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Whose is the Child?

(From Brownson’s Quarterly Review for July, 1873.)


IN determining who shall be the educators of our children, or who has authority to determine what education may or may not be given them, it must first be settled, Whose is the Child?  Under pagan Rome the child was held to belong to the paterfamilias, whose authority over his family, his wife, children, and slaves, was absolute, and could not be interfered with by the city or state.  When the empire became Christian, the child was held to belong to the parents, saving the rights of God, of which the church was the guardian and interpreter.  Since the empire has ceased, as it has throughout all modern nations, to be Christian, it is held that the child belongs to the state, to the exclusion both of the rights of parents and the rights of God; and therefore it follows that the state has the right to educate, or to determine what education shall or shall not be given the child, as well as who shall give it.

            The church has always taught that the child belongs, 1, to God, whose rights she represents; 2, after God, and subordinate to him, the child belongs to the parents; and 3, after the parents, to the state.  This is strictly philosophical and follows the real order.  God as creator and first cause of all things visible and invisible, is the absolute owner and proprietor of the universe, and consequently of the child; the parents, being second causes of the child, are its owner, against all claimants, except God himself.  The state, as representing society based on the family, and as guardian and protector of the temporal interests of the family and society, has an undeniable claim to the child, subordinate to the parental and divine rights, but none against them, which are both prior to it, and sacred and inviolable for it.  The rights of God and the rights of parents limit and subordinate the rights of the state or society.

            This is the Christian order and also the order of creation, or the order in which existences, mediante the creative act, proceed from God, the first cause.  The church, as the representative of the rights of God in human affairs, whether of individuals or of nations, claims and has always claimed the supreme authority in the bringing up and education of the child, makes and always has made it obligatory on all parents, members of her body, to bring up and educate their children in the faith and practice which God through her enjoins; but, as faith is voluntary and cannot be forced, and as she governs those within, not those without, she leaves non-Catholic parents,--Jews, pagans, Mahometans, and Protestants,--free to bring up their children in their own belief or no-belief, religion or superstition, and even forbids their children to be taken from them and brought up in the Catholic faith against their consent.

            The state, representing secular society, its rights and interests, has the right to require that all children should be educated, and to found schools, colleges, and universities, provide sufficient revenues for as full and as extensive an education as is desirable for social interest and the advancement of civilization; but it can itself neither educate, nor determine what education may or may not be given in them.  That, for Catholics, is the province of the church; for non-Catholics, who recognize no divinely-instituted teaching church, it is the province of parents whose rights to the child are always paramount to those of the state or society.  Such was the order that obtained throughout Christendom till almost our times.  Indeed it is very nearly the order that obtained even in pagan Rome.  Hostile as the empire before its conversion was to Christianity, I do not find that it ever sought to educate the children of Catholics in paganism, to prevent Catholic parents from having their own schools, and bringing up their children in their own religion.  Julian the Apostate, indeed, closed the imperial schools to Christian teachers and professors, and forbade Christians to read and study the pagan classics and philosophy; but even he respected the rights of parents, and never encouraged, so far as we know, the kidnapping of Christian children and educating them in paganism.  That is a refinement which belongs to modern secularism, and never could have obtained even in pagan Rome; for society under pagan, as it ever has been under Christian Rome, was based on the sacredness and inviolability of the rights of the family, or of parental authority.

            The progressive ideas so-called of the age have reversed the order asserted by both pagan and Christian tradition.  The state takes the first place, the family is resolved into individuals, and the rights of God are rejected as a relic of effete superstition.  No religion is allowed that claims to bind the conscience of the state; the family holds from civil society, and the child belongs to the state.  Neither God nor the parent has any right to the child, except as a concession from the civil authority.  This excludes all right of the parent, and all right of the church, as representing the rights of God, to interfere with the education of the child.  The state is the supreme owner of the child, and may take the child by force from the parents, and, if a Catholic child, from the church, and send it to what school it pleases, and bring it up in what religion or no-religion it chooses.  This is called civil and religious liberty, that is, the liberation of the state from religion, from all law above itself, or which it does not create and enjoin.  It is very much as somebody sung of the proclamation of quiet in Warsaw, when the Russians had suppressed the Polish insurrection in 1831: “They make a solitude, and call it peace.”  It denies all authority, and calls it liberty.

            Some zealous non-Catholic advocates of reformatories, houses of refuge, house of juvenile delinquents, &c., in their congresses, I am informed, proposed to urge upon the civil authorities to take forcibly the unoffending children of poor and vicious parents not likely to bring them up properly, even against the assent of their parents, and to place them in state institutions, where they will be instructed in the religion or no-religion of the persons selected to manage them; but in all cases, except when they are sent to institutions under Catholic control, they are likely, as experience proves, to grow up worse members of society than they would have done had they not been taken from their parents.  Non-Catholic reformatory institutions, whether state or sectarian, are never successful reformers either of the young or the old, of individuals or of society, in morals or politics.  The intention of non-Catholic reformers may be good, their sentiments benevolent, and their liberality large, but their institutions seem always to lack the blessing of God, and their subjects, when they come out, are, as a rule, covetous and dishonest, infidels or fanatics, without any true or fixed principles.  Then it is a great mistake to suppose that the class from which these are taken, is the most dangerous class in our cities.  Drunkenness is a vice and a sin, but it is not confined to the lower class, nor is it more hurtful to the soul, or destructive to society, than pride and covetousness.  There is not less virtue in the so-called lower classes than in the so-called upper classes; and the children of those we call the poor and vicious, are not worse brought up than the children of the rich and fashionable.  The really alarming feature of our society is the constant growth of corruption and wickedness, of vice and crime, in high places.  The extravagance of shoddy and petroleum, the frauds of bank presidents, cashiers, and tellers, of railroad directors and managers, the failure of banks, especially of savings banks, to say nothing of the corruptions in congress, state legislatures, and municipal governments, are a thousand times more threatening to the state, to society, than intemperance, thieving, robbery, and murder, so appalling among what are called “the dangerous classes” of our cities and towns.

            If we make the state supreme in morals and education, nothing is to be said against taking away the children whose parents, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, fashionable or unfashionable, seem to the police to be incompetent to bring up their children in virtuous habits, and sending them to a protectory or a house of refuge; but if we accept the rule given by Christian tradition, we can send none without the consent of their parents, who have not committed some offence punishable by law, nor even then send them, without the same consent, to institutions in which ample provision is not made for their being trained in the religion of their parents.  But we are insisting on rights which, we have said, are no longer recognized, except by Catholics.  The modern spirit absorbs all rights in the rights of the state.  It secularizes all rights, in order to secularize all education, and aims to secularize all education in order to get rid of all religion that does not hold from the state, or, as we Americans say, from the people.  Its design, with the leaders of public opinion, is to get rid of religion and train up children and youth in pure secularism, only another name for atheism; for what else is the assertion of the supremacy of the state, of the secular, or of the human order, but the denial of God; since, to deny the supreme dominion of God, or the supreme dominion of the “the Word made flesh,” is as much atheism as the denial the being of God?  The establishment in England makes a feeble stand against secularism, but ineffectually; because it itself holds from the secular, the queen, lords, and commons, and has itself only a secular authority.  The conservative Protestant party in Prussia oppose the complete secularization of education; but ineffectually, for the same reason.  The Evangelical church of Prussia is a creature of the state, created by Frederic William III., and depends on the crown fro its very existence; and it has on its own principles no ground on which it can make a logical stand against the destructive policy of Bismarck.

            In our own country the demand is for unsectarian education, which means, on the one hand, a purely secular education, and on the other, an anti-Catholic and decidedly Protestant education, even for the children of Catholics.  Governor Dix, in his message to the legislature of New York, recommends the discontinuance of all appropriations from the pubic funds for the aid or support of sectarian schools, or any other than state institutions.  This looks fair enough on its face, but it is really directed against Catholics, and Catholics alone; because all educational, correctional, and eleemosynary establishments, under the immediate control of the state and supported by it, are just as much sectarian institutions as those placed avowedly under the control of some particular Protestant sect, because the American public, when not purely secular, is unmistakably sectarian, that is, Protestant.  The public schools are either godless or sectarian, though controlled by no one particular Protestant sect.  They are not schools that Catholics, though taxed for their support, can use, unless willing to expose their children to the loss of their Catholic faith and morals; because they teach things the Catholic Church condemns, and fail to teach, or to permit us to teach, in them what she requires all her children to be taught.

            The state is free to make provision for the education of all the children in the land or not, as it sees proper: so much is within its province, as supreme in temporals; but it has no right to tax the whole people, or use funds belonging to the whole people, to establish and sustain schools which only part, though by far the larger part, of the people, can use with a good conscience.  If it acknowledges the law of justice, it must respect the conscience of the minority, as well of the conscience of the majority; and then, if it decides to make provision at the public expense for the education of all the children within its territory, it must provide schools for the minority as well as for the majority.  The majority, including secularists and Protestants of all denominations, are, it would seem, satisfied with the system as it is: let them have it; nobody wishes to interfere with them; but as the Catholic minority are deprived of their rights by it, the state should divide the public schools, and give Catholics their proportion, to be, in all that concerns the selection of instructors, the education given, discipline maintained, under their exclusive control and management; which means, we grant, under the control of the Catholic pastors, who represent for Catholics the rights of God, which include, eminenter, the rights both of parents and society, since he is sole first cause, and causa causarum.  This would only place the Catholic minority, as to the rights of conscience, equally sacred and inviolable for all before the state, on the same footing with the majority.  The secularists and Protestants would have their consciences or no-consciences respected; and the rights of God and of parents, so far as regards the Catholic minority, would be acknowledged without lesion to the rights of the state or of society.

            But this, though just and equal, would not be satisfactory to the secularists and the majority of Protestants, for it would deprive them of their strongest reason for supporting the system of what they call non-sectarian schools; that is, schools from which all positive or concrete religion is excluded.  The secularists support the system, because they would get rid of all religion, obliterate from the minds and hearts of the people all traces of Christian tradition, or, in their own language, “superstition;” the Protestants maintain the system, because they hold it to be anti-Catholic, the most effectual means that can be adopted to detach the children of Catholic parents from the Catholic faith and worship, and to prevent the church from gaining a permanent footing in this country, and from extending her influence over any considerable portion of the native-born American people.  The division of the public schools, and the assignment to Catholics of their pro rata portion, would operate to the defeat of the cherished plans and purposes of both sections of the non-Catholic majority; and having the power, we may be sure that they will never consent to the division.  That it would be just, and is demanded by the equal rights on which our republic is founded, and which it boasts of maintaining, counts with them for nothing.  Equality, in the vocabulary of the ruling majority, means their superiority, and their right to have their will govern.  Is not the supremacy of the majority, or that the majority must govern, asserted by the democratic principle?  Is not the democratic principle asserted by the progressive spirit of the age?  And does not Mr. Ward Beecher’s Christian Union assure us that “the progressive spirit of the age is providential, divine, and that the pope in resisting it is as foolish as he would be, should he attempt to arrest and roll back the solar system?

            The majority of our non-Catholic countrymen, if free to follow their natural sense of justice, would, no doubt, give to us our portion of the public schools; but the people cannot act without their leaders, and, in the present case, their leaders are restrained by no considerations of right or justice.  This is necessarily the case with secularists, whose only measure of right is might; which Lord Arundel of Wardour shows when applied to government, resolves itself into the rule of force, as was proved in the old French revolution, and has been proved again in the late Paris commune, and by the liberals in Italy, Spain, Germany, and wherever they have power.  Their fixed purpose is to eliminate religion—to which belongs all such ideas as right, justice, duty—from society, from the human mind, and from law and government; and whatever may be the instincts of the people, their liberal leaders will never favor or suffer them to favor, as far as they can control them, a measure whose direct tendency is to defeat that fixed purpose.  When Catholics were few and weak in the country, and no apprehensions were felt that the church could ever become a power here, the liberals were willing to encourage and even favor them, as a sort of battering-ram against Protestantism, supposed by them to be the chief defence of religion against no-religion.  I was then one of them, be it said to my shame, and such was my own view, and that of those with whom I was associated.  “The Catholic Church,” we said among ourselves, “is really dead, or fallen into the past, and can never again be a power in any land; we can therefore favor it without danger to our ulterior purpose, and use it advantageously to demolish weak, illogical, absurd, but arrogant and insolent Protestantism:” and there were some Catholics silly enough to suppose that we were their natural allies.  But that was between forty and fifty years ago, and American, as well as European, liberals now understand that their natural alliance is with Protestants, not with Catholics; for the church, not Protestantism, is the bulwark of religion and the defender of Christian tradition.  Times have changed.  The wonderful growth of the church amongst us has opened their eyes and startled them, and they see it is the church, not Protestantism, that is in their way.  As much as they hate the leading sects, such as Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Methodists, &c., and despise the minor sects, Unitarians, Universalists, &c., they see that they have natural allies in them, and that the church alone is to be dreaded; and they are now, with individual exceptions, here as elsewhere, our bitterest enemies.

            The fixed purpose of Protestants is to prevent the growth of the church in this country; and the very reasons which induce us to demand a division of the public schools are the reasons which do and will, as long as they with their infidel allies have the power, induce them to resist it.  Bent on preventing this from becoming a great Catholic country, they will do nothing knowingly to favor the church, and will scruple at no violation of truth, or outrage of right and every principle of justice, needed in their judgment to hinder her growth, and, if possible, to sweep her from the land.  They would, if we can judge from their acts at home or abroad, much rather that Catholics should become infidels, downright apostates, than remain Catholics.  They evidently regard the church as more to be dreaded than pure secularism, or downright atheism.  Whether it is that the developments of Protestantism have brought Protestants to feel that they and unmitigated secularists belong to one and the same family, or whether they think it easier to make good Protestants out of infidels than out of Catholics well instructed in their religion, it is not for us to say; but of this we are quite sure, that they willingly act as the firm allies of the secularists in the war to the knife against the Catholic Church, and seem not to be much concerned lest the victory, if won, should inure principally to the advantage of their allies.  A bas l’eglise! is their battle-cry, and they seem to take no thought for what may come after.  They fear not infidelity, but the church they evidently do fear; and will use the state against her in such ways as they believe will be most damaging to her, so long as they are able to wield its power.

            There are honest men, well-disposed men, men who are neither bigots nor fanatics, among our Protestant countrymen, men who see and love justice, and would not willingly wrong Catholics or any other class of citizens, and we believe, if it came to counting noses, they would be found to be the majority even of Protestants; but they cannot well withdraw from the influence of the Protestant leaders, who deceive them with regard to the purposes of the church, and make them believe that patriotism and devotion to civil and religious liberty require them to oppose her.  This they can the more easily do, because the history which Protestants read is, so far as concerns the church, as somebody has said, only a “conspiracy against truth,” and is little else than a tissue of false statements and misrepresentations.  In fact, no non-Catholic can possibly write a true history of the church, for he has not the key to the meaning of the facts he encounters.  There is a Protestant tradition admirably described and hit off by Dr. Newman in one of his discourses, in the light, or rather, darkness of which Protestants all but universally read ecclesiastical history.  The Protestant leaders, appealing to this Protestant tradition, which originated in falsehood and misrepresentation, and the grossest calumnies, are able to carry with them the great body of the Protestant people in spite of their honest intentions and natural sense of justice.  We see, then, as the Review has always asserted, little chance of inducing the Protestant and secularist majority to grant us justice, either by giving us our proportion of the public schools, or remitting the tax now levied on us for the support of schools from which our religion is excluded, and in which no religion, or what we hold to be a false religion, is permitted to be taught.

            We Catholics could submit to the injustice of being taxed to support anti-Catholic schools as we now are—for purely secular schools are as decidedly anti-Catholic, as purely sectarian schools—if left free to establish schools of our own at our own expense, as we are now doing; but there is a movement on foot to deprive us even of this degree of freedom, which is going a step further than pagan Rome ever went; for non of the pagan Caesars ever made attendance on the great imperial schools obligatory on Christians, or prohibited Christians from establishing and maintaining Christian schools at their own expense.  Yet we find a movement commenced in what Mr. Wilson, recently installed as vice-president of the United States, calls “New Departure of the Republican Party,” the party now in power as well as in place, to establish, in utter disregard of the constitution, by the general government, a system of national compulsory education, which must be either Protestant or purely secular, in any case, anti-Catholic.  This measure carried, the next will be the suppression of Catholic parochial schools, academies, colleges, and universities, and the prohibition of the Jesuits, the Redemptorists, the Lazarists, the Visitandines, the Ursulines, the Sisters of Charity, the Ladies of the Sacred Heart, and other teaching orders and congregations, male or female, from receiving pupils, and, perhaps, even from residing in the country.  The next step will be to suppress the freedom of the church in the Union, and of Catholic faith and worship.  Bismarck has done or is doing it in Germany, and causing it to be done in Switzerland and Italy, and wherever the so-called liberal, progressive, or advanced party is in the ascendancy.  Congressional legislation and the proposed policy of the administration show that the federal government is prepared to act on the principle that, if carried out, would go to the full length we have supposed.  The Protestants leaders, the Wilsons the Dodges, the Pomeroys, the Colfaxes, the Bellowses, the American and Foreign Christian Union, American Bible and Tract societies, the Home and Foreign Missionary Society, the Union League, Freemasons, Odd Fellows, the Internationale, and the “thousand and one” other associations, leagues, and unions, some open, some secret, some hostile to all religion, some holding on to the Christian name, but all deadly enemies of the church, are prepared, and busy at work preparing the American people, to go that length.  It is the Mormons to-day; it will be the turn of the Catholics to-morrow.  Yet we were scandalized the other day to find the announcement in the papers, that Wendell Phillips, the open, public defender of the infamous Paris Commune, led on by the chiefs of the Internationale, have been invited to give a lecture, or had given a lecture, before the Catholic Union, in this city—a union formed, we had supposed, expressly to sustain the Holy Father in the sacrilegious war waged by Protestants, infidels, radicals, communists, and despots against him.  What concord can there be between Christ and Belial?  The liberal is a worse, a more dangerous enemy, to the church to-day, however it may have been fifty years ago, than the most bigoted Protestant, for he seeks to betray us with a kiss.

            We have stated clearly, explicitly, and truthfully, the actual and prospective difficulties in the way of carrying out the principle of justice to Catholics on the subject of education.  We have right, justice, and true patriotism on our side; but it seems at present useless to appeal to these motives, for they are motives that the spirit of the age laughs to scorn.  Yet we do not believe that Catholic schools will be suppressed, the freedom of education abridged, or the members of religious orders and congregations banished or forbidden to exercise their vocations to teach.  The vis inertiae of the great body of the people, if nothing else, will prevent it till it is too late.  We now are affected by sympathy with the anti-Catholic and reform movements in the Old World; but those movements will soon be seem to tend only to anarchy or despotism, and a reaction against them in the Old World, which will be almost instantly followed by reaction here, must come, if not already begun; and I hope, old as I am, to live long enough to see renewed the scenes of rejoicing at the downfall of Bismarck and the restoration of the pope, exhibited by my countrymen on the downfall of Napoleon I. And the restoration of Pius VII. And the Bourbons, which I witnessed in my boyhood.  I was too young to comprehend their significance, but not too young to remember the tears of joy that filled the eyes of the veterans of the war of independence and the previous “French war,” from whom I learned lessons in patriotism and liberty I have never forgotten, and which I have endeavored to teach my children.  Satan has succeeded in deceiving the nations, and is waging a fierce war against the church; but, as we have before stated, he is destined to defeat.  He may bruise the heel of the seed of the woman, but she shall crush his head.

            This New World was discovered by Catholics and taken possession of in the name of the cross, and we cannot get it out of our head that the cross will yet claim and obtain possession of its own.  We believe that this continent is destined to be the inheritance of God’s dear Son, and this country to be rendered eternally glorious as one of the principal seats of Catholicity.  We expect it, not indeed from human wisdom, human sagacity, or human effort; God will bring it about in his own way and time, and by means that we discern not, but which will seem marvelous in our eyes for their simplicity and naturalness.  With all their sympathy with the wild and destructive theories and speculations of the age, the mass of the American people at bottom hate anarchy and despotism, and are devoted to liberty without license.  Events are rapidly demonstrating to them that the revolutionary party with which they have very naturally and warmly sympathized, cannot found a true orderly liberty; that, while it cuts society loose from its old moorings, it leaves it to float alternately between anarchy and despotism.  The generation, exhausted and disgusted with anarchy, its confusion, bloodshed, and insecurity for person and property, ceases to struggle, and yields to the despot or the adventurer who has force on his side, and who assures them, as did Louis Napoleon, that “the empire is peace.”  A new generation comes upon the stage, clamors, conspires anew for liberty, overthrows the empire, which few regret, struggles till exhausted like its predecessor, and then yields its neck to the yoke of the despot, who will allow it only the liberty to blaspheme God and revile his church.  What is going on in Europe now will also demonstrate to them that no political order can be permanent and protect liberty, either civil or religious, that is not based on the moral order of the universe, and supported by the conscience of the people, both collectively and individually; and we think events, whose logic is invincible, will bring home to them that this moral order must have a divinely appointed and assisted authority, independent alike of the nation and the individual, the government and the citizen, to guide and direct, strength and sustain conscience in its support of sound morals and true liberty, that is, liberty by authority and authority with liberty.  

            Trusting that such will be the case, we, as Catholics, must, whatever our present discouragements, continue to assert, as we have begun by defining them, the rights of God represented by the church, the rights of the family represented by the parent, and the rights of society represented by the state, defined, consecrated, and placed under the protection of conscience by the church.  Our demands will be unheeded or resisted to-day, will be scoffed at by public opinion, but we must not falter; we must persist in proclaiming the right and in demanding justice, and only justice; and the time will come when we shall be listened to, when He in whom we trust will come to be heard and enable us to save liberty, authority, and society, as well as our own souls.