WHAT BEGETS LIBERALISMPhysical science tells us that floating through the atmosphere are innumerable disease germs seeking a suitable nidus to settle and propagate; that we are constantly breathing these germs into the lungs; if the system be depleted or weakened the dangerous microbe takes up its abode with us, and, propagating its own kind with astonishing rapidity, undermines and ravages our health. The only safeguard against the encroachments of this insidious enemy, which we cannot escape, is a vigorous and healthy body with adequate powers of resistance to repel the invader.
It is equally true that we are subject to like infectious attacks in the spiritual order. Swarming into the atmosphere of our spiritual lives are innumerable deadly germs ever ready to fasten upon the depleted and weakened soul, and, propagating its leprous (9) contagion through every faculty, destroy the spiritual life. Against the menace of this ever-threatening danger, whose advances we cannot avoid in our present circumstances, the ever-healthy soul alone can be prepared. To escape the contagion the power of resistance must be equal to the emergencies of the attack, and that power will be in proportion to our spiritual health. To be prepared is to be armed; but to be prepared is not sufficient; we must posses the interior strength to throw off the germ. There must be no condition in the soul to make a suitable nidus for an enemy so insidious and so efficacious as to need only the slightest point of contact whence to spread its deadly contagion.
It is not only through the avenues of disordered passions that this spiritual disease may gain an entrance; it may make its inroad through the intellect, and this under a disguise often calculated to deceive the unwary and incautious. The Trojans admitted the enemy into their walls under the impression that they were actually securing a valuable acquisition to their safety, and today their fatal experience has come down to us in the proverb: "Beware of the Greeks when they bring gifts." Intellectual torpidity, inexperience, ignorance, indifference, complaisance, or even virtues (10) such as benevolence, generosity, and pity may be the unsuspecting way open the foe, and lo! We are surprised to find him in possession of the citadel.
That we may know our danger we must appreciate the possible shapes in which it may come. Here is just the difficulty; the uniform of the enemy is so various, changeable, sometimes even of our own colors, that if we rely upon the outward semblance alone we shall be more often deceived than certain of his identity. But before laying down any test by which we may distinguish friend from foe in a warfare so subtly fought within the precincts of our own souls, let us first reconnoiter the respective positions of either camp, and to best do this, we will consider the origin and sources of the danger which surrounds us, for we may be asked: Where is this foe described as so intangible as scarcely to be apprehended by ordinary mortals? Or it may be urged: Is the danger as proximate, as frequent, and fearful as you allege? Whence is it anyhow? Point it out! If we know from what direction the enemy comes, we may better appreciate the peril.
As we are addressing ourselves to those who live amidst the peculiar circumstances of our American life, and as the spiritual and moral conditions which obtain in this (11) country, make up the moral and spiritual atmosphere in which we have our being, it is in the relation of our surroundings to ourselves as well as ourselves to our surroundings, that we shall find the answer to our question. Let us then consider these surrounds in a general way for the moment. First as to some patent facts. The population of this country is at present something over sixty three millions (1890 census). Of these ten millions are Catholics, and according to their claim, twenty millions Protestants, leaving a population of thirtythree millions or more who do not profess any form of Christianity at all. Amongst the twenty million Protestants every shade and variety of belief in the Christian dispensation finds easy lodgment, from the belief in the Incarnation and Consubstantiation to the rejection of the Divinity of Christ altogether in the vacuous creed of Unitarianism. In this scale of heresy the adjustments of creeds are loose and easy. Lack of any decisive authority renders any exact standard of belief impossible. A Protestant may freely range from one end of the scale to the other and still be considered orthodox according to Protestant estimates. A lose, indefinite belief in Christ, either as God redeeming the world (12) or even as a great ethical teacher, not God Himself though sent by God, suffices to place the Protestant within the compass of his own standard of orthodoxy. Any specific expression of dogma or of particular truths, bound up in the acceptance of by any one sect or denomination, can find no authoritative exaction, for the differences between the sects, in the last resort, become mere differences of private opinion, dependent upon nothing but the caprice or choice of the individual.
Outside of these various bodies of loosely professed Christians, stands a still larger mass of our population who are either absolutely indifferent to Christianity as a creed or positively reject it. In practice the distinction is of little moment whether they hold themselves merely indifferent or positively hostile. In other words we have here to reckon with a body, to all practical purposes, infidel. This mass comprises over half of our population, holding itself aloof from Christianity, and in some instances virulently antagonizing it. In distinctly religious opposition to this mass of infidelity and to Protestantism, Catholics find themselves sharply and radically opposed. Heresy and infidelity are irreconcilable with Catholicity. "Who is not with me is (13) against me are the words of Our Lord Himself, for denial of Catholic truth is the radical and common element of both heresy and infidelity. The difference between them is merely a matter of degree. One denies less, the other more. Protestantism with its sliding scale of creeds is simply an inclined plane into the abyss of positive unbelief. It is always virtual infidelity, its final outcome open infidelity, as the thirty-three millions of unbelievers in this country stand witness.
We live in the midst of this religious anarchy. Fifty-three millions of our population is anti-Catholic. From this mass, heretical and infidel, exhales an atmosphere filled with germs poisonous and fatal to Catholic life, if permitted to take root in the Catholic heart. The mere force of gravitation, which the larger mass ever exercises upon the smaller, is a power which the most energetic vigor alone can resist. A deadly inertia under this dangerous influence is apt to creep over the souls of the incautious and is only to be overcome by the liveliest exercise of Catholic faith. To live amidst an heretical and infidel population without enervation requires a robust religious constitution. And to this danger we are daily exposed, ever coming into contact in a thousand ways, in almost every (14) relation of life, with anti-Catholic thought and customs. But outside of this spiritual inertia, a danger rather passive than active in its influence, our nonCatholic surroundings beget a still greater menace.
It is natural that Protestantism and infidelity should find public expression. What our sixty million non-Catholic population think in these matters naturally seeks and finds open expression. They have their organs and their literature, where we find their current opinions publicly uttered. Their views upon religion, morality, politics, the constitution of society are perpetually marshaled before us. In the pulpit and the press they are reiterated day after day. In magazine and newspaper they constantly speak from every line. Our literature is permeated and saturated with non-Catholic dogmatism. On all sides do we find this opposing spirit. We cannot escape from it. It enfolds and embraces us. Its breath is perpetually in our faces. It enters in by eye and ear. It enswathes us in its offensive garments from birth to death. It now soothes and flatters; now hates and curses, now threatens and now praises. But it is most dangerous when it comes to us under the form of "liberality." It is especially powerful for seduction in this guise. It is under this aspect we wish (15) to consider it. For it is as Liberalism that Protestantism and Infidelity make their most devastating inroads upon the domain of the Faith.
Out of these unCatholic and anti-Catholic conditions, thus predominating amongst us, springs this monster of our times, Liberalism.