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XIII: CONFLICTS WITH ROME - 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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CONFLICTS WITH ROME1
Among the causes which have brought dishonour on the Church in recent years, none have had a more fatal operation than those conflicts with science and literature which have led men to dispute the competence, or the justice, or the wisdom, of her authorities. Rare as such conflicts have been, they have awakened a special hostility which the defenders of Catholicism have not succeeded in allaying. They have induced a suspicion that the Church, in her zeal for the prevention of error, represses that intellectual freedom which is essential to the progress of truth; that she allows an administrative interference with convictions to which she cannot attach the stigma of falsehood; and that she claims a right to restrain the growth of knowledge, to justify an acquiescence in ignorance, to promote error, and even to alter at her arbitrary will the dogmas that are proposed to faith. There are few faults or errors imputed to Catholicism which individual Catholics have not committed or held, and the instances on which these particular accusations are founded have sometimes been supplied by the acts of authority itself. Dishonest controversy loves to confound the personal with the spiritual element in the Church—to ignore the distinction between the sinful agents and the divine institution. And this confusion makes it easy to deny, what otherwise would be too evident to question, that knowledge has a freedom in the Catholic Church which it can find in no other religion; though there, as elsewhere, freedom degenerates unless it has to struggle in its own defence.
Nothing can better illustrate this truth than the actual course of events in the cases of Lamennais and Frohschammer. They are two of the most conspicuous instances in point; and they exemplify the opposite mistakes through which a haze of obscurity has gathered over the true notions of authority and freedom in the Church. The correspondence of Lamennais and the later writings of Frohschammer furnish a revelation which ought to warn all those who, through ignorance, or timidity, or weakness of faith, are tempted to despair of the reconciliation between science and religion, and to acquiesce either in the subordination of one to the other, or in their complete separation and estrangement. Of these alternatives Lamennais chose the first, Frohschammer the second; and the exaggeration of the claims of authority by the one and the extreme assertion of independence by the other have led them, by contrary paths, to nearly the same end.
When Lamennais surveyed the fluctuations of science, the multitude of opinions, the confusion and conflict of theories, he was led to doubt the efficacy of all human tests of truth. Science seemed to him essentially tainted with hopeless uncertainty. In his ignorance of its methods he fancied them incapable of attaining to anything more than a greater or less degree of probability, and powerless to afford a strict demonstration, or to distinguish the deposit of real knowledge amidst the turbid current of opinion. He refused to admit that there is a sphere within which metaphysical philosophy speaks with absolute certainty, or that the landmarks set up by history and natural science may be such as neither authority nor prescription, neither the doctrine of the schools nor the interest of the Church, has the power to disturb or the right to evade. These sciences presented to his eyes a chaos incapable of falling into order and harmony by any internal self-development, and requiring the action of an external director to clear up its darkness and remove its uncertainty. He thought that no research, however rigorous, could make sure of any fragment of knowledge worthy the name. He admitted no certainty but that which relied on the general tradition of mankind, recorded and sanctioned by the infallible judgment of the Holy See. He would have all power committed, and every question referred, to that supreme and universal authority. By its means he would supply all the gaps in the horizon of the human intellect, settle every controversy, solve the problems of science, and regulate the policy of states.
The extreme Ultramontanism which seeks the safeguard of faith in the absolutism of Rome he believed to be the keystone of the Catholic system. In his eyes all who rejected it, the Jesuits among them, were Gallicans; and Gallicanism was the corruption of the Christian idea.1 “If my principles are rejected,” he wrote on the 1st of November 1820, “I see no means of defending religion effectually, no decisive answer to the objections of the unbelievers of our time. How could these principles be favourable to them? they are simply the development of the great Catholic maxim, quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus.” Joubert said of him, with perfect justice, that when he destroyed all the bases of human certainty, in order to retain no foundation but authority, he destroyed authority itself. The confidence which led him to confound the human element with the divine in the Holy See was destined to be tried by the severest of all tests; and his exaggeration of the infallibility of the Pope proved fatal to his religious faith.
In 1831 the Roman Breviary was not to be bought in Paris. We may hence measure the amount of opposition with which Lamennais’s endeavours to exalt Rome would be met by the majority of the French bishops and clergy, and by the school of St. Sulpice. For him, on the other hand, no terms were too strong to express his animosity against those who rejected his teaching and thwarted his designs. The bishops he railed at as idiotic devotees, incredibly blind, supernaturally foolish. “The Jesuits,” he said, “were grenadiers de la folie, and united imbecility with the vilest passions.”1 He fancied that in many dioceses there was a conspiracy to destroy religion, that a schism was at hand, and that the resistance of the clergy to his principles threatened to destroy Catholicism in France. Rome, he was sure, would help him in his struggle against her faithless assailants, on behalf of her authority, and in his endeavour to make the clergy refer their disputes to her, so as to receive from the Pope’s mouth the infallible oracles of eternal truth.2 Whatever the Pope might decide, would, he said, be right, for the Pope alone was infallible. Bishops might be sometimes resisted, but the Pope never.3 It was both absurd and blasphemous even to advise him. “I have read in the Diario di Roma,” he said, “the advice of M. de Chateaubriand to the Holy Ghost. At any rate, the Holy Ghost is fully warned; and if he makes a mistake this time, it will not be the ambassador’s fault.”
Three Popes passed away, and still nothing was done against the traitors he was for ever denouncing. This reserve astounded him. Was Rome herself tainted with Gallicanism, and in league with those who had conspired for her destruction? What but a schism could ensue from this inexplicable apathy? The silence was a grievous trial to his faith. “Let us shut our eyes,” he said, “let us invoke the Holy Spirit, let us collect all the powers of our soul, that our faith may not be shaken.”4 In his perplexity he began to make distinctions between the Pope and the Roman Court. The advisers of the Pope were traitors, dwellers in the outer darkness, blind and deaf; the Pope himself and he alone was infallible, and would never act so as to injure the faith, though meanwhile he was not aware of the real state of things, and was evidently deceived by false reports.1 A few months later came the necessity for a further distinction between the Pontiff and the Sovereign. If the doctrines of the Avenir had caused displeasure at Rome, it was only on political grounds. If the Pope was offended, he was offended not as Vicar of Christ, but as a temporal monarch implicated in the political system of Europe. In his capacity of spiritual head of the Church he could not condemn writers for sacrificing all human and political considerations to the supreme interests of the Church, but must in reality agree with them.2 As the Polish Revolution brought the political questions into greater prominence, Lamennais became more and more convinced of the wickedness of those who surrounded Gregory XVI., and of the political incompetence of the Pope himself. He described him as weeping and praying, motionless, amidst the darkness which the ambitious, corrupt, and frantic idiots around him were ever striving to thicken.3 Still he felt secure. When the foundations of the Church were threatened, when an essential doctrine was at stake, though, for the first time in eighteen centuries, the supreme authority might refuse to speak,4 at least it could not speak out against the truth. In this belief he made his last journey to Rome. Then came his condemnation. The staff on which he leaned with all his weight broke in his hands; the authority he had so grossly exaggerated turned against him, and his faith was left without support. His system supplied no resource for such an emergency. He submitted, not because he was in error, but because Catholics had no right to defend the Church against the supreme will even of an erring Pontiff.5 He was persuaded that his silence would injure religion, yet he deemed it his duty to be silent and to abandon theology. He had ceased to believe that the Pope could not err, but he still believed that he could not lawfully be disobeyed. In the two years during which he still remained in the Church his faith in her system fell rapidly to pieces. Within two months after the publication of the Encyclical he wrote that the Pope, like the other princes, seemed careful not to omit any blunder that could secure his annihilation.1 Three weeks afterwards he denounced in the fiercest terms the corruption of Rome. He predicted that the ecclesiastical hierarchy was about to depart with the old monarchies; and, though the Church could not die, he would not undertake to say that she would revive in her old forms.2 The Pope, he said, had so zealously embraced the cause of antichristian despotism as to sacrifice to it the religion of which he was the chief. He no longer felt it possible to distinguish what was immutable in the external organisation of the Church. He admitted the personal fallibility of the Pope, and declared that, though it was impossible, without Rome, to defend Catholicism successfully, yet nothing could be hoped for from her, and that she seemed to have condemned Catholicism to die.3 The Pope, he soon afterwards said, was in league with the kings in opposition to the eternal truths of religion, the hierarchy was out of court, and a transformation like that from which the Church and Papacy had sprung was about to bring them both to an end, after eighteen centuries, in Gregory XVI.4 Before the following year was over he had ceased to be in communion with the Catholic Church.
The fall of Lamennais, however impressive as a warning, is of no great historical importance; for he carried no one with him, and his favourite disciples became the ablest defenders of Catholicism in France. But it exemplifies one of the natural consequences of dissociating secular from religious truth, and denying that they hold in solution all the elements necessary for their reconciliation and union. In more recent times, the same error has led, by a contrary path, to still more lamentable results, and scepticism on the possibility of harmonising reason and faith has once more driven a philosopher into heresy. Between the fall of Lamennais and the conflict with Frohschammer many metaphysical writers among the Catholic clergy had incurred the censures of Rome. It is enough to cite Bautain in France, Rosmini in Italy, and Günther in Austria. But in these cases no scandal ensued, and the decrees were received with prompt and hearty submission. In the cases of Lamennais and Frohschammer no speculative question was originally at issue, but only the question of authority. A comparison between their theories will explain the similarity in the courses of the two men, and at the same time will account for the contrast between the isolation of Lamennais and the influence of Frohschammer, though the one was the most eloquent writer in France, and the head of a great school, and the other, before the late controversy, was not a writer of much name. This contrast is the more remarkable since religion had not revived in France when the French philosopher wrote, while for the last quarter of a century Bavaria has been distinguished among Catholic nations for the faith of her people. Yet Lamennais was powerless to injure a generation of comparatively ill-instructed Catholics, while Frohschammer, with inferior gifts of persuasion, has won educated followers even in the home of Ultramontanism.
The first obvious explanation of this difficulty is the narrowness of Lamennais’s philosophy. At the time of his dispute with the Holy See he had somewhat lost sight of his traditionalist theory; and his attention, concentrated upon politics, was directed to the problem of reconciling religion with liberty,—a question with which the best minds in France are still occupied. But how can a view of policy constitute a philosophy? He began by thinking that it was expedient for the Church to obtain the safeguards of freedom, and that she should renounce the losing cause of the old régime. But this was no more philosophy than the similar argument which had previously won her to the side of despotism when it was the stronger cause. As Bonald, however, had erected absolute monarchy into a dogma, so Lamennais proceeded to do with freedom. The Church, he said, was on the side of freedom, because it was the just side, not because it was the stronger. As De Maistre had seen the victory of Catholic principles in the Restoration, so Lamennais saw it in the revolution of 1830.
This was obviously too narrow and temporary a basis for a philosophy. The Church is interested, not in the triumph of a principle or a cause which may be dated as that of 1789, or of 1815, or of 1830, but in the triumph of justice and the just cause, whether it be that of the people or of the Crown, of a Catholic party or of its opponents. She admits the tests of public law and political science. When these proclaim the existence of the conditions which justify an insurrection or a war, she cannot condemn that insurrection or that war. She is guided in her judgment on these causes by criteria which are not her own, but are borrowed from departments over which she has no supreme control. This is as true of science as it is of law and politics. Other truths are as certain as those which natural or positive law embraces, and other obligations as imperative as those which regulate the relations of subjects and authorities. The principle which places right above expedience in the political action of the Church has an equal application in history or in astronomy. The Church can no more identify her cause with scientific error than with political wrong. Her interests may be impaired by some measure of political justice, or by the admission of some fact or document. But in neither case can she guard her interests at the cost of denying the truth.
This is the principle which has so much difficulty in obtaining recognition in an age when science is more or less irreligious, and when Catholics more or less neglect its study. Political and intellectual liberty have the same claims and the same conditions in the eyes of the Church. The Catholic judges the measures of governments and the discoveries of science in exactly the same manner. Public law may make it imperative to overthrow a Catholic monarch, like James II., or to uphold a Protestant monarch, like the King of Prussia. The demonstrations of science may oblige us to believe that the earth revolves round the sun, or that the donation of Constantine is spurious. The apparent interests of religion have much to say against all this; but religion itself prevents those considerations from prevailing. This has not been seen by those writers who have done most in defence of the principle. They have usually considered it from the standing ground of their own practical aims, and have therefore failed to attain that general view which might have been suggested to them by the pursuit of truth as a whole. French writers have done much for political liberty, and Germans for intellectual liberty; but the defenders of the one cause have generally had so little sympathy with the other, that they have neglected to defend their own on the grounds common to both. There is hardly a Catholic writer who has penetrated to the common source from which they spring. And this is the greatest defect in Catholic literature, even to the present day.
In the majority of those who have afforded the chief examples of this error, and particularly in Lamennais, the weakness of faith which it implies has been united with that looseness of thought which resolves all knowledge into opinion, and fails to appreciate methodical investigation or scientific evidence. But it is less easy to explain how a priest, fortified with the armour of German science, should have failed as completely in the same inquiry. In order to solve the difficulty, we must go back to the time when the theory of Frohschammer arose, and review some of the circumstances out of which it sprang.
For adjusting the relations between science and authority, the method of Rome had long been that of economy and accommodation. In dealing with literature, her paramount consideration was the fear of scandal. Books were forbidden, not merely because their statements were denied, but because they seemed injurious to morals, derogatory to authority, or dangerous to faith. To be so, it was not necessary that they should be untrue. For isolated truths separated from other known truths by an interval of conjecture, in which error might find room to construct its works, may offer perilous occasions to unprepared and unstable minds. The policy was therefore to allow such truths to be put forward only hypothetically, or altogether to suppress them. The latter alternative was especially appropriated to historical investigations, because they contained most elements of danger. In them the progress of knowledge has been for centuries constant, rapid, and sure; every generation has brought to light masses of information previously unknown, the successive publication of which furnished ever new incentives, and more and more ample means of inquiry into ecclesiastical history. This inquiry has gradually laid bare the whole policy and process of ecclesiastical authority, and has removed from the past that veil of mystery wherewith, like all other authorities, it tries to surround the present. The human element in ecclesiastical administration endeavours to keep itself out of sight, and to deny its own existence, in order that it may secure the unquestioning submission which authority naturally desires, and may preserve that halo of infallibility which the twilight of opinion enables it to assume. Now the most severe exposure of the part played by this human element is found in histories which show the undeniable existence of sin, error, or fraud in the high places of the Church. Not, indeed, that any history furnishes, or can furnish, materials for undermining the authority which the dogmas of the Church proclaim to be necessary for her existence. But the true limits of legitimate authority are one thing, and the area which authority may find it expedient to attempt to occupy is another. The interests of the Church are not necessarily identical with those of the ecclesiastical government. A government does not desire its powers to be strictly defined, but the subjects require the line to be drawn with increasing precision. Authority may be protected by its subjects being kept in ignorance of its faults, and by their holding it in superstitious admiration. But religion has no communion with any manner of error: and the conscience can only be injured by such arts, which, in reality, give a far more formidable measure of the influence of the human element in ecclesiastical government than any collection of detached cases of scandal can do. For these arts are simply those of all human governments which possess legislative power, fear attack, deny responsibility, and therefore shrink from scrutiny.
One of the great instruments for preventing historical scrutiny had long been the Index of prohibited books, which was accordingly directed, not against falsehood only, but particularly against certain departments of truth. Through it an effort had been made to keep the knowledge of ecclesiastical history from the faithful, and to give currency to a fabulous and fictitious picture of the progress and action of the Church. The means would have been found quite inadequate to the end, if it had not been for the fact that while society was absorbed by controversy, knowledge was only valued so far as it served a controversial purpose. Every party in those days virtually had its own prohibitive Index, to brand all inconvenient truths with the note of falsehood. No party cared for knowledge that could not be made available for argument. Neutral and ambiguous science had no attractions for men engaged in perpetual combat. Its spirit first won the naturalists, the mathematicians, and the philologists; then it vivified the otherwise aimless erudition of the Benedictines; and at last it was carried into history, to give new life to those sciences which deal with the tradition, the law, and the action of the Church.
The home of this transformation was in the universities of Germany, for there the Catholic teacher was placed in circumstances altogether novel. He had to address men who had every opportunity of becoming familiar with the arguments of the enemies of the Church, and with the discoveries and conclusions of those whose studies were without the bias of any religious object. Whilst he lectured in one room, the next might be occupied by a pantheist, a rationalist, or a Lutheran, descanting on the same topics. When he left the desk his place might be taken by some great original thinker or scholar, who would display all the results of his meditations without regard for their tendency, and without considering what effects they might have on the weak. He was obliged often to draw attention to books lacking the Catholic spirit, but indispensable to the deeper student. Here, therefore, the system of secrecy, economy, and accommodation was rendered impossible by the competition of knowledge, in which the most thorough exposition of the truth was sure of the victory, and the system itself became inapplicable as the scientific spirit penetrated ecclesiastical literature in Germany.
In Rome, however, where the influences of competition were not felt, the reasons of the change could not be understood, nor its benefits experienced; and it was thought absurd that the Germans of the nineteenth century should discard weapons which had been found efficacious with the Germans of the sixteenth. While in Rome it was still held that the truths of science need not be told, and ought not to be told, if, in the judgment of Roman theologians, they were of a nature to offend faith, in Germany Catholics vied with Protestants in publishing matter without being diverted by the consideration whether it might serve or injure their cause in controversy, or whether it was adverse or favourable to the views which it was the object of the Index to protect. But though this great antagonism existed, there was no collision. A moderation was exhibited which contrasted remarkably with the aggressive spirit prevailing in France and Italy. Publications were suffered to pass unnoted in Germany which would have been immediately censured if they had come forth beyond the Alps or the Rhine. In this way a certain laxity grew up side by side with an unmeasured distrust, and German theologians and historians escaped censure.
This toleration gains significance from its contrast to the severity with which Rome smote the German philosophers like Hermes and Günther when they erred. Here, indeed, the case was very different. If Rome had insisted upon suppressing documents, perverting facts, and resisting criticism, she would have been only opposing truth, and opposing it consciously, for fear of its inconveniences. But if she had refrained from denouncing a philosophy which denied creation or the personality of God, she would have failed to assert her own doctrines against her own children who contradicted them. The philosopher cannot claim the same exemption as the historian. God’s handwriting exists in history independently of the Church, and no ecclesiastical exigence can alter a fact. The divine lesson has been read, and it is the historian’s duty to copy it faithfully without bias and without ulterior views. The Catholic may be sure that as the Church has lived in spite of the fact, she will also survive its publication. But philosophy has to deal with some facts which, although as absolute and objective in themselves, are not and cannot be known to us except through revelation, of which the Church is the organ. A philosophy which requires the alteration of these facts is in patent contradiction against the Church. Both cannot coexist. One must destroy the other.
Two circumstances very naturally arose to disturb this equilibrium. There were divines who wished to extend to Germany the old authority of the Index, and to censure or prohibit books which, though not heretical, contained matter injurious to the reputation of ecclesiastical authority, or contrary to the common opinions of Catholic theologians. On the other hand, there were philosophers of the schools of Hermes and Günther who would not retract the doctrines which the Church condemned. One movement tended to repress even the knowledge of demonstrable truth, and the other aimed at destroying the dogmatic authority of the Holy See. In this way a collision was prepared, which was eventually brought about by the writings of Dr. Frohschammer.
Ten years ago, when he was a very young lecturer on philosophy in the university of Munich, he published a work on the origin of the soul, in which he argued against the theory of pre-existence, and against the common opinion that each soul is created directly by Almighty God, defending the theory of Generationism by the authority of several Fathers, and quoting, among other modern divines, Klee, the author of the most esteemed treatise of dogmatic theology in the German language It was decided at Rome that his book should be condemned, and he was informed of the intention, in order that he might announce his submission before the publication of the decree.
His position was a difficult one, and it appears to be admitted that his conduct at this stage was not prompted by those opinions on the authority of the Church in which he afterwards took refuge, but must be explained by the known facts of the case. His doctrine had been lately taught in a book generally read and approved. He was convinced that he had at least refuted the opposite theories, and yet it was apparently in behalf of one of these that he was condemned. Whatever errors his book contained, he might fear that an act of submission would seem to imply his acceptance of an opinion he heartily believed to be wrong, and would therefore be an act of treason to truth. The decree conveyed no conviction to his mind. It is only the utterances of an infallible authority that men can believe without argument and explanation, and here was an authority not infallible, giving no reasons, and yet claiming a submission of the reason. Dr. Frohschammer found himself in a dilemma. To submit absolutely would either be a virtual acknowledgment of the infallibility of the authority, or a confession that an ecclesiastical decision necessarily bound the mind irrespectively of its truth or justice. In either case he would have contradicted the law of religion and of the Church. To submit, while retaining his own opinion, to a disciplinary decree, in order to preserve peace and avoid scandal, and to make a general acknowledgment that his work contained various ill-considered and equivocal statements which might bear a bad construction,—such a conditional submission either would not have been that which the Roman Court desired and intended, or, if made without explicit statement of its meaning, would have been in some measure deceitful and hypocritical. In the first case it would not have been received, in the second case it could not have been made without loss of self-respect. Moreover, as the writer was a public professor, bound to instruct his hearers according to his best knowledge, he could not change his teaching while his opinion remained unchanged. These considerations, and not any desire to defy authority, or introduce new opinions by a process more or less revolutionary, appear to have guided his conduct. At this period it might have been possible to arrive at an understanding, or to obtain satisfactory explanations, if the Roman Court would have told him what points were at issue, what passages in his book were impugned, and what were the grounds for suspecting them. If there was on both sides a peaceful and conciliatory spirit, and a desire to settle the problem, there was certainly a chance of effecting it by a candid interchange of explanations. It was a course which had proved efficacious on other occasions, and in the then recent discussion of Günther’s system it had been pursued with great patience and decided success.
Before giving a definite reply, therefore, Dr. Frohschammer asked for information about the incriminated articles. This would have given him an opportunity of seeing his error, and making a submission in foro interno. But the request was refused. It was a favour, he was told, sometimes extended to men whose great services to the Church deserved such consideration, but not to one who was hardly known except by the very book which had incurred the censure. This answer instantly aroused a suspicion that the Roman Court was more anxious to assert its authority than to correct an alleged error, or to prevent a scandal. It was well known that the mistrust of German philosophy was very deep at Rome; and it seemed far from impossible that an intention existed to put it under all possible restraint.
This mistrust on the part of the Roman divines was fully equalled, and so far justified, by a corresponding literary contempt on the part of many German Catholic scholars. It is easy to understand the grounds of this feeling. The German writers were engaged in an arduous struggle, in which their antagonists were sustained by intellectual power, solid learning, and deep thought, such as the defenders of the Church in Catholic countries have never had to encounter. In this conflict the Italian divines could render no assistance. They had shown themselves altogether incompetent to cope with modern science. The Germans, therefore, unable to recognise them as auxiliaries, soon ceased to regard them as equals, or as scientific divines at all. Without impeaching their orthodoxy, they learned to look on them as men incapable of understanding and mastering the ideas of a literature so very remote from their own, and to attach no more value to the unreasoned decrees of their organ than to the undefended ipse dixit of a theologian of secondary rank. This opinion sprang, not from national prejudice or from the self-appreciation of individuals comparing their own works with those of the Roman divines, but from a general view of the relation of those divines, among whom there are several distinguished Germans, to the literature of Germany. It was thus a corporate feeling, which might be shared even by one who was conscious of his own inferiority, or who had written nothing at all. Such a man, weighing the opinion of the theologians of the Gesù and the Minerva, not in the scale of his own performance, but in that of the great achievements of his age, might well be reluctant to accept their verdict upon them without some aid of argument and explanation.
On the other hand, it appeared that a blow which struck the Catholic scholars of Germany would assure to the victorious congregation of Roman divines an easy supremacy over the writers of all other countries. The case of Dr. Frohschammer might be made to test what degree of control it would be possible to exercise over his countrymen, the only body of writers at whom alarm was felt, and who insisted, more than others, on their freedom. But the suspicion of such a possibility was likely only to confirm him in the idea that he was chosen to be the experimental body on which an important principle was to be decided, and that it was his duty, till his dogmatic error was proved, to resist a questionable encroachment of authority upon the rights of freedom. He therefore refused to make the preliminary submission which was required of him, and allowed the decree to go forth against him in the usual way. Hereupon it was intimated to him—though not by Rome—that he had incurred excommunication. This was the measure which raised the momentous question of the liberties of Catholic science, and gave the impulse to that new theory on the limits of authority with which his name has become associated.
In the civil affairs of mankind it is necessary to assume that the knowledge of the moral code and the traditions of law cannot perish in a Christian nation. Particular authorities may fall into error; decisions may be appealed against; laws may be repealed, but the political conscience of the whole people cannot be irrecoverably lost. The Church possesses the same privilege, but in a much higher degree, for she exists expressly for the purpose of preserving a definite body of truths, the knowledge of which she can never lose. Whatever authority, therefore, expresses that knowledge of which she is the keeper must be obeyed. But there is no institution from which this knowledge can be obtained with immediate certainty. A council is not à priori œcumenical; the Holy See is not separately infallible. The one has to await a sanction, the other has repeatedly erred. Every decree, therefore, requires a preliminary examination.
A writer who is censured may, in the first place, yield an external submission, either for the sake of discipline, or because his conviction is too weak to support him against the weight of authority. But if the question at issue is more important than the preservation of peace, and if his conviction is strong, he inquires whether the authority which condemns him utters the voice of the Church. If he finds that it does, he yields to it, or ceases to profess the faith of Catholics. If he finds that it does not, but is only the voice of authority, he owes it to his conscience, and to the supreme claims of truth, to remain constant to that which he believes, in spite of opposition. No authority has power to impose error, and, if it resists the truth, the truth must be upheld until it is admitted. Now the adversaries of Dr. Frohschammer had fallen into the monstrous error of attributing to the congregation of the Index a share in the infallibility of the Church. He was placed in the position of a persecuted man, and the general sympathy was with him. In his defence he proceeded to state his theory of the rights of science, in order to vindicate the Church from the imputation of restricting its freedom. Hitherto his works had been written in defence of a Christian philosophy against materialism and infidelity. Their object had been thoroughly religious, and although he was not deeply read in ecclesiastical literature, and was often loose and incautious in the use of theological terms, his writings had not been wanting in catholicity of spirit; but after his condemnation by Rome he undertook to pull down the power which had dealt the blow, and to make himself safe for the future. In this spirit of personal antagonism he commenced a long series of writings in defence of freedom and in defiance of authority.
The following abstract marks, not so much the outline of his system, as the logical steps which carried him to the point where he passed beyond the limit of Catholicism. Religion, he taught, supplies materials but no criterion for philosophy; philosophy has nothing to rely on, in the last resort, but the unfailing veracity of our nature, which is not corrupt or weak, but normally healthy, and unable to deceive us.1 There is not greater division or uncertainty in matters of speculation than on questions of faith.2 If at any time error or doubt should arise, the science possesses in itself the means of correcting or removing it, and no other remedy is efficacious but that which it applies to itself.1 There can be no free philosophy if we must always remember dogma.2 Philosophy includes in its sphere all the dogmas of revelation, as well as those of natural religion. It examines by its own independent light the substance of every Christian doctrine, and determines in each case whether it be divine truth.3 The conclusions and judgments at which it thus arrives must be maintained even when they contradict articles of faith.4 As we accept the evidence of astronomy in opposition to the once settled opinion of divines, so we should not shrink from the evidence of chemistry if it should be adverse to transubstantiation.5 The Church, on the other hand, examines these conclusions by her standard of faith, and decides whether they can be taught in theology.6 But she has no means of ascertaining the philosophical truth of an opinion, and cannot convict the philosopher of error. The two domains are as distinct as reason and faith; and we must not identify what we know with what we believe, but must separate the philosopher from his philosophy. The system may be utterly at variance with the whole teaching of Christianity, and yet the philosopher, while he holds it to be philosophically true and certain, may continue to believe all Catholic doctrine, and to perform all the spiritual duties of a laymen or a priest. For discord cannot exist between the certain results of scientific investigation and the real doctrines of the Church. Both are true, and there is no conflict of truths. But while the teaching of science is distinct and definite, that of the Church is subject to alteration. Theology is at no time absolutely complete, but always liable to be modified, and cannot, therefore, be made a fixed test of truth.7 Consequently there is no reason against the union of the Churches. For the liberty of private judgment, which is the formal principle of Protestantism, belongs to Catholics; and there is no actual Catholic dogma which may not lose all that is objectionable to Protestants by the transforming process of development.1
The errors of Dr. Frohschammer in these passages are not exclusively his own. He has only drawn certain conclusions from premisses which are very commonly received. Nothing is more usual than to confound religious truth with the voice of ecclesiastical authority. Dr. Frohschammer, having fallen into this vulgar mistake, argues that because the authority is fallible the truth must be uncertain. Many Catholics attribute to theological opinions which have prevailed for centuries without reproach a sacredness nearly approaching that which belongs to articles of faith: Dr. Frohschammer extends to defined dogmas the liability to change which belongs to opinions that yet await a final and conclusive investigation. Thousands of zealous men are persuaded that a conflict may arise between defined doctrines of the Church and conclusions which are certain according to all the tests of science: Dr. Frohschammer adopts this view, and argues that none of the decisions of the Church are final, and that consequently in such a case they must give way. Lastly, uninstructed men commonly impute to historical and natural science the uncertainty which is inseparable from pure speculation: Dr. Frohschammer accepts the equality, but claims for metaphysics the same certainty and independence which those sciences possess.
Having begun his course in company with many who have exactly opposite ends in view, Dr. Frohschammer, in a recent tract on the union of the Churches, entirely separates himself from the Catholic Church in his theory of development. He had received the impulse to his new system from the opposition of those whom he considered the advocates of an excessive uniformity and the enemies of progess, and their contradiction has driven him to a point where he entirely sacrifices unity to change. He now affirms that our Lord desired no unity or perfect conformity among His followers, except in morals and charity;1 that He gave no definite system of doctrine; and that the form which Christian faith may have assumed in a particular age has no validity for all future time, but is subject to continual modification.2 The definitions, he says, which the Church has made from time to time are not to be obstinately adhered to; and the advancement of religious knowledge is obtained by genius, not by learning, and is not regulated by traditions and fixed rules.3 He maintains that not only the form but the substance varies; that the belief of one age may be not only extended but abandoned in another; and that it is impossible to draw the line which separates immutable dogma from undecided opinions.4
The causes which drove Dr. Frohschammer into heresy would scarcely have deserved great attention from the mere merit of the man, for he cannot be acquitted of having, in the first instance, exhibited very superficial notions of theology. Their instructiveness consists in the conspicuous example they afford of the effect of certain errors which at the present day are commonly held and rarely contradicted. When he found himself censured unjustly, as he thought, by the Holy See, it should have been enough for him to believe in his conscience that he was in agreement with the true faith of the Church. He would not then have proceeded to consider the whole Church infected with the liability to err from which her rulers are not exempt, or to degrade the fundamental truths of Christianity to the level of mere school opinions. Authority appeared in his eyes to stand for the whole Church; and therefore, in endeavouring to shield himself from its influence, he abandoned the first principles of the ecclesiastical system. Far from having aided the cause of freedom, his errors have provoked a reaction against it, which must be looked upon with deep anxiety, and of which the first significant symptom remains to be described.
On the 21st of December 1863, the Pope addressed a Brief to the Archbishop of Munich, which was published on the 5th of March. This document explains that the Holy Father had originally been led to suspect the recent Congress at Munich of a tendency similar to that of Frohschammer, and had consequently viewed it with great distrust; but that these feelings were removed by the address which was adopted at the meeting, and by the report of the Archbishop. And he expresses the consolation he has derived from the principles which prevailed in the assembly, and applauds the design of those by whom it was convened. He asked for the opinion of the German prelates, in order to be able to determine whether, in the present circumstances of their Church, it is right that the Congress should be renewed.
Besides the censure of the doctrines of Frohschammer, and the approbation given to the acts of the Munich Congress, the Brief contains passages of deeper and more general import, not directly touching the action of the German divines, but having an important bearing on the position of this Review. The substance of these passages is as follows: In the present condition of society the supreme authority in the Church is more than ever necessary, and must not surrender in the smallest degree the exclusive direction of ecclesiastical knowledge. An entire obedience to the decrees of the Holy See and the Roman congregations cannot be inconsistent with the freedom and progress of science. The disposition to find fault with the scholastic theology, and to dispute the conclusions and the method of its teachers, threatens the authority of the Church, because the Church has not only allowed theology to remain for centuries faithful to their system, but has urgently recommended it as the safest bulwark of the faith, and an efficient weapon against her enemies. Catholic writers are not bound only by those decisions of the infallible Church which regard articles of faith. They must also submit to the theological decisions of the Roman congregations, and to the opinions which are commonly received in the schools. And it is wrong, though not heretical, to reject those decisions or opinions.
In a word, therefore, the Brief affirms that the common opinions and explanations of Catholic divines ought not to yield to the progress of secular science, and that the course of theological knowledge ought to be controlled by the decrees of the Index.
There is no doubt that the letter of this document might be interpreted in a sense consistent with the habitual language of the Home and Foreign Review. On the one hand, the censure is evidently aimed at that exaggerated claim of independence which would deny to the Pope and the Episcopate any right of interfering in literature, and would transfer the whole weight heretofore belonging to the traditions of the schools of theology to the incomplete, and therefore uncertain, conclusions of modern science. On the other hand, the Review has always maintained, in common with all Catholics, that if the one Church has an organ it is through that organ that she must speak; that her authority is not limited to the precise sphere of her infallibility; and that opinions which she has long tolerated or approved, and has for centuries found compatible with the secular as well as religious knowledge of the age, cannot be lightly supplanted by new hypotheses of scientific men, which have not yet had time to prove their consistency with dogmatic truth. But such a plausible accommodation, even if it were honest or dignified, would only disguise and obscure those ideas which it has been the chief object of the Review to proclaim. It is, therefore, not only more respectful to the Holy See, but more serviceable to the principles of the Review itself, and more in accordance with the spirit in which it has been conducted, to interpret the words of the Pope as they were really meant, than to elude their consequences by subtle distinctions, and to profess a formal adoption of maxims which no man who holds the principles of the Review can accept in their intended signification.
One of these maxims is that theological and other opinions long held and allowed in the Church gather truth from time, and an authority in some sort binding from the implied sanction of the Holy See, so that they cannot be rejected without rashness; and that the decrees of the congregation of the Index possess an authority quite independent of the acquirements of the men composing it. This is no new opinion; it is only expressed on the present occasion with unusual solemnity and distinctness. But one of the essential principles of this Review consists in a clear recognition, first, of the infinite gulf which in theology separates what is of faith from what is not of faith,—revealed dogmas from opinions unconnected with them by logical necessity, and therefore incapable of anything higher than a natural certainty—and next, of the practical difference which exists in ecclesiastical discipline between the acts of infallible authority and those which possess no higher sanction than that of canonical legality. That which is not decided with dogmatic infallibility is for the time susceptible only of a scientific determination, which advances with the progress of science, and becomes absolute only where science has attained its final results. On the one hand, this scientific progress is beneficial, and even necessary, to the Church; on the other, it must inevitably be opposed by the guardians of traditional opinion, to whom, as such, no share in it belongs, and who, by their own acts and those of their predecessors, are committed to views which it menaces or destroys. The same principle which, in certain conjunctures, imposes the duty of surrendering received opinions imposes in equal extent, and under like conditions, the duty of disregarding the fallible authorities that uphold them.
It is the design of the Holy See not, of course, to deny the distinction between dogma and opinion, upon which this duty is founded, but to reduce the practical recognition of it among Catholics to the smallest possible limits. A grave question therefore arises as to the position of a Review founded in great part for the purpose of exemplifying this distinction.1 In considering the solution of this question two circumstances must be borne in mind: first, that the antagonism now so forcibly expressed has always been known and acknowledged; and secondly, that no part of the Brief applies directly to the Review. The Review was as distinctly opposed to the Roman sentiment before the Brief as since, and it is still as free from censure as before. It was at no time in virtual sympathy with authority on the points in question, and it is not now in formal conflict with authority.
But the definiteness with which the Holy See has pronounced its will, and the fact that it has taken the initiative, seem positively to invite adhesion, and to convey a special warning to all who have expressed opinions contrary to the maxims of the Brief. A periodical which not only has done so, but exists in a measure for the purpose of doing so, cannot with propriety refuse to survey the new position in which it is placed by this important act. For the conduct of a Review involves more delicate relations with the government of the Church than the authorship of an isolated book. When opinions which an author defends are rejected at Rome, he either makes his submission, or, if his mind remains unaltered, silently leaves his book to take its chance, and to influence men according to its merits. But such passivity, however right and seemly in the author of a book, is inapplicable to the case of a Review. The periodical iteration of rejected propositions would amount to insult and defiance, and would probably provoke more definite measures; and thus the result would be to commit authority yet more irrevocably to an opinion which otherwise might take no deep root, and might yield ultimately to the influence of time. For it is hard to surrender a cause on behalf of which a struggle has been sustained, and spiritual evils have been inflicted. In an isolated book, the author need discuss no more topics than he likes, and any want of agreement with ecclesiastical authority may receive so little prominence as to excite no attention. But a continuous Review, which adopted this kind of reserve, would give a negative prominence to the topics it persistently avoided, and by thus keeping before the world the position it occupied would hold out a perpetual invitation to its readers to judge between the Church and itself. Whatever it gained of approbation and assent would be so much lost to the authority and dignity of the Holy See. It could only hope to succeed by trading on the scandal it caused.
But in reality its success could no longer advance the cause of truth. For what is the Holy See in its relation to the masses of Catholics, and where does its strength lie? It is the organ, the mouth, the head of the Church. Its strength consists in its agreement with the general conviction of the faithful. When it expresses the common knowledge and sense of the age, or of a large majority of Catholics, its position is impregnable. The force it derives from this general support makes direct opposition hopeless, and therefore disedifying, tending only to division and promoting reaction rather than reform. The influence by which it is to be moved must be directed first on that which gives its strength, and must pervade the members in order that it may reach the head. While the general sentiment of Catholics is unaltered, the course of the Holy See remains unaltered too. As soon as that sentiment is modified, Rome sympathises with the change. The ecclesiastical government, based upon the public opinion of the Church, and acting through it, cannot separate itself from the mass of the faithful, and keep pace with the progress of the instructed minority. It follows slowly and warily, and sometimes begins by resisting and denouncing what in the end it thoroughly adopts. Hence a direct controversy with Rome holds out the prospect of great evils, and at best a barren and unprofitable victory. The victory that is fruitful springs from that gradual change in the knowledge, the ideas, and the convictions of the Catholic body, which, in due time, overcomes the natural reluctance to forsake a beaten path, and by insensible degrees constrains the mouthpiece of tradition to conform itself to the new atmosphere with which it is surrounded. The slow, silent, indirect action of public opinion bears the Holy See along, without any demoralising conflict or dishonourable capitulation. This action belongs essentially to the graver scientific literature to direct: and the inquiry what form that literature should assume at any given moment involves no question which affects its substance, though it may often involve questions of moral fitness sufficiently decisive for a particular occasion.
It was never pretended that the Home and Foreign Review represented the opinions of the majority of Catholics. The Holy See has had their support in maintaining a view of the obligations of Catholic literature very different from the one which has been upheld in these pages; nor could it explicitly abandon that view without taking up a new position in the Church. All that could be hoped for on the other side was silence and forbearance, and for a time they have been conceded. But this is the case no longer. The toleration has now been pointedly withdrawn; and the adversaries of the Roman theory have been challenged with the summons to submit.
If the opinions for which submission is claimed were new, or if the opposition now signalised were one of which there had hitherto been any doubt, a question might have arisen as to the limits of the authority of the Holy See over the conscience, and the necessity or possibility of accepting the view which it propounds. But no problem of this kind has in fact presented itself for consideration. The differences which are now proclaimed have all along been acknowledged to exist; and the conductors of this Review are unable to yield their assent to the opinions put forward in the Brief.
In these circumstances there are two courses which it is impossible to take. It would be wrong to abandon principles which have been well considered and are sincerely held, and it would also be wrong to assail the authority which contradicts them. The principles have not ceased to be true, nor the authority to be legitimate, because the two are in contradiction. To submit the intellect and conscience without examining the reasonableness and justice of this decree, or to reject the authority on the ground of its having been abused, would equally be a sin, on one side against morals, on the other against faith. The conscience cannot be relieved by casting on the administrators of ecclesiastical discipline the whole responsibility of preserving religious truth; nor can it be emancipated by a virtual apostasy. For the Church is neither a despotism in which the convictions of the faithful possess no power of expressing themselves and no means of exercising legitimate control, nor is it an organised anarchy where the judicial and administrative powers are destitute of that authority which is conceded to them in civil society—the authority which commands submission even where it cannot impose a conviction of the righteousness of its acts.
No Catholic can contemplate without alarm the evil that would be caused by a Catholic journal persistently labouring to thwart the published will of the Holy See, and continuously defying its authority. The conductors of this Review refuse to take upon themselves the responsibility of such a position. And if it were accepted, the Review would represent no section of Catholics. But the representative character is as essential to it as the opinions it professes, or the literary resources it commands. There is no lack of periodical publications representing science apart from religion, or religion apart from science. The distinctive feature of the Home and Foreign Review has been that it has attempted to exhibit the two in union; and the interest which has been attached to its views proceeded from the fact that they were put forward as essentially Catholic in proportion to their scientific truth, and as expressing more faithfully than even the voice of authority the genuine spirit of the Church in relation to intellect. Its object has been to elucidate the harmony which exists between religion and the established conclusions of secular knowledge, and to exhibit the real amity and sympathy between the methods of science and the methods employed by the Church. That amity and sympathy the enemies of the Church refuse to admit, and her friends have not learned to understand. Long disowned by a large part of our Episcopate, they are now rejected by the Holy See; and the issue is vital to a Review which, in ceasing to uphold them, would surrender the whole reason of its existence.
Warned, therefore, by the language of the Brief, I will not provoke ecclesiastical authority to a more explicit repudiation of doctrines which are necessary to secure its influence upon the advance of modern science. I will not challenge a conflict which would only deceive the world into a belief that religion cannot be harmonised with all that is right and true in the progress of the present age. But I will sacrifice the existence of the Review to the defence of its principles, in order that I may combine the obedience which is due to legitimate ecclesiastical authority, with an equally conscientious maintenance of the rightful and necessary liberty of thought. A conjuncture like the present does not perplex the conscience of a Catholic; for his obligation to refrain from wounding the peace of the Church is neither more nor less real than that of professing nothing beside or against his convictions. If these duties have not been always understood, at least the Home and Foreign Review will not betray them; and the cause it has imperfectly expounded can be more efficiently served in future by means which will neither weaken the position of authority nor depend for their influence on its approval.
If, as I have heard, but now am scarcely anxious to believe, there are those, both in the communion of the Church and out of it, who have found comfort in the existence of this Review, and have watched its straight short course with hopeful interest, trusting it as a sign that the knowledge deposited in their minds by study, and transformed by conscience into inviolable convictions, was not only tolerated among Catholics, but might be reasonably held to be of the very essence of their system; who were willing to accept its principles as a possible solution of the difficulties they saw in Catholicism, and were even prepared to make its fate the touchstone of the real spirit of our hierarchy; or who deemed that while it lasted it promised them some immunity from the overwhelming pressure of uniformity, some safeguard against resistance to the growth of knowledge and of freedom, and some protection for themselves, since, however weak its influence as an auxiliary, it would, by its position, encounter the first shock, and so divert from others the censures which they apprehended; who have found a welcome encouragement in its confidence, a satisfaction in its sincerity when they shrank from revealing their own thoughts, or a salutary restraint when its moderation failed to satisfy their ardour; whom, not being Catholics, it has induced to think less hardly of the Church, or, being Catholics, has bound more strongly to her;—to all these I would say that the principles it has upheld will not die with it, but will find their destined advocates, and triumph in their appointed time. From the beginning of the Church it has been a law of her nature, that the truths which eventually proved themselves the legitimate products of her doctrine, have had to make their slow way upwards through a phalanx of hostile habits and traditions, and to be rescued, not only from open enemies, but also from friendly hands that were not worthy to defend them. It is right that in every arduous enterprise some one who stakes no influence on the issue should make the first essay, whilst the true champions, like the Triarii of the Roman legions, are behind, and wait, without wavering, until the crisis calls them forward.
And already it seems to have arrived. All that is being done for ecclesiastical learning by the priesthood of the Continent bears testimony to the truths which are now called in question; and every work of real science written by a Catholic adds to their force. The example of great writers aids their cause more powerfully than many theoretical discussions. Indeed, when the principles of the antagonism which divides Catholics have been brought clearly out, the part of theory is accomplished, and most of the work of a Review is done. It remains that the principles which have been made intelligible should be translated into practice, and should pass from the arena of discussion into the ethical code of literature. In that shape their efficacy will be acknowledged, and they will cease to be the object of alarm. Those who have been indignant at hearing that their methods are obsolete and their labours vain, will be taught by experience to recognise in the works of another school services to religion more momentous than those which they themselves have aspired to perform; practice will compel the assent which is denied to theory; and men will learn to value in the fruit what the germ did not reveal to them. Therefore it is to the prospect of that development of Catholic learning which is too powerful to be arrested or repressed that I would direct the thoughts of those who are tempted to yield either to a malignant joy or an unjust despondency at the language of the Holy See. If the spirit of the Home and Foreign Review really animates those whose sympathy it enjoyed, neither their principles, nor their confidence, nor their hopes will be shaken by its extinction. It was but a partial and temporary embodiment of an imperishable idea—the faint reflection of a light which still lives and burns in the hearts of the silent thinkers of the Church.
[1 ]Home and Foreign Review, April 1864.
[1 ]Lamennais, Correspondence, Nouvelle édition (Paris: Didier).
[1 ]April 12 and June 25, 1830.
[2 ]Feb. 27, 1831.
[3 ]March 30, 1831.
[4 ]May 8 and June 15, 1829.
[1 ]Feb. 8, 1830.
[2 ]Aug. 15, 1831.
[3 ]Feb. 10, 1832.
[4 ]July 6, 1829.
[5 ]Sept. 15, 1832.
[1 ]Oct. 9, 1832.
[2 ]Jan. 25, 1833.
[3 ]Feb. 5, 1833.
[4 ]March 25, 1833.
[1 ]Naturphilosophie, p. 115; Einleitung in die Philosophie, pp. 40, 54; Freiheit der Wissenschaft, pp. 4, 89; Athenäum, i. 17.
[2 ]Athenäum, i. 92.
[1 ]Freiheit der Wissenschaft, p. 32.
[2 ]Athenäum, i. 167.
[3 ]Einleitung, pp. 305, 317, 397.
[4 ]Athenäum, i. 208.
[5 ]Ibid. ii. 655.
[6 ]Ibid. ii. 676.
[7 ]Ibid. ii. 661.
[1 ]Wiedervereinigung der Katholiken und Protestanten, pp. 26, 35.
[1 ]Wiedervereinigung, pp. 8, 10.
[2 ]Ibid. p. 15.
[3 ]Ibid. p. 21.
[4 ]Ibid. pp. 25, 26.
[1 ]The prospectus of the Review contained these words: “It will abstain from direct theological discussion, as far as external circumstances will allow; and in dealing with those mixed questions into which theology indirectly enters, its aim will be to combine devotion to the Church with discrimination and candour in the treatment of her opponents; to reconcile freedom of inquiry with implicit faith, and to discountenance what is untenable and unreal, without forgetting the tenderness due to the weak, or the reverence rightly claimed for what is sacred. Submitting without reserve to infallible authority, it will encourage a habit of manly investigation on subjects of scientific interest.”