What are the signs or symptoms by which we may distinguish what is and what is not Liberalism in a person, journal, book or institution? We are surrounded by Liberalism in all its shapes and varieties, and it behooves us to be on our guard against its subtle dangers. To lay down special rules by which we may detect it in its shadings and minutiae is neither practical nor necessary. But some general directions may be given. Their application must be left to each one's proper discretion.
To facilitate the matter we will divide Liberals, whether persons or writings, into three classes: 1) Extreme Liberals; 2) Moderate Liberals; 3) Quasi Liberals or those only tainted with Liberalism.
We will essay a description of each of these types. The study of their physiognomy will not be without interest and profit; for in the types we shall find a rule for our guidance in distinguishing Liberalism in its practical details.
The Extreme Liberal is easily recognized; he does not attempt to deny or conceal his perversity. He is the declared enemy of the Pope, of priests, of everything ecclesiastical; a thing has only to be sacred to rouse his implacable wrath; "priestcraft" is his favorite shibboleth. He subscribes for all the most violent and incendiary journals, the more impious and blasphemous the better to his liking. He is ready to go to the furthermost conclusions of his baneful system. His premise of destruction once laid down, his conclusion of nihilism is a mere matter of logic. He would put into practical execution with pleasure and exultation if circumstances permitted. He is a revolutionist, socialist, anarchist. He glories in living a life devoid of all religion. He belongs to secret societies, dies in their embrace, and is buried by their ritual. He has always defied religion and dies in his defiance.
The moderate Liberal is just as bad as his extreme confrere; but he takes good care not to appear so. Social conventionalities and good manners are every thing to him; the rest is of little importance. Provided his iniquity is kid-gloved, it finds ready extenuation in his own mind. The niceties of polite society preserved, his liberalism knows no bounds. He would not burn a convent-----that would appear too brutal; but the convent once burned he has no scruple in seizing upon the outraged property. The cheap impiety of a penny paper grates on his well-bred nerves; the vulgar blasphemy of Ingersoll he deprecates; but let the same impiety and the same blasphemy appear in the columns of a so-called reputable journal or be couched in the silken phraseology of a Huxley in the name of science, and he applauds the polished sin. It is with him a question of manner not matter. At the mere mention of the name of a nihilistic or socialistic club he is thrown into a cold sweat, for there, he declares, the masses are seduced into principles which lead to the destruction of the foundations of society; yet, according to him, there is no danger, no inconvenience in a free lyceum where the same principles are elegantly debated and sympathetically applauded; for who could dare to condemn the scientific discussion of social problems? The moderate Liberal does not detest the Pope; he may even express admiration for his sagacity; he only blames certain pretensions of the Roman Curia and certain exaggerations of Ultramontanism, which do not fall in with the trend of modern thought. He may even like priests, above all those who are enlightened, that is, such as have caught the twang of modern progress; as for fanatics and reactionaries he simply avoids or pities them. He may even go to Church and, stranger still, sometimes approach the Sacraments; but his maxim is, in the Church to live as the world lives, according to the times in which one is born and not obstinately swim against the stream. He dies with the priest on one side, his infidel literature on the other and imagines that his Creator will applaud his breadth of mind.
The Catholic simply tainted with Liberalism is generally a good man and sincerely pious; he exhales nevertheless an odor of Liberalism in everything he says, writes or takes up. Like Madam de Sevigne he can say, "I am not the rose, but standing by it, I have caught some of its perfume." This courageous man reasons, speaks, and acts as a Liberal without knowing it. His strong point is charity; he is charity itself. What horror fills his soul at the exaggerations of the Ultramontane press! To treat as a liar the man who propagates false ideas, is, in the eyes of this singular theologian, to sin against the Holy Spirit. To him the falsifier is simply misguided; it is not the poor fellow's fault; he has, simple soul, been misled. We ought neither to resist nor combat him; we must strive to attract him by soft words and pretty compliments.
How the Devil must chuckle over the mushy charity held out as a bait to abet his own cause! To smother evil under an abundance of good is the tainted Catholic's favorite maxim, read one day by chance in Balmes, and the only thing he has ever retained of the great Spanish philosopher. From the Gospel he is careful to cite only those texts flavored with honey and milk. The terrible invectives of our Lord against Pharisaism astonish and confound him; they seem to be an excess of language on the part of our Divine Savior! He reserves these denunciatory texts to use against those provoking Ultramontanes, who every day compromise, by their exaggerated and harsh language, the cause of a religion all peace and love. Against them his Liberalism, ordinarily so sweet and gentle, grows bitter and violent. Against them his zeal flames up, his polemics grow sharp and his charity aggressive.
In a celebrated discourse delivered apropos certain accusations against Louis Veuillot, Pere Felix once cried out, "Gentlemen, let us love and respect even our friends." But no, our Catholic tainted with Liberalism will do nothing of the kind. He saves the treasures of his tolerance and his charity for the sworn enemies of the faith! What more natural? Does not the poor man want to attract them? On the other hand for the most heroic defenders of the faith he has only sarcasm and invective.
In short the tainted Catholic cannot comprehend that direct opposition, per diametrum, of which St. Ignatius speaks in his Spiritual Exercises. He does not know how to give a direct blow. He knows no other tactics than to attack on the flank, tactics which, in religion, may perhaps be convenient, but are never decisive. He wants to conquer, but on the condition of not wounding the enemy, of never disturbing his ease or his rest. The mere mention of war painfully agitates his nerves and rouses all his pacific dispositions. With the enemy in full assault, with the implacable hatred and cunning of falsehood almost sweeping over him he would withstand the hostile charge and stem the overwhelming tide with the paper barriers of an illusive peace.
In a word we may recognize the extreme and the moderate Liberal by his bitter fruits; the tainted Catholic may be recognized by his distorted affection for Liberalism and its works.
The extreme Liberal roars his Liberalism, the moderate Liberal mouths it, the tainted Catholic whispers and sighs it. All are bad enough and serve the devil well. Nevertheless the extreme Liberal overreaches himself by his violence, the fecundity of the tainted Catholic is partially sterilized by his hybrid nature, but the moderate is the real Satanic type; his is the masked evil, which in our times is the chief cause of the ravages of Liberalism.