Wednesday, November 30, 2016

De Maistre on the Pope

Review of:
Du Pape, suivi de l’Église Gallicane dans son rapport avec le Souverain Pontife (by Joseph de Maistre).

De Maistre was perhaps the ablest and most conspicuous of that strange and small class of writers who, being men of great ability, have a genuine intellectual sympathy with the losing side. With less unction and passion, and with a far wider experience of practical life, he closely resembled Dr. Newman. Their styles are exceedingly similar. They both write as well-bred men talk, and this gives their works a singular union of elegance and power. Each, too, possesses great logical power of a certain sort— the power of making assertions which look consistent, and asking people to believe them because they look consistent, irrespectively of the evidence by which they are supported.

There are, however, great distinctions between them. De Maistre is infinitely more confident and less sceptical than Dr. Newman. He never seems to have felt those genuine doubts as to the truth of the fundamental parts of his creed, which form a kind of background, all the more impressive because it is so indistinct, to all Dr. Newman's opinions.

The background in De Maistre's mind is filled up, not by doubt, but by a strange mysticism which occasionally finds vent in contemptuous denunciations of all common opinions, upon the strength of some profound and, as it would seem, almost incommunicable truths locked up in his own breast. 'Bon sens,' used in a sense analogous in some degree to that in which Reid spoke of 'common-sense,' and the 'traditions' of the human race, are to De Maistre what mysteries are to Dr. Newman.

When Dr. Newman finds himself pushed by a difficulty, he always gets out of it by telling you that there are insuperable difficulties in everything. 'A mystery more or less, what does it matter?' When De Maistre finds himself in the same situation, he becomes dithyrambic, and begins to talk of some universal tradition about sacrifice or expiation, or to assert that the strictest scientific methods produce such and such mysterious results, of which the doctrine attacked is only the theological equivalent.

The most striking difference between them, however, is no doubt the difference between the student and the man of the world. Dr. Newman always writes from the point of view of a man who has passed his life amongst books. He gives his readers the impression that he has never looked face to face upon his fellow-creatures, and seen with his own eyes what sort of things really weigh with them in the real business of life, and what sort of things are good only for students, and for them only when they have actually fixed their minds on their books.

His most characteristic writings produce upon a man of the world the effect of an unpleasant dream. By a great effort to place yourself at the author's point of view and to sympathise with him, you can arrive at feeling a certain sort of fascination for a short time; but you have only to move, and the whole thing drops off so completely that it is difficult to understand how it could ever have affected you at all.

With De Maistre it is otherwise. His arguments are never fine-spun or cloister-like. They are the natural expression and defence of the opinions of a man who lived, and felt, and played a conspicuous part in the active affairs of life. Even the dash of mystical enthusiasm which runs through all his works has a genuine tone about it. It expresses the real feelings with which an eager warm-hearted man looked upon practical affairs of the greatest interest. For instance, his doctrine about expiation, sacrifice, and the like, is not merely a history dug out of old books, and made to look a little more or less difficult, by comparing it with other things of the same sort obtained in a similar manner; it is the genuine expression of the sentiments by which he consoled himself for the storms of the French Revolution, which would otherwise have appeared to him a sort of end of the moral and religious world.

We have already made some observations on the principal speculative work of this remarkable man—the Soirées de St. Pétersbourg, His book Du Pape et de l’Église Gallicane is more definite, less mystical, and of far greater historical importance; for there can be no doubt that the ideas which it develops, and to the spread of which it largely contributed, have exercised immense influence on the modern history of France, and, through France, on the history and fortunes of Europe in general. There is every reason to believe that the history of their influence, and of the changes which it will produce in European affairs, is as yet only in its infancy.

Perhaps the worst and least philosophical of Lord Macaulay's essays is the one on Ranke's History of the Popes, which develops at great length, and, as it appears to us at least, with much exaggeration, both of phrase and of feeling, the well-known paradox that the claims of the Church of Rome are founded on imposture and destined to immortality. The famous New Zealander passage which occurs in this essay is an excellent specimen of its general character —of the gaudiness of its colouring, and of the unsubstantial, indiscriminating way in which views all but contradictory to each other are thrown into immediate juxtaposition, without the least effort to explain the difficulties which their juxtaposition suggests.

A sincere Roman Catholic might have written one half of the essay; a sincere Protestant (and Lord Macaulay was not merely a sincere, but a hearty and zealous, Protestant) might have written the other. A sincere lover of truth, capable of doing justice to each side, might have written both, but such a man would hardly have been contented to leave the two halves of his work staring at each other without pointing out the solution which harmonised the apparently discordant facts. Lord Macaulay was both a sincere lover of truth, and a man quite capable of attaining it, and of describing what he had attained; but when he wrote that essay he was not in one of his philosophical moods.

We have referred to it because that half which is favourable to the Roman Catholics, gives a good idea of the character of De Maistre's work Du Pape. It is an energetic and most skilful effort on the part of perhaps the ablest and most devoted Roman Catholic writer of the day (the book was first published in 1817) to play, once more, the game which, at several other critical periods of its history, had been played by the Romish Church, and which, consists in drawing still tighter, round those who remain in its communion, the bonds which, before some great catastrophe, had included a larger number of subjects.

The general settlement which took place at the Treaty of Vienna gave the absolute sovereigns of Europe, and especially the Pope, a far better position than they could have been in the habit of expecting for the twenty-three preceding years. De Maistre's book is intended to give the Pope a position even better than he had before, as regarded his fellow-sovereigns in general, and in particular as regarded the King of France. He thought—and events have proved how shrewd his judgment was — that the changes made by the revolution in all matters spiritual and temporal might be used in such a manner as entirely to wean the French clergy from their old allegiance to the nation, and to lead them to regard themselves as the subjects, in all ecclesiastical matters, of the Pope alone.

In order to promote this object, he first develops, after his fashion, the meaning of the doctrine of Papal infallibility, and he then denounces in a series of chapters—some of them very brilliant and striking —the different antagonistic views which have prevailed amongst Christians, especially those of the Protestants, the Greek Church, and, above all, those of the Jansenists, and of the advocates of the Gallican Liberties as embodied in the four articles of 1682.

The general theory of infallibility, according to De Maistre, differs a good deal from the popular notion of it as understood by Protestants. He expresses his view of the subject in the first few lines of the book, of which all the rest is nothing more than a development.

He says,
'Theological truths are only general truths manifested and rendered divine, in the sphere of religion, in such a way that not one can be attacked without attacking a law of the world. Infallibility in the spiritual order, and sovereignty in the temporal order, are perfectly synonymous words. Both express that supreme power which rules over all the rest, from which all the rest are derived, which governs and is not governed, which judges and is not judged.
'When we say that the Church is infallible, we do not demand for it, it is very essential to observe, any particular privilege; we demand only that it should enjoy the right common to all possible sovereignties, which all act of necessity as if infallible, for every government is absolute, and from the moment that it can be resisted under the pretence of error and injustice it exists no longer.
'Sovereignty has different forms no doubt. It does not speak at Constantinople as at London, but when it has spoken, in the one place or the other, the bill is without appeal as well as the fetwa.
'It is the same with the Church. In one manner or another it must be governed like every other association whatever. Otherwise there would be no more aggregation, whole, or unity. This government, therefore, is by its nature infallible, that is to say absolute, otherwise it will govern no more.'
The government of the Church being, then, absolute and infallible, quà government, what sort of government is it to be? There are only three forms of government — republican, aristocratic, and monarchical. The Christian Church cannot be a republic, because in that case unity would be destroyed. If the Presbyterian theory were true, the creed ought to run, 'I believe in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,' not in 'One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.' 'To maintain that a crowd of independent Churches form one universal Church is to maintain, in other terms, that all the political governments of Europe form one universal government.' The Christian Church cannot be an aristocracy, because no body claims such a position. It is therefore, by way of exclusion, a monarchy; and, if so, the Pope is obviously the monarch, and, qua monarch, he must be infallible. 'Every true statesman will understand me perfectly when I say that the question is not whether the Sovereign Pontiff is, but whether he must be (doit être),infallible.'

These are the principles of the book; the rest is application and illustration. It contains, however, one argument which, for many reasons, is curious. De Maistre quotes Bossuet's statement that the 'doctrine of infallibility did not commence till the Council of Florence,' and Fleury's statement that Cajetan was the author of the doctrine under the pontificate of Julius II. By way of answer to these statements of 'theologians of the first order,' he sets up the whole doctrine of development in nearly the same words as those used by Dr. Newman. We are not at present prepared to say how far Dr. Newman, in his essay on Development, cites De Maistre, but he certainly travels on the same road in this as in many other matters.

From establishing the infallibility of the Pope, De Maistre passes to a consideration of its effects, and undertakes to prove historically that it has produced great benefits to the world at large, and philosophically that it ought to do so, and that no other device known to men is able to mitigate the inconveniences of sovereignty. If, he says, subjects could complain to the Pope of their sovereigns, and if Popes could hear the cause and pronounce sentence, the object of revolts would be gained without violence, and without that violation of all traditions, and of fundamental principles both of good sense and philosophy, which is involved in resistance to constituted authorities.

The real prospect of repose and prosperity for Europe is the establishment of legitimacy tempered by the Papal supremacy. Absolute kings, checked by absolute popes, are what we have to hope for. All other forms of government and belief are bad; but the worst of all, the true enemies of the human race, are those hybrid and bastard creations, ecclesiastical and political, which give people an excuse for the possibility of believing in any other forms of government than these two.

The British Constitution, in particular, was looked upon with rather an evil eye by De Maistre, and its downfall was predicted; but the two things which he could not endure were Protestantism and Jansenism. As to the first, he says: 'To re-establish religion and morality in Europe, to give to truth the force required by the conquests which it meditates; above all, to confirm the thrones of sovereigns, and to calm gently that general fermentation of minds which threatens us with the greatest evils, an indispensable preliminary is to efface from the Dictionary of Europe the fatal word Protestantism.'

As to Jansenism, he devotes a whole volume, and a very curious one, to an attack on the Gallican Liberties as claimed by the Declaration of 1682, and on the Jansenists in general, and in particular on Pascal and Arnauld, whose claims to their great reputation he criticises in detail, and, in our judgment, as regards parts of Pascal's writings, with considerable justice. His attack on the Gallican Liberties has the great merit of giving a very lively idea of a passage in history of which every one knows the name, and of which very few know anything more.

Few people know how close an analogy might be drawn between the powers claimed by Louis XIV. and the Parliament of Paris as against the Pope, and the powers exercised by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council over the Church of England. Still fewer are aware of the great similarity between the question, how Fenelon was to be dealt with if he refused to submit to the Papal censure, and withdraw such of his opinions as had been condemned, and the question how the Bishop of Natal was to be evicted from his bishopric. Much curious information on these and on some other points—for instance on the Greek Church—is to be got out of De Maistre.

We have indicated a few of the leading points of this very remarkable book, and we will, in conclusion, make a few observations on one or two of them. De Maistre's leading principle, as we have already remarked, is identical with that of Hobbes, though we think he carries it out far less consistently. Admit that infallibility is identical with sovereignty, and it is difficult to avoid the dilemma either that the Pope must be sovereign of the whole world, or that the civil governments must all be popes. The Pope never even claimed universal sovereignty, and De Maistre expressly repudiates such a claim. On the other hand, no one ever made higher claims on behalf of 'legitimate' kings. Hence the practical result of his doctrines would be pure Hobbism without the excuses which may be made for Hobbes.

Whoever wishes to be convinced of this would do well to read the eighteenth chapter of the first book. Under a good deal of confidence, not to say bluster, it shows an utter incapacity to deal with the question how, upon his theory, the Pope falls short of being a universal monarch. In answer to the question supposed to be asked, by others than Roman Catholics, 'What is to stop the Pope?' he says, 'All canons, laws, national customs, sovereignties, great tribunals, national assemblies, prescriptions, remonstrances, negotiations, duty, fear, prudence, and above all, opinion, the queen of the world.'

Savage Landor had a Jesuit Latin poem which contained an address to the different Papist sovereigns of the sixteenth century, asking them why they did not put down Protestantism. 'Cur non' conquer England; 'Cur non' put down Holland? etc. He wrote on the margin, 'Cur non? Quia non potuistis.' In the same way, De Maistre might have put his long answer into one word. What is to stop the Pope?— Resistance. This one word overthrows his whole theory.

Apart from this, it is obvious that he merely juggles with words, and indeed upon examination the whole argument resolves itself into a petition principii. It is, of course, open to any one to use words in any sense he pleases; but it is plain matter of fact that, whatever De Maistre may choose to say, no two ideas can be more perfectly distinct than those of superior force, or supremacy, and incapacity of error, or infallibility. Any man who is stronger than I may force me not to deny what he says; that is, he may threaten me with every consequence in his power if I do. But it does not follow that what he says is true; and if the strength be increased in imagination to any degree whatever, even to the point of omnipotence in the way of inflicting punishment, there is no necessary connection between this and the truth of the opinions so protected.

The sovereign Legislature of this country is supreme, but De Maistre himself would hardly assert infallibility of it in any sense in which Protestants would care to deny it of the Pope. That the Pope is infallible in his own Church, in the sense of being its ultimate ruler—that most Roman Catholics are, as a fact, in the habit of obeying him in certain particulars, and of asserting their readiness to obey him in certain others—may be true; but it is a mere fact. It proves nothing at all about the Pope which analogous facts do not prove about the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in England.

Supremacy has so little to do with infallibility that it is not only consistent with, but is greatly strengthened by, admitted fallibility. Parliament is supreme, but one of the greatest elements of its power lies in the fact that, though every one is compelled to obey the laws, every one is at liberty to discuss their propriety. Hence an admission of the supremacy of the Pope does not in any degree admit, or tend to render probable, his infallibility; but with De Maistre the supremacy not only proves, but even constitutes, the infallibility. His whole argument, therefore, falls to pieces.

As to the argument in favour of the Papal supremacy, it is as shallow and unsubstantial, when fairly considered, as most of his arguments are. He generally has glimpses of the truth, on most of the subjects which he handles; but it very rarely happens that he thinks out any question whatever, and gives the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, upon it. He saw that in every society, political or religious, there must be, somewhere or other, a supreme government, and that liberty is a negative idea, the mere absence of restraint; but he did not see—and this is true of Hobbes also—that there are almost innumerable ways in which sovereignty may be divided.

This subject is discussed with his usual profound simplicity by Austin, in his Lectures on Jurisprudence; and it was made the subject of a somewhat more popular, and most interesting, paper, by Sir Henry Maine, the legal member of the Executive Council of India, in the early days of the Juridical Society.

The theory of these able men is shortly as follows: Sovereignty means the possession of power for the use of which, in one way or another, the holder is not in the habit of answering to any human superior. Many different persons, or bodies of persons, in a State may exercise such power, and if they do the sovereignty is shared between them. They collectively are the sovereign. In England, for instance, every voter for members of Parliament does an act of sovereign power in giving his vote, as much as the Queen when she assents to an Act of Parliament. Thus the sovereign power is a shifting quantity; vested now here and now there, and continually changing its position, though it always resides in some assignable person or persons at any given moment, just as there is always a centre of gravity to the human body, though it is never for many seconds in precisely the same spot.

In large and complicated political bodies it is common for the sovereignty to be divided in such a manner that it is, for practical purposes, extremely difficult to say where it is, and then there is no remedy but a direct trial of strength. During the trial there is no sovereign, or at least no ascertained sovereign. After the trial the probability is that the conqueror forces the conquered to give up the power which he previously had or claimed, and thus the sovereignty is redistributed.

This was well illustrated in the American civil war. Before and during the war much was to be said in favour both of the Federal and of the State-rights theory of sovereignty. The question is now settled. The sovereignty lies with the Federal Government, and not with the State Governments; and this has been settled by the course of events, not as a mathematical theory is settled by argumentative demonstration, but as the plan of a house is settled by building it thus, and not otherwise.

History is full of similar instances. In England the wars of the seventeenth century settled, at last, that Parliament—the King, Lords, and Commons— were the Sovereign, and not the King alone, and other instances of a similar kind might be given. What do such instances prove? Nothing but a matter of fact. The arguments used in favour of Charles I.'s power as against the Parliament, or in favour of the sovereignty of the State of Virginia as against the United States Government, are as good now as ever they were, and prove to all impartial observers that the result of the battle introduced a different order of things from that which existed before; that the sovereignty shifted, not that it always was vested in those who acquired it in the course of events.

Whatever De Maistre or other writers may say, the history of the Christian Church, in so far as it is a government, is exactly analogous to this. That Councils in early times had great powers, and that national churches in later times had also great powers, and that the sovereignty over the Church (conceding for the moment, for the sake of argument, that there was any such thing) was divided between a number of different persons, are facts as clear as any in history. It is also clear that this division of power, combined with other causes, produced great convulsions- which ended on different occasions in very different ways. In Protestant churches the Pope altogether lost, not only his share of the sovereign power, but all power of every sort. In Roman Catholic countries the results varied. As a rule, however, the range of his power was greatly narrowed, and its directness within the restricted range considerably increased.

Throughout the greater part of the last century the Gallican Church included nearly the whole of the French nation, and, both in theory and in fact, was recognised by the laws of the land, and, in its turn, inspired and in many ways directed their action. It was, however, nearly as free from the control or interference of the Pope as the Church of England itself. Louis XIV. was more than once on the brink of asserting his complete independence. No doubt he had it in his power to do so; and if he had done so and had held his own, as in all probability he would, the question of sovereignty would, by that very fact, have been decided in his favour, just as the same question has been decided in favour of the Federalists by the issue of the civil war.

History, in short, proves to demonstration that Church government, like other things, has been continually fluctuating ever since the origin of Christianity. De Maistre's argument is that, because the Papal power has gradually become more direct, as its range has been restricted, the Pope ought to be obeyed by the whole Christian world in the same manner as he is obeyed by that part of it which chose, or was forced, to continue to submit to him. This involves the same fallacy as would be involved in saying that a father who had driven all his grown-up children out of the house, by his bad conduct, had the same rights over them, which he was able to exercise over the infants, whose weakness compelled them to remain.

We have room for only one other remark on the subject of De Maistre's main argument. It is that he never appears to understand how difficult it is to say anything precise, or even intelligible, upon the subject of unity, on which he is constantly dwelling. Unity is a most indefinite word. What is meant by the unity of an individual man? What by the unity of a tree, or the unity of a milestone? Examine the matter strictly, and it will turn out to mean no more than the fact that the man, the tree, the milestone, make a single impression on the mind which predicates unity of them.

As soon as you begin to analyse, you find that the man includes thirty-two teeth, unnumbered thousands of hairs, many pounds of blood, a good deal of water, etc. etc., and that the tree and the milestone are also complex collections of different things. Each is a unit in this sense only, that each leaves a single impression on the mind. So with the Church; no particular thing, such as unity of government or of creed, is essential to its unity. It is one if, and in so far as, there is enough in common among its members to enable them to be thought of at once.

De Maistre's standard argument is that a Church cannot be one without unity of government. He illustrates this by saying, that to talk of a number of independent Churches, as forming collectively one Church, is as absurd as to talk of all the governments of Europe as forming one government. It would, of course, be a contradiction in terms to talk of one thing being, at one time, many things of the same kind and in the same sense. One tree cannot be ten trees, nor fifty governments one government; but a thousand trees may be one forest, and a thousand governments one empire, and it may so happen that the same word is applied to the larger and the smaller unit.

Thus De Maistre himself would not have said that there was any impropriety in speaking of the Church of England and St. James's Church. Indeed, he constantly talks of the Church Catholic and the Gallican Church. It is neither unmeaning nor uncommon to talk of Europe, or the Christian world, as forming one great commonwealth. What is meant is, that there is so much resemblance among the opinions, feelings, laws, customs, and tastes of the different populations of Europe, that they produce upon the mind the effect of unity as to the particulars in which they resemble each other.

We talk, for instance, of European morals, or European law, with a real, though with a somewhat indefinite meaning, and in the same way there are senses in which Christians may be said to form one body, though they are not under the same system of Church government. For instance, the English, the Scotch, and the American Episcopal Churches are one in the sense that they all hold the same creed, have almost the same form of worship, and recognise each other as Christian Churches for all ecclesiastical purposes. That they are subject to no one common coercive authority is a mere matter of organisation and detail.

Saturday Review, September 9, 1865.

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