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Pope and Emperor

[From Brownson’s Quarterly Review for April, 1861]

            M. Cayla’s weak and silly pamphlet, Pope and Emperor, has made no little noise among non-Catholics, and considerable importance has been attached to it on the supposition that it is written under imperial inspiration to prepare the French mind for a separation of the church in France form communion with Rome, and its erection into a schismatic national church under the emperor as its supreme pontiff.  We think this supposition is gratuitous.  We find in the pamphlet no mark of the imperial mind, and we detect in the policy it recommends no Idee Napoleonnienne. The emperor may have been quite willing to permit its publication, but its responsibility, we presume, rests with the obscure journalist under whose name it is sent forth. 

            We think none too well of the emperor’s Catholicity to believe him capable of adopting the policy recommended by M. Cayla, if he regarded it as necessary or useful to his own interests or those of his dynasty; or, at least, of postponing or sacrificing the interests of the church, without any scruple, to what he regards as the interests of the state; yet we do not believe him hostile to the church, unless where she is hostile to him; and we believe him too able a politician not to see that he could gain nothing, and might lose much by separating from Rome and placing himself at the head of a schismatic church.  He has no religious motives, and we can see no political reasons he can have for doing it.  France is the most powerful Catholic nation in the world, and could gain no increase of power or consideration by breaking with the pope, and placing herself on the line with other heretical or schismatic states.  She has nothing to fear from the politics of Rome, for she is strong enough to defeat any coalition of Catholic powers the pope, if so disposed, could form against her.  The other Catholic powers, with Austria at their head, would not be a match for her, and could defeat her arms or her policy only by coalitions with non-Catholic powers; and these coalitions could be as easily formed against her as a schismatic power, as they could be against her as a Catholic power.

            If France were a small and weak state in comparison with other Catholic states, and communion with Rome compelled her to adopt a policy which she regarded as contrary to her own political and social interests, she might have a pretext for breaking that communion; but such is not the case now, and it is not likely to be the case hereafter.  She has undeniably the leadership among Catholic powers, and, though she may force her policy upon them, they cannot force theirs upon her.  Neither has the emperor anything to apprehend from the old system of public law and Catholic politics sustained by the supreme pontiffs in past ages.  He has not only emancipated himself, but also all Europe from that system.  The treaty of Paris, March, 1856, put an end to Christendom, and with it to all apprehension to papal politics.  The appeals of the Holy Father, backed by nearly all the bishops throughout the world, however they may touch Catholic hearts and move Catholic sympathies, bring no response from the political world.  As to exterior politics, the emperor, then, has nothing to gain by schism.  France could only lose her Catholic prestige among the Catholic powers, and the sympathies of all Catholics throughout the world, without acquiring any additional respect from non-Catholic powers.

            In the interior, the emperor could hardly be more independent than he already is.  With the edict of Louis XIV relative to the four articles of the French clergy, in 1682, which he has revived, and the lois organiques promulgated by his uncle along with the concordat of 1801, which he refused, when dictator, to repeal, he has nearly all the substantial power over the church in France that he would have in case he were its acknowledged head.  He has all the power over the church in France that the old French kings had, and they, Fenelon tells us, “were more popes in France than the pope himself.”  He could hardly have more power to subject the church to his will were he to adopt the policy of the pamphlet, while his responsibility would be much increased.  It is true, his appointments of bishops need the confirmation of the Holy Father, but, ordinarily, these appointments are confirmed as a matter of course, and it is not worth while to throw off entirely the papal power, in order to get now and then a favorite appointed.  Just now Rome has refused to confirm, as bishop of the see of Vannes, the Abbe Marat, not unknown to our readers; and the emperor very possibly, is not pleased.  But the contest will not be pushed to extremes by either party, and will end in a compromise, or in one or the other party’s giving way.  He cannot, on account of occasional opposition of this sort to his will, afford to break with the Holy See, to isolate himself from the whole Catholic world, and to lose that influence, so important to him, which he has exerted and still exerts over the Catholics of other countries, especially Catholics in non-Catholic states, as the representative of the first Catholic power in the world.

            The “Napoleonic idea” is not to separate France from the Catholic world, but to place her at the head of that world, and, through the pressure her chief may bring to bear on the pope, to compel it to follow her lead, and to support her policy.  The pope is a necessary element in the Napoleonic policy; and to withdraw France from his communion would be a political blunder.  It would lose the emperor a useful friend, if it did not raise him up a dangerous enemy.  The elder Napoleon reestablished the papal authority in France, because he wanted the pope as an ally, by whose aid he might secure the cooperation of Catholics in his policy, and through them and his own military and administrative genius, be able to make all non-Catholic powers his vassals, and secure to his dynasty the empire of the world.  He found the pope indeed less tractable than he had hoped, but the blunder of attempting to coerce him into support of his policy lost him the throne of France, and sent him to fret himself to death on the barren isle of St. Helena.  The present emperor understands tolerably well the blunder of his uncle, and will not be likely to repeat it, although he no doubt counts less than his uncle did on the aid to be derived from the pope.

            The policy recommended by M. Cayla is inconsistent with what is evidently the policy of the emperor.  The emperor’s policy, we take it, is to favor by turns all the parties in France, without giving himself to any one of them.  He will give no one party a complete victory over another; but, without completely satisfying any one, he will labor to make each feel that it has, upon the whole, more to hope and less to fear from his government than from any other government that could be established in its place.  When he finds the church party too strong for their enemies, he will restore the equilibrium by favoring the anti-church party; and when this party becomes too strong for his purpose, he will favor again the church party, and do some act that will gratify his Catholic subjects.  He seeks to maintain the equilibrium of parties, and his command of all, by alternately exciting the fears and the hopes of each.  Thus, in accordance with the wishes of the liberals, he makes war on Austria, permits, perhaps encourages Victor Emanuel to rob the Holy Father of the greater part of his temporal dominions, and to win back the sympathy of Catholics, sends an expedition into Syria ostensibly  to protect their brethren against Mahometan ferocity.

                His Italian policy, as long as it was directed chiefly against Austrian prepotence in the peninsula, met generally with the approbation of his Catholic as well as that of his non-Catholic subjects; but when it became directed through Sardinia against the temporal dominion of the Holy Father, in accordance with the original program, as we understood it from the first, it alarmed the French prelates who had hitherto supported him, offended the universal Catholic sentiment, and combined against him nearly the whole Catholic episcopate of France, backed by all that remains of the old Catholic, Bourbon, and Orleans parties.  He accordingly directs against the bishops, the apparent leaders in the movement, the stringent measures against the press which they had most cordially approved when directed against their enemies.  He strengthens himself against them by gaining over more fully the liberals through some slight concessions to liberty.  This is his policy; and, in accordance with this policy, he may have encouraged the publication of the pamphlet before us to operate on the fears of the French episcopate, and also on Rome, and, through the threat of a schism, to induce both to cease their opposition to his policy.  Yet we do not believe he has the slightest intention of carrying the threat into execution.  When the pamphlet has effected the purpose of inducing Rome to confirm his appointments, and the French bishops to withdraw their opposition, it will be forgotten, and the emperor, by some act really serviceable to Catholic interests, will recover the confidence of the church party.

            The emperor understands, perhaps better than any other man in France, the real French character.  He knows that, as long as he does not formally break with Rome, as long as he does not place the Gallican church in open, avowed schism, he may manage ecclesiastical affairs very much as he pleases, without meeting with any serious opposition from the French people.  Yet the French are, after all, tenacious of the name of Catholic, even when they have little faith and less practice; and they know perfectly well that they would forfeit that name were they to cease to be in communion with the Holy See.  We do not believe the emperor could safely break with Rome, and, after the example of the old revolution, establish a new civil constitution of the clergy.  His uncle found that he could not govern France separated from the center of unity, and one of his first acts on acceding to supreme power was to abolish the civil constitution of the clergy the revolution had imposed, and to reestablish communion with the Holy See.  France is more Catholic today than she was then, and we believe that the attempt to create and render permanent a religious schism would cost him his throne, and send him to St. Helena to occupy the grave he has there purchased of the British government.

            That there is a party in France that thinks with M. Cayla we do not doubt; that that party is not without influence we have just as little doubt; but the emperor will never suffer it to become predominant if he can help it.  Yet even that party is in the main opposed to the pope on political rather than on religious grounds; for it is indifferent to all religions rather than actively hostile to any.  The political reasons which move them is fast disappearing.  That non-Catholic communions should regard the pamphlet as a sign, does not surprise us; but the day for states to secede from the communion of the Holy See has gone by, because there no longer exist any powerful political reasons why they should do so, and religious or theological reasons have lost their force.  The political power of the Holy See is gone; nations, great or small, are no longer bound by ecclesiastical laws, or by fear of the political hostility of the pope; and they pursue, undeterred by threats or excommunications, the policy they judge best.  There is no longer, in fact, any political dependence on Rome, and Napoleon III is as much master in his own dominions as in theirs are heretical or schismatic sovereigns.  There is, then, no motive for seceding.  They have already all the real independence they could have by seceding.

            The tendency in the modern world is not in the direction the pamphlet suggests.  It is not to the concentration of the civil and ecclesiastical power in the same hands, whether the hands of the pope or of the emperor, but to the separation of church and state- to the emancipation of politics on the one hand, from the control of the spiritual authority, and religion from the authority of the state on the other.  The watchword of the day is not, Union of Church and State, but Religious Liberty; and though, in the minds of those who vociferate the words in the loudest tone, religious liberty means little else than the liberty of infidelity, and of making war on the church of God, there is a logic in the human mind that will ultimately compel it to be understood to mean that conscience is free before the civil law, and accountable to God alone, that all religions not contra bonos mores(against good customs), or incompatible with the public peace, must be alike free before the state.  Some rejoice in this tendency; some deplore it.  We hold it to be irresistible by any human means, and, therefore, cease to war against it.  The policy is carried out in our own country, and we have grown up under it.  Finding the church freer here than anywhere else on the globe, we are not disposed to quarrel with it, and we actually believe Catholic interests are better protected and promoted here than they would be if the clergy had an orthodox Caesar  to bind or gag their adversaries, and to do their work for them.  We feel no hostility to it, and personally like it.  All we ask of the state is, that it should acknowledge its own incompetency in spirituals, and recognize and protect our equal rights as citizens.  If men choose to be Catholics and go to heaven, the state must not hinder them; if they choose to be infidels, heretics, schismatics, and go to the other place, the state must let them go, and leave them to the consequences of their abuse of their freedom.

            The aim of M. Cayla is not religious liberty, but the usurpation of the spiritual authority by the chief of the state.  Thus he says: “Victoria of England is queen and papess; the king of Prussia is king and pope; the Protestant sovereigns of the German bund exercise at once religious and political powers; in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway the kings are popes; Alexander II of Russia is czar and pontiff; Otho of Bavaria is king and pope at Athens.  The Sultan of the turks is emperor and pope.  In almost all these states the union of the two powers, especially in England and Prussia, has favored the development of the national instincts and of liberty...What is useful with others will be good and useful in our dear France, that land fruitful in grand and generous ideas.”  So let Louis Napoleon be recognized as emperor and pope, and be for France the supreme head of the church as well as of the state.  Let him break with Rome after the example of Henry VIII of England, and unite in himself, in their plenitude, both powers.

            Our poor author seems not very fruitful in religious ideas, and we have not found in his pamphlet a single moral or religious conception.  All his thoughts stop this side the grave, and are of the earth earthy.  He seems utterly unconscious of the religious bearing of the question he raises, and, in fact, presents no religious motive for the change he proposes.  He is evidently a man without religious convictions, and without religious instruction.  He has no conception of religion as law, binding alike on the princes and the subject, and which no one can deliberately violate without sin.  God with him is without authority, and man without accountability.  He notes no distinction between truth and falsehood, or between right and wrong.  The chief of the state is his God, and national prosperity his heaven.  His mind is singularly empty of all “grand and generous ideas.”  All religions are alike to him, the true and the false, the good and the bad, and he has the simplicity- we can hardly call it the impudence- to hold up Mahometan Turkey as worthy, under her political and religious organization, of the imitation of Catholic France.

            It seems never to enter the head of our French pamphleteer  that what he proposes is incompatible with the essential constitution of the church, and he seems to suppose that Catholics may separate the church in France from the Holy See, unseat the pope, and put the emperor in his place without ceasing to be Catholics.  We have not found a word in him that indicates the slightest consciousness that he is proposing the abolition of the Catholic religion, and the resuscitation of defunct heathenism.  If he wishes the old Roman caesarism, under which Caesar was at once imperator, pontifex maximus, and god, why can he not say so in so many words, and let his readers know that it is caesarism, gentilism as it existed before the conversion of Constantine, that he demands, and not the Christian religion, which combated and vanquished it?  Is it that he is ignorant that one cannot be a double-distilled heathen like himself, and also at the same time a good orthodox Catholic?  The caesarism which consists in clothing the chief of the state with the two powers in their plenitude cannot be defended by a follower of him who is King of kings and Lord of lords, and who has made the secular subordinate to the spiritual.  Under the Christian law the two powers are distinct, and whatever authority the spiritual, as the superior, may exercise over the secular, the secular has no spiritual power, and can exercise no ecclesiastical functions whatever.  So at least the church teaches as we have learned her teaching; and to deprive the church of her spiritual head, and to give her a layman for her supreme governor, is simply to destroy her, by converting her from a spiritual to a secular institution.

            Under this point of view M. Cayla raises no new question.