תמונות בעמוד

for them, by wars or intrigues, establishments and principalities. The Daughters were disposed of to answer the same purposes of ambition. This was the common case. But in the list of Popes some characters occur, whose voluptuousness and infamy cannot be looked on without abhorrence. It may be presumed, that the great and rich Ecclesiastics of different countries did not, in this respect, observe a very strict system of morals, when they had before them such examples of irregularity in the Heads of their Church, the Vicars of Christ; which examples must be supposed also to have had their effect on Ecclesiastics of all degrees.

Nothing shows with clearer evidence the difficulty of enforcing obedience to this law of Celibacy on the Clergy at large, than the multiplied decrees of Councils and Popes, and injunctions of Legates, for this purpose. Marriage was, indeed, prevented ; but concubinage, if it was not tolerated, was, at least, for the most part, connived at; and when it was not, was treated as less criminal than marriage. The first was confessedly a breach of the Law of God; but the last was contumacy against the authority of the Church, and as such punished more severely. And our Henry VIII., in the true spirit of Popery, by a statute of the 31st year of his reign, made marriage the greater offence, and punishable as felony in both parties; while concubinage was only punished by forfeiture of goods and spiritual promotions, and imprisonment, in the first instance. By a statute, however, in the following year, they were put on an equal footing

The fact is, that no authority, no laws, no decrees, could counteract, with effect, this strong propensity of our nature. The stream which, when suffered to flow in its proper channel, gives fertility and beauty to the country through which it passes, if it be stopped or obstructed, will find for itself some other way, and will then become unsightly and destructive. Nature may be guided, but will not be compelled ; to regulate her impulses, is wise and proper; to suppress them altogether, is impossible ; and, therefore, it is absurd and immoral to attempt it.

The results of such a system are thus described by Mr. Pinkerton : “ The Priests and Monks being very numerous, and human passions ever the same, those ascetics atone for the want of marriage by the practice of adultery; and the husbands, from the dread of the Inquisition, are constrained to connive at this enormous abuse.” Again : “ It may perhaps be asserted that the Roman Catholic system, in the South of Europe, is the only superstition in the universe which has, at any period, necessitated


the practice of vice; thus confirming the maxim, that the corruption of the purest and best system is always the worst. Were an Apostle again to visit Spain, he would certainly begin with preaching the Christian practice, as if the very idea of Christianity had perished, and his first duty would be, to CONVERT THE ECCLESIASTICS.”

The cares of a married life, it is said, interfere with the duties of the Clergy; do not the cares of a vicious life, the anxieties of stolen love, the contrivances of adulterous intercourse, the pains, the jealousies, the remorse attached to a conduct in perfect contradiction with a public and solemn profession of superior virtue do not these cares, these bitter feelings, interfere with the duties of the Priesthood ? “I have seen,” says Mr. White, “the most promising men of my University obtain country vicarages, with characters unimpeached, and hearts overflowing with hopes of usefulness. A virtuous wife would have confirmed and strengthened their purposes, but they were to live a life of angels in celibacy. They were, however, men, and their duties connected them with beings of no higher description. Young women knelt before them in all the intimacy and openness of confession: a solitary home made them go abroad in search of social converse. Love, long resisted, seized them, at length, like madness; two I knew, who died insane: hundreds might be found, who avoid that fate by a life of settled, systematic vice.

The picture of female Convents requires a more delicate pencil; yet I cannot find tints sufficiently dark and gloomy to pourtray the miseries which I have witnessed in their inmates. Crime, indeed, makes its way into those recesses, in spite of the spiked walls and prison grates which protect the inhabitants : this I know with all the certainty which the selfaccusation of the guilty can give. The greater part of the Nuns whom I have known, were beings of a much higher description, females, whose purity owed nothing to the strong gates and high walls of the cloister; but who still had a human heart, and felt, in many instances, and during a great portion of their lives, the weight of the vows which had deprived them of their liberty. Some there are, I confess, among the Nuns, who, like birds hatched in a cage, never seem to long for freedom; but the happiness boasted of in Convents is, generally, the effect of an honorable pride of purpose, supported by a sense of utter hopelessness. The gates of the holy prison have been for ever closed upon the professed inhabitants; force and shame await them wherever they might fly; the short words of their profession have, like a potent charm, bound them to one

spot of earth, and fixed their dwelling upon their grave. The great Poet who boasted that slaves cannot live in England, forgot that superstition may baffle the most sacred laws of freedom: slaves do live in England, and, I fear, multiply daily, by the same arts which fill the Convents abroad. In vain does the law of the land stretch a friendly hand to the repentant victim ; the unhappy slave may be dying to break her fetters, yet death would be preferable to the shame and reproach that await her among relatives and friends. It will not avail her to keep the vow which dooms her to live single; she has renounced her will, and made herself a passive lump of clay in the hands of a superior. Perhaps she has promised to practise austerities which cannot be performed out of the Convent-never to taste meat, if her life were to depend on the use of substantial food-to wear no linen-to go unclothed and unshod for life ;-all these, and many other hardships, make part of the various rules which Rome has confirmed with her sanction. Bitter and harassing remorse seizes the wavering mind of the recluse, and even a yielding thought towards liberty assumes the character of sacrilege. Nothing short of rebellion against the Church that has burnt the mark of slavery into her soul, can liberate an English Nun. Whereto could she turn her eyes ? Her own parents would disown her; her friends would shrink from her, as if her breath wafted leprosy; she would be haunted by Priests and their zealous emissaries ; and, like her sister-victims of superstition in India, be made to die of a broken heart, if she refused to return to the burning pile from which she had fled in frantic fear.

Suppose that the case I have described were of the rarest occurrence ; suppose that but one Nun in ten thousand wished vehemently for that liberty which she had forfeited, by a few words in one moment: what law of God (I will ask) has entitled the Roman Church thus to expose even one human creature to dark despair in this life, and a darker prospect in the next?

Has the Gospel recommended perpetual vows? Could any thing but a clear and positive injunction of Christ or his Apostles, justify a practice beset with dangers of this magnitude ? Is not the mere possibility of repenting such vows, a reason why they should be strictly forbidden ? And yet they are laid on almost infants of both sexes !! Innocent girls of sixteen are lured by the image of heroic virtue, and a pretended call of their Saviour, to promise they know not what, and make engagements for a whole life, of which they have seen but the dawn.

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To what paltry shifts and quibbles will not Roman Catholic writers resort, to disguise the cruelty of this practice! Nuns are described as superhuman beings, angels on earth, without a thought or wish beyond the walls of their Convents. The effects of habit, of religious fear, of decorum, which prevented many of the French Nuns from casting off the veil, at a period when the revolutionary storm had struck awe into every breast, are construed into a proof of the unvariableness of purpose which follows the religious profession. Are Nuns, indeed, so invariably happy? Why, then, are they insulted by their spiritual rulers, by keeping them under the very guards and precautions which magistrates employ to secure external good behaviour, among the female inmates of prisons and penitentiaries? Would the Nuns continue during their lives under the same privations, were they at liberty to resume the laical state? Why, then, are they bound fast with awful vows? Why are they not allowed to offer up, day by day, the freewill offering of their souls and bodies ?

“The reluctant Nuns, it is said, are few; vain, unfeeling sophistry! first prove that vows are recommended on divine authority, that Christ has authorised the use of force and compulsion to ratify them when they are made, and then you may stop your ears against the complaints of a few sufferers. But can millions of submissive, or even willing, recluses atone for the despair of those few? You reckon, in indefinite numbers, those that in France did not avail themselves of the revolutionary laws : you should rather inquire how many, who, before the revolution, appeared perfectly contented in their cloistral slavery, overcame every religious fear, and flew to the arms of a husband as soon as they could do it with impu

ity. Two hundred and ten Nuns were secularized in Spain during the short-lived reign of the Cortes : were these helpless beings happy in their former durance? What an appalling number of less fortunate victims might not be made out by averaging, in the same proportion, the millions of females who, since the establishment of Convents, have surrendered their liberty into the hands of Rome.

“ Cruel and barbarous indeed must be the bigotry or the policy which, rather than yield on a point of discipline, sees with indifference even the chance, not to say the existence, of such evils; to place the most sensitive, innocent, and ardent minds under the most horrible apprehensions of spiritual and temporal punishment without the clearest necessity, is a refinement of cruelty which has few examples among civilized nations ;

yet the scandal of defection is guarded against by fears that would crush stouter hearts, and distract less vivid imaginations, than those of timid and sensitive females. Even a temporary leave to quit the Convent for the restoration of decaying health, is seldom given, and never applied for, but by such Nuns as unhappiness drives into a disregard of public opinion. I saw my eldest sister, at the age of twenty-two, slowly sink into the grave within the walls of a Convent; whereas, had she not been a slave to that Church, which has been a curse to me, air, amusement, and exercise might have saved her. I saw her on her deathbed : I obtained that melancholy sight at the risk of bursting my heart, when, in my capacity of Priest, and at her own request, I heard her last confession. Ah! when shall I forget the mortal agony with which, not to disturb the dying moments of that truly angelic being, I suppressed my gushing tears in her presence—the choking sensation with which I forced the words of absolution through my convulsed lips—the faltering steps with which I left the Convent alone, making the solitary street where it stood, re-echo the sobs I could no longer restrain.

" I saw my dear sister no more; but another was left me, if not equal in talents to the eldest, (for I have known few that could be considered her equals,) amiable and good in no inferior degree. To her I looked up as a companion for life, but she had a heart open to every noble impression, and such, among Catholics, are apt to be misled from the path of practical usefulness into the wilderness of visionary perfection. At the age of twenty she left an infirm mother to the care of servants and strangers, and shut herself up in a Convent, where she was not allowed to see even her nearest relations. With a delicate frame, requiring every indulgence to support it in health, she embraced a rule which denied her the comforts of the lowest class of society :-a coarse woollen frock fretted her skin; her feet had no covering but that of shoes, open at the toes, that they might expose them to the cold of a brick floor; a couch of bare planks was her bed, and an unfurnished cell her dwelling. Disease soon filled her conscience with fears, and I had often to endure the torture of witnessing her agonies at the Confessional. I left her, when I quitted Spain, dying much too slowly for her only chance of relief. I wept bitterly for her loss two years after, yet I could not be so cruel as to wish her to live.”

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