Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XXXIII. On trafficking with the Cure of Souls, (Cura Animarum,) for the Purposes of Political, i. e. Moral, Corruption. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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SECTION XXXIII. On trafficking with the Cure of Souls, (Cura Animarum,) for the Purposes of Political, i. e. Moral, Corruption. - Vicesimus Knox, The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5 
The Works of Vicesimus Knox, D.D. with a Biographical Preface. In Seven Volumes (London: J. Mawman, 1824). Vol. 5.
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On trafficking with the Cure of Souls, (Cura Animarum,) for the Purposes of Political, i. e. Moral, Corruption.
The parish priests of a protestant country, when they are, what they ought to be, and what they would usually be, if it were not for political influence, Christian orators and Christian philosophers, are the most useful body of men, considering their numbers and their power, in the whole community. The good they are able to do is beyond all estimate; but unfortunately, it is a sort of good not always taken into the account of those who are in pursuit of more palpable advantages, solid gold, high station, and dominion over their fellow-creatures. The proper business of the clergy is to mortify this very pride, the indulgence of which is, to their courtly patrons, the summum bonum, the chief good of existence.
These persons, not having time or inclination to attend to religion, or any thing but the pomp and vanity of the world, idolizing themselves, and unwilling to acknowledge any other Deity, consider religion and the church merely as state engines; powerful engines, in conjunction with military force, to press down the elastic spirit of the people. They think, indeed, the emoluments attending ecclesiastical functions too much, if considered as recompenses for religious services, which, in their minds, are no services at all, but scarcely enough, when converted into douceurs for the business of corruption, the grand object of modern ministers.
Ambitious noblemen, therefore, buy boroughs, and, like Lord Melcombe, send their myrmidons to the senate; and ministers pay the expense of the purchase, by conferring the highest ecclesiastical dignities, with stipends of many thousands a-year, designed originally to be spent in charity, on the younger brothers, the cousins, the tutors, or the agents of these borough-mongers. It is indeed deemed politic, now and then, to raise a very ingenious, learned, and pious man to one of the small bishoprics, but seldom without contriving to promote, at the same time, the grand business of corruption. This ingenious, learned, and pious man, un evêque de la fortune, is highly satisfied with the dignity and emolument of his office. What need has he of the patronage appendant to it? In this age, it were a childish weakness, something similar to the simplicity recommended in the gospel, to give away good things to modest merit. But, though he has no need of the patronage. there are those, to whom he is bound, by every tie of gratitude, who want it all. He therefore understands that the cure of souls is to be given to persons whom the prime minister may recommend; as the Duke of Newcastle recommended Burroughs and Franklin, whom he had never seen or known, to the patronage of the lord chancellor. A translation may be impeded, if scruples of conscience should prevent an obsequious compliance with a minister's congé d'elire. “As to fitness or unfitness,” (cries the friend of corruption,) any man that can read is sufficient, for both prayers and sermons are ready made; and even if it were supposable that a man could not read, a parish, that pays the rector a thousand a-year, may be supplied with an ingenious curate for eighty.”
Formerly learning was scarce among the laity. The clergy engrossed what little there was in the world, and made themselves necessary to the state, not only in ecclesiastical, but political offices and employments. “Before the Reformation,” (says a learned writer,”) “the canon law was in great use and esteem, and of great use; and while the laity were in general unlettered, or employed in a military life, the king made use of clergymen, skilled in this law, in the offices of the chancery, privy seal, secretary of state, in the courts of justice, and in embassies. The king rewarded men thus qualified to do him service, with benefices and other ecclesiastical preferments; and the lord chancellor or lord keeper, in particular, was furnished with many advowsons, to which, as they became vacant, he might present worthy masters and clerks in chancery, who were then all clergymen; which advowsons still continue in his gift, though the reason thereof hath long since ceased.” But one reason having ceased, others may have risen still more weighty. We have already remarked, more than once, how that prime minister the Duke of Newcastle used the advowsons in the gift of the crown. We know how preferment is bestowed in Ireland as well as England. We remember the old manner of appointment to the provostship of Trinity-college, Dublin.
The excellent divine from whom the last quotation was taken, speaking of clergymen honoured and enriched with two cures of souls, proceeds thus: “I do not deny but there are pluralists of great ecclesiastical merit; but I do deny that in general pluralists have greater merit that unalists, or than many in orders who have no living at all; or that pluralists in general, become pluralists for their ecclesiastical merit.
“Read over the list of pluralists in England, and see whether this sort of merit be universally, or generally, or commonly, regarded in the dispensations granted them to hold pluralities. See whether the judge of this sort of merit hath power, if he were ever so well inclined, to regard it universally, or generally, or commonly: see whether the motive of the patron to present a clerk to a second living, hath, in one instance out of twenty, been his eminent ecclesiastical merit; or whether the same favour would not have been bestowed on the same person, had his merit been inferior; nay, in many cases, upon the same person, although instead of merit there had been demerit; and very often also, if not the more likely, if instead of want of a competence, there had been affluence. See whether the merit, which hath been sometimes considered in this case, hath not, instead of ecclesiastical merit, been political opinions, serviceableness in elections, private treaties, domestic negotiations, and other mean offices, below the consideration and interposition of ecclesiastics, and hurtful to the ecclesiastical character. With some patrons, there is not one of these qualifications that is not a stronger motive than parts, and learning, and piety, and prudence, and virtue put together.” Thus said Dr. Newton, the founder and head of a college in Oxford, at a time when the cure of souls was not considered as so trifling a care as it has been by more recent ministers, who have seemed ready to sacrifice both soul and body to the gaining of a majority in the senate. The church once preserved her own dignity with a noble independence; but now she must bow, like a lackey, to the vilest minister of state.
But what is this cura animarum, this office of watching over the spiritual state of populous districts? Is it not, on the hypothesis that the Christian religion is true, the most important office that can be undertaken by man on this side the grave? Is not the power of appointing to that office a trust most sacred, if there be any thing sacred here below? What is sacrilege? the stealing of a cushion or silver chalice from a church? And is it no sacrilege to steal the church itself, and all its emoluments, designed to prevent the increase of corruption, in order to reward and to promote corruption? Is the cura animarum to be the last consideration in the patron's mind, though the first in the eye of reason and religion? And is all this injustice, sacrilege, impiety, and blasphemy to be endured, because the gift of the stipend, the endowment, the tithes, the fees, buy an elector, who swears, at the time of giving his vote, that he has not received a bribe? Is it to be wondered, if, under such abuses, religion should be on the decline! Do the writings of infidels, or the venal practices of patrons, contribute most to exterminate Christianity? What has a similar system in France effected, carried indeed to still greater lengths, but still similar? The greedy rapaciousness of court sycophants in England is doing the work of antichrist, and destroying civil liberty.
But I am chiefly concerned at present to consider the using the church, or the cure of souls, for the corruption of the state and the violation of the constitution, as a political enormity. It certainly contributes to the spirit of despotism. It naturally tends to make all the youth in the nation, who enter on this sacred profession, look up to court favour, and not to depend on their own merit or exertions, for promotion. It prevents them from voting freely at elections. It prevents them from preaching freely from the pulpit. Its natural tendency is to make them what they ought particularly to avoid, adulators, worldly wise, parasitical, and acceptors of men's persons for the sake of advantage. They must know, under such a system, that if they vote according to conscience, or preach or write according to the truth as it is in Jesus, they must forego all those prospects of rising in their profession, which, if merit were rewarded, are a stimulus to every thing that can benefit human nature. Clerical men, infirm, like others, often sink under this temptation. Few can renounce great temporal advantages for the sake of promoting public good, especially when they are sure of persecution as well as neglect. Now, what must be the consequence to liberty, of a whole national clergy rendered expectant on the favour of a court, and a proud aristocracy? May we not hear again from the pulpit, the doctrines of divine right and passive obedience; the same doctrines in effect, under names less offensive to the people! Have we not lately heard them?
There is no mode of promoting the purposes of corruption, and the aggrandizement of those who already engross the pomp of grandeur, more injurious to liberty, and more villanously base, than that of seizing the appointments and rewards of piety and virtue, to bestow them on those, whose worldly wisdom is their chief recommendation, and who seem ready to worship God only in the second place, if they worship him at all.
The Tindals, the Collinses, the Bolingbrokes, the Humes, the Gibbons, the Voltaires, the Volneys, the “miscreant” philosophers of France, never did so much injury to the cause of Christianity, as those English ministers of state, who, while they shed the blood of thousands for the sake of law, order, and religion, prostitute the church and the cure of souls to the corruption of the senate.