“An Easy Lesson for the American People” The American Sentinel 6, 16, pp. 121-123.

April 16, 1891

IN reading the literature department of the Independent, of March 12, 1891, we found the following book notice which, in view of the teaching of the book which it notices, we print in full:—

Easy Lessons in Christian Doctrine. Prepared for the Use of Mixed Schools. (Stevenson and Foster, Pittsburg, Penn.) With the approval of the managers of the Pennsylvania Reform School, at Morganza, near Pittsburg, the chaplain of the institution and the vice-president of lime Board pre-pared this little manual of fifty pages, which has now been in use long enough to justify the high expectations entertained of its usefulness. It is not a colorless, emasculated system of doctrine, which might be accepted by all simply because it contained nothing positive. It follows a broad and truly Christian path, teaching nothing militating against the doctrines of any church that retains faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is simple in language, convenient in arrangement, clear, concise, positive in the general treatment of the essential truths of the Christian religion, and neither goes beyond the Scripture nor brings up the mooted points of Scripture. As the Pennsylvania school contains many Catholic youth, a copy of the catechism was sent to Bishop Phelan, of the diocese of Western Pennsylvania, who, after examination, wrote as follows to Mr. J. A. Quay, Superintendent:—

The book, “Easy Lessons in Christian Doctrine,” is the only book of religious instruction that has come under my notice which claims to keep within the lines of belief common to all who profess faith in Jesus Christ. It is, therefore, well suited for a text-book in public institutions where Catholics and Protestants at all times receive instruction. Catholics can accept all that the book contains, and the important truths of the Catholic religion which it does not contain can readily be supplied by the priest who conducts special services for the Catholic inmates of the institution in which the book is used.

The Bishop here suggests an important point. The manual, while teaching the fundamental truths of Christianity, can for the rest be supplemented by pastors of any church. Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, or Presbyterians will find in the minds of the students a scriptural basis of truth, upon which, if they please, they may build up the distinctive dogmas of their various creeds. The Rev. James Allison, D. D., of Pittsburg, a “pillar of orthodoxy,” a hearty believer in, and a staunch defender of, Calvinistic doctrine, connected with the Morganza Board for many years, and much experienced in this difficult field of labor, writes to the Superintendent:—

As you know, I am a Presbyterian minister and editor of the Presbyterian Banner, as well as Chairman of the Committee of Instruction and Discipline of the Pennsylvania Reform School, After careful examination of “Easy Lessons in Christian Doctrine,” I am happy to say that I believe this little work to be admirably adapted to be useful in reform schools and similar institutions, and, also, that it contains nothing to which any one can reasonably object.

In these days of Church unity and plans for reuniting the separated fragments of the Church universal, there is the earnest desire to remove the practical barriers existing between churches which hold much in common. The use of the little book, “Easy Lessons in Christian Doctrine,” is evidence that there is, and that there may always be, a comprehension and acceptance of the fundamental truth of pure Christianity, separate and apart from the denominational theories and practices which have divided the Church catholic. We bespeak for the collection careful examination on the part of teachers, and considerate judgment on the part of ministers and prelates.

As soon as we had read this notice, we sent for a copy of these “easy lessons.” It will be noticed that the title is “Easy Lessons in Christian Doctrine,” and that these lessons have been prepared for the use of mixed schools. As it has been so long in use in the Pennsylvania Reform School, the claim seems about to be made, and is strongly hinted at in the foregoing notice of the Independent, that it may also be used with propriety in the public schools. And, indeed, why not? Is not the Pennsylvania Reform School a public institution? Is it not supported by taxation of all the people? and if these lessons can be taught there, why not in every other public institution? Why not, therefore, in public schools?

But by what right do the managers of this public institution teach Christian doctrine at public expense? And if these managers may do this then if they were succeeded by a Board of atheistic managers why might not that Board teach a series of easy lessons in atheistic doctrine? They would have the same right to do [122] that, that this Board of Managers have to do this.

The equity of the case, however, has been largely discussed in past numbers of THE SENTINEL. It is not that point that we now wish to notice, but rather the character of these “easy lessons” which are so highly recommended by the Independent, Bishop Phelan, and the editor of the Presbyterian Banner.

The book itself is a little pamphlet of fifty-three pages, four by five and one-half inches in size, and is put together in two parts. Part I, thirty-two pages, is made up of twenty-three lessons in Roman Catholic doctrine, concerning creation, the trinity, the fall, the redemption, the commandments, and the judgment. Part II is a short history of the Christian religion reaching from creation to the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples of Christ.

Of course, we can not notice each lesson in detail. We have said that the lessons are lessons in Roman Catholic doctrine, and this is precisely what they are; and to show to our readers that this is so, is the object of this article. The phraseology throughout betrays a Roman Catholic writer, one who has been instructed in Roman Catholic religious books. The phraseology never would have come from any one who has been instructed from the King James version of the Bible or in Protestant lines of thought. For instance the word “justice” is used where the King James version, and Protestantism, always use “righteousness;” Sem” where these use “Shem;” “Pasch” where these always use “Passover.”

This will be observed also, as we note the doctrines that are inculcated. The following passage upon the subject of sins, distinctly sets forth the Roman Catholic doctrine of mortal and venial sins, but here the thing is made “easy” by calling them “grievous offenses” and “small offenses”:—

Question.Are all actual sins equally great?

Answer. No; all sins are not equally great; there are grievous offenses against the law of God, and there are also small offenses against the law of God.

Ques. What are the effects of grievous offenses against the law of God?

Ans.—Grievous offenses against the law of God kill the soul, by depriving it of the true spiritual life of grace, and make it liable to eternal punishment in hell.

Ques. What are the effects of small offenses against the law of God?

Ans.—Small offenses against the law of God do not rob the soul of the true spiritual life of grace; but they hurt the soul by lessening its love for God, and by disposing to great sins.

Ques.—Is it a great misfortune to fall into grievous sin?

Ans.—It is the greatest of all misfortunes.

The next thing after this piece of papal doctrine is to find a purgatory for those souls who are hurt by the small misfortune of “small offenses” against the law of God; and this done in the following “easy” lesson:—

Ques.—Did Christ’s soul descend into the hell of the damned?

Ans.—The hell into which Christ’s soul descended was not the hell of the damned, but a place or state of rest.

Ques.—Who were in this place of rest?

Ans.—The souls of the just who died before Christ.

Ques.—Why did Christ descend into this place?

Ans.—To announce to those spirits that were in prison the joyful tidings of their redemption.

Ques.—When did the souls of the just who died before Christ go to heaven?

Ans.—When Christ ascended into heaven.

Ques.—Where was Christ’s body while his soul was in limbo, or the place of rest?

Ans.—In the sepulcher, or grave.

This limbo is an “easy” word for the latin, limbus patrum, and is essentially the Roman Catholic purgatory. This indeed is evident from the doctrine of the whole lesson. Query: How can the Independent endorse this “easy lesson,” and oppose the Andover New Theology as it does? It does not seem to us that it can consistently do both.

Lesson three of part II, sets forth the Roman Catholic doctrine of Genesis 3:15, which, according to the Catholic Bible, reads as follows:—

I will put enmities between thee and the woman and thy seed and her seed. She shall crush thy head and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

Now this “easy lesson” easily insinuates this Roman Catholic doctrine in the following words:—

Ques.—How was a Redeemer promised?

Ans.—To show how hateful sin was to him, God cursed the serpent which had deceived Eve, condemning him to crawl upon the ground and to eat the dust; besides, he said enmity should exist between the serpent and the woman, but in the end the woman would crush his head.

Lesson five, of part II, easily inculcates the “easy lesson” of the Papal unbloody sacrifice of the Mass, as follows.

Ques. What were the principal religious rites and festivals of the Mosaic law?

An s.—The principal religious rites of the law given to Moses were sacrifices offered to God; they were either bloody, in which were offered heifers, and sheep, and goats, and doves; or unbloody, in which were offered cakes, and unleavened bread, and wine.

It is not surprising that Bishop Phelan should say that Catholics can accept all that this book contains for it is essentially Catholic in every intent and purpose; and that the Independent and “a pillar of orthodoxy” the editor of the Presbyterian Banner, should endorse it as being adapted to general use only shows how far the so-called Protestant profession has become like the Roman Catholic. Yes, it is true; Catholics and Protestants are uniting, but it is the same way that the lion and the lamb unite. It is true they are all becoming one, but the Roman Catholic is the one. Roman Catholicism has not abated one jot of her claims nor modified in one tittle her doctrine; and the only way it is possible for the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches ever to unite is by the Protestant churches becoming Roman Catholic. This is what they are doing. Roman Catholic forms and institutions are adopted, observed, and enforced, by those who boast of their Protestantsm. Roman Catholic doctrines are held and inculcated by churches calling themselves Protestant. And the statement of the Independent that these “easy lesson”” teach nothing militating against the doctrines of any church that retains faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, shows how far this Protestant apostasy has gone toward the great general apostasy.

Yet, upon this THE AMERICAN SENTINEL would have no criticism to make were that all that it is. Any man has the right to be a Roman Catholic and to believe all that the Roman Catholic Church teaches; and every Protestant has the right to apostatize from Protestantism and become a Roman Catholic. Any person, Protestant or otherwise, has the right to adopt any form, institution, or rite of the Roman Catholic Church, and observe it. Protestants have the right to adopt as many “easy lessons” in Roman Catholic doctrine as they choose, and teach them in their churches and in their homes as they please. Therefore we say that if this were all there is of this question THE SENTINEL would have no criticism to make.

This book itself is now being used in public institutions in the State of Pennsylvania. It is recommended for use in mixed schools everywhere. The union of Protestants and Catholics, in this thing is only a union for the bad purpose of forcing religious doctrines upon all the people and that at the expense of all the people. It is a proposition to force the religious views of certain ones upon others who have just as much right to believe in themselves as these have. This principle itself distinctly attacks the religious … ing of certain classes of citizens who have just as much right to stand where they as the believers in these “easy lessons” have to stand as they do. Lesson nineteen of part I, is on the first of the ten commandments, and a part of that … is as follows:—

Ques.—Mention some of the sins against this commandment?

Ans.—Idolatry, infidelity, indifference to … witchcraft, superstition, and spiritism.

Ques.—What is infidelity?

Ans.—Idolatry is to pay to any creature that which belongs to God alone.

Ques.—What is infidelity?

Ans.—Infidelity is the want of faith in … of God.

Ques.—What is spiritism, or spiritualism?

Ans.—Spiritism, or spiritualism is to believe the souls of the dead communicate with … rapping and moving furniture, or by writing and speaking to mediums.

Now, against this in itself we … say that we have any particular objective. But we want to know what right the [123] has to set up as the judge of the religious standing of its citizens? We want to know what right the State has to adopt the views of one class of religionists and set itself up as the judge upon, and condemn as idolaters, other classes of its citizens? We want to know what right the managers of any public institution, or the instructors therein have, to use their position and authority to favor the religious views of one class of people and to condemn, as idolaters, other classes? We want to know by what right these managers or instructors use the money that is raised by taxation upon all the people, in teaching the religious views of a part of the people as against, and in distinct condemnation of, the religious position and views of another part of the people. We want to know by what right certain citizens shall thus be compelled to pay money for undermining and denouncing their own religious principles.

The editors of THE AMERICAN SENTINEL are neither infidels nor Spiritualists. We are just as far from both infidelity and spiritualism as it is possible for Christians to be; and THE SENTINEL is the same. Nevertheless, any man has as much right to be an infidel, or a Spiritualist, or both together if he chooses, as we have to be Christians or as the believers in these “easy lessons” have to be Roman Catholics. Infidels and Spiritualists have just as much right to hold their beliefs unmolested and free from attacks by the State or by any public, authority as have Christians or Catholics or Catholicized Protestants. The money which is raised by taxation upon infidels and Spiritualists alike, the State has no more right to use in denouncing, through its officials, the beliefs of those classes, than it has to do the same thing with Christians.

Yet all this is precisely what is done by the public officials in the State Reform at Morganza, Pennsylvania; and this is precisely what is proposed by the Independent and other believers in these “easy lessons,” shall be done in public institutions everywhere. And it is wickedness. Let the State and public officials keep their meddlesome, clumsy, and bungling forms out of the field of conscience. Let them attend to the public business, the business that belongs alike to all the people, without distinction, and leave entirely alone the religious belief or unbelief of the citizens.

A. T. J.

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