A Universal Internal Struggle
( Originally Published 1870 )
THE tremendous efforts made to attenuate and soften down what the Pope had uttered so clearly and uncompromisingly, are in reality only an episode in the struggle of which the Roman system is the constant occasion, even among those who accept and proclaim it.
Wherever despotism appears, liberty protests. There is the protest of those who resist ; there is also the protest, indirect and unconscious, but all the more dangerous and significant, of those who appear to submit, and believe that they do submit, though in very truth they do not.
Two men in our own times have offered a striking example of this latter kind of protest.
One was Lamennais. I speak not here, as some might suppose, of Lamennais when he had cast off the yoke of Catholicism, and was burning the idols he had once worshipped ; I speak of the Lamennais of the earlier years, of the brilliant and fiery author of the Essay on Indifference. Read the book through, and then tell me whether you do not feel, in every page of that long argument in favour of Catholicism, as it were the shudderings of liberty, of liberty striving and yet unable to lay down her sceptre. There are passages that remind one of Galileo recanting on his knees the error of the earth's motion, and saying, as he rises, ` It does turn !' The only difference is that Lamennais remains on his knees. There are passages yet more fiery, that remind one of the Stoic writhing on his couch, and declaring pain to be no evil. He dares not, he cannot deny that reason and conscience must suffer in offering themselves up as a sacrifice on the altar of his system ; but he labours to prove that that suffering is no suffering, and, moreover, that you cannot legitimately complain of what is necessary and natural. Necessary and natural that is his point, and to obtain wherewithal to establish it, he strikes noisily at every door, even at that of the most absolute scepticism. It is evident that, in order to compel himself to seek refuge in the arms of authority, he must first frighten himself by the picture of what he would become without such an asylum. He declares that not only would religious truth vanish from his breast, but all truth, all certain belief in anything whatsoever. ` I cannot of myself know anything, even that I exist. I must, even on this point, have the testimony of men, an authority to tell me what I can and must believe. So much the more do I stand in need of a religion.' And in order to give to the Roman system an appearance of reason, he proceeds to establish Christianity itself on a foundation of human testimony, on the authority of the human race of a minority of the human race, for the majority is not Christian. Christianity is shaken ; but what does that matter ? The Roman system becomes logical.
This logic itself rests only on scepticism, on a void. Again, that does not matter. The author has not sought for reality, but for appearance ; he did not wish to convince, but to bewilder himself. He wanted, in order to feel himself strong, strong against the enemy, strong against himself, armour which no one had yet proved, and which, if it did not turn out to be impenetrable, might at any rate have the glitter of novelty.
Rome was in great anxiety. She had received with considerable distrust the first volume of the Essay, in which the author, with all his zeal against Protestant-ism, shows himself every here and there so near akin to the Protestants. Had he not said in the very introduction, ` We do not say believe, but examine P Had he not, even while denouncing reason, reasoned, reasoned, and reasoned again ? But in the second volume the danger is - far more striking. The author imagines that he will make that divine right, in virtue of which the Church holds her sway, more evident and acceptable, by establishing it on a kind of universal suffrage, which would thus become the basis of Christianity itself. He goes beyond the Protestants, who at any rate uphold the Bible, and with the Bible the idea of a supernatural and positive revelation. In fact, he only leaves to the Church the right of saying that she is the Church that has most disciples, a human argument essentially, and one which, notwithstanding the grandeur of its enunciation, is really quite valueless. This is to what Lamennais reduced the authority of the Church, at the very time when he thought himself the best and most submissive of her children.
Such is the first great example in our century of that permanent, inevitable protest which exists in every soul of man against the Roman system.
The second great example is that of M. De Maistre.
I have not quoted against Lamennais the Catholic, that later Lamennais who was the enemy of Rome ; neither shall I quote against De Maistre the Catholic, and the zealous champion of the Papacy, the De Maistre who is revealed to us in certain correspondences published after his death. We should there see what he thought in his heart of that idol of which he so laboured to re-establish and confirm the worship. We should see that there was in his eyes very little difference between his spiritual master, the Pope, and his temporal master, the King of Sardinia, whose rights he also defended as sacred and necessary, but whose policy he never hesitated to impugn. Yet in doing this we should be acting quite in accordance with the laws of honourable warfare. We should not be setting the De Maistre of one period against the De Maistre of another ; we should be looking at the same man simultaneously kissing the foot of the Pope, and judging the Pope. But no. We will restrict our observations to De Maistre as he shows himself in his works. We shall find there all we require.
Moreover, if we were to insist on the contradiction between the author and the man, it would not be to draw the conclusion that the author had lied. He may have been he was sincere. But that sincerity which we acknowledge, may it not have been the sincerity of fear, as we said above ? Yet fear and M. De Maistre could not, one would at first sight suppose, have been companions, though it should not be forgotten that the soldiers who are most really brave are not those who speak the loudest. But there are other sincerities besides ; there is, in particular, the feverish sincerity of the man who cannot take up his pen without getting excited at the first word, and who finds in every contradiction, from whatever side it may come, a sufficient motive for imperturbable assertion and pitiless attack.
This is the sincerity of M. De Maistre. It is that of a soldier in battle conscientiously sabring the enemy, without stopping to think whether he hates him, and whether the war is just or unjust. The enemy is the enemy ; a soldier does not look beyond. But a soldier, at least, is not always fighting. He has time, when the war is over, to examine into the causes of the strife, to arrive perhaps at a comprehension that the strife was unjustifiable, and that he might, without failing in his duty, have resisted the intoxication of bloodshed. But with M. De Maistre the battle is without an end, the excitement endless also, and the enemy always the enemy. He will never yield anything ; he will never lose any opportunity of striking a blow ; he will not give himself a moment to examine the causes of the quarrel, and the motives of his own wrath ; he will not even consider with himself whether he is really angry. He wishes to be so, and he will be. He re-quires it ; it is his life.
But and this is the point at which I wished to arrive if you look far down into the depths of this perpetual anger, you will become convinced that the enemy against whom he is principally struggling, the enemy whom he strikes vicariously upon others' shoulders, is himself. Insult, sarcasm, irony, argument, falling pell-mell upon Protestants, Gallicans, Catholics who are not Catholic enough, even upon Ultramontanes when they are not Ultramontanes in the same sense as the author, all this noise, all this tumult, are principally for the purpose of stifling in his own breast the resistance of a spirit pre-eminently ill adapted to suffer the despotism of which he is himself the apostle. In that style that is always biting, in that bitter energy of language, we hear, as it were, the sneering laughter of the slave, who takes a delight in tormenting others by showing them that they too are slaves, and will be so for ever. It is like the negro in Uncle Tom's Cabin, saying to the mulatto, ` You are only a nigger like me.' He evidently takes an acrid pleasure in contradicting his enemies, in saying everything in the form that will wound them most deeply, and thus avenge the wound already rankling in his own breast ; evidently also, when he argues, he thinks much more of irritating than of convincing. One feels that he takes pleasure in thinking of them as losing all patience, and throwing his book to one side, and then by some secret attraction taking it up again, and again throwing it away. At other times he takes pleasure, on the contrary, in putting them altogether out of their reckoning by the most unexpected and amazing concessions. For instance, he, the advocate of the ropes, will speak of that ` scamp of an Alexander vi.!' He is well aware that this is playing into the hands of his adversaries. Never mind ! These are bones he throws them to pick the expression is his own and it amuses him.
All this, we say again, shows contempt for truth, contempt for men. No, this is not the way a man preaches a doctrine which he has really accepted as the foundation of religion, morals, social order, and all things. There is here no sign of one who is thoroughly convinced of an apostle ; we have instead the advocate, in the worst sense of the word, the special pleader who plays with the perils of his case, who is bold only that he may have an opportunity of displaying his skill, and who laughs at those who believe in him and admire him. The man thoroughly convinced may be equally violent ; but he will not, like De Maistre, be coldly, maliciously, spitefully violent ; he will not play with what he preaches ; he will not take pleasure in making it unacceptable, so that he may have to accumulate his arguments, his cold sophistries, and his evil sarcasms.
There is, therefore, no alternative : either M. De Maistre preached what he did not believe, or we are justified, though convinced of his sincerity, in regarding his eagerness for the fray, and carelessness of success, his feverish railing polemics, so deafening to the looker-on, so deafening especially to himself, as a proof of our first proposition, in the inner recesses of his heart, as in that of Lamennais, a struggle was going on against the Roman system; real submission was impossible.
We shall apply the same remarks to all whose polemics show a similar character. What we have said of these two men is true of all who endeavour, like Lamennais, to reconcile philosophy and Catholicism, and of all who surround themselves, like De Maistre, with a great tumult of sophistries, and jeerings, and insults. These followers may hold very different places in our regard ; some may appear to us to be worthy of every sympathy, and others of every form of contempt. But all will be to us the living proofs that Liberty may turn into suffering or lying, but that she does not abdicate her throne.
Thus to return to De Maistre the real difference between him and those Gallicans, those Jansenists, whom he attacks with such energy, is infinitesimal ; and, perhaps, all that was wanted to make the resemblance patent, was an occasion in which he would have been compelled, like Lamennais, to choose between obedience and rebellion. He had, in truth, foreseen such a case, and prepared a system in consequence. Combating, in a certain passage of his writings, some opinion on the nature of the soul, he exclaims, ` That, I never will believe.' But bethinking himself, he adds, ` Unless it happened that I were admonished by the only power that possesses a legitimate authority over human belief. In that case I should not hesitate, and instead of having, as at this moment, the certainty that I was right, I should then have the faith that I was wrong.' Yes ; but as he does not say that the faith would destroy the certainty, this means, in substance, that he will observe all the forms of Catholicism, and submit outwardly, while he is free within ; and thus we are once again led back, though certainly by a wretched path, to the same point of liberty.
But this does not prevent M. De Maistre from being fully and entirely right, when, from the firm ground of his principle, he shows how false and illogical is the position of those people who profess to be subject to the Church and subject to the Pope, and who yet reserve to themselves the right of determining in what they shall or shall not submit.
The history of Jansenism might, indeed, enter al-together into a picture of the impossibilities attendant on a real application of the Roman system. Nor would this be altogether a history of ancient times. We are told that there are no more Jansenists. No, not under that old name ; but under other names and other forms, and especially with very much less piety, there are more than ever. Do you know many Catholics, even very moderately enlightened, who practise that absolute submission of which the theory is now so loudly proclaimed ? And the bishops, the heralds of the theory, what example did they give to their flocks in all the pastoral letters called forth by the Encyclical, if not to choose and arrange what they should consider it their duty to do and to believe ?
But the history of Jansenism in the seventeenth century is not only a' long chapter in the history of human inconsistency, it is, moreover, a very painful record of what so many choice spirits suffered under a yoke, half broken, but all the more galling and heavy. And, on the other hand, how miserable were the sophistries by which they endeavoured to justify their course to the Church, and to reassure themselves ! The latter they succeeded in doing. ` If my book,' said Pascal proudly, ' is condemned at Rome, that which I condemn in its pages is condemned in heaven.' But the Jansenists never succeeded in the other task of justifying themselves to the Church and to the Pope. Had they ever seriously hoped to do so ? I doubt it. The Papacy sometimes kept silence, but it was a silence of which the significance was unmistakeable ; sometimes it lifted up its voice, and then it was invariably to condemn. A reduplication of subtleties and sophistries was the result. The Jansenists declared that they bowed in all humility, but only to the right of condemnation ; as regarded the fact the question whether the Pope had been justified in condemning in the case under consideration they reserved its examination. ` I recognise his supreme authority ; I only reserve to myself the right of annulling by my own authority such of his decrees as I do not like.'
What the Jansenists did in matters of dogma, the Gallicans did in matters of jurisdiction. The Pope, they said, is the supreme head of the Church ; but the episcopate will determine absolutely, in every country, what are, on every question, the limits of the Pope's power.
Such is the doctrine of Bossuet. The Pope is retained as the head, because a 'head is necessary ; but he is less a chief, a man issuing commands, than a source of authority, a force from which every bishop derives what goes to make him a bishop, the bishop reserving to himself the right of employing his de-rived powers when and how he pleases. With this proviso the Gallican bishop is the most submissive of bishops, and the more rebellious he is, the more will he proclaim his submissiveness. In his Defence of the Gallican Church, in the middle of that argument, the conclusions of which, as he is perfectly well aware, are abhorrent to the Pope, Bossuet says, ` I protest before God that I am sincerely zealous for the interests of the Holy See, and for all that may tend to uphold the majesty of the Roman Pontiff.. . . I exhort the enemies of that See not to hate it under pretext of certain rights that by some persons are attributed to it.' And Bossuet knows perfectly well that the Pope himself is one of those persons ; but this will not pre-vent him from adding, a few lines further on, ` I protest that I am submissive, and that I shall be so till my last breath, to the authority of the Catholic Church, to that of the Holy Apostolic See, and to the Roman Pontiff, by whom the See is occupied.' And the school of Bossuet that is to say, with a few exceptions, the whole French episcopate took its stand for a century and a half on this strange anomaly. Sometimes there was a little more boldness, sometimes a little less ; some-times the Gallican maxims were represented as peculiar to France, sometimes proclaimed as applicable to the whole Church. `We hold our maxims,' wrote M. de la Luzerne in 1821, ` to be certain in themselves, and consequently certain in the whole Church, though they are not recognised in the whole Church. . . . They are everywhere certain ; but all the world is not certain of them.' And thus the opinion of Rome, so diametrically contrary, is transformed into a simple doubt. The Pope is not certain that the Gallicans are right.
Moreover, the position of the French bishops was complicated by their quarrel with the Jansenists, against whom they had constantly to invoke the same Papal power which they were doing their utmost to uproot. Nothing can be more strange than to see the Gallicanism of that time exposing the contradictions of Jansenism. But do not men always redeem their inconsistencies at other people's expense ? The. Gallicans smote the Jansenists ; the Jansenists, who were Protestants in disguise, launched book after book against the Protestants. What had the latter done, except that they were more frank ? They had with one effort shaken themselves free from an authority which the Jansenists reserved the right of shaking off in detail ; they had only proclaimed that other authority which the Jansenists also recognised as supreme, though they did not dare to say so the authority of the Holy Scriptures. During a century and a half all the efforts, all the subtleties of Jansenism, concentrated themselves round one point to escape being designated as heretics ; and as the Popes, on the other hand, in order not to drive them to extremities, avoided applying the term to them formally, there was no reason why this strange game should ever have come to an end.
But that word, which Rome had always avoided, M. De Maistre writes it in full, quite certain of the approval of Rome. ' The Church,' he says, ' has never since its foundation seen such an extraordinary heresy. All others, at their birth, separated themselves from the universal communion, and even took a pride in not belonging to a Church whose doctrines they rejected as false. Jansenism goes to work in a different manner. It denies that it is separated ; it will even, if desired, write works on unity. . . . It entertains the pretension of belonging to the Catholic Church in that Church's despite.' Madame de Sévigné, who did not look at the matter from this point of view, and who moreover liked the Jansenists, has in a couple of lines, and with her usual admirable good sense, given the best description of the position. ' These men,' she writes in 1680, ' who in their books make such beautiful restrictions and contradictions, speak much better, and with far greater dignity, when they are not constrained and strangled by policy,' by that necessity, she means, of appearing in harmony with the Church, when they are not really so in the least.
But if these men, otherwise so pious and honourable, strangled themselves thus in a policy of subtleties and sophistry, whose fault was it, to begin with ?—whose, but that of the system, which strangled them in a much more effectual manner in their faith, in their exalted piety, in their love for the word of God ? In France many of their adversaries understood, at least in some slight degree, what were the noble religious wants that were at the bottom of their rebellion ; at Rome such a conception seems never to have entered into any one's head. They themselves remarked this sadly ; they felt that the discussion between them and Rome related not merely to a few condemned propositions ; and notwithstanding all their contradictions, all their sophistries, all their falsehoods, if you will, this at any rate is historically clear, that the Jansenists were the most serious and the most pious among the Catholics of those times, and that it was to them that authority, as understood at Rome, was most invincibly repugnant.
We have seen Bossuet destroying the Papal authority. His subsequent efforts to restore it rather completed the work of demolition, so poor was the logic, so inaccurate the history, the whole thing so evidently dictated by the necessities of a false position. He wishes, for instance, to show that though the Pope may err, the Papacy is nevertheless infallible. Peter, the infallible foundation of the Church, is not, he says, represented by the man who may happen at any particular time to occupy his place, but ` by all the succession of the Roman Pontiffs.' All the succession ! But that succession can only be represented at any given time by one man : and if you admit that that man may err, will it not always be possible to object to any one of his teachings, ` This time he is mistaken ? Is it possible that Bossuet does not see that this is to give every one, in every matter, the right of appealing from the Pope misinformed to the Pope well-informed, from the living Pope to a future Pope, and thus, in the end, of refusing to obey ? The question of heresy is another great difficulty. Would not a Pope who was mistaken be a heretic ? Bossuet is frightened at the word. If Popes have taught any-thing false, ` at any rate they have not maintained it with that obstinacy which alone makes a heretic.' But, you will say, if they had only maintained it for a day, for an hour at any rate there was an hour of heresy. When, moreover, was it seen that the Popes were so ready to disavow their opinions ? If Bossuet believed that what he was thus teaching respecting the Papal authority was the right doctrine, he must have found, on the contrary, that the eclipses of truth at Rome sometimes lasted a very long time, inasmuch as the Popes had held a different opinion for at least a thousand years. But he cares very little for history, though so great an historian when not, as in this matter, ` strangled by policy.' ' Never,' he says again, 'never have the Popes objected to re-examine with the General Councils questions that they themselves had already decided.' Therefore, no doubt, if Pius Ix. be requested to reconsider with the present Council his decree respecting the Immaculate Conception, he will hasten to give his consent.
These petty arguments of such a powerful reasoner, these inaccuracies of such a great historian, these falsehoods of Jausenists so remarkable for their piety, these unspeakable efforts to restrict, without entirely destroying, the power of the Papacy, these difficulties recurring from age to age, from half-century to half-century, and in our own day almost from year to year, all explain why, weary of the struggle, those who wished to remain Catholic have at last bowed their heads, leaving it to the Papacy to determine what she is, and what she means to be. She alone could do it logically ; and logically also she could not fail to insist upon all the consequences of the principle. Here, again, time has worked for her. It has shown the impossibility of discovering any middle way between obedience and rebellion ; it has brought into full sunlight the absurdity of all those compromises which France in particular had so laboriously effected, and so carefully maintained. M. De Maistre has overthrown Bossuet ; and all who had not the courage to declare themselves free have been brought to that submission long since typified in the act of kissing the Pope's toe. And thus the Pope was able to say in the preamble to the Apostolical letter convoking the Council : ' The Lord chose Peter alone from among all the Apostles to be their prince, his vicar on earth, the chief foundation and centre of the Church, so that, in the sovereign fulness of authority, power, and jurisdiction, he might, at that high degree of rank and honour, feed the lambs and the sheep, confirm his brethren, govern the Church universal, be the doorkeeper of heaven, the judge of all that should be bound or loosed, his judgments and definitions being destined to subsist 'in heaven as upon earth. . .. And this power, this jurisdiction, this supreme primacy given to Peter over the whole Church, belong, in all their vigour and in all their fulness, to the Roman Pontiffs, his successors.'
Observe, among other things, this expression, ` His definitions being destined to subsist,' etc. Now definitions, at Rome, refer only to articles of faith. Consequently the Pope's infallibility is evidently contained in these words ; it is proclaimed by the Pope in the very letter convoking the Council appointed to proclaim it.
Observe next, the form adopted. The Pope seems to fear that he would be too humble if he only re-presented his definitions as inspired, as coming to him from heaven ; they must, he says, subsist in heaven as on earth. Thus God is bound to regard as true everything he may have taught ; and if Pius Ix. took it into his head to decide, like one of his predecessors, that it is impious to believe in the earth's motion, God would be compelled to admit that up to that time He, the Creator, had not understood the solar system.
Finally, observe the general tone. I do not ask what could possibly be added if the Pope's language referred to Jesus Christ Himself reigning personally upon earth. I ask if ever the reign of Christ, if ever the reign of God, has been thus represented either in the Bible, or in any Christian book ? Such a conception of the Church no longer contains any idea of the flock in the noble and sweet sense which the Gospel gives to the term ; its chief is not a shepherd according to the meaning of that word as it fell from the lips of Jesus Christ. The flock is purely passive ; the shepherd cares for but one thing : to maintain among the sheep the feeling of his power and of their nothingness.