Chapter 52

`YOU KNOW, MY DEAR PONTIFEX,' said Pryer to him, some few weeks after Ernest had become acquainted with him, when the two were taking a constitutional one day in Kensington Gardens, `You know, my dear Pontifex, it is very well to quarrel with Rome, but Rome has reduced the treatment of the human soul to a science, while our own Church, though so much purer in many respects, has no organized system either of diagnosis or pathology - I mean, of course, spiritual diagnosis and spiritual pathology. Our Church does not prescribe remedies upon any settled system, and, what is still worse, even when her physicians have according to their lights ascertained the disease and pointed out the remedy, she has no discipline which will ensure its being actually applied. If our patients do not choose to do as we tell them, we cannot make them. Perhaps really under all the circumstances this is as well, for we are spiritually mere horse doctors as compared with the Roman priesthood, nor can we hope to make much headway against the sin and misery that surround us, till we return in some respects to the practice of our forefathers and of the greater part of Christendom.'

Ernest asked in what respects it was that his friend desired a return to the practice of our forefathers.

`Why, my dear fellow, can you really be ignorant? It is just this, either the priest is indeed a spiritual guide, as being able to show people how they ought to live better than they can find out for themselves, or he is nothing at all - he has no raison d'être. If the priest is not as much a healer and director of men's souls as a physician is of their bodies, what is he? The history of all ages has shown - and surely you must know this as well as I do - that as men cannot cure the bodies of their patients if they have not been properly trained in hospitals under skilled teachers, so neither can souls be cured of their more hidden ailments without the help of men who are skilled in soul-craft - or in other words, of priests. What do one-half of our formularies and rubrics mean if not this? How in the name of all that is reasonable can we find out the exact nature of a spiritual malady, unless we have had experience of other similar cases? How can we get this without express training? At present we have to begin all experiments for ourselves, without profiting by the organized experience of our predecessors, inasmuch as that experience is never organized and coordinated at all. At the outset, therefore, each one of us must ruin many souls which could be saved by knowledge of a few elementary principles.'

Ernest was very much impressed.

`As for men curing themselves,' continued Pryer, `they can no more cure their own souls than they can cure their own bodies, or manage their own law affairs. In these last two cases they see the folly of meddling with their own cases clearly enough, and go to a professional adviser as a matter of course; surely a man's soul is at once a more difficult and intricate matter to treat and at the same time it is more important to him that it should be treated rightly than that either his body or his money should be so. What are we to think of the practice of a Church which encourages people to rely on unprofessional advice in matters affecting their eternal welfare, when they would not think of jeopardizing their worldly affairs by such insane conduct?'

Ernest could see no weak place in this. These ideas had crossed his own mind vaguely before now, but he had never laid hold of them or set them in an orderly manner before himself. Nor was he quick at detecting false analogies and the misuse of metaphors; in fact, he was a mere child in the hands of his fellow curate.

`And what,' resumed Pryer, `does all this point to? Firstly, to the duty of confession - the outcry against which is absurd as an outcry would be against dissection as part of the training of medical students. Granted these young men must see and do a great deal we do not ourselves like even to think of, but they should adopt some other profession unless they are prepared for this; they may even get inoculated with poison from a dead body and lose their lives, but they must stand their chance. So if we aspire to be priests in deed as well as name, we must familiarize ourselves with the minutest and most repulsive details of all kinds of sin, so that we may recognize it in all its stages. Some of us must doubtless perish spiritually in such investigations. We cannot help it; all science must have its martyrs, and none of these will deserve better of humanity than those who have fallen in the pursuit of spiritual pathology.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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