Works Of Catholicism
( Originally Published 1870 )
WHILE the Papacy, considered from a hierarchical point of view, was marching towards this speedy consummation of its wishes, it was, at the same time, enlarging the bases of its religious influence, and, whether for good or evil, neglecting nothing to bring the nations more and more within its toils.
I say ` whether for good,' and God forbid that I should refuse to recognise whatever may have been done in a Christian spirit, no matter under what banner, for the alleviation of moral or material suffering, for the advancement of God's kingdom in men's hearts ! It is unquestionable that, for the last thirty years, Catholicism has offered to us a spectacle of very great activity, and, among its works, there are many to which the name of Christian works cannot be refused.
Still, without speaking as yet of those that can lay but small claim to the title, there are many objections to be made.
And first, not to travel out of my subject, if I were to set myself to discover how much, in those works that really are good, is due to the Papacy, I should find that there was very little. Not that the Pope has ever refused to bestow, when the occasion seemed to require it, encouragement or praise ; but in no case did any first impulse come from him, nor does he ever appear to have thought it part of his duty to give it. Encyclicals, allocutions, letters apostolic, letters to individuals, all, more or less, may be summed up as a recommendation to preach authority and unity the authority of the Pope, and unity under the Pope. To preach this, to labour by all means to uphold and consolidate this, is evidently, in the eyes of the Pope, the great work, the work of works, and all others interest him only in proportion as they contribute, more or less efficaciously, to this end.
This idea of the head could not fail to dim the beauty of many works, excellent in themselves, but marred by the constant endeavour to make them serve to the glory of the Church, and the glory of the Pope. The glory of God, and the reign of God, are too often placed in the background ; and, in order to arrive at this conviction, it is frequently not even necessary to study the intentions that are hidden and unavowed. The Church, her rights, her interests, her chief, are openly made the first aim, object, and consideration. Look, for instance, at those associations of young men that are being multi-plied throughout all Catholic countries. They do good in many respects. But look at their statutes, look at the spirit in which they are trained. No doubt there is a desire to save the young men's souls ; but what is desired even more is, that they should be a kind of militia, rallying round the Church and the Papacy.
Often, moreover, it has been evident that many of the things done, and among those, the best, were only half approved at Rome. Wherever Catholic activity has suffered itself to be inoculated with a modern or liberal spirit, as, for instance, in any matter relating to the education of the people, or to intelligent and moralizing charity, it has been followed from Rome with anxious, and sometimes even angry eyes. There was a dread of even the appearance of a reconciliation with the liberalism which the Encyclical of 1864 declares to be irreconcilable with the Papacy. Of this, at any rate, there can be no doubt, that such works have never obtained a footing in countries that are more professedly Roman.
Even as regards works that are strictly Catholic, and meet with the entire approval of Rome, it is certain that what I have just called the countries professedly Roman have scarcely shaken off, even during the last thirty years, the slumber of ages. And if Catholicism, in our day, has often deserved praise for activity and life-giving power, this has been much less in countries where it reigns supreme, than where it has had to struggle, either against Protestantism, or, as in France, against institutions and tendencies more or less inimical to it. Without depriving it of the glory to which it is entitled for the good it has done, this observation shows, at any rate, that in order to do that good it required some foreign stimulus, and that, when left to itself, it did little. This, indeed, is only what we have already pointed out with respect to previous ages. It is nearly always far away from Rome that the apologists of the Roman Church have to seek for their facts; Rome, on the contrary, furnishing generally more than any other spot, causes of reproach and attack. Standing upon her rights, she has never, it would seem, been able to understand either that those rights might be compromised by scandals, or that they had to be justified by the fruits of life and salvation. Rome, even in her best moments, is the head, the brain, the political leader, and, above all, the power of dominion : if you wish to find the heart, the life, the Catholic works that really carry with them the seal of devotedness, of faith, of Christianity, you must seek elsewhere. Rome is but the centre of a great speculation. From the Pope to the lowest sacristan, every one, more or less, is pursuing a trade, a trade which may be followed by some, as by Pius Ix. for instance, in a serious spirit of duty, but still a trade, a matter of routine, appealing only to selfish and earthly energies. There no one dreams of trying to throw a poetical halo over Christianity ; and we, on our side, might nearly always reply to the poetical rhapsodies that come to us from elsewhere, ` Look at Rome ! See whether the people of Rome, be they priests or laymen, appear even to suspect that this is a true picture of Catholicism.' The poetry of Rome lies in. the memories of antiquity, or, as regards foreigners, in the splendours of her ceremonial, in the Papacy as seen through a bright and luminous atmosphere which they carry with them from afar ; but the poetry of faith, the reality of religious feeling, the true Christian life, the need of making that life bear practical fruit in real Christian work, all this is, perhaps, more rarely to be found at Rome than anywhere else; and those eminent Christians, whom we are happy to recognise here and there in the ranks of the great Catholic army, neither have received, nor ever will receive, anything whatever from Rome.
So much, then, for the works that are worthy of either unqualified, or somewhat qualified praise. But how many there are, of which we could only approve by forgetting whence they come, and whither they tend !
'Spain is being revived in France,' said a recent writer, and he might have applied the same language to many other countries. He was referring especially to those innumerable convents that are multiplied every year hot-beds of Romanism, sources of difficulty for all governments, a defiance to all modern ideas. A country is covered noiselessly with these citadels, erected against that very freedom that suffers them to be erected at all. It does not matter whether there are inmates for them or not, the building goes on ceaselessly. ` The cage will attract the birds,' said one who was wise in these matters. And, as a matter of fact, the birds are attracted, and other cages are built which only the fury of new revolutions will be able to destroy.
Let us not be misunderstood. This is neither a threat, nor the expression of a hope. We do not wish for such destructions as these, which, moreover, are always followed by a reaction. We are only showing, in some sadness, this return to one of the worst modes of understanding Christianity, and implanting it among the peoples. Convents are to become the salt of the earth ; but, even if they should not become what, on the contrary, they long were, what they still are in many places, even then, is it from thence that would proceed a Christianity sufficiently powerful, sufficiently pure, to overcome the evil of the age ? A few souls may perchance be gained over; and, even then, gained over to what ? As to the rest, their antipathies are only embittered ; and here, again, Christianity pays the penalty for Catholicism, and Jesus Christ for the Pope. But this does not much trouble the Pope. He is overjoyed at the increase of that gloomy army which, whether in convents, or in houses established for the purpose of preparing the workmen of Catholicism, is animated like himself by one thought only, and has but one end in view, the subjection of the world. That army covers the whole surface of Catholic Christendom ; it openly declares its intention of enchaining and stifling the age. The net has been broken in Spain and Italy, but has been remade elsewhere ; it is remade constantly, according to the fashion dictated by experience ; it is always the same, and yet always varying ; the end is unchanged, but the means differ infinitely according to places, customs, and circumstances. Here again, and here especially, the best works are marred by the evident intention of making them all contribute to further this general plan of conquest and repression.
The people are not deceived ; and even in the hand, even in the eye of the gentlest sister of charity, they recognise the iron grasp, the haughty, domineering look, the hard and unyielding will, to which they know that all who demand or accept anything from Rome have to submit. They may bless that sister of charity, not always, however, for she is not always gentle, they may, I say, bless from the bottom of the heart the woman who has come to tend wife or children ; but they will none the less feel that it is war to the death between the power she represents, and all the instincts of the modern world. Sometimes, no doubt, the most detestable sentiments are mixed up with this opinion, and the Pope's army is hated less as being the Pope's, than as representing religion and faith. But who in the world has most contributed to establish and maintain this antagonism ? Who has given colour to this distrust of all religious work, to this suspicion that religion is only a weapon, even in the holiest hands ? And observe this : the closer Catholicism has rallied round the Papacy, the more its servants in every rank have assumed the painful and compromising character of an army, and, moreover, of a foreign army. Formerly, Catholicism might already, in theory, be one ; but, in fact, it was in each Catholic country the religion of the land. Its chiefs, its works, even its doctrines possessed everywhere more or less a national character. Now all this is changed. The chief is, not merely nominally, but really at Rome, whence he rules over everything ; the highest chiefs next to him are only his officers, his servants, his courtiers, occupying in his name all the parts of an empire of which the greatest states are but provinces.
You feel that you are in a conquered country ; and unfortunately, in the eyes of many people, it is not Catholicism only, but Christianity itself that appears to be a foreign, suspicious, dangerous importation. This, again, is one of the baleful services which the Papacy, in our day, has rendered to Christianity.