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Mr. Gladstone's `syllabus' And The Pope's Syllabus

( Originally Published 1875 )



`IT seems,' says the expostulator, ` not as yet to have been thought wise to pledge the Council in terms to the Syllabus and the Encyclical. That achievement is probably reserved for some one of its sittings yet to come.' This is in the expostulatory style, based not on facts, but on a dream of imagination. I need not point out from where it comes to any one who has read Janus. Does Mr. Gladstone fancy that the eighty distinct propositions, on as many subjects, a good many of them complicated, most of them demanding an acute application of theological or canonical science for finding out their precise bearing and their exact contradictories, would ever be discussed and settled in ` some one sitting ' of the Council ? This is to insinuate that the Pope commands and the Council obeys. Does Mr. Gladstone remember how many months it took to discuss and settle the decrees that have been the object of his misinterpretations ? I can only say, that the notion of introducing the Syllabus into the Council was never heard of except from the writers in the Augsburg Gazette and their copyists. The Papal documents from which they are extracted were promulgated by the Bishops throughout the Church, and the condemnations embodied from them in the Syllabus were condemned by the Bishops in their joint and spontaneous address to the Pope. What more do they require to give them every kind of force? Are they to be turned into dogmas of faith ? This is evidently Mr. Gladstone's notion, as it is that of the school of Fanus. But the propositions of the Syllabus are far from all of them capable of being pronounced heretical ; and to imagine this is to misconstrue the nature of the censure attached to them.

The Syllabus is entitled A Collection embracing the principal Errors of our Age, as noted in the Consistorial Allocutions, Encyclics, and other Apostolical Letters of Pius IX. The letter of Cardinal Antonelli simply authenticates them. They are simply called errors. We must go to the original documents for any specific censures, but there we shall likewise find the exact limit of their sense. Error is a term that includes an ex-tended scale and gradation of censures, and to under-stand their nature we cannot do better than consult the prefatory ' Instruction to the Index of prohibited Books.' ` The things to be corrected,' it says, ` are propositions that are heretical, or erroneous, or savouring of heresy, or scandalous, or offensive to pious ears, or schismatical, or seditious, or blasphemous.' These are the several terms of censure, any one of which may be included under the comprehensive word error. Then a censure may fall upon a single clause, phrase, or word, and not upon the entire sentence. Amongst the objects of censure are especially marked in the ` Instruction" the things that savour of Paganism,' and ' such as, drawn from pagan sentiments, morals, and examples, foster political tyranny, which is falsely called state reason, and is abhorrent from the Evangelical and Christian law.' Again, ` such as are against the liberty, immunity, or jurisdiction of the Church.' Like-wise lascivious or obscene writing that corrupts good morals.' These points pretty well embrace the whole Syllabus.

Yet even with these helps, and such as these, how is Mr. Gladstone to construe the sense of the Syllabus ? It is tolerably clear that he makes every proposition to be a universal negation, and its censure to be that of heresy, and that the condemnation bears in all cases upon every part of each proposition. It is the propensity of ignorance to generalise whatever comes from an unacceptable source, and to distort its meaning out of the proportions of truth ; and on Catholic subjects Mr. Gladstone is very ignorant. He ought to understand that Papal constitutions and censures, like law. diplomacy, and other professional sciences, are full of technical terms and refined distinctions, comprehended only by the initiated ; that they are addressed to Bishops who have the science of interpreting them ; and that nothing can be more presumptuous than for one who, so far from having the requisite science, is not even a Catholic, to attempt to instruct the world, above all, to teach Catholics on such a subject, and to expostulate with them on what he plainly shows he does not him-self understand.

Were Mr. Gladstone a Catholic well acquainted with his Catechism, he would still require, as the least preparation before handling the Syllabus, a course of study such as follows : first, a year of scholastic philosophy, to understand the school-terms and their use and application ; secondly, a three-years' course of dogmatic and moral theology, in both cases under a competent master ; thirdly, he might then take up such a book as the Theses Damnatæ of Dominic Viva. After this preparation the merely elementary knowledge will have been gained for expounding the Syllabus, provided its propositions are examined with due sagacity in their original contexts, with due attention to the historic facts to which they are individually addressed, and to the time, the place, the persons, and the circumstances.

Grave warnings have been given us of the danger of attempting to construe the Syllabus without the requisite science. The journal des Débats attempted it in part, and the Bishop of Orleans convicted the writer of more than seventy errors.* Mr. Gladstone attempted to render eighteen of the eighty propositions into English, and an able theologian in the Month found that twelve of them were either strained or presented in a sense foreign to their meaning.

So much has been well written on the Syllabus, that I shall confine my attention to one or two of its easiest propositions, such as scarcely require the science I have spoken of to understand them ; nor shall I do more than simply replace the propositions in their context. But this will be sufficient to exhibit the difference between Mr. Gladstone's Syllabus and the Pope's Syllabus.

I select the 80th and last proposition as one of those which has been subject to the widest misconstruction, has been made the most hostile use of against the Church, and, nevertheless, with its context, presents the most complete refutation, not merely of the unjustifiable sense attached to it, but to that which has been attached to other propositions of the Syllabus. Mr. Gladstone renders it in these words : `Or that the Roman Pontiff ought to come to terms with progress, liberalism, and modern civilisation. The original is : ` That the Roman Pontiff can and ought to reconcile himself and come to terms with progress, with liberal-ism, and with recent civilisation.' The question before us is, whether this is a condemnation of progress, liberty, and modern civilisation absolutely and without distinction, or only of evils and abuses that go under that name. Englishmen, with insular pride, arc apt to measure all things by what exists in England, and to think the Pope is always aiming his censure at them ; whereas—to understand the Pope's Allocution of March 18th, 1861, from which the proposition is taken—they must consider the then state of things on the Continent, and the style in which evil men cloaked under popular names—such as liberty, civilisation, and progress—doctrines and deeds which in England would never be tolerated.

The Pope says in his Allocution Famdudum cernimus :

`Long have we been the witness of the agitation into which civil society is thrown, especially at this time, through the lamentable conflict of antagonistic principles, between error and truth, between virtue and vice, between light and darkness. For certain men, on the one side, contend for what they call modern civilisation ; others, on the contrary, strive for the rights of justice and of our holy religion. They first demand that the Roman Pontiff should reconcile himself and conte to terms with WHAT THEY CALL progress, with liberal-ism, and with recent civilization. But others with reason reclaim that the immovable and unchangeable principles of eternal justice be kept in their integrity and inviolability, and that the salutary force of our divine religion be completely preserved But the patrons of modern civilisation will not admit of any such distinction, even though they declare that they are the true and sincere friends of religion. Willingly would we give faith to them, were it not that the melancholy facts which are this day before the eyes of all men prove absolutely the contrary. . . . Among these facts, no one is ignorant how solemn Concordats, regularly concluded between the Apostolic See and various sovereign princes, have been utterly abolished, as recently occurred at Naples. Against which act, in this august assembly, we again and again complain, venerable brethren, and loudly reclaim in like manner, as on other occasions we have protested against like attempts and violations.

` But whilst this modern civilisation fosters every anti-Catholic worship, and by no means keeps back infidels from public employments, nor closes the Catholic schools against their sons, it is irritated against religious orders, against institutions founded to teach Catholic schools, and against numerous ecclesiastics of every grade, even those who are clothed with the highest dignity, of whom not a few drag on an uncertain life in miserable exile or imprisonment, and even against distinguished laymen, who, devoted to us and this Holy See, courageously defend the cause of religion and justice. Whilst it grants pecuniary assistance to anti-Catholic institutions and persons, this civilisation de-spoils the Catholic Church of her most lawful possessions, and puts forth every effort to lower the salutary influence of the Church. Moreover, whilst it gives en-tire liberty to all discourses and writings that attack the Church and those who from the heart are devoted to her, whilst it stirs up, fosters, and favours such license, at the same time it is exceedingly cautious and moderate in repressing the attacks, sometimes violent and excessive, employed against those who publish excellent works, whilst it punishes the authors of these works, if they pass the bounds of moderation in the least degree, with the utmost severity.

'Can the Roman Pontiff ever extend a hand to this kind of civilisation, or cordially enter into alliance and agreement with it ? Let their real names he restored to things, and this holy See will be ever consistent with it-self. For truly has it always been the patron and nurse of real civilisation ; the monuments of history bear witness and prove that in all ages from this Holy See have gone forth, even into the most remote and barbarous nations, right and true humanity, moral culture, and wisdom. But if under the name of civilisation is to be understood a system devised to weaken, and perhaps even to destroy, the Church—no, never can the Holy See and the Roman Pontiff come to terms with such a civilisation.'

The Pope goes on to narrate how, in return for his paternal concessions, this civilisation spattered his Council Chamber with the blood of his minister; how it stripped the Holy See of its territories, and, amidst all its infamies, still called upon the Pontiff to reconcile himself with this modern civilisation. ' Willingly,' says the Pontiff, ' do we pray for these persons, that by the help of divine grace they may repent. But in the mean while we cannot remain passive, as if we had no care for human calamities. . . . If unjust con-cessions are asked of us, we cannot consent to them. But if pardon be asked for them, freely and promptly shall we be prepared to give it.'

From one example learn all. Here is the text from which the 80th proposition of the Syllabus is extracted, and from its Apostolic author we learn its true sense. Mr. Gladstone declaims on the Pope's condemnation of all modern civilisation. Ironically the Pope uses the word from the mouth of the Church's adversaries, until he comes to true civilisation, and then he em-braces and exalts it. But this civilisation with which the Pope is asked to be reconciled is a civilisation and a liberty that breaks down solemn agreements with the Holy See, and that, without ever consulting the other party to the contract, breaks concordats, and puts an end to them, renouncing the entire obligation of the solemn compact. This, by natural, divine, international, and even English law, is a great crime.

It is to Italy in 1861 that the Allocution refers, to a country in which the Catholic Church had full possession through the faith of its people ; and this modern :civilisation advances infidels into confidence and power,

the scandal of the people; does everything in its power to suppress the Church of the people; rises against the religious orders and the educational institutions ; exiles and imprisons the Bishops ; gives every license to speech and the press against religion, but severely represses whatever is earnestly written in its defence. Its liberalism, even in its royal personages and ministers of State, does not ' keep faith with princes.' And its progress moves strongly in the opposite direction to that loyalty to sovereigns about which Mr. Gladstone is so solicitous, when it murdered the Pope's lay Minister of State, revolted and raised insurrection against his throne, as well as half a dozen more ; and put a number of innocent priests to death in cold blood. Little birds have even told us how Mr. Glad-stone gave a helping pen, and how his liberal friends used the name, the influence, and even the ships of England to give an impulse to the progress of this civilisation.

The Index, as we have seen, points to heathen maxims and practices fostering political tyranny, falsely called state reasons, and abhorrent to Christian freedom, as an object of censure. This brings me to the second proposition I have selected from the Syllabus, as being an ample refutation of the whole of Mr. Gladstone's position. That proposition is the 63d, which condemns the error that ` it is lawful to refuse obedience to lawful princes, and even to rebel against them.' Under the general term of lawful princes the style of Roman documents includes all heads of constituted governments, not only kings, but presidents of republics. For this 63d proposition we are referred to four Papal documents. The first of them is the very first Encyclical of Pius IX., of November 1846, in which his Holiness says to the Bishops of the Church : ' Strive to inculcate into the Christian people due obedience and subjection to princes and (temporal) powers, teaching them according to the admonition of the Apostle, that " there is no power but from God ; and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.' Wherefore the precept to obey the power cannot by any one be violated without sin, unless perchance that be commanded which is against the law of God and the Church.'

The second document referred to for condemnation of the proposition in question is the Allocution of Pius IX. of October 1847. After treating of the restoration of the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, his Holiness says :

And here, venerable brethren, we openly and loudly declare that in this affair, as in all others, all our cares, thoughts, and efforts, completely estranged from human policy, tend but to one thing—that the most holy religion and doctrine of Christ may shine forth more and more, unto all the nations of the earth. For although we desire that princes to whom the Lord bath given power, closing their ears to deceitful and pernicious counsels, may keep the law of justice, and walking according to the will of God, may protect the rights and liberty of Holy Church, and from religious duty, as well as humanity, may labour for the happiness and prosperity of their people; nevertheless we are most keenly afflicted that in various places men are to be met with among the people who, rashly abusing our name and inflicting grievous injury on our person and supreme dignity, dare to refuse due subjection to their princes, to stir up multitudes against them, and to promote criminal disturbances. So far is this from our thoughts, that in our Encyclical Letter, ad-dressed last year to our venerable brothers the Bishops, we failed not to inculcate obedience to the princes and powers, from which, according to the precept of the Christian law, no one can deviate without sin, unless what is commanded be against the law of God and the Church.'

The third document referred to in the 63d error of the Syllabus is the Encyclical Letter of Pius IX. of September 8th, 1849, after his return to Rome from his exile in Gaeta. After speaking of the mischievous doctrines and deeds of the Communists and Socialists, the Pope says : ` Let the faithful intrusted to your care be admonished that it belongs to the very nature of human society that all should obey the authority that is law-fully constituted within it ; nor can anything be changed in the commands of the Lord which are declared on this subject in the Sacred Scriptures, for it is written : " Be ye subject to every human creature for God's sake ; whether it be to the king as excelling, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers and for the praise of the good ; for so is the will of God, that by doing well you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men ; as free, and not as making liberty a cloak for malice, but as the servants of God." And again : " Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for there is no power but from God ; and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God, and they that resist purchase to themselves damnation."

Let them likewise know that it is equally a natural, and therefore an unchangeable, condition of human things, that even among those who are not in high authority, some by reason of different qualities of mind, or body, or of wealth, or of other external advantages, prevail above others ; nor under any pretence of liberty or equality can it ever become lawful to invade the goods or rights of another, or in any way to violate them. Clear also are the divine precepts on this subject, and extant in various places of Sacred Scripture, in which we are not only prohibited from taking, but from desiring, the possessions of another.'

Let this suffice. Mr. Gladstone's principal charge is, that whilst the Catholics of England are loyal, the Pope with his abettors uphold principles that are subversive of loyalty, and the Syllabus is his main proof. Let him read and be ashamed.

To sum up the Syllabus : some of its propositions defend natural human reason against its detractors, others defend Creation against Pantheism, others defend Christianity against Rationalism, others defend natural and Christian ethics against immoral theories. Some defend Christian faith against Latitudinarianism and Indifferentism ; not a few of the propositions are defensive of the Church and of the prerogatives of the Holy See against the Church's assailants; others of them maintain the rights of the civil power to the duty and allegiance of its subjects; others, again, the right of Christians to Christian marriage and Christian education ; whilst others of these propositions condemn that revolutionary and rebellious spirit which under false names strike at all real freedom, progress, and true civilisation.

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