Amazing articles on just about every subject...


The Historical Papacy

( Originally Published 1870 )



THE advocates of the Papacy must experience, it seems to us, a great feeling of relief when they come to the end of the apostolic history. They have no longer to struggle against the New Testament ; they enter into the unknown, into vacancy ; they can the more easily see what they want to see, and place there what they desire.

This is what was done long ago by the authors of those two great historical forgeries, the Decretals and the Apostolical Constitutions, attributed to the first bishops of Rome, and pretending to show us all the Papal scaffolding as standing before the end of the second century.

No Catholic now-a-days, even at Rome, would maintain the authenticity of these documents ; but although they give them up, Catholic writers have the art of discovering in history pretty nearly all they were sup-posed to establish. A single word, an imperceptible fact all is accounted valuable, all is important ; and as to the documents possessing a more real significance, everything is deemed admissible to constrain them to mean what it has been decided they should mean.

You may take, as an instance, what is made out of the Epistle to the Corinthians by Clement, first or second bishop of Rome.

The Abb Gerbet laughs at those theologians in whose eyes the spiritual sovereignty of the Popes seems to disappear during the first ages of the Church, because it does not manifest itself there in forms similar to those of the present Roman Chancery.'

We might with much more reason laugh at those theologians who discover the Papal authority in all that may have been said or done by the Popes of the first centuries. Those theologians would laugh with us at the old paintings in which St. Peter is represented as wearing the triple crown ; but their anachronisms are often quite as glaring.

In this question, indeed, as in many others, there has been in our day a marked and painful progress in con-tempt for historical truth. The more light was shed by really serious writers on the origin of all the prerogatives now attributed to the Popes, the more boldness has been used to show that they were recognised by the early Church.

But let us confine our attention, just at present, to the highest of these prerogatives, to the primacy itself, which the Popes are supposed to have inherited from St. Peter.

In making the Papacy the central point of all controversy, the Catholicism of to-day has perhaps been logical, but it has certainly not been prudent. The controversialists of yore, on the contrary, avoided concentrating the debate on this point ; and we shall soon see with what care the Council of Trent imitated this reserve. Now all is staked on this one die.

Listen to Wiseman. He says that a system, bound during centuries to the very existence of Christianity, and acting as a rule to that existence, cannot be an accidental modification. It must, on the contrary, either be an integral portion of the plan, or have been, from its origin, in a position of complete antagonism to the thought of the designer.

Thus we have either complete legitimacy, or flagrant usurpation, a divine or an antichristian institution : there is no middle term. A cardinal tells us so.

Others have brought the matter into even clearer relief, as, for instance, the Abb Magnin. ` If the Papacy,' says he, ` be a divine institution, there is no more to be said. If it be a human institution, then Catholicism rests only on falsehood and error.' Several recent pastoral letters have proposed the same dilemma.

There is in all this, as it were, a necessity of defying history, of bewildering others, and bewildering one's self. The argument even goes further than its object ; for Catholicism might, strictly speaking, have given to itself, humanly and without any divine command, a supreme head, and yet not on that account be a false religion. But, we say again, there is in this a desire to burn the ships, or at least to appear to do so. This gives confidence to the weak, it compels them to shut their ears, imbued as they are with the idea that, in admitting anything whatever against the Papal pretensions, they are abandoning, together with the Papacy, Christianity, faith, morals--all.

It requires nothing weaker than such a buckler to keep off that host of negative testimonies which the first centuries oppose to what we are told regarding the Papacy.

If the bishop of Rome was from the beginning the supreme head of the Christians, how does it happen that we seek in vain, in the writings of the earliest Fathers, for a single mention of the fact, and that long afterwards, among the Fathers of a later date, you can only find a few sparse passages, which it is necessary to torture before you can draw from them the desired meaning ? Catholic authors cannot now write a single page without half, or three-quarters, or even more, relating to the Pope. How is it that the Fathers have written such large volumes without giving him a single line ?

How is it that to every word or fact in these old days that has been interpreted in a Papal sense, it is possible to oppose other words and facts establishing the direct contrary, and showing that all bishops were equal, or at most, that Lome, the antique Rome, naturally imparted some of its greater influence to its own ?

How is it and this is a serious point that has not been sufficiently insisted upon how is it that we do not find in those early times, either in the books written against Christianity, or in the decrees levelled against the Christians, any mention of the supreme authority with which the bishop of Rome is stated to have been invested ? Yet nothing would have been more calculated to call forth the animadversions of the pagans, or to call down the wrath of the emperors, than the existence of another emperor calling himself the ruler of the Christians throughout the whole empire. At the very first, perhaps, the fact might have passed unobserved ; but, at the expiration of one century, of two centuries, when the Christians covered the face of the empire, how can we believe either that the pagans were ignorant of the fact, or that they should not have denounced it as the greatest crime of these Christians, already so constantly accused of breaking up the unity of Rome ?

How does it happen that the history of the bishops of Rome occupies so small a space in the history of the Church in those days ? During long periods they are not mentioned. Influence, life, primacy, are elsewhere ; that is to say, are wherever is to be found a man who has become in actual fact the head of the Church. Thus, during the whole of the episcopate of Ambrose, Milan is the centre of western Christianity, and Ambrose is evidently its head.

The history and the writings of Ambrose throw a curious light on the history of the Papacy. When once you examine them from this point of view, you are astonished at what you find in them, astonished also that you have not thought of it before.

What was the Church in his time ? What was the idea generally entertained respecting it ?

A period of transition cannot be summed up in unvarying propositions ; the ebb and flow which were its characteristic, must necessarily be reproduced in the picture drawn. Often also it is easier to say what was not than what was.

Towards the end of the fourth century, what is not, what has ceased to be, is the Church of the early times, the Church of the Apostles. Setting all details apart, you feel that an Apostle would have some difficulty in finding his way in that vast establishment, where dwell, since the days of Constantine, so many ambitions, and privileges. The carnal man has made himself at home in the Lord's vineyard. The apostolic Church still lives in a few chosen souls ; it lives not at all in the visible Church, which pretends to be its representative.

But if what we find, then, is not the Church of the Apostles, is it the Roman Church, the monarchical Church of subsequent days ? The Church is a monarchy certainly ; but the monarch is the emperor.

The historians of the Church have since made great efforts to transform the part played by the emperors into a simple protectorate ; and from the fact that the chief of the empire had sometimes been called ` the external bishop,' it has been concluded that there existed ' an internal bishop,' sole chief also in spiritual things. This is an error. The Church was a republic of bishops, a republic in which those shone and bore rule who were distinguished by their piety, or their learning, or their courage, or the importance of their sees, or the combination of several of these circumstances. Thus had been established the kind of Papacy which we see held by Ambrose, who was pious, learned, brave, and, moreover, bishop of Milan.

As to the Papacy of Rome, nothing can be more significant against it than the vast collection of the writings of Ambrose. Here is a proof of this, which is in some sort material. Open the indexes of the beautiful edition, in two folio volumes, published by the Benedictines towards the end of the seventeenth century. In each of these two indexes, the entries under the head of Church are most numerous ; the head for Roman Church is entirely wanting in one, and in the other occupies only a few lines, and mentions only three passages scattered throughout the enormous volume. Look out those passages, and you will not find one in which the supremacy of Rome is really inculcated.

One of these passages, often quoted in our own day, can only be applied as it is by the alteration of a word. ` They have not the inheritance of St. Peter who have not the chair (sedem) of St. Peter.' This is what Ambrose is stated to have written. Now, very ancient manuscripts have the word fidem instead of sedem ; the faith of St. Peter, and not the chair of St. Peter. Which is the right reading ? Evidently the first Roman copyists may easily have changed faith into chair ; but it is not likely that they changed chair into faith thus obliterating with one stroke of the pen a testimony which cannot but have been duly appreciated. Moreover, the author in this place (Treatise on Repentance) is speaking of faith, and not in any way of the hierarchy or of the Church; and why any mention of the Roman Chair should be introduced is not at all apparent.

But what is still more decisive is the opinion of Ambrose respecting the famous ' Thon art Peter.' Could he have spoken of the Roman Chair, in the Roman sense of that word, if he did not believe, also in the Roman sense, in the primacy of St. Peter ? Now, ac-cording to him, that rock of which Christ speaks is (see Commentary on St. Luke) not the Apostle Peter, but the faith of which he had been the organ a little before, when he replied to his Master, ` Thou art the Christ, the Son of God.' And not only does he assert this, but he draws from it a practical conclusion which takes away all room for doubt respecting his real thought. ` Strive, therefore,' he says to the believer ; ` strive, therefore, thou also, to be this rock. Seek it, not out of thyself, but in thyself.' A beautiful and grand idea. What Jesus said to Peter, He says to every Christian. That glorious position of which Peter had just made himself worthy, Jesus assigns to all those who, like Peter, declare themselves to be His disciples. So speaks Ambrose.

In the same spirit he says elsewhere, ` Where Peter is, there is the Church.' Read these words with their context (Commentary on Psalm xl.), and you will not understand how they can have been quoted in the Roman controversy. Ambrose is speaking in this place neither of the hierarchy, nor of the visible Church. He is speaking of St. Peter accompanying his Master before Caiaphas, and thus becoming the type of the Church which never abandons her Divine Master.

Finally, in another passage, in which he returns to the first image, and gives to Peter the title of Foundation of the Church, he imparts to the question an additional difficulty for future Romanizers. ' Paul,' he says (Treatise on, the Holy Spirit), ` is not inferior to Peter.' This passage has grievously troubled Catholic commentators. It was necessary to show that Ambrose did not say what he seemed to say ; it was necessary, which was still more difficult, to explain how he can have believed in the supremacy of St. Peter, and yet have contradicted it by this passing word. Would a Catholic ever be foolish enough to say, without further explanation, that ` Paul was not inferior to Peter ?' Bossuet, in his famous sermon on Unity, shows himself to be considerably embarrassed by this passage. ` The mystery,' he says, ` would take a long time to elucidate.' The mystery ! For Ambrose it was the simplest thing in the world. ` Though these two brethren, continues Bossuet, ` though these two brethren, the new founders of Rome, were to consecrate the Roman Church together ; however great St. Paul may be in knowledge, in spiritual gifts, in charity, in courage ; though he may have laboured more than all the other apostles, and he appears to have been himself surprised by the great revelations made to him, yet the word of Christ must prevail. Rome will not be the Chair of St. Paul, but the Chair of St. Peter.' This is to say, in fine language, ` I admit the fact, but I do not draw the conclusions, for that would be to ruin the Papacy.' All this, moreover, is complicated in Bossuet's mind by his Gallican ideas, and Gallican fears. Ile is willing to retain the primacy of Peter, but not in the same sense as the successors of Peter ; he will allow more than Ambrose, who allows nothing, but he refuses what the Ultramontanes, with the Pope at their head, claim. Let us leave them to settle matters between themselves ; whatever the result, it is unquestionable that a great gulf exists between the state of things revealed to us by the writings of Ambrose, and the Roman system, even as attenuated by Bossuet.

IV.

Again, the supremacy which men have tried to discover in a few passages of the writings of Ambrose, would, in any case, only be the supremacy of Rome, of Rome as a Church, and not of its bishop, of whom Ambrose in these passages says nothing. To confound the Church with the bishop, and the bishop with the Church, is again to look at the first ages through the atmosphere of later days, and to take one's stand on what requires to be proved. Now Ambrose would make this confusion impossible, for we do not see him attributing to the bishop of Rome any particular dignity ; he only designates him as he would designate any other bishop : Daurasus, Bishop of Rome ; Syricius, Bishop of Rome. That is all. He writes to him on the footing of the most perfect equality : ' Farewell, brother ; love us as we love thee.' This is how he concludes a letter to Syricius, and that at a time when the antique rudeness had given place to a whole vocabulary of formulas. In another letter Ambrose calls him father, but he does it quite familiarly and simply, as to an older colleague ; he makes use, moreover, not of the word pater, but of the word parens, which only expresses affection. In a third letter, less familiar, he does not in any way depart from the official formulas used in communications from one bishop or one Church to another ; it is neither more nor less humble than the letter of Syricius, to which it is a reply. Ambrose says, Lord brother ; but the same expression appears in his letters to other bishops. Ambrose says, Thy Holiness ; but Syricius, whose letter was addressed to several bishops, had said, Your Holinesses. And what, finally, is the matter under discussion ? Syricius communicates to the bishops of Liguria that he has just excommunicated such and such persons, and he asks them to do the same. The bishop of Milan replies that he and his colleagues have examined the matter, and have decided to excommunicate. Thus there is another fact to be noted : an excommunication pronounced at Rome was not necessarily in force at Milan. The bishop of Rome has excommunicated at Rome ; at his request, freely examined, the bishop of Milan deems it right to excommunicate at Milan.

The history of the illustrious bishop, as we have said, is not less instructive than his writings. It is impossible to discover any circumstance in which he appears to obey an order coming from Rome, or to require, for any purpose whatever, either permission or approval from that quarter. And we are still, as we must not forget, at the end of the fourth century.

V.

Thus, what was called the Church, what the Bishop of Milan always designated by that term, and sometimes characterized in admirable terms, was still at that period only the assemblage of the Churches ; and on this point, at least, the apostolical idea remained intact. This assemblage could not even have been called a confederation ; for a confederation presupposes a permanent official alliance, regulated by laws, and nothing, of the kind existed. The General Councils, besides being only general in name, created no more than an accidental bond ; more than half a century elapsed between the first (325) and the second (381). No one except the emperor possessed a general superintendence of the execution of the decrees ; every bishop had to perform this duty in his own diocese, and the bishop of Rome like any other. The Church, even when re-presented by a Council actually sitting, had not of herself any executive power over any Church or bishop ; that belonged to the emperor alone. Ile exercised it, of course, all the more in the intervals between the Councils, when the Church had no central organ, and became again a complex body ; he exercised it, in particular, in the calling together of Councils ; and the Councils of those days have left a very difficult task as a legacy to the defenders of the Roman system, for they all mention, in their decrees, the fact of their being called together by the emperors, and are absolutely silent as to any part taken in that act by the bishop of Rome. The Fathers of Nicaea, in a letter to the bishops of Egypt, say : ' The great and holy Council of Nicaea, convoked by the grace of God, and of the very holy emperor, Constantine.' The Fathers of Constantinople write to Theodosius : ' We have met together in accordance with the orders given us by Thy Piety.' Ambrose, at the Council of Aquilaea, writing to the three emperors then reigning, says, ` You have desired to call together a Council.' (Congregare studuistis concilium) Thus there is still no trace of a permanent, unique, administrative power belonging to the Church, and placed in the hands of a bishop considered as the head of the Church.

Sad is the task imposed on the Catholic historians, when, after having sincerely endeavoured to produce a true picture of those times, they are compelled to find a place for the Papacy. Where can they find it where discover the links to bind it to so many things that were done without its help and apart from it ? Look at M. de Broglie, in the preliminary discourse to his history of the fourth century. You read twenty pages consecutively, confirming pretty nearly all I have just said ; then, as if the author suddenly perceived that he had forgotten something, he quickly inserts some word about Rome and the Pope, though the effect of that word has been destroyed beforehand by the preceding pages. See, for instance, when he shows us the two patriarchs of Antioch and Alexandria exercising from an early date, in the whole of eastern Christendom, an authority generally respected. He feels that you will say, ` And the Pope ?' He tries to meet the objection. ` These two bishops,' he says, ` knew no superior but that of Rome. They were in. the East the medium of the pontifical authority, when, as too often happened, distance, the difficulties of communication, the precautions required by the danger of persecution, prevented that authority from being exercised directly.' These pre-cautions must also, doubtless, be considered as explaining why the two bishops so studiously hid from the world, even when the persecutions had ceased, that they were the vicars of their colleague at Rome ! But we will not jest. We respect M. de Broglie too much not to believe that it must have cost him a great deal to do such violence, in this place and in many others, to his conscience as an historian.

VI.

Shall we go so far as to say that there was then at Rome, and around Rome, absolutely no trace of what was at a later date to constitute the Papacy ?

Legally no, there was nothing. No imperial law, no religious theory established the bishopric of Rome as the necessary centre of Christian unity ; that bishopric might have disappeared, as so many subsequently did, without the Church ever suspecting that she had lost her chief. And if this was true as regarded the west, it was doubly true as regarded the east, the cradle of Christianity, peopled with Christians who, as we may see, entertained at that time but few relations with their brethren in the other half of the empire. Look at the first Councils. At Nicaea, out of 318 bishops, only three came from the west ; at Constantinople, out of 180, only one. Of course, as a Catholic newspaper lately observed, there were no railways in those days ; but still the journey was not too difficult, especially with the safe conduct of Constantine for the Council of Nicaea, and that of Theodosius for Constantinople. At Nicaea, it is true, the president, Osius, was a Spaniard, and in order to offend the Papacy as little as possible, he has been represented as a Papal legate ; yet Athanasius calls him ' the great Osius, father of the bishops, and leader of the Councils' titles that would be very little in accordance with the fact that Osius sat there as the representative of another, his superior, his supreme head, and the head also of the three hundred and fifteen eastern bishops, who, more-over, do not seem to be at all aware of the fact. In short, if it had not been for subsequent events, we might read and re-read the history of those times without ever suspecting the important part which we are told that Rome, and the bishops of Rome, were then playing.

We may, however, admit that the germs of that important part existed already more or less, germs that would have died without favourable opportunities of development, but ready to develope whenever the opportunity came. Rome was Rome, and it was impossible but that her old political supremacy should, in a greater or less degree, prepare the way for her religious supremacy. All that emanated from her, from her Church, from her bishop, possessed of necessity some importance ; and when, later on, she passed from the facts to the right, and claimed as being of divine origin that supremacy which no one had ever dreamt of recognising as such, she obtained all that she wanted.

Modern history might here furnish us with a very curious example of a similar state of things.

The French Protestants were so accustomed to consult the Church of Geneva, and to take it as their pattern, that their correspondence with its pastors might often seem to recognise a supremacy over the whole Protestant Church. That supremacy, of course, did not exist ; the Church of Geneva, as represented by its bishop, that is to say, by the body of the clergy, the company, neither had nor claimed any hierarchical authority over foreign Churches. And yet, see in what terms it was addressed. In the first place, the forms employed are always those of the most profound respect ; pastors and consistories often say, ' Gentlemen, and much honoured fathers.' The most important Churches, as those of Nimes, Paris, and La Rochelle, are not satisfied with beginning and ending their letters with ceremonious politeness, the general tone is always that of inferiority.. ` We honour and recognise your Church as the mother of ours' so writes, in 1606, the Church of Uzs. Rome would be glad to show in the annals of the first century a letter in which similar words had been addressed to her. And what do the Chnrches of France ask for in these letters so full of respect ? Most frequently for pastors. They are anxious to obtain them from the hands of the Church of Geneva : they will be happy to be bound to her by one link more, for in their eyes union with her shows the brotherhood of all. Ambrose says no more when, in one of the three sentences which the Romanists think they can quote, he speaks of the Church of Rome as that from which ` flow towards all men the rights of the venerable communion.' Often, too, the French Churches asked for direction and advice in the dangers that menaced them, or for the details of some regulation made at Geneva, and which they wished to adopt. The Company, in its replies, uses the moral right which these communications confer moderately, but frankly ; it advises, directs, and, at need, objects and reprimands. It will not accept the title of Mother, which the Church of Uzs had applied to the Church of Geneva. ` We should be sorry,' it says, ` to accept the title with which you have desired to honour our Church.' But though refusing the title, it assumes the position of a mother in the same letter, and speaks with authority. 'Cut,' it says, ' the roots of partiality that have greatly disfigured the beauty of your Church.' Does Clement, in that famous epistle, on the strength of which he has been made into a Pope, does he say more to the Corinthians ? Nor did the Church of Geneva only adopt this tone in dealing with simple presbyteries ; when it writes to the Synods of France, it does not abandon the exercise of that fraternal Papacy which the respect of the French had placed in its hands. See again with what respect the States-General of Holland wrote in 1618, to invite it to the Synod of Dort. The Papacy would be glad to be able to show a letter inviting it in the same style to the Council of Nicaea. And what would it be if the bishop of Rome had been asked to preside, as Theodore Beza was in 1570, at the National Synod of La Rochelle ? In short, if any one striving, a few centuries hence, to construct a Genevese Papacy, were to seek for materials in the history of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, he would find materials quite as good, if not more so, and certainly in greater profusion than those which men have been compelled to use in building up the Roman Papacy.

VII.

But it has not only been necessary to collect with care, to arrange with art, and to interpret in the sense of subsequent events, all that the first centuries have furnished that was susceptible of favourable interpretation ; it has also been necessary to put into the back-ground all that might have served to put matters in their proper light.

When we are told that the bishops of Rome interfered by their letters in the affairs of other Churches, it should be added that this right, which was purely fraternal, belonged to all bishops, and that there are numberless letters of the same kind.

When people insist on the tone of authority in which any particular bishop of Rome may have spoken, it should be added that the same tone is to be found in the letters of other bishops, custom allowing them all to reprimand sharply those who appeared to stray from the truth.

When we are shown a bishop of Rome excommunicating such or such a person, or else, according to the regular expression, admitting him into his communion, it should be added that every bishop did the samething, affirming or denying, as the case might be, his spiritual union with another bishop, or another Church. For a long time there existed no other general unity than that which resulted from this intercommunion between Churches and bishops constantly called upon to examine, in the midst of such frequent controversies, whether they were agreed or not. The importance of the see naturally added to the importance of the judgment ; but the authority of the individual was of even greater weight. That of an Athanasius, or an Ambrose, even had he only been bishop of some small town, would always have overborne that of an obscure individual occupying the See of Rome ; and it is to be observed that, during the first four centuries, no eminent theologian did occupy it.

When we are told, finally, of some honourable title given to the bishop of Rome, it should be added that none has yet been discovered that was not then applied to all bishops, or at least to the principal. The title of Pope itself is among the number.

Thus all the rights, all the prerogatives, all the honours, which the Papacy has succeeded in making people consider as belonging exclusively to herself, are shown by history to have belonged, during centuries, to all bishops.

And, besides, how many facts there are which might open all eyes, and destroy, by their negative force, the significance which certain things might seem to possess !

Instead of collecting together all that, when nicely arranged, might show that there was a Pope at Rome from the very earliest days of the Church, collect together all that would compel you to see the contrary.

See whether any bishop of Rome in those days ever deposed another bishop.

See whether any 'bishop of Rome in those days ever appointed a bishop, or confirmed him, otherwise than by a declaration of communion.

See whether there was any bishop in those days who, having to contradict or to blame the bishop of Rome, ever sought to excuse himself for attacking a superior.

See we have already said it, but how can we help saying it again ? see whether, in the works of so many bishops, so many writers, so many friends and enemies of the Church, you are able to find a single line that can be given, seriously and in good faith, as mentioning the Papacy.

The first Pope who was really a Pope was Boniface iii., in 604, two centuries after Ambrose. He was the first who received the title of universal bishop ; and this title he did not give to himself, neither did he claim it as belonging to him by divine right : he obtained it from the emperor. And from which emperor ? From Phocas, a usurper steeped in crime, and ready to bestow any favour in return for support given to his power.

Now this is what Boniface's predecessor, Gregory ., had said of that same title claimed by the Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster. ` Thou hast then arrived at this point,' he wrote to him, ` that despising thy brethren, thou wishest to be called the only bishop.' ' Let your holiness recognise,' he continues, ` how much you are filled with pride when you claim to be called by this title, a title which no one who was really holy has ever claimed. It is true, as your fraternity knows, that the Pontiffs of the Apostolical See which I occupy have received, as a mark of honour from the venerable Council of Chalcedon, the title of Universal Bishops. And yet no one of them has ever consented to be called by this name ; none has ever assumed this rash title, for fear that if he arrogated to himself in the pontifical dignity the glory of being singular, he should seem to refuse it to all his brethren.

In the first place, there is no qnestion whatever of a divine right. If Gregory believed that the title usurped by the patriarch belonged by divine ordinance to the bishop of Rome, it is evident that this was the first thing to be said the only one, indeed, for this argument carried everything. He says nothing about it. He says nothing, either, of a possession already ancient. The title is spoken of as having been given to the Popes by the Council of Chalcedon, which took place in the middle of the fifth century. And how was it given to them ? As a thing due ? No ; as a ` mark of honour.' Did they accept it ? Not one, says Gregory, up to his own time, that is to say, the end of the sixth century, has consented to take it. Why ? Because it is a ` rash' designation, which seems to deny the pontifical dignity to all the brethren of the Pontiff of Rome. The bishop of Rome rejects it, therefore, not only in its literal signification, but even as an honorary formula ; and if he blames Bishop John, it is not because he had taken what the Council had given to the bishops of Rome, but for reasons drawn from the nature of the title itself, a title rash and dangerous. Thus, whatever may have been at that time the pretensions of the See of Rome, it is evident that the man who could write thus did not yet consider himself, either of right or in fact, as the Universal Bishop, as the source of the authority of all bishops.

VIII.

This and how many similar facts might be brought forward ! this is what all those who make the Papacy date from the first centuries, all those who wish to show that it ruled of itself and by divine right, are compelled to hide or to disguise. The Pope of M. De Maistre is the boldest of these pieces of special pleading, and, morally considered, the saddest, for you cannot help asking at the end of every page, by what aberration of conscience so strong an intellect can have taken its stand upon such a mass of sophistry ? But he has been surpassed in our own day, and by a great deal, in con-tempt for logic and history. He at any rate took the trouble to discuss and to arrange, a lying homage, certainly, but still an act of homage, in a sense, to the rights of history and reason. To-day we do not even have special pleading, but hymns, hymns of adoration to the Papacy, songs of triumph over the mangled re-mains of all whom it imagines it has crushed in its onward march.

For the Papacy itself gives the example. M. De Maistre never deified it as Pius IX. deifies it; M. De Maistre never overlooked objections as Pius Ix. overlooks them. The reign of pure affirmation, the ideal of authority, has come. The Papacy is entering that ocean at full sail.

It cannot, therefore, regard with a favourable eye the more prudent advance of those writers who flatter themselves there are still a few that they can arrive at the same result without too openly defying or altering history.

Two systems are in presence. According to one, which has long held exclusive sway, the Church has always been the same, the same in doctrine, the same in organization. Bossuet allows to the Protestants the right of rejecting whatever can be shown not to have existed in the first centuries, and he considers himself bound to show that all they attack did so exist.

But as modern researches gradually rendered this position more difficult, another system sprang up, vague at first, and then more precise. -We find it in its completed form in the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, by Newman. The title indicates the leading idea. According to the author, Christianity (Catholicism) was certainly given to men entire, but not at first apprehended or applied in its entirety, because, owing to the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the complete comprehension and perfecting of great ideas ; and the highest truths, though communicated to the world once for all by the inspired masters, could not be at once understood by those who received them. Thus, in order that a doctrine may be true, or an institution rightful, it is enough that it should be the result of a development authorized and sanctioned by the Church.

This theory is not only at variance with Bossuet, with all the old Catholic controversialists, but with the very nature of most of the things which the sixteenth century thought it its duty to reject. For most of these are by no means such as require time for their comprehension. Purgatory, for instance, is eminently calculated to appeal to the coarsest minds ; confession is admirably suited to the most undeveloped con-sciences ; the worship of saints and images is what is best adapted to act on the imagination of the people. There is nothing, therefore, in all this that might not have been taught from the very beginning.

And nothing could have been more easily inculcated than the notion of a single head to the Church ; nothing could have been more clear, more simple, more comprehensible to all. The day after our Lord's ascension, Peter might have entered upon the exercise of his rights ; and there was nothing to prevent that, wherever the gospel was carried, there also should be carried the divine command that gave a visible head to the Church. Was this done ? No one would seriously dare to maintain it.

It is, therefore, in order to explain this inexplicable gap, that the Papacy has been declared to be one of those things destined from the first to reveal them-selves little by little. The authors who hold this view consider that the rights of the Papacy existed from the beginning, but that God left it to time to bring them to light. Thus all that the Papacy possesses, or will possess, even including infallibility, is, and will be, entirely rightful, seeing that all was contained in the divine institution as the blossom and the fruit are contained in the bud ; but in the same way that we cannot see the blossom when the leaf only has appeared, nor the fruit when the blossom only has appeared, so we must only seek in the Papacy at any given time for what is visible at that stage of its development. Thus all the facts which show that it did not exist in the earlier times, and that afterwards it was so different from what it has since become, are explained, and lose their significance ; thus, in particular, are explained the words and the acts from which we might conclude that the Popes themselves in those times did not regard the Papacy in the same light as their successors of modern days. They regarded it in the light of their age, and it was by degrees only, and as occasion offered, that God revealed to themselves, as to others, the extent of their power.

Once admit this theory, and of course difficulties vanish, and all the history of the Church is at the service of the Papal pretensions. The significance of such circumstances as may seem favourable will be magnified indefinitely ; they cannot be made to mean too much, as, whatever we may make of them, they necessarily only reveal the divine plan. The adverse circumstances will be either denied as untrue, or interpreted as not being by any possibility unfavourable ; or else, if there be no such means of escape, it will be said that they cannot prevail against an antecedent and divine right, hidden only for a moment from the eyes of the world and of the Popes themselves. A will in my favour may not at first have been under-stood by every one, perhaps not understood even by myself; but, nevertheless, I am the heir to all the rights that time may show to have been contained therein.

We see to what this leads us. It may briefly be translated thus : ` All that the Papacy has conquered, or may conquer, is in its hands necessarily legitimate.'

This is what the Papacy has always thought, and always said ; invariably it has passed boldly from the fact to the right. But yet it has always repudiated as dangerous and hurtful the system we have just ex-posed. It does not admit that anything in its history requires to be explained. It condemns (Syllabus, Art. 34) those who say that the primacy of the Pope has not been held since the foundation of the Church. Its champions, its historians, may settle matters as they like with history and their own consciences. They are forbidden to develope any other thesis than this : ` The Papacy has always been what it now is.'

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com