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the sacred writings. Whole countries of barbarians, innumerable multitudes of the faithful were rich, (to use the words of St. Paul), in words and science, though they had not read the sacred writings. To listen to the pastors of the church, who explain the scriptures to the faithful, and distribute among them such parts as are suited to their wants, is to read the scriptures."
Thus far I have translated literally the words of Fenelon. In confirmation of what is said by him, that a considerable proportion of the faithful derived their knowledge of the gospel, not from a perusal of the scriptures themselves, but from the explanation of them by their pastors, I beg leave to refer you to what my most learned friend, the lord bishop of Landaff, in his "Illustrations of his Hypothesis on the Origin and Composition of the three first Canonical Gospels," has observed on the very small number of manuscript copies of the gospels, which were possessed by the early christians.
FENELON then proceeds to notice the change of the discipline of the church, in the point I have mentioned, in consequence of the troubles occasioned by the Waldenses and Albigenses." It should seem," he says, "that the Waldenses and Albigenses obliged the church to have recourse to her strict authority, in refusing the perusal of the
sacred scripture to all persons, who were not disposed to read it to their advantage. I do not, however, undertake to assert that this prohibition was then issued by the church for the first time. But, certainly, the indocility and spirit of revolt, which then appeared among the laity, the neglect of the pastors to explain the scriptures, and the contempt which the people began then to show for their instructions, made it manifest, that it had become unsafe to permit the people at large to read the sacred text; and consequently made it necessary for the church to withhold from the laity the perusal of it without the permission of their pastors."
The venerable prelate next proceeds to state the principal councils, synods, and episcopal ordinances, by which the general perusal of the scriptures by the laity was restricted. In a further part of his letter, he enumerates several passages, both of the Old and New Testament, which are likely to be understood in a wrong sense by the ignorant or illdisposed, and to be wrested by them, as he terms it after St. Paul, to their own perdition. "Hence," Fenelon concludes, that "the church acted wisely in withholding the sacred text from the rash criticisms of the vulgar." He says, that, "before the people read the gospel, they should be instructed respecting it; that they should be prepared for it by degrees, so that, when they come to read it, they should be qualified to understand it; and thus be full of its spirit, before they are intrusted with its
letter. The perusal of it should only be permitted to the simple, the docile, and the humble; to those who wish to nourish themselves with its divine truths in silence. It should never be committed to those, who merely seek to satisfy their curiosity, to dispute, to dogmatize, or to criticise. In a word, it should be given to those only, who, receiving it from the hands of the church, seek for nothing in it but the sense of the church." This is, and ever has been, the doctrine of the church. "Her discipline in this article," says Fenelon in another part of his letter, "has sometimes varied, her doctrine has ever been the same."
I shall proceed to state the actual dispositions of the church of Rome on this important point of her discipline.
For this purpose, I beg leave to copy what Mr. Alban Butler says, in his sixth letter on Mr. Archibald Bower's History of the Popes: "The people," (these are his words), " daily hear the scriptures read and expounded to them, by their pastors, and in good books. Even children have excellent abridgments of the sacred history, adapted in the most easy and familiar manner, to their capacity, put into their hands. The divine books themselves are open to all, who understand Latin, or any other of the learned languages, in every catholic country; and every one may read them,
in the vulgar languages, if he first ask the advice of his confessor, who will only instruct him in what spirit he is to read them."
From what I have said, it seems evident, that the limitation, with which the roman-catholic church allows the general body of the laity to peruse the scriptures in a vulgar tongue, has not a very extensive operation; and I must observe, that some eminent protestants so far agree with the roman-catholic church, on this head, as to think that the indiscriminate perusal of the scripture by the laity is attended with bad consequences, and should therefore have some limitation.
1. For proof of this, I particularly refer you to the treatise of Dr. Hare, a late bishop of Chichester, "On the difficulties and discouragements which attend the study of the scriptures in the way of private judgment, in order to show, that since such a study of the scriptures is men's indispensable duty, it concerns all christian societies to remove, (as much as possible), those discouragements."
2. In respect to the protestant practice of putting the scriptures into the hands of children, in their tender years, Mr. Benjamin Martin, in his preface to his "Introduction to the English Tongue, laments and censures the "putting of the sacred book into the hands of every bawling schoolmistress, and of thoughtless children, to be torn,
trampled upon, and made the early object of their aversion, by being their most tedious task and their punishment." He seems inclined to ascribe the growth of irreligion and the contempt of holy things to this source.
3. Mr. Edmund Burke thus expresses himself, in his "Speech on the Act of Uniformity:" "The Scripture," he says, "is no one summary of christian doctrine regularly digested, in which a man could not mistake his way; it is a most venerable, but most multifarious collection of the records of the divine economy; a collection of an infinite variety of cosmogony, theology, history, prophecy, psalmody, morality, apologue, allegory, legislation, ethics, carried through different books, by different authors, at different ages, for different ends and purposes.
"It is necessary to sort out, what is intended for example; what only as a narrative; what to be understood literally; what figuratively; where one precept is to be controlled or modified by another; what is used directly, and what only as an argument ad hominem; what is temporary, and what of perpetual obligation; what appropriated to one state, and to one set of men, and what the general duty of all christians. If we do not get some security for this, we not only permit, but we actually pay for, all the dangerous fanaticism, which can be produced to corrupt our people, and to derange the public worsnip of the country. We owe the best