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Sancta Maria Łmmaculata ora pro populo.
BIBLE AND CHURCH-HISTORY STORIES
A compendious Narratibe of Sacred History brought down to the present
Times of the Churely, and complete in one Volume.
THE REV. HENRY FORMBY.
PRESENT CONDITION OF TIE EASTERN OR GOLDEN GATE OF THE TEMPLE.
Narraverunt mihi iniqui fabulationes sed non ut lex tuh.' Ps. cx
17, 18 Portman Street and 63 Paternoster Icow.
110. 7. 308
ST. AUGUSTINE requires, in order to a full measure of justice being done to the responsible task which is undertaken by Christian instructors, that Sacred History* should be carefully taught, not as the broken portion of a story with a beginning and without an end, but as a continuous unbroken narrative brought down to the present times of the Church ('narratio perducta usque ad præsentia tempora Ecclesiæ'). (De Cat. Rudibus.)
Besides the intrinsic fitness of this rule of St. Augustine, as alike applicable to all times of the Church, it may be cogently pleaded that there are unusually strong reasons proper to the present times of the Church, which more than ever demand that all Catholic teaching of Sacred History should henceforward be strictly and religiously conformed to this rule.
The day of temptation for Catholics to fall away to any of the ever-varying forms of religious error appears to be gone, and the Catholic religion now finds itself confronted face to face with an universally prevalent temptation to cast off the yoke of all belief whatsoever in God and His Revelation, and to regard the Decalogue of Moses as a code of law that may henceforward be treated as having become too obsolete and of too little significance any longer to claim a place in the public instruction of youth. The Fathers of the Synod of Oscott (1851) also declare in express words that the temptation for even the poor to be drawn into unbelief is now the prevailing danger which menaces serious evil to the Catholic religion. Yet, in the nature of things, this temptation cannot be in itself any really new danger unknown to other times. On the contrary, the providence of God watching over His people has from the beginning contemplated it, and provided for them a strong threefold defence against it, in the study and teaching of Sacred History.
Sacred History (when taught in conformity with St. Augustine's rule) impresses on the mind a threefold lesson of belief, that can never be either effaced from it, or forgotten. In Sacred History (1.) the youthful mind learns to know God as One who makes promises to men, and always faithfully keeps them. Sacred History, for example, tells both how God promised to Adam and Eve the seed who should crush the serpent's head, and how He has kept His promise. It relates how He promised to Noe to maintain the seasons in their course, and never again to destroy the earth with the waters of a deluge; how He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give their children the land of Canaan for an inheritance and to bless all the kindred of the earth in their seed; how, through Moses and the Prophets, He made many promises of rich blessings and of severe chastisements to the Hebrew people; and how all these promises have been kept, so that not one word of them has failed. Lastly, Sacred History relates how God in Jesus Christ has promised to be with the Christian people all days to the end of the world; and the same history duly relates how, through all the eighteen centuries of the Christian history, He has faithfully kept this His final promise to His Church.
* It may be desirable to state that the term 'Sacred History' is not here used in any other sense than in the general meaning of the word 'sacred' which we are in the habit of freely according to everything-vestments, ceremonies, edifices, &c.- pertaining to the Catholic Church. The whole continuous narrative of God's dealings, on St. Augustine's rule, can thus be rightly called ' Sacred History' without prejudice to the higher prerogatives of the Canonical Scriptures over the succeeding documents of Church History. In the same way we habitually speak of the Sacrifice of the Mass as Sacrum, or one whole sacred action, without the least prejudice to the greater sacredness of the actual Sacrifice over the concomitant sacred ceremonies comprised in it.
(2.) Again, Sacred History diligently inculcates belief in God as the Divine Legislator, not only of the Decalogue of Mount Sinai and of the Sermon on the Mount, but also of the precepts of the Church.
(3.) Lastly, Sacred History diligently stamps on the mind of the learner the knowledge of God as of One who, from the beginning down to the present hour, ever rules and acts in the world of men by the ministry of those of whom He is pleased to make choice to become His special friends. God reveals Himself in Sacred History, not alone as the friend of the patriarch Abraham, and as One who permitted Moses to speak with Him as a man speaketh with his friend, face to facenot alone as committing a marvellous trust to His chosen Peter, but as continuing the same trust up to the present hour in Peter's successors; as choosing St. Patrick, St. Benedict, St. Gregory and St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Dominic and St. Clare, to be His friends; and as taking St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Theresa, St. Philip Neri, St. Charles Borromeo, St. Vincent of Paul, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Paul of the Cross, and others far too many to mention, into His counsels, and giving them posts of trust in His Work upon earth.
Here, however, as we must not omit to observe, it will be easy to perceive that the full virtue and efficacy of this threefold defence of the mind against the temptation to unbelief must always be the exclusive prerogative of teaching Sacred History in religious conformity with the great St. Augustine's rule of one unbroken continuous narrative brought down to the present times of the Church. The beautiful triple defence suffers the most serious injury and damage where St. Augustine's rule is not observed. Where the narrative, in forgetfulness of the great Doctor's rule, is made to stop short in the middle of the first century of the Christian history, how can the mind of the learner be otherwise than left a simple prey to blank wonder not very easily free from suspicion, as to what the cause can be why a gulf of eighteen unknown centuries separates his knowledge of God and His dealings from the present time. And again, the more the history is perceived to be explicit in showing how God has kept all His promises to the Hebrew people, the more impossible it becomes to think of a satisfactory reason why it has not a word to say touching the manner in which He has kept His promise to the Christian people of being with them all days to the end of the world.'
A beautiful confirmation of the above-mentioned rule of St. Augustine occurs in the language of perhaps the most beloved of all the familiar formulas of Catholic devotion that are current in every mouth. Throughout the entire world, young and old learn to honour the Blessed Virgin as the Queen of the Patriarchs and the Prophets of the Covenant of God with the Hebrew nation; but they do not stop here—they go on to honour her as the Queen of the Apostles, of the Martyrs, of the Confessors, of the Virgins, and of all the Saints of the Covenant of God with the Christian people. Thus even popular devotion cannot be satisfied with less than the coming down to the present times of the Church; and St. Augustine's rule for teaching Sacred History appears as equally the accepted rule, for Catholic prayer and supplication.
More than this need not be said ; and one brief remark may be permitted in conclusion, viz. that a small Manual, embracing so wide a period of time, must manifestly be satisfied to aim at such historical completeness as its disposable space permits; but if this space is necessarily limited, there need not, on the other hand, be any limit to the growth of that thirst for farther knowledge which-may it please God to grant !-will often owe its first rise to the limited contents of the present Manual.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.