THE POPES AND THEIR CHURCH
A CANDID ACCOUNT
BY JOSEPH McCABE
(Author of “Twelve Years in a Monastery,” etc.)
FREETHOUGHT PRESS ASSOCIATION
370 WEST 35TH STREET
NEW YORK 1, NEW YORK
Second Edition (revised) 1924
Third Edition (further revised) 1933
Second Impression of Third Edition 1936
Fourth Edition (further revised) 1940
Second Impression of Fourth Edition 1943
Third Impression of Fourth Edition 1945
Fourth Impression of Fourth Edition 1947
Fifth Edition 1950
Second Impression of Fifth Edition 1953
Third Impression if Fifth Edition 1953
Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay and Company, Ltd., Bungay, Suffolk
THE HISTORY OF THE ROMAN CHURCH
THE CHURCH OF ROME TO-DAY
THE chief paradox of our age is the survival of the Church of Rome. The choicest irony of that paradox is that, while the Church decays rapidly in the Latin countries, it seems to make material progress in England and the United States.
The purpose of this book is to explain that its boast of primitiveness, of immutability, of flat defiance of the spirit of progress, of truculent refusal to compromise with the modern mind, is fully justified; and to explain the machinery by means of which such a boast can win any measure of success. I explain what Catholics really believe and do, and how they contrive to believe and do these weird things, yet survive, in the twentieth century.
There are about 200,000,000 Roman Catholics in the world. I imagine the shade of Pope Innocent III frowning sombrely. Only 200,000,000 out of 2,000,000,000! I imagine the shade of Voltaire politely representing to him that it is surely miracle enough that 200,000,000 people of the twentieth century still chase devils with “holy” water, see the entire living body of Christ in a crumb of bread, confess their sins to priests, and call the Papacy “the Holy See.”
But of the 200,000,000 no less than 100,000,000 are entirely illiterate, and do not count. They would, if they were so taught, believe that the Pope, like the Grand Lama of Thibet, has five thousand devils bottled in the Vatican. They would believe that Pope Alexander VI was “conceived immaculate.” They would believe that the wails of burning Protestants have been distinctly heard by a Catholic scientist in the crater of Vesuvius or Popocatepetl. They are not a problem. And since half the remainder of the faithful are either children or little removed from children in their mental outfit, they also are not a problem.
But a large proportion of the thirty million English, German, and American Catholics are a problem. Grave judges and clever literary men speak respect fully of the “Holy Father”; kiss supposed relics of saints and martyrs; dab their foreheads with holy water to keep the devil away; meekly tell their sins to a priest; prostrate themselves in abject adoration before a little white disk which, they say, is the living Jesus Christ; chant hymns about this “vale of tears,” and how they long to be delivered from it; and call this sort of thing “the priceless pearl of their faith.” They have an almost unspeakable scorn for any other religion; and the more intellectual it is, the more they scorn it. They think Herbert Spencer a small-witted mumbler of sonorous rubbish, and they tell you to read Thomas Aquinas for enlightenment.
When you press them, you discover that they have never read a line of either Herbert or Thomas. Spencer, you find, these adult and alert neighbours of yours are “forbidden” to read; forbidden by the man to whom they confide their sins on Saturday night. You rub your eyes, or your ears, and you inquire further; and you discover the most ingenious system that was ever devised for keeping educated people uneducated. This is the system of “Catholic Truth.” The Catholic must read his own literature (duly authorized by the bishop, whose beaver hat is stamped on the front page), and must not read any that differs from it. Catholics are safely kept within the compound of “Catholic Truth,” and it will be understood that quaint doctrines may be imposed under such circumstances.
Of these, at once the strangest and the most characteristic is the belief in the divine foundation and special divine protection of the Church; and I there fore devote half this work to the history of the Church and its rulers. In writing this sketch I have had before me, at every important or disputed stage, the original authorities. I give references to them where they may be useful, but I have covered so much of the ground in more academic fashion in a larger work (A History of the Popes; 1939) that for some of the Popes I may refer to that work. It will be enough to assure the reader that I have avoided the disputable statements which are often made in popular contributions to this controversy. It will be found, for instance, that the authentic deeds of the Popes of the tenth or the fifteenth century suffice, without quoting untrustworthy writers, to enable one to judge the Catholic claim of possessing a Holy Father, a Holy See, and a special measure of the interest of the Holy Ghost.
The second section describes the other doctrines and practices, and much of the peculiar discipline, of the Roman Church. I am so frequently described as a writer of portentous solemnity that I need not fear a charge of frivolity and flippancy. As Mr. G. K. Chesterton has explained (Heretics, ch. xvi), I am entirely incapable of frivolity or humour. This has been to me a precious safeguard in wandering through so singular a world; while the knowledge that I was once a priest and professor of the Church will keep the reader confident that I have not mistaken the religion of ancient Mexico or modern Thibet for that on which I profess to write.