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XII: CARDINAL WISEMAN AND THE HOME AND FOREIGN REVIEW - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, The History of Freedom and Other Essays 
The History of Freedom and Other Essays, ed. John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907).
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CARDINAL WISEMAN AND THE HOME AND FOREIGN REVIEW1
It is one of the conditions inseparable from a public career to be often misunderstood, and sometimes judged unfairly even when understood the best. No one who has watched the formation of public opinion will be disposed to attribute all the unjust judgments which assail him to the malice of individuals, or to imagine that he can prevent misconceptions or vindicate his good name by words alone. He knows that even where he has committed no errors he must pay tribute to the fallibility of mankind, and that where he is in fault he must also pay tribute to his own. This is a natural law; and the purer a man’s conscience is, and the more single his aim, the less eager will he be to evade it, or to defend himself from its penalties.
The man whose career is bound up with that of some school or party will estimate the value of his opponents’ censures by the worth which he attributes to the undiscriminating praise of his friends; but he who has devoted himself to the development of principles which will not always bend to the dictates of expediency will have no such short way of dealing with objections. His independence will frequently and inexorably demand the sacrifice of interests to truth—of what is politic to what is right; and, whenever he makes that sacrifice, he will appear a traitor to those whom he is most anxious to serve, while his act will be hailed by those who are farthest from sharing his opinions as a proof of secret sympathy, and harbinger of future alliance. Thus, the censure which he incurs will most often come from those whose views are essentially his own; and the very matter which calls it forth will be that which elicits the applause of adversaries who cannot bring themselves to believe either in the truth of his opinions, in the integrity of his motives, or in the sincerity of his aims.
There are few men living whose career has been more persistently misinterpreted, more bitterly assailed, or more ignorantly judged, than the illustrious person who is the head in England of the Church to which we belong. Cardinal Wiseman has been for many years the chief object of the attacks of those who have desired to injure or degrade our community. He is not only the canonical chief of English Catholics, but his ability, and the devotion of his life to their cause, have made him their best representative and their most powerful champion. No prelate in Christendom is more fully trusted by the Holy See, or exercises a more extensive personal influence, or enjoys so wide a literary renown. Upon him, therefore, intolerance and fanaticism have concentrated their malice. He has had to bear the brunt of that hatred which the holiness of Catholicism inspires in its enemies; and the man who has never been found wanting when the cause of the Church was at stake may boast, with a not unworthy pride, of the indifference with which he has encountered the personal slander of a hostile press.
The Catholics of this country are attached to Cardinal Wiseman by warmer feelings and more personal ties than those of merely ecclesiastical subordination. It has been his privilege to gather the spiritual fruits of the Catholic Emancipation Act; and the history of English Catholicism has been, for a whole generation, bound up with his name. That immense change in the internal condition of the Church in England which distinguishes our days from the time of Milner has grown up under his influence, and has been in great part his work. We owe it to him that we have been brought into closer intercourse with Rome, and into contact with the rest of Europe. By his preaching and his spiritual direction he has transformed the devotions of our people; while his lectures and writings have made Protestants familiar with Catholic ideas, and have given Catholics a deeper insight into their own religion. As a controversialist he influenced the Oxford movement more deeply than any other Catholic. As director of the chief literary organ of Catholics during a quarter of a century he rendered services to our literature, and overcame difficulties, which none are in a better position to appreciate than those who are engaged in a similar work. And as President of Oscott, he acquired the enduring gratitude of hundreds who owed to his guidance the best portion of their training.
These personal relations with English Catholics, which have made him a stranger to none and a benefactor to all, have at the same time given him an authority of peculiar weight amongst them. With less unity of view and tradition than their brethren in other lands, they were accustomed, in common with the rest of Englishmen, to judge more independently and to speak more freely than is often possible in countries more exclusively Catholic. Their minds are not all cast in the same mould, nor their ideas derived from the same stock; but all alike, from bishop to layman, identify their cause with that of the Cardinal, and feel that, in the midst of a hostile people, no diversity of opinion ought to interfere with unity of action, no variety of interest with identity of feeling, no controversy with the universal reverence which is due to the position and character of the Archbishop of Westminster.
In this spirit the Catholic body have received Cardinal Wiseman’s latest publication—his “Reply to the Address of his Clergy on his return from Rome.” He speaks in it of the great assemblage of the Episcopate, and of their address to the Holy Father. Among the bishops there present he was the most conspicuous, and he was President of the Commission to which the preparation of their address was intrusted. No account of it, therefore, can be more authentic than that which he is able to give. The reserve imposed by his office, and by the distinguished part he had to bear, has been to some extent neutralised by the necessity of refuting false and exaggerated rumours which were circulated soon after the meeting, and particularly two articles which appeared in The Patrie on the 4th and 5th of July, and in which it was stated that the address written by Cardinal Wiseman contained “most violent attacks on all the fundamental principles of modern society.”
After replying in detail to the untruths of this newspaper, the Cardinal proceeds as follows:—
With far greater pain I feel compelled to advert to a covert insinuation of the same charges, in a publication avowedly Catholic, and edited in my own diocese, consequently canonically subject to my correction. Should such a misstatement, made under my own eyes, be passed over by me, it might be surmised that it could not be contradicted; and whether chronologically it preceded or followed the French account it evidently becomes my duty to notice it, as French bishops have considered it theirs to correct the inaccuracies of their native writers.
Otherwise, in a few years, we might find reference made, as to a recognised Catholic authority, for the current and unreproved statement of what occurred at Rome, to The Home and Foreign Review. And that in a matter on which reprehension would have been doubly expected, if merited. In its first number the Address, which has, I believe, wonderfully escaped the censure of Protestant and infidel journals, is thus spoken of: “This Address is said to be a compromise between one which took the violent course of recommending that major excommunication should be at once pronounced against the chief enemies of the temporal power by name, and one still more moderate than the present” (The Home and Foreign Review, p. 264). Now this very charge about recommending excommunication is the one made by the French paper against my Address. But, leaving to the writer the chance of an error, in this application of his words, I am bound to correct it, to whomever it refers. He speaks of only two addresses: the distinction between them implies severe censure on one. I assure you that neither contained the recommendation or the sentiment alluded to.
My Brethren, I repeat that it pains me to have to contradict the repetition, in my own diocese, of foreign accusations, without the smallest pains taken to verify or disprove them with means at hand. But this can hardly excite surprise in us who know the antecedents of that journal under another name, the absence for years of all reserve or reverence in its treatment of persons or of things deemed sacred, its grazing over the very edges of the most perilous abysses of error, and its habitual preferences of uncatholic to catholic instincts, tendencies, and motives. In uttering these sad thoughts, and entreating you to warn your people, and especially the young, against such dangerous leadership, believe me I am only obeying a higher direction than my own impulses, and acting under much more solemn sanctions. Nor shall I stand alone in this unhappily necessary correction.
But let us pass to more cheerful and consoling thoughts. If my connection with the preparation of the Address, from my having held, though unworthy, office in its Committee, enables and authorises me to rebut false charges against it, it has further bestowed upon me the privilege of personal contact with a body of men who justly represented the entire Episcopate, and would have represented it with equal advantage in any other period of the Church. I know not who selected them, nor do I venture to say that many other equal committees of eighteen could not have been extracted from the remainder. I think they might; but I must say that a singular wisdom seemed to me to have presided over the actual, whatever might have been any other possible, choice.
Deliberations more minute, more mutually respectful, more courteous, or at the same time more straightforward and unflinching, could hardly have been carried on. More learning in theology and canon law, more deep religious feeling, a graver sense of the responsibility laid upon the Commission, or a more scrupulous regard to the claims of justice, and no less of mercy, could scarcely have been exhibited. Its spirit was one of mildness, of gentleness, and of reverence to all who rightly claimed it. “Violent courses,” invitations to “draw the sword and rush on enemies,” or to deal about “the major excommunication by name,” I deliberately assure you, were never mentioned, never insinuated, and I think I may say, never thought of by any one in that Council. In the sketches proposed by several, there was not a harsh or disrespectful word about any sovereign or government; in anything I ever humbly proposed, there was not a single allusion to “King or Kaiser.”
Our duty to the Cardinal and our duty to our readers alike forbid us to pass by these remarks without notice. Silence would imply either that we admitted the charge, or that we disregarded the censure; and each of these suppositions would probably be welcome to the enemies of our common cause, while both of them are, in fact, untrue. The impossibility of silence, however, involves the necessity of our stating the facts on which charges so definite and so formidable have been founded. In doing so, we shall endeavour both to exhibit the true sequence of events, and to explain the origin of the Cardinal’s misapprehension; and in this way we shall reply to the charges made against us.
But we must first explicitly declare, as we have already implied, that in the Cardinal’s support and approbation of our work we should recognise an aid more valuable to the cause we are engaged in than the utmost support which could be afforded to us by any other person; and that we cannot consider the terms he has used respecting us otherwise than as a misfortune to be profoundly regretted, and a blow which might seriously impair our power to do service to religion.
A Catholic Review which is deprived of the countenance of the ecclesiastical authorities is placed in an abnormal position. A germ of distrust is planted in the ground where the good seed should grow; the support which the suspected organ endeavours to lend to the Church is repudiated by the ecclesiastical rulers; and its influence in Protestant society, as an expositor of Catholic ideas, is in danger of being destroyed, because its exposition of them may be declared unsound and unfair, even when it represents them most faithfully and defends them most successfully. The most devoted efforts of its conductors are liable to be misconstrued, and perversely turned either against the Church or against the Review itself; its best works are infected with the suspicion with which it is regarded, and its merits become almost more perilous than its faults.
These considerations could not have been overlooked by the Cardinal when he resolved to take a step which threatened to paralyse one of the few organs of Catholic opinion in England. Yet he took that step. If an enemy had done this, it would have been enough to vindicate ourselves, and to leave the burden of an unjust accusation to be borne by its author. But since it has been done by an ecclesiastical superior, with entire foresight of the grave consequences of the act, it has become necessary for us, in addition, to explain the circumstances by which he was led into a course we have so much reason to deplore, and to show how an erroneous and unjust opinion could arise in the mind of one whom obvious motives would have disposed to make the best use of a publication, the conductors of which are labouring to serve the community he governs, and desired and endeavoured to obtain his sanction for their work. If we were unable to reconcile these two necessities,—if we were compelled to choose between a forbearance dishonourable to ourselves, and a refutation injurious to the Cardinal, we should be placed in a painful and almost inextricable difficulty. For a Catholic who defends himself at the expense of an ecclesiastical superior sacrifices that which is generally of more public value than his own fair fame; and an English Catholic who casts back on Cardinal Wiseman the blame unjustly thrown on himself, hurts a reputation which belongs to the whole body, and disgraces the entire community of Catholics. By such a course, a Review which exists only for public objects would stultify its own position and injure its own cause, and The Home and Foreign Review has no object to attain, and no views to advance, except objects and views in which the Catholic Church is interested. The ends for which it labours, according to its light and ability, are ends by which the Church cannot but gain; the doctrine it receives, and the authority it obeys, are none other than those which command the acceptance and submission of the Cardinal himself. It desires to enjoy his support; it has no end to gain by opposing him. But we are not in this painful dilemma. We can show that the accusations of the Cardinal are unjust; and, at the same time, we can explain how naturally the suppositions on which they are founded have arisen, by giving a distinct and ample statement of our own principles and position.
The complaint which the Cardinal makes against us contains, substantially, five charges: (1) that we made a misstatement, affirming something historically false to be historically true; (2) that the falsehood consists in the statement that only two addresses were proposed in the Commission—one violent, the other very moderate,—and that the address finally adopted was a compromise between these two; (3) that we insinuated that the Cardinal himself was the author of the violent address; (4) that we cast, by implication, a severe censure on that address and its author; and (5) that our narrative was derived from the same sources, and inspired by the same motives, as that given in The Patrie,—for the Cardinal distinctly connects the two accounts, and quotes passages indifferently from both, in such a way that words which we never used might by a superficial reader be supposed to be ours.
To these charges our reply is as follows: (1) We gave the statement of which the Cardinal complains as a mere rumour current on any good authority at the time of our publication, and we employed every means in our power to test its accuracy, though the only other narratives which had then reached England were, as the Cardinal says (p. 9), too “partial and perverted” to enable us to sift it to the bottom. We stated that a rumour was current, not that its purport was true. (2) We did not speak of “only two addresses” actually submitted to the Commission. We supposed the report to mean, that of the three possible forms of address, two extreme and one mean, each of which actually had partisans in the Commission, the middle or moderate form was the one finally adopted. (3) We had no suspicion that the Cardinal had proposed any violent address at all; we did not know that such a proposal had been, or was about to be, attributed to him; and there was no connection whatever between him and it either in our mind or in our language. (4) We implied no censure either on the course proposed or on its proposer, still less on the Cardinal personally. (5) The articles in The Patrie first appeared—and that in France—some days after our Review was in the hands of the public; we know nothing of the authority on which their statements were founded, and we have not the least sympathy either with the politics or the motives of that newspaper.
This reply would be enough for our own defence; but it is right that we should show, on the other side, how it came to pass that the Cardinal was led to subject our words to that construction which we have so much reason to regret. Reading them by the light of his own knowledge, and through the medium of the false reports which afterwards arose with regard to himself, his interpretation of them may easily have appeared both plausible and likely. For there were more draft addresses than one: one was his; the actual address was a compromise between them, and he had been falsely accused of, and severely censured for, proposing violent courses in his address. Knowing this, he was tempted to suspect a covert allusion to himself under our words, and the chronological relation between our own article and those of The Patrie was easily forgotten, or made nugatory by the supposition of their both being derived from the same sources of information.
But this will be made clearer by the following narrative of facts: A Commission was appointed to draw up the address of the bishops; Cardinal Wiseman, its president, proposed a draft address, which was not obnoxious to any of the criticisms made on any other draft, and is, in substance, the basis of the address as it was ultimately settled. It was favourably received by the Commission; but, after some deliberation, its final adoption was postponed.
Subsequently, a prelate who had been absent from the previous discussion presented another draft, not in competition with that proposed by the president, nor as an amendment to it, but simply as a basis for discussion. This second draft was also favourably received; and the Commission, rather out of consideration for the great services and reputation of its author than from any dissatisfaction with the address proposed by the president, resolved to amalgamate the two drafts. All other projects were set aside; and, in particular, two proposals were deliberately rejected. One of these proposals was, to pay a tribute of acknowledgment for the services of the French nation to the Holy See; the other was, to denounce the perfidious and oppressive policy of the Court of Turin in terms which we certainly should not think either exaggerated or undeserved. We have neither right nor inclination to complain of the ardent patriotism which has been exhibited by the illustrious Bishop of Orleans in the two publications he has put forth since his return to his See, or of the indignation which the system prevailing at Turin must excite in every man who in his heart loves the Church, or whose intelligence can appreciate the first principles of government. Whatever may have been the censure proposed, it certainly did not surpass the measure of the offence. Nevertheless, the impolicy of a violent course, which could not fail to cause irritation, and to aggravate the difficulties of the Church, appears to have been fully recognised by the Commission; and we believe that no one was more prompt in exposing the inutility of such a measure than the Cardinal himself. The idea that anything imprudent or aggressive was to be found in his draft is contradicted by all the facts of the case, and has not a shadow of foundation in anything that is contained in the address as adopted.
We need say no more to explain what has been very erroneously called our covert insinuation. From this narrative of facts our statement comes out, no longer as a mere report, but as a substantially accurate summary of events, questioned only on one point,—the extent of the censure which was proposed. So that in the account which the Cardinal quoted from our pages there was no substantial statement to correct, as in fact no correction of any definite point but one has been attempted.
How this innocent statement has come to be suspected of a hostile intent, and to be classed with the calumnies of The Patrie, is another question. The disposition with which the Cardinal sat in judgment upon our words was founded, not on anything they contained, but, as he declares, on the antecedents of the conductors of The Home and Foreign Review, and on the character of a journal which no longer exists. That character he declares to consist in “the absence for years of all reserve or reverence in its treatment of persons or of things deemed sacred, its grazing over the very edges of the most perilous abysses of error, and its habitual preferences of uncatholic to catholic instincts, tendencies, and motives.” In publishing this charge, which amounts to a declaration that we hold opinions and display a spirit not compatible with an entire attachment and submission of intellect and will to the doctrine and authority of the Catholic Church, the Cardinal adds, “I am only obeying a higher direction than my own impulses, and acting under much more solemn sanctions. Nor shall I stand alone in this unhappily necessary correction.”
There can be little doubt of the nature of the circumstances to which this announcement points. It is said that certain papers or propositions, which the report does not specify, have been extracted from the journal which the Cardinal identifies with this Review, and forwarded to Rome for examination; that the Prefect of Propaganda has characterised these extracts, or some of them, in terms which correspond to the Cardinal’s language; and that the English bishops have deliberated whether they should issue similar declarations. We have no reason to doubt that the majority of them share the Cardinal’s view, which is also that of a large portion both of the rest of the clergy and also of the laity; and, whatever may be the precise action which has been taken in the matter, it is unquestionable that a very formidable mass of ecclesiastical authority and popular feeling is united against certain principles or opinions which, whether rightly or wrongly, are attributed to us. No one will suppose that an impression so general can be entirely founded on a mistake. Those who admit the bare orthodoxy of our doctrine will, under the circumstances, naturally conclude that in our way of holding or expounding it there must be something new and strange, unfamiliar and bewildering, to those who are accustomed to the prevalent spirit of Catholic literature; something which our fellow-Catholics are not prepared to admit; something which can sufficiently explain misgivings so commonly and so sincerely entertained. Others may perhaps imagine that we are unconsciously drifting away from the Church, or that we only professedly and hypocritically remain with her. But the Catholic critic will not forget that charity is a fruit of our religion, and that his anxiety to do justice to those from whom he must differ ought always to be in equal proportion with his zeal. Relying, then, upon this spirit of fairness, convinced of the sincerity of the opposition we encounter, and in order that there may remain a distinct and intelligible record of the aim to which we dedicate our labours, we proceed to make that declaration which may be justly asked of nameless writers, as a testimony of the purpose which has inspired our undertaking, and an abiding pledge of our consistency.
This Review has been begun on a foundation which its conductors can never abandon without treason to their own convictions, and infidelity to the objects they have publicly avowed. That foundation is a humble faith in the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church, a devotion to her cause which controls every other interest, and an attachment to her authority which no other influence can supplant. If in anything published by us a passage can be found which is contrary to that doctrine, incompatible with that devotion, or disrespectful to that authority, we sincerely retract and lament it. No such passage was ever consciously admitted into the pages either of the late Rambler or of this Review. But undoubtedly we may have committed errors in judgment, and admitted errors of fact; such mistakes are unavoidable in secular matters, and no one is exempt from them in spiritual things except by the constant assistance of Divine grace. Our wish and purpose are not to deny faults, but to repair them; to instruct, not to disturb our readers; to take down the barriers which shut out our Protestant countrymen from the Church, not to raise up divisions within her pale; and to confirm and deepen, not to weaken, alter, or circumscribe the faith of Catholics.
The most exalted methods of serving religion do not lie in the path of a periodical which addresses a general audience. The appliances of the spiritual life belong to a more retired sphere—that of the priesthood, of the sacraments, of religious offices; that of prayer, meditation, and self-examination. They are profaned by exposure, and choked by the distractions of public affairs. The world cannot be taken into the confidence of our inner life, nor can the discussion of ascetic morality be complicated with the secular questions of the day. To make the attempt would be to usurp and degrade a holier office. The function of the journalist is on another level. He may toil in the same service, but not in the same rank, as the master-workman. His tools are coarser, his method less refined, and if his range is more extended, his influence is less intense. Literature, like government, assists religion, but it does so indirectly, and from without. The ends for which it works are distinct from those of the Church, and yet subsidiary to them; and the more independently each force achieves its own end, the more complete will the ultimate agreement be found, and the more will religion profit. The course of a periodical publication in its relation to the Church is defined by this distinction of ends; its sphere is limited by the difference and inferiority of the means which it employs, while the need for its existence and its independence is vindicated by the necessity there is for the service it performs.
It is the peculiar mission of the Church to be the channel of grace to each soul by her spiritual and pastoral action—she alone has this mission; but it is not her only work. She has also to govern and educate, so far as government and education are needful subsidiaries to her great work of the salvation of souls. By her discipline, her morality, her law, she strives to realise the divine order upon earth; while by her intellectual labour she seeks an even fuller knowledge of the works, the ideas, and the nature of God. But the ethical and intellectual offices of the Church, as distinct from her spiritual office, are not hers exclusively or peculiarly. They were discharged, however imperfectly, before she was founded; and they are discharged still, independently of her, by two other authorities,—science and society; the Church cannot perform all these functions by herself, nor, consequently, can she absorb their direction. The political and intellectual orders remain permanently distinct from the spiritual. They follow their own ends, they obey their own laws, and in doing so they support the cause of religion by the discovery of truth and the upholding of right. They render this service by fulfilling their own ends independently and unrestrictedly, not by surrendering them for the sake of spiritual interests. Whatever diverts government and science from their own spheres, or leads religion to usurp their domains, confounds distinct authorities, and imperils not only political right and scientific truths, but also the cause of faith and morals. A government that, for the interests of religion, disregards political right, and a science that, for the sake of protecting faith, wavers and dissembles in the pursuit of knowledge, are instruments at least as well adapted to serve the cause of falsehood as to combat it, and never can be used in furtherance of the truth without that treachery to principle which is a sacrifice too costly to be made for the service of any interest whatever.
Again, the principles of religion, government, and science are in harmony, always and absolutely; but their interests are not. And though all other interests must yield to those of religion, no principle can succumb to any interest. A political law or a scientific truth may be perilous to the morals or the faith of individuals, but it cannot on this ground be resisted by the Church. It may at times be a duty of the State to protect freedom of conscience, yet this freedom may be a temptation to apostasy. A discovery may be made in science which will shake the faith of thousands, yet religion cannot refute it or object to it. The difference in this respect between a true and a false religion is, that one judges all things by the standard of their truth, the other by the touchstone of its own interests. A false religion fears the progress of all truth; a true religion seeks and recognises truth wherever it can be found, and claims the power of regulating and controlling, not the progress, but the dispensation of knowledge. The Church both accepts the truth and prepares the individual to receive it.
The religious world has been long divided upon this great question: Do we find principles in politics and in science? Are their methods so rigorous that we may not bend them, their conclusions so certain that we may not dissemble them, in presence of the more rigorous necessity of the salvation of souls and the more certain truth of the dogmas of faith? This question divides Protestants into rationalists and pietists. The Church solves it in practice, by admitting the truths and the principles in the gross, and by dispensing them in detail as men can bear them. She admits the certainty of the mathematical method, and she uses the historical and critical method in establishing the documents of her own revelation and tradition. Deny this method, and her recognised arguments are destroyed. But the Church cannot and will not deny the validity of the methods upon which she is obliged to depend, not indeed for her existence, but for her demonstration. There is no opening for Catholics to deny, in the gross, that political science may have absolute principles of right, or intellectual science of truth.
During the last hundred years Catholic literature has passed through three phases in relation to this question. At one time, when absolutism and infidelity were in the ascendant, and the Church was oppressed by governments and reviled by the people, Catholic writers imitated, and even caricatured the early Christian apologists in endeavouring to represent their system in the light most acceptable to one side or the other, to disguise antagonism, to modify old claims, and to display only that side of their religion which was likely to attract toleration and good will. Nothing which could give offence was allowed to appear. Something of the fulness, if not of the truth, of religion was sacrificed for the sake of conciliation. The great Catholic revival of the present century gave birth to an opposite school. The attitude of timidity and concession was succeeded by one of confidence and triumph. Conciliation passed into defiance. The unscrupulous falsehoods of the eighteenth century had thrown suspicion on all that had ever been advanced by the adversaries of religion; and the belief that nothing could be said for the Church gradually died away into the conviction that nothing which was said against her could be true. A school of writers arose strongly imbued with a horror of the calumnies of infidel philosophers and hostile controversialists, and animated by a sovereign desire to revive and fortify the spirit of Catholics. They became literary advocates. Their only object was to accomplish the great work before them; and they were often careless in statement, rhetorical and illogical in argument, too positive to be critical, and too confident to be precise. In this school the present generation of Catholics was educated; to it they owe the ardour of their zeal, the steadfastness of their faith, and their Catholic views of history, politics, and literature. The services of these writers have been very great. They restored the balance, which was leaning terribly against religion, both in politics and letters. They created a Catholic opinion and a great Catholic literature, and they conquered for the Church a very powerful influence in European thought. The word “ultramontane” was revived to designate this school, and that restricted term was made to embrace men as different as De Maistre and Bonald, Lamennais and Montalembert, Balmez and Donoso Cortes, Stolberg and Schlegel, Phillips and Tapparelli.
There are two peculiarities by which we may test this whole group of eminent writers: their identification of Catholicism with some secular cause, such as the interests of a particular political or philosophical system, and the use they make of Protestant authorities. The views which they endeavoured to identify with the cause of the Church, however various, agreed in giving them the air of partisans. Like advocates, they were wont to defend their cause with the ingenuity of those who know that all points are not equally strong, and that nothing can be conceded except what they can defend. They did much for the cause of learning, though they took little interest in what did not immediately serve their turn. In their use of Protestant writers they displayed the same partiality. They estimated a religious adversary, not by his knowledge, but by his concessions; and they took advantage of the progress of historical criticism, not to revise their opinions, but to obtain testimony to their truth. It was characteristic of the school to be eager in citing the favourable passages from Protestant authors, and to be careless of those which were less serviceable for discussion. In the principal writers this tendency was counteracted by character and learning; but in the hands of men less competent or less suspicious of themselves, sore pressed by the necessities of controversy, and too obscure to challenge critical correction, the method became a snare for both the writer and his readers. Thus the very qualities which we condemn in our opponents, as the natural defences of error and the significant emblems of a bad cause, came to taint both our literature and our policy.
Learning has passed on beyond the range of these men’s vision. Their greatest strength was in the weakness of their adversaries, and their own faults were eclipsed by the monstrous errors against which they fought. But scientific methods have now been so perfected, and have come to be applied in so cautious and so fair a spirit, that the apologists of the last generation have collapsed before them. Investigations have become so impersonal, so colourless, so free from the prepossessions which distort truth, from predetermined aims and foregone conclusions, that their results can only be met by investigations in which the same methods are yet more completely and conscientiously applied. The sounder scholar is invincible by the brilliant rhetorician, and the eloquence and ingenuity of De Maistre and Schlegel would be of no avail against researches pursued with perfect mastery of science and singleness of purpose. The apologist’s armour would be vulnerable at the point where his religion and his science were forced into artificial union. Again, as science widens and deepens, it escapes from the grasp of dilettantism. Such knowledge as existed formerly could be borrowed, or superficially acquired, by men whose lives were not devoted to its pursuit, and subjects as far apart as the controversies of Scripture, history, and physical science might be respectably discussed by a single writer. No such shallow versatility is possible now. The new accuracy and certainty of criticism have made science unattainable except by those who devote themselves systematically to its study. The training of a skilled labourer has become indispensable for the scholar, and science yields its results to none but those who have mastered its methods. Herein consists the distinction between the apologists we have described and that school of writers and thinkers which is now growing up in foreign countries, and on the triumph of which the position of the Church in modern society depends. While she was surrounded with men whose learning was sold to the service of untruth, her defenders naturally adopted the artifices of the advocate, and wrote as if they were pleading for a human cause. It was their concern only to promote those precise kinds and portions of knowledge which would confound an adversary, or support a claim. But learning ceased to be hostile to Christianity when it ceased to be pursued merely as an instrument of controversy—when facts came to be acknowledged, no longer because they were useful, but simply because they were true. Religion had no occasion to rectify the results of learning when irreligion had ceased to pervert them, and the old weapons of controversy became repulsive as soon as they had ceased to be useful.
By this means the authority of political right and of scientific truth has been re-established, and they have become, not tools to be used by religion for her own interests, but conditions which she must observe in her actions and arguments. Within their respective spheres, politics can determine what rights are just, science what truths are certain. There are few political or scientific problems which affect the doctrines of religion, and none of them are hostile to it in their solution. But this is not the difficulty which is usually felt. A political principle or a scientific discovery is more commonly judged, not by its relation to religious truth, but by its bearings on some manifest or probable religious interests. A fact may be true, or a law may be just, and yet it may, under certain conditions, involve some spiritual loss.
And here is the touchstone and the watershed of principles. Some men argue that the object of government is to contribute to the salvation of souls; that certain measures may imperil this end, and that therefore they must be condemned. These men only look to interests; they cannot conceive the duty of sacrificing them to independent political principle or idea. Or, again, they will say, “Here is a scientific discovery calculated to overthrow many traditionary ideas, to undo a prevailing system of theology, to disprove a current interpretation, to cast discredit on eminent authorities, to compel men to revise their most settled opinions, to disturb the foundation on which the faith of others stands.” These are sufficient reasons for care in the dispensation of truth; but the men we are describing will go on to say, “This is enough to throw suspicion on the discovery itself; even if it is true, its danger is greater than its value. Let it, therefore, be carefully buried, and let all traces of it be swept away.”
A policy like this appears to us both wrong in itself and derogatory to the cause it is employed to serve. It argues either a timid faith which fears the light, or a false morality which would do evil that good might come. How often have Catholics involved themselves in hopeless contradiction, sacrificed principle to opportunity, adapted their theories to their interests, and staggered the world’s reliance on their sincerity by subterfuges which entangle the Church in the shifting sands of party warfare, instead of establishing her cause on the solid rock of principles! How often have they clung to some plausible chimera which seemed to serve their cause, and nursed an artificial ignorance where they feared the discoveries of an impertinent curiosity! As ingenious in detraction as in silence and dissimulation, have they not too often answered imputations which they could not disprove with accusations which they could not prove, till the slanders they had invented rivalled in number and intensity the slanders which had been invented against them? For such men principles have had only temporary value and local currency. Whatever force was the strongest in any place and at any time, with that they have sought to ally the cause of religion. They have, with equal zeal, identified her with freedom in one country and with absolutism in another; with conservatism where she had privileges to keep, and with reform where she had oppression to withstand. And for all this, what have they gained? They have betrayed duties more sacred than the privileges for which they fought; they have lied before God and man; they have been divided into fractions by the supposed interests of the Church, when they ought to have been united by her principles and her doctrines; and against themselves they have justified those grave accusations of falsehood, insincerity, indifference to civil rights and contempt for civil authorities which are uttered with such profound injustice against the Church.
The present difficulties of the Church—her internal dissensions and apparent weakness, the alienation of so much intellect, the strong prejudice which keeps many away from her altogether, and makes many who had approached her shrink back, — all draw nourishment from this rank soil. The antagonism of hostile doctrines and the enmity of governments count for little in comparison. It is in vain to point to her apostolic tradition, the unbroken unity of her doctrine, her missionary energy, or her triumphs in the region of spiritual life, if we fail to remove the accumulated prejudice which generations of her advocates have thrown up around her. The world can never know and recognise her divine perfection while the pleas of her defenders are scarcely nearer to the truth than the crimes which her enemies impute to her. How can the stranger understand where the children of the kingdom are deceived?
Against this policy a firm and unyielding stand is of supreme necessity. The evil is curable and the loss recoverable by a conscientious adherence to higher principles, and a patient pursuit of truth and right. Political science can place the liberty of the Church on principles so certain and unfailing, that intelligent and disinterested Protestants will accept them; and in every branch of learning with which religion is in any way connected, the progressive discovery of truth will strengthen faith by promoting knowledge and correcting opinion, while it destroys prejudices and superstitions by dissipating the errors on which they are founded. This is a course which conscience must approve in the whole, though against each particular step of it conscience may itself be tempted to revolt. It does not always conduce to immediate advantage; it may lead across dangerous and scandalous ground. A rightful sovereign may exclude the Church from his dominions, or persecute her members. Is she therefore to say that his right is no right, or that all intolerance is necessarily wrong? A newly discovered truth may be a stumbling-block to perplex or to alienate the minds of men. Is she therefore to deny or smother it? By no means. She must in every case do right. She must prefer the law of her own general spirit to the exigencies of immediate external occasion, and leave the issue in the hands of God.
Such is the substance of those principles which shut out The Home and Foreign Review from the sympathies of a large portion of the body to which we belong. In common with no small or insignificant section of our fellow-Catholics, we hold that the time has gone by when defects in political or scientific education could be alleged as an excuse for depending upon expediency or mistrusting knowledge; and that the moment has come when the best service that can be done to religion is to be faithful to principle, to uphold the right in politics though it should require an apparent sacrifice, and to seek truth in science though it should involve a possible risk. Modern society has developed no security for freedom, no instrument of progress, no means of arriving at truth, which we look upon with indifference or suspicion. We see no necessary gulf to separate our political or scientific convictions from those of the wisest and most intelligent men who may differ from us in religion. In pursuing those studies in which they can sympathise, starting from principles which they can accept, and using methods which are theirs as well as ours, we shall best attain the objects which alone can be aimed at in a Review,—our own instruction, and the conciliation of opponents.
There are two main considerations by which it is necessary that we should be guided in our pursuit of these objects. First, we have to remember that the scientific method is most clearly exhibited and recognised in connection with subjects about which there are no prepossessions to wound, no fears to excite, no interests to threaten. Hence, not only do we exclude from our range all that concerns the ascetic life and the more intimate relations of religion, but we most willingly devote ourselves to the treatment of subjects quite remote from all religious bearing. Secondly, we have to remember that the internal government of the Church belongs to a sphere exclusively ecclesiastical, from the discussion of which we are shut out, not only by motives of propriety and reverence, but also by the necessary absence of any means for forming a judgment. So much ground is fenced off by these two considerations, that a secular sphere alone remains. The character of a scientific Review is determined for it. It cannot enter on the domains of ecclesiastical government or of faith, and neither of them can possibly be affected by its conclusions or its mode of discussion.
In asserting thus absolutely that all truth must render service to religion, we are saying what few perhaps will deny in the abstract, but what many are not prepared to admit in detail. It will be vaguely felt, that views which take so little account of present inconvenience and manifest danger are perilous and novel, though they may seem to spring from a more unquestioning faith, a more absolute confidence in truth, and a more perfect submission to the general laws of morality. There is no articulate theory, and no distinct view, but there is long habit, and there are strong inducements of another kind which support this sentiment.
To understand the certainty of scientific truth, a man must have deeply studied scientific method; to understand the obligation of political principle requires a similar mental discipline. A man who is suddenly introduced from without into a society where this certainty and obligation are currently acknowledged is naturally bewildered. He cannot distinguish between the dubious impressions of his second-hand knowledge and the certainty of that primary direct information which those who possess it have no power to deny. To accept a criterion which may condemn some cherished opinion has hitherto seemed to him a mean surrender and a sacrifice of position. He feels it simple loss to give up an idea; and even if he is prepared to surrender it when compelled by controversy, still he thinks it quite unnecessary and gratuitous to engage voluntarily in researches which may lead to such an issue. To enter thus upon the discussion of questions which have been mixed up with religion, and made to contribute their support to piety, seems to the idle spectator, or to the person who is absorbed in defending religion, a mere useless and troublesome meddling, dictated by the pride of intellectual triumph, or by the moral cowardice which seeks unworthily to propitiate enemies.
Great consideration is due to those whose minds are not prepared for the full light of truth and the grave responsibilities of knowledge; who have not learned to distinguish what is divine from what is human—defined dogma from the atmosphere of opinion which surrounds it,—and who honour both with the same awful reverence. Great allowances are also due to those who are constantly labouring to nourish the spark of belief in minds perplexed by difficulties, or darkened by ignorance and prejudice. These men have not always the results of research at command; they have no time to keep abreast with the constant progress of historical and critical science; and the solutions which they are obliged to give are consequently often imperfect, and adapted only to uninstructed and uncultivated minds. Their reasoning cannot be the same as that of the scholar who has to meet error in its most vigorous, refined, and ingenious form. As knowledge advances, it must inevitably happen that they will find some of their hitherto accepted facts contradicted, and some arguments overturned which have done good service. They will find that some statements, which they have adopted under stress of controversy, to remove prejudice and doubt, turn out to be hasty and partial replies to the questions they were meant to answer, and that the true solutions would require more copious explanation than they can give. And thus will be brought home to their minds that, in the topics upon which popular controversy chiefly turns, the conditions of discussion and the resources of arguments are subject to gradual and constant change.
A Review, therefore, which undertakes to investigate political and scientific problems, without any direct subservience to the interests of a party or a cause, but with the belief that such investigation, by its very independence and straightforwardness, must give the most valuable indirect assistance to religion, cannot expect to enjoy at once the favour of those who have grown up in another school of ideas. Men who are occupied in the special functions of ecclesiastical life, where the Church is all-sufficient and requires no extraneous aid, will naturally see at first in the problems of public life, the demands of modern society, and the progress of human learning, nothing but new and unwelcome difficulties,—trial and distraction to themselves, temptation and danger to their flocks. In time they will learn that there is a higher and a nobler course for Catholics than one which begins in fear and does not lead to security. They will come to see how vast a service they may render to the Church by vindicating for themselves a place in every movement that promotes the study of God’s works and the advancement of mankind. They will remember that, while the office of ecclesiastical authority is to tolerate, to warn, and to guide, that of religious intelligence and zeal is not to leave the great work of intellectual and social civilisation to be the monopoly and privilege of others, but to save it from debasement by giving to it for leaders the children, not the enemies, of the Church. And at length, in the progress of political right and scientific knowledge, in the development of freedom in the State and of truth in literature, they will recognise one of the first among their human duties and the highest of their earthly rewards.
[1 ]“Rome and the Catholic Episcopate. Reply of His Eminence Cardinal Wiseman to an Address presented by the Clergy, Secular and Regular, of the Archdiocese of Westminster, on Tuesday, the 5th of August 1862.” London: Burns and Lambert. (Home and Foreign Review, 1862.)