THE Protestant is to be pitied who, spending the winter in Italy, does not become, at ieast for the time being, a Catholic.
There are various reasons for the perhaps wholly unprecedented conformity. In the first place — to begin with the lowest considerations — the traveler can hardly expect to understand Italy at all unless he puts himself in touch with the Church which has for so many ages shaped Italy’s destiny, and which still profoundly sways the lives of her people. In the second place, it is never well to neglect an opportunity of putting prejudice to the test, of soliciting possible new aspects of truth. In the third place — but the third argument looks ahead and anticipates a result proved by many people — in the third place, there is a priceless treasure here, a heritage which no Christian can afford to overlook.
To some of us, the revelation may not be an entire surprise; for there is a strong Catholic tendency nowadays in our own country and in our Episcopal Church. But the great majority of us are of course still Protestants, and the Puritan tradition is in our blood. To us Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Unitarians, Methodists, the appeal of the Roman Church comes with a shock that is disconcerting, alarming, funny, quickening, regenerating, all sorts of stimulating and excellent things.
The intensity of our Protestant prejudice is strange and bitter. Perhaps it is inevitable — and therefore not so strange after all; but it is certainly founded on misconception and ignorance; and so assured is our human ideal of reasonableness and wisdom that we must insist on counting strange those follies which defeat it. Just because the Catholic Church had faults, just because certain of our fathers lost patience and rebelled and broke away, just because a new Church has developed along different, lines, must we, born members of the new, despise and condemn the old, looking on it with almost as severe a disapproval as on Mohammedanism? Ridiculous! Yet the shuddering aversion to the Scarlet Woman is common. We think her depraved, hypocritical, unscrupulous in her policy, a foe to the advance of civilization, a perverter of the teachings of Christ, a dealer in the outworn evils of superstition and mystery, a panderer to all the baser elements in the religious instinct. According to our varying temperaments, we tingle with indignation or smile with scorn at her gaudy trappings and her elaborate ceremonies. Mummery! hood-winkings! planned to entice the unwary and fool the credulous. We avoid the Catholic churches of our cities as if they were so many halls of sorcery, and really know nothing at all about them. We are as afraid of a Jesuit priest as Ulysses was of the Siren. All this, it will readily be admitted, is not an unfair description of the state of mind of the majority of American Protestants.
Then we go abroad for the winter, and what happens to us? In saying that the revelation comes with a shock, I have perhaps seemed to imply that it is sudden. But of course it cannot be immediate. A prejudice that yielded in a moment would not do credit to any one; it would hardly be worth the pains of persuasion. An enlisted Puritan sticks to his colors a long time. And, for every reason, this is well. Thorough changes must be gradual; profound transformations creep slowly, like the dawn, awaking peak after peak, until a whole continent, looking on at the process, finds itself flooded with light. This looking on, this amazed awareness, this silent self-observation, is part of the value and moment of the experience. To see one’s self change before one’s own eyes is keenly interesting.
The process begins accidentally. The traveler enters one of the Roman churches in quest of a double-starred mosaic. He regards the place more as a museum than as a church. Of course he takes off his hat at the door, and, perhaps in spite of himself, he abates his swinging stride a little; but his sight-seeing eagerness of mind acknowledges no check. Crossing in front of the high altar, his heels clicking loudly on the marble floor, he takes out his opera-glass, twists and turns until he gets the mosaic focused, and then gives himself over to a prolonged contemplation and a careful study of his Baedeker. In the midst of his scrutiny, he hears a sound of chanting behind him, and, turning, sees a procession emerging into the nave. He is a little disturbed, almost annoyed. He had set aside this particular hour for an inspection of the artistic treasures of the church, and now he is going to be interrupted by some meaningless service or other.
But, whether he wants to or not, he has to yield his present position, directly in the path of the procession; and grudgingly he steps aside, his finger in his Baedeker. On comes the procession. The wide marble nave — cool and shining and white — is threaded with a stream of color and song. The flickering processional lights are vaguely reflected in the polished floor and pillars, the red or purple cassocks of the priests warmly underscore the long line of the white surplices, a great crucifix goes ahead or in the midst of the company, and perhaps a cardinal brings up the rear, his flaming meteor train borne by acolytes. The whole thing makes an impressive picture.
Again, whether he wants to or not, the traveler stands gazing at it, with riveted attention. Then, as the procession enters the choir and the solemn service begins, he draws insensibly nearer and slips his Baedeker into his pocket. He would not deliberately have ‘come to church’ here (perish the thought!), but now that he is surprised on the spot, he thinks that he may as well stay and see what happens next. Along with the gathering citizens and contadini, he elbows his way nearer to the choir-rail, and looks on with that peculiar expression of mingled curiosity, amusement, superiority, and bewilderment which marks him for what he is, an unbelieving foreigner. The only wonder to my mind is that the Church does not pitch a person with an expression like that heels over head out of doors.
Well, what does happen next is of course entirely unintelligible to him. He has no clue to the comings and goings, the genuflexions, the changes of position, the carrying around of books, the blessings and incensings. And the effect upon him depends altogether upon his temperament. He may speedily become bored, and, extricating himself from the crowd of worshipers, may betake himself to the side chapels, there to study altars and frescoes until the way is clear for him to return to the mosaic. He may do a much worse thing. Standing just where he is, conspicuous in the front rank of worshipers, he may whip out his Baedeker and resume his study over the heads of the priests, ignoring the conduct of his neighbors and the warning of bells, until perhaps some indignant Catholic plucks at him from behind. But with such dispositions and actions this paper has not to do. The more susceptible Protestant remains at attention during the whole of the mysterious service, watching with such a breathless interest that he gradually loses consciousness of himself; and when the bell rings and all the people who are not already on their knees prostrate themselves, he — well, no, he probably does not kneel down, his Puritan joints will not let him, but he bows his head and the odious expression disappears from his face. That is enough. Mother Church, seeing that, is very glad that she did not pitch him out of doors.
The chances are that, this first service being over, the traveler forgets all about his Baedeker and strolls out into the Roman sunshine, revolving many obscure cogitations. He hardly knows what to think about, what kind of an impression has been made upon him; but he is aware that something has happened to change the current of his inner life. Very likely he does not take the thing at all seriously — what should there be serious about it? — but it interests him, he wants to get to the bottom of it. How did it occur that, stopping to look at a curious spectacle, he lost himself, and, released by and by, found himself with his temper of mind completely changed? The mere effect of beauty? Perhaps. There certainly had been no lack of beauty in the recent service. But the mosaic was beautiful too, and so was the church, with the long straight lines of its grand, open nave; yet he had admired them and had been ready to go right on to the next point in his schedule for the day. The service had upset his equilibrium, had worked somesubtle change in him, so that now he has to collect and rearrange his ideas. Curious! But it does not matter. Put it down to æsthetics, curiosity, what you will, and then forget it. The whole of Rome waits to be explored, and there is no time to waste in studying accidental vagaries of one’s own temperament. Resolutely, the traveler brushes the unimaginable cloud from his mind; and, pulling out his Baedeker, hurries away to the Colosseum.
It may be that these accidental seizures will have to happen again and again before their object gives them anything but a spasmodic, puzzled attention. But nothing in Rome is more frequent than such accidents. At every corner a church, in every church some treasure of art, at almost every hour of the day some Mass or Vespers or Benediction. The voice of the Church becomes gradually as familiar to the traveler as the voice of the fountains in the squares, as the solemn voice of Tiber flowing underneath the bridges.
Such familiarity may breed contempt in some people, who go strolling about the aisles with their Baedekers more and more profanely; but in the particular kind of person that we have under consideration it breeds a slow understanding and sympathy. He begins to find himself listening for the same prayers in their sonorous Latin, watching for the same gestures of adoration or benediction; and by and by — this marks a greater step than he knows — he drops in at Pialle’s and asks, vaguely, doubtfully, ‘Have you a Roman Catholic Prayer Book? Is there such a thing?’ Then, supplied with The Key of Heaven or some other collection of liturgies, he retires to a bench in the Pincian and gives himself over to a careful investigation of that which has so strangely aroused his interest.
But to his surprise, he discovers that, whatever may have seemed to him strange in the outer form of the Catholic service, its actual words are as profoundly familiar as the Lord’s Prayer. He is not an Episcopalian — or he would have scented this likeness before — but every one is more or less familiar with the English Prayer Book, and every one recognizes its transcendent utterances. Almost word for word its Communion service is found embedded in the Roman Mass.
Well! The traveler springs to his feet and hurries off to the nearest church; and there—if all this has not happened too late in the day — he for the first time intelligently ‘assists’ at a Mass.
The experience is — there is hardly a word to indicate the mysterious depth and scope of it. It goes far down into the roots of being and far back into the past, stirring all sorts of forgotten memories, lurking associations of love and penitence and forgiveness. We talk about the ‘faith of our fathers.’ But who are our fathers? Only the few immediately ancestral generations of Puritans? There have been three centuries of them, but they themselves were begotten by eight or ten centuries of Catholics; and the early loyalties are in our blood as well as the later. Nay, many of us, through the various strains of our heritage, reach obscurely back to the very foundation of the Christian Church. It may perhaps be suggested that, as the early Catholics are our fathers, so are the Druids; but the Christian religion was of an authority to shatter all previous sources when once it appeared. At any rate, there is no doubt about it, that the susceptible mind of the latter-day Presbyterian makes a profound echo and response to every word of the solemn ritual of the Catholic Church; and, following it, he loses himself and his present day in the whole history of humanity.
That does very well for the hour. A Catholic Mass, intelligently followed, precludes all immediate questionings and hesitations. But there comes a reaction when the traveler returns to his hotel, laden with as many books of Catholic doctrine as he can lay hands on; and a period of conflict begins. The poor Puritan finds himself horribly ‘in for it’ when he seriously sets himself to study the Roman Church. For, though his remote ancestors may be persistent in their influence upon him, their voices have nothing like the clamorous power of his more immediate forebears; and the latter rush to rescue him from what they conceive to be the peril of his soul.
For a little while he sits reading serenely, his face full of eager interest. Then he begins to frown and shake his head. By and by, he restlessly changes his position, or perhaps gets up and takes a turn about the room. He ends, according to his temperament, either by flinging his book into a corner or by laying it firmly and resolutely aside. No use! no good! Well, he might have known that no modern, enlightened Protestant can scratch the surface of the Roman Church without coming upon gross impossibilities. This ‘deposit of faith,’ these dogmatic articles of belief— how absurd to expect a twentieth-century mind to credit them! He is very sorry, quite unreasonably cast down. The detection of error is usually rather exhilarating, but this prompt disillusionment is distinctly disappointing. It is well that it came so promptly, however; for he was evidently building higher hopes than he knew, hopes for which there could not possibly be any foundation. He will learn his lesson and profit by it.
Now that he has proved to himself that he cannot share the beliefs on which the Catholic ceremony rests, it would be dishonest in him further to haunt the altar-rails. So, with an immense determination, he puts his recent interest away, and does not even enter a church for several days.
But how many churches there are in Rome! Their ubiquity had once been grateful to the traveler, but now he finds it cruel. He has to pass them at every turn; and always their doors are open, and people are thronging in. Sometimes he hears a sound of chanting or catches a whiff of incense; and every evening, when he returns to his hotel, the doors of the church at the head of the street are thrown wide and the high altar blazes for Benediction. Blazes and beckons. Yes, he has all he can do to resist it, all he can do to remind himself that he is not, cannot be, of this fold, and that to visit it is to try to deceive himself and God and man. He is really unhappy. He had had no idea that this new interest was taking such a hold upon him and that he was going to miss it so when he gave it up.
Then some evening it happens that he has had disturbing letters from home, or perhaps has had no letters at all, and is feeling lonely; and, as he approaches the beckoning church and looks up suddenly to catch the gleam of its many candles through the dusk, he can no longer stand it to remain outside. He does not stop to reason the matter, he does not even decide it; he simply crosses the street, runs up the steps, enters the door, and falls on his knees among the crowding people just as the sacred Host is elevated. Oh! then with what a rush does God come down into his heart! He covers his face, he bends, he bows, he holds his breath in a suspension of thought, and prays as he has not prayed in many days. He cannot help it, he is possessed, carried out of himself.
A few minutes later, erect on his feet, soberly descending the steps, he takes a somewhat bewildered counsel with himself. He is a little ashamed. Had he not fully decided that he could not honestly attend Catholic services ? Had he not conscientiously promised God and himself to stay away? Yet here behold him, prone on his knees before that which he knew could be no more divine than any other broken bit of bread! He has perjured himself, he ought to feel false and unclean, he takes himself bitterly to task. But the curious fact is that he does not feel false in the very least; he has seldom known a more wonderful lightness of heart, a more blessed sense of relief and well-being. God is not punishing him at all, but is rewarding him.
It is all so strange that he has to resume his investigation of the mystery. He begins to go to church again, not as a worshiper (if he can help it!) but as a spectator and student. There is something here that he has not fathomed by his scrutiny and rejection of dogma. He must try to find out what it is that lays such imperative hold on the spirit, ignoring its doubts and denials as if they were so much thin air. He is immensely glad to be able to give himself a respectable reason for renewing his altar-hauntings.
Being now so familiar with the forms of service that he does not have to concentrate his whole attention upon them in order to understand them, he adopts a different method of inquiry. He turns his attention to the worshipers. After all, they represent half of the significance of the ceremony. It is for them that the Church exists; for their sakes every Mass and Benediction is celebrated. If one does not understand what the service means to them, one cannot understand what it may mean to any one — even to God. Moreover, the traveler has been humbled by his recent failure to shape a correct analysis and to arrive at a solid conclusion from his own unsupplemented point of view. Having startled himself by his own refusal to abide by his own decisions, he thinks that he may just as well try to see how the matter under discussion looks to other people.
They are a heterogeneous lot, an Italian congregation, if indeed they are to be called by such an orderly word. The New England Congregationalist is at first inclined to be shocked by their casualness. They run in and out of their churches as if they were so many children darting home to have mother tie their apron-strings, and then, with a flying kiss, bounding away to their play once more. The figure seems to preclude reverence, and there is little awe in the demeanor of Italian worshipers. They are as much at home in their churches as in their kitchens or streets, and they treat the one precinct with just about as much deference as the other. Glorious marble pavements, dirt-floors, rough cobble paving-stones — these are all equally the highway of life. They bring all sorts of things to church with them: market-baskets, bundles, babies, even now and then a dog. They never think of ’dressing up’ in honor of Heaven; a handkerchief thrown over the heads of the hatless women is the only change of costume a church-door requires. Rags and velvets, handkerchiefs and ostrich plumes make no demur at kneeling side by side, apparently unconscious of their own disparity. The clothes in which one habitually faces life are the most appropriate clothes in which to worship God. Even the grave and stately priests, in their magnificent vestments, inspire no deference. When the choirrail does not intervene, the flock presses close on the heels of the shepherd, crowding to the very steps of the altar. Many a little child runs and peers over the shoulder of an officiating Father, steadying himself, unreproved, by the clutch of his tiny fingers at the gorgeous embroidered folds of cope or chasuble.
All this, as I suggested, is at first rather disconcerting to the New Englander, used to the punctual precision of his native congregations and to their solemnly respectful demeanor. In a church like Santa Maria Maggiore, where there are no seats at all, —let alone pews, — the whole body of the nave is pervaded with a shifting restlessness, a continual coming and going which seems open to the interpretation of sheer irreverence. How can people at the same time wander about and worship God?
Well, they can; there is no doubt about it. See them bend the knee every time they pass the significant red lamp before an altar; watch how swiftly they prostrate themselves at the first sound of the sanctus bell. They know what they are here for, and they attend to all the monitions of the Church; but they do it easily, naturally, from the ordinary level of their daily lives. They make no more ado about greeting God than about greeting their next-door neighbor. They treat Him carelessly simply because they feel so at home with Him.
Does He like it? One wonders. There is a tribute in our northern awe and veneration, a significance in our special, occasional services, for which we prepare ourselves and to which we bring our earnest, thorough attention. We make every effort to treat Heaven with respect. But perhaps Heaven, having first created man in its image and then having entered his flesh the better to redeem him, prefers love and confidence to veneration, would rather see its worship a natural part of everyday experience than relegated to certain formal occasions. What does the Incarnation mean if not the complete condescension of Divinity, the perfect sharing of God with man?
This is the point which makes the first intellectual impression upon the inquiring traveler. He seizes upon it eagerly as a golden clue. For we Protestants have not for nothing exalted our intellects; we are now hag-ridden by the precious things, and cannot comfortably solve any problem without their coöperation. If it is true that the methods of the Catholic Church embody the principle of the Incarnation better than any other, then that is reason enough for its power. On solid ground at last (so he thinks), the traveler haunts his churches more diligently than ever and watches with wide interest.
It is certainly true that the Catholic Church as a whole is in touch with her children during every hour of the day. Not only through the many stated services, but, more significantly, when no bell rings an invitation, when altar and choir are deserted by the chanting priests. These silent intervals between Masses and Benedictions are more fruitful of love and conviction to the traveler than anything else. For never does he enter a church — no matter how obscure, how remote, how unadvertised — that he does not find some man or woman kneeling before an altar or a shrine, lost in supplication. There is reverence and concentration enough in these private worshipers. They prostrate, they abandon themselves, ‘ clinging Heaven by the hems’; they pour out their souls in adoration or in entreaty.
The traveler is greatly moved by them. Sometimes, with his finger on his lips, he steals away and leaves them to their communion; sometimes, averting his face, he kneels at a distance and joins his prayer with theirs. Of the two actions, the latter is the truer — only that he really need not trouble to avert his face. For the Catholic sentiment is frank and open, knowing no shame, no selfconsciousness. It does not mind expressing itself in the face of the world.
Realizing this, the traveler also realizes, with something of a shock, how unconsciously he himself has already been moulded by Catholic influence. Now that he comes to think about it, when did he take to kneeling at altars or in corners of churches? When did he begin crossing himself, — as he suddenly finds himself doing, with all the swift spontaneity of long habit? Astonishing! He is surprised at himself, and also he is a little alarmed. Can it be that he is becoming a Catholic unawares ?
The question is an arresting one. Protestant circumspection feels bound to consider it carefully, to apply the usual methods of analysis and judgment to the situation. But a lifelong habit of being on one’s guard can pall sometimes, can even irritate. The traveler does not want to pull himself up short, to watch and weigh, to sift and criticize. He is enjoying his new experience, and he would like to give himself up to it, to let himself go. Let himself go! It is a big moment in a Protestant’s spiritual life when he contemplates the possibility of doing such a thing.
After all, what harm can ensue? There are other faculties in human nature besides judgment and intelligence. Every one knows that; but now and then it appears to an individual that there is a host of hidden and quite unsuspected faculties lurking in him. Where did they come from? What do they mean? How shall he deal with them? They are so shy, so unused to the open, that the limelight of the intelligence (ah, the brave intelligence!) turned on them, disperses and shatters them at once; they will not stay to be analyzed. Therefore, even from the intellectual point of view, is it not better to leave them alone, to let them come out and assert themselves, and then, when they are in full action, turn on the light and investigate them? Time enough for judgment when the case is in hand.
Having, by such reasoning, characteristically fortified himself on the side of conscience as well as of desire, the traveler enters upon the happiest phase of his experience: he does, for almost the first time in his religious life, completely let himself go. He fairly lives in his favorite church; he is as much at home there as the beggars who have their regular seats at the door. He comes to know the Mass by heart. He sways with the rest of the worshipers, kneeling, prostrating himself, adoring the Host. Between services, he seeks an altar before which hangs a red lamp, and, kneeling again, gives himself over to a feeling of the Presence of God. Tired with sight-seeing in the late afternoon, he seeks the nearest church, and, at the showing of the Host, feels all his weariness slip from him and a wonderful refreshment of peace descend upon him. He does not question or argue now; he simply — lets himself go.
Once in a while, to be sure, it happens that he is caught by some statement of dogma in a sermon, and his recent, ancestors rush in upon him, striving to save him, to rouse him to a proper sense of his intellectual dignity. ‘Oh! that is not true, you know it is not,’ they cry, urging him. ‘Come away! This is no place for you.’ But he pacifies them as well as he can. ‘Wait,’ he says. ‘Your turn will come later. I am waiting too.’ It is a great experience. There has never been anything like it for completeness of abandon, for ecstasy.
It lasts — well, of course it might last forever, it has eternity in it. But the traveler does not allow that — at least, not without interruption; he has given his word to his intelligence and to his ancestors. After some glorious weeks or months of unreflecting worship, when he is thoroughly steeped in the spirit of the Catholic Church, when its services are as familiar to him as the processes of his own mind, he calls a halt and sits down to consider, once more on his guard, with all his wits about him. Surely by this time those strange faculties which evaded his scrutiny three months ago are sufficiently heartened by food and exercise to stand still and let him study them.
Indeed they are! No sooner does he turn on the valued limelight which he has reserved so carefully for the last three months than he discovers a positive wealth of material for it to play upon. It is amazing how fast and how greatly the aspect of one’s mind can change, under the stress of experience, if one leaves it alone. Here are needs and hopes and aspirations, humilities and obediences, abnegations and resolutions, of whose existence the traveler had never dreamed. They are all very brave and confident too; and when he challenges them gently, loving them so at first sight that he holds his breath for fear of frightening and losing them, they answer back securely. It appears that, though it may be well to judge things in the light of reason, it is desirable first to let life supply the things.
In the light of reason, what can the Protestant make of the spiritually and emotionally convincing worship of the Catholic Church? This is the question which the traveler sets himself, and which he summons all his faculties, old and new, to help him answer. To his joy, he finds that the ensuing phase of his experience is almost as exciting as that which immediately preceded it; for, instead of plucking his dream down from the sky, it hastens to build an unexpected foundation under it.
Take that cardinal doctrine, that belief on which the whole ceremony rests; the peculiar, actual Presence of God in the Sacrament. Can a Protestant justify the adoration of the Host? Yes, if only from the point of view of symbolism. God is everywhere — all Catholics as well as all Protestants understand that fully. But, such creatures of time and space are we mortals that that which is everywhere might almost as well be nowhere; we have to limit and define things before we can apprehend them. It is immensely valuable to us to be able, as it were, to focus God, to conceive Him as peculiarly present in one spot. The universe speaks of Him, but it also speaks of man and the devil. The red lamp before an altar speaks of but One Presence, and before it we do well to prostrate heart and body. Moreover, the Sacrament gives us the human joy of seeking God. A lover is glad to take some pains, to put himself to some trouble, for his beloved. It is blessed to long after God at a distance from any church, and, rising, make one’s way over the streets, hurrying, running, scarce able to wait. ‘Oh! that I knew where I might find Him!’ That is the burden of the ages before Christ, the natural burden of all humanity. Christ understood it, and his Church has set itself to minister first of all to the thirsty need.
The Incarnation! Again it seems that the Catholic Church embodies the principle better than any other. The miracle is repeated each day; with the revolving sun, it is at every moment taking place somewhere on the earth. The Word is perpetually being made flesh and dwelling among us. And the great sacrifice is forever accomplished. The Catholic Church has caught the spirit of eternity, in that it refuses to relegate the Birth and the Passion to their set periods, far in the past, but insists on regarding them as continually happening. Christ is as actually with us as He was with Peter and John.
The stateliness of the Catholic worship springs naturally from its conception of its august function. That which brings God to pass every day must behave itself very seemly, must use all possible means of impressing its significance upon the people. To that end the elaborate ceremonies, the symbolism of vestments and lights and incense, the gestures of authority and adoration. To that end also the overdecoration, even the tawdriness. For comparatively few people care for the finer, severer aspects of beauty, whereas hundreds of thousands love paper garlands and gaudy hangings and bright pictures. The Catholic Church exists for the multitude, and must see to it that the simple hearts are fed.
The authority of the Church is the claim over which the Protestant has the greatest difficulty. How can he bring himself to accept the doctrine of infallibility, how can he consent to have his own personal beliefs decreed for him? Very likely he cannot. On this point it is probable that his Puritan ancestors will win triumphantly. But, whether one accepts it or not, there is something to be said for the Catholic position. In all the warring, conflicting beliefs of the generations of men, something must be absolutely true and something false. It is hopeless to try to arrive at a common truth through individual dicta; for those shift not only from man to man, but also from year to year in the experience of the same person. Yet how can the world go on if it know not a common truth? It has not gone on very well so far. Its progress has been so haphazard, so interrupted, so counterbalanced by collapse and retrogression, that many intelligent people deny that it has progressed at all. We pull too many ways. It would be interesting to try the experiment of pulling the same way for a change, of acknowledging — all of us — one standard of faith and morality, and working consciously for one end. We are at heart a great deal more alike than we are different, and we could easily and gladly work together. But somebody must set us our standard, and who is so fit to do that as the Church which has for ages concerned itself with spiritual matters, studying the teachings of Christ, interpreting them, and reconciling their inconsistencies?
The argument holds good in regard to the temporal as well as the spiritual supremacy of the Church. The two supremacies should not be sundered — that is the ultimate truth. All life is spiritual, all questions should be decided spiritually; it is not conceivable that a problem should ever arise which might not better be handled religiously than politically. The words of Christ are sufficient to cover the whole development of our civilization, and would save us from many a needless complexity if we followed them more closely.
Perhaps the idea of an infallible Church is not tenable, since popes and cardinals and priests are human. The Church’s weakness undoubtedly lies in her presumption and rigidity. She forgets that the principle of all life is growth, and that if she is to maintain her vitality, she must adapt herself to changing conditions. But she is awaking to that understanding. Her Modernist movement is full of hope and promise to her well-wishers. Meantime, though she may make mistakes, she probably makes fewer than any individual, trying out his own experiments; and her leadership is invaluable, even if her dogmatic decrees are sometimes at fault.
Her source of weakness is also her strength. There is a great force in that which has been maintained and believed for thousands of years, and the power of unity cannot be overestimated. The human heart loves tradition. Of course! Tradition builds up reality for it, helps it to find a foothold in the midst of the transient welter of immediacy. What millions of our fellow creatures have felt and have slowly shaped into expression out of their common need and understanding must have a bigger measure of truth than the uncertain guesses which any one of us is able to formulate. There is something elemental in the ritual of the Catholic Church, something of the command of the old sea and the mountains. But even the sea and the mountains change. The Church must not destroy herself by standing still.
Such a meditation as this on the part of the Protestant traveler may leave much to be desired from a Catholic point of view. But it is simply worlds removed from any meditation which he would have been able to make, or even conceive, three months before. He bears a changed heart — how deeply changed he realizes more and more as his life goes on. When he returns to his own country and to his New England Church, he finds that all things look different to him. The nature of his reaction then (a re-reaction it is in truth), depends upon his temperament and his circumstances. He may remain unshaken in his allegiance to the denominational fellowship in which he has been brought up, or his new needs and aspirations may carry him away. In the former case, though the sectarian service will seem formal and matter-of-fact to him, he will also look deeper into it than he ever did before and he will find new echoes and meanings in its ungarnished rites. Unobtrusively, he will slip to his knees during the prayers, and he will create for himself the image of an altar and a glowing, darkling light. ‘This is my body’—ah! never again can he hear those tremendous words without prostrating himself.
The conclusion ? There is no conclusion. The experience is not an ordered process, with beginning and middle and end. It is a rich hue, dyeing the whole of life; or, better, it is a new light, the light of eternity, which passeth not away. The Protestant who has once learned to kneel devoutly in a Catholic Church will never thereafter wholly escape, for the altar before which he bows has been set up in his own heart.