ND   Essays / by Robert Hugh Benson


By Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson

A MAN'S religion is, in its essence, that system of faith and morals by which he believes that he can enter and remain in right relations with God. In a description therefore of any religion in particular, three main points must be eminent: (1) the account given of God by that religion -- His Being, His Nature, His Action; (2) the account given of man -- his being, his origin, his nature, his final end; (3) the system by which it is hoped to bring about and to sustain right relations between God and man. It is along these three main lines, therefore, that the following pages will run. They will close with a few detached paragraphs on particular points that cannot well be dealt with in the course of the sustained exposition.


The account given, by the Catholic Religion, of God is capable of literally endless expansion, since Infinity is the first thing predicated of Him. Every word or epithet, therefore, applied to God, is only applicable to Him in an analogical or derived sense. When He is called "Just" or "Holy," He is so called since no better words are at our disposal; yet no word so applied to Him signifies exactly the same as when applied to man, since man is finite and God Infinite.

The Being of God. -- First, then, it is believed by Catholics that God is Eternal, that He has had no beginning and will have no end, that He is in Himself immutable, knowing no progress since He has always been Himself final and ultimate Perfection. His "essential glory" then can have no addition or diminution; it is His "accidental glory" only to which created wills can minister. He alone subsists of Himself; all else exists only by Him. He is "Personal," yet without the limitations associated with that idea.

In the Divine Nature, however, there are Three "Persons," all co-eternal and co-equal; and the names by which they are known to man are "Father," "Son," and "Holy Ghost." There is no inferiority between them, as the "Arian" heresy maintained; neither are they merely three various Actions or Aspects, as the "Sabellians" taught. They are distinct one from the other; yet they are one. A far-off analogy is sometimes used with regard to this "Mystery of the Blessed Trinity" -- by which the union and yet the distinctness of the Memory, the Will, and the Understanding in man is thought to bear a certain resemblance to the relations of the Three Persons in the One God. Another suggestive analogy is the consideration of the three things necessary to any action or any agent. There must be the Agent, the Action, and the Acting: the Lover, the Beloved, and the Loving; and a further suggestion as to the value of this analogy is to be found in the Christian term "The Eternal Word" as applied to the Second Person. Under this aspect it may be said that the "Father" is the Originator and Source, the "Son" the Word eternally uttered or "generated" by Him, and the "Holy Ghost" the personal Link between the two, "proceeding from both." Yet it must be remembered that each is a "Person," and each is equal to each; -- in other words, that no analogy is exhaustive, or even perfect so far as it goes.

Finally, it must be said that every epithet and attribute that predicates goodness or beauty or truth can be applied fully and infinitely and ultimately to God alone. "There is none good save God." All other persons and things are "good" only in proportion as they approach the Perfection of the Divine Will.

The Creation. -- So far the outline of God-in-Himself only has been considered -- the outline, that is, which Catholic Dogmatic Theology lays down as revealed. Beyond that outline -- beyond, that is to say, the numerous dogmas that further develop and safeguard the main Facts which Catholics claim have been revealed by God Himself -- there remains a literally infinite field for speculation, beyond even those points on which theologians have disputed in the past. The knowledge of God in its entirety, so far as that is open to creatures, is only possible in the "Beatific Vision" Itself The next point, then, to consider, is the manner in which Catholics believe the universe to have come into existence.

The word used by the Church is Creation, by which she intends deliberately to rule out either that the Universe is a kind of emanation from God in such a sense that the word "Divine" can be applied to its nature; or that it has existed co-eternally along with God. She further explains her meaning by adding that God created all things that are or have been, out of nothing. It was in no sense by a necessity of His Being that He created the Universe; neither was it by any kind of evolution from Himself that it came to exist. He created all things out of nothing by a free act of His own Sovereign Will. And if it be asked, Why did He so create? it can only be answered, humanwise, that He saw that more "good" -- more, that is, to His own "accidental" glory -- would be the result than if He had not so acted. His Foreknowledge is perfect; yet it must be remembered also that the Catholic Church entirely denies Calvinistic teaching to the effect that that Foreknowledge constrains any will that He has created free. The situation may be tolerably summed up by saying, God foreordained because He foreknew; He did not foreknow because He foreordained.

Now this Act of God, called Creation, first brought into being an unknown number of beings purely spiritual, like God Himself. These are named generally Angels, and are divided into Nine Orders. It is further believed that these Angels underwent a certain probation; they possessed, therefore, free-wills; and in the event a certain proportion of these beings "fell." There has been in the past much speculation among theologians as to the nature of the trial they underwent: yet nothing is dogmatically defined on the subject. Following the creation of the Angels, there came at some unknown period that of the world in which men live; and, finally, of man himself. So far, however, definition is of the slightest. It is to these main dogmas only that the Church authoritatively witnesses. An enormous latitude is permitted to Catholics as regards the time and the place and the circumstances and even the interpretations of the events of which these doctrines speak. It is at the next point that a far more precise defining begins.


Man, unlike the Angels, is not pure spirit: he is spirit incarnate. He was created innocent, with a certain knowledge of God, though not that full knowledge of which he is capable, and enjoyed Grace. Like the Angels, however, he was created free, and like the Angels who fell, he too fell.

Now this is an exceedingly significant doctrine, for upon it depends, in a sense, the entire system known as the Catholic Religion. If man were merely a creature struggling upwards always, the most fundamental Catholic dogmas would be evacuated of meaning. Certainly it is open to a Catholic to believe that a certain kind of evolution had place in the process of man's creation, that his body, for example, was gradually fitted by selection and generation to be the habitation of an immortal rational soul. But it is an essential of the Catholic Faith that man's spirit when first created was both free and innocent, and that it fell from innocence by the abuse of its own free-will.

Man was created, then, to know and serve God in this world and to enjoy Him for ever in the next world. Yet man's first parents fell from this destiny, and transmitted that fallen nature to their descendants. And it is only possible for fallen man to regain his position by the aid of God's Grace -- that is, by free gifts from God of light and strength. Further, the Sin of Man is so great an outrage against God that nothing but an adequate sacrifice can compensate for it, or can win for man that access to Grace by which alone he can rise again to a state of friendship and union with his Creator. As to what this Sacrifice proves to be, and as to the various methods and channels by which Grace comes, we shall consider later.

This, then, the Church teaches, is the state in which the natural man finds himself in this world. He is fallen, but he is not (as Calvin taught) absolutely corrupt: he has still a conscience -- that is, a faculty by which he can discern good and evil; he has still aspirations after good, and, by the mercy of God, a certain power of choosing it: he is still "free," though his freedom is enormously hampered by that downward tendency that is the result of the Fall. Further, it is taught, every man has sufficient grace for salvation -- sufficient help, that is, from God, to regain the destiny for which God made him, and to avoid the final doom to which sin naturally leads. He is faced by two final states, and two only; and he has but this one life on earth for his probation. If he "corresponds" sufficiently with the grace that God gives him he passes gradually upwards to that union with God of which he is capable, and in Heaven enjoys eternally the "Beatific Vision" -- a state in which he at once preserves his own individuality and yet is united to God. If, on the other hand, he fails to correspond with grace, and yields to the downward drag of his fallen nature in such a degree as to be, when his probation closes with death, in a state of "enmity" with God, he passes to that state which he himself has, in effect, freely chosen, and in hell is excluded eternally from the presence of his Creator. Only, it must be noticed in passing, never yet on any individual has the Catholic Church uttered a decision of final condemnation, since the interior dispositions of a man at the time of his death can be known only to God. No excommunication or anathema can be more than an approximate attempt to deal with the soul so far as she falls under the Church's jurisdiction, and such are issued with the express hope of awakening such a soul to her own condition of danger. Neither does the Church for one moment dare to dogmatize as to the state of those who die outside her pale; for even though, as will be seen later, she claims to be the One Ark of Salvation, this does not in any sense derogate from God's Sovereign right and power to deal with souls in His own way.


So far much that has been said is applicable to nearly all Theistic belief. It is as to the nature of the system by which fallen man may be restored that the differences begin to manifest themselves more particularly.

The central doctrine of the Catholic Religion is that of the Incarnation. This doctrine teaches that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity at a certain moment in history was "made man" in such a sense that He assumed complete Human Nature, both body and soul, yet without ceasing to be God or suffering any essential change, that He was born of a woman, lived a human life, and after His death reunited again in the Resurrection both Body and Soul, and finally took back in the Ascension that human nature with Him, perfected and transfigured, to the "Throne" of God. It is by this Incarnation, this "Hypostatic Union" between God and Man in Jesus Christ, that God and man are reunited. Intimately bound up with the doctrine of the Incarnation is that of the Atonement, in which it is believed that the free offering by Jesus Christ of Himself to God -- an offering consummated in His Crucifixion on Calvary -- constituted the Sacrifice which alone is adequate to compensate for the Sin of Man.

Innumerable interpretations of these doctrines, especially of that of the Incarnation, have been successively rejected by the Church under the name of Heresies. It is necessary to touch on a few of these, since it was by their rejection that the Catholic doctrine itself has more precisely emerged. It must be remembered, however, that in the Catholic view all dealings of God with man -- of the Infinite with the finite -- are bound to be enveloped largely in mystery. The Church claims to state and safeguard the facts revealed by God, not always to reconcile and elucidate them exhaustively.

Heresies on the Incarnation fall roughly into two classes namely, those which minimize, respectively, the Human Nature or the Divine Nature of Jesus Christ. The former, and the earlier in point of history, regarded the Human Nature of Christ as either so drowned in the Divinity as to be practically negligible, or as phantom-like and unreal. In opposition to this the Catholic Church teaches that the Human Nature was completely real and that therefore the sufferings and needs of that Human Nature were also real. Without this reality the Sacrifice of Calvary would be no more than a drama acted for men's imitation or admiration. Christ had, in fact, a Human Will also, and was capable therefore of feeling the stress of temptation, though Himself actually incapable of sin. The later heresies, largely adopted at the present day by many who claim the name of Christian, minimize the Divinity of Christ, using that word only to denote either a superhuman quality of goodness or a human quality raised to the utmost intensity; and in opposition to this the Church teaches that the Person of Jesus Christ was, and has always continued to be, the Eternal Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, immutable and unchanged; that He possessed therefore all the attributes of the Deity since He Himself was God even further, that His Human Nature, so intimate was its union with God, enjoyed always and unceasingly even upon earth the Beatific Vision; and, in virtue of that same union, was and is a proper object of adoration.

It will be seen plainly then that the doctrine of the Atonement depends absolutely upon the doctrine of the Incarnation. If the Human Nature of Christ were in any sense unreal, the Incarnation would be unnecessary. If the Divinity of Christ were not absolute, His Sacrifice would, at the most, only differ from the death of martyrs and saints in degree but not in kind; and again the Incarnation would be unnecessary. As perfect God and perfect Man, however, He accomplished what neither God nor man could accomplish separately: He united real Humanity to real Divinity; and by His Sacrifice consummated that union, and atoned for that for which man alone was incapable of atoning.

This, very briefly, then, is the foundation of the Catholic Religion, and has been, at any rate, until comparatively recently, the foundation of all Protestantism as well. It is claimed, however, by Catholics that certain other doctrines follow inevitably (and were actually so revealed by Christ), and that the rejection of these doctrines by Protestantism has led to obscurity and even to positive heresy on the fundamental dogmas themselves.

First, then, the Catholic Religion teaches that the Grace and Spiritual Power released by the Incarnation and the Atonement need, and were supplied with, means by which such grace should be perpetually applied to the individual. Certainly the individual, where such means fail, can, by the mercy of God, interiorly apprehend the grace necessary for his salvation; but, it is claimed, Christ, who wrought these things under terms of time and space, has provided means also under terms of time and space by which such grace is applied. Secondly, it is claimed that the truths revealed by Christ need in every age a Living Voice by which vital questions may be answered, and an infallible Authority by which such truths may be safeguarded. A Revelation enshrined in a written book ceases, by the variety of interpretations applied to it, to be a positive or certain Revelation at all, unless there he an authoritative and infallible Teacher on Earth to decide between such interpretations. The Catholic Church, therefore, unlike Protestantism, while she regards the Bible as the Word of God and as one fount of Truth, adds as a second and equally important fount of Truth, the Tradition committed to her by Christ, in the guardianship of which she believes herself divinely safeguarded.

Let us consider these points one by one, in the reverse order in which they have been stated.

(1) Catholics believe that God was made man in order, among other things, to deliver a body of truth to man, much of which he might have guessed at, some of which he might positively have known, some of which he could neither have known nor guessed at. This body of truth was delivered to His Apostles; and it is beyond the power or the rights of their successors either to add to, or to diminish, in the smallest degree, this Divine Revelation.

Christ constituted, however, a Church -- that is to say, a group of persons raised, by certain rites which we shall consider later, to the supernatural state, and intended to embrace sooner or later the whole of human kind; and one of the functions of this Church is to preserve aright and to promulgate the truths revealed to her by Christ. Yet, while the Church may not modify the truths themselves, she will "develop," as time goes by, their contents; she will, for instance, make more explicit that which was at first implicit or obscure, in answer to questions or denials on matters of faith; and in this action -- in the exercise, that is to say, of this supreme dogmatic function of hers -- she believes herself so far safeguarded by the assistance of God as to be incapable of teaching error. This gift of Infallibility, it will be noticed, is quite another thing from Inspiration. The former is rather a negative gift by which she is kept immune from error; the latter a positive impulse, given to the prophets and the writers of Scripture, including Infallibility, but transcending it. The Church does not claim Inspiration, either for her General Councils or for her Divinely appointed Head; yet she claims entire infallibility for these two mouths of hers by which she formally defines truth.

The Unity of the Church is provided for in the following manner:

Christ, it is recorded in the Gospels, chose out one from among His Apostles to be the leader, and, in a sense, the centre of the rest; and He particularized him in many ways. First He gave him a new name, and Himself supplied the interpretation of that name. He called him Cephas, or Peter; and added that "upon this Cephas" (He) would build His Church; further adding that "the gates of hell should not prevail against" this Church. Next He said that to him He would give "the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven"; and lastly commissioned him to "feed His sheep." It is noticeable that these three functions thus representatively conferred upon Peter are predicated in their fulness only of Christ Himself: He is the "Foundation Stone," the "Door," and the "Good Shepherd."

Catholics therefore claim that the Church of Christ -- that Church to which Christ committed such functions and to which He promised His continual Presence -- can be identified by its unity with Peter; and the See of Rome, therefore, where Peter lived and died, is called the "Holy" or the "Apostolic" See; and its occupant is regarded as having inherited the prerogatives of Peter. Among these prerogatives, therefore, is that of safeguarding and defining the truth; and the Bishop of Rome, or "Pope," is named the "Vicar of Christ." He, therefore, when, as supreme Pastor of Souls, in a matter of Faith or Morals, he defines a truth to be held by all Christians, acts in virtue of his commission from Christ, and is divinely safeguarded from error. His prerogative does not preclude the possibility of his erring in his private capacity; still less does it preserve him from personal sin.

The promises of Christ, however, were made to the whole Church in the person of Peter and a properly constituted "General Council" therefore, sitting under the presidentship of "Peter," is also believed to be infallible. In cases where such a Council has sat, the Pope does no more than ratify and confirm the decisions which, it is believed, are also safeguarded from error by the same promises of Christ. To the Pope also belongs supreme jurisdiction, and from him every bishop and priest draws his right to act in his official capacity. Most of these acts are valid, though irregular, even when exercised in defiance of, or separation from, the Pope; some of them -- for example, absolution or the Power of the Keys -- are invalid as well as irregular under those conditions.

(2) The second great function of the Church is that of Dispenser of Grace.

The Incarnation and the Atonement, as has been seen, are believed to have released an infinite torrent of grace for the salvation of all mankind; but this grace must, normally, be applied to the individual through certain channels and agents. Chief among these channels are the Sacraments; chief among these agents is the Sacerdotal Hierarchy; and the second is, normally, the dispenser of the former.

(a) The Sacraments are seven in number: Baptism; Penance; the Eucharist; Confirmation; Holy Order; Holy Matrimony; and Extreme Unction. First, however, the Eucharist should be considered, as it is more than a Sacrament.

According to the doctrine of the Atonement, Christ offered on Calvary the one perfect and adequate Sacrifice for the sins of the world. A Sacrifice is commonly believed to involve two things: primarily the offering and death of a Victim, and secondarily an Union with God to whom the Victim is offered by means of a feast upon its Flesh. Two things therefore are involved in the Atonement wrought by Christ: there is first the Sacrifice proper; there is next Communion with God by feeding upon the Divine Victim.

Now Christ spoke of these two things expressly in one sentence, "The (Living) Bread which I will give is My Flesh which I will give for the life of the world"; and again, "Except you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you." Further, He instituted a Rite by which (1) the Sacrifice once offered should be continually re-presented to God; (2) the Flesh and Blood, thus sacrificed, should be made accessible for human food. This Rite is called the Eucharist.

In the Eucharist, by Divine Power exercised through the priest, the "elements" of Bread and Wine are changed substantially (though not accidentally) into the very Flesh and Blood of Christ. This is called the dogma of Transubstantiation, and signifies that while the externals or "accidents" of the elements -- those qualities accessible to the senses -- remain unchanged, the substance -- that in which the "accidents" inhere and by which, for instance, the bread is bread -- is changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the transubstantiated elements there is no actual separation of Body and Blood; the Host and the contents of the chalice are, alike, Christ whole and entire (since a real separation would involve another death of Christ); but the two different elements are used in order to signify and to re-present, mystically, that actual separation which took place on Calvary.

Here, then, in the Eucharist, is, first, the Sacrifice of the Mass -- the re-presenting, that is, under another mode, of the Sacrifice of Calvary; then in the Communion, the Body and Blood of the Sacrificed Divine Victim are assimilated by the participators. Lastly, in Catholic Churches, the "Blessed Sacrament" is preserved in the Tabernacle, and both here, and in the service of Benediction, is adored by Catholics. The Eucharist, therefore, pre-eminently above the other Sacraments, is sometimes referred to as the "extension of the Incarnation," though all the Sacraments are this also in their degree. But in the Eucharist, according to Catholic belief, the Human Nature of Christ is always present on earth -- dwelling in the Tabernacle, sacrificed in the Mass, and assimilable in Communion.

Baptism is the Rite ordained by Christ for the washing away of original sin; and Penance (or Absolution) for the further washing away of sins afterwards contracted.

Baptism therefore is the first sacrament received by the individual. Since man is not pure spirit, but spirit incarnate, the supreme means of grace also have something of this double nature -- an external visible part, and the interior grace conveyed by it and Baptism (which, like matrimony, does not necessarily require a priest for its valid administration) is an outward ablution accompanied by certain words, which whole Rite raises the catechumen to the supernatural life, removes his sins, original and actual, and infuses certain graces into the soul. It is "necessary to salvation"; yet the Church has always held that the "Baptism of Desire" -- i.e. God's response to a perfectly pure and good intention of pleasing Him, accompanied by an implicit wish to conform in all things to His Will and therefore inclusive of a desire for baptism, if the necessity of such were known to the individual -- confers the grace of the sacrament upon those who are unable actually to obtain it.

Penance is the sacrament instituted by Christ, by which post-baptismal sins are forgiven through the ministry of a priest acting judicially, in virtue of Christ's words to His apostles, " Whosesoever sins you forgive they are forgiven."

Confirmation is the sacrament by which certain gifts of the Holy Ghost -- seven in number -- beyond those received in baptism, are conveyed to the individual, primarily for his strengthening in the battle of life.

Holy Order is the sacrament by which men are raised to the ministry, and made sharers in and administrators of the Royal Priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Holy Matrimony is the sacrament by which a man and a woman are united before God in such a manner that what would, without grace, be merely a contract terminable or dissoluble, becomes a mysterious uniting of the two that nothing but death can sever. The Church entirely denies divorce, and refuses the sacraments to those who have profited by a legal "divorce" to marry again in the lifetime of their surviving partners.

Extreme Unction ("The Last Anointing") is the sacrament by which the sick in danger of death are frequently restored to health, or, if not, purified and made ready for death.

Lastly, on the point of the Sacraments, it must be added that three of them -- Baptism, Confirmation, and Order -- confer "Character," or an indelible seal upon the soul; and these three sacraments therefore can be received but once. These are also the three sacraments in which the Holy Ghost acts directly upon the soul and is "given" to her.

(b) The Sacraments are, as has been seen, dispensed by the Church, and for five of them the ministry of a priest is essential for validity; further, for two of these five (for Order absolutely, and for the administration of Confirmation, with certain rare exceptions) the Episcopal order is necessary. For Extreme Unction too the use of oil blessed by a bishop is necessary. In Baptism any rational human being can act as minister; in Holy Matrimony the '' ministers," strictly speaking, are the contracting parties, though by recent legislation the presence of the parish priest is, as a matter of fact, also necessary.

Next, therefore, the Hierarchy must be considered.

All Priesthood, it is taught, comes from Jesus Christ, who is alone the Supreme and Absolute Priest. But He has raised men to be not only His representatives, but actually the agents by whom that " Melchisedech" priesthood is exercised on earth. He conferred this gift upon His Apostles at the Last Supper, and gave them also the power of passing it on to their successors, under certain restrictions and safeguards: and this Priesthood includes primarily the power to offer the sacrifice of the Mass by consecrating the Eucharist, as well as the power to forgive sins in His Name, to bless, and to administer other means of grace.

There are seven orders in the Hierarchy. First the three Major Orders; the Priesthood (which in its plenitude is present only in the Episcopate), the Diaconate, and the Subdiaconate: then the four Minor Orders; the offices of Doorkeeper, Reader, Exorcist, and Acolyte. The reception of the "tonsure," by which a man becomes an ecclesiastic or "clerk," precedes that of the Minor Orders, but is not an order in itself. Now the four Minor Orders do not necessarily preclude a man from returning to ordinary lay life in the world: he remains always an ecclesiastic, but he is not bound to wear ecclesiastical dress or to remain unmarried. Usually however, in our own days, the reception of Minor Orders is but a preliminary to the Major ; and when the Subdiaconate has once been received it is impossible without a special dispensation, exceedingly difficult to obtain, to return to lay life. Henceforward the man is bound to be a celibate, to say the Divine Office every day, and to dress as an ecclesiastic. (A slightly different discipline prevails, however, in the Churches of the East that are in communion with Rome, by which a married man may become a priest, although a priest may never marry.)

It is by this Hierarchy therefore, governed locally by bishops, and supremely by the Pope, that the dispensing of grace, the preaching of the faith, and the preserving of the Tradition undefiled, are effected and it is an essential of the Catholic Religion that this should be so. It is indeed possible for souls who, without their own fault, are unable to have access to a priest (whether that inability is virtual or physical), to obtain from God direct all necessary graces. An act of "perfect contrition," for example, removes the guilt even of mortal sin without the ministry of a priest, under such circumstances; and it is exactly for this reason that the Church never presumes to declare the final fate of any individual soul outside her pale, since God only can know the dispositions of such a soul. Persons may, that is, belong to the "Soul" of the Church who, for no fault of theirs, have been excluded from the "Body." Yet wilfully to reject the ordinance of Christ -- to refuse Baptism or Penance, for example, when the Institution by Christ of these sacraments is known and their efficacy recognized -- is to forfeit all claim on obtaining in other ways the graces conferred by them; to lose their place in the "Soul" of the Church as well as in the "Body."

Besides sacraments, however, for which the Priesthood is essential, it must be noticed that the Church uses and recognizes other means of grace.

First, there are those things or rites which she calls Sacramentals, resembling the Sacraments in their double nature, as well as in the fact of their conferring grace (though, theologically speaking, in a slightly different mode), yet not instituted by Christ Himself. Such a sacramental is Holy Water. Holy Water is water, with a small infusion of salt, blessed by a priest in virtue of his general powers to bless, and used by the faithful for the purifying away of lesser stains of guilt, for their protection against spiritual assaults, and for the disposal of their mind towards Divine things. Blessed ashes and palms are other examples of sacramentals; and all these depend for their efficacy not only on the blessing that they have received, but on the fervour and the disposition of those who use them.

Next, there is Prayer, or the lifting up of the heart to God with attention and intention, whether the aspirations are vocally expressed or not. And there is perhaps no department of the Catholic system more minutely or exhaustively treated than is that of Prayer.

Prayer is of two main kinds. First, there is Vocal Prayer, especially that form of Vocal Prayer stereotyped in the Mass and in the Divine Office. All Religious and all ecclesiastics above the rank of Subdeacon are bound under pain of mortal sin to "recite office," except where special exemptions are given to the illiterate or to those otherwise physically or morally incapable of fulfilling the obligation. So high is the value attached to this exercise that among monks it is called Opus Dei -- The Work of God -- and is the supreme duty of their daily life. Further, it must be said aloud, or, in the case of private recitation, with at least the deliberate movement of the lips; and, in Enclosed Houses, it forms the chief occupation of every day: a large proportion of it is recited, in choir, in such houses during the hours of the night. Secondly, there is Mental Prayer; rising at last into Contemplation; and this, though practised widely by the faithful everywhere, reaches, as a rule, its perfection only in Religious Houses, where its cultivation is brought to the highest possible pitch. In one Order, for example, only partially "enclosed," Mental Prayer or Meditation on the subject of the Passion of Christ is enjoined on all members for two hours every day.

Lastly, the Church regards as means of Grace all good actions done with a pure intention to God's glory; and she names the principal of these, Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.

So far the Catholic Religion has been described in a few of its barest essentials only: and it need hardly be said that a vast number of doctrines and practices -- corollaries even further detached from those that have been mentioned -- have not been touched upon at all. Such are the Church's teaching upon eschatology, beyond what has already been said, devotion to Mary and the Saints, the "Religious Life" in general, the place of Miracles, together with a less formal consideration of the system of faith and life as a whole. It will perhaps be better to treat of these now, separately. Their connection with what has already been said will easily be seen.


It has been remarked that the Catholic recognizes but one probation here on earth, closing with the "Particular Judgement" that takes place immediately after death; and but two final states or places to which the individual Soul can come. Yet he recognizes a third intermediate state, not final, through which the vast majority of souls who are, later, to attain the Beatific Vision must pass. This place is named Purgatory; and in Purgatory the temporal debt due for forgiven sin is paid, as well as the punishment for venial sins in which the soul has left the body.

For the forgiveness of mortal sin (as in Penance, for example) does not, obviously, involve the remission of all penalty. A drunkard, for instance, who turns from his sin and is forgiven, does not, as a matter of fact, receive his health back again immediately. The guilt is forgiven; there is no longer, that is to say, any obstacle between his soul and God; he is restored to the life of grace; and the eternal punishment due to him becomes merely temporal. It is conceivable therefore, and indeed practically certain, that many souls whose sins have been few and whose sufferings many, pay that debt in this life, and do not, therefore, go to Purgatory. But with the vast majority of souls the case is not so. Many spiritual sins, for instance, have little or no perceptible penalty attached to them in this life. Such sinners as these, therefore, as well as those whose sins are out of all proportion to their sufferings, pay the balance due to such sins in the pains of Purgatory.

Two practical corollaries follow from this dogma.

First, there follows the utility and the duty of praying for the departed that they may be purged from their pains quickly and pass to their eternal joy; and for this purpose also the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered for them on earth. For if, as Catholics believe, intercession avails with God, in such a way that the pleading of a soul in grace, on behalf of another, helps and forwards that other soul while still on earth, so too will it avail for souls departed.

Secondly, there follows the doctrine of Indulgences -- a doctrine that has given rise, probably, to more misunderstanding than any other, yet one that is perfectly consistent and inevitable, if the Catholic teaching on Sin and its penalties, and on the common supernatural life enjoyed by the baptized, is once understood.

Briefly the doctrine is as follows:

A soul that has sinned and has been restored to grace yet owes, as has been said, a temporal debt to God; and this temporal debt is, for the most part, paid only in Purgatory. Now all that such a forgiven soul is obliged to do, if she would enter heaven, is to remain in the "state of grace" while still on earth. If then she does more than she is obliged; if she undertakes, let us say, some heroic work for the poor or the suffering; if she strips herself, for the love of God and in reparation for her sins, of her temporal possessions; if she devotes herself to austerity and prayer -- it is quite certain that such efforts and reparations on her part must count before a Just God as payment of her debt; and such is of the more value before Him, as she undertakes such acts voluntarily and lovingly.

Now the whole doctrine of Indulgences is, in its essence, nothing more than a systematization of this very reasonable idea. The Church runs to help, so to speak, a generous soul such as this, and not only directs her in her efforts and gives her special aids and privileges, but further, showers upon her a portion of the superabundant merits of all souls, from the Soul of Christ downwards, who, like her, have done far more than their absolute duty obliged them to do. For so deep and intimate is the interior union between soul and soul in grace, and so authoritative the commission uttered to the Church by Christ to the effect that what she "binds on earth shall be bound in heaven," that the Catholic Church claims to have a kind of "impetratory" authority over such transactions, and to be able to help one soul that is struggling heroically and lovingly upwards, by the merits of other souls that have striven yet more heroically and lovingly in the past.

The "Treasury of Merits" is the phrase used of that vast community of meritorious actions and lives which is placed, in a sense, at the disposal of Christ's Representative and Vicar on earth.

It is hardly necessary to add, then, that "Indulgences"(that is, a remission of future Purgatorial pains) can only be gained by souls that are not only in grace, but in the possession of good and fervent dispositions.


When once the doctrine of the Incarnation is grasped, as well as that of the Virgin-Birth of Christ, devotion to the Mother of God is seen to be inevitable. And it is extremely significant that where this devotion ceases, sooner or later the doctrine of the Incarnation grows obscure or is even denied. In fact, the use or the disuse of the phrase "Mother of God" is a tolerable guide to the more fundamental doctrinal belief of those concerned, since the phrase is, to the Catholic, nothing but a simple statement of the Divinity of Mary's Son.

(i) Now devotion to Mary, and dogmatic statements as to her Person and office and attributes, are matters of extremely careful and well-tested theology. They are very far from being, as is sometimes thought, the result of popular and rhetorical sentiment. Their origins are found, for example, in the Church of the Catacombs, at which period she was depicted in the attitude of intercession, and given the title of "Advocatrix." Parallels were also drawn, in very early days, between Mary the Mother of the Redeemed and Eve the mother of the fallen. By the disobedience of the one the way was made open for the first Adam to ruin the race at the Tree of Death; by the obedience of the other the way was made open for the second Adam to redeem the race at the Tree of Life: and all subsequent "Marian" theology takes its rise and form and is limited by her function as an "Assistant," so to speak, of Redemption, not as a source of Redemption. It is not believed by Catholics that Mary is more than this; she can intercede, but she cannot, strictly, "give"; there is offered to her a veneration higher than that offered to any other creature, since she stands towards God, in virtue of her Motherhood and of the privileges He has given her, in an absolutely unique position; yet this veneration never approaches and never can approach, even when offered by the simplest and most uneducated believer, that supreme and unique adoration which is offered to God alone. It is not only that Sacrifice is offered to God alone; there is also another kind of prayer -- the outcome of the relation of the Creature towards the Creator -- which is given to God and to God only. All the rhetoric of the lovers of Mary, all the devotions performed in her honour, all the sounding titles bestowed on her with or without authority -- these can no more be taken to imply an assertion of her Divinity, than the adding together of finite numbers can attain to infinity.

(ii.) Following upon this devotion to Mary comes devotion to the Saints and Angels, and, most of all, towards those Saints more intimately associated with the event of the Incarnation -- such persons, for example, as St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary Ever-Virgin, and St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner of Christ. Devotion to these is natural and inevitable, for the same reason as to Mary, though all the honour paid to them can never equal that paid to the actual Woman of whom God Incarnate was born, and who, as Catholics believe, was specially prepared for her high destiny by being conceived in the womb free from the taint of original sin. There is, in fact, no difference in kind between the honour given to such saints as St. Joseph or St. John the Baptist and the honour given to those later and other friends of God who, by the sentence of canonization, are declared certainly to have attained the Beatific Vision, and to be proper objects for the veneration of the faithful.

For, to Catholics, the grace of God is as powerful as ever, and the stream of "saints" therefore can never cease. There always have been, and always will be, souls that live lives so heroic, for motives so pure, as to merit this title. Some few of these are detected by the Church, and, at some period after their death, are publicly proclaimed, after an exceedingly searching inquiry, to have reached the technical standard of "sanctity": the vast majority, no doubt, succeed in evading the honours from which their humility would naturally shrink.

It is to souls that have been publicly proclaimed as "saints" that public veneration may be paid, though privately any Catholic may invoke the prayers of any soul or even of all the "holy souls" in Purgatory: and this public veneration is, of course, in a line with the whole main thought of Catholicism in which the Humanity of Christ, and not merely His Divinity, is believed to be the instrument of Redemption. Once again it is directly from the full Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation that the veneration of saints springs, since by the Incarnation man is united to God potentially, and by the sanctity of the individual this potentiality becomes actual. It is then merely as from intercessors and advocates that Catholics seek the assistance of the saints, not as from men who have become part of the Deity, and who therefore merit Divine honours.


The life known as "Religious" is a life fundamentally based upon the three vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience; and these three vows form the basis of every strictly "Religious" Rule. By Poverty the monk relinquishes his right over all earthly possessions, so that not even his clothes or books are his own; by Chastity he vows himself to a single life, and further increases, under penalty of "sacrilege," any future infringement of the law of perfect purity, whether in thought, word, or deed; by Obedience he resigns his own will into the hands of his Superior, and can no longer direct his future except so far as his Superior permits. It is necessary to add, however, that this obedience extends, of course, only to matters that are "indifferent" from a moral point of view.

All technically "Religious" persons, therefore, whether men or women, are bound alike by these vows. Differentiation begins after that point.

Roughly speaking, there are two kinds of "Religious" -- Active and Contemplative; of whom the former are very much in the majority. "Active" Religious, although their lives contain plenty of devotion, and indeed are deliberately built upon it and conditioned by it, yet engage in all kinds of outward work -- preaching, teaching, study, literature, as well as manual labour, among the men; teaching, nursing, needlework, and manual labour among the women. And such are enabled, of course, owing to their community of life and the complete absence among them of separate individual interests, to compete with secular orgaoizations, very frequently to the disadvantage of the latter. "Contemplatives," however, engage in no such activities; and such books as they may occasionally produce, or such manual labour as they may undertake, are merely recreations or by-products of a life whose sole object is prayer, austerities, and intercession.

Now these latter "Religious" -- such communities as those of the Carthusians or the Cistercians or the Poor Clares or the Carmelites -- are a continual source of bewilderment to such as either do not believe in the principles of Atonement and Prayer or have not thought out such principles to their logical end. For Catholics -- unlike most Protestants -- do not believe that the Sacrifice of Christ is just a detached and solitary event in history, but rather the type or norm of all sacrifice, as well as the supreme Act which fructifies all human pain and effort voluntarily embraced for the love of God and of souls. It is the object of every Contemplative to be "crucified with Christ"; in the cell of every Carmelite nun hangs an empty cross to remind her that she too must take her place upon it; the scourge of Christ's Passion is a fact in her daily life and all Contemplatives alike, both men and women, regard it as the one object of their desire, to which all else is subordinated, to suffer in union with Christ, to add their blood, their tears, and their prayers to His, and so to extend the Passion He suffered in His Natural Body in that Mystical Body of His of which they are members. And they find that supreme honour with which the Church regards them corroborated by the words of Christ Himself, who, with the sisters Martha and Mary before Him, the first ministering actively to Him, the second contemplating Him, preferred the second, saying that Mary "had the one thing needful," and that she, and not Martha, had "chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her."

Finally, it must be remembered that it has been chiefly among Enclosed Religious, though by no means exclusively among them, that the elaborate Science of Mystical and Ascetical Theology has been brought to maturity. It is impossible, of course, to do more here than merely name this enormous branch of the Catholic Religion, since its ramifications and significances have deeply affected not only all other branches of divinity -- Moral and Dogmatic Theology, Exegetics, and the rest -- but have helped to shape even the simplest prayers of the smallest child. Such men as St. John of the Cross, Tauler the Dominican, the unidentified author of the Imitation of Christ, such women as St. Teresa and St. Gertrude -- these, in their explorations into the darkness that unites God and the soul, have done perhaps more to light up the mysteries of the interior life, and to sketch out for the pilgrim-soul -- usually under terms of the three great stages of "Purgation," "Illumination," and "Union" -- the road by which the Deity must be approached, than all the psychologists and the loud-voiced preachers put together.


The Catholic, so far as he realizes his faith, lives always in direct consciousness of the supernatural. To him the world of natural law in which he lives is not the only world; the double nature of the sacraments and of the sacramental or symbolical acts which he is continually performing ; the "acts" of Faith, Hope, and Charity he is continually making -- his whole religious life, in fact, drives him behind every external action to its "intention," behind the things that are seen to the things that are not seen, behind the range of the natural laws by which this world is ruled to that illimitable range of supernatural laws of which he knows comparatively little.

The manifestation of the supernatural then is more or less taken for granted. Once the miraculous nature of the Incarnation becomes an object of faith; once he realizes that the Divine Being has so far intervened in the world as to become Man and to indicate His Presence by the shower of miracles recorded in the Gospels, it is no longer a matter of surprise to him, but merely one of evidence (in each instance) that the Divine and Supernatural Power of God should continually, as Christ Himself promised (not infringe the laws of nature, but), intervene by laws still greater. It is not an infringement of the law of gravitation to lift a hook from a table; neither is it an infringement of the laws of nature to bring a higher supernatural law to bear upon natural conditions.

The phenomena of Lourdes, therefore, or the countless miracles recorded in the lives of the saints, are no bewilderment to the Catholic. Rather he would be bewildered if these evidences of God's supernatural action upon earth were ever to cease. In the Mass, which the devout Catholic hears every day, there is offered to his faith a continually reenacted miracle by which the Human Nature assumed by God becomes present, whole and undivided, on ten thousand altars simultaneously, in every country of the world. He believes this firmly and unfalteringly; it is scarcely a matter of surprise, therefore, that when Jesus Christ, hidden in His Sacrament, goes by the couches of the sick at Lourdes, the infirm should leap from their beds, the blind should recover their sight, and the deaf hear, as they did in Galilee and Jerusalem long ago.

It may be that sometimes he is over-credulous, and believes on quite insufficient evidence that a miracle has taken place; yet it must be remembered in his defence that it is only natural that he should be satisfied with far less evidence for such an incident than can he one who finds it difficult, if not impossible, to believe in the supernatural at all, and to whom a demonstrated miracle would mean the overturning of all his previous philosophy.

Finally, it should he noted that in ordinary processes of canonization at least two "first-class" miracles must be proved, after very searching inquiry, following upon the act or the intercession of the subject of the process, before the case has a chance of going forward.

It remains to end with a general review of the whole place and significance of Catholicism in its claim to be not merely one of the world-religions, but the single Religion revealed by God as true.

(1) First, it should be remarked that Catholicism has a history behind it of unique interest. It arose in the East, or rather at the juncture of East and West; it has laid hold first of the West, in such a sense that the whole of the most progressive civilization of the world has been shaped by it; and it is at present beginning to lay hold of the East in a way in which no Western Religion has ever succeeded in doing; in a way in which no Eastern Religion has ever affected the West. And it claims further to possess, as evidenced by its zeal for proselytism, a kind of Divine Self-consciousness which, as manifested originally in the Person of Christ, has been always regarded by Christians as the supreme indication of His Divinity.

(2) Its action upon civilization has been -- as its Founder predicted in His parable of the Kingdom of Heaven as "leaven hid in meal" -- one of intense stimulus. A brilliant book, dealing with this very modernly conceived point, has been written by Mr. Charles Devas under the title The Key to the World's Progress. Catholicism has produced, that is to say, an extraordinary kind of ferment, driving up, so to speak, out of the seething mass every kind of individual. It has produced on the one side such Saints as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa, St. Ignatius of Loyola; and, on the other hand, by a kind of reflex action, such monstrous enigmas as Alexander VI., Gilles de Rais, and Henry VIII. have made their appearance in the midst of Catholic society. It has been the occasion of massacres as well as of monasteries; countries under its influence have known in one generation a flood of contemplatives, and in the next the appalling phenomenon of the "Black Mass" and Satanism -- forms of worship only possible to those who believe truly that Christ is God and that the Blessed Sacrament is Christ, even while they insult Him. Catholicism has been indeed, as Christ predicted, a very "fire" in its wrath and energy, as well as in its pure radiance and light.

(3) Yet, between these vibrating extremes, it is the claim of Catholicism that it is exactly fitted to the needs of the Average Man. On the one side there stand ranged the Saint, the Theologian, the Philosopher, the Scientist, the Philanthropist -- Giants of Love and Wisdom and Pity; on the other the Criminal, the Little Child, the Irish Labourer -- these little accounted of (when they are not altogether repudiated) in the kingdom of this world. St. Thomas Aquinas and the little school-girl; Pasteur and the dunce; St. Francis and the Sicilian brigand -- all these believe, at any rate, exactly and precisely the same dogmas, down even to the minutest detail of their Faith. There is no esotericism in the Catholic Church. It was the proclamation of St. Paul the Apostle that in Christ veils were to be done away and mysteries revealed. There is no slow process of initiation, no secret knowledge possessed by a Hierarchy. The Doctor can know scarcely more than the Penny Catechism can tell him; the child scarcely less.

Yet between these extremes of attainment stands the Average Man -- the man with spiritual spasms of enlightenment and long periods of obscure inertia, the man of few and feeble aspirations and endlessly broken resolutions, of glimpses of realization and disillusionment and carnal entanglements and materialistic stupidities. And it is the claim of Catholicism that to this man, as well as to others higher or lower in the scale, the Catholic Religion is exactly fitted.

For it gives him first a distinct and comprehensible scheme of the Universe, with a sense of his own personal responsibility to his Creator. There is a Personal God whom he is taught to call his Father; a God who has become his Redeemer by becoming his Brother and fellow-sufferer, and who will become his Judge; a God who is present always in his heart and speaks through conscience. He has been brought into filial relations with this God through an act performed at a definite place and time -- his Baptism and he is provided with sacramental actions, which he is to perform under strict orders and conditions, which will enable him to preserve these relations and to restore them if they are infringed. He is not, that is to say, driven back upon his own emotions, and his yet more fallible memory of these emotions, for reassurance and strength. Times, places, actions are all prescribed. He is not forced inwards to find his God: his God, and a God dwelling in Human Nature too, awaits his worship in every Tabernacle, and offers Himself continually as a sacrifice under circumstances which, by discipline, drive His worshipper to meet Him. And these observances and rites are not mere symbols or reminders of truth, but Truth's utter Realities.

Yet the emotional and the intellectual elements are not wanting. The Average Man is met by a ceremonial which for sheer beauty and symbolism is unsurpassed in the history of religion, by appeals to his sense of beauty, such as it is -- by liturgy, by music, by ordered movement and rhythm -- that can hardly fail to raise his mind to the Absolute Perfection which he worships. And as for the intellect, Sunday by Sunday, if he does his duty, he has offered to him in sermons, and in his daily reading, a scheme of theology hammered and tested by the shrewdest and holiest brains in Europe as well as inspired by the subtleties of the East -- so hammered and tested and inspired, in fact, as to evoke the reproach that it is too logical to be true. Yet he is not bound to know all this theology unless he has a taste for it. It is enough for him to say with the French charcoal-burner, "I believe all that the Church believes," and then, after a pause, "And the Church believes what I believe."

This then is perhaps that claim on behalf of Catholicism which is most likely to be heard in these days of democratic tendencies. There are a thousand other arguments advanced by the Church in her own cause -- the fulfilment of prophecy from the Old Testament and from the New; her miracles; her saints; the indications of philosophy; the growing corroborations of Science; the Supra-national Unity which she has succeeded in establishing among her children, in opposition to the fact that other religious communities have failed, always and consistently, to bring about theological unanimity even on a far smaller basis; her unbroken descent through the ages. Yet in this age perhaps she may be discerned more easily in her relations to the Average Man, and her claim to be the One Church of God judged more fairly when tested by her effects upon him. And, indeed, it is harder to think of any better criterion in any age.

N. -- Aug. 1916.

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