Continuing with our serialization of Orestes Brownson's essay on democracy and religion, here is part V:
How Protestantism Is Inferior to Catholicity as a Guarantor of Virtue
[In yesterday's installment Brownson contended that the preservation of democratic liberty requires religion, which is the only force that allows men to live so virtuously and intelligently that they can deny their own passions, ambitions, and prejudices on behalf of the common good. In this segment, Brownson offers his thoughts on whether Catholicity or Protestantism is better suited to accomplishing that task]But what religion? It must be a religion which is above the people and controls them, or it will not answer the purpose. If it depends on the people, if the people are to take care of it, to say what it shall be, what it shall teach, what it shall command, what worship or discipline it shall insist on being observed, we are back in our old difficulty. The people take care of religion; but who or what is to take care of the people? We repeat, then, what religion? It cannot be Protestantism, in all or any of its forms; for Protestantism assumes as its point of departure that Almighty God has indeed given us a religion, but has given it to us not to take care of us, but to be taken care of by us. It makes religion the ward of the people; assumes it to be sent on earth a lone and helpless orphan, to be taken in by the people, who are to serve as its nurse.
We do not pretend that Protestants say this in just so many words; but this, under the present point of view, is their distinguishing characteristic. What was the assumption of the reformers? Was it not that Almighty God had failed to take care of his church, that he had suffered it to become exceedingly corrupt and corrupting, so much so as to have become a very Babylon, and to have ceased to be his church? Was it not for this reason that they turned reformers, separated themselves from what had been the church, and attempted, with such materials as they could command, to reconstruct the church on its primitive foundation, and after the primitive model? Is this not what they tell us? But if they believed the Son of Man came to minister and not to be ministered unto, that Almighty God had instituted his religion for the spiritual government of men, and charged himself with the care and maintenance of it, would they ever have dared to take upon themselves the work of reforming it? Would they ever have fancied that either religion or the church could ever need reforming, or, if so, that it could ever be done by human agency? Of course not. They would have taken religion as presented by the church as the standard, submitted to it as the law, and confined themselves to the duty of obedience. It is evident, therefore, from the fact of their assuming to be reformers, that they, consciously or unconsciously, regarded religion as committed to their care, or abandoned to their protection. They were, at least, its guardians, and were to govern it, instead of being governed by it.
Tomorrow, Part VI: The Three Stages of Protestantism