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Art. V. – 1. Il Protestantesimo e la Regola di Fede.
Per GIOVANNI Perrone, della Compagnia di Gesú, Prof. di Teologia nel Coll. Romano. Roma: Coi Tipi
della Civiltà Cattolica. 1853. 2. Dissertazione Storico-Teologica, del P. GABRIELLE Bib
BIA, del terz' Ordine di S. Francesco, contro le Bibliche Società de' Protestanti. Assisi. 1852.
The work by Father Perrone, together with a number of other books written since 1848 by Italians and by others, some of them devoted children of the Ho Roman Catholic Apostolic Church, some of them her sworn enemies, and all of them interested in the affairs of their country, was noticed in a former number of this Review; but as it excelled the others in point of size, importance, scope, and thorough management of the Italian question, we promised to recur to it on a future occasion. We expressed a hope, at the time, that some person well qualified for the task would translate it for the American Catholic public. We are a little surprised that it has not been already done in England. The close, though generally indirect connection, in an official sense, of England with Italy for the last sixty years, and the silent, though effective, influence which Eng. lish statesmanship has brought to bear upon the affairs of that peninsula, would serve to prove that a well-planned translation of the work of Father Perrone might in no small degree advance the interests of Catholicity in England. The work was projected, begun, and finished in England, while the author was an exile, driven from his native land by the whirlwind which the unhappy Gioberti strove to ride, and the storm which he sought to direct against the Society of Jesus, but which turned out to be an anti-Catholic whirlwind, - an anti-Christian storm, which the providence of God so rode, and so guided, that, while the intended victims are now seated under their own vine and their own fig-tree, with no one to disturb them or make them afraid, the authors of the mischief either sleep in dishonored graves, or wander abroad with the mark of Cain — the evidence of murder done and further murder planned - upon their brows, stamped in characters of everlasting fire. Like the master whom they serve, and who is the Prince of this world, disasters, defeat, ruin, teach them nothing. They will try, as they have tried, again and again, to raise the storm which the breath of God has so often quelled in his own time and in his own way, they themselves being not seldom the very instruments chosen by him for the irretrievable destruction of their own work, and they themselves being not seldom the only victims borne by the tempest to the depths from which it was evoked. The race of Pharaohs, whose hearts are hardened, whose eyes are closed, and whose ears are stopped, still lives. So long as man is free, so long as the partial darkness of the understanding, and the weakness of the will, the sad effects of the Fall, remain, so long as Satan be not wholly chained, the heathen will rage, the PEOPLE will imagine vain things, and He who sitteth in the heavens will laugh them to scorn.
In the course of this mundane contest the Church appears to be, humanly speaking, always falling, and the enemy always about to conquer
. The enemy will not be blamed herein by the man who looks at the field of battle from an earthly point of view. No precaution that human intellect aided by diabolical malice can suggest, is omitted in the assault. Hence, when the Church is attacked, she prays. She rests mainly upon the promises of Christ, which cannot fail. And the enemy, being earth-born, when dashed to the earth rises, like the fabled earth-born giant of old, deriving new strength from the infernal source whence he sprung.
The work of the illustrious Perrone is directed against Protestantism, considered in its relations with the Rule of Faith. But it contains much more matter than one would be led to suppose from its title. It is written chiefly for Italians at home. It passes over modern Pyrrhonism, inasmuch as it assumes, as a starting-point, that every man who is a man holds certain truths to be incontestible; believes in some higher and better state than the present; hopes to enjoy that state, and receives or proposes to himself some rule of faith and of conduct by which he may obtain the fruition of his desires. He writes for his beloved Italy, and especially for those generous but misled young men of Italy whose cry is that they were Italians before they were Catholics. Let us remain true to our Church, say they, but, while we shut our eyes to the evidences of her increasing age, let us take from her hands, gently but firmly, lovingly but with such force as may be necessary
to accomplish our purpose, that temporal sceptre whics she once knew so well how to wield, and which she refuses to drop now, because her hands are so accustomed to its touch, because she does not know how to drop it, and because there are no hands strong enough to take it from her. She clings to it, not because she loves it, but because she cannot bring herself to resign it. Ours are the hands of her own most beloved children, and she will yield to their gentle force what she would refuse to ruder hands. We
and it is the will of God that we direct our own concerns in all things that pertain to this life. Let our mother, the Church, tell us what to do for the life to come. Is not that work glorious enough, even for her ? And if she tell us that, in order to obtain the life to come, we must subordinate the temporal to the spiritual, and therefore in all things which pertain to this life receive our direction from her, we will listen respectfully, we will love her as dearly as ever, yet we will be firm in our just resolve, understanding well that she is from the mere force of habit repeating words which may have been not only true but efficacious once, but which are now as empty and as inoperative as the words of the Sanhedrim or of the schools would be, if uttered in tones of authority in this enlightened age.
Father Perrone does not fear that Protestantism in its theological or in its philosophical form will ever find favor in Italy. She long since weighed Protestantism under these forms in the balance, found them wanting, and threw them aside as rubbish. Still, there was a moment when the faith of Italy seemed to her enemies to waver.
“From the evil moment when the Protestant rebellion began in the heart of Germany to rend asunder the unity of Christendom, the eyes of the pretended Reformers were turned with guilty desire towards the beautiful plains of Italy, for they knew well that immense gains and a hitherto unheard of triumph would await them, if they would but transplant and cause to take root their deadly Upas-tree in that Italy which is so loyal to Rome and to the Popes, precisely because it is so warmly attached to the Catholic faith. They omitted no means, spared no pains, and left no one of the powerful men who favored their cause uninvoked, in order to spread the poisonous air throughout Italy. And they succeeded to a certain extent. John McCrie, a Scotch Protestant, is the author of a book called Memoirs concerning the Reformation in Ilaly, which was translated a few years ago at Paris by one of those Italian refugees who would redeem Italy by making her a Protestant nation, thereby bringing upon her the very greatest of evils. The book deserves no credit whatever. The author alters, maliciously colors, or exaggerates facts, he suppresses truth, suggests falsehood, invents pleasant fictions, and not seldom tells slanderous lies. He would have us believe that all the best and greatest Italians of that age were infected with the German poison, and in his career of slander he does not spare the memories of such vener. able men as Sadoleti and Contarini. Yet it is but too true that some of the men of that day who called themselves literati touched the pitch, and were defiled, while a few of them turned their backs upon Catholicity, and became proselytes and preachers in Italy of the new gospel according to the unhappy founders of Protestantism, who could never agree among themselves as to what the gospel was. Several causes combined to procure the apostasy of these Italian Catholics. The superstitious reverence which, by many at that time, was affectedly or really felt towards Pagan antiquity, not only as a repertory of true eloquence, poetry, and art, but as a receptacle for all things that savored of Gentilism, license, and every kind of mere worldliness; the dark and silent hatred against the Popes which was nourished in the breasts of some; and, finally, an inordinate desire, not peculiar to that age, to live a life free of all laws, and to let loose the passions natural to man without fear of punishment, at least in this life, were so many helps to the men who had made the perversion of Italy the sole object of their unholy mission. The names of Italian families, which one occasionally hears mentioned in Germany and in Switzerland, as names well known there centuries ago, serve to prove that the labors of the emissaries of Satan were not wholly without fruit! Nor should we conceal the fact, that two Italian cities and courts, both famous for their magnificence and for the protection afforded by them to letters, to the arts, and sciences, gave
aid and comfort to the pretended Reformers, and favored the introduction and spread of their insidious writings in the land. These cities were Ferrara and Venice. It was the misfortune of Italy that the then reigning Duchess of Ferrara was a Navarrese princess, infected with Calvinistic doctrines, of which sad fact she gave a proof when she welcomed Calvin, who had come to do the work of his infernal master in Italy, to the honors of her palace and court. Venice, at that time not well disposed towards Rome, and filled with a disloyal spirit towards the Popes, yearning to assert her dominion, not only over the seas and over her subjugated neighbors, but also over persons and things consecrated to God, eagerly seized the occasion to destroy the pontifical authority; and thus she prepared the way for the lamentable scenes which were not long afterward enacted under the malign influence and by the direct instigation of that unworthy friar, Paolo Sarpi. Let no enemy reproach us for the evil deeds of this Sarpi, – he was not a Catholic.
“Still, the merciful providence of God saved Italy. The Italian populations were not harmed by the noonday demon of Ferrara and Venice. The Catholic faith, fifteen hundred years old in Italy, had taken too deep a root in the Italian heart, the love of the people for the beauty, majesty, and holiness of Catholic worship was too great, and their reverence and gratitude towards the successor of Peter were too profound to permit even a partial Italian apostasy, or to render it possible. The good sense of Italians could not endure the illogical principles, the patent absurdities, the endless schisms and variations of Protestantism, nor could it stomach the miserable fruits which Protestantism, from its very infancy, had produced in Germany, distracted by civil wars among populations which had been united as one family, and which then offered a wretched spectacle from which Italians knew how to derive a profitable lesson. Was it possible that the love of the beautiful which lies deep in the Italian heart, the fine and impassioned national taste for the arts, and the well-tempered science so visible in the Italian method of philosophy, could ever have accommodated itself to the crude and frozen cultus of the Reformation, which, after it had despoiled the Christian soul of her faith in the consoling and saving truths revealed by Christ, with equal cruelty and sacrilege despoiled the house of God of all beauty, and of all holiness? No, Italy was not a soil for Arctic Protestantism; there was and there is an intrinsic and essential antagonism between Italy and Protestantism. Moreover, other causes were in operation for the preservation and defence of Italy. The pastors of souls, the sentinels of Israel, the bishops, ably assisted by their clergy, watched over their threatened flocks with all vigilance and solicitude. The Italian princes, in their zeal for the Church of God, supported her with the authority and the power
of the civil arm. But above all, the Roman Pontiffs, the teachers, governors, and guardians of the whole flock committed to their care by Christ, while on the one hand they fulminated their anathemas against the rising heresy of the North, on the other hand they took care to uproot the poisonous plant, and to build good solid walls for the vineyard of the Lord.” – Vol. I., Disc. Prel., pp. vi. – ix.
Italy then has nothing to fear from Protestantism considered as a religion or as a system of philosophy. The effect of the French Revolution upon Italy was, not Protestantism, - that was always too cold, vulgar, and illogi