Moral Briefs – Chapter XLI – The Religious

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonOwing to the disturbance over things religious in France, vows and those who exemplify them in their lives are receiving of late a large share of public attention. On this topic, it seems, every one is qualified to speak; all sorts of opinions have been ventilated in the religious, the non-religious, and the irreligious press, for the benefit of those who are interested in this pitiful spasm of Gallic madness against the Almighty and His Church. The measure of unparalleled tyranny and injustice, in which antipathy to religious orders has found expression, is being favorably and unfavorably commented upon. But since monks, friars and nuns seldom find favor with the non Catholic world, the general verdict is that the religious, like the anarchist, must go; society is afraid of both and is safe from neither.

To Catholics who understand human nature and have read history, this condition of things is not surprising; it is, we might venture to say, the normal state of mind in relation to things so intensely Catholic as religious vows. Antagonism against monasticism was born the day Luther decided to take a wife; and as long as that same spirit lingers on earth we shall expect this antagonism to thrive and prosper. Not only that, but we shall never expect the religious to get a fair hearing for their cause. The hater, open or covert, of the habit and cowl is whole-souled or nothing in his convictions. And he believes the devil should be fought with his own weapons.

We do not expect all men to think as we do concerning the merits of the religious profession. To approve it without restriction would be to approve the Church. To find no wrong in it would be indicative of a dangerous Romish tendency. And we are not prepared to assert that any such symptoms exist to an alarming extent in those who expatiate on religious topics these latter days. There will be differences of opinion on this score, as on many others, and one fellow’s opinion is as good, to himself, as another’s.

There are even objections, to many an honest man, serious objections, that may be brought up and become legitimate matter for discussion. We take it for granted that intelligent men do not oppose an institution as venerable as monasticism without reasons. Contention between people who respect intelligence is always based on what has at least a semblance of truth, and has for its object to detect reality and label it as distinct from appearance.

We go farther, and admit that there have been abuses in this system of perfection, abuses that we were the first to detect, the first to deplore and feel the shame of it. But before we believed it, we investigated and made sure it was so. We found out very often that the accusations were false. Scandal-mongers and dishonest critics noted the charges, but forgot to publish the verdict, and naturally with the public these charges stand. No wonder then that such tales breed antipathy and hatred among those who are not in position to control facts.

A queer feature about this is that people do not give religious credit for being human. That they are flesh and blood, all agree; that they should err, is preposterous. A hue-and-cry goes up when it becomes known that one of these children of Adam has paid the penalty of being human. One would think an angel had fallen from heaven. We notice in this attitude an unconscious recognition of the sanctity of the religious state; but we see behind it a Pharisaic spirit that exaggerates evil at the expense of justice.

Now, if the principle that abuse destroys use is applied to all things, nothing will remain standing, and the best will go first. Corruptio optimi pessima. Everything human is liable to abuse; that which is not, is divine. Religious and laymen, mortals all, the only time it is beyond our power to do wrong is when we are dead, buried, and twenty-four hours underground. If in life we make mistakes, the fault lies, not in our being of this or that profession, but in being human. Whatever, therefore, the excesses that religious can be proven guilty of, the institution itself must not be held responsible, unless it can be shown that there exists a relation of cause and effect. And whoever reasons otherwise, abuses the intelligence of his listeners.

We desire, in the name of honesty and fairness, to see less of that spirit that espies all manner of evil beneath the habit of a religious; that discovers in convents and monasteries plotting against the State in favor of the Papacy, the accumulation of untold wealth by oppression and extortion for the satisfaction of laziness and lust, iniquity of the deepest dye allied to general worthlessness. Common sense goes a long way in this world. If it were only a less rare commodity, and if an effective tribunal could be erected for the suppression of mendacity, the religious would appear for the first time in history in their true colors before the world, and light would shine in darkness.