JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Spread of Christianity a Moral Miracle.

32. We have seen that God's evident interference with the laws of moral nature is called a moral miracle (n. 12). When masses of men are led to act in a manner nobler, more heroic, and more constant, in the midst of lasting opposition, than can be expected from unaided human nature, then we know that a supernatural power is assisting them, which can be no other than the power of God. When this effect is produced in behalf of a doctrine which claims to be Divine, it must then be such, else God would lend His aid to an imposture. Now such effects have accompanied the preaching of Christianity; therefore it is Divine.

33. For the change that marked the progress of Christianity is such as human nature by itself could never have produced, such as has never been produced by any other agency in the world. First, the Apostles themselves, on receiving the Holy Ghost, were suddenly transformed into new men, -- from cowards into heroes, from dull and ignorant men into sages more enlightened than any philosophers. By their preaching, similar changes were effected in countless men and women and mere children, who abandoned idolatry and immorality to embrace a pure worship and lead lives of superhuman chastity and heroism, enduring loss of property, ignominy, torture, and death, rejoicing that they were found worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. Pliny's letter (n. 23) shows how in Bithynia a large part of the population was Christian as early as the year 12, though no Apostle is recorded to have preached there. Tertullian, about the year 200, thus addressed the Emperor: "We are but of yesterday, and we fill all that is yours; your cities, your islands, your military posts; your boroughs, your council chambers, and your camps; the palace, the senate, the forum: your temples alone we leave you" (Apol. C. 37). He testifies in his book against the Jews that the tribes of Africa, Spain, Gaul, Britain; Sarmatians, Dacians, Germans, Scythians; all the peoples of the Latin world in short, had admitted Christ to reign, etc. The same movement in the propagation of Christianity has been going on ever since. All the nations of Europe have thus been converted, and brought to produce the same marvellous fruits of holiness. The work is still going on in America, Africa, Oceanica, Japan, China, Judo-China, Corea, Hindostan, etc. (See "New Glories of the Catholic Church," "Marshall's Christian Missions," etc.) If these supernatural results were produced without the aid of miracles, this, as St. Augustine argues, would be the greatest miracle.

34. It must besides be remarked that conversion to Christianity involved the acceptance of the strictest and naturally most unbearable restraints on all the passions of the human heart: in particular the practice of fasting and humiliation; respect for the sanctity of marriage at times when women were treated as mere slaves, when polygamy, divorce, and public immorality were almost universal, and when all these vices were sanctioned by the example of the great. It is difficult for us to realize the depth of degradation to which morals had sunk just before the spread of Christianity, and that in the very centres of pagan civilization, in the golden age of Roman literature. For instance, Cato the Elder advises the householder to "get rid of old harness and old slaves, sickly slaves, and sickly sheep," while Christianity taught the equality of slave and master. Heathen morality allowed infanticide; and even Aristotle had laid down rules under which it ought to be practised. The records of pagan antiquity will be searched in vain for institutions in behalf of the needy, till Christianity came to preach the commandment of Christ, "Love one another as I have loved you" (Jo. XV, 12).

35. But were not Mahometanism and Protestantism propagated with similar rapidity, and yet without the aid of miracles? They were, indeed, but by unholy means. Mahometanism was forced on one nation after another by the bloody scymitar: "Conversion or death" was the Evangel of Islam; indulgence of lust here and hereafter, the allurement held out. It was not, like Christianity, a building up, but a pulling down of a pure worship and morality. Protestantism was a triumph of the natural over the supernatural; it removed those restraints of which fallen nature is most impatient: authority in doctrine; fasts, penance, and humiliation in practice; obligation of religious vows, the counsels of poverty, chastity amid obedience. By teaching that "free-will is a vain title: God works the evil in us as well as the good" (De Servo Arbitrio, n. 181), Luther implicitly denied all human responsibility, and consequently the need of restraint upon evil passions; thus he opened the way for the wide-spread depravity which followed quickly upon his revolt, and which he deplored and denounced in vain. Besides, princes were set free from all Papal checks to absolute power; while they and their courtiers were enriched by the plunder of churches and monasteries, once the patrimony of the poor. Nor was violence spared to promote conversion: Protestantism was established by main force in Iceland, Sweden and Norway, Denmark, and large portions of Germany. Of England the Protestant historian Hallam writes: "This is a somewhat humiliating admission that the Protestant faith was imposed upon our ancestors by a foreign army" (Coust. Hist. I, p. 93). Is it womiderful that, with such aids to diffusion, Protestantism should have spread like a forest fire?

36. The conversion of the pagan nations to Christianity, on the contrary, exhibits just the opposite features. That it cannot be accounted for by natural means becomes the more evident, if we consider the weak arguments to explain its progress which were invented by so able an advocate of paganism as the historian Gibbon in his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." He can find no more plausible explanation of the rapid growth of Christianity than by attributing it to these five causes: 1. The inflexible, intolerant zeal of the Christians; -- but this could only offend and alienate the proud Romans. 2. The doctrine of a future life; -- but this was no new doctrine at all. 3. The miracles ascribed to the Church; -- but these were not natural mneans. 4. The pure and austere morals of the Christians; -- but the question is, what made them so supernaturally pure and austere? 5. Their spirit of union and discipline; -- but what natural power made them submit to that discipline? Gibbon also mentions the wealth of the Church; -- but whence came this wealth, except from the converts, who gave up their fortunes for the benefit of their needy brethren? (For a thorough discussion of these pretended causes see Newman's Grammar of Assent, Ch. X, § 2.)

37. What has been proved so far renders it certain that the Christian revelation is from God; therefore every man is obliged to accept it as the expression of the will of his sovereign Lord. The certainty here spoken of does not arise from such evidence of the truth as compels the assent of an unwilling mind, as does the evidence of first principles, which no one can doubt. But yet it is true certainty, which consists in this, that when the matter is fairly presented to a sensible man's consideration, he can see no reason for prudently refusing his assent. He can turn away his attention from the arguments presented in favor of the Christian revelation, and attend instead to objections to it, or difficulties connected with it. And therefore he remains free to assent or not; his free assent is asked by his sovereign Master. To such a man are applicable the words of Christ which He spoke when giving their mission to His Apostles: ''He that behieveth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark XVI, 16, nn. 117-120).

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