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and variety, painting each object with all that was most noble, most graceful, and most touching in its features; in fine, making each person speak in character and with such spirit and nature? Let any one reason with as much subtlety as he may, he would persuade no man in his senses that the “Iliad '' had no author but accident. Why, then, should a man possessing his reason believe with regard to the universe, a work unquestionably more wonderful than the “Iliad,” what his good sense will not allow him to regard of this poem 2
[The speaker draws some other illustrations from nature and the works of man, and then considers the soul of man and the mystery of its action and effect upon the body. He concludes as follows:]
The power of the soul over the body, which is so absolute, is at the same time a blind one. The most ignorant man moves his body as well as the best instructed anatomist. The player on the flute who perfectly understands all the chords of his instrument, who sees it with his eyes and touches it with his fingers, often makes mistakes. But the soul that governs the mechanism of the human body can move every spring without seeing it, without understanding its figure, or situation, or strength; and never mistakes. How wonderful is this ' My soul commands what it does not know, what it cannot see, and what it is incapable of knowing, and is infallibly obeyed How great its ignorance and how great its power The blindness is ours, but the power—where is it 2 To whom shall we attribute it, if not to Him who sees what man cannot see, and gives him the power to perform what passes his own comprehension.
Let the universe be overthrown and annihilated, let there be no minds to reason upon these truths, they will still remain equally true; as the rays of the sun would be no less real if men should be blind and not see them. “In feeling assured,” says Saint Augustine, “that two and two make four, we are not only certain that we say what is true, but we have no doubt that this proposition has been always, and will continually and eternally be true.”
Let man then admire what he understands, and let him be silent when he cannot comprehend. There is nothing in the universe that does not equally bear these two opposite characters, the stamp of the Creator and the mark of the nothingness from which it is drawn, and into which it may at any moment be resolved.
JEAN BAPTISTE MASSILLON (1663–1742) THE FAMOUS BISHOP OF CLERMONT
MONG the pulpit orators of France, Massillon holds a place of A high celebrity. A native of Provence, his life was chiefly spent in Paris, where, after the death of Bossuet and Bourdaloue, he was esteemed the ablest of preachers. He preached before Louis XIV., delivered the funeral sermon of the great monarch, and in 1715, after being made Bishop of Clermont, preached before the new king what is considered his masterpiece, the Lent sermon, called “Petit-Carème.” Massillon's diction was simple and unaffected, while he was a master of pathos and knew how to penetrate to the depths of the human heart. Voltaire kept a volume of his sermons constantly on his desk, as a model of eloquence, and thought him “the preacher who best understood the world.” Louis XIV. gave strong testimony to the power and independence of spirit of Massillon in his remark : “Other preachers make me pleased with them, but Massillon makes me displeased with myself.”
THE INIQUITY OF EVIL SPEAKING [As an example of Massillon's style we offer the following brief extract from one of his sermons, in which the harm of which the human tongue is capable, when turned to evil speech, is vividly portrayed.]
The tongue, says the Apostle James, is a devouring fire, a world of iniquity, an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. And behold what I would have applied to the tongue of the evil speaker, had I undertaken to give you a just and natural idea of all the enormity of this vice; I would have said that the tongue of the slanderer is a devouring fire which tarnishes whatever it touches; which exercises its fury on the good grain, equally as on the chaff; on the profane, as on the sacred; which, wherever it
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passes, leaves only desolation and ruin; digs even into the bowels of the earth, and fixes itself on things the most hidden ; turns into vile ashes what only a moment before had appeared to us so precious and brilliant; acts with more violence and danger than ever in the time when it is apparently smothered up and almost extinct; which blackens what it cannot consume, and sometimes sparkles and delights before it destroys. I would have told you that evil speaking is an assemblage of iniquity; a secret pride, which discovers to us the mote in our brother's eye, but hides the beam which is in our own ; a mean envy, which, hurt at the talents or prosperity of others, makes them the subject of its censures, and studies to dim the splendor of whatever outshines itself; a disguised hatred, which sheds, in its speeches, the hidden venom of the heart; an unworthy duplicity, which praises to the face and tears to pieces behind the back ; a shameful levity, which has no command over itself or its words, and often sacrifices both fortune and comfort to the imprudence of an amusing conversation; a deliberate barbarity, which goes to pierce your absent brother; a scandal, where you become a subject of shame and sin to those who listen to you; an injustice, where you ravish from your brother what is dearest to him. I should have said that slander is a restless evil, which disturbs society, spreads dissension through cities and countries, disunites the strictest friendships; is the source of hatred and revenge; fills, wherever it enters, with disturbances and confusion, and everywhere is an enemy to peace, comfort and Christian good breeding. Lastly, I should have added that it is an evil full of deadly poison ; that whatever flows from it is infected, and poisons whatever it approaches; that even its praises are empoisoned, its applauses malicious, its silence criminal, its gestures, motions, and looks, have all their venom, and spread it each in their way. Behold what in this discourse it would have been my duty, more at large, to have exposed to your view, had I not proposed to paint to you only the vileness of the vice which I am now going to combat; but as I have already said, these are only general invectives, which none apply to themselves. The more odious the vice is represented, the less do you perceive yourselves concerned in it; and though you acknowledge the principle, you make no use of it in the regulation of your manners; because, in these general paintings, we always find features which do not resemble ourselves. I wish, therefore, to confine myself at present to the single object of making you feel all the injustice of that description of slander which you think the more innocent; and, lest you should not feel yourself connected with what I shall say, I shall attack it only in the pretexts which you continually employ in its justification .
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I know that it is, above all, by the innocency of the intention that you pretend to justify yourself; that you continually say that your design is not to tarnish the reputation of your brother, but innocently to divert yourself with faults which do not dishonor him in the eyes of the world. You, my dear hearer, to divert yourself with his faults | But what is that cruel pleasure which carries sorrow and bitterness to the heart of your brother? Where is the innocency of an amusement whose source springs from vices which ought to inspire you with compassion and grief? If Jesus Christ forbids us in the Gospel to invigorate the languors of conversation by idle words, shall it be more permitted to you to enliven it by derisions and censures? If the law curses him who uncovers the nakedness of his relatives, shall you who add raillery and insult to the discovery be more protected from that malediction ? If whoever call his brother fool be worthy, according to Jesus Christ, of eternal fire, shall he who renders him the contempt and laughingstock of the profane assembly escape the same punishment? You, to amuse yourself with his faults But does charity delight in evil? Is that rejoicing in the Lord, as commanded by the apostle 2 If you love your brother as yourself, can you delight in what afflicts him 2 Ah the Church formerly held in horror the exhibition of gladiators, and denied that believers, brought up in the tenderness and benignity of Jesus Christ, could innocently feast their eyes with the blood and death of these unfortunate slaves, or form a harmless recreation of so inhuman a pleasure. But you renew more detestable shows to enliven your languor; you bring upon the stage not infamous wretches devoted to death, but members of Jesus Christ, your brethren; and then you entertain the spectators with wounds which you inflict on persons rendered sacred by baptism. Is it then necessary that your brother should suffer to amuse you ? Can you find no delight in your conversations unless his blood, as I may say, is furnished toward your iniquitous pleasure ?
British Orators of the Middle Period
ROM the days of the decadence of classic oraF tory to those of the famous orators of England, France and the United States who gave lustre to the latter part of the nineteenth century, a period elapsed of many centuries in duration, during which the voice of the orator was, no doubt, abundantly heard, yet few examples of what he had to say were put upon record, and these much more largely in the Church than in legislative or judicial halls. That in so extended a time many orators of marked ability must have arisen can scarcely be questioned, though we do not possess many animated examples of the art. One important occasion for its exercise was the Puritan Revolution in England, when the halls of Parliament rang with the voices of such ardent patriots as Eliot, Pym and their fellows. Some of the speeches of these have been preserved, and forensic oratory also has left us some interesting examples. While, as above said, the great sum of the oratory of the long period in question has vanished, some of it has found a foothold in literature. In England these examples chiefly extend from the Elizabethan reign down to the great renaissance of oratory after the middle of the eighteenth century. The records are not extensive. We have not a word, for instance, from an orator of the fame of Lord Bolingbroke. Yet others have been more fortunate in the preservation of their speeches, and selections from some of the more notable of these may be fitly given, as specimens of the driftwood of oratory which has reached us from the past cen