Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Papacy Considered Politically

( Originally Published 1870 )


IN saying that the Pope will help us again to see these questions clearly, and to throw light upon them, we are not now referring to those Syllabuses and Encyclical Letters which have suddenly broken through the cunning meshes woven by the apologists of the Church ; we refer to that movement which the Papacy is precipitating, with ever-increasing rapidity and boldness, and which is bringing successively to its feet all the rights and powers of the Church.

We have already studied this movement in its causes. The time has now come for studying it in itself, in the facts already accomplished, in those that cannot fail to be accomplished.

Many men have laboured to rehabilitate Catholicism in the eyes of the age ; but of these many had no intention of labouring for the Pope, at least in the sense that everything gained or regained should be his. Many, indeed, inclined more and more to separate the cause of the Church from that of the Papacy. Whenever they came across anything which it was really too difficult to defend, they set it down to the Pope, and generally with justice.

The movement has proved stronger than they. All they have done for the Church has been done in reality for its chief. Some still resist. Theirs is lost labour. They will have either to rebel, or to follow the example of their fellows.

People have often spoken during these latter years of the astonishment with which Bossuet, if he were to revisit the earth, would regard all that goes on, and read all that is now written. Let us leave Bossuet to one side. Others among the dead would be quite as much astonished as he, and especially the Popes them-selves, when they saw the manner in which many persons now set to work to defend them. They would think themselves dreaming when they saw the pictures now drawn of the part they played in history ; and when they heard the Papacy exalted in the name of the modern ideas of progress, liberty, and civilisation, they would ask themselves whether they had to do with friends or enemies, with history or raillery.

But why appeal to Popes who are dead ? There is one now living and speaking ; and the astonishment which we attributed to his predecessors, do we not see it in him ? Read those writings of which we have just spoken, and afterwards read those that come from Rome, and it is impossible but that you will say, ` Here are people who do not speak the same language ; here are advocates whom their client hears without understanding, and whom he only opens his mouth to contradict.' And you wish us to believe that what Pius ix. now, in the nineteenth century, does not understand, and has no desire to understand, has been understood, preached, and formed part of the very being of the Papacy, in nearly every period of the Church !

Shall we take one by one the paradoxes we have already exposed, and, after showing their futility as regards the Church, refute them again as regards the Papacy ? It is here or nowhere that they refute them-selves. The Church, an immense body composed of different elements, is easier to idealize. You can in every age find in her bosom at least one representative of every grand and beautiful idea, of every advance towards what is good ; and if she have not too openly thwarted that representative, his honour will redound upon herself. When history speaks of the vices of the clergy, great virtues will be claimed for them ; and as the men who practised those virtues have been canonized, the Church to a certain extent inherits their glory. When history points to thousands of useless convents, abodes of idleness, of ignorance, and of worse things yet, others will be specified which have rendered services to agriculture or letters, and, behold, the Church is proclaimed as the mother of the useful arts, the pre-server of light through the ages of darkness ; and it is very fortunate if people do not start from this point to declare that no darkness ever obscured the course of her reign ! But with the Papacy with the Popes all this is much less easy. If I mention one who was decidedly worth nothing at all, will it be any answer to name another who was worth more, even much more ? Why, no ; for I shall always be able to reply, that the bad one was nevertheless for a time the head of the Church, and that the Church, lier faith, her administration, her discipline, were therefore for a time for a long time, perhaps at the mercy of a man worthy of contempt or detestation.


This difficulty, which already weighed heavily on the old controversialists, has grown much heavier in our own day. With every step taken by the Pope towards that kind of deification to which the Church appears to have decided to give her consent, the objection founded on the badness of certain Popes becomes more legitimate and more serious.

On the one hand, it is quite evident that the Papal authority cannot depend on the merit or the virtue of the man who at any given moment may be seated in the so-called Chair of St. Peter ; but, on the other hand, if you add indefinitely to the glorification, to the deification of that power, you add in the same degree to the difficulty of understanding how it can have been held by hands criminal or impure. All the authority you assign to Pius IX., and to Pius Ix. idealized, magnified, surrounded with a halo of poetry, you condemn yourself to maintain that it was similarly exercised and possessed by the most detestable Popes. In the days of Bossuet they met the difficulty, as well as they could, by what was called the indefectibility of the Apostolic See. Holiness, and even truth, might cease for a moment to occupy that See ; but as the divine pro-mises referred to the See itself, and not to the man, the See was a guarantee to the Church of the presence of Jesus Christ in her midst, of the impossibility of a permanent reign of error or scandal. Rome, it is true, had never accepted this explanation ; it held, not without reason, that this was to reduce the Papacy to the proportions of an ordinary sovereignty, which may always for a time be exercised by a weak or vicious man. But if the Papacy be not this, what is it ? What, we ask again, is to be made of the bad Popes ? What becomes of infallibility under their rule ? The Papal theologians contented themselves formerly with boldly stating their proposition, and left it, when once stated, to harmonize as best it could with the odious names of certain Popes. But now greater precision is indispensable. The advocates of an absolute Papacy are no longer all at Rome; many live in countries where people know a little history, and have not given up making use of it. There the objection be-comes formidable, and every advance of the Papacy, when viewed in the light of the history of the Popes, becomes for its defenders an additional difficulty.

Hence has sprung up, in a new form, something very similar to the indefectibility of Bossuet.

The larger features of the history of the Papacy are brought together, and fused into a whole into an abstraction from which all details are eliminated, and which, being personified in the man who to-day is called the Pope, constitutes him the heir to all the rights which that ideal supposes. We no longer hear anything about the Apostolic See, a name always awakening reminiscences of the men who sullied it by their vices ; we hear about the Papacy, crowned with all the good it may have effected, crowned also, and principally, with whatever can be attributed to it in order to satisfy modern instincts ; and then all these crowns are placed upon a head which the old triple crown would be far less likely to recommend to the respect of the nineteenth century. It is perfectly well known that the Pope will only consent to wear the old triple crown ; that he cares very little for all these modern crowns ; that he has many a time absolutely rejected them; that he wears them somewhat as Louis XVI. one day wore the red cap of liberty. But that will not prevent his friends from replacing them on his head, from supposing that he wears them with joy, and as the heirloom of ages.

One of the things most frequently urged in favour of the Papacy by this strange Liberalism, is that, during the ages of barbarism, it was the permanent representative of intellect as opposed to brute force, and consequently of liberty.

This consequently is a little too hasty. It would, till the last few years, have greatly astonished even the friends of the Papacy, who never thought, any more than itself, of seeking for its titles in that direction. No doubt, if we only consider the matter in a general and abstract manner, the man who speaks in the name of an idea, in the name of conscience, is, when opposed to brute force, the representative of liberty. But there are two manners of fulfilling this function, or rather there is only one of doing it in reality : it is to claim liberty, not for one's self, only for one's self, but for all. Did the Popes ever do this ? And what a strange piece of reasoning ! The modern world is told to be grateful to them for having been in the Middle Ages the representatives of a principle which they have never ceased to anathematize except in their own cause. I claim liberty for myself, for my conscience ; I am shown the Popes claiming it for themselves ; and then I am told I must bless them for having conquered from brute force, from the civil power, a right which they have never extended to their own children, and never allowed to any one. I am told that, at any rate, the merit of maintaining its tradition is theirs. But that tradition, we say again, they curse as one of their greatest enemies ; they only recognise it by the name of rebellion, and impiety. Is this not a disavowal ? Is it not to disclaim the honour men seek to thrust upon them, of having taught the world what is independence of the mind and conscience ?

The Papacy desiring liberty ! Why, yes ; but only so that one voice might make itself heard among men, a sovereign voice, silencing for ever all speech, and all thought but its own. It claimed liberty, but only as it claims it now. ` The Church,' so the Syllabus says (Art. 19), ` is a true and perfect society, entirely free.'

Fine words, but in reality a word juggle.

For, in the first place, this is always understood : the Church is the clergy, and the clergy, much more now than in the days of Gregory vii. or Innocent iii., is the Pope. Neither the Encyclical, nor the Syllabus says a word of any right recognised as belonging, or extended to the Church, to the body of the Church, to that society which the Pope begins by declaring to be true and perfect. Such words, therefore, only mean and this also is understood that she has a regular government, perfectly organized, and that that government is free.

But in politics a free government would mean the government of a free country. Here, then, is the great sophistry, if indeed it be sophistry, and not sheer boldness in playing thus openly with things and men. The liberty of the Church is the liberty of its head to exercise, without hindrance or control, all the rights he may declare to be the rights of the Church. The liberty of the Church is, that the Pope should be free, in the name of the Church, and ever more and more in his own name, to settle matters of faith, to impose his teaching on all, even, if necessary, by constraint (Syllabus, Art. 24), and temporal punishment. The liberty of the Church is, that the Pope should be free, not only not to suffer any Church to exist beside his own (Syllabus, Art. 77), but to stifle in his own (Art. 15) any striving after free and individual faith. The liberty of the Church is, moreover, that all education should be free to pass entirely into the hands of the priests (Art. 45). It is, again, that the Pope should be free to legislate in a sovereign manner (Arts. 68 and 69) on all matters relating to marriage the central point of civil life, to maintain for an indefinite period (Art. 43) the Concordats that have recognised his rights, and, above all, as we have already seen, to require of every Christian sovereign that he should place his authority, his soldiers, his own person, at the service of all these liberties. Let a single one of them be violated, and, if the offending government be one against which men dare to lift up their voice, there will rise from one end of the Church to the other, from the lowest curate to the supreme head, a cry of indignation, of desolation, and of horror. A newspaper lately amused its readers by collecting from the Allocutions, and Encyclicals of Pius IX. a host of passages from which it will only be possible to conclude, a few centuries hence, that a horrible persecution has been ravaging the Church. You might imagine that it was under Diocletian or Nero ; and, indeed, it may be observed that never in those heroic days were such sentences written. Let us hope, for the honour of Pius Ix., that if he had really to undergo martyrdom, he would speak with greater simplicity ; but, for the moment, we feel in his words, and the words that proceed from all those indignant, violent, and noisy lips, much more the feverish passion of a party, than the steady conviction of right, or the holy ardour of duty.

Thus the liberty of the Church is the liberty of its head to claim, in the name of Heaven, and to exercise, by all earthly means, over souls, bodies, peoples, and princes, the most absolute despotism. It is the abrogation of all rights, the absorption of the individual into that ideal being, the Church, which alone is free, but at the price of the liberty of all.


And observe, on this latter point, a painful analogy between the Catholic principle and that of Socialism. There is even more than an analogy ; and when the Syllabus ranks Socialism among the `pestilential inventions' of this age, it authorizes us to qualify in very severe terms a system by which the individual is just as much annihilated religiously, as by Socialism he is annihilated socially. Socialism assigns to each, in the name of society, his place and his task ; Romanism assigns to each, in the name of the Church, his faith and his conscience, which are the faith and conscience of the Church. It speaks in the name of God, certainly ; but Socialism speaks in the name of equality and justice, which, in its way, is also speaking iii the name of God. Under these grand words one thing alone is true in Catholicism as in Socialism, it is that the individual is made a slave in the name of the liberty of all, and absorbed in the name of unity.

Examine this painful idea where the Church has been able to realize it. What is a religious order, what, in particular, is the great regiment of the Jesuits, if not the image of what the world would be if the Roman ideal were everywhere to become a reality ? The general of the Jesuits may repeat proudly, Sint ut sunt, aut non sint; but what is every one of them, what is the general himself, considered as an individual, as a member of the Order ? Not even ti unit in a number. A unit has its own proper value. The Jesuit is the man of his Order ; it is the Order that acts through him, thinks in him, lives in him ; it is the Order that stands in the place of his reason, his conscience, his soul, his whole being ; and the more the Order is free, free to be faithful to its principles, free to put them in practice, the more the individual will be annihilated.

Such is the Church of Rome. If the liberty which her chief claims for her could ever be completely attained, if even, when the laws give her that liberty, custom did not deprive her of it more or less, Catholicity would be literally a convent.

And we see that princes, even when very Catholic, have never mistaken the character of that liberty which the Popes claimed for the Church. When, in our own day, the Emperor of Austria signed the famous Concordat, which he has since been compelled to tear in pieces, he did what none of his predecessors, what no European king, had ever done, even in the so-called ages of faith. More than one, no doubt, had been forced to submit to worse conditions ; but to consent freely, in the middle of the nineteenth century, to such an abdication, was perhaps worse than to go and shiver in the eleventh century in the ditches of Canossa. Not that we can approve very far from it all the reasons that may have induced princes to refuse to the Popes the liberty so persistently claimed. We know that they often did so that they might keep the Church in their power, and dispose of its dignities and of its riches ; we are not far from thinking, with M. De Maistre, that the liberties of the Gallican Church consisted in a great measure of subservience to royalty. But M. De Maistre only sees this side of the question, and he is wrong. You may show that the kings who strove against the Popes were often despotic, and often grasping ; but the support they received from so many men of enlightenment and piety, and generally from the national sentiment, will always show that they were, from another point of view, the champions of liberty, the organs of that permanent protest which we have come across in so many forms. The peoples were with them ; and if it had not been for excommunication, then a terrible engine, the peoples would never in this quarrel have abandoned their cause. Then if some bad princes quarrelled with the Popes, let us not forget that good ones did so also very often ; and all the more seriously that they were not, like the bad, ready to yield, on account of some immoral favour, some gift at the expense of others, such as the Papacy has so frequently accorded. Of all the kings of the Middle Ages, the one who strove against it with the most perseverance and energy, though without violence, was Louis IX. Saint Louis. One asks one's self, whether Rome canonized him for his virtues, or whether she did not rather seek, in canonizing him, to make men forget that he had ever opposed her.

`Let us imagine,' says M. de Falloux, ` what would have become of liberty, the daughter of the Church, and the mother of civilisation, if, in the struggles of the Middle Ages, the sovereignty of force had not, after every one of its successes, been met by the sovereignty of mind.'

Let us imagine, first, if we can, a more complete state of oppression than that which weighed on the peoples in the Middle Ages. We are asked what would have become of liberty : we ask where liberty was. We have already asked it. We have been answered by purely fantastic descriptions ; and history replies by the picture of a state of things which would have shocked the old pagans. Does this mean that the Papacy never interfered in favour of justice, in opposition to brute force ? No ; but this is what we say : As a matter of fact, it seldom played this fine part ; of which, indeed, it was but little capable.

We say it has rarely played this part. How many Popes under whom we cannot discover the trace of any attempt of the kind ! The peoples are penned up under their innumerable masters ; their lands, their blood, the fruits of their toil, all belong to the prince, or to whomsoever the prince has made them over. Such is the public law of Europe. The Papacy accepts and practises it. A few Popes condemn certain excesses of the prevalent despotism sometimes bravely and nobly. All honour to them ! Honour to Christ, who gave them the grace not entirely to forget the engagement they had taken when they proclaimed themselves His vicars. But how often, unfortunately, when we look at the matter a little closely, do we find that these great acts had very human motives ! That monarch, whose people the Pope supports in their grievances you may be pretty sure that the Pope has some personal complaint against him. His great error probably is, that he has not known how to keep on good terms with Rome. Let him approach humbly, let him flatter, and all will be permitted to him. If he be meditating some conquest, he has only to do homage for it beforehand to the Pope, and the Pope will recognise it beforehand as his legitimate possession. The first aim and object of the Papacy in the Middle Ages was to be recognised as the mistress of the world and of empires. If an occasion presents itself of confirming this right by its exercise, the right will always be exercised in favour of whoever has made the appeal to Papal authority. Have we not seen in our day a Pope recognising the Emperor of Russia's right to the sovereignty of Poland ? That was in 1832. Threatened on the one side by an Austrian, and on the other by a French invasion, Gregory XVI. had secretly accepted the offer of a Russian army to protect him against both ; the brief to the Polish bishops was, as has since been ascertained, the price exacted by Russia. The brief was published, and at first Europe could not believe its eyes. Really there seemed room to doubt whether the document emanated from St. Petersburgh or from Rome. In the very first lines the Emperor is spoken of as the legitimate, the only sovereign of Poland. There is no longer a nation; the defenders of the nationality are prophets of f lies, whose wickedness and perfidy must at last be unmasked.

There must be submission, therefore, absolute submission. Thus spoke Gregory XVI., and the official journal of Rome henceforth only spoke of the insurgent Poles as of a band of brigands. One hopes . that the heart of the Pope bled ; but, if so, there is all the more reason for saying that there is nothing that cannot be bought at Rome. And such has been for centuries the unanimous opinion of Europe.

If the Papacy has thundered against some usurpations, how many has it not sanctioned ! If it has put an end to some wars, how many has it not kindled and fanned ! If it has curbed the violence of a few princes, how many, no Letter, has it not left in peace, or caressed, or praised ! If, for instance, it has opposed such or such a divorce, how many has it not sanctioned, or even ordered, which were just as repugnant to morality ! Even that of Henry VIII., as is now known, had been promised, the instruments had been drawn up, and the real motive of that heroic resistance, for which the Popes have been so much praised, was the fear of Charles v. The Papacy, in its dealings with princes, has scarcely ever been what the supreme authority in a Christian Church should have been. Towards the weak it has been despotic and arrogant ; towards the strong, accommodating and even humble. Scarcely ever has it shown that serene dignity, that equality of measure, which, for the honour of the religion of Christ, one would have wished to see in the representative of Christianity. There has been weak compliance again in its dealings with crowned immorality, whenever the crown inclined before the tiara. We know to what queen the golden rose, freighted with the blessing of the Pope, was lately sent.

Home | More Articles | Email: