|Another Week's Travel and Another Theme|
LUGANO, VERONA, VENICE.
by C. H. Spurgeon
From the July 1865 Sword and Trowel
AVING before us the two grand volumes* by the Divine Author, we are prepared to estimate the claims of a third which professes to be equally of celestial origin, viz., the Church of Rome, which boasts of an infallible head. On this occasion we shall not so much enter into a consideration of her doctrines; this is most fitting work for the student, and we have just now laid that character aside; it is ours to view her outward manifestations which thrust themselves in the way of the traveller. Her churches and altars, her shrines and ceremonies, her priests and processions, are her teaching to the masses, her living epistle, her image and superscription; by them she ensnares the minds of the many, they are the locks of her strength, and the boast of her pride; we shall not do amiss nor be guilty of unfairness, if we compare their style and manner with that divine peculiarity which we have seen to be so manifestly conspicuous both in Creation and in the Word. The enquiry is a narrow, but an interesting one. Would the outer array of Popish worship strike the candid observer as being in accordance with the spirit of the New Testament? Does the ceremonialism of Rome accord with the taste which would be born and nurtured amidst the beauties and wonders of nature? In our judgment, the answer must be decidedly and altogether in the negative. We may be warped in our taste by the prejudices of education and the convictions of belief, but we have not been intentionally unfair; while considering this subject, we have tried honestly to distil the pure essence of the outward mode of Romanism, and while extenuating nothing nor putting down aught in malice, our conviction is that her mode of worship and display are as opposite to the genius of nature and the style of revelation, as the flaunting finery of a harlot to the modest apparel of a virtuous woman. Popery was intended by its infernal author to be a remarkably clever counterfeit of divine workmanship, and his subtle hand has craftily imitated the celestial style; but the imposture is soon detected by the observant eye, for the soul and spirit of the sacred artist are altogether absent. Cathedral domes may emulate the skies, pillars of marble may vie with towering cedars, mosaics of gold may glitter as the stars, and smoking incense may image the clouds of heaven, but imitation is upon the face of all, and this is fatal to the claim to be the production of Him whose works are all masterpieces and all originals. Comparisons are always as obvious as they are numerous when counterfeits are in question, but as our business is detection, we shall point out contrasts, which in this case, if not abundant, are singularly striking.
In the great temple of nature the person of the great Worker is unrevealed. God is everywhere, on the tossing sea, and in the silent wilderness, but everywhere as a God who hideth himself. Walking through nature we hear the voice of the Most High, and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory, but contemplation whispers to us, "Ye saw no similtude." The invisible God is neither imaged to us in colossal statuary by the ancient mountains, nor in glowing tableaux by the starry skies. The whole earth bears witness that "Clouds and darkness are round about him," and from every hill and valley comes the question, "Who is like unto the Lord our God who dwelleth on high?" In Holy Scripture, we find an express command against the attempt to set forth Jehovah by outward symbol. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me." (Exodus xx. 4, 5.) Moses was very earnest upon this point; he solemnly exhorted the people, "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth . . . Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the Lord thy God hath forbidden thee. For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God. When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke him to anger: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall be utterly destroyed. And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you. And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men's hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell." (Deut. iv. 15-28.) In the New Testament, which is the bringing to light of things unseen by kings and prophets, there is no violation of the great principle. Its teaching is explicit and clear when it reminds us that "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." (John iv. 24.) God was manifest in the flesh, but Godhead was not set forth or represented to us by the body of Christ Jesus, for so far as he was visible to human senses he was man; his own lips taught us this when he said, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke xxiv. 39.) It is true that the descent of the Holy Spirit was represented by a dove, by tongues of fire, and rushing mighty wind, but these, like the golden candlestick, the anointing oil and various other symbols of the Old Testament, did not portray the divine person of the Holy Spirit, but were merely manifestations of his works and operations. In creation, dashing billows and stedfast rocks are manifestations of divine working, and just such were the descending dove and the flames of fire, but the person of Deity is never manifest, nor attempted to be revealed in Nature or in the Bible. Especially is Holy Writ explicit concerning that infinitely blessed One who is revealed to us as the Father. Our Lord said, "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father." (John vi. 46.) The beloved apostle, to whom was given the visions of Patmos, yet assures us that "No man hath seen God at any time." (1 John iv. 12). Paul is not less indignant than Moses at the sin of worshipping God under a similitude, for he denounces those who, "professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts and creeping things.' (Romans i. 22, 23.) Thus both the visible universe, and the Old and New Testament, declare the Lord to be "the invisible God." In direct opposition to all this, the Church of Rome multiplies pictures in which the eternal and most high God is set forth as an aged and venerable man. We have shuddered at the sight as we have this week continually seen the Divine Trinity imaged as the Redeemer, a dove, and an old man; associated often with an equilateral triangle and the Virgin Mary. Some of the most famous paintings by eminent masters are thus profane; and it is a proof of the horrible iniquity of the Church of Rome that, instead of suffering these impieties to rot in the studios where they were produced, she hangs them up in her Churches, values them as priceless treasures, and allows her votaries to bow before them. On the door of the Church of St. Zeno, at Verona, are reliefs remarkable for their age, but detestable for their profanity; for HE before whom angels veil their faces with their wings, is there imaged in bronze as a very ugly man drawing Eve out of Adam's side. In St. Maria Formosa, at Venice, there are on the dome and above the altar, two portraits of elderly gentlemen, both intended for the Eternal Father. In St. Georgio Maggiore, is the same divine person caricatured as a man with a grey beard, dressed in red, and wearing a black cloak. Instances are unhappily too abundant, and the subject appears to be a favourite one for artists; and they seem as free and easy in the blasphemous work of pourtraying the great God, whose very name is to be had in honour, as a signpost dauber in sketching the Marquis of Granby or a Red Lion. From the mention of the horrible idolatry of Rome, the mind of the believer turns with disgust and trembling to seek the aid of the Holy Ghost, that it may recover from the impurity engendered by the sight of such iniquity. O God of heaven and earth! scatter those who are seeking to restore Antichrist in our land, and to bring back the superstition which provokes thy wrath.
It is further worthy of remark, that neither nature nor revelation set up rival objects for human worship; they both bid us worship God alone. As the grandeur of the mountains and the plenty of the valleys are alike due to the Almighty Lord, so both alike proclaim his praise. Creation has no altars for creature-worship. Heaven and earth are full of thy glory, O God, and they have no vacuum to be filled with the glories of Mary, or the honours of St. Mark! "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handywork;" there is not so much as a corner left to declare the glory of Domenic or Francis. The Inspired Book is equally monopolizing. It has not a line in which adoration or worship is rightly offered to any but the one Lord. Gabriel cries to Mary, "Hail thou that art highly favoured!" but beyond this cheerful congratulation of one, who, like other favoured sinners had learned to rejoice in God her Saviour, nothing was uttered which can be forced into the service of Mariolaters. In every inspired book the Lord only is exalted, and as clear as the sun at noon-day the truths are that the Lord alone is to be worshipped as the only God, and that Jesus only is to be sought unto as the propitiation for sin and the Mediator with God. How different is Popery! We have seen this week, hundreds of times, big dolls dressed up in tawdry finery, holding smaller dolls in their hands, actually worshipped as the Virgin and Child; we have seen votaries kiss an ebony, ivory, or tortoiseshell cross, and press their lips to the feet of images supposed to represent the Redeemer. We have been present when thousands bowed before a wafer, and have seen skeletons, old bones, and rotten rags exposed as objects of reverence. The most shameless of all Popish idolatries, practised everywhere, in the corners of the streets, by the canal side, on the highway, and in churches and chapels innumerable, is the worship of Mary. She sits enthroned as the Papist's goddess; miracles are professed to be wrought at her shrines; and the many silver hearts which hang before her altars as votive offerings, show how numerous are the admirers of this feminine idol. What would the apostles say to this worship of her to whom the Master said, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come?" If Mary had created the heavens and the earth, and had redeemed men by her blood, she could not have more reverence and worship paid to her than is given by Papists. To her they impute all the glories which we are wont to ascribe to the Son of God; she is their consolation, joy, and hope; the tower of David, the lily among thorns, the ark of the covenant, the anchor of the soul, the queen of heaven, and a thousand other things; but time would fail us to utter a tithe of the sounding praises with which Mary has the misfortune to be dishonoured by Popish idolatry. She is adored as conceived without sin and as caught up to heaven, neither of which fables have the slightest scriptural foundation. She is pictured as crowned by the Father in heaven, and having the moon under her feet, and the stars about her head, in fact there is no limit to the honours lavished upon her. Saints and saintesses without number we observed in our wanderings, many of whom we have not the pleasure of knowing much about; St. Lucy, St. Pantaleon, St. Rocco, St. Bruno, St. Cosmo, and a host of other ladies and gentlemen have chapels and shrines to themselves; and there is one female named St. Katherine, who is infamously represented in the Palace of the Doge, at Venice, as being married to the infant Jesus, who is painted in the act of putting the ring upon the finger of his bride. If Rome believes in one God, she openly worships a thousand others with far more visible devotion. Whatever her creed may be, the spirit of her outward performances and displays strikes the beholder at once as polytheistic. If Paul were now at Antwerp, or with us at Lugano, Verona, or Venice, his spirit might be stirred within him as at Athens; for he would see cities wholly given to idolatry. To us, Romanism seems as unlike God's universe, as it is undoubtedly unlike God's Word. We think every candid observer might see that it is so. We are content to leave this question with any man of common sense, and we are mistaken if he can see any resemblance between the glorious unity of homage paid to the great and only wise God by his works and his Word, and the adoration to the many objects of reverence set up by worse than heathen superstition in Popish lands.
Men of understanding tell us, that God's universe has in it no superfluities, no unnecessary exigencies which have no purpose but ostentation. For the tiniest animalculæ, as surely as for the eagle and the horse, there is a use and a purpose. France was on the verge of famine because her peasants so industriously murdered the small birds, that hordes of caterpillars and insects invaded the land, and threatened to devour the crops. When the dodo and dinoris had been exterminated in the islands of the South Sea, men wreaked a horrible revenge upon themselves for outraged nature, by playing the cannibal with one another. The universe wastes nothing upon mere display; it is ever lovely and sublime, but never showy and pretentious. Glorious as is the tempest, it has its end and purpose, and is as much bound to the chariot of utility as the ox to the plough of the husbandman. The thunder is no mere rolling of drums in the march of the God of armies, and the lightning is no vain flashing of heaven's sword of state. The tints of flowers cannot be said to be given only to please the eye, but that they may enable the flowers to absorb that part of light which is most useful to them; certainly neither rose nor violet bear any appearance of having been painted for effect, they wear their charms as part and parcel of themselves and not as laid upon them by trick of art. Forms of beauty, varieties of perfume, melodies of sound, and delicacies of taste, have all a purpose above and beyond that which lies upon the surface; at any rate they are not like the gilt in the salon of a cafè, intended simply and only to attract attention. If Judas himself should ask of wisely provident nature, as he saw her seemingly lavish expenditure, "To what purpose is this waste?" she could account for every farthing, although her sons have not yet learned to do so for her. The same truth strikes all Bible readers. We have in Sacred Writ no superfluous miracle, no wonder for mere wondering's sake; no language studied for effect of pompous oratory and the glitter of elocution; no doctrine taught without a practical end and aim. Jesus is ever the Prince of economists, and when his bounty is largest, he commands his disciples to gather up the fragments which remain, that nothing may be lost; he did not create so much as a crust for the purpose of show, there was a needs-be for all. His honoured servant, the apostle of the Gentiles, could say to the Corinthians, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (1 Cor. ii. 1-5.) He could truly say "Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech." (2 Cor. iii. 12.) A hundred years ago, a learned lady wrote after travelling in Popish countries: "The glare and foppery and childishness of the ornaments of the Churches are beyond what anything but the testimony of my own eyes could have given me any idea of. The decorations of the altars are much more fit for the toilette of a fine lady, than for a place dedicated to the solemn service of religion. I am quite sick of looking at so much tinsel and such a variety of colifichets. Most of the images are such mere dolls, that one would think the children would cry for them. Even the high altars are decorated with such a profusion of silly gewgaw finery as one would think better adapted to the amusement of girls and boys, than to inspire sentiments of devotion." Her words need no alteration as a description of the present state of things. Sitting in a Church at Lugano studying an extraordinary painting, we heard the trampling of feet and the voice of chanting, and putting aside the curtain, two boys entered, heading a procession, and bearing each a lamp containing a candle. The sun shone brightly, and the tallow burned ignominiously. A short time after, another procession paced the streets, consisting of men and boys, each holding candles, none of which answered any end in the worship of God, and could not tend to glorify him. Within the Churches are artificial flowers, tawdry banners, tinsel decorations, flaming pillars of tallow, &c., &c.; none of which reminded the beholder of the man whose dress was a garment without a seam; and could not suggest a remembrance of the fishermen, and the simplicity of the gospel of Christ, except by way of contrast. Priests in blue, scarlet, yellow, pink, and all the colours of the rainbow, wearing lace, embroidery, and jewels, ministering amid clouds of incense at altars beflowered and bedizened with gewgaws and trickeries, are far from congruous with the sublime simplicities of nature, or the plain teachings of the Son of Man. Sit down upon the mountain's side, where blooms a heathery couch for your rest, look beneath upon hillsides clad with forests, and valleys laughing with plenty; look above upon snowy peak and sailing cloud, mark the glorious naturalness of all around you; take out your pocket Testament and read a chapter, note the simple language in which it arrays its profoundest teaching and the unadorned beauty of its spirit, and then, closing your book and leaving the prospect, regard that shrine containing a swarthy Mary, or a hideous crucifix, daubed with many colours and decked with childish ornaments; or if you will, enter yonder Church and note the motley in which the performers are clad, the finery and adornment of the altars, the candles, the censers, the genuflexions, the bell-ringings, the mummeries and the whole performance, and you will never forget the diversity and absolute contrariety of the two spirits which dwell without and within. Truth is the atmosphere of God's world and Word, and falsehood is the element of Popery. Truth wears no paint upon her check; she is most adorned when unadorned the most; varnish and tinsel she disdains; her glory is herself, her beauty is her own perfection; she needs no meretricious charms: but Popery, like Jezebel, must paint her face and tire her head, for she is haggard and uncomely, therefore is she well pictured in the Revelation as a woman arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls.
One more thought strikes us. The genius of nature and of the New Testament is the same as to the universal consecration of all places and things. "For the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." (1 Cor. x. 26) In creation, everything is hallowed unto the Lord by the loving and sanctified heart. No defile, however dark, is evil; no wilderness, however dismal, is unholy. Everywhere the Shekinah of God's presence shines upon believing eyes. Our Father's universe is all holy now that the blood has fallen upon Calvary, and the whole creation waiteth for the result of that redemption in which it has its share. Those things which once were unhallowed and forbidden, are now purified to Christian men; the vision of Peter was not for him alone; four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air, are now no more unclean, for a voice speaks to us out of heaven, saying, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common." (Acts x. 15.) Spiritual ears can hear all things praising God, and spiritual eyes can see all things clothed in the vestments of adoration. Those creatures which are least esteemed among men, and are even objects of terror or abhorrence, are admitted to the chorus of God's praise equally with the most admired and cherished. That same Psalm (Ps. cxlviii.) which cries, "Praise ye him all his angels, praise ye him sun and moon," does not omit the dragons, and has a line for beasts and creeping things. No ban is set on any creature now, the bound is no longer about the mount, all have their place in the song heard by the believing ears of David when he says, "All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord." (Psalm cxlv. 10.)
Sitting on the well at Samaria, the Lord Jesus revealed to the enquiring woman the free spirit of the gospel dispensation. She must needs know whether Gerizim or Zion were the chosen mount of worship. He tells her, "Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father: . . . but the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." (John iv. 21, 23, 24.) As with place so with persons, the line of demarcation once so sharp and well-defined is gone for ever; "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all." (Col. iii. 11.) Nor are times and seasons, meats and drinks any longer to be profane or holy, for the Spirit saith, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holiday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." (Col. ii. 16, 17.) The outward manifestations of Romanism run directly counter to this statement, they are far more Jewish than Christian, and not at all agreeable with the dispensation of grace and truth. You see holy places, shrines and altars innumerable, as if Paul had never said by the Holy Ghost, "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands." (Acts xvii. 24.) At the door stands holy water, as if the water of yon lake, "blue as a sapphire stone," were not quite as holy; as if the pure rain of heaven and the dew of the morning were not far more sacred than that unclean mixture concocted by the priests. The bells ring enough to make one wish to lose one's ears on sacred days and at sacred hours, as if all days were not to be holiness unto the Lord, and all hours dedicated to the Most High. A priestly caste is set up, and men with shaven crowns are severed from the rest of the people, decorated with a peculiar garb, and regarded as special conduits of grace, in defiance of Peter's declaration concerning the whole body of the faithful, "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood." (1 Pet. ii. 9.) Paul asks the Corinthians, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God?" (1 Cor. vi. 19), but the hirelings of Rome would have us believe that they, and they only, are partakers of the Holy Ghost, and filled with the Spirit. The prescription of certain foods for certain days is strangely in contrast with the words of the apostle, "But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse." (1 Cor. viii. 8.) As the Hindoo is fettered by caste, and looks upon all without a little circle as defiled and defiling, even so must the Romanist; while we, who know the liberty of the gospel, find a shrine in every spot, and an altar in our hearts, and meet with nothing in God's universe from which we cannot by the Spirit's aid mount up to devotion of the purest sort. It was a choice saying of Augustine, "Every saint is God's temple, and he that carries his temple about him, may go to prayer when he pleaseth." To us, floating upon Lugano's wave, the nightingale poured forth her song
"In such a torrent of heartfelt delight,
So fast it flowed, her tongue so voluble,
As if she thought her hearers would be gone
Ere half was told."
To us she was a bird of Paradise, and her music rang of heaven. Walking along the shores of Como's lake, where vines in light festoons are hung from tree to tree; climbing the terraced steep where countless odours rise from flowers of every land, and looking down upon that inland sea "set round with chateaux, villages, and village spires, orchards, and vineyards, alps and alpine snows," one could not but exclaim, "Here God has been and is." Nor less have our souls learned to worship beneath the walls of ancient Bergamo, or within the shade of the turrets of Verona, or in this "glorious city in the sea." Italy, from sea to sea, has bidden us exult in our Jehovah's name; and when we gazed upon the Adriatic from the shores of Lido, there came from the land of the rising sun borne on the rippling waves, whispers of Him who blesses all the earth. Far from our soul be that base faith which would cast its spell over us, and drag us from the freedom of the gospel to be ensnared with its witcheries, and enslaved with its falsehoods.
If the reader would see Rome's pomp and glory as we have seen it, he will not need to travel, for he will find her photograph in the chapter which prophecied her coming and predicts her doom. It is the eighteenth in the Revelation of John. The evil spirit of Popery ascended not from the depths without the foresight of prophecy; those who have deceived the people arose not without observation:
"Ere they came,
Their shadows, stretching far and wide, were known;
And, two that looked beyond the visible sphere,
Gave notice of their cominghe who saw
The Apocalypse, and he of elder time,
Who in an awful vision of the night
Saw the four kingdoms. Distant as they were,
Those holy men, well might they faint with fear!"
* Spurgeon is speaking of 1) the written Word of God (special revelation) and 2) the testimony of nature (general revelation). In the previous issue of The Sword and the Trowel, he had published a travelogue titled "From England to Italy: A Chapter from the Book of Nature," in which he wrote, "The Great Master Author has sent forth several volumes; among the rest is one called the "Book of Revelation," and another styled the "Volume of Creation." We have been reading the Word-volume [Scripture] and expounding it for years, we are now perusing the Work-volume [nature], and are engrossed in some of its most glowing pages."