The Reformation Journal was established in Scotland in June 1851. The following article, "The Blight of Popery,'" was typical of much of the virulent anti-Catholicism of the day , especially, as E.R. Norman points out, in its charge that "Catholicism was inimical to liberal government, national prosperity, and human dignity" (183) The article appeared in its first issue, pp. 41-33 and is quoted from Norman 183-185.
When an enlightened traveller passes from the domains of Protestantism to those of the Romish Church, he immediately perceives that he has entered upon a strange territory, over which a base and gloomy genius seems to preside. The mental, moral, and social aspect of mankind are in many respects changed. A blight shrivels up the buddings of intellectual vigour, a barren selfishness blasts the healthfulness of moral feeling, and dark suspicion lowers over every face and destroys the blithesome play of animating spirit. Signs of a degrading superstition force themselves upon the attention at every turn. Images of virgins and other tutelar saints appear to demand the homage of those who pass along the street; whilst the churches and their gaudy shrines are decked with the costly gifts of servile worshippers. We do not wonder that the Romanist can hardly attain to any spiritual views and feelings of religion amidst this grossness of creature-worship, which materializes the perceptions of the soul, and prevents its realizing the feeling of an omnipresent Deity. The spiritual senses are effectually blunted, and grovelling images destroy the purity of worship, and humanize those affections which ought to be divine. Every feature of Christianity is presented to the people in a debased form, which reacts upon their minds, and makes their ideas of religion mean and carnal.
The public streets swarm with clergy and soldiers, in their respective uniforms, as parasites of a despotism which controls the liberty of thought and action. The ubiquitous priests and monks furnish a constant memento that conscience is under the yoke, and that no freedom of judgement is allowed. The armed police announce that a watch is placed over every movement, that speech must be restrained, and that the press is under strict censorship. The development of mind is thus painfully cramped, and the range of mental acquirements is contracted within a narrow compass. Genius languishes, thought refuses to soar, and the intellectual faculties are forbidden to expatriate. The arts of painting and sculpture may flourish, for these do not require a proficiency in mental culture; and the poesy of love and of nature's beauties may be warbled in the melting pathos of a melodious voice, or be set to the strings of the light guitar; but manly emotions are checked, and sensual desires occupy the place of virtuous affections. It is a withering of the soul, and of all that active soul is wont to produce. But the powers of human nature cannot be altogether repressed; and when checked in one direction they will expand in another; when prevented from following after what is noble and excellent, they will infallibly pursue what is sordid and vicious. The ever active sap of the mind will cause its branches to spread downwards, if they cannot rise upwards; and when forbidden to become a shelter for the feathered tribe of heaven, they will grovel along the soil, and be the inhabitants of creeping insects and unclean reptiles.
With the advancement of popish power and influence there has always been a retrograde movement in virtue and civilization. The moral and social aspect of the people is more unpromising than in the days of heathenism. Intellect has become dwarfish, enterprise languishes, trade fails, poverty and rags abound, the streets swarm with beggars, filth and meanness prevail, indolence and vice are depicted in the countenance, profligates flaunt about without any apparent sense of shame. Could one of the old Roman worthies rise from his tomb, and gaze from the dilapidated capitol upon the city of his pride and devotion, and take a survey of the altered manners and habits of its once noble people, he would shed warm tears of sorrow over its departed greatness, and wonder what fell demon had blighted its glory, depraved its inhabitants, and prostrated its manhood into second childishness. Spain, Portugal, and other lands where Popery has been all-prevalent, would tell the same tale of moral and civil degradation. A comparison of the Romish and Protestant cantons of Switzerland, or of the northern and southern counties of Ireland, would attest the same melancholy truth. . . . an undeniable fact, but that it is a necessary consequence of this religious system. The very principles of Popery, since it reached the zenith of its power, and obtained a perfect organization, are such as must work for evil to the mass of a population. As its power rises, the people must fall. It is in direct antagonism to the free and healthful play of the human faculties, to mental enlightenment, to civil progression, to social worth and domestic happiness. It is not from an accidental failure of Roman counsels that these countries have receded in the scale of civilization, nor from an outward pressure of foreign hostility, nor from any national calamity having befallen them; it is the necessary fruit of a corrupt and heartless system of priestcraft, which shrinks from no means to accomplish its ambitious purposes, and which is willing to sit enthroned upon the wrecks of humanity, provided it can achieve its own aggrandizement, and fill itself with the spoils of passive adherents.
Last modified 1992