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Syllabus

( Originally Published 1870 )



I.

THE Encyclical was published on the 8th of December 1864, just ten years after the promulgation of the strange dogma from which the Pope, according to his bull, expected such magnificent results.

Among the thoughts suggested by these dates there is one which, as it seems to me, must inevitably strike both the friends and the enemies of Pius Ix.

Those magnificent fruits which the Immaculate Conception was to bring forth, according to the promises of 1854 — infidelity vanquished, heresy crushed, the Church and the Papacy triumphant where are they ?

The Encyclical, that serves as a preface to the Syllabus, is a funeral dirge. The Pope mourns, as a Christian, over the growth of anti-Christian doctrines ; he mourns especially, as a Pope, over the growth of anti-Roman doctrines. What, then, has occurred ? How is it that all those prophecies, so triumphantly amplified in the pastoral letters of the bishops, have proved to be no more than a dead letter ? Can it be that the Virgin, notwithstanding the famous decree, is unsatisfied ? Is a clearer deification necessary, in order to determine her to fulfil at last the promises made by the Pope in her name ? A singular method, indeed, of showing honour to the holy mother of Christ, to represent her as aspiring to the throne of heaven, and as allowing the man who places her on it to promise anything and every-thing in her name ! The Pope in 1864 promises less. He only says, when giving the customary recommendation, above all to invoke the Virgin, that it is she who has destroyed throughout the whole world all heresies those same heresies which are represented a little before as being more daring and dangerous than ever.

Let us leave these unmeaning phrases, which those who drew up the Encyclical did not even trouble themselves to reconcile. The great link between 1854 and 1864 is this :

In 1854, for the first time a dogma was created by the Pope. Not that the Popes had not already created more than one ; but till then it had been done in the name of the Church, the rights of the Church remaining intact. But in 1854 it was no longer the Church, but the Pope, and the Pope alone. True, he gathers round him two hundred bishops ; but they are made to understand, as we have seen, that they do not form a Council. Some prelates, among whom, perchance, was the one of whom we have already spoken, hazard a few objections. No notice is taken, and the ' accomplished fact ' developes peaceably into a right.

Now the fact transformed into the right is not that the history of the Popes ? It is unquestionably that of the kings. Created in the first place by the people, they all, sooner or later, came to declare that they reigned by divine right. And the Papacy has acted in a similar manner as regards every power which time, or circumstance, or. man, has placed, or suffered to fall into its hands ; thus did it act in 1864, not as regarded a few details of the Papal authority, but as regarded its very essence.

All the omnipotence which the Pope had exercised in fact ten years before, all that which occasions of a less prominent nature, but used with rare skill, had permitted him to exercise since then, is openly claimed in the Encyclical, and the word dogma is applied for the first time to the Ultramontane doctrine of the full power divinely given to the Pope by our Lord Jesus Christ, to guide, rule, and govern the Church. And the Pope orders that this full power, which he has just called a dogma, shall be considered as equally fill in all things. It is therefore forbidden that any one shall think that the Pope alone cannot decree an article of faith ; it is equally forbidden that any one shall consider himself bound only by his decrees in matters of faith, and not equally bound by all his decisions in matters of discipline, by all his `judgments respecting the rights and interests of the Church.'

II.

The immediate result of this last prohibition is to give equal importance to all the injunctions of the Encyclical, and to all the condemnations of the Syllabus. Thus, to deny God (Art. 1), or to deny the Pope ; to deny Providence (Art. 2), or not to be very sure that the Pope ought to have a temporal kingdom (Arts. 75 and 76) ; to be a Hegelian, a pantheist (Art. 1), or to admit that Protestantism is one of the possible forms of the Christian religion (Art. 18) ; to regard Christ as a myth (Art. 7), or to believe, or even only to hope, that the Protestants will be saved (Art. 17) ; finally, to deny all revelation, all religion (Arts. 4, 6, and 7), or to entertain the slightest doubt on any point of doctrine or of fact determined by the Pope, these things, by order of the Pope, are all one.

And yet no, they are not all one. With that utter want of any due sense of proportion which characterizes these strange documents, with that transparent simplicity which suffers the real objects of solicitude to appear through all the pomp of language, the strong epithet is many a time applied to the anti-Rowan sin, while the moderate expression is reserved for what only offends God, and does no more than endanger the salvation of souls. In the latter case the language is redolent, I will not say of trade, but of duty and burdensomeness ; the Pope says just enough to avoid the accusation of forgetting that heaven is in question. But when his language relates to the earth, I mean to the Papacy, to the Church, to rights that are contested, or institutions that are in danger,— then we feel that his words issue from a full heart, boiling with smothered wrath —the wrath of age with all its incoherency and repetitions, and the wrath also, one would say, of youth with all its imprudences. The Syllabus, though relatively temperate, contains some curious expressions, that are evidently reflections of this wrath. Thus pantheism and naturalism are errors only. Bible Societies are a pestilential invention. But in the Encyclical, from the first word to the last, we are struck by this want of all measure, by a feverish restlessness that strikes against everything. Twice, for instance, the lowest depravity of the infidels is described to be their sharing the ` aberrations of the heretics ;' and thus the heretics, who believe, though they do not believe in the Pope, are placed below the people who believe in nothing. But let us say no more of the epithets, which are always strong, always terrible, and always launched like hail upon the idea or the man who is to be condemned. I have observed something else. All those whom the Pope accuses of teaching error, he accuses at the same time of lying. What can this mean ? Is it true that those who attack the Gospel are Christians at heart, and those who attack Catholicism, Catholics ? But what is lying, if it be not to say what one does not think ? There is no meaning in the word. It is used only, like many others, to round a sentence ; it is a last stroke of the brush, or the dagger, or the pin, at your fancy. In any case there can be no question that its use is very undignified, and that such freaks would be more in character in a village sermon than in a letter urbi et orbi.

III.

These, however, are only details. The expression applied to the Bible Societies calls for more serious remark.

I find in the Encyclical a certain number of quotations. How many are from the Bible ? One only, and that not even from the New Testament, but from a Psalm : ' Happy is that people whose God is the Lord,' which the Pope immediately translates by ` Empires rest on the Catholic faith.' If the Encyclical did not contain this verse and a single passing allusion to the Holy Scriptures, one might read it from end to end without ever suspecting that the Bible exists,. either for the Pope, or for the Church in the name of which he speaks.

It would be very childish to wonder at this omission, for such wonder would imply that the Pope might, if he liked, have rested the Encyclical on the Bible. He might have done so, certainly, as regards the passages that relate to Christianity ; but, I repeat, his heart was not in such passages, and, moreover, in that case the omission of any Bible quotations in support of the Roman and Papal portions would have been too conspicuous.

It is possible, no doubt, to put a bold face on the matter ; and this is what the Pope does in the solitary passage in which he mentions the Scriptures. The passage is that in which he joyfully repeats, after Gregory xvi., that it is madness to, desire liberty of conscience. This, according to him, is what the Scriptures teach and proclaim. Where ? How ? He does not tell us. And why, after all, should he take the trouble to tell us ? As you must believe the Pope, even when he speaks without any appeal to the Bible, how should you not believe him when he is good enough to tell you that the Bible speaks through his mouth ? This is the opinion of the Abbé Gerbet in his Glance at Christian Controversy.1 According to him, it is a weakness to quote Scripture, for it is to abandon the authority of the Church. The Council of Trent, it is true, thought otherwise, and quotes Scripture wherever it can. But we have left all that far behind. Go to the Syllabus, and you will find (Art. 21) that to the Church belongs the right of ` defining dogmatically that the Catholic religion is the only true one.' As now the Church means the Pope, the translation of this article is necessarily this : ` It is the Pope's prerogative to declare that the Pope is right, always right, and consequently he lias no need to quote Scripture.'

If the process be logical after the Roman manner, it is none the less one of the traits of that development in doctrine which is taking place simultaneously with the development in the hierarchy.

No doubt the Roman Church lias long cared little about the Bible ; but never before had she so evidently set it to one side. To wrest and torture the Scriptures was at any rate a kind of homage, a recognition that a Christian Church stands in need of them. The Encyclical inaugurated, therefore, a new era, which had long been preparing in silence, and was openly proclaimed with the Immaculate Conception, but of which we now at last possess the manifesto in the Encyclical, and the programme in the Syllabus.

From both manifesto and programme spring a religion of which the Bishop of Rome would be not only the high priest, but the revealer, the lawgiver, and the prophet,--more than Moses was to the Jews, more even than Mahomet to the Mahometans, for the Koran is far less saturated with Mahomet than all the documents that have come from Rome during the last twenty years, are saturated with the Pope, his person, and his rights. But in the Encyclical of 1864 we have the formal consecration the definition, as it is called of that supreme independence which the Papacy assumes as regards the Bible and God Himself. It is the case of the great vassal, who at last has over him only a far-off, distant lord, a name, a theory, an abstraction. The Encyclical is the last utterance of the Papacy on itself ; the last utterance of the Vicar of Jesus Christ succeeding in bowing Jesus Christ out.

IV.

This is why that document is at once new and old, why it has surprised some people, and some people not at all.

For myself I am one of the latter class. I might say that I knew the Encyclical before it was written. Nay, I might even say that I had written it before the Pope, and that the task was not a hard one, inasmuch as the Pope had dictated it to me by the sum and detail of all his acts and words. Many persons, how-ever, though little disposed to be friendly to the Pope, thought that I was rash and unjust ; Catholic news-. papers affected a good deal of indignation. The Pope arrogate to himself all the ancient rights of the Church ! Calumny. The Church absorbed and annihilated in the Papacy ! Absurdity. Implicit faith required in every kind of Papal decision ! The proclamation of a state of things in which the Pope should hold in his hand body and soul, in which kings would only act as policemen under his orders to repress and chastise ! Falsehood and absurdity again. This is what was said. But was it believed ? Is it possible that what I, standing so far from Rome, saw clearly, should have been unseen by those who stood so much nearer ? Is it possible that my assertion that the Pope was thinking of what has since been accepted as sovereignly true, wise, beautiful, and holy, should have excited real indignation ? But these are tactics familiar to the champions of Rome. Till the day of open avowal, there are denials, and protestations, and indignation.

However that may be, I am absolved ; for the Pope has said much more than I put in his mouth, or than I should have thought I could make him say. Yes, I protest, if I had myself been allowed to draw up the manifesto I was afterwards to combat, I should not have dared to write it thus ; I should have feared to be unjust. So far, therefore, and from this point of view, I am one of those whom the Encyclical has surprised.

It has surprised me even in the things I expected to find there ; for I never expected to find them so bluntly expressed. The Pope has evidently striven to render every attenuation or arrangement of his thoughts impossible. We shall see, however, that he has only succeeded in multiplying the feats of controversial dexterity to which his friends have long been condemned, in order to excuse him somewhat to this age.

The Encyclical surprised me also as containing many things which I did not expect to find there ; not that I considered them foreign to the thoughts of Rome, but that I did not believe she would dare to say them. Moreover, I confess, it seemed to me impossible that Pius Ix., Pope though he be, should not have become, in some slight measure, a man of our own time, capable, at least, of accepting certain things. At any rate his past history warranted me in so believing. 'In that Mastai family,' said Gregory XVI., ` they are all liberal, down to the cats ;' and the future Pius Ix., having this reputation, had to wait some time for a cardinal's hat. I am well aware that in the eyes of Gregory XVI. it was very easy to appear liberal and revolutionary ; but even so, this proves at least that Archbishop Mastai was more liberal than his compeers, and more enlightened. Never, therefore, should I have expected that prohibition to admit that the Popes had ever overstepped their powers (Syllabus, Art. 23), or that their power was not, from the earliest times of the Church, what it afterwards became (Art. 34). Never should I have imagined a Pope, in the nineteenth century, forbidding any one to believe that the scholastic methods are not excellent for all time (Art. 13). Never should I have thought him sufficiently blind or imprudent to declare that the clergy should pay no taxes (Art. 30) ; that the clergy, whether in criminal or civil matters, should have its own tribunals (Art. 31) ; that a civil marriage is not even a civil contract, but (Art. 73) a contract radically null. Never, in fine, though fully aware of the small measure of his sympathy for modern civilisation, never should I have thought he would give expression to that want of sympathy, by the harsh sentence that closes the Syllabus : It is false that the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself with progress, liberalism, and modern civilisation. I could never have imagined the Pope dictating this sentence.

This sentence has appeared so strange, so portentous, that I have seen great enemies of the Pope hesitate to accept it in its-natural sense. ` Evidently,' they said, ` Pius ix. is speaking of unbridled liberalism, of the immoral refinements of civilisation, of materialistic, atheistic progress.' I wish I could think so ; but I cannot. If the sentence means this, it means nothing, and the anathema falls to the ground. Who ever said that the Pope should reconcile himself with unbelieving liberalism and immoral progress ? Who ever entertained the thought of asking him to belong to his age in this sense, and to march with it ? Again I assert, if he only said this, he said nothing, and the last of the eighty-four condemnations of the Syllabus, instead of being the most general and the most distinct, does nothing but break open a door already open contradict what has never been asserted. No, no ! let there be no equivocation. It is at modern civilisation, at progress, at liberalism, at what is good as well as at what is evil, that the Pope hurled his parting shaft. Is this not proved by all the rest ? Can any one show us a single sentence, a single word, in praise or even absolution of the most innocent modern idea ? And is not this last article, both in form and substance, the natural climax of that wild pell-mell, the supreme sentence of all the offences enumerated ? The Pope evidently is intoxicated with this great slaughter of ideas ; he wishes to conclude with some grand master-stroke. It matters little to him that his great blow falls somewhat at a venture, and that certain things decidedly innocent even at Rome are stricken down. It is the old story of the inquisitor at Béziers : ` Kill, kill on ! God will recognise His own !' Let it be war, then, war to the death, against all modern ideas ! The good, if there be any, will always have the great fault of being the sisters of the bad, and the bad are all those that hinder, or may hinder, the authority of the Pope, as he understands it.

V.

What a spectacle is presented by this insensate crusade and shameless warfare ! It has been said that at least the Pope showed courage. If courage thus blind and feverish can still be called courage, the Pope is brave assuredly; but the same conduct might equally be the result of fear. It has been said that, at any rate, one glory would be and would remain his that of having solemnly protested in favour of those great doctrines of which the ruin would be that of all religion and of all morality. But, in the first place, he shares that glory with a crowd of persons who have. spoken before him, and better than he has done, and that with-out looking upon themselves as heroes. Then, do you think that he has done much for those doctrines that are eternally holy, by linking them thus to all that is most calculated to disgust the men of the age, the wisest as well as the most mistaken ? Do you not think that the enemies of religion and morality are quite pleased, to find Christianity lowering itself to the level of the pontifical complaints, protests, and lamentations ? Could an infidel, who wished in sport to disguise the great Christian ideas, have done so more effectually than the Pope by the rags in which he has invested them ?

Morality too, the grand morality of the Gospel, to what do we see it reduced in the Papal document ? In the first sentence, which is just and weighty, he lifts up his voice against those who take from social order the eternal foundations of faith and justice ; in the following, the height of their folly and perversity is described to be hostility to convents, and condemning the multiplication of holidays and organized mendicity. This is the way in which the Pope acts as the champion of really great principles. He can only declare them to be inseparable from the small ones, from the most disputed and the most disputable. That Christianity henceforward, instead of attracting unbelievers, should become more and more unacceptable and odious to them ; that people who are still believers, nay, even still Catholics, should be impelled towards in-fidelity, it matters not ! Let Christianity perish, if it will not bear for ever all that Rome has placed upon its shoulders !

Such is the result of those two famous documents, which, in December 1864, ` shot through the old and the new world like a flash of light,' according to the saying of an enthusiastic bishop.

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