« PoprzedniaDalej »
Amicus usque ad aras, says an ancient. It is at the foot of the altar, that I blame certain lines in your book, and an engraving which has the following inscription, Final destruction of prejudices. Prejudices!.....Perhaps no one desires their destruction more than myself. But what do you call by this equivocal name? and what do I perceive in the midst of the heaps in this picture, which serve for emblems? The attributes of the catholick ministry, and, above all, the standard of christianity, the cross of Jesus Christ! Are these what you call prejudices! If even the excellent works, which have rendered evident the truth of the gospel; if even the principles and the history of eighteen centuries did not give you formally the lie, it would be easy to shew that this picture is an attack against all christian societies, that it is an act of intolerance, of persecution, which offends God and man.
The unlimited freedom of religion in the United States confers on no sect a character of domination, nor any of those exclusive privileges, that are possessed in different countries of Europe by the churches of the Catholicks, Greeks, Lutherans, Calvinists, &c. &c. Let us leave to the partisans of the English church the endless dispute on the prerogatives of the established church, on the utility of those civil establishments which, already shaken, will crumble, perhaps, on all sides, at no very distant epoch. Though I am by conviction, by sentiment, a catholick, and honoured with the episcopal character, after a deliberate examination, I think that if we owe to the state a guarantee of obedience when it requires it, that nevertheless these civil establishments, which may be in favour of errour as well as of truth, are often unjust, impolitick, dangerous in more than one respect, though Providence may draw good from them, as it does from many other evils which it tolerates.
Let every thing relating to conscience, as well as every thing that belongs to social organization, be freely discussed; truth demands examination, which despotism only can fear this alone finds it necessary to invoke ignorance, to surround itself with darkness, to repel the light which breaks out from the researches that are directed by good faith and sagacity.
But what will be the result, if, instead of reasoning with calmness and respect on religion, the most important object for man in the course of his fugitive existence, calumny should point its sarcasms, and spread its black colours over historical facts which it misrepresents; if, instead of speaking to the understanding to enlighten it, we address ourselves to the passions to seduce? This has been the conduct which our infidel Frenchmen have followed, pluming themselves with the title of philosophers. It is important to recollect, and to recollect often, that of those who have combatted christianity, the greater part have vomited the most infamous things against decency and morality; Lamettrie, Voltaire, J. J. Rousseau, Diderot, Mirabeau, of the constituent assembly, P.....y &c. Others have said before me, that incredulity almost always has its source in the heart, and that the antagonists of a religion,
whose morality is so pure, are advocates who defend their own
Almost all of them have attacked christianity by reproaching it with the abuses it has experienced, as if the abuses were the thing itself; as if, after having directed the wind on the straw, we must still blow away the grain; as if wine and iron ought to be proscribed, because there are debauchees and assassins.
In the stormy course of our revolution, the infidels held, during some years, the sceptre of power; you were a witness of the use they made of it. In an instant, these champions of toleration and humanity were seen to display all the ferocity of Diocletian; to shut up, profane, and destroy our temples; to pursue the religious man even into the asylum of his thoughts; to incarcerate and transport bishops and priests. A great number of catholick pastors were dragged to the scaffold; during eighteen months I feared and expected the same fate; it is well known with what outrages I was loaded, in the midst of the national convention, for having braved the infuriated howlings of impiety; the greatest favour that was accorded us, was only to mark us out as superstitious, as fanaticks; these were the epithets in fashion. For several years we were constantly under the axe of executioners, calling themselves philosophers. Do you hasten to tell me they usurped this title ; we are agreed. God preserve me from attributing to philosophy the crimes of brigands, who dressed themselves in her liveries. In the face even of the altar, I have justified her from crimes she abhors;* but will our infidels ever exercise good faith? Will they ever cease to reproach christianity with the abuses which she laments?
What further did they do? They travested august liberty as a bacchante; they exclaimed that no one could be at once a christian and a republican, at once a republican and a moderate; though thousands of examples among us, as well as among you, attested the contrary; though a holy and natural alliance establishes itself between those characters. Some pious, but unenlightened men, were frightened by these clamours; believing themselves placed between liberty and religion, could they balance in their choice? It may be seen how our reformers, wishing to associate the republick with every thing that could destroy it, themselves precipitated the vessel of liberty into the abyss, at the moment it was reaching the port.
What would they have substituted for christianity? A goddess, and a temple of reason, man for God himself. They afterwards made temples to the Supreme Being; temples in which theophilanthropy erected her booths, till the period when the worship of the deists found its chapels deserted in France, as that of David Williams was in London.
At this period foreign nations waved among us the banners of discord; they were powerfully aided by all the enemies of the rev
* Discourse on the opening of the national council of 1801. p. 2.
olution, of whom a part having fled their country when it was in danger, to stir up against it the potentates of Europe, corresponded with those who remained in their homes, to kindle discord and anarchy. By a refinement of perversity, they conceived the plan of destroying the most salutary reforms, by outstretching the object, and forcing every measure; of rendering odious or ridiculous the soundest notions by exaggerating them; in fine, of revolting the people by alarming their consciences.
Who could believe it, if accumulated facts did not attest it, that two classes of men the most opposite were seen at this period acting in concert to commit the same crimes, and to destroy religion? Pretended philosophers from hatred against it; pretended christians from hatred to every priest, who had submitted to the law requiring an oath? They would rather have seen our altars overturned, our sanctuaries profaned, and covered with filth and sacrilege, than to behold their brethren in the same sacerdotal habits, but, faithful to their God and their country, offer the same sacrifice, and preach the same gospel. These distressing recollections will be engraved by history, they will resound in future ages; and when reason shall surmount extinguished passions, impartial posterity will decide on which side were truth, charity, and justice.
Does not your engraving appear to retrace, not as regards the manner, but the results, what our persecutors have executed? The illusory theories of impiety are falsified by the most decisive experience; which attests that morality is wavering and without support, if it does not receive it from the hands of religion; that religion is without consistence, if it is not positive, that is to say, founded on facts and on revelation. I conversed on this subject with your countryman, Thomas Paine. Write, said I to him, on political rights, but not on religious matters; your Age of Reason has discovered your incapacity; you will never be able to oppose any thing solid to the excellent refutation of your systems by a crowd of writers, above all by the learned bishop of Landaff.
Some of our persecutors, who styled themselves philosophers, are already thrown into the sewers of history; the rest will be, in their turn. The greater part of those who have survived vent themselves in maledictions over the tomb of Robespierre, that it may be forgotten they were his accomplices, his guards, and his banditti. They would be so again, if he and his power were resuscitated. Formerly, under grotesque names and cynical dress, they dishonoured the cause of liberty; vile Proteuses, they have changed their language, still more than their dress. Formerly they blasphemed against christianity; bigots now, and at no time pious, limited to certain forms, certain trifling customs, neglecting in religion every thing that restrains them, perverting its august truths as their interest may dictate, and from the motives which St. Augustine has developed in so striking a manner in his City of God, they call themselves christians through policy,
* B. 4. c. 32.
because, according to the expression of a modern orator, religion is necessary for the people; and as the secret of their heart always betrays itself more by their conduct than their discourse, the sacred instrument they would pervert is broken in their hands; for among that race always frivolous and without character, that is called Frenchmen, there is not one, even to the servant girl, who, in robbing her master, does not repeat that religion is necessary for the people, on condition that she may be dispensed from having it herself.
Religion, necessary to every individual, is still more so to those magistrates who are the regulators of states. Fatal experience of the misfortunes occasioned by an abandonment of christianity has not yet opened our eyes. We have recourse to a palliative to cure the wounds which have been made by irreligion, and its offspring immorality; they have loosened the bonds of society to such a degree, that they menace it with a decomposition, which will be common to many neighbouring nations. If ever decrepid Europe makes a step towards moral order, it will be less from love of that, than from lassitude of crime; but it will be under the escort of christianity, and in consequence of inevitable catastrophes. In spite of the clouds that cover the future, this epoch may be perceived, though we are unable to predict it in a precise manner, though unable to calculate its term, or its disasters.
If the bounds of this letter permitted me, I would oppose to the evils engendered by infidelity the benefits profusely spread by the christian religion; its introduction was the most vast of all revolutions, and the most beautiful, because the most useful to the human race. The cross and the gospel, in preparing us for the happiness of eternity, have civilized the world; virtue and knowledge have every where marched in their train; every region has been abandoned by virtue and knowledge, which has lost christianity; those regions have returned to barbarism; witness the church of Africa, illustrious for so many learned men, and which was once one of the most brilliant portions of christendom. Witness Algiers, where you resided two years; such would be the lot which the United States would feel, if ever they should cease to be christians.
And is not this equivalent to what you propose in some lines, and by an engraving, which a disciple of the gospel repels with horrour? The attributes of pure christianity are classed among the emblems of prejudices. Where are your proofs ? It is in the nature of things, that what is invariably useful should be essentially true; instead of proofs, you give up to derision objects revered by many hundred millions of men, who will not believe you on your word; they will see that your antichristian sentence wants justness; that it is a consequence without premises; that, without reasoning at all, you decide that all the disciples of the gospel reason falsely.
Virtuous minds would sigh to behold calumny, impiety, and lubricity display themselves with effrontery, protected by the liberty of the press; but as we do not know where to place the limits,
if we attempt to establish by law repressive measures, this evil would be counterbalanced by others, if our mouths were locked, and our pens crushed by tyranny. The press is free in your country; thus you are not reprehensible by the law, but condemnable at the tribunal of opinion, the supreme judge of all crimes that offend propriety and justice. Yours offends both.
It offends justice, because it is a gratuitous outrage, that resembles that of the Jesumy at Japan. What would you say, if the attributes of liberty, which are so dear to you, were trampled under foot before your eyes?
It offends propriety, because, in holding out as prejudices the emblems of the christian religion, it is saying to all those who profess it, that they are fools; this compliment addresses itself to the disciples of the gospel in every part of the globe; it addresses itself to the estimable descendants of those catholicks, who, flying from British persecution, established in Maryland a state belonging to your confederation; it addresses itself to the venerable Carroll, bishop of Baltimore; you trample on the attributes of his pastoral character. In France, it is true, the nonconformists outrage in this way episcopacy in the person of those pastors, who, faithful to the voice of their consciences, have committed the unpardonable crime of submitting to the laws of their country; this is a sad example to cite, not a model to imitate. Your presbyterian countrymen will perhaps ask, if you have abjured the principles, that you professed when you were the chaplain of a regiment in the war of independence.
If to believe in the gospel be a prejudice, permit us to partake of it with the feeble minds of Addison, Abbadie, Arbuthnot, Bacon, Berkeley, Barrow, Beattie, Bentley, Boerhave, Bonnet, Boyle, Blackstone, Clarke, Cullen, Doddridge, Ditton, Forbes, Fothergill, Ferguson, Grotius, Gray, Hervey, Hanway, Hartley, Harrington, Hyde, Haller, Jones, Johnson, Locke, Lardner, Leibnitz, Littleton, De Luc, Milton, Newton, Puffendorf, Paley, Prior, Pringle, Priestley, Price, Ray, Rabener, Roustan, Robertson, Sherlock, Spenser, Steele, Thompson, Wolfe, Washington, Usher, Woodward, Young, etc. and with those madmen, worthy of pity, Bossuet, Bourdaloue, la Bruyère, Copernicus, Corneille, d'Aguesseau, Descartes, Despréaux, Fènèlon, Galileo, Gassendi, Houbigant, Mallebranche, Massillon, Nicole, Pope, Pascal, Racine, Winslow, Winkelman, &c. all sincere catholicks; but to speak seriously, it is pleasant to lose ourselves in such a brilliant company.
I must add, that, in wishing to undeceive us in regard to what you call prejudices, you err in the choice of means; for conviction can only be the effect of reasoning; man cannot detach his affection from the object most dear to him, unless the motives that support it are destroyed. But if injuries that revolt are substituted for arguments that convince, we are sure to strengthen the adhesion to principles which are rooted in the mind and the heart. If to convert a Mussulman, instead of proving to him that Mahomet was an impostor, I should commence by placing before his eyes a