Page images
PDF
EPUB

tion of children; and is the only book, that is generally known among the common people. Of the laboring class I am told very few can read even this, though perhaps they may have learned it when boys. The Gospel of John was translated under the superintendence of the Rev. Mr. Jowett, and printed by the Church Missionary Society. This has but just begun to be circulated; and the circulation of it will probably be attended with difficulty. It can, however, scarcely fail to be useful, both in a religious and literary view. The Gospel of Matthew is now in preparation. There are schools in the different villages, in which children are taught the catechism; often however, by rote, without ever learning to read. Out of Valetta, such a thing is seldom heard of, as a woman being able to read.

“The principal literary institutions of the Maltese are the Library of the Knights, and the College of the Jesuits. Both these are now in the hands of the government. The library is open at certain hours every day except feast days; and all persons have free access to the books, but no book can be taken from the room. A large part of the volumes are in Latin; many in Italian; some in French and other languages. There are very few modern publications among them. The whole number of volumes I believe is 50 or 60,000. It was founded by a knight in 1760, who gave 9,700 volumes. Afterwards, whenever a knight died, his books were added to the public library. Formerly the Jesuits had a large establishment here. What was then their college, is now the university of Malta. Its funds have fallen under the management of the English government, but are still devoted to the support of the institution. There are fifteen or twenty professors, and perhaps 200 students. Dr. Naudi is professor of chemistry in this institution. I apprehend the stipend of the different professors is not very great

“In regard to religion, I presume the Maltese must be considered among the most dutiful and devoted sons of the Church of Rome. In the bishop's catechism, in reply to the question, "What do you believe?' the child answers, 'I believe all that which our Holy Mother Catholic Roman Church believes and teaches.' Probably few of the Maltese could express their creed more correctly, or assign any better reason for it. My Arabic master, who is a priest, has told me, “We ought to believe blindly, whatever the church says.' The pope some time since sent permission to relinquish a considerable number of the festivals, so far as to labor during the day, after attending mass in the morning. But the Maltese (whether excited to it by their priests or not, I cannot say) refused to comply with the new plan, and strictly observe all their festivals as before. The ecclesiastics are very numerous. The streets are always full of them. The whole number in Malta, I have not been able to ascertain. Some say 500; others 1,000; and others say not less than 3,000. Only a small number of these are preachers. The others find employment in saying mass, hearing the confessions of the people, visiting the houses of the people at certain seasons to bless them, administering the sacraments, &c. A certain course of study is requisite, as preparatory to the office; but after being once ordained, study seems to be very generally neglected. I have sometimes asked the Maltese, why their priests, since they are so numerous, do not establish schools, and teach all the children and give them a good education. The answer generally is, either that they are too ignorant, or too lazy. It often happens, on the Sabbaths and great festivals, that public processions pass through the streets.

A large company of ecclesiastics in their sacerdotal robes, with lighted candles in their hands, bear along the image of the saint, to which the multitude reverently uncover their heads. When

any person is supposed to be dying, some priests go with the host, or consecrated wafer, to administer to the sick person, accompanied by several boys in white robes, who gingle little bells as they pass through the streets. The people who are in the street, kneel as the host passes. In vain do they worship, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

"I had a long discussion with Padre G.* He was more calm and dispassionate than usual; for though he always lavishes compliments with unbounded prodigality, yet, in dispute he is very dogmatical and vociferous, and, what is still more unpleasant, almost totally incapable of feeling the force of an argument.--I inquired concerning the views, which Catholics entertain respecting the Lord's day, and their principal feast days. The following is the substance of his answers. “The Lord's day and the principal feasts, are holy days, and to perform labor on these days is criminal. The Lord's day is to Christians what the Sabbath was to the Jews, and must be kept by divine command; the feast days, by command of the Church. The number of these has lately been diminished.'

"I alluded to the manner in which the Maltese devote the day to amusement, and inquired what he thought of it. It is not right,' he said. “It is a profanation of the day," I said. He seemed to think that too harsh a term, and then adduced the hackneyed excuse, that men, who are at work all the week, must have some time for diversion; and if they attend mass on Sabbath morning, God will not be angry with them for devoting the rest of the day to recreation. If such are the views of the priests, what must the people think?

“I afterwards spoke of purgatory, and inquired, "Can the priest tell us, or have we any way to ascer

*Mr. Fisk’s Arabic instructor, with whom he had held long discussions on religious subjects on former occasions.

tain, when a man dies, whether his soul is in heaven, in hell, or in purgatory?'

P. G. “No.

F. "Suppose, for example, my father dies, and I fear he is in purgatory, and

P. G. “Rather say hope he is; for, if in purgatory, he may be released.

F. “Well, be that as it may; I suppose my father is in purgatory, and I give the priest ten, or twenty, or fifty dollars, to say masses for his benefit. Can I know how many masses are necessary, or how much each one avails?

P. G. “O no. That is impossible. .

F. “Suppose I hire masses to be said for my father, supposing him to be in purgatory, while he is in fact already in heaven; what then?

P. G. "One part of the benefit goes to your benefit, and the rest to that of your nearest relatives. Nothing is lost.

F. "A certain sum must be given, I suppose, for every mass.

P. G. “Yes, but you must not suppose, that this money goes to the priest himself. It is for alms to the poor, and for pious uses. And you know the Scripture itself says, 'Alms maketh an atonement for sin.'

F. “I beg your pardon, there is no such declaration in the Bible.

P. G. “Certainly there is. I cannot say where, but I believe in Isaiah.

F. “There is nothing of the kind in Isaiah. I know to what you allude. It is a passage in Tobit, (ch. xii, v. 9,) a book which, I suppose, your Church considers inspired, but which we consider apocryphal. The Bible every where refers us to the blood of Christ, as the only thing that can take away sin; and on our part pardon is to be obtained, not by alms or good works, or masses, or confession to the priests; but by repentance, and confession to God.

I know that in your Church, almost every thing depends on confessing to the priest, and receiving his absolution. But there is neither command, example, nor permission for this in the Bible.

P. G. “The Scripture says, 'Confess your faults one to another.'

F. “True. And the primitive Christians used to assemble together for religious worship, mutually confess to each other, and pray together. But there is nothing in all this like auricular confession. And when a priest presumes to pronounce sins forgiven, this is nothing less than blasphemy.

P. G. “No, it is not blasphemy; for it is done by the priest, in the name of Christ, and in the place of God.

F. "Suppose some malefactors condemned to death. If a man goes without authority and proclaims pardon to them in the name of their sovereign, what would you say of him?

P. G. “But we do it not without authority; because Christ has said, Whose soever sins ye remit they are remitted.'

F. "To whom did Christ say that?
P. G. “To the Apostles.
F. “But you are not the Apostles.

P. G. "All bishops are the successors of the Apostles.

F. "So far as concerns preaching the Gospel, and administering the sacraments, I admit it; but if they claim the power of determining on what terms sins shall be forgiven, they are bound to support their claims by working miracles, as the Apostles did. I repeat what I said just now, for a priest to assume the power of forgiving sins, is no less than blasphemy.

“Padre G. insisted that it is not blasphemy, because done in the name of Christ. I repeated again my assertion, and we then began to converse about praying to the Virgin Mary, saints, and angels, and

« PreviousContinue »