ON IMPURITY – St. Alphonsus

SERMON XLV. SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. – ON IMPURITY. “And behold, there was a certain man before him, who had the dropsy.” LUKE xiv. 2.

THE man who indulges in impurity is like a person labouring under the dropsy. The latter is so much tormented by thirst, that the more he drinks the more thirsty he becomes. Such, too, is the nature of the accursed vice of impurity; it is never satiated. “As,” says St. Thomas of Villanova , ”the more the dropsical man abounds in moisture, the more he thirsts; so, too, is it with the waves of eternal pleasures.” I will speak Today of the vice of impurity, and will show, in the first point, the delusion of those who say that this vice is but a small evil; and, in the second, the delusion of those who say, that God takes pity on this sin, and that he does not punish it.

First Point – Delusion of those who say that sins against purity are not a great evil.

1. The unchaste, then, say that sins contrary to purity are but a small evil. Like”the sow wallowing in the mire” (” Sus lota in volutabro luti – 2 Pet. ii. 22), they are immersed in their own filth, so that they do not see the malice of their actions; and therefore they neither feel nor abhor the stench of their impurities, which excite disgust and horror in all others. Can you, who say that the vice of impurity is but a small evil can you, I ask, deny that it is a mortal sin?

If you deny it, you are a heretic; for as St. Paul says: “Do not err. Neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, etc., shall possess the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. vi. 9.) It is a mortal sin; it cannot be a small evil. It is more sinful than theft, or detraction, or the violation of the fast. How then can you say that it is not a great evil? Perhaps mortal sin appears to you to be a small evil? Is it a small evil to despise the grace of God, to turn your back upon him, and to lose his friendship, for a transitory, beastly pleasure?

2. St. Thomas teaches, that mortal sin, because it is an insult offered to an infinite God, contains a certain infinitude of malice. “A sin committed against God has a certain infinitude, on account of the infinitude of the Divine Majesty.” (S. Thom., 3 p., q. 1, art. 2, ad. 2.) Is mortal sin a small evil? It is so great an evil, that if all the angels and all the saints, the apostles, martyrs, and even the Mother of God, offered all their merits to atone for a single mortal sin, the oblation would not be sufficient. No; for that atonement or satisfaction would be finite; but the debt contracted by mortal sin is infinite, on account of the infinite Majesty of God which has been offended.

The hatred which God bears to sins against purity is great beyond measure. If a lady find her plate soiled she is disgusted, and cannot eat. Now, with what disgust and indignation must God, who is Purity itself, behold the filthy impurities by which his law is violated? He loves purity with an infinite love; and consequently he has an infinite hatred for the sensuality which the lewd, voluptuous man calls a small evil. Even the devils who held a high rank in heaven before their fall disdain to tempt men to sins of the flesh.

3. St. Thomas says (lib. 5, de Erud. Princ., c. li.), that Lucifer, who is supposed to have been the devil that tempted Jesus Christ in the desert, tempted him to commit other sins, but scorned to tempt him to offend against chastity. Is this sin a small evil? Is it, then, a small evil to see a man endowed with a rational soul, and enriched with so many divine graces, bring himself by the sin of impurity to the level of a brute?”Fornication and pleasure,” says St. Jerome, ”pervert the understanding, and change men into beasts.” (In Oseam., c. iv.) In the voluptuous and unchaste are literally verified the words of David: ”And man, when he was in honour, did not understand: he is compared to senseless beasts, and is become like to them.” (Ps. xlviii. 13.)

St. Jerome says, that there is nothing more vile or degrading than to allow oneself to be conquered by the flesh. ”Nihil vilius quam vinci a carne.” Is it a small evil to forget God, and to banish him from the soul, for the sake of giving the body a vile satisfaction, of which, when it is over, you feel ashamed? Of this the Lord complains by the Prophet Ezechiel: ”Thus saith the Lord God: Because thou hast forgotten me, and has cast me off behind thy back”(xxiii. 35.) St. Thomas says, that by every vice, but particularly by the vice of impurity, men are removed far from God. ”Per luxuriant maxime recedit a Deo.” (In Job cap. xxxi.)

4. Moreover, sins of impurity, on account of their great number, are an immense evil. A blasphemer does not always blaspheme, but only when he is drunk or provoked to anger. The assassin, whose trade is to murder others, does not, at the most, commit more than eight or ten homicides. But the unchaste are guilty of an unceasing torrent of sins, by thoughts, by words, by looks, by complacencies, and by touches; so that, when they go to confession they find it impossible to tell the number of the sins they have committed against purity.

Even in their sleep the devil represents to them obscene objects, that, on awakening, they may take delight in them; and because they are made the slaves of the enemy, they obey and consent to his suggestions; for it is easy to contract a habit of this sin. To other sins, such as blasphemy, detraction, and murder, men are not prone; but to this vice nature inclines them. Hence St. Thomas says, that there is no sinner so ready to offend God as the votary of lust is, on every occasion that occurs to him. ”Nullus ad Dei contemptum promptior.”

The sin of impurity brings in its train the sins of defamation, of theft, hatred, and of boasting of its own filthy abominations. Besides, it ordinarily involves the malice of scandal. Other sins, such as blasphemy, perjury, and murder, excite horror in those who witness them; but this sin excites and draws others, who are flesh, to commit it, or, at least, to commit it with less horror.

5. ”Totum hominem,” says St. Cyprian, ”agit in triumphum libidinis.” (Lib. de bono pudic.) By lust the evil triumphs over the entire man, over his body and over his soul; over his memory, filling it with the remembrance of unchaste delights, in order to make him take complacency in them; over his intellect, to make him desire occasions of committing sin; over the will, by making it love its impurities as his last end, and as if there were no God. “I made,” said Job, “a covenant with my eyes, that I would not so much as think upon a virgin. For what part should God from above have in me?” (xxxi. 1, 2.)

Job was afraid to look at a virgin, because he knew that if he consented to a bad thought God should have no part in him. According to St. Gregory, from impurity arises blindness of understanding, destruction, hatred of God, and despair of eternal life. ”De luxuria cœcitas mentis præcipitatio, odium Dei, desperatio futuri sæculi generantur.” (S. Greg., Mor., lib. 13.) St. Augustine says, though the unchaste may grow old, the vice of impurity does not grow old in them. Hence St. Thomas says, that there is no sin in which the devil delights so much as in this sin; because there is no other sin to which nature clings with so much tenacity.

To the vice of impurity it adheres so firmly, that the appetite for carnal pleasures becomes insatiable. ”Diabolus dicitur gaudere maxime de peccato luxuriæ, quia est maximæ adhœrentia: et difficile ab eo homo eripi potest; insatiabilis est enim delectabilis appetitus.” (1, 2, qu. 73, a. 5, ad. 2.) Go now, and say that the sin of impurity is but a small evil. At the hour of death you shall not say so; every sin of that kind shall then appear to you a monster of hell. Much less shall you say so before the judgment-seat of Jesus Christ, who will tell you what the Apostle has already told you: “No fornicator, or unclean, hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Eph. v. 5.) The man who has lived like a brnte does not deserve to sit with the angels.

6. Most beloved brethren, let us continue to pray to God to deliver us from this vice: if we do not, we shall lose our souls. The sin of impurity brings with it blindness and obstinacy. Every vice produces darkness of understanding; but impurity produces it in a greater degree than all other sins. ”Fornication, and wine, and drunkenness take away the understanding.” (Osee iv. 11.) Wine deprives us of understanding and reason; so does impurity. Hence St. Thomas says, that the man who indulges in unchaste pleasures, does not live according to reason. ”In nullo procedit secundum judicium rationis.”

Now, if the unchaste are deprived of light, and no longer see the evil which they do, how can they abhor it and amend their lives? The Prophet Osee says, that being blinded by their own mire, they do not even think of returning to God; because their impurities take away from them all knowledge of God. ”They will not set their thought to return to their God; for the spirit of fornication is in the midst of them, and they have not known the Lord.” (Osee v. 4.) Hence St. Lawrence Justinian writes, that this sin makes men forget God. ”Delights of the flesh induced forgetfulness of God.” And St. John Damascene teaches that”the carnal man cannot look at the light of truth.”

Thus, the lewd and voluptuous no longer understand what is meant by the grace of God, by judgment, hell, and eternity. ”Fire hath fallen upon them, and they shall not see the sun.” (Ps. Ivii. 9.) Some of these blind miscreants go so far as to say, that fornication is not in itself sinful. They say, that it was not forbidden in the Old Law; and in support of this execrable doctrine they adduce the words of the Lord to Osee: ”Go, take thee a wife of fornication, and have of her children of fornication.” (Osee i. 2.) In answer I say, that God did not permit Osee to commit fornication; but wished him to take for his wife a woman who had been guilty of fornication: and the children of this marriage were called children of fornication, because the mother had been guilty of that crime.

This is, according to St. Jerome, the meaning of the words of the Lord to Osee. ”Ideirco,” says the holy doctor, ”Fornicationis appelandi sunt filii, quod sunt de meretrice generati.” But fornication was always forbidden, under pain of mortal sin, in the Old, as well as in the New Law. St. Paul says: ”No fornicator or unclean, hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Eph. v. 5.) Behold the impiety to which the blindness of such sinners carry them! From this blindness it arises, that though they go to the sacraments, their confessions are null for want of true contrition; for how is it possible for them to have true sorrow, when they neither know nor abhor their sins?

7. The vice of impurity also brings with it obstinacy. To conquer temptations, particularly against chastity, continual prayer is necessary. ”Watch ye, and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” (Mark xiv. 38.) But how will the unchaste, who are always seeking to be tempted, pray to God to deliver them from temptation? They sometimes, as St. Augustine confessed of himself, even abstain from prayer, through fear of being heard and cured of the disease, which they wish to continue. “I feared,” said the saint, “that you would soon hear and heal the disease of concupiscence, which I wished to be satiated, rather than extinguished.” (Conf., lib. 8, cap. vii.)

St. Peter calls this vice an unceasing sin. ”Having eyes full of adultery and sin that ceaseth not.” (2 Pet. ii. 14.) Impurity is called an unceasing sin on account of the obstinacy which it induces. Some person addicted to this vice says: I always confess the sin. So much the worse; for since you always relapse into sin, these confessions serve to make you persevere in the sin. The fear of punishment is diminished by saying: I always confess the sin. If you felt that this sin certainly merits hell, you would scarcely say: I will not give it up; I do not care if I am damned.

But the devil deceives you. Commit this sin, he says; for you afterwards confess it. But, to make a good confession of your sins, you must have true sorrow of the heart, and a firm purpose to sin no more. Where are this sorrow and this firm purpose of amendment, when you always return to the vomit? If you had had these dispositions, and had received sanctifying grace at your confessions, you should not have relapsed, or at least you should have abstained for a considerable time from relapsing.

You have always fallen back into sin in eight or ten days, and perhaps in a shorter time, after confession. What sign is this? It is a sign that you were always in enmity with God. If a sick man instantly vomits the medicine which he takes, it is a sign that his disease is incurable.

8. St. Jerome says, that the vice of impurity, when habitual, will cease when the unhappy man who indulges in it is cast into the fire of hell. ”infernal fire, lust, whose fuel is gluttony, whose sparks are brief conversations, whose end is hell.” The unchaste be come like the vulture that waits to be killed by the fowler, rather than abandon the rottenness of the dead bodies on which it feeds. This is what happened to a young female, who, after having lived in the habit of sin with a young man, fell sick, and appeared to be converted. At the hour of death she asked leave of her confessor to send for the young man, in order to exhort him to change his life at the sight of her death. The confessor very imprudently gave the permission, and taught her what she should say to her accomplice in sin.

But listen to what happened. As soon as she saw him, she forgot her promise to the confessor and the exhortation she was to give to the young man. And what did she do? She raised herself up, sat in bed, stretched her arms to him, and said: Friend, I have always loved you, and even now, at the end of my life, I love you: I see that, on your account, I shall go to hell: but I do not care: I am willing, for the love of you, to be damned. After these words she fell back on the bed and expired. These facts are related by Father Segneri (Christ. Istr. Bag., xxiv., n. 10.)

Oh! how difficult is it for a person who has contracted a habit of this vice, to amend his life and return sincerely to God! O how difficult is it for him not to terminate this habit in hell, like the unfortunate young woman of whom I have just spoken.

Second Point – Illusion of those who say that God takes pity on this sin.

9. The votaries of lust say that God takes pity on this sin; but such is not the language of St. Thomas of Villanova . He says, that in the sacred Scriptures we do not read of any sin so severely chastised as the sin of impurity. ”Luxuriæ facinus præ aliis punitum legimus.” (Serm. iv., Dom. 1, Quadrag.) We find in the Scriptures, that in punishment of this sin, a deluge of fire descended from heaven on four cities, and, in an instant, consumed not only the inhabitants, but even the very stones. “And the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he destroyed these cities, and all things that spring from the earth.” (Gen. xix. 24.) St. Peter Damian relates, that a man and a woman who had sinned against impurity, were found burnt and black as a cinder.

10. Salvian writes, that it was in punishment of the sin of impurity that God sent on the earth the universal deluge, which was caused by continued rain for forty days and forty nights. In this deluge the waters rose fifteen cubits above the tops of the highest mountains; and only eight persons along with Noah were saved in the ark. The rest of the inhabitants of the earth, who were more numerous then than at present, were punished with death in chastisement of the vice of impurity.

Mark the words of the Lord in speaking of this chastisement which he inflicted on that sin: ”My spirit shall not remain in man for ever; because he is flesh.” (Gen. vi. 3.) “That is,” says Liranus, “too deeply involved in carnal sins.” The Lord added: ”For it repenteth me that I made man.” (Gen. vi. 7.) The indignation of God is not like ours, which clouds the mind, and drives us into excesses: his wrath is a judgment perfectly just and tranquil, by which God punishes and repairs the disorders of sin. But to make us understand the intensity of his hatred for the sin of impurity, he represents himself as if sorry for having created man, who offended him so grievously by this vice.

We, at the present day, see more severe temporal punishment inflicted on this than on any other sin. Go into the hospitals, and listen to the shrieks of so many young men, who, in punishment of their impurities, are obliged to submit to the severest treatment and to the most painful operations, and who, if they escape death, are, according to the divine threat, feeble, and subject to the most excruciating pain for the remainder of their lives. ”Thou hast cast me off behind thy back; bear thou also thy wickedness and thy fornications.” (Ezec. xxiii. 35.)

11. St. Remigius writes that, if children.be excepted, the number of adults that are saved is few, on account of the sins of the flesh. ”Exceptis parvulis ex adultis propter vitiam carnis pauci salvantur.” (Apud S. Cypr. de bono pudic.) In conformity with this doctrine, it was revealed to a holy soul, that as pride has filled hell with devils, so impurity fills it with men. (Col., disp. ix., ex. 192.) St. Isidore assigns the reason. He says that there is no vice which so much enslaves men to the devil as impurity. ”Magis per luxuriam, humanum genus subditur diabolo, quam per aliquod aliud.” (S. Isid., lib. 2, c. xxxix.) Hence, St. Augustine says, that with regard to this sin, ”the combat is common and the victory rare.” Hence it is, that on account of this sin hell is filled with souls.

12. All that I have said on this subject has been said, not that any one present, who has been addicted to the vice of impurity, may be driven to despair, but that such persons may be cured. Let us, then, come to the remedies. These are two great remedies prayer, and the flight of dangerous occasions. Prayer, says St. Gregory of Nyssa, is the safeguard of chastity. “Oratio pudicitiæ præsidium et tutamen est.” (De Orat.) And before him, Solomon, speaking of himself, said the same. “And as I knew that I could not otherwise be continent, except God gave it… I went to the Lord, and besought him.” (Wis. viii. 21.)

Thus, it is impossible for us to conquer this vice without God’s assistance. Hence, as soon as temptation against chastity presents itself, the remedy is, to turn instantly to God for help, and to repeat several times the most holy names of Jesus and Mary, which have a special virtue to banish bad thoughts of that kind. I have said immediately, without listening to, or beginning to argue with the temptation. When a bad thought occurs to the mind, it is necessary to shake it off instantly, as you would a spark that flies from the fire, and instantly to invoke aid from Jesus and Mary.

13. As to the flight of dangerous occasions, St. Philip Neri used to say that cowards that is, they who fly from the occasions gain the victory. Hence you must, in the first place, keep a restraint on the eyes, and must abstain from looking at young females. Otherwise, says St. Thomas, you can scarcely avoid the sin. ”Luxuria vitari vix protest nisi vitatur aspectus mulieris pulchræ.” (S. Thom. 1, 2, qu. 167, a. 2.) Hence Job said: ”I made a covenant with my eyes, that I would not so much as think upon a virgin” (xxxi. 1). He was afraid to look at a virgin; because from looks it is easy to pass to desires, and from desires to acts. St. Francis de Sales used to say, that to look at a woman does not do so much evil as to look at her a second time.

If the devil has not gained a victory the first, he will gain the second time. And if it be necessary to abstain from looking at females, it is much more necessary to avoid conversation with them. “Tarry not among women.” (Eccl. xlii. 12.) We should be persuaded that, in avoiding occasions of this sin, no caution can be too great. Hence we must be always fearful, and fly from them. ”A wise man feareth and declineth from evil; a fool is confident.” (Prov. xiv. 16.) A wise man is timid, and flies away; a fool is confident, and falls.

ON THE PRACTICAL DEATH, OR ON WHAT ORDINARILY HAPPENS AT THE DEATH OF MEN OF THE WORLD – St. Alphonsus

ON THE PRACTICAL DEATH, OR ON WHAT ORDINARILY HAPPENS AT THE DEATH OF MEN OF THE WORLD.

” Behold, a dead man was carried out, the only son of his mother.” LUKE vii. 12. 

IT is related in this day’s gospel that, going to the city of Naim, Jesus Christ met a dead man, the only son of his mother, who was carried out to be buried. ”Behold, a dead man was carried out.” Before we proceed further, let us stop at these words and remember death. The holy Church directs her ministers to say to Christians every year, on Ash Wednesday: ”Memento homo quia pulvis es, et in pulverum reverteris.” Remember man, thou art but dust, and into dust thou shalt return. Oh! would to God that men had death always before their  eyes; if they had, they certainly should not lead such bad lives. Now, beloved brethren, that the remembrance of death may be impressed upon you, I will this day place before your eyes the practical death, or a description of what ordinarily happens at the death of men of the world, and of all the circumstances attending it. Hence we shall consider, in the first point, what happens at the time of the last illness: in the second point, what happens when the last sacraments are received; and, in the third, what happens at the time of death.

First Point – What happens at the time of the last illness.

I do not intend in this discourse to speak of a sinner who had always lived in habitual sin; but of a worldling, who is careless about his salvation, and always entangled in the affairs of the world, in contracts, enmities, courtships, and gaming. He has frequently fallen into mortal sins, and after a considerable time has confessed them.

In a word, he has been a relapsing sinner, and has generally lived in enmity with God, or, at least, has been generally perplexed with grievous doubts of conscience. Let us consider the death of such persons, and what ordinarily happens at their death.

2. Let us commence at the time at which his last illness appears. He rises in the morning, he goes out to look after his temporal affairs; but while he is engaged in business, he is assailed by a violent pain in the head, his legs totter, he feels a cold shivering, which runs through every member, a sickness of the stomach, and great debility over the whole body. He immediately returns home and throws himself on the bed. His relatives, his wife and sisters, run to him, and say: ”Why have you retired so early? Are you unwell ?” He answers: ”I feel sick. I am scarcely able to stand; I have a great head-ache.”“Perhaps” they say, ”you have got a fever.”“It must be so,” he replies, “send for a physician. ” The physician is immediately sent for.

In the meantime the sick man is put to bed, and there he is seized with a cold fit, which makes him shiver from head to foot. He is loaded with covering, but the cold continues for an hour or two, and is succeeded by a burning heat. The physician arrives, asks the sick man how he feels; he examines the pulse, and find he has a severe attack of fever. But, not to alarm him, the physician says: You have fever: but it is trifling. Have you given any occasion to it? The sick man replies: I went out by night a few days ago, and caught cold; or, I dined with a friend, and indulged my appetite to excess.

It is worth nothing, the physician says: it is a fulness of stomach, or more probably one of these attacks which occur at the change of season. Eat nothing to-day: take a cup of tea; be not uneasy; be cheerful; there is no danger. I will see you tomorrow. Oh! that there was an angel, who, on the part of God, would say to the physician: What do you say? Do you tell me that there is no danger in this disease? Ah! the trumpet of the divine justice has, by the first symptoms of his illness, given the signal of the death of this man: for him the time of God’s vengeance has already arrived.

3. The night comes, and the poor invalid gets no rest. The difficulty of breathing and headache increase. The night appears to him a thousand years. The light scarcely dawns when he calls for some of the family. His relatives come, and say to him: Have you rested well? Ah! I have not been able to close my eyes during the entire night. O God! how much do I feel oppressed! Oh! how violent are the spasms in my head! I feel my temples pierced by two nails. Send immediately for the physician; tell him to come as soon as possible. The physician comes, and finds the fever increased; but still he continues to say: ”Have courage;  there is no danger.

The disease must take its course. The fever which accompanies it will make it disappear.” He comes the third day, and finds the sick man worse. He comes on the fourth day, and symptoms of malignant fever appear. The taste on the mouth is disagreeable; the tongue is black; every part of the body is restless; and delirium has commenced. The physician, finding that the fever is acute, prescribes purging, bloodletting, and iced water. He says to the relatives: Ah! the sickness is most severe; I do not wish to be alone. Let other physicians be called in, that we may have a consultation. This he says in secret to the relatives, but not to the sick man on the contrary, not to frighten him, he continues to say: ”Be cheerful; there is no danger.”

4. Thus, they speak of remedies, of more physicians, and of a consultation; but not a word about confession or the last sacraments. I know not how such physicians can be saved. Where the Bull of Pope Pius the Fifth is in force, they expressly swear, when they receive the diploma, that, after the third day of his illness, they will pay no more visits to any sick man until he has made his confession. But some physicians do not observe this oath, and thus so many poor souls are damned. For, when a sick man has lost his reason, of what use is confession to him? He is lost.

Brethren, when you fall sick, do not wait till the physician tells you to send for a confessor; send for him of your own accord; for physicians, through fear of displeasing a patient, do not warn him of his danger until they despair, or nearly despair of his recovery. Thus, brethren, send first for your confessor call first for the physician of the soul, and afterwards for the physician of the body. Your soul is at stake, eternity is at stake; if you err then you have erred for ever; your mistake shall be for ever irreparable.

5. The physician, then, conceals from the sick man his danger; his relatives do what is still worse they deceive him by lies. They tell him that he is better, and that the physicians give strong hopes of his recovery. treacherous relatives! barbarous relatives, who are the worst of enemies! Instead of warning the sick man of his danger (as is their duty, particularly if they are parents, children, or brothers), that he may settle the accounts of his soul, they flatter him, they deceive him, and cause him to die in the state of damnation.

But, from the pains, oppression, and restlessness which he feels, from the studied silence of friends who visit him, and from the tears which he sees in the eyes of his relatives, the poor invalid perceives that his disease is mortal. Alas! he says, the hour of death is come; but, through fear of giving me annoyance, they do not warn me of it.

6. No; his relatives do not let him know that he is in danger of death; but because they attend to their own interest, about which they are more solicitous than they are about anything else, they bring in a scrivener, in the hope that the dying man will leave them a large portion of his property. The scrivener arrives. Who is this? asks the sick man. The relatives answer: He is a scrivener. Perhaps, for your own satisfaction, you would like to make your will. Then is my sickness mortal? Am I near my end? No, father, or brother, they say: we know that there is no necessity for making a will; but you must one day make it, and it would be better to do it now, while you have the full use of all your faculties.

Very well, he replies; since the scrivener is come, and since you wish me to do it, I will make my last will. The scrivener first asks the sick man in what church he wishes to be buried, in case he should die. Oh! what a painful question! After choosing the place of his interment, he begins to dispose of all his goods. I bequeath such an estate or farm to my children; such a house to my brother; such a sum of money to a friend; and such an article of furniture to an acquaintance.

O miserable man, what have you done? You have submitted to so much fatigue, you have burthened your conscience with so many sins, in order to acquire these goods; and now you leave them for ever, and bequeath them to such and such persons. But there is no remedy; when death comes we must leave all things.

This separation from all worldly possessions is very painful to the sick man, whose heart was attached to his property, his house, his garden, his money, and his amusements. Death comes, gives the stroke, and separates the heart from all the objects of its love. This stroke tortures the sick man with excruciating pain.

Ah, brethren! let us detach our hearts from the things of this world before death separates us from them with so much pain, and with such great danger to our salvation.

Second Point – What happens at the time in which the sacraments are received.

7. Behold! the dying man has made his will. After the eighth or tenth day of his illness, seeing that he is daily growing worse, and that he is near his end, one of his relatives asks: ”When shall we send for his confessor? He has been a man of the world. We know that he has not been a saint.” They all agree that the confessor should be sent for; but all refuse to speak to the sick an on the subject.

Hence they send for the parish priest, or for some other confessor, to make known to the dying man his danger, and the necessity of receiving the last sacraments. But this is done only when he has nearly lost the use of his faculties. The confessor comes; he inquires from the family about the state of the sick man, and the sort of life which he led.

He finds that he has been careless about the duties of religion, and, from the circumstances which he hears, he trembles for the salvation of the poor soul. Understanding that the dying man has but a short time to live, the confessor, first of all, orders the relatives to leave the room, and to return to it no more. He then approaches and salutes the sick man.

The latter asks: “Who are you? I am, replies the confessor, the parish priest, Father Such-aone. Do you wish me to do anything for you? Having heard that you had a severe attack of illness, I have come to reconcile you with your Creator. Father, I am obliged to you; but I beg of you for the present to let me take a little rest; for I have got no sleep for several nights, and I am scarcely able to speak. Recommend me to God.

8. Knowing the dangerous state of the soul and body of the sick man, the confessor says: We hope that the Lord and the most holy Virgin will deliver you from this illness; but, sooner or later, you must die. Your illness is very severe. You would do well to make your confession, and to adjust the affairs of your soul. Perhaps you have scruples of conscience. I have come on purpose to calm the troubles of your mind.

Father, I should have to make a long confession; for my conscience is perplexed and burdened with sin. At present I am not able to do it. I feel a lightness in my head, and I can scarcely breathe. Father, we will see about it tomorrow, at present I am not able. But who knows what may happen? Some attack may come on, which will not leave you time to make your confession. Father, do not torment me any longer. I have said that I am not able; it is impossible for me to do it.

But the confessor, who knows that there is no hope of recovery, feels himself obliged to speak more plainly, and says: I think it is my duty to inform you that your life is about to close. I entreat you to make your confession: for, perhaps, tomorrow you shall be dead. Why, father, do you say so? Because, replies the confessor, so the physicians have said. The poor dying man then begins to rage against the physicians, and against his friends. Ah! the traitors have deceived me.

They knew my danger, and have not informed me of it. Ah! unhappy me! The confessor rejoins, and says: Be not alarmed at the difficulties of making your confession: it is enough to mention the most grievous sins which you remember. I will assist you. Be not afraid. Begin at once to tell your sins. The dying man forces himself to commence his confession; but his mind is all confusion; he knows not where to begin; he tries to tell his sins, but is not able to explain himself. He feels but little, and understands still less, what the confessor says to him.

O God! At such a time, and in such a state, worldlings are obliged to attend to the most important of all affairs the affair of eternal salvation! The confessor hears, perhaps, many sins, bad habits, injuries done to the property and character of others, confessions made with little sorrow and with little purpose of amendment. He assists the dying man as well as he can, and, after a short exhortation, tells him to make an act of contrition. But, God grant that he may not be as insensible to sorrow as the sick man who was attended by Cardinal Bellarmine.

When the Cardinal exhorted him to make an act of contrition, he said: Father, do not trouble yourself; these things are too high for me; I do not understand them. In the end, the confessor absolves the dying man; but who knows if God absolves him?

9. After giving him absolution, the confessor says: Prepare yourself, now, to receive Jesus Christ for your viaticum. It is now, replies the sick man, four or five hours after night; I will communicate in the morning. No: perhaps in the morning time shall be no more for you; you must at present receive the viaticum and extreme unction. Ah, unhappy me! the dying man says; am I then at the point of death? He has reason to say so; for the practice of some physicians is, to put off the viaticum till the patient is near his last, and till he has lost, or nearly lost, his senses. This is a common delusion.

According to the common opinion of theologians, the viaticum ought always to be administered when there is danger of death. It would be useful here to observe, that Benedict the Fourteenth, in his fifty- third Bull (in Euchol. Grace., . 46, ap. Bullar, tom. 4), says, that extreme unction may be given whenever the sick man”labours under a grievous illness.” Hence, whenever the sick can receive the viaticum, they can also receive the sacrament of extreme unction. It is not necessary to wait, as some physicians recommend, till they are near the agony, or till they lose their senses.

10. Behold! the viaticum arrives, the sick man hears the bell. Oh! how he trembles! The trembling and terror increase when he sees the priest coming into the room with the holy sacrament, and when he beholds around his bed the torches of those who assisted at the procession.

The priest recites the words of the ritual: “Accipe frater viaticum corporis Domini nostri Jesu Christi qui te custodiat ab hoste maligno, et perducat in vitam æternum. Amen.” Brother, receive the viaticum of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he may preserve you from the wicked enemy, and that he may bring you to eternal life. He receives the consecrated host upon his tongue: the priest then gives him a little water to enable him to swallow it; for his throat is dry and parched.

11. The priest afterwards gives the extreme unction; and begins by anointing the eyes while he says the following words: “Per istam sanctam unctionem, et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Deus, quidquid per visum deliquisti.” He then anoints the other senses the ears, the nostrils, the mouth, the hands, the feet, and the loins, saying: ”Quidquid per aditum deliquisti per odoratum, per gustum et locutionem, per tactum, per gressum, et lumborum delectationem.” And, during the administration of the extreme unction, the devil is employed in reminding the sick man of all the sins he committed by the senses by the eyes, the ears, the tongue, the hands; and says to him: After so many sins can you expect to be saved? Oh! what terror is then caused by every one of those mortal sins, which are now called human frailties, and which, worldlings say, God will not punish! Now they are disregarded; but then every mortal sin shall be a sword that will pierce the soul with terror. But let us come to what happens at death.

Third Point – What happens at the time of death.

12. After having administered the sacraments the priest departs, and leaves the dying man alone. He feels more terror and alarm after the sacraments than before he received them; for he knows that his entire preparation for them was made in the midst of great confusion of mind and great uneasiness of conscience.

But the signs of approaching death appear: the sick man falls into a cold sweat; the sight grows dim, and he no longer knows the persons that attend him: he has lost his speech, and can scarcely breathe. In the midst of this darkness of death he continues to say: ”Oh! that I had time, that I had another day, with the use of my faculties, to make a good confession!” For, the unhappy man has great doubts about the confession which he has made: he feels that he was not able to excite himself to make a true act of sorrow. But, what time? what day? “Time shall be no longer.” (Apoc. x. 6.)

The confessor has the book open to announce to him his departure from this world. “Profiscere, anima Christiana, de hoc mundo.” Depart, Christian soul, from this world. The dying man continues to say within himself: “O lost years of my life! fool that I have been!” But when does he say this? When the scene is about to close for him; when the oil in the lamp is just consumed; and when the great moment has arrived on which his eternal happiness or misery depends.

13. But behold! his eyes are petrified; his body takes the posture of a corpse; the extremities, the hands and feet, have become cold. The agony commences; the priest begins to recite the prayers for the recommendation of a departing soul. After having read the recommendation, he feels the pulse of the dying man, and feels that it has ceased to beat. Light, he says, immediately the blessed candle. O candle! O candle! show us light, now that we have health; for, at the hour of death, thy light shall serve only to terrify us the more. But already the breathing of the sick man is not so frequent; it has begun to fail This is a sign that death is very near.

The assisting priest raises his voice, and says to the poor man in his agony: Say after me O God, come to my aid; have mercy on me. My crucified Jesus, save me through thy passion. Mother of God, intercede for me. St. Joseph, St. Michael, the archangel, my holy angel-guardian, and all ye saints in Paradise, pray to God for me. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus and Mary, I give you my heart and my soul. But behold the last signs of death; the phlegm is confined in the throat; the dying man sends forth feeble moans; the tears rush from his eyes; finally he twists the mouth, he distorts the eyes, he makes a few pauses, and at the last opening of the mouth, he expires and dies.

14. The priest then brings a candle to the mouth of the dead man, to try if he be still alive: he sees that the flame is not moved, and thence infers that life is extinct. He says: Requiescat in pace. May he rest in peace. And turning to the bystanders, announces that he is dead. ”I hope,” he adds, ”he is gone to heaven.” He is dead, and how has he died?

No one knows whether he is saved or damned; but he has died in a great tempest. Such is the death of those unfortunate men who, during life, have cared little about God. ”Their souls shall die in a  storm.” (Job xxxvi. 14.) Of every one that dies it is usual to say that”he is gone to heaven.” He is gone to heaven if he deserved heaven; but, if he merited hell, he has gone to hell. Do all go to heaven? Oh! how few enter into that abode of bliss!

15. Before the body is cold he is covered with a worn out garment; because it must soon rot with him in the grave. Two lighted candles are placed in the chamber; the curtain of the bed on which the dead man lies is let down, and he is left alone. The parish priest is sent for, and requested to come in the morning and take away the corpse.

The priest comes; the deceased is carried to the church; and this is his last journey on this earth. The priests begin to sing the”De profundis clamavi ad te Domine,” etc. The spectators, who look at the funeral as it passes, speak of the deceased. One says: ”He was a proud man.” Another: ”Oh! that he had died ten years ago!” A third: ”He was fortu nate in the world; he made a great deal of money! he had a fine house, but now he takes nothing with him. ”

And while they speak of him in this manner he is burning in hell. He arrives at the church, and is placed in the middle, surrounded by six candles. Tho bystanders look at him, but suddenly turn away their eyes, because his appearance excites horror. The Mass is sung for his repose, and after Mass, the”Libera ;” and the function is concluded with these words: Requiescat in pace May he rest in peace. May he rest in peace, if he died in peace with God; but, if he has died in enmity with God, what peace what peace can he enjoy? He shall have no peace as long as God shall be God.

The sepulchre is then opened, the corpse is thrown into it; the grave is covered with a tombstone; and he is left there to rot and to be the food of worms. It is thus that the scene of this world ends for each of us. His relatives put on mourning; but they first divide among themselves the property which he has left. They shed an occasional tear for two or three days, and afterwards forget him. And what shall become of him? If he be saved, he shall be happy for ever; if damned, he must be miserable for eternity. 

ALL ENDS, AND SOON ENDS – St. Alphonsus

” The grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven.” MATT. vii. 30.

BEHOLD! all the goods of the earth are like the grass of the field, which Today is blooming and beautiful, but in the evening it withers and loses its flowers, and the next day is cast into the fire. This is what God commanded the Prophet Isaias to preach, when he said to him: ”Cry” And I said: What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of the field.” (Isa. xl. 6.) Hence St. James compares the rich of this world to the flower of grass: at the end of their journey through life they rot, along with all their riches and pomps. ”The rich. . . .because as the flower of the grass shall he pass away.

For the sun rose with a burning heat, and parched the grass, and the flower thereof fell off, and the beauty of the shape thereof perished: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.” (St. James i. 10, 11.) They fade away and are cast into the fire, like the rich glutton, who made a splendid appearance in this life, but afterwards”was buried in hell.” (Luke xvi. 22.) Let us, then, dearly beloved Christians, attend to the salvation of our souls, and to the acquisition of riches for eternity, which never ends; for everything in this world ends, and ends very soon.

 First Point – Everything ends

1. When one of the great of this world is in the full enjoyment of the riches and honours which he has acquired, death shall come, and he shall he told: “Take order with thy house; for thou shalt die, and not live.” (Isa. xxxviii. 1.) Oh! what doleful tidings! The unhappy man must then say: Farewell, world! farewell, O villa! farewell, grotto! farewell, relatives! farewell, friends! farewell, sports! farewell, balls! farewell, comedies! farewell, banquets! farewell, honours! all is over for me. There is no remedy: whether he will or not, he must leave all. ”For when he shall die, he shall take nothing away; nor shall his glory descend with him.”  (Ps. xlviii. 18.) St. Bernard says, that death produces a horrible separation of the soul from the body, and from all the things of this earth. ”Opus mortis horrendum divortium.” (Serm. xxvi., in Cant.)

To the great of this world, whom worldlings regard as the most fortunate of mortals, the bare name of death is so full of bitterness, that they are unwilling even to hear it mentioned; for their entire concern is to find peace in their earthly goods. ”O death!” says Ecclesiasticus, ”how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that hath peace in his possessions. ” (Eccl. xli. 1.) But how much greater bitterness shall death itself cause when it actually comes miserable the man who is attached to the goods of this world! Every separation produces pain.

Hence, when the soul shall be separated by the stroke of death from the goods on which she had fixed all her affections, the pain must be excruciating. It was this that made king Agag exclaim, when the news of approaching death was announced to him: “Doth bitter death separate me in this manner?” (I Kings xv. 32.) The great misfortune of worldlings is, that when they are on the point of being summoned to judgment, instead of endeavouring to adjust the accounts of their souls, they direct all their attention to earthly things. But, says St. John Chrysostom, the punishment which awaits sinners, on account of having forgotten God during life, is that they forget themselves at the hour of death. ”Hac animadversione percutitur impius, ut moriens obliviscatur sui, qui vivens oblitus est Dei.”

2. But how great soever a man’s attachment to the things of this world may be, he must take leave of them at death. Naked he has entered into this world, and naked he shall depart from it. ”Naked,” says Job, ”I came out of my mother‟s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” (Job i. 21.) In a word, they who have spent their whole life, have lost their sleep, their health, and their soul, in accumulating riches and possessions shall take nothing with them at the hour of death: their eyes shall then be opened; and of all they had so dearly acquired, they shall find nothing in their hands. Hence, on that night of confusion, they shall be overwhelmed in a tempest of pains and sadness.

”The rich man, when he shall sleep, shall take away nothing with him! He shall open his eyes and find nothing… a tempest shall oppress him in the night.” (Job xxvii. 19, 20.) St. Antonine relates that Saladin, king of the Saracens, gave orders at the hour of death, that the winding sheet in which he was to bo buried should be carried before him to the grave, and that a person should cry out: ”Of all his possessions, this only shall Saladin bring with him.” The saint also relates that a certain philosopher, speaking of Alexander the Great after his death, said: Behold the man that made the earth tremble. ”The earth,” as the Scripture says, “was quiet before him.” (1 Mach. i. 3.) He is now under the earth. Behold the man whom the dominion of the whole world could not satisfy: now four palms of ground are sufficient for him. ”Qui terram heri conculcubat, hodie ab ea conculcatur; et cui heri non sufficiebat mundus hodie sufficiunt quatuor ulnæ terræ.”

St. Augustine, or some other ancient writer, says, that having gone to see the tomb of Caesar, he exclaimed: ”Princes feared thee; cities worshipped thee; all trembled before thee; where is thy magnificence gone ?” (Serm. xxxviii. ad Fratr.) Listen to what David says: ”I have seen the wicked highly exalted and lifted up like the cedars of Libanus. And I passed by, and lo! he was not.” (Ps. xxxvi. 35, 36.) Oh! how many such spectacles are seen every day in the world! A sinner who had been born in lowliness and poverty, afterwards acquires wealth and honours, so as to excite the envy of all. When he dies, every one says: He made a fortune in the world; but now he is dead, and with death all is over for him.

3. ”Why is earth and ashes proud ?” (Eccl. x. 9.) Such the language which the Lord addresses to the man who is puffed up by earthly honours and earthly riches. Miserable creature, he says, whence comes such pride? If you enjoy honours and riches, remember that you are dust. “For dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.” (Gen. iii. 19.) You must die, and after death what advantage shall you derive from the honours and possessions which now inflate you with pride?

Go, says St. Ambrose, to a cemetery, in which are buried the rich and poor, and see if you can discern among them who has been rich and who has been poor; all are naked, and nothing remains of the richest among them but a few withered bones. ”Respice sepulchra, die mihi, quis ibi dives, quis pauper sit”(lib. vi. exam., cap. viii). How profitable would the remembrance of death be to the man who lives in the world!”He shall be brought to the grave, and shall watch in the heap of the dead.” (Job xxi. 32.)

At the sight of these dead bodies he would remember death, and that he shall one day be like them. Thus, he should be awakened from the deadly sleep in which perhaps he lives in a state of perdition. But the misfortune is, that worldlings are unwilling to think of death until the hour comes when they must depart from this earth to go into eternity; and therefore they live as attached to the world, as if they were never to be separated from it. But our life is short, and shall soon end: thus all things must end, and must soon end.

Second Point – All soon ends

4. Men know well, and believe firmly, that they shall die; but they imagine death is far off as if it were never to arrive. But Job tells us that the life of man is short. “Man born of a woman, living for a short time, is filled with many miseries. Who cometh forth like a flower and is destroyed.” (Job xiv. 2.) At present the health of men is so much impaired, that, as we see by experience, the greater number of them die before they attain the age of seventy. And what, says St. James, is our life but a vapour, which a blast of wind, a fever, a stroke of apoplexy, a puncture, an attack of the chest, causes to disappear, and which is seen no more?”

For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while.” (St. James iv. 15.)”We all die,” said the woman of Thecua to David, ”and like waters that return no more, we fall down into the earth.” (2 Kings xiv. 14.) She spoke the truth; as all rivers and streams run to the sea, and as the gliding waters return no more, so our days pass away, and we approach to death.

5. They pass; they pass quickly. ”My days, ” says Job, “have been swifter than a post.” (Job ix. 25.) Death comes to meet us, and runs more swiftly than a post; so that every step we make, every breath we draw, we approach to death. St. Jerome felt that even while he was writing he was drawing nearer to death. Hence he said: ”What I write is taken away from my life.” “Quad scribo de mea vita tollitur.” Let us, then, say with Job: Years passed by, and with them pleasures, honours, pomps, and all things in this world pass away, ”and only the grave remaineth for me.” (Job xviii. 1.)

In a word, all the glory of the labours we have undergone in this world, in order to acquire a large income, a high character for valour, for learning and genius, shall end in our being thrown into a pit to become the food of worms. The miserable worldling then shall say at death: My house, my garden, my fashionable furniture, my pictures and rich apparel, shall, in a short time, belong no more to me;”and only the grave remaineth for me.”

6. But how much soever the worldling may be distracted by his worldly affairs and by his pleasures how much soever he may be entangled in them, St. Chrysostom says, that when the fear of death, which sets fire to all things of the present life, begins to enter the soul, it will compel him to think and to be solicitous about his lot after death. “Cum pulsare animam incipit metus mortis (ignis instar præsentis vitæ omnia succendens) philosophari eam cogit, et futura solicita mente versari.” (Serm. in 2 Tim.) Alas! at the hour of death “the eyes of the blind shall be opened.” (Is xxxv. 5.)

Then indeed shall he opened the eyes of those blind worldlings who have employed their whole life in acquiring earthly goods, and have paid but little attention to the interests of the soul. In all these shall be verified what Jesus Christ has told them that death shall come when they least expect it. ”At what hour you think not the Son of Man will come.” (Luke xii. 40.)

Thus, on these unhappy men death comes unexpectedly. Hence, because the lovers of the world are not usually warned of their approaching dissolution till it is very near, they must, in the last few days of life, adjust the accounts of their soul for the fifty or sixty years which they lived on this earth. They will then desire another month, or another week, to settle their accounts or to tranquillize their conscience. But”they will seek for peace, and there shall he none.” (Ezec. vii. 25.)

The time which they desire is refused. The assistant priest reads the divine command to depart instantly from this world. ”Proficiscere, anima Christian! de hoc mundo. ”“Depart, Christian soul, from this world.” Oh! how dangerous the entrance of worldlings into eternity, dying, as they do, amid so much darkness and confusion, in consequence of the disorderly state of the accounts of their souls.

7. ”Weight and balance are the judgments of the Lord.” (Prov. xvi. 11.) At the tribunal of God, nobility, dignities, and riches have no weight; two things only our bins, and the graces bestowed on us by God make the scales ascend or descend. They who shall be found faithful in corresponding with the lights and calls which they have received, shall be rewarded; and they who shall be found unfaithful, shall be condemned.

We do not keep an account of God’s graces; but the Lord keeps an account of them; he measures them; and when he sees them despised to a certain degree, he leaves the soul in her sins, and takes her out of life in that miserable state. ”For what things a man shall sow those also shall he reap.” (Gal. vi. 8.) From labours undertaken for the attainment of posts of honour and emolument, for the acquisition of property and of worldly applause, we reap nothing at the hour of death: all are then lost. We gather fruits of eternal life only from works performed, and tribulations suffered for God.

8. Hence, St. Paul exhorts us to attend to our own business. “But we must entreat you, brethren…. that you do your own business.” (1 Thess. iv. 10, 11.) Of what business, I ask, does the Apostle speak? Is it of acquiring riches, or a great name in the world? No; he speaks of the business of the soul, of which Jesus Christ spoke, when he said: “Trade till I come.” (Luke xix. 13.) The business for which the Lord has placed, and for which he keeps us on this earth, is to save our souls, and by good works to gain eternal life. This is the end for which we have been created. ”And the end eternal life.” (Rom. vi. 22.)

The business of the soul is for us not only the most important, but also the principal and only affair; for, if the soul be saved, all is safe; but if the soul be lost, all is lost. Hence, we ought, as the Scripture says, to strive for the salvation of our souls, and to combat to death for justice that is, for the observance of the divine law. ”Strive for justice for thy soul, and even unto death fight for justice.” (Eccl. iv. 33.) The business which our Saviour recommends to us, saying: Trade till I come, is, to have always before our eyes the day on which he shall come to demand an account of our whole life. Page 184 of 233

9. All things in this world acquisitions, applause, grandeur must, as we have said, all end, and end very soon. ”The fashion of this world passeth away.” (1 Cor. vii. 31.) The scene of this life passes away; happy they who, in this scene, act their part well, and save their souls, preferring the eternal interests of the soul to all the temporal interests of the body. ”He that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.” (John xii. 26.)

Worldlings say: Happy the man who hoards up money! happy they who acquire the esteem of the world, and enjoy the pleasures of this life! folly! Happy he who loves God and saves his soul! The salvation of his soul was the only favour which king David asked of God. ”One thing have I asked of the Lord, this will I seek after.” (Ps. xxvi. 4.) And St. Paul said, that to acquire the grace of Jesus Christ which contains eternal life, he despised as dung all worldly goods. ”I count all things as loss and I count them as dung, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil, iii. 8.)

10. But certain fathers of families will say: I do not labour so much for myself as for my children, whom I wish to leave in comfortable circumstances. But I answer: If you dissipate the goods which you possess, and leave your children in poverty, you do wrong, and are guilty of sin. But will you lose your soul in order to leave your children comfortable? If you fall into hell, perhaps they will come and release you from it? O folly! Listen to what David said: ”I have not seen the just man forsaken, nor his seed seeking bread.” (Ps. xxxvi. 25.)

Attend to the service of God; act according to justice; the Lord will provide for the wants of your children; and you shall save your souls, and shall lay up that eternal treasure of happiness which can never be taken from you a treasure not like earthly possessions, of which you may be deprived by robbers, and which you shall certainly lose at death. This is the advice which the Lord gives you: ”But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor the moth doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matt. vi. 20.)

In conclusion, attend to the beautiful admonition which St. Gregory gives to all who wish to live well and to gain eternal life. ”Sit nobis in intentione æternitas, in usu temporalitas.” Let the end of all our actions in this life be, the acquisition of eternal goods; and let us use temporal things only to preserve life for the little time we have to remain on this earth. The saint continues: ”Sicut nulla est proportio inter æternitatem et nostræ vitæ tempus, ita nulla debet esse proportio inter æternitatis, et hujus, vitæ curas.”

As there is an infinite distance between eternity and the time of our life, so there ought to be, according to our mode of understanding, an infinite distance between the attention which we should pay to the goods of eternity, which shall be enjoyed for ever, and the care we take of the goods of this life, which death shall soon take away from us

The Glories Of Mary – Part 4

The Glories Of Mary

by ST. ALPHONSUS LIGUORI

SECTION IV
MARY IS ALSO MOTHER OF PENITENT SINNERS.

MARY assured St. Bridget tbat she was mother not only of the just and innocent, but also of sinners, provided they wish to amend. When a sinner becomes penitent, and throws himself at her feet, he finds this good mother of mercy more ready to embrace and aid him than any earthly mother could be. This St. Gregory wrote to the princess Matilda: Desire to cease from sin, and I confidently promise you you will find Mary more prompt than an earthly mother in thy behalf.” But whoever aspires to be the son of this great mother, must first leave off sinning, and then let him hope to be accepted as her son. Richard, commenting upon the words, “Then rose up her children, ” remarks, that first comes the word rose up, surrexerunt, and then children, jilii; because he cannot be a son of Mary who does not first rise from the iniquity into which he has fallen.

For, says St. Peter Chrysologus, he who does works contrary to those of Mary, by such conduct denies that he wishes to be her son. Mary is humble, and will he be proud? Mary is pure, and will he be impure? Mary is full of love, and will he hate his neighbor? He proves that he is not, and does not wish to be the son of this holy mother, when he so much disgusts her with his life. The sons of Mary, repeats Richard of St. Laurence, are her imitators in chastity, humility, meekness, mercy. And how can he who so much disgusts her with his life, dare to call himself the son of Mary? A certain sinner once said to Mary, “Show thyself a mother;” but the Virgin answered him, “Show thyself a son.” Another, one day, invoked this divine mother, calling her mother of mercy. But Mary said to him, “When you sinners wish me to aid you, you call me mother of mercy, and yet by your sins make me the mother of misery and grief.” “He is cursed of God that angereth his mother.” His mother that is, Mary, remarks Richard. God curses every one who afflicts this his good mother, by his bad life or his wilfulness.

I have said wilfulness, for when a sinner, although he may not have left his sins, makes an effort to quit them, and seeks the aid of Mary, this mother will not fail to assist him, and bring him to the grace of God. This St. Bridget once learned from Jesus Christ himself, who, speaking with his mother, said: “Thou dost aid those who are striving to rise to God, and dost leave no soul without thy consolation.” While the sinner, then, is obstinate, Mary cannot love him; but if he finds himself enchained by some passion which makes him a slave of hell, and will commend himself to the Virgin, and implore her with confidence and perseverance to rescue him from his sin, this good mother will not fail to extend her powerful hand, she will loose his chains, and bring him to a state of safety. It is a heresy, condemned by the sacred Council of Trent, to say that all the prayers and works of a person in a state of sin are sins.

St. Bernard says that prayer is the mouth of a sinner, although it is without supernatural excellence, since it is not accompanied by charity, yet is useful and efficient in obtaining a release from sin; for, as St. Thomas teaches,f the prayer of the sinner is indeed without merit, but it serves to obtain the grace of pardon; for the power of obtaining it is based not upon the worth of him who prays, but upon the divine bounty, and upon the merits and promise of Jesus Christ, who has said, “Every one that asketh receiveth.” The same may be said of the prayers offered to the divine mother. If he who prays, says St. Anselm, does not deserve to be heard, the merits of Mary, to whom he commends himself, will cause him to be heard. Hence St. Bernard exhorts every sinner to pray to Mary, and to feel great confidence in praying to her; because if he does not deserve what he demands, yet Mary obtains for him, by her merits, the graces which she asks of God for him. The office of a good mother, says the same saint, is this: if a mother knew that her two sons were deadly enemies, and that one was plotting against the life of the other, what would she do but endeavor in every way to pacify him ?

Thus, says the saint, Mary is mother of Jesus, and mother of man; when she sees any one by his sin an enemy of Jesus Christ, she can not endure it, and makes every effort to reconcile them. Our most indulgent lady only requires the sinner to commend himself to her, and have the intention to reform. When she sees a sinner coming to implore mercy at her feet, she does not regard the sins with which he is laden, but the intention with which he comes. If he comes with a good intention, though he have committed all the sins in the world, she embraces him, and this most loving mother condescends to heal all the wounds of his soul; for she is not only called by us the mother of mercy, but she really is such, and shows herself such by the love and tenderness with which she succors us. The blessed Virgin herself expressed all this to St. Bridget, when she said to her, However great may be a man s sins, when he turns to me, I am immediately ready to receive him; neither do I consider bow much he has sinned, but with what intention he comes; for I do not disdain to anoint and heal his wounds, because I am called, and truly am, the mother of mercy.

Mary is the mother of sinners who desire to be converted, and as a mother she cannot but compassionate them, and it even seems that she regards the woes of her poor children as her own. When the woman of Chanaan implored Jesus Christ to liberate her daughter from the demon which tormented her, she said: “Have mercy on me, oh Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil.”f But as the daughter, not the mother, was tormented by the devil, it would seem that she should have said, “Oh Lord, have mercy on my daughter,” not “have mercy upon me ;” but no, she said: ” Have mercy upon me,”and with reason, for all the miseries of children are felt as their own by their mothers. Exactly thus Mary prays God, says Richard of St. Laurence, when she commends to him a sinner who has recommended himself to her “Have mercy upon me.”

It is as if she said to him, My Lord, this poor creature, who is in sin, is my child; have pity on him, not so much on him as on me who am his mother. Oh, would to God that all sinners would have recourse to this sweet mother, for all would certainly be pardoned by God. Oh Mary, exclaims St. Bouaventure, in wonder; thou dost embrace, with maternal affection the sinner who is despised by the whole world! neither dost thou leave him until he is reconciled to his Judgelf The saint here intends to say that the sinner who remains in sin is hated and rejected by all men; even insensible creatures, fire, air, the earth would punish him, and inflict vengeance upon him in order to repair the honor of their insulted Lord. But if this wretch has recourse to Mary, does she banish him from her presence? No: if he comes asking for help, and intending to amend, she embraces him with the affection of a mother, and does not leave him until she has reconciled him to God by her powerful intercession, and re-established him in his grace.

We read in the 2d book of Kings, that the wise woman of Thecua said to David: “My Lord, I had two sons, and for my misfortune one has killed the other; so that I have already lost a child; justice would now take from me my other and only son; have pity on me a poor mother, and do not let me be deprived of both my children.” Then David had compassion on this mother, and liberated the criminal, and restored him to her. It appears that Mary offers the same petition when God is angry with a sinner, who has recourse to her: Oh my God, she says to him, I had two sons, Jesus and man; man has killed my Jesus on the cross; thy justice would now condemn man; my Lord, my Jesus is dead; have mercy upon me, and if I have lost one, do not condemn me to lose the other also. Ah, God assuredly does not condemn those sinners who have recourse to Mary, and for whom she prays; since God himself has given these sinners to Mary for her children.

The devout Lanspergius puts these words into the mouth of our Lord: I have commended sinners to Mary as her children. Wherefore she is so watchful in the performance of her office that she permits none to be lost who are committed to her care, especially those who invoke her, and uses all her power to lead them back to me. And who can describe, says Blosius, the goodness, the mercy, the fidelity, and the charity with which this our mother strives to save us, when we invoke her aid? Let us prostrate ourselves, then, says St. Bernard, before this good mother, let us cling to her sacred feet, and leave her not until she gives us her blessing, and accepts us for her children. Who could distrust the goodness of this mother? said St. Bonaventure.

Though she should slay me, I will hope in her; and, confident in my trust, I would die near her image, and be saved. And thus should every sinner say who has recourse to this kind mother: Oh my Lady and mother, I deserve for my faults that thou shouldst banish me from thy presence, and shouldst punish me for my sins; but even if thou shouldst cast me off and slay me, I shall never lose confidence in thee and in thy power to save me. In thee I entirely confide, and if it be my fate to die before some image of thine, re commending myself to thy compassion, I should have a certain hope of my salvation, and of going to praise thee in heaven, united to all thy servants who called upon thee for aid in death, and are saved. Let the following example be read, and let the reader judge if any sinner can distrust the mercy and love of this good mother, if he has recourse to her.

EXAMPLE

It is narrated by Belluacensis that in Ridolio, a city of England, in the year 1430, there lived a young nobleman named Ernest, who gave all his patrimony to the poor, and entered a monastery, where he led so holy a life that he was greatly esteemed by his superiors, particularly for his special devotion to the most holy Virgin. It happened that a pestilence prevailed in that city and the citizens had recourse to that monastery to ask the prayers of the monks. The abbot ordered Ernest to go and pray before the altar of Mary, and not to quit it until she had given him an answer. The youth remained there three days, and received from Mary, in answer, some prayers, which were to be said. They were said, and the plague ceased. It happened afterwards that this youth became less ardent in his devotion to Mary; the devil assailed him with many temptations, especially to impurity, and to a desire to flee from the monastery; and having neglected to recommend himself to Mary, he resolved to take flight by casting himself from the wall of the monastery; but passing before an image of the Virgin which stood in the corridor, the mother of God spoke to him, and said: “My son, why do you leave me?”

Ernest was overwhelmed with surprise, and, filled with compunction, fell on the earth, saying: “My Lady, behold, I have no power to resist, why do you not aid me?” and the Madonna replied: “Why have you not invoked me? If you had sought my protection, you would not have been reduced to this; from this day commend yourself to me, and have confidence.” Ernest returned to his cell ; but the temptations were renewed, yet he neglected to call upon Mary for assistance. He finally fled from the monastery, and leading a bad life, he went on from one sin to another, till he became an assassin. He rented an inn, where in the night he murdered unfortunate travellers and stripped them of all they had. Pne night, among others, he killed the cousin of the governor of the place, who, after examination and trial, condemned him to the gallows. But during the examination, a young traveller arrived at the inn, and the host, as usual, laid his plans and entered his chamber to assassinate him: but on approaching the bed, he finds the young man gone and a Christ on the cross, covered with wounds, in his place. Our Lord, looking compassionately at him, said: “Is it not enough that I have died once for thee? Dost thou wish to slay me again? Do it, then; lift thy hand and kill me!”

Then the poor Ernest, covered with confusion, began to weep, and exclaimed: “Oh Lord, behold me ready to return to thee, who hast shown me so much mercy.” He immediately left the inn to go back to the monastery and do penance; but the officers of justice overtook him on the way, he was carried before the judge, and in his pres ence confessed all the murders he had com mitted. He was at once condemned to death, without even being allowed time for confession. He commended himself to Mary. He was hung upon the gallows, but the Virgin prevented his death. She herself released him, and said to him: “Return to the monastery; do penance; and when you shall see in my hand a paper containing the pardon of thy sins, then prepare to die. Ernest returned, and having related all to the abbot, did great penance. After many years, he saw in the hand of Mary the paper containing his pardon; he then prepared for his last end, and died a holy death.

PRAYER

Oh Mary, sovereign queen, and worthy mother of my God, most holy Mary! Finding myself so vile, so laden with sin, I dare not approach thee and call thee mother. But I cannot let my miseries deprive me of the consolation and con fidence I feel in calling thee mother. I know that I deserve to be rejected by thee, but I pray thee to consider what thy son Jesus has done and suffered for me; and then cast me from thee if thou canst. I am a poor sinner, who, more than others, have despised the divine Majesty; but the evil is already done. To thee I have recourse: thou canst help me; oh, my mother, help me. Do not say that thou canst not aid me, for I know that thou art omnipotent, and dost obtain whatever thou desireth from thy God. If then thou sayest that thou canst not help me, at least tell me to whom I must have recourse for succor in my deep distress. With St. Anselra, 1 will say to thee, and to thy Son : Have pity on me, oh thou, my Redeemer, and pardon me, thou my mother, and recommend me to pardon; or teach me to whom I may have recourse, who is more compassionate than you, and in whom I may have more confidence. No, neither in heaven nor on earth can I find one who has more compassion for the miserable, or who can aid me more than you. Thou, oh Jesus, art my father, and thou, oh Mary, art my mother. You love those who are the most wretched, and you seek to save them. I am worthy of hell, and of all beings the most miserable; you need not to seek me, neither do I ask you to seek me; I present my self to you with a sure hope that I shall not be abandoned by you. Behold me at your feet; my Jesus, pardon me; my Mary, help me.

Leading the little ones

I wanted to share an excerpt from a book by Étienne Gilson.  He was a  French philosopher and historian of philosophy. A scholar of medieval philosophy and one of the best Thomist you could ever hope to learn under.  The section that I am quoting is from his book “The Philosopher And Theology” and it is his thoughts on the changes of the Catechism in France From 1885 – 1949.

…It must be said, moreover, that a change had taken place in the teaching of religion, in France at least, and this change was bound to bring about such accidents. What took place at the time can be summed up by saying that modern theologians were stressing more and more the importance of philosophy. Whereas the theologians of the middle ages, following the tradition of the Fathers of the Church, had often denounced the shortcomings of philosophy, their modern successors tended to insist on its necessity. But more about this later.

My present point is that to the extent that theol­ogy philosophizes, philosophy feels invited to theologize. Now for reasons tied up with the general mentality of our times, the teaching of religious knowledge had tended, and is still tending, to make a maximum use of philosophical reasoning in apologetics. The fact can be confirmed by what has happened to the teaching of the catechism in French parishes between 1900 and 1950. In 1900 French children learned their catechism; they knew it by heart and never forgot it thereafter. Priests were not then as much concerned as they are today about what the children really understood of the cate­chism.

They were taught with a view to the future, to the time when they would be old enough to understand it. To this day, when any hesitation on the true teaching of the Church on a certain point of doctrine occurs to someone so instructed, he always knows to what chapter in his catechism he should turn for an answer. Charles Peguy is a striking example of a French Christian whose religion always remained that of his catechism. It was nothing less and, let us not forget, nothing more. The pastor of the parish church of Saint Aignan in Orleans did a very good job of it. He simply gave Peguy to the Church.

The catechism then taught was admirable in its precision and conciseness. But things have become different. This capsule theology contained all that was required to meet the needs of a whole life. Yielding to the illusion that it was democratic to treat citizens as morons, they brought the catechism down to the level of the masses instead of raising the masses to its level. Hence the low-calorie diet that children are today fed under the name of catechism. Such a practice forgets that the catechism they are taught as children must serve them well beyond their early years.

For nine out of ten among them, the religious truth they learn from their first catechism will have to do for the rest of their lives. It should be a substantial food. One never knows whether there is not a future Charles Peguy among the children in a catechism class. One of them may be a Little Flower, a future Doctor of the Church. It is not exaggeration to say that instruction in the catechism is the most important teaching a Christian will ever receive throughout his life, however long or learned it may be. This instruction should therefore carry from the very beginning the maximum of religious knowledge it is able to bear.

The catechism of my youth aimed at nothing else. Knowing that the Christian lives by faith, and anxious to start the child as early as possible on the road to salvation, a concern that is the proper object of religious teaching, our catechism at once placed in our hands the truth of faith, the only truth that saves. This teaching was very far from belittling the resources of reason, but reason always came second after faith, the only knowledge that reaches the God of religion, the God Who saves. It is true that reason can demonstrate there is a God, but when Aristotle for the first time demonstrated the existence of a First Unmoved Mover, he had not yet taken a single step on the path to salvation.

All the philosophical demonstrations of God put together will never yield an atom of faith, and since “without faith it is impossible to please God,” no certitude coming from my own reason can replace my assent to the truth of revelation. When God tells me of His own existence and bids me to believe His word, He is offering me a share in the knowledge that He has of Himself. This is more than a matter of information; it is an invitation.

The act of faith accepts this invitation, and that is why such an act is properly a religious one, constituting by its very essence an assent to the supernatural and divine truth of which faith is in man a finite but real participation, the beginning of the possession of God’s eternal beatitude. Reason is enough for man to know there is a God, but faith is necessary for man to ap­proach God. Besides this is the formal teaching of Scripture (Heb. 11:6): Accedentem ad Deum oportet credere quia est, et quod inquirentibus se, remunerator sit: For he that cometh to God, must believe that He is: and is a rewarder to them that seek Him. To let the God of the philosophers and of the scholars take precedence over the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is to effect a substitution whose consequences can be all the more serious because it takes place in minds that may well never become those of scholars and philosophers.

What Scripture teaches is also what the old catechism used to teach. As an instance of this I shall quote the Catechism of the Diocese of Meaux, in its edition of 1885:

What is the first truth we must believe?
The first truth we must believe is that there is a God and
there can be only one.
Why do you believe that there is a God? I believe that there is a God because He Himself has re­vealed His existence to us.
Does not reason likewise tell you also that there is a God? Yes, reason tells us there is a God because, if there were no God, heaven and earth would not exist.

Let us keep in mind these clear-cut and straightforward positions. Credo in unum Deum: the existence of God is here given as an object of faith included in the first article of the Apostles’ Creed; it is an object of faith inasmuch as it was revealed by the word of God Himself in Scripture.

Lastly, following on this point the teaching of Saint Paul (Rom. 1:20), the catechism adds that reason likewise says there is a God, cause of the existence of heaven and earth. Such are, in their terms and sequence, the three fundamental questions and answers that used to be taught to a child by cate­chism at its elementary level.

The children of this child, now grown up, have been taught perceptibly different things. In the catechism published in 1923 for the Diocese of Paris, a long article of five questions is devoted to the existence of God. Instead of asking first why we must believe there is a God, and answering that we believe it on the strength of His own word, this later catechism asks whether we are able “to know God with certainty.” The answer is, yes, “since all creatures prove to us His existence.” Indeed, creatures can be causes neither of their existence nor of their order. Hence a creator was necessary to give them their being, and to establish them in harmony.

Another argument is drawn from moral con­science, which supposes a master prescribing good and forbidding evil. A third reason can be found in universal consent, for “at all times and in all places people have believed in the existence of God.” At the end, the catechism asks whether God has Himself manifested His existence. Answer: “Yes, God Himself has manifested His existence when He revealed Himself to the first human beings, to Moses and to the prophets, and especially in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.”

The doctrine remains the same, the order has become different. The God of rational knowledge, Whose exist­ence can be attained by various philosophical ways, is now taking precedence over the God of revelation. In the old days, we first believed that God Himself had spoken to us and then we went on to assure ourselves rationally that indeed there is a God; in 1923, the first thing we did was to make sure that the existence of God can be known “with certainty” by diverse arguments drawn from reason alone: only then did we appeal to God’s own testimony.

We even went a step further. In the catechism of 1923, the act of faith in the word of God appeared perhaps a bit late, but it did come in the end; it does not enter at all, even at the end, in the elementary catechism French children are taught today. True, the Illustrated Elementary Catechism published in Tours in 1949 begins by affirming: “I believe in God”; but it presently gives the reason for this belief, and the reason is not that God Himself has revealed us His existence, that is, His own personal existence; no, “I believe in God because nothing can make itself.”

What a decline since the catechism of 1885! If it is because nothing can cause itself to be that we believe in God’s existence, then we do not believe it, we know it. Ex nihilo nihil is not an object of faith but a philo­sophical proposition. It even is a proposition borrowed from Lucretius, an Epicurean materialist who directly inferred from it that nothing could be created or annihilated, so much so that the world has always existed and always will. To extract a proof of the existence of God from the negation of the very possibility of creation, it is necessary to introduce a supplementary notion between the principle and the conclusion. There is one indeed and it is that the world has been made. 

Assuredly, if one agrees that the world has been made, only God could have made it, but it is not immediately evident that the world has been made; it is a philosophical conclusion to be demonstrated and the demonstration of creation is possible only on the basis of a certain notion of the existence and the nature of God which requires a prior philosophical discussion. In the Summa Contra Gentiles of Thomas Aquinas, the proof of the existence of God comes in Book I, that of the creation of the world follows later in Book II. At any rate, the implications of the problem are becoming rather complicated for young children to unravel.

Let us return to our “illustrated” catechism. When we decide to appeal to reason before appealing to faith, we should not put under the eyes of children a set of images attended by commentaries. Here is a house. Did the house make itself? No. Did this locomotive, this airplane, and this watch make themselves? No, and the answer is correct; but the catechism goes on to say: “The heavens and the stars, the sea with its fishes, the earth with its mountains, its fields, its meadows, its trees, its flowers, its animals cannot have made them­selves.” And, to repeat, this also is true, with this reser­vation, however, that they have not made themselves if they have been made. Since the catechism adds the precision that “in the beginning there was nothing,” what is at stake is really the creation of the world, the production of its whole substance and existence.

But then the problem is entirely different from that of the building of a house by an architect, a contractor, and a more or less large number of workmen. Images showing man-fabricated products such as a watch, an engine, or an airplane, are liable to be misleading when the creation of the world ex nihilo is at stake. Is there not some danger in getting the child used to thinking that he is in possession of an unshakable rational evidence when, in fact, his conclusion rests upon a pseudophilo-sophical and worthless argument? To be sure, the crea­tion of the world by God can be philosophically demon­strated; Thomas Aquinas has effectively demonstrated it, but his demonstration has little to do with the making of clocks or the building of houses, and there is really little hope that we can make children understand the meaning of his demonstrations.

I would not waste time in justifying my remarks if I did not know quite well how they will be construed. Some theologians find it hard to distinguish between the abstract order of doctrinal definition and the empirical order of psychological life. Unlike their master Saint Thomas Aquinas, they do not distinguish between the proposition: there are rational demonstrations of the existence of God, and the quite different proposition: all men, in all ages and under all conditions, are able to understand philosophical demonstrations of the existence of God. This is the proper time to remember the wise remark made by Gabriel Marcel, that the less one stands in need of proofs of the existence of God the easier it is for him to find them.

The order to be followed in the religious education of the child is of paramount importance here. Let us leave aside the problem of knowing whether the philosophical God demonstrated by reason is identically the religious God of salvation in Whom Christians believe. It is still a fact, according to Thomas Aquinas himself, that the certitude of faith, which rests on the infallibility of God, is more unshakable than the evidence of the first principles of human reason. If I believe in the existence of God noth­ing untoward will happen on the day when some un­believer will question the validity of my proofs.

My religious life is not founded on the conclusions of any philosopher: fundatus sum supra firmam petram. But if I have first been taught to hold that God exists on the strength of demonstrative reasoning, and only later to believe it, it is to be feared that the reverse will happen. To believe and to believe that one knows are two entirely different things. In the second case, faith seems easy as long as it plays no other part than to support knowledge; but if knowledge loses confidence in itself, then a faith of this sort is liable to be swept away with it. The man who thinks he knows that God exists and then realizes that he no longer knows it also realizes that he no longer believes it.

It is both possible and legitimate to appeal to the common belief in the existence of God natural to mankind. But this is a mere fact; it is neither a matter of religious faith nor a philosophical argument. If we wish to convince the human reason, we should not be willing to offer it metaphysical trash. Should it be objected that metaphysics is too difficult for children, no one will deny it. Metaphysics is difficult for everyone, and this precisely is the reason why, according to Saint Thomas, it was necessary that even the naturally knowable truths required for salvation should be revealed.

It was, Saint Thomas says, necessarium. Among theologians, those who consider themselves better “Thomists” than Saint Thomas think it advisable to specify that this is only morally necessary: moraliter necessarium. Granted, but though of a different order, moral necessity is no less necessary than metaphysical necessity.

Thomas Aquinas saw no point in introducing the distinction. In his own perspective, which is that of the salvation of mankind in general, the distinction is vain. The will of God was not to make human salvation possible in theory only, but in practice as well. From this point of view, little would have been gained by making such a demonstrative truth theoretically accessible to men if, in fact, an exceedingly small number of them would have been able to understand the demonstration.

How many? Paucissimi, says Saint Thomas. Hence the advice given by him to each and every one, young and not so young, to receive the truth of God through faith pending the time they will be able to understand it. This was very wise, but it was in the thirteenth century. It would seem that since then we have discovered the art of turning out ten-year-old metaphysicians.

I owe it to the priests who taught me my religion to say that they never watered it down with pseudophi-losophy: “I believe in God because He Himself has revealed His existence to us.” When they read these words again sixty years later, those who learned to recite them by heart at the time of their youth experience the pleasant feeling of a homecoming.

Every one of those truths is as true today as it ever was, and of the same truth. I never had to unlearn a single line of this catechism of 1885, so solid, so full, so firmly grounded in a faith that was friendly to intelligence but aware of being higher in dignity; more important still, I never found in it any occasion of doubt. Let us hope that the Christians of the future will be in a position to say the same thing of the catechism they are learning today.

This tendency to stress the importance of reason is more easily understood when its origin is known. The end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth have witnessed the rise of a particular kind of apologetics and one that was quite new when compared with its predecessors. It was a reaction against the traditionalism of the nineteenth century, itself an answer to the anti-religious philosophism of the eighteenth. In his article “Eclecticism” in the Encyclopedia, Diderot had set the tone for the freethinkers of the future. His hero was the man who, “trampling on prejudices, tradition, antiquity, universal consent, authority, in short all that which subjugates the common mind, dares to think by himself.”

Bending before the violence of the attack, many Christians then made the mistake of fighting on the battleground chosen by their adversaries. These had set up reason against faith and religion; therefore, so they thought, reason was their enemy. They could think of no better rejoinder than, in turn, to pitch faith and revelation against reason. Since one had to choose between being a philosopher and being a Christian, one would choose being a Christian against the philosophers. Thus were born a variety of doctrines, linked together by this common spirit of reaction against philosophical reason. Such were those of De Bonald, La Mennais, Bonnetty, Bautain, and others. The most representative among them was the eloquent and popular Theatine preacher Ventura de Raulica.

This Italian monk, who preached in French with convincing zeal, gave in 1851 a series of sermons entitled Philosophical Reason and Catholic Reason. The title alone says enough. Grounded on faith and tradition, “Catholic reason” is good. On the contrary, philosophical reason is evil because it considers itself “by that which it is and can naturally do, without the assistance of a reason other and higher than itself, as able to acquire by reasoning all essential truths, either speculative or ethical.” To the philosophical reason of ancient times “abject in its origin, absurd in its method, unhappy in its results, evil in its consequences,” the eloquent Theatine opposed “Catholic reason, which alone is fortunate enough to avoid error, to possess truth, because it is based first and foremost on the teaching and the doctrines of Jesus Christ.”

It is in the perspective of such traditionalisms, almost all of which have been censured in Rome, that we should read the decision of the Vatican Council on the possibility of knowing the existence of God by the sole light of the natural reason. At that very moment, the pendulum began again to swing in the opposite direction. In his collected sermons of 1851, Ventura de Raulica had quoted in support of his own opinions a rather curious letter addressed by the Bishop of Montauban to Augustin Bonnetty, director of the Annales de philosophie chretienne. Among other things, the Bishop said: “We are granting to reason more than its due if we attribute to it the knowledge of God by way of demonstration.” The Vatican Council, in other words, restored to the natural reason its proper rights and solemnly confirmed its power to attain a rationally demonstrated knowledge of God.

This was the history of a generation prior to ours and, in the time of our youth, we knew nothing of it. Hence our surprise to find ourselves confronted, within the Church, with a school of philosophers for whose existence we could not in any way account. We did not know that they represented a rationalist reaction against the answer of traditionalism to the challenge of eighteenth-century philosophism. Naturally we were astonished to meet Christian teachers who made it a point not to believe in the existence of God or in any conclusion of natural theology demonstrable by the light of human reason such as those that theologians, with Thomas Aquinas, call “preambles to faith.” Thus, in the face of all that which the traditionalists had considered inaccessible to reason unaided by revelation and faith, this new school of theologians maintained, on the contrary, not only that the reason is by itself capable of knowing it, but even that we cannot know it in any other way.

This attitude was all the more bewildering because essentially religious motives were at its origin. It was a sort of apologetic rationalism. In those early years of the twentieth century, when science was supreme and nothing was respected that was not strictly scientific, it is understandable that zealous priests should have resented the discredit in which Catholic writings were held by so many unbelievers. By setting faith aside, they were hoping to attract the attention and gain the respect of the non-Catholic scientists and philosophers. The history of their endeavor to sever philosophy from theology has not yet been studied as it deserves to be. Not that they wanted to achieve this separation as the Averroists of the thirteenth century had done, by despairing of bridging the gap between their philosophy and their religion; on the contrary, it was their ambition to show forth the perfect agreement spontaneously achieved between religion and philosophy by a reason that was wholly independent of faith.

These masters were justified in stressing the power of the natural reason to know such truths as the existence of God, His oneness, and the like, without resorting to the light of revelation. It is more difficult to understand why, following the pendulum to the end of its swing, they deemed it necessary to posit as impossible an act of religious faith in the existence of God. Still, this is precisely what they did. In 1925, in the seventh edition of an elementary treatise on philosophy for use in Catholic schools, one could read this remarkable proposition: “The existence of God cannot be the object of an act of divine faith.” One could well be surprised. The Vatican Council had taught that the reason was capable of knowing by itself and with certainty that God exists, that is to say, of demonstrating His existence. But that Council did not forbid belief in the existence of God nor did it declare that such an act of faith was impossible.

The incident was in itself of no importance. It deserves to be mentioned here only because it is witness to a state of mind that was rather widespread in those days and that has not completely disappeared in our own day. Such a state of mind suggests that men should be taught the proofs of the existence of God rather than be invited to take at their face value the words of their daily prayers: “I believe in God, Father almighty . . .” For indeed how could they believe in Him without believing that He exists? It is not difficult for us to see how these diverse attitudes are linked together when we read in the same philosophy textbook written for Catholic schools that at first revelation was “morally necessary” to mankind to preserve its patrimony of speculative and moral truths, but that it is not “physically” necessary, all the more so as to believe in some of these revealed tenets has become impossible. Here are young Christians convinced that, even if they wanted to do so, they could not believe in the existence of God. Were it not for the priceless aptitude of students not to take seriously everything that their professors say, one would feel frightened at the thought that such opinions could have been conceived, written, and taught in some Christian schools at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The most remarkable aspect about this doctrine is that it did not provoke any protestations….