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Papal Aggression


Papal Aggression - Apostolic Vicars - Bull of Pope Pius IX. - Pastoral of Cardinal Wiseman - Establishment of a Roman Catholic Hierarchy with Territorial Titles - Public Excitement caused by the Papal Aggression - The Durham Letter - The Speech from the Throne - Discussions on the Subject in the Lords and Commons - Speech of Lord John Russell - The Papal Aggression Bill - Dr. Cullen - The Synod of Thurles - The Bill passes both Houses with large Majorities - Ministerial Crisis - Failure of the Leaders of the Protectionists, or Peelites, to form an Administration - Restoration of the Russell Cabinet - The Great Exhibition of 1851 - The Prince Consort - Civic Banquets in London and York - The Royal Commission - Mr. Paxton - The Crystal Palace - Opening of the Exhibition by the Queen- Number of Visitors - Receipts - Brilliant Success of the Exhibition.
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From the Revolution, 1688, when the Roman Catholic hierarchy was abolished with the arbitrary power of James II., the government of the Roman Catholic clergy was maintained in England by "vicars apostolic." England was divided into four vicariates, and this state of things continued until 1840, when Gregory XVI. ordained a new ecclesiastical division of England, doubling the number of vicariates, which were thenceforward named the London, the Western, the Eastern, the Central, the Welsh, the Lancastrian, the York, and the Northern districts. In consequence of the increase of Roman Catholics in this country, and the removal of their civil disabilities by the Emancipation Act, a desire grew up for the re-organisation of the regular episcopal system of the Church of Rome, and Pius IX. resolved to establish it in 1850. He stated in his brief that he was moved to do this by the fact that the vicars apostolic of England had unanimously prayed for it, and that " petitions in the same sense had been presented to him by very many among the clergy, and by laymen distinguished by their virtues and birth, and that a desire for the hierarchy was entertained by many amongst the Catholics in England." The Pope therefore stated, "We invoke the most blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God, and the saints who shed the lustre of their virtue upon England, that they would aid us, by their intercession before God, in bringing this matter to a happy issue." He then referred the whole question to the consideration of the Cardinals of the Propaganda Fide. Their opinion was in accordance with his desire, and he resolved to confirm and carry it into execution; whereupon he said, " Of our own mature and certain knowledge, and of the plenitude of our apostolic authority, we decree and ordain that in the kingdom of England shall again flourish, according to the common laws of the Church, the hierarchy of bishops in ordinary, who shall take their titles from the sees, which we appoint by these presents, in the districts of the several vicars apostolic."

Pius IX. then enumerates the sees and the territorial divisions allotted to each of the bishops, and says, " And thus in the most flourishing kingdom of England there will be only one ecclesiastical province, composed of one archbishop or metropolitan, and of twelve bishops, his suffragans, through whose zeal and pastoral care we trust that Catholicity will, by the favour of Almighty God, receive fresh increase." " The archbishops and bishops of England " were to " enjoy all the rights and privileges which the Catholic archbishops and bishops in other states have and use, according to the common ordinances of the sacred canons and apostolic constitutions," and were to be " bound by the same obligations." The brief concluded as follows: - " We decree that whatever may be attempted, by whomsoever and by whatsoever authority, wittingly or in ignorance, to set aside the matters hereinbefore contained, shall be void and of no effect. We will that the same faith which would be given to this expression of our will if this original instrument were produced, shall be given to copies, even printed, of the same, provided they be signed by a notary public, and sealed by a person constituted an ecclesiastical dignity, with his seal. Given at Rome at St. Peter's, under the ring of the Fisherman, on the 30th day of September, in the year 1850, of our pontificate the 5th. " A. Card. Lambruschini."

This was accompanied by a " pastoral " headed as follows: - "Nicholas, by the Divine mercy, of the holy Roman Church, by the title of St. Pudentiana, Cardinal Priest, Archbishop of Westminster, and Administrator Apostolic of the Diocese of Southwark; " and ending in the following words: - "Given out of the Flaminian Gate of Rome, this 7th day of October, in the year of our Lord 1850. (Signed "Nicholas, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.")

In this document Cardinal Wiseman referred to the " Pope's Letters Apostolic under the Fisherman's ring, conceived in terms of great weight and dignity," in which he substituted for the eight apostolic vicariates one metropolitan and twelve episcopal sees; at the same time creating Dr. Wiseman a cardinal, and appointing him Metropolitan and Archbishop of Westminster. He then proceeded as follows: - " Your beloved country has received a place among the iair churches which, normally constituted, form the splendid aggregate of Catholic communion. Catholic England has been restored to its orbit in the ecclesiastical firmament, from which its light had long vanished, and begins now anew its course of regularly adjusted action round the centre of unity, the source of jurisdiction, of light, and of vigour. How wonderfully all this has been brought about, how clearly the hand of God has been shown in every step, we have not now leisure to relate; but we may hope soon to recount to you by word of mouth. In the meantime we will content ourselves with assuring you that if the concordant voices of those venerable and most eminent counsellors to whom the Holy See commits the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in missionary countries; if the overruling of every interest and design, so as to render this measure almost necessary; if the earnest prayers of our Holy Pontiff and his most sacred oblation of the Divine Sacrifice, added to his own deep and earnest reflection, can form to the Catholic heart an earnest of heavenly direction, an assurance that the Spirit of Truth, who guides the Church, has here inspired its Supreme Head, we cannot desire stronger or more I consoling evidence that this most important measure is from God, has his sanction and blessing, and will consequently prosper."

He next described " the saints of our country, whether Roman or British, Saxon or Norman, as looking down from their seats of bliss with beaming glance upon this new evidence of the faith and Church which led them to glory, sympathising with those who have faithfully adhered to them through centuries of ill repute for the truth's sake, and now reap the fruit of their patience and long-suffering." " Oh, how must they bless God," ho exclaimed, " who hath again visited his people; how take part in our joy, as they see the lamp of the temple again re-kindled and re-brightening, as they behold the silver links of that chain, which has connected their country with the See of Peter in its vicarial government, changed into burnished gold; not stronger or more closely knit, but more beautifully wrought and more brightly arrayed." The Cardinal concluded by enjoining that his pastoral letter should be read in all the churches and chapels in the diocese of Westminster and the diocese of Southwark, appointing at the same time various religious solemnities to be observed in order to celebrate the great event.

Perhaps there never was a document published in England that caused so much excitement as this pastoral letter; nor was society ever more violently agitated by any religious question since the Reformation. The pastoral provoked from Lord John Russell a counterblast in the shape of a letter to the Bishop of Durham, in which he gave deep offence to the Roman Catholics by stating that " the Roman Catholic religion confines the intellect and enslaves the soul." The Protestant feeling in the country was excited in the highest degree. The press was full of the "Papal aggression." Meetings were held upon it almost in every town throughout the United Kingdom. It was alluded to in the speech from the throne, and during the sessions of 1851 and 1852, occupied a great portion of the time and attention of Parliament. The following passage in reference to it occurred in the Queen's Speech at the opening of the session of 1851: - " The recent assumption of certain ecclesiastical titles conferred by a foreign power has excited strong feelings in this country, and large bodies of my subjects have presented addresses to me, expressing attachment to the throne, and praying that such assumption should be resisted. I have assured them of my resolution to maintain the rights of my crown, and the independence of the nation, against all encroachment, from whatever quarter it may proceed. I have at the same time expressed my earnest desire and firm determination, under God's blessing, to maintain unimpaired the religious liberty which is so justly prized by the people of this country. It will be for you to consider the measure which will be laid before you on this subject."

In both Houses of Parliament this topic occupied a prominent place in the debates on the Address. The Earl of Effingham, who moved the Address in the House of Lords, declared that the step lately taken by the Pope was such as would never have been tolerated in this country in Roman Catholic times, nor would be tolerated in any Roman Catholic country at the present day. It was necessary, therefore, that this insolent assumption of supremacy should be repressed. He said " they should extinguish the attempt to introduce a Roman Catholic hierarchy into England with territorial designations." Lord Stanley said it was impossible to deny that an insolent aggression had been made on the supremacy of the English crown. It was a political far more than a religious question, and if the Ministry dealt with it fearlessly and vigorously, they would have the assent and support of their political opponents, and of the country at large. Lord Camoys, as a Roman Catholic peer, remarked that he acknowledged the supremacy of the Pope over the Roman Catholic population of this country in spiritual matters; but as to any other assumption ox power over this country on the part of the Pope, or any undue exercise of his spiritual power over its population - against any such aggression he felt it his duty to protest. The Marquis of Lansdowne declared that it afforded reason for additional admiration, of those sentiments, that they emanated from a nobleman connected by hereditary ties for centuries with the Roman Catholic body in England; and he believed he might safely assert that such sentiments, emanating from such a quarter, would outweigh a hundredfold with the nation the effect of proceedings originating in the most profound ignorance of the past history and present condition and feeling of this country. God forbid that, under the pressure of any circumstances of provocation, they should think of withdrawing the rights and privileges they had given to Roman Catholics. H all the Pope had intended in his bull was to assume a spiritual jurisdiction over Roman Catholics only, why was not that expressed? And if he saw that throughout the document in question the rights of the Crown and the existence of the Protestant hierarchy were studiously and carefully ignored, no person would persuade him that it was by accident, and that the inference of nothing more than spiritual dominion over Roman Catholics being intended, was to be drawn.

Mr. Peto, who seconded the Address in the House of Commons, justified the resistance to Papal aggression upon political rather than religious grounds. Mr. Roebuck, on the other hand, ridiculed the idea that there was any danger from Papal aggression. He said it was no new thing in the country. It began years ago, and had been sanctioned by Lord John Russell himself. How was the prerogative of the Crown assailed, if Dr. Wiseman chose to call himself a cardinal, and put on a large hat and red stockings? He thought it unworthy of the noble lord, so long the advocate of civil and religious liberty, to aid a cry which had its source in some of the vilest passions, and lend the sanction of his great name to the old Puritanical bigotry of England. Lord John Russell drew a distinction between the Church of Rome and the Court of Rome, the latter of which always pursued a policy of aggression, not merely on the spiritual but on the temporal interests of the kingdom with which it was concerned. If nothing but spiritual power was intended, what was the meaning of the passage in Cardinal Wiseman's pastoral - "We govern, and shall continue to govern, the counties of Middlesex, Essex, and Hertfordshire? " The noble lord asked, was that a spiritual charge? The answer was given by Mr. Newman, and by the usual organs of the Roman Catholics, both in this country and in France. In reference to the Durham letter, Lord John remarked: "I beg to declare that I have never insulted the feelings of my Roman Catholic countrymen. I made some observations which had reference, not to those to whom the honourable gentleman would apply them, but to a section or body of the Church to which I myself belong. The matter of those observations may have been right or may have been wrong. I do not conceive that any candid Roman Catholic, on perusing them, would feel that they were intended to apply; but it is sufficient for me to state, that in making them I used no stronger terms than I had heard the bishop of my own diocese employ in speaking of the same body in our own Church. I am firmly persuaded that we have already, in our own public feeling, our own polity, our own public discussion, and in the existing law and authority of Parliament, sufficient to protect the integrity of that civil and religious freedom that all classes of Her Majesty's subjects are so earnest to maintain, against all aggressions of this kind that may be attempted upon them. After all that has arisen to call forth the expression of that feeling, it is upon that feeling I rely with the greatest confidence. It is on the attachment of the people to those institutions, on their deep and earnest feeling for all that regards their welfare and integrity, that I look for the surest protection of this kingdom against the machinations and aggressions of the Court of Rome, or of any other foreign power, spiritual or temporal, whatever."

On the 7th of February the Prime Minister introduced his Papal Aggression Bill. He referred, in connection with the subject, to recent occurrences in Ireland. Dr. Cullen, who had spent most of his life at Rome, had been appointed Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, though his name had not been returned by the parish priests of the diocese, who were accustomed to elect three of their number to be submitted to the Pope as dignusy dignior, dignissimus. He was afterwards transferred to Dublin as the more influential post, with the powers of legate, which placed him at the head of the hierarchy. Then there was the synod of Thurles, which condemned the Queen's colleges, and interfered with the land question and other temporal matters. He argued from the terms of the Pope's Bull that there was an assumption of territorial power of which our Roman Catholic ancestors were always jealous. He thought the best course which Cardinal "Wiseman could pursue was to renounce his title and reside at Rome; "but if other counsels should prevail, and he should instil motives of ambition and revenge into the Court of Rome, they must prepare for a long and arduous struggle, in which the part he should take would be guided by the principles which had always governed his conduct on those questions." The bill was vehemently opposed by the Irish Roman Catholic members, Mr. J O'Connell, Mr. Roche, Mr. Moore, Mr. M. J. O'Connell, Mr. Reynolds, and Mr. Keogh. Mr. Bright and Mr. Disraeli also opposed the measure, which was supported by the Attorney-General, Lord Ashley, Mr. Page Wood, and Sir G. Grey. Several other members having spoken for and against the bill, its introduction was carried by the overwhelming majority of 395 to 63.

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