THE YOUNG PRIEST'S KEEPSAKE
By MICHAEL J. PHELAN, S.J.
DUBLIN M. H. GILL AND SON, LTD. AND WATERFORD 1909
1st. Edition MAY, 1909. 2nd. — Enlarged, NOV., 1909.
This little book is written in the hope that it may assist young priests and ecclesiastical students to meet the demands which the life before them has in store.
Works specially suited to the priest, the layman and the nun are happily abundant; but to the young man standing on the threshold of his career as a priest, how few are addressed. Yet it is while his character is in the formative stage, and his weapons are still in the shaping, that advice and direction are of most practical value.
The writer brings to his task only one qualification on which he can rely—his own personal experience.
After having gone through a long course of preparation in Irish ecclesiastical colleges, he lived for nearly thirteen years on the Australian mission, and is now completing a decade spent in giving missions and retreats in all parts of Ireland. Of the college, therefore, and of the foreign and home missions he can speak with whatever authority a long experience and ordinary powers of observation are supposed to give.
In dealing with the foreign mission he does not rely solely on his own judgment. Many matters here treated of he heard repeatedly discussed by priests abroad, who bitterly deplored that, while in college, they knew so little of the life before them, and regretted that there was then no kind friend to take them by the hand and show them what was in store when the day came for them to plunge into a life that was strange and entirely new. It is to be hoped that this modest volume will, in part at least, discharge the office of that friend.
It may appear, at first sight, that when writing the fourth chapter, "On Pulpit Oratory," the author had before his mind an elaborate discourse, such as is expected only on great occasions. This is not so.
It is true that the various parts of a sermon, when detailed in analysis, may seem, like the works of a watch spread out on a table, bewilderingly numerous and complex. But when we come to construct, it will be found that in synthesis the distracting number of small parts will disappear, to coalesce and form the few main principles on which either a sermon or a watch is built. These principles are essential to every discourse, no matter how brief. As the humble seven-and-sixpenny "Waterbury" requires its springs and levers equally with the hundred-guinea "repeater," so the twenty minutes' sermon, to be effective, must have a fixed plan and definite sequence as well as the more ambitious effort.
Most of these chapters were written originally for the "Mungret Annual," with a view to assist the apostolic students who are now, as priests, rendering such splendid service to the Church of God abroad. And it was the very generous reception accorded the articles in the ecclesiastical colleges that suggested the idea of presenting them in the more lasting form of a book.
Sacred Heart College, Limerick, March 17, 1909, Feast of St. Patrick.
TO THE SECOND EDITION
The rapid sale of the first edition of this work surprised no one more than the author. It was not addressed to the public in general, but to a limited section; the price, while moderate, could not be called cheap; yet within a little over two months the entire edition was exhausted.
It is impossible to express my deep gratitude to the reviewers. From them the book met with a chorus of approving welcome, without even one jarring note. To all I now tender my grateful thanks; but the author of "My New Curate" has placed me under a special obligation for his thoughtful critique in the Freeman's Journal, and Ibh Maine for his friendly review in the Leader. Nor should I omit to thank the ecclesiastical colleges, that not only pardoned the blunt candour of some of the chapters, but gave the book a more than cordial reception.
The present edition includes two entirely new chapters—the two last—extending over 45 pages. It is hoped that the added matter will prove of as much interest as those chapters of the first edition which received such a hearty welcome.
College of the Sacred Heart, Limerick, September 29, 1909, Feast of St. Michael.
CHAPTER FIRST CULTURE: ITS NECESSITY TO A YOUNG PRIEST
CHAPTER SECOND ENGLISH: ITS NECESSITY TO A YOUNG PRIEST
CHAPTER THIRD SHOULD A YOUNG PRIEST WRITE HIS SERMONS?
CHAPTER FOURTH HOW SHOULD THE YOUNG PRIEST PREPARE HIS SERMONS?
CHAPTER FIFTH A SOPHISTRY EXPOSED—ADVICE GIVEN— THEOLOGIAN AND PREACHER—THE DIFFERENCE
CHAPTER SIXTH THE ART OF ELOCUTION
CHAPTER SEVENTH THE DANGER OF THE HOUR. HOW TO MEET IT
CHAPTER EIGHTH THE YOUNG PRIEST'S ACTIVITIES
CULTURE: ITS NECESSITY TO A YOUNG PRIEST
If you question any priest of experience and observation who has lived on the foreign mission, and ask him what constitutes the greatest drawbacks, what seriously impedes the efficiency of our young priests abroad, without hesitation he will answer—First, want of social culture; and, secondly, a defective English education.
To the first of these this chapter will be exclusively devoted, while the subject of English will be dealt with in the chapter to follow.
[Side note: The case stated]
One of the great disadvantages of living in an island is that we get so few opportunities of seeing ourselves as others see us. When you seriously attempt to impress the necessity of culture on the student preparing for the foreign mission he generally pities you. In his eyes culture is a trifle, suited perhaps to the serious consideration of ladies and dancing masters, but utterly unworthy of one thought from a strong-minded or intellectual man. But you tell him that without it the world will sneer at him. He then pities the world, and replies—"What do I care about the world's thoughtless sneer; have I not a priestly heart and a scholar's head?"
That reply, if he were destined to live in a wilderness, would be conclusive. An anchorite may attain a very high degree of sanctity and yet retain all his defects of character—his crudity, selfishness, vulgarity. While grace disposes towards gentleness it does not destroy nature. There is no essential connection between holiness and polished manners.
Nor does scholarship either require or supply culture. A mastery of the "Summa" will not prevent you from doing an awkward action. Dr. Johnson's learning was the marvel of his age, but his manners were a by-word. So, if your only destiny was to be a scholar or a hermit, manners need give you little trouble.
But your vocation is to be an apostle; to go out amongst men; to be the light for their darkness, the salt for their corruption; the aim and goal of your operations are human hearts. This being granted, are you not bound to sweep from your path every impediment that prevents your arm from reaching these hearts? But the most effective barrier standing between you and them is ill-formed manners.
The laws of good society, the refinement of gentlemanly culture may, from your standpoint, be the merest trifles; but they become no trifles when without them your right hand is chained from reaching human souls.
The only remaining question is, Does the world to-day place such a high value on good manners that if I go into it without them my efforts will be in a large degree neutralised? Entertain not a shadow of doubt on that point, such is the fact.
[Side note: Protestants and Catholics demand culture in the Priest]
Proud and pampered society will never bend its stubborn neck and submit itself to the guidance of a man who, judged by its own standard—the only one it acknowledges—is far from being up to the level; an object of contempt perhaps, at best of pity. In its most generous mood it is slow and cautious to take you on trust; its cold analysis searches you; your unplaned corners offend its taste; and except in every detail you answer to its rule and level you are disdainfully thrust aside.
Catholics, while they esteem a mere fop at his just value, expect their priest to rise above the sneers of the most censorious and, if possible, to challenge the respect of all. They are proud of their priest; and surely it is not too much to expect on his part that he will do his best not to make them ashamed of him.
Their Protestant neighbours know of this pride; and if they can but lay a finger on his evident defects they will glut their inborn hatred of the Church by hitting the Catholics on the sensitive nerve, by galling them by caricature and derision of the gauche manners of the priest.
Protestant young men, too, will appeal to the pride of their Catholic companions; and an appeal to pride is generally a trump card. They will ask—"Is it possible that gentlemen could submit themselves to the guidance of a clergyman whose manners are unformed and whose English is marred by provincialisms and defective accent?"
In speaking of accents, let me say here I do not ask the young priest to commit the signal folly of attempting to ingraft an imported accent on his own native one. No! He should speak as an Irishman, but as an educated Irishman.
[Side note: By foreign Canons you will be judged]
The fatal mistake on the part of a young priest would be to take Irish opinion as the standard by which he will be judged outside Ireland. In Ireland we call these things trifles, because the people whose eyes are filled with the rich light of warm faith see the priest alone, and are blind, or at least generously indulgent, to the defects of the man.
Reverse this, and you have the accurate measure by which you will be judged abroad. The man and his defects alone are seen; the priest and the sublimity of his state are entirely lost sight of. The world judges what it can understand—the man alone. Hence the student preparing for the foreign mission may take this as an axiom:—If people cannot respect you as a gentleman, on the non-Catholic world your influence is nil; and even on your own Catholic people it will sit very lightly. But he replies— "This is not logical, for a man may be an excellent priest, a good scholar, without social accomplishments." All that I admit, but age and experience will teach him that logic does not rule the world; some of its greatest actions could not bear the pressure of a syllogism. We must meet the world as it is, not as we would make it. Is it not you who show logical weakness in preparing for this ideal world that has no existence outside your own dreams and ignoring the world of hard facts you will have to face?
[Side note: No argument to be drawn from the Apostles]
You then appeal to facts and say, Look at the apostles. Let me answer—first, you do not attempt to imply that crudity was a help to them. If so, how? Now, the most you can say is that in spite of it they succeeded. But you forget that they had the gift of miracles, and a sanctity so evident that their passport was secure despite their defects.
Unless you can produce the same sanctity and miracles your argument falls to the ground. But to the statement itself—Were not the apostles men of manners? Some, it is true, before their call had little connection with schools, but we may rest assured that three years under such a teacher as they had did wonders. They must be dull indeed not to read the living lesson their Master's character daily taught. His tenderness, His courteous dignity, and gentle consideration for others were such that in a man we would say they almost bordered on weakness; this was the living model on which they daily gazed and pondered.
This Master then sent them forth to "all nations." They were to mix with the white-robed senators in Rome, and dispute with the highest intellects of polished Athens, to force an entrance into every circle of social life. Could we imagine God sending them forth to that task encumbered with defects that would paralyse their mission if not ensure its defeat.
We must also take into account the gifts of Pentecost. What a change these wrought! The Holy Spirit enriched their intellects and perfected their moral virtues; their trembling wills became braced as iron pillars. For what purpose? To prepare and equip them for their destined mission. Is it not natural to suppose that the same Divine Power swept their characters free from every impediment that could hamper their ministry? So the appeal to the apostles is gratuitous.
[Side note: Culture necessary for domestic life]
In dealing with this question a young priest is to consider more than his flock. Priests on the foreign mission live community life, in hourly contact with each other. You cannot realise the agony a man inflicts on others by coarse or unpolished manners. The toil of a priest's day is severe, but the hardest day is mere summer pastime compared with the crushing thought of having to turn home to a boorish companion. This living martyrdom reaches its most acute stage when, in society, a man is forced to witness a brother priest expose the raw spots of his character to the vitriolic cynicism of the scoffer.
But the importance of this subject is by no means exclusive to the foreign mission. In Ireland, of late, a spirit of criticism has shown itself, often exacting even to fastidiousness; so far from time being likely to blunt it, everything points to the probability of its edge growing sharper with years. And the young Irish priest of the future who dares to trample on the canons of good taste need expect scant mercy.
[Side note: To arms]
My advice to all ecclesiastical students is—search and see if unmannerly ways are ingrafting themselves into your character. If so, give them no quarter. Master an approved handbook, and during the recreations raise discussions on details of good manners. Ask your friends candidly to point out your defects. It is far easier to be admonished by one friend whose correction is swathed in soft charity than await till a dozen sneerers send their poisoned arrows to fester in your heart. In correcting yourselves and asking your friends to admonish you, it will assist you to pocket your pride, to remember that three such weighty issues as the efficiency of your ministry, the honour of the priesthood, and the comfort of your future home will in a large measure be influenced by the degree of social culture you carry out of college.
No man has greater need to fear than he who stands high in his class. When any habit becomes fixed it requires a high degree of humility and moral courage to root it out. But, intellectual pride, nourished by college triumphs, is up in arms. He scorns to be corrected or taught by a world he despises. Let me ask, did God give him these intellectual gifts for himself or as instruments by which to win souls back to their Father? The man who, rather than bend his own pride, allows his talents to become useless incurs an awful responsibility.
Stubbornly refuse to be corrected or to shape and polish your manners while in college, and one thing I absolutely promise you, with all the authority a long experience can give, that when you do go out from the college you will meet a master that will bend and break you. The roasting fire of the world's scorn will search the very marrow of your bones.
ENGLISH: ITS NECESSITY TO A YOUNG PRIEST
Let me begin by asking one plain question—If all the scholastic wealth with which St. Thomas has enriched the world lay embedded in the mind of a Missionary priest: if he more than rivalled Suarez as a casuist, and Bellarmine as a controversialist, yet if he failed to acquire a mastery over the only instrument by which he could bring to bear the riches of his own intellect on the minds of those around him, of what value is all the wealth entombed within his head?
If he has acquired no command of the rich vocabulary, the graceful elegance of diction, the mysterious beauty of expression, the abundant illustration, the art of storing nervous vigour and living thought into crisp and pregnant terseness: if this one weapon, a finished English education, is not at his disposal, his knowledge, as far as others are concerned, is so much lumber: to the one spot alone—the Confessional—his efficiency is narrowed. The other fields of his ministry are deprived of the immense service this learning might afford.
Let us see how this works out in practice. The unctions of ordination are scarcely dry on your hands till you begin to realise what you never realised before—viz., that in the most literal sense of the word you belong to the Church Militant.
You go out from college, you are quickly confronted with opposition. At once your brain begins to hew arguments of massive solidity; had you but the skill with which to hurl them you would overwhelm the stoutest foe. This skill you have not got, you never mastered the sciences by which you could smite the aggressor. With rage you, perhaps for the first time, realise your own deficiency. Your arms are pinioned by helpless ignorance of the use of what should be one of the first weapons of the priest. Your thoughts now struggle for birth, but are fated to die stillborn, while the foe laughs you in the face.
Is this not a sad pity: yet it is an everyday fact.
There are sixty millions of Irish money lying in the banks throughout this country, yet the nation is perishing from atrophy, starving for want of commercial nourishment. If the gold now piled in banks were but circulated through the channels of industry, every limb of national life would pulse with new vigour, the remotest corner of the land would feel the influence of the golden current; so, within the mind of the priest may be hoarded treasures of deepest learning, but unless he has the art of minting and circulating through his parish the glittering coin of polished thought, though his brain be an El Dorado of wealth, that parish will run into spiritual bankruptcy.
"You are the Light of the World," said Christ to His Apostles. The same, in effect, He will say to the young priest the day he sets out to continue the work they began; but how will that light, of which he is the bearer, reach the darkened world for which God has destined it if he neglects to arm himself with the light-diffuser: the only medium of communication between him and his people? Though the sun is poised in the firmament above us, this earth would remain for ever wrapped in midnight darkness were it not that there is an interposing medium—whatever it be—to waft to us its heat waves and carry its splendours to the tiniest nook and crevice. The language, its graces and powers, are for the priest the instruments by which darkened minds are illumined, by which the clear rays of living truth are flashed into their gloom.
The man that neglects to acquire a mastery of this instrument incurs a great responsibility.
The devil, too, has a message to deliver, a message of error; but at his command there are not only perverse intellects but all the elegance of polished language and all the persuasive graces of elocution.
[Side note: An illustration from everyday life]
Let me take an illustration from everyday life. A Catholic child under his father's roof has religion instilled into him. He goes to school, and here his knowledge is developed and enlarged. From the schoolroom he is transplanted into the world to strike roots if he can in stubborn soil and preserve his faith amidst the ice-chills of infidelity.
Foes beset him on every side. He turns to the public library. The infidel review is crisp in style, its arguments catchy, and the brilliancy of its diction captivates. The pages of the fashionable novel are strewn with the rose leaves of literature: the plot enthrals. The arguments of the free-thought lecturer are well reasoned, the sophistries artistically concealed, whilst his mastery over the graces of elocution holds his audience spell-bound.
The young man staggers. He now turns to where he should expect to find strength. Under the pulpit next Sunday is a mind where the mists of doubt are gathering and darkening. He looks up to the "Light of the World" to have these mists dispelled. Instead of seeing his foes battered with their own weapons he sees these weapons, that in every domain are conquering for the devil, here despised.
He is forced to listen, perhaps, to an exhibition of tedious crudity. He goes away disheartened; perhaps to fall.
Now, the solid theological knowledge in that preacher's head is more than sufficient to shatter the arguments of infidelity; the analytic power acquired during his college course would enable him to tear every sophistry to shreds; but the art of making both of these effective for the pulpit, the mastery of clear and nervous English, the elocution that sends every argument like a quivering arrow of light to its mark, these he neglected, or perhaps contemned.
This is our weak spot; here our position wants strengthening.
Sit by the fireside with that preacher and suggest the advisability of cultivating English and elocution. He replies: "I have two thousand souls to look after, sodalities to work up, schools to organise, and attend, perhaps, four sick calls in one night." No, not now, but long years before, he should have been trained. It is not on the battlefield, when the bugle is sounding the "charge," that the soldier should begin to learn the use of his weapons. In the college, and not on the field of action, is the place to acquire this science.
[Side note: A ruinous advice]
One of the most fatal directions ever tendered to Irish students is—devote all your college years to Classics, Philosophy, and Theology exclusively—these are your professional studies—and when you become a curate it will be time to master English and Elocution.
Analyse this and see what it means. Do not learn English or its expression till you are flung into a village without a soul to stimulate or encourage you; or, worse still, till you find yourself in the fierce whirl of an English or American city. "Wait till you are in the pulpit and then begin to learn to preach" is very like advising a man to wait till he is drowning and then it will be time enough to learn how to swim. Would any sane man give such an advice to an aspirant of the fine arts? What would be thought of the man who would say—"If you wish to become a good musician neglect to learn the scales till you come to your twenty-fifth year; or if it is your ambition to be a great painter, permit a quarter of a century to roll over your head before you learn how to hold the palette or mix the paints." The man that would tender such ridiculous advice would be laughed at. Yet it is not one whit more absurd than the transparent nonsense that has grown hoary from age, and passes unchallenged as a first principle.
It is often asked how is it that the Irish Church has remained so barren.
Eighty years have passed since the bells of the thatched chapels rang in Emancipation. During that time over three thousand talented priests are on the land; yet how small the number of works produced. Why such a miserable result? What has sterilised the intellects of these men? Mainly this fatal advice. How could we have literary tastes among the priests in their pastoral life when such tastes were either frowned down during their college career or postponed to a period when their cultivation became an impossibility.
[Side note: You must begin while young]
No man can become a preacher without becoming a writer first. I need not labour this proposition. A single quotation from the highest authority establishes it. When Cicero was asked the question—"How can I become an orator?" his one answer was— "Scribere quam plurimum." The first step to oratorica eminence was—write as much as possible.
Now, ask any distinguished writer when did he begin to cultivate a literary taste. He will tell you with Pope that he "lisped in numbers." He began almost with the dawn of reason. If, then, pen practice must be the first step towards pulpit success, it is while the fancy is tender that it should be trained; while the receptive powers are hungry in youth they should be fed; while the habits of thought are fresh and flexible they should be exercised. Wait till the hoar frost of age nips the rich blooms of imagination and stiffens the once nimble powers of the mind, and the cast-iron habits of maturer years have settled on you: literary culture is then an impossibility.
What does this culture imply? A developed insight into the beauties of thought; a just appreciation of style; an intimate acquaintance with the best authors; an abundant vocabulary and graceful expression. Can these be acquired in a year? or is the time for acquiring them seasoned manhood?
How worthless and pernicious is this one word "Wait," here more than ever, where mastery of language is in question. But a glance shows how much more absurd it is to let a man pass out of his teens before putting him through a thorough course of elocution. It is while the muscles of throat and lungs are as flexible as a piece of Indiarubber, and the young ear sensitive to every nuance of sound, the future priest must learn to articulate, to pronounce correctly, to husband his breathing, to bend his voice with ease and mastery through the varied octaves of human passion.
A piece of advice which I would give to a young priest who may find himself within reach of an elocution master is to place himself under his guidance for at least the first twelve months.
The very best student elocutionist has, on leaving college, but a theoretic knowledge of the art of preaching. To weave the principles and graces he there acquired into his own compositions in the pulpit is a new experience. To do this with effect he still requires the master's guiding hand.
He should deliver his sermons in the presence of that master, invite him to his church, and ask him to note defects for correction. This plan I have seen acted on with eminent results: it may be a young priest's making: at its lowest estimate it is worth gold.
[Side note: A workable plan]
I can well imagine the young reader objecting that I would have him turn from his study-desk, where Lehmkuhl and St. Thomas lie, to practise composition and elocution. No, but I want to show how all I have put before him can be done without encroaching to the extent of one hour on his ordinary class studies.
I. Let the most hard-working student gather carefully the golden sands of wasted time that lie strewn even through the busiest ordinary day and see what they amount to in a year. Why not hoard and mint them; for his class knowledge will, to a great extent, be buried treasure except he has the engine by which to deliver it to others.
A student should permit no day to pass without writing out at least one thought. Cover but half a sheet of notepaper—correct, prune, condense, clarify, and then, if you wish, burn it, yet, it is a distinct gain. You are shaping a sword that will stand you in good need yet.
2. During study hours an English author should lie on the desk. When the head grows wearied, instead of uselessly goading the tired jade or consuming brain tissue on that most fatiguing of occupations, day dreaming, sip a page or two of English. You rest your brain, and while doing so store up knowledge, silently develop taste and acquire style.
3. Again, how are vacations consumed? The student who does not read at least two hours a day is letting a golden opportunity pass and wasting a precious gift of God—time. It may be said that this after all is a rather slow process; it will only mean about a volume a month. Yes, but that means twelve in a year, or at least eighty-four in your course, not a bad stock to start life with.
4. In the training of the future priest the recreation hour can be converted into the most important item on the day's programme. He plunges from the silence of the study hall into the vortex of the world, for it is the world in miniature; its passions, its pride, its meanness, as well as its gentleness of heart and heroism of spirit are all flowing around him. If properly utilised, the recreations can be minted into veritable gold. In the term "recreation" I include all those occasions of free intercourse where students meet to interchange thought—the hall, the club, &c.—and the more numerous these are the better. Here the student is his natural self, unrestrained by a master's presence. The young minds are free to wrestle, and opposing thoughts to clash. The fire of contradiction will test the genuine ore: the same fire will consume all that is worthless in his opinions and principles: the clay and alloy of his character too will go.
He learns to cast away many a cherished notion now dinged and broken in the war of minds; he is taught to distrust himself and tolerate the opinions of others. If the recreation, however, is to be a mental gymnasium it must be guided by fixed rules, and this is most important.
The tone must be of a high level. No vulgarity; no scurrility. In the hottest debate we must not forget that we are gentlemen.
We should argue, not to overcome an opponent, but to make truth evident. Minds in debate should resemble flails on the threshing floor, that labour not to overcome each other, but to separate the solid grains from the chaff and straw.
No man should be ashamed to say "I don't know" or "Perhaps I am wrong."
Without these safeguards the recreation or debate might easily become a cock-pit of unbridled passions. "Our fortunes lie not in our stars, good Brutus, but in ourselves." The making of the priests depends not merely on the college, but also on the students' own endeavours. This latter fact is but imperfectly understood, or acted on only in a very limited extent. It is from intercourse between minds of various bents, the debating clubs, the social unions, and not the lecture halls or study desks, that the Oxford student draws strength and elegance of character. It is the want or misuse of these opportunities that leaves the young Irish priest so raw and unfinished.
Knowledge only comes from the professor and the book, but the character is shaped, rounded, and polished by a variety of agencies lying outside both these. The creation of these agencies is almost entirely in the student's own hands.
[Side note: The dangers of the hour and how to meet them]
If the Irish priest on the foreign mission is to become a force in the future, his course of philosophy must be both solid and practical.
The last half century has not only changed the arms of his adversaries but transferred the conflict to new grounds.
Protestantism is dying. The mere veneer of Christianity is fast fading off among the sects.
The cobwebs of neglect are overspreading the works of theological controversy; but in the domain of ethics and metaphysics activity daily grows in intensity.
The student would do well to keep this fact before his eyes. It is proper that a priest should be conversant with the errors of the past and the arguments by which they are met. Many of these errors he will discover exhumed, draped in new disguises, and paraded as the fruit of modern "thought." But it will be well also, in his studies, not to ignore the fact that the Agnostic and the Socialist are, under his very eyes, digging what they confidently assure us is to be the grave of Christianity.
Agnosticism and Socialism are the two great forces to be reckoned with in the immediate future.
Poison-thought has eaten the vitals of non-catholic sectaries. The teaching of so-called Christian churches has evaporated into a mere natural theism, the supernatural element has disappeared. Both the Socialist and Agnostic frankly confess that the demolition of the sects is but a preliminary skirmish: the real battle lies farther afield. The lines of conflict between us and them are daily drawing closer, and it is a question of brief time till we are locked in deadly grip. How are we preparing for this struggle, which may yet convulse the world?
The future priest must be made familiar with the modern objections in their native dress and form.
The aspirant for the foreign missions has a tough quarry before him: it behoves him to steady his hand and point his weapon.
Young men complain of the length and tediousness of the years consumed in preparation for the Ministry. Could I but engrave on their minds the conviction as it lives, fixed and definite, on my own as to the equipment requisite for the efficient discharge of their great office; could I but show them the thousands untouched that might be within her fold to-day, were the Church's workmen fully aware of the pressing needs of modern life, they would count that hour as lost that did not contribute its quota towards their arming for the future.
P.S.—I cannot do better than here append a list of those books I found in practical experience most valuable in meeting modern thought. I would earnestly ask every aspirant for the foreign mission not to leave the college till he has a familiar acquaintance with every page of them. I take it for granted that the transcendent merits of "Catholic Belief" and "Faith of our Fathers" are so well known, especially as books for intending converts, that there is no need to add them to the list on the following page.
Dealing with Agnosticism, &c. "Liberalism and the Church" Brownson. "Notes on Ingersol" Lambert. "The Newest Answer to the Old Riddle" Gerrard. "New Materialism" Gaynor.
Dealing with Socialism "Pope Leo XIII. on Labour." "Labour and Popular Welfare" Mallock. "Socialism" Cathrein.
SHOULD A YOUNG PRIEST WRITE HIS SERMONS?
[Side note: Clearing the ground]
That the young priest may discharge the office of preacher with efficiency and honour, not only must he bring ability and industry to his task, but he must approach it with a mind free from false theories. One unsound principle may mean shipwreck. Amongst the many questions discussed by aspirants to pulpit success, perhaps the greatest prominence is given to the relative merits of the written or the extemporary sermon. This is so important that its full treatment demands an entire chapter.
Before coming to close quarters we may premise a question. If the carefully prepared sermon cost as little trouble as the extemporary effort, would the world ever have heard of this discussion? Oh! the fatal tendency to move on the lines of least resistance, to glide on the downward slope, and when we have reached the bottom to manufacture arguments and apologies justifying the course we selected! When the question is probed to the bottom you will find that all advocacy of extemporary preaching resolves itself into an apology for laziness.
To me the question has long since ceased to be anything more than a mere academic one, useful perhaps for a debating class, where youthful gladiators flesh their harmless swords. In practical life, the well written, the well prepared sermon was the only one I discovered able to bear the test of experience.
[Side note: Manning]
At the threshold of this discussion the authority of Cardinal Manning may be invoked against us, who, without condemning the written sermon, shows a decided preference for speaking from notes. A written sermon, such as advocated, could scarcely be before his mind when he wrote that chapter in "The Eternal Priesthood." It is evident he had in view the post-renaissance preacher—vain, pompous, decked in borrowed ornament, anxious about the embroidery, and careless about the soul of his discourse. The species, thank God, is extinct.
At any rate, if Cardinal Manning meant to condemn the written discourse such as we understand it, is he triumphantly answered by himself. The man who advises you to preach from notes and then launches upon the world a goodly set of volumes of carefully written sermons, every line of which passed under his correcting pen, requires no refutation. His action nullifies his advice. It is to be feared, too, that in forming his judgment he relied too much on his own experience, and out of it drew conclusions for others, who could never hope to have his exceptional advantages— a fatal mistake.
Before his conversion he had completed a distinguished career at Oxford. Of the English language and its perfect use he was a past master. The copiousness of diction, elegance of phrase, the power of expressing himself in graceful strength were eminently his. His intellect was stored with abundant knowledge drawn from many sources. The thoughts of his well-ordered mind stood in line as definite and orderly as soldiers on parade. The fibres of his reasoning had waxed strong in encounters with the ablest intellects of the day and before the most distinguished audiences in the literary and debating clubs at Oxford. Add to this the fact that in a keen knowledge of the human heart, its strength and weakness, he was surpassed by no man of his age. This was the equipment with which Manning started life, and it is to be feared he pre-supposed this, or a great part of it, to be in possession of those for whom he wrote.
Now, what young priest, even the most brilliant of his class, going on the mission can pretend to the hundredth part of the advantages that enabled Manning to dispense with the written page? Therefore, to conclude that because he, under such privileged circumstances, succeeded, you can do the same under a very different set of conditions, is to ignore the hard logic of facts and pay a poor compliment to your reason.
[Side note: Father Burke and O'Connell]
Then, we are confronted not with opinions but names—the two names that will stand for all time in the forefront of Irish orators are those of O'Connell and Father Burke. O'Connell wrote but one speech—his first. The orations delivered by Father Burke in America, by which he achieved a European reputation, were not written. What, then, it is asked, becomes of the advocacy of the written sermon? The answer to this argument is evident. If the question is reduced to one of great names, into the other side of the scales may be thrown not two but dozens of the most illustrious men who not only wrote, but became famous mainly because they wrote.
Passing by the great pagan orators, Cicero and Demosthenes, and the Doctors of the Church, Saints Augustine, John Chrysostom, &c.—these all wrote, polished and elaborated—we come to the four names that have flung a deathless glory around the French pulpit, that created a golden era of sacred eloquence which has never been surpassed: Bourdaloue, Bossuet, Massillon, and Fenelon. I will not labour the argument by showing how much of their strength and fame rested on the construction of their sermons. But, to return to the intrinsic merits of the statement—yes, O'Connell and Father Burke were great orators in spite of, and not because of, the fact that they spoke extemporarily. So crude were some of O'Connell's speeches, so careless was he of their dress, that Shiel complained: "He flung a brood of young, sturdy ideas upon the world, with scarce a rag to cover them."
If ever there was a case when the man made the sermon instead of the sermon making the man, it was the case of Father Burke. How little he owed to his sermons and how much they owed to his delivery is left on record by a capable judge. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy says: "Father Burke was a born orator; the charm of voice, eye and action combined to produce his wonderful effects. When his words were printed much of the spell vanished. One rejoiced to hear him over and over again, but re-read him rarely, I think." The greatest tribute that can be paid to the genius of these two orators is that compositions, wordy, loose, abounding in repetitions, in their mouths enthralled multitudes. Every defect disappeared; the mastery, the dazzling brilliancy of their oratory swept all hearts and blinded criticism. We well may pause before answering the question: What effects would they have produced had they time to write masterpieces of finished beauty like those of Grattan and of Bourdaloue? where each link in the chain of argument hangs in glittering strength, and each thought shows the flash of the gem and its solidity too.
 "My Life in Two Hemispheres," Vol. II., 274.
[Side note: Defence of the system I]
The first great difficulty against extemporary preaching is that, though a priest studies his subject and maps his plan, he still reckons without his host. The mind aroused to activity and warmed by exertion is sure to spring new thoughts, arguments, and illustrations across his path. These offspring of latest birth clothed in freshness will prove a temptation too strong. He will swerve from the main line to pursue them: the tendency to chase the fresh hare can scarcely be resisted. Then another new thought springs up, and, alas! another fresh hunt. The defined sketch lying on his desk is abandoned: the new ideas have mastered him, but he cannot master them. He labours himself to death without avail, for there is neither point, argument, nor sequence: his sermon is a definition of eternity—without beginning and without end. The congregation is groaning in despair, and the only appreciated passage in the whole performance is the preacher's passage from the pulpit to the sacristy.
Now, to a man who writes his sermon, such a catastrophe is impossible. In the process of preparation the field is well beaten and every thought that could arise secured. From the best of these his selection is made. To this selection he clings without danger of swerve. The road on which he travels is not only mapped but free of ambush and surprises. The milestones are erected. He may not be a Bossuet or a Burke, but he speaks to a definite point, has a time to stop, and the people leave the church with a clear idea.
[Side note: II.]
The defenders of extemporary preaching must postulate three essentials in any man undertaking the office. (I) Orderly thought. (2) Abundant vocabulary. (3) Accurate and graceful expressions. Without these he cannot speak. Admit the want of any one of them and the contention falls to the ground. Now, what young priest coming out of college has this equipment? It is a singular fact, too, that these three can be acquired only by, and are the direct outcome of, pen practice. How is it that this fact has escaped so many? "Writing makes an exact man," says Bacon; and to the question: "How can I become an orator?" Cicero's answer was: "Caput est quam plurimum scribere." When then men point to a Gladstone or a Bright as an example of an extemporary orator we are entitled to ask: "In what sense can they be called extemporary speakers, except in the most limited, since the well marshalled ideas, the flowing periods and elegant graces of delivery are the products of reams and reams of written pages and years of patient drudgery?" Yet, even with all these advantages, on great occasions it was on the written page they relied. Till the young priest, then, comes to his task as well furnished as a Gladstone or a Bright, the advocates of extemporary speaking are out of count.
[Side note: III.]
The extemporary preacher challenges nature on her own ground. No one need doubt the issue. Nature will conquer, and the man who defies her will succumb. He endeavours to think, to select word-clothing for his thoughts, to labour his memory, and deliver his sermon, and performs all four operations at the same time, a task clearly impossible, but more so when we remember the usual embarrassments that beset a young preacher—the nervous agitation, the want of self-control, the desire to succeed. It ends generally in a stammer and then a break, greeted by the congregation with a sigh of relief or perhaps a sneer of contempt.
Is it by preaching such as this you hope to challenge the respect and get a hold on the intellect of a cynical world? Is it through such instrumentality you would bring home the Church's message to proud and festering humanity? No one can succeed who attempts more than one task at a time.
Look to analogy. At the moment when a regiment is expected to charge, you don't find it engaged in collecting ammunition, sharpening swords, and learning drill. All these necessary preliminaries are long since completed. Now every bridle is grasped, every sword hilt in grip, and the rowelled heels are ready to dash into the horses' flanks at the first note of the trumpet blast.
The preacher should come to the pulpit in a like state of preparedness, with his thoughts already gathered, moulded, polished and clothed in the words that fit them best; with every argument as definite and well knitted as a proposition in Euclid; the page swept clear of superfluous verbiage; each idea standing out bright as a jewel in its setting, and the whole so thoroughly committed to memory that he can defy the most critical to discover a trace of effort. He should come, holding his elocutionary forces in reserve, and ready, when the moment arrives, to flash from his lips each living thought and send from his heart the waves of subtle, unseen fire to melt, rock, or subdue the hearts of others, instead of attempting four tasks simultaneously, and failing in all. His sole business in the pulpit is not to shape his message or to clothe his message, but to gather and converge all the powers within him for one grand purpose and it alone—to send that message home.
These pages are written mainly for the Irish priest on the foreign mission. It is well he should be under no delusion. In Ireland a slipshod or unprepared sermon may meet with indulgent charity. A very different reception awaits it abroad. The priest who attempts it will quickly discover how he is set up for a sign that shall be contradicted. The free, white light of open criticism penetrates even the sanctuary. There is no dignity to hedge any man. Congregations smart at being treated to such poor fare, and will not leave him long in ignorance of their opinions. Perhaps while in the pulpit the sight of many a curving lip will make the blood tingle or cause the shame spot to burn on his cheek.
Again, the priest on the foreign mission will never face a congregation that is not sprinkled with Protestants or unbelievers. Should he not then consider the feelings of his own people who are humiliated or filled with honest pride by the manner in which their pastor acquits himself in the eyes of strangers? Waiving then all supernatural motives, should not every priest have sufficient manly pride, self-respect and sensibility for the honour of his exalted office to lift himself and his work above the sneer of the most censorious, and challenge the respect, if not the admiration, of every listener?
The preparation should begin not on the day the sacred oils are poured on the young priest's hands, but on the day he enters college. His eyes should be kept fixed on the goal before him. "I am to be a preacher, and every obstacle that stands on my path must go down, and every advantage that goes to make a great orator, at all costs, I must make my own." This ambition should be nourished till it consumes him, till it becomes "his waking thought, his midnight dream." His reading, recitation and debates should be studied under the light of this lodestar of his destiny: at first shining afar off, but swiftly nearing as each vacation ends.
[Side note: Objectors answered I.]
Those who champion the method of extemporary preaching lay great stress on two points. (I) The extemporary preacher has a natural warmth and earnestness of conviction that goes straight to the heart. (2) These, they maintain, can never accompany the prepared discourse. Let us examine these two statements. It is true that when men speak under the influence of strong emotions, passion may, in a large measure, compensate for accurate expression and sequence of thought, especially with a rude or half educated audience. In proof of this, Peter the Hermit and Mahomet are striking examples. We are dealing, however, not with extraordinary but the ordinary demands on a priest's powers, and it would be poor wisdom to stake all his success on the chance moods of his temperament. To-day the tempest may rock his soul and his words bear the breath of flame; but, by next Sunday, the spirit has passed, his passions are ice chill; he is confronted with the duty of preaching, and on what support shall he now lean? We must also remember that with increasing education the popular mind is becoming more analytic, and congregations less willing to accept emotions, no matter how sincere, as a substitute for reason.
The second statement—that the written sermon cannot be vitalized with fervour—seems childish in face of the fact that even actors, speaking the thoughts of men dead three hundred years, move people to tears or cause their blood to blaze. The great pulpit orators, to whom allusion has already been made, preached carefully written sermons, yet over ten thousand hearts they poured lava tides that swept every prejudice in their fiery breaths.
[Side note: Shiel]
What, then, becomes of this trite assumption when there are iron facts like these to fall upon it? Again, it is objected that the freshness disappears in elaborate preparation, and an oft-repeated sermon becomes stale to its author. Shiel, we are told, "always prepared the language as well as the substance of his speeches. Two very high excellences he possessed to a most wonderful degree—the power of combining extreme preparation with the greatest passion."
[Side note: Wesley]
That disposes of the first statement. Now, does the repetition of the same sermon cause it to grow flat? Listen to the actor on his hundredth night, and see have he and his words grown weary of each other. Wesley wrote every sermon, and repeatedly preached the same discourse, with the result that so far from losing by repetition it gained; and Benjamin Franklin, who was the American ambassador in England at the time, assures us he never became truly eloquent with a sermon till he had preached it thirty times. The following graphic picture of the effects produced by the preaching of Wesley and his two companions will scarcely help to support the theory that a sermon preached frequently becomes fruitless:—"He looked down from the top of a green knoll at Kingswood on twenty thousand colliers, grimy from the Bristol coalpits, and saw, as he preached, the tears making white channels down their blackened cheeks. . . . The terrible sense of a conviction of sin, a new dread of hell, a new hope of heaven, took forms at once grotesque and sublime."
 Green—"Short History of the English People."
We have heard preachers from whose lips each thought fell as fresh and as hot as if that moment only it welled up from the fountains of the heart; yet each rounded and chiselled sentence, that seemed to flow so spontaneously, cosily nestled between the covers of their manuscripts. We have watched the varied gestures, the cadences of voice and facial expression to harmonize with and so express the sense of the words that one seemed to grow out of the other; still these graces of elocution, that looked so artless and so charming, were the fruit of long years of study. All was fresh! All was natural! All palpitated with the blood of life, yet all were the products of previous toil. It is nonsense, then, for any man to assert that the written sermon must bear the stamp of artificiality or that the fire evaporates in the passage from the desk to the pulpit.
[Side note: II.]
But I may be told there is small time for writing sermons. It is singular that where there is most time on a priest's hands there are fewest sermons on his desk. But to the objection. One of the strongest motives urging the writer to insist on the written sermon is his deep conviction of the shortness of time, for there is no more expeditious way of squandering that precious gift of God than by preaching extemporary sermons.
This is how the case stands. You have to spend as much time in gathering and arranging the matter for the extemporary as for the written one. Next year you may have to preach on the same gospel or feast; of what use will your notes be then? The ideas, arguments, and illustrations that now spring to your mind with a glance at this cipher or note will then have vanished. The cipher remains, but its inspiring power has passed. The oracle is dumb. You may summon spirits from the vasty deep—but will they come? You have again to face your old task; year after year the same drudgery awaits you with less hope of success. The brain, at first stimulated by novelty, poured forth the hot tide of thought; now it will answer only to the lash. At the end of five years what hoarded reserve have you laid by? Your hands are as empty as the day you started, with this disadvantage, that you have lost the habit of labour you acquired at college—a serious loss. When a man permits the fine edge of college industry to become blunted, the best day of his usefulness is passed. This treadmill of ineffectual toil fills with disgust, till finally all efforts are abandoned, and the people are treated to Hamlet's reading: "Words, words, words." This is the usual series of evolutions through which an extemporary preacher passes. He begins with good intentions and bad theories. The system breaks down, but his habits are now too set to try another, and so he runs to seed. Here you have explained the fruitlessness, indeed the paralysis, of many a pulpit.
In the written sermon, on the other hand, you have a treasure for life; years pass, but your sermon remains, an instrument becoming more flexible and telling every time you use it. You are independent of your mood, on which the extemporary preacher has to lean so much. You can also defy chance that may call you to the pulpit at a day's notice. Your motto is: Semper paratus. Your brain may be barren and your feelings frigid, but here are thoughts already made and shaped. They are your own; and the mind instinctively responds to the children of its own birth. It rises, clasps, and embraces them. The passion glow enkindles afresh; and heart and words are aflame with the ancient fires. When for the first five years you lay aside a well-written sermon a month, what a handsome stock-in-trade is at your disposal for life—your fortune is made.
[Side note: Incitements to toil]
The world is in no humour to stand half-hearted work; it will bow its proud head only to the man who pours out sweat; and Bourdaloue's standard of excellence will hold for all time. His answer to the question "What was your best sermon?" is: "The one I took the most pains with." His labour at the desk was the precise measure of his success in the pulpit. The French have a proverb, "Tout vaut ce qu'il coute." ("Everything is worth what it costs.")
See how laymen put our lethargy and its apologists to shame. Look at the author with pallid cheek and fevered brow, half starving in an attic, perfecting his style, polishing his periods. There is the actor, haggard, jaded, toiling for hours at a single passage, that he may interpret its meaning and enchain his audience. While the world is dreaming the barrister is studying his brief, ransacking tomes, wading through statutes, in search of one to support his contention, knitting his defence in logical terseness, cudgeling his brains for ingenious appeals to move a jury. The lives of eminent lawyers are records of appalling drudgery.
Turn to the great doctors of the church. After preaching for thirty years, St. Augustine did not consider himself free from the obligation of writing his sermons. He prepared, he tells us, cum magno labore. "I have," says St. John Chrysostom, "traversed land and ocean to acquire the art of rhetoric." If giants so laboured, who are we to expect exemption? Ah! if our bread entirely depended on our sermons, as a lawyer's on his briefs or an actor's on his parts, what a revolution we should behold! Yet how humiliating the thought! Every time you go into the pulpit it is to plead a brief for Christ. The destiny of many a soul hangs on your effort. Will you permit yourself to be outdone in generous toil by the lawyer, who consumes his night not to save a man from an unending hell, but from a month's imprisonment?
To-day the devil's agents put forth sleepless activity. The world rings with the clash of warring forces. The priest, then, that idly folds his arms and manufactures sops for a gnawing conscience, while the very air is electric with the energies of assault, that priest is set up not for the resurrection but the ruin of many in Israel.
HOW SHOULD THE YOUNG PRIEST PREPARE HIS SERMONS?
The pulpit, as an instrument for the salvation of human souls, holds, after the Sacraments, first place. Indeed the frequentation and proper reception of the Sacraments themselves largely depend upon it.
Never since the first Pentecost was its agency a more pressing necessity than to-day. The apostles of evil are busy. The printing press teems beyond all precedent, obscuring truth and belching forth poison over the world of intellect with a reckless audacity that scorns all restraint. The powers of darkness have seized, polished with unstinting labour and sharpened into slashing efficiency, the varied weapons in the armoury of the orator—crispness of style, brilliancy of diction, a declamation that covers the want of argument and gilds sophistry till it passes for truth. The question for us is—how shall we meet the enemy with steel as highly tempered as his own?
Cicero embraces within the compass of three words the whole scope of the orator.
Docere.—To instruct the intellects of his hearers.
Placere.—To use those varied arts and graces by which the instruction is rendered palatable and agreeable.
Movere.—To move their wills to action.
The last function is by far the most important.
The preacher's triumph lies not in the conviction of the intellect, nor in the approbation of the tastes, but in the arousing of the wills of his hearers. The will is the goal-point at which he aims from the beginning.
A doctor may persuade his patient that bitter medicine and active exercise are necessary, but so long as the sick man lies on the sofa and nods assent this barren conviction is of little profit. When, however, the persuasion forces him to take a six-mile walk and swallow the revolting draught, then, and only then, is triumph secured. So a preacher may convince the habitual sinner of the heinousness of sin; he may win his applause by the cogency of his reasoning and the brilliancy of his style; but not till he has moved his will to fling the old fetters to the winds, not till he brings him a tearful penitent to the confessional, is his work complete.
We shall now take the three words of Cicero in order.
[Side note: Docere]
How shall we accomplish all implied in that word "docere?" How embed conviction in the minds of our hearers? Fill your own head to repletion with the subject; be ambitious to leave, if possible, no book unread, books of even collateral bearing. The more thought stored up the more complete will be your mastery over the subject and the more abundant the materials from which to select. I was struck by a letter from Father Faber to a friend:—"I intend writing a book on the Passion. I have already read a hundred works on the subject; see if you can get me any more." A hundred volumes, yet he looks for more! Hence his brain was saturated with his subject, and when he tapped it, how copiously it flowed! What books should I read?
[Side note: What books to read]
The solid matter in Theology and the Sacred Scriptures and their developments. A book of sermons is the last to open. Why? You wish to raise a structure, then go to the original quarry where you have material in abundance. The arguments that bear the shaping of your own chisel, though not as polished as those you would borrow, will fit more naturally and adorn with greater grace. There are two great risks in reading sermon books—a tendency to imitate the style and a temptation to filch the jewels. The style may be very sublime, but the question is will it suit you. Your neighbour's clothes may fit him admirably, but on you they would hang lop-sided.
The second danger is even more fatal. A struggling tyro who makes an inartistic attempt to adorn his discourse with the most brilliant passages from Bossuet renders his production not only worthless but grotesque. The man who can build a labourer's cottage handsomely should be content; but when he attempts to engraft upon it the turrets and pilasters of the neighbouring mansion he covers his work not with ornament but ridicule. "Am I then," you will ask, "to cast aside the brilliant thoughts and happy imagery I meet in my reading?" No, I only ask you not to use them now. Note them for re-reading. Cast them as nuggets into the smelting-pot of your own brain. Trust to time and the alchemy of thought to transmute them. Wait till these thoughts become your thoughts. The intellect will assimilate this foreign material and send it forth on some future occasion, palpitating with the warm blood of natural life, to strengthen the frame-work of your reasoning or adorn your composition with veins of natural beauty.
[Side note: How shall I read?]
Read with a pencil and paper slip beside you, not only to jot down arguments and illustrations, but to seize on the inspirations that may come. The thoughts we get from books are not at all as valuable as the train of natural ideas these books excite. When the mind is once set going there is no knowing what rich ore it may strike. When the brain throbs in labour with thought struggling for birth, when the soul is full and the imagination in flame, this is the golden moment. Each idea now stands out clear cut as a cube of crystal, and colours of unwonted richness are draping the fancy. Hence, at all hazards, lay hold of this inspiration. Close the most interesting work; leave the most fascinating society; heed neither food nor sleep till it is secured.
For you this spirit may never breathe again. Let this moment pass, and when you do invoke the intellect it is cold and barren, and the heart that yesterday blazed with living fires holds lifeless ashes now. It is not always when you have pointed your pencils and spread the virgin page before you thought will come. The ideas that have revolutionized the world came at times and in places most unlooked for.
When musing on the swaying Sanctuary lamp during Benediction, Galileo discovered the laws of the pendulum. Such a trifle as the fall of an apple suggested the laws of gravitation to Newton; and the first idea of the steam engine came to Watt while he was watching the lid rising from the boiling kettle. During a royal banquet the argument to crush the Manicheans grew on the great mind of St. Thomas, and the king made his secretary write it down on the spot. Had not these men trained themselves to admit and welcome the angel visitant, no matter when or where he came, the stagnant pool of the world's ignorance might have remained for ever unstirred.
Your notes are now before you, some the offspring of original thought and others culled from reading. The former require only polishing and shaping, but the latter must pass through your own intellect; every thought must feel the brain heat before it becomes palatable. We do not ask people to eat meat raw, so we should take care not to offer them ideas cold and untouched by the warmth of our own reasoning. Think over, ruminate, roll them from side to side, let them sink down through the tissues of your own brain and settle there; then when you send them out warm, bearing the stamp of your own minting, they will be found effective.
Remember that to translate dry theology into questionable English, encumbered with technical expressions, is not writing a sermon; but the man who takes up the theological principles, simmers them in his own thought, wraps them in the transparency of clear language, illustrating them with his own imagery, and thereby bringing them within the grasp of the meanest intelligence, that man, in a sense, creates the truth anew.
You begin the work of construction by making out a sketch argument. Let a well-jointed syllogism underlie and form the framework of your sermon. The conclusion of that syllogism must be the goal point at which you aim. That once selected, all other parts of the sermon should tend towards it. As all roads lead to Rome, so all members of the argument should converge to this point. The congregation should leave the church with that idea fixed and clear as a star of light before their minds.
In writing, as in committing to memory, you should keep the audience ever before the mind's eye. Attack it on every side; pursue it with argument, and never leave it in the power of an intelligent man to say: "I do not understand what he means."
This habit of writing with the audience before us not only secures cogency and point for our arguments and clearness for our illustrations, but it saves us from the fatal mistake of producing not a sermon but an essay.
Here our meditations assist us. The daily habit of balancing and introspection enables a man to read and analyse his own heart, its strength and weakness. He becomes familiar with the springs and levers that move it, the storms that convulse and the sunshine that gladdens the mysterious world within his own breast. How useful this knowledge when he comes to train the artillery of the pulpit on the hearts of others!
[Side note: Placere]
So far we have been studying how to mortise the joints of our arguments into well-knit and shapely strength; the pure scholastic, however, possesses but half the weapons of the preacher. The best built skeleton is repulsive till it is clothed with flesh, colour and beauty. This is the rhetorician's task. He comes with his graceful art, and drapes the dry bones of hard reasoning, clarifies the arguments by illustrations, clothes them in language crisp and sparkling, weaves around them the warm glow of fancy and renders the hardest truths palatable by the grace of diction and delivery. He accomplishes all implied in the word "placere."
When rhetoric and logic clasp hands the standard of triumph is fairly certain to be planted above the stubborn heart. We must, however, remember that the arts of rhetoric are subordinate to the reasoning, and must be brought forward only for the purpose of driving the reasoning home. But since man's faculties are not divided into watertight compartments, neither should the sermon intended to influence him.
Our reason is not independent of our passions; our feelings so influence our judgment that even in our greatest actions it is hard to disentangle and say so much is the product of one and so much of the other. The sermon should be constructed to fit the man; argument and emotion should not stand apart, but dovetail and interlace.
[Side note: Sheil]
In the art of entwining the garlands of rhetoric around the framework of argument, Sheil stands conspicuous. Lecky says of him—"His speeches seem exactly to fulfil Burke's description of perfect oratory—half poetry, half prose. Two very high excellencies he possessed to the most wonderful degree—the power of combining extreme preparation with the greatest passion and of blending argument with declamation.
"We know scarcely any speaker from whom it would be possible to cite so many passages with all the sustained rhythm and flow of declamation, yet consisting wholly of the most elaborate arguments. He always prepared the language as well as the substance of his speeches. He seems to have followed the example of Cicero in studying the case of his opponent as well as his own, and was thus enabled to anticipate with great accuracy."
The hint contained in the last paragraph is invaluable to the man who proves or expounds doctrine. It sometimes happens that there is an objection so natural that it seems to grow out of the reasoning. Perhaps, while the preacher is speaking, it is taking shape on the minds of the hearers; at least sooner or later it is certain to recur.
How is it to be dealt with? Let it pass, and the audience carry away the argument with a cloud of doubt hanging around that goes far to destroy its force. Or it may be that when he opens the morning paper it confronts him, set forth in the most convincing shape, with the advantage of having, at least, twenty-four hours to rest on the public mind before he can touch it. Therefore, let no such objection pass, but grapple with it here and now, and tear it to shreds. Here you are master of the situation, and can present the objection in a shape most accessible to your own knife. By anticipating an antagonist you break his sword and render your own position unassailable.
Before our preacher goes into the pulpit just one word in his ear—Beware of two very common defects—(I) Rapidity of speech and (2) Want of proper articulation. A people who think warmly, as we Irish do, speak rapidly. Thought is rushed upon thought and sentence telescoped into sentence. Before sending forth an idea, take care that its predecessor has got time to settle on the minds of your hearers. In articulation try to earn the eulogy passed on Wendell Philips: "He sent each sentence from his lips as bright and clear cut as a new made sovereign from the mint."
[Side note: Movere]
What is the main weapon of the orator? Demosthenes answers— "Action." Mr. Gladstone—"Earnestness." But St. Francis Borgia probably explains what both mean when he advises us to preach with an evidence of conviction that makes it clear to the audience you are prepared to lay down your life at the foot of the pulpit stairs for the truth of what you say.
Without this deep-seated conviction and the enthusiasm that flows from it, your fire is but painted fire, your thunder the thunder of the stage. This living earnestness is the spark that illumines and vitalizes all. Without it the best built sermon is but a painted corpse; but when the soul gleams forth in the flashing eye and quivering lip, waves of unseen fire are issuing with every sentence, and arrows of light silently piercing every heart. The most stubborn prejudices are forced to melt and the most depraved wills are swept on the crest of the grand tidal wave, slowly gathering from the start; but when the preacher forgets himself and his surroundings, flings self-consciousness away, goes outside himself, pouring the hot tide from his own glowing heart, till every flash of his eye and every wave of his hand becomes a palpitating thought, then his audience surrender; their hearts are in the hollow of his hand, wax to receive any impression; their wills can be braced and lifted to the sublimest heights of heroism—this is triumph.
[Side note: O'Connell]
It is said that the great mastery O'Connell exercised over the people mainly sprang from the passionate earnestness of his conviction. The nation's heart seemed merged into his own. He stood forth her living, breathing symbol. When he spoke it was Ireland spoke. Her passions rocked his soul; her humour flashed from his eye; her scorn gleamed in his glances, and her sobs choked his utterance. Ah! if preachers were as filled with the Spirit of Christ as this man was with the spirit of patriotism, what a revolution we might witness!
You ask—"How then do actors move people since there can be no enthusiasm when men know they simulate unreal people and unreal passions?" I answer, that the first step towards becoming a great actor is to fling aside that knowledge and hand yourself over the willing victim of a delusion. You must not act but live your part: persuade yourself that you are the character you personate: surrender your heart to be torn by real passions and wrung by real sorrows.
The answer is well known which a celebrated actor once gave to a divine:—"How is it that you so move people by fiction and our preachers fail to move them by truth?" "Sir, we speak fiction as if it were fact, and your preachers speak truth as if it were fiction."
Here we leave our preacher facing his audience and filled with but one idea: I have a great message to deliver and I will lay hold of every means to send that message home; voice, passion, style, gesture, these are my arms, and with these I hope to conquer.
[Side note: Parting glance at the preacher's mission]
In parting we take a glance at the preacher's exalted mission, and we may well ask: What in the whole range of human occupations does this world hold worthy of being compared to it?
The battle-field, it is true, has its glories, but it has its horrors also. Who can paint the pride with which Napoleon saw the triumph of his skill crush two Emperors at Austerlitz or the rapture with which he beheld the trophies of great kingdoms at his feet? The fatigues of winter marches were forgotten when in the fiery flashes of his veterans' eyes he read his own renown, while their applauding shouts fell like music on his ears. But blood soils the proudest trophies of war, and across the perspective of victory the spectres of murdered men will stalk.
Human eloquence, too, has its conquests, the purest, the most beautiful in the natural order. How the pride flush heightens on the orator's cheek as he watches the crusts of prejudice melt and hostile hearts surrender; when he marks the bated breath and the hushed silence attesting his victory more eloquently than the stormiest applause! He sees the varied moods of his own soul mirrored in the faces around him, as he summons forth what spirit he lists: tears or laughter, murmurs or applause answer to his call.
What pen can picture the ecstasies that thrilled the soul of Grattan as he gave utterance to the spirit of expiring freedom in those orations that rank among the world's masterpieces? The snows of age melted and the decrepitude of years was flung aside, and his eyes gleamed with strange fires as he beheld sodden corruption struck dumb and hang its guilty head; when he saw the wavering drink fresh courage with each new outburst, and men of commonest clay transformed into heroes by the blaze of his genius. Glorious triumphs indeed; but, alas! human, and as such doomed to die.
But in the sublimity of his purpose and the imperishable nature of his conquests the preacher stands alone. Compared with his the greatest trophies of the battle-field or the forum are feeble trifles.
The preacher, in prayer and study, goes down over the green swards of Calvary, and there gathers the ruby drops of Redemption. He ascends the pulpit and pours them as a purple tide over souls that are parched and perishing. As when the Pentecostal fire rested on the Apostles' heads, a new light filled their minds and a new flame sprung up within their hearts; so when the same spirit breathes through the preacher's lips, the clouds of ignorance dissolve and the light of truth divine glorifies the minds and inflames the souls of his hearers. The ears of faith can hear the applause of angels and the eyes of faith can read Heaven's approval in the flashing glances of the Blest, as with each stroke the preacher widens the empire of the Precious Blood and piles palpitating trophies before the Sacred Heart. Ah! here is a field worthy of the highest ambition that ever burned within a human breast.
Hence, we should toil, toil, toil, and call no labour excessive that we put forth in burnishing into polished efficiency every weapon God has given us for the service of his pulpit.
A SOPHISTRY EXPOSED. ADVICE GIVEN
Theologian and Preacher—The Difference
It is amazing to think how often the offices of theologian and preacher are spoken of as if they were identical. Now, the functions of theologian and preacher stand widely apart. To the reflective mind this sounds like repeating a truism; yet what a world of confused thought and ignorant criticism would be cleared from the subject if this fact were kept well in sight.
When you say that a young priest is becoming a good preacher you are met by "impossible! he never got a prize in theology."
This is supposed to give your poor judgment its final coup; argument after that is useless: causa finita est.
Now, I do not think our appreciation of an eminent surgeon is lessened by our being told that he is a poor chemist; yet the difference between these respective professions is scarcely more radical than that which separates the office of preacher from that of theologian.
To the ordinary public the theological treatise is a sealed book. It is the preacher's duty to break that seal; to take out the dry truths stored there; to render them palatable and inviting, and bring them within the grasp of the plainest intelligence.
[Side note: Solicitor and barrister]
Few occupations more aptly illustrate this difference than those of solicitor and barrister.
The attorney works up the materials for the case: he groups statutes, discovers principles, tabulates references, supplies dates. While he does not plead himself, a man so armed is invaluable at the elbow of an able advocate; without the barrister, however, especially where the prejudices, interests, and the imagination of a jury have to be worked upon, his load of learned lumber would be of small value. The theologian makes out the brief: the preacher pleads it.
To render this distinction clearer let us take one more illustration. No animal can exist on air and clay and sunlight alone. Though these contain the elements on which it is fed; yet, though surrounded by them in most ample abundance, he must perish if a third power is not brought into play. The vegetable world comes intervening between the raw chemicals and the hungry man. Out of earth and air and light it builds the ripened sheaf, the succulent apple and the savoury potato. So, though bookshelves groan under calf-bound tomes hoarding the hived treasures of the masters of theology, the common minds of the multitude would starve did not the preacher interpose as interpreter of the theologian's message, drawing forth from his storehouse truths and principles out of which he manufactures the daily bread on which the ordinary man must live. Without his aid the richest repository ever clasped between the covers of a book would remain a fons signatus a hortus conclusus. The prophet of God saw the dry bones scattered over the valley of desolation till the breath of a new power passed over them, and lo! (I) "the bones came together each one to its joint; (2) the sinews and the flesh came upon them . . . (3) and the skin was stretched out over them . . . and the spirit came into them and they lived."
The attorney and the theologian gather the dry bones, but on the preacher and the barrister lie the fourfold task of mortising the joints into each other, binding them with the sinews of argument, clothing them in living beauty and vitalizing the whole structure with the flame of impassioned earnestness. Only when this has been done will they live.
So thoroughly distinct are the two offices it rarely happens that a professional theologian becomes an efficient preacher. The concentration and exclusive exercise of one faculty unfits him for a task demanding many.
People do not come to church to hear spoken treatises or witness dissecting operations on subtle distinctions. They come to be instructed, pleased and moved.
Again, for the perfect fulfilment of the preacher's task, amongst other gifts he must have imagination; but to the master of an exact science like theology an exuberant fancy might prove a fatal dowry.
A clear statement of this truth holds out hopeful encouragement to the man whose theological attainments could not be described as "brilliant": it teaches, too, the man who has distinguished himself in theology that if he ambitions being a preacher he has an entirely new set of sciences to master, but, best of all, it breaks into small bits an oft-used weapon in the hands of the young preacher's arch-enemy—the critic.
[Side note: The critic at work]
How often do we see this self-constituted oracle rely for his sole support on this sophistry?
You turn from a church door filled with admiration; there is a glow of rapture around your heart; every nerve is tingling; you have been enthralled. A truth, old indeed but now dressed in a new robe, lives before your mind with a meaning and a richness of colour never experienced before. Your will is swept captive on the crest of that subtle tide of unseen fire that seems to fill the air. You are bracing yourself to a heroic resolve. The preacher's voice, like ceaseless music, is still thrilling down through the avenues of your soul. When the critic comes and in pity asks you—"Do you really think that a good sermon?" he compassionates your poor judgment, leads you to the library, takes down a volume of Lehmkuhl or Suarez, and with a triumphant wave of his hand assures you that every idea in that sermon may be found there.
You are now face to face with the most perplexing of sophistries—the half truth.
Your judgment is staggered by two apparently contradictory facts—it was a fine sermon, yet every idea may be found in the theological treatise.
To enable you to extricate yourself from the puzzle, ratify your first opinion and confound the critic; picture another set of circumstances. You stand before St. Peter's, wrapped in admiration at this world's wonder.
"Power, glory, strength and beauty, all are aisled In this eternal ark of worship undefiled."
You are marvelling how did human brains conceive and human hands embody this mighty dream of art. One of the pest tribe yclept "critic" comes pitying your simple heart; he leads you to a quarry, and triumphantly pointing says: "Here every stone of that building was found. Now, what becomes of the glory simple people like you bestow on Bramante and Michael Angelo?" How would you answer him? Easily enough. Make him a present of the quarry, and ask him to produce another St. Peter's. The challenge is conclusive. You have him impaled.
Come back now to the library. Present the preacher's critic with a hundred tomes, give him all this raw material multiplied ten times over out of which that masterpiece of sacred eloquence was built, and ask him to enthral those thousands that hung spellbound on that man's lips, whose thrilled hearts were aflame, who left the church examining their consciences and vowing better lives. Alas! he who was so eloquent in tearing others to rags when he himself essays their task himself—angels well might weep.
No department of life is secure against this sophistry.
You listen till you are dazed with admiration at one of those masterpieces of forensic pleading that have flung a deathless glory around the names of Russell and Whiteside; but the critic, with a superior toss of his head, assures you that this can be found in Magna Charta and the Statute book. Here is the tantalising half truth.
To be sure the principles and groundwork of reasoning are there; but the office of the advocate was to draw them from the dust and darkness, to gather these scattered articles, statutes and precedents into his capacious brain, and from them evolve a framework of argument to fit his purpose. He moulds them into an impregnable bulwark of law and reasoning to shelter his client. So naturally does he bend them to his case that every listener is impressed with the conviction that surely the framers of these statutes and principles must have a case like this before their minds when they committed them to parchment.
Yet in the judgment of the critic the variety of talents brought to this complex task count for nothing.
Here we see what a distinction must be made between the office of theologian and preacher, and what a confusion of thought is saved by keeping this line of demarcation in view.
[Side note: Parting advice]
Now that the subject of pulpit oratory is swept clear from misleading theories and set in its true light before the young preacher's eyes, let us see how further we can assist him to discharge his high office with honour and efficiency.
[Side note: I.—Be natural in development]
"To thine own self be true" is the soundest of advices.
From the beginning the young preacher should aim at developing on his own lines, thinking in his own way and expressing his thoughts in their own native dress. No matter how eminent the paragon you admire, do not become an understudy of him. Remember he is great only because he is himself and not the imitation of another. Try, however, to get at the secret of his greatness. What is it? He discovered his strong points and cultivated them. Go and do likewise.
You see a man with clear sequence of ideas and easy expression, but without those exceptional gifts that go to make the born orator. He could attain even eminence as a lecturer or instructor, but lecture or instruct he will not, for he has read Ventura and become smitten. He tries to imitate the Padre's lofty style, and succeeds in "amazing the unlearned and making the learned smile." "Failure" is written large over all his efforts.
David could not fight with the gorgeous but cumbersome arms of Saul: with his own homely sling and the polished stone from the brook, the weapon to which he was accustomed, he achieved victory.
I knew a priest who had a marvellous charm as a storyteller. He invested the merest trifles of incident with resistless fascination. Hours in his society flew like moments.
He became a distinguished preacher. I went to hear him, and quickly discovered the secret of his success. He knew his strong point, and staked his all on it. He preached his sermons as he told his stories—in graphic, familiar narrative. The congregation felt they were taken into his confidence; they were hypnotised. You forgot that you were sitting in stiff dignity in a church, and imagined yourself one of a group around the winter's log listening to a delightful raconteur, and you willingly surrendered to the pleasing delusion.
Every play of fancy, every flash of thought, every clinched conviction passed from him to his hearers till the souls of preacher and listeners became like reflecting mirrors. There was always regret when he finished.
Now, had that man attempted to become Demosthenes instead of himself he would have succeeded in becoming ridiculous.
[Side note: 2.—Be natural in composition]
The natural outpouring of thought has a relish and a resistlessness of force that no art can rival. The scent of a sprig of wild woodbine holds a charm beyond all the perfumes of the chemist's shop.
In order to be natural there is no necessity to ignore the elegancies of style; for what is style? Le style est l'homme. The style is the man. A perfect style, then, is attained when the written page is the exact expression of the train of thought as it lies in the writer's head. A style is absolutely perfect when it is absolutely natural.
Artificial embroidery, purple patches, and golden vapour are often the defects and not the perfection of style.
Language can be simple, however, without being vulgar or commonplace.
What book will ever equal the Bible for simplicity, yet what dignity? What preacher ever approached OUR DIVINE LORD; and, humanly speaking, what was the source of His strength?
He accommodated Himself to His hearers. From the open book of nature He made the realms of grace familiar to the minds of children. He pointed to the lilies of the field, to the ravens of the wood, to the ripening bud and the angry cloud. "Ut ex iis quae animus novit, surgat ad incognita quae non novit."
 Third Nocturn for Non-Virgins.
He used the world around us to lift our thoughts to the world above us.
When He spoke to fishermen His illustrations were taken from seas and nets. When He preached to farmers the word of God was the seed falling on rocky soil or the fertile furrow. When the merchants with caravans and silken tunics surrounded Him it becomes the pearl of great price. When amongst simple villagers it is the lost groat in search of which the housewife sweeps the floor and searches each nook and cranny.
Here is language coming down to the level of every hearer, abounding in familiar pictures, yet never losing dignity.
While composing sermons for factory hands Cardinal Wiseman employed a weaver to teach him the technicalities of the loom that he might reach their hearts through the only channel of thought they understood.
It is wonderful how the natural world around us can be used to bring even the most sublime truths within the grasp of the plainest intellects. Why do we not draw more frequently and more abundantly from this source?
When we hear of a man whose discourses "are too sublime for the ordinary intelligence" it is hard to forbear a smile. Our pity goes out not to "the ordinary intelligence," but to the cloudy dweller in Patmos. Mystic obscurity is used more frequently as a cloak for muddle-headed thinking than as a robe with which to drape sublimity of thought. Hence, if people do not understand the preacher, blame not the people, but let the preacher look to it.
Our nimble-minded imaginative people will rise to and grasp the most elevated ideas if properly presented.
I listened to a sermon in an English church preached before a congregation of Irish poor. The keynote was lofty, but beautifully sustained throughout. The range of thought was high, but the truths clarified by an abundance of happy illustration. That discourse was so classic in its beauty that it might be preached before an Oxford audience, yet not an idea was lost on that breathless congregation, where every female head was covered by a shawl. The speaker possessed in an eminent degree three gifts that must command success:—He could think clearly; he could so express his thoughts that his language became the mirror of his mind; he made a large demand on the familiar scenes of nature with which to illustrate his ideas and send his reasoning home; he possessed a mind at once logical and imaginative and a manner of expression that formed a definition of perfect style—Le style c'est l'homme—the style is the man.
[Side note: 3.—Be natural in delivery]
The faintest suspicion of art immediately sets your audience up in arms. Their teeth are on edge; their heart locked against you. "This is acting and not preaching" seals your fate.
Do not imagine for a moment that I advocate the neglect of elocutionary graces. So far from that I hold that every young priest leaving college should be a past master of all rhetorical arts. Gesture, articulation, voice production and inflection should be at his finger tips. No book on the subject should be unread. No year of college life should pass without contributing materially towards the elocutionary equipment of the future preacher. The college that neglects this training and permits young men to go into the ministry without this needful art is guilty of a most serious sin of omission.
What I do mean is preach your sermons and do not declaim them. How is this accomplished?
For the first year bend all your powers to capturing the intellects of your auditors, holding in reserve, for the time being, the elocutionary forces. Then, when you have acquired the habit of convincing the intelligence, let the elegancies of finished declamation insinuate themselves gradually into your delivery. Thus art will so engraft itself on nature, the rhetorical graces so entwining and dovetailing into your convictions and passions that they will appear as growing out of and not added on to them. Here is perfection—
Ars artium celare artem.
Reverse this: make declamation your first concern, and let us even suppose the artificiality is not detected, which is supposing a great deal. What is the result? Your sermon is declamation and nothing else. This means failure, for no matter how the passions are aroused, if they are not upheld by the pillars of conviction, your finest effort is a fire of chips: a blaze for a moment, then ashes.
Though elocutionary powers are of so much importance as to be almost indispensable, yet they are subordinate to the sermon: they are the aids and auxiliaries to drive it home. A graceful gesture or musical inflection of voice will not convince the intellect or move the passions: they are not the arrows: they lend wings of fire, however, to send the arrows to the mark.
I know no more fatal blunder, or one that militates more strongly against a speaker, than the adoption of an artificial accent.
[Side note: The Irish gift of oratory]
God has not only given our race a special mission—the apostolate of the English-speaking world—but he has singularly endowed us with those gifts that go to make successful preachers of His Word—logical minds, imagination and sensibility.
[Side note: Logical minds]
That we possess this in an eminent degree is evident from a striking fact. There are three avocations to which the faculty of close reasoning is a first essential—law, politics and theology—and in each of these our countrymen excel.
[Side note: Law]
We are as essentially a race of lawyers as the Jews are a race of moneylenders.
For eleven years I watched the sons of Irish parents going from an Australian college to professional careers. Ninety-eight per cent., following the natural bent of their minds, turned to the lawyer's office.
From the year 1858 to the present hour the robes of Victoria's Chief Justice have been uninterruptedly worn by Irishmen. From 1873 the Chief Justiceship of New South Wales has been exclusively held by sons of the green isle. But, above all, turn to the lawyers' streets in the new worlds of America and Australia and see the amazing number of brass plates adorned with O's and Mac's.
[Side note: Politics]
The political organisations in the labour world of England to-day are mainly captained by Irishmen. Two of them have been sent to Parliament, and two more will probably join them in the next Parliament.
The rapidity with which the Irish emigrant, following the law of natural selection, plunges into politics has passed into a proverb in America and furnished a humorous parody on a well-known stanza:—
"There came to the beach a poor exile of Erin, The dew on his thin robe was heavy and chill, The ship that had brought him scarce from harbour was steerin', When Senator Mike was presenting a Bill."
[Side note: Theology]
The great Cardinal Franzelin said to one of his most distinguished pupils—"As a professor of theology at Rome for many years I had every day opportunities of studying the character and mental equipment of various nations, and, though in favour of the Germans, I give it as my opinion that the Irish, as a race, have the most theological minds of any people." Judgment from such an authority is conclusive.
 Dr. Croke, late Archbishop of Cashel.
The first essential for a preacher is the power of lucid reasoning. That this faculty is ours is now abundantly established. The next talent requisite is imagination. That we have imagination, often teeming in tropical luxuriance, but shared in great or less degree by all, has never been questioned. One more requisite and the oratorical outfit is complete.
[Side note: Sensibility]
On this score it is sufficient to say that we are Celts, endowed with the ardent nervous temperaments. But suffering has given to ours an acute refinement that nothing else could impart.
"Never soul could know its powers Until sorrow swept its chords."
"We give preference to Jews and Irishmen on our staff," said the proprietor of a leading journal. "Both have suffered, and a man with a grievance writes passionately. He dips the pen into his own heart and electric energy thrills his sentences; hence the crisp pungency and compressed fire of our columns."
What gift that goes to make an orator has God denied us? Reason, fancy, passion, a pathos and humour where the smile trembles on the borderland of tears.
Why then this barrenness? Mainly because of the criminal neglect of colleges in the past to cultivate the abundant material placed at their disposal; other contributory causes are cynical criticism and want of courageous ambition.