Explanations to Catholics
Brownson's Quarterly Review, October, 1864
Art. IV. Some Explanations offered to our Catholic Readers.
As it is possible that this number of our Review may be the last, we are unwilling to not avail ourselves of the opportunity of offering our Catholic readers, who have been and still are its principal supporters, some remarks which may tend to satisfy them that we have not, at least knowï¿½ingly and intentionally, betrayed the cause of our holy reï¿½ligion, whose support and consolations were never dearer to us or more needed by us, alike in view of domestic afï¿½fliction and the sad state of our country. Since we comï¿½menced writing this number, public affairs have not brightï¿½ened, and we have lost by death two of our noble sons, if a father may so speakone an officer in the Armya boy-veteran, who fell mortally wounded on the battle-field, fighting manfully for his country, and died a hero's and a patriot's death ; the other by an accident while on his way home for the purpose of joining the Army, and giving his life, if it should be required, to the cause of the Constituï¿½tion and the Union. It is our consolation under our great personal loss that they were both Catholics, both true paï¿½triots, both ardent lovers of liberty, and neither desiring a more glorious death than that of dying in defence of the integrity and freedom of the land of their birth. We would not have our Catholic friends suppose for a moment that we are indifferent to the interests of that religion in which all our children have been carefully trained, and in which five sons out of seven have died, and without which we could have no sweet hope of meeting them again in the bosom of our God.
Much fault has been found with the article in our last Review on Civil and Religious Freedom, in which we are said to have made a wanton attack on the Jesuits, and to have even treated irreverently the Holy Father on the subject of his temporal sovereignty. With regard to the Jesuits, we did but give the views, almost verbally, expressed to us by one of the most saintly Archbishops of the Church in the United States, and which he gave us not only as his own, but also as those of a most learned, active, and devout Catholic gentleman in France, who had carefully studied the wants of the Church in our day, who knew well the history of the Society, and was on the most friendly perï¿½sonal relations with the Jesuits themselves. We made no wanton attack on the Society, for we went not out of our way to attack it, since we were defending the Discourses of M. de Montalembert and our own national order in relation to civil and religious freedom, precisely against the attacks of the Roman organ of the Society, La Civilta Cattolica, which, as the conductor of a National Review, and as the defender of both civil and religious liberty, it was in our way to do. There was, then, nothing wanton in our attack, no seeking for an opportunity to attack the Jesuits.
Then, we did not attack the Jesuits personally, nor even their Institute, as approved by the Church. The pretence of a Philadelphia paper that we were moved to say what we did by private grievances, is unfounded and ridiculous. We have and have had no private grievances in the case. Some of the best friends we have ever had, or expect to have, we have found in the Society. We are under many and heavy personal obligations to more than one Jesuit House in this country, more than we can pay; and in our private feelings and personal friendships, we are strongly attached to the Jesuits, who are, as far as our experience extends, generally excellent men, learned men, able and devoted priests. That, as the same journal alleges, we were forbidden one of their Houses, which we had entered to seek our Confessor, is true ; but he who did it was one of the warmest and truest of our personal friends, and whom, ever since we have known him, we have loved and venerated. We never blamed him; he only did what he felt was expected of him by his Superiors. We had just given a Lecture before the Emancipation League in Boston, and as the Jesuits held property in the seceded States, it was feared, if they entertained us at one of their houses, the Rebel Government might take offence and confiscate it. They wished to give Mr. Davis of the Confederacy no ocï¿½casion to charge them with misprision of treason or of hosï¿½tility to his government. The Rector who excluded us, though personally sympathizing with us, felt that under the circumstances he was officially bound to exclude us, and he did so with tears in his eyes. That the incident affected us unpleasantly, we do not deny, but not in the way asï¿½sumed, nor because we were the party excluded. As a perï¿½sonal matter we could never have given it a second thought, and the unpleasantness it occasioned was the regret that simï¿½ple, worldly prudence or property considerations had more influence with the Jesuit body than we expected from a Mendicant Order, and that the education of the Catholic youth of the nation should be intrusted to a society so destiï¿½tute of loyalty that it could look on with indifference and see the nation rent asunder and destroyed by a rebellion which every principle of our religion, as we have learned it, condemns. It was important only as one proof among many others, that the Society is, if not disloyal, at least unloyal. The Society boasts that it has no country, no nationality, is at home nowhere and everywhere, and under no civil obï¿½ligations anywhere. Now we believe patriotism is a Chrisï¿½tian virtue, and loyalty a Christian duty, and men who make a boast of having neither, although made in the form of being superior to both, do not seem to us the proper men to have the forming of the youth of a nation, howï¿½ever excellent they may be as individuals. We know well that the mission of the priest is spiritual, and one of peace, and we would not have him untrue to it; but the clergy, both regular and secular, are men, and, in this country at least, have the rights and the duties of citizens; and in a national crisis, when the integrity and even the existence of the nation is threatened by either a foreign or a domestic enemy, have, as far as we can see, no more right to remain neutral or indifferent than any other class of citizens. The Jesuits have been sheltered by our nation; they have enï¿½joyed the protection of our laws, and have all the rights and immunities of American citizens : and wherefore, then, owe they not to the nation, the love, the good-will, the duties of loyal citizens ? Unquestionably, they ought not to be compelled to serve the country in any way incompatible with their clerical profession or with their state; but in every way compatible with that profession and that state, they stand on the same footing with other citizens. The entrance into a religious order does not, in this country at least, work civil death, and as the members of religious orders retain here all their civil rights, they remain under all their civil obligations as citizens. In France a few years ago, where the civil legislation suppressed the Jesuits as a reliï¿½gious corporation, they, notwithstanding their vows of reliï¿½gion, pleaded and made available their rights as citizens.ï¿½ If they can plead their rights as citizens against the nation, what is to prevent the nation from pleading their duties as citizens against the Society ? Civil rights and duties are correlatives.
For ourselves, we are friends of what we Catholics call the religious life, and of all religious orders or congregaï¿½tions that are subject to no authority that resides outside of the nation itself; but religious orders organized for the whole world, under one supreme central authority, as are the Jesuits, are in our judgment, in modern times, not desirable. We find no fault with the Benedictines, or any of the orders that are not subject to a foreign jurisdiction, and leave the order in each diocese, each province, or in each nation comï¿½plete in itselfa self-governing body, without foreign deï¿½pendence. The same objection, though often urged, does not lie against the Papacy, because the Papacy is of divine, not human constitution, and because the divine constitution of the Church is sufficiently flexible to leave the Church in each nation the chief management of her own temporalities, and in all things not repugnant to the divine law free to folï¿½low the genius, the peculiarities, the politics, and the local interests of the nation. The legitimate Papal unity is perï¿½fectly compatible with national diversity. But all Religious orders are human institutions, inasmuch as they are created and exist by human legislation; and when organï¿½ized in imitation of the Papal constitution of the Church, they tend to swallow up national diversity in the unity of the order, and sometimes form a body that tends to absorb ecclesiastical diversity in complete Papal centralism. No little of the present centralism which obtains in the adminisï¿½tration of ecclesiastical affairs, and which deprives the Episï¿½copacy of so much of its former independence, has been due to the centralizing influence of this very Society of Jesus. There is no Church without the Pope, but at the same time there is no Pope without the Church; and the tendency which we not seldom meet to make the Pope alone the Church, is as dangerous as the tendency to make the Episï¿½copacy the Church without the Papacy. The Bishops reï¿½ceive their jurisdiction from the Pope; yet as they are an order created in the Church immediately by our Lord, they must have certain rights not held from the Pope, but immeï¿½diately from God himself. If the constitution of the Church is essentially Papal, it is also essentially Episcopal, which it could not be if the Episcopacy had no rights not derived from the Pope, and of which lie cannot deprive them, unless they first abuse and forfeit them. So at least it was generally held, before the Jesuit Laynez taught a contrary doctrine, in his famous speech on the subject in the Council of Trent.
If the Jesuits in this country were independent of every foreign body, and subject only to a Superior whose jurisdicï¿½tion did not extend beyond this nation, we should find no fault with their Society. For then they could take the tone of the nation, study its special wants, and, under the direction of the Episcopacy, apply themselves to meet them. Still, as a rule, we like and reverence the Jesuits as men, and as priests, and we frankly acknowledge the eminent services the Society for a long time rendered the Catholic cause. The gravamen of our charge against them, in their collective capacity, or as a religious commuï¿½nity, was, that they are not adapted to our age, and espeï¿½cially to our country. We did not suppose, in stating this, we should be committing a grievous offence, for it was nothing more than many of the ablest, most intelligent, and most influential and trusted Jesuits we have ever known, have themselves avowed and deplored in their conversaï¿½tions with us. The fact they have frankly conceded, and have expressed their hope to remedy it, by filling up their ranks with American recruits. But this hope we cannot indulge, because the Society has its moulds, in which every one entering the Society must be re-cast. The American is either assimilated to the body as already formed, or is rejected as unfit to belong to it. The thing is necessarily so, and the Society cannot, however well disposed, make it otherwise. It will not do any good to put new wine into old bottles. It is the inevitable fate of all human instituï¿½tions, when they have done their work, finished their misï¿½sion, to die, and give place to others. While their original work is unfinished, their mission unfulfilled, you can reform them, if they become corrupt; but when the special work for which they were designed by Providence is done, there is for them no recuperation, and every attempt to mend them, or to assign them a new work or mission, only hasï¿½tens the hour of their dissolution. Only the Church is peï¿½rennial, for her constitution only is divine, and her work is never done; but even in the Church, all that is human and separable from the divine is subject to the same law, and undergoes, from nation to nation, and from age to age,, conï¿½tinual transformations. All that is the work of men's hands grows old and changes, though the men are moved by the Holy Ghost, as, no doubt, was St. Ignatius ; and though they are the greatest and best men that ever lived. Decay and death are written on the face of every thing huï¿½man, and they who would follow their Lord must leave " the dead to bury their dead."
In putting forth these views we violate, so far as we are aware,.no canon of faith or discipline, and therefore give no one the right even to suspect our Catholic faith or piety. The Church makes devotion to no religious order the test of either, and nobody has the right to insist on more or less than the law of the Church prescribes. They who have denounced us as no Catholic because we have argued that the Society of Jesus is not adapted to our times and counï¿½try, have gone beyond not only the limits of Catholic charï¿½ity, but of Catholic doctrine, and are themselves more deserving of denunciation than we. We may be wrong in our views, unsound in our judgments, and incorrect in our statements ; if so, meet us candidly, fairly, seriously, and prove us so by appropriate reasons and facts, and we shall be most happy to correct them, and to retract any errors into which we may have fallen. Our views were seriously held, seriously stated, from no private pique or personal motive whatever; and to meet them with coarse denunciï¿½ation, and vulgar abuse of us personally, is neither Chrisï¿½tian nor gentlemanly. If we are wrong, we can be proved to be so, and when we are proved to be so, we shall certainly retract, and that, too, without any urging. But our good friends, who have so berated us for what they call our "wanton attack on the Jesuits," and so noisily read us out of the Church, must bear in mind that it is possible that we know and love our religion as well as they do, and, at any rate, that scolding is not argument. We mean no offence, but we suggest that these friends would do not amiss to examine themselves, and in the light of divine truth endeavor to ascertain " what manner of spirit they are of."
With regard to the temporal sovereignty of the Pope, we have never understood that Catholic faith or pietyï¿½ requires us to hold that the Supreme Pontiff, or visible head of Christ's kingdom on earth, must be a temporal sovereign. For seven or eight centuries, at least, the Pope, though he had temporal possessions, had no temporal soveï¿½reignty, and we see not that in ceasing to be a temporal prince, he would cease to be Pope. We do not understand that either the Papacy or the Church stands or falls with the temporal sovereignty. No Catholic maintains it, or dares maintain it. So much is and must be conceded on all sides. The temporal sovereignty is not essential to the Papacy, and is held only by the same tenure as other temporal sovereignties. What then have we said to be comï¿½plained of? Have we denied the Holy Father's right to be a temporal sovereign ? Not at all. Have we questioned the validity of his title to the sovereignty of Rome and what are called the States of the Church ?' By no means. Have we made, approved, or recommended any attack on his rights, or defended, in any way, shape, or manner, those who have attempted by violence or intrigue to wrest his temporal States from him, and incorporate them into the new Kingdom of Italy ? Certainly not. Nobody can preï¿½tend it, for we have never done any thing of the sort; never since, as for some years before, we became a Catholic, have we for a moment defended revolution or revolutionï¿½ists. We opposed earnestly the French campaign in Italy, chiefly because we feared it would involve in its consequenï¿½ces the loss of the temporal sovereignty of the Holy Father; and after the preliminary peace of Villafranca, we approved the efforts of the Holy Father to save his States and Naples from the grasp of Piedmont. But when he failed, and we saw no practicable way of saving his temporal principality, or preventing the formation of the Kingdom of Italy, we expressed the opinion that the interests of religion and civï¿½ilization would be better promoted by yielding to the logic of events, and making a merit of accepting the new kingï¿½dom, than by maintaining a hopeless struggle against it. We supported our opinion by the best reasons in our power. But we recognized the Holy Father as the judge in the case, and urged nothing except as approved of, or assented to, by him. That in this we erred, is possible, though we have seen no reason as yet to think so ; but we violated no canon of the Church, no rule of discipline with regard to the Pope's temporal States; and nothing can be more idle than to pretend that we have fallen under the sentence of excommunication said to be pronounced against the memï¿½bers of the Sardinian Government. We simply gave our free and honest opinion, as a Catholic publicist, on a subï¿½ject of very general public discussion. In this we were guilty of no arrogance, presumption, or impertinence.ï¿½ Undoubtedly, our personal conviction is that it would be an advantage to religion for the Pope to be free from the cares and anxieties of his temporal sovereignty, especially in this age, when might is the only right acknowledged by the leading civilized nations of the world. We believe he would be freer and more independent. But this is simply our conviction, one which we have the right as a Catholic to hold, but not one which we have the right to enforce against the will of the sovereign, or the judgment of the Pope. Undoubtedly, we believe and have expressed the belief, that the temporal sovereignty will have ultimately to go, for we believe that the whole of that mixed system of civil and ecclesiastical government, of which it is the last vestige, will have to go, and a system similar to our own will have to be generally adopted. Whether the world will gain or lose by it, is more than we know, for all changes are not for the better. Yet we regard it as inevitable, and we n ourselves to it. There is, in our judgment, whether we like it or dislike it, no use in fighting against it. But in this we may be mistaken; and at any rate the change is not one which we are at liberty to effect, or to defend against the authority of the Church, or in defiance of a Papal decision. Such are, and always have been, our disï¿½positions. We would for ourselves personally rather err by obeying beyond what may be legitimately demanded of us, than by insisting on even our extreme rights. But for those outside we wish to leave the margin of liberty as wide as the Divine law leaves it. We know our age and country, and though we would not trim to escape their censure, or yield a single iota of Catholic principle or doctrine to gain their goodï¿½will, we would not willingly demand any thing more than the law itself renders obligatory. For their sake, not our own, we are tenacious.
Among Catholic publicists, few, if any, have gone furï¿½ther in their defence of what is called Ultramontanism than we have, and we have gone so far as to incur the unï¿½official rebuke of a large number of our American Bishops. We have not essentially changed our views; we have merely modified our language, which, in point of fact, expressed more to theological readers than we ever really meant. Were -we to write our essays on the Papacy to-day, we should not write them precisely as they now stand, for the danger we feel it necessary now to guard against comes from another quarter; but the doctrine would be substantially the same. Certain terms which we then used we should now omit, or use in a less unqualified sense, and we should give more prominence to the limitations which we all along presupposed than we judged it then necessary to do. All the power we ever understood ourselves as claiming for the Pope in regard to temporal princes we still claim, as inï¿½herent in the natural supremacy, if we may so speak, of the spiritual over the temporal; but we hold, and never held otherwise, that this power is spiritual and not tempoï¿½ral, and extends to the acts of sovereign princes, as to those of other persons, only under their spiritual relations. " I judge," says Innocent III. to Philip Augustus, " not the fief, but the sin." We hold that sovereign princes are subject to the discipline of the Church in like manner as private persons, and for their public as well as their private acts, when their public acts contravene the law of God.ï¿½ So far we defend the doctrine as we have always held it. Beyond this the Pope exercised during the Middle Ages, in temporal affairs, a sort of arbitratorship, which rested partly on the jus publicum of the time, and partly on the agreement of parties, as contended by Mr. Gosselin. We do not accept the Four Articles of the Galilean clergy in 1682, especially the First; but we should place more stress than we formerly did on the admitted fact that a man can hold them without impeachment of his Catholic faith or piety. While, therefore, we would reason with a Gallican, and convince him, if possible, that ours is the sounder opinion, we should frankly admit that he has as good a right to hold his opinion as we hold have to ours. The reproaches and suspicions we cast on him formerly we should withdraw. We now maintain that if a man really believes all the Church requires of him, his faith is above reproach, above suspiï¿½cion, although it falls short of what is very widely mainï¿½tained by theologians, and what we ourselves hold to be the better opinion.
Here we touch another question, on which we are supï¿½posed to have in late years become unsound, or at least to have manifested an uncatholic spirit. We hold ourselves free to accept or reject, for good and sufficient reasons, any conclusions drawn by theologians for which we have only a theological authority. In this Review, we have always maintained, as we were taught, that while faith is divine, theology is a human science. The conclusions of theoï¿½logians, save when both premises are from revelation, and the argument by which they are obtained is purely expliï¿½cative, are not of faith, and cannot be insisted on as such. The conclusion follows always the weaker premise; and when one of the premises is taken from revelation and the other from natural reason, the conclusion has only the cerï¿½tainty of natural reason, therefore is not and cannot be denned as of faith. This is the doctrine that we opposed to Dr. Newman's Theory of Development, and we have seen no reason to suppose that we were wrong. It may be doubted, indeed, whether we rightly understood Dr; Newman's Theory, or whether he ever meant to advocate development in the sense in which we opposed it, and we are inclined to think he did not. "What we opposed was not a development and growth in men's understanding and appropriation of the faith, as subjected to the action of their own minds, but the supposition that there is a growth in the revealed truth, objectively considered. We hold that nothing can be included under the head of faith not positively revealed, and that what the human mind may deduce from the revealed truth, or build up around it, is theology, not faith. We certainly should not insist on narrower limits to Christian doctrine now than we did then, and probably not so narrow.
Now, as theology is a human science, created by the human mind operating on the revealed data, it has only a human authority, and binds no farther than it convinces the reason. If I can show by good reason that the theoï¿½logian has misconceived the revealed dogma, or that he has reasoned illogically, I am not bound by his conclusion, and may without.temerity dispute it. If the conclusion has been received very generally and for a long time by able and learned theologians, it is a strong presumption in its favor, but not conclusive; because nothing is more common than for theologians, as it is for historians, to quote from their predecessors, without going into any original and indepenï¿½dent investigation for themselves. Thus you may have a catena of great theologians stretching through centuries, and yet really have only the authority of the first of the chain. If we could presume that each one had examined the point independently, for himself, and not simply taken, it on the authority of his predecessor, the case would be greatly changed, and no one could in any important respect depart from the general current of theology without temeï¿½rity. But, after all, the theologian has to-day all the right of independent examination, and freedom of reason, that had St. Thomas or St. Augustine. It is not that we really differ from St. Augustine or St. Thomas, but that in matters of human reason we take them as helps, not as final and conclusive authority. We respect, we reverence the great theologians of all ages of the Church, and never permit ourselves to differ from them without what seems to us to be.strong and ample reasons; but we hold that our reason was born as free as theirs, and that the theologian of to-day has all the freedom of thought and right of independent investigation that any of his predecessors had. We hold this not from pride or obstinacy, not from an overweening conceit of our own ability, nor from any want of conï¿½sciousness of our own immense inferiority, but because it is true, and the principle involved cannot be surrendered without great injury both to faith and science.
Faith, objectively considered, is infallible, and the Church is infallible, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, in teachï¿½ing and defining it. But the faith is to us practically as if it were not, save in so far as it is actively received and apï¿½propriated by our own minds. This, we presume, is what Dr. Newman meant when he said: Christianity came into the world a naked idea, which the mind develops or realizes by its own action. Now in realizing, in actively receiving and apï¿½propriating the Christian dogma, or the faith, our minds are not infallible. We never conceive it adequately, or take in explicitly all that is in it; and we may, and often do, under various aspects, even misconceive it. Here is, if we unï¿½derstand it, the basis of Dr. JSTewman's Essay, and if so, our objections to it were irrelevant, and though well foundï¿½ed, as against the doctrine we deduced from it, they are not as against that which the author held, and intended to set forth, and perhaps did set forth to the minds of all who adï¿½mired his book. We have long suspected that we did him inï¿½justice, though we have not changed our own views of the soundness of the theology we opposed to him, or thought we were opposing to him. The fact is, his book was pro-founder than we supposed, and was designed to solve theoï¿½logical difficulties which we had not then encountered in our own intellectual life and experience. This acknowlï¿½edgment,, spontaneously made, we hope will be accepted by the illustrious convert and his friends, as some slight atonement for any injustice we may have done him or them, since whatever injustice we may have done was done unwittingly and unintentionally.
On the fact of the inadequacy of our conceptions, and our liability even to wrong conceptions, Dr. Newman bases his doctrine of development on the one hand, and of the necessity, on the other, of a living and ever-present infalliï¿½ble authority in the Church, to preserve the original revelaï¿½tion in its integrity, and to define and condemn the errors which from time to time may arise in the process of develï¿½opment. We do not agree that the definitions of the Church give us new articles or even new dogmas of faith ; they are negative rather than positive, and tell us what the faith is not rather than what it is, or what cannot be held without denying or injuring the faith. In other respects, we fully accept what was probably Dr. Newman's doctrine. There is always in the Church an infallible authority to maintain the Symbol in its integrity, and to condemn all errors that tend to deny or impair it. But this authority, while it maintains the Symbol, cannot give me understandï¿½ing, or render my conception of the dogma or even of the definition itself adequate or infallible. The human mind never in its efforts at appropriation or realization, whether in the individual consciousness or in society and civilization, takes in at once the whole Christian, idea, and its realizations are always inadequate, and sometimes not unmingled with fatal errors. The Christian work in society and in the individual soul is to struggle to render the huï¿½man conceptions of the Christian idea less and less inadeï¿½quate, and to eliminate more and more the errors that mingle with them, so as to advance nearer and nearer to the perfect day, or to a full and complete realization in the understanding, in individual and social life, of the whole Christian idea, or, the perfect formation of Christ within us, and our perfect union with God, possible in its fulness only in the beatific vision, the consummation alike of Creation and Redemption.
Now, unless you can render the human mind as infalï¿½lible as the Divine mind, there will always be more or less of imperfection and error in our understanding and appropriation of the Christian idea, or the faith as obï¿½jectively revealed and proposed. Hence theology is not a divine and infallible science; and while the faith in itself is complete and invariable, theology, or its scienï¿½tific realization, is always incomplete and variable. It may grow from age to age, and the theology which is too high and too broad for one age may be too narrow and too low for another. Hence, any attempt to bind the human mind, thought, or reason back to the theology of any past age is hostile to the interests alike of religion and civilization. To require us to receive as authority not to be questioned or examined, not the faith, but the theology or philosophy of the mediaeval doctors, or even the great theologians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is to suppose that the work of realization is completed, and human reason in this life has no farther work, which were intellectual death or mental stagnation; or, which amounts to the same thing, that no farther realization is practicable or permissible in Christian truth.
Here is where we have incurred the censure of contempoï¿½rary theologians. As a matter of fact, we yield to none of them in our reverence for the theology of the Fathers or of the Scholastics, and, in our own judgment, we follow more truly the mind of St. Thomas than do our friends who think it their duty not to controvert but to denounce us. We think the great Greek and Roman Fathers, especially the Greek, have much to teach us, and we should be deï¿½lighted to find the man who had mastered all the truth there is even in St. Thomas. The point of divergence is not here. Our quarrel with the Jesuits, whether belonging to the Society or not, is not that they follow St. Thomas in theology or philosophy, but that they require us to receive him as conclusive authority, and insist that we have no more right to deviate from the general current of the docï¿½trine of the great theologians and Christian philosophers, than from faith itself. We hold that nothing can be authoriï¿½tatively imposed in matter of doctrine that is not of faith, or necessary to its preservation in a sound and healthy state. In neither theology nor philosophy am I free to mainï¿½tain any opinion or theory that the infallible authority has defined to be against faith or injurious to sound doctrine. Faith and sound doctrine saved, nothing, except in disciï¿½pline, can be insisted on as obligatory, any farther than reaï¿½son itself is obligatory, or approves it.
This conclusion is evidently permissible, for there are difï¿½ferent schools both of philosophy and theology among Catholics. St. Augustine in philosophy inclines to Plato, St. Thomas follows Aristotle ; Guillaume de Champeaux is a realist, St. Thomas a conceptualist. There are various
schools of theology, as the Thomists, the Scottists, the Augustinians, and the Molinists. The differences between these chools are very great, and yet they are all Catholic, all orthodox, because their differences are regarded by authority as extra fidem. When you tell us that we must in philosï¿½ophy and theology follow the general current, you should tell us whether you mean the general current of the Thomists or the Scottists, the Augustinians or the Moliï¿½nists, or at least indicate the means a poor man has to find out the general concurrence which is to be law for his reason and conscience. If not, you must concede that all opinions outside of faith, not condemned by authority as opposed to sound doctrine, are free, and we are responsible in regard to them, only for the honest and diligent use of our reason according to our state, our means, and our ability.
Certain it is, that the opinions of theologians are not obï¿½ligatory, though to be treated seriously and respectfully, for they are not invariable. The theologians and philosophers held and taught for centuries the geocentric theory, and as the only theory warranted by the Holy Scriptures and compatiï¿½ble with faith and sound doctrine ; now they almost uniï¿½versally hold and teach the heliocentric theory. If they were right formerly, they are wrong now ; and if right now, they were wrong then. Do not say that this, difference does not touch theology, for a Pontifical Congregation, in the case of Galileo, has decided that it touches even faith, for it declared the heliocentric theory not only false in sciï¿½ence, but formaliter heretical, and the denial of the geoï¿½centric theory as rash and subversive of faith. We say not that the Congregation erred, but whether it did or did not, this much is certain, that there may be very generally reï¿½ceived and maintained, without censure, by theologians, opinions that are not true. Are we bound to follow the general current of theological doctrine before Galileo, or that of the theologians and philosophers since ? We canï¿½not well follow both, since the two theories are not only conï¿½traries, but contradictories. Moreover, theologians do not always agree as to the meaning of Papal definitions. Pope Pius the Fifth condemned, in the sense of the asserters, the 55th proposition of Baius, that "God could not have creï¿½ated man from the beginning such as he is now born ;" therefore, say one class of theologians, God could have creï¿½ated man in a state of pure nature, for a purely natural beatitude, and hence integral nature is indebita; he could not have created man in a state of pure nature, say another class, nor for a purely natural beatitude, that is, a created good, and therefore integral nature is not indelita, but debita, and our nature, in losing it at the Fall, suffered a positive, not a merely negative loss. Which class are we to follow ? Both are Catholic, both are orthodox, neither can accuse the other of heresy, or of what is technically termed erronea, and yet both cannot be right. The faith may remain the same on either system, but our whole theology as a system changes as we adopt the one or the other. Can any thing more be needed to prove that the opinions of theologians are not obligatory, and that, faith saved, we are free to follow in theology our own honest and independent convictions ? Seeing these things, we have, in theology, in philosophy, and in the sciences, followed what has seemed to us the true doctrine or the sounder opinion, due obediï¿½ence paid to all the decisions of authority, and due respect paid also to the reason and judgment of great men in all past ages, as far as known to us. This is the doctrine we have defended on this subj ect, and by which we have regulated our own practice. If we have been wrong we must be set right, either by argument or the formal judgment of auï¿½thority.
It has been charged against us that we have denied the infallibility of the Pontifical Congregations. We are not aware of ever having disobeyed or controverted any deciï¿½sion of any Pontifical Congregation, whether in matters of doctrine or discipline now in force; but we have been taught that we are not required to believe these Congregaï¿½tions infallible, or to take them as the voice of the Church. They have no infallibility, except that of the Pope himself, who approves their decisions, and that the Pope is infalliï¿½ble is no article of Catholic faith. One may deny his inï¿½fallibility, and maintain that his definitions are reformable, and yet be a good orthodox Catholic, as we see in the case of the Gallicans. Then, again, the decisions of the Congregaï¿½tions often touch matters of which the reigning Pope may be ignorant, as in the divorce case of Henry Till., and they are usually made by theologians and canonists, without much investigation or even interference on his part. From the nature of the case they have only an administrative auï¿½thority, or authority as discipline, and bind to obedience, as do all disciplinary orders from the supreme visible head of the Church, but no farther. The decisions of these Conï¿½gregations may be rendered on a false statement of facts, may be influenced by personal prejudices or passions, and controlled by the system of philosophy in vogue, or held by the consultors and judges. Their decisions too are someï¿½times reversed. Bellarmine's great work was ordered on the Index by one Pope, and ordered off by another. The Congregation of the Holy Office condemned in the sevenï¿½teenth century the heliocentric theory as a heresy, and forbid it to be taught, and in the nineteenth century reï¿½moved the prohibition. We cannot, then, say that these Congregations are infallible; and therefore must hold that obedience to them is regulated by the same principles and rules that regulate our general obedience to the Pope as Supreme Pastor and Governor of the Church. Any order of the Pope in the spiritual order we hold ourselves bound to obey, even though we doubt its wisdom or expediency, just as we obey any law of the State in the temporal order, though we may dislike it. But, if the Pope should give us a command in the civil order, we should not feel bound to obey it, any more than we should feel bound to obey a command given by our temporal sovereign in the spiritual order. The Pope has no right to order any thing against the rights of the temporal, and the temporal has no right to order any thing against the rights of the spiritual. So far we have gone on this question, and never any farther. We believe the rights of the Pope are defined by law, as well as those of the State, and we hold it our duty to obey, never to rebel, and even when the order is reformable, to subï¿½mit to it till it can be legally or constitutionally changed.
It has been further alleged against us, that we maintain that the Catholic faith as popularly held has become grossly corrupt. This is stating the case too strongly. That we have maintained that dogmas, in our practical underï¿½standing of them, may be, and often are, misconceived or misinterpreted, is evident from what we have said, and that a Catholic people may associate with their faith, or not sharply distinguish from it, a multitude of notions, which, though they may not hold them precisely and distinctly as faith, they feel are not to be questioned, and that it would be as bad as questioning faith itself to question them, we do not deny. These are notions in great part derived from the legends of saints, alleged private revelations, or visions of some saintly monk, or some devout nun, which may float about without much harm in religious houses, and often be read for edification with profit, but which are no basis of Catholic faith, and of no authority in the interpretation of Catholic dogma. Things of this sort overlay the faith in many minds, and encourage a credulous and superstitious spirit. We have endeavored to free Catholic faith and Cathï¿½olic doctrine from them, leaving them to go for what they are worth, and where they belong. So also we have several times spoken of popular practices which we have regarded as suï¿½perstitious, and popular devotions, good in themselves, but often abused, and placed far above the more solid virtues of faith and the love of God and our neighbor. People will run after indulgences, without reflecting that the inï¿½dulgence is not gained when to gain it is more the motive of action than the breaking off from our sins, and placing ourselves in union with God. In a word, while we have prized the flowers of Catholic piety, we have pointed out the inutility and danger of seeking them where there is no root to bear them. We want a strong faith and a robust piety, that can stand the wear and tear of the rough and tumble of this workday world. In this there surely is noï¿½thing uncatholic, at least in thought or intention.
It is charged against us, that we do not appreciate or like the Catholic population of this country, nor indeed of any other. Catholic nations compared with non-Catholic stand as a rule high in our love and esteem ; but compared with what they might be, and ought to be, they stand by no means so high. In our own country, better, nobler, holier people, than many Catholics, no matter of what race or nationality, we have known, we never expect to meet this side of heaven ; but there are large numbers who are no more moral, truthful, high-minded, or conscientious than non-Catholics of their own class. We have never attributed this to their religion or to their race, or been unwilling to attribute it to causes for which non-Catholics are in a measure responsible. We know the circumstances in which Catholics in England and Ireland have been placed for three hundred years and over. They have been treated as pariahs, as political and social outcasts, and even now noï¿½where in the British empire are they placed on a footing of political and social equality with non-Catholics. They have been excluded from power, from the national schools and universities, and from all lot or part in the national life; compelled to form, in relation to their own nation, an unpopular sect apart, but too happy if they could be perï¿½mitted to live and worship God in the way their fathers worshipped, and in the way the greater part of Christenï¿½dom still worship, without having their throats cut or their goods confiscated. Even in this country, Catholics, though placed as to civil and political rights on a footing of perï¿½fect equality with non-Catholics, have not yet been recogï¿½nized as socially equal. With us society is non-Catholic, and the old prejudices against Catholics, the old Protestant traditions, retain a strong hold on the community, and create for Catholics great disadvantages, which they are only gradually and slowly overcoming. - These things naturally gave to Catholics a character, a tone of mind, manners, and abits with which we who had lived the national life could not wholly sympathize, any more than they could fully sympathize with us.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ We thought them wanting in manï¿½liness, outspokenness, and also in interest in the great and stirring questions of the age, and they thought us proud, overbearing, wanting in meekness, gentleness, and humilï¿½ity.ï¿½ï¿½ We were too defiant, and not sufficiently conciliatory. We think neither side made sufficient allowance for what was regarded as defects in the other.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ We are willing to admit that we retained too much of the old Puritan spirit, though far less than was supposed, and in our dislike of reticence, circumlocution, and apology, spoke out in stronger and rougher tones than was either wise or prudent, and did not make, though at the time we thought we did, sufficient allowance for the painful and depressing circumï¿½stances in which English-speaking Catholics had for so many centuriesï¿½ been placed.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Weï¿½ atï¿½ a much earlier moment became aware of it than was believed ; but the violent tone of the Catholic press towards us, its constant appeal not to Catholic tradition, but to the local traditions of Catholics, or popular opinion, for which we have and never had much respect, rendered it impossible for us to show it, or to effect a good understanding between us and the Catholics led by that press.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Every thing we said was rftisinterpreted, perverted; and every attempt to correct one misunderstanding created half a dozen others.ï¿½ï¿½ We were suspect, and all our words and actions were taken in an evil sense.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ Much that was said by ,the journals was, no doubt, taken by us as meaning more than it did, but it kept our mind more intent on the defects than on the virtues of Catholics.ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ So matters went on till we deemed it prudent to withdraw from the theological field, under the conviction that our labors in it could he of no farther use to the Catholic cause. Yet we have remained, according to our light and understanding, a sincere and earnest Catholic, and have never ceased to feel that we have our home only among Catholics; and though we do not regard every Catholic as a saint, our sympathies are with . Catholics. They are our people, and we belong to them. I love my country, I love my countrymen, and I am ready to give my life for it and them, as my brave and noble son, whose body lies, while I am writing, in an adjoining room, waiting the funeral rites of his Church, freely and without a murmur gave his; but my Church is dearer, and my Catholic brethren are nearer; my non-Catholic countrymen are my kindred after the flesh; Catholics are my brothers in soul and spirit.
There is but one more .aï¿½susation that we shall take notice of; that, being a layman, we have had no right to' take upon us the discussion of theological questions. We were avowedly a Catholic publicist, and we naturally supï¿½posed that it was within our province to treat as well as we could any question which we found,' at home or abroad, the subject of public discussion. But our position as a Catholic publicist was not self-assumed; we were called to it by the unanimous voice of the Ecclesiastical authorities of our own country. This well-known fact ought to relieve us from the charge of mingling in discussions improper for laymen. We have never professed to teach by authority, and have always insisted,that our utterances should be taken on their merits, and simply go for what they are worth.
We have made these explanations and observations, because we have felt them due to ourselves, to our remainï¿½ing family, to our personal friends, and to the Catholic public, generally. In them we have sought not to defend, but simply to explain ourselves, and to do it without giving any new offence. We think the greater part of the fault found' with us has originated either in misapprehension of Catholic doctrine itself, or of our real meaning and disposition. We have never written for the mob, or for popularity, and many of the questions we have discussed have been not such as the popular mind is familiar with, or prepared to appreciate. Whether our explanations will be satisfactory to any one who has been dissatisfied, or will facilitate a better understanding of our views and aims, we leave to the judgment of others. We have received some wrongs, but they are forgiven and well-nigh forgotten. We, perhaps, have done some wrong; if so, we hope it will be likewise forgiven and forgotten. We may have rendered some service to the cause of religion and to that of our country; if we have, God knows it, and will reward it. We only wish Catholics who sustained us liberï¿½ally for years, and for whom we have only love and kindï¿½ness, should not continue to misapprehend us, and regret their former liberality and confidence. We are deeply grateful to the large number of clerical and other friends who have never seriously misunderstood us, or had their confidence in us as a sincere and earnest Catholic in the least impaired, and who have never allowed popular clamor, or even differences of opinion, to affect them. They have stood by us in good report and in evil, have borne with our infirmities, cheered us when our courage failed, and conï¿½soled us in our afflictions. We cannot reward them, but we can never forget them.
We pretend to no extraordinary knowledge, to no infalliï¿½bility of judgment. There may be propositions in our explanations that are unsound, and we may be far from having removed by them the objections that many Catholics have urged against us. All we say is, we have not attempted to soften or explain away any thing we have really ever meant or supposed we Were maintaining. We have wished to present our views such as they honestly were. Wrong they may be, uncatholic in intention we know they are not. We have never, since we became a Catholic, written a line that we regarded as unorthodox, and not intended to serve the cause of Catholic faith and civilization. From our youth up we have loved Truth, and wooed her as a bride, and we wish to die in her embrace. We have never adhered from pride or obstinacy to any opinion we had once entertained, and have always been readysome would say too readyto abandon any opinion once held the moment we were satisfied of its unsoundness. We repeat, in conclusion, what we have said over and over again in our pages, and to the Supreme Authority at Rome, that we submit all our writings to the judgment of the Church ; and any doctrine or proposition in them that the Holy See will point out as contrary to faith, to sound doctrine, or to the spirit of obeï¿½dience which should animate every Catholic, we will modify, alter, or retract, in such way and manner as she shall preï¿½scribe. More we cannot say, and less no Catholic ought to say. We abide the judgment of the Church, as pronounced by the Holy See. We never have been disobedient to authority, and we never shall be.