Carmen Ariza Part 4

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Rome, like a fallen gladiator, spent and prostrate on the Alban hills, still awaits the issue of the conflict between the forces of life and death within. Dead, where the blight of pagan and mediaeval superst.i.tion has eaten into the quivering tissues; it lives where the pulsing current of modernism expands its shrunken arteries and bears the nouris.h.i.+ng truth. Though eternal in tradition and colossal in material achievement, the glory of the Imperial City nevertheless rests on a foundation of perishable human ambitions, creeds, and beliefs, manifested outwardly for a time in brilliant deeds, great edifices, and comprehensive codes, but always bearing within themselves the seeds of their own decay. No trophy brought to her gates in triumph by the Caesars ever approached in worth the simple truth with which Paul of Tarsus, chained to his jailer, illumined his gloomy dungeon. Had the religious principles which he and his devoted a.s.sociates labored so unselfishly to impart to a benighted world for its own good been recognized by Rome as the "pearl without price," she would have built upon them as foundation stones a truer glory, and one which would have drawn the nations of the earth to wors.h.i.+p within her walls. But Rome, in her master, Constantine, saw only the lure of a temporal advantage to be gained by fettering the totally misunderstood teachings of Jesus with the shackles of organized politics. From this unhallowed marriage of religion and statecraft was born that inst.i.tution unlike either parent, yet exhibiting modified characteristics of each, the Holy Church. To this inst.i.tution, now mighty in material riches and power, but still mediaeval in character, despite the a.s.saults of centuries of progress, a combination of political maneuver, bigotry, and weakness committed the young Jose, tender, sensitive, receptive, and pure, to be trained as an agent to further its world-embracing policies.

The retreat upon which the boy at once entered on his arrival at the seminary extended over ten days. During this time there were periods of solitary meditation--hours when his lonely heart cried out in anguish for his beloved mother--visits to the blessed sacrament, recitations of the office, and consultations with his spiritual advisers, at which times his promises to his parents and the Archbishop, coupled with his natural reticence and the embarra.s.sment occasioned by his strange environment, sealed his lips and prevented the voicing of his honest questions and doubts. It was sought through this retreat to so bring the lad under the influence of the great religious teachings as to most deeply impress his heart and mind with the importance of the seminary training upon which he had entered. His day began with the dreaded meditation at five in the morning, followed by hearing the Ma.s.s and receiving Communion. It closed, after study and cla.s.s work, with another visit to the blessed sacrament, recital of the Rosary, spiritual reading, and prayer. On Sundays he a.s.sisted at solemn High Ma.s.s in the church of the _Seminario Pio_. One day a week was a holiday; but only in the sense that it was devoted to visiting hospitals and charitable inst.i.tutions, in order to acquire practical experience and a foretaste of his future work among the sick and needy. Clad in his little violet ca.s.sock, low-crowned, three-cornered hat, and _soprana_, he might be seen on these holidays trotting along with his fellow-students in the wake of their superior, his brow generally contracted, and his childish face seldom lighted by a happy smile.

The first year pa.s.sed without special incident. The boy, filled with that quenchless ambition to know, which characterizes the finest minds, entered eagerly upon his studies and faithfully observed his promises. If his tender soul warped and his fresh, receptive mind shriveled under the religious tutelage he received, no one but himself knew it, not even his fond mother, as she clasped him again in her arms when he returned home for the first summer vacation. With the second year there began studies of absorbing interest to the boy, and the youthful mind fed hungrily. This seemed to have the effect of expanding somewhat his self-contained little soul. He appeared to grow out of himself to a certain extent, to become less timid, less reticent, even more sociable; and when he returned to Seville again at the close of the year he had apparently lost much of the somberness of disposition which had previously characterized him. The Archbishop examined him closely; but the boy, speaking little, gave no hint of the inner working of his thought; and if his soul seethed and fermented within, the Rincon pride and honor covered it with a placid demeanor and a bearing of outward calm. When the interview ended and the lad had departed, the Archbishop descended to the indignity of roundly slapping his ascetic secretary on his emaciated back, as an indication of triumphant joy. The boy certainly was being charmed into deep devotion to the Church! He was fast being bound to her altars!

Again the glorious spectacle of the Church triumphant in molding a wavering youth into a devoted son!

Four years pa.s.sed thus, almost in silence on the boy's part. Yet his character suffered little change. At home he strove to avoid all mention of the career upon which he was entering, although he gave slight indication of dissatisfaction with it. He was punctilious in his attendance upon religious services; but to have been otherwise would have brought sorrow to his proud, happy parents. His days were spent in complete absorption in his books, or in writing in his journal. The latter he had begun shortly before entering the seminary, and it was destined to exert a profound influence upon his life. Often his parents would playfully urge him to read to them from it; but the boy, devotedly obedient and filial in every other respect steadfastly begged permission to refuse these requests. In that little whim the fond parents humored him, and he was left largely alone to his books and his meditations.

During Jose's fourth summer vacation a heavy sorrow suddenly fell upon him and plunged him into such an excess of grief that it was feared his mind would give way. His revered father, advanced in years, and weakened by overwork and business worries, succ.u.mbed to the malaria so prevalent in Seville during the hot months and pa.s.sed away, after a brief illness. The blow descended with terrific force upon the morbidly disposed lad. It was his first intimate experience with death. For days after the solemn events of the mourning and funeral he sat as one stunned, holding his mother's hand and staring dumbly into s.p.a.ce; or for hours paced to and fro in the little _patio_, his face rigidly set and his eyes fixed vacantly on the ground beneath. The work of four years in opening his mind, in expanding his thought, in drawing him out of his habitual reticence and developing within him the sense of companions.h.i.+p and easy tolerance, was at one stroke rendered null. Brought face to face with the grim destroyer, all the doubt and confusion of former years broke the bounds which had held them in abeyance and returned upon him with increased insistence.

Never before had he felt so keenly the impotence of mortal man and the futility of worldly strivings. Never had he seen so clearly the fatal defects in the accepted interpretation of Christ's mission on earth.

His earlier questionings returned in violent protests against the emptiness of the beliefs and formalities of the Church. In times past he had voiced vague and dimly outlined perceptions of her spiritual needs. But now to him these needs had suddenly taken definite form.

Jesus had healed the sick of all manner of disease. He himself was being trained to represent the Christ on earth. Would he, too, be taught to heal the sick as the Master had done? The blessed Saviour said, "The works that I do, ye shall do also." But the priests, his representatives, clearly were not doing the works of the Master. And if he himself had been an ordained priest at the time of his father's death, could he have saved him? No, he well knew that he could not.

And yet he would have been the Saviour's representative among men.

Alas! how poor a one he well knew.

In his stress of mind he sought his uncle, and by him was again led before the Archbishop. His reticence and timidity dispersed by his great sorrow, the distraught boy faced the high ecclesiastic with questions terribly blunt.

"Why, my Father, after four years in the _Seminario_, am I not being taught to do the works which our blessed Saviour did?"

The placid Archbishop stared at the boy in dumb astonishment. Again, after years of peace that had promised quiescence on these mooted points! Well, he must buckle on his armor--if indeed he had not outgrown it quite--and prepare to withstand anew the a.s.saults of the devil!

"H'm!--to be specific, my son--you mean--?" The great man was sparring.

"Why do we not heal the sick as he did?" the boy explained tersely.

"Ah!" The peace-loving man of G.o.d breathed easier. How simple! The devil was firing a cracked blunderbuss.

"My son," he advanced with paternal unction, "you have been taught--or should have been, ere this--that the healing miracles of our blessed Saviour belong to a dispensation long past. They were special signs from G.o.d, given at the time of establis.h.i.+ng His Church on earth, to convince an incredulous mult.i.tude. They are not needed now. We convince by logic and reason and by historical witnesses to the deeds of the Saints and our blessed Saviour." As he p.r.o.nounced this sacred name the holy man devoutly crossed himself. "Men would believe no more readily to-day," he added easily, "even if they should see miracles of healing, for they would attribute them to the human mentality, to suggestion, hypnotism, hallucination, and the like. Even the mighty deeds of Christ were attributed to Beelzebub." The complacent Father settled back into his chair with an air of having disposed for all time of the mooted subject of miracles.

"That begs the question, my Father!" returned the boy quickly and excitedly. "And as I read church history it is thus that the question has been begged ever since the first century!"

"What!" The Archbishop was waxing hot. "Do you, a mere child of sixteen, dare to dispute the claims of Holy Church?"

"My Father," the boy spoke slowly and with awful earnestness, "I have been four years in the _Seminario_. I do not find the true Christ there; nor do I think I shall find him within the Church."

"_Sanctissima Maria!_" The Archbishop bounded to his feet "Have you sold yourself to the devil?" he exploded. "Have you fed these years at the warm b.r.e.a.s.t.s of the Holy Mother, only to turn now and rend her?

Have you become a Protester? Apostate and forsworn!"

"My Father," the boy returned calmly, "did Jesus tell the truth--or did he lie? If he spoke truth, then I think he is _not_ in the Church to-day. She has wholly misunderstood him--or else she--she deliberately falsifies."

The Archbishop sank gasping into his chair.

Jose went on. "You call me apostate and forsworn. I am neither. One cannot become apostate when he has never believed. As to being forsworn--I am a Rincon!"

The erect head and flas.h.i.+ng eyes of the youth drew an involuntary exclamation of approval from the anxious secretary, who had stood striving to evolve from his befuddled wits some course adequate to the strained situation.

But the boy's proud bearing was only momentary. The wonted look of troubled wistfulness again settled over his face, and his shoulders bent to their accustomed stoop, as if his frail body were slowly crus.h.i.+ng beneath a tremendous burden.

"My Father," he continued sadly, "do not the Gospels show that Jesus proved the truth of all he taught by doing the works which we call miracles? But does the Church to-day by any great works prove a single one of her teachings? You say that Christianity no longer needs the healing of the sick in order to prove its claims. I answer that, if so, it likewise no longer needs the preaching of the gospel, for I cannot find that Jesus made any distinction between the two. Always he coupled one with the other. His command was ever, 'Preach the gospel, heal the sick!' His works of healing were simply signs which showed that he understood what he taught. They were his proofs, and they followed naturally his great understanding of G.o.d. But what proofs do you offer when you ask mankind to accept your preaching? Jesus said, 'He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also.' If you do not do the works which he did, it shows plainly that you do not believe on him--that is, that you do not understand him. When I am an ordained priest, and undertake to preach the gospel to the world, must I confess to my people that I cannot prove what I am teaching? Must I confess that there is no proof within the Church? Is it not so, that true believers in Jesus Christ believe exactly in the proportion in which they obey him and do his works?"

The boy paused for breath. The Archbishop and his secretary sat spellbound before him. Then he resumed--

"How the consecrated wafer through the words of a priest becomes the real body of Christ, I am as yet unable to learn. I do not believe it does. How priests can grant absolution for sins when, to me, sins are forgiven only when they are forsaken, I have not been taught. I do not believe they can. The Church a.s.sumes to teach these things, but it cannot prove them. From the great works of Jesus and his apostles it has descended to the blessing of _milagros_ and candles, to the wors.h.i.+p of the Virgin and man-made Saints, to long processions, to show and glitter--while without her doors the poor, the sick and the dying stretch out their thin, white hands and beseech her to save them, not from h.e.l.l or purgatory in a supposed life to come, but from misery, want and ignorance right here in this world, as Jesus told his followers they should do. If you can show forth the omnipotence of G.o.d by healing the sick and raising the dead, I could accept that as proof of your understanding of the teachings of Jesus--and what you _really_ understand you can demonstrate and teach to others. Theological questions used to bother me, but they do so no longer. Holy oil, holy water, blessed candles, incense, images and display do not interest me as they did when a child, nor do they any longer seem part of an intelligent wors.h.i.+p of G.o.d. But"--his voice rising in animation--"to touch the blind man's eyes and see them open; to bid the leper be clean, and see his skin flush with health--ah! that is to wors.h.i.+p G.o.d in spirit and in truth--that is to prove that you understand what Jesus taught and are obeying, not part, but _all_ of his commands. I am not apostate"--he concluded sadly--"I never did fully believe that the religion of Jesus is the religion which the Church to-day preaches and pretends to practice. I do not believe in her heaven, her purgatory or her h.e.l.l, nor do I believe that her Ma.s.ses move G.o.d to release souls from torment. I do not believe in her powers to pardon and curse. I do not believe in her claims of infallibility. But--"

He hesitated a moment, as if not quite sure of his ground. Then his face glowed with sudden eagerness, and he cried, "My Father, the Church needs the light--do you not see it?--do you not, my uncle?"

turning appealingly to the hard-faced secretary. "Can we not work to help her, and through her reach the world? Should not the Church rightly be the greatest instrument for good? But how can she teach the truth when she herself is so filled with error? How can she preach the gospel when she knows not what the gospel is? But Jesus said that if we obeyed him we should know of the doctrine, should know the true meaning of the gospel. But we must first obey. We must not only preach, but we must become spiritually minded enough to heal the sick--"

"_Dios nos guarde!_" interrupted the Archbishop, attempting to rise, but prevented by his secretary, who laid a restraining hand on his arm. The latter then turned to the overwrought boy.

"My dear Jose," he said, smiling patronizingly upon the youth, although his cold eyes glittered like bits of polished steel, "His Eminence forgives your hasty words, for he recognizes your earnestness, and, moreover, is aware how deeply your heart is lacerated by your recent bereavement. But, further--and I say this in confidence to you--His Eminence and I have discussed these very matters to which you refer, and have long seen the need of certain changes within the Church which will redound to her glory and usefulness. And you must know that the Holy Father in Rome also recognizes these needs, and sees, too, the time when they will be met. However, his great wisdom prevents him from acting hastily. You must remember that our blessed Saviour suffered many things to be so for the time, although he knew they would be altered in due season. So it is with the Church. Her children are not all deep thinkers, like yourself, but are for the most part poor and ignorant people, who could not understand your high views. They must be led in ways with which they are familiar until they can be lifted gradually to higher planes of thought and conduct.

Is it not so? You are one who will do much for them, my son--but you will accomplish nothing by attempting suddenly to overthrow the established traditions which they reverence, nor by publicly prating about the Church's defects. Your task will be to lead them gently, imperceptibly, up out of darkness into the light, which, despite your accusations, _does_ s.h.i.+ne in the Church, and is visible to all who rightly seek it. You have yet four years in the _Seminario_. You gave us your promise--the Rincon word--that you would lay aside these doubts and questionings until your course was completed. We do not hold you--_but you hold yourself to your word_! Our sincere advice is that you keep your counsel, and silently work with us for the Church and mankind. The Church will offer you unlimited opportunities for service. She is educating you. Indeed, has she not generously given you the very data wherewith you are enabled now to accuse her? You will find her always the same just, tolerant, wise Mother, leading her children upward as fast as they are able to journey. Her work is universal, and she is impervious to the shafts of envy, malice, and hatred which her enemies launch at her. She has resources of which you as yet know nothing. In the end she will triumph. You are offered an opportunity to contribute toward that triumph and to share in it.

His Eminence knows that you will not permit Satan to make you reject that offer now."

The secretary's sharp, beady eyes looked straight into those of the youth, and held him. His small, round head, with its low brow and grizzled locks, waved snake-like on the man's long neck. His tall form, in its black ca.s.sock, bent over the lad like a spectre. His slender arms, of uncanny length, waved constantly before him; and the long, bony fingers seemed to reach into the boy's very soul and choke the springs of life at their origin. His reasoning took the form of suggestion, bearing the indisputable stamp of authority. Again, the boy, confused and uncertain, bowed before years and worldly experience, and returned to his solitude and the companions.h.i.+p of his books and his writing.

"Occupy till I come," the patient Master had tenderly said. From earliest boyhood Jose had heard this clarion call within his soul. And striving, delving, plodding, he had sought to obey--struggling toward the distant gleam, toward the realization of something better and nearer the Master's thought than the childish creeds of his fellow-men--something warmer, more vital than the pulseless decrees of ec.u.menical councils--something to solve men's daily problems here on earth--something to heal their diseases of body and soul, and lift them into that realm of spiritual thinking where material pleasures, sensations, and possessions no longer form the single aim and existence of mankind, and life becomes what in reality it is, eternal ecstasy! The Christ had promised! And Jose would occupy and wait in faith until, with joy inexpressible, he should behold the s.h.i.+ning form of the Master at the door of his opened tomb.

"With Your Eminence's permission I will accompany the boy back to Rome," the secretary said one day, shortly before Jose's return to the seminary. "I will consult with the Rector, and suggest that certain and special tutelage be given the lad. Let them bring their powers of reasoning and argument to bear upon him, to the end that his thinking may be directed into proper channels before it is too late. _Hombre!_"

he muttered, as with head bent and hands clasped behind his back he slowly paced before the Archbishop. "To think that he is a Rincon! And yet, but sixteen--a babe--a mere babe!"

CHAPTER 7

It must have been, necessarily, a very complex set of causes that could lay hold on a boy so really gifted as Jose de Rincon and, against his instincts and, on the part of those responsible for the deed, with the certain knowledge of his disinclination, urge him into the priesthood of a religious inst.i.tution with which congenitally he had but little in common.

To begin with, the bigoted and selfish desires of his parents found in the boy's filial devotion a ready and sufficient means of compelling him to any sacrifice of self. Only a thorough understanding of the Spanish temperament will enable one to arrive at a just estimate of Jose's character, and the sacredness of the promises given his mother.

Though the child might pine and droop like a cankered rosebud, yet he would never cease to regard the sanct.i.ty of his oath as eternally binding. And the mother would accept the sacrifice, for her love for her little son was clouded by her great ambitions in respect to his earthly career, and her genuine solicitude for his soul's eternal welfare.

Family tradition, sacred and inviolable, played its by no means small part in this affair. Custom, now as inviolable as the Jewish law, decreed that the first-born son should sink his individuality into that of the Mother Church. And to the Spaniard, _costumbre_ is law. Again, the vacillating and hesitant nature of the boy himself contributed largely to the result; for, though supremely gifted in receptivity and broadness of mind, in critical a.n.a.lysis and keenness of perception, he nevertheless lacked the energy of will necessary to the shaping of a life-course along normal lines. The boy knew what he preferred, yet he said _Amen_ both to the prayers of his parents and the suggestions of doubt which his own mind offered.

He was weakest where the greatest firmness was demanded. His love of study, his innate shrinking from responsibility, and his repugnance toward discord and strife--in a word, his lack of fighting qualities--naturally caused him to seek the lines of least resistance, and thus afforded a ready advantage to those who sought to influence him.

But why, it may be asked, such zeal on the part of the Archbishop and his secretary in forcing upon the boy a career to which they knew he was disinclined? Why should loyal agents of the Church so tirelessly urge into the priesthood one who might prove a serpent in her bosom?

The Archbishop may be dismissed from this discussion. That his motives were wholly above the bias of worldly ambition, we may not affirm. Yet we know that he was actuated by zeal for the Church; that he had its advancement, its growth in power and prestige always at heart. And we know that he would have rejoiced some day to boast, "We have saved to the Church a brilliant son who threatened to become a redoubtable enemy." The forces operating for and against this desideratum seemed to him about equally matched. The boy was still very young. His mind was as yet in the formative period, and would be for some years. If the Church could secure her hold upon him during this period she would doubtless retain it for all time; for, as the sagacious secretary so often quoted to his superior, "Once a priest, always a priest,"

emphasizing the tenet that the character imprinted by ordination is ineffaceable.

As for the secretary, he was a Rincon, proud and bigoted, and withal fanatically loyal to the Church as an inst.i.tution, whatever its or his own degree of genuine piety. It was deeply galling to his ecclesiastical pride to see the threatened development of heretical tendencies in a scion of his house. These were weeds which must and should be choked, cost what it might! To this end any means were justified, for "What doth it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" And the Rincon soul had been molded centuries ago. The secretary hated the rapidly developing "scientific" spirit of the age and the "higher criticism" with a genuine and deadly hatred. His curse rested upon all modern culture. To him, the Jesuit college at Rome had established the level of intellectual freedom.

He wors.h.i.+ped the landmarks which the Fathers had set, and he would have opposed their removal with his life. No, the Rincon traditions must be preserved at whatever cost! The heretical buddings within Jose should be checked; he should enter the priesthood; his thinking should be directed into proper channels; his mind should be bent into conformity with Holy Church! If not--but there was no alternative.

The all-powerful Church could and would accomplish it.

In the choice of Rafael de Rincon as secretary and a.s.sistant, the Archbishop had secured to himself a man of vast knowledge of ecclesiastical matters, of great ac.u.men, and exceptional ability. The man was a Jesuit, and a positive, dynamic representative of all that the order stands for. He was now in his sixty-eighth year, but as vigorous of mind and body as if he bore but half his burden of age.

For some years prior to his connection with the See of Seville he had served in the royal household at Madrid. But, presumably at the request of Queen Isabella, he had been peremptorily summoned to Rome some three years before her exile; and when he again left the Eternal City it was with the tentative papal appointment to Seville.

Just why Padre Rafael had been relieved of his duties in Madrid was never divulged. But gossip supplied the paucity of fact with the usual delectable speculations, the most persistent of which had to do with the rumored birth of a royal child. The deplorable conduct of the Queen after her enforced marriage to Don Francisco D'a.s.sis had thrown the shadow of suspicion on the legitimacy of all her children; and when it began to be widely hinted that Padre Rafael, were he so disposed, might point to a humble cottage in the sunlit hills of Granada where lay a tiny _Infanta_, greatly resembling the famous singer and favorite of the Queen, Marfori, Marquis de Loja, Isabella's alarm was sufficient to arouse the Vatican to action. With the removal of Padre Rafael, and the bestowal of the "_Golden Rose of Faith and Virtue_" upon the Queen by His Holiness, Pio Nono, the rumor quickly subsided, and was soon forgotten.

Whether because of this supposed secret Padre Rafael was in favor at the court of Pio Nono's successor, we may not say. The man's character was quite enigmatical, and divulged nothing. But, if we may again appeal to rumor, he did appear to have influence in papal circles. And we are not sure that he did not seek to augment that influence by securing his irresolute little nephew to the Church. And yet, the sincerity of his devotion to the papacy cannot be questioned, as witness his services to Pius IX., "the first Christian to achieve infallibility," during the troublesome years of 1870-71, when the French _debacle_ all but scuttled the papal s.h.i.+p of state. And if now he sought to use his influence at the Vatican, we shall generously attribute it to his loyalty to Rincon traditions, and his genuine concern for the welfare of the little Jose, rather than to any desire to advance his own ecclesiastical status.

Carmen Ariza Part 4

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