THE ardent wish manifested by “the Faithful for an acquaintance with the valuable writings of ST. LIGUORI, induced me to undertake the Translation of his History of Heresies, one of his greatest works. The Holy Author was induced to write this Work, to meet the numbers of infidel publications, with which Europe was deluged in the latter half of the last century. Men’s minds were then totally unsettled; dazzled by the glare of a false philosophy, they turned away from the light of the Gospel. The heart of the Saint was filled with sorrow, and he laboured to avert the scourge he saw impending over the unfaithful people. He implored the Ministers of his Sovereign to put the laws in force, preventing the introduction of irreligious publications into the Kingdom of Naples, and he published this Work, among* others, to prove, as he says, that the Holy Catholic Church is the only true one the Mistress of Truth the Church, founded by Jesus Christ himself, which would last to the end of time, notwithstanding the persecutions of the infidel, and the rebellion of her own heretical children. He dedicates the Book to the Marquis Tanucci, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom, whom he praises for his zeal for Religion, and his vigorous execution of the laws against the vendors of infidel publications. He brings down the History from the days of the Apostles to his own time, concluding- with the Refutation of the Heresies of Father Berruyer.
I have added a Supplementary Chapter, giving- a succinct account of the Heretics and Fanatics of the last eighty years. It was, at first, my intention to make it more diffuse; but, then, I considered that it would be out of proportion with the remainder of the Work. This Book may be safely consulted, as a work of reference: the Author constantly quotes his authorities; and the Student of Ecclesiastical History can at once compare his statements with the sources from which he draws. In the latter portion of the Work, and especially in that portion of it, the most interesting- to us, the History of the English Reformation, the Student may perceive some slight variations between the original text and my translation. I have collated the Work with the writings of modern Historians the English portion, especially with Hume and Lingard and wherever I have seen the statements of the Holy Author not borne out by the authority of our own Historians, I have considered it more prudent to state the facts, as they really took place; for our own writers must naturally be supposed to be better acquainted with our History, than the foreign authorities quoted by the Saint. The reader will also find the circumstances, and the names of the actors, when I considered it necessary, frequently given more in detail than in the original.
In the style, I have endeavoured, as closely as the genius of our language would allow, to keep to the original. St. Alphonsus never sought for ornament; a clear, lucid statement of facts is what he aimed at; there is nothing inflated in his writings; he wrote for the people, and that is the principal reason, I imagine, why not only his Devotional Works, but his Historical and Theological Writings, also, have been in such request: but, while he wrote for the people, we are not to imagine that he did not also please the learned. His mind was richly stored with various knowledge; he was one of the first Jurists of his day; his Theological science elicited the express approbation of the greatest Theologian of his age Benedict XIV.; he was not only a perfect master of his own beautiful language, but profoundly read in both Greek and Latin literature also, and a long life constantly employed in studies, chiefly ecclesiastical, qualified him, above any man of his time, to become an Ecclesiastical Historian, which no one should attempt unless he be a general I might almost say a universal, scholar : so much for the Historical portion of the Work.
In the Second Part, the Refutation of Heresies, the Holy Author comprises, in a small space, a vast amount of Theological information; in fact, there is no Heresy which cannot be refuted from it. Not alone are the usual Heresies, which we have daily to combat such as those opposed to the Real Presence, the Authority of the Church, the doctrine of Justification, clearly and diffusely refuted, but those abstruse heretical opinions concerning- Grace, Free Will, the Procession of the Holy Ghost, the Mystery of the Incarnation, and the two Natures of Christ, and so forth, are also clearly and copiously confuted; the intricacies of Pelagianism, Calvinism, and Jansenism, are unravelled, and the true Doctrine of the Church triumphantly vindicated. The reader will find, in general, the quotations from the Fathers in the original, but those unacquainted with Latin will easily learn their sentiments from the text. The Scripture quotations are from the Douay Version.
Every Theologian will be aware of the difficulty of giving- scholastic terms in an English dress. In the language of the Schools, the most abstract ideas, which would require a sentence to explain them in our tongue, are most appropriately expressed by a single word; all the Romance languages, daughters of the Latin, have very nearly the same facility, but our Northern tongue has not, I imagine, flexibility enough for the purpose. I have, however, endeavoured, as far as I could, to preserve the very terms of the original, knowing how easy it is to give a heterodox sense to a passage, by even the most trivial deviation from the very expression of the writer. The Theological Student will thus, I hope, find the Work a compact Manual of Polemic Theology; the Catholic who, while he firmly believes all that the Church teaches, wishes to be able to give an account of the Faith that is in him, will here find it explained and defended; while those not of the ” fold,” but for whom we ardently pray, that they may hear the voice of the ” one Shepherd,” may see, by its attentive perusal, that they inhabit a house ” built upon the sand,” and not the house ” on the rock.”
They will behold the mighty tree of Faith sprung from the grain of mustard-seed planted by our Redeemer, always flourishing always extending*, neither uprooted by the storms of persecution, nor withered by the sun of worldly prosperity. Nay more, the very persecution the Church of God has suffered, and is daily enduring, only extends it more and more; the Faithful, persecuted in ” one city,” fly elsewhere, bearing with them the treasure of Faith, and communicating it to those among- whom they settle, as the seeds of fertility are frequently borne on the wings of the tempest to the remote desert, which would otherwise be cursed with perpetual barrenness. The persecution of the Church in Ireland, for example, “has turned the desert into fruitfulness,” in America, in Australia, in England itself, and the grey mouldering ruins of our fanes on the hill sides are compensated for by the Cathedral Churches across the ocean. The reader will see Heresy in every age, from the days of the Apostles themselves down to our own time, rising up, and vanishing after a while, but the Church of God is always the same, her Chief Pastors speaking with the same authority, and teaching the same doctrine to the trembling Neophytes’ in the Catacombs, and to the Cæsars on the throne of the world. Empires are broken into fragments and perish nations die away, and are only known to the historian languages spoken by millions disappear every thing that is man’s work dies like man; heresies, like the rest, have their rise, their progress, their decay, but Faith alone is eternal and unchangeable, “yesterday, to-day, and the same for ever.”