Friday, December 16, 2016

Tartuffe s'en va t'en guerre

In the Journal des Débats of Sunday last, we find a reprint of a Document qui se rapporte à l'éxecution du concordat conclu (by Austria) avec le Saint-Siège. It is in the shape of a
general order issued by the Austrian General Commanding-in-Chief to his soldiers; and as it appears to us quite unique, we publish an exact translation of it. It is as follows:—
‘In conformity with an intimation from the Apostolic Country Vicariate, transmitted on the 18th December, the following rules must be observed during the Lent and Passion Week of this year.
1. The general officers and the an superior and staff officers will have to abstain from meat on Fridays, and on the three last days of Passion Week.
2. The men, also, from the sergeant-majors downwards (à partir du sergent-major) are forbidden to eat meat on Fridays, and the three last days of Passion Week.
3. All without exception are bound to practice abstinence on the fast days appointed by the Church. This consists in a full meal only once a day. Dispensations will be granted upon application to the sick and weakly (individus affaiblis).
4. The Easter confessions will commence on the first Sunday in Lent, and end the Monday after Pentecost.
5. The venerable bishop hopes, in conclusion, that the faithful Catholics will gratefully acknowledge the indulgence shown by the Church in presenting such mild precepts for Lent; and that they will strive (s’efforceront) to make up for them by their assiduous attendance on divine services, sermons, and religious instructions, by repentance for their sins, and by sentiments of penitence conformable to the intentions of the Holy Church, as well as by the accomplishment of other good works.’
When we commented, some months ago, on the Concordat, we were certainly far from imagining that the degradation of the nation which accepted it had gone so far as this document shows it to have proceeded. There is something so exquisitely ludicrous in the tone of this composition that we could almost suppose that it emanated from some military satirist, who wanted in a quiet way to turn the affair into ridicule. With the rigorous precision of the word of command, the paper combines a quiet effrontery, which can only be compared to that of Sancho's physician in the Isle of Barataria. No meat on Fridays—no meat from Maundy Thursday to Easter eve,—only one full meal on fast days—sackcloth and ashes à discretion through Lent—confession every Sunday—and then perhaps you will be well by la Pentecôte.

The author of the order administers his spiritual physic as Mr. Squeers served out his treacle and brimstone to his scholars. Fat or lean, good appetite or had, drunk or sober, everybody is to take his fasting and ask no questions, and consider himself extremely lucky that he is let off so cheaply. There is a delicious naiveté in paragraph 5. The obvious feeling of the "venerable Bishop” is that the fasting does no sort of good, and has no sort of value, except as an evidence of obedience to his préceptes si doux. Can we imagine a physician telling his patient to be thankful to him for sending so little medicine, or a dentist remarking that, if his victim does not sit still, he will pull his teeth out next time, instead of stopping them? If fasting is to be enjoined at all, it can only be because it is of some real or supposed spiritual efficacy; and, if so, the “indulgence of the Church," in giving a slighter dose than the occasion requires, is pampering a man's stomach at the expense of his soul. Not less curious is the consistency with which the thought is worked out. “I let you off cheap in the article of fasting, therefore I hope you will make it up (compenser) by going to church constantly and repenting of our sins." That is, you must go through a certain amount of discomfort, and as I have put the fasting part of the business low, you must take it out in sermons, prayers, repentance, and other good works. Surely it would have saved time and trouble if the reverend bishop had ordered the men à partir du sergent major—a baker's dozen apiece from the cat-o'-nine-tails. He obviously looks on prayer and repentance as bores of indeterminate magnitude, to be thrown in as a kind of makeweight to the bore of fasting.

There is a painful as well as a ludicrous side to this piece of folly. What can be more disgusting than forcing upon poor fellows who, from the accident of their profession, are particularly subject to oppression, a set of heartless external observances which will have about as much spiritual effect upon them as an extra drill or a change of uniform. Imagine the hypocrisy which must prevail in such a service, and such a society. How such soldiers must vie with each other in “gammoning" the chaplain! What petty jealousies, what miserable heartburnings, such an order must engender! Imagine a court-martial trying a man for conduct unworthy of a Christian and an officer, because he has eaten meat on a Friday, and investigating a plea that the meat was waterfowl, which is of the nature of fish. Imagine the miserable eavesdroppers who will go to head-quarters with a number of practical applications of the rhyme about Daddy Longlegs, who would not say his prayers. Fancy the prodigious numbers who will wish to bring themselves within the description of malades and individus affaiblis. And for what object is all this lying, shuffling, and meddling to be incurred? Simply in order to enable some wretched priest to rejoice in the power of degrading better men than himself. We have our own scandals—Sabbatarian division-lists, religious newspapers, fraudulent bankruptcies, and the suicides which they cause, are bad enough. But we have not yet sunk to that last humiliation of having our dishes counted and our devotions prescribed by the priesthood to whom a wretched superstition as surrendered the fairest part of Europe. When we think of Hungary and Lombardy, and Rome, and Naples, and of the butcheries and tortures which have disgraced Europe for eight years past, certain familiar words seem to us to shine upon many things and persons, both at home and abroad, with a very awful light indeed;—“Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and the Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies I cannot away with. It is iniquity, even the solemn meeting." "When ye make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean. Cease to do evil. Learn to do well." Nor can we quite forget the alternative proposed: “The strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them."

Saturday Review, March 8, 1856.

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