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It paused to find a resting place,
I gazed in awe.
Dost thou repine,
With Me above !"
Will humbly wait!
A ray of light!
Grant my desire !
In serving Thee !"
Thy Will be done !"
Q. P. V. REVERENCE AND SUPERSTITION.
Is it true that reverence is dying out from among us--extinguished like an useless torch at break of day? We hear a wail that science is demolishing all reverence, except a reverence for knowledge. We are told that those among us who strive to give and inculcate deepest reverence to spiritual things advocate superstition. Practically we see that the old reverence enjoined by the English Church in her Catechism as to ordering oneself lowly and reverently to all one's betters, is a custom of the past, and no longer considered necessary by the rising generation in our duty to our neighbour. We therefore ask, Must reverence be discarded, and something very unlovely and repulsive be put in its place ?
To begin at the beginning and so try to find an answer to the inquiry, we must consider how reverence or superstition are related to each other. We may declare, and very truly, that the one is as the zenith of the Christian rule of life and the other its nadir ; yet on looking at them impartially we surely shall have to confess that the one contains the nucleus or germs of the other. Nor need we be ready to admit that such is an utter paradox. For if we premise that reverence embraces the seed of superstition, we only affirm of it that which we know to be but matter of fact in natural things. For instance, in vegetable life we are aware that from the most beautiful, wholesome, and nutritious fruits the most deadly poison is extracted ; thus one person may derive life, another death, from the same source. garding superstition therefore as the poison in reverence, we are induced to glance back at the different forms of superstition in their guise of heathen religion to see if our argument will hold good. If we trace and track each system to its' beginning, we fancy that we shall be fain to declare that beginning to be reverence, although ignorance was the hold laid upon it, and mere human use of it drew forth only its poison. Looking at them in another way, perhaps the more correct one, if we take the derivative of superstition, we see from innate reverence and human awe a fair bud arise, which, however, gradually but quickly changes from its radical growth and deteriorates into a gross noxious weed, rank and luxuriant, may be, but unpruned from earthly defilement, even in its most lovely form. It is true there
are grand strivings in the noblest and purest of the old heathen philosophers and poets to grasp the good, though they could but
“Stretch lame hands of faith and grope” amid the darkness of profane superstition, their highest virtue being a reverence for the unknown source of all reverence, i.e., they caught glimpses of light refracted from the True Light unrevealed to them. For their mythology, in the first instance, was doubtless a reflex in an earthly vessel of the Divine revelation to man, and the sage's philosophy and classic lore generally is beautiful and worthy only insomuch as it reflects sparkles of the higher and ampler light of life. Then does it follow that reverence in its integrity can alone be exercised through Divine revelation ?
In looking back we have seen that there is a reverence, because humanity must feel its finite insufficiency and have reachings after a higher and greater, thereby involuntarily witnessing to a higher and greater ; but we have found how inadequate those efforts were towards an apprehension of the Holy Infinite, undirected even in the most cultured and intellectual. We therefore think that the Church bas demonstrated an answer to such a question.
She is not afraid either of science on the one hand, nor to declare her conviction on the other that if science cuts itself adrift from revelation, there be a mutilated reverence for the future, but that true reverence must dwindle if diverted from its source and its object. Reverence that is directed is an awe bred by obedience to revealed law, guarded by the thorns of that law, and upon which vivifying rays through faith and reason fall, making it grow, flourish, and bear fruit, not in slavish rites and terrible acts, but in a "reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice.” Moreover, religion which binds together all true reverence, embraces what is good and pure of the other faiths. Bishop Butler says that Christianity “teaches natural religion in its genuine simplicity free from those superstitions with which it was totally corrupted, and under which it was in a manner lost."
But the question now arises, How are we to account for a growth of superstition within the Christian Church ? Although we should be very sorry to confound her reverence with superstition, an error only too common, alas, with some among us, yet we dare not refuse to admit that superstition has existed within her pale. Bacon tells us that “the causes of superstition are: excess of outward and pharisaical holiness; over-great reverence of traditions, which cannot but load the Church ; the stratagems of prelates for their own ambition
may and lucre: the favouring too much of good intentions, which openeth the gates to conceits and novelties; the taking an aim at Divine matters by human.” If this be true, "the taking an aim at Divine matters by human,” is but the old working of reverence to superstition, reduced by a different method, but brought to a like result in kind if not in degree; for the rest, might he not have summed up all as imperfect knowledge in the spiritual life? for surely the clearer the vision is of holy things, the greater most assuredly will be the reverence accorded them, the less the superstition in regarding them. How then, if this estimate of the power of ignorance be a correct one, shall we answer for the desire to withhold religious teaching from the lower classes of society? Taking the lowest view of the matter, theology is at least worthy to rank along with the other sciences in the curriculum of knowledge, but the wisdom of Bacon's essay quoted above must commend itself to each of us to-day where it says,
- There is a superstition in avoiding superstition,” for verily this is proved to demonstration by the honest partizans of secular instruction. Here we see superstition taking the active form of breaking down all the old system of Christian obedience, scoffing at its reverence, and opening a door to let in a withering blight of infidelity. Science so long as it keeps to its own province-boundless almost, but not quite—is grand and marvellous in power, but so soon as it endeavours to confine within its own limits the spiritual matter of Divine revelation, it utterly fails, its material gauge may not touch the immaterial realities. Hence, as we have before said, the Church avers that a morality without a spiritual root would be like a gourd of a day. Culture based upon nothing but the good of the creature may sparkle very brightly in theory, but is it yet disproved that “the creature is made subject to vanity ?" If man should succeed in making mortal man develope into cultivated perfection on earth, taking away at the same time his hope of immor. tality, to the foolish ones of the earth this seems all loss and no gain. They would rather hear the angelic song of Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill to men echoing its melody spiritually, than have it shrivelled up by scientific material philosophy, to get in its stead the promised “unshadowy embodiment of its poetry, philosophy, and practice.” Suppose we find, if we let go this "substance of things hoped for" of ours, that we cannot after all
the philosophic substance promised, it may only be a shadow to us, just as science now fails to reach any substance in our deeps of religion. And if philosophy can but pity our reverence, it would be superstition on our part to give it to our children in preference to the tried, oldfashioned obedience which the Church universal inculcates and insists upon. Moreover, may it not be the result of the blows struck at, or the insidious sapping of the spiritual root of reverence, that already causes much of the unloveliness of modern manners? We mouru the loss of reverence in our young people to their parents and elders, and we miss it sadly in the behaviour of inferiors to superiors. Slangy pet names may be fond and loving, but certainly they do not add dignity and grace to the relation of parent and child. Neither does the free and easy familiarity of youth add to its charm with age. This is also a generation of juvenile patronisation, a superior condescension is assumed where of old, reverence would have feared to tread. Possibly we may appear very sweeping and censorious to the mind of the youth of our day, but we cannot help characterising this as impertinence of a most obnoxious form.
There is yet another lack-reverence growth. The gentle reader must judge whether it and the former mentioned products be the superstitions of the time, and this is, disrespect of conscientious religious observance. Now at first sight this seems an absurd statement when liberality and toleration are the boasted idols of the age. Yet is it untrue? We leave all mention of systematized associations for organised disrespect, and confine ourselves to that which most nearly concerns ordinary individual Church people, and surely as a rule it is patent that unorthodoxy or sectarian bias finds ready toleration, while Catholic obedience is either sneered it, pitied, impatiently put up with, or hooted down. Doubtless it is most wholesome discipline, and the true vital principle will strengthen and flourish under the treatment, at the same time it is most harshly illiberal. Granting that extremes are popularly objectionable, and that very likely there may be some ground for impatience in contemplation of the vagaries of emotional young men and hysterical young ladies, where such vagaries are found, yet they are essentially evanescent. For the rest, either taunt or active malevolence matters little, except to the originators, because simple obedient reverence must win and obtain in the long run, though it be no earthly honour, the end of its aim is higher than mortal distinction.
Finally, shall reverence die ?
The Holy Catholic Church makes answer collectively. We may each reply by our lives.
E. E. S.