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the fear of Almighty God, and then next a firm and stable purpose to reform his own self according thereunto, and so to continue, proceed, and prosper from time to time, showing himself to be a sober and a fruitful hearer and learner, which if he shall do, he shall prove at length well able to teach, though not with his mouth, yet with his living and good example, which is sure the most lively and effectual form and manner of teaching."
MODERN IGNORANCE OF THE BIBLE IN PRANCE.
Eistoire Sacree, ou Precis Historique de la Bible, par Emile de Bonnechose. 3"* Edition. Paris: Didot. 1869.
Eleven hundred years have elapsed since Pepin le Bref, at the instigation of Pope Stephen, crossed the Alps, and, making over the Exarchate of Ravenna to the Holy See as the patrimony of St. Peter, laid the foundations of the temporal power of the Pope. It was a fatal gift for France to bestow. The chivalrous donors, from that time forward, have felt it incumbent upon them to maintain the powers in possession where they had placed them, and the best blood and the most costly treasures of the nation have, time after time, been lavished in this ungrateful task. At this very hour it is a source of difficulty and embarrassment. The nation which has broken the "sainte ampoule" in pieces, and substituted the tricolour for the oriflamme, clings with tenacity, because they fancy honour is involved, to the tradition of the temporal power of the Papacy, which has cost them more, and is of less worth to them, at any rate in the times in which we are living, than all the paraphernalia which they have so thoroughly discarded.
And what has been the return which Rome has made to France? A very sorry one, we think. Admitting that in the earliest times the two powers may have mutually aided and supported each other, and derived reciprocal benefit in a political point of view; yet even in such matters no attentive student of history can fail of perceiving, that, in later periods, the profit has been to Rome—the toil, the waste, the loss has been, and is, the portion of France. In dealing, however, with a spiritual power, spiritual benefit might be anticipated; and if realized, would be a compensation for much political and worldly complication and embarrassment.
How far have these results followed? Here again, we think, a few barren titles of honour and precedence have been a poor compensation for ecclesiastical liberties overthrown, degrading superstitions fostered, and the Word of God silenced in the midst of the fair realms of France. Writing, as we are now, in a land which owns no allegiance to Rome, and looking on as outside spectators of the approaching Council, when
"incedent victaB longo ordine gentea Quam variae Unguis habitu tarn vestis et armis,"
we cannot help watching with interest, we might say anxiety, what will be the attitude of France, and whether henceforward the Seine, like the Euphrates of old,
"Ibit jam mollior undis," will surrender the last shred of her Gallican liberties, and become more subservient than ever to the arrogant claims put forward by the Vatican.
These thoughts have been suggested to us while perusing the Preface to Mons. de Bonnechose's "Histoire Sacr£e," which seems to point so clearly to what is the real weakness of France in dealing with these haughty pretensions, and is so touching a picture of the calamity which has overtaken that noble country,—for what country can be sorer than when, as the prophet Amos says, God sends "a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord," that we have thought it well worth translating, by permission, into our pages, feeling sure that it will interest our readers?
The author, Mons. Emile de Bonnechose, is a distinguished literary man, brother of the Cardinal of the same name, but himself a Protestant. The book from which our extract is made is an admirable specimen of the superior order of books used in French Schools and Colleges. The author's history of France, which has passed through fourteen editions, is a standard work of education, and indeed may well prefer, as it does, higher claims. He is, therefore, on all accounts, a thoroughly well-informed and competent witness; and, as an ardent patriot, could not have given utterance to such statements, had there not been strong conviction in his soul that they ought to be proclaimed, and a remedy found. We feel assured many will sympathise in his lament. His statement is as follows:—
"It is now-a-days a fact too real and unmistakeable, that men who have been most carefully educated in the knowledge of profane antiquity, continue almost entire strangers to sacred history. The names of some of the chief patriarchs, and a few incidents in their history, are known; but the affecting scenes displayed in their lives, in tents in the wilderness under an eastern sky, the noble simplicity of their manners, the majesty of their intercourse with the Eternal One in the midst of sohtnde, and face to face with the wonders of creation, are not known. Men are aware that the Hebrews were afflicted in Egypt j that God raised up Moses to break the yoke off their necks, and to be the Mediator for the transmission to them of His law, that Solomon the son of David built the Temple. But they do not know the events which happened during those long wanderings in the wilderness; the sublime character of Moses; the spirit and scope of his laws; the fortunes of the people of Israel under their first rulers; the pious humility which, even on the throne, exalted yet higher kings like David and Hezekiah j the surpassing grandeur wherewithal prophets like Elijah, Micah, and Jeremiah were clothed under sackcloth and ashes ; the succession of miraculous events by which God bore witness to Himself in the midst of His people. Again, men know that at the time appointed Christ Jesus came into the world ; and they can recall several incidents of His life and death, as well as some of His sublime sayings which have become proverbial among all people: but men of the present age know nothing of the marvellous succession of prophecy which kept ever announcing the Saviour of the world; they know nothing of the overflowings of His love and tender compassion—of the words which He actually spake to His disciples, to the poor and to the sick, to the rich and to the mighty of this world, nor of the life of His Church in the time of His Apostles as related by themselves; in short, they are ignorant of all that gives to Holy Scripture its unique character of beauty and power, and greatness and majesty.
Never, perhaps, at any period, in all ranks of social life, with the exception of the clergy, has the knowledge of the Biblo in France been, I will not say so limited, but so actually nonexistent, as it is at the present time; and never has there been a period when such knowledge would be more needed to arrest the progress of impiety, to stem the torrent of materialism which is overflowing and reaching the masses of the people, to contend with a criticism disintegrating and unbridled, peculiarly powerful against the Gospel of Christ from the ignorance which men are in of its contents. It has been said a hundred times, and with truth, that the most assured defence of the Gospel is the Gospel itself—the savour of purity, of truth and holiness, which it emits, the divine inspiration which gives life to its pages, its language so simple and so adequate, so full of unction and of power, more calculated to carry conviction to the souls which it elevates and touches than the most powerful arguments of science: it is all this which makes it a book sui generis among all human writings, a work wholly divine, and as it were an echo from celestial spheres.
But in order to know a book, however divine it may be, and whatever may be the treasure which it contains, it must be opened; and I repeat it, that it is a book closed and sealed to the present generation, which certainly does not know the Scriptures—is an entire stranger to the Gospel. There are facts in abundance to prove this; I will content myself with adducing only two. I could mention a Society which numbers amongst its promoters men of distinguished character, talents, and social position, the majority of whom pique themselves on being influenced by religious convictions. The object of this Society is not to establish libraries, but to furnish artisans in our towns and villages with the titles of the most useful publications which appear; but in its catalogues the Book of Books is omitted. Treatises on all subjects are specified; there are many on sanitary questions, upon the best methods of cultivating health among men and animals, on the purification of houses and fertilising lands; but one would search in vain for the divine volume which beyond all others sows good seed in the human soul, and makes it germinate and puts it in permanent communication with God. The Gospel of Christ is not to be found there. Shall I add what I witnessed last year in one of our most rich and populous departments? Shall I refer to how one of the most influential members of a Society established for promoting popular education, the chief magistrate of the arrondissement, in a state of alarm at finding the Gospel among the books which were to be awarded as prizes, refused to give it for fear of being charged with religious propagandism, and of compromising himself by distributing it? Shall I say, that others copied his example? Shall I conclude by adding, that, in a short address which he made the same day, this same magistrate happened to quote a text from the sacred volume? He quoted the Gospel, but unconsciously; he did not know what it was he was saying. What strange ignorance! What inexplicable indifference, carried to a pitch which it is impossible to account for! The little which the men of our generation know of the Bible, they have learned at that period of life when the impressions made upon the memory are most deep; they have heard it in the tender years of infancy on their mother's lapj afterwards they have been taught it by the priests who admitted them to the Holy Communion while they were yet children. These their teachers have told them of a most miraculous event, of a prodigy without parallel in the history of the world; they have told them that at a distant period, about twenty centuries ago, God condescended to reveal Himself to man in the person of Jesus Christ; that in Him He made known to them His divine attributes, His wisdom, His infinite goodness, His compassionate justice: they have told them that Jesus left the bosom of His Father to come down here and bring to mankind, from Him, light, deliverance, and pardon; that He yielded Himself up to death freely for the salvation of the world; and that the book in which this wonderful story is told is called the Gospel. All this has been told in their childhood to the men of the rising generation. They believed it, and many still believe it, or think that they believe it; but how are they engaged meanwhile? Do we see them, when grown up, and when reason is mature, turning over the pages of this sacred volume, as men anxious to know how this Messiah, sent from God, lived and died; eager to study and meditate upon each word which fell from those lips by which God spake to man? Are they engaged in this? Let them put the question to, and answer it for, them, selves. It is not for them a mere matter of curious speculation; it is a question of drawing their spiritual nourishment, life for their souls, from the sacred sources of light and life, out of the Gospel, whence the seeds of truth, of justice, and of heavenly love proceed.
"Oh, my God," exclaims an eloquent preacher,* "what wondrous seed was the doctrine which the Son of Man, so gentle, so fair, so humble, and so divine, devoted even to death, came to sow 1 What are all those souls, good or bad, doing upon which the sunshine from the Father, and the dew, and the overflowing seed of eternal life, are falling—souls buried under a never ceasing sand-storm of unprofitable vanities? The seed finds no entrance into these souls. There is no entry for it; a mere surface presents itself. The word of God is, in their estimation, a grain of dust like all else; they have no appreciation of it. It is too true—I have said it already, and cannot repeat it too often,—the men of the present day seek for nothing in the Bible; they do not read it; they have not read it, not once, from beginning to end; they turn away from it, they are afraid of it."
But if a book is published, in which Christ appears stripped of His halo of glory, of majesty, and holiness, subtilely accommodating itself to human weakness, flouting inspiration, feigning obedience to commands from Heaven which it has not received, affecting a mission which has not been entrusted to it, skilfully usurping His title and His office; a book, in short, in which all the divine features of the Christ of the Bible disappear beneath an array of learning; wherein He is transformed into a young and agreeable philosopher, fond of pleasure and a boon companion, with some propensity to ecstatic mysticism akin to hallucination: if such a book is published, men run after it; they open it with feverish earnestness, too often, alas, with an unacknowledged desire that its contents may be true, with the secret and unworthy hope of learning
* L'Abbe Gratry.