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santly, against a too confiding and a too excessive sympathy with
the mystic visions that draw souls to Carmel and La Trappe.

No doubt, as long as man remains man, each human being
will tend to exalt his or her vocation to the disparagement of
others. The hermit will be prone to include his solitude and the
missionary his ministry of sacrifice and reconciliation among the
necessary conditions of the most perfect state. Dispute on the
question will give little satisfaction and no edification ; and neither
side of such a controversy will be defended here. Nevertheless,
it seems not wholly vain to say something by way of comment
upon that state of life which those who might be called its natural
defenders have so little opportunity to explain.

When we consider the comparative rarity of the contemplative
vocation ; when we enumerate the common normal obstacles to
the choosing and fervent practising of the cloister-rule ; when we
realize what peculiar and constant graces are needed for persever-
ance to the very end ; then few of us will be ready to assert that
to be a contemplative is easier than to visit prisons and hospitals.
For the more hidden life, there is required so wondrous a combi-
nation of natural and supernatural gifts that the consideration of
them might well dismay the bravest of souls. To the eye of faith
all this is at once evident ; and one is tempted to believe that there
must always be a subtle rationalism underlying the tendency to
present as the nobler elements of the religious life those external
activities which may be undertaken, and in some measure have
been successfully achieved, by mere philanthropists ; and, on the
other hand, to regard as a lesser thing the practice of that loving

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communion which is absolutely beyond the reach of the most
arduous human striving. A soul filled with faith would employ
a very different scale of values. To conceive of the contemplative
occupation as a mere luxurious idling in spiritual delights is
possible only to a mind so far tainted with materialism as to be out
of tune with the sweet harmonies of the divine love-song and
densely impervious to the vision of the obstacles against which the
soaring spirit of man must struggle incessantly.

It is understood, of course, that the claim for peerless and
universal excellence is not going to be transferred from the active
to the contemplative orders. Comparisons have always been
invidious ; and they become more so every day. Men are grad-
ually rising above that stage of mental immaturity in which they
used dogmatically to declare that what loomed largest to them
was the biggest and brightest thing in the universe. A fair mind
will instantly recognize the inutility and foolishness of declaring
that the contemplative life is " the ideal state " ; but equally use-
less and foolish would be the declaration that it is not. The real
concern of each soul that strives to imitate Grod must be to dis-
cover and to embrace the mode of life best adapted to produce
in itself a perfect conformity with the Divine design. Only of
secondary importance, if any, is it for a soul to know where the '
greatest perfection lies technically and in the abstract ; since the
one practical and indispensable requisite is a correct discernment
and adoption of the means whereby it personally can become
what the Creator destined it to be.

Hence it is ungracious and misleading critically to contrast
the vocations of Mary and Martha, and to dwell upon the osten-
sible superiority of the latter in variety of trials and in fulness of

Such contrast necessarily implies the mistake of venturing to
measure hardships by very human and therefore very uncertain
standards ; for, unless saints and spiritual writers in general be
given the lie, then far more exquisite than the torments of mar-
tyrdom is the pain endured in the processes of purification and
refinement through which souls pass in their ascent to the sacred
heights of prayer.

And as to achievements, the same cautioa is to be observed.

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If the spirit of faith sanctions anything, surely it guarantees the
belief that man's labors are in a sense for the benefit of man
rather than of God, — since Grod at wish can send legions of
angels to enhance each success, or to retrieve each failure of His
servants. Every lesson drawn from the life of the Incarnate God,
every observation of our own and our neighbors' lives, forces us
to conclude that the efficacy of prayer is beyond all proportion
greater than the efficacy of work ; and that although external
labor must be undertaken when God so wills, yet it forms no pre-
dominant, and even no essential, part of holy living. It is the
instinct of the deeply religious heart, as it is the spirit of the
Church's practice, to assume that an unmeasured and immeasur-
able amount of good is effected by souls who do nothing else
than pray. In fact this truth, as we have seen, follows close upon
one of the most fundamental and most significant of Catholic
doctrines, namely, that all are members one of another, that all
partake of the life vivifying Christ's mystical body, and that, in a
very real cooperation, we all are striving by common effort to
attain a common end. So as the hand may not say to the heart,
" I have no need of thee," the active shall not say to the contem-
plative religious, " I have done more than thou."

True, Sister Ther^se could name no list of souls saved by her
ministrations, yet, we dare say, the young priest whose auxiliary
she became could tell of many a marvelous success, many a strik-
ing victory of missionar>' zeal attributed to her intercession; just
as the nuns and missionaries of Africa and Oceanica no doubt
could relate many an unlooked-for favor referable only to the
invisible assisting powers. Of course the connection could not be
traced in these cases ; nor can the efficacy of such cooperation
ever be proven ; yet not on that account will the truth of it be
less evident to minds appreciative of the fine, mysterious workings
of grace, nor will any remain insensible to its appeal except per-
sons by temperament indisposed to all belief in the mystical voca-
tion. But go to the missionary whose voice has been ringing
through crowded churches up and down the land these twenty
years, and whose hand has set the seal of pardon on thousands
after thousands of repentant sinners ; speak with the friend of the
vagrant, the wayward, the degenerate ; question the priest or the

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nun whose days are spent with Indians, or negroes, or Chinese,
and see if these heroic members of the Christian apostolate have
nothing to say of message or letter or visit that is repeated peri-
odically, testifying to their dependence on the cloister, breathing
their faith in the apostolate of contemplation, binding them in
closest ties of love and gratitude with Carmelite and Dominican,
with Visitandine and Poor Clare ?

Here are we striving for the conversion of America, with a
vigorous army of priests that patrols the continent from end to
end, and God is rewarding their efforts with unprecedented success.
Oh for the further blessing to be gained by a keener sense of
what prayer can do, by a deeper insight into the significance of
the contemplative apostolate ! It is told of Mgr. Lefebvre that,
when having been made a Bishop in Cochin-China, he proclaimed
that his very first action would be the founding of a Carmelite
monastery at Saigon, some one ventured to comment upon this
by saying :

" Necessaries ought to precede luxuries in the building up of
a diocese."

The Bishop replied :

" What you consider a luxury, is to me the first necessity of
the Christian ministry. Ten nuns who pray will help me more
than twenty missionaries who preach."

Nothing but a perfectly sublime faith could dictate a response
like that Let similar faith be in the souls of every one of us, of
us who have set hearts and hopes upon the Catholicization of our
country. When we are beseeching the Lord of the Harvest to
send laborers into the whitened fields, at the same time let us beg
that He will increase the number of those choice spirits. His
precious vessels of grace, who are set apart to spread the light of
faith by means of prayer, —

'* Souls high on Carmel's hill,

Yet si>ent for brothers on the plain below."

To-day our country has a few contemplative houses, a pusillus
grex. But while nations in Europe are driving forth their religious
into exile, let this land of liberty receive them, let America's arms
be opened wide to them in welcome. Then through the length

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and breadth of the land, and in the depths of each Catholic heart,
will be spread the fragrance of fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit, of

Only a few months ago the Carmelites founded a house in
Philadelphia. What glad tidings for Bishop and priests and
people there ! And now a little initiative on the part of the
interested, a little encouragement from the influential, a little help
from the wealthy, and behold! New York, too, may have its
Carmel — another devoted band to join with Dominicans and Nuns
of the Precious Blood in storming Heaven and opening still wider
the flood-gates of Divine Mercy, in multiplying holy priests, in
redeeming sinners, in setting before us of other States an enchant-
ing, inspiring picture of the virtues that cannot be forgotten or
neglected even in the busiest lives.

Joseph McSorley, C.S.P.

St. Thomas Aquinas College^ Washington,

mERoeLTPmo records and the biblk

I. — Modern Biblical Science.

WHATEVER may be said of other branches of sacred
science in the past hundred years, it must be admitted
that the new age has wrought a great change in the state of
Biblical studies. There is probably no period of Christian history
in which the Sacred Scriptures have engrossed the attention of a
larger army of scholars, or in which the study has produced a
more vast and varied literature. And the nature of much of this
new Biblical literature is yet more remarkable than its extent and
its variety. At first sight it would seem that the whole position
has been changed. And the Catholic critic, or apologist, whose
knowledge of the subject has been acquired at the feet of old-
iashioned masters, will often find himself confronted by unex-
pected difficulties, and problems for which his books, whatever
their merit in other matters, furnish no solution. But here it is
necessary to be on our guard against exaggeration. For some, in
their anxiety to be abreast with the science of their age, are led

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to an unjust dq)reciation of older authorities. It is well to
remember that, after all, there is much in those older works that
has an enduring value, much that may be sought in vain in com-
mentaries replete with the new learning. And this is true not
only in regard to theological exposition, in which the Fathers and
the Schoolmen have naturally some advantage, bat in sound
scholarship and critical acumen. On the other hand there is, to
say the least, some danger that some special lines of study may
now receive less attention than in earlier days when they had
fewer rivals. None the less, the candid student, however much
he may esteem the neglected writers of an earlier generation, and
view with misgiving the somewhat rash and hasty judgments of
too many modem critics, must needs allow that something has
been gained by later labors in this field, and no little fresh light
has been thrown on the text of the Sacred Writings.

II. — ^The Gradual Growth of Modern Criticism.

Here, as elsewhere, both the good and the evil elements are
apt to be exaggerated by the enthusiasm of admirers and the
fears of orthodox opponents. And to add to the confusion, too
many on either side are content to judge by report and echo
the opinions of others. To some readers the dreaded " Higher
Critics " are only known by a crude account of their more start-
ling theories. How many of those who inveigh against them
have read a page of Kuenen or Wellhausen ? On the other hand
those who make light of earlier labors in the field of criticism, can
seldom boast any adequate acquaintance with the authors whose
writings they disparage.

Yet, strange as it may seem to extremists on either side,
the old school and the new have much in common. With
all respect to the eminent men who have inaugurated a new
era of critical science, it must still be maintained that Biblical
Criticism, like other branches of science, is really the outcome of
a gradual growth and evolution continued through the course of
ages. This is sufficiently shown by the difficulty found in assign-
ing the date of its first foundation. Some writers of our day
speak as if the only criticism worthy of the name had suddenly
burst forth in full bloom in the pages of certain Dutch and Ger-

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man scholars of the nineteenth century. Others, on the contrary,
seek the source of the new system in the fertile speculations of
Spinoza. And it certainly seems that one of the leading theories
of the Higher Critics was anticipated by a French physician of
the eighteenth century. Moreover, Kuenen himself, one of the
first founders of the modem Dutch school, frankly hails the
sometime Oratorian, Richard Simon, as the " Father of Biblical
Criticism." *

III. — The New Light from the Ancient Monuments.

But the advance in Biblical studies in the past century is by
no means confined to the use of modem methods of criticism or
scientific analysis. The gain in this matter is no doubt consider-
able, though not without its accompanying drawbacks, for the
brilliant masters of modem criticism have, to say the least, the
. defects of their qualities. But, after all, the chief advantage
enjoyed by the Biblical student of to-day is in the abundance of
fresh evidence now available, which was withheld from all the
scholars of an earlier generation. In the theories of the critics,
much is merely matter of opinion, and much is only another form
of earlier hypotheses ; and sometimes, maybe, what is new is not
true, and what is true is not new. But it is otherwise with the
discovery and deciphemient of the ancient monuments. Here, at
any rate, the gain is clear and unmistakable, though it is likely
enough that the full significance of the discovery is as yet but
imperfectly recognized.

There have been other occasions when a new knowledge of
olden writings has given a fresh vigor and a wider range to the
science of the time. It was thus with the works of Greek authors
in the mediaeval schools, or, again, in the early days of the
Renaissance. And in more recent times our knowledge of the
primitive Church and Patristic Theology has been enlarged by
the recovery of some of the lost writings of the Fathers. But in
some respects the resuscitation of the ancient literatures of Egypt
and Babylon is yet more remarkable. In the other instances the
knowledge was but transplanted from one region to another ; or

* Cf, Kuenen* s Historisch- Kritisch Onderzoek naarhet Ontstaan en de Vertamel-
ing van de Boeken des Oudcn Verbonds^ Voorrede, p. 2.

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if the documents themselves had been hidden and forgotten, they
were at any rate written in a languaq^e and a character with which
scholars were already familiar. It was otherwise with the hiero-
glyphic monuments of Egypt and Babylon. The existence of
these records was not unknown or forgotten, and in one sense
many of them were accessible to all. But all knowledge of their
meaning had perished from the face of the earth. In its pictured
inscriptions the Sphynx continued to offer yet another riddle, for
which no OEdipus appeared to find a solution. And the Cuneiform
Hieroglyphics of Babylon were long like the handwriting on the
wall that told her doom ; for none could be found to read the
writing and declare its interpretation. It is nearly three hundred
years since Pietro della Valle brought the first specimen to per-
plex the scholars of Europe with the problem. But the solution
was reserved for our own generation.

IV. — The Rosetta Stone and Egyptology.

Though long custom has sanctioned the use of the term
" Hieroglyphics," it is well to observe that the name is really a
misnomer. It is based on the mistaken view that the picture-
writing of Egypt is a system of sacred symbols. It is true that
many of the inscriptions treat of religious topics, and some of the
signs are symbolical. But for the most part the pictures do but
stand for letters or syllables ; and the whole is simply a system of
writing, partly alphabetic, partly syllabic, and partly ideographic,
which was employed for secular as well as for sacred purposes.
And its use in public proclamations sufficiently shows that a
knowledge of its meaning was by no means confined to the priest-
hood. Were it only for this reason, the earlier attempts to
decipher the Hieroglyphics as mystical religious symbols were
foredoomed to failure. It is likely enough that later scholars
might have continued to go astray in their attempts to read the
Hieroglyphics, but for the fortunate discovery of the Rosetta
Stone, with its bilingual inscription in Greek and Egyptian. This
small block of black basalt, which may still be seen in the British
Museum, has indeed been the means of working wonders that
may well compare with those ascribed to the fabled philosopher's
stone of the old alchemists, for it has unlocked the secrets of an
ancient civilization and a lost literature.

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The inscription on the Rosetta Stone, a proclamation by the
priests in honor of king Ptolemy Epiphanes, presents a triple
text, for the Hieroglyphics are accompanied by a transcription in
the cursive Egyptian character known as Demotic as well as by a
Greek translation. As the meaning of the inscription could be
gathered from the Greek, the work of deciphering the original
could now be approached with some hope of success, for this
knowledge of the general purport gave the decipherer an advan-
tage which had hitherto been wanting. And Sylvestre de Sacy
and Akerblad soon succeeded in identifying some of the
Demotic characters. The more important task of deciphering
the Hieroglyphics presented far greater difficulty. But after
some beginning had been made by an Englishman, Dr. Thomas
Young, the problem was successfully solved by a French scholar,
Jean Fran9ois Champollion.

V. — First Clue to the Characters: Help Afforded by


It may be of interest to add a word on the way in which the
deciphering was effected. At first sight it is by no means clear
that the knowledge of the general purport of an inscription in a
strange tongue and an unknown character would enable us to
find the meaning of the words and the sound of the several
letters. And notwithstanding the help given by the Greek trans-
lation, it must be allowed that the Hieroglyphics still presented
a problem of considerable difficulty. For its solution there was
need of patient, persevering toil, combined with sound judg-
ment and brilliant conjectures. It was hardly a work for which
one could lay down laws or prescribe a fixed method of opera-
tion. Nor can we well describe the course of a discovery which
was partly due to the intuition of genius. Still it may g^ve some
notion of the way in which the pioneers went to work, if we
point out the salient fact that the presence of proper names in
the Hieroglyphics naturally gave the first clue to the characters.

This principle may be readily explained by a simple illustra-
tion. If an English reader who is not an Orientalist were to take
up a New Testament in Sanskrit, or Georgian, or some other
Eastern tongue, his familiarity with the Sacred Text would not at

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first enable him to read the strange characters. But a careful
scrutiny of the names of the Evangelists and the titles of the
Epistles will put him in possession of a good part of the alphabet.
The names of the first two Evangelists should be enough to fix
some six or seven letters ; and the identification of these is con-
firmed by the third letter in " Matthew " with the initial of " Thessa-
lonians/' and the third and fourth in " Mark " with the initials of
" Romans " and " Corinthians." To this may be added the long
list of names in the genealogy in the first chapter of St Matthew.

Of course this is an extreme case, and the dedpherers of the
Hieroglyphics could not hope to find such an abundance of proper
names, so readily identified by their position. They were fain to
be content with one or two at the outset, though the text of other
inscriptions soon added to the number. But the principle was
clearly the same, and the difference only one of degree. The fact
that kings' names and titles were found to be surrounded by an oval
ring, to distinguish them from the rest, considerably lightened the
difficulty of identification, and facilitated a comparison of the name
of king Ptolemy, which is conspicuous in the Rosetta text, with
the titles of other sovereigns found elsewhere, e,g, Cleopatra, In
this last name, the two symbols — a black square and a hemisphere
— which stand at the beginning of the word Ptolemy are found to
correspond exactly to the same letters P and T, as is sufficiently
seen by their position.

Even with the help of the Rosetta Stone and the longer
bilingual text of the Decree of Canopus, which was subsequently
discovered, the task of deciphering the Hieroglyphics would have
been slower and more uncertain, if the pioneers had been without
any independent knowledge of the Egyptian language. For in
this case there would be little else to work upon but the proper
names, as the meaning assigned to the other words by the Greek
translation would afford no clue to their sound or the force of the va-
rious letters. Happily, however, the language of the Coptic liturgy
gave no little help in this matter. For though it contains a large
infusion of Greek words, its main stock is of native origin, and is
the same in substance with the old tongue of the Pharaohs. It
was thus possible to approach the Hieroglyphic text from two
different sides, — from without by means of the characters

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ascertained from the proper names, and from within by means of
the Coptic words suggested by the meaning given in the Greek
translation. In some instances the one might serve to supply the
defect of the other. Elsewhere the correctness of the reading
would be plainly proved by their agreement

VI. — The Cuneiform Hieroglyphics: Grotefend's

This opening up of the hidden treasures of Egyptian history
and literature, so difficult in its accomplishment, so far-reaching in
its results, may well be regarded as one of the most memorable
triumphs of modem scholarship. But, strange to say, it does not
stand alone. There remained yet another region of the buried
past hidden away under another vast system of mysterious Hiero-
glyphics that were a sealed book to scholars for more than a
thousand years. Like the chosen people, ancient history had
long lain captive in Babylon and Assyria, as well as in Egypt, and
the double deliverance was reserved for the nineteenth century.

It may be of interest to add that this very year is the hun-
dredth anniversary of the first steps in this work of discovery.
On September 4, 1802, the Academical Society of Gottingen held
a memorable session, in which the learned Heyne gave some
account of the work already done in deciphering the Egyptian
inscriptions ; and on the same occasion Grotefend read a paper,
which proved to be the first serious and successful attempt to
interpret the Cuneiform Hieroglyphics.

In spite of the marked difference in their appearance, and in
their principles of construction, these two great systems of hiero-
glyphics present some striking points of analogy. And it is
hardly surprising to find that their decipherment took a somewhat
similar course. In the case of the Cuneiform, as in that of the
Egyptian, proper names and royal titles give some of the first
clues to the meaning of the characters ; and another sacred lan-

Online LibraryCatholic University of AmericaAmerican ecclesiastical review, Volume 27 → online text (page 57 of 78)