Samuel Butler: The Way of All Flesh


"You know, my dear Pontifex," said Pryer to him, some few weeks after Ernest had become acquainted with him, when the two were taking a constitutional one day in Kensington Gardens, "You know, my dear Pontifex, it is all very well to quarrel with Rome, but Rome has reduced the treatment of the human soul to a science, while our own Church, though so much purer in many respects, has no organised system either of diagnosis or pathology--I mean, of course, spiritual diagnosis and spiritual pathology. Our Church does not prescribe remedies upon any settled system, and, what is still worse, even when her physicians have according to their lights ascertained the disease and pointed out the remedy, she has no discipline which will ensure its being actually applied. If our patients do not choose to do as we tell them, we cannot make them. Perhaps really under all the circumstances this is as well, for we are spiritually mere horse doctors as compared with the Roman priesthood, nor can we hope to make much headway against the sin and misery that surround us, till we return in some respects to the practice of our forefathers and of the greater part of Christendom."

Ernest asked in what respects it was that his friend desired a return to the practice of our forefathers.

"Why, my dear fellow, can you really be ignorant? It is just this, either the priest is indeed a spiritual guide, as being able to show people how they ought to live better than they can find out for themselves, or he is nothing at all--he has no raison d'etre. If the priest is not as much a healer and director of men's souls as a physician is of their bodies, what is he? The history of all ages has shown--and surely you must know this as well as I do--that as men cannot cure the bodies of their patients if they have not been properly trained in hospitals under skilled teachers, so neither can souls be cured of their more hidden ailments without the help of men who are skilled in soul-craft--or in other words, of priests. What do one half of our formularies and rubrics mean if not this? How in the name of all that is reasonable can we find out the exact nature of a spiritual malady, unless we have had experience of other similar cases? How can we get this without express training? At present we have to begin all experiments for ourselves, without profiting by the organised experience of our predecessors, inasmuch as that experience is never organised and co-ordinated at all. At the outset, therefore, each one of us must ruin many souls which could be saved by knowledge of a few elementary principles."

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