Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

The national board of Ireland certainly failed to supply, to any considerable extent, the defects which were attributed to pre-existing institutions. They might have some apparent claims to the confidence of the Roman Catholics, which the Kildare-street Society did not possess in form ; but after all, they evaded the grand difficulty. They did not, by any means, provide for the certain, efficient religious education of the children. That their designs and principles were misrepresented, and that all sorts of weapons were employed to weaken their strength and subvert their system, may be true; but whatever the cause, we see no evidence that they accomplished what they designed. And indeed, if their means and facilities are considered, they certainly accomplished far less than the preceding voluntary associations, and especially the Kildare-street Society.

The position which the national board took is clearly stated, though lamely defended, by Dean Burgh, in a letter to the archbishop of Tuam. “ I am not restrained by the board,” he says, “ from instructing my flock in my principles, nor am I accountable for the course the Roman Catholic clergyman adopts towards his flock, nor he for mine, be it right or wrong. The board could, under the circumstances, adopt no better plan. If religion had not been considered, the plan would be unsuited to a christian country. If the public money had been given to any church exclusively, it would have been sectarian. Then no Bible, no Testament, proved acceptable to all, and therefore were the recognized ministers of every persuasion permitted and encouraged to exercise their pastoral office, not in school hours, but at other times, to their own flocks.” The dean, however, would not probably be received as an approved champion of the board, nor would his vindication be regarded as complete. The board would show what their system is capable of being made, or rather what it allows, than what restrictions and disabilities it imposes. They would also much prefer one of their own number to set forth and defend their measures, and they could find none more ingenious, faithful, and eloquent, than the Rev. Jas. Carlisle, whose work lies before us. He regards the system was formed upon the principle of introducing as much of religion as all (religious) parties concerned can agree upon.” “Children under this system, in the present condition of the kingdom at least, cannot be educated atheists or deists; they cannot be left in ignorance of the being and attributes of God, his

VOL. XIV. NO. I.

15

power, his justice, his holiness, his mercy, or of the law of God, or of their own guilt, or of their moral responsibility, or of the future state and the coming day of retribution, or of the advent of the Son of God to save sinners by his life, his death, and his resurrection from the dead; or of the punishment of the wicked and the salvation of the righteous, or of the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ, of repentance and new obedience." “ Doubtless it would be desirable if the children could be explicitly informed in what the whole word of God consists, and could be thoroughly instructed in it as a complete code of revelation; but that is impracticable under the auspices of a government which, emanating from a people divided upon that point, are themselves also divided. Even the Kildare-place Society were under the necessity of admitting the New Testament in place of the whole scriptures, and dispensing with religious instruction from the whole Bible. Although it was rendered necessary that at least the whole New Testament should be in the schools, they could not announce to the children that the New Testament, nor even the Bible, as received by Protestants, contained the whole revealed will of God."*

The theory of the Irish system nay contemplate all the agreeable results above set forth by Mr. Carlisle, but when we look through the volumes of testimony drawn from the parties concerned, and examine the principles and regulations of the board, as they show themselves in the actual contact of the teacher with the learner, we find little to satisfy us that these results were often realized.

As an evidence of the liberality of the system, and of the “perfect provision it makes for the religious instruction of children," we are triumphantly informed, that “ if the scriptures in the authorized version are not read in every school within the influence of a Protestant minister, and in which there are children willing to read them, the fault lies with him, (the Protestant minister, and not with the government or board.” And pray might not the same thing be said if there were no school system at all? No one pretends that the government plan disables or interferes with the liberty of Protestant or Roman Catholic ministers. So that the argument might be employed with equal force, that no system of public education is at all necessary, because if every pa.

Thoughts on the mixed character of government institutions in Ireland,

Pp. 28-30.

rent, master, and guardian, would do their duty, their children, apprentices, and wards, would be suitably instructed, and ignorant people would soon become as rare as lepers. But will clergymen assume the duties which this argument assigns to them ? Are they in a situation to do it? Let them answer. However it may be with the Roman Catholic priests, we know that the life of a Protestant clergyman is crowded with its appropriate avocations; and the idea of assigning to him, as a distinct branch of professional duty, the religious instruction of a school or perhaps half a dozen schools daily, or even once a week, is utterly preposterous. It may do very well to append such a provision, in order to cover up a defective or suspicious place in the system; but whoever will read the official documents respecting the state of education under the British government, cannot fail to see that, with few exceptions, arising from peculiar circumstances, whatever direct religious instruction there is comes and must come from the teachers, and not from parents or pastors.

And it is not irrelevant to advert, in passing, to a singular feature of these same official documents. In the examination of witnesses, and in the reports and arguments on either side of the contested points or principles, the compromise system always comes up with a double face. If it is alleged that opportunities and topics of religious instruction are so restricted and cramped, that the teacher may as well be altogether silent as to attempt to introduce the subject, it is answered, that “this is an error ; that the whole field is open;" the only prohibited ground being the inch or two occupied by some ceremony or form of words. "Certainly there is not a single essential doctrine of Christianity of which he may not discourse to his school at all times, and with the utmost freedom.” But if the objection comes from the other side, and it is alleged that children's minds are liable to be “worked upon by sectarian influence," or misled by the “unauthorized teachers of religion ; unless the whole subject is shut out from the circle of school occupations, the system is at once screwed up to this point; and we find that “the teacher is required to occupy ground common to all parties, and not to meddle with the sacred topics of religion but in a form acceptable to all.”—“Religious instruction, as such, belongs to a class of men appointed for this purpose; school masters, if not unqualified, are not recognized as religious teachers."

The question returns, Is efficient and appropriate religious education secured in one form or another? If it must be given by the teacher, or the parent, or the pastor, and if the teacher is forbidden to give it, the parent incompetent to give it, and the pastor too busy to give it, it is a logical conclusion that the children must go without it. It may have a conspicuous place in the printed scheme, but it loses its honours in the visible working. It gives a grace and finish to the diagram, or model, that goes to the patent office, but is laid aside when the machine is put in motion.

We could fill a whole number of our review with examples of this "fast and loose" method of managing the controversy. One must suffice :—The bishop of Norwich, in reply to the bishop of Exeter, (House of Lords, May 21, 1838) remarked that the scripture - Extracts” used in the national schools contained every doctrine which a Protestant values and believes, and every doctrine which the Roman Catholic conceives to be essential to his salvation. They clearly, unequivocally, and candidly state the divinity of our Saviour, the atonement, the sanctification of the spirit, and every other doctrine of the Protestant religion which they valued, and would inculcate in their own church.” Now if these doctrines were indeed honestly and intelligibly set forth in the “ Extracts,” as the bishop of Norwich plainly intimates, so that the objection of the bishop of Exeter on this score became entirely groundless, then it must be admitted that religious instruction of a very direct and pointed character is given. But how will this consist with the remark of another friend of the national schools, who is considered as the bishop's coadjutor?

“ The only question is, Does the system afford the means of giving a really efficient moral (not religious) education ? If so, those who wish to superadd religious instruction, are at perfect liberty to do so. But the board, or rather the State which it represents, must be limited within the ordinary sphere of civil functions."*

The only way of reconciling these apparent inconsistencies, is to suppose that the phrase, “religious instruction," is used by some to denote the inculcation of those religious truths and doctrines, a belief of which is generally regarded as essential to salvation; while others apply it to the training of a pupil in the peculiar formularies of faith and wor

* Speech of the Lord Bishop of Norwich, and the letters of “ T.,” p. 39.

ship which distinguish various communities of Christians, one from the other. It is not, however, till we attempt to reduce to some definite and discernible shape, the actual results of the religious departments of this scheme, that we find how very shallow, defective, uncertain and slovenly its operations are. From a very close and careful examination of the controversy, and the voluminous documents connected with it, we are led to doubt whether there is not actually less systematic instruction in the schools of Ireland at this hour, than there would have been in the absence of all legislation on the subject.

We have entered so largely into the supposed grievances of Protestants under the national system, that we can allow but a very small space for hearing the other party.

From 1709 to 1782, the government of Ireland tolerated only Protestant education ; and during all that time it was a transportable offence, (and if the party returned, high treason,) for a Roman Catholic to act as a schoolmaster, or as a schoolmaster's assistant, or even as a tutor in a private family. When we call to mind these gigantic disabilities, it seems scarcely credible that Protestants and Roman Catholics are now on the same level of privileges.

The objections of Roman Catholics to the national system were, 1. That they had not a representation at the board, nor a voice in the selection of teachers, to which their number and interests entitled them.

2. That the supervision of public education, the appointment of teachers, and the appropriation of the funds, &c., belonged of right to the clergy, and were improperly entrusted to any secular board.

3. That the "Scripture Extracts" were unfair as to points at issue between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and that the reading of the scriptures at large in the school, even though the attendance of their children is not required at that time, is to expose them, indirectly, to the danger which their church apprehends from an improper use of the sacred volume.

But perhaps the strongest objection they urged against the reading of the scriptures, was founded on the compulsory aspect of the rule.“ The compulsory reading of the scriptures is just as tyrannical as their prohibition. The Protestant principle, asserting the right of the laity to study them, includes the right of leaving it alone, if they please. I wish I were free! I wish I were free ! exclaimed an Ul

« ÎnapoiContinuați »