Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Mr. Gladstone's ` Obedience' And The Church's Obedience

( Originally Published 1875 )

IF in his exaggeration of the Pope's Infallibility Mr. Gladstone exceeds all bounds, in his amplification of the extent of ecclesiastical obedience he becomes absolutely wild. I have only room for a brief statement of his misconceptions ; I hope the reader will examine his text from page 37 to page 45 of the octavo edition.

` The sounding name of Infallibility,' he says, ` has so fascinated the public mind, and riveted it on the fourth chapter of the constitution De Ecclesia, that its near neighbour, the third chapter, has, at least in my opinion, received very much less than justice.' Then is given the text of the decree, which I shall put in English. The pastors and faithful of whatsoever rite and dignity, each one individually as well as all taken together, are bound to the duty of hierarchical subordination and to true obedience, not only in those things that belong to faith and morals, but likewise in those that belong to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world. . . . This is a doctrine of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate with secure faith and salvation. . . . We therefore teach and declare that he (the Pope) is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all causes be-longing to ecclesiastical jurisdiction recourse can be had to his judgment ; but the judgment of the Apostolic See can by no one be reversed. Nor is it lawful for any one to judge his judgment.'

Upon this Mr. Gladstone comments in these terms :

Even, therefore, where the judgments of the Pope do not present the credentials of Infallibility they are unappealable and irreversible ; no person may pass judgment upon them, and all men, clerical and lay, dispersedly or in the aggregate, are bound truly to obey them ; and from this rule of Catholic truth no man can depart save at the peril of his salvation.'

This is strange blundering in the interpretation of law from a practised legislator. If with the whole con-text of the law before his eyes he can draw such conclusions, what can we expect when the same writer comes to the Syllabus, consisting as it does of short sentences taken out of their ample context ? Ile has confounded the point of doctrine with the point of law ; and that peril to salvation which in the text of the decree is exclusively attached to the doctrine he has attached to the law resulting out of the doctrine. The first paragraph of the decree asserts that the members and whole body of the Church, whether pastors or flock, are held together in hierarchical order by the principle of obedience, of obedience not only to the doctrines of faith and morals, but obedience likewise to the regulalations of Church government and discipline. It is this principle of obedience to the Church, not that other practical obedience to Papal judgments, which is declared to be ` a doctrine of Catholic truth, from which no one can deviate with secure faith and salvation.' Mr. Gladstone has extended this clause into the second paragraph, where it is not to be found, and which is upon the distinct subject of the Pope's judgments in cases appealed to his Supreme Court, to which as being a totally different subject, not referring to faith, but to legal decisions, it does not apply. Yet upon this egregious blunder of his own making has Mr. Glad-stone raised his most vehement and declamatory accusations. He speaks likewise with horror of the Papal ecclesiastical judgments for being `unappealable and irreversible ; no person may pass judgment upon them.' Precisely so. So it is, and so it must be, in every judicial system, where there are inferior tribunals and one supreme tribunal and last court of appeal. No one can reverse its decision, no one can judge its judgment ; all must obey it, and that under pain of contumacy. It is the same in the civil as in the ecclesiastical system ('f judicature—there is always a high court of final appeal whose decisions are ` unappealable and irreversible ; no person may pass judgment upon them.' All, of whatever class or degree, ` must obey them.' In the Anglican Establishment the saine rule prevails. As the Queen is head of the Anglican Church, the final appeal in causes ecclesiastical is to the Queen in Council. All Anglican churchmen and laymen are bound to obey the decision, which is ' unappealable and irreversible ; ' no person can rejudge that judgment. Why? Because the theory of the law is, that the Queen takes the place formerly held by the Pope.

But it does not follow from the terms of the decree of the Vatican Council that there are no intermediate courts, such as those of the local Bishop, next that of the Archbishop or Metropolitan ; nor does it follow that the Pope may not reverse his own judgment, which is not at all unusual, where the defeated party brings proof of error or new matter that could not be before adduced. I have a letter before me of the late Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda, in a case where I had acted as apostolic delegate, in which his Eminence says : ` No-thing is more usual to the Holy See than to reverse its judgments on proof of error.' The whole of the second clause most plainly refers to appeals from the local and inferior courts to the Supreme Court in matters ecclesiastical.

In his very authoritative book on Diocesan Synods, the most learned Pope Benedict XIV. points out, from the provisions of the common law, that in issuing re-scripts and mandates the Popes may sometimes be deceived by false informations or by suppressions of truth ; in which case they are far from complaining if the executors of such documents suspend their action until the Pontiff is informed, who willingly rectifies what is amiss. Moreover, whenever a Pontifical law or mandate may, in the judgment of the local authority, have an injurious effect in some province or diocese, the Bishop can and ought to make this known to the Holy See, and the Pope is ever ready to receive such representations, and to make exceptional provisions wherever they are shown to be needed.* In short, the government of the Church, like that of all sound governments, is guided by common sense. A discipline and government such as Mr. Gladstone imagines for us could not exist.

That the principle of obedience to the authority of the Church is a point of faith and condition of salvation is nothing new. It was taught by its Divine Founder when He said : ` If thy brother shall offend against thee, go and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother ; and if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them, tell the Church ; and if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican.' Here disobedience to the Church, even in matters of ordinary life, is plainly put under anathema, or separation from salvation. St. Paul likewise says : ` Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls.' What, then, has the Council done but repeat the doctrine of Holy Scripture ?

After he has stuffed the decree of the Council with his own misconceptions and mental confusion, Mr. Gladstone lets his ideas run away with him into a wildness of fancy, a very romance of misconstruction, that is fairly astonishing. The principle of ecclesiastical obedience is made to extend over all civil power and civil actions. ` Individual servitude,' he says, ' how-ever abject, will not satisfy the party now dominant in the Latin Church ; the State must also be a slave.'* This sentence is a specimen of the shiftiness that runs through the whole production. The author allows that the decree was approved by ' a council oecumenical in the Roman sense ;' t and here he limits the satisfaction derived from it to ` a dominant party.' How by this decree is the State made ` a slave ' ? It does not even touch the State. Mr. Gladstone quotes in proof of his assertion what he calls ` the pregnant words on the point.' They arc these : ` Not only in those things that belong to faith and morals, but likewise in those that belong to the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the world.'

These, then, arc the limits set to that obedience whose principle is pronounced to be a matter of faith. It includes, first, obedience to doctrines of faith ; secondly, to moral doctrine ; thirdly, to Church discipline

fourthly to Church government. Here, I repeat, is the limitation set by the Council to that obedience the principle of which is declared to be of faith. Let us now see to what Mr. Gladstone extends it. `Absolute obedience, it is boldly declared, is due to the Pope, at the peril of salvation, not alone in faith and morals, but in all things which concern the discipline and government of the Church.' The words ` absolute ' and ` boldly' are Mr. Gladstone's additions. And what is ` at the peril of salvation ' in the text is the doctrine, not the obedience. Now for the wild romance. ` Thus,' says Mr. Gladstone, ` are swept into the Papal net whole multitudes of facts, whole systems of governments, prevailing, though in different degrees, in every country of the world. Even in the United States, where the severance between Church and State is sup-posed to be complete, a long catalogue might be drawn up of subjects belonging to the domain and competency of the State, but also undeniably affecting the government of the Church ; such as, by way of example, marriage, burial, education, prison discipline, blasphemy, poor-relief, incorporation, mortmain, religious endowments, vows of celibacy and obedience. In Europe the circle is far wider, the points of contact and interlacing innumerable. But on all matters respecting which any Pope may think proper to declare that they concern faith or morals, or the government or discipline of the Church, he claims, with the approval of a council undoubtedly oecumenical in the Roman sense, the absolute obedience, at the peril of salvation, of every member of his communion.

Except in points of defined doctrine, whether of truth or moral principle, all the rest, in so far as salvation is concerned, is not in the decree of the Council, but is a huge addition of Mr. Gladstone's. For, I re-peat once more, the doctrine of obedience is declared of faith under peril of salvation, but the exercise of obedience is simply declared to be obligatory. There is no doubt but that contumacious disobedience against authority is of peril to salvation. Contumacy strikes at the very root of authority, whether of God or man ; and no society, under whatever government, can tolerate it, but ever treats it among the gravest crimes. Only this point the Council does not touch directly, it only speaks of the obedience of subjects to superiors as of , binding force.

Of the matters which Mr. Gladstone has ` swept into the Papal net,' the Council says nothing ; and he cannot but know that whilst some of them—vows, for example—are of a purely spiritual nature, others—for example, poor-relief—are of a purely temporal nature ; whilst others of them have both a spiritual and a civil clement, in which what is of conscience and religion be-longs to the Church, and what is of civil regulation belongs to the State.

Nothing is more clearly expressed in the traditions of the Church than the distinction between the spiritual and civil powers ; but when a nation and its government is Catholic, they are both presumed to have Catholic consciences, as in England, when, for a thousand years, the Catholic religion was part and parcel of the common law. Church and State become mutually sup-porting, and whilst the civil power, as such, is left to its free force, all that is of conscience, or, to use the words of Boniface VIII., explaining the Bull Guam Sanctam in a Council, ` what regards sin,' is cf the authority of the Church. This principle explains a considerable portion of the Syllabus. Thus it is that the Church touches civil actions on the side of con-science, as previously explained. But in concluding that part of his subject the expostulator seems to question the right of the Church to have any independent authority, and reclaims against the notion that the Church has the right to know her own powers, for to know is to define them.

Mr. Gladstone shall answer Mr. Gladstone. In his Church Principles he says : ` No mere sameness of tenets, therefore, is sufficient for the perpetuity of the Church. Association, of whatever kind, necessarily and obviously implies much more than a mere aggregation of units ; and the action of an association implies, in like manner, much more than the concurrence of a majority of a mere aggregation of units. Wherever there is combination, there is something over and above the sum total of individual agencies ; there is joint action, and that joint action requires law and an organ. That law is usually a constitution, and that organ a government. The former may be in the breast of the latter. The latter may, where the purposes of the association are both limited and definite to the last degree, be superseded by the former ; but in every other case, and the exceptions are so trifling and equivocal that we may well say in every case, where there is a society there must be a government, a centre of life, a power acting on its behalf, and also controlling and commanding the movements of its individual members, so far as they are liable to be modified by the laws and purposes of the body.' And, again : ` How wonderful is the idea of the Christian Church! A power appointed to cope with all the opposing forces of the unbelieving world, and yet more with all the bitterly, though more subtilely, hostile influences which the breast of every man professing allegiance to the Saviour supplies. What moral contradiction so violent and absurd, until we supply in this description the idea of a divine power, working in and under appointed instruments.'

I may be told that the author of these sentiments publicly renounced his own book in Parliament, but this will not destroy the intrinsic force of his argumentation.

Home | More Articles | Email: