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Leo XIII

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

1810

A PAPAL POLICY OF CONCILIATION

Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci, who succeeded Pius IX in the Papacy as Leo XIII, was born March 2, 1810, at Carpineto, in the States of the Church. His father was Count Ludovico Pecci; his mother, Anna Prosperi, was a descendant of the celebrated Cola di Rienzi, "the last of the Roman Tribunes." At the age of eight years he was sent, together with his elder brother, Giuseppe, to the Jesuit College at Viterbo. At fourteen he entered the schools of the Roman College, which had been restored to the rule of the Jesuits.

The young Pecci was a remarkably precocious student. He wrote Latin, both prose and verse, at the age of twelve, and later turned with avidity and success to the study of the sciences. In mathematics and chemistry he became particularly proficient, taking in both the highest honors. Almost from the first Pecci showed himself as one to whom the management of men came by nature; and though he kept on writing poems, both in Latin and Italian, the unconscious bent of his mind was toward an active part on the great stage of the world.

On December 23, 1837, Pecci was received into the priesthood, and was at once put by Gregory XVI into active service, being appointed Apostolic Delegate at Benvenuto. In this position, though still young, he showed remarkable aptitude for the administration of affairs. He set himself at work at once, and with success, to suppress brigandage, which at that time at Benvenuto, as elsewhere in Italy, and as still in Sicily, was winked at by the authorities and covertly fostered by some of the nobles and great landlords, who made their profit out of it. After a service of four years at Benvenuto Pecci was recalled to Rome by the Pope, and was sent to Spoleto this being a promotion and thence shortly after to Perugia.

Soon after this second promotion Pecci was appointed (1843) Nuncio to Brussels, having first been made, to qualify him for the post, Archbishop of Damietta an office purely nominal. At the court of King Leopold he remained three years, and was then appointed Bishop of Perugia, at the earnest solicitation cf the people of that place, whose esteem he had won during his short ministration among them. On his way homeward from Brussels Pecci visited London, where he was graciously received by Queen Victoria, particularly because of the high recommendation of Leo- pold. From London he passed on to Paris, and was there received with equal cordiality by Louis Philippe. He arrived in Rome just in time to hear of the death of his patron, Pope Gregory, and to learn that Cardinal Mastai Ferretti was raised to the Papal chair, under the title of Pitts IX.

At Perugia Pecci labored, first as a Bishop with, however, the title of Archbishop, previously bestowed upon him and afterward as Cardinal, for more than thirty-two years, with indomitable energy and skill in the promotion of every good work which concerned religion, education, and the general welfare of the people. He established colleges, schools, hospitals, and all manner of charitable institutions, and withal, having a soul for art and artistic decoration, he contrived to add new beauties to one of the most picturesque of the Italian cities.

In 1877 Cardinal Pecci was raised by Pope Pius to the dignified and important office of Cardinal Camerlingo (Chamberlain) of the Roman Church. In that capacity after the Pope's death (February 7, 1878) he had charge of all the arrangements for the solemn obsequies of the Pontiff, received the Catholic ambassadors, and made the preparations for the Conclave which was to choose a successor to Pius IX. The Conclave met February 18, 1878. On the 20th Cardinal Pecci received a majority of the sixty-one votes cast, and his election was then made unanimous. He was duly pro-claimed Pope in St. Peters, and on March 3d he was crowned in the Sistine Chapel under the title of Leo XIII.

The new Pope lost no time in entering upon the more important duties of his office. On the 4th of March the day after he was crowned he published a bull establishing the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Scotland. This was simply carrying out the policy of his predecessor. Pius IX had already reestablished the Catholic Church in England. The act had aroused at the time a frenzy of popular passion in that country. An act of Parliament had been passed declaring the hierarchical titles taken from English cities and districts to be illegal. But the agitation had very soon subsided. The act of Parliament had been quietly repealed; and now in England the Catholic Church stood on a firm basis. A similar, but less violent, outcry was now heard in Glasgow; the Pope's letter was publicly burned. But here, as in England, the Protestant animosity soon gave way to a more liberal state of mind. The Pope's letter was well calculated to quiet the fears of the most distrustful. It spoke of the devotion which many of the Highland clans had displayed toward the Church of Rome in days of persecution, and it paid a special tribute of praise to England for the toleration which she now accorded to the members of that church. Thus the Pope began his reign in a spirit of the most genuine conciliation.

Advances were at once made to Germany, Russia, and Switzerland in the same temper. In all of these countries there had been in the reign of Pius a quarrel with the Vatican because of the manner in which the Pope considered the rights of the Catholics to have been invaded by the Government. The new Pope appealed to these States to reconsider calmly and dispassionately their mode of dealing with their Catholic population. He virtually said to them in the most friendly spirit: "Come, let us reason together," and in the end he succeeded in gaining all, or nearly all, he desired.

The most troublesome and difficult of these international involvements was on the side of Germany. The struggle known in Germany as the Kultur-Kampf had been bequeathed to Leo by his predecessor, and he at once took the initiative step for bringing it to a close. The Kultur-Kampf, or, in plain English, the Education-Fight, had been inaugurated by Prince Bismarck, who believed, or affected to believe, that the Catholics were the most dangerous enemies of the new German Empire, and that, in fact, the Pope had really been the prime mover in the war between France and Germany. The question in issue was whether the Catholic priesthood should owe an allegiance wholly alien to Germany, or should be brought under the supervision of the State. Particularly was the question raised respecting educational institutions, Bismarck determined-and he had a strong backing of German sentiment that no Catholic priest or professor who had not the sanction of the State authorities should teach in any German institution. The war began with a series of proscriptions against the Jesuits. In June, 1872, an act of Parliament in Prussia put the Society of Jesuits and every one of its members under the ban of the law. The order and all its affiliations were excluded from the territory of the Empire. But the war did not end here. In April, 1873, an act was promulgated which abolished the old laws giving to the Catholic Church in Prussia a right to self-government, and investing the State with the supreme control over the internal management of every ecclesiastical institution which professed to accept the spiritual guidance of the Vatican. The debates in the Prussian Parliament over this and subsequent proposed enactments soon attracted the attention of the whole civilized world. The Catholic party in the Parliament had an able champion in Dr. Windthorst, whose abilities won the admiration of Bismarck himself. But Bismarck had the German legions at his back, and opposition could amount to no more than earnest protest. The Catholic clergy stood by their cause, and were made martyrs. The Arch-bishops of Posen and Cologne, the Bishop of Treves, the Bishop of Paderborn, were thrown into prison for contumacy; and not only these prominent officials of the Church, but also a long list of curés, vicars, and other priests accepted imprisonment rather than be false to their principles. Where was this movement to end? So began at length to ask some even among the most determined opponents of the Catholic Church; while as to the Catholics themselves, persecution, as has ever been the case, only rendered them the more obstinate.

Of course there could be but one outcome to a struggle of this kind in the Nineteenth Century; but it was none the less a matter which required skillful handling, and Leo XIII proved himself equal to the task. It is impossible in this short article to give with any detail the negotiations carried on between Berlin and the Vatican, extending over a period of ten years, which ended in a satisfactory adjustment of the matter in dispute in a victory, we may say at once, for the Pontiff. We can note only the method and policy pursued by Leo. He opened the negotiations with a letter to the Emperor William, in which he expressed his great regret that the happy and friendly relations which up to late years existed between the Holy See and the Sovereign of Prussia should be interrupted. "We appeal," he went on to say, "to your Majesty's magnanimity in the hope of obtaining a restoration of peace and repose of con-science for a great number of your subjects and the Catholic subjects of your Majesty will never fail to show themselves, as the faith which they profess ordains that they should do, with the most conscientious devotion, respectful and faithful toward your Majesty."

Nothing could be more conciliating than this letter. Observe, too, that the Pontiff presents the matter as one of conscience, and distinctly disavows any intention of the Church to interfere in any way with the affairs of Government. No doubt Bismarck would have much preferred to receive a thunderous protest from the Vatican one which would have enabled him to present the issue as a conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism. But nothing of the sort; all that Leo demands is that the Catholics shall be left at liberty to manage their church affairs as seems to them best, without interference from the State, basing his demand on the broad principle of religious tolerance; and from this position he never receded throughout the whole of the long controversy. He was quite willing that the names of young men called to the priesthood by the bishops should be communicated to the Government, before the canonical institution took place. But he made it a condition that the exiled ecclesiastics should be allowed to return under full amnesty. He also demanded that the Government should undertake to have the laws of 1873 revised, in some manner which should reconcile them to the principles of the Church, and should give back to the Church the direction of the religious education in its schools. All this he eventually obtained, though little by little, and not completely until after the accession of William II and the retirement of Bismarck.

All this time the Pope's personal relations both with the Emperor and Bismarck were cordially friendly. Bismarck named the Pope as his choice for arbiter in a dispute between Germany and Spain over one of the Caroline Islands; the Crown Prince Frederick, and after him his son William, then become Emperor, each paid the Pope a visit in the Vatican all this before diplomatic intercourse between Germany and the Vatican had been restored. All recognized the sincerity and the upright motives of the Pontiff. Indeed, the change of opinion which had been effected in Germany, as elsewhere, by the liberality of the views to which he had given expression in his various encyclical letters, contributed largely toward his final triumph in the Kultur-Kampf. There had no doubt been in the beginning a sincere conviction in Germany that the Church was dangerous; but Leo's course had gone far to show that within the Church, as well as out of it, there was a forward movement in the line of toleration in religion, and that henceforward the Church was disposed to ask no more than she herself would grant.

In France, also, after the downfall of Napoleon, trouble for the Church arose, very similar to that in Germany. The Catholics, as a body, were openly unfriendly to the new Republic. A large number of them, especially of the higher ranks, persisted in identifying monarchy with religion. They maintained that without monarchy there could be no protection or security for the Catholic faith in France. They determined, therefore, to hold aloof from the Republic, to abstain from using their votes on either side. In this attitude the Republicans saw danger of intrigue and conspiracy, and it is not surprising, therefore, that severe restrictive laws were enacted against the Catholics. These measures were not taken, however, until after the fall of Marshal MacMahon, in January, 1879, and the election of M. Grévy to the Presidency of the Republic. One of the enactments then made proscribed the Jesuits; another obliged all religious congregations of men and women to obtain, within three months, the authority of the State for their existence, or else to come under the same proscription as that assigned to the Jesuits. The sensation created all through France was something unparalleled. Parties divided on this question of religion, and one result was the resignation of M. Freycinet, the President of the Council, who deprecated the severity of the measures. M. Jules Ferry succeeded him in the Cabinet, and the decrees against the religious orders were then carried out in full force. In this state of affairs Leo addressed a letter to the President of the Republic, M. Grévy a letter which was intended quite as much as an appeal to the world as to M. Grévy, who really had very little power in the matter. In this letter the Pope reminds the President that the Holy See has never hesitated to support the French Government in its schemes for the welfare and advancement of France; he points out that the religious orders which had been expelled were invaluable in the hospitals and charitable institutions, on the field of battle itself, and in the spread of the faith and even of the French influence abroad, and especially in the East; that the removal of Catholic teachers from the schools deprived fathers of families of the privilege of exercising a choice in the matter of educating their children, and was therefore an invasion of personal rights, and this, too, in the face of the fact that thereby 32,000,000 of Catholics were deprived of religious education. These are some of the considerations urged upon the President.

M. Grévy, in his letter of reply, admits the justice of the Pope's appeal against the anti-religious feeling in France, but attributes its origin to the hostile attitude of a part of the clergy toward the Republic from its foundation to the present day, and points out that the remedy rests with the Pope rather than with himself.

For the time the matter rested there. Although the President expressed the hope of a peaceful termination of these disputes, there was for the present nothing further to be done.

The French question was, indeed, a perplexing one for the Pope. There could be no doubt as to the hostility of the more powerful of the French Catholics to the Republic. Should he side with them, or should he brave their criticism? There can be little doubt that he had made up his mind what to do; but he bided his time, and when the time came, when passion on both sides had become sufficiently allayed, he settled the French dispute by acknowledging the Republic. The time chosen for taking this step was peculiarly opportune. It was the time when the indignation excited in France by the Panama scandals seemed to threaten the very existence of the Republic, so that the Pope may fairly be credited with having come to the assistance of the Government in a moment of peril. The acknowledgment came, however, in the form of a general and liberal principle applicable to all cases, first announced to the world generally in a speech made in November, 1890, by Cardinal Lavigerie, in Algiers. The vital portion of the speech was this: "When the will of a people is clearly affirmed, when the form of a government has nothing in it in contradiction to the principles which can alone keep life in nations, Christian and civilized, when in order to rescue it from the abyss which threatens it, adhesion without concealed thought is necessary for that form of government . . . the moment has come to sacrifice all that conscience and honor permit and ordain that each of us shall sacrifice for the welfare of his country.

It would be madness to hope to sustain the pillars of an edifice without entering into the edifice itself, were it only to prevent those who destroy every-thing from accomplishing their insane work."

Henceforward it was understood that Leo had ranged himself on the side of the Republic, not necessarily because that form of government was his preference, but because it was the established form, and the welfare of society demanded its support. Nor was this acknowledgment designed to affect in any way the personal preferences of any of the Catholic clergy or laity in France. They were not asked to renounce their faith in monarchy, if such they had; they were simply counseled to array themselves heartily on the side of the power that was.

In view of the intense interest excited in France and elsewhere by his attitude, Leo consented to submit to what no Pope before him had ever submitted to be interviewed. He consented to give an audience to a representative of the Petit Journal of France. Among other things which he then said for publication was this: "My desire is that France should be happy and prosperous, that divisions should cease as far as possible. My conviction is that all French citizens should reunite on constitutional grounds. Each one, pf course, can keep up his personal preference, but when it comes to political action, there is only the government which France has given to herself. The Republic is a form of government just as legitimate as any other." These are the words of a man who is able to rise above petty strife and party intrigue and to take a commanding view of things, a view as extensive as humanity itself.

Such a man Leo showed himself to be in many ways. In December, 1878, he issued an encyclical letter concerning modern errors Socialism, Communism, and Nihilism. Naturally and necessarily the Pope ascribed all the evils of these modern errors to the fact that so much of modern society has "cast away the supernatural truths of faith as being contrary to reason." After disposing of this fundamental cause, as he conceived it to be, he came down to the more specific causes in the misuse of wealth, of extravagant luxury, of selfish millionaires, of capitalists who care nothing but for the accumulation of money. In this first encyclical of the Pope there was nothing to which any member of any non-Catholic religious denomination could object, except the Pope's assumption that the Church of Rome is the inspired teacher of morals and of religion. For the rest, this letter proclaimed doctrines and precepts with which educated and reasonable men all over the world are likely to agree. He insisted upon the necessity of all who are in authority, and all who are rich doing everything in their power to mitigate the suffering of the poor, to see that the laborer shall have his hire, and to lighten the load of the heavy laden. Thus, as will be seen, while Leo condemned without qualification the avowed principles of the Communists and Nihilists, he maintained that there were two sides to the question. He insisted that the remedy against socialism was not to be found "in the strong hand of civil power or in military force." We must "lighten the load of the heavy laden," and reëstablish the principles of morality and religion. The appeal is that of the head of the Raman Church; but it is also the pronouncement of a statesman and a philanthropist, and of one who has made the social questions of the day a study, and whose heart went out in sympathy with the suffering of his fellow men.

Leo was deeply interested, as is every philanthropic man, in all the questions that concern the wage-earner. His natural sympathy for the poor and down trodden did not blind him, however, to the fact that there are two sides to the labor question; but he was also convinced that a great moral and religious influence must be brought to bear if the question was to have a satisfactory solution. As to labor unions, while he certainly did not disapprove of them, except in the case of secret societies, he continually warned those delegates from such associations who called upon him, against the danger of expecting too much. In one notable instance Pope Leo was called upon to give his opinion as to the claims and course of action adopted by an American association of working men—the Knights of Labor. Notwithstanding that the association had the strong indorsement of Cardinal Gibbons, it failed to secure the unqualified approval of the Pope. Still he was by no means opposed to the movement for the organization of labor within legitimate limits. He recognized that Capital had its rights as well as Labor.

Leo's action in condemning the Land League of Ire-land, both morally and socially, gave great offense to the Irish Catholics, and it was loudly asserted that he had been influenced by the Catholics of England, who belonged mostly to the wealthy class, and had no sympathy with the struggling Irish peasantry. But the charge is doubtless unjust. The impartial observer can see that he condemned the League not because he disapproved of its purpose, not because it was offensive to England, but because its methods led to crime. No one can doubt no calm observer among the Irish Nationalists ever did doubt that Pope Leo had the warmest sympathy for oppressed and struggling Ireland, and that it was really his affection for Ireland that inspired the condemnation of the Land League.

We of America have reason for a special interest in Pope Leo XIII. Although the Catholic Church has from the first had a firm foothold in the United States, and has grown and expanded with the growth of the country, it is only recently that it was brought into close and direct relationship with Rome by the establishment of an Apostolic delegation in America. Monsignor Satolli was the first head of the delegation, which was created in the early part of 1893.

Happily the dread of the ever growing power of the Catholic Church in this country a dread which has from time to time been an element in our national politics has practically ceased to exist. And to no single Pontiff is the removal of this dread so largely due as to Leo XIII. We have heard proclaimed from the Vatican, marvelous though it seems, the broad principle of religious toleration. We have seen Leo in his dealings both with Germany and France disavowing most unequivocally any design of the Church to interfere with the affairs of secular government declaring that while the Church must be independent in order that it may do its work for humanity unimpeded, it still owes its best support in every country to the recognized government thereof. And the work of this great Church, whose empire embraces the entire earth, what is it? Primarily it is to impart religious instruction. We may not all entirely approve of its dogmas; but we can let that pass. The Catholic Church has also taken upon itself the oversight over morality, and a care for the general welfare of humanity, and we all know how thoroughly, with its vast organization and its abundant wealth, this great work is done. In the prosecution of this work Pope Leo XIII was especially and earnestly zealous; he was above all things else, a great philanthropist.

A few words may be said about the habits and personality of Leo. The first singularity, if so it may be called, to strike us is that, like his predecessor, Pius IX, he persisted in regarding himself a prisoner in the Vatican, never going beyond its garden walls. We all know the story how after the fall of Napoleon at Sedan Victor Emmanuel swooped down upon Rome, took it from the Pope, and made it the capital of Italy. Pius IX never forgave Victor Emmanuel, nor did Leo XIII. Neither would establish diplomatic relations with the King of Italy. How long is this farce to be kept up ? we may well inquire. No rational person now doubts that the temporal power of the Popes has departed forever.

The eminent novelist, Mr. Marion Crawford, has given to the world in the Century Magazine an interesting account of the Pope, from which are taken the following items relating to his personal appearance :

"Leo XIII was born and bred in the keen air of the Volscian Hills, a southern Italian, but of the mountains, and there is still something about him of the hill people. He has the long, lean, straight, broad-shouldered frame of the true mountaineer, the marvelously bright eye, the eagle features, the well-knit growth of strength, traceable even in extreme old age. . . . His voice, neither deep nor full, is wonderfully clear and ringing. . . . His enunciation is exceedingly clear, both in Latin and Italian, and also in French, a language in which he expresses him-self with ease and clearness. . . . His bearing is erect at all times, and on days when he is well his step is quick as he moves about his private apartments." Add to this sketch a face of almost marble whiteness, and we have a fair picture of Leo XIII.

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