Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An Ultramontane view of the temporal power

We are so much accustomed in this country to consider the expulsion of the Pope from Rome as a thing desirable in itself, that we find it difficult to understand the grounds on which it is regarded by others as the concentration of all human iniquities. A letter in the Tablet, signed "E. R. Martin," and dated from Rome, throws some light on the subject, and is worth reading inasmuch as it introduces us to a state of mind which to the great mass of Englishmen is barely conceivable. Mr. Martin divides his letter (which is a very long one) into several distinct heads, which we will shortly follow.

The attack on the temporal power of the Pope is made by "the revolution," and, if it succeeds, will produce the following results:—
1. The wholesale corruption of the Roman youth. This means "the utter rottenness of the State; the going to the Devil of whole generations; the dethroning of Jesus Christ, the dethroning of Mary, the setting up of the Devil as King of Rome and the Romans." The great object of "the revolution" is to corrupt the morals of the young, especially in regard to all sexual matters. "Make them sin; take what purity they have away from them; tell them they are fools to bridle their passions; the boys will all become revolutionists." In Florence, Leghorn, and Pisa, this is done already. "The walls of public places are scribbled over with abominable pictures and verses." ..."The unhappy children have no longer anything to check the most shameless immodesty." The "fervid, excitable Italian nature is against virtue." If the revolution triumphed, premiums would be offered to incontinence, and the priests and confessors who now keep it in check would be removed. For this reason every good Catholic "would give his body to be burnt fifty times over" to keep the Pope at Rome.
2. The religious orders would be abolished. "Persons whose business it is to keep the counsels of perfection must be specially hateful to the children of the Devil. Men and women who see a virtue in chastity must be of all others unendurable by men and women the fundamental article of whose creed is that the perfection of man consists in uniting the wisdom of the Devil with the passions of the beast." What would be the result? Not only would the supply of persons available as confessors be greatly diminished, for people do not like to confess to the secular clergy, who know all about them (a curious hint as to the practical working of the practice of confession); but besides this, "the voice of prayer which day and night goes up to God while we are feasting, or playing, or sleeping, and keeps by its regular pleading the wearied heart of God still open in its mercy"—this also would cease. To prevent these evils every true Catholic "would willingly give every bone of his body to be broken on the wheel." Whether being burnt fifty times, or being broken on the wheel once, is the more painful process, we do not know, but the distinction is, to say the least, odd.
3. There would be a miserable falling off in religious services. As it is, "this is the one place on the whole earth where religion is made a business of life; it is the one city of Jesus Christ." The proof of this is superabundant. "Grace flows like a mighty river. . . . In twenty-six of the city churches there is daily benediction." There are other "special expositions," which it seems are a kind of benediction, and of these on particular days there are sometimes thirty or forty. "Then there are Rosaries, Ways of the Cross, special gatherings of the confraternities, and a host of similar meetings for prayers every day." There are also Triduas and Novenas ever going on. If the revolution triumphs, all this will come to an end. "If Jesus Christ is any longer worshipped, he must get his honour as any other dethroned king gets it, on the sly." This being so, a good Catholic "would willingly part with all he possesses to keep the Pope at Rome.

We must not comfort ourselves with hopes that good would come in the end of all this. England is an awful example. "There is the heathenism of our masses; the utter unchristianness of all our classes of society; the utter absence of the supernatural; the terrible abundance of the natural." Still, bad and hateful as we are, "we have splendid natural virtues, are open, honest, hardworking, calculating people. Not so these Southern Italians, these Romans. The climate is enervating; there are not, can never be in this age of human generation, inherent powers in the race to enable it to surmount these difficulties." Having had so much grace, they have very little nature. "They are impulsive, excitable, imaginative, fervid, the very antipodes of ourselves. Once let loose those wild beasts of passion and license, and England, even as it is considered spiritually and Christianly, would be the seventh heaven to what Rome would be."

In averting these evils no one need doubt about the question of right. "Who are these Romans who are to have their nominal freedom?" Rome does not belong to them. But for the Popes, Rome would be a waste. The population are "a merely mongrel race," who "have an idea that England is the country of the world. The absence of a Pope must be grand, they think, if England owes so much to having refused to have anything to do with, him." However, true Catholics need not despair. They may all help. One "simple and easy way" would be for every one to add to his prayers, "daily and nightly, if possible," this short entreaty for our Lady's help — "Domina salvum fae servum tuum Pium. Da ei virtutem contra hostes filii tui." At all events, there can be no compromise with "the revolution" and its emissaries. "We must make war upon them to the knife. They are of the Devil, while we are of God."

It is sometimes worth while to read the expressions of a sort of fanaticism which is, comparatively speaking, unfamiliar. Our own Protestant fanatics are familiar enough. We all know what our Record is like, and in what tone a Scotch Presbyterian howls at a railway train on a Sunday. The cry of the Ultramontanist is less familiar to English ears, and when we find, so good a specimen of its peculiarities it would be a pity to leave it unnoticed; because, if for no other reason, it teaches us to bear with equanimity the comparatively trifling afflictions to which we are subject. Mr. Martin's complaints are two, and each of them deserves the careful attention of those who want to understand the system which he represents. The first complaint is that, if "the revolution" gets possession of Rome, the morals of the Roman population will be corrupted, particularly in the article of the relation of the sexes. This complaint is one which requires careful attention, both on account of the light which it throws on the practical differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics, and also because there is a sufficient degree of truth in it to enable us to understand how it comes to be mode. It appears to us highly probable that one result of the expulsion of the Pope from Rome would be that a good many breaches of chastity would take place, and this, no doubt, would be a drawback from the benefit of expelling the Pope. Still we hope he may be expelled. The subject of the respective effects of the Protestant and Roman Catholic systems on chastity is extremely curious and important; and though it is certainly not an agreeable subject to discuss, it is one which ought not to be avoided. The imputation that Protestantism is unfavourable to chastity is one which Roman Catholic writers constantly make, and they have better evidence in favour of their assertions on this point than they are usually able to produce. There is probably little to choose between the morality of London and that of Paris or Vienna in respect of prostitution; but there can be no doubt that the Irish peasantry are far chaster than those of England, and it is probably true that Rome itself is singularly free from prostitution, and that this is due to the efforts of the Papal Government and of the priests to prevent it. This is the strong side of Catholicism, yet it must not be exaggerated. There is no possibility of ascertaining the facts with anything like accuracy, and there can be no doubt that the immorality of Protestants, and especially of English people, is habitually put at the very highest, for it is our way on all occasions to wash our dirty linen in public.

The weak side of the Romish system, even as it is at the present day, is set in the strongest light by Mr. Martin's letter. He shows that in Rome itself, at the very fountain-head of the whole system, the effect produced is nothing more than the result of a stringent moral police. Everything, it is said, depends on the priests. Take them away, relax for a moment the conventional necessity for weekly communion and confession, and England itself would be the seventh heaven to what Rome would be. The result is, that at the very heart of the system, in the population which is more under priestly influence than any other in the world, people cannot be trusted for a single week with the management of their own consciences. It is hardly necessary to draw the inference. The result is that the system must have been confined entirely, or almost entirely, to the prevention of certain overt acts of vice. It can have produced no permanent deep-seated reformation of character. We need not, however, go so far as Rome for an illustration of the practical effects of the Romish view of morality. A better, and, for their purposes, a far more favourable illustration is to be found in Ireland. There can be no doubt that in Ireland illegitimate births are far less common than in England, and no doubt this is due in a great measure to the influence of the clergy. But how has that influence operated? It has operated through a way of thinking, on the subject of chastity, which illustrates to perfection the narrow unreasoning character of the whole system. The whole Romish morality on the subject is traceable to a quasi-Manichaean horror of the relation between the sexes, which it views as something essentially impure and horrible, though capable of being purified and rendered lawful by marriage. Much of the language of St. Augustine on the whole of this subject is founded on this view, and his way of thinking explains the fact that he was for many years a Manichaean. Marriage rendering lawful what was otherwise a mysterious sin, the great object of the Irish clergy has always been to encourage it to the utmost, though the consequence of the imprudent marriages which have been censed by that encouragement, and of the lazy hand-to-mouth contentment and resignation of spirit which have gene hand-in-hand with them, has been to reduce the country to beggary, to destroy its self-respect, to make the whole population slavish, false, and unsteady in all their thoughts, words, and deeds. With a sturdier form of religion—with an infusion of Puritanism, for instance— the Irish would probably have been by this time much the same sort of people as the Scotch or the Welsh, and the power and prosperity of the British Isles would have been almost immeasurably increased. No doubt a greater number of unmarried women would have had children; but that form of licensed incontinence which consists in marrying without any rational prospect of supporting a family, and that silly contentedness which lies at the root of almost all the distresses of Ireland, would have been avoided.

We have put the case as strongly against Protestantism, and as much in favour of Popery, as we can, but it must be remembered that the benefit (such as it is) of a rigorous police on these matters is a consequence, not of the Roman Catholic creed, but of priestly power. Give power to any priesthood, and similar results will be produced. Scotland was once as moral under the Presbyterian clergy as Rome is now, and the morality of the people had an infinitely deeper and more personal character. It must also be remembered that the exercise of such a power is possible only under very peculiar circumstances, and over a very ignorant population, and that, even under all advantages, it is very apt to defeat itself. Rome itself at many periods of its history has been a perfect sink of immorality, and, bad as the vice of Loudon and the coarseness of rural England may be, no one will say that we are worse than the French, the Spaniards, or the Italians, or that Vienna is a more moral city than Berlin. On the other hand, there is probably up more moral population in the world than the educated and respectable part of English society, and their morality is distinctly based on the Protestant view of the subject, which is that family life, and the discharge of the various duties of men and citizens, is the highest of human ideals, and that unchastity is fatally opposed to its realization. The inference is, that the cure for immorality is to be found in teaching people to understand the beauty of this ideal, and the necessity of being moral in order to attain to it. The advantage of this mode of proceeding over that of a mere spiritual police is infinite. In the first place, it elevates and purifies the whole man, instead of mechanically preventing him from doing one particular set of bad acts. In the next place, it excites no opposition. A zealous priesthood may rule the inert part of on ignorant population, but the men of spirit and intelligence revolt against them, and when they do so they are apt to revolt against all that the priesthood assert themselves to represent. The educated and literary class in England is infinitely more moral than the corresponding class in France, for this plain reason, that they have never been set against morality and religion by the pretensions of their official representatives. It is an admission fatal to any system that it can rule none but the ignorant, and that it can rule them only by penalties.

It is curious to observe how Mr. Martin (following the example of more distinguished writers of the same kind) unconsciously admits a state of things in Rome fatal to all his pretensions. He talks of the "splendid natural virtues" of the English, and admits that the Romans are very poor creatures. It is of course easy to avoid every conclusion which you dislike, by arbitrarily asserting the existence of some special cause to account for the facts which support it; but this is nothing else than a petitio principii removed by one single step. Nothing is easier than to credit the English with splendid natural virtues, and to debit the Romans with a climate and a temperament fatal to eminence and power of character. This, however, is mere trifling. Our English gifts are the result mainly of centuries of freedom and good government, which again arise from nothing else but the application to common life of the principles which, when applied to theology, produced Protestantism. The words "race" and "national character" merely express this result. They do not in themselves point to any original facts in human nature. The great reason why we in England wish to see the fall both of the temporal and of the spiritual power of the Pope is because we believe that a more rational power, exercised on better principles, would improve the Italian race and elevate the national character of the Italians.

Nothing is more worthy of remark in the writings of Roman Catholics than the utter inability which they generally show to understand the Protestant view of morals. They hardly seem to see that a Protestant's notion of the object for which he was sent into the world is different from theirs. A pious Protestant thinks that one of his first objects in life—one of his principal uses—is to be a good husband and father, a good merchant, a good lawyer, a good ruler, a good tailor or shoeblack, as the case may be, and that prosperity and success in life show how far he has succeeded in doing what he was sent on earth to do. To be obliged to keep a debtor and creditor account of sins and merits, and to have to attach miraculous effects to particular ritual services, would revolutionize all such a man's ways of thought, and would confuse his elementary notions of morality. The Romish view of morals is purely legal. Certain acts are sins, mortal or venial; certain other acts are meritorious in different degrees; but the general colour and tone of a man's life has nothing to do with his moral value. Thus Mr. Martin expatiates on English enterprise, without the least recognition of the fact that it has in itself a moral value. "There are telegrams, and steamboats, and a decent sewerage, &c. &c," but "will the circular notes of the one country be honoured in the other—will any English railway pass be useful over there?" The very essence of Protestant morality lies in the answer—Yes, it will. Our very notion of God is that of a Being who rules over men in all their works and ways, who wishes them to study the world in which he has put them, to find out how to send telegrams and build steamers and make railways, and to see the importance of draining cesspools, and putting manure in its right place, instead of converting it into poison. Nay, wo go further and say, bills drawn on Providence which represent real value are invariably honoured at maturity. Our telegraphs and railways and steamers and sewers do really do their work; they do, as far as they go, make us better men and women; they enable us to understand the world in which we live, and the nature of its author, and to see how He meant us to behave. These things, and other things of the same sort done for us by our ancestors, are the source of what you are pleased to call our "splendid natural virtues." In themselves they may be small, as all human things are, but they are real and substantial; and the thought that he has honestly laboured in such things, and really reduced some part of the world to the condition in which its Maker meant it to be—the thought that he has drained a marsh, or planned a railroad, or devised a new law of bankruptcy—is more likely to comfort a man at his dying hour, and to lead him to hope that, as he has been faithful in a few things, he may be promoted to a wider and higher sphere, than whole bushels of expositions and benedictions. We are apt to judge of things by their fruit, and when we hear that, in the head-quarters of what is called "grace," the population are, like naughty children, restrained from the grossest vice only by a system of ecclesiastical tyranny, we are terribly afraid that the Triduas, the Novenas, the Rosaries, the Ways of the Cross, and the other circular notes which our friends are so eager to carry into the next world will all turn out to be no better than so many notes of the Bank of Elegance, of as little use in the next or any other respectably conducted world as they confessedly are in this. Nothing indeed can be stranger to a Protestant than Mr. Martin's deliverances on this head. For God's sake, he says in substance, do not stop our prayer mill. You may think it very little better than the Tartar arrangement in point of efficiency, and a great deal more expensive, but in fact it is the one thing that keeps the world going. "The vast fund of indulgences" (equal to any demand and capable of indefinite extension), "the stational visits to the relics of the saints," the constant prayers and mortifications of the monks and nuns—these are the most holy and beautiful things in the whole world if you rightly consider them. It is this prayer mill of ours which "keeps by its regular pleading the wearied heart of God still open in its mercy." But for it we might expect a second flood, and yet you think of stopping it. It is not too much to say of a person who thinks thus that he worships a different God from ourselves, that he has a different notion of right and wrong, and that, though a member of the same nation, he is as entirely a stranger and an outcast from all its most characteristic objects and beliefs as if he were a Hindoo or a Mahometan. Every manifestation of the Ultramontane spirit tends to the same result, whether it comes in the form of the Encyclical, or in that of a letter to the Tablet. The result is always the same. The opposition between this form of opinion and the course which the conscience and reason of the vast mass of the civilized world approve is as radical and irreconcileable as the opposition between light and darkness.

Saturday Review, May 6, 1865.

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