Carmen Ariza Part 12
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"I presume I am," admitted the American genially. "I've been all sorts of things in my day, preacher, teacher, editor. My father used to be a circuit rider in New England forty years ago or more. Pious--good Lord! Why, he was one of the kind who believe the good book 'from kiver to kiver,' you know. Used to preach interminable sermons about the mercy of the Lord in holding us all over the smoking pit and not dropping us in! Why, man! after listening to him expound the Scriptures at night I used to go to bed with my hair on end and my skin all goose-flesh. No wonder I urged him to send me to the Presbyterian Seminary!"
"And you were ordained?" queried Jose, dark memories rising in his own thought.
"Thoroughly so! And glad I was of it, too, for I had grown up as pious and orthodox as my good father. I considered the ordination a through ticket to paradise."
"Oh, I found myself in time," continued the man, answering Jose's unspoken thought. "Then I stopped preaching beautiful legends, and tried to be genuinely helpful to my congregation. I had a fine church in Cincinnati at that time. But--well, I mixed a trifle too much heresy into my up-to-date sermons, I guess. Anyway, the a.s.sembly didn't approve my orthodoxy, and I had as little respect for its heterodoxy, and the upshot of it was that I quit--cold." He laughed grimly as he finished the recital. "But," he went on gravely, "I now see that it was due simply to my desire to progress beyond the acceptance of tradition and allegory as truth, and to find some better foundation upon which to build than the undemonstrable articles of faith embraced in the Westminster Confession. To me, that confession of faith had become a confession of ignorance." He turned his shrewd eyes upon Jose. "I was in somewhat the same mental state that I think you are in now," he added.
"And why, if I may ask, are you now exploring?" asked Jose, disregarding the implication.
"Oh, as for that," replied the American easily, "I used to teach history and became especially interested in ancient civilizations, lost cities, and the like, in the Western Hemisphere. Long before I left the ministry oil was struck on our little Pennsylvania farm, and--well, I didn't have to work after that. So for some years I've devoted myself strictly to my particular hobby of travel. And in my work I find it necessary to discard ceremony, and sc.r.a.pe acquaintance with all sorts and conditions. I especially cultivate clergymen. I've wanted to know you ever since I first saw you out here. But I couldn't wait for a formal introduction. And so I broke in unceremoniously upon your meditations a few moments ago."
"I am grateful to you for doing so," said Jose frankly, holding out a hand. "There is much that you can tell me--much that I want to know.
But--" He again looked cautiously around.
"Ah, I understand," said Hitt, quickly sensing the priest's uneasiness. "What say you, shall we meet somewhere down by the city wall? Say, at the old Inquisition cells?"
Jose nodded his acquiescence, and they separated. A few minutes later the two were seated in one of the cavernous archways of the long, echoing corridor which leads to the deserted barracks and the gloomy, bat-infested cells beneath. A vagrant breeze drifted now and then across the grim wall above them, and the deserted road in front lay drenched in the yellow light of the tropic moon. There was little likelihood of detection here, where the dreamy plash of the sea drowned the low sound of their voices; and Jose breathed more freely than in the populous _plaza_ which they had just left.
"Good Lord!" muttered the explorer, returning from a peep into the foul blackness of a subterranean tunnel, "imagine what took place here some three centuries ago!"
"Yes," returned Jose sadly; "and in the reeking dungeons of San Fernando, out there at the harbor entrance. And, what is worse, my own ancestors were among the perpetrators of those black deeds committed in the name of Christ."
"Whew! You don't say! Tell me about it." The explorer drew closer.
Jose knew somehow that he could trust this stranger, and so he briefly sketched his ancestral story to his sympathetic listener. "And no one knows," he concluded in a depressed tone, "how many of the thousands of victims of the Inquisition in Cartagena were sent to their doom by the house of Rincon. It may be," he sighed, "that the sins of my fathers have been visited upon me--that I am now paying in part the penalty for their criminal zeal."
The explorer sat for some time in silent meditation. "Perhaps," he said, "your family fell under the spell of old Saint Dominic. You know the legend? How G.o.d deliberated long whether to punish the wickedness of mankind by sending down war, plague, or famine, and was finally prevailed upon by Saint Dominic to send, instead, the Holy Inquisition. Another choice example of the convenient way the world has always had of attributing the foulest deeds of men to the Almighty. No wonder religion has so woefully declined!"
"But is it so up in the great North?" asked Jose. "Tell me, what is the religious status there? My limitations have been such that I have--I have not kept abreast of current theological thought."
"In the United States the conventional, pa.s.sive submission to orthodox dogma is rapidly becoming a thing of the past," the explorer replied. "The people are beginning to think on these topics. All human opinion, philosophical, religious, or scientific, is in a state of liquefaction--not yet solidified. Just what will crystallize out of the magma is uncertain. The country is experiencing a religious crisis, and an irresistible determination to _know_ is abroad in the land. Everything is being turned upside-down, and one hardly dares longer say what he believes, for the dogma of to-day is the fairy-tale of to-morrow. And, through it all, as some one has tersely said, 'orthodoxy is hanging onto the coat-tails of progress in a vain attempt to stop her.' We are facing in the United States the momentous question, Is Christianity a failure? Although no one knows what Christianity really is. But one thing is certain, the brand of Christianity handed out by Protestant and Catholic alike is mighty close to the borderline of dismal failure."
"But is there in the North no distinct trend in religious belief?"
The explorer hesitated. "Yes," he said slowly, "there is. The man who holds and promulgates any belief, religious or scientific, is being more and more insistently forced to the point of demonstration. The citation of patristic authority is becoming daily more thoroughly obsolete."
"And there is no one who demonstrates practical Christianity?"
"No. Do you? Is there any one in your Church, or in the Protestant faith, who does the works which Christ is reported to have done? Is there any one who really tries to do them? Or thinks he could if he tried? The good church Fathers from the third century down could figure out that the world was created on the night before the twenty-third of October, four thousand and four B. C., and that Adam's fall occurred about noon of the day he was created. They could dilate _ad nauseam_ on transubstantiation, the divine essence, and the mystery of the Trinity; they could astonis.h.i.+ngly allegorize the Bible legends, and read into every word a deep, hidden, incomprehensible sense; they could prove to their own satisfaction that Adam composed certain of the Psalms; that Moses wrote every word of the Pentateuch, even the story of his own death and burial; and that the entire Bible was delivered by G.o.d to man, word for word, just as it stands, including the punctuation. And yet, not one of them followed the simple commands of Jesus closely enough to enable him to cure a toothache, to say nothing of generally healing the sick and raising the dead! Am I not right?"
"Yes--I am sorry to have to admit," murmured Jose.
"Well," went on the explorer, "that's what removed me from the Presbyterian ministry. It is not Christianity that is a dismal failure, but men's interpretation of it. Of true Christianity, I confess I know little. Oh, I'm a fine preacher! And yet I am representative of thousands of others, like myself, all at sea. Only, the others are either ashamed or afraid to make this confession. But, in my case, my daily bread did not depend upon my continuance in the pulpit."
"But supposing that it had--"
"The result doubtless would have been the same. The orthodox faith was utterly failing to supply me with a satisfying interpretation of life, and it afforded me no means of escaping the discords of mundane existence. It could only hold out an undemonstrable promise of a life after death, provided I was elected, and provided I did not too greatly offend the Creator during the few short years that I might spend on earth. If I did that, then, according to the glorious Westminster Confession, I was doomed--for we are not so fortunate as you in having a purgatory from which we may escape through the suffrages of the faithful," he concluded with a chuckle.
Jose knew, as he listened, that his own Church would hold this man a blasphemer. The man by his own confession was branded a Protestant heretic. And he, Jose, was _anathema_ for listening to these sincere, brutally frank confidences, and tendering them his warm sympathy. Yet he sat spellbound.
"And so I retired from the ministry," continued the explorer. "I had become ashamed of tearing down other men's religious beliefs. I was weary of having to apologize constantly for the organization to which I was attached. At home I had been taught a devout faith in revealed religion; in the world I was thrown upon its inquiring doubts; I yearned for faith, yet demanded scientific proof. Why, I would have been satisfied with even the slight degree of proof which we are able to advance for our various physical sciences. But, no, it was not forthcoming. I must believe because the Fathers had believed. I struggled between emotion and reason, until--well, until I had to throw it all over to keep from going mad."
Jose bowed in silence before this recital of a soul-experience so closely paralleling his own.
"But, come," said the explorer cheerily, "I'm doing all the talking.
"No! no!" interrupted the eager Jose. "I do not wish to talk. I want to hear you. Go on, I beg of you! Your words are like rain to a parched field. You will yet offer me something upon which I can build with new hope."
"Do not be so sanguine, my friend," returned the explorer in a kindly tone. "I fear I shall be only the reaper, who cuts the weeds and stubble, and prepares the field for the sower. I have said that I am an explorer. But my field is not limited to this material world. I am an explorer of men's thoughts as well. I am in search of a religion. I manifest this century's earnest quest for demonstrable truth. And so I stop and question every one I meet, if perchance he may point me in the right direction. My incessant wandering about the globe is, if I may put it that way, but the outward manifestation of my ceaseless search in the realm of the soul."
He paused. Then, reaching out and laying a hand upon the priest's knee, he said in a low, earnest voice, "My friend, _something_ happened in that first year of our so-called Christian era. What it was we do not know. But out of the smoke and dust, the haze and mist of that great cataclysm has proceeded the character Jesus--absolutely unique. It is a character which has had a terrific influence upon the world ever since. Because of it empires have crumbled; a hundred million human lives have been destroyed; and the thought-processes of a world have been overthrown or reversed. Just what he said, just what he did, just how he came, and how he went, we may not know with any high degree of accuracy. But, beneath all the myth and legend, the lore and childish human speculation of the intervening centuries, there _must_ be a foundation of eternal truth. And it must be broad--very broad. I am digging for it--as I dug on the sites of ancient Troy and Babylon--as I have dug over the buried civilizations of Mexico and Yucatan--as I shall dig for the hidden Inca towns on the wooded heights of the Andes. And while I dig materially I am also digging spiritually."
"And what have you found?" asked Jose hoa.r.s.ely.
"I am still in the overburden of _debris_ which the sedulous, tireless Fathers heaped mountain high upon the few recorded teachings of Jesus.
But already I see indications of things to come that would make the members of the Council of Trent and the c.o.c.ksure framers of the Westminster Confession burst from their graves by sheer force of astonishment! There are even now foreshadowings of such revolutionary changes in our concept of G.o.d, of the universe, of matter, and the human mind, of evil, and all the controverted points of theological discussion of this day, as to make me tremble when I contemplate them.
In my first hasty judgment, after dipping into the 'Higher Criticism,'
I concluded that Jesus was but a charlatan, who had learned thaumaturgy in Egypt and practiced it in Judea. Thanks to a better appreciation of the same 'Higher Criticism' I am reconstructing my concept of him now, and on a better basis. I once denounced G.o.d as the creator of both good and evil, and of a man who He knew must inevitably fall, even before the clay of which he was made had become fairly dry. I changed that concept later to Matthew Arnold's 'that something not ourselves that makes for righteousness.' But mighty few to-day recognize such a G.o.d! Again, in Jesus' teaching that sin brought death into the world, I began to see what is so dimly foreshadowed to-day, the _mental_ nature of all things. 'Sin' is the English translation of the original '_hamartio_,' which means, 'to miss the mark,' a term used in archery. Well, then, missing the mark is the mental result of nonconformity to law, is it not? And, going further, if death is the result of missing the mark, and that is itself due to mental cause, and, since death results from sickness, old age, or catastrophe, then these things must likewise be mental.
Sickness, therefore, becomes wholly mental, does it not? Death becomes mental. Sin is mental. Spirit, the Creator, is mental. Matter is mental. And we live and act in a mental realm, do we not? The sick man, then, becomes one who misses the mark, and therefore a sinner. I think you will agree with me that the sick man is not at peace with G.o.d, if G.o.d is 'that which makes for righteousness.' Surely the maker of that old Icelandic sixteenth-century Bible must have been inspired when, translating from Luther's Bible, he wrote in the first chapter of Genesis, 'And G.o.d created man after His own likeness, in the likeness of _Mind_ shaped He him.' Cannot you see the foreshadowing to which I have referred?"
Jose kept silence. The current of his thought seemed about to swerve from its wonted course.
"What is coming is this," continued the explorer earnestly, "a tremendous broadening of our concept of G.o.d, a more exalted, a more worthy concept of Him as spirit--or, if you will, as mind. An abandonment of the puerile concept of Him as a sort of magnified man, susceptible to the influence of preachers, or of Virgin and Saints, and yielding to their pet.i.tions, to their higher sense of justice, and to money-bought earthly ceremonies to lift an imaginary curse from His own creatures. And with it will come that wonderful consciousness of Him which I now begin to realize that Jesus must have had, a consciousness of Him as omnipotent, omnipresent good. As I to-day read the teachings of Jesus I am constrained to believe that he was conscious _only_ of G.o.d and G.o.d's spiritual manifestation. And in that remarkable consciousness the man Jesus realized his own life--indeed, that consciousness _was_ his life--and it included no sense of evil.
The great lesson which I draw from it is that evil must, therefore, be utterly unreal and non-existent. And heaven is but the acquisition of that mind or consciousness which was in Christ Jesus."
"But, Mr. Hitt, such ideas are revolutionary!"
"True, if immediately and generally adopted. And so you see why the Church strives to hold the people to its own archaic and innocuous religious tenets; why your Church strives so zealously to hold its adherents fast to the rules laid down by pagan emperors and ignorant, often illiterate churchmen, in their councils and synods; and why the Protestant church is so quick to denounce as unevangelical everything that does not measure to its devitalized concept of Christianity. They do not practice what they preach; yet they would not have you practice anything else. The human mind that calls itself a Christian is a funny thing, isn't it?"
He laughed lightly; then lapsed into silence. The sea breeze rose and sighed among the great, incrusted arches. The restless waves moaned in their eternal a.s.sault upon the defiant walls. The moon clouded, and a warm rain began to fall. Jose rose. "I must return to the dormitory,"
he announced briefly. "When you pa.s.s me in the _plaza_ to-morrow evening, come at once to this place. I will meet you here. You have--I must--"
But he did not finish. Pressing the explorer's hand, he turned abruptly and hurried up the dim, narrow street.
All through the following day the priest mused over the conversation of the preceding night. The precipitation with which this new friends.h.i.+p had been formed, and the subsequent abrupt exchange of confidences, had scarcely impressed him as unusual. He was wholly absorbed by the radical thought which the man had voiced. He mulled over it in his wakeful hours that night. He could not prevent it from coloring the lecture which he delivered to his cla.s.s in ancient history that day. And when the sun at length dropped behind La Popa, he hurried eagerly to the _plaza_. A few minutes later he and the ex-clergyman met in the appointed rendezvous.
"I dropped in to have a look at the remains of Pedro Claver to-day,"
his new friend remarked. "The old s.e.xton sc.r.a.ped and bowed with huge joy as he led me behind the altar and lighted up the grewsome thing. I suppose he believed that Pedro's soul was up in the clouds making intercession with the Lord for him, while he, poor devil, was toting tourists around to gaze at the Saint's ghastly bones in their gla.s.s coffin. The thing would be funny were it not for its sad side, namely, the dense and superst.i.tious ignorance in which such as this poor s.e.xton are held all their lives by your Church. It's a shame to feed them with the bones of dead Saints, instead of with the bread of life!
But," he reflected, "I was myself just as bigoted at one time. And my zeal to convert the world to Protestantism was just as hot as any that ever animated the missionaries of your faith."
Carmen Ariza Part 12
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Carmen Ariza Part 12 summary
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