The Greatest Writer of the 19th Century » Brownson's Writings » Native American Civility,--Religious Liberty, &c.

Native American Civility,--Religious Liberty, &c.

Brownson's Quarterly Review, October, 1845

Art. IV.  Native American Civility,--Religious Liberty, &c.

The following, received by our publisher a short time since, is too characteristic of a spirit somewhat prevalent in our community to be lost.

                                                 "Milbury, September 6th, 1845. "Mr. Benjamin H. Greene.

" Dear Sir: I received this letter, purporting to be an account against one Samuel Harrington, for Brownson's Review for 1844, but, owing to carelessness in superscribing, was directed to S.Harrington of Milbury, and there being no other Harrington in town whose name began with S, the postmaster thought it must mean me. I know nothing of the work, except what is expressed in the within prospectus; but, judging of the character of the work by the author whose name it bears, I should think him well qualified to write upon politics, religion, and infidelity, having himself belonged to almost every party and sect, and, last of all, turned Roman Catholic. I should think you would be troubled to find any American Republican who would have any tiling to do with a work bearing the name of one who has proved himself a traitor to republicanism, and every principle for which our forefathers spent their treasures and blood, by acknowledging his allegiance to the most abject of foreign despots the world has ever known, ' the Pope of Rome,'  who claims that his will is law ; that the Bible, the most perfect book ever given to man, his chart and compass to guide him to the * haven of eternal rest,' is not fit for the common people ; and has sent forth his anathemas against all Bible societies, everywhere seeking its suppression ; keeping his subjects in ignorance, while he is expending hundreds of thousands to educate the children of Protestants, showing a lack of that charity which begins at home, disclosing conclusively that he has some ulterior object in view in educating Protestants, while the thousands of Papists who visit our country, or remain in their own native land, are permitted to grow up in the greatest ignorance without exciting in the least his sympathy or regard. And this O. A. Brownson, the eloquent orator, is selected to become his tool to carry out his plans, for what reward I am unable to say, but hope his perfidy will meet a just recompense at the hands of the American people. You will probably infer from this, that I am not, never was, nor ever shall be indebted to you for any volume of the Review bearing the name of the traitor Brownson.

" Most respectfully yours,

" Stephen Harrington."

It will be seen from this, that our publisher addressed no letter to Mr. Stephen Harrington, but that Mr. Harrington, through a very pardonable mistake, took from the postoffice and opened a letter intended, not for him, but for another person. This he must have perceived, the moment he opened the letter. His simple duty was to return it to the postoffice with an explanation of the cause of his mistake, as his apology for having taken out and opened another man's letter. If, through excessive delicacy, he had felt it necessary to do more, even to write to our publisher, he should have simply written a note of apology. But his horror of Catholicity made him forget both the Christian and the gentleman. His letter is a gratuitous insult to Mr. Greene, and any thing but complimentary to ourselves, who know not Mr. Stephen Harrington from Adam, and have, and have had, nothing to do with him in one way or another.

In ordinary cases, we should take no notice of such a letter as the one before us, or, if we chose to make it the subject of some comments, we should, out of delicacy to the writer, suppress his name and residence; but in the present case we think it due to Mr. Harrington to publish his letter with his name; and we do so for his especial benefit, and that of a large class, who, like him, are ready in their zeal and bigotry to set aside the ordinary courtesies of civilized life.    Such men deserve to be known.
So far as Mr. Harrington's letter relates merely to ourselves personally, we pass it over. We could easily show that he is far from being qualified to write our biography, but it is not worth our while. If we have changed our party or sectarian relations oftener than some others, it may not be to their credit or to our discredit. The public know, at least, where we are now. And we are too insignificant to make it a matter of importance to set them right as to where or what we may have been heretofore.

The assertion, that in becoming a Catholic we have become a traitor to the institutions of our country, we notice, because it is a common charge made against all Americans who become Catholics, and because it involves a principle of some gravity. The ground of the assertion is the pretence that Catholics owe allegiance to a foreign power, and that this allegiance is incompatible with that which they owe to the State.

But, even admitting that we as Catholics owe allegiance, as it is pretended, to the Pope, it does not follow that we owe allegiance to a foreign power. We can owe this allegiance to the Pope only in his capacity of visible head or chief pastor of the Church. But in this capacity the Pope is no foreigner,  is no more an Italian than he is an American; for in this capacity he has no national character,no country; or rather, his country is the Church. Where the Church is, there is his country, his native land, his home; and the Church is catholic. It is absurd, then, to call him a foreign power. He is a foreign power only in his capacity of temporal chief of the patrimony of St. Peter, in which capacity no Catholic not a subject of the Ecclesiastical States owes him the least allegiance or obedience. Let our allegiance as Catholics to the Pope, then, be what it may, it is not allegiance to a foreign power.

But the allegiance which we as Catholics owe to the Church, and to the Pope as chief pastor of the Church, is simply spiritual, and pertains solely to matters of conscience. In all matters of conscience, we as Catholics unquestionably acknowledge allegiance to the Church,  to the Pope, if you will; in all else we acknowledge allegiance to the State, and are commanded by the Church to obey the State. The question to be settled is, simply, Is allegiance to the Church, in all matters of conscience, incompatible with our allegiance, to the State? In answer, we ask, Does our allegiance to the Church cover any matter in relation to which we owe allegiance to the State? I owe the State allegiance in all matters over which it is sovereign, and in no others. What, then, are the extent and the limits of the sovereignty of the State? Does its sovereignty extend to matters of conscience? Has the State the right to legislate for conscience,  to subject conscience to its laws? Certainly not. The principle of our American government is, confessedly, that conscience is free, that where conscience begins, there the authority of the State ends. And it must be so, if we enjoy religious liberty as distinguished from religious toleration. Toleration presupposes the right on the part of "government to force conscience, but that for certain prudential reasons it forbears to do so; but religious liberty asserts the absolute freedom of conscience before the State, and denies the right of the State, or of any human power whatever, to force it, or in any sense to intermeddle with  what concerns  it.    In this
country, the government, according to its profession, does not merely tolerate; it acknowledges religious liberty. Then it confesses that its sovereignty ends where conscience begins. Then I owe no allegiance to the State in matters of conscience; and then it has no right to command me to do what my conscience forbids ; and I have the right, in all cases in which it so commands me, to refuse to obey it. If you deny this, you deny religious liberty, and assert for the temporal power the right to force conscience.
Now, if this be so, if the sovereignty of the State ends where the empire of conscience begins, since allegiance to the Church embraces only matters of conscience, it follows that my allegiance as a Catholic to the Church can never be incompatible with my allegiance to the State, nor my allegiance to the State ever incompatible with my allegiance to the Church. I am simply to "render unto Ciesar the things which are Ca3sar's, and unto God the things that are God's." My obedience to the one is perfectly compatible with my duty to the other. So this bugbear about allegiance to a" foreign despot," so frightful to our Protestant brethren, vanishes the moment it is examined by a little daylight.

The Catholic Church, we admit, asserts religious freedom, and denies to the State the right to force conscience, or to intermeddle in the affairs of conscience. In the face of any and every government, prince, or potentate, she asserts the freedom of religious worship, and proclaims that conscience is accountable to God alone. We, as Catholics, do and are bound to assert the same, and, strange as it may seem, we do assert even the freedom of Catholic.avorship; we demand this freedom as our right; as our right we dare defend it, even against the State itself; for we hold it not from the State, but from Almighty God, and in defending it we plant ourselves on a higher than human authority, an authority which the State itself is bound to respect. We say to the civil government, that in its legitimate province we owe it unqualified obedience, and what it commands we do; but if it invade the empire of conscience, and command us to do violence to our conscience, we regard its command as a nullity. We tell it to its very face, that, in such a case, we will not obey it. It may punish us, for it has the physical power; it may send us into exile, to the dungeon, the scaffold, or the stake; we can die; but we cannot do what conscience forbids. This, we confess, is Catholic doctrine, and thus far allegiance to the Church, to the Pope, if you please, will carry every Catholic who is not a discredit to the name.

Do you complain of this? Then tell us what you mean by religious liberty, about which you have so much to say, and of which you apparently understand so little. Do you deny that religious liberty is freedom for the Catholic conscience as well as for the Puritan conscience,  that freedom of conscience has significance for us as well as for you, and is as much violated when a Catholic is denied the freedom of Catholic worship, as when a Puritan is denied the freedom of Puritan worship? If you deny us the full freedom of our conscience, you deny religious liberty itself; if you contend that it is incompatible with the legitimate authority of the State that we should enjoy the full freedom of our conscience, you claim for the State authority in matters of conscience, the right to force conscience, which it has not, which it ought not to have, and which, in this country, the government itself expressly disclaims.

Our Church is our conscience; our allegiance to the Church, to the Pope as its chief pastor, is with us a matter of conscience, a part of our religion. Deny us'the liberty to yield the obedience we owe, you deny us the free exercise of our religion,  the freedom of our conscience. Have we a right to the freedom of our religion, or have we not? You cannot deny it, without claiming for the State right in matters of conscience. If you do this, if you attempt by the State to invade the empire of conscience, to abridge freedom of religion, and to subject our worship to your laws,"then, but only then, the spiritual authority we acknowledge and the temporal authority whose prerogative you assert may come in conflict; then, but only then, may our allegiance to the Church affect our obedience to the State. Leave religious worship free, and the spiritual power will never interfere with the temporal ; attempt to chain up religious worship, the Church will resist you and do all in her power to repel your attacks upon freedom of conscience. There will then unquestionably be a struggle, and in that struggle every Catholic, if a true Catholic, will be found on the side of the Church, and ready to die in her defence; for the freedom of religious worship, the accountability of conscience to God alone, is a cardinal principle of Catholicity, and can in no instance be surrendered.
The question is purely a question of religious liberty. Do you acknowledge religious liberty, or do you not? Yes or no? If you say Yes, we can be no traitors to our country in becoming Catholics, for we do but exercise our acknowledged rights; if you say No, we brand you as false both to God and your country. For your country, through her institutions, declares that religious worship is free, and that the State cannot force conscience ; and Almighty God commands you to hearken unto him rather than unto men.
They, then, who contend that the Catholic religion is incompatible with the authority of the State, who call us traitors because we become Catholics, and seek, in the obligation we are under to obey the Church, a pretence for denying us the freedom of our worship, are fighting.not against Catholicity merely, but against religious liberty itself.    They prove themselves to be the bitter enemies of freedom of conscience, and the advocates of the right of the State to determine the religion of its subjects.    They may deny this, or seek to disguise it as they will,  but it is the simple, naked  truth.    Prating of religious  liberty, they have  no  understanding of what it is, or no love or respect for it in their hearts. The contemptible so-called " Native American " party, hoping to conceal its hostility to religious liberty under the mask of an exalted patriotism, is nothing but a party expressly organized against the freedom of Catholic worship;  and  the shortsighted  bigots at its head do not seem to imagine that their  countrymen can  see that freedom of conscience may be struck in the conscience of a Catholic as well as in the conscience of a Presbyterian, of a Baptist, or of a Methodist,  that, when once the authority of the temporal power in matters of conscience is admitted, there can be henceforth, even if toleration, no religious freedom, and that no sect can observe its worship but by sufferance of the State.    This whole cry against the Church is a declaration of the supremacy of the  State in  matters of conscience,  the  most "damnable heresy " ever concocted or promulgated.

Some of the good folks, who reflect not that one cannot strike the freedom of conscience in another without striking it equally in himself, rolled up their eyes and  tried to be astonished, scandalized even, when, in our last Review, we asserted that Protestants are, and always have been, the bitter enemies of religious liberty.   Yet it is undeniably so.    The proofs are complete.    This Native American party is itself a proof of it.    Its presses boldly declare, that a Catholic, in consequence of his allegiance to his Church, should not be permitted in this country the exercise of the elective franchise, that fidelity to the Catholic Church is treason to the  State;   and here is Mr. Stephen  Harrington, a man who knows just enough to echo the wishes and designs of his class, sect, or party, and therefore a better witness than a greater or more distinguished man, calling us traitors to our country because we have, through God's great mercy, become a Catholic.    What does all this mean, but that the State is and ought to be supreme in religious, as well as in civil matters?   And what is the meaning of religious liberty, where the State is supreme over conscience? Do the bigots and fanatics understand themselves?   Do they know the first principle of religious liberty?    If they do, they know that religious  liberty exists not, and   cannot exist, under the Erastian heresy of the supremacy of the  temporal  power.    If, then, they are not mere blind leaders of the blind, if they are not consummate fools, they know that when they oppose Catholicity on political grounds, for reasons of State, they are opposing, and  intentionally opposing, religious liberty itself.    But, whether they know it or not, this is what they are doing.    They are stirring up a war against religious liberty. But in this war we know where the Church will be found. She will be found where she always has been, and always will be to the consummation of the world. She will be found on the side opposed to the maddened hosts who deny the freedom of conscience. From the first moment of her existence, she has opposed them in defence of the freedom of religious worship. She asserted this freedom in face of the persecuting Jew and the persecuting Gentile, and consecrated it by the blood of her millions of martyrs. She asserted it in face of pagan Rome,  has asserted it in face of the emperors of Germany, of the kings of England, and of France,  and she will assert it here, in this free republic, in face of the sects, bigots, charlatans, demagogues, heretics, and schismatics, who would immolate it to their pride, their ambition, their folly, their wrath, and their madness. She is the guardian of this glorious freedom, and let the trumpets sound the charge, if they must; here, as in France, as in Switzerland, as in Spain, as in Naples, as in Tuscany, as in England, as in Ireland, as in Poland, as in Holland, as in Germany, as in Russia, as throughout the world, she is on the side of religious liberty. Everywhere you may read inscribed on her banners, CONSCIENCE IS ACCOUNTABLE TO GOD ALONE, RELIGIOUS WORSHIP MUST BE FREE ; and everywhere her sons are the first to take, and the last to quit, the field against the maddened hosts that would enslave conscience and gain for the State the power to lord it over God's heritage.

It was for a time thought that the battle for religious liberty could never need to be fought again in this republic. It was hoped that the question was settled for ever, by the political order frankly disclaiming all right to touch the empire of conscience. But when this disclaimer was inserted in our constitutions, Catholicity was looked upon as dead; there were few Catholics, comparatively speaking, in the country, and nobody dreamed of the possibility of their becoming numerous. The Protestants, feeling themselves strong, thought they might afford to be liberal. Perhaps the recent struggle for political independence had, for the moment, humanized their feelings, and, in the sudden expansion of their hearts, they really imagined it might be a fine thing to try the experiment of religious liberty. Yet the acknowledgment of religious liberty was not obtained without strong opposition; and the history of the times shows clearly that the leading sects of the country, if they consented to it at all, consented with grave reluctance, and because they could not help themselves. The Calvinistic sects, unless we except the Baptists, have, from the first, been opposed to religious liberty, and have been constantly intriguing to overthrow it. They have retained ever the spirit of Calvin and Knox; and now, when Catholicity spreads and the sects divide and become  insignificant, when the Catholic begins to hope and the sectarian to fear, when the church threatens to supplant the meetinghouse, and the cross the weathercock that turns with every wind, serious alarm is felt, and the shout rings through the land, Down with religious liberty ! A party is organized for its suppression, chiefly in the persons of Catholics. Already has this party, led on and excited by grave Calvinistic divines, burned some of our churches, seminaries, and convents, fired our dwellings, and shot down our people in the streets. Already has the wild shout of exultation broke from the citizens  not the rabble, but well dressed citizens  of Philadelphia, on beholding the cross, the emblem of man's salvation, fall from St. Augustine's church, and become the prey of devouring flames; "a yell," as an eyewitness expressed it, " that was no doubt echoed in hell, and heard, too, in heaven." All over the land, this liberticide party,  for he who denies liberty of conscience kills liberty herself, in the sacred name of liberty, yes, liberty of the state to bind the free conscience, is establishing its presses, employing its demagogues and colporteurs to scatter the foulest falsehoods broadcast, forming its leagues and its associations for preparing the public mind to suppress the freedom of Catholic worship. The facts glare us in the face. We see them everywhere. We read them in every anti-Catholic press; we hear them in every anti-Catholic sermon ; we smell their stench in every anti-Catholic book and pamphlet. There is no denying it. We tell our brethren, nay, we tell the friends of religious liberty, of every denomination, that a deadly blow is aimed at freedom of conscience. The old Calvinistic tyranny over conscience rears anew its crushed head and spits its venom, and we must decide which we will have, Calvinism AND THE SLAVERY OF CONSCIENCE, Or CATHOLICITY AND FREEDOM OF WORSHIP.

This is no idle declamation. Our brethren may be assured, that a deadly blow, in the attack on their worship, is aimed at the freedom of conscience itself, and that here, as in every Protestant country, we are to be placed under ban of the law, or at best to exercise our worship only by the mere sufferance of the state. Yet we are unwilling to believe the enemies of religious liberty will succeed. When we feel the breeze that comes freely and joyously over our native hills, when we look out of our window and see the monument which marks the spot where Warren fell, when we remember that Catholic treasure and Catholic blood, as well as Protestant, were poured out to win our national independence, that it was a Catholic monarch who was our generous ally, who furnished us with men and means to terminate successfully the war of the Revolution, and that in more than half of the States of this Union the cross had been planted before the Protestant adventurer came, we confess it is hard to persuade ourselves that the demagogues and maddened bigots will succeed in suppressing religious liberty, in bringing our rich and noble country under a government that will tyrannize over conscience, and thus overturn the proudest monument of our fathers' glory. But numbers are against us, and we may be outvoted ; but, nevertheless, God is for us, and we will not fear whatever may be against us. We can die;  and, dying, win the victory.

As to Mr. Stephen Harrington's cant about the Bible, it will suffice to say, that, if he would read and understand the Bible better, reverence and practise its teachings more truly, and spend less precious breath in praising it and in calumniating Catholics, he would be both a better Christian and a better citizen. If the Holy Father anathematizes Protestant Bible societies, he only proves himself the faithful shepherd of the flock. Even many Protestants themselves denounce the Bible societies, and we, when a Protestant, published some curious facts about them which we may have occasion to republish. There is some difference between anathematizing the sectarian machines called Bible societies and prohibiting the circulation of a book which Protestants facetiously call the Bible, and opposing the printing, circulating, and reading the Holy Scriptures, the word of God. When Protestants shall have the Bible to circulate, and shall in good faith circulate it, and not, under pretence of circulating the word of God, circulate their own word, perhaps they will meet with less opposition from the Holy Father.

Catholics in this country and in others may be ignorant; but Mr. Stephen Harrington will need to travel far before he finds a Catholic as ignorant of what constitutes the gentleman and the Christian as himself. As a general thing, the mass of the people are better educated in Catholic countries than they are in Protestant countries. The Austrian system of education is superior to the Prussian, the French to the Scottish, and the provisions for education in the Papal States are far superior to what they are in New England. The Irish are as well educated, to say the least, as the English, and that they are not better educated is owing to Protestant tyranny and oppression, which made it a high penal offence for a Catholic father to teach his children even letters and science. For years, the Irish were obliged to choose between religion without education, and education without religion. It is to their credit that they did not choose the latter. Ignorant as Catholics may be, they have no reason to blush for their ignorance in the presence of Protestants.

That the. Holy Father expends vast sums in educating the children of Protestants we should be glad to believe, for we really think it would be a deed of charity to give the children of Protestants a better education than they now get. But we think Mr. Harrington must be misinformed ; for Dr. Bacon, we believe it was, told us, at the late anniversary of the Christian Alliance Society, that the Pope is quite poor and can't pay his debts. If this be so, he can hardly send out hundreds of thousands to educate the children of Protestants. That Protestants do send their children sometimes to Catholic schools is undoubtedly true ; but they are not obliged to do so ; and when they do, it is of their own accord, because they prefer our schools to any they have of their own. If we establish better schools than the Protestants, under more accomplished and trustworthy teachers, really it cannot be regarded as our fault.

That Catholics, in establishing and multiplying schools, to the full extent of their means, in this country, have some ulterior ob- , ject in view, there can be no doubt. They hope to make this ¦' whole country Catholic, without a single heretic in it. We are all laboring in our several ways, as we have opportunity, to this end, though not with half the zeal and energy that could be wished; for Catholics, in the midst of Protestants, too often experience the truth of the proverb, that " evil communications corrupt good manners." Nevertheless, we hold our Church is God's Church, and that whoso would enter into the kingdom of heaven must enter through it; and charity to God and man must necessarily make us somewhat active. Our schools, colleges, and seminaries are, unquestionably, all intended to further the cause of Catholicity, to promote Christian knowledge and virtue, and, if possible, to add to the number that are to be saved. That the Holy Father takes an interest in our doings, that his heart is gladdened when he sees the rose planted in the wilderness and living waters gush out in the thirsty land, we can believe ; for he is the faithful shepherd, to whom has been committed the care of the whole flock.

That we are the " selected tool " of the Pope in this work is not true; but we wish it was. We seek no higher honor on earth than to be employed by him in any service he may judge us fit for. We reverence him as the chief pastor of the Church, as the vicar of Christ on earth, and we shall never feel aggrieved by being told that we are selected to be his tool.

We are not so much troubled about the " reward" we are likely to receive as our Protestant friends appear to be. It is remarkable how unable Protestants are to conceive it possible for a man to do any thing except from hope of some earthly reward. The idea, that a man can act from conviction, from a sense of duty, from an earnest desire to obey God and save his own soul from the flames of hell, strikes them as preposterous, and they seek to explain his conduct by imagining some paltry bribe of money or of worldly distinction. Nothing is more true than that, in judging others, we are sure to judge ourselves. In imagining low and unworthy motives for the conduct of others, when elevated and worthy ones are possible, we but betray our own low and unworthy tendencies.  Whether we shall or shall not meet a " just recompense of reward " from the American people is a matter of small moment. We have had some trials, in the course of a short and troublous life ; but we have not, and never have had, any cause to complain of the treatment we have personally received at the hands of our countrymen. They have thus far treated us personally with great generosity, far better than we have deserved, and they have borne from us what they would have borne as well from few others. We have no fear but they will continue to treat us as well as, if not even better than, we deserve. We know our countrymen well. We have no respect for the religion professed by the majority of them ; but there is good stuff in the American mind and heart, only it has been a little spoiled in the making up. Our countrymen will use, even promote, the time-server, the trimmer, the man without principle,  for he is the man who will do their bidding ; but they despise him in their hearts. They will bluster a little at the man who contradicts them, tells them unpalatable truths, or treads on their corns; but at the same time they honor him who speaks from honest conviction, from a sense of duty, plainly, boldly, independently, what he sincerely holds to be true and important. "Very few of them, after all, are Stephen Harringtons. As much as we are obliged to scold our countrymen, we cannot help having a lurking respect for them ; and we are sure that we never enjoyed their confidence and respect so much before we became a Catholic as we have since. Would to God they would pay half the respect to the Catholic faith which they do and will to its unworthy advocate.