A man enjoys religious liberty when he possesses the free right of worshiping God according to the dictates of a right conscience, and of practicing a form of religion most in accordance with his duties to God. Every act infringing on his freedom of conscience is justly styled religious intolerance. The religious liberty is the true right of every man because it corresponds with a most certain duty which God has put upon him.
A man enjoys civil liberty when he is exempt from the arbitrary will of others, and when he is governed by equitable laws established for the general welfare of society. So long as, in common with his fellow-citizens, he observes the laws of the state, any exceptional restraint imposed upon him, in the exercise of his rights as a citizen, is so far an infringement on his civil liberty.
I here assert the proposition, which I hope to confirm by historical evidence, that the Catholic Church has always been the zealous promoter of religious and civil liberty; and that whenever any encroachments on these sacred privileges of man were perpetrated by professing members of the Catholic faith, these wrongs, far from being sanctioned by the Church, were committed in palpable violation of her authority.
Her doctrine is, that a man by his own free will fell from grace, so of his own free will must he return to grace. Conversion and coercion are two terms that can never be reconciled. It has ever been a cardinal maxim, inculcated by sovereign Pontiffs and other Prelates, that no violence or undue influence should be exercised by Christian princes or missionaries in their efforts to convert souls to the faith of Jesus Christ.
Pope Gregory I in the latter part of the Sixth Century, compelled the Bishop of Terracine to restore to the Jews, the synagogue which he had seized, declaring that they should not be coerced into the Church, but should be treated with meekness and charity. The great Pontiff issued the same orders to the Prelates of Sardinia and Sicily in behalf of the persecuted Jews.
St. Augustine and his companions, who were sent by Pope Gregory I to England for the conversion of that nation, had the happiness of baptizing in the true faith King Ethelbert and many of his subjects. That monarch, in the fervor of his zeal, was most anxious that all his subjects should immediately follow his example; but the missionaries admonished him that he should scrupulously abstain from violence in the conversion of his people, for the Christian religion should be voluntarily embraced.
Pope Nicholas I also warned Michael, king of the Bulgarians, against employing force or constraint in the conversion of idolaters.
The fourth Council of Toledo, held in 633, a synod of great authority in the Church, ordained that no one should be compelled against his will to make a profession of the Christian faith. Be it remembered that this Council was composed of all the Bishops of Spain, that it was assembled in a country and at a time in which the Church held almost unlimited sway, and among a people who have been represented as the most fanatical and intolerant of all Europe.
Perhaps no man can be considered a fairer representative of the age in which he lived that St. Bernard, the illustrious Abbot of Clairvaux. He was the embodiment of the spirit of the Middle Ages. His life is the key that discloses to us what degree of toleration prevailed in those days. Having heard that a fanatical preacher was stimulating the people to deeds of violence against the Jews as the enemies of Christianity, St. Bernard raised his eloquent voice against him, and rescued those persecuted people from the danger to which they were exposed.
Pope Innocent III in the Thirteenth Century promulgated the following Decree in behalf of the Hebrews: "Let no Jew be constrained to receive baptism, and he that will not consent to be baptized, let him not be molested. Let no one unjustly seize their property, disturb their feasts, or lay waste their cemeteries."
Other succeeding Pontiffs, notably Gregory IX and Innocent IV, issued similar instructions.
Not to cite too many examples, let me quote for you only the beautiful letter addressed by Fenelon, Archbishop of Cambray, to the son of King James II of England. This letter not only reflects the sentiments of his own heart, but formularizes in this particular the decrees of the Church, of which he was a distinguished ornament. "Above all," he writes, "never force your subjects to change their religion. No human power can reach the impenetrable recess of the free will of the heart. Violence can never persuade men; it serves only to make hypocrites. Grant civil liberty to all, not in approving everything as indifferent, but in tolerating with patience whatever Almighty God tolerates, and endeavoring to convert men by mild persuasion."[Vie de Fenelon.]
It is true, indeed, that the Catholic Church spares no pains and stops at no sacrifice in order to induce mankind to embrace her faith. Otherwise she would be recreant to her sacred mission. But she scorns to exercise any undue influence in her efforts to convert souls.
The only argument she would use, is the argument of reason and persuasion; the only tribunal to which she would summon you, is the tribunal of conscience; the only weapon she would wield, is "the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." It is well known that the superior advantages of our female academies throughout the country lead many of our dissenting brethren to send their daughters to these institutions. It is also well known that so warm is the affection which these young ladies entertain for their religious teachers so hallowed is the atmosphere they breathe within these seats of learning, that they often beg to embrace a religion which fosters so much piety and which produces lilies so fragrant and so pure. Do the sisters take advantage of this influence in the cause of proselytism? By no means. So delicate is their regard for the religious conscience of their pupils, that they rarely consent to have these young ladies baptized till, after being thoroughly instructed in all the doctrines of the Church, they have obtained the free permission of their parents or guardians.
The Church is, indeed, intolerant in this sense, that she can never confound truth with error; nor can she admit that any man is conscientiously free to reject the truth when its claims are convincingly brought home to the mind. Many Protestants seem to be very much disturbed by some such argument as this: Catholics are very ready now to proclaim freedom of conscience, because they are in the minority. When they once succeed in getting the upper hand in numbers and power they will destroy this freedom, because their faith teaches them to tolerate no doctrine other than the Catholic. It is, then, a matter of absolute necessity for us that they should never be allowed to get this advantage.
Now, in all this, there is a great mistake, which comes from not knowing the Catholic doctrine in its fulness. I shall not lay it down myself, lest it seem to have gotten up for the occasion. I shall quote the great theologian Becanus, who taught the doctrine of the schools of Catholic Theology at the time when the struggle was hottest between Catholicity and Protestantism. He says that religious liberty may be tolerated by a ruler when it would do more harm to the state or to the community to repress it. The ruler may even enter into a compact in order to secure to his subjects this freedom in religious matters; and when once a compact is made it must be observed absolutely in every point, just as every other lawful and honest contract.[Becanus, de Virtutibus Theologicis, c. 16, quaest. 4, No. 2.] This is the true Catholic teaching on this point, according to Becanus and all Catholic theologians. So that if Catholics should gain the majority in a community where freedom of conscience is already secured to all by law, their very religion obliges them to respect the rights thus acquired by their fellow-citizens. What danger can their be, then, for Protestants if Catholics should be in the majority here? There apprehensions are the result of vain fears, which no honest mind ought any longer to harbor.
The Church has not only respected the conscience of the people in embracing the religion of their choice, but she has also defended their civil rights and liberties against the encroachments of temporal sovereigns. One of the popular errors that have taken possession of some minds in our times is that in former days the Church was leagued with princes for the oppression of the people. This is a base calumny, which a slight acquaintance with ecclesiastical history would soon dispel.
The truth is, the most unrelenting enemies of the Church have been the princes of this world, and so-called Christian princes, too.
The conflict between Church and State has never died out, because the Church has felt it to be her duty, in every age, to raise her voice against the despotic and arbitrary measures of princes. Many of them chafed under the salutary discipline of the Church. They wished to be rid of her yoke. They desired to be governed by no law except the law of their licentious passions and boundless ambitions. And as a Protestant American reviewer[Dr. Brownson, who was then a Protestant.] well said about forty years ago, it was a blessing of Providence that there was a spiritual Power on earth that could stand like a wall of brass against the tyranny of earthly sovereigns and say to them: "Thus far you shall go, and no farther, and here you shall break your swelling waves" of passion; a Power that could say to them what John said to Herod: "This thing is not lawful for thee;" a Power that pointed the finger of reproof to them, even when the sword was pointed to her own neck, and that said to them what Nathan said to David: "Thou art the man." She told princes that if the people have their obligations they have their rights, too; that if the subject must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, Caesar must render to God the things that art God's.
Yes; the Church, while pursuing her Divine mission of leading souls to God, has ever been the defender of the people's rights.
St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan, affords us a striking instance of the strenuous efforts made by the Catholic Church in vindicating the interests of the citizen against the oppression of rulers.
A portion of the people of Thessalonica had committed an outrage against the just authority of the Emperor Theodosius. The offence of those citizens was indeed most reprehensible; but the Emperor requited the insult offered to him by a shocking and disproportioned act of retribution, which has left an indelible stain upon his otherwise excellent character. The inhabitants were assembled together for the ostensible purpose of witnessing a chariot race, and at a given signal the soldiery fell upon the people and involved men, women and children in an indiscriminate massacre, to the number of about seven thousand. Some time after the Emperor presented himself at the Cathedral of Milan; but the intrepid Prelate told him that his hands were dripping with the blood of his subjects, and forbade him entrance to the church till he had made all the reparation in his power to the afflicted people at Thessalonica.
People affect to be shocked at the sentence by the ex-communication occasionally inflicted by the Church on evil-doers. Here is an instance of this penalty. Who can complain of it as being too severe? It was a salutary punishment and the only one that could bring rulers to a sense of duty.
The greatest bulwark of civil liberty is the famous Magna Charta. It is the foundation not only of British, but also of American constitutional freedom. Among other blessings contained in this instrument it establishes trial by jury and the right of Habeas Corpus, and provides that there shall be not taxation without representation.
Who were the framers of this memorable charter? Archbishop Langton, of Canterbury, and the Catholic Barons of England. On the plains of Runnymede, in 1215, they compelled King John to sign that paper which was the death-blow to his arbitrary power and the cornerstone of constitutional government.
Turning to our own country, it is with no small degree of satisfaction that I point to the State of Maryland as the cradle of civil and religious liberty and the "land of the sanctuary." Of the thirteen original American Colonies, Maryland was the only one settled by Catholics. She was, also, the only one that raised aloft over her fair lands the banner of liberty of conscience, and that invited the oppressed of other colonies to seek an asylum beneath its shadow.
Lest I should be suspected of being too partial in my praise of Maryland toleration, I shall take most of my historical facts from Bancroft, a New England Protestant clergyman.
[Note-The first edition of Bancroft's History was published in 1834. From that date till nearly half a century afterward upwards of twenty editions were issued, all of which retain the passages I have cited on Maryland toleration. Early in the 80's a new edition was given out, which omits or abridges some of the passages quoted in this chapter. I may add that all of Bancroft's eulogies of Lord Baltimore's benevolent administration are borne out by the original documents, and by McMahon, Bozman and McSherry, and other historians of Maryland.]
Leonard Calvert, the brother of Lord Baltimore and the leader of the Catholic colony, having sailed from England in the Ark and the Dove, reached his destination on the Potomac in March, 1634.
"The Catholics took quiet possession of the little place, and religious liberty obtained a home, its only home in the wide world, at the humble village which bore the name of St. Mary."[Bancroft's "History of the United States," Vol. I, ch. vii., 20th edition, 1864.]
"The foundation of the colony of Maryland was peacefully and happily laid. Within six months it had advanced more than Virginia had done in as many years. ... But far more memorable was the character of the Maryland institutions. Every other country in the world had persecuting laws; but through the benign administration of the government of that province, no person professing to believe in Jesus Christ was permitted to be molested on account of religion. Under the munificence and superintending mildness of Lord Baltimore, a dreary wilderness was soon quickened with the swarming life and activity of prosperous settlements; the Roman Catholics who were oppressed by the laws of England were sure to find a peaceful asylum in the quiet harbors of the Chesapeake; and there too, Protestants were sheltered against Protestant intolerance. Such were the beautiful auspices under which Maryland started into being. ... Its history is the history of benevolence, gratitude and toleration."
"Maryland was the abode of happiness and liberty. Conscience was without restraint. A mild and liberal proprietary conceded every measure which the welfare of the colony required; domestic union, a happy concert between all the branches of government, an increasing emigration, a productive commerce, a fertile soil, which heaven had richly favored with rivers and deep bays, united to perfect the scene of colonial felicity. Ever intent on advancing the interests of his colony, Lord Baltimore invited the Puritans of Massachusetts to emigrate to Maryland, offering them lands and privileges and free liberty of religion; but Gibbons, to whom he had forwarded the commission, was so wholly tutored in the New England discipline, that he would not advance the wishes of the Irish Peer, and so the invitation was declined."[Bancroft's "History of the United States," Vol. I, ch. vii.]
On the 2nd of April, 1649, the General Assembly of Maryland passed the following Act, which will reflect unfading glory on that State as long as liberty is cherished in the hearts of men.
"Whereas, the enforcing of conscience in matters of religion hath frequently fallen out to be of dangerous consequences in those commonwealths where it has been practiced, and for the more quiet and peaceable government of this province, and the better to preserve mutual love and unity amongst the inhabitants, no person whatsoever within this province professing to believe in Jesus Christ shall from henceforth be anyways troubled or molested for his or her religion, nor in the free exercise thereof, nor anyway compelled to the belief or exercise of any other religion against his or her consent."[Bancroft's "History of the United States," Vol. I, ch. vii. Vide Bacon's Laws.]
Upon this noble statute Bancroft makes the following candid and judicious comment: "The design of the law of Maryland was to protect freedom of conscience; and some years after it had been confirmed the apologist of Lord Baltimore could assert that his government had never given disturbance to any person in Maryland for matter of religion; that the colonists enjoyed freedom of conscience, not less than freedom of person and estate, as amply as ever any people in any place of the world. The disfranchised friends of Prelacy from Massachusetts and the Puritans from Virginia were welcomed to equal liberty of conscience and political rights in the Roman Catholic province of Maryland."[Ibid.]
Five years later, when the Puritans gained the ascendency in Maryland, they were guilty of the infamous ingratitude of disfranchising the very Catholic settlers by whom they had been so hospitably entertained. They "had neither the gratitude to respect the rights of the government by which they had been received and fostered, nor magnanimity to continue the toleration to which alone they were indebted for their residence in the colony. An act concerning religion forbade liberty of conscience to be extended to 'Popery,' 'Prelacy,' or 'licentiousness of opinion.'"[Bancroft's "History of the United States," Vol. I, ch. vii. Vide Bacon's Laws.]
I shall also quote from "Maryland, the History of a Palatinate," by William Hand Browne.[Boston, Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1884.] Mr. Browne was a graduate of the University of Maryland. For several years he was editor of the Maryland Archives, and of the Maryland Historical Society. He became afterward Professor of English Literature in the John Hopkins University. He devoted his long life to the Colonial history of Maryland, and is justly recognized as a standard authority on that subject. I may add that he cannot be suspected of undue partiality, as he was not a member of the Catholic Church.
Speaking of Calvert, the Proprietary of the Maryland Colony, the author remarks that "while as yet there was no spot in Christendom where religious belief was free, and when even the Commons of England had openly declared against toleration, Calvert founded a community wherein no man was to be molested for his faith. At a time when absolutism had struck down representative government in England and it was doubtful if a Parliament of freemen would ever meet again, he founded a community in which no laws were to be made without the consent of the freemen.
The Ark and the Dove were names of happy omen. The one saved from the general wreck the germs of political liberty; and the other bore the olive branch of religious peace."[Ibid., Chapter iii.]
When the rule of the Catholic Proprietary was overthrown and the Puritans had gained the ascendency in the Province, "the new Commissioners issued writs of election to a general assembly--writs of a tenor hitherto unknown in Maryland. No man of the Roman Catholic faith could be elected as a burgess, or even to cast a vote. The Assembly obtained by this process of selection, justified its choice. It at once repealed the Toleration Act of 1649 and created a new one, more to its mind, which also bore the title: "An Act concerning Religion," but it was toleration with a difference. It provided that none who professed the Popish religion should be protected in the Province, but were to be restrained from the exercise thereof.
For Protestants it provided that no one professing faith in Christ was to be restrained from the exercise of his religion, "provided that this liberty be not extended to Popery, or Prelacy, nor to such as under the profession of Christ, hold forth and practice licentiousness. That is, with the exception of the Roman Catholics and churchmen, together with the Brownists, Quakers, Anabaptists, and other miscellaneous Protestant sects, all others might profess their faith without molestation."[Ibid., Chap. v.]
After the overthrow of the Puritan authority, and the advent to power of the members of the Church of England, the second act of the Assembly was to make the Protestant Episcopal Church the established church of the Province.
The Act imposed an annual tax of forty pounds of tobacco per poll on all taxables for the purpose of building churches, and maintaining the clergy. In 1702 it was re-enacted with a toleration clause: "Protestant Dissenters and Quakers were exempted from the penalties and disabilities, and might have separate meeting-houses, provided that they paid their forty pounds per poll to support the Established Church. As for the 'Papists,' it is needless to say that there was no exemption nor license for them."[Ibid., Chap. xi.]
The author then sets before us the three kinds of toleration, like three portraits, so that their distinctive features appear in bold relief.
"We may now," he says, "place side by side the three tolerations of Maryland."
The toleration of the (Catholic) Proprietaries lasted fifty years, and under it all believers in Christ were equal before the law, and all support to churches or ministers was voluntary.
The Puritan toleration lasted six years, and included all but Papists, Prelatists and those who held objectional doctrines.
The Anglican toleration lasted eighty years, and had glebes and churches for the Establishment, connivance for Dissenters, the penal laws for Catholics, and for all, the forty per poll.
In fact, an additional turn was given to the screw in this year; the oath of "abhorrency," a more offensive form of the oath of supremacy, being required, beside the oath of allegiance, and for one thing, no Catholic attorney was allowed to practise in the Province."[Ibid. Chap. xi.]
When the members of the Constitutional Convention declared in 1787, that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," it is worthy of note that they were echoing the sentiments, and even repeating the language of the Maryland Assembly of 1649, which declared that "No person whatsoever within this Province, professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth be any ways molested for his or her religion, nor in the free exercise thereof."
We may therefore affirm that Lord Baltimore's Toleration Act of 1649 was the bright dawn that ushered in the noon-day sun of freedom in 1787. And we have every reason to believe that the Proprietary's charter of liberty with its attendant blessings, served as an example, an incentive, and an inspiration to some at least of the framers of the Constitution, to extend over the new Republic, the precious boon of civil and religious liberty.
It is proper to also observe that the Act of 1649 was not a new declaration of religious freedom on the part of Lord Baltimore's administration, but was a solemn affirmation of the toleration granted by the Catholic Proprietary from the beginning of the Settlement in 1634.
I will close this subject in the words of a distinguished member of the Maryland Historical Society: "Higher than all titles and badges of honor, and more exalted than royal nobility is the imperishable distinction which the passage of this broad and liberal Act won for Maryland, and for the members of that never-to-be-forgotten session, and sacred forever be the hallowed spot which gave it birth."[James Walter Thomas.]
What shall I say of the prominent part that was taken by distinguished representatives of the Catholic Church in the cause of our American Independence? What shall I say of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who, at the risk of sacrificing his rich estates, signed the Declaration of Independence; of Rev. John Carroll, afterward the first Archbishop of Baltimore, who, with his cousin Charles Carroll and Benjamin Franklin, was sent by Congress to Canada to secure the co-operation of the people of that province in the struggle for liberty; of Kosciusko, Lafayette, Pulaski, Barry and a host of other Catholic heroes who labored so effectually in the same glorious cause? American patriots without number the Church has nursed in her bosom; a traitor, never.
The Father of his Country was not unmindful of these services. Shortly after his election to the Presidency, replying[The original of Washington's reply is still preserved in the Archives of the Baltimore Council.] to an address of his Catholic fellow-citizens, he uses the following language: "I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed."
And the Catholics of our generation have nobly emulated the patriotism and the spirit of toleration exhibited by their ancestors. They can neither be accused of disloyalty nor of intolerance to their dissenting brethren. In more than one instance of our nation's history our churches have been desecrated and burned to the ground; our convents have been invaded and destroyed; our clergy have been exposed to insult and violence. These injuries have been inflicted on us by incendiary mobs animated by hatred of Catholicism. Yet, in spite of these provocations, our Catholic citizens, though wielding an immense numerical influence in the localities where they suffered, have never retaliated. It is in a spirit of just pride that we can affirm that hitherto in the United States no Protestant house of worship or educational institution has been destroyed, nor violence offered to a Protestant minister by those who profess the Catholic faith. God grant that such may always be our record!
It is just because the Church has ever resisted the tyranny of kings, in their encroachments on the sacred rights of conscience, that she has always been the victim of royal persecution. In every age, in the language of the Psalmist, "the kings of the earth rose up, and the princes assembled together against the Lord and against His Christ."[Ps. ii.] The brightest and most thrilling pages of ecclesiastical history are those which record the sufferings of Popes and Prelates at the hands of temporal sovereigns for conscience' and for justice' sake.
Take, for instance, St. John Chrysostom, the great Archbishop of Constantinople in the fifth century, and the idol of the people. He had the courage, like John the Baptist, to raise his eloquent voice against the lasciviousness of the court, and particularly against the Empress Eudoxia, who rules like another Jezabel. He was banished from his See, treated with the utmost indignity by the soldiers, and died in exile from sheer exhaustion and ill-treatment.
Witness Pope Gregory VII the fearless Hildebrand, in his life-long struggle with the German Emperor, Henry IV. Gregory directed all the energies of his great mind towards reforming the abuses which had crept into the church of France and Germany in the eleventh century. In those days the Emperor of Germany assumed the right of naming or appointing Bishops throughout his Empire. This sacred office was commonly bestowed on very unworthy candidates, and very often put up at auction, to be sold to the highest bidder, as is now the case with the schismatic Greek church in Turkey.
These Bishops too often repaid their imperial benefactor by pandering to his passions and by the most servile flattery. The intrepid Pope partially succeeded in uprooting the evil, though the effort cost him his life. The Emperor invaded Rome and drove Gregory from his See, who died uttering these words with this last breath: "I have loved justice and hated iniquity, and therefore I die in exile."
For the same cause Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, was slain at the altar by the hired assassins of Henry II, of England.
Observe how Pius VII was treated by the first Napoleon in the beginning of the present century. The day-dream of Napoleon was to be master of Europe, and to place his brothers and friends on the thrones of the continent, that they might revolve, like so many satellites, around his throne in France. Napoleon makes two demands on the venerable Pontiff: First--That he dissolve the marriage which had been contracted between the Emperor's brother, Jerome, and Miss Patterson, of Baltimore. His ostensible reason for having the marriage dissolved was because Miss Patterson was a Protestant, but his real motive was to secure a royal bride for his brother instead of an American lady. Second--That he close his ports against the commerce of England, with which nation Napoleon was then at war, and make common cause with the Emperor against his enemies. The Pope rejected both demands. He told the Emperor that the Church held all marriages performed by her as indissoluble, even when one of the parties was not a Catholic; and that, as the common father of Christendom, he could close his port against no Christian power. For refusing to comply with this second demand the Pope was arrested and sent into exile, where he lingered for years.
At this very moment the old conflict between the Church and despotic governments is raging fiercely throughout Europe. The scene enacted by John and Herod is today reproduced in almost every kingdom of the old world. It is the old fight between brute force and the God-given rights of conscience.
In Russia we see the Bishop of Plock exiled for life from his See to Siberia. His only offence is his refusal to acknowledge that the Emperor Alexander is the head of the Christian Church.
If we pass over into Italy we see religious men and women driven from their homes; their houses and libraries confiscated--libraries which pious and learned men had been collecting and consulting for ages. The only crime of those religious is that they have not the power to resist brute force.
Cross the Alps into France and there you will see that many-headed monster, the Commune, assassinating the Archbishop of Paris and his clergy, soley because he and they were the representatives of law and order.
In the Republic of Switzerland Bishop Mermillod is expelled from Geneva without the slightest charge adduced against his character as a citizen of a Christian Prelate. Faithful clergymen are deprived by the government of their parochial rights and renegade Priests are intruded in their place. The shepherd is driven away and wolves lay waste the fold.
Go to Prussia; what do you behold there? A Prime Minister flushed with his recent victories over France. He is not content with seeing his master wear the imperial crown of Germany; he wants him to wear also the tiara of the Pope. Bismarck, like Aman, the minister of King Assuerus, is not satisfied with being second in the kingdom so long as Mardochai, that is the Church, refuses to bow down and worship him.
He fines the venerable Archbishop of Gnesen-Posen and other Prussian Prelates again and again, sells their furniture and finally sends them to prison for a protracted period. St. John Chrysostom beautifully remarks that St. Paul, elevated to the third heaven, was glorious to contemplate; but that far more glorious is Paul buried in the dungeons of Rome. I can say in like manner, of Archbishop Ledochowski of Posen, that he was conspicuous in the Vatican Council among his peers; but he was still more conspicuous sitting solitary in his Prussian prison.
The loyalty of the Prussian clergy is above reproach. The Bishops are imprisoned because they insist on the right of educating students for the ministry, ordaining and appointing clergy, without consulting the government. They are denied a right which in this country is possessed by Free Masons and every other human organization in the land.
Perhaps a simple illustration will present to you in a clearer light the odious character of the penal laws to which I have alluded. Suppose the government of the United States were to issue a general order requiring the clergy of the various Christian denominations to be educated in government establishments, forcing them to take an oath before entering on the duties of the ministry, and forbidding the ecclesiastical authorities to appoint or remove any clergyman without permission of the civil power at Washington. Would not the American people rise up in their might before they would submit to have fetters so galling forged on their conscience? And yet this is precisely the odious legislation which the Prussian government is enacting against the Church. And the Catholic Church, in resisting these laws, is not only fighting her own battles, but she is contending for the principle of freedom of conscience everywhere.
But, thank God, we live in a country where liberty of conscience is respected, and where the civil constitution holds over us the aegis of her protection, without intermeddling with ecclesiastical affairs. From my heart, I say: American, with all thy faults, I love thee still. Perhaps at this moment there is no nation on the face of the earth where the Church is less trammelled, and where she has more liberty to carry out her sublime destiny than in these United States.
For my part, I much prefer the system which prevails in this country, where the temporal needs of the Church are supplied by voluntary contributions of the faithful, to the system which obtains in some Catholic countries of Europe, where the Church is supported by the government, thereby making feeble reparation for the gross injustice it has done to the Church by its former wholesale confiscation of ecclesiastical property. And the Church pays dearly for this indemnity, for she has to bear the perpetual enactments of the civil power, which aims at making her wholly dependent upon itself.
Some years ago, on my return from Rome, in company with the late Archbishop Spalding I paid a visit to the Bishop of Annecy, in Savoy. I was struck by the splendor of his palace and saw a sentinel at the door, placed there by the French government as a guard of honor. But the venerable Bishop soon disabused me of my favorable impressions. He told me that he was in a state of gilded slavery. I cannot, said he, build as much as a sacristy without obtaining permission of the government.
I do not wish to see the day when the Church will invoke or receive any government aid to build our churches, or to pay the salary of our clergy, for the government may then begin to dictate to us what doctrines we ought to preach. If it is a great wrong to muzzle the press, it is a greater wrong to muzzle the pulpit. No amount of State subsidy would compensate for the evils resulting from the Government censorship of the Gospel, and the suppression of Apostolic freedom in proclaiming it. St. Paul exults in the declaration that, though he is personally in chains, the word of God in not enchained.[II. Tim. ii. 9.]
And moreover, in proportion as State patronage would increase, the sympathy and aid of the faithful would diminish.
May the happy condition of things now existing among us always continue, in which the relations between the clergy and the people will be direct and immediate, in which Bishops and Priests will bestow upon their spiritual children their voluntary labors, their tender solicitude, their paternal affection, and pour out like water their hearts' blood, if necessary; and in which they will receive in return the free-will offerings--the devotion and gratitude of a filial people.