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Ch. 1: Catholicism: A Political Organization

Guizot, speaking of the Christian Church, says: "I say the Christian Church, and not Christianity, between which a broad distinction is to be made." (Gen. Hist. Civilization, Lecture 11, p. 48.) The Catholic Church has little except the name of Christianity, while it is secretly a political organization to establish "the supremacy of the Pope over all persons and things," which, according to Bellarmine's view, "is the main substance of Christianity."

If we have recourse to the lexicon to ascertain the signification of the term religion, we may arrive at a definite conclusion respecting its classical use: but if we are guided in our inquiry by the popular acceptation, we will discover that its definitions are as numerous as the inhabitants of the globe, and as various as their features. We have Natural religion, Pagan religion, Hindoo religion, Jewish religion, Christian religion, and Mahometan religion. Among Christian sects some believe religion to consist in individual feeling, some in baptism, some in reverence for the clergy, some in problematical creeds and dogmas, some in observances of church ordinations, some in rhapsodies, and some in a species of sentimentalism.

The Boston Pilot says: "There can be no religion without an Inquisition;" but Thomas Paine, with nobler philosophy, thinks "religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy." The diversity and discordance which have arisen respecting the import of this term, originate from its compound nature adapting it to designate one idea, or a variety of ideas. But while we rarely encounter two persons exactly concurring in an opinion of what is religion, we find all readily admitting that it essentially consists in just principles and correct conduct. Principles are the fountains of thought and feeling; to be just, they must be formed in accordance with truth and reason. Conduct to be correct must be in harmony with the rights of others, and the principles and designs of the human organism. According to this definition, religion may exist with or without ceremonial observances. All forms are merely external appendages, unessential to the nature of religion, and as distinct from it as the casket is from the gem, or the body from the vital principle. If this definition should be construed into a definition of mere morality, it cannot invalidate any objection founded on it to Catholicism, as every such objection will then become demonstrative proof that the Catholic Church is not only destitute of religion, but even of morality.

The signification of a corporate organization is well understood, but how shall we ascertain its principles and designs? Not from the tenor of its professions; but from the nature of its constitution, the tendency of its measures, the sanctions which it has given, the recognitions which it has made in its official capacity; and above all, from the avowals it has uttered, under such a prosperous condition of affairs as made disguise unnecessary. In courting popular favor, an organization concocted to subvert the rights and interests of the people, would, from motives of policy, be prompted to conceal its nature and design; but when wealth and power had sufficiently fortified its security to enable it to scorn and defy public opinion, it would then as naturally unfold its latent principles, as a summer's sun would hatch an innocently looking cluster of eggs into a nest of poisonous asps.

If among the members of an organization, which professes to be of an exclusively religious character, men should be found who are unquestionably religious or moral, this fact would no more prove it to be a religious or moral institution, than would the membership of the same persons to a railroad or municipal corporation prove such a corporation to be a religious and not a secular organization. But if at periods in its history, its most irreproachable and credible members should denounce it as a political power, and labor to transform it into a purely religious institution, and for such a "damnable heresy" were burnt alive, and their ashes thrown into a river to prevent the people from worshipping them, what would be the legitimate inference from such facts? Would it not be that it claimed to be a political organization? that it was high treason in its estimation to question its right to this character? and that to utter such a question in its domains was to provoke its heaviest penalty? Did not all these facts occur in Home respecting Arnold of Brecia? And in Catholic history have not similar facts, from his time down to the Reformation, been incarnadined in human blood too deeply for audacity to deny or time to obliterate?

But what is a religious organization? If religion is moral goodness, a religious organization must be an embodiment of its principles, a practical exemplification of its maxims, and a scheme in measures and policy adapted to extend the observance of its obligations. Such an organization must be consistent with itself, and in harmony with the natural principles of man. In integrity it must be invulnerable; in adherence to right inflexible; in hostility to wrong, uncompromising. It must be the champion of the rights of human nature; the friend of freedom, equality and liberality; the enemy of bigotry, intolerance, and despotism. Its claims must be commended by truth; its measures sanctioned by reason and conscience; its triumphs won by argument and persuasion. Its hands must be unstained with blood. It must never perpetrate a fraud, nor descend to intrigue, nor dissemble, nor cherish malice, nor slander an opponent, nor traffic for self-aggrandizement, nor prostitute its principles to political objects, nor accommodate itself to the vices of any age or country. Amid general corruption it must always be pure, amid bigotry it must always be tolerant, amid oppression it must always advocate the cause of justice, and amid ignorance the cause of education.

Such are some of the essential characteristics of a religious or moral organization. Any departure from them in an institution, proves its secularism. No church in which they form not a distinguishing feature, has any claims to be a religious or moral corporation.

Now when we see an institution, professing to be of an exclusively religious character, organizing its departments upon a financial basis; enjoining on its members the vow of unconditional obedience, in order to subject them to its despotic domination; the vow of absolute poverty, in order to enable them more successfully to administer to the increase of its wealth; the vow of celibacy, in order to prevent them from having legitimate heirs, to divert the ecclesiastical possessions from the church; when we see it establishing schools to select and mould to its designs the most promising among youth, instituting universities to enrich itself by the sale of their honors, absolving sins for money, selling indulgences for the commission of premeditated crime, erecting missionary stations among Pagans for the purpose of traffic and emolument, manufacturing evidence, committing forgeries, and corrupting and interpolating the text of ancient authors, denouncing reason, crushing liberty, circumscribing knowledge, anathematizing those who disbelieve in its arbitrary dogmas, torturing those who question its supreme authority, burning those who oppose its pretensions; having a national cabinet, ministerial offices, accredited ambassadors, maintaining a standing army, a naval force, religious military orders to extend and enlarge its domains, carrying a national banner, wearing a political crown, declaring war, concluding national covenants, coining money, and exercising all the rights of an acknowledged independent monarchy, it is more than credulity can admit, to concede that such an organization is not a corrupt, cruel, despotic, and political institution. That such is the constitution of the Catholic Church is a fact, attested by the existing Papal Government, and by the spirit and acts of its past history; and that it is now what in the past it has been, is established by the unanimous testimony of its acknowledged expounders. Simplicity has been amused by modern Catholic apologists, who assert that the Papal monarch has resigned his former pretensions to universal temporal sovereignty, and that he now merley maintains his right to supreme spiritual authority. But this subterfuge can mislead only a superficial, ignorant mind. As spiritual sovereignty is absolute dominion over reason and conscience, it unavoidably involves temporal sovereignty; nay, temporal sovereignty of the most despotic and unlimited authority reason and conscience lay at the foundation of all political power; and if Catholicism is adapted to govern them, it transcends in despotism the most ingeniously contrived monarchy that tyranny has ever elaborated, or by which the faculties of man have ever been enthralled. Spain, Russia, or any other government is less tyrannical in its constitution than is the Catholic Church. He who would establish the contrary opinion, must first obliterate the Papal bulls, the decrees of the Councils, and the authorities of the Catholic Church; he must go to Rome and convert the present Pope and his college of Cardinals; nay, he must attend the coming Ecumenical Council and induce it to annul the canons of all the previous Councils, and to declare that all the preceding Popes were "damnable heretics," and have them accordingly excommunicated. These preliminary steps must be taken before he can avoid absurdity or the imputation of wilful prevarication.

But the Papal See has never resigned its preposterous claim to universal temporal sovereignty. The bulls and canons asserting this pretension have never been annulled. They still form the canon law of the Church. No official declaration has announced an abrogation of them. The Pope's reiterated and blasphemous claim to infallibility precludes the possibility of such a sensible act. Infallibility is inconsistent with change of principle or error of conduct, and when the Church of Rome arrogates such a divine attribute, she avers that her past history indicates her present character and future intentions. In this opinion all her authorities concur. Bishop Kendrick says: "All doctrine of definitions already made by general Councils and former Pontiffs are marks which no man can remove." (Primacy, p. 356). Brownson says: "What the Church has done, what she has expressly or tacitly approved in the past, is exactly what she will do, expressly or tacitly approve, in the future, if the same circumstances occur." (Review, Jan. 1854). Again: "The Catholic dogma, in regard to every subject whatever, has always been the same from the beginning, remains always unchangeably the same, and will always continue in every part of the world immutable." (Review, Jan., 1850). Again: "Catholicity, as long as it continues Catholicity, cannot be carried to excess. It will be all or nothing." (Review, Jan., 1854). The editors of the Civilita Cattolica, the Pope's organ at Rome, say: "From the darkness of the catacombs she (the Catholic Church) dictated laws to the subjects of Emperors, abrogating decrees, whether plebeian, senatorial or imperial, when in conflict with Catholic ordinances. To-day, as in all time, the Church commands the spiritual part of man; and, in ruling over the spirit, she rules the body, rules over riches, over science, over affections, over interests, over associations—rules, in fine, over monarchs and their ministers." The Dublin Tablet, Feb. 24,1865, the accredited organ of Romanism in the British realm, says: "The Pope is at this moment interfering in Piedmont, defending one class of citizens against the government; and in the House of Representatives of the United States, a Christian, Mr. Chandler, in his speech, Jan., 1865), denies the right! Governments may and do prohibit good works, and the Pope interferes. They also commit evil, and the Pope interferes; and good Christians (Catholics) prefer the Pope's authority to that of the State. The godless (non-Catholic ) colleges of Ireland, the troubles of Piedmont, all bear witness against the unchristian opinion." The Paris Univers says: "A heretic examined and convicted by the Church, used to be delivered over to the secular authority to be punished with death. Nothing has appeared to us more necessary. More than 100,000 persons perished in consequence of the heresy of Wickliffe, and a still greater number for that of John Huss; and it would be impossible to count the bloodshed caused by Luther, and it is not yet over." De Pratt, formerly an Abbe of the Pope, says: "The Pope is chief of 150,000,000 of followers. Catholicism cannot have less than 500,000 ministers. The Pope Commands more subjects than any sovereign—more than many sovereigns together. These have subjects only on their own territory, the Pope commands subjects on the territory of all sovereigns" (Flag of the Union.) But the testimony is voluminous, and I forbear further quotations on this point.

To understand, then, the past history of the Catholic Church, is of paramount importance to every freeman. What is it? It is the development of her nature. It is the unfolding of her treason to the world. It is uncovering the cruelty and despotism concealed under her religious profession. It is the revelation of her animosity to the rights of men, to the progress of society, and to the exercise of reason and conscience. It shows her to be a secret political organization, skilfully constructed for the acquisition of supreme political power, and hypocritically disguised under the semblance of religion. If in her infancy she did not always avow her ambitious designs, she always secretly cherished them; and, if in her adversity she has moderated her tone, she has not her natural thirst for secular power. As she grew in strength, she grew in arrogance and despotism; and when, by a system of artful intrigues and bold usurpations, she had created a colossal power that overawed the united monarchies of Christendom, she unsheathed the double sword, the symbol of ecclesiastical and political power, and asserted her right, as Vicar of Christ, to rule with or in preference to Princes, invaded the rights and liberties of independent nations, crowned and uncrowned monarchs, destroyed freedom everywhere, anathematized, shackled, tortured and burnt all who opposed her monarchical pretensions. Her triumphal processions have been the most magnificent when her hands were the bloodiest, and her Te Deum was chaunted with the most fervor when the smoke of her stakes ascended in the thickest volumes, and the gore shed by the double sword streamed in the broadest and deepest currents.

When Time, the avenger, hurled her from her despotic throne, she supplicated, because she could not command, and moderated her pretensions, because she dare not assert them. But if she presumes not now to tear the crown from the head of the mighty, who would annihilate her for her audacious attempt; if she does not now absolve subjects from allegiance to their governments, whose artillery, to avenge the insult would be marshalled against her; if she does not now attempt to burn at the stake those who reject her absurdities, and who would burn her for an attempt—the reason of the extraordinary change in her infallible holiness is palpable. It is not because she has discarded the doctrines consecrated by so many bulls, battles and treaties, but because she cannot carry them out without peril to her existence. But let Brownson, whom Pope Pius IX., in a letter dated April 29, 1854, blessed with an apostolic benediction for services rendered, solve this point. He says: "The Church, who possesses an admirable gift of discretion, has prudently judged that she would not declare all things explicitly from the beginning, but at a given time, and in suitable circumstances, would bring into light something which was hitherto in concealment, and covered with a certain obscurity." (Review, January, 1854).