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“ 20.— There is now found out, under pretence of religion, a new sort of servitude, which I find practised in the nunneries ; you must do nothing but by a rule, and then all that you lose they gain. And to make the slavery yet more evident, you change the habit that your parents gave you, and, after the old example of slavery, bought and sold in the market, you change the very name that was given you in baptism : and that which makes the servitude yet more unhappy is, that you must serve many masters, and they most commonly fools too, and debauchees. But say, I beseech you, by what law are you discharged from the power of your parents? what if you should buy or sell your father's estate, you do not hold it lawful. What right have you, then, to dispose of your parent's child, to I know not whom, his child, which is the dearest and most appropriate part of his possession ? If you cannot dispose of so much as a rag, or an inch of ground, so long as you are under the government of your parents, what right can you pretend to for the disposing of yourself into the service of another? Did you not profess yourself a Christian in your baptism ? and are not they religious that conform to the precepts of Christ? What new religion is that, then, which pretends to frustrate what the law of nature has established ? what the old law taught ? what the evangelical law has approved, and what the apostles' doctrine hath confirmed ? This is a device that never descended from heaven, but was hatched by a monk in his cell, I am by no means against the main institution of a monastical life, but I would most undoubtedly caution young women (especially those of generous nature) not to precipitate themselves into this gulph, from whence there is no returning, and the rather because their modesty is more in danger in a cloister than out of it.'—Extract from Sir R. L'Estrange's Erasmus,
“ 21.-In A.D. 1431, Ambrose, General of the Order of Camaldoli, ' went to visit several monasteries of his order. He found everywhere an extreme corruption of manners. Some nunneries were perfect . ... which we chose to express in Greek rather than in Latin, The abbess owned, at last, that the nuns did not behave as they ought, but that neither she, nor some of the most aged sisters, followed the bad example.””
“ 22.— I have, in the course of my life, come in contact with characters of all descriptions; I have seen the human mind at various stages of elevation and debasement; but souls more polluted than those of some of the professed vestals of the Church of Rome never fell within my observation.'— Blanco White, i. 70.
“ 23.-Orbe. Here are a town-house and a college, which were once two convents of monks and nuns, that were contiguous. There was a little church, common to them both ; upon the pulling down whereof, about fifty years ago, there tumbled out as many dry bones of infants as would fill a large basket ; and a private trap-door was found, which communicated from one convent to the other.-Hist. of Switzerland,
“ 24,- - The convent of Sepolte Vive (the buried alive) in Naples, was an inhuman and godless atrocity. These establishments, when not converted into clerical seraglios, were at best but abodes of childish im. becility. - Father Gavazzi, p. 53.
“ 25.—Some years ago it was my lot to become acquainted with a Romish bishop (since dead), vicar-apostolic of British Guiana, Dr. Claney. At the period of my acquaintance with him he was about departing from Ireland to his bishopric, and was taking with him a number of nuns for the purpose of founding a convent there. He did succeed in procuring some six or seven females, who set sail with him from Dublin. In an incredibly short period after her arrival there, one of the nuns insisted on returning, and threatened an appeal to the British Governor if her request were not complied with. It was granted, and upon her retum to Ireland she stated to myself, amongst others, that the revolting scenes she was compelled to witness were the cause of her departure.'—Extract from a Tract by R. F. Spillar, formerly a Romanist.
“ 26.—Mr. D. was perfectly right in the character which he gave of monastic institutions. I well remember, when I was in Quebec, some thirty-five years ago, one of these nests of iniquity was being taken down, and on clearing away the foundation, a quantity of the bones and remains of infants were found under the pavement in a part of the cellar. It appears that this spot had been used, time immemorial, by the pious sisterhood for the burial-place of the poor beings who had thus been murdered to hide their shame and profligacy. The story soon got to the ears of the Papists, and the affair was hushed up.'—Extract of a Letter from an English Manufacturer in the North of England to a Merchant in London, 29th March 1851. “ 27.— I was a curate, officiating in the Roman Catholic Chapel of
My niece was a boarder or pensioner in the school of the nunnery of — from the age of four years to the age of eighteen. As her guardian under her father's will, the duty devolved on me to ascertain from that young lady her intentions relative to her future state of life. I accordingly invited her to breakfast at my lodgings in the chapel. house of that chapel, and said to her, 'Do you intend to return into a nunnery or living in the world ?' 'Nunneries,' she replied, “are not such good places as you imagine: I would not pass my life in one of them for any consideration : as to the nuns, they are continually in a state of strife with each other, and the crimes committed by the young ladies are shocking to relate.' I accordingly, with her own approbation, placed her at a boarding-school of the highest reputation, in order to qualify her for filling her place in society, where she remained until she married.'Extract of a Letter from an Ex-Priest, 29th March 1851."
It will be obvious that this brief article was written before the untoward defeat of the Nunnery Bill in the House of Commons. A writer circumstanced in this way may be held to resemble a man who has called upon his friends to visit a work which he finds blown away on the day of inspection. The remarks may be allowed to stand as the expression of opinion on a much needed and very constitutional measure
. Ministers were unfriendly to the Nunnery Bill,-a circumstance which will not abate from the hate felt towards them by the Popish members on account of their anti-Wiseman action. Nunneries will now enjoy a complete exemption, so far as the regards of law are concerned. The privilege, we think, is rather to be deprecated ; and conventual houses, a solecism and evil in British society, ought to be placed under strict surveillance. If well conducted, why deprecate scrutiny ? if the reverse, the friendless, helpless inmates, should have had the special benefit of such a visitation as that provided in the measure unhappily frustrated, so far as the present session is concerned.
COCHRANE'S DIFFICULT TEXTS.
Discourses on Some of the Most Difficult Texts of Scripture. By the
Rev. James CocHRANE, A.M. We gladly welcome this volume as another valuable contribution to our theological literature. The pen of the gifted author has already greatly enriched our Scottish theology, but the present work will, we think, do more than any of his former ones to secure him a permanent place among our divines. In his previous works, he exhibited much ingenious speculation, a glowing imagination, and high rhetorical power; but in the present volume he displays the additional accomplishments of a mature scholar and a profound thinker. The style, too, is more compact and rigid, though it is by no means destitute of those attractions which have rendered his former works so popular. It is gratifying to mark the progressive growth of a mind, so well calculated to tell as a religious power, not only in the limited sphere of his own congregation, but in the church at large. It is obvious that much of his time has been devoted to hermeneutical studies; and though the form of discourses prevents any ostentatious display of learning, it is obvious that he has familiarised himself with all the niceties of the original languages, and carefully weighed the best authorities on all the exegetical difficulties brought under his consideration. The example of Mr Cochrane, in giving all his studies a practical tendency, is well worthy of imitation. Ministers are often in great danger of being seduced into pursuits and studies altogether alien to the great object of their calling, as heralds of the Cross. When the engrossing subject of the mind jars with the thoughts and feelings most congenial to the Christian character, we cannot but expect that ministerial influence must be sadly impaired. We do not mean to taboo the attractive fields of literature and science in the case of the Christian minister; all that we contend for is, that he should have an eye to practical usefulness in all his pursuits. Whatever be his intellectual range, he ought never to overlook the religious development of his own heart, and the good of souls entrusted to his care. This caution may also apply to subjects within the range of theological studies, the engrossing pursuit of which, irrespective of their practical bearings, might also be most disastrous to the interests of personal religion. Though Mr. Cochrane has strayed far from the beaten path of superficial acquirement, his ardent zeal for the salvation of souls has never allured him to rest in the mere literary and personal gratification, but has con
stantly stimulated him to search for new arguments to win sinners to the Saviour.
Mr Cochrane has also proved that it is possible to place subjects believed to be beyond the popular comprehension, in such a light as to make them highly attractive to a general congregation. The present volume, as well as his former ones on the “ World to Come," and “ Unusual Texts,” consist of discourses delivered on the evenings of the Lord’s-day to an ordinary provincial congregation. And though so many recondite and difficult topics were handled, we believe that the crowded audience invariably listened with rapt and delighted attention. Sometimes we hear a nervous dread expressed of preaching over the heads of the people; but the danger does not by any means lie in this direction. No doubt, preaching over the heads of the people is a possible achievement; but this danger is comparatively so slight, that there is no need of guarding against it with nervous apprehension. The danger lies all the other way. It is a very agreeable doctrine to an indolent disposition, to hold, that the stereotyped common-places of religious doctrine and expression are more suited for general comprehension than fresh and original modes of thought and expression. No doubt great plainness ought to be studied ; but then platitude ought not to be confounded with plainness. A man may boast, in coming down from the pulpit, that every word and thought of his sermon has been quite level to the capacity of his hearers, but, after all, perhaps not one of them may be able to tell what he has been preaching about. The whole may have made an impression as vague as the sighing of the wind. Let the preacher who dreads the idea of going beyond the depth of the people, and prefers taking refuge in the jejune, only try in some sermon the effect of a fresh and vigorous thought, however deep it may be, and we are bound to say that the dullest hind, when he goes home to his fireside to talk over the service, will fix upon that one thought as the single oasis in the dreary desert.
As far as oratory, in its highest efforts, is concerned, there can be no doubt that the lower classes are very susceptible of its impressions. The history of pulpit eloquence clearly shows that the highest species of talent is invariably appreciated even by the labouring classes. Indeed, the theory, held by some, of the decay of eloquence in the modem senate, consists in the assumption that the enlightenment of those addressed renders them proof against the assaults of the rhetorician, and, of course, depreciates eloquence as one of the fine arts. It may be argued, however, that although the common people be sufficiently susceptible of the emotions which eloquence strives to produce, they are incapable of appreciating a well-reasoned argument. But we think there is much misapprehension on this point; and that we consequently do much injustice to our people. No doubt, they feel a difficulty in comprehending an argument couched in the technical language of the schools ; but this arises not from a defective logical capacity, but from their ignorance of the unskilful language which the preacher employs. This is the opinion of Horsley, and it is endorsed by Bishop Heber as follows:“I am, on the whole, more and more confirmed in the opinion which Horsley has expressed in one of his sermons, that a theological argument, clearly stated, and stated in terms from the ancient English language exclusively, will generally be both intelligible and interesting to the lower classes.” The obtuseness of the common people is often urged as a plea for treating them only with truisms; and it is a convenient plea for an indolent disposition, as it is undoubtedly much easier to deal out loose and thread-bare generalities, than to construct a rigid logical argument. No doubt, it is to this underrating of the capacity of the common people, that we are to ascribe the general decay of theological knowledge among the humbler classes in Scotland. We fear that the present generation cannot be compared with the past, in respect to a systematic knowledge of Christian doctrine. We look in vain, at the present day, for the humble peasantry of Scotland, who once could maintain a logical discussion on the most profound subjects of theology. This deterioration is manifest in the class of books now read, as compared with the books which in other days formed the library of every cottage. In former days, the Scottish peasant delighted in solid dogmatic theology ; but it is rarely that such works are seen with the same class at the present day. If such works are found on the shelves, they are there as heir-looms of the family, not for daily use. Solid works in divinity are very much superseded by the tract, the light periodical, or religious biography. We do not underrate the beneficial influence of such reading, but we think that it is a matter of deep regret, that it has expelled so entirely the scientific study of the Christian system. We know full well, that the tendency of the times is to cry up Christian life instead of Christian doctrine ; but we would look with extreme suspicion on that life which can be reared on the wreck of Christian doctrine. We read by a false light the history of Christianity, and we especially misinterpret the historic character of the Church of Scotland, if we expect to foster a healthful Christian life, except from the soil of sound, doctrinal teaching. The decay of systematic theology is not confined to the humbler classes. We suspect that the laity in general entertain but very vague notions on those points in theology, with which, in other days, every member of the Church was perfectly familiar. The laity in connection with the Church, no doubt display much intelligence in regard to the polity and the external aspects and movements of the Christian Church ; but how seldom is it that we find even the more intelligent and educated of the laity interest themselves in the science of theology! In a case of this kind, causes and effects are so interwoven, that it is no easy matter to distinguish the one from the other ; but, as a proximate cause of the decay of theological learning among the laity of Scotland, we ought to give a prominent place to the current style of preaching. Practical is the watch word of the modern pulpit. "Is he practical ?” is the grand testing question of a preacher's merits. An answer in the negative at once seals his fate. No doubt, the practical element is the essential one in preaching; but, unfortunately, it is held to consist with a total want of anything like severity of logic in the treatment of Christian doctrine. How often, in the eminently practical style, are the great facts of our holy faith dragged in, merely to embellish a poetic or moral rhapsody!