A lecture was delivered last evening at the Brooklyn Institute under the patronage of the Catholic Library Association. The lecturer of the evening was the Dr. Silliman Ives, who was formerly Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina and whose resignation and adoption of the doctrines of the Church of Rome has excited considerable discussion in the religious world. The audience was not numerous. Mr. John O’Mahoney, the President of the Association, introduced the lecturer who is a tall, sharp-featured intellectual looking gentleman pretty far advanced in life. The title of the lecture was announced to be “Catholic Rome the Patroness of Knowledge” and of the manner the subject was treated the following report will probably give a fair idea. The lecturer said:
Facts are always better than assertions; when Socrates was accused, he brought forward his works in his defence. When Rome is traduced we bring forth her works in her behalf, and adduce in her defence the facts of her history. The difficulty here is, however, not in bringing forward the facts, but in getting them before the people and inducing them to calmly give them their attention. People who have been brought up from childhood to hear but one side are not to be expected, without great reluctance, to take up new argument and give it the fair judgment which it demands. The idea appears little less then sacrilegious; for it is an interference with the faith of our fathers, an intrusion as it were into their sepulchre, even in a measure sitting in judgment on their future state. He could well remember the effect it has on himself—how it changed, yea how it shook his belief in almost everything—when he found that the best part of his mental life, its settled principles, its inspiring motives of action were nothing more than illusions of an empty dream. Well did he remember what a long struggle it cost him and before he could freely and calmly consider the facts and history of the Catholic Church, and deeply did he sympathize with those whom reason, honor and justice call to the same painful task; but painful as it may be, it is a duty that cannot be disregarded. He believed there is a sense of justice in the American mind that would secure for the Catholic people a hearing. The Catholic with hand on heart protests before his countrymen that he is innocent of that with which he is charged, he would not believe that the facts they bring before their countrymen will not be heard; he would not believe that intolerance was yet sufficient or bigotry powerful enough to condemn them before the facts they bring forward were heard. In the belief that a fair hearing would be given the facts he was about to present were given. In almost every speech that is delivered, in almost every periodical which is published it is charged on Christian Rome—or on the Catholic Church which Christian Rome represents—that she is hostile to all progress and improvement; that it is her settled policy to keep her people in degradation, for that on this the preservation and perpetuity of her power depends. In answering this charge it was not his purpose to show that Catholic Rome has been in favor of the indiscriminate diffusion of knowledge, for we maintain with perfect consciousness of its truth that it is the duty of whoever is invested with the office of supreme pastor to guard his flock from impure literature and from science that is falsely so called. And the Holy Father manifests hostility to dangerous error or to the too early diffusion of truths that would not tend to keep men in obedience to the will of God. Again he desired it to be observed that he was not defending the conduct of ecclesiastics who might have opposed advancement—though his reading during a long life has not furnished him with many examples—but what the church in its compact character as a church had done. He did not maintain that the Church had been uniformly successful in disseminating learning, or that in all times in her history there has been equal intellectual advancement, but the Catholic Church has always been in advance of the age in the dissemination and encouragement of sound literature and real science. The lecturer went on to show that the motives of the Catholic Church could be best learned from her early history, as in that period she had most control over science and literature, and most power to advance or retard their progress. He went back to the time of Pope Gregory the first, called the Great, who lived in the very heart of the so called dark ages, and who is charged with a particular zeal for the advancement of Catholic truth and the enlargement of Catholic power. It is charged against that he forbade the reading of the heathen poets in the schools; but it was because of their obscenity, and because he thought it would corrupt the minds of the youth whom the Church was leading from heathenism to Christianity. The question here was not whether learning was good; that was not disputed; but the question was whether the means of acquiring it were good. It was not a political question; the pontiff gave his counsels as a father would to his children. The acts of his life was a better testimony than a few and uncertain casual remarks in his writings. All testimony on the point is that Gregory was himself one of the most learned men of his age; he raised the standard of learning at Rome; he built palaces for the education of the missionaries he sent to other lands, and obliged them to carry libraries with them for the dissemination of the knowledge they had acquired. St. Augustine and his brethren brought them into Britain, and Protestants can’t deny that to the manuscripts they brought, we are indebted for the learning that succeeded them. When Christianity emerged from the Catacombs into the world, she became at once the disseminator and teacher of knowledge. When the first missionary was sent to Ireland in the seventh century, under St. Patrick, it had not been established long when the Catholic Church sprung up, and what is more to our present purpose, Catholic Colleges spring up alongside them, and their fame so extended, that professors in those Irish colleges were preferred as teachers in the colleges of Germany, France and Italy. During the same period when the apostate Julian, in his enmity closed the public schools of Rome, it was a standing cause of complaint with the Catholic Church. Catholic schools existed in Rome as early as the time of St. Augustine, for it is known that he left his native city to prosecute his education there.
NOTE: Levi Silliman Ives (1797-1867) was born in New England, became an Episcopal priest in New York, and at age 34 was named Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina, a highly prestigious position in the Antebellum South. In 1852, he left the ministry when he converted to Roman Catholicism and moved to New York City’s Manhattanville section as a layperson. There he taught rhetoric (speech) at local colleges, including St. John’s College (now Fordham University). He also worked in charitable endeavors, especially with orphans until his death on October 14, 1867. Throughout this period, he was a frequent lecturer to popular audiences like the speech cited above.