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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 130/134 -
The true and authorized leaders of the Irish in such matters, the Catholic bishops, have already taken the matter into their own hands; and in a very short time have covered the island with their schools, with every prospect of a university. It rests with the government to give or refuse its aid in imparting a true national education to a nation which is Catholic; but, with or without this aid, the Irish will have the means of educating their children rightly; and the culture they receive will favorably compare with that imparted by rival establishments fostered by the state, whose pupils will not know a word even of their own national history, since, in the authorized books, Ireland has no existence other than that of an unworthy subject of the great British Empire.
It was necessary to give prominence to what is here considered as the most effective means of bringing about the great result which engages our attention in this chapter. There are secondary objects which might be treated, but which, in the final working of the divine will, may be insignificant. For, to repeat what has been said before, the restoration of the nation which is now progressing so steadily almost unaided by any action of man, however much he may indulge in agitation, is the work of God, and before long will so manifest itself to all. Meanwhile it is enough to assert in general terms that Ireland is entitled to all those things which render a people happy and contented. That wished-for state is not far off; let them continue to be active in its pursuit. A previous chapter has already touched upon the great means to be employed in bringing this about: _association_, whose centre should be Ireland, and whose branches should spread wherever Irishmen have established themselves; whose guides should be the clergy, but its chief workers, intelligent and energetic laymen. On this point it is desirable particularly to be rightly understood; it is not our purpose to say that in such a work laymen ought not to cooperate, or even to lead; with the memory of O'Connell before us, such a thing would be impossible; on the contrary, the external working of the whole scheme should be placed in the hands of good, active, and intelligent laymen. They are the proper instruments for carrying on such a work actively and efficaciously; they form, at least numerically, the principal part of the moral power of the nation, and that power should be developed on a larger scale than it has ever yet been. But the first impulse should be given by the moral leaders, rulers of the Church. Let the nation work under the guidance, the leadership of the men who alone stood by them when all else had been lost, who, in fact, by preserving their religion, preserved to them their nationality; let them work under their eyes and with their sanction, and assuredly their labor will not be labor in vain.
What will the final result be of such a cooperation of workers? The formation or rather consolidation of a truly Christian and Catholic people; a most remarkable phenomenon in this wonderful nineteenth century! It would seem that they have thus far been deprived of a government of their own only to win a government at last which shall be, what is so sadly wanted in these days, Christian and Catholic. Modern governments have broken loose from Christianity; they have declared themselves independent of all moral restraint; they have pronounced themselves supreme, each in its own way; and, to be consistent, they have become godless. Donoso Cortes has shown this admirably in his work on "Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism." The sad spectacle which in our age meets the eye of the Christian, is universal; there is no longer a Catholic nation; Christendom has ceased to exist. This is held by the statesmen of to-day to be a vast improvement on the old social system. Medieval barbarism, as they term it, has, according to them, met with just condemnation; and to return to it now, would be to drag an advanced age centuries backward, a horror which no sane man could contemplate.
Undoubtedly there were many abuses under the old regime, which the most sincere Christian regrets, and could not wish to see restored, or again attempted. But, its great feature, the inner link which bound the system together, its unity under the guidance of the universal Church, was the only safeguard for the general happiness of mankind. This admirable unity has been broken into fragments; each part does for itself, and thus the world lies at the mercy of Might, and each nation goes about like "a strong man armed, keeping his house."
Even Heeren, a writer who is strongly Protestant and liberal, is driven to confess in his "History of the Political System of Europe," that the reign of Frederick the Great, in Prussia, was "immediately followed by those great convulsions in states, which gave the ensuing period a character so different from the former. The contemporary world, which lived in it, calls it the revolutionary; but it is yet too early to decide by what name it will be denoted by posterity, after the lapse of a century."
After a brief review of the various states as they existed toward the middle of the last century, he adds: "The efforts of the rulers to obtain unlimited power had overthrown the old national freedom in all the states of the Continent; the assemblies of the states had disappeared, or were reduced to mere forms; nowhere had they been modelled into a true national representation."
He does not see that, in order to obtain that "unlimited power," the rulers had thrown off the yoke of Church authority everywhere, and that Christendom disappeared with the "old national freedom" as soon as the key-stone of the edifice, the papacy, was ejected from its place.
Nevertheless, he was keen enough to perceive it necessary to call in armed force to uphold that usurped power of rulers:
"For the strength of the states no other criterion was known than standing armies. And, in reality, there was scarcely any other. By the perfection which they had attained, and which kept pace almost with the growing power of the princes, the line of partition was gradually drawn between them and the nations; _they_ only were armed; the _nations_ were defenceless."
This great German historian carries his views further still, and confesses that, "if the political supports were in a tottering condition, the moral were no less shattered. The corner-stone of every political system, the sanctity of legitimate possession, without which there would be only one war of all against all, was gone; politicians had already thrown off the mask in Poland; the lust of aggrandizement had prevailed . . . . The indissoluble bond connecting morals and politics being broken, the result was to make egotism the prevailing principle of public as well as private life."
Admirable reflections, doubtless, but incomplete; the Protestantism of the writer not allowing him to perceive that, the only sure defender of morality having been discarded, egotism could not but prevail. Therefore does he complain, being blind to the true cause of the disorder, that "democratic ideas, transported from America to Europe, were spread and cherished in the midst of the monarchical system--ready materials for a conflagration far more formidable than their authors had anticipated, should a burning spark unhappily light upon them. Others had already taken care to profane the religion of the people; and what remains sacred to the people when religion and constitution are profaned?"
This last observation, thrown in at the end of some very sound considerations, would have made them far more striking, had it appeared at their head as the great source of all the catastrophes which ensued. But it requires a Catholic eye to take in the whole truth, and a Catholic tongue to give the right explanation of history, as of all things else.
Many reflections similar to those above quoted have been made by non-Catholic writers, and the defenders of the Church have spoken with clearness and energy throughout. Nevertheless, the evil has continued to grow more universal and more alarming, until, to-day, no principle on which the social fabric can securely stand is acknowledged by those who rule the exterior world. And of what Heeren calls the violation of "the sanctity of legitimate possession," let Poland and many other states speak, nay, those of the Father of the faithful himself, to whose warning voice rulers have now so long persistently turned a deaf ear. Where are now even the fragments of that "corner- stone" of the old "political system?"
Such is the state of affairs, not only in Europe, but generally throughout the world, so that the Catholic Church has at length entered fully upon that stage of her existence when she possesses _individual_ subjects full of tender affection and devotedness, whose number, thank God! increases every day, but not a single _State_ which acknowledges her as its director and teacher.
Ireland may be destined to become the first one which shall acknowledge her, and set an example to the rest. If ever she enjoys self-government, she will surely do so, for Catholic she is to the core, and Catholic she cannot but remain.
When it was said that home-rule would not serve as a sure panacea for all her evils, it will be understood as applying to the actual moment and nothing else. That it would not be a good thing for her ever to enjoy real self-government was never in our mind. Moral force is bringing this nearer to her; and step by step she is learning how to walk without support. Already, she possesses something of political franchise, and enjoys municipal government more truly than Frenchmen do after all their social convulsions.
There are men, Irishmen even, who pretend that she would subside into anarchy if her destiny were confided to her own care. They point to the constant wranglings which have been her bane for centuries, and the "prophet" who wrote the "Battle of Dorking" represents her, as soon as the humiliation of England left her free, struggling painfully in the throes of anarchy. That this general opinion of men with regard to Ireland is but too true, was conceded in another place, yet only so far as concerned interests which were trifling, or, at best, of no high character; that when the object at stake is one of great importance, there was more steadiness, unanimity, energy, and true heroism in the Irish people, than in any other known to history in modern times. And this reflection is certainly borne out by the issues of all the secular struggles of the Irish with Scandinavianism, feudalism, and Protestantism.
Surely is there in them the right material for a nation; and, when the day comes for the country to take in hand, under Providence, her own destiny and work it out, the "prophet" will find himself sadly mistaken when, freed forever from the degradation of pauperism, she is at liberty to raise her thoughts above food and raiment; when her children, lifted by a
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