Roman Question by Lord Acton

John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton

It is felt on all hands that the real importance of the movement provoked by the late war in Italy, and checked neither by the preliminaries of Villafranca nor the peace of Zurich, lies in the insurrection of the Romagna. This is the crowning achievement of Piedmontese policy; in comparison with it even the acquisition of Lombardy assumes secondary proportions. It is the great difficulty which awaits the future congress, the turning-point of the struggle for Italian independence, and the test of its success. The interest of every party is concentrated for the time on Bologna. There it is that the revolutionary movement exhibits its real character, and that its adherents most openly acknowledge their real designs. At no period has the temporal power of the Pope so universally attracted the attention of men; never has it been so completely the keystone of European politics. Often before now it has been called in question, often attacked, sometimes overthrown; but no hostile enterprise, whatever may have been its success for a while, has ever borne so earnest and menacing a character as that which is now directed for the second time against the throne of Pius IX. On no other occasion have the apprehensions of the Catholic world been so strongly excited, or its sentiments more energetically declared. All men have become dimly conscious that this is no mere effort of religious antipathy, or of a transitory political ambition. The attack is against principles rather than facts; it is the product of a combination such as has not yet been seen; it is not a new fact only, but almost a new phase of history.

The whole Catholic Episcopate have uttered their powerful and solemn protest, and the Bishops of France and Sardinia have been amongst the foremost. In many countries the laity have publicly condemned the rising in the Legations, and have proclaimed their attachment to the temporal government, and their adhesion to the act of the clergy. This is what was to be expected. It is incredible that the Bishops should not be unanimous, or that they should not be generally followed by the faithful, and supported by those who are of mark amongst them. But the gravity of the present crisis is to be found in the fact that, in the mass of those who bear the name of Catholics, the feeling which is so general is not universal, that in the question of the temporal power they are not unanimous. No Protestant power assisted in the insurrection, no Protestant doctrine had any thing to do with it. It has been the act of a Catholic people, abetted by Catholic powers. Catholicism is not enough to prevent men from joining in the work. Their sentiments in regard to it are not determined by their religious professions. The line which separates religious parties does not coincide with the division of opinions respecting it. Only a portion of the Catholic world has spoken, or has sympathised with the speakers. If we may apply a very arbitrary term, it is the Ultramontane portion of the Catholic body from which this protest comes. The existence of this distinction between Catholic and Ultramontane, almost as important for the cause of truth as that between Christianity and Catholicism, and the fact that the terms are not recognised as synonymous, is that which gives such momentous importance to the dangers now besetting the Church.

In the experimental sciences, where the insufficiency of our knowledge produces a corresponding incompleteness in our perception of the harmony between science and religion, we are compelled to proceed on the admission that, though there can be no discrepancy between God’s words and His works, the harmony is not always fully apparent. But this separation cannot be admitted in life, or in those kinds of thought which directly affect practice. All those ideas which influence our actions must necessarily be brought into harmony with religion, which is the supreme guide of our actions. Our astronomical or our geological knowledge may not be able in all cases to furnish a confirmation of the facts of revelation; it is impossible, for instance, that both the Ptolemaic and Copernican theory should be equally consistent with Scripture. But that which is merely a deficiency in our knowledge, would be an error in our practice, where our proceedings must bear testimony to our religion. To demand this testimony from science, and to be indifferent to it in matters of practice, would alike be proofs of the weakness of our faith. These faults are common amongst us at the present day. There are men who are resolved to discover evidences of faith even where they do not exist; and who therefore shape their knowledge, as they should their actions, by their notions of religion.[1] Such persons would be unwilling to admit that there can be a link wanting in the empirical proof of the original unity of languages. They would rudely deny that human vestiges can have been discovered in the drift thousands of years earlier than the received chronology of Scripture. Others, again, transfer to the practical order what is inevitable in scientific inquiry. They do not care to reconcile or to compare the teaching of their reflection with that of their religion: whilst one party assumes an agreement to exist where none can be proved, the other neglects it where it is imperative. Still, our lives are influenced by our notions not of natural but of moral science. In order that our lives may be in harmony with religion, our ideas must be in harmony with it also.[2] It is in the recognition of this last truth that what is called Ultramontanism, as opposed to a system of indifference as to the agreement between our several rules and motives of conduct, substantially consists. It signifies the conscious harmony of all our opinions with our belief; the habit of viewing profane things through the medium of religion, and of judging them by the standard which it supplies.

If Catholics often neglect to carry their religion into temporal concerns, and are jealous of allowing it to encroach on ground which is beyond its own immediate sphere, by a happy inconsistency Protestants often admit in secular matters conclusions which they could not derive from their religious system. They will accept the consequences of Catholicism, whilst they refuse to acknowledge the source from which they spring. They are practically Ultramontanes in all but religion; for they sincerely maintain principles which in reality are corollaries of Catholic doctrine. Naturally such men, though not submitting to the Church, are attracted towards her; and it is to this school of Protestants that we owe much of what has been written to her advantage, and much of the moral support which she now receives in the political world. For if it cannot be said that all Catholics are partisans of the Pope as a temporal ruler, it is by no means true that all who are not Catholics are against him. Many who would rejoice at the disappearance of his spiritual authority, feel bound to support him as a legitimate sovereign; and among the most earnest defenders of the Protestant faith there are many stanch friends of the temporal rights of the Holy See. That cause has been abandoned and assailed only by such Protestants as have false political ideas, and by Catholics who understand neither religion nor policy.

Among the professions of attachment to the temporal power which have come from Catholics, those which treat it as a matter solely affecting religion appear to us of a very questionable character. This line of thought is not only false, but also eminently injudicious and unsafe. It narrows the ground on which the cause can be defended, and necessarily increases the number and zeal of its opponents. If we say that the temporal power of the Pope is to be maintained simply for the interests of religion, that the Catholic Church alone would suffer by its abolition, and that it differs not so much in its importance as in its nature from the authority of other princes, we challenge all who are not conciliated by this argument to do their worst against it. If the Church alone is interested in the preservation of the Roman state, those who are not of the Church must be interested in its destruction. It would be an act of the greatest injustice, to deny to the subjects of the Pope, on account of a religious interest which they do not consider paramount, a right which is acknowledged to belong to the rest of mankind. It is invidious to assert that the subjects of the Pope must be necessarily less free than those of other princes. Can any spiritual necessity be an excuse for so gross a political wrong? On the contrary, the cause of the temporal power is the cause of other religions and of all other states, and it is in the interest of them all to preserve it. It has two sources of strength, each attracting its own supporters, and provoking its own adversaries; it has the same rights as all other temporal authority, and it has, moreover, the Church for its protection. If its defence rested purely upon Catholic grounds, it would have no defenders out of the Church, whilst there are many traitors within. If we tell our adversaries that the temporal power is necessary to the spiritual, and is inseparably bound up with the Catholic doctrine, they will ask us how it is that all who are in communion with the head of the Church are not partisans of his temporal dominion. If it depends on religious considerations only, how is it that so many Catholics are not persuaded by them? Are there no sincere believers in Catholic doctrines among the liberals of the Continent? Unfortunately we have a divided camp, because religious arguments alone will not avail in a question which equally belongs to the political department.

The union of the temporal and of the spiritual authority in the same hand is a bond of union between the enemies of each. That combination of political and religious animosity — of the hatred which is inspired by a legitimate sovereign with the hatred which is felt for the head of the Catholic Church — is the special character of the present movement. As the motives of attack are twofold, so also are the grounds of the defence. The movement cannot be successfully met where its real character is not understood. A religious interest is at stake, but also a political principle. It is the peculiar nature of the crisis, that many Catholics are revolutionary, whilst the revolution itself is directed against Catholicism. The opposition offered to the Church on religious grounds has given place to a more vigorous opposition on political grounds. The religious element in a movement originally political is a very significant circumstance, and it is a new one.

The first French Revolution deprived the Pope of his dominions; and yet its cause was properly only political. Pius VII. was brought to Rome, not by a Catholic crusade, but by an alliance of the English, the Russians, and the Turks. The crimes and sufferings of that period were aggravated by the want of religion, not occasioned by hatred of it. The Revolution was at first a political theory, and the instrument of men without belief. Now the unbelief is the motive, and points out the ends to be aimed at. Instead of a political doctrine, it has become a religion of fanatics. The men of 1789 pulled down the Church because they considered her an adjunct of the State; the revolution of 1859 attacks the State chiefly that it may destroy the Church. At the end of the last century she did not seem a very serious enemy. She fell apparently with so little effort and so little resistance, that she was soon forgotten in the conflict with more threatening adversaries. Her persecutors bestowed no further thought upon her, and never dreamed she could revive. Protestants, who took no part in the work of pillage and destruction, looked all at once with unwonted compassion upon an enemy they had fought so long, and who now seemed completely prostrate; and this was the beginning of that fairness, especially in the historical treatment of the Church, which was displayed by Protestants, whose hatred had departed with their fear.

After repeated triumphs in the political order, the revolutionary party began to perceive that the Church, which they deemed irrecoverably implicated in the ruin of the civil institutions which they had succeeded in destroying, was rising again more powerful than ever, and was furnishing states with a new power of resistance. They understood that their successes were insecure so long as she remained, and they saw that she would prove their most formidable and their most implacable foe. Twice since the first great catastrophe the political revolution has made its way through Europe: once it was entirely political; the second time it was at once political and social; but each time it struck at the throne and not at the altar, and each time the Church was the principal gainer. The independence of Catholic Belgium is the monument of the revolution of 1830; the Austrian Concordat of the revolution of 1848. So far was the latter from being essentially directed against religion, that one republican government suppressed another solely because it had usurped the throne of the Pope. It is in consequence of this great inconsistency that the revolution has become awake to the consciousness of its real character and purpose; and it is in connection with the French occupation of Rome that its inherent enmity to religion has been revealed. It has been the singular fate of the restorer and maintainer of the temporal authority of the Pope to conjure up against it a far greater danger than that which he dispelled. He has been unable to escape from the consequences of the revolution by which he holds his power.

Since the revolution has prevailed in the majority of states (and it reigns, under different disguises, at Paris as well as Turin), it has used its victims as instruments for the destruction of that power which alone could give them strength to resist it, and could be their ground of hope for their political redemption. The great triumph of the revolution has hitherto been to dissociate Church and State. The destruction of the temporal power (the sequestration of the Roman States) is the necessary conclusion of a work of which the confiscation of the property and the rights of the Church in each Catholic country was the necessary preliminary. She is the only anti-revolutionary power left standing; and consequently the revolution on the throne, and the revolution in the streets, unite their forces to deal her a blow in the only quarter in which she is accessible to their assaults. The strongest confirmation of our view, that the revolution aims directly at the ruin of the Church, and that its first step is to put the governments over which it has obtained power into a hostile attitude towards the court of Rome, is furnished by the only Catholic power that has succeeded in resisting the influence and overcoming the elements of the revolution. In Austria the revolution was crushed, and served only to increase the strength and energy of the government; and in Austria the Church was called on to complete the victory, and to aid in the work of restoration. Accordingly Austria was the first object of the attack which was aimed at the Roman States, because she was the first outwork of the Papal power. It was an undefined sense of this which, in the shape of denunciations of the Concordat, contributed so materially to the isolation of Austria during the late war. The states which assisted the revolutionary movement against the Church combined against the state which was combating the revolution by the aid of the Church. The Italian war was one act in the execution of a design of which the end is the extermination of the Catholic Church. Henceforward she will continue the chief object of the revolutionary efforts; and their success or their defeat depends on the solution of the Roman question.

It is a question affecting the foundation of all government — not concerning the good or bad government of Rome. The work of M. About, together with the clamour in the English press and in parliament, have so far succeeded in putting out of sight the real point at issue, and the real merits of the question, that many Catholics have been betrayed into the imprudence of defending the Roman government on the ground that it is far better than its adversaries affirm. We cannot but look with extreme suspicion on such an argument as this. It admits the foundation of our enemies’ case, and accepts the discussion on grounds on which it can never legitimately rest. It overlooks the real question, and supposes an obvious absurdity — that the quarrel is with the accidental defects of the Roman government, not with its essentially ecclesiastical character. Does any serious person believe that, judged either on principles of centralisation or of self-government, whether we apply the criterion of the Code-Napoleon or that of the Times, — the shifting symbol of the political faith of Englishmen, — the temporal administration of the priesthood can be made to appear a good one? Can any Catholic, who knows the tests which Frenchmen and Englishmen commonly apply, desire that Rome should be well governed in their eyes? Would anybody be satisfied if it were governed after the manner of Piedmont, which is the Englishman’s ideal abroad; or upon the Bonapartist plan, which seems to be the ideal of Frenchmen? Who is so insane as to believe that, if the most plausible grounds of complaint were removed, — if the roads were safer, the clergy less numerous, the people more wealthy, — a dozen voices among the thousands which raise their clamour now would be reduced to silence, or that any attempt to vindicate the reformed system at Rome would receive a more favourable hearing than meets its present defenders? The ecclesiastical government cannot accept its trial on this ground; it cannot recognise the jurisdiction of a tribunal which judges by a code that the Church herself must condemn. It is impossible to deny all the conclusions if we admit the premises, or to discuss the application of a criterion which we repudiate. There is a very old feud between the Church and the world, and it has not been settled by the admission of the secular code. We may not and cannot capitulate with the prevailing prejudices and habits of thought which chiefly distinguish this from past ages. The ecclesiastical government cannot be made palatable to the present generation. We cannot reconcile our contemporaries to the facts of the Catholic world, if we cannot reconcile them to its ideas. Every argument is vain which does not recognise that it is the divine institution, not the human defect, which men assail in Rome. If its government was the best in the world, calumny, by being less plausible, would be only more malignant and ingenious. Frenchmen see no salvation except in their own system of centralisation; and England has never been able to offer to other countries any thing but the phantoms of her own legislative institutions. Both are incompatible with the nature of a priestly government; either would be destruction to it. It is on this that its enemies found their calculations. They desire that its incompatibility with their notions of government should be manifested; and that the proof itself should be its ruin and their own justification.[3] We have not forgotten the time when Pius IX. was popular in England; and we know how his popularity was obtained, and how it was lost. He exhibited from the first the character and designs of a reforming and constitutional prince; but whilst his civil administration was making him popular, the Queen’s Colleges in Ireland called forth an act of ecclesiastical authority which was fatal to his political prestige. People believed that they had been deceived; they declared that his liberality was a pretence, that the old spirit was unchanged and unchangeable. From that time the alliance of political liberalism with the pontifical authority has been abandoned on both sides. Neither expects any thing henceforth from the other. Pius IX. called to the head of his government a man who was the very type and model of an enlightened liberal after the modern fashion, — an economist, bred at Paris and Geneva; a man of ability, but without belief, and who had first come under the notice of the Pope as the agent of the French government for the expulsion of the Jesuits. The liberal system had its day; and the result of the trial was conclusive: the Pope had done all he could, and was not responsible for the calamities which made the failure more signal. The trial was his own personal act, opposed to the habits of centuries, and to the advice of the majority of the Cardinals. He cannot undertake the responsibility of a renewal of an experiment which so conspicuously failed; and still less can we desire that he should renew, in the shape of a vigorous despotism, an attempt in which liberalism betrayed him, or that he should try, under the influence of France, what was unsuccessful under the influence of England.

We have no wish to assert that the Roman government offers a model of what government ought to be; still less do we mean to represent it as one which Englishmen ought to admire. It is impossible that, under existing circumstances, it should be exempt from great difficulties and great defects, or that there should not be difficulties and defects peculiar to it. They are of a kind which, we will undertake to say, is more keenly felt by the administrators than by the subjects. But the source of this imperfection lies in the very quarter from which the remedy is now proffered. It is not necessary to introduce into Rome a system in harmony with the ideas of the age; for it was done long ago, and the consequences stare us in the face. The difficulty is not in the Roman system, but in its opposition to the French reforms which have been grafted on it. The misfortune consists in its compulsory infidelity to its own traditions, not to the absence of modern elements. The more faithfully the ecclesiastical government pursues its own principles and its own ends, consistently with its laws and traditions, the more widely will it be at variance with the system by which it was altered first of all, and by which it is now condemned. We do not, therefore, wonder at the difficulty, we should wonder at its absence; and we believe it due to the attempts which have been made to assimilate the Roman government with that of other states.[4]

There is a wide divergence, an irreconcilable disagreement, between the political notions of the modern world and that which is essentially the system of the Catholic Church. It manifests itself particularly in their contradictory views of liberty, and of the functions of the civil power. The Catholic notion, defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought, denies that general interests can supersede individual rights. It condemns, therefore, the theory of the ancient as well as of the modern state. It is founded on the divine origin and nature of authority. According to the prevailing doctrine, which derives power from the people, and deposits it ultimately in their hands, the state is omnipotent over the individual, whose only remnant of freedom is then the participation in the exercise of supreme power; while the general will is binding on him.[5] Christian liberty is lost where this system prevails: whether in the form of the utmost diffusion of power, as in America, or of the utmost concentration of power, as in France; whether, that is to say, it is exercised by the majority, or by the delegate of the majority, — it is always a delusive freedom, founded on a servitude more or less disguised. In one form and under one pretext or another, the state has been absolute on the Continent of Europe for the last 300 years. In the sixteenth century absolutism was founded on religious zeal, and was expressed in the formula cujus regio, illius religio.In the seventeenth century it assumed the garb of legitimacy and divine right, and the king was believed when he said, “L’état c’est moi.” In the eighteenth century arbitrary government found a new and stronger basis in the theory of the public good, of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, and justified every act of tyranny by the maxim, the king is the first servant of the state. All these principles of despotism are incompatible with the Catholic ideas, and with the system by which the Pope, on pain of being in contradiction with himself, and with the spirit and practice of the Church, is compelled to govern. They are condemned by the traditions, and by the moral obligations, of the Court of Rome, whose system is one of charity and of liberty, and which knows no public consideration which is superior to the salvation of souls. It cannot be described more truly than in the words of Cardinal Sadolet: “Quod ut in exercitu, sic etiam in publicis rebus quotidie fit: ut summa re salva, quicquid prreterea detrimenti in amissis civibus aut militibus factum sit, id pro nihilo pame ducatur; at nobis ministris et sacerdotibus summi Dei, nihil tale impositum est ; qui non curare commeatus et copias, neque cultus vitre, aut quemadmodum ea commode traducatur ; sed viritim singulos homines servare et custodire jubemur.”[6] If we apply this standard impartially to the temporal administration of Rome since the first French occupation, we shall assuredly not find there a perfect or consistent development of the Catholic notion of government. Rome has not escaped the infection of popular ideas, though it preserved longer than other continental states the old habits of administration, and resisted longer the general tendency towards the absolutism of the state. At the time when other ecclesiastical states were proverbially the best-governed portions of Europe, the Roman States were not reckoned an exception; but with the revolution came centralisation, and the concentration into feeble hands of a useless power — the system, in short, of those states where the public ends neutralised and absorbed the liberty of the subject. In France, centralisation is a natural consequence of the whole notion of the rights of the state, which makes an absolute claim, for its own paramount purposes, on the cooperation of every individual. In Rome, no such right can be acknowledged: the increased power of government cannot be applied to the purposes for which it was originally intended; it must be made to serve the ends which in the eyes of the rulers are supreme, the welfare of individuals. The power which is not used in the exercise of rights which the State does not claim, must either be wasted, or applied to ends which in other countries are not considered within the scope of government. Absolute government must be either despotic or paternal. It is despotic if, as in most continental states, it is used for public or external ends; it is paternal if, as in Rome, it confines itself to private concerns. Hence the interference of government is felt in Rome as unpleasantly as elsewhere; for the unpopular side of centralisation is exhibited, and at the same time the public objects of centralisation, which, in the shape of glory or of monumental splendour, or of a symmetrical uniformity of administration, reconcile the people of other countries to a system which presses upon all the good sentiments of men, and wins them by their passions or their follies, are wholly abandoned. The Romans have lost their self-government in consequence of the French invasion, and have not obtained those material compensations which the French would have given them. The people are not fit for the old system; the government is unfit to administer the new, which the people demand, and which is pressed upon it by the whole weight of the public opinion of Europe. By a series of concessions which have not conciliated those who exacted them, the independent growth of a purely Catholic form of government has been impeded. This compulsory approximation to the practice of other countries is one great cause of dissatisfaction and of defect in the Roman States.

The combination of heterogeneous elements in the administration disinclines the people towards it: they have lost the old habits, and have become accustomed to ideas which are not fully admitted. Whilst the old Roman government is no longer so intelligible or so sacred to them, the temporal advantages which other countries enjoy are a temptation to imitate them. The Romans cannot be permanently contented with a vague mixture of old notions with new: they have neither the moral benefit of one system, nor the material advantages of the other; consequently the discontent in the Roman States, so far as it is independent of the revolutionary and Sardinian propagandism, is provoked both by the reforms and by the unreformed portions of the administration. For consistency’s sake some change is needed, either backwards or forwards; whether a change for the better, — real improvements such as have been often meditated in Rome, — would have given strength to the government, is another question. In order to expect that real improvements would satisfy the malcontents, we must admit the discontent to be founded on just motives and on true views. Discontent may be a sign of disease; it is no proof that the disease is in the quarter, or the remedy in the changes, indicated by the discontented party.

Add to this the inherent antagonism between the political system of an unbelieving age and that of the Catholic Church, — each of them burning what the other adores, — and the Roman question ceases to be so great a puzzle. Reforms are undoubtedly required: many have been introduced, more are promised. But we doubt whether they can seriously strengthen the government, and we are sure they cannot silence its adversaries. But if it is impossible that they should succeed in imposing their reforms upon the temporal dominion, it is equally certain that they cannot succeed in destroying it.

It is founded on the most sacred of human institutions, on the rights both of property and of sovereignty. It arose, as the necessary foundation of the liberty and independence of the Church, in ages when property was the indispensable condition of liberty, and sovereignty the only security for independence. For the Church requires that her head should be independent among other princes, that her ministers may be free among the subjects of princes. The sovereignty of the Holy See virtually began at the same time as the freedom of the Church ; and the same prince who gave the Milan decree, transferred the seat of empire to a new Rome, jubente Deo, as Constantine himself declares,[7] in order that the head of the Catholic Church might never henceforth be impeded in the free exercise of his supreme authority by the presence of any other sovereign authority in Rome. The course of events since then has rendered the temporal sovereignty of the Holy See more and more necessary, and has gradually extended its dominion. It is not absolutely essential to the nature and ends of the Church; it has its source in causes which are external to her, in the temporal condition of the world, not the spiritual aims of the Church; and as the world becomes impregnated with her ideas, the necessity of the temporal power would probably disappear. It is her protection against the State, and a monument of her imperfect victory over the ideas of the outer world. It is not so much an. advantage as a necessity, not so much desirable as inevitable. It is required, in order to save her from the political designs and combinations of a system in whose name she is now required to surrender it. It appears to us that the temporal dominion over the Roman people may pass away when the spiritual dominion is acknowledged by all nations. We do not see that the manner in which the temporal power is assailed is a sign of attachment to the spiritual power, or that it gives us any reason to believe that the time is approaching when an institution which the public will of Europe cannot permanently suspend is about to depart, as it arose, for the greater security of religion.

The temporal power is not only a sign of the Church-militant, and a proof that her triumph over the world is not complete, but it is at the same time a result of the influence which in former ages she exercised in a far greater degree than now. As an acknowledgment of the veneration in which she is held, it must be as dear to those who reverence her as it is hateful to those who do not. Whilst that influence subsists, it must produce and preserve corresponding external signs of its action. Those who hope and believe that the influence is gone, naturally desire the abolition of so conspicuous a proof of its power. Those who feel and know that it exists, and wish to see it increased, cannot surrender that which is its most striking outward manifestation without acknowledging at the same time the hopeless decline of the spirit of which it is the expression. The attachment of Catholics to the Holy See is not so feeble that they cannot preserve this remnant of more faithful times. We shall defend it both for the sake of the piety and of the policy which have so long preserved it. In consenting to the abolition of a natural product of the spirit of religion, all Catholics must feel that their religion is precluded from calling forth similar results of the devotion she inspires, — that her influence for the future is confined, her freedom sacrificed. It is their duty to prove that the spirit which was universal of old, is still powerful enough to maintain against the unbelief of this age the most venerable institution of the ages of faith.

The Pope’s temporal power is inconsistent, we are told, with modern opinion, and with the spirit of the times. The Church may not be stationary in her forms while the world advances; she must take her part in the general progress, and must be modified according to the varying requirements of successive ages. But the temporal power is not more inconsistent with the ideas to which it is to be sacrificed than the spiritual power; and it is not inconsistent with the system of ideas which the Church follows, and by which her spiritual authority is maintained. There have been periods in history when the Church has required to modify her temporal condition in order to be in harmony with the altered aspect of the world, and the spirit of a different age. It is natural and necessary that this should be, because religion, which is eternal and universal truth, inevitably combines with every partial truth. In our day all men have become aware that the same old contrast of the institutions of the Church with the notions of the age subsists once more. The same demand is addressed to her as of yore, — that she should adapt herself to altered circumstances and increased enlightenment by putting away whatever is antiquated in her system, that is, whatever least tallies with the prevailing opinions of the moment; and another emperor assumes the office and claims the merit of Constantine, Charlemagne, and Henry III. But there is this great difference, that the system to which those princes endeavoured to adapt the situation of the Holy See was each time founded and formed on the Catholic ideas. They altered ancient forms in conformity with the development of the system of the Church herself; they brought her into harmony with herself, not with an extraneous system, and made her more able than she had been to pursue her own ends in her own way. The wisest and holiest of her clergy inspired and supported the undertaking, whose purpose it was to promote the influence and augment the authority of the see of Rome agreeably with the universal demand of the Christian world. But the system of ideas by which the Church is now judged, and which men attempt to impose on her, is not the growth of Catholic ages, or the product of Catholic doctrines; it is not adopted where they are held in their utmost integrity; but is promulgated in countries either heretical or infidel, and is supremely antagonistic, not to the present practice of the Church only, but to her whole history. It is a reform which not only acknowledges present defects, but implies a permanent and continuous error in her whole course; and condemns, therefore, the essence, not an accident. Every step taken in obedience to it removes her further from her own traditions and her proper ends.

For this reason we repudiate, not the interference of foreign powers merely, but their advice. The Holy See requires protection not only from the hatred of those who would destroy it, but from the errors of ostensible friends, whose improvements would be equally dangerous. Reforms such as are commonly recommended would be irreparable. It would be better that the Holy Father should be at the mercy of the English fleet, or that he should govern the Church from Gaeta, than that he should be compelled to govern his dominions on the principles of the French administration.

We are told that the Church would be stronger in her own sphere if she were freed from the reproach of being connected with a defective temporal government, which, if it cannot be reformed, had better be abolished. Yet few of those who speak so ill of the temporal government of Rome are really solicitous for the strength of the spiritual rule. It is hard to believe that both its friends and its enemies should have miscalculated to so great an extent; that a change which the Bishops of the Church have universally condemned, which no Catholic of note has any where admitted as a possibility, and which at the same time her bitterest enemies so eagerly labour to enforce, should in reality promise a great benefit to her. Is it more likely that she would gain or lose if, on this important point, the league of her most violent enemies should succeed in overcoming the resistance of all her most faithful friends? The argument founded on the scandal of the bad government seems to us egregiously foolish, if it is not always hypocritical. Would those who cannot trace in the sovereign of the Roman States the features of Christ’s vicar upon earth, have recognised on Calvary between two thieves the person of the Son of God? The visible signs can satisfy only those who are capable of perceiving the invisible signs as well.

The height of malignant absurdity is the plan which those who are ready to sacrifice the temporal power propose for the maintenance of the Pope. If he has not his own revenues, he must live upon the contributions either of governments or of the faithful. None, of course, can be expected from those states that are not Catholic; and there can be no security for their continuance in Catholic states. In France, where no institution is safe, no promise sacred, even for a single generation, there would be little hope of the discharge of so onerous and unpopular an engagement. Such a payment would depend on the durability of the government by which it was undertaken, on the continuance of a respect for religion in the ruling quarters; and it would be exposed to all the risks of revolution, changes of administration, financial necessities, and war. It would not be as safe as the interest of a loan. Yet many powers, Austria and Spain among the number, have failed to pay debts on the punctual discharge of which their financial credit depended. Such a plan would render the Head of the Church dependent for his maintenance on powers almost all of which have despoiled the Church at home. Long before the French Revolution there was a tendency, common to all Catholic countries, to curtail the revenues which the Pope drew from them. It will hardly be said that a religious spirit is so much more deeply rooted now that the recurrence of such a danger is out of the question. There is no European state in which a tribute such as is proposed would be worth five years’ purchase.

Nearly the same arguments apply against an exclusive reliance on the other alternative, the direct contributions of the faithful, or Peter’s Pence. They would be liable to nearly all the contingencies which render uncertain and valueless a similar tax imposed upon the states. They would be interrupted not only by changes of religious belief, but by fluctuations of religious sentiment, by war, by pressure of taxation, by the law of the land. A purely voluntary system, which was not maintained even in the middle ages, would be still less practicable now.

The points on which we have briefly touched are some of the most ingenious and insidious of those which are advanced by the enemies of religion, and those by which Catholics are most likely to be impressed. They are not the true motives of our antagonists. For men who are moved by hatred and envy we have no arguments in reply. There are adversaries whom we must combat, whom we cannot reconcile. Their measures are not founded on a mistake; they know what they want, and how to seek it. They are right in regarding the Catholic Church as the irreconcilable enemy of their opinions and their designs, in treating the temporal power of the Pope as the foremost bulwark of the Church. But we too know what it is that we wish to preserve, and we know how to preserve it; and in the conflict with our antagonists we shall be as consistent and as uncompromising as they.

The position of the Catholics of England is clear. They are bound by their religious allegiance to the Pope, and by political consistency to the maintenance of his legitimate sovereignty. In this respect they have a great advantage over the inhabitants of Catholic Europe in general. “Where revolutionary theories prevail, and where governments are founded on the sovereignty of the people, they are compelled by political consistency and the force of principle to promote elsewhere the principle on which they themselves are founded. It is hard for a French Catholic to speak with detestation of a revolution by which a nation asserts its rights over its rulers;[8] it is hard for him to envelop in a common censure, as one great political crime, the Italian war and the insurrections of Central Italy. Englishmen are more fortunate in the analogy of their own constitution, and in the examples of the history of their country of the two principles on which alone both sovereignty and property repose — right and might. The former is the principle of our constitution, and was the guide of our policy from the time of the Stuarts to that when, after twenty years of war, we restored the Bourbons in France, not as the best, but as the rightful sovereigns. We have seen since then a most signal token of the fall of the old parties, by the decline of the old opinions, in a new theory adopted by degenerate Whigs and degenerate Tories, and carried into action at the time of the European congresses, of which the prophet was Mr. Canning. According to this policy, the rights of sovereignty are transferred from the prince to the people, and no government is secure except by its power. Against this view, which unquestionably prevails now in the public opinion and the policy of England, and will probably prevail until a great national danger has aroused in us a horror for doctrines by which our independence and our freedom are imperilled, we have no other weapon but force, no argument but intimidation. We can only obtain influence over those who admit it by a display of our unanimity in respect of the Temporal power. This is now our only security; and it is a very feeble one, for it is doubtful whether in numbers and influence we equal the party in whose eyes the Pope is as Antichrist, and the war against him is a holy war. But it remains for us to appeal to the public law which is at the foundation of our whole political system, and to do our utmost to revive those principles which England has already suffered for forgetting, and which are the strongest security of her own greatness, as well as of the temporal power of the Pope.


[1] “The Catholic Church, and with her all great and sound theology and philosophy, ever true to her character from the time of the fathers to the present age, has always maintained the agreement which God has established between reason and revelation, faith and science. Accordingly, she has at all times defended the claims of human reason together with the claims of faith; and the time is at hand, nay, it has already come, when it must be the vocation of the Church to provide for the safety not only of faith, but also of reason and philosophy, against a hopeless scepticism and a spiritless materialism on the one hand, and a false mysticism on the other.” Professor Heinrich of Mentz, preface to the German translation of Deehamps, Le libre Examen de la Verite de la Fui, p. xiii.

[2] One of the most remarkable men of our time says of his own conversion: “J’ai toujours été croyant dans le fond de l’âme; mais ma foi était stérile, parce qu’elle ne gouvernait pas mes pensées. . . . Cependant, si, aux jours de mon plus grand oubli de Dieu, on m’eut dit: Tu vas abjurer le Catholicisme, ou souffrir d’horribles tourments, je crois que j’aurais subi les tourments plutôt que d’abjurer.” Donoso Cortes, Œuvres, ii. 119.

[3] Le droit canon, inflexible comme le dogme, immobile au milieu du mouvement des siècles, est essentiellement distinct du droit légal, variable comme les besoins et les intérêts de la société ; il a pu s’adapter aux premiers temps de la civilisation chrétienne, lorsque Charlemagne transportait dans ses capitulaires les régies et les préceptes de la théocratie; mais le droit canon ne saurait suffire a la protection et au développement de la société moderne.” Napoleon III et I’Italie, p. 26.

[4] That the discord of which we speak is the key to the modern history of the Roman state, is abundantly shown in a work which will shortly appear in French, under very high auspices, and which will serve as a useful corrective to Farini. A simple illustration is the fact, that after vaccination had been made compulsory in Rome by the French, the law was abolished, we believe by Leo XII., as an excess of authority.

[5] Nearly the earliest and clearest exponent of this doctrine is Spinoza, who says, “Nulla ratione posse concipi quod unieuique eivi ex civitatis instituto liceat ex suo ingenio vivere,”—”It is utterly inconceivable that each subject should be allowed by the constitution of the state to live according to his own choice.”

[6] “The common military and also political practice of taking next to no account of the loss of individual soldiers or citizens, provided the army or state is saved, is by no means binding on us ministers and priests of the most high God; our care is not for supplies of money or men, nor for the ornaments and conveniences of life, but our office to save and watch over each man individually.” De Christiana Ecclesia, 1539 ; Mai, Spicilegium, iii. 103.

[7] Codex Theodosianus, xiii. 5, 7.

[8] “Pour ma part, j’ai toujours professe la doctrine que la majorité des états de l’Europe moderne, — la Suède, l’Angleterre, le Portugal, la Hollande, la Belgique, la Grèce, — ont consacrée par leur exemple telle de la souveraineté nationale, de la nécessite du consentement des peuples au gouvernement qui les régit.” Montalembert, Pie IX et la France, p. 25.

Rambler, January 1860

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ავტორი: Levan Ramishvili

Defender of the truth, the good, and the beautiful. An admirer of perennial philosophy. An advocate of natural law and liberty.

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