Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 167.





And, that you may have more cause to admire, consider how Epictetus, a heathen philosopher before mentioned, has been able to lift himself up to this sublime divinity. He advises us, in these words, to make the creatures serve us, as so many memorials of the Creator :—

"When the raven croaks," says he, "and thereby gives you notice of some change of weather, it is God, not the raven, that gives you this notice. If men should, by their words and discourses, advise you to any thing, is it not God that has given them power to advise you thus? thereby to let you understand, that he exercises his divine power several ways, in order to bring about his designs ; for when God thinks fit to acquaint us with matters of greater moment, he makes choice of more excellent and more inspired men for this purpose." Afterwards, he adds this : " In fine, when you shall have read my instructions, say to yourself, Is it not Epictetus, but God, that has given me this advice; for whence could he have had such precepts and rules as these are, if God had not suggested them to him ? " Thus far the words of Epictetus. Now, is there any Christian -in the world, that will not be ashamed, and blush to be excelled by a heathen? If there be, he may well be confounded to think, that his eyes, with the assistance of the light of faith, cannot see as far as those that were in the darkness of human reason.

I. From what has been said is inferred how unworthy it is not to serve God.

Since things are really just as we have represented them, is it not great ingratitude and neglect for man to be surrounded on all sides by so many benefits, and yet to forget him from whom he has received them all ? St. Paul says, "that he who does his enemy a good turn, heaps coals of fire upon his head " (Rom. xii. 20.), by which he inflames his charity and love. Now, if all the creatures in the world are so many benefits God bestows on you, the whole world can be nothing else but one fire, and all the creatures so much fuel to feed and increase it. Is it possible any heart should be in the midst of such flames as these, and not be entirely inflamed, or so much as warmed by them ? How comes it then, that after receiving so many benefits and graces, you should neglect even to cast your eyes toward heaven, to see from whence they all come? If you were to go a great journey, and in the way, being quite tired, and almost dead with hunger, should be forced to sit down at the bottom of a high tower, from the top of which some charitable person should take care to supply you with whatsoever you wanted, could you forbear looking up sometimes, if it were but to have a sight of one that was so kind and charitable to you ? Does God do any thing less for you, than continually shower down from above all sorts of blessings upon you ? Find me out, if you can, but one thing in the world, that does not happen by his particular providence. And yet you never so much as look up to know, and by that means to love, so liberal and constant a Benefactor. What can be said of such hard-heartedness, but that man has divested himself of his own nature, and is grown more insensible than brutes ? It is a shame to say whom we resemble in this particular, but it is fit that man should hear it. We are like a herd of swine feeding under an oak, which, all the time their keeper is shaking down the acorns from the top of the tree, do nothing else but grunt and fight with one another for their meat, without ever looking upon him that gives it them, or lifting up their eyes to see from whose hands they receive such a benefit. OI the brutal ingratitude of the children of Adam! who, having received not only a rational soul, which other creatures have not, but also an upright body, and eyes set to look up toward heaven, yet will not lift up the eyes of the soul to behold him that bestows such blessings on them.

It is to be wished, that brutes and irrational creatures did not excel us in this point. For this duty of acknowledgment is, in effect, so deeply engraved by the finger of God upon all his creatures, that the fiercest of them have not been deprived of so noble an inclination. There are a great many examples in history to prove what we here assert. Is there any beast more fierce than a lion? and yet Appian, a Greek author, tells us of a man who, having accidentally sheltered himself in a lion's cave, and there plucked a thorn out of one of his feet, shared with him every day of the prey he got, as an acknowledgment of the favor and the cure he had wrought upon the beast. This man was taken up a considerable time after for some notorious crime, and was condemned to be exposed to the wild beasts in the amphitheatre at Rome, to be torn in pieces by them. The same lion, which had been taken some days before, being let loose, eyed the man, and, knowing him, came up gently and fawned upon him, just as a dog does upon his master when he has been abroad, and ever after followed him up and down without doing any harm. We read of another lion, who, having received the same favor from a seaman, that had been cast by a storm upon the coast of Africa, brought him daily a part of his booty, which maintained him and his company until such time as they put to sea again. Nor is that less to be admired, which they tell us of another, who, as he was fighting with a serpent, was so put to it, that in all appearance he would have lost his life, had not a gentleman, who was riding that way, accidentally come to his assistance, and killed the serpent; the lion, to return the obligation, gave himself up entirely to his deliverer, and followed him whithersoever he went, serving him as a hound in hunting. The gentleman at last took shipping, and left his lion on shore. The beast was so impatient and uneasy to stay behind, that he took to the water, and, not being able to make to the vessel, was drowned. What shall I say of the gratitude and fidelity of horses ? Pliny gives us a relation of some, that have had such a lively concern for the loss of their masters, as to shed tears for them; and of others, that have starved themselves to death for the same reason. Some there are, again, that have revenged their masters' death upon those that murdered them by tearing them in pieces, or by trampling them under their feet. Nor is the gratitude of dogs less surprising, of whom the same author relates such strange things as are almost incredible. Amongst the rest he tells us of one, that, having fought for his master, who was murdered by highwaymen, as long as he was able, sat by the dead body, to keep off the birds and beasts from devouring it. He speaks of another, that would neither eat nor drink after he had seen his master, Lucius, dead. He relates another much more remarkable passage, that happened at Rome in his time, which is this : A man, that was condemned to die, had a dog which he had kept very long, and which never left him all the time he was in prison, no, nor after his execution ; but, on the contrary, staying always by him, made known his grief by his howling. If any body flung him a piece of bread, he would take it up, and carry it immediately to his master, and put it into his mouth. At last, the body being thrown into the Tiber, the dog leaped in, and got under it, to keep it from sinking. Can there be anything in the world more grateful than this was? Now if beasts, who have only a small spark of natural instinct, whereby to acknowledge a good turn, are yet so ready to requite, serve and attend their benefactors, how can man, who has so much more light to know the good he receives, be so forgetful of him that bestows so much upon him ? How comes he to suffer himself to be exceeded by beasts, in courtesy, fidelity and gratitude? Especially, when the benefits, which man receives from God, are so infinitely beyond those which beasts receive from men; when the Benefactor is so excellent, his love so singular, and his intention so sincere, that he proposes no interest to himself, but does all out of mere charity and bounty. This is, indeed, a matter of no small wonder and astonishment, and evidently shows there are devils, that blind our understandings, harden our hearts, and impair our memories, that we may not remember so liberal a Benefactor.