I. (i) Catholics, it is said, are the most fundamentally selfish people in the whole world, since all that they do and say and think is directed and calculated, so far as they are “good Catholics,” to the salvation of their own souls. It is this that continually crops up in their conversation, and this that presumably is their chief pre-occupation. Yet surely this, above all methods, is the very worst for achieving such an end. One does not pull up flowers to see how they are growing. The very secret of health is to be unconscious of it. Catholics, on the other hand, scarcely ever do anything else; they are for ever examining themselves, for ever going to confession, for ever developing and cultivating the narrowest virtues. The whole science of Casuistry, for example, is directed to nothing else but this—the exact definition of those limits within which the salvation of the soul is secure and beyond which it is imperilled; and Casuistry, as we all know, has a stifling and deadening influence upon all who study it.
Again, see how the true development and expansion of the soul must necessarily be hindered by such an ideal. “I must not read this book, however brilliant, since it might be dangerous to my faith. I must not mix in this company, however charming, since evil communications corrupt good manners.” What kind of life is that which must always be checked and stunted in this fashion? What kind of salvation can there be that can only be purchased by the sacrifice of so much that is noble and inspiring? True life consists in experience, not in introspection; in going out from self into the world, not in retiring from the world inwards. Let us therefore live our life without fear, lose ourselves in humanity, forget self in experience, and leave the rest to God!
(ii) So much for the one side, while from the other comes almost precisely the opposite criticism. Catholics, it is said, are not nearly individualistic enough; on the contrary they are for ever sinking themselves and their personalities in the corporate life of the Church. Not only are their outward actions checked and their words guarded, but even their very consciences and thoughts are informed and made by the collective conscience and mind of others. It is the highest ambition of every good Catholic sentire cum ecclesia; not merely to act and speak but even to think in obedience to others. Now a man’s true life, we are told, consists in an assertion of his own individuality. God has made no two men the same; the mould was made and broken in each several case. If, therefore, we are to be what He meant us to be, we must make the most of our own personalities; we must think our own thoughts, not other people’s, direct our own lives, speak our own minds—so far, of course, as we can do so without interfering with our neighbour’s equal liberty. Once more, therefore, we are bidden to live our life to the full; not in this case, however, because we all share in a common humanity, but because we do not!