Sermon 15. The Pope and the Revolution

"And I say to thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Matt. xvi. 18, 19.

{281} THIS day, the feast of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has been specially devoted by our Ecclesiastical Superiors to be a day of prayer for the Sovereign Pontiff, our Holy Father, Pope Pius the Ninth.

His Lordship, our Bishop, has addressed a Pastoral Letter to his clergy upon the subject, and at the end of it he says, "Than that festival none can be more appropriate, as it is especially devoted to celebrating the triumphs of the Holy See obtained by prayer. We therefore propose and direct that on the Festival of the Rosary, the chief Mass in each church and chapel of our diocese be celebrated with as much solemnity as circumstances {282} will allow of. And that after the Mass the Psalm Miserere and the Litany of the Saints be sung or recited. That the faithful be invited to offer one communion for the Pope's intention. And that, where it can be done, one part at least of the Rosary be publicly said at some convenient time in the church, for the same intention."

Then he adds: "In the Sermon at the Mass of the Festival, it is our wish that the preacher should instruct the faithful on their obligations to the Holy See, and on the duty especially incumbent on us at this time of praying for the Pope."

I. "Our obligations to the Holy See." What Catholic can doubt of our obligations to the Holy See? especially what Catholic under the shadow and teaching of St. Philip Neri can doubt those obligations, in both senses of the word "obligation," the tie of duty and the tie of gratitude?

1. For first as to duty. Our duty to the Holy See, to the Chair of St. Peter, is to be measured by what the Church teaches us concerning that Holy See and concerning him who sits in it. Now St. Peter, who first occupied it, was the Vicar of Christ. You know well, my Brethren, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who suffered on the Cross for us, thereby bought for us the kingdom of heaven. "When Thou hadst overcome the sting of death," says the hymn, "Thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to those who believe." He opens, and He shuts; He gives grace, He withdraws it; He judges, He pardons, He condemns. Accordingly, He speaks of Himself in the Apocalypse as "Him who is the Holy {283} and the True, Him that hath the key of David (the key, that is, of the chosen king of the chosen people), Him that openeth and no man shutteth, that shutteth and no man openeth." And what our Lord, the Supreme Judge, is in heaven, that was St. Peter on earth; he had those keys of the kingdom, according to the text, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven."

Next, let it be considered, that kingdom, which our Lord set up with St. Peter at its head, was decreed in the counsels of God to last to the end of all things, according to the words I have just quoted, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." And again, "Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." And in the words of the prophet Isaias, speaking of that divinely established Church, then in the future, "This is My covenant with them, My Spirit that is in thee, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever." And the prophet Daniel says, "The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed ... and it shall break in pieces and shall consume all those kingdoms (of the earth, which went before it), and itself shall stand for ever."

That kingdom our Lord set up when He came on {284} earth, and especially after His resurrection; for we are told by St. Luke that this was His gracious employment, when He visited the Apostles from time to time, during the forty days which intervened between Easter Day and the day of His Ascension. "He showed Himself alive to the Apostles," says the Evangelist, "after His passion by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them and speaking of the kingdom of God." And accordingly, when at length He had ascended on high, and had sent down "the promise of His Father," the Holy Ghost, upon His Apostles, they forthwith entered upon their high duties, and brought that kingdom or Church into shape, and supplied it with members, and enlarged it, and carried it into all lands. As to St. Peter, he acted as the head of the Church, according to the previous words of Christ; and, still according to his Lord's supreme will, he at length placed himself in the See of Rome, where he was martyred.

And what was then done, in its substance cannot be undone. "God is not as a man that He should lie, nor as the son of man, that He should change. Hath He said then, and shall He not do? hath He spoken, and will He not fulfil?" And, as St. Paul says, "the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance." His Church then, in all necessary matters, is as unchangeable as He. Its framework, its polity, its ranks, its offices, its creed, its privileges, the promises made to it, its fortunes in the world, are ever what they have been.

Therefore, as it was in the world, but not of the world, in the Apostles' time, so it is now:—as it was "in honour and dishonour, in evil report and good {285} report, as chastised but not killed, as having nothing and possessing all things," in the Apostles' times, so it is now:—as then it taught the truth, so it does now; as then it had the sacraments of grace, so has it now; as then it had a hierarchy or holy government of Bishops, priests, and deacons, so has it now; and as it had a Head then, so must it have a head now. Who is that visible Head now? who is now the vicar of Christ? who has now the keys of the kingdom of heaven, as St. Peter had then? Who is it now who binds and looses on earth, that our Lord may bind and loose in heaven? Who, I say, if a successor to St. Peter there must be, who is that successor in his sovereign authority over the Church? It is he who sits in St. Peter's chair: it is the Bishop of Rome. We all know this; it is part of our faith; I am not proving it to you, my Brethren. The visible headship of the Church, which was with St. Peter while he lived, has been lodged ever since in his Chair: the successors in his headship are the successors in his Chair, that continuous line of Bishops of Rome, or Popes, as they are called, one after another, as years have rolled on, one dying and another coming, down to this day, when we see Pius the Ninth sustaining the weight of the glorious Apostolate, and that for twenty years past,—a tremendous weight, a ministry involving momentous duties, innumerable anxieties, and immense responsibilities, as it ever has done.

And now, though I might say much more about the prerogatives of the Holy Father, the visible head of the Church, I have said more than enough for the purpose which has led to my speaking about him at all. I have {286} said that, like St. Peter, he is the Vicar of his Lord. He can judge, and he can acquit; he can pardon, and he can condemn; he can command and he can permit; he can forbid, and he can punish. He has a Supreme jurisdiction over the people of God. He can stop the ordinary course of sacramental mercies; he can excommunicate from the ordinary grace of redemption; and he can remove again the ban which he has inflicted. It is the rule of Christ's providence, that what His Vicar does in severity or in mercy upon earth, He Himself confirms in heaven. And in saying all this I have said enough for my purpose, because that purpose is to define our obligations to him. That is the point on which our Bishop has fixed our attention; "our obligations to the Holy See;" and what need I say more to measure our own duty to it and to him who sits in it, than to say that in his administration of Christ's kingdom, in his religious acts, we must never oppose his will, or dispute his word, or criticise his policy, or shrink from his side? There are kings of the earth who have despotic authority, which their subjects obey indeed but disown in their hearts; but we must never murmur at that absolute rule which the Sovereign Pontiff has over us, because it is given to him by Christ, and, in obeying him, we are obeying his Lord. We must never suffer ourselves to doubt, that, in his government of the Church, he is guided by an intelligence more than human. His yoke is the yoke of Christ, he has the responsibility of his own acts, not we; and to his Lord must he render account, not to us. Even in secular matters it is ever safe to be on his side, dangerous to be on the side of his enemies. {287} Our duty is,—not indeed to mix up Christ's Vicar with this or that party of men, because he in his high station is above all parties,—but to look at his formal deeds, and to follow him whither he goeth, and never to desert him, however we may be tried, but to defend him at all hazards, and against all comers, as a son would a father, and as a wife a husband, knowing that his cause is the cause of God. And so, as regards his successors, if we live to see them; it is our duty to give them in like manner our dutiful allegiance and our unfeigned service, and to follow them also whithersoever they go, having that same confidence that each in his turn and in his own day will do God's work and will, which we have felt in their predecessors, now taken away to their eternal reward.

2. And now let us consider our obligations to the Sovereign Pontiff in the second sense, which is contained under the word "obligation." "In the Sermon in the Mass," says the Bishop, "it is our wish that the preacher should instruct the faithful on their obligations to the Holy See;" and certainly those obligations, that is, the claims of the Holy See upon our gratitude, are very great. We in this country owe our highest blessings to the See of St. Peter,—to the succession of Bishops who have filled his Apostolic chair. For first it was a Pope who sent missionaries to this island in the first age of the Church, when the island was yet in pagan darkness. Then again, when our barbarous ancestors, the Saxons, crossed over from the Continent and overran the country, who but a Pope, St. Gregory the First, sent over St. Augustine and his companions to {288} convert them to Christianity? and by God's grace they and their successors did this great work in the course of a hundred years. From that time, twelve hundred years ago, our nation has ever been Christian. And then in the lawless times which followed, and the break-up of the old world all over Europe, and the formation of the new, it was the Popes, humanly speaking, who saved the religion of Christ from being utterly lost and coming to an end, and not in England only, but on the Continent; that is, our Lord made use of that succession of His Vicars, to fulfil His gracious promise, that His Religion should never fail. The Pope and the Bishops of the Church, acting together in that miserable time, rescued from destruction all that makes up our present happiness, spiritual and temporal. Without them the world would have relapsed into barbarism—but God willed otherwise; and especially the Roman Pontiffs, the successors of St. Peter, the centre of Catholic Unity, the Vicars of Christ, wrought manfully in the cause of faith and charity, fulfilling in their own persons the divine prophecy anew, which primarily had related to the Almighty Redeemer Himself: "I have laid help upon One that is mighty, and I have exalted One chosen out of the people. I have found David My servant, with My holy oil have I anointed him. For My hand shall help him, and My arm shall strengthen him. The enemy shall have no advantage over him, nor the son of iniquity have power to hurt him. I will cut down his enemies before his face, and them that hate him I will put to flight. And My truth and My mercy shall be with him, and in My Name shall his horn be exalted. He shall cry out to {289} Me, Thou art my Father, my God, and the support of my salvation. And I will make him My first-born, high above the kings of the earth. I will keep My mercy for him for ever, and My covenant shall be faithful to him."

And the Almighty did this in pity towards His people, and for the sake of His religion, and by virtue of His promise, and for the merits of the most precious blood of His own dearly-beloved Son, whom the Popes represented. As Moses and Aaron, as Josue, as Samuel, as David, were the leaders of the Lord's host in the old time, and carried on the chosen people of Israel from age to age, in spite of their enemies round about, so have the Popes from the beginning of the Gospel, and especially in those middle ages when anarchy prevailed, been faithful servants of their Lord, watching and fighting against sin and injustice and unbelief and ignorance, and spreading abroad far and wide the knowledge of Christian truth.

Such they have been in every age, and such are the obligations which mankind owes to them; and if I am to pass on to speak of the present Pontiff, and of our own obligations to him, then I would have you recollect, my Brethren, that it is he who has taken the Catholics of England out of their unformed state and made them a Church. He it is who has redressed a misfortune of nearly three hundred years' standing. Twenty years ago we were a mere collection of individuals; but Pope Pius has brought us together, has given us Bishops, and created out of us a body politic, which (please God), as time goes on, will play an important part in Christendom, {290} with a character, an intellect, and a power of its own, with schools of its own, with a definite influence in the counsels of the Holy Church Catholic, as England had of old time.

This has been his great act towards our country; and then specially, as to his great act towards us here, towards me. One of his first acts after he was Pope was, in his great condescension, to call me to Rome; then, when I got there, he bade me send for my friends to be with me; and he formed us into an Oratory. And thus it came to pass that, on my return to England, I was able to associate myself with others who had not gone to Rome, till we were so many in number, that not only did we establish our own Oratory here, whither the Pope had specially sent us, but we found we could throw off from us a colony of zealous and able priests into the metropolis, and establish there, with the powers with which the Pope had furnished me, and the sanction of the late Cardinal, that Oratory which has done and still does so much good among the Catholics of London.

Such is the Pope now happily reigning in the chair of St. Peter; such are our personal obligations to him; such has he been towards England, such towards us, towards you, my Brethren. Such he is in his benefits, and great as are the claims of those benefits upon us, great equally are the claims on us of his personal character and of his many virtues. He is one whom to see is to love, one who overcomes even strangers, even enemies, by his very look and voice; whose presence subdues, whose memory haunts, even the sturdy, resolute mind of the English Protestant. Such is the Holy Father of Christendom, {291} the worthy successor of a long and glorious line. Such is he; and, great as he is in office, and in his beneficent acts and virtuous life, as great is he in the severity of his trials, in the complication of his duties, and in the gravity of his perils,—perils which are at this moment closing him in on every side; and therefore it is, on account of the crisis of the long-protracted troubles of his pontificate which seems near at hand, that our Bishop has set apart this day, the feast of the Holy Rosary, for special solemnities, and has directed us to "instruct the faithful on their obligations to the Holy See," and not only so, but also "on the duty especially incumbent on us at this time of praying for the Pope."

II. This then is the second point to which I have to direct your attention, my Brethren—the duty of praying for the Holy Father; but, before doing so, I must tell you what the Pope's long-protracted troubles are about, and what the crisis is, which seems approaching:—I will do it in as few words as I can.

More than a thousand years ago, nay near upon fifteen hundred, began that great struggle, which I spoke of just now, between the old and the new inhabitants of this part of the world. Whole populations of barbarians overran the whole face of the country, that is, of England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and the rest of Europe. They were heathens, and they got the better of the Christians; and religion seemed likely to fail together with that old Christian stock. But, as I have said, the Pope and the Bishops of the Church took heart, and set about converting the newcomers, as in a former age they had converted those who now had come to misfortune; and, {292} through God's mercy, they succeeded. The Saxon English,—Anglo-Saxons, as they are called,—are among those whom the Pope converted, as I said just now. The new convert peoples, as you may suppose, were very grateful to the Pope and the Bishops, and they showed their gratitude by giving them large possessions, which were of great use, in the bad times that followed, in maintaining the influence of Christianity in the world. Thus the Catholic Church became rich and powerful. The Bishops became princes, and the Pope became a Sovereign Ruler, with a large extent of country all his own. This state of things lasted for many hundred years; and the Pope and Bishops became richer and richer, and more and more powerful, until at length the Protestant revolt took place, three hundred years ago, and ever since that time, they have, in a temporal point of view, become of less and less importance, and less and less prosperous. Generation after generation the enemies of the Church, on the other hand, have become bolder and bolder, more powerful, and more successful in their measures against the Catholic faith. By this time the Church has well-nigh lost all its wealth and all its power; its Bishops have been degraded from their high places in the world, and in many countries have scarcely more, or not more, of weight or of privilege than the ministers of the sects which have split off from it. However, though the Bishops lost, as time went on, their temporal rank, the Pope did not lose his; he has been an exception to the rule; according to the Providence of God, he has retained Rome, and the territories round about Rome, far and wide, as his own possession without let or hindrance. {293} But now at length, by the operation of the same causes which have destroyed the power of the Bishops, the Holy Father too is in danger of losing his temporal possessions. For the last hundred years he has had from time to time serious reverses, but he recovered his ground. Six years ago he lost the greater part of his dominions,—all but Rome and the country immediately about it,—and now the worst of difficulties has occurred as regards the territory which remains to him. His enemies have succeeded, as it would seem, in persuading at least a large portion of his subjects to side with them. This is a real and very trying difficulty. While his subjects are for him, no one can have a word to say against his temporal rule; but who can force a Sovereign on a people which deliberately rejects him? You may attempt it for a while, but at length the people, if they persist, will get their way.

They give out then, that the Pope's government is behind the age,—that once indeed it was as good as other governments, but that now other governments have improved, and his has not,—that he can neither keep order within his territory, nor defend it from attacks from without,—that his police and his finances are in a bad state,—that his people are discontented within,—that he does not show them how to become rich,—that he keeps them from improving their minds,—that he treats them as children,—that he opens no career for young and energetic minds, but condemns them to inactivity and sloth,—that he is an old man,—that he is an ecclesiastic,—that, considering his great spiritual duties, he has no time left him for temporal {294} concerns,—and that a bad religious government is a scandal to religion.

I have stated their arguments as fairly as I can, but you must not for an instant suppose, my Brethren, that I therefore admit either their principles or their facts. It is a paradox to say that ecclesiastical and temporal power can never lawfully, religiously, and usefully be joined together. Look at what are called the middle ages,—that is, the period which intervenes between the old Roman Empire and the modern world; as I have said, the Pope and the Bishops saved religion and civil order from destruction in those tempestuous times,—and they did so by means of the secular power which they possessed. So much for the fact; next, going on to the principles which the Pope's enemies lay down as so very certain, who, that has any pretension to be a religious man, will grant to them that progress in temporal prosperity is the greatest of goods, and that everything else, however sacred, must give way before it? On the contrary, health, long life, security, liberty, knowledge, are certainly great goods, but the possession of heaven is a far greater good than all of them together. With all the progress in worldly happiness which we possibly could make, we could not make ourselves immortal,—death must come; that will be a time when riches and worldly knowledge will avail us nothing, and true faith, and divine love, and a past life of obedience will be all in all to us. If we were driven to choose between the two, it would be a hundred times better to be Lazarus in this world, than to be Dives in the next.

However, the best answer to their arguments is contained {295} in sacred history, which supplies us with a very apposite and instructive lesson on the subject, and to it I am now going to refer.

Now observe in the first place, no Catholic maintains that that rule of the Pope, as a king, in Rome and its provinces, which men are now hoping to take from him, is, strictly speaking, what is called a Theocracy, that is, a Divine Government. His government, indeed, in spiritual matters, in the Catholic Church throughout the world, might be called a Theocracy, because he is the Vicar of Christ, and has the assistance of the Holy Ghost; but not such is his kingly rule in his own dominions. On the other hand, the rule exercised over the chosen people, the Israelites, by Moses, Josue, Gideon, Eli, and Samuel, was a Theocracy: God was the King of the Israelites, not Moses and the rest,—they were but Vicars or Vicegerents of the Eternal Lord who brought the nation out of Egypt. Now, when men object that the Pope's Government of his own States is not what it should be, and that therefore he ought to lose them, because the rule of a religious ruler should be perfect or not at all, I take them at their word, if they are Christians, and refer them to the state of things among the Israelites after the time of Moses, during the very centuries when they even had God for their King. Was that a period of peace, prosperity, and contentment? Is it an argument against the Divine Perfections, that it was not such a period? Why is it then to be the condemnation of the Popes, who are but men, that their rule is but parallel in its characteristics to that of the King of Israel, who was God? He indeed has His own all-wise purposes {296} for what He does; He knows the end from the beginning; He could have made His government as perfect and as prosperous as might have been expected from the words of Moses concerning it, as perfect and prosperous as, from the words of the Prophets, our anticipations might have been about the earthly reign of the Messias. But this He did not do, because from the first He made that perfection and that prosperity dependent upon the free will, upon the cooperation of His people. Their loyal obedience to Him was the condition, expressly declared by Him, of His fulfilling His promises. He proposed to work out His purposes through them, and, when they refused their share in the work, everything went wrong. Now they did refuse from the first; so that from the very first, He says of them emphatically, that they were a "stiffnecked people." This was at the beginning of their history; and close upon the end of it, St. Stephen, inspired by the Holy Ghost, repeats the divine account of them: "You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do you also." In consequence of this obstinate disobedience, I say, God's promises were not fulfilled to them. That long lapse of five or six hundred years, during which God was their King, was in good part a time, not of well-being, but of calamity.

Now, turning to the history of the Papal monarchy for the last thousand years, we must allow that the Roman people have not the guilt of the Israelites, because they have not been opposing the direct rule of God; and I would not attribute to them now a liability to the same dreadful crimes which stain the annals of their ancestors; {297} but still, after all, they have been a singularly stiffnecked people in time past, and in consequence there has been extreme confusion, I may say anarchy, under the reign of the Popes; and that restless impatience of his rule which exists in the Roman territory now, is only what has shown itself age after age in times past. The Roman people not seldom offered bodily violence to their Popes,—killed some Popes, wounded others, drove others from the city. On one occasion they assaulted the Pope at the very altar in St. Peter's, and he was obliged to take to flight in his pontifical vestments. Another time they insulted the clergy of Rome; at another, they attacked and robbed the pilgrims who brought offerings from a distance to the shrine of St. Peter. Sometimes they sided with the German Emperors against the Pope; sometimes with other enemies of his in Italy itself. As many as thirty-six Popes endured this dreadful contest with their own subjects, till at last, in anger and disgust with Rome and Italy, they took refuge in France, where they remained for seventy years, during the reigns of eight of their number.

That I may not be supposed to rest what I have said on insufficient authorities, I will quote the words of that great Saint, St. Bernard, about the Roman people, seven hundred years ago.

Writing to Pope Eugenius during the troubles of the day, he says, "What shall I say of the people? why, that it is the Roman people. I could not more concisely or fully express what I think of your subjects. What has been so notorious for ages as the wantonness and haughtiness of the Romans? a race unaccustomed to {298} peace, accustomed to tumult; a race cruel and unmanageable up to this day, which knows not to submit, unless when it is unable to make fight ... I know the hardened heart of this people, but God is powerful even of these stones to raise up children to Abraham ... Whom will you find for me out of the whole of that populous city, who received you as Pope without bribe or hope of bribe? And then especially are they wishing to be masters, when they have professed to be servants. They promise to be trustworthy, that they may have the opportunity of injuring those who trust them ... They are wise for evil, but they are ignorant for good. Odious to earth and heaven, they have assailed both the one and the other; impious towards God, reckless towards things sacred, factious amongst themselves, envious of their neighbours, inhuman towards foreigners, ... they love none, and by none are loved. Too impatient for submission, too helpless for rule; ... importunate to gain an end, restless till they gain it, ungrateful when they have gained it. They have taught their tongue to speak big words, while their performances are scanty indeed."[Note 1]

Thus I begin; the Israelites and the Romans have both been stiffnecked:—and now let us continue the parallel between them.

I have said that, while the Israelites had God for their King, they had a succession of great national disasters arising indeed really from their falling off from Him; but this they would have been slow to acknowledge. They fell into idolatry; then, in consequence, they fell into the power of their enemies; then God in His mercy {299} visited them, and raised up for them a deliverer and ruler, a judge, as he was called,—who first brought them to repentance, and next brought them out of their troubles; however, when the judge died, they fell back into idolatry, and then they fell under the power of their enemies again. Thus for eight years they were in subjection to the King of Mesopotamia; for eighteen years to the King of Moab; for twenty years to the King of Canaan; for seven years to the Madianites; for eighteen years to the Ammonites; and for forty years to the Philistines. Afterwards Eli, the high priest, became their judge, and then disorders of another kind commenced. His sons, who were priests also, committed grievous acts of immorality in the holy place, and in other ways caused great scandal. In consequence a heavy judgment came upon the people; they were beaten in battle by the Philistines, and the Ark of God was taken. Then Samuel was raised up, a holy prophet and a judge, and in the time of his vigour all went well; but he became old, and then he appointed his sons to take his place. They, however, were not like him, and every thing went wrong again. "His sons walked not in his ways," says the sacred record, "but they turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment." This reduced the Israelites to despair; they thought they never should have a good government, while things were as they were; and they came to the conclusion that they had better not be governed by such men as Samuel, however holy he might be,—that public affairs ought to be put on an intelligible footing, and be carried on upon system, which had never yet been done. So they came to the conclusion that they had {300} better have a king, like the nations around them. They deliberately preferred the rule of man to the rule of God. They did not like to repent and give up their sins, as the true means of being prosperous; they thought it an easier way to temporal prosperity to have a king like the nations, than to pray and live virtuously. And not only the common people, but even the grave and venerable seniors of the nation took up this view of what was expedient for them. "All the ancients of Israel, being assembled, came to Samuel, … and they said to him ... Make us a king to judge us, as all nations have." Observe, my Brethren, this is just what the Roman people are saying now. They wish to throw off the authority of the Pope, on the plea of the disorders which they attribute to his government, and to join themselves to the rest of Italy, and to have the King of Italy for their king. Some of them, indeed, wish to be without any king at all; but, whether they wish to have a king or no, at least they wish to get free from the Pope.

Now let us continue the parallel. When the prophet Samuel heard this request urged from such a quarter, and supported by the people generally, he was much moved. "The word was displeasing in the eyes of Samuel," says the inspired writer, "that they should say, Give us a king. And Samuel prayed to the Lord." Almighty God answered him by saying, "They have not rejected thee, but Me;" and He bade the prophet warn the people, what the king they sought after would do to them, when at length they had him. Samuel accordingly put before them explicitly what treatment they would receive from him. "He will take your sons," he {301} said, "and will put them in his chariots; and he will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen to go before his chariots. He will take the tenth of your corn and the revenues of your vineyards. Your flocks also he will take, and you shall be his servants." Then the narrative proceeds, "But the people would not hear the voice of Samuel, and they said, Nay, but there shall be a king over us. And we also will be like all nations, and our king shall judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles for us."

Now here the parallel I am drawing is very exact. It is happier, I think, for the bulk of a people, to belong to a small State which makes little noise in the world, than to a large one. At least in this day we find small States, such as Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland, have special and singular temporal advantages. And the Roman people, too, under the sway of the Popes, at least have had a very easy time of it; but, alas, that people is not sensible of this, or does not allow itself to keep it in mind. The Romans have not had those civil inconveniences, which fall so heavy on the members of a first-class Power. The Pontifical Government has been very gentle with them; but, if once they were joined to the kingdom of Italy, they would at length find what it is to attain temporal greatness. The words of Samuel to the Israelites would be fulfilled in them to the letter. Heavy taxes would be laid on them; their children would be torn from them for the army; and they would incur the other penalties of an ambition which prefers to have a share in a political adventure to being at the head of Catholic citizenship. We cannot have all things to our {302} wish in this world; we must take our choice between this advantage and that; perhaps the Roman people would like to secure both this world and the next, if they could; perhaps, in seeking both, they may lose both; and perhaps, when they have lost more than they have gained, they may wish their old Sovereign back again, as they have done in other centuries before this, and may regret that they have caused such grievous disturbance for what at length they find out is little worth it.

In truth, after all, the question which they have to determine is, as I have intimated, not one of worldly prosperity and adversity, of greatness or insignificance, of despotism or liberty, of position in the world or in the Church; but a question of spiritual life or death. The sin of the Israelites was not that they desired good government, but that they rejected God as their King. Their choosing to have "a king like the nations" around them was, in matter of fact, the first step in a series of acts, which at length led them to the rejection of the Almighty as their God. When in spite of Samuel's remonstrances they were obstinate, God let them have their way, and then in time they became dissatisfied with their king for the very reasons which the old Prophet had set before them in vain. On Solomon's death, about a hundred and twenty years after, the greater part of the nation broke off from his son on the very plea of Solomon's tyranny, and chose a new king, who at once established idolatry all through their country.

Now, I grant, to reject the Holy Father of course is not like the sin of the Israelites, for they rejected Almighty God Himself: yet I wish I was not forced to believe that a hatred of the Catholic Religion is in fact at the {303} bottom of that revolutionary spirit which at present seems so powerful in Rome. Progress, in the mouth of some people,—of a great many people,—means apostasy. Not that I would deny that there are sincere Catholics so dissatisfied with things as they were in Italy, as they are in Rome, that they are brought to think that no social change can be for the worse. Nor as if I pretended to be able to answer all the objections of those who take a political and secular view of the subject. They may be right according to their own line of thought, but their line is not the highest. Here I have nothing to do with secular politics. In a sacred place I have only to view the matter religiously. It would ill become me, in my station in the Church and my imperfect knowledge of the facts of the case, to speak for or against statesmen and governments, lines of policy or public acts, as if I were invested with any particular mission to give my judgment, or had any access to sources of special information. I have not here to determine what may be politically more wise, or what may be socially more advantageous, or what in a civil point of view would work more happily, or what in an intellectual would tell better; my duty is to lead you, my Brethren, to look at what is happening, as the sacred writers would now view it and describe it, were they on earth now to do so, in the broad view and the outcome of the whole matter, and to attempt this by means of the light thrown upon present occurrences by what they actually have recorded or taught whether in the Old Testament or in the New.

We must remove, I say, the veil off the face of events, as Scripture enables us to do, and try to speak of them {304} as Scripture interprets them for us. Speaking then in the sanctuary, I say that theories and schemes about government and administration, be they better or worse, and the aims of mere statesmen and politicians, be they honest or be they deceitful, these are not the determining causes of that series of misfortunes under which the Holy See has so long been suffering. There is something deeper at work than anything human. It is not any refusal of the Pope to put his administration on a new footing, it is not any craft or force of men high in public affairs, it is not any cowardice or frenzy of the people, which is the sufficient explanation of the present confusion. What it is our duty ever to bear in mind, is the constant restless agency all over the earth of that bad angel who was a liar from the beginning, of whom Scripture speaks so much. The real motive cause of the world's troubles is the abiding presence in it of the apostate spirit, "The prince of the power of this air," as St. Paul calls him, "The spirit that now worketh on the children of unbelief."

Things would go on well enough but for him. He it is who perverts to evil what is in itself good and right, sowing cockle amid the wheat. Advance in knowledge, in science, in education, in the arts of life, in domestic economy, in municipal administration, in the conduct of public affairs, is all good and from God, and might be conducted in a religious way; but the evil spirit, jealous of good, makes use of it for a bad end. And much more able is he to turn to his account the designs and measures of worldly politicians. He it is who spreads suspicions and dislikes between class and class, between {305} sovereigns and subjects, who makes men confuse together things good and bad, who inspires bigotry, tyranny, party spirit, obstinacy, resentment, arrogance and self-will, and hinders things from righting themselves, finding their level, and running smooth. His one purpose is so to match, and arrange, and combine, and direct the opinions and the measures of Catholics and unbelievers, of Romans, and foreigners, of sovereigns and popular leaders—all that is good, all that is bad, all that is violent or lukewarm, narrow-minded or falsely liberal in the good, all that is morally great and intellectually persuasive in the bad—as to inflict the widest possible damage, and utter ruin, if that were possible, on the Church of God.

Doubtless in St. Paul's time, in the age of heathen persecution, the persecutors had various good political arguments in behalf of their cruelty. Mobs indeed, or local magistrates, might be purposely cruel towards the Christians; but the great Roman Government at a distance, the grave rulers and wise lawyers of the day, acted from views of large policy; they had reasons of State, as the kings of the earth have now; still our Lord and His Apostles do not hesitate to pass these by, and declare plainly that the persecution which they sanctioned or commanded was the work, not of man, but of Satan. And now in like manner we are not engaged in a mere conflict between progress and reaction, modern ideas and new, philosophy and theology, but in what is infinitely higher, in one scene of that never-ending conflict which is waged between our Redeemer and the Evil One, between the Church and the world; and, in St. Paul's {306} words, "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places."

Such is the Apostle's judgment, and how, after giving it, does he proceed? "Therefore," he says, "take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breast-plate of justice, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in all things taking the shield of faith, whereby you may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." And then he concludes his exhortation with words which most appositely bear upon the point towards which all that I have been saying is directed,—"praying at all times with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, and watching therein with all instance and supplication for all the Saints, and for me," that is, for the Apostle himself, "that speech may be given me, that I may open my mouth with confidence to make known the mystery of the Gospel."

Here, then, we are brought at length to the consideration of the duty of prayer for our living Apostle and Bishop of Bishops, the Pope. I shall attempt to state distinctly what is to be the object of our prayers for him, and, secondly, what the spirit in which we should pray, and so I shall bring my remarks on this great subject to an end. {307}

1. In order to ascertain the exact object of our prayers at this time, we must ascertain what is the occasion of them. You know, my Brethren, and I have already observed, that the Holy Father has been attacked in his temporal possessions again and again in these last years, and we have all along been saying prayers daily in the Mass in his behalf. About six years ago the northern portion of his States threw off his authority. Shortly after, a large foreign force, uninvited, as it would seem, by his people at large,—robbers I will call them,—(this is not a political sentiment, but an historical statement, for I never heard any one, whatever his politics, who defended their act in itself, but only on the plea of its supreme expedience, of some State necessity, or some theory of patriotism)—a force of sacrilegious robbers,—by a sudden movement broke into provinces nearer to Rome, and, without any right except that of the stronger, got possession of them, and keeps them to this day [Note 2]. Past outrages, such as these, are never to be forgotten; but still they are not the occasion, nor do they give the matter, of our present prayers. What that occasion, what that object is, we seem to learn from his Lordship's letter to his clergy, in which our prayers are required. After speaking of the Pope's being "stripped of part of his dominions," and "deprived of all the rest, with the exception of the marshes and deserts that surround the Roman capital," he fastens our attention on the fact, that "now at last is the Pope to be left standing alone, and standing face to face with those unscrupulous adversaries, whose boast and whose {308} vow to all the world it is, not to leave to him one single foot of Italian ground except beneath their Sovereign sway." I understand, then, that the exact object of our prayers is, that the territory still his should not be violently taken from him, as have been those larger portions of his dominions of which I have already spoken.

This too, I conceive, is what is meant by praying also for the Holy See. "The duty of every true child of Holy Church," says the Bishop, "is to offer continuous and humble prayer for the Father of Christendom, and for the protection of the Holy See." By the Holy See we may understand Rome, considered as the seat of Pontifical government. We are to pray for Rome, the see, or seat, or metropolis of St. Peter and his successors. Further, we are to pray for Rome as the seat, not only of his spiritual government, but of his temporal. We are to pray that he may continue king of Rome; that his subjects may come to a better mind; that, instead of threatening and assailing him, or being too cowardly to withstand those who do, they may defend and obey him; that, instead of being the heartless tormentors of an old and venerable man, they may pay a willing homage to the Apostle of God; that, instead of needing to be kept down year after year by troops from afar, as has been the case for so long a time, they may, "with a great heart and a willing mind," form themselves into the glorious body-guard of a glorious Master; that they may obliterate and expiate what is so great a scandal to the world, so great an indignity to themselves, so great a grief to their Father {309} and king, that foreigners are kinder to him than his own flesh and blood; that now at least, though in the end of days, they may reverse the past, and, after the ingratitude of centuries, may unlearn the pattern of that rebellious people, who began by rejecting their God, and ended by crucifying their Redeemer.

2. So much for the object of our prayers; secondly, as to the spirit in which we should pray. As we ever say in prayer "Thy will be done," so we must say now. We do not absolutely know God's will in this matter; we know indeed it is His will that we should ask; we are not absolutely sure that it is His will that we should gain. The very fact of our praying shows that we are uncertain about the event. We pray when we are uncertain, not when we are certain. If we were quite sure what God intended to do, whether to continue the temporal power of the Pope or to end it, we should not pray. It is quite true indeed that the event may depend upon our prayer, but by such prayer is meant perseverance in prayer and union of prayers; and we never can be certain that this condition of numbers and of fervour has been sufficiently secured. We hope indeed to gain our prayer if we pray enough; but, since it is ever uncertain what is enough, it is ever uncertain what will be the event. There are Eastern superstitions, in which it is taught that, by means of a certain number of religious acts, by sacrifices, prayers, penances, a man extorts from God of necessity what he wishes to gain, so that he may rise to supernatural greatness even against the will of God. Far be from us such blasphemous thoughts! We pray to God, we address the {310} Blessed Virgin and the Holy Apostles and the other guardians of Rome, to defend the Holy City; but we know that the event lies absolutely in the hands of the Allwise, whose ways are not as our ways, whose thoughts are not as our thoughts, and, unless we have been furnished with a special revelation on the matter, to be simply confident or to predict is presumption. Such is Christian Prayer; it implies hope and fear. We are not certain we shall gain our petition, we are not certain we shall not gain it. Were we certain that we should not, we should give ourselves to resignation, not to prayer; were we certain we should, we should employ ourselves, not in prayer, but in praise and thanksgiving. While we pray then in behalf of the Pope's temporal power, we contemplate both sides of the alternative, his retaining it, and his losing it; and we prepare ourselves both for thanksgiving and resignation, as the event may be. I conclude by considering each of these issues of his present difficulty.

(1.) First, as to the event of his retaining his temporal power. I think this side of the alternative (humanly speaking) to be highly probable. I should be very much surprised if in the event he did not in some sense keep it. I think the Romans will not be able to do without him;—it is only a minority even now which is against him; the majority of his subjects is not wicked, so much as cowardly and incapable. Even if they renounce him now for awhile, they will change their minds and wish for him again. They will find out that he is their real greatness. Their city is a place of ruins, except so far as it is a place of holy {311} shrines. It is the tomb and charnel-house of pagan impiety, except so far as it is sanctified and quickened by the blood of martyrs and the relics of saints. To inhabit it would be a penance, were it not for the presence of religion. Babylon is gone, Memphis is gone, Persepolis is gone; Rome would go, if the Pope went. Its very life is the light of the sanctuary. It never could be a suitable capital of a modern kingdom without a sweeping away of all that makes it beautiful and venerable to the world at large. And then, when its new rulers had made of it a trim and brilliant city, they would find themselves on an unhealthy soil and a defenceless plain. But, in truth, the tradition of ages and the inveteracy of associations make such a vast change in Rome impossible. All mankind are parties to the inviolable union of the Pope and his city. His autonomy is a first principle in European politics, whether among Catholics or Protestants; and where can it be secured so well as in that city, which has so long been the seat of its exercise? Moreover, the desolateness of Rome is as befitting to a kingdom which is not of this world as it is incompatible with a creation of modern political theories. It is the religious centre of millions all over the earth, who care nothing for the fickle and helpless people who happen to live there, and much for the martyred Apostles who so long have lain buried there; and its claim to have an integral place in the very idea of Catholicity is recognized not only by Catholics, but by the whole world.

It is cheering to begin our prayers with these signs of God's providence in our favour. He expressly encourages {312} us to pray, for before we have begun our petition, He has begun to fulfil it. And at the same time, by beginning the work of mercy without us, He seems to remind us of that usual course of His providence, viz., that He means to finish it with us. Let us fear to be the cause of a triumph being lost to the Church, because we would not pray for it.

(2.) And now, lastly, to take the other side of the alternative. Let us suppose that the Pope loses his temporal power, and returns to the condition of St. Sylvester, St. Julius, St. Innocent, and other great Popes of early times. Are we therefore to suppose that he and the Church will come to nought? God forbid! To say that the Church can fail, or the See of St. Peter can fail, is to deny the faithfulness of Almighty God to His word. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." To say that the Church cannot live except in a particular way, is to make it "subject to elements of the earth." The Church is not the creature of times and places, of secular politics or popular caprice. Our Lord maintains her by means of this world, but these means are necessary to her only while He gives them; when He takes them away, they are no longer necessary. He works by means, but He is not bound to means. He has a thousand ways of maintaining her; He can support her life, not by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of His mouth. If He takes away one defence, He will give another instead. We know nothing of the future: our duty is to direct our course according to our day; not to give up of our own {313} act the means which God has given us to maintain His Church withal, but not to lament over their loss, when He has taken them away. Temporal power has been the means of the Church's independence for a very long period; but, as her Bishops have lost it a long while, and are not the less Bishops still, so would it be as regards her Head, if he also lost his. The Eternal God is her refuge, and as He has delivered her out of so many perils hitherto, so will He deliver her still. The glorious chapters of her past history are but anticipations of other glorious chapters still to come. See how it has been with her from the very beginning down to this day [Note 3]. First, the heathen populations persecuted her children for three centuries, but she did not come to an end. Then a flood of heresies was poured out upon her, but still she did not come to an end. Then the savage tribes of the North and East came down upon her, and overran her territory, but she did not come to an end. Next, darkness of mind, ignorance, torpor, stupidity, reckless corruption, fell upon the holy place, still she did not come to an end. Then the craft and violence of her own strong and haughty children did their worst against her, but still she did not come to an end. Then came a time when the riches of the world flowed in upon her, and the pride of life, and the refinements and the luxuries of human reason, and lulled her rulers into an unfaithful security, till they thought their high position in the world would never be lost to them, and almost fancied that it was good to enjoy themselves here below;—but still she did not come to an end. And then came the {314} so-called Reformation, and the rise of Protestantism, and men said that the Church had disappeared, and they could not find her place. Yet now, three centuries after that event, has, my Brethren, the Holy Church come to an end? has Protestantism weakened her powers, terrible enemy as it seemed to be when it arose? has Protestantism, that bitter energetic enemy of the Holy See, harmed the Holy See? Why, there never has been a time, since the first age of the Church, when there has been such a succession of holy Popes, as since the Reformation. Protestantism has been a great infliction on such as have succumbed to it, but it has even wrought benefits for those whom it has failed to seduce. By the mercy of God it has been turned into a spiritual gain to the members of Holy Church.

Take again Italy, into which Protestantism has not entered, and England, of which it has gained possession: now I know well that, when Catholics are good in Italy, they are very good; I would not deny that they attain there to a height and a force of saintliness of which we seem to have no specimens here. This, however, is the case of souls whom neither the presence nor the absence of religious enemies would affect for the better or the worse. Nor will I attempt the impossible task of determining the amount of faith and obedience among Catholics respectively in two countries so different from each other. But, looking at Italian and English Catholics externally and in their length and breadth, I may leave any Protestant to decide, in which of the two there is at this moment a more demonstrative faith, a more impressive religiousness, a more generous piety, a {315} more steady adherence to the cause of the Holy Father. The English are multiplying religious buildings, decorating churches, endowing monasteries, educating, preaching, and converting, and carrying off in the current of their enthusiasm numbers even of those who are external to the Church; the Italian statesmen, on the contrary, in our Bishop's words, "imprison and exile the bishops and clergy, leave the flocks without shepherds, confiscate the Church's revenues, suppress the monasteries and convents, incorporate ecclesiastics and religious in the army, plunder the churches and monastic libraries, and expose religion herself, stripped and bleeding in every limb, the Catholic Religion in the person of her ministers, her sacraments, her most devoted members, to be objects of profane and blasphemous ridicule." In so brave, intelligent, clear-sighted a race as the Italians, and in the 19th century not the 16th, and in the absence of any formal protest of classes or places, the act of the rulers becomes the act of the people. At the end of three centuries Protestant England contains more Catholics who are loyal and energetic in word and deed than Catholic Italy. So harmless has been the violence of the Reformation; it professed to eliminate from the Church doctrinal corruptions, and it has failed both as to what it has done and as to what it has not done; it has bred infidels, to its confusion, and, to its dismay, it has succeeded in purifying and strengthening Catholic communities.

It is with these thoughts then, my Brethren, with these feelings of solemn expectation, of joyful confidence, that we now come before our God, and pray Him to have mercy on His chosen Servant, His own Vicar, in {316} this hour of trial. We come to Him, like the prophet Daniel, in humiliation for our own sins and the sins of our kings, our princes, our fathers, and our people, in all parts of the Church; and therefore we say the Miserere and the Litany of the Saints as in a time of fast. And we come before Him in the bright and glad spirit of soldiers who know they are under the leading of an Invincible King, and wait with beating hearts to see what He is about to do; and therefore it is that we adorn our sanctuary, bringing out our hangings and multiplying our lights, as on a day of festival. We know well we are on the winning side, and that the prayers of the poor, the weak, and the despised, can do more, when offered in a true spirit, than all the wisdom and all the resources of the world. This seventh of October is the very anniversary of that day on which the prayers of St. Pius, and the Holy Rosary said by thousands of the faithful at his bidding, broke for ever the domination of the Turks in the great battle of Lepanto. God will give us what we ask, or He will give us something better. In this spirit let us proceed with the holy rites which we have begun,—in the presence of innumerable witnesses, of God the Judge of all, of Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, of His Mother Mary our Immaculate Protectress, of all the Angels of Holy Church, of all the blessed Saints, of Apostles and Evangelists, Martyrs and Confessors, of Holy preachers, holy recluses, holy virgins, of holy innocents taken away before actual sin, and of all other holy souls who have been purified by suffering, and have already reached their heavenly home.

(Preached Oct. 7, 1866, in the Church of the Oratory, Birmingham.)

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Notes

1. De Consid. iv. 2. Vide Note at the end.
Return to text

2. Vide Note at the end.
Return to text

3. Vide "Idea of a University" (1852), p. 14.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.