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- Irish Race in the Past and the Present - 20/134 -
it is now far more wretched and deserving of pity than it was then. The people possess the same primitive habits, simple thoughts, ardent impulsiveness, stubborn spirit, and buoyant disposition, in spite of ages of oppression. In the course of centuries they have not furnished a single man to that army of rash minds which have carried the rest of Europe headlong through lofty, perhaps, but at bottom empty and idle theories, to the brink of that bottomless abyss into which no one can peer without a shudder.
No heresiarch has found place among them; no fanciful philosopher, no holder of fitful and lurid light to deceive nations and lead them astray, no propounder of social theories opposed to those of the Gospel, no inventor of new theogonies and cosmologies--new in name, old in fact--rediscovered by modern students in the Kings_ of China, the _Vedas_ of Hindostan, the _Zends_ of Persia, or _Eddas_ of the North; no ardent explorer of Nature, seeking in the bowels of the earth, or on the summits of mountains, or in the depths of the ocean, or the motions of the stars, proofs that God does not exist, or that matter has always existed, that man has made himself, developing his own consciousness out of the instinct of the brute, or even out of the material motions of the zoophyte.
We would beg the reader to bear in mind those insane theories so prevalent to-day, out of which society can hope for nothing but convulsions and calamities, to see how all the nations of Europe have contributed to the baneful result except the Irish; that they alone have furnished no false leader in those wanderings from the right path; that their community has been opposed all through to the adoption of the theories which led to them, have spurned them with contempt, and even refused to inquire into them: with these thoughts and recollections in his mind, he may understand what we mean when we assert that the Irish have stubbornly refused to enter upon the European movement. Although, by the reception of Christianity, they were admitted into the European family, the Christianity which they received was so thoroughly imbibed and so completely carried out that any thing in the least opposed to it was sternly rejected by the whole nation. Hence they became a people of peculiar habits. Rejecting the harsh features of feudalism, not caring for the refinement of the so-called revival of learning, sternly opposed at all times to Protestantism, they would have naught to do with what was rejected or even suspected by the Church, until in our days they offer to the eyes of the world the spectacle we have sketched. Thus have they, not the least by reason of their long martyrdom, become fit instruments for the great work Providence asks of them to-day.
England, the great leader in the material part of the social movement which has been the subject of this chapter, for a long time hesitated to adopt principles altogether subversive to society. In her worldly good sense she endeavored to follow what she imagined a _via media_ in her wisdom, to avoid what seemed to her extremes, but what is in reality the eternal antagonism of truth and falsehood, of order and chaos. Twenty years back there was a unanimity among English writers to speak the language of moderation and good sense whenever a rash author of foreign nations hazarded some dangerous novelties; and in their reviews they immediately pointed out the poison which lay concealed under the covering of science or imagination, and the peril of these ever-increasing new discoveries. If any Englishman sanctioned those theories, he could not form a school among his countrymen, and remained almost alone of his party.
But at last England has given way to the universal spread of temptation, and to-day she runs the race of disorganization as ardent as any, striving to be a leader among other leaders to ruin. Every one is astounded at the sudden and remarkable change. It is truly inexplicable, save by the fearful axiom, _Quos Deus vult perdere, dementat_. Hence not a few expect soon to see storms sweep over the devoted island of Great Britain, which no longer forms an exception to the universality of the evil we have indicated.
Which, then, is the one safe spot in Europe, whither the tide of folly, or madness rather, has not yet come?
Ireland alone is the answer.
THE IRISH BETTER PREPARED TO RECEIVE CHRISTIANITY THAN OTHER NATIONS.
The introduction of Christianity gave Europe a power over the world which pagan Rome could not possess. All the branches of the Japhetic family combined to form what was with justice and propriety called Christendom. Ireland, by receiving the Gospel, was really making her first entry into the European family; but there were certain peculiarities in her performance of this great act which gave her national life, already deviating from that of other European nations, a unique impulse. The first of those peculiarities consisted in her preparation for the great reception of the faith, and the few obstacles she encountered in her adoption of it, compared with those of the rest of the world.
Providence wisely decreed that redemption should be delayed until a large portion of mankind had attained to the highest civilization. It was not in a time of ignorance and barbarism that the Saviour was born. The Augustan is, undoubtedly, the most intellectual and refined age, in point of literary and artistic taste, that the world has ever seen. A few centuries before, Greece had reached the summit of science and art. No country, in ancient or modern times, has surpassed the acumen of her philosophical writers and the aesthetic perfection of her poets and artists. Rome made use of her to embellish her cities, and inherited her taste for science and literature.
But art and literature embody ideas only; and, as Ozanam says so well: "Beneath the current of ideas which dispute the empire of the world, lies that world itself such as labor has made it, with that treasure of wealth and visible adornment which render it worthy of being the transient sojourn-place of immortal souls. Beneath the true, the good, and the beautiful, lies the useful, which is brightened by their reflection. No people has more keenly appreciated the idea of utility than that of Rome; none has ever laid upon the earth a hand more full of power, or more capable of transforming it; nor more profusely flung the treasures of earth at the feet of humanity . . . .
"At the close of the second century . . the rhetorician Aristides celebrated in the following terms the greatness of the Roman Empire: 'Romans, the whole world beneath your dominion seems to keep a day of festival. From time to time a sound of battle comes to you from the ends of the earth, where you are repelling the Goth, the Moor, or the Arab. But soon that sound is dispersed like a dream. Other are the rivalries and different the conflicts which you excite through the universe. They are combats of glory, rivalries in magnificence between provinces and cities. Through you, gymnasia, aqueducts, porticoes, temples, and schools, are multiplied; the very soil revives, and the earth is but one vast garden!'
"Similar, also, was the language of the stern Tertullian: `In truth, the world becomes day after day richer and better cultivated; even the islands are no longer solitudes; the rocks have no more terrors for the navigator; everywhere there are habitations, population, law, and life.'
"The legions of Rome had constructed the roads which furrowed mountains, leaped over marshes, and crossed so many different provinces with a like solidity, regularity, and uniformity; and the various races of men were lost in admiration at the sight of the mighty works which were attributed in after-times to Caesar, to Brunehaud, to Abelard!"
It was in the midst of those worldly glories that Christ was born, that he preached, and suffered, that his religion was established and propagated. It found proselytes at once among the most polished and the most learned of men, as well as among slaves and artisans; and thus was it proved that Christianity could satisfy the loftiest aspirations of the most civilized as well as insure the happiness of the most numerous and miserable classes.
But we must reflect that the advanced civilization of Greece and Rome was in fact an immense obstacle to the propagation of truth, and, what is more to be regretted, often gave an unnatural aspect to the Christianity of the first ages in the Roman world-- a half-pagan look--so that the barbarian invasion was almost necessary to destroy every thing of the natural order; that the Church alone remaining face to face with those uncouth children of the North, might begin her mission anew and mould them all into the family called "Christendom." "Christianity," to quote Ozanam again, "shrank from condemning a veneration of the beautiful, although idolatry was contained in it; and as it honored the human mind and the arts it produced, so the persecution of the apostate Julian, in which the study of the classics had been forbidden to the faithful, was the severest of its trials. Literary history possesses no moment of greater interest than that which saw the school with its profane --that is to say pagan--traditions and texts received into the Church. The Fathers, whose christian austerity is our wonder, were passionate in their love of antiquity, which they covered, as it were, with their sacred vestments. . . . By their favor, Virgil traversed the ages of iron without losing a page, and, by right of his Fourth Eclogue, took rank among the prophets and the sibyls. St. Augustine would have blamed paganism less, if, in place of a temple to Cybele, it had raised a shrine to Plato, in which his works might have been publicly read. St. Jerome's dream is well known, and the scourging inflicted upon him by angels for having loved Cicero too well; yet his repentance was but short-lived, since he caused the monks of the Mount of Olives to pass their nights in copying the Ciceronian dialogues, and did not shrink himself from expounding the comic and lyric poets to the children of Bethlehem."
We know already that nothing of the kind existed in Ireland when the Gospel reached her, and that there the new religion assumed a peculiar aspect, which has never varied, and which made her at once and forever a preeminently Christian nation.
Among the Greeks and Romans, literature and art, although accepted by the Church, were nevertheless deeply impregnated with paganism. All their chief acts of social life required a profession of idolatry; even amusements, dramatic representations, and simple games, were religious and
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