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The Historical Library is provided for those doing research into the history of nontheism. It is not intended to be--and should not be used as--a source of modern, up-to-date information regarding atheistic issues. DO NOT CONTACT US ABOUT THESE DOCUMENTS. Please read the full Historical Library Disclaimer

CHAPTER V
THE CATHOLIC ATMOSPHERE

ONE of the cherished phrases of those expert phrasemakers, the leaders of the Catholic clergy, is "the Catholic atmosphere." Catholics must have their own journals, their own literature, their own science and art, their own clubs, their own schools - even, to judge by the trade-columns in their journals, their own sausages and lingerie. They must live in a "Catholic atmosphere." And the reader will now be quite prepared to believe that they do. What is it, and how is it manufactured?

The first constituent of this Catholic atmosphere - its oxygen, so to say - is the distinction between the world and the Catholic world. It is like the distinction between truth and Catholic truth. The world, we saw, is, in the opinion of a Catholic, a compound of Edgar Allan Poe and the Arabian Nights; a place of evil genii and horrors, a "vale of tears" from which one yearns' to be released, a Bridge of Sighs, a death-trap, a chaos of wickedness, a furious and relentless enemy of the Holy Catholic Church. This is the language of modern Papal encyclicals, hymns, prayer-books, and sermons; not merely of the writings of St. Bernard or Innocent III.

The reader will no doubt object that here I depart from the tone of moderation and scrupulous accuracy which I have so far sustained. His Catholic neighbour does not behave as if he believed this. He does not glance nervously down the street when he issues from his house, and so on. I have allowed that in this respect the Catholic does not believe more than half of what he addresses to the Almighty in hymns and prayers, or what he reads in Papal encyclicals. But he does believe half of it. His three traditional enemies are "the world, the flesh, and the devil," and he is as sure of the first and third as of the second. All this exaggerated language has, and is intended to have, a certain effect. It leaves the Catholic vaguely convinced that the priceless and beneficent action of the Church throughout the ages is thwarted by the "world" and the devil.

What is the world? Simply you and I. Inanimate nature, even the cows and cats, have no grudge against the Church. It is the non-Catholic humans who make up this hostile world. Many of them are now generally acknowledged to be "in good faith"; but, of course, they are unacquainted with the glories of Catholic belief and practice, or they would at once enter the Church. Let me repeat that I am not caricaturing. This is familiar Catholic language. The task of the Church is to instruct them in its glories, to "convert" them. But here the wicked element of the world thwarts it. Sometimes the devil uses quite well-meaning but ignorant Protestants. Sometimes - very largely, in fact - men think they can enjoy disordered lives better outside the Church (a curious illusion), and so they remain out. But the chief Satanic manifestation, the world in its most vicious shape, is the anti-Catholic writer; above all the apostate priest, who, of course, secretly believes in Catholicism, but is moved by some mad and mysterious rage against it and will have his reward.

This childish attitude is really the common Catholic outlook; and the reader will begin to see the ingenuity of the system. Drench your people with very emphatic assurances that these writers of the "world" are melodramatic ruffians, pursuing innocence out of sheer devilry, or, at the best, very poor-brained and quite ignorant scribblers; and the majority will not want to read them.

The advertiser of Jones's soap tells you that you are in grave danger of contracting an eruption of the skin if you allow yourself to be seduced by the lying advertisements of Brown's soap. But the advertiser of the Catholic faith says you are in grave danger of eternal damnation if you merely read the advertisements of the other firm!

That is the practical outcome of the matter. One Church alone in the civilized world tells you that you run a grave risk of burning eternally if you read what other Churches say about it or about themselves. One Church alone puts the reading of criticisms of its history and doctrines on a level with sexual indulgence, or even murder. That is the Catholic Church; and it takes this supremely bold step on the strength of its constant, emphatic, solemn distinction between the world and the Catholic world, the truth and Catholic truth. It creates its own atmosphere, and damns all other atmospheres. If a Catholic young man reads a criticism of his Church, or attends a lecture criticizing his Church, he sins as grievously as if he went to a brothel. Nay, on the recognized principles of Catholic theology, he would do far better to visit a prostitute than to read an anti-Catholic book or hear an apostate priest lecture. The one sin can be easily repaired; the other leads to irreparable loss of faith.

As I said on an earlier page, this system is successful with the overwhelming majority of Catholics. They will not read bad (that is to say, critical) books. If it occurs to them that they ought to read the other side, they are assured that Catholic writers faithfully tell them the other side. There is even a trick - it is done in Jesuit churches to-day - of putting a priest in the congregation during the sermon, so that he may rise from the benches at the close and put the case of the "Atheist" or the Protestant. What he puts is, of course, a miserable dilution or sheer travesty of the other side.

The next step is the slander of anti-Catholic writers. If this seems a more humane procedure than burning them, a proof of real advance, we must remember that the improvement is in "the world," not the Church. Non-Catholics often imagine that the. Catholic Church has, like all others, abandoned the idea that heretics ought to be burned. Not in the least. A new tactic in controversy has, it is true, brought about a less truculent attitude towards Protestants - in Protestant countries. There is some hope of their salvation. They are not all relegated to hell with the old cheerfulness. They are "our separated brethren." Rome does not like this language, but it has to overlook it.

With seceders and other classes of opponents the Church is not so accommodating. The contention that they cannot possibly enter heaven, and will ,most probably all go to hell, does not perhaps pain them. But many of them will be astonished to know that the Church still thirsts for their blood. It is only this wicked modern "world" that saves them from the fate they deserve. Probably the majority of Catholics are as ignorant of this as of the sale of indulgences or the facts of Papal history, and it is advisable to give an authority which cannot be questioned.

The law of the Church - "Canon Law" it is called - is a very large code of laws, on which a certain proportion of the clergy have to specialize. The great majority of the clergy know scarcely more than the laity about it. Treatises and compendiums of it are occasionally issued, and I open one of the most recent and authoritative of these compendiums: the Institutiones Juris Ecclesiastici Publici of the Jesuit Father Marianus de Luca (1901). He was a professor of the Papal University at Rome; his work is issued from the Vatican press; it is accompanied by a strong letter of approval from the "liberal" Pope, Leo XIII.

A section deals with the Church's relation to heretics. In the technical sense of Canon Law, a heretic means a seceder from the Church; a man or woman who has been baptized in the Church and has quitted it. It does not mean any person who holds beliefs differing from those of the Church. The essential difference is, of course, that the Church does not recognize "good faith" in a seceder. How could any man of normal intelligence, instructed in those wonderful truths which I have described, ever seriously doubt or disbelieve them? That is the Church's principle and the general Catholic attitude. And the Church draws its own conclusions. I translate them literally from the Latin text of this modern manual of "Public Church Law":

When the inviolable right of any society begins to be assailed and denied, we have then above all to assert and vindicate it. Now, if ever this was done, it is especially in our age that we see the right of inflicting upon the guilty whatever penalties be necessary, however severe, particularly what is called "the right of the sword," denied to the perfect society, and the death-sentence buried among dead laws. ... Against these Regalists and their modern followers we affirm that the Church has a coercive power even to the extent of the death-sentence. We start with the vindication of this right for the Church, both on account of opponents who loudly accuse our mother the Church of unjust and wicked action in sentencing heretics to death, especially of putting to death certain leaders of heresy and apostates, and because from the right to inflict capital punishment we easily deduce the right to inflict lesser penalties (vol. i, p. 142).
  The death-sentence is a necessary and efficacious means for the Church to attain its end when rebels against it and disturbers of the ecclesiastical unity, especially obstinate heretics and heresiarchs, cannot be restrained by any other penalty from continuing to derange the ecclesiastical order and impelling others to all sorts of crime, particularly ecclesiastical crime. ... When the perversity of one or several is calculated to bring about the ruin of many of its children it is bound effectively to remove it, in such wise that if there be no other remedy for saving its people it can and must put these wicked men to death (vol. i, p. 143).

There are eight pages of this amiable sophistry, making the position of the modern Vatican so plain that even an English or American Jesuit cannot obscure it. A little later, moreover, there is an express section "On Heretics," and ten further pages lament the wickedness of a world which disputes the Church's right to dip its holy hands in their blood. "Unbelievers," it says (p. 270), "who have at one time belonged to the faith, such as heretics and all apostates, may, absolutely and by common law, be visited with corporal punishment, and even death, for deserting the faith, and may be compelled to resume it." But the people who have not been baptized in the Catholic faith must not feel too secure. Father de Luca and Leo XIII have an eye on them. It seems that "unbelievers" (in the Catholic Church) "who live under a Catholic monarch (such as the Vatican hopes some day to see in England and the United States) " are to be compelled to accept the faith, if it is possible, so that they may not obstruct the faith, either by blasphemy or by evil persuasion or by open persecution." Once baptized, of course, they come under the law of "heretics." The Church not only may, but must, put them to death. [1]

The wicked world now prevents the Church from carrying out these savage maxims, but it is clear that, if there were any possibility of the Church attaining again in the English-speaking world the power it once had, they would be put into force. As this is obviously impossible, the clergy do the best they can. If you cannot remove a "scabby sheep" out of existence altogether, make him so scabby that the healthy members of the flock will keep away from him. Paint him black. In my autobiography (Twelve Tears in a Monastery) I show with what indecent haste my late sacerdotal colleagues put this machinery in motion against me; and it continues to this day. This might in a Catholic atmosphere be done by bell, book, and candle - by excommunication - but, like the Index, this picturesque rite is not now much used. Somehow the sonorous threats do not seem any longer to disturb people. By my secession from the priesthood, for instance, I have incurred (without any special sentence being passed) "major excommunication," which is a really dreadful thing. Yet I have never lost five minutes' sleep over it.

The third chief source of Catholic power is diplomatic and any other kind of intrigue. One generally has to wait a generation to get proof of this, and I have in my works given abundance of such proof. But it goes on incessantly. Any person can judge for himself whether the Catholic Church in England has not had secret dealings with politicians over the Irish Catholic vote and to get places on the honours list. I could at any time produce witnesses to whom Catholics have boasted that they can get into the English Civil Service, which is packed with Irish Catholics, more easily than Protestants, and that they can get immigration laws relaxed in their favour. Others have told me how they have heard priests bully booksellers into putting works of mine out of sight or editors into refraining from reviewing them. I have seen myself a letter from the Westminster Catholic Federation threatening to boycott a publisher who had advertised me to edit and write a large work - he was compelled to ask me to withdraw after signing the contract - and the same Federation was compelled to apologize in the Agony Column of The Times (August 9th, 1929) for boasting of its share in the last edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. The intrigue goes on daily from Whitehall to even small towns.

In the United States this phase of the activity of the Church is so notorious that I need scarcely enlarge on it. I was assured in Chicago, the second city of America, by an ex-priest that he went to court with a just ground of complaint of a scandalous libel, and was put out of court by a Catholic judge. Boston and San Francisco are riddled with Catholic intrigue. The course of justice is repeatedly thwarted, offices are corruptly secured, political and other elections are influenced. Priests appeal plaintively in public for their rights as a minority and press the soundness of their American citizenship; and in private they have books like that of Father Marianus de Luca, which lay down, as the official doctrine of the Church, that when Catholics are in power religious minorities have no rights whatever, non-Catholic Churches cannot be suffered to exist, anti-Catholic literature cannot be tolerated, and "heretics" must be put to death.

By these means the Catholic laity are not merely kept in a special murky atmosphere which explains their adhesion to the remarkable doctrines I have described, but they are actively enlisted in the work of the Church. There are two hymns which are sung with especial fervour by Catholic congregations. The refrain of one is:

Faith of our Fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword,
We will be true to thee till death.

Half the young men who sing this with tremendous vigour are in all other matters than religion trying to get away from the "faith of our fathers." They think it musty, narrow, a stupid relic of the Middle Ages. The refrain of the other hymn is:

God bless our Pope, the great, the good.

As they sing, they seem to have dimly in mind the long line of saintly and august pontiffs who make (Catholic literature tells them) almost a miracle of the history of the Papacy. I have now described the atmosphere in which it is possible for them to retain these childlike beliefs. It remains to discuss the character of the clergy who make that atmosphere.

Note.- The intrigues of the Catholic Church in every country in our own time and its share in bringing on the world-tragedy are fully proved in my Papacy in Politics To-day (1937, 1s. edition 1939, Watts & Co.).

Notes:
[1] In 1918 the Vatican published a new Code if Canon Law in which nothing is said about the death-sentence. But this is merely what canonists call "private" not "public" law, and it expressly states that all the old laws which are of "divine right" (as the law of death is described) hold good.

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The Historical Library is provided for those doing research into the history of nontheism. It is not intended to be--and should not be used as--a source of modern, up-to-date information regarding atheistic issues. DO NOT CONTACT US ABOUT THESE DOCUMENTS. Please read the full Historical Library Disclaimer
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