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Joseph Mccabe Popes And Church Pandc 7





IN the opinion of "Catholic Truth," the reform of the Church, which it grossly exaggerates, was due to its own vital powers of recovery, not to the pressure of heretics. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the most irritating feature of Catholic literature is its lack of an elementary sense of humour. The Papacy fought the demand of Europe for reform for at least two hundred years. It fought even the formidable revolt in England and Germany for fifty years. It stirred up a holy war of Catholics and Protestants. Only when this last device completely failed did it set about the work of reform. Since those days it has lived under the eyes of an alert and fiercely critical body of writers, who were free to express their opinion without fear of the Inquisition, and its comparative respectability can scarcely be regarded as proving that Providence had any special interest in it.

The long earlier period, when it was free to live upon whatever inner inspiration it had, without the disturbing pressure of heretics, I have now faithfully described. What a waste of time and malignity, says the Catholic writer! Ought not an apostate priest, at least, to know that "we never held that the Popes were impeccable"? God allowed individual Popes to sin ("inscrutable reasons," etc.), and merely watched that they did not foul "the sacred deposit of the faith" by officially teaching heresy. All these records of corruption, we are told, have no bearing upon Catholic belief.

Once more the lack of a sense of humour and proportion is extraordinary. What this "sacred deposit of the faith" is worth I will consider in the next section. The Catholic theologian will at least admit that the Popes had very little to do with it. It was generally formulated by Greeks, by councils, and by schoolmen. The Popes usually burned their fingers when they meddled with it. As a rule, they were politicians, soldiers, adventurers, good-livers, or men more conspicuous for piety than learning, who spent little time on theology.

But the idea that the Papacy was designed by Christ for the salvation of men, and guided continuously by a "Holy Ghost" in the discharge of this task, yet was suffered to linger for ages in the squalid degradation I have described, and merely protected from using improperly an infallible power of which scarcely any Pope was conscious, is a most amazing proposition. The very phrase, the "Holy See," tells clearly enough what the Catholic really believes, and is encouraged to believe, about the head of his Church. He believes that the Roman bishopric was founded by Christ for the general good of the world, and that for the proper discharge of its task it had the special interest and protection of the Spirit of God. He believes, literally, that the election of a Pope is attended by that particular divine guidance which is always sought at its commencement. He believes that the Papacy is, and has always been, apart from "a few stains," holy. Tell him that at least ten of his Popes were murderers and consummate scoundrels, that at least seventeen of the Popes whose character is known were immoral men (five being sodomists), that scores were simoniacs and protectors of corruption, and he will break into furious epithets about "traducers of the Holy See," or wonder in pained silence how any man can stoop to such mendacity. Yet it is the simple historical truth.

The Catholic writer first denies the unholiness outright; but among educated Catholic communities that phase of defence broke down thirty or forty years ago. Then he garbles, perverts, misquotes, and manipulates the historical evidence, as we shall see, in order to make the "stains" as small as he can. Having done this, he affects an air of liberality. Pope Leo XIII, he says, urged him to tell "the whole truth": the Pope who threw open the "Secret Archives" – after abstracting the worst documents. The rest is easy. We admit that the Popes were not "absolutely impeccable," that there were "stains," and so on; but the total record is so grand and beneficent, so rich in good and great men, that the Catholic claim is intact.

Now it is just this total record that damns the Papal claim. To ask us to believe that God took any kind of special interest in the Papacy from the fifth to the sixteenth century is to provoke a smile. To ask us to believe that God confined his interest to the official teaching on points of theology of these two hundred Popes, and was indifferent to their scandalous example and their gross neglect of the morals of Christendom, is too ludicrous for words. To ask us to believe that even one in ten of these Popes concerned himself with doctrine at all is to betray complete ignorance of the facts. To ask us to believe that Popes Liberius, Honorius III, Gelasius, John XXII, etc., were narrowly watched by the Spirit of God and prevented from teaching heresy in a certain technical way defined by modern theologians, but allowed to sign heretical formula: and hold heresies and promote clerics who agreed with them, is a waste of ingenuity. To ask us to believe even in this "teaching" protection, when at the end of a thousand years of it Europe was a vast museum of spurious relics and weird beliefs, a place of utter darkness and vice and violence, is as naive as it would be to tell us that the alchemists and astrologers were inspired.

The Papacy was not even a good human invention. Its credentials were forged; its elections were corrupt and violent for centuries; its revenues were for ages as tainted as they could be; its chief effect was to prolong the darkness of Europe as much as possible; its records are more stained with vice and crime than those of any other authority of a civilized religion. "Holy See" indeed! Soberly, its distinction among the records of civilized religions is its unholiness.

The remainder of the story may be told briefly, but cannot be ignored. We shall no longer find picturesque sinners like Sergius and the Johns and Bonifaces and Benedicts and Alexanders seizing the tiara. Europe is no longer a child. Printing has been invented, and accounts of Papal elections and acts are read all over Europe. The great Protestant-Catholic controversy opens, and hundreds of pens in each generation are poised over the head of the unhappy Papacy. The Catholic is welcome to admire its virtue under such conditions. It was on ticket-of-leave, and closely watched.

But when the Catholic persuades himself that its new behaviour was due to an internal growth, a "counter Reformation," the Jesuits, or a special divine interest, he had better look more closely into the facts. The world split into halves, Catholic and Protestant. Now, the great weakness of the Catholic theory is that Catholics behaved very prettily where they were in contact with heretics, or under the eyes of heretics, but almost as badly as ever where they were not. The Catholicism of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Spanish America remained just the same weird mixture of relics and magic and bad morals as it had been for ages.

In northern lands, for instance, the Church – under no pressure, of course – spontaneously ceased to sell indulgences; and it continued without the least alteration, and continued until a decade or two ago, to sell them in Spain and elsewhere – and the Papacy shared the profit on them! In the northern lands the Church became, as the need arose, quite zealous for education and the truth; but in Catholic lands it struggled fiercely against the demand of the "Liberals" for education, granted only the most miserable pretence of education when it was forced to do something, and still detained three-fourths of its followers in illiteracy and the crassest ignorance! In the northern lands it won converts to respect for the Holy See, in spite of the "few stains"; and in Italy, as late as the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a notoriously immoral cardinal very nearly obtained the tiara! In northern lands its priests poured ridicule on the married clergy of the Protestant bodies; and in Italy and Spain and Portugal and Spanish America they remained almost as immoral as in the Middle Ages! In northern lands the Catholic clergy breathed an elevated gospel of toleration and religious freedom, and plaintively lamented the restrictions on their activity; in southern lands they inspired Bartholomew massacres and continued burnings of heretics; and they cling still, as we shall see, to the doctrine that heretics may and must be put to death!

If a Catholic wants to find evidence of some divine operation upon his Church, I should advise him to see it in the development of heresy and unbelief on such a scale that the Vatican could no longer stifle it in blood; for that is the one force that has comparatively reformed the Papacy.

Down to the middle of the eighteenth century the record of the Papacy calls for no lengthy discussion. The Popes, generally decent men compared with their predecessors, "ruled" their remaining subjects in the Latin countries and Austria, and interfered not with their superstitions and dense ignorance and vices. For a time they dreamed that the energetic sons of St. Ignatius would win back northern Europe. They allowed the Jesuits to try every known device, such as war and bribery, and to add others which do great credit to their ingenuity and unflinching determination. A Jesuit penetrated Sweden, and for years taught theology in a Lutheran college! Other Jesuits penetrated the most exclusive castes of the Hindus, and professed the Hindu mythology. Others penetrated courts, and blessed princely sinners, and controlled their mistresses and councils. Until at last the Catholic laity, sick of the lying, greed, intrigue, and unscrupulousness of the Jesuits, compelled Pope Clement XIV in 1773 to recognize (as he does in his Bull, Dominus ac Redemptor Noster) their corruption and suppress them; when they were cynically sheltered by those two adepts in their own art, Frederick and Catherine the Great. [1]

In the middle of the eighteenth century began the new phase. France, which had with great difficulty been retained under the allegiance of Rome, and had raised successive generations of Protestants and Gallicans and Jansenists to vex it, now begot a brood of philosophers like Voltaire. The learned and liberal Benedict XIV (1740-58) tried to meet the storm of criticisms and invective as well as the cardinals would allow him, but philosophy gave place to democracy, and democracy to Napoleon. Educated Frenchmen believed that the days of the Papacy were over. Napoleon handled poor Pius VI, a weak and muddle-headed pontiff, as if he were a commercial traveller of a suspected firm. But the restoration of thrones and altars, the return for a spell to the Middle Ages, set the Papacy on its feet once more after 1815.

It was the same Papacy as before. In Naples, Spain, and Portugal it countenanced the most bloody and horrible persecutions of the Liberals. It permitted the restored monarchs to break their solemn oaths to respect the Constitution and (see my Revolt in Spain) co-operated with them in slaughtering ten times as many men as had been executed in the French Revolution. In France it fiercely supported the autocracy and resisted democratic reform. In Italy it clung to its Papal States, whose evil condition was (a British statesman said) "the opprobrium of Europe," and, in co-operation with Austria, sought to bludgeon the life out of young Italy. Europe reeked again with the blood of high-minded men and women. Pius IX – "the saintly Pius," Catholics call him – was elected by the Holy Ghost to guide the Church through the age of trouble which this long alliance with reaction brought upon it.

Whether Pius was a saintly man or not must be left to better judges of that quality. Men who had been his schoolfellows told queer stories of him in later years; and his leading cardinal, Antonelli, the Secretary of State, was so notoriously immoral and corrupt that at his death his natural daughter, Countess Lambertini, openly claimed his large fortune. Rome had again become notorious for sexual licence. But, whether Pius was a saint or not, his pontificate was one series of blunders. He met the democratic wave which swept over Europe in 1848, and raised again the hopes of Italy, with ludicrous weakness and unwisdom. The laity were now strong enough to insist upon a reform of the utterly corrupt Papal States. Under heavy pressure, and in great terror, he first capitulated, then (in Papal fashion) fled to the coast and disowned his promises. While more astute men fought for the Papal interests and revenues, he was engrossed in discovering whether it was or was not safe for him to announce to the world that nineteen centuries ago Mary, the mother of Christ, was born without being tainted by the sin of Adam! This in a Europe that was absolutely boiling with social, political, and religious problems.

When the French performed their last service to the Papacy and restored its monarchy, Pius returned to study this extraordinary phenomenon of a world that would live no longer in the simple and vicious way its fathers had lived. He had the literature of Europe searched for the "poison," and he solemnly gave to the world, in 1864, a "Syllabus" of the damnable errors which the devil had brought into Europe. The "errors" were, in fact, the kind of principles which Catholics now put forward as among those foundations of sound civic and social life which their Church has inspired; principles which were already embodied in the life of advanced civilizations like the United States, and are the direct outcome of the best spirit of the time. Such as the following were the monstrous errors hurled at an astonished world by the inspired pontiff little more than half a century ago:

14. Philosophy must be treated without taking any account of supernatural religion.

15. Every man is free to embrace and profess the religion which, judging by the light of human reason, he believes to be true.

16. Men may find the way of eternal salvation, and attain it, in any religion.

17. We may entertain at least a well-founded hope of the eternal salvation of all those who do not belong to the true Church of Christ.

19. The Church is not a true, perfect, and entirely free society. …

23. The Roman Pontiffs and Ecumenical Councils have exceeded the limits of their powers, usurped the rights of princes, and even erred in defining matters of faith and morals.

47. The best theory of civil society requires that popular schools. … and educational institutions generally… should be freed from all ecclesiastical authority, government, and interference. …

55. The Church ought to be separated from the State, and the State from the Church.

63. It is allowable to refuse to obey, and even rebel against, legitimate princes [as the United States had done a century before].

67. By the law of nature the marriage-tie is not indissoluble. …

74. Matrimonial cases and espousals belong of their own nature to the civil courts.

80. The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself to, and agree with, progress, liberalism, and modern civilization.

Pio, to his surprise, found that even Italy and France took no notice, and the poison continued to work. The armies of Victor Emmanuel advanced. Let the provinces of Italy declare, by plebiscite, whether they will belong to Italy or the Papacy, said the Italians; and by mighty majorities they chose to be incorporated in the kingdom of Italy. Benedict XV, at the time of the Versailles Conference, thought that this was the ideal way of settling the fate of disputed provinces. Pio Nono, less than half a century before, shrieked that it was a monstrous heresy to consult his subjects as to what government they would live under. So the last blood was shed over the ill-fated temporal power of the Popes, and that miserable anomaly was swept out of existence. I have quoted Catholic historians freely admitting that as long as the Popes remained kings, their territory was the most vicious and badly governed in Europe. Now they advise the rulers and statesmen of our world how to govern their states!

At the time, in 1870, Pius was presiding over a great ecclesiastical council at the Vatican. He had discovered that the Popes were personally infallible, and he wanted the assembled bishops to declare it. Even Catholicism was not prepared to take his personal assurance of it. There was, in fact, considerable opposition. Aged prelates whom I met in my clerical days smacked their lips over the recollection of that Council. It was a monumental fight, in the good old ecclesiastical style. A French bishop had one day made a speech against the infallibility, and a furious Italian jumped up with the ironical words: "Iste gallus bene cantavit." [2] Iced water was, I was told, consumed by the gallon But Pio Nono wore down the opposition, by threatening some and cajoling others, and henceforth the Popes are "infallible," but not "impeccable."

Some of my readers will have been surprised that in the earlier chapters I have not dwelt more emphatically on the errors of the Popes and the relation of these to their supposed infallibility. I am too well trained a theologian to waste time on that mistaken controversy. Every error into which any Pope had ever stumbled – and they are numerous – was kept before the mind of the Pope’s theologians when they framed the "definition." In effect it is claimed only that the Pope is infallible when he makes it plain that he is using his infallible prerogative; and as no Pope ever knew before that he was infallible, the acuteness of the theologians, and the simplicity of their followers, may be admired.

But the most amusing aspect of the affair is this: from 1870 until our own time no Pope has ever dared to use his infallible gift, and probably no Pope ever will dare. We have passed through such controversies as the world never knew before. Catholics have been just as dazed and troubled as others. But their Popes have merely given them "encyclicals," for which no infallibility is claimed, and which may safely be disavowed by any successor. Meantime "Catholic Truth" has never ceased to crow over Protestants because, while they have only the "dead letter" of Scripture, it has a living infallible guide! It reminds one of the wooden guns of the Chinese.

Then came Leo XIII; and the legend of Leo XIII is as foolish as the legend of Pius IX. It has not yet been claimed that he was a saint. When he was Papal Nuncio at Brussels a wicked marquis one day offered him an open snuff-box, the lid of which was adorned with a nude lady. Leo – or Mgr. Pecci, as he then was – placidly took the pinch, pointed to the lady, and asked: "Madame la Marquise?" It is not the way of saints, though Leo’s character would be questioned by none. But when we are told that he was a great statesman or a great diplomatist, we smile. He lost his position as Nuncio at Brussels by his diplomatic incapacity, and he remained under a cloud as long as Pius IX lived.

The fortunes of his Church during his long pontificate are the best answer to the legend of his greatness. He made the foolish blunder of refusing to compromise witb the Italian kingdom. He refused to receive the rich pension allotted to him, and forbade Catholics to take part in political life; and the royal family permanently defied the Papal anathema, and millions of Italians quitted the Church. He refused to recognize the French Republic until it was too late; and as a result the thirty million French Catholics of 1874 have dwindled to about five millions in our time. He refused to rebuke the scandalous old traditions of the Spanish and Portuguese Churches; and as a result Portugal has destroyed its Church, and Spain is very rapidly disowning it. He obliged England by interfering with the Irish revolt in Parnell’s time, and he only angered Ireland, and got nothing from England, where Catholicism loses every decade. He obliged Germany by interfering in Poland, as in Ireland; and Germany still refused to recognize the Jesuits. He played fast and loose with democracy, first angering the aristocracy by uttering such platitudes as that the worker must have a living wage (which he declined to define), then wearily deserting the workers. He made pronouncements on the Biblical question which caused Catholic professors, in my hearing, to speak bitterly of his ignorance. Throughout his life he saw his Church only shrink and diminish. I am told that in his last illness he muttered deliriously about the problems that oppressed him.

Then came the crowning "inspiration," Pius X! His pontificate was a comedy to compare with that of Celestine V. To face the twentieth century, with its wonderful knowledge, its stirring progressiveness, its bold democracy, the light of the Holy Spirit – that is to say, the usual election intrigue – discovered poor old Pius X, an ignorant and stubborn Italian peasant. His one achievement was to drive out of the Church what was left of Catholic scholarship. He had a type of mind like that of the Irishman who, when asked if he really believed that the whale swallowed Jonah, said: "Faith, I’d believe that he swallowed the whale if the Church told me to." Pius soon cleansed Rome of the scholars and liberals whom Leo had attracted to it in his later and more serious years. He set up Inquisition Committees throughout the Church, to watch all scholars, lay and clerical. It was unsafe to express a doubt whether Moses had really written the description of his own funeral in the Pentateuch. And when the poor man had purified his Church of all honest and outspoken scholars, he struck a medal in honour of his victory.

Benedict XV came to the throne with a declaration that he would maintain the same policy. He was a diplomatist, not a scholar; and a terrific diplomatic problem loomed at once before him. For his "neutrality" Alfred Loisy, for years the shining light of the Catholic Church in France, has lashed his earlier master with scorn, and has turned his back upon the Church. When the war was over, he emerged as an apostle of peace, a defender of small nationalities, a tender-hearted humanitarian who would bid the blood cease flowing. It was the Papal diplomacy of all time finding utterance once more. If France, Italy, and Russia had won the war outright, more than ten million Catholics – in Alsace-Lorraine, the Trentino, Poland, and Slavonia – would have been transferred from Powers intensely favourable to the Vatican (Germany and Austria) to "atheistic" France, excommunicated Italy, and schismatical Russia.

The same policy was followed by the far abler Pope, Pius XI, who succeeded Benedict in 1922. Secret diplomacy all over the world is the one weapon by which he held together the discredited fabric of his Church. Even while he was co-operating with the Socialists in Belgium, he sold Italy to Mussolini and, after a year of hard bargaining, joined in the greatest political crime of the twentieth century. He supported the tyranny of Pilsudski in Poland, and he wrote letters on the august moral principles of social and political life to England and America.

In my Papacy in Politics To-day (Cheap Edition; 1939) I pointed out that Cardinal Pacelli was the real author of the blundering policy of the later years of Pius XI, and I predicted (p. 152) that he would be the next Pope. Now, in a mood of profound dejection which will probably shorten his pontificate, he surveys the ruin he has wrought: Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, and Poland turn from him, Germany is rapidly destroying his Church, Spain deeply embittered and awaiting the hour of revenge. … But I return to this in the last chapter. Immutable Rome! It cannot even find statesmen of sufficient ability to bolster up the pretence of Divine Guidance.


[1] See the author’s Candid History of the Jesuits.

[2] Gallus is Latin both for a "cock" and a "Frenchman," so the opprobrious pun runs "That cock (Frenchman) crows very well, but," etc.

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