An Apostrophe To Mr. Gladstone
( Originally Published 1875 )
RIGHT Honourable Sir,—Responding to the call you have made upon all English Catholics to give you the expression of their sentiments on the charges you have brought against their Pontiff and their holy religion, I have the honour to offer you mine. Though but one of a million for whose voices you have called, and al-though I can scarcely understand why you exclude the other five millions within the British Isles, I claim the right to be considered the representative of at least one-tenth of that million. If in defending Catholic truth and loyalty against your pen I seem in some defensive strokes to put in the sharp edge of controversy, your courtesy will rightly ascribe it to the keenness of your assault. The temper of the assailant brings out in reverberation the temperament of the defendant, as the strings of one instrument set in motion awaken the chords of another, though in tones more subdued.
After ages of cruel persecution, the Catholics of this country were living in peace and content, loving their Church and Pontiff, loving their Queen and country, and your political efforts in their favour had contributed to their peace, when, to our sudden amazement, and with no slight shock to our gratitude, we found our religious principles, in their bearing on our civil allegiance, called with vehemence into question by your eloquent, but this time misguided, pen. In your Expostulation, you call upon us to disclaim doctrines and principles of conduct that neither in the mind of our ecclesiastical superiors nor our own have any existence ; and that upon allegations that, short of absolute proof, we have every reason to believe were prompted by a factious party, once our brethren in faith, but now engaged in assaulting and ungenerously reviling that supreme authority of God's Church which was once their rock of security. Even should we be mistaken in ascribing the violence of your attack to the personal influence of those misguided men, there can be no mistake in tracing the materials you have used to the book in which they have drawn up their false indictment.
It is the privilege of those who have been wronged to complain ; and when the wrong comes from one to whom they have habitually looked for right, the breath of complaint comes from those deeper sources of emotion that touch upon the verge of indignation. Nothing inflicts pain like the breaking down of trust, especially where no reason has been shown for the change. When the Bishops of Ireland opposed the scheme of mixed university education, they stood equally upon their religious principles, their constitutional right, and experience of the evils of mixed education. That which you proffered to them as a boon, they discovered to be an evil. What was there in this, although it proved the occasion of breaking up a Ministry inclining to its fall, to justify an unprovoked attack upon the Pope and the Catholics of England, not on the ground of the university scheme, but on the totally different plea of a disloyalty which, you yourself admit, does not exist among us ?
At a time when every Christian force is needed to check the advance of unchristian, infidel, and atheistic invasions upon the peace and happiness of mankind, to draw up a severe accusation against the head of the greatest Christian community—accusation on matters that the accused look upon as criminal; to rest that accusation not upon proof, but on conjecture ; to colour it and to heighten it with all the arts of' rhetoric ; to subscribe it with a great and influential name, and then, knowing the effect it must produce of inflaming prejudice and enkindling strife, to flood the country and the world at large with 100,000 copies of it, is what we did not expect, and could not beforehand have believed. It is not as if the Protestant population of the country had any true knowledge by which to judge what the Catholic religion is, or what are its principles and practices. They have had nothing of it in their minds for centuries but a grotesque caricature, to which your Expostulation corresponds.
Wheresoever prejudice, bigotry, and hatred of the Catholic religion and its professors prevail, there, as your correspondence will have proved, you have added flame to fire. Can this be justified on any party, political, or human motive ? Is it a deed that has met the approval of the nobler-minded men of this country or of the press, or of the more prudent and abler men of your party? Unless it be the intention to strike your roots into lower strata in search of a new party, what is there to explain this downward course?
The venerable Pontiff whom we love so well, what has he done that you should strike at him ? Why should you, who profess Christianity, join the throng of scorners who buffet the Apostle of Christ ? By what word, by what deed, has he done injury to any mortal being, except, according to his divine commission, to warn men from error and exhort them to the truth, except to turn their way from evil and draw it unto good ? For long years he has been a spectacle of the righteous man suffering, to the world, to angels, and to men. Suffering is undoubtedly the allotted portion of prophets, apostles, and saints, yet no less undoubtedly are men the inflictors of that suffering. Faith broken with him by half the powers of the world, stripped of the patrimony that protected the freedom of his predecessors for more than a thousand years, he sees the strength of the world and much of its thought combined against him. His Bishops are persecuted and imprisoned , their clergy and the members of the religious orders are scattered and dispersed by violence, leaving devoted Christian populations without pastors or Sacraments. Yet you, Right Honourable Sir, who once carried your energies in defence of the imprisoned as far as the South of Italy, profess not to understand the merits of that unprovoked persecution in Germany that rivals, and in malignity surpasses, the persecution of Christianity by the Roman Caesars.
Is it possible that a man of large mind and political experience like your own can imagine, still less can gravely state to the world, that this same Pontiff amidst his sufferings and solitude, can be plotting a dangerous combination of physical forces, expecting therewith to reestablish an order of things which, through the injustice of men, God has permitted to depart ? A Pope seated on a terrestrial throne, re-erected on the ashes of a city amidst the whitening bones of the people,' is a combination of images such as Mr. Gladstone may contemplate with artistic enjoyment, but from the very notion of which a Pope would turn with horror.
Prussia has been long habituated to chastise its people with stick and cane, and that a minister of that country should strike a man when he is down is not so very surprising. But that an Englishman, and that Englishman Mr. Gladstone, should strike a man when he is down, and that a man of the highest and most venerable dignity, stricken already with years, stripped of strength, his place contracted from a kingdom to a virtual prison; in his sorrows and solitude to strike such a man, and that with foul blows, is what honour-able men would not have believed, had you not given them the proofs of it.
Be not surprised that an act like this should draw from us no other response than a just indignation. One good, however, beyond intention you have done. By compelling the Catholics of this country to give a closer consideration to the Apostolic acts of their Pon-tiff than they had hitherto done, they have learned to appreciate him the more.