THE CHURCH OF ROME TO-DAY
THE reader may perhaps wonder if it is possible in such countries as the United States, England, and Germany for the writers of any sect to fence their people from the scholarship of modern times. If the facts of Papal history are as I have described them, and they are – if historians generally are agreed upon those facts, and they are – surely it will not be possible for a handful of ecclesiastical historians to maintain in modern times’ a version which falls materially short of the truth?
I will describe in a later chapter the discipline by which the Catholic laity are generally kept within the sacred compound prescribed by the Church. It is a serious error to suppose that Catholics are only forbidden to read books which are "on the Index." The Catholic is strictly instructed from childhood that the reading of "bad books" is as grave a fault as, or even graver than, sexual irregularity; and it is explicitly explained to him that any book "against faith or morals" falls into this category. A book against the faith, moreover, is any book which contradicts the teaching of Catholic literature on an important dogmatic point; certainly any book which "attacks" – that is to say, tells the true story of – the Church and the Papacy. The Catholic is thus restricted to his own literature; and each book recommended for his use has had to be examined and passed by the bishop.
In practice, of course, even this form of censorship is not universally effective. As I have said, a good half of the subjects of the Vatican cannot read. Of the remaining hundred millions the overwhelming majority do not read serious books. The priests have, therefore, only a small and inquisitive minority to control; generally the men who are taunted by their neighbours for not reading both sides. These are told that they may not, under pain of mortal sin (eternal damnation), read any book against the faith except by permission of their confessors; and the confessor is instructed that mere curiosity – or what most people call a desire for the truth – is not a sufficient reason for doing so. In fact, however, some Catholic men, and a very few women, defy the regulation.
These considerations will prepare the reader to learn that Catholic scholarship to-day vindicates the title "Holy See" by giving a grossly inaccurate version of the remarkable story I summarized in the last section.
Any person who lives within call of the reference-library of a large town may verify this without needing to examine scores of volumes. I will test my charge by the contents of the Catholic Encyclopædia, the most important and authoritative work published by the Church, the most recent co-operative enterprise of what it regards as its leading scholars. It is a vast work in sixteen large volumes, issued by the American Church – the wealthiest and most liberal branch of Roman Catholicism – between 1907 and 1912. "The object of the Encyclopædia is to give the whole truth without prejudice," and "in the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed." Scholars have been enlisted for this purpose from all parts of the Catholic world. The Encyclopædia represents, it modestly but firmly tells us, "Catholic scholarship in every part of the world." And it is as representative of such scholarship that I proceed to examine it.
Quite early in it occur two articles which are pertinent to my inquiry-the articles entitled "Apostolic See" and "Apostolic Succession." They are by the English scholar Dr. Wilhelm – with whose fine old English name the world is strangely unfamiliar – and they contain some remarkable specimens of "the latest and most accurate information." "As early as the fourth century," says Father Wilhelm, "the Roman See was already the Apostolic See par excellence, not only in the West, but also in the East." As far as the West is concerned, we readily grant that the Roman bishopric was "the Apostolic See par excellence," because it was the only Apostolic See; but of the East we have told, and will tell, a different story.
In the second of these short articles Father Wilhelm is equally "accurate" and "scientific." That Peter was at Rome end founded the Roman bishopric is, he says, "among the best-ascertained facts of history," and "no scholar now dare contradict it." As the point is, in my opinion, not of the least importance, I have not discussed it. But to say that Peter’s activity is "among the best-ascertained facts of history" is – a fair specimen of "Catholic Truth"! If the reader cares to glance at another and more authoritative Encyclopædia, the Encyclopædia Britannica (article "Peter"), he will learn from Professor Lake, who is an authority, that evidence of Peter’s mission to Rome is "not quite convincing," and has "often been bitterly attacked," but has a degree of probability. Only a few among non-Catholic historians admit it.
Then Father Wilhelm grows bolder. "In the third century," he says, "the Popes claim authority from the fact that they are St. Peter’s successors, and no one objects to this claim." That is how we establish the Roman case by the "most recent and acknowledged scientific methods"! The reader may ask in surprise whether Father Wilhelm never heard of the Bishops of Asia Minor telling Pope Victor to mind his own business, or what Cyprian of Carthage said to the Pope for interfering in African matters, as I described in the first chapter. He will be still further surprised to hear that these episodes are precisely the proofs adduced by Father Wilhelm in support of his statement! How? Why, it is quite easy, in a Catholic atmosphere. You tell the indisputable fact that Victor asserted his supremacy in Asia, and that Cornelius received an appeal from Africa; and you do not tell the sequel.
But these two short articles are mere summaries. We turn to the article "Pope," the most important article in a Catholic Encyclopædia, and settle down to a very serious consideration of the Catholic position – an article free from all those lamentable misrepresentations and errors which "disfigure" all non-Catholic discussions of the subject, and drawn up (in defiance of the "Syllabus") according to the latest scientific methods. The article has been entrusted to the English Jesuit, Father Joyce, of whose scholarship also I had, strangely enough, never heard before. It may, however, be familiar to the reader, and the article is, at all events, peculiarly interesting.
Father Joyce opens on the same firm, paternal note as Father Wilhelm. The foundation of the Roman Church by Peter is now beyond dispute, and "history bears complete testimony that from the very earliest times the Roman See has ever claimed the supreme headship [which Gregory the Great called "a blasphemous title"], and that that headship has been freely acknowledged by the universal Church." Most assuredly Catholic scholars may hide their scholarship very modestly from the world at large, but they show little modesty in teaching their own folk. Are all the episodes and authorities I quoted in the early chapters disputed by this Jesuit professor? Not in the least. They are proofs of his thesis. It is quite worth while examining his procedure in detail.
His first proof is that as early as 95 or 96 A.D. Pope Clement I, in his "Letter to the Corinthians," very drastically interfered in the affairs of the Corinthian Church, and claimed that the Holy Spirit guided him in doing so. There you have the supremacy of Rome asserted and unchallenged within a generation of the death of Peter! But Father Joyce prudently omits to mention one point which, if he mentioned it, would deflate his splendid argument as a child pricks a balloon. There was probably no bishop of Corinth at the time. In the Catholic Encyclopædia itself the special authority on Clement, writing under that head, admits that this is held even by Catholic scholars. So, apart from the question of the genuineness of the letter, which is not undisputed (several letters were forged in Clement’s name), it would follow at the most that the Pope interfered in a community which had no "overseer." However, the letter is, as I said, not a letter of Bishop Clement, but of the Church at Rome to the Church at Corinth.
The second proof is a high-flown and ambiguous compliment which Ignatius of Antioch pays to the Roman See on its "ascendancy." As we saw, such compliments to the Church founded by the two leading apostles and housed in the imperial city have nothing to do with the question of jurisdiction. The third proof is a similar complimentary reference of St. Irenæus to the "superior authority" (on points of doctrine) of the Church founded by the two great apostles; and Irenæus is writing in the West, where there is no other apostolic Church. It is irrelevant.
In his fourth grand argument Father Joyce, like Father Wilhelm, takes the bull by the horns, and finds evidence in the unhappy adventure of Pope Victor. The Pope, he says, excommunicated the Asiatics; and their action "involved no denial of the supremacy of Rome," while St. Irenæus "assumed Victor had the power" and merely asked him to be lenient. Father Joyce is again prudent enough not to give the reference to the authority, lest some misguided Catholic should look up the English translation of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History (v, 34). As we saw, the facts are an emphatic repudiation of Victor’s claim of supremacy. The Asiatic bishops told Victor that they were not in the least "intimidated" by his threat of excommunication, that they flatly refused to obey him, and that they would "be judged by God, not man"; and the Western bishops "sharply attacked" Victor for his action.
In his fifth argument Father Joyce audaciously turns to St. Cyprian and the African Church! He is good enough to acknowledge that Cyprian’s ideas of the Pope’s power in some respects were "inadequate," but says that Cyprian granted Rome "a primacy, not merely of honour, but of jurisdiction"! If the reader will turn back and read the undisputed passages I quoted, he will ask in astonishment how even a Jesuit can achieve this? Prithee, in this way. He tells how Cyprian urges Stephen to write to Gaul, and he entirely suppresses the fact that the Gauls had appealed to both Cyprian and Stephen, and Cyprian had already written! Then he complacently concludes: "It is manifest that one who regarded the Roman See in this light believed that the Pope possessed a real and effective primacy." These are the "acknowledged scientific methods" – of Jesuits. This represents "Catholic scholarship in every part of the world." Then these Jesuits, I am told, write privately to inquiring Catholics, that "McCabe is quite discredited as an historian."
Does the reader still think my language intemperate? Does he think that "Catholic scholars" are just as learned and candid as any others? Does he begin to see the peculiarities of "Catholic Truth" even in its most responsible form? Does he perceive the advantage of for bidding the reading of "bad books"?
We may now proceed to examine the second point: the character of the Papacy from the fourth to the fifteenth century. On the earlier" holiness" of the Roman Church the Encyclopædia is tantalizing. We glance over the list of the Popes, and see that all except one down to the year 530 are "saints." Even Callistus is still a "saint and martyr," in defiance of all modern scholarship. We look up the special article on "Callistus." It is again, I regret to find, by an English "scholar," Father Chapman. The English seem to have been chosen largely for their greater fluency in theological inexactitude. Father Chapman airily assures the Catholic that Döllinger and De Rossi have "demolished the contemporary scandal" written by St. Hippolytus; whereas, as I have shown in my history of the Papacy, they have merely demolished each other and left the scandal intact. "There is good evidence that Callistus was really a martyr," says Father Chapman; which even Döllinger and De Rossi do not admit, and no scholar now does. In fine, says this English Benedictine, "if we knew more of Callistus from Catholic sources he would probably appear as one of the greatest of the Popes"; on which we can only remark that it seems possible to make anybody appear anything on the "Catholic sources" of that time. Do they not make the anti-Popes Hippolytus and Felix "saints and martyrs"?
Damasus is the only one of these fifty early Popes whose aureole of sanctity has been omitted from the list. But in the article on Damasus it is restored in an its splendour, and his life and work are gorgeously described. But what about those indisputable hundred and sixty corpses which his followers laid upon the floor of a church in the election fights? Quite easy. The followers of Ursicinus, the anti-Pope, "resorted to much violence and bloodshed" in their endeavour to force him upon the meek and long-suffering majority. Their corpses (one hundred and sixty in one church) and the weeks of bloody riot are not mentioned. So the miraculous sanctity of the Popes for four hundred years is safe; especially as we know absolutely nothing about the vast majority of them except the official panegyric. Where we do know a little it is "St." Victor, and "St." Callistus, and "St." Damasus, the tickler of women’s ears.
As to the "martyrs," who make the early Roman Church so fragrant, the Encyclopædia is, as I said, tantalizing. It duly confesses, in most of the articles, that the "Acts of the Martyrs" are late and unreliable; but the legend is reproduced in such a way, and the modern criticism is often so obscurely expressed, that the average Catholic will continue, to take his "pious romances" as lightly embroidered fact.
From the fourth century onward the list of the Popes undergoes a remarkable change. Up to that point we have a solid and unbroken line of saints. From the fifth century the "St." becomes rare, and it presently disappears altogether. No explanation of this remarkable phenomenon is offered. It looks as if in the wicked days of the Roman Empire everybody was a saint, but that from the moment when the Empire is wholly converted to Christianity it becomes increasingly difficult, and ultimately impossible, in spite of the hundred-fold increase of the clergy, to find a saint for the supreme office. Some readers may prefer to think that, while the earlier Popes are almost all unknown to us, the later Popes are too well known; or that the Romans of the fourth and fifth and sixth centuries, who canonized all their predecessors, had too much sense of humour to canonize the men they knew. But a profane historian must not speculate on these matters.
Then we come to the adventurous Popes of the eighth and ninth and tenth centuries. There is in a Catholic publication a great advantage in scattering the Popes over sixteen large volumes instead of giving, as the Encyclopædia declines to give, a connected record of their lives. The Catholic does not get the cumulative sense of horror. He does not perceive that it is not a question of an occasional bad man, but of the degradation of the" Holy See" during long periods, of a century or more; and therefore his faith in the "supernatural gift" is less strained.
Of ambitious struggles for the Papacy, of violent and corrupt conclaves, of forged credentials, and so on, there is hardly any mention. Indeed, apart from one or two Popes who are claimed to have been mere pretenders (and are dyed as black as you like), only three of the Popes – John XII, Benedict IX, and Alexander VI – are admitted to have been bad men! One or two others may be "suspected," or "not above reproach," or immoral before they became Popes; but that is all. The rest is slander of the Holy Fathers. If you put end to end the biographies of the Popes in these sixteen volumes, you get a marvel1ous record of sanctity and devotion to the cause of humanity, interrupted only by three quite black sheep and two or three slightly spotted. Let us see how it is done.
There is Stephen IV, who begins the amiable practice of cutting out men’s eyes, after winning office by the swords of the Lombards. Well, Father Mann (one of the leading whitewashers, author of a history of the Popes in ten volumes which will supply whitewash for generations to come) assures us that it is "generally allowed" that Stephen was "unable to hinder" these barbarities. No such thing is allowed, of course, because, as I recorded, Stephen himself told Pope Hadrian, who tells us the fact in the very authoritative Pontifical Book, that he ordered the eyes of Christopher and Sergius to be put out as part of a bargain with Didier. This well-known passage Father Mann suppresses; and of the murder of Christopher and the blinding of Sergius by the Pope’s order he blandly observes that King Didier "in some mysterious manner effected the fall of the Pope’s chief ministers"!
I take next Boniface VI, whose disreputable character is discreetly veiled, and the appalling Sergius, who is boldly defended against every charge. We are assured, on Father Mann’s authority, that Sergius had no improper relations with Marozia (though Duchesne and other Catholic authorities admit this, and no serious historian doubts the evidence), and did not murder anybody. There is merely a grudging concession that he was rather a violent man, in a violent age. The little episode of the corpse of Form os us is not stressed. The "scientific method" of doing this is simple. When the contemporary writer Vulgarius assures us that Sergius was a murderer and a comprehensive blackguard, he is declared to be unreliable. When he (after being grimly summoned to Rome by Sergius) changes his note and sings the high and chaste virtues of Sergius and Theodora and Marozia, he is grossly quoted as an authority. When Bishop Liutprand tells us the vices of the Popes, he is quite unreliable; when he or any other writer mentions a good deed, it is put into the record without reserve.
By this method John X is next whitewashed by Father Kirsch (Professor at Freiburg), Father Mann’s chief rival in the art. The charge against John’s virtue is tossed aside as quite a foolish slander, on the ground that his supposed lover, Theodora, was advanced in years at the time (which is not stated) and was very virtuous (on the authority of Vulgarius in his second phase). I have in my history of the Papacy shown that Theodora may even have been in her thirties, as anybody can calculate, at the time which is suggested by Liutprand.
John XII is abandoned by the most heroic of apologists. His crimes are too notorious and varied. John XV and other shady Holy Fathers of that awful period are, however, resolutely varnished. Benedict VIII, the Count who seized the Papacy in 1003, is presented to us as a "great and strong ruler," but the apologetic ardour again fails before the notoriety of the crimes and vices of Benedict IX, whose monumental misdeeds are, however, lightly touched. Then we reach the period of good Popes, like Hildebrand, whose vagaries are buried under mounds of fragrant panegyric. So far the Encyclopædists have found only two bad Popes in a thousand years, and have conveyed not the faintest impression what Rome was like during the early Middle Ages.
All the ghastly fights for the Holy Seat before and after Hildebrand are ignored, and we wander through the flowery meads of the Middle Ages, as depicted by Catholics. Even the pontificate of Boniface VIII does not arrest the whitewash-brush. You will remember how Boniface got rid of the poor hermit, Celestine V, and wore the tiara for him; how he imprisoned the man, and is said by a reputable authority to have made an end of him; and how, in a posthumous trial, high-placed ecclesiastics deposed on oath that he was guilty of every vice. Yet to this man about eighteen columns of panegyric are devoted, and we are told that he was "one of the most remarkable pontiffs that ever occupied the Papal throne." But Professor Oestreich settles all that. It is "now" proved that Celestine voluntarily abdicated – which he certainly did not – and that his "detention" was "a simple measure of prudence." The indictment of Boniface under Clement V is now admitted by "grave historians" (only Bishop Hefele, another experienced whitewasher, is mentioned) to be sheer calumny; and, after all, he was not found guilty (for reasons that we saw). So Boniface fills several glowing pages of the Encyclopædia.
The Clements of Avignon are cleared with a few strokes of the Encyclopædic brush. Clement V was an admirable man. Clement VI was "a lover of good cheer"; his financial methods were "arbitrary"; he is even charged with "gross nepotism." The real scandal of his pontificate is not seen. Then there is the egregious John XXIII, whose comprehensive crimes and vices were laid bare by the Council of Constance; and all that we learn about him is that "his moral life was not above reproach, and his unscrupulous methods in no wise accorded with the requirements of his high office"!
Let us finish with it. Callistus III, who introduced the Borgia and idly let his Court sink, was a "man of lofty ideals, of boundless courage, energy, and perseverance." Sixtus IV, who deeply corrupted the College of Cardinals, is painted in all the colours of virtue and greatness. Innocent VIII, who smiled on the corruption and adopted Prince Jem (and the spear of Longinus), is admitted (seeing that his son and daughter were the most familiar figures of Rome) to have been loose in his youth, and it is politely regretted that he "resorted to the objectionable expedient" of selling sacred offices to the highest bidder; but otherwise he comes out well. The vices of Alexander VI are admitted (seeing that the Vatican has legal documents relating to his children); but the flagrant simony of his election is merely "not improbable" on a small scale, and of his later crimes and licence, in the Vatican, the reader gets no idea. Of Julius II it is admitted that his life as cardinal was" far from stainless " – a delicious phrase when the writer admits he had three daughters – but otherwise his grave defects are concealed and his character and deeds utterly perverted. Leo X is treated with even greater leniency; while Paul III, whose well-known irregularities are not mentioned, is boldly described as winning promotion by his brilliant ability, and not a word is said about his sister’s liaison with the Pope who promoted him!
That is "Catholic Truth" and "Catholic scholarship." It is, quite seriously, typical of the highest Catholic literature. Hefele, Gasquet, and all the rest are just as sophistical. Pastor’s History of the Popes is the sole outstanding exception, but, as I have, frequently shown, even that is often lacking in candour, and the total picture is false because good and evil are not equally discussed. Father Mann’s History of the Popes is like his articles: learned, based upon the original sources, but utterly lacking in sense of scholarship, a reckless partisan tract from beginning to end. Of more popular literature, or of other applications of "Catholic scholarship," I need not speak. I have justified my word. Catholics are forbidden to read the truth. What is purveyed to them under the name of "Catholic Truth" is a monstrous perversion of science and history. Not one Catholic in a million knows the true story of the "Holy See." And now their writers boast that they lent their assistance in the compilation of the last edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica and have contributed to the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics.