Thursday, July 04, 2013

The Glorious 4th

In a few short hours we will be at a friend's house for a 4th of July barbecue in a city nearby which frowns upon fireworks.  So, with any luck, we will miss this evening's local orgy of patriotic pyromania here in the Athens of the southeast county.  Then again, maybe not.  Barbecues sometimes end early. And if the local economy has picked up sufficiently the pyromaniacally inclined may be able to purchase a whole night's worth of  rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air.

The 4th of July is supposed to commemorate the signing of the declaration of independence on that day in 1776.  Now they tell us it was actually signed for the most  part on the 2d of July, with a few stragglers signing up in the succeeding days.  But the continental congress had been meeting for some time before that.  And it wasn't always as exciting as you might think.  It seems John Adams relieved the tedium with visits to  multiple churches one Sunday, including even -- sharp intake of breath --  Philadelphia's  Romish chapel.

John Adams' Impressions of a Catholic Service, October 9, 1774
Most of the founding fathers of the Republic had been nourished on a deep prejudice against the Catholic Church, and whatever tolerance some of them later displayed sprang from a belief in the necessity of religious toleration as a public policy for all rather than from any softening of their attitude toward Catholicism. During the session of the Continental Congress John Adams (1735-1826), a delegate from Massachusetts, at times found his official duties very dull. He enlivened one day, therefore, by visiting some of Philadelphia's churches with George Washington. The letter which he wrote to his wife Abigail on October 9, 1774, contained a vivid impression of his reactions after a visit to St Mary's Church during an afternoon service. Source: Charles Francis Adams (Ed.), "Familiar Letters of John Adams and His Wife Abigail, During the Revolution" (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1876), pp. 45-46.

I am wearied to death with the life I lead. The business of the Congress is tedious beyond expression. . . .
This day I went to Dr. Allison's meeting in the forenoon, and heard the Dr.; a good discourse upon the Lord's supper. . . . This is a Presbyterian meeting. I confess I am not fond of Presbyterian meetings in this town. . . . And I must confess that the Episcopal Church is quite as agreeable to my taste as the Presbyterian. They are both slaves to the domination of the priesthood. I like the Congregational way best, next to that Independent.
This afternoon, led by curiosity and good company, I strolled away to mother church, or rather grandmother church. I mean the Romish chapel. I heard a good, short moral essay upon the duty of parents to their children, founded in justice and charity, to take care of their interests, temporal and spiritual. This afternoon’s entertainment was to me most awful and affecting; the poor wretches fingering their beads, chanting Latin, not a word of which they understood; their pater nosters and ave Marias; their holy water; their crossing themselves perpetually; their bowing to the name of Jesus, whenever they hear it; their bowings, kneelings and genuflections before the altar. The dress of the priest was rich white lace. His pulpit was velvet and gold. The altar-piece was very rich, little images and crucifixes about; wax candles lighted up. But how shall I describe the picture of our Saviour in a frame of marble over the altar, at full length, upon the cross in the agonies, and the blood dropping and streaming from his wounds! The music, consisting of an organ and a choir of singers, went all the afternoon except sermon time, and the assembly chanted most sweetly and exquisitely.
Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination -- everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell. Adieu.

-from Documents of American Catholic History, volume  1, John Tracy Ellis, editor, Henry Regnery Company, Chicago (1967)

I expected him to say that we were slaves of the priesthood.  But Presbyterians?  That's not a point of view you hear every day.