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The Papacy

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Opening from some of the most crowded thoroughfares of the city of London there are quiet lanes whose picturesque aspect tempts the foot of the inquiring stranger. A few steps conduct from the crowd and tumult of the street into a narrow court surrounded by buildings of great age. Over the scene there broods a quaint, antique repose. The muffled sounds of the neighbouring street do not dispel, do not even disturb the deep calm which seems to have reigned here for centuries.

A contrast not less striking than this is experienced by the student of the nineteenth century when he turns to the investigation of the Papacy. The splendid activities of the age have occupied his mind: its mechanical greatness, its humane disposition to alleviate suffering, its vindication of individual rights, its eagerness to educate and elevate - all the gracious phenomena which compose the civilization of this wondrous time. He turns the page, and at once he breathes the air of buried centuries. The beliefs, the tendencies, the purposes of the Middle Ages are around him. The progress of man is reprobated and forbidden as a thing offensive to Heaven. Eternal hostility to the civilization which is deemed the glory of the century is announced, with copious and energetic malediction, by the spiritual chief of two hundred million Christians.

In the early years of the century the Papacy endured no small hardness at the cruel hands of Napoleon. Rome discerned an irreconcilable enemy in the French republic from the very dawn of that appalling phenomenon. The republic recognized an irreconcilable enemy in Rome, the natural ally of all despotisms. Moved by his sympathies, the pope was about to put in execution appropriately hostile purposes. But Napoleon, with the malign promptitude which often characterizes the sons of Belial, interrupted his preparations. Utterly disregarding the sacred character of the pope, he marched on Rome. His holiness, taken at a disadvantage, hastened to conclude a treaty, in which he consented to appease the wrath of the youthful conqueror by a contribution of nearly a million sterling and one hundred of his best pictures. But, lured by deceptive indications of Austrian success, he quickly repudiated the treaty, and went out to battle against the French. Napoleon routed his troops, wrested from him many towns, and increased his exactions so mercilessly that the diamonds of his holiness had to be given up in payment. The French government of the day contemplated the overthrow of the pope's temporal sovereignty, and Napoleon gave willing furtherance to their designs. French troops seized Rome and plundered the sacred city. The pope - then a man of eighty-two - was sent by a toilsome land journey into France, where the old man died within a few days of his arrival. A republic was inaugurated in Rome, and for a time the patrimony of St. Peter was ruled by the profane.

A few years later Napoleon - now at the very pinnacle of Greatness - seemed to relent towards the distressed head of the church. He was about to be crowned emperor, and he desired the pope to take part in the ceremony. His holiness, not insensible to the value of Napoleon's friendship, readily consented. The church rejoiced over the reconversion of erring France. But these felicitations were of brief duration. Pius VII., presuming upon the sincerity of this happy concord, applied to the emperor for restoration of certain portions of papal territory. The emperor would not listen to the request; the rights of the tiara, he alleged, were merely "humiliation and prayer." His Italian policy gave full effect to this principle. Rome was again occupied by French troops. The Roman states were formally united to France. Next morning after the lawless annexation was announced, the pope issued a bull, excommunicating this ravisher of sacred lands. The emperor was not slow to find a reply to the courageous pontiff. The palace of the Quirinal was forced by French soldiers, and the holy father, expecting instant death, was led away into France. Napoleon had long desired to have the pope subject to his own control. He himself would have been head of the church, had that been possible; but the residence of the pope in France would yield results scarcely less important. Paris would become the capital of the Christian world. "I," said this marvellous dreamer of dreams, "would have directed the religious world as well as the political."

The states of the church were immediate gainers by this lawless transference of authority. Just laws were immediately enacted and inflexibly enforced. Assassination ceased in Rome; life and property enjoyed effective protection. Preparations were begun for draining the Pontine marshes. The monuments of ancient Rome were rescued from neglect and decay. The removal of the holy father marked the opening of a brief era of order and progress - of which his return marked the close.

The pope was held in custody for nearly five years. Latterly his place of detention was Fontainebleau, where he lived in absolute seclusion, deprived of the services of his usual advisers, and reduced to occupy himself with needlework. It was not till the disasters of the Moscow campaign broke his power that Napoleon sought to conciliate offended Christendom by terminating the captivity of the pope. Even then he hesitated, The pope was suffered to begin his homeward journey, but was subjected to delays so numerous that his final deliverance was not accomplished until the abdication of the emperor had taken place. A little later he obtained from the Congress of Vienna the complete restitution of all the former possessions of the Holy See.

The Romans bestowed a cordial welcome on the returning pontiff; for the harshness of Napoleon's rule had offended them. For some years they bore silently the evils of papal government; but gradually the liberal spirit gained strength among them. Secret organizations overspread the patrimony of St. Peter, and sought to compass the overthrow of his successor. A series of abortive plots stimulated to incessant vigilance the zeal of the papal police. At length there came a rash but formidable insurrection. It originated in Modena, but quickly passed over to papal soil, and in a few days all the Romagna was in arms. The insurgents were within full view of St. Peter's. Unmoved by the sight of the hallowed edifice, they formally decreed that the temporal sovereignty of the holy father was abolished. But the time had not yet come. An Austrian army scattered the patriots and restored order.

Gregory XVI. had been elected pope on the very day before the insurrection broke out, and he never lost the impression which its hateful incidents produced upon his mind. His official and personal antipathy to political change was extremely intensified. While yet his reign was only beginning, the great powers united in urging upon him that "great administrative and organic improvements" were necessary in his dominions. Russia and Austria were parties to this representation, and it may be reasonably inferred that methods of government which these states deemed faulty were seriously in need of amelioration. But Gregory was immovable. Every change seemed to him to favour liberalism - a thing hateful to God and to all good men. The fifteen years of his reign were one long struggle to repress the love of freedom which was gaining strength on every side. His difficulties increased as the years passed; but the old man was inflexible in his resolution to withstand the very beginnings of reform.

The political and social conditions under which the people of the Roman states then lived could not have been maintained anywhere in Christendom excepting by a government of priests. Only one-third of the soil was cultivated. The people were miserably poor. Employment was scarce and wages small. The country was overrun by brigands, whom government was powerless to restrain. The press was effectively bridled; literature and science were discouraged. Vaccination was not permitted. There was no education for the poor; and it was said that only one person in a thousand could read. Enterprise was repressed; men lived hopelessly in that degraded position to which they had been born. When certain capitalists proposed to organize steam navigation between Rome and the chief towns of the sea-coast, the papal government withdrew its consent after the ships were contracted for. The origin and perpetuation of these evils are sufficiently explained by the circumstance that there was in Rome one ecclesiastic for every ten families.

When death had silenced Pope Gregory's defence of the rank abuses which surrounded him, his vacant throne was occupied by Pius IX., a man who, under more favourable circumstances, would probably have lent his aid to the cause of progress and improvement. His task as a temporal prince had fallen on evil times; but he did not for a moment forget the grave theological interests of which he was the guardian. He occupied himself about " the prerogatives of the mother of God," while secret societies undermined his throne and revolution thundered at his gates. The absolute sinlessness of the Virgin Mary had, until now, been a subject regarding which loyal Catholics might without impropriety differ. They had differed, and much controversy had ensued, not leading towards any satisfying result. The pope desired to terminate these uncertainties, to silence controversy, to make it a wickedness for the faithful longer to question the immaculate purity of Mary. He inquired of the bishops in all parts of the world what were their opinions and their advice on this subject. The bishops were courtiers as well as ecclesiastics, and they replied in the terms which, as they perceived, would be acceptable. The holy father, solaced and encouraged by the support which he received, issued the bull "Ineffabilis" for the instruction of the faithful. It was a high day in Rome. A multitude of ecclesiastics past numbering walked in solemn procession. The pope, under deep emotion, crowned with a diadem the figure of the Madonna. And then he declared it to be a doctrine revealed by God that the Virgin Mary "from the first instant of her conception was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin." He who hereafter disputed this newly disclosed truth "suffered shipwreck of the faith, and incurred the penalties justly established against heresy." (The church has brooded for many centuries over this question, and has suffered vast conflicts of opinion in her efforts to settle it. There were two great contending doctrines: the earliest was that of the Immaculate Nativity, which asserts that Mary was liberated from sin and born without it. Since the eleventh century this doctrine has been felt to be less and less adequate to explain the absolute sinlessness of Mary. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary was free from sin in the very first moment of her existence; and this having been deemed a more satisfactory solution of the problem than the other, has, as we see, been conclusively adopted.)

Ten years after Christendom was enriched by this weighty dogma, the pope celebrated the high anniversary by publishing an encyclical letter for the guidance and encouragement of the faithful. Having offered some instructions concerning the approach of his people to the Virgin Mary, "the well-beloved mother of us all," whom, the church had so highly honoured, and who had "destroyed all heresies throughout the world," the holy father proceeded to compile a catalogue of eighty separate and distinct heresies over which he pronounced his solemn anathema. Twenty-seven of these pernicious tenets bore reference to such matters as pantheism, rationalism, and religious indifference; ten related to marriage; twenty were errors against the church; the balance were political heresies. Foremost among these was the detestable opinion that "the pope can and ought to become reconciled to progress, liberalism, and modern civilization." Equally offensive was the opinion that "civil liberty of worship and freedom of the press do not conduce to the corruption of morals." These poisonous opinions, and the erring persons who held them, were cursed by the holy father with all the vigour of execration for which Rome has ever been renowned. Moreover, the pope condemned with equal heartiness all societies for circulating the Scriptures, and all persons, not being members of the true church, who presumed to entertain any hope of eternal salvation for themselves or other misbelievers.

In this manner Rome denned her attitude to the nineteenth century. During fifty years a marvellously rich development had taken place in human affairs, - a marvellous progress in intelligence, in regulated freedom of thought and action, in inventions highly endowed with power to benefit man; and by necessary consequence a marvellous addition to the well-being of the human family. It behoved the church to express herself regarding these unprecedented circumstances. She opened her lips to curse them. She announced irreconcilable and eternal hostility to the spirit and impulses which are the peculiar glory of the age. She placed the stamp of her preference upon the imperfect development of an earlier time. She condemned Heaven's great law of progress, - of advancement from a lower level of cultivation and well-being to a higher, - and sought to lay enduring arrest upon its operation. Thus Rome broke finally with the nineteenth century, and declared her antagonism to all its maxims, its aims, its achievements. And the millions who owned her sway raised no protest, uttered no remonstrance. Nay, a few years after, their chiefs are found solemnly declaring that the man who was specially chargeable with this egregious folly was so amply blessed with divine guidance that error was to him impossible.

In 1868 the sorrows of the holy father had reached a measure of intensity which seemed to lift them above the possibility of augmentation. All Italy was now free and united, excepting the patrimony of St. Peter, which remained a little islet of despotism and misrule alone in a great sea of liberty and order. The French troops, whose bayonets had long upheld papal authority, had lowered their flag and marched out of Rome ("Difficult, and sorrowful are the times in which we live," said the pope, when the French withdrew and left him alone with his subjects). The Romans had risen against their father, and wicked persons had blown up with gunpowder the barracks in which his soldiers lodged. Garibaldi, "the evil genius of the Italian peninsula," had defeated his army. Austria had withdrawn from the church the control of her schools, and allowed freedom of the press and of worship - proceedings which the grieved pope condemned as "abominable." Italy made it too plain that she intended Rome to become, as of old, the capital of the kingdom. In the words of the pope himself, " Satan, his satellites and his sons, did not cease to set loose in the most horrible manner their fury against our divine religion, against us, and against the chair of St. Peter." Fallen thus on evil times, his holiness summoned to his aid the princes of the church. "A horrible tempest" was threatening society and religion, and a council was required to find and apply a remedy for the thickening miseries of the time.

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