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Mr. Gladstone's Misconceptions

( Originally Published 1875 )



COULD we get into the secret chambers of Mr. Glad-stone's mind, and there examine his whole theory of the Catholic system, judging from the fragments of it exhibited, we should have an instructive example of what vivid imagination, working on the prejudices of education, can do in misshaping religious truth, and misjudging its professors. Could we discover a path through the haze and vague uncertainty of his language,—would some gracious sun shine out and disperse the Ossianic mists of his rhetoric, and bring us to see specific facts, persons, and precise charges with their proofs, we should have something tangible to take hold of. But that will serve for a cry which is not sufficient for argument.

The title itself of the Expostulation involves a false assumption, and expresses the fundamental error of the book. The Vatican decrees have no bearing on civil allegiance.

The present writer is a competent witness that neither in the decrees themselves, nor in the discussions upon them, nor in the schemata discussed but not voted, nor in the schemata prepared but not discussed, nor in the postulata, nor in any private remark I ever heard from the members of the Council, was there ever a word uttered which either expressed or implied that any decree, whether passed or contemplated, bore the slightest reference to the civil power or to civil allegiance ; and owing to the independent position I maintained towards all parties, to being the senior English Bishop present in the Council, to being an elected member of one of the principal congregations, to being the representative Bishop of his English brethren at the meetings of English-speaking Bishops for drawing up postulata, and to having the advantage of free con-verse with Bishops of all nations and modes of thought, I had special opportunities of knowing both what the Council contemplated and what its members thought.

Mr. Gladstone had my letter whilst the Council was yet sitting, and I believe another from the Bishop of Orleans, repelling every notion of an obtrusion by the Council into the civil sphere ; but, what is decisive of the whole question, when susceptibilities were awakened by hostile diplomacy in the French Government, the reply sent by Cardinal Antonelli, as the Pope's Secretary of State, completely disposed of the allegation. This State-paper, of date May 21, 1870, must have reached Mr. Gladstone's hands at the time, and have become well known to him. In that authoritative document the Cardinal says : " These canons attribute neither to the Church nor to the Pontiff direct and absolute power over the whole circle of political rights of which the despatch treats. . . . In fact, the Church has never intended, and does not now intend, to exercise a direct and absolute power over the political rights of the State. She has received from God the sublime mission of conducting men, whether regarded as individuals or associated in society, to a supernatural end ; she has therefore, in virtue of this mission, the power, and is under the obligation of duty, to judge of the morality and of the justice of all acts, whether external or internal, in their relation to the natural and divine laws. Hence, since no act, whether prescribed by supreme power, or whether it emanates from the free action of the individual, can di-vest itself of this character of morality and of justice, it comes to pass that the judgment of the Church, though falling directly on the morality of the acts, indirectly embraces all those things with which this morality is allied.

Here is the precise point of difference between Mr. Gladstone's view of the Church's action with respect to the civil sphere and that of the Church herself. Mr. Gladstone charges the Church and the Pope with claiming direct and absolute power in the civil sphere. The Church, who can alone know her own mind, says : No, nothing of the kind. Christ has given to His Church the moral and the divine law, the authority to teach them, and the authority to judge the consciences of her children by them. But all the actions of man, as Mr. Gladstone has beautifully described, involve God's law and man's conscience, even his external acts relating to civil duty and to material things. For in-stance, it is a civil duty to obey the civil power ; it is likewise a duty of conscience, and, as such, the Church enforces it. But were the civil power to prohibit preaching in the name of Christ, as the authorities of Jerusalem forbade their Apostles to do, then they would receive the apostolic reply : " If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye.' So to steal, to break into a house, to raise or co-operate in an unjust rebellion, or to plunder the Church, involve civil and temporal acts, but they likewise involve the con-science in sin ; and the Church condemns them as infringements of the moral law of conscience. We have already seen how Mr. Gladstone himself asserts that there are millions upon millions of the Protestants of this country who will agree with Archbishop Manning, if he were simply telling us that divine truth is not to be sought from the lips of the State, nor to be sacrificed at its command.':: This is precisely what Cardinal Antonelli says; for divine truth includes the laws of morality and the rules of conscience. And the Arch-bishop would say, and has, in fact, said, the selfsame thing, and no more. Nor is it to be supposed that Mr. Gladstone has accepted the doctrine of the Hegelian philosophy, although Prince Bisrnarck has announced it in express terms, that the State is the supreme dictator of the conscience, and that the subjective conscience is bound to subject itself to the majesty of its objective laws.

Cardinal Antoneilli goes on to explain : ` But this is not to mix herself up directly with political affairs, which, according to the order established by God, and according to the teaching of the Catholic Church her-self, belong to the. jurisdiction of the temporal power, without dependence on any other authority.'

It is impossible to put the contrary to Mr. Glad-stone's assumption in clearer terms. The spiritual and temporal powers are next described by the Cardinal as distinct and separate, one from the other, the temporal having a subordination to the spiritual, as the human is subordinate in its end to the divine. ` It results from these principles,' his Eminence continues, ` that though ,the Infallibility of the Church embraces all that is necessary for the conservation of the integrity of the faith, vet no prejudice can spring therefrom to the claims of science, history, or politics. . . . The Church, in fact, while inculcating the principle to render to God the things that are God's, and to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, imposes at the same time on her children the obligation of a conscientious obedience to the authority of sovereigns.

When Mr. Gladstone says that Rome ` has refurbished and paraded anew every rusty tool she was fondly thought to have disused,' he refers to the Syllabus. The Catholic Church lias changed within the last forty years. The Catholic Church has not changed, but refurbished her rusty tools. These contrary pro-positions meet each other all through Mr. Gladstone's Expostulation. ` Semper cadem is her boast.' Semper cadem she is not, semper cadem she is.

So far from the Syllabus consisting of rusty tools refurbished, so far from being extracted from ancient or medieval documents, its propositions are collected from the most recent Papal announcements, and expressly bear on modern errors. So far from refurbishing rusty tools, whilst the Council was sitting, the Pope destroyed a great number of them. In his Constitution Apostolice Scdis of September 1869, promulgated in the Council, a vast number of old censures that had accumulated with time were utterly suppressed and abrogated. Of this fact Mr. Gladstone was well in-formed at the time, the representative of his Government at Rome having obtained a copy of it. The pre-amble of this Constitution is very instructive to those whose fancy it is to assert that Rome keeps her old weapons ready for use, regardless of the changes around her. It commences in these terms :

` It is befitting the moderation of the Apostolic See so to retain what has been established by the canons in a salutary way, that if, through change of times and circumstances, the need suggest itself that some things be altered and prudently dispensed with, the same Apostolic See should from its supreme authority pro-vide a remedy. Wherefore, having long revolved in our mind that the ecclesiastical censures late sententiae, and to be incurred ipso facto, decreed and promulgated throughout many ages, whether to protect the safety and discipline of the Church, or to correct and amend the unbridled license of the wicked, have grown by degrees to a great number ; and because the reasons and ends for which they were imposed exist no more, and they have ceased to be applicable or useful ; and forasmuch as because of them doubts not unfrequently arise, and anxieties and distress of conscience, both in those who have care of souls and in the faithful ; in our desire to remedy these inconveniences, we have commanded a complete revision of these censures to be made, and to be laid before us, that with careful deliberation we may determine and ordain which of them it is requisite to retain, and which of them it is befitting to modify or abrogate.'

Before passing to another chapter of Mr. Gladstone's misconceptions, I may as well point out the error of his argument to prove that conversions to the Church arc diminishing. Whether in recent years they have or have not diminished I decline to say, though not from want of knowledge. He tells us that the rumoured increase of Catholics in England—and he speaks with respect to conversions—' would seem to be refuted by authentic figures ; ' and then the gradual decrease of Catholic marriages from 1859 to 1871 is given. But that decrease is explained from another cause than diminished conversions. A very large immigration of Catholics from Ireland took place in consequence of the terrible famine which desolated that country: whilst of late years that immigration has diminished, until it has almost ceased. But the stream of Irish emigration from England to America and Australia still flows on. For this reason one would expect the diminution of Catholic marriages in England to be considerably more than it proves to be.

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