no hope of peace in this dire extremity of Europe? Surely, yes: for a Council of the Fathers of Christendom was seated in eternal Rome ere the shock of battle began. Six hundred successors of the Apostles of Jesus, long met in conclave, gave forth their utterance before the strife began. Let us hear with hushed breath that which will still the voice of war. The great Council of Christendom, on the advent of battle, whilst even yet its sound is in their cars, has propounded for the expectant world the dogma that an epileptic old man is infallible! With such a startling anomaly before us, it may not be uninteresting to some to learn how the simple Bishop of Rome grew into such proportions, and how Christianity has so failed to fulfil its mission of bringing "peace on earth and good-will amongst men." Early in the fourth century, Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor who embraced Christianity, ascended the imperial throne, and soon after transferred the seat of empire from Rome to a new city in the East, called ever since after him, Constantinople. After various dynastic changes, which it would be out of my province hero to refer to, the beginning of a complete severance between the Eastern and Western Empires took place, a.d. 726. The year before, Leo the Isaurian ascended the imperial throne and commenced a crusade against the image worship which had almost universally begun to prevail in the Christian Churches. The respective tendencies to objective or subjective faith depend largely on the constitution of individuals and nations. To some the former is utterly abhorrent, and others on the contrary are incapable of the latter. Leo was one of those natures who could not endure an objective worship, which approached idolatry; and soon after he began to reign an edict was issued for the removal of the images from the churches. A fierce tumult arose in Constantinople amongst the monks, but it was speedily extinguished in blood. The image worshippers fled in largo numbers to the islands of the Archipelago, where they formally consigned Leo to the flames of hell for ever, and exhorted the faithful to rise and expel him from the throne. Not contented with spiritual arms they organised an expedition and sailed for the Byzantine waters, hut hardly had they entered the Hellespont before the substantial Greek Fire of the Emperor proved more effective in their destruction than the supernatural fires of the future against the Iconoclast. The churches of the East were soon denuded of their images, but the West yet remained to be dealt with; for image worship had extended everywhere throughout Christendom. Whilst Paganism preserved any of its old power and prestige, a certain amount of spirituality was retained in Christian worship, but after the demolition of the old faith, the Christians began to imitate the idolatry which they had them-selves helped to extinguish. Leo's missives commanded less power in the West than in the East. True, his authority was administered by the Exarchs of Ravenna, but real power had already begun to pass into the hands of the Bishop of Rome. In years of suffering and danger to Italy, when the power of the Byzantine rulers was not always ready to sustain their western subjects, the courage and zeal of the bishops had saved the Italians. Therefore, although as yet not possessed of nominal power, they had begun to possess much of the reality. The edict of Leo found in the possession of the Roman See a man not easily to be over-awed, Gregory the Second addressed a scornful refusal to the Eastern Emperor, declaring that he was intellectually incapable of understanding the niceties of the question at issue. Image worship, said Gregory, amongst the Pagans was indefensible, because the objects of worship were the unreal images of demons, whereas the images in Christian churches were the authentic likenesses of Christ, of the mother of God and of the saints. The exquisite metaphysical distinction I must leave to churchmen. Leo sent a further and more resolute message, but the unfortunate Exarch only lost his life in attempting to enforce it. An army now landed from the East, but the undaunted Gregory met force with force, and the Imperial army was defeated with such slaughter that the Po Was deeply stained with blood. The bishop, however, with some moderation, still suffered an Exarch nominally to administer rule, but the real power was from that time, and, thenceforward, vested in his and his successors' hands. At a later period the Pope became a ruler in name also. The Lombards invaded the Roman territories, which were delivered by Pepin, who consolidated the Papal power, but it remained for Charlemagne to invest the successor of St. Peter with sovereign, temporal rule. The history of this investiture is an amusing instance of human credulity. Adrian I presented an alleged donation of Rome and the adjacent country from Constantine to St, Silvester, the then Bishop of Rome. The story was that page break the great Emperor having been cured of the leprosy by the saint, gave him this grant, declaring that for the future he would content himself with his new capital. Almost every historian, even before the Reformation, has pronounced this donation to be a forgery; and indeed, it is impossible to conceive how so costly a gift should have been left in abeyance for some five centuries. However, it is to be supposed that Charlemagne was easily persuaded, and so the successor of the Gallilean fisherman passed into the position of a temporal prince. From that time until now the Papal throne has been occupied by many, and diverse pontiffs, Some of them of blameless life, and self-denying zeal, full of love to God and man, have been worthy the name of successors of the Apostles. Others, stained with incestuous and abominable lust, full of rapine and murder and all evil, have hardly deserved the name of men. The crimes and follies of the latter class ran up an awful reckoning, which culminated in the days of Luther. I have some, but by no means unqualified, respect for the Reformation. I look upon it as a movement, which on the whole has been beneficial to freedom, but which by no means deserves unalloyed praise. It certainly struck a blow at priestcraft. With all the mischievous sacerdotalism which still clings to Protestantism even in its meanest sectarian form, the reformed teacher has no influence over the consciences of men in comparison with that of the priest of Rome, and so far there has been a gain: but Protestantism has cast off much of the old system which was good, whilst on the other hand she has retained much that was evil. The Genevan Churches declared war against poetry and art. Whether in the form of Puritanism in England, of Presbyterianism in Scotland, or of Calvinism on the continent of Europe, they drove out genius, and painting and music,—everything that was beautiful in art, so that it became utterly impossible for them to retain any minds that loved the outwardly beautiful. On the other hand they retained the most retrograde and insensate doctrines of the old system, such as Tritheism and the death of Deity upon the cross. Let me resume: In a.d, 1530, the then reigning Pope was requested to convene a General Council for the purpose of healing the wounds of Christendom, and the members met at Trent, but in consequence of a war having broken out, the holy fathers fled rather precipitately and it did not fully assemble for deliberation until a.d. 1545, under the sanction of Paul III. At that Council the hopes of peace were utterly dissipated, as the Bishops re-affirmed all the Papal doctrines against which the Reformers had protested. No general or (Ecumenical Council has been held since then until the one recently convened, which was assembled for the purpose of declaring the infallibility of the Pope. There had long been two floating beliefs not yet reduced to dogmas—the immaculate conception of Mary and the personal infallibility of the Pontiff. You are aware that all orthodox Christendom holds the dogma of the miraculous birth of Jesus of Nazareth—that he had no human father, but that his mother was with child by the Holy Ghost. We Universalists reject the legend, considering in the first instance that there was no necessity for any such departure from the ordinary laws of nature, and in the next that the narrative is on the face of it contradictory and unreliable. However, such a doctrine is held by both Protestants and Catholics, whilst the latter add to the story a further dogma—namely, the immaculate conception of Mary herself. The reason for this is: orthodoxv teaches that we are all born in sin. Universalism, I may here add, denies this libel on humanity. We say that the child is born pure; that the soul is at it were a blank sheet, or which may be written good or evil. If the child is brought up in an atmosphere of crime, dark and evil will be the superscription thereon. If under wise and loving teachers trained, fair lines will be written upon it Some will say, "Not so: we have known the children of "pious" parents, who have turned out evil and unfortunate." I dare say you have, and so have I: the children of the "pious" father who has thwarted and dwarfed every natural and healthy impulse under the idea of doing God service. I have seen such a father check a young child with a frown for an innocent gambol, because the day happened to be Sunday, and have heard such words as, "Have you forgotten that this is God's day?" as if one day were God's above another, or as if that which was innocent on one day was not innocent on all God's days. Many a pure child has been made a gnarled and morally stunted thing by being cabined and confined in a religion of dogmas, whilst every joyous impulse of nature has been trampled down. To return to my theme. Orthodoxy teaches that we are all born in sin, and so the Catholic—not illogically so far—says Mary could not have beenborn in sin or she could not have conceived an immaculate son, so the theory was propounded that Mary herself was immaculately born. I cannot, however, see how they get over the difficulty thus, as they would be in the same dilemma with regard to Mary's mother, and so on backward, wherever the immaculate conception stopped. However, that belief was not reduced to dogma until some few years ago, in the reign of the present Pope. At the time it was propounded there was some little opposition, but it was so easily put down that the Church of Home was emboldened to call a General or Œcumenical Council for the purpose of declaring the Papa Infallibility. Let me explain that doctrine to you. The world had long been habituated to the phrase, but that phrase had been variously interpreted, by some as meaning an Infallibility growing out of a decree of the Pope and a General Council, and by others as growing out of an enunciation from the Pope alone. The doctrine, however, had not been reduced to a fixed dogma until the recent Œcumenical Council, when it was duly enunciated, so that now the two infallible beings in our world are the Pope and the Grand Lama of hibet The priests and votaries of the latter aver