ST. FRANCES OF ROME,
LADY GEORGIANA FULLERTON;
BLESSED LUCY OF NARNI,
DOMINICA OF PARADISO
ANNE DE MONTMORENCY:
An Introductory Essay
ON THE MIRACULOUS LIFE OF THE SAINTS,
BY J. M. CAPES, ESQ. N.B. The proprietorship of this Series is secured in all countries where the Copyright is protected. The authorities on which the History of St. Frances of Rome rests are as follows:
Her life by Mattiotti, her Confessor for ten years. Mattiotti enjoined her, as a matter of obedience, to relate to him from time to time her visions in the minutest detail. He was a timid and suspicious man, and for two or three years kept a daily record of all she told him; afterwards, as his confidence in her sanctity and sanity grew complete, he contented himself with a more general account of her ecstasies, and also put together a private history of her life. After her death, he wrote a regular biography, which is now to be found in the Bollandist collection (Venice, 1735, vol. ii.).
Early in the seventeenth century, Ursinus, a Jesuit, wrote a life, which was highly esteemed, but which was never printed, and, except in certain fragments, is now lost.
In 1641, Fuligato, a Jesuit, wrote the second life, in the Bollandist collection, which contains particulars of events that happened after Mattiotti's time.
Other well-written lives have since appeared: especially a recent one by the Vicomte de Bussiere, in which will be found various details too long to be included in the sketch here presented to the English reader. INTRODUCTORY ESSAY.
THE MIRACULOUS LIFE OF THE SAINTS.
In presenting to the general reader a newly-written Life of so extraordinary a person as St. Frances of Rome, together with the biographical sketches contained in the present volume, it may be useful to introduce them with a few brief remarks on that peculiar feature in the histories of many Saints, which is least in accordance with the popular ideas of modern times. A mere translation, or republication of a foreign or ancient book, does not necessarily imply any degree of assent to the principles involved in the original writer's statements. The new version or edition may be nothing more than a work of antiquarian or literary interest, by no means professing any thing more than a belief that persons will be found who will, from some motive or other, be glad to read it.
Not so, however, in the case of a biography which, though not pretending to present the results of fresh researches, does profess to give an account new in shape, and adapted to the wants of the day in which it asks its share of public attention. In this case no person can honourably write, and no editor can honourably sanction, any statements but such as are not only possible and probable, but, allowing for the degree of authenticity in each case claimed, on the whole historically true. No honest man, who absolutely disbelieves in all documents in which the original chronicler has mingled accounts of supernatural events with the record of his own personal knowledge, could possibly either write or edit such Lives as those included in the following pages; still less could they be made public by one who disbelieves in the reality of modern miracles altogether.
In presenting, then, the present and other similar volumes to the ordinary reader, I anticipate some such questions as these: "Do you really put these stories into our hands as history? Are these marvellous tales to be regarded as poetry, romance, superstitious dreaming, or as historical realities? If you profess to believe in their truth, how do you reconcile their character with the universal aspect of human life, as it appears to us and to our friends? And finally, if you claim for them the assent to which proved facts have a right from every candid mind, to what extent of detail do you profess to believe in their authenticity?" To these and similar questions I reply by the following observations:
The last of these questions may be answered briefly. The lives of Saints and other remarkable personages, which are here and elsewhere laid in a popular form before the English public, are not all equally to be relied on as undoubtedly true in their various minute particulars. They stand precisely on the same footing as the ordinary events of purely secular history; and precisely the same degree of assent is claimed for them that the common reason of humanity accords to the general chronicles of our race. No man, who writes or edits a history of distant events, professes to have precisely the same amount of certainty as to all the many details which he records. Of some his certainty is all but absolute; of others he can say that he considers them highly probable; of a third class he only alleges that they are vouched for by respectable though not numerous authorities., Still, he groups them together in one complete and continuous story, and gives them to the world as history; nor does the world impute to him either dishonesty, ignorance, credulity, or shallowness, because in every single event he does not specify the exact amount of evidence on which his statement rests.
Just such is the measure of belief to be conceded to the Life of St. Frances, and other biographies or sketches of a similar kind. Some portions, and those the most really important and prominent, are well ascertained, incontrovertible, and substantially true. Others again, in all likelihood, took place very much, though not literally, in the way in which they are recorded. Of others, they were possibly, or even probably, the mere colouring of the writer, or were originally adopted on uninvestigated rumour. They are all, however, consistent with known facts, and the laws on which humanity is governed by Divine Providence; and therefore, as they may be true, they take their place in that vast multitude of histories which all candid and well-informed persons agree in accepting as worthy of credit, though in various degrees.
Supposing, then, that miraculous events may and do occur in the present state of the world's history, it is obvious that these various degrees of assent are commanded alike by the supernatural and the natural events which are here so freely mingled together. Some are undoubtedly true, others are probably either fictitious or incorrectly recorded. The substance rests on the genuine documents, originally written by eye-witnesses and perfectly competent judges; and as such, the whole stands simply as a result of the gathering together of historical testimony.
Here, however, the ordinary English reader meets us with the assertion, that the supernatural portions of such lives are simply impossible. He assumes—for I am not exaggerating when I say that he never tries to prove—that these marvellous interruptions of the laws of nature never take place. Consequently, in his judgment, it is purely ridiculous to put forth such stories as history; and writers who issue them are guilty either of folly, ignorance, superstition, or an unprincipled tampering with the credulity of unenlightened minds. Of those who thus meet the question of historical evidence by an assumption of a universal abstract impossibility, I earnestly beg an unprejudiced attention to the following considerations:
If it be once admitted that there is a God, and that the soul is not a mere portion of the body, the existence of miracles becomes at once probable. Apart from the records of experience, we should in fact have expected that events which are now termed miraculous would have been perhaps as common as those which are regulated by what we call the laws of nature. Let it be only granted that the visible universe is not the whole universe, and that in reality we are ever in a state of most intimate real communion with Him who is its Creator; then, I say, we should have expected to have been as habitually conscious of our intercourse with that great Being, as of our intercourse with one another. The true marvel is, that we are not thus habitually conscious of the Divine Presence, and that God is really out of our sight. If there is a God, who is ever around us and within us, why does He not communicate with us through the medium of our senses, as He enables us to communicate with one another? Our souls hold mutual communion through the intervention of this corporal frame, with such a distinct and undeniable reality, that we are as conscious of our intercourse as of the contact of a material substance with our material bodies. Why, then,—since it is so infinitely more important to us to hold ceaseless communication with our Maker,—why is it that our intercourse with Him is of a totally different nature? Why is it that the material creation is not the ordinary instrument by which our souls converse with Him? Let any man seriously ponder upon this awful question, and he must hasten to the conclusion, that though experience has shown us that the world of matter is not the ordinary channel of converse between God and man, there yet remains an overwhelming probability that some such intercourse takes place occasionally between, the soul and that God through whose power alone she continues to exist.
In other words, the existence of miracles is probable rather than otherwise. A miracle is an event in which the laws of nature are interrupted by the intervention of Divine agency, usually for the purpose of bringing the soul of man into a conscious contact with the inhabitants of the invisible world. With more or less exactness of similitude, a miracle establishes between God and man, or between other spiritual beings and man, that same kind of intercourse which exists between different living individuals of the human race. Such a conscious intercourse is indeed asserted by infidels as well as by atheists, to be, if not impossible, at least so utterly improbable, that it is scarcely within the power of proof to make it credible to the unbiased reason. Yet surely the balance of probability inclines to the very opposite side. If there is a God, and our souls are in communication (of some kind) with Him, surely, prior to experience, we should have expected to be habitually conscious of this communion. And now that we see that we are not at any rate habitually so, still the burden of proof rests with those who allege that such conscious intercourse never takes place. Apart from all proof of the reality of any one professed miracle, the infidel is bound to show why all miracles are improbable or impossible; in other words, why man should never be conscious of the presence and will of his ever-present God.
Protestants, however, and even weak Catholics, regard the record of one of those mysterious lives, in which the soul of a man or woman has been repeatedly brought into this species of communion with invisible beings, as a tale which, though it is just possible that it may be true, is yet, on the face of it, so flagrant a violation of the laws of nature, as to be undeserving of positive hearty belief. They confound the laws of physical nature with the laws of universal nature. They speak of the nature of this material earth, as if it was identical with the nature of things. And this confusion of thought it is to which I would especially call attention. Miracles are contrary to the ordinary laws of physical nature, and therefore are so far improbable, but they are in the strictest conformity with the nature of things, and therefore in themselves are probable. If the laws of nature rule God as they control man, a miracle is almost an impossibility; but if God rules the laws of nature, then it is wonderful that something miraculous does not befall us every day of our lives.
Again, it is in a high degree probable that miraculous events will generally, so to say, take their colour from the special character of that relation which may exist between God and man at the time when they come to pass. If, in the inscrutable counsels of the Almighty, man is placed, during different eras in his history, in different circumstances towards his Creator and Preserver, it would seem only natural that the variations in those circumstances should be impressed upon the extraordinary intercourse between God and His people. Or, to use the common Christian term, each dispensation will have its peculiar supernatural aspect, as well as its peculiar spiritual and invisible relationship. If man was originally in a higher and more perfect state of being than he is now, it is probable that his communion with God was singularly, if not totally, unlike what it has been since he fell from primeval blessedness. If after his fall, two temporary states have been appointed to him by his God, then the miracles of each epoch will bear their own special corresponding characteristics. And lastly, if by a new exercise of regenerating and restoring power it has pleased the Invisible One to rescue His creatures from the consequences of their ancient ruin, then again we may expect to recognise the history of that redemption in the whole course of the miraculous intercourse between the Redeemer and the redeemed until the end of time. The supernatural elements in the Paradisiacal, the Patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the Christian states, may be expected to be in many respects distinct, each embodying with awful and glorious power the invisible relations which the God of nature and of grace has thought fit to assume towards His creatures.
And such, in fact, has been the case. Not only is the ceaseless existence of a miraculous intercourse between God and man one of the most completely proved of all historical events, but the miracles of each dispensation are found in a wonderful degree to correspond with the relationship of God to man in each of the separate epochs. The same superhuman consistency is found to pervade all the works of God, both where nature and grace are separate from one another, and where the common laws of nature are burst through, and the material universe is made as it were the bondslave of the unseen. The impiously meant assertions of unbelief are fulfilled in a sense which unbelievers little look for; and they who cry out in their hatred of miracles, that all things are governed by unchanging law, may learn that in truth unchanging laws do rule over all, although those laws have a range and a unity in the essence and will of God, of which mortal intelligence never dreamed. The natural and the supernatural, the visible and the invisible, the ordinary and the miraculous, the rules of the physical creation and the interruptions of those rules,—all are controlled by one law, shaped according to one plan, directed by one aim, and bound to one another by indissoluble ties, even where to human eyes all seem lost in confusion and thwarted by mutual struggle.
Of what we should now call the miraculous, or supernatural, communion between God and man in Paradise, we know historically but little. The records of revelation being for the most part confined to the state of man as he is, and his actual and future prospects, present but a glimpse of the conscious communion which was permitted to the first of our race in their original bliss. It is, however, believed by theologians, that in Paradise what we should now term miracles did not exist; for this reason, that what is now extraordinary was then ordinary. God conversed with man, and man held communion with angels, directly and habitually; so that in a certain sense man saw God and the world now unseen. [Footnote: See St. Thomas, Summa, pars prima, quaest. 94. art. 1,2.] For it is not the mere possession of a body which binds the soul with the chains of sense; it is the corruption and sinfulness of our present frames which has converted them into a barrier between the spirit within and the invisible universe. As Adam came forth all pure and perfect from the hands of his Creator, a soul dwelling in a body, his whole being ministered fitly to the purposes of his creation, and with body and soul together he conversed with his God. It was not till the physical sense became his instrument of rebellion, that it was dishonoured and made his prison-house, and laid under a curse which should never be fully removed until the last great day of the resurrection.
Upon the fall of Adam, a new state was introduced, which lasted about two thousand five hundred years. During its continuance, the supernatural intercourse between Almighty God and His degraded creatures took an entirely different character. What had originally been continual, and as it were natural, became comparatively rare and miraculous. Henceforth there seemed to be no God among men, save when at times the usual laws of the earth and the heavens were suspended and God spoke in accents which none might refuse to hear. Of these supernatural manifestations the general aspect was essentially typical of the future redemption of the lost race by a Saviour. That promise of deliverance from the consequences of sin, which Almighty God had vouchsafed to the first sinners, was repeated in a vast variety of miraculous interventions. Though there may have been many exceptions to the ordinary character of the Patriarchal miracles, still, on the whole, they wear a typical aspect of the most striking prominence.
The first miracle recorded after the fall is the token granted to Abel that his sacrifice was accepted. A deluge destroys all but one family, who are saved in an ark, the type of the Church of God, and a rainbow is set in the sky as a type of the covenant between God and man. A child is miraculously born to Abraham in his old age, who is afterwards offered to God as a type of the Redeemer, and saved from death by a fresh supernatural manifestation of the Divine will. The chosen race become captive in Egypt, as a figure of man's bondage to sin; a series of awful miracles, wrought by the instrumentality of Moses himself, a type of Jesus Christ, delivers them from their slavery, terminating with the institution of the Passover, when the paschal lamb is eaten, and they are saved by its blood, as mankind is saved by the blood of the Lamb of God. The ransomed people miraculously pass through the Red Sea, foreshadowing the Christian's regeneration by baptism; as they wander afterwards in the desert, manna descends from heaven to feed them, and water gushes from the rock to quench their thirst, and to prefigure that sacred food and those streams of grace which are to be the salvation of all men. Almost every interruption of the laws of nature bespeaks the advent of the Redeemer, and does homage to Him as the Lord of earth and heaven.
At length a code of laws is given to the chosen race, to separate them completely from the rest of men, and a promise of perpetual temporal prosperity is granted to them by God as the reward of their obedience, and as a figure of the eternal blessedness of the just. From that time with, as before, occasional exceptions, the supernatural events which befall them wear a new aspect. Their peculiarly typical import is exchanged for one more precisely in conformity with the leading principle of the new dispensation. The rites and ceremonies of the new Law prefigure the Sacrifice and Redemption of the Messias; but the miracles of the next fifteen hundred years are for the most part directed to uphold that rule of present reward and punishment, which was the characteristic feature of the Jewish theocracy. The earth opens to punish the disobedience of Core and his companions. Fiery serpents smite the murmuring crowd with instant death; while the promised Saviour is prefigured, not by a miracle, but by the erection of a brazen serpent by the hands of Moses. The walls of Jericho fall prostrate before the trumpets of the victorious Israelites; one man, Achan, unlawfully conceals some of the spoil, and an immediate supernatural panic, struck into his countrymen, betrays the committal of the sin. Miraculous water fills the fleece of Gideon, to encourage him to fight for his country's deliverance. An angel foretells the birth of Samson to set his people free, when they are again in bondage. Samson himself is endowed with supernatural strength; exhausted with the slaughter of his foes, he prays for water to quench his thirst, and a stream bursts forth from the ass's jawbone with which he had just slain the Philistines. Bound in chains, blinded, and made a jest by the idolaters, his prayer for a return of his strength is heard by God, and he destroys a multitude in his last moments.
And thus, through all the history of the Kings and the Prophets, the power of God is repeatedly put forth to alter the laws of nature for the purpose of enforcing the great rule of the Mosaic law. The disobedience of the Jews might, if God had so pleased, have been invariably punished by the instrumentality of the ordinary course of events, shaped by the secret hand of Divine Providence so as to execute His will, just as now we find that certain sins inevitably bring on their own temporal punishment by the operation of the laws of nature. And so, in the vast majority of instances in which the Jews were rewarded and punished, we find that the Divine promises and threats were fulfilled by the occurrence of events in the natural order of things. But yet frequently miracles confirmed and aided the work of chastisement and blessing; and of the numerous wonders which were wrought from the giving of the law to the coming of Christ, we find that nearly all bore this peculiar character. For many centuries also a constant miraculous guidance was granted to the people in the "Urim and Thummim," by which they were enabled, when they chose to remain faithful, to escape all national calamities and enjoy the fullest blessings of the promised land.
Under the Christian dispensation, again, a new character is imprinted upon the supernatural history of the Church, which is, in fact, the impression of the Cross of Christ. While the characteristics of the Patriarchal and Jewish miracles are not wholly obliterated, an element, which if not entirely new, is new in the intensity of its operation, is introduced into the miraculous life of the children of Christ, which life is really the prolongation of the supernatural life of Jesus Christ Himself. It is accompanied also with a partial restoration of that peculiar power which was possessed by man before he fell, when his body became a veil to hide the world of spirits from his soul. While prophecies of future events have not wholly ceased in the Christian Church, and miracles are frequently wrought for the conferring of some temporal blessings, yet these other wonderful features distinguish the supernatural records of Christianity from those of both Patriarchal and Jewish times. The undying power of the Cross is manifested in the peculiar sufferings of the Saints, in their mystic communion with the invisible world, and in that especial sanctity to which alone miraculous gifts are for the most part accorded under the Gospel. Not that all these three peculiarities are to be observed in the life of every Saint under the Gospel. Far from it, indeed. The supernatural life of the Saints varies with different individuals, according to the pleasure of that Almighty Spirit, who communicates Himself to His elect in ten thousand mysterious ways, and manifests Himself according to His own will alone. Still, at times, they are found united, in conjunction with those miraculous powers which were possessed under the old dispensations in one individual. In such cases we behold the Life and Passion of the King of Saints visibly renewed before our eyes; the law of suffering,—that mysterious power, as life-giving as it is unfathomable,—is set before us in an intensity of operation, which at once calls forth the scoffs of the unbeliever, and quickens the faith of the humble Christian; the privileges of eternity are anticipated, and the blessings of a lost Paradise are in part restored. Jesus Christ lives, and is in agony before us; the dread scene of Calvary is renewed, united with those ineffable communications between the suffering soul and its God, which accompanied the life and last hours of the Redeemer of mankind. Our adorable Lord is, as it were, still incarnate amongst us, displaying to our reverent faith the glories of His Passion in the persons of those who are, in the highest sense that is possible, His members, a portion of His humanity, in whom He dwells, who dwell in Him, and whose life, in a degree incomprehensible even to themselves, is hid with Christ in God. Such a Saint was St. Frances of Rome, one of those glorious creations of Divine grace by means of which, at the time when the Holy City was filled with bloodshed and ravaged with pestilence, and when the heaviest disasters afflicted the Church, Almighty God set forth before men the undying life of the Cross, and the reality of that religion which seemed to be powerless to check the outrages of its professed followers.
In Paradise, then, as has been said, the whole nature of man ministered to the fulfilment of the end for which he was created, namely, the knowledge and love of God. He came forth from his Maker's hands endowed not only with a natural soul and body untainted with sin, but with such supernatural gifts, arising from the Divine Presence within him, that nothing was wanting but perseverance to his final perfection. The various elements in his nature were not, as now, at war with one another. His body did not blind the eye of his soul, and agitate it with the storms of concupiscence; nor did the soul employ the body as its instrument of rebellion against God. Though not yet admitted to that glorious vision of the Eternal which was to be the reward of his obedience, yet he lived in direct commerce with the world of spirits. He knew and conversed with God and His angels in a way which is now wholly incomprehensible to the vast majority of his descendants.
When Adam fell, he became, in one word, what we all are now by nature. Not only was he placed under a curse, but his God was hidden from his eyes; and that corporeal habitation, which he had abused to his soul's destruction, became the prison of his soul's captivity. Though created in the image of God, and retaining, even when fallen, certain traces of his celestial origin, he became a mere helpless denizen of earth, and a veil descended and hid his God and all spiritual beings from his mind. From that time forwards suffering became not merely the law of his daily life, but the only means by which he could be first restored to the Divine favour, and finally be taken to a happy eternity. And inasmuch as he was to be redeemed by the sufferings of One who was at once man and not man, He was in a certain sense to share those sufferings, in order to partake in the blessings they purchased for him. A mystic union was to take place between the Saviour and the fallen race, of which a community in suffering, as the instrument of restoration, was to be for ever and in every case established. This anguish, further, was to be twofold, including all the faculties both of the body and the soul. Man had sinned in his whole being; in his whole being, therefore, he was to suffer, both in the person of his Redeemer, who was to suffer for him, and in himself, who was to suffer with his Saviour. A "holocaust" was to be offered to the offended Majesty of God; an offering, not only of his entire nature, but a burnt offering; a sacrifice which should torture him in the flames of Divine vengeance, and kill him with its annihilating fierceness.
As, however, it pleased the Divine Wisdom to postpone for forty centuries the advent and atonement of the Redeemer, so, for the same period, the race redeemed participated, in a comparatively slight degree, in those restorative sufferings which derived all their virtue from the sacrifice upon the Cross. Pangs of body and bitterness of soul were, in truth, the lot of man from the moment that Adam sinned; but they were the pangs and bitterness of a criminal under punishment, far more than the sacrificial pains of the members of Christ crucified. Asceticism formed but a small portion of the religious worship of the people of God, until the great atonement was completed upon Calvary. Not that any degree, even the lowest, of acceptable obedience could ever be attained without some measure of the crucifixion of the natural man. Patriarchs and Israelites alike felt the power of the Cross as the instrument of their sanctification. But still earthly prosperity, including bodily pleasures, was, as a rule, the reward with which God recompensed His faithful servants. That which became the rule under the Gospel, was the exception from Adam till Moses, and from Moses until Christ. Here and there some great example of Christian asceticism enforced upon a sensual people the nature of perfect sanctity. Elias fasted on Mount Carmel, and beheld the skirts of the glory of the Most High. The Baptist fasted and tamed his natural flesh in the wilderness, and beheld not only the Incarnate Son of God, but the descent of the Eternal Spirit upon Him. Yet, for the most part, the favoured servants of God lived the lives of ordinary men; they possessed houses, riches, and honours; and married wives, even more than one.
At length the Cross was set up in all its awful power; suffering received its perfect consecration, and took its ruling place in the economy of man's redemption. Jesus, in descending from the Cross, bestowed that Cross upon His children, to be their treasure until the end of the world. Crucifixion with Him, and through Him, as their Head, became their portion and their glory. Every soul that was so buried in His wounds as to receive the full blessings of His sacrifice, was thereby nailed, in Christ, to the Cross, not to descend from its hallowed wood until, like Christ, it was dead thereon. Henceforth the sanctity of God's chosen servants assumes its new character. It is no longer written, "I will bring you into a land flowing with the milk and honey of this earth;" but, "Blessed are the poor, and they that suffer persecution." The lot of Abraham and of David is exchanged for that of St. Peter and St. Paul. In place of triumph in war with the idolaters, the Christian is promised persecution; in place of many herds and flocks, and treasures of gold, God gives him poverty and sickness; the fast, the vigil, the scourge, take place of the palaces of cedar and the luxuriant couch; marriage gives way to celibacy; and long life is a privilege in order that in many years we may suffer much, and not that we may enjoy much. Such is the ordinary course of the Divine dealings with the soul since the Cross received its full mysterious saving power.
And to the full as mysterious is the new character imprinted upon the miraculous life of Christian sanctity. The phenomena of that new existence, in which certain souls are brought into mystic communion with the unseen world, bear the print of the wounds of the Eternal Son in a manner which fills the ordinary Christian mind with amazement and trembling. It is by a painful crucifixion of the natural man, both soul and body, carried to a far more than ordinary perfection, that the soul is introduced into this miraculous condition. Imprisoned in her fleshly tabernacle, which, though regenerated, is through sin foul, earthly, and blinding as ever, the mind can only be admitted to share in the communion which Jesus Christ unceasingly held with His Father and with the world invisible, by attaining some portion of that self-mastery which Adam lost by his fall. The physical nature must be subdued by the vigorous repetition of those many painful processes by which the animal portion of our being is rendered the slave of the spiritual, and the will and the affections are rent away from all creatures, to be fixed on God alone. Fasting and abstinence are the first elements in this ascetic course. The natural taste is neglected, thwarted, and tormented, till, wearied of soliciting its own gratification, it ceases to interfere with the independent action of the soul. The appetite is further denied its wonted satisfaction as to quantity of food. By fasts gradually increasing in severity, new modes of physical existence are introduced; that which was originally an impossibility becomes a second law of nature; and the emaciated frame, forgetting its former lusts, obeys almost spontaneously the dictates of the victorious spirit within. The hours of sleep are curtailed under judicious control, until that mysterious sentence which compels us to pass a third of our existence in unconscious helplessness is in part repealed. The soul, habituated to incessant and self-collected action, wakes and lives, while ordinary Christians slumber, and as it were are dead. The infliction of other severe bodily pains co-operates in the purifying process, and enables the mind to disregard the dictates of nature to an extent which to many Catholics seems almost incredible, and to the unbeliever an utter impossibility. Physical life is supported under conditions which would crush a constitution not supported by the miraculous aid of almighty power; and feeble men and women accomplish works of charity and heroic self-sacrifice from which the most robust and energetic of the human race, in their highest state of natural perfection, would shrink back in dismay as hopeless impossibilities. The senses are literally tyrannised over, scorned, derided, insultingly trampled on. The sight, the smell, the hearing, the touch, and the taste, are taught to exercise themselves upon objects revolting to their original inclinations. They learn to minister to the will without displaying one rebellious symptom. Matter yields to spirit; the soul is the master of the body; while the perceptions of the intelligence attain an exquisite sensibility, and the mind is gifted with faculties absolutely new, the flesh submits, almost insensible to its condition of servitude, and scarcely murmurs at the daily death it is compelled to endure.
The process is the same in all that regards the affections and passions of the mind itself. The heart is denied every thing that it desires, which is not God. However innocent, however praiseworthy, may be the indulgence in certain feelings, and the gratification of certain pursuits in ordinary Christians, in the case of these favoured souls nature is crushed in all her parts. Her faculties remain, but they are directed to spiritual things alone. Possessions of all kinds, lands, houses, books, pictures, gardens, husband, wife, children, friends, —all share the same tremendous sentence. God establishes Himself in the soul, not only supreme, but as the only inhabitant. Whatsoever remains to be done in this world is done as a duty, often as a most obnoxious duty. Love for the souls that Christ has redeemed is the only human feeling that is left unsubjugated; and wheresoever the emotions of natural affection and friendship mingle with this Christian love, they are watched, and restrained with unsparing severity, that the heart may come at last to love nothing, except in Christ Himself.
All this, indeed, repeatedly takes place in the case of persons in whom the purely miraculous life of the Christian Saint is never even commenced. It is that which all monks and nuns are bound to struggle for, according to the different rules to which they have respectively received their vocation. And, by the mercy of God, this perfect detachment from earth, and this marvellous crucifixion of the flesh, is accomplished in many a devout religious, to whom the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost are as unknown as His extraordinary graces are familiar. Still, in those exceptional instances where miraculous powers of any species are bestowed, this bitter death, this personal renewal (as far as man can renew it) of the agonies of Calvary, is ordinarily the necessary preparation for admission to the revelations of the Divine glory, and to the other mysteries of the miraculous life.
The physical nature, then, being thus subdued, and taught to be the obedient servant of the sanctified will, the history of the Catholic Church records a long series of instances in which the soul has been brought into direct communion with God, with angels, and with devils, more or less through the sensible instrumentality of the bodily senses, thus spiritualised and exalted to a new office. The ineffable glories of the life of Christ are renewed in those who have thus endured the cross of Christ. The death of the body is the life of the soul; and the Son of God is, as it were, again visibly incarnate in the world which He has redeemed.
The phenomena of this miraculous state are as various as they are wonderful. There is scarcely a natural law of our being which is not found to be frequently suspended. Such is the odour of sanctity, a celestial perfume that exhales from the person of the Saint, in conditions where any such delicious fragrance could not possibly spring from natural causes, and where even, as in the case of a dead body, nature would send forth scents of the most repulsive kind. In such instances, sometimes in life, sometimes in death, sometimes in health, sometimes in loathsome diseases, there issues from the physical frame an odour of unearthly sweetness, perhaps communicating itself to objects which touch the saintly form.
Or a strange supernatural warmth pervades the entire body, wholly independent of the condition of the atmosphere, and in circumstances when by the laws of nature the limbs would be cold; sometimes, while sickness has reduced the system to such a degree of exhaustion, and brought on so morbid an action of the functions, that the stomach rejects, with a sort of abhorrence, every species of food, the most holy Eucharist is received without difficulty, and seems not only to be thus received, but to furnish sufficient sustenance for the attenuated frame. Not unfrequently corruption has no power over a sacred corpse; and without the employment of any of the common processes for embalming, centuries pass away, and the body of the Saint remains untouched by decay, bearing the impress of life in death, and not crumbling to dust, as in cases of natural preservation, when exposed to the action of the atmosphere. Add to these, the supernatural flexibility and lightness with which at times the living body is endowed by Divine power; the physical accompaniment of ecstasy; the elevation of the entire body from the ground, and its suspension in the air for a considerable space of time; and we have sufficient examples of the mysterious ways in which the bodies of Saints bespeak the purity which dwells within them, and in a degree anticipate the corporeal perfections of those glorified habitations in which the souls of the just will dwell after the resurrection.
By another class of miraculous powers possessed by Christian Saints, they are enabled to recognise the true nature or presence of purely spiritual objects by the instrumentality of their natural organs of sense. Thus, a mere touch at times reveals to them the moral condition of the person on whom they lay their hands. A singular distaste for natural food is accompanied by a perception of a celestial sweetness in the holy Eucharist. Gross sinners appear to the sight in the form of hideous monsters, demoniacal in their aspect, or as wearing the look of the most repulsive of the brute creation. The sense of smell, in like manner, detects the state of the soul, while the ear is opened to heavenly sounds and voices, and Almighty God speaks to the inner consciousness in a manner which, inexplicable as it is when defined in the language of human science, is shown by incontestable proofs to be a real communication from heaven to the enlightened intelligence.
In certain cases the animal creation are taught to do homage to the presence of a Saint. As God opened the eyes of Balaam's ass, and it beheld the messenger of Divine wrath standing with a sword in his hand, so birds, fishes, insects, sheep, and the wildest beasts of the forests, have at times saluted the Saints with joy and sweetness, laying aside their natural timidity or their natural ferocity, and recalling the hour when Adam dwelt in sinless peace in Eden, surrounded by the creatures which the hand of God had made. All nature is bid thus to arise to welcome the elect of the Lord of nature. Flowers spring up beneath their feet; fruits suddenly ripen, and invite them to gather and eat; storms cease, and gentle winds refresh the sky. Every where the presence of Him who lulled the tempest with a word is recognised in the souls in whom He dwells, and in whom He thus, in a mystic sense, fulfils His own promise, that the meek shall possess the land.
Thus, again, time and space are in their degree comparatively annihilated for the sake of some of these favoured servants of the Eternal and Omnipresent. St. Pius V., while bodily in Rome, was a witness of the naval victory of the Christians over the Turks; St. Joseph of Cupertino read letters addressed to him while their authors were writing them far away; St. Dominic foresaw the war of the Albigenses, and the death of Peter of Arragon; and St. Ignatius beheld his successor in the Duke of Gandia. A similar mysterious faculty enables its possessor to discern the presence of relics and other sacred objects, more especially of the adorable Eucharistic species; or even to behold Jesus Christ Himself in His glorified human form, in place of the usual appearance of bread and wine; while in some instances the Host has darted, unborne by mortal hand, into the mouth of a Saint about to communicate at the foot of the altar.
On those species of miracles which are in no way peculiar to the Christian dispensation I need not linger. Such is the gift of healing, whether by the Saint's will and touch while alive, or by his relics and intercession when dead. Such is the gift of prophecy, which abounded, as we might have expected, far more in the Saints before the advent of the Redeemer than since His coming, and which, indeed, was not rigidly confined to men of religious character. Such are those supernatural powers by which our present temporal blessings, in addition to the cure of diseases, are conferred upon individuals or communities by the instrumentality of holy men and women. I confine myself to those more peculiarly Christian privileges, which, though they were not wholly unknown to the Patriarchal and Mosaic Saints, are yet eminently characteristic of those times in which the glorification of the humanity of Jesus appears to have shed a measure of glories upon the bodies of those who most intensely share the sufferings of His cross.
Some of these tokens of the perpetual death of the Son of God in His Saints were, indeed, for several centuries either unknown, or extraordinarily rare in the Christian Church herself. Such is that most awful of the displays of the undying power of the Cross, in which the actual wounds and tortures of the crucified Jesus are visibly renewed, by a miraculous agency, in the persons of His chosen ones. This most terrible of the gifts of the great God is generally preceded by some supernatural occurrence foreshadowing the visible representation of the scene on Calvary about to be set up before the eyes of men. At one time it is a species of bloody sweat, like that of Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemani; at another, a visible print of the cross is impressed upon the shoulders; or angels present a mystic cup of suffering to the hands of the self-sacrificing Saint. Then follows what is termed stigmatisation, or the renewal of the actual wounds of the Crucified, accompanied with the bloody marks of the crown of thorns upon the sufferer's head; for the most part one by one, until the whole awful commemoration is complete, the skin and flesh are rent on the forehead and round the head, in the hands, in the feet, and in the side; a stream of gore pours forth, at times trickling down in slow drops, at times (as on Fridays) in a fuller tide, accompanied with agonising pangs of body, and except in the fiercest moments of spiritual conflict, with interior consolations of ravishing sweetness. The wounds pierce deep down into the flesh, running even through the hands and the feet.
The state of ecstasy is another of the most wonderful of the elements of the miraculous life of the Saints. Under the Divine influence the physical frame undergoes a change in many respects similar to that which is supposed (whether truly or falsely) to result from the operation of magnetism or somnambulism. Many features, at the same time, distinguish the Christian ecstatic condition from that which is produced by purely physical or (it may be) diabolical causes, on which we cannot at present enter in detail. It is sufficient to say, that the results of the true ecstasy are in the strictest conformity with the doctrines of the Christian revelation, and in perfect harmony with the perfections and rules of the moral world.
The soul in this state becomes, as it were, independent of the power of the body, or she uses her physical senses in an absolute subordination to her own illumined will. Visions, such as are recorded in the Old Testament in the case of the prophets, are presented to her faculties. She is introduced into the courts of heaven, and beholds and converses with Saints in glory, with the Mother of God, with Jesus Christ Himself. Or the whole mystery of the Passion is re-enacted before her spiritualised sight, the evangelical history being filled up with all those actual but minuter details which are omitted in the written records of the Gospels. In certain cases, the body itself is lifted up from the ground, and so remains for a while in the presence of a crowd of bystanders. In others, the soul, while in ecstasy, is the medium of communication between Almighty God and other persons then present, and the Saint's voice repeats the revelations to those for whom they are designed. Or, again, an unearthly flame shining around the head or whole person of the ecstatic, like the cloven tongues upon the Apostles at Pentecost, attests the presence of the Invisible, and symbolises the message sent forth from His throne to men.
A more purely intellectual vision or revelation is another of the works of the Holy Ghost in His Saints. By such revelations, for the most part, the truths of holy Scripture were communicated to its writers. God, who created the human soul with all its faculties, and who is able to make known His will in any way that He pleases to the intelligence, has His own mysterious but not less accurate tests, by which He enables the favoured spirit to discern a revelation from a mere product of the human imagination, and to distinguish between the voice of God and the suggestions of Satan. Nor was this mode of intercourse between the soul and her God confined exclusively to the elder dispensations or to apostolic ages. Many a Christian Saint has been privileged to contemplate God Himself, in a certain sense, in His essence; beholding the depths of such mysteries as those of the Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharistic Presence, or the true nature of sin, with a directness of vision, and comprehending them to an extent, which passes the powers of human language to define.
Lastly, all that we read in the Bible respecting the visible and tangible intercourse between man and the angelic and diabolic host is continued in the times of Christianity. The reality of the ministration of angels and of the assaults of demons, in the case of all Christians, is believed by every Catholic; but in very many cases the Saints have become as conscious of the presence and actions of their unseen friends and foes as of the presence and actions of mortal men. To some Saints, our blessed Lord Himself has appeared in human form, perhaps in that of the most despised and miserable of the poor and sick; to others, their guardian-angels or other pure spirits have presented themselves, sometimes in the guise of ordinary men, and sometimes in a manifestly supernatural shape. Often, too, the enlightened soul has beheld Satan and his accursed spirits, either working it some bodily injury, or assaulting it with some subtle temptation, or seeking to scare it by assuming some hideous loathsome shape, or assuming the garb of an angel of light for the purpose of accomplishing his hellish ends. Of all these supernatural phenomena, however, illustrations will readily occur to those who are familiar with the lives of Saints, or, indeed, to those who have studied the Bible only, and who read the inspired writings as really true, remembering that the miraculous events there recorded did not cease the moment that the canon of Scripture was closed, but that such as was the relation between God and man and angels and devils for more than four thousand years, such it has been until this very hour.
Such, then, are the doctrines and opinions which are implied in what may be termed the miraculous life of Catholic Saints, and of which the history of Frances of Rome presents one of the most remarkable examples. They are here but briefly sketched: but I trust that enough has been said to indicate the general character of the principles involved in these wonderful histories; and I now pass on to offer a few remarks on the self-contradictions into which those persons fall who refuse to investigate this species of subject on the ordinary rules of historical evidence.
I need hardly remind the reader that an immense number of persons, both infidels and Protestants, especially in sober-minded England and Scotland, treat every professed Catholic miracle as a portion of the vast gigantic system of deliberate fraud and villany which they conceive to be the very life of Catholicism. From the Pope to the humblest priest who says Mass and hears confessions in an ugly little chapel in the shabbiest street of a country town, all are regarded as leagued in one wide-spreading imposture. Pius IX., for instance, it is imagined, knows the liquefaction of St. Januarius's blood to be a trick of the Neapolitan clergy; but he keeps up the falsehood for the sake of gain and power. In like manner, he has an extensive Roman laboratory ever at work for the manufacture of all the instruments of delusion which his emissaries propagate throughout Christendom. There he makes false relics, from portions of the true cross downwards; there he sells pardons and indulgences; and there he has a corps of writers employed in the invention of fictitious miraculous tales, saints' lives, and the like. All over the world he has "agents" for the sale of these goods, the Catholic Bishops in England being his "English Correspondents," who doubtless receive a handsome percentage on the profits realised. The staff of underlings is also complete, energetic, and well paid. Thus, the Oratorian Fathers are busily employed in scattering "Saints' Lives" throughout this country, greatly to their own profit. Thus, too, I am myself engaged in a similar work, either laughing in my sleeve at the credulity on which I practise, or submitting from sheer intellectual incompetence to be the tool of some wily Jesuit who enjoins the unhallowed task. Such, when drawn out into details, and stripped of the pompous declamation of the platform, is, in serious truth, the idea which innumerable persons imagine to be the Catholic system of propagandism and deceit; and every Catholic miracle is thus accounted for by the supposed wickedness of all Catholics, except a few blinded ignorant devotees.
Any argument, therefore, addressed to prejudgments of this class must merge in the general argument, which shows that, whether the Catholic religion be true or false, it is beyond the limits of credibility that its ruling principle can be one of intentional deception. I insist, then, that it would not merely be a miracle,—if is an impossibility that such an imposture should remain undetected to this day, and that men and women of all ranks, ages, and countries, the ablest and the most simple, including uncounted fathers and mothers of families, should persist in submitting to and upholding the authority of a few thousand priests, who are really no better than incarnate devils. Whether the Catholic system be an error or not, it must have fallen to pieces a hundred times over, if its chief ruler and his subordinates were mere tricksters, playing upon the credulity of a fanatical and besotted world. By this same test, then, its miraculous histories must be judged, like the general characters of its supporters. They who propagate these stories believe them to be true. They do not, of course, assert that every supernatural story is what it professes to be. They may even admit that many are the mere creations of well-meaning but ill-informed report. Nor is every Catholic priest, monk, or layman to be accounted a sincere and honest man. There are betrayers of their Lord, from Judas Iscariot to the last wretched apostates, who remain for years in the Church, deceiving others without deceiving themselves. But on the whole, and viewed as a body, the Catholic Church is as honest and truthful, when she asserts that many wonderful miracles are incessantly taking place within her, as the most scrupulous of moralists can desire.
"But she is herself deceived," exclaims the more candid separatist or sceptic, taking up the argument declined by his scoffing brother. Catholics, it is supposed, are under the dominion of so abject a superstition, that the moment the subject of their religion is introduced, they cease to exert their ordinary common sense and powers of criticism, and believe any thing and every thing that seems to be marvellous. Granting them to be sincere, the charitable Protestant is of opinion that they are intellectually incapable of testing the pretensions of these wonders to be real and true miracles. If, in plain words, Catholics are not knaves, they must be fools. Now, let me ask any candid person who thus accounts for our belief in modern miracles, to furnish me with an intelligible answer on two points. First, let him explain how it comes to pass that an innumerable multitude of persons, many of them distinguished for the highest intellectual powers, and proving by their lives and their deaths that they are ready to make every sacrifice for the sake of religion, should suffer themselves to be imposed upon in so momentous a subject, should willingly accept as true a series of absurd fabrications, whose falsehood they might detect by the exercise of any ordinary acuteness, and should risk their reputation with the world by professing to believe these fictions. If we are sincere in our faith, it is impossible to suppose us so willing to be imposed upon. The hollowness of these supernatural pretensions must have betrayed itself to some amongst us. The bubble must have burst somewhere. If not at Rome, where Protestants imagine Catholic intellect to be at its lowest ebb, at least in England, or France, or Belgium, or Germany, some of our great Catholic philosophers, historians, politicians, and men of science, must have unveiled the truth. [Footnote: It is a remarkable fact, that the most celebrated work on the supernatural gifts accorded by God to Christians, is the production of one of the greatest intellects, and by far the most influential political writer, that modern Europe has seen. Goerres, the author of the Christliche Mystik, was the Wellington of literature during the last European war. The influence which he exercised over the whole German mind by his Rhenish Mercury is altogether without parallel in the history of journalism. It was, indeed, regarded as so formidable by Napoleon himself, that he styled Goerres a fourth continental power. Yet this first of publicists devoted his whole life to the investigation of the wonders of Catholic mysticism, and believed with undoubting conviction in their reality.]
And, secondly, I desire to be told who are the deceivers. If our numerous miracles are all errors, there must be gross deception in a host of instances somewhere. Where is it, then? I ask; which are the dupes, and which the rogues? Do the clergy cheat the laity? Or do the laity (who have quite as much to do with these miracles) cheat the clergy? Do the Jesuits entrap the Pope? Or does the Pope mystify the Jesuits? When missionaries shed their blood in hundreds in heathen lands, are we to believe that they are the fabricators of the wonderful tales which they have been in the habit of sending home to Christendom? Or did they leave Europe with the intention of becoming martyrs, without troubling themselves to ascertain whether they were not the dupes of delusions already surrounding them in a Christian land? Again I say, if Catholic miracles are all false, there must be boundless trickery somewhere, and I demand to know where it is. In an English court of justice a charge of conspiracy cannot be entertained unless the accuser can point out certain parties on whom to fasten his charge. Judge and jury would laugh at a plaintiff who came into court crying out that he was victimised by some invisible, indescribable, and unknown, but yet very numerous band of foes. So it is with this popular theory about Catholic miracles. We are told that we are deceived. We are all cheated together. The bishops are victims; the priests are victims; monks and nuns are victims; the laity are victims; the old Catholics in England are victims; the converts are victims; the best of us all are victims; the most learned, the most pious, the most able, the most self-denying,—all these are dupes. If there are deceivers, they are the few, the ignorant, the cunning, and the vile. The Roman Church, as a Church, is supposed to be under the dominion of a band of conspirators, who have blinded her eyes without her having found it out, and who are now using her for their own godless purposes. Does not such a supposition confute itself? Is it worth admitting, even as an hypothesis? Would such a statement be endured for a moment by a judge and twelve men in a jury-box? I say, therefore, before moving a step to overthrow the Protestant accusation, "Make a distinct and intelligible charge of certain definite crimes against certain definite individuals. When that is done, the proof still remains with you. Show us both who are the deceivers, and how they deceive us; or admit that there is no credulity so open-mouthed as that of Protestants when they attack Catholics; no superstition so base as that which worships this visible order of nature as an eternal rule which not even God Himself can ever interrupt."
The fact is, however, that no Protestant ever attempts any thing like a profound investigation of the Catholic miracles. A calm, critical, and judicial inquiry into the worth of the Roman process of canonisation has never been risked. Here is an enormous catalogue of incidents, whose supernatural character is vouched for by the decrees of a long series of Popes, professedly based upon the most prolonged and anxious legal examination. For centuries a tribunal has been declaring that one series of miracles after another has come before it; that it has weighed them all with the utmost care; that it has heard every thing that could be urged against them; that it has rejected, as not proved, a very large number; and that, after the most searching inquiry, it has found such and such supernatural incidents to be established by every law of human evidence. [Footnote: For the steps followed in the processes of canonisation, see Faber's Essay on Beatification, Canonisation, and the Processes of the Congregation of Rites.] No man can look at the processes of the canonisation of Catholic Saints without admitting that very few of those secular events which we unhesitatingly believe are supported by so overwhelming a weight of proof. Men's fortunes and lives are incessantly taken away by law at our very doors on lower degrees of evidence, and no one exclaims. And yet the decisions of this Catholic tribunal are set aside without hesitation. People think them not even worthy of listening to. The whole affair they count a childish trifling; and with a shrug or a sneer they pass it by.
And it is the same with those miracles which have not been brought before any such high tribunal, but which rest on undeniable private evidence. Those who are not Catholics put them aside simply as incredible. They assume that they cannot be true, and therefore that they are not true. Press them in argument, and they will shirk your most stringent proofs. You can make no impression upon their wills. They will believe any thing but that God has interrupted the course of nature in favour of any one but themselves. In short, if we wish to see human reason in its most irrational mood, we have but to enter into conversation with a Protestant who asserts and thinks that he believes the Bible miracles to be true, and urge upon him the proofs of such modern miracles as are recorded of St. Frances of Rome. You will perceive first, that though he has made up his mind on the subject with unhesitating dogmatism, he has never investigated its bearings or facts, even in outline. Nevertheless, to your surprise, you will find him perfectly ready to start some random theory, at a moment's notice, unconscious of the momentous, the awful nature of the matter he is handling. You see, perhaps, that his mind is powerfully influenced by the singular character of many Catholic miracles. He thinks them strange, unnecessary, unaccountable, absurd, disgusting, degrading. His nervous sensibilities are shocked by an account of the fearful pangs accompanying the stigmata. In the phenomena of ecstasy he can see nothing more than the ravings of delirium, or (if he believes in mesmerism) than the tales of a clairvoyante, and the rigidity of catalepsy. His physical frame, accustomed to its routine of breakfast, luncheon, and dinner, its sofas and easy-chairs, and its luxurious bed, shudders at the thought of the self-inflicted penances of the Saints, and at the idea of God's bestowing a miraculous power of enduring such horrors. He would be as much surprised to be told that Smithfield was literally the abode of incarnate demons, as to hear that demons have often assumed the shapes of beasts and monsters in their conflicts with the elect. The notion that an angel might visibly appear to a pious traveller on the Great Western or Birmingham railroad, and protect him from death in a frightful collision of trains, makes him open his eyes and contemplate you as scarcely sane to hint at such a thing. That "the Virgin," as he calls her, should come down from heaven and enter a church or a room, and hold a conversation with living men, women, or children in the nineteenth century, and give them a trumpery medal, or tell them to wear a piece of cloth round their neck, or cure them of some disease, he regards about as likely and rational as that the stories in the Arabian Nights and the Fairy Tales should turn out to be true histories. Be as serious as you please, he simply laughs in his sleeve, thinking to himself, "Well, who would have believed that the intellect of an educated Englishman should submit itself to such drivelling as this?"
Perceiving that this is the state of his mind, you open the Bible, which lies, handsomely bound, upon his table, and running rapidly through the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, point out to him a long series of supernatural events there recorded; and show him that in their nature they are precisely the same as those modern miracles which provoke his disgust or contempt. You remind him, first of all, that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church, and that all His people are made like Him, in His life and His sufferings, as well as in His glory; and then proceed to your summary. He accounts the penances of Saints needless and impossible; you remind him of our blessed Lord's fast of forty days and forty nights. He is horror-struck at the details of the sufferings of those in whom the Passion of Christ has been visibly renewed; you beg him to attempt to realise the bloody sweat in the Garden of Olives. He speaks of mesmerism and clairvoyance, and derides the thought of a Saint's being illuminated with radiant light, or exhaling a fragrant odour; you ask him how he explains away the transfiguration of Jesus. He says that it is physically impossible that a man's body can be (as he expresses it) in two places at once; you desire him to say by what law of nature our Lord entered the room where the disciples were when the doors were shut; how St. Peter was delivered from chains and imprisonment by the angel; how St. Paul was rapt into the third heaven, whether in the body or out of the body, he could not tell. He says that when a Saint has thought himself attacked by devils in hideous shapes, his brain has been diseased; you entreat him to beware of throwing a doubt on the temptation of Jesus Christ by Satan in the wilderness. He pities you for believing that the Mother of God has appeared for such needless purposes to excited devotees; you ask him why the Son of God appeared long after His death and ascension to St. Paul, and told him what he might have learnt in a natural way from the other Apostles. He calls your miraculous relics childish trumpery; you ask whether the handkerchiefs and aprons which cured the sick, after having touched St. Paul's body, were trumpery also; and whether St. Luke is countenancing superstition when he relates how the people crowded near St. Peter to be healed by his very shadow passing over them. Then, as he feels the overwhelming force of your rebukes, he insinuates that there is something divine, something evidently touching, pure, and strict in morality in the Bible narratives, which is wanting in these lives of Catholic Saints; and you refer him to such biographies as that of St. Frances of Rome, and compelling him to read the narratives of her revelations, ask him if all that she says when in a state of ecstasy does not wear, even in his judgment, the impress of a Divine origin, and seem to be dictated by the God of all purity, humility, and love.
At length your opponent, after brief pondering, changes his ground, and asserts that you are yourself deceived; that the real defect in Catholic miraculous stories is the want of evidence. He tells you that he would believe, if he could; but that you have not proved your point. You next call his attention to the distinct promise made by our blessed Lord to the Church, that miracles should always continue with her; and ask him how, on his theory, he accounts for the non-fulfilment of this promise. You desire him to lay his finger on the epoch when its fulfilment ceased; and not only to assert that it then ceased, but to prove his assertion. He says nothing, for he has nothing to say which he can even attempt to prove; and you proceed to furnish a few examples of miracles, from patristic, mediaeval, or modern times, or perhaps of the present day, which are supported by at least as cogent an amount of evidence as the historical proof of the Scripture miracles. You insist upon his disproving these. He cannot. He resorts to some new hypothesis. He says that there is deception somewhere, though he cannot tell where; and probably by this time is showing symptoms of a wish to end the discussion. You urge him again, and press him to give an intelligible reason for supposing that there must be deception any where. He thinks a while; and when at length you are looking for a rational conclusion, he starts backwards to his old assumption that the Catholic miracles cannot be true. He begs the whole question, and says that they are in favour of Catholicism, and that Catholicism is false. You too recur to your old reference to the Bible, and so on. And thus you run again the same round; and you may run it a thousand times over, till you perceive that there is but one reason why your opponent is not convinced; which is, that he will not be convinced. And thus it was in the days when those very miracles were wrought which Protestants profess to believe. The Jews would not believe our Lord's words and doctrines. He then bade them believe Him because of His miracles; and they instantly imputed them to the power of the devil. He showed them that this theory was impossible; but, so far from being convinced and converted, they went their ways, and plotted His death. Now, our controversialists cannot, or do not wish, to take away our lives; but when not a word is left them in the way of argument, they go their ways, and protest to their fellows, that we are obstinate, unfair, superstitious, and insolent; and too often encourage one another in the bitterest persecution of those who are convinced by our reasonings, and submit to the Church.
I now turn to the objections which are at times felt by Catholics themselves to the publication of Saints' Lives, abounding in supernatural incidents. Such persons are, indeed, not numerous; and their number is rapidly diminishing. Still it can scarcely be doubted that conscientious Catholics are to be found who take the view I am speaking of, from ideas which, though erroneous (as I believe), are yet so truly founded in sincerity, as to demand respect and explanation from those who differ from them.
The objections they raise are twofold. First, they allege that such books scandalise Protestants and drive them from the Church; and secondly, they do not see how incidents, wholly unlike our ordinary daily experience, can practically serve us in our private Christian lives.
To the idea that non-Catholics are thus needlessly prejudiced against the faith, I reply, that this assertion is wholly unproved. That they do, as a matter of fact, laugh and attack such biographies, I fully admit; but they laugh at them on grounds which we cannot admit without giving up the Christian revelation itself. They scoff at them, not because they think them not supported by credible testimony, but because they are not what they call dignified, refined, and just such as they should have supposed all things to be that come from God. That such a temper of mind is indicative of pure Deism, it needs no words to prove. A man who derides a miraculous event merely as trifling, thereby asserts that he himself is the judge of what is great and what is little in the sight of God. He lays down laws for the guidance of the Almighty. He is adopting the identical reasoning of professed infidels, who on this very ground reject Christianity itself. And it is obvious that nothing can be more perilous than the encouragement of so fatal a principle of judgment. Once let the acute and logical Protestant perceive that you move one step backwards in deference to this objection, and he will press you with fresh consequences of the very same admission until he lands you in undisguised scepticism, if not in the blackest Atheism.
Can any single instance, in fact, be named in which a mind that was apparently determined to seek salvation at all costs, has been actually deterred from entering the Catholic Church by meeting with these extraordinary histories? Are they not a butt for determined and obstinate Protestants, and for such Protestants only? Ask any convert whether, on looking back, he can say that the knowledge of these peculiarities in Catholic hagiology ever practically held him back for four-and-twenty hours in his journey towards the Church. That the world is angry, and that the world vents its spleen and its contempt in bitter jests, is true enough; but pious souls are not made to sin, or kept away from their Saviour, by any thing of the kind. And that the rage and mocking of man afford not the slightest reason for inducing the Church to turn out of her natural path, I shall not dishonour my readers by attempting to prove to them.
That it is her natural course to make these histories public, for the practical edification of her children, is clear from one fact alone,—they are precisely parallel to the life of our blessed Lord, as narrated in the four Gospels. The whole question resolves itself into this: If such lives as that of St. Frances, and many others, recently published in England, are not edifying to the ordinary Christian, then the life of Jesus Christ is not edifying. The Gospels, as well as the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, must be rigorously expurgated and cut down to the type of the common domestic life of the present day. Nothing can be further removed from the circumstances of most men than the records of our Lord's miracles and supernatural acts in general. What has the temptation, the transfiguration, the driving the devils into the swine, the turning the water into wine at what we should now call a "wedding-breakfast," and, in fact, almost every act in our blessed Lord's life, in common with our amusement, our business, our society, our whole experience? Yet, to say that a devout soul can meditate on these transcendently mysterious events, and not derive from them practical instruction to enable her to fulfil her little trivial earthly duties with Christian perfection, is nothing short of blasphemy. The Son of God incarnate, all glorious, all awful, all unfathomable as He was even in the days of His sojourning on earth, was yet our example, our model, our embodied series of precepts. The eye of the simplest regenerate child cannot be turned for an instant upon His Divine glories and ineffable sufferings without drawing light therefrom to guide it even in its play with its fellows, or in the most trivial of the duties towards its parents and teachers.
And such, I am convinced, is the experience of Catholics of all ranks, of every age and every degree of intellectual cultivation, who study religiously the miraculous lives of the Saints, believing them to be, on the whole, correct histories. It is not needful that they should regard them to be literally true in all their details, as the Bible is true. We have but to regard them as we regard other authentic human narratives, with the addition of that veneration and confidence which is due to such portions of them as have been formally sanctioned by the Church, to derive from them unceasing spiritual comfort and instruction. Doubtless, if we are so ignorant as to fancy that all Saints' histories are to be alike in details, and that therefore we ought to wish that the circumstances of our lives were the same as theirs, we shall be doing ourselves great mischief. But let us study them with a true knowledge of the mere elements of the Christian faith, and they will be to us what St. Paul desires his disciples to seek for in his life, namely, a continuation, as it were, of the life of Jesus Christ, carried on through all the successive ages of His Church on earth. They will impress upon our minds with an intensity peculiarly their own, the reality of the invisible world and the ensnaring tendencies of every thing that we possess. Weak and ignorant as is the imaginative and sensitive portion of our nature, it needs every possible help that it can find to counteract the paralysing effects of the worldliness of the world, of the lukewarmness of Christians, and of the enthralling nature of the universe of sight and sense. Our courage is wonderfully strengthened, and our love for things invisible is inflamed, by every thing that forces us, as it were, to see that this visible creation is not the only thing that is real, mighty, and present. The general precepts and the dogmatic statements of religion acquire a singular and living force when we perceive them carried out and realised in the actual affairs of life in a degree to which our personal experience is a stranger. Influenced as human nature is by example, these unpretending narratives, whose whole strength lies in the facts which they record, and not in the art of the biographer, undeniably strike the mind with an almost supernatural force. They enchain the attention; they compel us to say, Are these things true? Are these things possible? Is religion, after all, so terribly near to us? Are this life and this world so literally vain and worthless, so absolutely nothing worth? Are suffering and awful bodily anguish blessings to be really coveted? Are the maxims which I daily hear around me so hopelessly bad and accursed? Are angels and devils so near, so very near, to us all? Is purgatory so terrible and so inevitable to all but the perfect, that these fearful visions of its pains are in substance what I myself shall endure? And if I fall from grace and die in sin before one of the innumerable temptations that hourly beset me, is it true that nothing less than an eternity of such torments, the very reading of which even thus represented makes me shudder with horror, will be my inevitable lot? And is the bliss of the Saints and the joy of loving God so inexpressibly sweet to any souls here on earth? Is it possible that any one should escape from a state of coldness, deadness, worldliness, and unwilling performance of his religious duties, and positively come to lose all taste for bodily and mere intellectual pleasures through the absorbing of his whole being into the love of Jesus and of Mary, and through a burning thirst for the beatific vision of the Eternal Trinity?
And who will venture to say that it is not good for us all to have such thoughts frequently pressed upon our attention? If there is any meaning in the command that we are to aim at being perfect, whatever be the state of life in which we are called to seek perfection, surely it is no ordinary advantage thus to have the essentially supernatural character of our religious life forced again and again upon our attention. For, be it never forgotten, this very supernaturalness is one of its essential features. There are innumerable varieties in our vocations. The earthly circumstances in which we are to serve God are almost innumerable in their variety; but the supernatural element appertains to them all alike. Our actual relationship to the awful and glorious realities of the unseen world is precisely the same in kind as that of the most miraculously endowed Saints. The only difference is this, that in their case that relationship was perceived and visibly manifested in a peculiar mode, to which we are strangers. Heaven, purgatory, and hell are as near to us as if we beheld the visions of St. Frances. The cross is as literally our portion, in its essential nature, as if the five sacred wounds were renewed physically in our agonising frame. Our angel-guardian is as incessantly by our side, as if our eyes were opened to behold his effulgent radiance. Satan strikes the same blows at our souls, whether he shows himself to our sight or not. The relics of Saints, which we carefully look at or criticise, may be at any moment the vehicles of the same miraculous powers as the handkerchiefs from the body of St. Paul. Who would say to a blind man, "Forget the tangible realities of this life, because you cannot see them"? Who would not rather say, "Bear constantly in mind what is the experience of those who can see, that you may practically remember their ceaseless nearness to you"? And just such is the experience of the Saints, in whose histories faith has partly merged into sight, and the veil which blinds our eyes has been partially and at certain seasons withdrawn. It tells us, as few things else can tell, of the reality of the objects of our faith.
I add a word or two on the question, how far the actual conduct of the extraordinary persons whose lives are here related is to serve as a model for practical imitation by ordinary Christians. To the well-instructed Catholic, it would be an impertinence in me to suggest that they are not in every detail thus to be followed. It is the duty of a Christian to follow the rules for daily life which it has pleased Almighty God to lay down in the Gospel, and not to imagine that those exceptional cases of conduct to which He has supernaturally prompted certain individuals are to be imitated by those who have only the ordinary graces of the Holy Spirit.
The general reader, however, may be reminded that Catholics believe, that as the Creator of the universe occasionally interrupts the order of the laws of nature, so He at times interrupts the relative order of the laws of duty; not, of course, the essential laws of morality, but those positive laws which are obligatory simply because they are enacted by competent authority. No person, indeed, can be justified in acting on such an idea in his own case, unless guided by supernatural light, beyond the usual spiritual illumination given to all Christians. This supernatural light is rarely vouchsafed, and it is accordingly in the highest degree presumptuous in any person to overstep the ordinary routine of distinctly ordered duty, under the idea that he is called by God to break the rules given for the guidance of mankind in general. In all such supposed cases, the Catholic Church has the proper tests to apply, by which the soul can learn whether she is led by a Divine afflatus, or betrayed by her own disordered imagination, or the deceits of an invisible tempter.
ST. FRANCES OF ROME.
General character of the Saint's life—Her childhood and early piety
Francesca's early inclination for the cloister—By her father's desire she marries Lorenzo Ponziano—Her married life—Her illness and miraculous cure
Francesca proceeds in her mortifications and works of charity —Her supernatural temptations and consolations
The birth of Franceseca's first child—Her care in his education—She undertakes the management of her father-in-law's household—A famine and pestilence in Rome—Francesca's labours for the sick and poor—The miracles wrought in her behalf
The birth of Francesca's second son—His supernatural gifts —The birth of her daughter—Satanic attacks upon Francesca —Troubles of Rome—Francesca's husband is severely wounded—Her eldest son, when given up as a hostage to the Neapolitans, is miraculously restored to her
Sufferings of Rome from the troops of Ladislas—Death of Francesca's son Evangelista—The famine and plague in Rome—Francesca's labours for the starving and sick—Her miracles
Evangelista appears to his mother—An archangel is assigned to her as a visible guardian throughout her life
Francesca's illness and recovery—Her vision of hell—Restoration of tranquillity in Rome—Return of Francesca's husband—Her power in converting sinners
Fresh supernatural events in Francesca's history—Her obedience to her husband and to her confessor rewarded by two miracles—Marriage of her son, and ill conduct of his wife—Her conversion through Francesca's prayers—Fresh miracles worked by Francesca
Francesca lays the foundation of her future congregation— Her pilgrimage to Assisi
Death of Francesca's friend and director, Don Antonio— Troubles in Rome and Italy foretold by Francesca—Death of Vannozza, Francesca's sister-in-law—Foundation of the Congregation of Oblates of Tor di Specchi
Progress and trials of the young community—It is confirmed by the Pope—Troubles in Rome and the Church terminated through Francesca's intercession and the council of Florence
Death of Francesca's husband—She goes to reside with the community of Tor di Specchi—Her life as superioress
Francesca's last illness and death
Francesca's funeral, and her subsequent canonization
II. BLESSED LUCY OF NARNI
III. DOMINICA OF PARADISO
IV. ANNE DE MONTMORENCY, THE SOLITARY OF THE PYRENEES
(Illustration) ST. FRANCES OF ROME
GENERAL CHARACTER OF THE SAINT'S LIFE—HER CHILDHOOD AND EARLY PIETY.
There have been saints whose histories strike us as particularly beautiful, not only as possessing the beauty which always belongs to sanctity, whether exhibited in an aged servant of God, who for threescore years and more has borne the heat and burden of the day, or in the youth who has offered up the morning of his life to His Maker, and yielded it into His hands before twenty summers have passed over his head; whether in a warrior king like St. Louis, or a beggar like Benedict Labre, or a royal lady like St. Elizabeth of Hungary; but also as uniting—in the circumstances of their lives, in the places they inhabited, and the epochs when they appeared in the world, much that is in itself poetical and interesting, and calculated to attract the attention of the historian and the man of letters, as well as of the theologian and the devout. In this class of saints may well be included Francesca Romana, the foundress of the religious order of the Oblates of Tor di Specchi. She was the model of young girls, the example of a devout matron, and finally a widow, according to the very pattern drawn by St. Paul; she was beautiful, courageous, and full of wisdom, nobly born, and delicately brought up: Rome was the place of her birth, and the scene of her labours; her home was in the centre of the great city, in the heart of the Trastevere; her life was full of trials and hair-breadth escapes, and strange reverses; her hidden life was marvellous in the extreme: visions of terror and of beauty followed her all her days; favours such as were never granted to any other saint were vouchsafed to her; the world of spirits was continually thrown open to her sight; and yet, in her daily conduct, her character and her ways, minute details of which have reached us, there is a simplicity as well as a deep humility, awful in one so highly gifted, touching in one so highly favoured.
Troubled and wild were the times she lived in; perhaps if one had to point out a period in which a Catholic Christian would rather not have had his lot cast,—one in which there was most to try his faith and wound his feelings, he would name the end of the fourteenth century, and the beginning of the fifteenth. War was raging all over Europe; Italy was torn by inward dissensions, by the rival factions of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. So savage was the spirit with which their conflicts were carried on, that barbarism seemed once more about to overspread that fair land, and the Church itself was afflicted not only by the outward persecutions which strengthen its vitality, though for a while they may appear to cripple its action, but by trials of a far deeper and more painful nature. Heresy had torn from her arms a great number of her children, and repeated schisms were dividing those who, in appearance and even in intention, remained faithful to the Holy See. The successors of St. Peter had removed the seat of their residence to Avignon, and the Eternal City presented the aspect of one vast battle-field, on which daily and hourly conflicts were occurring. The Colonnas, the Orsinis, the Savellis, were every instant engaged in struggles which deluged the streets with blood, and cut off many of her citizens in the flower of their age; strangers were also continually invading the heritage of the Church, and desecrated Rome with massacres and outrages scarcely less deplorable than those of the Huns and the Vandals. In the capital of the Christian world, ruins of recent date lay side by side with the relics of past ages; the churches were sacked, burned, and destroyed; the solitary and indestructible basilicas stood almost alone, mournfully erect amidst these scenes of carnage and gloom; and the eyes of the people of Rome were wistfully directed towards that tutelary power, which has ever been to them a pledge of prosperity and peace, and whose removal the signal of war and of misery.