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Mariolatry And God

( Originally Published 1870 )



I.

NOT only are people taught that they may receive pardons, and pardons without end, from the Virgin; they are also taught to pray to her for every-thing, and with greater certainty of being heard than by prayer addressed to God. This is a matter of competition again ; and the advertisements put forth are not less striking than in the question of pardons. We have read and heard things that almost amounted, with reverence be it spoken, to representing God as a tradesman, whose old-established shop was no longer worthy of the patronage of fashionable purchasers.

Here, moreover, a step in advance is generally made, and this step is simply the elevation of the Virgin to the rank of an all-powerful divinity. There is comparatively little danger of forgetting that she cannot grant pardons herself, and that she must obtain them from God ; but as regards other mercies, and especially temporal mercies, there are very few persons who do not ask for them as coming from herself, thus ascribing to her sovereign and divine power.

There is nothing in this, however, which may not be traced in the worship of other saints. It is all very well to appeal to the decree of the Council of Trent, and to certain books, to show that the Church does not recognise that the saints possess the power of answering prayer. It is all very well to say with Bossuet that, whatever may be the terms in which a prayer to the saints is couched, ` the intention of the Church and of the faithful always reduces the petition to this, Pray for us.' The intention of the Church, possibly ; but that such is the intention of the faithful, we take the liberty of denying ; and what does the abstract intention of the Church matter, if the faithful are inevitably led to have a totally different one ? What does it matter that the Council of Trent should speak of intercession, and of nothing but intercession, if, as a matter of fact, in my inmost heart. I do not ask for intercession, but for a real benefit, a real gift, for an act, in short, that pre-supposes the omnipotence of the saint ? Is the distinction made even by persons who are capable of making it ? Does not their patron saint, if they have any devotion to him, become in their eyes a god ? Does not the patron saint of a town, or of a country, occupy exactly the same position as the old pagan god specially worshipped in each place ? Finally, is not the Virgin, who is now the patroness of the whole Church, the special patroness of every country, of every town, of every family, of every Catholic, indeed, —for she is gradually dethroning all the old patrons, —is not the Virgin universally and increasingly invoked as able of herself to answer and to protect ?

It is all very well to repeat in litanies, ` Pray for us.' But neither the heart nor the mind is present in the petition ; and the idea of intercession, even when ex-pressed, is absorbed in that of direct and absolute protection. And, moreover, how many prayers there are, both in books of devotion, and in the public formularies of worship, in which the intercession is only mentioned, in two or three words, quite at the end of long and fervent direct invocations ! How many prayers in which it is not even mentioned at all! What petition to God is to be found in that famous sub tuum, which is repeated morning and evening in all popular Catholic schools ? ` We take refuge under thy guardianship, holy Mother of God. Despise not our supplications, but deliver us always from all danger, Virgin glorious and blessed.' Such is the sub tuum. In such an atmosphere even the Lord's prayer we have had proofs of this is transformed by the vitiated instincts of the faithful into a prayer to the Virgin ; and, indeed, one may almost say that there is official authority for this, inasmuch as the Catechisrmus Romanus says that the prayer may be said before the image of any saint. The Catechismus, it is true, adds, ' provided one has the feeling that the saint will repeat it to God.' But who will have this feeling ? Who will trouble himself to have it ? When Julienne of Liége saw her famous slit in the moon, and concluded that God was angry because there was no festival in His special honour, while all the saints had theirs, she expressed a great truth in a very queer way. But that festival which was immediately appointed, that festival of Corpus Christi, of which Liége has in our own day celebrated the six hundredth anniversary, has it at least retained its character as a festival in honour of God ? Nearly everywhere it is but another festival in honour of the Virgin. And what shall we say of that month which is now devoted, from. the first to the thirty-first day, in preaching and glorifying Mary, advantage being taken of the pomp of spring to make of her the goddess of nature, as she already is the goddess of grace ?

II.

Such is the evolution we are witnessing, an evolution that was begun long ago, no doubt, but which has been wonderfully hastened in recent years, and of which Pius IX. more than any other Pope will bear the responsibility, both before history and before God. Why should not all have hurried into these paths, the diplomatic with eagerness, the sincere with love, when all were so sure that they were acting in accordance with the wishes of the Pope, and helping forward what appeared to him to be the great work of his pontificate and of his age ? It is in vain that a few voices more prudent, and, as we love to think, more Christian, have been raised to entreat the Church to pause and think, and not to go further in a course that is leading her outside the confines of Christianity. It is in vain that facts of every kind have justified the severest prophecies of those who said that Catholicism was fast becoming Marianism. The movement has continued, and continues; and now that things have arrived at their present point, how should it stop ? Whether or not the Council decrees the Assumption of the Virgin, the work of her deification will proceed unchecked, if even it be not already complete. Catholic scruples, Protestant objections, infidel sarcasms, all are overborne by the impulse given. When any answer is vouchsafed, it is always that our statements are calumnies. The Virgin, we are told, is not worshipped ; and under cover of this equivocation, she is surrounded with all the elements of the most profound, and often the most objectionable worship. To her are erected triumphal arches, monuments, and statues ; to her be-long golden crowns and solemn coronations ; to her is devoted by far the greater part of the worship of the Church ; to her belongs, everywhere and at all times, the first place in the imaginations and hearts of the faithful. Nothing is rarer, in the Catholic writings of to-day, than a pious exhortation that has not the Virgin for its object. If an epidemic is stayed, an inundation arrested, a war brought to a close, it is she who has delivered the people from these plagues. It is from her, the Pope tells you, that proceed and ever will proceed all great deliverances. Who has told him so ? how can he know ? Is it that without the influence of Mary, God would only be the persecutor and the scourge of the human race ? But the Pope does not look at matters so closely, and to be logical is the last of his cares. In 1849, on his return to Rome, whence he had been driven by a revolution, he thanks the Virgin for bringing him back to his Vatican. God, then, would not have brought him back. Christ would have left His Vicar at Gaeta. But, we repeat, the Pope does not reason. It suited him that the Virgin should reap the honour of his return ; she has had that honour, and there is nothing more to be said. She is therefore represented, urbi et orbi, as governing the world, even the political world, even the fortune of battles, for it was a victorious army that restored Pius IX. to his throne.

Formerly, in answer to our objections, it was at least possible to place the onus of that deification on the shoulders of the common people, and to attribute it to their ignorant devotion. But now it is to be found in the highest as well as in the lowest places, in the pastoral letters of bishops, as well as in village sermons, in the devotion of the Pope, as well as in that of the lowest peasant in his dominions. He was surprised one day by the giving way of some flooring. Who will save him from death ? Mary. Whom will he declare that he called to in his fall ? Mary. And dare you say that a being to whom you thus appeal immediately, instinctively, in a danger that comes upon you with the suddenness of lightning that this being is not your divinity ? Dare you say that, as a matter of fact, you do not place that being on the throne of God ? And all this must be done in the face of the Holy Scriptures, which say not a word about the worship of Mary, and absolutely condemn the worship of any one but God; it must be done in the face of history, which shows us that in the first ages that worship did not exist, and that its germs were for a long time no more than eulogies without any trace of invocation ; it must be done by maintaining that such has always and everywhere been the practice of the Church ; it must be done in the face of the decree of 1563, declared to be infallible, and which, if really observed, would not sanction a tenth, no, not a twentieth part of the present excesses.

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