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the present generation, which certainly does not know the Scriptures—is an entire stranger to the Gospel. There are facts in abundance to prove this; I will content myself with adducing only two. I could mention a Society which numbers amongst its promoters men of distinguished character, talents, and social position, the majority of whom pique themselves on being influenced by religious convictions. The object of this Society is not to establish libraries, but to furnish artisans in our towns and villages with the titles of the most useful publications which appear; but in its catalogues the Book of Books is omitted. Treatises on all subjects are specified; there are many on sanitary questions, upon the best methods of cultivating health among men and animals, on the purification of houses and fertilising lands; but one would search in vain for the divine volume which beyond all others sows good seed in the human soul, and makes it germinate and puts it in permanent communication with God. The Gospel of Christ is not to be found there. Shall I add what I witnessed last year in one of our most rich and populous departments ? Shall I refer to how one of the most influential members of a Society established for promoting popular education, the chief magistrate of the arrondissement, in a state of alarm at finding the Gospel among the books which were to be awarded as prizes, refused to give it for fear of being charged with religious propagandism, and of compromising himself by distributing it? Shall I say, that others copied his example ? Shall I conclude by adding, that, in a short address which he made the same day, this same magistrate happened to quote a text from the sacred volume? He quoted the Gospel, but unconsciously; he did not know what it was he was saying. What strange ignorance! What inex. plicable indifference, carried to a pitch which it is impossible to account for! The little which the men of our generation know of the Bible, they have learned at that period of life when the impressions made upon the memory are most deep; they have heard it in the tender years of infancy on their mother's lap; afterwards they have been taught it by the priests who admitted them to the Holy Communion while they were yet children. These their teachers have told them of a most miraculous event, of a prodigy without parallel in the history of the world; they have told them that at a distant period, about twenty centuries ago, God condescended to reveal Himself to man in the person of Jesus Christ; that in Him He made known to them His divine attributes, His wisdom, His infinite goodness, His compassionate justice: they have told them that Jesus left the bosom of His Father to come down here and bring to mankind, from Him, light, deliverance, and pardon ; that He yielded Himself up to death freely for the salvation of the world; and that the book in which this wonderful story is told is called the Gospel. All this has been told in their childhood to the men of the rising generation. They believed it, and many still believe it, or think that they believe it; but how are they engaged meanwhile ? Do we see them, when grown up, and when reason is mature, turning over the pages of this sacred volume, as men anxious to know how this Messiah, sent from God, lived and died; eager to study and meditate upon each word which fell from those lips by which God spake to man? Are they engaged in this ? Let them put the question to, and answer it for, them. selves. It is not for them a mere matter of curious speculation; it is a question of drawing their spiritual nourishment, life for their souls, from the sacred sources of light and life, out of the Gospel, whence the seeds of truth, of justice, and of heavenly love proceed.
“Oh, my God,” exclaims an eloquent preacher,* "what won. drous seed was the doctrine which the Son of Man, so gentle, so fair, so humble, and so divine, devoted even to death, came to sow! What are all those souls, good or bad, doing upon which the sunshine from the Father, and the dew, and the overflowing seed of eternal life, are falling-souls buried under a never ceasing sand-storm of unprofitable vanities? The seed finds no entrance into these souls. There is no entry for it; a mere surface presents itself. The word of God is, in their estimation, à grain of dust like all else; they have no appreciation of it. It is too true-I have said it already, and cannot repeat it too often,—the men of the present day seek for nothing in the Bible; they do not read it; they have not read it, not once, from beginning to end; they turn away from it, they are afraid of it.”
But if a book is published, in which Christ appears stripped of His halo of glory, of majesty, and holiness, subtilely accommodating itself to human weakness, flouting inspiration, feigning obedience to commands from Heaven which it has not received, affecting a mission which has not been entrusted to it, skilfully usurping His title and His office; a book, in short, in which all the divine features of the Christ of the Bible disappear beneath an array of learning; wherein He is trans, formed into a young and agreeable philosopher, fond of pleasure and a boon companion, with some propensity to ecstatic mysticism akin to hallucination: if such a book is published, men run after it; they open it with feverish earnestness, too often, alas, with an unacknowledged desire that its contents may be true, with the secret and unworthy hope of learning
that the Gospel is a myth, its hero a fallible being, subject to error like ourselves, and of being at one and the same time delivered from a worship for his person accounted superstitious, and also from the irksome obligations which he imposed upon us in the name of a God who had not given him his commission.
How many in each thousand are there who intoxicate themselves with this poisonous draught, who will seek the divinely appointed remedy for it—the Bible? How many are there, too, who will admit that science, mighty in overthrowing and destroying, is not less so in strengthening and building up; and that, if it induces scepticism in frivolous and sneering minds, it furnishes evidence of the reality of Gospel truths, and of the authenticity of the books in which these truths are contained and related, for men who seek for truth with a sincere and upright heart.
But, it may be said, the Catholic Church dreads the circulation of the Bible among the people, and that its efforts are put forth to hinder rather than to increase it. Nevertheless, this Church has never been without priests zealous for the dissemination of the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, and more especially of the Gospels. Tradition informs us of how Greek and Latin fathers nourished the faithful with the Word of God. St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine unite in inviting men to read it, and to meditate upon it. St. Gregory the Great used to say that the Holy Scriptures are the letters which God addresses to us, to inflame our hearts, and to hinder divine love from growing cold within us under the chilling influences of impiety. St. Cesaire, bishop of Arles, did not excuse even those who could not read from total ignorance of Holy Writ; for, said he, if without any knowledge of reading they learn songs and ballads by getting them recited or sung to them, they could also learn the Bible by getting it read to them. The unanimous sentiment of true Christians, of Christians of all Churches, on the benefits resulting from the circulation of the Bible, could not be better expressed than it is in the preface to a version of the New Testament, published in the course of the last century, by a company of priests and laymen in Switzerland, with the approval of several bishops. I will quote some short extracts from it.
“We feel surprised," the author says, “that there are now-a-days so few real Christians, and that so much disorder reigns in the world. The reason is, because men do not read the Bible, and do not meditate sufficiently upon its admirable contents. If men were to read it, and to meditate unceasingly upon it with profound humility and all due preparation of heart, it would quickly spread over the earth the sacred fire of the love of Christ, and of the unspeakable blessings which He is preparing for us; and in an infinite number of
for, said he could nossaire, bighin us underts, and
souls it would infallibly produce the same results which it produced in the world generally by the conversion of whole nations. . . . Let us, then, exert ourselves to circulate it, and to make it fruitful, imitating in this the zeal of the early Christians, whether priests or laymen, who traversed divers countries with the view of announcing Jesus Christ to those who had never heard mention of his name, and who, says St. Eusebius, used to pat the Holy Bible into their hands. .... If, indeed, the writings of the Saints may be compared to rills in which wisdom and piety flow, and which, scattered in all directions, water the earth and make it fruitful, the Gospel, which is the work of Jesus Christ, and of His Holy Spirit, must be regarded as the source where the waters are always more living and more pure. With what zeal, then, ought Christians, the children of Jesus Christ, to apply themselves to reading and studying this sacred volume, each according to the measure of his capacity and his condition ? Strong meat for men and milk for babes are alike to be found there; there Jesus Christ, adapting himself to all, supplies to all who lay to heart and who listen to His word with faith, with piety, and with a teachable spirit, that salutary instruction which they need for curbing vice, for increasing in virtue, and for shining more and more unto the perfect day.”
“In the earlier part of the eighteenth century," such was the utterance of a Catholic Society*, manifesting admirable zeal in the circulation of those Holy Scriptures wherewith the choice spirits whom France numbers up with pride in her great age of literature, used to feed their souls in the previous age. Read the great authors of that period, in poetryorin prose, such as Malherbe, Rotrou, Corneille, the two Racines, and so many more; read moreover the familiar letters of that time, you will find in them an acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures that would be sought in vain in writers of the present day. The Bible was read and meditated upon in families in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries ; and I do not hesitate in attributing more particularly to that pious and wholesome custom the firmness of principle, the elevation of thought and style, so remarkable in the chief writers of that period; and if now-a-days we seek what is the chief among so many other causes of the utter abandonment of all religious principle, of the intellectual disorder which so many distinguished men have fallen into, of the sophisms, of the anarchical theories and hollow systems which dazzle and fascinate vulgar minds, we shall find it in the almost entire ignorance in which men are of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the contempt or utter forgetfulness of this holy book, the most
precious gift which heaven has given to earth. This holds good throughout the entire domain of thought and human activity, in literature as in philosophy, in politics as in religion; this is verily and indeed the great and chief cause of the intellectual and moral confusion, of the decrepitude of minds and consciences, which, in modern society, render its reconstruction on a new and durable basis so difficult after its crumbling down upon its ancient foundations."*
“Men,” says a pious writer already quoted, “have not built on the true foundation ; they have not built upon the Gospel, that is to say, upon evident, necessary, eternal and universal justice into which life has been infused, and which has been rendered substantial by divine power and by Christ. Hence the inevitable fall of republics, of monarchies, of empires. Men have built upon the sand; tempests and inundations have swept away these houses built on insecure foundations. ... Former society, which is now crumbling to pieces, must be reconstructed on the basis of Christianity. So long as the nations of Europe do not perceive that ancient constructions fell to pieces because they were not built upon the Rock, and that the Rock is Jesus Christ and His doctrine; the great advance of ages, which has become a necessity, continues still an impossibility.”
The same cry is raised throughout all Churches. Christians at issue among themselves upon other points, whatever may be the race or religious society to which they belong, be they Catholics, Greeks, or Protestants, agree in recognizing this truth. Thus, what was the eloquent reply of one of these zealous Christians, when recently replying, in an admirable publication, to one of the great teachers of the modern school of Positivism ?
“I have written this book," he says, “in a season of trouble, when the storm which rages sweeps men away from the convictions most dear to me; it will be soon evident what deadly germs this freezing blast sows in its progress, and all that it shrivels up. On the shores to which it is driving us we shall find some of the most excellent gifts of life. Liberty, social justice, noble sympathy for the weak and disinherited; all these holy causes would be lost on that day when, to our infinite misfortune, that of Christ is in danger; for--and it is the honour of our humanity-our fleeting life here on earth derives its greatness only from the world above, whence we proceed. Before all things Christians believe that this heavenly world must be sought for its own sake, and that the work of restoration and uplifting, undertaken by Christ, begins in the indi
* “ Twice," says the celebrated Carmelite preacher, le Père Hyacinthe, " have I set my foot on English soil, and I felt and understood that the strength of England was the Bible."-ED.