Monday, February 21, 2011

The Papal Church

by Bl. J.H. Newman

{206} NOW we come to the distinctive doctrine of the Catholic Religion, the doctrine which separates us from all other denominations of Christians however near they may approach to us in other respects, the claims of the see of Rome, which have given occasion to Mr. Gladstone's Pamphlet and to the remarks which I am now making upon it. Of those rights, prerogatives, privileges, and duties, which I have been surveying in the ancient Church, the Pope is historically the heir. I shall dwell now upon this point, as far as it is to my purpose to do so, not treating it theologically (else I must define and prove from Scripture and the Fathers the "Primatus jure divino Romani Pontificis," which of course I firmly hold), but historically [Note 1], because Mr. Gladstone appeals to history. Instead of treating it theologically I wish to look with (as it were) secular, or even non-Catholic eyes at the powers claimed during the last thousand years by the Pope—that is, only as they lie in the nature of the case, and on the surface of the facts which come before us in history. {207}

1. I say the Pope is the heir of the Ecumenical Hierarchy of the fourth century, as being, what I may call, heir by default. No one else claims or exercises its rights or its duties. Is it possible to consider the Patriarch of Moscow or of Constantinople, heir to the historical pretensions of St. Ambrose or St. Martin? Does any Anglican Bishop for the last 300 years recall to our minds the image of St. Basil? Well, then, has all that ecclesiastical power, which makes such a show in the Christian Empire, simply vanished, or, if not, where is it to be found? I wish Protestants would throw themselves into our minds upon this point; I am not holding an argument with them; I am only wishing them to understand where we stand and how we look at things. There is this great difference of belief between us and them: they do not believe that Christ set up a visible society, or rather kingdom, for the propagation and maintenance of His religion, for a necessary home and a refuge for His people; but we do. We know the kingdom is still on earth: where is it? If all that can be found of it is what can be discerned at Constantinople or Canterbury, I say, it has disappeared; and either there was a radical corruption of Christianity from the first, or Christianity came to an end, in proportion as the type of the Nicene Church faded out of the world: for all that we know of Christianity, in ancient history, as a concrete fact, is the Church of Athanasius and his fellow Bishops: it is nothing else historically but that bundle of phenomena, that combination of claims, prerogatives, and corresponding acts, some of which I have recounted above. There is no help for it then; we cannot {208} take as much as we please, and no more, of an institution which has a monadic existence. We must either give up the belief in the Church as a divine institution altogether, or we must recognize it at this day in that communion of which the Pope is the head. With him alone and round about him are found the claims, the prerogatives, and duties which we identify with the kingdom set up by Christ. We must take things as they are; to believe in a Church, is to believe in the Pope. And thus this belief in the Pope and his attributes, which seems so monstrous to Protestants, is bound up with our being Catholics at all; as our Catholicism is bound up with our Christianity. There is nothing then of wanton opposition to the powers that be, no dinning of novelties in their startled ears in what is often unjustly called Ultramontane doctrine; there is no pernicious servility to the Pope in our admission of his pretensions. I say, we cannot help ourselves—Parliament may deal as harshly with us as it will; we should not believe in the Church at all, unless we believe in its visible head.

So it is; the course of ages has fulfilled the prophecy and promise, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." That which in substance was possessed by the Nicene Hierarchy, that the Pope claims now. I do not wish to put difficulties in my way: but I cannot conceal or smooth over what I believe to be a simple truth, though the avowal of it will be very unwelcome to Protestants, and, as I fear, to some {209} Catholics. However, I do not call upon another to believe all that I believe on the subject myself. I declare it, as my own judgment, that the prerogatives, such as, and in the way in which, I have described them in substance, which the Church had under the Roman Power, those she claims now, and never, never will relinquish; claims them, not as having received them from a dead Empire, but partly by the direct endowment of her Divine Master, and partly as being a legitimate outcome of that endowment; claims them, but not except from Catholic populations, not as if accounting the more sublime of them to be of every-day use, but holding them as a protection or remedy in great emergencies or on supreme occasions, when nothing else will serve, as extraordinary and solemn acts of her religious sovereignty. And our Lord, seeing what would be brought about by human means, even had He not willed it, and recognizing, from the laws which He Himself had imposed upon human society, that no large community could be strong which had no head, spoke the word in the beginning, as He did to Judah, "Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise," and then left it to the course of events to fulfil it.

2. Mr. Gladstone ought to have chosen another issue for attack upon us, than the Pope's special power. His real difficulty lies deeper; as little permission as he allows to the Pope, would he allow to any ecclesiastic who would wield the weapons of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine. That concentration of the Church's powers which history brings before us ought not to be the simple object of his indignation. It is not the existence of a Pope, but of {210} a Church; which is his aversion. It is the powers themselves, and not their distribution and allocation in the ecclesiastical body which he writes against. A triangle is the same in its substance and nature, whichever side is made its base. "The Pontiffs," says Mr. Bowden, who writes as an Anglican, "exalted to the kingly throne of St. Peter, did not so much claim new privileges for themselves, as deprive their episcopal brethren of privileges originally common to the hierarchy. Even the titles by which those autocratical prelates, in the plenitude of their power, delighted to style themselves, 'Summus Sacerdos,' 'Pontifex Maximus,' 'Vicarius Christi,' 'Papa' itself, had, nearer to the primitive times, been the honourable appellations of every bishop; as 'Sedes Apostolica' had been the description of every Bishop's throne. The ascription of these titles, therefore, to the Pope only gave to the terms new force, because that ascription became exclusive; because, that is, the bishops in general were stripped of honours, to which their claims were as well founded as those of their Roman brother, who became, by the change, not so strictly universal as sole Bishop." (Greg. VII. vol. i. p. 64.)

Say that the Christian polity now remained, as history represents it to us in the fourth century, or that it was, if that was possible, now to revert to such a state, would politicians have less trouble with 1800 centres of power than they have with one? Instead of one, with traditionary rules, the trammels of treaties and engagements, public opinion to consult and manage, the responsibility of great interests, and the guarantee for his behaviour in his temporal possessions, there would be a legion of {211} ecclesiastics, each bishop with his following, each independent of the others, each with his own views, each with extraordinary powers, each with the risk of misusing them, all over Christendom. It would be the Anglican theory, made real. It would be an ecclesiastical communism; and, if it did not benefit religion, at least it would not benefit the civil power. Take a small illustration:—what interruption at this time to Parliamentary proceedings, does a small zealous party occasion, which its enemies call a mere "handful of clergy;" and why? Because its members are responsible for what they do to God alone and to their conscience as His voice. Even suppose it was only here or there that episcopal autonomy was vigorous; yet consider what zeal is kindled by local interests and national spirit. One John of Tuam, with a Pope's full apostolic powers, would be a greater trial to successive ministries than an Ecumenical Bishop at Rome. Parliament understands this well, for it exclaims against the Sacerdotal principle. Here, for a second reason, if our Divine Master has given those great powers to the Church, which ancient Christianity testifies, we see why His Providence has also brought it about that the exercise of them should be concentrated in one see.

But, anyhow, the progress of concentration was not the work of the Pope; it was brought about by the changes of times and the vicissitudes of nations. It was not his fault that the Vandals swept away the African sees, and the Saracens those of Syria and Asia Minor, or that Constantinople and its dependencies became the creatures of Imperialism, or that France, England, and {212} Germany would obey none but the author of their own Christianity, or that clergy and people at a distance were obstinate in sheltering themselves under the majesty of Rome against their own fierce kings and nobles or imperious bishops, even to the imposing forgeries on the world and on the Pope in justification of their proceedings. All this will be fact, whether the Popes were ambitious or not; and still it will be fact that the issue of that great change was a great benefit to the whole of Europe. No one but a Master, who was a thousand bishops in himself at once, could have tamed and controlled, as the Pope did, the great and little tyrants of the middle age.

3. This is generally confessed now, even by Protestant historians, viz., that the concentration of ecclesiastical power in those centuries was simply necessary for the civilization of Europe. Of course it does not follow that the benefits rendered then to the European commonwealth by the political supremacy of the Pope, would, if he was still supreme, be rendered in time to come. I have no wish to make assumptions; yet conclusions short of this will be unfavourable to Mr. Gladstone's denunciation of him. We reap the fruit at this day of his services in the past. With the purpose of showing this I make a rather long extract from Dean Milman's "Latin Christianity;" he is speaking of the era of Gregory I., and he says, the Papacy "was the only power which lay not entirely and absolutely prostrate before the disasters of the times—a power which had an inherent strength, and might resume its majesty. It was this power which was most imperatively required {213} to preserve all which was to survive out of the crumbling wreck of Roman civilization. To Western Christianity was absolutely necessary a centre, standing alone, strong in traditionary reverence, and in acknowledged claims to supremacy. Even the perfect organization of the Christian hierarchy might in all human probability have fallen to pieces in perpetual conflict: it might have degenerated into a half-secular feudal caste, with hereditary benefices more and more entirely subservient to the civil authority, a priesthood of each nation or each tribe, gradually sinking to the intellectual or religious level of the nation or tribe. On the rise of a power both controlling and conservative hung, humanly speaking, the life and death of Christianity—of Christianity as a permanent, aggressive, expansive, and, to a certain extent, uniform system. There must be a counter-balance to barbaric force, to the unavoidable anarchy of Teutonism, with its tribal, or at the utmost national independence, forming a host of small, conflicting, antagonistic kingdoms. All Europe would have been what England was under the Octarchy, what Germany was when her emperors were weak; and even her emperors she owed to Rome, to the Church, to Christianity. Providence might have otherwise ordained; but it is impossible for man to imagine by what other organizing or consolidating force the commonwealth of the Western nations could have grown up to a discordant, indeed, and conflicting league, but still a league, with that unity and conformity of manners, usages, laws, religion, which have made their rivalries, oppugnancies, and even their long ceaseless wars, on the whole {214} to issue in the noblest, highest, most intellectual form of civilization known to man ... It is impossible to conceive what had been the confusion, the lawlessness, the chaotic state of the middle ages, without the medieval Papacy; and of the medieval Papacy the real father is Gregory the Great. In all his predecessors there was much of the uncertainty and indefiniteness of a new dominion ... Gregory is the Roman altogether merged in the Christian Bishop. It is a Christian dominion of which he lays the foundations in the Eternal City, not the old Rome, associating Christian influence to her ancient title of sovereignty." (Vol. i. p. 401, 402.)

4. From Gregory I. to Innocent III. is six hundred years; a very fair portion of the world's history, to have passed in doing good of primary importance to a whole continent, and that the continent of Europe; good, by which all nations and their governors, all statesmen and legislatures, are the gainers. And, again, should it not occur to Mr. Gladstone that these services were rendered to mankind by means of those very instruments of power on which he thinks it proper to pour contempt as "rusty tools"? The right to warn and punish powerful men, to excommunicate kings, to preach aloud truth and justice to the inhabitants of the earth, to denounce immoral doctrines, to strike at rebellion in the garb of heresy, were the very weapons by which Europe was brought into a civilized condition; yet he calls them "rusty tools" which need "refurbishing." Does he wish then that such high expressions of ecclesiastical displeasure, such sharp penalties, should be of daily use? If they are rusty, because they have been {215} long without using, then have they ever been rusty. Is a Council a rusty tool, because none had been held, till 1870, since the sixteenth century? or because there have been but nineteen in 1900 years? How many times is it in the history of Christianity that the Pope has solemnly drawn and exercised his sword upon a king or an emperor? If an extraordinary weapon must be a rusty tool, I suppose Gregory VII.'s sword was not keen enough for the German Henry; and the seventh Pius too used a rusty tool in his excommunication of Napoleon. How could Mr. Gladstone ever "fondly think that Rome had disused" her weapons, and that they had hung up as antiquities and curiosities in her celestial armoury,—or, in his own words, as "hideous mummies," p. 46,—when the passage of arms between the great Conqueror and the aged Pope was so close upon his memory! Would he like to see a mummy come to life again? That unexpected miracle actually took place in the first years of this century. Gregory was considered to have done an astounding deed in the middle ages, when he brought Henry, the German Emperor, to do penance and shiver in the snow at Canossa; but Napoleon had his snow-penance too, and that with an actual interposition of Providence in the infliction of it. I describe it in the words of Alison:—

"'What does the Pope mean,' said Napoleon to Eugene, in July, 1807, 'by the threat of excommunicating me? does he think the world has gone back a thousand years? does he suppose the arms will fall from the hands of my soldiers?' Within two years {216} after these remarkable words were written, the Pope did excommunicate him, in return for the confiscation of his whole dominions, and in less than four years more, the arms did fall from the hands of his soldiers; and the hosts, apparently invincible, which he had collected were dispersed and ruined by the blasts of winter. 'The weapons of the soldiers,' says Segur, in describing the Russian retreat, 'appeared of an insupportable weight to their stiffened arms. During their frequent falls they fell from their hands, and destitute of the power of raising them from the ground, they were left in the snow. They did not throw them away: famine and cold tore them from their grasp.' 'The soldiers could no longer hold their weapons,' says Salgues, 'they fell from the hands even of the bravest and most robust. The muskets dropped from the frozen arms of those who bore them.'" (Hist. ch. lx. 9th ed.)

Alison adds: "There is something in these marvellous coincidences beyond the operations of chance, and which even a Protestant historian feels himself bound to mark for the observation of future ages. The world had not gone back a thousand years, but that Being existed with whom a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years." As He was with Gregory in 1077, so He was with Pius in 1812, and He will be with some future Pope again, when the necessity shall come.

5. In saying this, I am far from saying that Popes are never in the wrong, and are never to be resisted; or that their excommunications always avail. I am not bound to defend the policy or the acts of particular {217} Popes, whether before or after the great revolt from their authority in the 16th century. There is no reason that I should contend, and I do not contend, for instance, that they at all times have understood our own people, our natural character and resources, and our position in Europe; or that they have never suffered from bad counsellors or misinformation. I say this the more freely, because Urban VIII., about the year 1641 or 1642, seems to have blamed the policy of some Popes of the preceding century in their dealings with our country [Note 2].

But, whatever we are bound to allow to Mr. Gladstone on this head, that does not warrant the passionate invective against the Holy See and us individually, which he has carried on through sixty-four pages. What we have a manifest right to expect from him is lawyer-like exactness and logical consecutiveness in his impeachment of us. The heavier that is, the less does it need the exaggerations of a great orator. If the Pope's conduct towards us three centuries ago has righteously wiped out the memory of his earlier benefits, yet he should have a fair trial. The more intoxicating was his solitary greatness, when it was in the zenith, the greater {218} consideration should be shown towards him in his present temporal humiliation, when concentration of ecclesiastical functions in one man, does but make him, in the presence of the haters of Catholicism, what a Roman Emperor contemplated, when he wished all his subjects had but one neck that he might destroy them by one blow. Surely, in the trial of so august a criminal, one might have hoped, at least, to have found gravity and measure in language, and calmness in tone—not a pamphlet written as if on impulse, in defence of an incidental parenthesis in a previous publication, and then, after being multiplied in 22,000 copies, appealing to the lower classes in the shape of a sixpenny tract, the lowness of the price indicating the width of the circulation. Surely Nana Sahib will have more justice done to him by the English people, than has been shown to the Father of European civilization.

6. I have been referring to the desolate state in which the Holy See has been cast during the last years, such that the Pope, humanly speaking, is at the mercy of his enemies, and morally a prisoner in his palace. That state of secular feebleness cannot last for ever; sooner or later there will be, in the divine mercy, a change for the better, and the Vicar of Christ will no longer be a mark for insult and indignity. But one thing, except by an almost miraculous interposition, cannot be; and that is, a return to the universal religious sentiment, the public opinion, of the medieval time. The Pope himself calls those centuries "the ages of faith." Such endemic faith may certainly be decreed for some future time; but, as far as we have the means of judging at present, {219} centuries must run out first. Even in the fourth century the ecclesiastical privileges, claimed on the one hand, granted on the other, came into effect more or less under two conditions, that they were recognized by public law, and that they had the consent of the Christian populations. Is there any chance whatever, except by miracles which were not granted then, that the public law and the inhabitants of Europe will allow the Pope that exercise of his rights, which they allowed him as a matter of course in the 11th and 12th centuries? If the whole world will at once answer No, it is surely inopportune to taunt us this day with the acts of medieval Popes towards certain princes and nobles, when the sentiment of Europe was radically Papal. How does the past bear upon the present in this matter? Yet Mr. Gladstone is in earnest alarm, earnest with the earnestness which distinguishes him as a statesman, at the harm which society may receive from the Pope, at a time when the Pope can do nothing. He grants (p. 46) that "the fears are visionary ... that either foreign foe or domestic treason can, at the bidding of the Court of Rome, disturb these peaceful shores;" he allows that "in the middle ages the Popes contended, not by direct action of fleets and armies," but mainly "by interdicts," p. 35. Yet, because men then believed in interdicts, though now they don't, therefore the civil Power is to be roused against the Pope. But his animus is bad; his animus! what can animus do without matter to work upon? Mere animus, like big words, breaks no bones.

As if to answer Mr. Gladstone by anticipation, and to {220} allay his fears, the Pope made a declaration three years ago on the subject, which, strange to say, Mr. Gladstone quotes without perceiving that it tells against the very argument which he brings it to corroborate;—that is except as the Pope's animus goes. Doubtless he would wish to have the place in the political world which his predecessors had, because it was given to him by Providence, and is conducive to the highest interests of mankind, but he distinctly tells us in the declaration in question that he has not got it, and cannot have it, till the time comes, which we can speculate about as well as he, and which we say cannot come at least for centuries. He speaks of what is his highest political power, that of interposing in the quarrel between a prince and his subjects, and of declaring upon appeal made to him from them, that the Prince had or had not forfeited their allegiance. This power, most rarely exercised, and on very extraordinary occasions, it is not necessary for any Catholic to acknowledge; and I suppose, comparatively speaking, few Catholics do acknowledge it; to be honest, I may say, I do; that is, under the conditions which the Pope himself lays down in the declaration to which I have referred, his answer to the address of the Academia. He speaks of his right "to depose sovereigns, and release the people from the obligation of loyalty, a right which had undoubtedly sometimes been exercised in crucial circumstances," and he says, "This right (diritto) in those ages of faith,—(which discerned in the Pope, what he is, that is to say, the Supreme Judge of Christianity, and recognized the advantages of his tribunal in the great contests of {221} peoples and sovereigns)—was freely extended,—(aided indeed as a matter of duty by the public law (diritto) and by the common consent of peoples)—to the most important (i piu gravi) interest of states and their rulers." (Guardian, Nov. 11, 1874.)

Now let us observe how the Pope restrains the exercise of this right. He calls it his right—that is in the sense in which right in one party is correlative with duty in the other, so that, when the duty is not observed, the right cannot be brought into exercise; and this is precisely what he goes on to intimate; for he lays down the conditions of that exercise. First it can only be exercised in rare and critical circumstances (supreme circonstanze, i piĆ¹ gravi interessi). Next he refers to his being the supreme judge of Christendom and to his decision as coming from a tribunal; his prerogative then is not a mere arbitrary power, but must be exercised by a process of law and a formal examination of the case, and in the presence and the hearing of the two parties interested in it. Also in this limitation is implied that the Pope's definite sentence involves an appeal to the supreme standard of right and wrong, the moral law, as its basis and rule, and must contain the definite reasons on which it decides in favour of the one party or the other. Thirdly, the exercise of this right is limited to the ages of faith; ages which, on the one hand, inscribed it among the provisions of the jus publicum, and on the other so fully recognized the benefits it conferred, as to be able to enforce it by the common consent of the peoples. These last words should be dwelt on: it is no consent which is merely local, as of one country, of Ireland or {222} of Belgium, if that were probable; but a united consent of various nations of Europe, for instance, as a commonwealth, of which the Pope was the head. Thirty years ago we heard much of the Pope being made the head of an Italian confederation: no word came from England against such an arrangement. It was possible, because the members of it were all of one religion; and in like manner a European commonwealth would be reasonable, if Europe were of one religion. Lastly, the Pope declares with indignation that a Pope is not infallible in the exercise of this right; such a notion is an invention of the enemy; he calls it "malicious."
What is there in all this to arouse the patriotic anxieties of Mr. Gladstone?

1. History never serves as the measure of dogmatic truth in its fulness. Vide infr. § 8.

2. "When he was urged to excommunicate the Kings of France and Sweden, he made answer, 'We may declare them excommunicate, as Pius V. declared Queen Elizabeth of England, and before him Clement VII. the King of England, Henry VIII. ... but with what success? The whole world can tell. We yet bewail it with tears of blood. Wisdom does not teach us to imitate Pius V. or Clement VII., but Paul V. who, in the beginning, being many times urged by the Spaniards to excommunicate James, King of England, never would consent to it.'" (State Paper Office, Italy, 1641-1662.) Vide Mr. Simpson's very able and careful life of Campion, 1867, p. 371.