10. Conclusion

{341} I have now said all that I consider necessary in order to fulfil the task which I have undertaken, a task very painful to me and ungracious. I account it a great misfortune, that my last words, as they are likely to be, should be devoted to a controversy with one whom I have always so much respected and admired. But I should not have been satisfied with myself, if I had not responded to the call made upon me from such various quarters, to the opportunity at last given me of breaking a long silence on subjects deeply interesting to me, and to the demands of my own honour.

The main point of Mr. Gladstone's charge against us is that in 1870, after a series of preparatory acts, a great change and irreversible was effected in the political attitude of the Church by the third and fourth chapters of the Vatican Pastor ∆ternus, a change which no state or statesman can afford to pass over. Of this cardinal assertion I consider he has given no proof at all; and my object throughout the foregoing pages has been to make this clear. The Pope's infallibility indeed and his supreme authority have in the Vatican capita been declared matters of faith; but his prerogative of infallibility lies in matters speculative, and his prerogative of authority is no infallibility in laws, commands, or measures. His infallibility bears upon the domain of thought, not directly of action, and while it may fairly {342} exercise the theologian, philosopher, or man of science, it scarcely concerns the politician. Moreover, whether the recognition of his infallibility in doctrine will increase his actual power over the faith of Catholics, remains to be seen, and must be determined by the event; for there are gifts too large and too fearful to be handled freely. Mr. Gladstone seems to feel this, and therefore insists upon the increase made by the Vatican definition in the Pope's authority. But there is no real increase; he has for centuries upon centuries had and used that authority, which the Definition now declares ever to have belonged to him. Before the Council there was the rule of obedience and there were exceptions to the rule; and since the Council the rule remains, and with it the possibility of exceptions.

It may be objected that a representation such as this, is negatived by the universal sentiment, which testifies to the formidable effectiveness of the Vatican decrees, and to the Pope's intention that they should be effective; that it is the boast of some Catholics and the reproach levelled against us by all Protestants, that the Catholic Church has now become beyond mistake a despotic aggressive Papacy, in which freedom of thought and action is utterly extinguished. But I do not allow that this alleged unanimous testimony exists. Of course Prince Bismarck [Note 1] and other statesmen such as Mr. Gladstone, {343} rest their opposition to Pope Pius on the political ground; but the Old-Catholic movement is based, not upon politics, but upon theology, and Dr. Dollinger has more than once, I believe, declared his disapprobation of the Prussian acts against the Pope, while Father Hyacinth has quarrelled with the anti-Catholic politics of Geneva. The French indeed have shown their sense of the political support which the Holy Father's name and influence would bring to their country; but does any one suppose that they expect to derive support definitely from the Vatican decrees, and not rather from the prestige of that venerable Authority, which those decrees have rather lowered than otherwise in the eyes of the world? So again the Legitimists and Carlists in France and Spain doubtless wish to associate themselves with Rome; but where and how have they signified that they can turn to profit the special dogma of the Pope's infallibility, and would not have been better pleased to be rid of the controversy which it has occasioned? In fact, instead of there being a universal impression that the proclamation of his infallibility and supreme authority has strengthened the Pope's secular position in Europe, there is room for suspecting that some of the politicians of the day, (I do not mean Mr. Gladstone) were not sorry that the Ultramontane party was successful at the Council in their prosecution of an object which those politicians considered to be favourable to the interests of the Civil Power. There is certainly some plausibility in the view, that it is not the "Curia Romana," as Mr. Gladstone considers, or the "Jesuits," who are the "astute" party, but that rather they {344} themselves have fallen into a trap, and are victims of the astuteness of secular statesmen.

The recognition, which I am here implying, of the existence of parties in the Church reminds me of what, while I have been writing these pages, I have all along felt would be at once the prim‚ facie and also the most telling criticism upon me. It will be said that there are very considerable differences in argument and opinion between me and others who have replied to Mr. Gladstone, and I shall be taunted with the evident breakdown, thereby made manifest, of that topic of glorification so commonly in the mouths of Catholics, that they are all of one way of thinking, while Protestant bodies are all at variance with each other, and by reason of that very variation of opinion can have no ground of certainty severally in their own.

This is a showy and serviceable retort in controversy; but it is nothing more. First, as regards the arguments which Catholics use, it has to be considered whether these are really incompatible with each other; if they are not, then surely it is generally granted by Protestants as well as Catholics, that two distinct arguments for the same conclusion, instead of invalidating that conclusion, actually strengthen it. And next, supposing the difference to be one of conclusions themselves, then it must be considered whether the difference relates to a matter of faith or to a matter of opinion. If a matter of faith is in question I grant there ought to be absolute agreement, or rather I maintain that there is; I mean to say that only one out of the statements put forth can be true, and that the other statements will be at once withdrawn by {345} their authors, by virtue of their being Catholics, as soon as they learn on good authority that they are erroneous. But if the differences which I have supposed are only in theological opinion, they do but show that after all private judgment is not so utterly unknown among Catholics and in Catholic Schools, as Protestants are desirous to establish.

I have written on this subject at some length in Lectures which I published many years ago, but, it would appear, with little practical effect upon those for whom they were intended. "Left to himself," I say, "each Catholic likes and would maintain his own opinion and his private judgment just as much as a Protestant; and he has it and he maintains it, just so far as the Church does not, by the authority of Revelation, supersede it. The very moment the Church ceases to speak, at the very point at which she, that is, God who speaks by her, circumscribes her range of teaching, then private judgment of necessity starts up; there is nothing to hinder it … A Catholic sacrifices his opinion to the Word of God, declared through His Church; but from the nature of the case, there is nothing to hinder him having his own opinion and expressing it, whenever, and so far as, the Church, the oracle of Revelation, does not speak." [Note 2]

In saying this, it must not be supposed that I am denying what is called the pietas fidei, that is, a sense of the great probability of the truth of enunciations made by the Church, which are not formally and actually to be considered as the "Word of God." Doubtless it is our {346} duty to check many a speculation, or at least many an utterance, even though we are not bound to condemn it as contrary to religious truth. But, after all, the field of religious thought which the duty of faith occupies, is small indeed compared with that which is open to our free, though of course to our reverent and conscientious, speculation.

I draw from these remarks two conclusions; first as regards Protestants,—Mr. Gladstone should not on the one hand declaim against us as having "no mental freedom," if the periodical press on the other hand is to mock us as admitting a liberty of private judgment, purely Protestant. We surely are not open to contradictory imputations. Every note of triumph over the differences which mark our answers to Mr. Gladstone is a distinct admission that we do not deserve his injurious reproach that we are captives and slaves of the Pope.

Secondly, for the benefit of some Catholics, I would observe that, while I acknowledge one Pope, jure divino, I acknowledge no other, and that I think it a usurpation, too wicked to be comfortably dwelt upon, when individuals use their own private judgment, in the discussion of religious questions, not simply "abundare in suo sensu," but for the purpose of anathematizing the private judgment of others.

I say there is only one Oracle of God, the Holy Catholic Church and the Pope as her head. To her teaching I have ever desired all my thoughts, all my words to be conformed; to her judgment I submit what I have now written, what I have ever written, not only {347} as regards its truth, but as to its prudence, its suitableness, and its expedience. I think I have not pursued any end of my own in anything that I have published, but I know well, that, in matters not of faith, I may have spoken, when I ought to have been silent.

And now, my dear Duke, I release you from this long discussion, and, in concluding, beg you to accept the best Christmas wishes and prayers for your present and future from
Your affectionate Friend and Servant,

Dec. 27, 1874

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1. Let me, from this accidental mention of Prince Bismarck, make for myself an opportunity, which my subject has not given me, of expressing my deep sympathy with the suffering Catholics of Germany. Who can doubt that, in their present resolute disobedience to that statesman's measures, they are only fulfilling their duty to God and His Church? Who can but pray that, were English Catholics in a similar trial, they might have grace to act as bravely in the cause of religion?
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2. Vide "Difficulties felt by Anglicans," Lecture X.
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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