Bendictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits: each of these expressions of organised religious life has found an exponent in the series of lectures delivered in the Royal Pavilion at Brighton under the auspices of the Brighton and !love Catholic Evidence Guild. On the I ith inst. the Rev. J. J. Curtin, DD., of St. John's Seminary, Wonersh, gave the concluding lecture, a brilliant account of the contribution made by various modern religious bodies in the Church to the development of Christian civilisation.
Dr. Curtin first of all recalled briefly the subject-matter of the previous lectures. He showed how the religious orders had been the grandest of all human organisations. The life of the monks of the desert was followed by the collective humanism of the Benedictines, and to this was added the spiritual and corporal works of mercy of the Franciscans and Dominicans. At the lime of the Reformation the followers of St. Ignatius Loyola comprised a spiritual army which played an important part in the work of reconstruction.
The Subject Outlined It was his task that evening, the lecturer said, to show how, in succeeding centuries, new corporative forms of religious effort arose to meet various specific needs of the Church. These forms were designated by the term " Modern Congregations." For practical purposes the word "Congregation " might be taken to mean an institute which resembled the religious orders without, however, possessing all their essential characteristics.
The religious orders revealed to us the beauty of the Church. The Vatican Council put forward as part of the evidence establishing the truth of the Church's claims " its inexhaustible fruitfulness in every good thing." In any analysis of that attribute, the work of the religious orders and congregations must necessarily occupy a prominent place. Hence the saying of I.acordaire: " A Sister of Charity is a complete demonstration of Christianity."
After the Upheaval
The institution of religious congregations in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was intended to meet needs arising from the upheaval caused by the Reformation, and was a response to the letter and spirit of the Council of Trent. As a social result of the Reformation free rein had been given to human egoisnz, and, as so often ix the case, a dogmatir error underlay the historical facts, viz.. the teaching of Luther, " Faith alone justifies without works."
Dr. Curtin then gave a selective account of some of the congregations which had come into existence. The Brothers of St. John of God, he explained, carried into effect the recommendations of the Council of Trent with regard to hospitals. St. Philip Neri, by founding the Congregation of the Oratory, and St. Vincent de Paul
by founding the Lazarists, sought to combine the life of the secular priesthood with the corporateness proper to the religious order, and directed both to meet contemporary needs.
In the eighteenth century two religious congregations, the Passionists and the Redemptorists, were instituted which performed important work in counteracting the disintegrating causes and effects of the French Revolution on the religious life and activity of the period, Later, in this country, the Passionists became the harbingers of the "Second Spring,The Redemptorists were prominent in the struggle against Jansenism and in preaching the Gospel to the poor.
After the French Revolution, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate revived the dying embers of faith among the industrial and rural populations of France, and eventually penetrated as far as the Arctic Circle. In the nineteenth century Isaac Hecker founded the Paulist Fathers. Note, said the lecturer, his remarkable words: "The controlling thought of my mind for many years has been that a body of free men who love God with all their might, and yet know how to cling together, could conquer this modern world of ours." The press, he said, was the battlefield of the coming [twentieth] century, and his words had been fulfilled. He emphasised the urgency of an " Apostolate of the Press," a phrase which owed its origin to him.
Missionaries and Ministrants
A tribute was paid to the religious Sisterhoods which have sprung up in the past three hundred years. and to their work for the home and foreign missions. They all, at least indirectly, traced their inspiration to the work of St. Angela Merici, the laundress of the Ursulines.
With regard to the Sisters of Mercy, their foundress, Mother Mary Catherine Mc'Auley, was one of the greatest social workers in history. Her work for the poor, and nineteenth century education in Ireland was almost without parallel. She was the precursor of the district nurse, and started one of the first industrial and vocational schools, thus anticipating much social and educational reform which was thought to be distinctively modern.
The congregations in the world of today, said Dr. Curtin. demonstrated that the Church was still the greatest influence in the spread of charity and true love of man.