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Padre Ventura's Funeral Oration

Brownson's Quarterly Review, April, 1848

Art. VI.- Oraison Funebre d'O'Connell, prononcee a Rome, par le 11. P. Ventura, Thuatin, June, 1847. Le Propagateur Catholique : New Orleans.

Or the illustrious subject of Padre Ventura's Oration, which our friends of the Boston Pilot have republislied in English, and which every body has read, it cannot be neces­sary that we should speak. We could not say more than the learned and eloquent Theatin has said, were we to try ; and we have no.disposition to say less. Nor can it be necessary to speak of the general character and merits of the Oration it­self, - a political manifesto addressed by an eminent tribune of the people to all Christendom, and intended to have an immediate bearing on the movements for political reforms in Rome and Italy. Padre Ventura is a distinguished man, and perhaps one of the most popular and effective pulpit orators of the day.    With his general tone, doctrines, and aims we should be sorry not to sympathize. We go with him, heart and soul, in his love of liberty, his hatred of oppression, and his war against tyrants and tyranny.

But if he has been correctly translated, either in French or English, - of which we cannot judge, not having seen the original Italian, - he makes use of some expressions in his Oration, and especially in the Preface to his second edition, in which he defends its doctrines and makes his own eulogium, to which, as at present advised, we are far from being pre­pared to assent. As we understand him, he contends, that in the present posture of affairs in Europe, the true policy of the Church is to abandon the governments, appeal to the people, and form an alliance between religion and liberty. Such a policy, he appears to maintain, is necessary to the preservation of the Church, and will be to the advantage of both liberty and religion,-the former gaining sacredness, order, and stability, and the latter an infusion of popular en­ergy, which will enable the Church to bring once more un­der her influence the populations now disaffected with their rulers, and with her, because they believe her to be leagued with them to oppress. This seems to us to be his general doctrine, and we are unable to distinguish it from the policy contended for with so much zeal and eloquence by De Lamen-nais and his associates, after the French Revolution of July, 1S30, in the brilliant columns of the Avenir.

We confess, in the outset, that any talk of an alliance of re­ligion and therefore of the Church with any thing outside of her, as necessary to her existence or her efficiency, scandalizes us not a little. The phrase itself offends us ; for it is impos­sible to use it so that, to large numbers, at least, it shall not convey a false and mischievous meaning. We can readily be­lieve, that, in Padre Ventura's mipd, and in the minds of his Roman hearers and readers, it conveys, under existing cir­cumstances, only a sense which is sound and worthy of all acceptation; but in France, in England, and in this country, it inevitably bears a meaning which it seems to us no good Catholic can accept, as may easily be gathered from the mis­constructions which have almost universally been put upon the conduct of the Holy Father in the salutary reforms which he has introduced into his' more immediate temporal domin­ions. The Church, we have been accustomed to regard as sufficient for herself, and as under no necessity, for her own preservation or efficiency, to  make common cause with any power outside of her. Whatever is good and worthy to be sought she includes in herself; and we cannot understand what there is outside of her with which she can form an alliance, without proving herself in some measure unfaithful to her celes­tial Spouse. Her energy, the only energy she needs, which comes from Him who said, Ego vobiscum sum omnibus die-bus, appears to us to be fully equal to her necessities, and therefore the infusion of popular energy contended for we cannot but regard as quite superfluous.

Moreover, we are at some loss to understand what is meant by forming an alliance between religion and liberty. To call for the forming of such an alliance seems to us to im­ply, what is not true, that religion has heretofore been di­vorced from liberty, and has remained alone, or formed an adulterous union with tyranny and oppression. An alliance presupposes, also, that the allies are separate and independent powers ; but we are not aware of any such power as liberty, separate from religion, and independent of it. Religion is the origin, ground, and condition of liberty. Where religion is, there is liberty ; where religion is not, whatever of license there may be, there is not liberty, and cannot be. The two are in their nature inseparable, and indistinguishable even, save as the effect is distinguishable from the cause, the property from the essence, the stream from the fountain. How, then, form an alliance between them, since they are already in their very nature so intimately united ? How form an alliance be­tween the sun and its rays, or the rainbow and its tints ?

That there has been, and is, a party throughout most Euro­pean nations clamoring for liberty as separated from religion, we are not ignorant ; but they clamor for what has and can have no real existence, under that sacred name. That this party has made and still makes war on the Church, that it has believed and still believes, or pretends to believe, that the Church is the enemy of liberty, and that to become free it is necessary to overturn the altar as well as the throne, is lamenta­bly true ; but who that loves religion, and is imbued with the lessons of the Gospel, can advocate an alliance of the Church with these, or pretend that to accept and support, not, indeed, their means, but the end they are really seeking, would be to accept and support the cause of liberty ? That which the ene­mies of the Church, the desecrators of all holy things, and the blasphemers of God clamor for, is not liberty, and can by no ecclesiastical alchemy be transmuted into liberty.     There  is with these not merely a mistake as to the means, agencies, or influences by which the end is to be gained, but a mistake as to the end itself. With what in them is religion to form an alliance ? Or what energy have they from which she could profit ?

Perhaps, however, we take the word liberty in too refined a sense, in a sense too metaphysical or too spiritual ; perhaps Padre Ventura uses the word in a more outward sense, and means by it simply popular institutions. There is throughout the greater part of Europe a deep disaffection on the part of the people towards their civil rulers, a demand for change, a.nd especially for the introduction and establishment of popular forms of government, as the only efficient means of protecting themselves against the oppressions of their governors, and of securing their social well-being. Does the eloquent and enthu­siastic ThOatin mean by the policy he contends for, that the Church should refuse to sustain the actual governments in their measures of repression, often essential to their very existence, side with the populations, and encourage and direct the move­ments for the realization of the end they are seeking ?

This, we own, has a specious appearance and a plausible sound, but, republicans as we are, we are not prepared to accept it. We have here the same difficulty we began by suggesting. Where the end proposed is distinctly religious, and is sought from religious motives, the Church may, un­doubtedly, side with those who are seeking it, bless their ef­forts, and make common cause with them ; for their cause is hers, and she does but use them for the accomplishment of her own purposes. But where the end is not itself distinctly religious, and is not referred to a distinctly religious end, - is not to secure the freedom and independence of the Church, and to enable her to pursue freely, without let or hindrance, her divine mission of teaching, saving, succouring, and solacing mankind, but to procure a merely temporal or earthly good, - we see not how she can make common cause with those who are in pursuit of it, without implying that heaven makes a com­pact with earth. The Church may, and assuredly does, pro­mote men's earthly well-being, but never save as incidental to her promotion of their spiritual and eternal interests. The temporal follows the eternal, but does not precede it, and is not sought by it. " Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you" (St. Matt. vi. 33), is the principle on which the Church proceeds, and the invariable law which she prescribes to her children. The heavenly is gained only by being the direct and sole object of pursuit ; but the earthly only by not being so sought, and, indeed, only by not being sought at all. " He that will save his life shall lose it, and he that will lose his life for my sake shall find it" (St. Matt. xvi. 25). We know no exceptions to this rule.

Now these European populations seeking popular forms of government are not seeking these as a religious end, nor, in­deed, for a religious end ; but solely with a view to their own social or temporal well-being. They have not in view the in­terests of religion ; they are not disposed to struggle for the freedom and independence of the Church, or to remove a sin­gle obstacle in the way of her fulfilling in them, or for them, her divine mission ; they have in view only their own earthly interests. These they may, -• in so far as they violate no law of God, omit no moral or religious duty, - no doubt, lawfully seek ; but the Church cannot, while they seek them only in reference to an earthly end, make common cause with them, without an abandonment of her own principle of action, and in some meas­ure compromising her divine mission. Moreover, it is not a sound view to identify even civil liberty with popular forms of government. Freedom is possible under any and every form of government; and so is tyranny. Republics can tyrannize and oppress as well as monarchies, and we see among our­selves, that, under the most democratic institutions on earth, three millions of the population out of twenty can be held in abject slavery. Wherever the government is wisely and justly administered, whatever its form, there is civil freedom, and wherever it is not so administered, there is not civil freedom ; and the chances of a wise and just administration are not in proportion to the more or less popular form of the government, but to the more or less influence which religion has over the nation. Wherever the Church is free, and is able to exert Il­legitimate influence, the government will be as wisely adminis­tered as with human frailty can be expected ; but where she is not free, or where her influence is not exerted, there is and can be no guaranty of such administration, whatever the con­trivances of statesmen, or in whose hands soever may be placed the reins of government.

As long as the European populations place their temporal well-being before their spiritual and eternal, not even the Church can emancipate them, and secure them the blessings of civil liberty. Political changes will prove unavailing, and the evil which is now concentrated in the court would only be diffused through the mass, and for one tyrant give a hundred. No siding with the people, no consecration of their banner and blessing of their cause, will deliver them from oppression, unless they in themselves seek liberty, not for an earthly, but for a heavenly end, - unless they place the Church first in their affections and obedience, and seek freedom for her sake, instead of their own.

Undoubtedly, if the Church were to proclaim common cause with the movement for popular institutions, the great body of those who are seeking them would applaud her, and rally under her banner, because they could rally under hers without desert­ing their own. She and they would certainly come together ; not by their going to her, but by her coming to them. They would, no doubt, hail her as a welcome ally, and drink many a toast to her health, so long as she claimed to be only an ally ; but the moment she should seek to restrain their law­lessness, to compel them to observe discipline, or claim the right to command their forces, they would raise the cry, A bus VJi!glise, vive la Republique ! and she would find herself un­der the disadvantage of seeming to them to oppose the very cause she had sanctified and the very banner she had blessed. The alliance would secure her an infusion of popular energy, while she obeyed the popular passion, and exerted herself only to carry out the popular will; but no longer. For a moment, she would seem to be strengthened by the alliance ; but having by it made a concession to the people, and told them that they were justifiable in their cause, she would in reality only be weakened by it.

But it is said, the populations have become hostile to the Church in consequence of their belief that she is unfriendly to civil liberty, and unless she espouses the cause they have so much at heart, they will neither submit nor listen to her. There may be some truth in this, but we cannot accept, the conclu­sion, that therefore she must disabuse them by espousing that cause. An astute politician in old pagan times might have rea­soned with equal justice, - The bulk of the pagan people be­lieve the Church is opposed to what they hold to be religion, and will not submit or listen to her teaching ; it is necessary, therefore, that she disabuse them by offering incense to the idols. No matter whether the idol be Jupiter, Venus, or civil liberty, an alliance with its worship is alike inadmissible. It is not for those without to propose conditions to the Church, nor is it for her to make concessions to them. She proposes the conditions ; if we abuse our free-will and reject them, and de­stroy our own souls, the responsibility rests on us, not on her.

It is, undoubtedly, desirable to disabuse the populations of their error ; but it cannot be done in the way proposed. The Church cannot, in order to disabuse them, consent to lake the law from them. The policy recommended would procure, not their submission to her, but hers to them. They who submit to the Church for the sake of any temporal good do not sub­mit to her at all, nor do they become in reality any more or better Catholics than they were before. The European popula­tions, to a considerable extent, no doubt, place the melioration of society and the establishment of political liberty before ev­ery other object. But this is a grave error on their part, - an error to be corrected, not sanctioned. For the Church to make common cause with them were only to confirm them in it. Nay, this very error is one of the chief obstacles to the realiza­tion of the social improvement and civil liberty they demand. Their eagerness overleaps itself, and fails of its aim. The Church can do nothing for them, save in proportion as she is able to disabuse them of this error, and bring them to place God and heaven before all things else. As long as they entertain their present false view, the Church cannot rely on them,- cannot work with them, without falling herself into error, - and they are out of the condition of either effecting or receiving their emancipation. The Church can really aid only those who love and obey her, - submit themselves to her instruc­tions and authority.

Padre Ventura appears to hold that the evil in the present dispositions of the European populations is, not in their over­weening attachment to a merely temporal good, but in their mistake as to the methods of gaining it. He approves the end aimed at, and only dreads the attempt to obtain it without re­ligion, and by violence. The error of Jacobinism was, then, it would seem, not inherent in itself, but in its attempt to gain its object under the banner of philosophism, and by war and bloodshed. But we are inclined to believe that Jacobinism could not march under any other banner, or reach its end by any other means. It would, we must believe, be the same thing, though divested of its red cap and sea-green coat, and decked out in the drab-colored suit and broad-brimmed hat of the Quaker. It is not alone the horrors of the revolution that is to be dreaded, but also the revolutionary spirit ; for if the spirit itself be fostered, the horrors sooner or later will inevita­bly follow. We have never heard of a peaceful subversion of an old government, and institution of a new one in its place. " Peaceful agitation " may suffice to carry a specific measure, when nothing is necessary for carrying it but to collect and concentrale the scattered rays of opinion already existing ; but it will prove impotent, where fundamental or organic changes are demanded, unless backed by a threat of force in the last resort ; and even then rarely, if ever, without an actual col­lision of forces. A whole people, wrought up by agitators to the highest pitch of enthusiasm for political changes, will soon begin, let leaders and chiefs say what they will, to sharpen their pikes, if obliged to wait longer than their impatience judges to be necessary. It is too late to think of controlling a people when once so wrought up, and if so wrought up for an object which is merely temporal, in vain will you talk to them of God and religion. Not in the moment of passion or de­bauch does the voice of the preacher reach the heart, and startle the conscience from its slumber. None but a religious people can be controlled by religious motives ; and no truly religious people can be wrought up to a pitch of enthusiasm for a temporal object adequate to the purpose of the peaceful., any more than of the violent, revolutionist. Whenever, then, you agitate for civil liberty as such, prepare to fail, or prepare for the horrors of rebellion and bloodshed, the reign of terror, ay, and the military despotism which is to supplant it.

Finally, we cannot understand how the Church can raise the banner of Democracy, and call upon the faithful to rally under it. She prescribes no particular form of government ; in her view, all forms of government, when and where legitimately es­tablished or legally existing, are alike sacred and obligatory. She commands the administrators of governments, whether they be kings, nobles, or the people, to administer the govern­ment wisely and justly, in subjection to the law of God, for the public good. This is as far as she ever goes. How, then, can she side with the people in their movements for popular forms of government ? Is she to change her policy, pursued without deviation for eighteen hundred years, and at this late clay propose a particular form of government as an article of faith ? Or because kings now are tyrants, is she to preach up democracy, and when democracy becomes a tyrant, to be obliged to preach up monarchy ? There is in the demand, it strikes us, quite too much' of short-sighted human policy, pursuing a course to-day which it must retrace to-morrow, or which seeks to gain a temporary object at the expense of an eternal principle.

But if we oppose the policy which seems to us to be rec­ommended in the Oration before us, it is not because we op­pose liberty, or are the friends and apologists of the crowned tyrants or imbeciles of Europe. We have no sympathy with the policy of the principal European courts. That policy is opposed to the freedom and independence of the Church, without which no people can be free, and no government wisely and justly administered. We abhor and detest it, be­cause it is hostile to freedom of conscience, and would enchain the word of God, - because it would subject the spiritual to the temporal, and rob Almighty God of his own. Let there be a crusade preached against them in behalf of the freedom and independence of the Church, - let the populations be summoned to break the cords with which these infidel govern­ments bind the Lord's Anointed, and we will be first among the foremost to bind on the cross, and march to the battle­field, to victory or immortality. In securing this, the highest of all liberties, and the source and guaranty of all liberty worthy of the name, the people would be emancipated from their tyrants, to the full extent compatible with human in­firmity. Civil freedom would be secured for all. " If the Son make you free, you shall be free indeed." It is, there­fore, the freedom of the Son, the freedom wherewith he makes free, that we should first of all - nay, alone - seek, and all other freedom shall be added thereto. Seek God alone, and you find what you seek, and, over and above all, the good you did not seek. Give all to God, and he gives all back to you in a hundred fold.

We wish the Church to go as far against the governments of Europe as Padre Ventura does ; but for her own emancipa­tion, which includes every other emancipation. We would have her go, as she always does, to the extent of her power, for her own liberty ; but not for Liberalism, whether conspiring in secret with Free-masons and Carbonari, marching openly with Swiss Radicals to the destruction of states and the desecration of temples, or assuming the Quaker garb of peace­ful agitation. Then the end proposed would be distinctively religious, and the Church might well consecrate the banner and bless the armies of the warriors enlisted ; for they would be her own soldiers, her own sons, not foreign allies or mercenaries. In a work of this kind every Catholic could sym­pathize, and would give at least his prayers for its success.

We admire our great and good Father Pius IX. for the administrative reforms he has introduced into the immediate patrimony of St. Peter ; but we admire him still more for the free, bold, and commanding attitude which he assumes before the lay lords of the earth, - recalling the sainted Hil-debrand, the heroic third Alexander, and the third Innocent, who made crowned heads feel and acknowledge that the Church is paramount to the state, and that, when she speaks, kings as well as the meanest of their servants must bare the head and listen. Thanks, devout thanks, be to Almighty God, who has sent us a successor of St. Peter, that brings back the heroic ages, and, in face of an infidel, and scoffing, and time-serving generation, renews the chivalry of the cross, and speaks in the tone that becomes the vicegerent of God on earth ! Let the faithful rally at his bidding ; let them glory in his reassertion of the independence of the spiritual power, that as Pontiff, as well as prince, he spurns the dicta­tion of the Austrian, the wiles of the Gaul, and the cajoleries of the Briton ; let them support him by their prayers, and, if need be, by their deeds ; and be assured that the tyranny which now weighs so heavily upon the European populations will be lightened, the chains which bind the souls of the toiling and starving millions will be broken, Christian civilization, so fatally interrupted by the Protestant rebellion in behalf of heathenism, will resume its march, and effect for man as full a measure of earthly well-being as it can be for his interest to possess.

In conclusion, we say, though we have criticized with some severity Padre Ventura's Oration, we have clone so only in the sense in which we think his language likely to be understood here among our own countrymen. We are far from sup­posing that he has put forth any thing really unsound, as he himself understands it. He looks, as we question not, solely to the glory of religion, to the freedom and prosperity of the Church. He finds the governments everywhere seek­ing to render the spiritual power the slave of the temporal, and he would defeat their efforts ; he sees, also, the people everywhere bent on political reforms, and reforms, he would tell them, they may have, should have, only they must seek them in a peaceful manner, and from religion, and under her direction ; and he believes that the Church, by aiding the people in effecting those reforms, in emancipating them from the tyranny under which they groan, may emancipate herself from the secular power, and secure her freedom and independence. Therefore he would urge upon all Catholics who are afraid of revolutions not to oppose the popular movements, but to seek to bring them under the influence and direction of relig­ion. This we suppose is his real thought, and this in the main is sound and just. We wish, however, that for our sakes here, where our greatest clanger is from radicalism, from an exaggerated democracy, lie had been a little more careful to mark the place of religion as that of sovereign, and not have presented her in the character of an ally. The error, in this view of his meaning, into which Padre Ventura falls, if he errs at all, is in supposing that popular governments will be more favorable to the freedom and independence of the Church than are the existing governments of Europe. For ourselves, we have full confidence in the Church ; but we have as little in the intelligence and virtue of a peo­ple bent only upon the acquisition of temporal goods, as we have in infidel and licentious kings, and half-mad and im­becile emperors. The government in the hands of the peo­ple, unless they are profoundly religious, will be hardly less hostile to the real freedom and independence of the Church, than in the hands of royal tyrants and their minions. We have seen enough of popular governments to be aware that the peo­ple, as well as the king, need a master, and a master, too, that is under the special protection of Almighty God, and able at all times and in all places to command with Divine authority.