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Title: Protestantism and Catholicity compared in their effects on the civilization of Europe

Author: Jaime Luciano Balmes

Release date: November 12, 2015 [eBook #50436]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Josep Cols Canals, Les Galloway and the Online
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Second Edition.

Sold by Booksellers generally.

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Entered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty,
by John Murphy & Co., in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Maryland.

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Among the many and important evils which have been the necessary result of the profound revolutions of modern times, there appears a good extremely valuable to science, and which will probably have a beneficial influence on the human race,—I mean the love of studies having for their object man and society. The shocks have been so rude, that the earth has, as it were, opened under our feet; and the human mind, which, full of pride and haughtiness, but lately advanced on a triumphal car amid acclamations and cries of victory, has been alarmed and stopped in its career. Absorbed by an important thought, overcome by a profound reflection, it has asked itself, "What am I? whence do I come? what is my destination?" Religious questions have regained their high importance; and when they might have been supposed to have been scattered by the breath of indifference, or almost annihilated by the astonishing development of material interests, by the progress of the natural and exact sciences, by the continually increasing ardour of political debates,—we have seen that, so far from having been stifled by the immense weight which seemed to have overwhelmed them, they have reappeared on a sudden in all their magnitude, in their gigantic form, predominant over society, and reaching from the heavens to the abyss.

This disposition of men's minds naturally drew their attention to the religious revolution of the sixteenth century; it was natural that they should ask what this revolution had done to promote the interests of humanity. Unhappily, great mistakes have been made in this inquiry. Either because they have looked at the facts through the distorted medium of sectarian prejudice, or because they have only considered them superficially, men have arrived at the conclusion, that the reformers of the sixteenth century conferred a signal benefit on the nations of Europe, by contributing to the development of science, of the arts, of human liberty, and of every thing which is comprised in the word civilization.

What do history and philosophy say on this subject? How has man, either individually or collectively, considered in a religious, social, political, or literary point of view, been benefited by the reform of the sixteenth century? Did Europe, under the exclusive influence of Catholicity, pursue a prosperous career? Did Catholicity impose a single fetter[Pg 4] on the movements of civilization? This is the examination which I propose to make in this work. Every age has its peculiar wants; and it is much to be wished that all Catholic writers were convinced, that the complete examination of these questions is one of the most urgent necessities of the times in which we live. Bellarmine and Bossuet have done what was required for their times; we ought to do the same for ours. I am fully aware of the immense extent of the questions I have adverted to, and I do not flatter myself that I shall be able to elucidate them as they deserve; but, however this may be, I promise to enter on my task with the courage which is inspired by a love of truth; and when my strength shall be exhausted, I shall sit down with tranquillity of mind, in expectation that another, more vigorous than myself, will carry into effect so important an enterprise.


The work of Balmes on the comparative influence of Protestantism and Catholicity on European civilization, which is now presented to the American public, was written in Spanish, and won for the author among his own countrymen a very high reputation. A French edition was published simultaneously with the Spanish, and the work has since been translated into the Italian and English languages, and been widely circulated as one of the most learned productions of the age, and most admirably suited to the exigencies of our times. When Protestantism could no longer maintain its position in the field of theology, compelling its votaries by its endless variations to espouse open infidelity, or to fall back upon the ancient church, it adopted a new mode of defence, in pointing to its pretended achievements as the liberator of the human mind, the friend of civil and religious freedom, the patron of science and the arts; in a word, the active element in all social ameliorations. This is the cherished idea and boasted argument of those who attempt to uphold Protestantism as a system. They claim for it the merit of having freed the intellect of man from a degrading bondage, given a nobler impulse to enterprise and industry, and sown in every direction the seed of national and individual prosperity. Looking at facts superficially, or through the distorted medium of prejudice, they tell us that the reformers of the 16th century contributed much to the development of science and[Pg 5] the arts, of human liberty, and of every thing which is comprised in the word civilization. To combat this delusion, so well calculated to ensnare the minds of men in this materialistic and utilitarian age, the author undertook the work, a translation of which is here presented to the public. "What do history and philosophy say on this subject? How has man, either individually or collectively, considered in a religious, social, political, or literary point of view, been benefited by the reform of the 16th century? Did Europe, under the exclusive influence of Catholicity, pursue a prosperous career? Did Catholicity impose a single fetter on the movements of civilization?" Such is the important investigation which the author proposed to himself, and it must be admitted that he has accomplished his task with the most brilliant success? Possessed of a penetrating mind, cultivated by profound study and adorned with the most varied erudition, and guided by a fearless love of truth, he traverses the whole Christian era, comparing the gigantic achievements of Catholicity, in curing the evils of mankind, elevating human nature, and diffusing light and happiness, with the results of which Protestantism may boast; and he proves, with the torch of history and philosophy in his hand, that the latter, far from having exerted any beneficial influence upon society, has retarded the great work of civilization which Catholicity commenced, and which was advancing so prosperously under her auspicious guidance. He does not say that nothing has been done for civilization by Protestants; but he asserts and proves that Protestantism has been greatly unfavorable, and even injurious to it.

By thus exposing the short-comings, or rather evils of Protestantism, in a social and political point of view, as Bossuet and others had exhibited them under the theological aspect, Balmes has rendered a most important service to Catholic literature. He has supplied the age with a work, which is peculiarly adapted to its wants, and which must command a general attention in the United States. The Catholic, in perusing its pages, will learn to admire still more the glorious character of the faith which he professes: the Protestant, if sincere, will open his eyes to the incompatibility of his principles with the happiness of mankind: while the scholar in general will find in it a vast amount of information, on the most vital and interesting topics, and presented in a style of eloquence seldom equalled.

"The reader is requested to bear in mind that the author was a native of Spain, and therefore he must not be surprised to find much that relates more particularly to that country. In fact, the fear that Protestant[Pg 6]ism might be introduced there seems to have been the motive which induced him to undertake the work. He was evidently a man of strong national as well as religious feeling, and he dreaded its introduction both politically and religiously, as he considered that it would be injurious to his country in both points of view. He thought that it would destroy the national unity, as it certainly did in other countries.

"A very interesting part of the work is that where he states the relations of religion and political freedom; shows that Catholicity is by no means adverse to the latter, but, on the contrary, highly favorable to it; and proves by extracts from St. Thomas Aquinas and other great Catholic divines, that they entertained the most enlightened political views. On the other hand, he shows that Protestantism was unfavorable to civil liberty, as is evidenced by the fact, that arbitrary power made great progress in various countries of Europe soon after its appearance. The reason of this was, that the moral control of religion being taken away, physical restraint became the more necessary." The author, on this subject, naturally expresses a preference for monarchy, it being a cherished inheritance from his forefathers; but, it will be noticed that the principles which he lays down as essential to a right administration of civil affairs, regard the substance and not the form of government; are as necessary under a republican as under the monarchical system; and, if duly observed, they cannot fail to ensure the happiness of the people. This portion of the volume will be read with peculiar interest in this country, and ought to command an attentive consideration.

In preparing this edition of the work from the English translation by Messrs. Hanford and Kershaw, care has been taken to revise the whole of it, to compare it with the original French, and to correct the various errors, particularly the mistakes in translation. A biographical notice of the illustrious writer has also been prefixed to the volume, to give the reader an insight into his eminent character, and the valuable services he has rendered to his country and to society at large.

Baltimore, November 1, 1850.

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James Balmes was born at Vich, a small city in Catalonia, in Spain, on the 28th of August, 1810. His parents were poor, but noted for their industry and religion, and they took care to train him from his childhood to habits of rigid piety. Every morning, after the holy sacrifice of mass, his mother prostrate before an altar dedicated to St. Thomas of Aquin, implored this illustrious doctor to obtain for her son the gifts of sanctity and knowledge. Her prayers were not disappointed.

From seven to ten years of age, Balmes applied himself with great ardor to the study of Latin. The two following years were devoted to a course of rhetoric, and three years more were allotted to philosophy; a ninth year was occupied with the prolegomena of theology. Such was the order of studies in the seminary of Vich. While thus laboring to store his mind with knowledge, Balmes preserved an irreproachable line of conduct. Called to the ecclesiastical state, he submitted readily to the strict discipline which this vocation required, and he was seen nowhere but under the parental roof, at the church, in some religious community, or in the episcopal library. At the age of fourteen he was admitted to a benefice, the revenue of which, though small, enabled him to complete his education. In 1826, he went to the University of Cervera, which at that time was the centre of public instruction in that part of Spain. It numbered four colleges, in all of which an enlightened piety prevailed, affording the young Balmes a most favorable opportunity of developing his rare qualities. Here, the frame and habit of his mind were observable to all, in his deep and animated look, in his grave and modest demeanor, and in his method of study. He would read a few pages over a table, his head resting upon his hands; then, wrapt in his mantle, he would spend a long time in reflection. "The true method of study," he used to say, "is to read little, to select good authors, and to think much. If we confined ourselves to a knowledge of what is contained in books, the sciences would never advance a step. We must learn what others have not known. During my meditations in the dark, my thoughts ferment, and my brain burns like a boiling cauldron."

Devoted to the acquisition of knowledge, he cultivated retirement as a means of facilitating the attainment of his object. His thirst for learn[Pg 8]ing was so intense, that it held him under absolute sway, and he found it necessary at a later period to offer a systematic resistance to its exclusive demands. Pursuing his favorite method of study, Balmes remained four years at the University of Cervera, reading no other works than the Sum of St. Thomas, and the commentaries upon it by Bellarmine, Suarez and Cajetan. If he made any exception from this rule, it was in favor of Chateaubriand's Génie du Christanisme. "Every thing," said he, "is to be found in St. Thomas; philosophy, religion, politics: his writings are an inexhaustible mine." Having thus strengthened his mind by a due application to philosophical and theological studies, he proceeded to enlarge his sphere of knowledge by reading a greater variety of authors. In taking up a work, he first looked at the table of contents, and when it suggested an idea or fact which seemed to open before him a new path, he read that part of the volume which developed this idea or fact; the rest was overlooked. In this way, he accumulated a rich store of varied erudition. At the age of twenty-two he knew by memory the tabular contents of an extraordinary number of volumes; he had learned the French language; he spoke and wrote Latin better than his native tongue, and had been admitted successively to the degrees of bachelor and licentiate in theology. The virtues of his youth, far from having been weakened by these studies, had acquired greater strength and maturity. As he approached the solemn period of his ordination, he became still more remarkable for the gravity and modesty of his deportment. He prepared himself for his elevation to the priesthood by a retreat of one hundred days. After his promotion to the sacerdotal dignity, which took place in his native city, he returned to the University of Cervera, where he continued his studies, and performed the duties of assistant professor. Here also he began to manifest his political views; but, always with that discretion and moderation for which the Spanish clergy have been with few exceptions distinguished during the last twenty years. At that period Spain was agitated by two conflicting parties, that of Maria Christina and the other of Don Carlos. Balmes avoided all questions which were rather calculated to encourage the spirit of faction than promote the general interest of the country. In 1835 he evinced this circumspection in a remarkable degree, when the doctorate which had been conferred upon him, required him to deliver an address in honor of the reigning monarch. Maria Christina was then the queen regent, and civil war was about to commence in the mountains of Catalonia; but Balmes performed his task without allusion to politics, and without offending the adherents of either party.

After two years of study at Cervera, where he applied himself to theology and law, our author returned to Vich, where he determined to spend four years more in retirement, for the purpose of maturing his character and knowledge. In this solitude, he devoted himself to his[Pg 9]tory, poetry and politics, but principally to mathematics, of which he obtained a professorship in 1837. During all these literary labors, Balmes was actuated by a lively faith, and a sincere, unassuming piety. Religious meditation, intermingled with scientific reflections, was the constant occupation of his mind; he did not neglect, however, the exterior practices of devotion. Besides the celebration of the holy sacrifice, he frequently visited the blessed sacrament, and paid his homage to the B. Virgin in some solitary chapel. The Following of Christ, the Sum of the angelic doctor, and the Holy Scriptures, were always in his hands, and he took pleasure in reading the ascetic writers of his own country. In this way did he prepare himself, until the age of thirty, to become one of the most solid and gifted minds of our time, and to act the important part to which he was called by Divine Providence.

The first literary effort of Balmes before the public, was a prize essay which he wrote on clerical celibacy. This was soon followed by another production of his pen, entitled "Observations on the Property of the Clergy, in a social, political, and commercial point of view," which was elicited by the clamoring of the revolutionary army under Espartero for the spoliation of the clergy. The learning, philosophy and eloquence of the writer in this work, excited the wonder and admiration of the most distinguished statesmen in the country. Some months after, he published his "Political Considerations on the Condition of Spain," in which he had the courage to defend the rights of both parties in the country, and to suggest means of a conciliatory nature for restoring public order and tranquillity.

Amidst these political efforts, Balmes did not lay aside his peculiar functions as a minister of God. The edification of the faithful, the religious instruction of youth, and the defence of the faith against the assaults of heresy and rationalism, were constant objects of his attention. During the same year, 1840, he translated and published the "Maxims of St. Francis of Sales for every day in the year;" he also composed a species of catechism for the instruction of young persons, which was very extensively circulated. At the same time he undertook the preparation of the present work, in order to counteract the pernicious influence exerted among his countrymen by Guizot's lectures on European civilization, and to neutralize the facilities offered under the regime of Espartero for the success of a Protestant Propagandism in Spain. The occasion and object of this work rendered it expedient that it should be published simultaneously in Spanish and in French, and with this view our author visited France, and afterwards, to extend his observations, passed into England.

On his return to Barcelona, towards the close of 1842, Balmes became a collaborator in the editing of the Civilizacion, a monthly periodical of great merit, devoted to literary reviews, and to solid instruction on[Pg 10] the current topics of the day. His connection with this work lasted only eighteen months. He then commenced a review of his own, entitled the Sociedad, a philosophical, political, and religious journal, which acquired a great reputation during the one year of its existence. Driven soon after into retirement by the disturbances of the times, Balmes composed another philosophical work, El Criterio, which is a course of logic adapted to every capacity.

From the national uprising that overthrew the government of Espartero, there arose a general feeling of patriotic independence, which called for the cessation of civil strife, and the harmonizing of the two parties that divided the nation. Many of the adherents of Maria Christina, who were the nobility and the bourgeoisie, recognized the excesses of the revolutionary faction which they had called to their aid, while the Carlists were not all in favor of absolute monarchy, and numbered an imposing majority among the lower classes. All these men of wise and moderate views longed to see a remedy applied to the wounds of their afflicted country; and with one accord they turned their eyes upon Balmes, as the only individual capable of conducting this important affair. He had already, in his Political Considerations, indicated the principal idea of his policy for putting an end to the national evils; it was a matrimonial alliance between the Queen and the son of Don Carlos. Under these circumstances he commenced in February, 1844, a new journal, entitled Pensamiento de la Nacion, the object of which was to denounce the revolutionary spirit as the enemy of all just and peaceful government, and to inspire the Spanish people with a proper reverence for the religious, social and political inheritance received from their ancestors, and with a due respect for the reasonable ameliorations of the age. In this spirit the different questions of the day were discussed with energy and calmness, and especially the project of an alliance between the Queen and the son of Don Carlos, which Balmes considered of the utmost importance. This measure, such as he proposed it, was, to use the language of his biographer, "the reconciliation of the past and the future, of authority and liberty, of monarchy and representative government." Such was the patriotism, dignity and force, with which our author conducted his hebdomadal, that it won the esteem of a large portion of the most distinguished men among the Carlists, while it also acquired favor among an immense number in the opposite party. To support its views, a daily journal, the Conciliador, was started by a body of young but fervid and brilliant writers, and nothing it would seem was wanting to insure a triumph for the friends of Spain. Prudence, energy, moderation, reason and eloquence, with a majority of the people on their side, deserved and should have commanded success; but they could not prevail against diplomatic influence and court intrigue. Balmes learned with equal surprise and affliction, in the retirement of his native moun[Pg 11]tains, that the government had resolved to offer the Queen in marriage to the infant Don Francisco, and the infanta to the Duke of Montpensier. This was a severe stroke to the sincere and ardent patriotism of Balmes. He might have resisted this policy with the power and eloquence of his pen, but he preferred a silent resignation to the heat of political strife, and the Pensamiento de la Nacion, although a lucrative publication, was discontinued on the 31st of December, 1846.

During that same year, our author collected into one volume his various essays on politics, as well for his own vindication as for the diffusion of sound instruction on the condition of Spain. The following year he completed his "Elementary course of Philosophy." But his physical strength was not equal to these arduous labors. To re-establish in some degree his declining health, he travelled in Spain and France, and remained several weeks in Paris. The intellectual and moral corruption which was gnawing at the very vitals of the French nation, and threatened all Europe with its infection, filled him with increased anxiety. He predicted the dissolution of society, and a return to barbarism, unless things would take some unexpected turn through the special interposition of Providence. This last hope was the only resource left, in his opinion, for the salvation of society and civilization, and he exulted when he beheld Pius IX opening a new career for Italy, and consecrating the aspirations and movements of all who advocated legitimate reform and rational liberty. The political ameliorations, however, of the sovereign Pontiff appeared to the opponents of liberalism in Spain, at variance with the great opposition which Balmes had always exhibited to the revolutionary spirit. Hence, it became necessary for him to pay the just tribute of his admiration to the illustrious individual who sat in the chair of Peter, and to proclaim the eminent virtues of the prince and the pontiff. This he did with surpassing eloquence, in a brochure entitled Pius IX, the brilliant style of which is only equalled by its wisdom of thought. In this work, he sketches with graphic pen, the acts of the papal policy, showing that the holy see is the best guide of men in the path of liberty and progress, that Pius IX shows a profound knowledge of the evils that afflict society, and possesses all the energy and firmness necessary to apply their proper remedy. Balmes was full of hope for the future, in contemplating the course of the great head of the church, and he cherished this hope to the last moment of his life. His essay on the policy of Pius IX was the last production of his pen. His career in literature was brief, but brilliant and effective. Eight years only had elapsed since his appearance as a writer, and he had labored with eminent success in every department of knowledge. The learned divine, the profound philosopher, the enlightened publicist, he has stamped upon his age the impress of his genius, and bequeathed to posterity a rich legacy in his immortal works. In the moral as well as in the intellectual point[Pg 12] of view, his merit may be summed up in those words of Wisdom: "Being made perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time." chap. iv.

This distinguished ecclesiastic, the boast of the Spanish clergy and the Catalan people, died at Vich, his native city, on the 9th of July, 1848, in the same spirit of lively faith and fervent piety which had always marked his life. His funeral took place on the 11th, with all the pomp that could be furnished by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. The municipality decreed that one of the public places should be named after him.

Balmes was little below the middle height, and of weak and slender frame. But the appearance of feeble health which he exhibited, was combatted by the animation of his looks. His forehead and lips bore the impress of energy, which was to be seen also in his eyes, black, deep-set, and of unusual brightness. The expression of his countenance was a mixture of vivacity, openness, melancholy and strength of mind. A careful observer of all his sacerdotal duties, he found in the practices of piety, the vigor which he displayed in his intellectual labors. The distribution of his time was extremely methodical, and his pleasures consisted only in the society of his friends. To the prospect of temporal honors and the favor of the great, he was insensible; neither did he seek after ecclesiastical dignities or literary distinctions. His aim was the diffusion of truth, not the acquisition of a great reputation. These qualities, however, with his eminent talents, varied erudition, and invaluable writings, have won for him a universal fame.

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      CHAPTER I.Page
What ought to be attributed to the genius of its founders—Different causes assigned for it—Errors on this subject—Opinions of Guizot—Of Bossuet—True cause of Protestantism to be found in the social condition of European nations,28
Divinity of the Catholic Church proved by its relations with the human mind—Remarkable acknowledgment of M. Guizot—Consequences of that acknowledgment, 38
Protestantism contains a principle of dissolution—It tends naturally to destroy all faith—Dangerous direction given to the human mind—Description of the human mind,42
Instinct of faith—This instinct extends to all the sciences—Newton, Descartes—Observations on the history of philosophy—Proselytism—Present condition of the human mind, 46
Important error committed by Protestantism, with regard to the religious government of the human mind,50
Two opposite evils, fruits of Protestantism—Origin of fanaticism—The Church has prepared the history of the human mind—Private interpretation of the Bible—Passage from O'Callaghan—Description of the Bible, 53
Connexion between fanaticism and religious feeling—Impossibility of destroying it—Means of diminishing it—The Church has used these means, and with what result?—Observations on the pretended Catholic fanatics—Description of the religious excitement of the founders of orders in the Church, 57
Lamentable symptoms of these from the beginning of Protestantism—Remarkable religious crisis in the latter part of the seventeenth century—Bossuet and Leibnitz—The Jansenists—Their influence—Dictionary of Bayle—The epoch when that work appeared—State of opinions among the Protestants, 60
Important question with regard to the continuance of Protestantism—Religious indifference with respect to man collectively and individually—European societies with relation to Mahometanism and idolatry—How Catholicity and Protestantism are capable of defending the truth—Intimate connexion between Christianity and European civilization, 64[Pg 14]
Doctrines of Protestantism divided into positive and negative—Singular phenomenon: one of the principal dogmas of the founders of Protestantism repugnant to European civilization—Eminent service which Catholicity has done to civilization by defending free will—Nature of error—Nature of truth, 68
Present state of religious ideas in Europe—Victories of religion—State of science and literature—Condition of modern society—Conjectures on the future influence of Catholicity—Is it probable that Protestantism will be introduced into Spain?—England—Her connexion with Spain—Pitt—Nature of religious ideas in Spain—Situation of Spain—How she may be regenerated, 70
Commencement of the parallel—Liberty—Vague meaning of the word—European civilization chiefly due to Catholicity—East and West—Conjectures on the destinies of Catholicity amid the catastrophies that may threaten in Europe—Observations on philosophical studies—Fatalism of a certain modern historical school, 79
Condition, religious, social, and scientific, of the world at the appearance of Christianity—Roman law—The influence of Christian ideas thereon—Evils of the political organization of the empire—System adopted by Christianity; her first care was to change ideas—Christianity and Paganism with regard to the teaching of moral doctrines—Protestant preaching, 84
The Church was not only a great and productive school, but she was also a regenerating association—What she had to do—Difficulties which she had to overcome—Slavery—By whom was it abolished?—Opinion of M. Guizot—Immense number of the slaves—Caution necessary in the abolition of slavery—Was immediate abolition possible?—Refutation of the opinion of M. Guizot, 90
The Catholic Church not only employs her doctrines, her maxims, and her spirit of charity, but also makes use of practical means in the abolition of slavery—Point of view in which this historical fact ought to be considered—False ideas of the ancients on the subject—Homer, Plato, Aristotle—Christianity began forthwith to combat these errors—Christian doctrines on the connexion between master and slave—The Church employs herself in improving the condition of slaves, 94
1st. She zealously defends the liberty of the enfranchised—Manumission in the churches—Effects of this practice—2d. Redemption of captives—Zeal of the Church in practising and extending the redemption of captives—Prejudices of the Romans on this point—The zeal of the Church for this object contributes, in an extraordinary degree, to the abolition of slavery—The Church protects the liberty of the free, 102
3d. System of the Church with regard to slaves belonging to Jews—Motives which actuated the Church in the enfranchisement of her own slaves—Her indulgence to them—Her generosity towards the freed—The slaves of the Church considered as consecrated to God—Salutary effects of this way of viewing them—4th. Liberty is granted to those[Pg 15] who wish to embrace the monastic state—Effects of this practice—Conduct of the Church with regard to the ordination of slaves—Abuses introduced in this respect checked—Discipline of the Spanish Church on this point, 106
Doctrine of St. Augustin on this subject—Importance of this doctrine with respect to the abolition of slavery—Refutation of M. Guizot—Doctrine of St. Thomas on the same subject—Marriage of slaves—Regulation of canon law on that subject—Résumé of the means employed by the Church in the abolition of slavery—Refutation of M. Guizot—The abolition of slavery exclusively due to Catholicity—Protestantism had no share therein, 111
Picture of modern civilization—Civilizations not Christian—Civilization is composed of three elements: the individual, the family, and the society—The perfectness of these three elements depends on the perfectness of doctrines, 115
Distinction between the individual and the citizen—Of the individuality of barbarians according to M. Guizot—Whether in antiquity individuality belonged exclusively to the barbarians—Twofold principle of the feeling of personal independence—This feeling infinitely modified—Picture of barbarian life—True character of individuality among the barbarians—Avowal of M. Guizot—The feeling of individuality, according to the definition of M. Guizot, belongs in a certain way to all the ancient nations, 118
Respect for man unknown to the ancients—What has been seen in modern revolutions—Tyranny of public power over private interests—Explanation of a twofold phenomenon, which presents itself to us in antiquity and in modern societies not Christian—Opinion of Aristotle—Remarkable characteristic of modern democracy, 126
The feeling of true independence was possessed by the faithful of the primitive Church—Error of M. Guizot on this point: 1st, dignity of conscience sustained by the Christian society; 2d, feeling of duty; language of St. Cyprian; 3d, development of the interior life; 4th, defence of free will by the Catholic Church—Conclusion, 131
Woman ennobled by Catholicity alone—Practical means employed by the Church to raise woman—Christian doctrine on the dignity of woman—Monogamy—Different conduct of Catholicity and Protestantism on this point—Firmness of Rome with respect to marriage—Effects of that firmness—Doctrine of Luther—Indissolubility of marriage—Of divorce among Protestants—Effects of Catholic doctrine with regard to this sacrament, 135
Pretended rigor of Catholicity with respect to unhappy marriages—Two systems of governing the passions—Protestant system—Catholic system—Examples—Passion of gambling—Explosion of the passions in time of public troubles—Of the passion of love—Its inconstancy—Marriage alone is not a sufficient control—What is wanted to make it a control—Of the unity and fixity of Catholic doctrine—Conclusion, 140
Of the ennoblement of woman by virginity—Conduct of Protestantism on this point—Close analysis of the heart of woman—Of virginity with respect to population—England—Serious thoughts required for the mind of woman—Salutary influence of monastic customs—General method of appreciation, 146[Pg 16]
The life of feudal lords according to M. Guizot—The passions and faith in chivalry—Chivalry did not ennoble woman, it supposed her to be ennobled—Of the respect of the Germans for woman—Analysis of a passage of Tacitus—Reflections on that historian—It is difficult thoroughly to understand the manners of the Germans—Action of Catholicity—Important distinction between Christianity and Catholicity—That the Germans of themselves were incapable of giving dignity to woman, 150
What the public conscience is—Influence of the feelings on the public conscience in general—Education contributes to form the conscience—State of the public conscience in modern times—What has been able to form the public conscience in Europe—Successive contests maintained by Christian morality, 157
Institution of censors according to Montesquieu—Two kinds of prejudice in the author of the Esprit des Lois—He assigns honor as the principle of monarchies, and virtue as that of republics—Explanation of the feeling of honor—What is required to strengthen this feeling—The censorial power replaced by the religious—Examples—Contrasts, 161
Catholicity considered as a creed—As an institution—Ideas, in order to be efficacious, must be realized in an institution—What Protestantism has done to destroy Christian morality—What it has done to preserve it—What is the real power of preaching among Protestants—Of the sacrament of penance with relation to the public conscience—Of the degree to which the Catholic religion raises morality—Of unity in the soul—Unity simplifies—Of the great number of moralists within the bosom of the Catholic Church—Of the peculiar force of ideas—Distinction between ideas with respect to their peculiar force—Whether the human race is a faithful depositary of the truth—How the truth has been preserved among the Jews—The native power of Schools—Institutions are required, not only to teach, but also to apply doctrines—Of the press with relation to the preservation of ideas—Of intuition—Of discourses, 165
Wherein gentleness of manners consists—Difference between gentle and effeminate manners—Influence of the Catholic Church in softening manners—Pagan and Christian societies—Slavery—Paternal authority—Public games—Reflections on Spanish bull-fights, 172
Elements adapted to perpetuate harshness of manners in the bosom of modern society—Conduct of the Church in this respect—Remarkable canons and facts—St. Ambrose and the Emperor Theodosius—The Truce of God—Very remarkable regulations of the ecclesiastical authority on this subject, 175
Difference between Protestantism and Catholicity with respect to public beneficence—Paradox of Montesquieu—Remarkable canons of the Church—Injury done by Protestantism to the development of public beneficence—The value of philanthropy, 184
The question of intolerance has been examined with bad faith—What tolerance is—Tolerance of opinions—Of error—Tolerance in the individual—With religious men—With unbelievers—Two kinds of religious men—Two kinds of unbelievers—Tolerance in society—What is its origin?—Source of the tolerance which prevails in society at present, 189[Pg 17]
Intolerance is a general fact in history—Dialogues with the partisans of universal tolerance—Does there exist a right of punishing doctrines?—Researches into the origin of that right—Disastrous influence of Protestantism and infidelity in this matter—Of the importance which Catholicity attaches to the sin of heresy—Inconsistency of certain timid Voltairians—Another reflection on the right of punishing doctrines—Résumé, 196
Institutions and legislation founded on intolerance—Causes of the rigor displayed in the early times of the Inquisition—Three epochs in the history of the Inquisition in Spain: against the Jews and Moors; against the Protestants; against the unbelievers—Severities of the Inquisition—Causes of those severities—Conduct of the Popes in that matter—Mildness of the Roman Inquisition—The intolerance of Luther with respect to the Jews—The Moors and Moriscoes, 203
New Inquisition attributed to Philip II.—Opinion of M. Lacordaire—Prejudice against Philip II.—Observations on the work called Inquisition Dévoilée—Rapid coup d'œil at the second epoch of the Inquisition—Trial of Carranza—Observation on this trial, and on the personal qualities of the illustrious accused—Why there is so much partiality against Philip II.—Reflections on the policy of that monarch—Singular anecdote of a preacher who was compelled to retract—Reflections on the influence of the spirit of the age, 210
Conduct of Protestantism with respect to religious institutions—Whether these institutions have been of importance in history—Sophism on the subject of the real origin of religious institutions—Their correct definition—Of association among the early faithful—The faithful dispersed in the deserts—Relations between the Papacy and religious institutions—Of an essential want of the human heart—Of Christian pensiveness—Of the need of associations for the practice of perfection—Of vows—A vow is the most perfect act of liberty—True notion of liberty, 219
Character of religious institutions in a historical point of view—The Roman empire—The barbarians—The early Christians—Condition of the Church when Christianity ascended the throne of the Cæsars—Life of the fathers of the desert—Influence of the solitaries on philosophy and manners—The heroism of penance saves morality—The most corrupting climate chosen for the triumph of the most austere virtues, 229
Influence of monasteries in the East—Why civilization triumphed in the West and perished in the East—Influence of the Eastern monasteries on Arabian civilization, 234
Peculiar character of religious institutions in the West—St. Benedict—Struggle of the monks against the decline of things—Origin of monastic property—The possessions of the monks serve to create respect for property—Population becomes spread over the country—Science and letters in cloisters Gratian—arouses the study of law, 238
Character of the military orders—Opinion of the Crusades—The foundation of the military orders is a continuation of the Crusades, 242
Transformation of the monastic spirit in the thirteenth century—Religious institutions arise every where—Character of European opposed to that of other civilizations—Mixture of[Pg 18] various elements in the spirit of the thirteenth century—Semi-barbarous society—Christianity and barbarism—A delusion common in the study of history—Condition of Europe at the beginning of the thirteenth century—Wars become more popular—Why the intellectual movement began in Spain sooner than in the rest of Europe—Ebullition of evil during the course of the twelfth century—Tanchème—Eon—The Manichees—Vaudois—Religious movement at the beginning of the thirteenth century—The mendicant and preaching orders—The character of these orders—Their influence—Their relations with the Papacy, 244
Multitude of Christians reduced to slavery—Religious orders for the redemption of captives were necessary—The Order of the Trinity and that of Mercy—St. Peter Armengol, 256
Effects of Protestantism on the progress of civilization in the world, beginning with the sixteenth century—What enabled civilization, during the middle ages, to triumph over barbarism—Picture of Europe at the beginning of the sixteenth century—The civilizing missions of the 16th century interrupted by the schism of Luther—Why the action of the Church on barbarous nations has lost power during three centuries—Whether the Christianity of our days is less adapted to propagate the faith than that of the early ages of the Church—Christian missions in the early times of the Church—What the real mission of Luther has been, 260
Their importance in the history of European civilization—Causes of the hatred which has been excited against them—Character of the Jesuits—Contradiction of M. Guizot on this subject—Whether it be true, as M. Guizot says, that the Jesuits have destroyed nations in Spain—Facts and dates—Unjust accusations against the Company of Jesus, 268
Present state of religious institutions—Picture of society—Inability of industry and commerce to satisfy the heart of man—Condition of minds with respect to religion—Religious institutions will be necessary to save existing society—Nothing fixed in that society—Means are wanting for social organization—The march of European nations has been perverted—Physical means of restraining the masses—Moral means are required—Religious institutions reconcilable with the advancement of modern times, 274
Rousseau—The Protestants Divine law—Origin of power—False interpretation of the divine law—St. John Chrysostom—On paternal authority—Relations between paternal authority and civil power, 281
Doctrines of theologians on the origin of society—The character of Catholic theologians compared to that of modern writers—St. Thomas—Bellarmin—Suarez—St. Alphonsus de Liguori—Father Concina—Billuart—The Compendium of Salamanca, 288
On the divine law—Divine origin of civil power—In what manner God communicates this power—Rousseau—On pacts—The right of life and death—The right of war—Power must necessarily emanate from God—Puffendorf—Hobbes, 298
Direct or indirect communication of civil power—The distinction between the two opinions important in some respects; in others, not so—Why Catholic theologians have so zealously maintained the doctrine of mediate communication, 305
Influence of doctrines on society—Flattery lavished on power—Danger of this flattery—[Pg 19] Liberty of speech on this point in Spain during the last three centuries—Mariana—Saavedra—In the absence of religion and morality, the most rigorous political doctrines are incapable of saving society—Why the conservative schools of our days are powerless—Seneca—Cicero—Hobbes—Bellarmin, 311
Of the faculties of civil power—Calumnies of the enemies of the Church—Definition of law according to St. Thomas—General reason and general will—The venerable Palafox—Hobbes—Grotius—The doctrines of certain Protestants favorable to despotism—Justification of the Catholic Church, 317
Of resistance to the civil power—Parallel between Protestantism and Catholicity on this point—Unfounded apprehensions of certain minds—Attitude of revolutions in this age—The principle inculcated by Catholicity on the obligation of obeying the lawful authorities—Preliminary questions—Difference between the two powers—Conduct of Catholicity and Protestantism with regard to the separation of the two powers—The independence of the spiritual power a guarantee of liberty to the people—Extremes which meet—The doctrine of St. Thomas on obedience, 324
Governments existing merely de facto—Right of resistance to these governments—Napoleon and the Spanish nation—Fallacy of the doctrine establishing the obligation of obedience to mere de facto governments—Investigation of certain difficulties—Accomplished facts—How we are to understand the respect due to accomplished facts, 330
On resistance to lawful authority—The doctrines of the Council of Constance on the assassination of a king—A reflection on the inviolability of kings—Extreme cases—Doctrine of St. Thomas of Aquin, Cardinal Bellarmin, Suarez, and other theologians—The Abbé de Lamennais' errors—He is wrong in imagining that his doctrine, condemned by the Pope, is the same as St. Thomas of Aquin's—A parallel between the doctrines of St. Thomas and those of the Abbé de Lamennais—A word on the temporal power of the Popes—Ancient doctrines on resistance to power—Language of the Counsellors of Barcelona—The doctrine of certain theologians on the case of the Sovereign Pontiff's falling into heresy in his private capacity—Why the Church has been calumniously accused of being sometimes favorable to despotism, and sometimes to anarchy, 336
The Church and political forms—Protestantism and liberty—Language of M. Guizot—The state of the question better defined—Europe at the end of the fifteenth century—Social aristocracy, and democracy, 343
The idea entertained of monarchy at this period—The application of this idea—Difference between monarchy and despotism—The nature of monarchy at the commencement of the sixteenth century—Its relations with the Church, 346
The nobility and the clergy—The differences between these two aristocracies—The nobility and monarchy—Differences between them—An intermediate class between the throne and the people—The causes of the fall of the nobility, 348
The opinion entertained of democracy—The prevailing doctrines of that epoch—The doctrines of Aristotle neutralised by the teaching of Christianity—On castes—A passage from M. Guizot on castes—Influence of the celibacy of the clergy in preventing an hereditary succession—The consequences resulting from a married clergy—Catholicity and the peo[Pg 20]ple—Development of the industrial classes in Europe—The Hanseatic Confederation—Establishment of the trades-corporations of Paris—Industrial movement in Italy and Spain—Calvinism and the democratic element—Protestantism and the democrats of the sixteenth century, 350
Value of political forms—Catholicity and liberty—Monarchy was essential—Character of European monarchy—Difference between Europe and Asia—Quotation from Count de Maistre—An institution for the limiting of power—Political liberty not indebted to Protestantism—Influence of Councils—The aristocracy of talent encouraged by the Church, 356
Monarchy in the sixteenth century is strengthened in Europe—Its preponderance over free institutions—Why the word liberty is a scandal to some people—Protestantism contributed to the destruction of popular institutions, 361
Two sorts of democracy—Their parallel march in the history of Europe—Their characters—Their causes and effects—Why absolutism became necessary in Europe—Historical facts—France—England—Sweden—Denmark—Germany, 364
Contest between monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—How monarchy came to prevail—Fatal effects of the weakening of the political influence of the clergy—Advantages which might have arisen from this influence to popular institutions—Relations of the clergy with all powers and classes of society, 370
Parallel between the political doctrines of the eighteenth century, those of modern publicists, and those which prevailed in Europe before the appearance of Protestantism—Protestantism has prevented the homogeneity of European civilization—Historical proofs, 374
Catholicity and politics in Spain—Real state of the question—Five causes contributed to the overthrow of popular institutions in Spain—Difference between ancient and modern liberty—The Communeros of Castille—The policy of her kings—Ferdinand the Catholic and Ximenes—Charles V.—Philip II., 377
Political liberty and religious intolerance—Europe was developed under the exclusive influence of Catholicity—Picture of Europe from the eleventh to the fourteenth century—Condition of the social problem at the end of the fifteenth century—Temporal power of the Popes—Its character, origin, and effects, 382
It is false that unity of faith is opposed to political liberty—Impiety is allied with liberty or despotism, according to circumstances—Modern revolutions—Difference between the revolution of the United States and that of France—Pernicious effects of the French revolution—Liberty impossible without morality—Remarkable passage from St. Augustin on forms of government, 388
Catholicity in its relations with intellectual development—What is the influence of the principle of submission to authority—What are the effects of this principle with respect to all the sciences—Parallel between ancients and moderns—God—Man—Society—Nature, 392[Pg 21]
Historical investigation of the influence of Catholicity on the development of the human mind—Refutation of one of M. Guizot's opinions—John Erigena—Roscelin and Abelard—St. Anselm, 398
Religion and the human intellect in Europe—Difference between the intellectual development of the nations of antiquity and those of Europeans—Causes that have accelerated this development in Europe—Origin of the spirit of subtilty—Service which the Church rendered to the human mind by her opposition to the subtilties of the innovators—Parallel between Roscelin and St. Anselm—Reflections on St. Bernard—St. Thomas of Aquin—Advantage of his dictatorship in the schools—Advent of St. Thomas in the middle ages of immense advantage to me human mind, 404
Progress of the human mind from the eleventh century to our own times—Different phases—Protestantism and Catholicity in their relations to learning, to criticism, to the learned languages, to the foundation of universities, to the progress of literature and the arts, to mysticism, to high philosophy, to metaphysics, to ethics, to religious philosophy, and to the philosophy of history, 412
Summary of the work—The author submits it to the judgment of the Roman Church, 419

[Pg 22]
[Pg 23]


1421.Gibbon and Bossuet's History of the Variations.
2421.Intolerance of Luther and the other Coryphæi of Protestantism.
3421.Origin of the name Protestantism.
4422.Observations on names.
5422.Of abuses in the Church.
6423.Of the unity and harmonious action of Catholicism—Happy idea of St. Francis of Sales.
7423.Acknowledgments of the most distinguished Protestants with regard to its weakness—Luther, Melancthon, Beza, Calvin, Grotius, Papin, Puffendorf and Leibnitz—Of a posthumous work by Leibnitz on religion.
8424.On human knowledge—Louis Vives.
9425.On mathematics—Eximeno, a Spanish Jesuit.
10425.Heresies of the early ages—their character.
11425.Superstition and fanaticism of Protestantism—Luther's devil, Zwinglius's phantom, Melancthon's prognostics, Mathias Harlem, the Tailor of Leyden, King of Sion; Hermann, Nicholas Hacket, and others, visionaries and fanatics.
12427.Visions of Catholics—St. Theresa, her visions.
13428.Bad faith of the founders of Protestantism—Passages proving this—Ravages committed by incredulity after that time—Gruet—Remarkable passages from Montaigne.
14429.Extravagance of the early heresies, a proof of the state of knowledge in those times.
15430.Canons and other documents which shew the solicitude of the Church to improve the lot of slaves, and the various means which she used to complete the abolition of slavery.
§ 1.Canons intended to improve the lot of slaves.
§ 2.Canons intended to defend the freed, and to protect those who were recommended to the Church.
§ 3.Canons and other documents relating to the redemption of captives.
§ 4.Canons relating to the protection of the freed.
436.§ 5.Canons concerning the slaves of Jews.
§ 6.Canons concerning the enfranchisement of the slaves of the Church.
§ 7.Conduct of the Church with regard to modern slavery—Apostolic letters of St. Gregory XVI.—Slave trade—Doctrine, conduct, and influence of the Church with regard to the abolition of the trade, and of slavery in the Colonies—Passage from Robertson.
16442.Doctrines of Plato and Aristotle touching infanticide—Their doctrine on the rights of society.
17444.Degradation of woman in ancient times, especially in Rome.
18444.The Germans of Tacitus judged according to subsequent events.
19445.Corruption of ancient manners.
20445.Different opinions of religion and philosophy on the power of ideas—How far it is true that every idea requires an institution.
21446.Christianity is still in our days the source of mildness of manners.
22447.Influence of the Church on barbarian legislation—Councils of Toledo—What the indulgence of the criminal code among the barbarians proves.
23449.Constant intervention of the Church in the administration of public beneficence—Regulations of the Council of Trent on this subject—Property of hospitals considered as that of the Church.
24450.Reference to the following note.
25450.Distinction between civil and religious intolerance—Error of Rousseau on this point—False doctrine of the Contrat Social.
26452.Passages from old laws relative to the Inquisition—Pragmatic sanction of Ferdinand and Isabella—Laws of Philip II. and III.—Pragmatic sanction of Ferdinand and Isabella concerning the relations of the Spanish Inquisition with Rome—Passage from Don Antonio Perez, which mentions the anecdote of the preacher at Madrid—Letter from Phillip II to Arias Montano, on the subject of the library of the Escurial[Pg 24].
456.(Appendix.) A few words on Puigblanch, Villeneuve, and Llorente.
27458.Religious institutions in an historical point of view—Last coup-d'œil at their origin and development—Details with respect to the vow of chastity which virgins and widows made in the early ages of the Church.
28459.Remarkable texts explaining the passage of St. Paul in the 13th chapter of his Epistle to the Romans—Cicero—Horace.
29462.A remarkable fact.
30463.Quotations from P. Fr. John de Ste.-Marie, and from P. Zeballos.
31470.St. Thomas reminds princes of their duties.
32471.The opinion of D. Felix d'Amat, bishop of Palmyra, on the obedience due to de facto governments.
33471.Remarkable passages from St. Thomas and Suarez, on the disputes which may arise between governors and the governed—Father Marquez on the same subject.
34475.Charter of Hermandad between the kingdoms of Leon and Galicia and that of Castille, for the preservation and defence of their fueros and liberties.
35476.A remarkable passage from Capmany on the organization of the industrial classes—The origin and salutary effects of the institution of trades-corporation.
36480.Reflections of Count de Maistre on the causes which render the celebration of General Councils less frequent.
37480.Indication of historical sources for the confirmation of certain facts.
38480.Texts of St. Thomas on political forms—Other texts of St. Thomas to prove that the law, and not the will of man, should govern—Opinions of P. Mariana—Opinions of the venerable Palafox on the subject of imposts, taken from his Memoir to the King—Severe language of the same author against tyranny and those who advise or excuse it—Passage from P. Marquez on the right of levying tributes in general; its particular application to Castile—The opinion of the same author relative to the right of the supreme authority to the property of its subjects—A case in which, according to him, that authority may dispose of this property.
39484.Reference to historical sources to ascertain the march of the development of monarchical power in the different provinces of Spain.
40484.A just observation of Count de Maistre on the conduct of the Popes compared to that of other sovereigns.
41485.Passages in which St. Anselm expounds his views on religious subjects—Intellectual movement arising in the bosom of the Church without transgressing the bounds of faith—Another passage proving that the demonstration applied by Descartes to the existence of God had been discovered by St. Anselm—Corroborative Documents in support of a refutation of M. Guizot's errors on the doctrines of Abelard.

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There is a fact in existence among civilized nations, very important on account of the nature of the things which it affects—a fact of transcendent importance, on account of the number, variety, and consequence of its influences—a fact extremely interesting, because it is connected with the principal events of modern history. This fact is Protestantism.

Like a clap of thunder, it attracted at once the attention of all Europe; on one side it spread alarm, and on the other excited the most lively sympathy: it grew so rapidly, that its adversaries had not time to strangle it in its cradle. Scarcely had it begun to exist, and already all hope of stopping, or even restraining it, was gone; when, emboldened by being treated with respect and consideration, it became every day more daring; if exasperated by rigour, it openly resisted measures of coercion, or redoubled and concentrated its forces, to make more vigorous attacks. Discussions, the profound investigations and scientific methods which were used in combating it, contributed to develop the spirit of inquiry, and served as vehicles to propagate its ideas.

By creating new and prevailing interests, it made itself powerful protectors; by throwing all the passions into a state of fury, it aroused them in its favor. It availed itself, by turns, of stratagem, force, seduction, or violence, according to the exigencies of times and circumstances. It attempted to make its way in all directions; either destroying impediments, or taking advantage of them, if they were capable of being turned to account.

When introduced into a country, it never rested until it had obtained guarantees for its continued existence; and it succeeded in doing so everywhere. After having obtained vast establishments in Europe—which it still retains—it was transported into other parts of the world, and infused into the veins of simple and unsuspecting nations.

In order to appreciate a fact at its just value, to embrace it in all its relations, and to distinguish properly between them, it is necessary to examine whether the constituting principle of the fact can be ascertained, or at least whether we can observe in its appearance any characteristic trait capable of revealing its inward nature. This examination is very difficult when we have to do with a fact of the kind and importance of that which now occupies our attention. In matters of this sort, numbers of opinions accumulate in the course of time, in favor of all which arguments have been sought. The inquirer, in the midst of so many and such various objects, is perplexed, disconcerted, and confounded; and if he wish to place himself in a more advantageous point of view, he finds the ground so covered with fragments, that he cannot make his way without risk of losing himself at every step.

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The first glance which we give to Protestantism, whether we consider its actual condition, or whether we regard the various phases of its history, shows us that it is very difficult to find any thing constant in it, any thing which can be assigned as its constituent character. Uncertain in its opinions, it modifies them continually, and changes them in a thousand ways. Vague in its tendencies, and fluctuating in its desires, it attempts every form, and essays every road. It can never attain to a well-defined existence; and we see it every moment enter new paths, to lose itself in new labyrinths.

Catholic controversialists have pursued and assailed it in every way; ask them what has been the result? They will tell you that they had to contend with a new Proteus, which always escaped the fatal blow by changing its form. If you wish to assail the doctrines of Protestantism, you do not know where to direct your attacks, for they are unknown to you, and even to itself. On this side it is invulnerable, because it has no tangible body. Thus, no more powerful argument has ever been urged, than that of the immortal Bishop of Meaux—viz. "You change; and that which changes is not the truth." An argument much feared by Protestantism, and with justice; because all the various forms which are assumed to evade its force, only serve to strengthen it. How just is the expression of that great man! At the very title of his book, Protestantism must tremble: The History of the Variations! A history of variations must be a history of error. (See note [1] at the end of the vol.)

These unceasing changes, which we ought not to be surprised at finding in Protestantism, because they essentially belong to it, show us that it is not in possession of the truth; they show us also, that its moving principle is not a principle of life, but an element of dissolution. It has been called upon, and up to this time in vain, to fix itself, and to present a compact and uniform body. How can that be fixed, which is, by its nature, kept floating about in the air? How can a solid body be formed of an element, the essential tendency of which is towards an incessant division of particles, by diminishing their reciprocal affinity, and increasing their repellent force?

It will easily be seen that I speak of the right of private judgment in matters of faith, whether it be looked upon as a matter of human reason alone, or as an individual inspiration from heaven.

If there be any thing constant in Protestantism, it is undoubtedly the substitution of private judgment for public and lawful authority. This is always found in union with it, and is, properly speaking, its fundamental principle: it is the only point of contact among the various Protestant sects,—the basis of their mutual resemblance. It is very remarkable that this exists, for the most part, unintentionally, and sometimes against their express wishes.

However lamentable and disastrous this principle may be, if the coryphæi of Protestantism had made it their rallying point, and had constantly acted up to it in theory and practice, they would have been consistent in error. When men saw them cast into one abyss after another, they would have recognised a system,—false undoubtedly; but, at any rate, a system. As it is, it has not been even that: if you examine the words and the acts of the first Reformers, you will find that they made use of this principle as a means of resisting the authority which controlled them, but that they never dreamed of establishing it permanently; that if they labored to upset lawful authority, it was for the purpose of usurping the command themselves; that is to say, that they followed, in this respect, the example of revolutionists of all kinds, of all ages, and of all countries. Everybody knows how far Luther carried his fanatical intolerance; he who could not bear the slightest contradiction, either from his own disciples or anybody else, without giving way to the most senseless fits of passion, and the most unworthy outrages. Henry VIII. of England, who founded there what is called the liberty of thinking, sent to the scaffold those[Pg 27] who did not think as he did; and it was at the instigation of Calvin that Servetus was burnt alive at Geneva.

I insist upon this point, because it seems to me to be of great importance. Men are but too much inclined to pride; and if they heard it constantly repeated, without contradiction, that the innovators of the sixteenth century proclaimed the freedom of thought, a secret interest might be excited in their favor; their violent declamations might be regarded as the expressions of a generous movement, and their efforts as a noble attempt to assert the rights of intellectual freedom. Let it be known, never to be forgotten, that if these men proclaimed the principle of free examination, it was for the purpose of making use of it against legitimate authority; but that they attempted, as soon as they could, to impose upon others the yoke of their own opinions. Their constant endeavour was, to destroy the authority which came from God, in order to establish their own upon its ruins. It is a painful necessity to be obliged to give proofs of this assertion; not because they are difficult to find, but because one cannot adduce the most incontestable of them without calling to mind words and deeds which not only cover with disgrace the founders of Protestantism, but are of such a nature, that they cannot be mentioned without a blush on the cheek, or written without a stain upon the paper.2

Protestantism, when viewed in a mass, appears only a shapeless collection of innumerable sects, all opposed to each other, and agreeing only in one point, viz. in protesting against the authority of the Church. We only find among them particular and exclusive names, commonly taken from the names of their founders; in vain have they made a thousand efforts to give themselves a general name expressive of a positive idea; they are still called after the manner of philosophical sects. Lutherans, Calvinists, Zuinglians, Anglicans, Socinians, Arminians, Anabaptists, all these names, of which I could furnish an endless host, only serve to exhibit the narrowness of the circle in which these sects are enclosed; and it is only necessary to pronounce them, to show that they contain nothing universal, nothing great.

Everybody who knows any thing of the Christian religion must be convinced by this fact alone, that these sects are not truly Christian. But what occurred when Protestantism attempted to take a general name, is singularly remarkable. If you examine its history, you will see that all the names which it attempted to give itself failed, if they contained any positive idea, or any mark of Christianity; but that it adopted a name taken by chance at the Diet of Spires; a name which carries with it its own condemnation, because it is repugnant to the origin, to the spirit, to the maxims, to the entire history of the Christian religion; a name which does not express that unity—that union which is inseparably connected with the Christian name; a name which is peculiarly becoming to it, which all the world gives to it by acclamation, which is truly its own—viz. Protestantism.3

Within the vast limits marked out by this name, there is room for every error and for every sect. You may deny with the Lutherans the liberty of man, or renew with the Arminians the errors of Pelagius. You may admit with some that real presence, which you are free to reject with the Calvinists and Zuinglians; you may join with the Socinians in denying the divinity of Jesus Christ; you may attach yourself to Episcopalians, to Puritans, or, if you please, to the extravagances of the Quakers; it is of no consequence, for you always remain a Protestant, for you protest against the authority of the Church; your field is so extensive, that you can hardly escape from it, however great may be your wanderings; it contains all the vast extent that we behold on coming forth from the gates of the Holy City.4

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What, then, were the causes of the appearance of Protestantism in Europe, of its development, and of its success? This is a question well worthy of being examined to the bottom, because it will lead us to inquire into the origin of this great evil, and will put us in a condition to form the best idea of this phenomenon, so often but so imperfectly described.

It would be unreasonable to look for the causes of an event of this nature and importance, in circumstances either trivial in themselves, or circumscribed by places and events of a limited kind. It is a mistake to suppose that vast results can be produced by trifling causes; and if it be true that great events sometimes have their commencement in little ones, it is no less certain that the commencing point is not the cause; and that to be the commencement of a thing, and to be its real cause, are expressions of a widely different meaning. A spark produces a dreadful conflagration, but it is because it falls upon a heap of inflammable materials. That which is general must have general causes; and that which is lasting and deeply rooted must have lasting and profound causes.

This law is true alike in the moral as in the physical order; but its applications cannot be perceived without great difficulty, especially in the moral order, where things of great importance are sometimes clothed in a mean exterior; where each effect is found allied with so many causes at once, connected with them by ties so delicate, that, possibly, the most attentive and piercing eye may miss altogether, or regard as a trifle, that which perhaps has produced very great results: trifling things, on the other hand, are frequently so covered with glitter, tinsel, and parade, that it is very easy to be deceived by them. We are always too much inclined to judge by appearances.

It will appear from these principles, that I am not disposed to give great importance to the rivalry excited by the preaching of indulgences, or to the excesses which may have been committed by some inferiors in this matter; these things may have been an occasion, a pretext, a signal to commence the contest, but they were of too little importance in themselves to put the world in flames. There would be, perhaps, more apparent plausibility in seeking for the causes of Protestantism in the characters and positions of the first reformers; but this also would be unsatisfactory.

People lay great stress on the violence and fury of the writings and speeches of Luther, and show how apt this savage eloquence was to inflame men's minds, and drag them into the new errors by the deadly hatred against Rome with which it inspired them. Too much stress also is laid on the sophistical art, the order and elegance of the style of Calvin; qualities which served to give an appearance of regularity to the shapeless mass of new errors, and make them more acceptable to men of good taste. The talents and other qualities of the various innovators are described in the same way with more or less truth.

I will not deny to Luther, Calvin, and the other founders of Protestantism, the titles on which their sad celebrity is founded; but I venture to assert that we cannot attribute to their personal qualities the principal influence upon the development of this evil, without palpably mistaking and underrating the importance of the evil itself, and forgetting the instructions of universal history.

If we examine these men with impartiality, we shall find that their qualities were not greater than those of other sectarian leaders, if so great. Their talents, their learning, and their knowledge, have passed through the crucible of criticism, and there is, even among Protestants, no well-instructed and impartial person who does not now consider the extravagant eulogiums which have been lavished upon them, as the exaggerations of party. They are classed[Pg 29] among the number of those turbulent men who are well fitted to excite revolutions; but the history of all times and countries, and the experience of every day, teach that men of this kind are not uncommon, and that they arise everywhere when a sad combination of events affords them a fit opportunity.

When causes more in proportion to Protestantism, by their extent and importance, are sought for, two are commonly pointed out: the necessity of reform, and the spirit of liberty. "There were numerous abuses," says one party; "legitimate reform was neglected: this negligence produced revolution." "The human intellect was in fetters," says another; "the mind longed to break its chains; Protestantism was only a grand effort for the freedom of human thought, a great movement towards liberating the human mind." It is true, that these two opinions point out causes of great importance and of wide extent: both are well adapted to make partisans. The one, by establishing the necessity of reform, opens a wide field for the censure of neglected laws and relaxed morals; this theme always finds sympathy in the heart of man,—indulgent towards its own defects, but stern and inexorable towards the faults of others. With respect to the other opinion, which raises the cry of the movement of religious liberty and the freedom of the human mind, it is sure to be widely adopted: there are always a thousand echoes to a cry which flatters our pride.

I do not deny that a reform was necessary; to be convinced of this, I need only glance at history, and listen to the complaints of several great men, justly regarded by the Church as among the most cherished of her sons. I read in the first decree of the Council of Trent, that one of the objects of the Council was the reform of the Christian clergy and people; I learn from the mouth of Pius IV., when confirming the said Council, that one of the objects for which it was assembled, was the correction of morals, and the re-establishment of discipline. Notwithstanding all this, I am not inclined to give to abuses so much influence as has been attributed to them. I must also say, that it appears to me that we give a very bad solution of the question, when, to show the real cause of the evil, we insist on the fatal results produced by these abuses. These words also, "a new movement of liberty," appear to me altogether insufficient. I shall say, then, with freedom, in spite of my respect for those who entertain the first opinion, and my esteem for the talents of those who refer all to the spirit of liberty, that I cannot find in either that analysis, at once philosophical and historical, which, without wandering from the ground of history, examines facts, clears them up, shows their inward nature, their relations and connections.

If men have wandered so much in the definition and explanation of Protestantism, it is because they have not sufficiently observed that it is not only a fact common to all ages of the history of the Church, but that its importance and its particular characteristics are owing to the epoch when it arose. This simple consideration, founded on the constant testimony of history, clears up every thing; we have no longer to seek in the doctrines of Protestantism for any thing singular or extraordinary; all its characteristics prove that it was born in Europe, and in the sixteenth century. I shall develop these ideas, not by fanciful reasonings or gratuitous suppositions, but by adducing facts which nobody can deny.

It is indisputable that the principle of submission to authority in matters of faith has always encountered a vigorous resistance in the human mind. I shall not point out here the causes of this resistance; I propose to do so in the course of this work; I shall content myself at present with stating this fact, and reminding those who may be inclined to call it in question, that the history of the Church has always been accompanied by the history of heresies. This fact has presented different phases according to the changes of time and place. Sometimes making a rude mixture of Judaism and Christianity, sometimes combining the doctrines of Jesus Christ with the dreams of the East, or cor[Pg 30]rupting the purity of faith by the subtilties and chicaneries of Grecian sophistry; this fact presents us with as many different aspects as there are conditions of the mind of man. But we always find in it two general characteristics, which clearly show that it has always had the same origin, notwithstanding the variation in its object and in the nature of its results: these two characteristics are, hatred of the authority of the Church, and the spirit of sect.

In all ages sects have arisen, opposing the authority of the Church, and establishing as dogmas the errors of their founders: it was natural for the same thing to happen in the sixteenth century. Now, if that age had been an exception to the general rule, it seems to me, looking at the nature of the human mind, that we should have had to answer this very difficult question, How is it possible that no sect appeared in that age? I say, then, error having once arisen in the sixteenth century, no matter what may have been its origin, occasion, and pretext—a certain number of followers having assembled around its banner—Protestantism forthwith presents itself before me in all its extent, with its transcendent importance, its divisions, and subdivisions; I see it, with boldness and energy, making a general attack on all the doctrines and discipline taught and observed by the Church. In place of Luther, Zuinglius, and Calvin, let us suppose Arius, Nestorius, and Pelagius; in place of the errors of the former, let them teach the errors of the latter; it will all lead to the same result. The errors will excite sympathy; they will find defenders; they will animate enthusiasts; they will spread, they will be propagated with the rapidity of fire, they will be diffused, they will throw sparks in all directions; they will all be defended with a show of knowledge and erudition; creeds will change unceasingly; a thousand professions of faith will be drawn up; the liturgy will be altered,—will be destroyed; the bonds of discipline will be broken; we shall have to sum up all in one word, Protestantism.

How did it happen that the evil in the sixteenth century was necessarily so extensive, so great, and so important? It was because the society of that time was different from any other that had preceded it; that which at other times would only have produced a partial fire, necessarily caused in the sixteenth century a frightful conflagration. Europe was then composed of a number of immense states, cast, so to speak, in the same mould, resembling each other in ideas, manners, laws and institutions, drawn together incessantly by an active communication which was kept up alternately by rival and common interests; knowledge found in the Latin language an easy means of diffusion; in fine, most important of all, there had become general over all Europe a rapid means of disseminating ideas and feelings, a creation which had flashed from the human mind like a miraculous illumination, a presage of colossal destinies, viz. the press.

Such is the activity of the mind of man, and the ardour with which it embraces all sorts of innovation, that when once the standard of error was planted, a multitude of partisans were sure to rally round it. The yoke of authority once thrown off, in countries where investigation was so active, where so many discussions were carried on, where ideas were in such a state of effervescence, and where all the sciences began to germinate, it was impossible for the restless mind of man to remain fixed on any point, and a swarm of sects was necessarily produced. There is no middle path; either civilized nations must remain Catholic, or run through all the forms of error. If they do not attach themselves firmly to the anchor of truth, we shall see them make a general attack upon it, we shall see them assail it in itself, in all that it teaches, in all that it prescribes. A man of free and active mind will remain tranquil in the peaceful regions of truth, or he will seek for it with restlessness and disquietude. If he find only false principles to rest on,—if he feel the ground move under his feet, he will change his position every moment, he will leap from error to error,[Pg 31] and precipitate himself from one abyss to another. To live amid errors, and be contented with them, to transmit error from generation to generation, without modification or change, is peculiar to those who vegetate in debasement and ignorance; there the mind of man is not active, because it is asleep.

From the point of view where we have now placed ourselves, we can see Protestantism such as it is. From this commanding position we see every thing in its place, and it is possible for us to appreciate its dimensions, to perceive its relations, calculate its influence, and explain its anomalies. Men there assume their true position; as they are seen in close proximity with the great mass of events, they appear in the picture as very small figures, for which others may be substituted without inconvenience; which may be placed nearer or farther off, and the features and complexion of which are not of any consequence. Of what importance, then, are the energy of character, the passion, and boldness of Luther, the literary polish of Melancthon, and the sophistical talents of Calvin? We are convinced, that to lay stress upon all this, is to lose our time, and explain nothing.

What were these men, and the other coryphæi of Protestantism? Was there any thing really extraordinary about them? We shall find men like them everywhere. There are some among them who did not surpass mediocrity; and it may be said of almost all, that if they had not obtained an unhappy celebrity, they would hardly have been celebrated at all. Why, then, did they effect such great things? They found a mass of combustibles, and they set them on fire. Certainly this was not difficult, and yet it was all they did. When I see Luther, mad with pride, commit those extravagances which were the subject of so many lamentations on the part of his friends—when I see him grossly insult all who oppose him, put himself in a passion, and vomit forth a torrent of impure words against all those who do not humble themselves in his presence, I am scarcely moved by any other feeling than pity. This man, who had the extraordinary mania of calling himself the Notharius Dei, became delirious; but he breathed, and his breath was followed by a terrible conflagration: it was because a powder-magazine was at hand on which he threw a spark. Nevertheless, like a man blinded by insanity, he cried out, "Behold my power! I breathe, and my breath puts the world in flames!"

But, you will ask me, what was the real influence of abuses? If we take care not to leave the point of view where we now are, we shall see that they were an occasion, and that they sometimes afforded food, but that they did not exercise all the influence which has been attributed to them. Do I wish, then, to deny, or to excuse them? Not at all. I can appreciate the complaints of some men, who are worthy of the most profound respect; but while lamenting the evil, these men never pretended to detail the consequences. The just man when he raises his voice against vice, the minister of the sanctuary when he is burning with zeal for the house of the Lord, express themselves in accents so loud and vehement, that they must not always be taken literally. Their whole hearts are opened, and, inflamed as they are with a zealous love of justice, they make use of burning words. Men without faith interpret their expressions maliciously, exaggerating and misrepresenting them.

It appears to me to be clear, from what I have just shown, that the principal cause of Protestantism is not to be found in the abuses of the middle ages. All that can be said is, that they afforded opportunities and pretexts for it. To assert the contrary would be to maintain that there were always numerous abuses in the Church from the beginning, even in the time of her primitive fervor, and of that proverbial purity of which our opponents have said so much; for even then there were swarms of sects who protested against her doctrines, denied her divine authority, and called themselves the true Church. The case is the same, and the inference cannot be denied. If you allege the extent and[Pg 32] rapid propagation of Protestantism, I will remind you that such was also the case with other sects; I will repeat to you the words of St. Jerome, with regard to the ravages of Arianism: "All the world groans, and is full of astonishment at finding itself Arian." I will repeat, again, that if you observe any thing remarkable and peculiar belonging to Protestantism, it ought not to be attributed to abuses, but to the epoch when it appeared.

I believe I have said enough to give an idea of the influence which abuses could exert; yet, as it is a subject which has occupied much attention, and on which many mistakes have been made, it will be well to revert to it once more, to make our ideas on the subject still clearer. That lamentable abuses had crept in during the course of the middle ages, that the corruption of manners had been great, and that, consequently, reform was required, is a fact which cannot be denied. This fact is proved to us, with respect to the eleventh and twelfth centuries, by irreproachable witnesses, such as St. Peter Damien, St. Gregory VII., and St. Bernard. Some centuries later, even after many abuses had been corrected, they were still but too considerable, as is witnessed by the complaints of men who were inflamed with a desire of reform. We cannot forget the alarming words addressed by Cardinal Julian to Pope Eugenius IV., on the subject of the disorders of the clergy, especially those of Germany.

Having fully avowed the truth on this point, and my opinion that the cause of Catholicity does not require dissimulation or falsehood to defend it, I shall devote a few words to examining some important questions. Are we to blame the court of Rome or the bishops for these great abuses? I venture to think that they were to be attributed to the evils of the time alone. Let us call to mind the events which had taken place in the midst of Europe; the dissolution of the decrepit and corrupt empire of Rome; the irruption and inundation of northern barbarians; their fluctuations, their wars, sometimes with each other, and sometimes with the conquered nations, and that for so many ages; the establishment and absolute reign of feudalism, with all its inconveniences, its evils, its troubles, and disasters; the invasion of the Saracens, and their dominion over a large portion of Europe; now, let any reflecting man ask himself whether such revolutions must not of necessity produce ignorance, corruption of morals, and the relaxation of all discipline. How could the ecclesiastical society escape being deeply affected by this dissolution, this destruction of the civil society? Could she help participating in the evils of the horrible state of chaos into which Europe was then plunged?

But were the spirit and ardent desire of reforming abuses ever wanting in the Church? It can be shown that they were not. I will not mention the saints whom she did not cease to produce during these unhappy periods; history proves their number and their virtues, which, so vividly contrasting with the corruption of the age, show that the divine flames which descended on the Apostles had not been extinguished in the bosom of the Catholic Church. This fact proves much; but there is another still more remarkable, a fact less subject to dispute, and which we cannot be accused of exaggerating; a fact which is not limited to individuals, but which is, on the contrary, the most complete expression of the spirit by which the whole body of the Church was animated; I mean, the constant meeting of councils, in which abuses were reproved and condemned, and in which sanctity of morals and the observance of discipline were continually inculcated. Happily this consoling fact is indisputable; it is open to every eye; and to be aware of it, one only needs to consult a volume of ecclesiastical history, or the proceedings of councils. There is no fact more worth our attention; and I will add, that perhaps all its importance has not been observed.

Let us remark what passes in other societies: we see that in proportion to the change of ideas and manners, laws everywhere undergo a rapid modification;[Pg 33] and if manners and ideas come to be directly opposed to laws, the latter, reduced to silence, are soon either abolished or trodden under foot. Nothing of this sort has happened in the Church. Corruption has extended itself everywhere to a lamentable degree; the ministers of religion have allowed themselves to be carried away by the stream, and have forgotten the sanctity of their vocation; but the sacred fire did not cease to burn in the sanctuary; the law was there constantly proclaimed and inculcated; and, wonderful spectacle! the men who themselves violated it frequently assembled to condemn themselves, to censure their own conduct, and thus to render more public and more palpable the contrast which existed between their instructions and their actions. Simony and incontinence were the prevailing vices; if you open the canons of councils, you will find them everywhere anathematized. Nowhere do you find a struggle so prolonged, so constant, so persevering, of right against wrong; you always see, throughout so many ages, the law, opposed face to face to the irregular passions, maintain itself firm and immovable, without yielding a single step, without allowing them a moment of repose or peace until they were subjugated. And this constancy and tenacity of the Church were not useless. At the commencement of the sixteenth century, at the time when Protestantism appeared, we find abuses comparatively less numerous, morals perceptibly improved, discipline become more strict, and observed with sufficient regularity. The time when Luther declaimed was not like that when St. Peter Damien and St. Bernard deplored the evils of the Church. The chaos was reduced to form; order, light, and regularity had made rapid progress; and an incontestable proof that the Church was not then plunged in such ignorance and corruption as is alleged, is, that she produced the great assemblage of saints who shed so much lustre on the age, and the men who displayed their eminent wisdom at the Council of Trent. Let us remember that great reforms require much time; that they met with much resistance both from the clergy and laity; that for having undertaken them with firmness, and urged them with vigour, Gregory VII. has been charged with rashness. Let us not judge of men without regard to times and places; and let us not pretend to measure every thing according to our own limited ideas; ages move in an immense orbit, and the variety of circumstances produces situations so strange and complicated that we can hardly form an idea of them.

Bossuet, in his History of the Variations, after having differently classed the spirit which guided certain men, before the thirteenth century, in their attempts at reform, and having cited the threatening words of Cardinal Julian on the subject of abuses, adds: "It is thus that, in the fifteenth century, this cardinal, the greatest man of his times, deplored these evils, and foresaw their fatal effects; by which he seems to have predicted those that Luther was about to bring on all Christianity, and in the first place on Germany; and he was not deceived when he thought that the neglect of reformation, and the increased hatred against the clergy, was about to produce a sect more dangerous to the Church than the Bohemians." (Hist. des Variat. liv. i.) It is inferred from these words that the illustrious Bishop of Meaux found one of the principal causes of Protestantism in the omission of a legitimate reform made in time. Nevertheless, we must not suppose from this that Bossuet meant, in any degree, to excuse the promoters of it, or that he had any idea of sanctioning their intentions; on the contrary, he ranked them as turbulent innovators, who, far from promoting the real reform which was desired by wise and prudent men, only served to render it more difficult, by introducing, by the means of their erroneous doctrines, the spirit of disobedience, schism, and heresy.

In spite of the authority of Bossuet, I cannot persuade myself to look upon abuses as one of the principal causes of Protestantism; but it is not necessary to repeat what I have said in support of this opinion. It may not, however,[Pg 34] be useless to repeat, that the authority of Bossuet is misapplied when used to justify the intentions of the reformers, since the illustrious prelate is the first to declare them highly culpable, and to observe, that if abuses were in existence, their intention was not to correct them, but rather to make them a pretext for abandoning the faith of the Church, throwing off the yoke of lawful authority, breaking the bands of discipline, and introducing thereby disorder and licentiousness.

How, indeed, can we attribute to the reformers the real spirit of reform, when almost all of them proved the contrary by the ignominy of their own conduct? If they had condemned, by the austerity of their morals, or by devoting themselves to a severe asceticism, the relaxations of which they complained, there might be a question whether their extravagances were not the effects of exaggerated zeal, and if some excess in the love of virtue had not drawn them into error. But they did nothing of the kind. Let us hear on this point an eye-witness, a man who certainly cannot be accused of fanaticism, since the connection which he had with the leaders of Protestantism has rendered him culpable in the eyes of many. Behold what Erasmus said, with his usual wit and bitterness: "The reform, as far as it has gone, has been limited to the secularization of a few nuns and the marriage of a few priests; and this great tragedy finishes with an event altogether comic, since every thing is wound up, as in comedies, by a marriage."

This shows to conviction the true spirit of the innovators of the sixteenth century. It is clear that, far from wishing the reformation of abuses, they wished rather to increase them. This bare consideration of facts has led M. Guizot, on this point, into the path of truth, when he rejects the opinion of those who pretend, that the Reformation was "an attempt conceived and executed simply with the intention of reconstructing a pure and primitive Church. The Reformation," he said, "was not a mere attempt at religious amelioration, or the fruit of a Utopian humanity and virtue." (Histoire Générale de la Civilisation en Europe, douzième leçon.)

We shall have now no difficulty in appreciating at its just value the explanation which the same writer gives of this phenomenon. "The Reformation," says M. Guizot, "was a great attempt at the liberation of human thought—an uprising of the mind of man." This attempt, according to M. Guizot, arose out of the energetic movement given to the human mind, and the state of inaction into which the Roman Church had fallen; it arose from this, that the human mind advanced rapidly and impetuously, while the Church remained stationary. Explanations of this kind, and this one in particular, are very apt to draw admirers and proselytes; these ideas are high, and placed on a level so lofty and extended, that they cannot be looked at closely by the generality of readers; and, moreover, they appear in brilliant imagery, which blinds the sight and prejudices the judgment.

That which restrains freedom of thought, as understood by M. Guizot and other Protestants is, authority in matters of faith: it was, then, against this authority that the uprising of the mind declared itself; or, in other words, the mind rebelled, because it advanced, while the Church, immovable in her doctrines, was, according to the expression of M. Guizot, "in a stationary state."

Whatever may be the disposition of mind of M. Guizot towards the dogmas of the Catholic Church, he ought, as a philosopher, to have seen that it was a great mistake to point out as the distinctive characteristic of one period, that which had been at every time a glorious title for the Church. For more than eighteen hundred years the Church has been stationary in her dogmas, and it is no equivocal proof that she possesses the truth: the truth is unchangeable, because it is one.

What the Church was in the sixteenth century, she had been before, and she[Pg 35] has been since. She had nothing particular, she adopted no new characteristic. The reason, then, by which it is attempted to explain this phenomenon, viz. the uprising of the mind, cannot advance the explanation a single step; and if this be the reason why M. Guizot compares the Church to governments grown old, we will tell him that she has had this old age from her cradle. M. Guizot, as if he had himself felt the weakness of his reasoning, presents his thoughts in groups, and as it were pêle-mêle; he parades before his readers ideas of different kinds, without taking pains to classify or distinguish them; one would be inclined to think that he meant to distract them by variety, and confound them by mixture. Judging, indeed, from the context of his discourse, the epithets inert and stationary, which he applies to the Church, do not appear, according to his intention, to relate to matters of faith; and he gives us to understand that he speaks rather of the pretensions of the Church with regard to politics and state economy. He has taken pains, elsewhere, to repel as calumnies, the charges of tyranny and intolerance which have been so often made against the court of Rome.

We find here an incoherence of ideas which was not to be expected in so clear a mind; and as many persons may scarcely be inclined to believe how far this incoherence extends, it is necessary to give his words literally: they will show us into what inconsistencies great minds can fall when they are placed in a false position.

"The government of the human mind, the spiritual power," says M. Guizot, "had fallen into an inert and stationary condition. The political influence of the Church, of the court of Rome, was much diminished; European society no longer was ruled by it; it had passed under the control of lay governments. Nevertheless, the spiritual power preserved all its pretensions, all its éclat, all its external importance. There happened in this respect, what has more than once happened to old governments. The greater part of the complaints made against it were hardly better founded."

It is evident that M. Guizot, in this passage, does not point out any thing which is at all connected with liberty, any thing which is not quite of another kind: why does he not do so? The court of Rome, he tells us, had seen its political influence diminished, and yet it preserved its pretensions; the direction of European society no longer belonged to it, but Rome kept its pomp and its external importance. Is any thing here meant besides the rivalries of which political affairs had been the subject? Did M. Guizot forget what he himself said some pages before, viz. that it did not appear to him to be reasonable to assign the rivalry of kings with the ecclesiastical power as the cause of Protestantism, and that such a cause was not adequate to the extent and importance of the event?

Although all this has no direct connection with freedom of thought, still, if any one be inclined to attribute the uprising of the mind to the intolerance of the court of Rome, let him listen to M. Guizot: "It is not true," says he, "that in the sixteenth century the court of Rome was very tyrannical; that abuses, properly so called, were then more numerous, more crying, than they had been at other times; never, perhaps, on the contrary, had the ecclesiastical power been more easy, more tolerant, more disposed to let things go their own way. Provided that it was not itself called in question, provided that the rights which it had formerly enjoyed were allowed in theory, that the same existence was secured, and the same tributes were paid to it, it would willingly have allowed the human mind to remain at peace, if the human mind had done the same in respect to it."

Thus M. Guizot seems to have forgotten what he had urged with the view of showing that the Protestant Reformation was a great attempt at the liberation of human thought—a rebellion of the mind of man. He does not allege[Pg 36] any thing which was an obstacle to the freedom of man's thoughts; and he himself acknowledges that there was nothing to provoke this rebellion, as, for example, intolerance or cruelty; he has himself just told us that the ecclesiastical government of the sixteenth century, far from being tyrannical, was easy and tolerant, and that, if left to itself, it would willingly have allowed the human mind to remain tranquil.

It is, then, evident, that the great attempt at the liberation of the human mind is, in M. Guizot's mouth, only a vague, undefined expression,—a brilliant veil with which he seems to have wished to cover the cradle of Protestantism, even at the risk of being inconsistent with his own opinions. He reverts to the political rivalries which he before rejected. Abuses have no importance in his eyes; he cannot find in them the real cause; and he forgets what he had just asserted in the preceding lecture, viz. that if necessary reform had been made in time, the religious revolution might have been avoided.

He tries to give a picture of the obstacles to the liberty of thought, and endeavours to rise to the general considerations which embrace all the importance and influences of the human mind; but he stops at éclat, at external importance, and political rivalries; he lowers his flight to the level of tributes and services.

This incoherence of ideas, this weakness of reasoning, and forgetfulness of assertions previously made, will appear strange only to those who are accustomed rather to admire the high flights of talented men than to study their aberrations. It is true that M. Guizot was in a position in which it was very difficult to avoid being dazzled and deceived. If it be true that we cannot observe attentively what passes on the ground around us without narrowing our view of the horizon,—if this method leads the observer to form a collection of isolated facts rather than compare general maxims, it is not less certain that, by extending our observations over a larger space, we run the risk of many illusions. Too great generalization borders on hypothesis and fancy. The mind, when taking an immoderate flight in order to get a general view of things, no longer sees them as they really are; perhaps sometimes even loses sight of them altogether. Therefore it is that the loftiest minds should frequently remember the words of Bacon: "We do not want wings, but lead." Too impartial not to confess that abuses had been exaggerated,—too good a philosopher not to see that they could not have had so great an effect,—M. Guizot, who was prevented by his sense of dignity and decency from joining the crowd who incessantly raise the cry of cruelty and intolerance, has made an effort to do justice to the Church of Rome; but, unfortunately, his prejudices against the Church would not allow him to see things in their true light. He was aware that the origin of Protestantism must be sought in the human mind itself; but, knowing the age and epoch when he was speaking, he thought it was necessary to propitiate his audience by frequent appeals to liberty, in order that his discourse might be well received. This is the reason why, after having tempered the bitterness of his reproaches against the Church by a few soft words, he reserves all that is noble, grand, and generous for the ideas which produced the Reformation, and throws on the Church all the shadows of the picture.

While acknowledging that the principal cause of Protestantism is to be found in the human mind, it is easy to abstain from these unjust comparisons; and M. Guizot might have avoided the inconsistency to which we have alluded. He might have discovered the origin of the fact in the character of the human mind; he might, at the same time, have shown the greatness and importance of it, while simply explaining the nature and position of the societies in which it appeared. In fine, he might have observed that it was no extraordinary effort, but a mere repetition of what has happened in every age; and a pheno[Pg 37]menon, the character of which depended on the particular state of the atmosphere in which it was produced.

This way of considering Protestantism as an ordinary event, increased and developed by the circumstances in which it arose, appears to me to be as philosophical as it is little attended to. I shall support it by another observation, which will supply us with reasons and examples at the same time.

The state of modern society for three hundred years has been such, that all the events that have occurred have acquired a character of generalization, and consequently an importance, which distinguishes them from all the events of a similar kind which occurred at other times and in a different social state. If we examine the history of antiquity, we shall see that all the events therein occurring were isolated in some sort from each other; this was what rendered them less beneficial when they were good, and less injurious when they were bad. Carthage, Rome, Sparta, Athens, all these nations more or less advanced in the career of civilization, each followed its own path, and progressed in a different way. Ideas, manners, political constitutions, succeeded each other, without our being able to perceive any influence of the ideas of one nation on those of another, or of the manners of one nation on those of another; we do not find any evidence of a tendency to bring nations to one common centre.

We also remark that, except when forced to intermix, ancient nations could be a long time in close proximity without losing their peculiarities, or suffering any important change by the contact.

Observe how different is the state of things in Europe in modern times. A revolution in one country affects all others; an idea sent forth from the schools agitates nations and alarms governments. Nothing is isolated, every thing is general, and acquires by expansion a terrible force. It is impossible to study the history of one nation without seeing all the others make their appearance on the stage; and we cannot study the history of a science or an art without discovering a thousand connections with objects which do not belong to science or to art.

All nations are connected, objects are assimilated, relations increase. The affairs of one nation are interesting to all the others, and they wish to take part in them. This is the reason why the idea of non-intervention in politics is, and always will be, impracticable; it is, indeed, natural for us to interfere in that in which we are interested.

These examples, although taken from things of a different kind, appear to me very well calculated to illustrate my idea of the religious events of that period. Protestantism, it is true, is thereby stripped of the philosophic mantle by which it has been covered from its infancy; it loses all right to be considered as full of foresight, magnificent projects, and high destinies, from its cradle, but I do not see that its importance and extent are thereby diminished; the fact itself, in a word, is unimpaired, but the real cause of the imposing aspect in which it has presented itself to the world is explained.

Every thing, in this point of view, is seen in its just dimensions; individuals are scarcely perceived, and abuses appear only what they really are—opportunities and pretexts; vast plans, lofty and generous ideas, and efforts at independence of mind, are only gratuitous suppositions. Thence ambition, war, the rivalry of kings, take their position as causes more or less influential, but always in the second rank. All the causes are estimated at their real value; in fine, the principal causes being once pointed out, it is acknowledged that the fact was sure to be accompanied in its development by a multitude of subordinate agents. There remains still an important question in this matter, viz. what was the cause of the hatred, or rather the feeling of exasperation, on the part of sectarians against Rome? Was it owing to some great abuse, some great wrong on the part of Rome? There is but one answer to make, viz. that[Pg 38] in a storm, the waves always dash with fury against the immovable rock which resists them.

So far from attributing to abuses all the influence which has been assigned to them on the birth and development of Protestantism, I am convinced, on the contrary, that all imaginable legitimate reforms, and the greatest degree of willingness on the part of the Church authorities to comply with every exigence, would not have been able to prevent that unhappy event.

He has paid little attention to the extreme inconstancy and fickleness of the human mind, and studied its history to little purpose, who does not recognise in the event of the sixteenth century one of those great calamities which God alone can avert by a special intervention of his providence.5


The proposition contained in the concluding lines of the last chapter suggests a corollary, which, if I am not mistaken, offers a new demonstration of the divine origin of the Catholic Church. Her existence for eighteen centuries, in spite of so many powerful adversaries, has always been regarded as a most extraordinary thing. Another prodigy, too little attended to, and of not less importance when the nature of the human mind is taken into account, is, the unity of the Church's doctrines, pervading, as it does, all her various instructions, and the number of great minds which this unity has always enclosed within her bosom.

I particularly call the attention of all thinking men to this point; and although I cannot hope to develop this idea in a suitable manner, I am sure they will find in it matter for very serious reflection. This method of considering the Church may perhaps recommend itself to the taste of some readers on another account, viz. because I shall lay aside Revelation, in order to consider Catholicity, not as a Divine religion, but as a school of philosophy.

No one who has studied the history of letters can deny that the Church has, in all ages, possessed men illustrious for science. The history of the Fathers of the first ages of the Church is nothing but the history of the most learned men in Europe, in Africa, and in Asia; the list of learned men who preserved, after the irruption of the Barbarians, some remains of ancient knowledge, is composed of churchmen. In modern times you cannot point out a branch of human knowledge, in which a considerable number of Catholics have not figured in the first rank. Thus there has been, for eighteen hundred years, an uninterrupted chain of learned men, who were Catholics, that is, men united in the profession of the doctrines taught by the Catholic Church. Let us lay aside for a moment the divine characteristics of Catholicity, to consider it only as a school or sect; I say, that in the fact which I have pointed out, we find a phenomenon so extraordinary, that its equal cannot be found elsewhere, and that no effort of reason can explain it, according to the natural order of human things.

It is certainly not new in the history of the human mind for a doctrine, more or less reasonable, to be professed for a time by a certain number of learned and enlightened men; this has been shown in schools of philosophy both ancient and modern. But for a creed to maintain itself for many ages, by preserving the adhesion of men of learning of all times and of all countries—of minds differing among themselves on other points—of men opposed in interests and divided by rivalries, is a phenomenon new, unique, and not to be found anywhere but in the Catholic Church. It always has been, and still is, the practice[Pg 39] of the Church, while one in faith and doctrine, to teach unceasingly—to excite discussion on all subjects—to promote the study and examination of the foundations on which faith itself reposes—to scrutinize for this purpose the ancient languages, the monuments of the remotest times, the documents of history, the discoveries of scientific observation, the lessons of the highest and most analytic sciences, and to present herself with a generous confidence in the great lyceums, where men replete with talents and knowledge concentrate, as in a focus, all that they have learned from their predecessors, and all that they themselves have collected: and nevertheless we see her always persevere with firmness in her faith and in the unity of her doctrines; we see her always surrounded by illustrious men, who, with their brows crowned with the laurels of a hundred literary contests, humble themselves, tranquil and serene, before her, without fear of dimming the brightness of the glory which surrounds their heads.

We ask those who see in Catholicity only one of the innumerable sects by which the earth has been covered, to point out elsewhere a similar fact; to explain to us how the Church has been able to show us a phenomenon, constantly existing, so opposed to the ever-varying spirit of the human mind; let them tell us by what secret talisman the Sovereign Pontiffs have been able to do what other men have found impossible. Those men, who bowed their heads at the command of the Vatican, who have laid aside their own opinions to adopt those of a man called the Pope, were not simple and ignorant men. Look at them attentively; you will see in the boldness of their mien their knowledge of their own intellectual power; you will read in their bright and penetrating eyes the flame of genius which burns in their breasts. They are the same men who have filled the highest places in the academies of Europe; who have spread their fame over the world, and whose names have been handed down to future generations. Examine the history of all ages, search all the countries of the world, and if you find anywhere such an extraordinary combination of knowledge in union with faith, of genius in submission to authority, and of discussion without breach of unity, you will have made an important discovery, and science will have to explain a new phenomenon. But you know well that you cannot do so. This is the reason why you have recourse to new stratagems in order to cast a shade on the brightness of this fact; for you feel that impartial reason and common sense must draw from it the conclusion that there is in the Catholic Church something which is not to be found elsewhere.

These facts, say our adversaries, are certain; the reflections which they suggest are dazzling at first sight; but if we examine the subject thoroughly, we shall see the difficulties they raise disappear. This phenomenon, which we have seen realized in the Catholic Church, and which is not found elsewhere, only proves that there has always been in the Church a fixed system, which has been developed with uniform regularity. The Church knew that union is the source of strength; that union cannot exist without unity of doctrine; and that unity cannot be preserved without submission to authority. This simple observation established, and constantly maintained, the principle of submission. Such is the explanation of the phenomenon. The idea, we grant, is profoundly wise, the scheme is grand, the system is extraordinary; but they do not prove any thing in favor of the Divine origin of Catholicism.

This is the best reply which they can make; it is easy to show that the difficulty remains entire. Indeed, if it be true that there has existed a society on earth which has been for eighteen centuries guided by one fixed and constant principle—a society which has known how to bind to this principle eminent men of all ages and countries, the following questions must be asked of our adversaries:—Why has the Church alone possessed this principle, and monopolized this idea? If other sects have been in possession of it, why have they not acted on it? All the philosophic sects have disappeared, one after another;[Pg 40] the Church alone remains. Other religions, in order to preserve some sort of unity, have been compelled to shun the light, to avoid discussion, to hide themselves in the thickest shades. Why has the Church preserved her unity while seeking the light, while publishing her books in open day, while lavishing all sorts of instruction, and founding everywhere colleges, universities, and establishments of every description, where all the splendor of knowledge and erudition has been concentrated?

It is not enough to say that there was a plan—a system; the difficulty lies in the existence of this plan and this system; it consists in explaining how they were conceived and executed. If we had to do with a small number of men, in limited circumstances, times, and countries, for the execution of a limited project, there would be nothing extraordinary; but we have to do with a period of eighteen hundred years, with all the countries of the world, with circumstances the most varied, the most different, and the most opposed to each other; we have to do with a multitude of men who did not meet together, or act in concert. How is all this to be explained? If it were a plan and a system devised by man, we should ask, What was the mysterious power of Rome which enabled her to unite around her so many illustrious men of all times and of all countries? How did the Roman Pontiff, if he be only the chief of a sect, manage to fascinate the world to this extent? What magician ever did such wonders? Men have long declaimed against his religious despotism; why has no one been found to wrest the sceptre from his grasp? why has not a pontifical throne been raised capable of disputing the pre-eminence with his, and of maintaining itself with equal splendor and power? Shall we attribute it to his temporal power? This power is very limited. Rome was not able to contend in arms with any of the other European powers. Shall we attribute it to the peculiar character, to the knowledge or the virtues of the men who have occupied the Papal throne? There has been, during these eighteen hundred years, an infinite variety in the characters and in the talents and virtues of the Popes. For those who are not Catholics, who do not see in the Roman Pontiff the vicar of Jesus Christ,—the rock on which He has built His Church,—the duration of this authority must be the most extraordinary phenomenon; and it is certainly one of the questions most worthy of being examined by the science which devotes itself to the history of the human mind; how there existed for many centuries an uninterrupted series of learned men, always faithful to the doctrines of the Roman See?

M. Guizot himself, in comparing Protestantism with the Roman Church, seems to have felt the force of this truth; and its light appears to have made him confused in his remarks. Let us listen again to this writer, whose talents and renown have dazzled, on this point, so many readers, who do not examine the solidity of proofs when they are clothed in brilliant images, and who applaud all kinds of ideas when they are conveyed to them in a torrent of enchanting eloquence; men who, pretending to intellectual independence, subscribe, without inquiry, to the decisions of the leaders of their school; who receive their doctrines with submission, and dare not even raise their heads to ask for the titles of their authority. M. Guizot, like all the great men among Protestants, was aware of the immense void which exists amid its various sects, and of the force and vigour which is contained in Catholicity; he has not been able to free himself from the rule of great minds,—a rule which is explicitly confirmed by the writings of the greatest men of the Reformation. After pointing out the inconstant progress of Protestantism, and the error which it has introduced into the organization of intellectual society, M. Guizot proceeds thus: "People have not known how to reconcile the rights and necessities of tradition with those of liberty; and the cause of it undoubtedly has been, that the Reformation did not fully understand and accept either its principles or its[Pg 41] effects." What sort of a religion must that be which does not fully understand and accept its principles or its effects?

Did a more formal condemnation of the Reformation ever issue out of the mouth of man? could any thing of the kind ever be said of the sects of philosophers, ancient or modern? Can the Reformation, then, after this, pretend to direct men or society? "Thence arises," continues M. Guizot, "a certain air of inconsistency and narrowness of spirit, which has often given advantages over it to its opponents. The latter knew very well what they did and what they wished; they ascended to the principles of their conduct, and avowed all their consequences. There never was a government more consistent, more systematic than that of the Church of Rome." But whence was the origin of a system so consistent? When we consider the fickleness and inconstancy of the human mind, do not this system, this consistency, and these fixed principles, speak volumes to the philosopher and man of good sense?

We have observed those terrible elements of dissolution which have their source in the mind of man, and which have acquired so much force in modern society; we have seen with what fatal power they destroy and annihilate all institutions, social, political, and religious, without ever succeeding in making a breach in the doctrines of Catholicity,—without altering that system, so fixed and so consistent. Is there no conclusion to be drawn from all this in favour of Catholicity? To say that the Church has done that which no schools, or governments, or societies, or religions could do, is it not to confess that she is wiser than every thing human? And does it not clearly prove that she does not owe her origin to human thought, and that she is derived from the bosom of the Creator? This society—formed, you say, by men—this government, directed by men, has endured for eighteen hundred years; it extends to all countries, it addresses the savage in the forest, the barbarian in his tent, the civilized man in the most populous cities; it reckons among its children the shepherd clothed in skins, the laborer, the powerful nobleman; it makes its laws heard alike by the simple mechanic at his work, and the man of learning in his closet absorbed in the profoundest speculations. This government has always had, according to M. Guizot, a full knowledge of its actions and its wishes; it has always been consistent in its conduct. Is not this avowal its most convincing apology, its most eloquent panegyric; and shall it not be considered a proof that it contains within itself something more than human?

A thousand times have I beheld this prodigy with astonishment; a thousand times have my eyes been fixed upon that immense tree which extends its branches from east to west, from north to south; I see beneath its shade a multitude of different nations, and the restless genius of man reposing in tranquillity at its feet.

In the East, at the period when this divine religion first appeared, I see, amidst the dissolutions of all sects, the most illustrious philosophers crowd to hear her words. In Greece, in Asia, on the banks of the Nile, in all the countries where, a short time before, swarmed innumerable sects, I see appear on a sudden a generation of great men, abounding in learning, in knowledge, in eloquence, and all agreeing in the unity of Catholic doctrine.

In the West, a multitude of barbarians throw themselves on an empire falling to decay; a dark cloud descends upon an horizon charged with calamities and disasters; there, in the midst of a people submerged in the corruption of morals, and having lost even the remembrance of their ancient grandeur, I see the only men who can be called worthy heirs of the Roman name, seek, in the retirement of their temples, an asylum for the austerity of their morals; it is there that they preserve, increase, and enrich the treasure of ancient knowledge. But my admiration reaches its height, when I observe that sublime intellect, worthy heir of the genius of Plato, which, after having sought the truth in all[Pg 42] the schools, in all the sects, and with indomitable boldness run through all human errors, feels itself subjugated by the authority of the Church, and transforms the freethinker into the great Bishop of Hippo. In modern times the series of great men who shone in the times of Leo X. and Louis XIV. passes before my eyes. I see the illustrious race still continue throughout the calamities of the eighteenth century; and in the nineteenth I see fresh heroes, who, after having followed error in all directions, come to hang their trophies at the gates of the Catholic Church. What, then, is this prodigy? Has a sect or religion like it ever before been seen? These men study every thing, dispute on every thing, reply to every thing, know every thing; but always agreeing in unity of doctrine, they bend their noble and intellectual brows in respectful obedience to faith. Do we not seem to behold another planetary system, where globes of fire revolve in their vast orbits in the midst of immensity, always drawn to their centre by a mysterious attraction? That central force, which allows no aberration, takes from them nothing of their extent, or of the grandeur of their movement; but it inundates them with light, while giving to their motion a more majestic regularity.6


This fixedness of idea, this unanimity of will, this wisdom and constancy of plan, this progress with a firm step towards a definite object and end; and, in fine, this admirable unity, acknowledged in favor of Catholicism by M. Guizot himself, have not been imitated by Protestantism, either in good or evil. Protestantism, indeed, has not a single idea, of which it can say: "This is my own." It has attempted to appropriate to itself the principle of private judgment in matters of faith; and if several of its opponents have been too willing to accord it, it was because they were unable to find therein any other constitutive element; it was also because they felt that Protestantism, in boasting of having given birth to such a principle, labored to throw disgrace on itself, like a father who boasts of having unworthy and depraved sons. It is false, however, that Protestantism produced this principle of private judgment, since it was itself the offspring of that principle. That principle, before the Reformation, was formed in the bosom of all sects; it is the real germ of all errors; in proclaiming it, Protestants only yielded to a necessity which is common to all the sects separated from the Church.

There was therein no plan, no foresight, no system. The mere resistance to the authority of the Church included the necessity of unlimited private judgment, and the establishment of the understanding as supreme judge; even had the coryphæi of Protestantism wished from the first to oppose the consequences and applications of this right, the barrier was broken, and the torrent could not have been confined.

"The right of examining what we ought to believe," says a celebrated Protestant, (Germany, by Mad. de Staël, part iv. chap. 2), "is the foundation of Protestantism. The first Reformers did not think thus; they thought themselves able to place the pillars of Hercules of the mind according to their own lights; but they were mistaken in hoping to make those who had rejected all authority of this kind in the Catholic religion submit to their decisions as infallible." This resistance on their part proves, that they were not led by any of those ideas, which, although erroneous, show, in some measure, nobleness and generosity of heart; and that it is not of them that the human mind can say: "They have erred, but it was in order to give me more liberty of action."[Pg 43] "The religious revolution of the sixteenth century," says M. Guizot, "did not understand the true principles of intellectual liberty; it liberated the human mind, and yet pretended to govern it by law."

But it is in vain for man to struggle against the nature of things: Protestantism endeavored, without success, to limit the right of private judgment. It raised its voice against it, and sometimes appeared to attempt its total destruction; but the right of private judgment, which was in its own bosom, remained there, developed itself, and acted there in spite of it. There was no middle course for Protestantism to adopt: it was compelled either to throw itself into the arms of authority, and thus acknowledge itself in the wrong, or else allow the dissolving principle to exert so much influence on its various sects, as to destroy even the shadow of the religion of Jesus Christ, and debase Christianity to the rank of a school of philosophy.

The cry of resistance to the authority of the Church once raised, the fatal results might be easily imagined; it was thus easy to foresee that that poisoned germ, in its development, must cause the ruin of all the Christian truths; and what could prevent its rapid development in a soil where fermentation was so active? Catholics were not wanting to proclaim loudly the greatness and imminence of the danger; and it must be allowed that many Protestants foresaw it clearly. No one is ignorant that the most distinguished men of the sect gave their opinions on this point, even from the beginning. Men of the greatest talent never found themselves at ease in Protestantism. They always felt that there was an immense void in it; this is the reason why they have constantly inclined either towards irreligion or towards Catholic unity.

Time, the best judge of opinions, has confirmed these melancholy prognostics. Things have now reached such a pass, that those only who are very ill instructed, or who have a very limited grasp of mind, can fail to see that the Christian religion, as explained by Protestants, is nothing more than an opinion—a system made up of a thousand incoherent parts, and which is degraded to the level of the schools of philosophy. If Christianity still seems to surpass these schools in some respects, and preserves some features which cannot be found in what is the pure invention of the mind of man, it ought not to be a matter of astonishment. It is owing to that sublimity of doctrine and that sanctity of morality which, more or less disfigured, always shines while a trace is preserved of the words of Jesus Christ. But the feeble light which struggles with darkness after the sun has sunk below the horizon, cannot be compared to that of day: darkness advances and spreads; it extinguishes the expiring reflection, and night comes on. Such is the doctrine of Christianity among Protestants. A glance at these sects shows us that they are not purely philosophical, but it shows us at the same time that they have not the characters of true religion. Christianity has no authority therein; and is there like a being out of its proper element,—a tree deprived of its roots: its face is pale and disfigured like that of a corpse. Protestantism talks of faith, and its fundamental principle destroys it; it endeavors to exalt the gospel, and its own principle, by subjecting that gospel to private judgment, weakens its authority. If it speak of the sanctity and purity of Christian morality, it is reminded that some of its dissenting sects deny the divinity of Jesus Christ; and that they all may do so according to the principle on which it rests. The Divinity of Jesus Christ once doubted, the God-made man is reduced to the rank of a great philosopher and legislator; He has no longer the authority necessary to give to His laws the august sanction which renders them so holy in the eyes of men; He can no longer imprint upon them the seal which raises them above all human thoughts, and His sublime instructions cease to be lessons flowing from the lips of uncreated Wisdom.

If you deprive the human mind of the support of authority of some kind or[Pg 44] other, on what can it depend? Abandoned to its own delirious dreams, it is forced again into the gloomy paths which led the philosophers of the ancient schools to chaos. Reason and experience are here agreed. If you substitute the private judgment of Protestants for the authority of the Church, all the great questions respecting God and man remain without solution. All the difficulties are left; the mind is in darkness, and seeks in vain for a light to guide it in safety: stunned by the voices of a hundred schools, who dispute without being able to throw any light on the subject, it relapses into that state of discouragement and prostration in which Christianity found it, and from which, with so much exertion, she had withdrawn it. Doubt, pyrrhonism, and indifference become the lot of the greatest minds; vain theories, hypothetical systems, and dreams take possession of men of more moderate abilities; the ignorant are reduced to superstitions and absurdities.

Of what use, then, would Christianity have been on the earth, and what would have been the progress of humanity? Happily for the human race, the Christian religion was not abandoned to the whirlwind of Protestant sects. In Catholic authority she has found ample means of resisting the attacks of sophistry and error. What would have become of her without it? Would the sublimity of her doctrines, the wisdom of her precepts, the unction of her counsels, have been now any thing more than a beautiful dream, related in enchanting language by a great philosopher? Yes, I must repeat, without the authority of the Church there is no security for faith; the divinity of Jesus Christ becomes a matter of doubt; His mission is disputed; in fact, the Christian religion disappears. If she cannot show us her heavenly titles, give us full certainty that she has come from the bosom of the Eternal, that her words are those of God Himself, and that He has condescended to appear on earth for the salvation of men, she has then lost her right to demand our veneration. Reduced to the level of human ideas, she must, then, submit to our judgment like other mere opinions; at the tribunal of philosophy she may endeavor to maintain her doctrines as more or less reasonable; but she will always be liable to the reproach of having wished to deceive us, by passing herself off as divine when she was only human; and in all discussions on the truth of her doctrines, she will have this fatal presumption against her, viz. that the account of her origin was an imposture.

Protestants boast of their independence of mind, and reproach the Catholic religion with violating the most sacred rights, by demanding a submission which outrages the dignity of man. Here extravagant declamation about the strength of our understanding is introduced with good effect; and a few seductive images and expressions, such as "bold flights" and "glittering wings," &c., are enough to delude many readers.

Let the human mind enjoy all its rights; let it boast of possessing that spark of divinity called the intellect; let it pass over all nature in triumph, observing all the beings by which it is surrounded, and congratulate itself on its own immense superiority, in the midst of the wonders with which it has known how to embellish its abode; let it point out, as proofs of its strength and grandeur, the changes which are everywhere worked by its presence; by its intellectual force and boldness it has acquired the complete mastery over nature. Let us acknowledge the dignity and elevation of our minds to show our gratitude to our Creator, but let us not forget our weakness and defects. Why should we deceive ourselves by fancying that we know what we are really ignorant of? Why forget the inconstancy and variableness of our minds, and conceal the fact, that with respect to many things, even of those with which we are supposed to be acquainted, we have but confused ideas? How delusive is our knowledge, and what exaggerated notions we have of our progress in information? Does not one day contradict what another had affirmed? Time runs its course, laughs[Pg 45] at our predictions, destroys our plans, and clearly shows how vain are our projects.

What have those geniuses who have descended to the foundations of science, and risen by the boldest flights to the loftiest speculations, told us? After having reached the utmost limits of the space which it is permitted to the human mind to range over,—after having trodden the most secret paths of science, and sailed on the vast ocean of moral and physical nature, the greatest minds of all ages have returned dissatisfied with the results. They have seen a beautiful illusion appear before their eyes,—the brilliant image which enchanted them has vanished; when they thought they were about to enter a region of light, they have found themselves surrounded with darkness, and they have viewed with affright the extent of their ignorance. It is for this reason that the greatest minds have so little confidence in the strength of the human intellect, although they cannot but be fully aware that they are superior to other men. The sciences, in the profound observation of Pascal, have two extremes which meet each other: the first is, the pure natural state of ignorance in which men are at their birth; the other extreme is, that at which great minds arrive when, having reached the utmost extent of human knowledge, they find that they know nothing, and that they are still in the same state of ignorance as at first. (Pensées, 1 partie, art. 6.)

Catholicism says to man, "Thy intellect is weak, thou hast need of a guide in many things." Protestantism says to him, "Thou art surrounded by light, walk as thou wilt; thou canst not have a better guide than thyself." Which of the two religions is most in accordance with the lessons of the highest philosophy?

It is not, therefore, surprising that the greatest minds among Protestants have all felt a certain tendency towards Catholicism, and have seen the wisdom of subjecting the human mind, in some things, to the decision of an infallible authority. Indeed, if an authority can be found uniting in its origin, its duration, its doctrines, and its conduct, all the characteristics of divinity, why should the mind refuse to submit to her; and what has it to gain by wandering, at the mercy of its illusions, on the most serious subjects, in paths where it only meets with recollections of errors, with warnings and delusions?

If the human mind has conceived too great an esteem for itself, let it study its own history, in order to see and understand how little security is to be found in its own strength. Abounding in systems, inexhaustible in subtilties; as ready in conceiving a project as incapable of maintaining it; full of ideas which arise, agitate, and destroy each other, like the insects which abound in lakes; now raising itself on the wings of sublime inspiration, and now creeping like a reptile on the face of the earth; as able and willing to destroy the works of others, as it is impotent to construct any durable ones of its own; urged on by the violence of passion, swollen with pride, confounded by the infinite variety of objects which present themselves to it; confused by so many false lights and so many deceptive appearances, the human mind, when left entirely to itself, resembles those brilliant meteors which dart at random through the immensity of the heavens, assume a thousand eccentric forms, send forth a thousand sparks, dazzle for a moment by their fantastic splendour, and disappear without leaving even a reflected light to illuminate the darkness.

Behold the history of man's knowledge! In that immense and confused heap of truth, error, sublimity, absurdity, wisdom, and folly, are collected the proofs of my assertions, and to that do I refer any one who may be inclined to accuse me of having overcharged the picture.7

[Pg 46]


The truth of what I have just advanced with respect to the weakness of our intellect, is proved by the fact that the hand of God has placed at the bottom of our souls a preservative against the excessive changeability of our minds, even in things which do not regard religion. Without this preservative all social institutions would be destroyed, or rather never would have had existence; without it the sciences would not have advanced a step, and when it had disappeared from the human heart, individuals and society would have been swallowed up by chaos. I allude to a certain tendency to defer to authority—to the instinct of faith, if I may so call it—an instinct which we ought to examine with great attention, if we wish to know any thing of the human mind, and the history of its development.

It has often been observed that it is impossible to comply with the most urgent necessities, or perform the most ordinary acts of life, without respecting the authority of the statement of others; it is easy to understand that, without this faith, all the treasures of history and experience would soon be dissipated, and that even the foundation of all knowledge would disappear.

These important observations are calculated to show how vain is the charge against the Catholic religion, of requiring nothing but faith; but this is not my only object here; I wish to present the matter under another aspect, and place the question in such a position as to make this truth gain in extent and interest, without losing any thing of its immovable firmness. In looking over the history of human knowledge, and glancing at the opinions of our contemporaries, we constantly observe that the men who boast the most of their spirit of inquiry and freedom of thought, only echo the opinions of others. If we examine with attention that great study which, under the name of science, has made so much noise in the world, we shall observe that it contains at bottom a large portion of authority; and that if a perfectly free spirit of inquiry were to be introduced into it, even with respect to points of pure reason, the greatest part of the edifice of science would be destroyed, and very few men would remain in possession of its secrets.

No branch of knowledge, whatever may be the clearness and exactitude of which it boasts, is an exception to this rule. Do not the natural and exact sciences, rich as they are in evident principles, rigorous in their deductions, abounding in observation and experience, depend, nevertheless, for a great many of their truths, upon other truths of a higher nature; the knowledge of which necessarily requires a delicacy of observation, a power of calculation, a clear and penetrating coup d'œil, which belongs to few?

When Newton proclaimed to the scientific world the fruit of his profound calculations, how many of his disciples could flatter themselves that they were able to confirm them by their own convictions? I do not except from this question many of those who, by laborious efforts, had been able to comprehend something of this great man; they had followed the mathematician in his calculations, they had a full knowledge of the mass of facts and experience which the naturalist exposed to their view; they had listened to the reasons on which the philosopher rested his conjectures; in this way they thought that they were fully convinced, and that they did not owe their assent to any thing but the force of reason and evidence. Well, take away the name of Newton, efface from the mind the profound impression made by the authority of the man who made so extraordinary a discovery, and has employed so much genius in supporting it,—take away, I repeat it, the shade of Newton, and you will directly see, in the minds of his disciples, their principles vacillate, their reasonings be[Pg 47]come less convincing and exact, and their observations appear less in accordance with the facts. Then, he who thought himself a perfectly impartial observer, a perfectly independent thinker, will see and understand to how great an extent he was enthralled by the force of authority, by the ascendency of genius; he will find that, on a variety of points, he assented without being convinced; and that, instead of being a perfectly independent philosopher, he was only an obedient and accomplished pupil.

I appeal with confidence to the testimony, not of the ignorant, not of those who have only a smattering of scientific knowledge, but of real men of learning, of those who have devoted much time to the various branches of study. Let them look into their own minds, let them examine anew what they call their scientific convictions, let them ask themselves, with perfect calmness and impartiality, whether, even on those subjects in which they consider themselves the most advanced, their minds are not frequently controlled by the ascendency of some author of the first rank. I believe they will be compelled to acknowledge that, if they strictly applied the method of Descartes even to some of the questions which they have studied the most, they would find that they believe rather than are convinced. Such always has been, and such always will be, the case. It is a thing deeply rooted in the nature of our minds, and it cannot be prevented. Perhaps the regulation is a matter of absolute necessity; perhaps it contains much of that instinct of preservation which God, with so much wisdom, has diffused throughout society; perhaps it is intended to counteract the many elements of dissolution which society contains within its bosom. Undoubtedly, it is often very much to be regretted that men servilely follow in the footsteps of others, and injurious consequences not unfrequently are the result. But it would be still worse, if men constantly held themselves in an attitude of resistance to all others, for fear of deception. Woe to man and to society, if the philosophic mania of wishing to submit all matters to a rigorous examination were to become general in the world; and woe to science, if this rigorous, scrupulous, and independent scrutiny were extended to every thing.

I admire the genius of Descartes, and acknowledge the signal services which he has rendered to science; but I have more than once thought that, if his method of doubting became general for any time, society would be destroyed. And it seems to me that, among learned men themselves, among impartial philosophers, this method would do great harm; at least, it may be supposed that the number of men devoid of sense in the scientific world would be considerably increased.

Happily there is no danger of this being the case. If it be true that there is always in man a certain tendency towards folly, there is also always to be found there a fund of good sense which cannot be destroyed. When certain individuals of heated imaginations attempt to involve society in their delirium, society answers with a smile of derision; or if it allows itself to be seduced for a moment, it soon returns to its senses, and repels with indignation those who have endeavored to lead it astray. Passionate declamation against vulgar prejudice, against docility in following others and willingness to believe all without examination, is only considered as worthy of contempt by those who are intimately acquainted with human nature. Are not these feelings participated in by many who belong not to the vulgar? Are not the sciences full of gratuitous suppositions, and have they not their weak points, with which, however, we are satisfied, as if they afforded a firm basis to rest upon?

The right of possession and prescription is also one of the peculiarities which the sciences present to us; and it is well worthy of remark that, without ever having borne the name, this right has been acknowledged by a tacit but unanimous consent. How can this be? Study the history of the sciences, and you will find at every step this right acknowledged and established. How is it,[Pg 48] amid the continual disputes which have divided philosophers, that we see an old opinion make a long resistance to a new one, and sometimes succeed in preventing its establishment? It is because the old opinion was in possession, and was strengthened by the right of prescription. It is of no importance that the words were not used, the result was the same; this is the reason why discoverers have so often been despised, opposed, and even persecuted.

It is necessary to make this avowal, although it may be repugnant to our pride, and may scandalize some sincere admirers of the progress of knowledge. These advances have been numerous; the field over which the human mind has exercised itself, and its sphere of action, are immense; the works by which it has proved its power are admirable; but there is always in all this a large portion of exaggeration, and it is necessary to make a considerable allowance, especially in the moral sciences. It cannot justly be inferred, from these exaggerated statements, that our intellect is capable of advancing in every path with perfect ease and activity; no deduction can be drawn from it to contradict the fact which we have just established, viz. the mind of man is almost always in subjection, even imperceptibly, to the authority of other men.

In every age there appear a small number of privileged spirits, who, by nature superior to all the rest, serve as guides in the various careers; a numerous crowd, who think themselves learned, follow them with precipitation, and, fixing their eyes on the standard which has been raised, rush breathlessly after it; and yet, strange as it is, they all boast of their independence, and flatter themselves that they are distinguishing themselves by pursuing the new path; one would imagine that they had discovered it, and that they were walking in it guided by their own light and inspirations. Necessity, taste, or a thousand other circumstances, lead us to cultivate this or that branch of knowledge; our own weakness constantly tells us that we have no creative power; that we cannot produce any thing of our own, and that we are incapable of striking out a new path; but we flatter ourselves that we share some part of the glory belonging to the illustrious chief whose banner we follow; we sometimes will succeed in persuading ourselves, in the midst of these reveries, that we do not fight under anybody's standard, and that we are only rendering homage to our own convictions, when, in reality, we are the proselytes of others.

Herein common sense shows itself to be wiser than our weak reason; and thus language, which gives such deep expression to things, where we find, without knowing whence they come, so much truth and exactitude, gives us a severe admonition on the subject of these vain pretensions. In spite of us, language calls things by their right names, and knows how to class us and our opinions according to the leader that we follow. What is the history of science but the history of the contests of a small number of illustrious men? If we glance over ancient and modern times, and bring into view the various branches of knowledge, we shall see a number of schools founded by a philosopher of the first rank, and then falling under the direction of another whose talents have made him worthy to succeed the founder. Thus the thing goes on, until circumstances having changed, or the spirit of vitality being gone, the school dies a natural death, unless a man of bold and independent mind appears, who takes the old school and destroys it, in order to establish his own doctrines on the ruins.

When Descartes dethroned Aristotle, did he not immediately take his place? Then philosophers pretended to independence—an independence which was contradicted by the very name they bore, that of Cartesians. Like nations who, in times of rebellion, cry out for liberty, dethrone their old king, and afterwards submit to the first man who has the boldness to seize the vacant throne.

It is thought in our age, as it has been in times gone by, that the human mind acts with perfect independence, owing to declamation against authority in scientific matters, and the exaltation of the freedom of thought. The opinion has[Pg 49] become general that, in these times, the authority of any one man is worth nothing; it has been thought that every man of learning acts according to his own convictions alone. Moreover, systems and hypotheses have lost all credit, and a great desire for examination and analysis has become prevalent. This has made people believe not only that authority in scientific matters is completely gone, but that it is henceforth impossible.

At first sight there appears to be some truth in this; but if we look attentively around us, we shall observe that the number of leaders is only somewhat increased, and the time of their command somewhat shortened. Our age is truly one of commotions, literary and scientific revolutions, like those in politics, where nations imagine that they possess more liberty because the government is placed in the hands of a greater number of persons, and because they find more facility in getting rid of their rulers. They destroy those men to whom but a short time before they have given the names of fathers and liberators; then, the first transport being passed, they allow other men to impose upon them a yoke in reality not less heavy. Besides the examples afforded us by the history of the past century, at the present day we see only great names succeed each other, and the leaders of the human mind take each other's places.

In the field of politics, where one would imagine the spirit of freedom ought to have full scope, do we not see men who take the lead; and are they not looked upon as the generals of an army during a campaign? In the parliamentary arena, do we see any thing but two or three bodies of combatants, performing their evolutions under their respective chiefs with perfect regularity and discipline? These truths are well understood by those who occupy these high positions! They are acquainted with our weakness, and they know that men are commonly deceived by mere words. A thousand times must they have been tempted to smile, when, contemplating the field of their triumphs, and seeing themselves surrounded by followers who, proud of their own intelligence, admire and applaud them, they have heard one of the most ardent of their disciples boast of his unlimited freedom of thought, and of the complete independence of his opinions and his votes.

Such is man, as shown to us by history and the experience of every day. The inspiration of genius, that sublime force which raises the minds of some privileged men, will always exercise, not only over the ignorant, but even over the generality of men who devote themselves to science, a real fascination. Where, then, is the insult which the Catholic religion offers to reason when, presenting titles which prove her divinity, she asks for that faith which men grant so easily to other men in matters of various kinds, and even in things with which they consider themselves to be the best acquainted? Is it an insult to human reason to point out to him a fixed and certain rule with respect to matters of the greatest importance, while, on the other hand, she leaves him perfectly free to think as he pleases on all the various questions which God has left to his discretion? In this the Church only shows herself to be in accordance with the lessons of the highest philosophy. She shows a profound knowledge of the human mind, and she delivers it from all the evils which are inflicted by its fickleness, its inconstancy, and its ambition, combined as these qualities are with an extraordinary tendency to defer to the opinions of individuals. Who does not see that the Catholic Church puts thereby a check on the spirit of proselytism, of which society has had so much reason to complain? Since there is in man this irresistible tendency to follow the footsteps of another, does she not confer an eminent service on humanity, by showing it a sure way of following the example of a God incarnate? Does she not thus take human liberty under her protection, and at the same time save from shipwreck those branches of knowledge which are the most necessary to individuals and to society?8

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The progress of society, and the high degree of civilization and refinement to which modern nations have attained, will no doubt be urged against the authority which seeks to exercise jurisdiction over the mind. In this way men will attempt to justify what they call the emancipation of the human mind. For my own part, this objection seems to have so little solidity, and to be so little supported by facts, that, from the progress of society, I should, on the contrary, conclude that there is the more need of that living rule which is deemed indispensable by Catholics.

To say that society in its infancy and youth may have required this authority as a check, but that this check has become useless and degrading since the human mind has reached a higher degree of development, is completely to mistake the connection which exists between the various conditions of our mind and the objects over which this authority extends. The true idea of God, the origin, the end, and the rule of human conduct, together with all the means with which God has furnished us to attain to our high destiny, such are the subjects with which faith deals, and with respect to which Catholics contend that it is necessary to have an infallible rule. They maintain that without this it would be impossible to avoid the most lamentable errors, and to protect truth from the effects of human passions.

This consideration will suffice to show, that private judgment would be much less dangerous among nations still less advanced in the career of civilization. There is, indeed, in a young nation, a great fund of natural candor and simplicity, which admirably disposes it to receive with docility the instructions contained in the sacred volume. Such a people will relish those things which are easily to be understood, and will bow with humility before the sublime obscurity of those pages which it has pleased God to cover with a veil of mystery. Moreover, the condition of this people, as yet exempt from the pride of knowledge, would create a sort of authority, since there would be found within its bosom only a small number of men able to examine divine revelation; and thus a centre for the distribution of instruction would be naturally formed.

But it is far otherwise with a nation far advanced in the career of knowledge. With the latter, the extension of knowledge to a greater number of individuals, by augmenting pride and fickleness, multiplies sects, and ends by revolutionizing ideas and corrupting the purest traditions. A young nation is devoted to simple occupations; it remains attached to its ancient customs; it listens with respect and docility to the aged, who, surrounded by their children and grand-children, relate with emotion the histories and the maxims which they have received from their ancestors. But when society has reached a great degree of development, when respect for the fathers of families and veneration for gray hairs have become weakened; when pompous titles, scientific display, and grand libraries make men conceive a high idea of their intellectual powers; when the multitude and activity of communications widely diffuse those ideas, which, when put in motion, have an almost magical power of affecting men's minds, then it is necessary,—it is indispensable to have an authority, always living, always ready to act whenever it is wanted,—to cover with a protecting ægis the sacred deposit of truths which are the same in all times and places; truths without the knowledge of which man would be left to the mercy of his own errors and caprices from the cradle to the grave; truths on which society rests as its surest foundation; truths which cannot be destroyed without shaking to pieces the whole social edifice. The literary and political history of Europe for[Pg 51] the last three hundred years affords but too many proofs of this. Religious revolution broke out at the moment when it was capable of doing the most harm: it found society agitated by all the activity of the human mind, and it destroyed the control when it was most necessary.

Undoubtedly, it is necessary to guard against depreciating the mind of man by charging it with faults which it has not, or by exaggerating those which it has; but it is no less improper to puff it up by exalting its strength too much. The latter would be injurious to it in several ways, and would be little likely to advance its progress; it would also, if properly understood, be little conformable to that gravity and discretion which ought to distinguish true science. Indeed, to merit the name, science ought to show the folly of being vain of what does not rightly belong to it; it ought to know its limits, and have sufficient candor and generosity to acknowledge its weakness.

There is a fact in the history of science, which, by revealing the intrinsic weakness of the mind, palpably shows the flattery of those unmeasured eulogies which are sometimes lavished on it, and also demonstrates to us how dangerous it would be to abandon it to itself without any guide. This fact is, the obscurity which increases in proportion as we approach the first principles of science; so that even in those sciences the truth, evidence, and exactness of which are considered the best established, it seems that no firm ground is to be obtained when we attempt to go to the bottom of them; and the mind, not finding any security, recoils in the fear of meeting with something to throw doubt and uncertainty on the truths of which it was convinced.

I do not participate in the ill-humor of Hobbes against the mathematics. Devoted to their progress, and deeply convinced as I am of the advantages which their study confers on the other sciences and on society, I shall not attempt to underrate their merit, or deny any of their great claims; but who can say that they are an exception to the general rule? Have they not their weak points and their darksome paths?

It is true that, when we confine ourselves to the explanation of the first principles of these sciences, and the deduction from them of the most elementary propositions, the mind is on firm ground, where no fear of making a false step occurs to it. I put aside at present the obscurity which would be found in ideology and metaphysics, if they were to discuss certain points according to the writings of the most distinguished philosophers. Let us confine ourselves to the circle to which the mathematics are naturally confined. Who that has studied them is ignorant that you may reach a point in their theories, where the mind finds nothing but obscurity? The demonstration is before our eyes; it has been developed in all its parts; and yet the mind wavers, feeling within itself a kind of uncertainty which it cannot well describe. It sometimes happens that, after reasoning a long time, the truth rushes upon us like the light of day; but it is not until we have walked in darkness for a long period. When we fix our attention upon those thoughts which wander in our minds like moving lights, on those almost imperceptible emotions which, on these occasions, arise, and then die away in the soul, we observe that the mind, in the midst of its fluctuations, seeks instinctively for the anchor which is to be found in the authority of another. To reassure ourselves completely, we then invoke the authority of some great mathematicians, and we rejoice that the fact is placed beyond a doubt by the series of great men who have always viewed it in the same light. But perhaps our ignorance and pride will not admit the truth of these reflections. Let us, then, study these sciences, or at least read their history, and we shall be convinced that they afford numerous proofs of the weakness of the intellect.

Did not the extraordinary invention of Newton and Leibnitz find many opponents in Europe? Were there not required to establish it, both the sanction of[Pg 52] time and the touchstone of experience, which made manifest the truth of their principles and the exactness of their reasonings? Do you believe that, if this invention were again, for the first time, to make its appearance in the field of science, even fortified with all the proofs which have been brought forward to strengthen it, and surrounded with all the light which so many explanations have shed upon it,—do you believe, I say, that it would not need a second time the right of prescription, to regain its tranquil and undisturbed empire?

It is easy to suppose that the other sciences have no little share in this uncertainty arising from the weakness of the human mind; as I do not imagine that this assertion will be called in question, I pass on to a few remarks on the peculiar character of the moral sciences.

The fact has not been sufficiently attended to, that there is no study more deceptive than that of the moral sciences; I say deceptive, because this study, seducing the mind by an appearance of facility, draws it into difficulties which it is no easy matter to overcome. It may be compared to those tranquil waters which, although apparently but shallow, are in reality unfathomably deep. Familiarized from our infancy with the language of this science, surrounded by its continual applications, and having before our eyes its truths under a palpable form, we possess a certain facility of speaking readily on many parts of the subject; and we have the rashness to suppose that it would not be difficult to master its highest principles and its most delicate relations. But wonderful as it is, scarcely have we quitted the path of common sense, and attempted to go beyond those simple impressions which we have received from our mothers, when we find ourselves in a labyrinth of confusion. If the mind gives itself up to subtilties, it ceases to listen to the voice of the heart, which speaks to it with equal simplicity and eloquence; if it does not repress its pride, and attend to the wise counsels of good sense, it will be guilty of despising those salutary and necessary truths, which have been preserved by society to be transmitted from generation to generation: it is then, while groping its way in the dark, that it falls into the wildest extravagances, the lamentable effects of which are so often exemplified in the history of the sciences.

If we observe attentively, we shall find something of the same kind in all the sciences. The Creator has taken care to supply us with knowledge necessary for the purposes of life, and for the attainment of our destiny; but it has not pleased Him to gratify our curiosity by discovering to us what was not necessary. Nevertheless, in some things He has communicated to the mind a power which renders it capable of constantly adding to its knowledge; but, with respect to moral truths, it has been left sterile. What man is required to know, has been deeply engraven on his heart, in characters simple and intelligible; or is contained in the sacred volume; and moreover, he has had pointed out to him, in the authority of the Church, a fixed rule, to which he can apply to have his doubts explained. With respect to the rest, man has been placed in such a position, that if he attempt to enter into matters which are too subtle, he only wanders backwards and forwards in the same road, at the extremities of which he finds on the one side skepticism, on the other pure truth.

Perhaps some modern ideologists will urge, in opposition to this, the result of their own analytical labours. "Before men began to analyze facts," they will say, "and while they indulged in fanciful systems, and satisfied themselves with verbal disputes without critical examination, all this might be true; but now that we have explained all the ideas of moral good and evil, in so perfect a way, and have separated the prejudice in them from the true philosophy; now that the whole system of morality is based upon the simple principles of pleasure and pain, and we have given the clearest ideas of these things, such, for example, as the sensations produced in us by an orange; to maintain your assertion, is to be ungrateful towards science, and to underrate the fruit of our labours."

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I am aware of the labours of some moral ideologists, and I know with what deceptive simplicity they develop their theories, by giving to the most difficult things an easy turn, which affects to make them intelligible to the most limited minds. This is not the place to examine these analytical investigations, and their results. I shall, however, remark that, in spite of their promised simplicity, it does not appear that either society or science makes much progress through their means, and that these opinions, although but a short time broached, are already superannuated. This is not a matter of astonishment to us; for it was easy to perceive that, in spite of their positiveness, if I may be allowed to use the expression, these ideologists are as hypothetical as many of their predecessors, who are loaded by them with sarcasms and contempt. They are a poor, narrow-minded school, devoid of the truth, and not even adorned by the brilliant dreams of great men; a proud and deluded school, who fancy they explain a fact, when they only obscure it; and prove a thing, when they only assert it; and imagine that they analyze the human heart, when they take it to pieces.

If such is the human mind; if such is its inability in matters of science, whether physical or moral, that it has not advanced a single step beyond the limit prescribed by a beneficent Providence; what service has Protestantism rendered to modern society, by impairing the force of authority, that power which could alone present an effectual barrier to man's unhappy wanderings?9


In rejecting the authority of the Church, and in adopting this resistance as its only principle, Protestantism was compelled to seek its whole support in man; thus to mistake the true character of the human mind, and its relations with religious and moral truth, was to throw itself, according to circumstances, into the opposite extremes of fanaticism and indifference.

It may seem strange that these opposite errors should emanate from the same source; and yet nothing is more certain. Protestantism, by appealing to man alone in religious matters, had only two courses to adopt; either to suppose men to be inspired by Heaven for the discovery of truth, or to subject all religious truths to the examination of reason. To submit religious truths to the judgment of reason was sooner or later to produce indifference; on the other hand, private inspiration must engender fanaticism.

There is a universal and constant fact in the history of the human mind—viz. its decided inclination to invent systems in which the reality of things is completely laid aside, and where we only see the workings of a spirit which has chosen to quit the ordinary path in order to give itself up to its own inspirations. The history of philosophy is little else than a perpetual repetition of this phenomenon, which the human mind shows, in some shape or other, in all things which admit of it. When the mind has conceived a peculiar idea, it regards it with that blind and exclusive predilection which is found in the love of the father for his children. Under the influence of this prejudice, the mind developes its ideas and accommodates facts to suit it; that which at first was only an ingenious and extravagant idea, becomes the germ of important doctrines; and if it arise in a person of an ardent disposition, fanaticism, the cause of so much madness, is the consequence.

The danger is very much increased when the new system applies to religious matters, or is immediately connected with them. The extravagances of a diseased mind are then looked upon as inspirations from Heaven; the fever of[Pg 54] delirium as a divine flame; and a mania of being singular as an extraordinary vocation. Pride, unable to brook opposition, rises against all that it finds established; it insults all authority; it attacks all institutions; it despises everybody; it conceals the grossest violence under the mantle of zeal, and ambition under the name of apostleship. The dupe of himself rather than an impostor, the wretched maniac sometimes becomes deeply persuaded that his doctrines are true, and that he has received the commands of Heaven. As there is something extraordinary and striking in the fiery language of the madman, he communicates to those who listen to him a portion of his insanity, and makes, in a short time, a considerable number of proselytes. The men capable of playing the first part in this scene of madness are not numerous, it is true; but unhappily the majority of men are foolish enough to be easily led away. History and experience sufficiently prove that the crowd are easily attracted, and that to form a party, however criminal, extravagant, or ridiculous, it is only necessary to raise a standard.

I wish to take this opportunity of making an observation which I have never seen pointed out—viz. that the Church, in her contest with heresy, has rendered an important service to the science which devotes itself to the examination of the true character, tendency, and power of the human mind. The zealous guardian of all great truths, she has always known how to preserve them unimpaired; she was fully acquainted with the weakness of the mind of man, and its extreme proneness to folly and extravagance; she has followed it closely in all its steps, has watched it in all its movements, and has constantly resisted it with energy, when it attempted to pollute the pure fountain of which she is the guardian. During the long and violent contests which she has had with it, the Church has made manifest its incurable folly; she has exhibited it on every side, and has shown it in all its forms. Thus it is that, in the history of heresies, she has made an abundant collection of facts, and has painted an extremely interesting picture of the human mind, where its characteristic physiognomy is faithfully represented; a picture which will doubtless be of great service in the composition of the important work which is yet unwritten—viz. the true history of the human mind.10

Certain it is that the ravings and extravagances of fanaticism have not been wanting in the history of Europe for the last three hundred years. Their monuments still remain; in whatever direction we turn our steps, we find bloody traces of the fanatical sects produced by Protestantism, and engendered by its fundamental principle. Nothing could confine this devastating torrent, neither the violent character of Luther, nor the furious efforts which he made to oppose every one who taught doctrines different from his own. Impiety succeeded impiety, extravagance extravagance, fanaticism fanaticism. The pretended Reformation was soon divided into as many sects as there were found men with the ingenuity to invent and the boldness to maintain a system of their own. This was necessarily the case; for besides the danger of leaving the human mind without a guide on all questions of religion, there was another cause fruitful in fatal results, I mean the private interpretation of the sacred books.

It was then found that the best things may be abused, and that these divine volumes, which contain so much instruction for the mind, and so much consolation for the heart, are full of danger to the proud. How great will this be, if you add to the obstinate resolution of resisting all authority in matters of faith, the false persuasion that the meaning of the Scriptures is everywhere clear, and that, in all cases, the inspirations of Heaven may be expected to solve every doubt? What will happen to those who turn over their pages with a longing desire to find some text which, more or less tortured, may seem to authorize their sophisms, subtilties, and absurdities?

There never was a greater mistake than that which was committed by the[Pg 55] Protestant leaders, when they placed the Bible in the hands of all for self-interpretation; never was the nature of that sacred volume more completely lost sight of. It is true that Protestantism had no other method to pursue, and that every objection which it could make to the private interpretation of the sacred text would be a striking inconsistency, an apostasy from its own principles, and a denial of its own origin; but at the same time, this is its most decided condemnation. What claim, indeed, can that religion have to truth and sanctity whose fundamental principle contains the germ of sects the most fanatical—the most injurious to society?

It would be difficult to collect into so narrow a space, in opposition to this essential error of Protestantism, so many facts and convincing proofs of this, as are contained in the following lines, written by a Protestant, O'Callaghan, which, I have no doubt, my readers will thank me for quoting here. "Led away," says O'Callaghan, "by their spirit of opposition to the Church of Rome, the first Reformers loudly proclaimed the right of interpreting the Scriptures according to each one's private judgment; but in their eagerness to emancipate the people from the authority of the Pope, they proclaimed this right without explanation or restriction: and the consequences were fearful. Impatient to undermine the papal jurisdiction, they maintained without exception, that each individual has an incontestable right to interpret the Scriptures for himself; and as this principle, carried to the fullest extent, was not sustainable, they were obliged to rely for support upon another, viz. that the Bible is an easy book, within the comprehension of all minds, and that the divine revelations contained in it are always clear to all; two propositions which, whether we consider them together or apart, cannot withstand a serious attack.

"The private judgment of Muncer found in the Scriptures that titles of nobility and great estates are impious usurpations, contrary to the natural equality of the faithful, and he invited his followers to examine if this were not the case. They examined into the matter, praised God, and then proceeded by fire and sword to extirpate the impious and possess themselves of their properties. Private judgment made the discovery in the Bible that established laws were a permanent restriction on Christian liberty; and, behold, John of Leyden, throwing away his tools, put himself at the head of a mob of fanatics, surprised the town of Munster, proclaimed himself king of Sion, and took fourteen wives at a time, asserting that polygamy is Christian liberty, and the privilege of the saints. But if the criminal madness of these men in another country is afflicting to the friends of humanity and of real piety, certainly the history of England, during a great part of the seventeenth century, is not calculated to console them. During that period an immense number of fanatics appeared, sometimes together and sometimes in succession, intoxicated with extravagant doctrines and mischievous passions, from the fierce ravings of Fox to the more methodical madness of Barclay; from the formidable fanaticism of Cromwell to the silly profanity of 'Praise God Barebones.' Piety, reason, and good sense seemed to be extinct on earth, and to be succeeded by an extravagant jargon, a religious frenzy, and a zeal without discretion. All quoted the Scriptures, all pretended to have had inspirations, visions, and spiritual ecstasies, and all, indeed, had equal claims to them. It was strongly maintained that it was proper to abolish the priesthood and the royal dignity, because priests were the ministers of Satan, and kings the delegates of the whore of Babylon, and that the existence of both were inconsistent with the reign of the Redeemer. The fanatics condemned science as a Pagan invention, and universities as seminaries of antichristian impiety. Bishops were not protected by the sanctity of their functions, or kings by the majesty of the throne; both, as objects of contempt and hatred, were mercilessly put to death by these fanatics, whose only book was the Bible, without note or comment. During this time, the enthusiasm for[Pg 56] prayer, preaching, and the reading of the sacred books was at the highest point; everybody prayed, preached, and read, but nobody listened. The greatest atrocities were justified by the Scriptures; in the most ordinary transactions of life, scriptural language was made use of; national affairs, foreign and domestic, were discussed in the phraseology of Holy Writ. There were scriptural plots, conspiracies, and proscriptions; and all this was not only justified but even sanctified by quotations from the word of God. These facts, attested by history, have often astonished and alarmed men of virtue and piety, but the reader, too much imbued with his own ideas, forgets the lesson to be learnt by this fatal experience; namely, that the Bible without note or comment was not intended to be read by rude and ignorant men.

"The majority of mankind must be content to receive the instructions of others, and are not enabled to trust themselves. The most important truths in medicine, in jurisprudence, in physics, in mathematics, must be received from those who drink at the fountain head. The same plan has in general been pursued with respect to Christianity; and whenever the departure from it has been wide enough, 'society has been shaken to its foundation.'"

These words of O'Callaghan do not require any comment. It cannot be said that they are hyperbolical or declamatory, as they are only a simple and faithful narration of acknowledged facts. The recollection of these events should suffice to prove the danger of placing the sacred Scriptures, without note or comment, into the hands of all, as Protestantism does, under the pretence, that the authority of the Church is useless for understanding the holy books; and that every Christian has only to listen to the dictates which generally emanate from his passions and heated imagination. By this error alone, if it had committed no other, Protestantism is self-reproved and condemned; for it is a religion which has established a principle destructive to itself. In order to appreciate the madness of Protestantism on this point, and to see how false and dangerous is the position which it has assumed with regard to the human mind, it is not necessary to be a theologian, or a Catholic; it is enough to have read the Scriptures with the eyes of a philosopher or a man of literature. Here is a book which comprises, within a limited compass, the period of four thousand years, and advances further towards the most distant future, by embracing the origin and destiny of man and the universe—a book which, with the continued history of a chosen people, intermingles, in its narrations and prophecies, the revolutions of mighty empires—a book which, side by side with the magnificent pictures of the power and splendor of Eastern monarchs, describes, in simple colors, the plain domestic manners, the candor, and innocence of a young nation—a book in which historians relate, sages proclaim their maxims of wisdom, apostles preach, and doctors instruct—a book in which prophets, under the influence of the divine Spirit, thunder against the errors and corruptions of the people, and announce the vengeance of the God of Sinai, or pour forth inconsolable lamentations on the captivity of their brethren, and the desolation and solitude of their country; where they relate, in wonderful and sublime language, the magnificent spectacles which are presented to their eyes; where, in moments of ecstasy, they see pass before them the events of society and the catastrophes of nature, although veiled in mysterious figures and visions of obscurity—a book, or rather a collection of books, where are to be found all sorts of styles and all varieties of narrative, epic majesty, pastoral simplicity, lyric fire, serious instruction, grave historical narrative, and lively and rapid dramatic action; a collection of books, in fine, written at various times and in various languages, in various countries, and under the most peculiar and extraordinary circumstances. Must not all this confuse the heads of men who, puffed up with their own conceit, grope through these pages in the dark, ignorant of climates, times, laws, customs, and manners? They will be puzzled by allusions, sur[Pg 57]prised by images, deceived by expressions; they will hear the Greek and Hebrew, which was written in those remote ages, now spoken in a modern idiom. What effects must all these circumstances produce on the minds of readers who believe that the Bible is an easy book, to be understood without difficulty by all? Persuaded that they do not require the instructions of others, they must either resolve all these difficulties by their own reflections, or trust to that individual inspiration which they believe will not be wanting to explain to them the loftiest mysteries. Who, after this, can be astonished that Protestantism has produced so many absurd visionaries and furious fanatics?11


It would be unjust to charge a religion with falsehood, merely because fanatics are to be found within its bosom. This would be to reject all, because none are to be found exempt from them. A religion, then, is not to be condemned because it has them, but because it produces them, urges them on, and opens a field for them. If we observe closely, we shall find at the bottom of the human heart an abundant source of fanaticism; the history of man affords us many proofs of this incontestable truth. Imagine whatever delusion you please, relate the most extravagant visions, invent the most absurd system, if you only take care to give to all a religious coloring, you may be sure that you will have enthusiastic followers, who will heartily devote themselves to the propagation of your doctrines, and will espouse your cause blindly and ardently; in other words, you will have under your standard a troop of fanatics.

Philosophers have devoted many pages to declamation against fanaticism; they have, as it were, assumed the mission of banishing it from the earth. They have tired mankind with philosophical lectures, and have thundered against the monster with all the vigor of their eloquence. They used the word, however, in so wide a sense as to include all kind of religion. But, if they had confined themselves to attacking real fanaticism, I believe they would have done much better if they had devoted some time to the examination of this matter in an analytic spirit, and had treated it, after so doing, maturely, calmly, and without prejudice.

Inasmuch as these philosophers were aware that fanaticism is a natural infirmity of the human mind, they could, if they were men of sense and wisdom, have had little hope of banishing the accursed monster from the world by reasoning and eloquence; for I am not aware that, up to the present time, philosophy has remedied any of the important evils that afflict humanity. Among the numerous errors of the philosophy of the eighteenth century, one of the principal was the mania for types; there was formed in the mind a type of the nature of man, of society, in a word, of every thing; and every thing that could not be adjusted to this type, every thing that could not be moulded into the required form, was so subjected to the fury of philosophers, as to make it certain, at least, that the want of pliability did not go unpunished.

But do I mean to deny the existence of fanaticism in the world? There is much of it. Do I deny that it is an evil? It is a very great one. Can it be extirpated? It cannot. How can its extent be diminished, its force weakened, and its violence checked? By directing man wisely. Can this be done by philosophy? We shall presently see. What is the origin of fanaticism? We must begin by defining the real meaning of the word. By fanaticism is meant, taking the word in its widest signification, the strong excitement of a mind powerfully acted on by a false or exaggerated opinion. If the opinion be true,[Pg 58] if it be confined within just limits, there is no fanaticism; or, if there be any, it is only with respect to the means employed in defending the opinion. But in that case there is an erroneous judgment, since it is believed that the truth of the opinion authorizes the means; that is to say, there is already error or exaggeration. If a true opinion be sustained by legitimate means, if the occasion be opportune, whatever may be the excitement or effervescence of mind, whatever may be the energy of the efforts and the sacrifices made, then there is enthusiasm of mind and heroism of action, but no fanaticism. Were it otherwise, the heroes of all times and countries might be stigmatized as fanatics.

Fanaticism, in this general sense, extends to all the subjects which occupy the human mind; thus there are fanatics in religion, in politics, even in science and literature. Nevertheless, according to etymology and custom, the word is properly applied to religious matters only; therefore the word, when used alone, means fanaticism in religion, whilst, when applied to other things, it is always accompanied by a qualifying epithet; thus we say political fanatics, literary fanatics, &c.

There is no doubt that in religious matters men have a strong tendency to give themselves to a dominant idea, which they desire to communicate to all around them, and propagate everywhere. They sometimes go so far as to attempt this by the most violent means. The same fact appears, to a certain extent, in other matters; but it acquires in religious things a character different from what it assumes elsewhere. It is there that the human mind acquires increased force, frightful energy, and unbounded expansion; there are no more difficulties, obstacles, or fetters; material interests entirely disappear; the greatest sufferings acquire a charm; torments are nothing; death itself is a seductive illusion.

This phenomenon varies with individuals, with ideas, with the manners of the nation in whose bosom it is produced; but at bottom it is always the same. If we examine the matter thoroughly, we shall find that the violences of the followers of Mahomet, and the extravagant disciples of Fox, have a common origin.

It is with this passion as with all others; when they produce great evils, it is because they deviate from their legitimate objects, or because they strive at those objects by means which are not conformable to the dictates of reason and prudence. Fanaticism, then, rightly understood, is nothing but misguided religious feeling; a feeling which man has within him from the cradle to the tomb, and which is found to be diffused throughout society in all periods of its existence. Vain have been the efforts made up to this time to render men irreligious; a few individuals may give themselves up to the folly of complete irreligion; but the human race always protests against those who endeavor to stifle the sentiment of religion. Now this feeling is so strong and active, it exercises so unbounded an influence on man, that no sooner has it been diverted from its legitimate object, and quitted the right path, than it is seen to produce lamentable results; then it is that two causes, fertile in great disasters, are found in combination, complete blindness of the understanding and irresistible energy of the will.

In declaiming against fanaticism, many Protestants and philosophers have thought proper to throw a large share of blame on the Catholic Church; certainly they ought to have been more moderate in this respect if their philosophy had been good. It is true the Church cannot boast of having cured all the follies of man; she cannot pretend to have banished fanaticism so completely as not to have some fanatics among her children; but she may justly boast that no religion has taken more effectual means of curing the evil. It may, moreover, be affirmed, that she has taken her measures so well, that when it does make its appearance, she confines it within such limits that it may exist for a time, but cannot produce very dangerous results.

[Pg 59]

Its mental errors and delirious dreams, which, if encouraged, lead men to the commission of the greatest extravagances and the most horrible crimes, are kept under control when the mind possesses a salutary conviction of its own weakness and a respect for infallible authority. If they be not extinguished at their birth, at least they remain in a state of isolation, they do not injure the deposit of true doctrine, and the ties which unite all the faithful as members of the same body are not broken. With respect to revelations, visions, prophecies, and ecstasies, as long as they preserve a private character and do not affect the truths of faith, the Church, generally speaking, tolerates them and abstains from interference, leaving the discussion of the facts to criticism, and allowing the faithful an entire liberty of thinking as they please; but if the affair assumes a more important aspect, if the visionary calls in question points of doctrine, she immediately shows her vigilance. Attentive to every voice raised against the instructions of her Divine Master, she fixes an observant eye on the innovator. She examines whether he be a man deceived in matters of doctrine or a wolf in sheep's clothing; she raises her warning voice, she points out to all the faithful the error or the danger, and the voice of the Shepherd recalls the wandering sheep; but if he refuse to listen to her, and prefer to follow his own caprices, she separates him from the flock, and declares him to resemble the wolf. From that moment all those who are sincerely desirous of continuing in the bosom of the Church, can no more be infected with the error.

Undoubtedly, Protestants will reproach Catholics with the number of visionaries who have existed in the Church; they will recall the revelations and visions of a great number of saints who are venerated on our altars; they will accuse us of fanaticism,—a fanaticism, they will say, which, far from being limited in its effects to a narrow circle, has been able to produce the most important results. "Do not the founders of religious orders alone," they will say, "afford us a spectacle of a long succession of fanatics, who, self-deluded, exercised upon others, by their words and example, the greatest fascination that was ever seen?"

As this is not the place to enlarge upon the subject of religious communities, which I propose to do in another part of this work, I shall content myself with the observation, that even supposing that all the visions and revelations of our saints and the heavenly inspirations with which the founders of religious orders believed themselves to have been favored were delusions, our opponents would not be in any way justified in throwing on the Church the reproach of fanaticism. And, first, it is easy to see that, as far as individual visions are concerned, as long as they are thus limited, there may be delusion, or, if you will, fanaticism; but this fanaticism will not be injurious to any one, or create confusion in society. If a poor woman believe herself to be peculiarly favoured by Heaven, if she fancy that she hears the words of the Blessed Virgin, that she converses with angels who bring her messages from God, all this may excite the credulity of some and the raillery of others, but certainly it will not cost society a drop of blood or a tear. As to the founders of religious orders, in what way are they subject to the charge of fanaticism? Let us pass in silence the profound respect which their virtues deserve, and the gratitude which humanity owes them for the inestimable benefits conferred; let us suppose that they were deceived in all their inspirations; we may certainly call this delusion, but not fanaticism. We do not find in them either frenzy or violence; they are men diffident in themselves, who, when they believe that they are called by Heaven to a great design, never commence the work without having prostrated themselves at the feet of the Sovereign Pontiff; they submit to his judgment the rules for the establishment of their orders, they ask his instruction, listen to his decision with docility, and do nothing without having obtained his permission. How, then, do these founders of orders resemble the fanatics, who,[Pg 60] putting themselves at the head of a furious multitude, kill, destroy, and leave everywhere behind them traces of blood and ruin? We see in the founders of religious orders men who, deeply impressed with an idea, devote themselves to realize it, however great may be the sacrifice. Their conduct constantly shows a fixed idea, which is developed according to a preconcerted plan, and is always highly social and religious in its object: above all, this is submitted to authority, maturely examined and corrected by the counsels of prudence. An impartial philosopher, whatever may be his religious opinions, may find in all this more or less illusion and prejudice, or prudence and address; but he cannot find fanaticism, for there is nothing there which resembles it.12


The fanaticism of sects, which is excited, kept alive, and nourished in Europe, by the private judgment of Protestantism, is certainly an evil of the greatest magnitude; yet it is not so mischievous or alarming as the infidelity and religious indifference for which modern society is indebted to the pretended Reformation. Brought on by the scandalous extravagances of so many sects of soi-disant Christians, infidelity and religious indifference, which have their root even in the very principle of Protestantism, began to show themselves with alarming symptoms in the sixteenth century; they have acquired with time great diffusion, they have penetrated all the branches of science and literature, have produced an effect on languages, and have endangered all the conquests which civilization had gained during so many ages.

Even during the sixteenth century, and amid the hot disputes and religious wars which Protestantism had enkindled, infidelity spread in an alarming manner; and it is probable that it was even more common than it appeared to be, as it was not easy to throw off the mask at a period so near to the time when religious convictions had been so deeply rooted. It is very likely that infidelity was propagated disguised under the mantle of the Reformation, and that sometimes enlisting under the banner of one sect and sometimes of another, it labored to weaken them all, in order to set up its own throne on the general ruin of faith.

It does not require a great effort of logic to pass from Protestantism to Deism; from Deism to Atheism, there is but a step; and there must have been, at the time when these errors were broached, a large number of persons with reasoning powers enough to carry them out to the fullest extent. The Christian religion, as explained by Protestants, is only a kind of philosophic system more or less reasonable; as, when fully examined, it has no divine character. How, then, can it govern a reflecting and independent mind? Yes, one glance at the first exhibitions of Protestantism must have been enough to incline all those to religious indifference who, naturally disinclined to fanaticism, had lost the anchor of the Church's authority. When we consider the language and conduct of the sectarian leaders of that time, we are strongly inclined to suspect that they laughed at all Christian faith; that they concealed their indifference or their Atheism under strange doctrines which served as a standard, and that they propagated their writings with very bad faith, while they disguised their perfidious intention of preserving in the minds of their partisans sectarian fanaticism.

Thus, listening to the dictates of good sense, the father of the famous Mon[Pg 61]taigne, although he had seen as yet only the preludes of the Reformation, said, "that this beginning of evil would easily degenerate into execrable Atheism." A very remarkable testimony, which has been preserved to us by his son himself, who was certainly neither weak nor hypocritical. (Essais de Montaigne, liv. ii. chap. 12.) When this man pronounced so wise a judgment on the real tendency of Protestantism, did he imagine that his own son would confirm the justness of his prediction? Everybody knows that Montaigne was one of the first skeptics that became famous in Europe. It was requisite, at that time, for men to be cautious in declaring themselves Atheists or indifferentists, among Protestants themselves; and it may readily be imagined that all unbelievers had not the boldness of Gruet; yet we may believe the celebrated theologian of Toledo, Chacon, who said at the beginning of the last third of the sixteenth century, "that the heresy of the Atheists, of those who believed nothing, had great strength in France and in other countries."

Religious controversy continued to occupy the attention of all the savants of Europe, and during this time the gangrene of infidelity made great progress. This evil, from the middle of the seventeenth century, assumed a most alarming aspect. Who is not dismayed at reading the profound thoughts of Pascal on religious indifference? and who has not felt, in reading them, the emotion which is caused in the soul by the presence of a dreadful evil?

Things were now much advanced, and unbelievers were not far from being in a position, to take their rank among the schools who disputed for the upper hand in Europe. With more or less of disguise, they had already for a long time shown themselves under the form of Socinianism; but that did not suffice, for Socinianism bore at least the name of a religious sect, and irreligion began to feel itself strong enough to appear under its own name. The last part of the seventeenth century presents a crisis which is very remarkable with respect to religion;—a crisis which perhaps has not been well examined, although it exhibits some very remarkable facts; I allude to a lassitude of religious disputes, marked by two tendencies diametrically opposed to each other, and yet very natural: one towards Catholicity and the other towards Atheism.

Every one knows how much disputing there had been up to this time on religion; religious controversies were the prevailing taste, and it may be said that they formed the principal occupation not only of ecclesiastics, both Catholic and Protestant, but even of the well-educated laity. This taste penetrated the palaces of kings and princes. The natural result of so many controversies was to disclose the radical error of Protestantism: then the mind, which could not remain firm on such slippery ground, was obliged, either to adopt authority, or abandon itself to Atheism or complete indifference. These tendencies made themselves very perceptibly felt; thus it was that at the very time when Bayle thought Europe sufficiently prepared for his infidelity and skepticism, there was going on an animated and serious correspondence for the reunion of the German Protestants with the Catholic Church. Men of education are acquainted with the discussions which took place between the Lutheran Molanus, abbot of Lockum, and Christopher, at first Bishop of Tyna, and afterwards of Newstad. The correspondence between the two most remarkable men at that time in Europe of both communions, Bossuet and Leibnitz, is another monument of the importance of these negotiations. The happy moment was not yet come; political considerations, which ought to have vanished in the presence of such lofty interests, exercised a mischievous influence on the great soul of Leibnitz, and he did not preserve, throughout the progress of the discussions and negotiations, the sincerity, good faith, and elevation of view, which he had evinced at the commencement. The negotiation did not succeed, but the mere fact of its existence shows clearly enough the void which was felt in Protestantism; for we cannot believe that the two most celebrated men of that communion,[Pg 62] Molanus and Leibnitz, would have advanced so far in so important a negotiation, unless they had observed among themselves many indications of a disposition to return to the bosom of the Church. Add to this, the declaration of the Lutheran university of Helmstad in favor of the Catholic religion, and the fresh attempts at a reunion made by a Protestant prince, who addressed himself to Pope Clement XI., and you have strong reasons for believing that the Reformation felt itself mortally wounded. If God had been willing to permit that so great a result should appear to have been effected in any way by human means, the deep convictions prevalent among the most distinguished Protestants might perhaps have greatly contributed to heal the wounds which had been inflicted upon religious unity by the revolutionists of the sixteenth century.

But the profound wisdom of God had decided otherwise. In allowing men to pursue their own opposite and perverse inclinations, He was pleased to chastise them by means of their own pride. The tendency towards unity was no longer dominant in the next century, but gave place to a philosophic skepticism, indifferent towards all other religions, but the deadly enemy of the Catholic. It may be said that at that time there was a combination of the most fatal influences to hinder the tendency towards unity from attaining its object. Already were the Protestant sects divided and subdivided into numberless parties, and although Protestantism was thereby weakened, yet, nevertheless, it was diffused over the greater part of Europe; the germ of doubt in religious matters had inoculated the whole of European society. There was no truth which had escaped attack; no error or extravagance which had not had apostles and proselytes; and it was much to be feared that men would fall into that state of fatigue and discouragement which is the result of great efforts made without success, and into that disgust which is always produced by endless disputes and great scandals.

To complete the misfortune, and to bring to a climax the state of lassitude and disgust, there was another evil, which produced the most fatal results. The champions of Catholicity contended, with boldness and success, against the religious innovations of Protestants. Languages, history, criticism, philosophy, all that is most precious, rich, and brilliant in human knowledge, had been employed in the noblest way in this important struggle; and the great men who were most prominent among the defenders of the Church seemed to console her for the sad losses which she had sustained by the troubles of another age. But while she embraced in her arms these zealous sons, those who boasted the most of being called her children, she observed in some of them, with surprise and dread, an attitude of disguised hostility; and in their thinly veiled language and conduct she could easily perceive that they meditated giving her a fatal blow. Always asserting their submission and their obedience, but never submitting or obeying; continually extolling the authority and divine origin of the Church, and carefully concealing their hatred of her existing laws and institutions under cover of professed zeal for the re-establishment of ancient discipline; they sapped the foundations of morality, while they claimed to be its earnest advocates; they disguised their hypocrisy and pride under false humility and affected modesty; they called obstinacy firmness, and wilful blindness strength of mind. This rebellion presented an aspect more dangerous than any heresy; their honeyed words, studied candor, respect for antiquity, and the show of learning and knowledge, would have contributed to blind the best informed, if the innovators had not been distinguished by the constant and unfailing characteristic of all erroneous sects, viz. hatred of authority.

They were seen from time to time struggling against the declared enemies of the Church, defending, with great display of learning, the truth of her sacred dogmas, citing, with respect and deference, the writings of the holy fathers, and declaring that they adhered to tradition, and had a profound veneration for the[Pg 63] decisions of councils and Popes. They particularly prided themselves on being called Catholics, however much their language and conduct were inconsistent with the name. Never did they get rid of the marvellous infatuation with which they denied their existence as a sect; and thus did they throw in the way of ill-informed persons the unhappy scandal of a dogmatical dispute, going on apparently within the bosom of the Church herself. The Pope declared them heretics; all true Catholics bowed to the decision of the Vicar of Jesus Christ; from all parts of the world a voice was unanimously raised to pronounce anathema against all who did not listen to the successor of St. Peter; but they themselves, denying and eluding all, persisted in considering themselves as a body of Catholics oppressed by the spirit of relaxation, abuse, and intrigue.

This scandal gave the finishing stroke to the leading of men astray, and the fatal gangrene which was infecting European society soon developed itself with frightful rapidity. The religious disputes, the multitude and variety of sects, the animosity which they showed against each other, all contributed to disgust with religion itself whoever were not held fast by the anchor of authority. To establish indifference as a system, atheism as a creed, and impiety as a fashion, there was only wanting a man laborious enough to collect, unite, and present in a body all the numerous materials which were scattered in a multitude of works; a man who knew how to give to all this a philosophical complexion suitable to the prevailing taste, and who could give to sophistry and declamation that seductive appearance, that deceptive form and dazzling show, by which the productions of genius are always marked, in the midst even of their wildest vagaries. Such a man appeared in the person of Bayle. The noise which his famous dictionary made in the world, and the favor which it enjoyed from the beginning, show how well the author had taken advantage of his opportunity. The dictionary of Bayle is one of those books which, considered apart from their scientific and literary merit, always serve to denote a remarkable epoch, because they present, together with the fruits of the past, the clear perception of a long future. The author of such a work is not distinguished so much on account of his own merit, as because he has known how to become the representative of ideas previously diffused in society, but floating about in a state of uncertainty; and yet his name recalls a vast history, of which he is the personification. The publication of Bayle's work may be regarded as the solemn inauguration of the chair of infidelity in Europe. The sophists of the eighteenth century found at hand an abundant repository of facts and arguments; but to render the thing complete, there was wanting a hand capable of retouching the old paintings, of restoring their faded colors, and of shedding over all the charms of imagination and the refinement of wit; there was wanting a guide to lead mankind by a flowery path to the borders of the abyss. Scarcely had Bayle descended into the tomb, when there appeared above the literary horizon a young man, whose great talents were equalled by his malice and audacity; Voltaire.

It was necessary to draw the reader's attention to the period which I have just described, to show him how great was the influence exercised by Protestantism in producing and establishing in Europe the irreligion, atheism, and fatal indifference which have caused so many evils in modern society. I do not mean to charge all Protestants with impiety; and I willingly acknowledge the sincerity and firmness of many of their most illustrious men, in struggling against the progress of irreligion. I am not ignorant that men sometimes adopt a principle and repudiate its consequences, and that it would, therefore, be very unjust to class them with those who openly accept those consequences; but on the other hand, however painful it may be to Protestants to avow that their system leads to atheism, it is nevertheless a fact which cannot be denied. All that they can claim of me on this point is, not to criminate their intentions;[Pg 64] after that, they cannot complain if, guided by the instructions of history and philosophy, I develop their fundamental principle to the fullest extent.

It would be useless to sketch, even in the most rapid manner, what has passed in Europe since the appearance of Voltaire: the events are so recent, and have been so often discussed, that all that I could say would be only a useless repetition. I shall better attain my object by offering some remarks on the actual state of religion in Protestant countries. Amid so many revolutions, and when so many heads were turned; when all the foundations of society were shaken, and the strongest institutions were torn out of the soil in which they had been so deeply rooted; when even Catholic truth itself could not have been sustained without the manifest aid of the arm of the Most High, we may imagine the fate of the fragile edifice of Protestantism, exposed, like all the rest, to so many and such violent attacks. No one is ignorant of the numberless sects which abound in Great Britain, of the deplorable condition of faith among the Swiss Protestants, even on the most important points. That there might be no doubt as to the real state of the Protestant religion in Germany, that is, in its native country, where it was first established as in its dearest patrimony, the Protestant minister, Baron Starck, has taken care to tell us, that "in Germany there is not one single point of Christian faith which has not been openly attacked by the Protestant ministers themselves." The real state of Protestantism appears to me to be truly and forcibly depicted by a curious idea of J. Heyer, a Protestant minister. Heyer published, in 1818, a work entitled Coup d'œil sur les Confessions de Foi; not knowing how to get out of the difficulty in which all Protestants found themselves placed when they had to choose a symbol, he proposed the simple expedient of getting rid of all symbols.

The only way that Protestantism has of preserving itself, is to violate as much as possible its own fundamental principle, by withdrawing the right of private judgment, inducing the people to remain faithful to the opinions in which they have been educated, and carefully concealing from them the inconsistency into which they fall, when they submit to the authority of a private individual, after having rejected the authority of the Catholic church. But things are not taking this course; and in spite of the efforts of some Protestants to follow it, Bible Societies, working with a zeal worthy of a better cause, in promoting among all classes the private interpretation of the Bible, would suffice to keep alive always the spirit of inquiry. This diffusion of the Bible operates as a constant appeal to private judgment, which, after perhaps causing many days of sorrow and mourning to society, will eventually destroy the remains of Protestantism. All this has not escaped the notice of its disciples; and some of the most remarkable among them have raised their voices to point out the danger.13


After having clearly shown the intrinsic weakness of Protestantism, it is natural to ask this question: If it be so feeble, owing to the radical defects of its constitution, why has it not by this time completely disappeared? If it bear in its own breast the seeds of death, how has it been able so long to withstand such powerful adversaries, as Catholicity, on the one hand, and irreligion or Atheism, on the other? In order to resolve this question satisfactorily, it is necessary to consider Protestantism in two points of view; as embodying a fixed creed, and as expressing a number of sects, who, in spite of their numerous mutual differences, agree in calling themselves Christians, and preserve a shadow of Christianity, although they reject the authority of the Church. It[Pg 65] is necessary to consider Protestantism in this double point of view, since its founders, while endeavoring to destroy the authority and dogmas of the Roman Church, were compelled to form a system of doctrines to serve as a symbol for their followers. Considered in the first aspect, it has almost entirely disappeared; we should rather say it scarcely ever had existence. This truth is sufficiently evident from what I have said of the variations and actual condition of Protestantism in the various countries of Europe; time has shown how much the pretended Reformers were deceived, when they fancied that they could fix the columns of Hercules of the human mind, to repeat the expression of Madame de Staël.

Who now defends the doctrines of Luther and Calvin? Who respects the limits which they prescribed? What Protestant Church distinguishes itself by the ardor of its zeal in preserving any particular dogmas? What Protestant now holds the divine mission of Luther, or believes the Pope to be Antichrist? Who watches over the purity of doctrine, and points out errors? Who opposes the torrent of sectarianism?

Do we find, in their writings, or in their discourses, the energetic tones of conviction, or the zeal of truth? In fine, what a wide difference do we find when we compare the Protestant Church with the Catholic! Inquire into the faith of the latter, and you will hear from the mouth of Gregory XVI., the successor of St. Peter, the same that Luther heard from Leo X. Compare the doctrine of Leo X. with that of his predecessors, you will always find it the same up to the Apostles, and to Jesus Christ himself. If you attempt to assail a dogma, if you try to attack the purity of morals, the voice of the ancient Fathers will denounce your errors, and in the middle of the nineteenth century you will imagine that the old Leos and Gregories are risen from the tomb. If your intentions are good, you will find indulgence; if your merits are great, you will be treated with respect; if you occupy an elevated position in the world, you will have attention paid to you. But if you attempt to abuse your talents by introducing novelty in doctrine; if, by your power, you aspire to demand a modification of faith; and if, to avoid troubles or prevent schism, or conciliate any one, you ask for a compromise or even an ambiguous explanation; the answer of the successor of St. Peter will be, "Never! faith is a sacred deposit which we cannot alter; truth is immutable; it is one:" and to this reply of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, which with a word will banish all your hopes, will be added those of the modern Athanasiuses, Gregories of Nazianzen, Ambroses, Jeromes, and Augustins. Always the same firmness in the same faith, the same unchangeableness, the same energy in preserving the sacred deposit intact, in defending it against the attacks of error, in teaching it to the faithful in all its purity, and in transmitting it unaltered to future generations. Will it be said that this is obstinacy, blindness, and fanaticism? But, eighteen centuries gone by, the revolutions of empires, the most fearful catastrophes, an infinite variety of ideas and manners, the most severe persecutions, the darkness of ignorance, the conflicts of passion, the lights of knowledge,—none of these have been able to enlighten this blindness, to bend this obstinacy, or extinguish this fanaticism. Certainly a reflecting Protestant, one of those who know how to rise above the prejudices of education, when fixing his eyes on this picture, the truth of which he cannot but acknowledge, if he is well informed on the question, will feel strong doubts arise within him as to the truth of the instruction he has received; he will at least feel a desire of examining more closely this great prodigy which the Catholic Church presents to us. But to return.

We see the Protestant sects melting away daily, and this dissolution must constantly increase; nevertheless, we have no reason to be astonished that Protestantism, inasmuch as it consists of a number of sects who preserve the name and some remains of Christianity, does not wholly disappear; for how[Pg 66] could it disappear? Either Protestant nations must be completely swallowed up by irreligion or atheism, or they must give up Christianity and adopt one of the religions which are established in other parts of the world. Now both these suppositions are impossible; therefore this false form of Christianity has been and will be preserved, in some shape or other, until Protestants return to the bosom of the Church.

Let us develop these ideas. Why cannot Protestant nations be completely swallowed up by irreligion and atheism, or indifference? Because such a misfortune may happen to an individual, but not to a nation. By means of false books, erroneous reasonings, and continual efforts, some individuals may extinguish the lively sentiments of their hearts, stifle the voice of conscience, and trample under foot the dictates of common sense; but a nation cannot do so. A people always preserves a large fund of candor and docility, which, amid the most fatal errors and even the most atrocious crimes, compels it to lend an attentive ear to the inspirations of nature. Whatever may be the corruption of morals, whatever may be the errors of opinion, there will never be more than a small number of men found capable of struggling for a long time against themselves, in the attempt to eradicate from their hearts that fruitful germ of good feelings, that precious seed of virtuous thoughts, with which the beneficent hand of the Creator has enriched our souls. The conflagration of the passions, it is true, produces lamentable prostration, and sometimes terrible explosions; but when the fire is extinguished, man returns to himself, and his mind becomes again accessible to the voice of reason and virtue. An attentive study of society proves that the number of men is happily very small who are, as it were, steeled against truth and virtue; who reply with frivolous sophistry to the admonitions of good sense; who oppose with cold stoicism the sweetest and most generous inspirations of nature, and venture to display, as an illustration of philosophy, firmness, and elevation of mind, the ignorance, obstinacy, and barrenness of an icy heart. The generality of mankind, more simple, more candid, more natural, are consequently ill-suited to a system of atheism, or indifference. Such a system may take possession of the proud mind of a learned visionary; it may be adopted, as a convenient opinion, by dissipated youth; and in times of agitation, it may influence a few fiery spirits; but it will never be able to establish itself in society as a normal condition.

No, by no means. An individual may be irreligious, but families and society never will. Without a basis on which the social edifice must rest; without a great creative idea, whence will flow the ideas of reason, virtue, justice, obligation, and right, which are as necessary to the existence and preservation of society as blood and nourishment are to the life of the individual, society would be destroyed; without the sweet ties by which religious ideas unite together the members of a family, without the heavenly harmony which they infuse into all its connections, the family would cease to exist, or at least would be only a rude and transient union, resembling the intercourse of animals. God has happily gifted all his creatures with a marvellous instinct of self-preservation. Guided by that instinct, families and society repudiate with indignation those degrading ideas which, blasting by their fatal breath all the germs of life, breaking all ties, upsetting all laws, make both of them retrograde towards the most abject barbarism, and finish by scattering their members like dust before the wind.

The repeated lessons of experience ought to have convinced certain philosophers that these ideas and feelings, engraven on the heart of man by the finger of the Author of nature, cannot be eradicated by declamation or sophistry. If a few ephemeral triumphs have occasionally flattered their pride, and made them conceive false hopes of the result of their efforts, the course of events has soon shown them, that to pride themselves on these triumphs was to act like a man[Pg 67] who, on account of having succeeded in infusing unnatural sentiments into the hearts of a few mothers, would flatter himself that he has banished maternal love from the world. Society (I do not mean the populace or the commonalty)—society will be religious, even at the risk of being superstitious; if it does not believe in reasonable things, it will in extravagant ones; and if it have not a divine religion, it will have a human one: to suppose the contrary, is to dream; to struggle against this tendency, is to struggle against an eternal law; to attempt to restrain it, is to attempt to restrain with a weak arm a body launched with an immense force—the arm will be destroyed, but the body will continue its course. Men may call this superstition, fanaticism, the result of error; but to talk thus can only serve to console them for their failure.

Since, then, religion is a real necessity, we have therein an explanation of the phenomenon which history and experience present to us, namely, that religion never wholly disappears, and that when changes take place, the two rival religions, during their struggles, more or less protracted, occupy successively the same ground. The consequence is, that Protestantism cannot entirely disappear unless another religion takes its place. Now, as in the actual state of civilization, no religion can replace it but the Catholic, it is evident that Protestant sects will continue to occupy, with more or less variation, the countries which they have gained.

Indeed, how is it possible, in the present state of civilization among Protestant nations, that the follies of the Koran, or the absurdities of idolatry, should have any chance of success among them? The spirit of Christianity circulates in the veins of modern society; its seal is set upon all legislation; its light is shed upon all branches of knowledge; its phraseology is found in all languages; its precepts regulate morals; habits and manners have assumed its form; the fine arts breathe its perfume, and all the monuments of genius are full of its inspirations. Christianity, in a word, pervades all parts of that great, varied, and fertile civilization, which is the glory of modern society. How then, is it possible for a religion entirely to disappear which possesses, with the most venerable antiquity, so many claims to gratitude, so many endearing ties, and so many glorious recollections? How could it give place, among Christian nations, to one of those religions which, at the first glance, show the finger of man, and indicate, as their distinctive mark, degradation and debasement? Although the essential principle of Protestantism saps the foundations of the Christian religion, although it disfigures its beauty, and lowers its sublimity, yet the remains which it preserves of Christianity, its idea of God, and its maxims of morality, raise it far above all the systems of philosophy, and all the other religions of the world.

If, then, Protestantism has preserved some shadow of the Christian religion, it was because, looking at the condition of the nations who took part in the schism, it was impossible for the Christian name wholly to disappear; and not on account of any principle of life contained in the bosom of the pretended Reformation. On the other hand, consider the efforts of politicians, the natural attachment of ministers to their own interests, the illusions of pride which flatter men with the freedom they will enjoy in the absence of all authority, the remains of old prejudices, the power of education, and such like causes, and you will find a complete solution of the question. Then you will no longer be surprised that Protestantism continues to retain possession of many of those countries where it unfortunately became deeply rooted.

[Pg 68]


The best proof of the extreme weakness of Protestantism, considered as a body of doctrine, is the little influence which its positive doctrines have exercised in European civilization. I call its positive doctrines those which it attempts to establish as its own; and I distinguish them thus from its other doctrines, which I call negative, because they are nothing but the negation of authority. The latter found favor on account of their conformity with the inconstancy and changeableness of the human mind; but the others, which have not the same means of success, have all disappeared with their authors, and are now plunged in oblivion. The only part of Christianity which has been preserved among Protestants, is that which was necessary to prevent European civilization from losing among them its nature and character; and this is the reason why the doctrines which had too direct a tendency to alter the nature of this civilization have been repudiated, we should rather say, despised by it.

There is a circumstance here well worthy of attention, and which has not perhaps been noticed, viz. the fate of the doctrine held by the first reformers with respect to free-will. It is well known that one of the first and most important errors of Luther and Calvin consisted in denying free-will. We find this fatal doctrine professed in the works which they have left us. Does it not seem that this doctrine ought to have preserved its credit among the Protestants, and that they ought to have fiercely maintained it, since such is commonly the case with errors which serve as a nucleus in the formation of a sect? It seems, also, that Protestantism being widely spread, and deeply rooted in several countries of Europe, this fatalist doctrine ought to have exercised a strong influence on the legislation of Protestant nations. Wonderful as it is, such has not been the case; European moralists have despised it; legislation has not adopted it as a basis; civilization has not allowed itself to be directed by a principle which sapped all the foundations of morality, and which, if once applied to morals and laws, would have substituted for European civilization and dignity the barbarism and debasement of Mahometanism.

There is no doubt that this fatal doctrine has perverted some individuals; it has been adopted by sects more or less numerous; and it cannot be denied that it has affected the morality of some nations. But it is also certain, that, in the generality of the great human family, governments, tribunals, administration, legislation, science, and morals, have not listened to this horrible doctrine of Luther,—a doctrine which strips man of his free will, which makes God the author of sin, which charges the Creator with the responsibility of all the crimes of His creatures, and represents Him as a tyrant, by affirming that His precepts are impossible; a doctrine which monstrously confounds the ideas of good and evil, and removes all stimulus to good deeds, by teaching that faith is sufficient for salvation, and that all the good works of the just are only sins.

Public opinion, good sense, and morality here side with Catholicity. Those even who in theory embrace these fatal religious doctrines, usually reject them in practice; this is because Catholic instruction on these important points has made so deep an impression on them; because so strong an instinct of civilization has been communicated to European society by the Catholic religion. Thus the Church, by repudiating the destructive errors taught by Protestantism, preserved society from being debased by these fatalist doctrines. The Church formed a barrier against the despotism which is enthroned wherever the sense of dignity is lost; she was a fence against the demoralization which always spreads whenever men think themselves bound by blind necessity, as by an[Pg 69] iron chain; she also freed the human mind from the state of abjection into which it falls whenever it thinks itself deprived of the government of its own conduct, and of the power of influencing the course of events. In condemning those errors of Luther, which were the bond of Protestantism at its birth, the Pope raised the alarm against an irruption of barbarism into the order of ideas; he saved morality, laws, public order, and society; the Vatican, by securing the noble sentiment of liberty in the sanctuary of conscience, preserved the dignity of man; by struggling against Protestant ideas, by defending the sacred deposit confided to it by its Divine Master, the Roman See became the tutelary divinity of future civilization.

Reflect on these great truths, understand them thoroughly, you who speak of religious disputes with cold indifference, with apparent mockery and pity, as if they were only scholastic puerilities. Nations do not live on bread alone; they live also on ideas, on maxims, which, converted into spiritual aliment, give them greatness, strength, and energy, or, on the contrary, weaken them, reduce them, and condemn them to stupidity. Look over the face of the globe, examine the periods of human history, compare times with times, and nations with nations, and you will see that the Church, by giving so much importance to the preservation of these transcendent truths, by accepting no compromise on this point, has understood and realized better than any other teacher, the elevated and salutary maxim, that truth ought to reign in the world; that on the order of ideas depends the order of events, and that when these great problems are called in question, the destinies of humanity are involved.

Let us recapitulate what we have said; the essential principle of Protestantism is one of destruction; this is the cause of its incessant variations, of its dissolution and annihilation. As a particular religion it no longer exists, for it has no peculiar faith, no positive character, no government, nothing that is essential to form an existence; Protestantism is only a negative. If there is any thing to be found in it of a positive nature, it is nothing more than vestiges and ruins; all is without force, without action, without the spirit of life. It cannot show an edifice raised by its own hands; it cannot, like Catholicity, stand in the midst of its vast works and say, "These are mine." Protestantism can only sit down on a heap of ruins, and say with truth, "I have made this pile."

As long as sectarian fanaticism lasted, as long as this flame, enkindled by furious declamation, was kept alive by unhappy circumstances, Protestantism showed a certain degree of force, which, although it was not the sign of vigorous life, at least indicated the convulsive energy of delirium. But that period has passed, the action of time has dispersed the elements that fed the flame, and none of the attempts which have been made to give to the Reformation the character of a work of God, have been able to conceal the fact that it was the work of human passions. Let us not be deceived by the efforts which are now being made; what is acting under our eyes is not living Protestantism, it is the operation of false philosophy, perhaps of policy, sometimes of sordid interest disguised under the name of policy. Every one knows how powerful Protestantism was in exciting disturbances and causing disunion. It is on this account that evil-minded men search in the bed of this exhausted torrent for some remains of its impure waters, and knowing them to contain a deadly poison, present them to the unsuspecting in a golden cup.

But it is in vain for weak man to struggle against the arm of the Almighty, God will not abandon His work. Notwithstanding all his attempts to deface the work of God, man cannot blot out the eternal characters which distinguish truth from error. Truth in itself is strong and robust: as it is the ensemble of the relations which unite things together, it is strongly connected with them, and cannot be separated either by the efforts of man or by the revolution of time. Error, on the contrary, the lying image of the great ties which bind to[Pg 70]gether the compact mass of the universe, stretches over its usurped domain like those dead branches of the forest which, devoid of sap, afford neither freshness nor verdure, and only serve to impede the advance of the traveller.

Confiding men, do not allow yourselves to be seduced by brilliant appearances, pompous discourse, or false activity. Truth is open, modest, without suspicion, because it is pure and strong; error is hypocritical and ostentatious, because it is false and weak. Truth resembles a woman of real beauty, who, conscious of her charms, despises the affectation of ornament; error, on the contrary, paints and ornaments herself, because she is ugly, without expression, without grace, without dignity. Perhaps you may be pleased with its laborious activity. Know, then, that it has no strength but when it is the rallying cry of a faction; then, indeed, it is rapid in action and fertile in violent measures. It is like the meteor which explodes and vanishes, leaving behind it nothing but darkness, death, and destruction; truth, on the contrary, like the sun, sends forth its bright and steady beams, fertilizes with its genial warmth, and sheds on every side life, joy, and beauty.


In order to judge of the real effect which the introduction of Protestant doctrines would have had in Spain, we shall do well, in the first place, to take a survey of the present state of religion in Europe. In spite of the confusion of ideas which is one of the prevailing characteristics of the age, it is undeniable that the spirit of infidelity and irreligion has lost much of its strength, and that where it still exists it has merged into indifference, instead of preserving its systematic form of the last century. With the lapse of time declamation ceases; men grow tired of continually repeating the same insulting language; their minds resist the intolerance and bad faith of sects; systems betray their emptiness, opinions their erroneousness, judgments their precipitation, and reasonings their want of exactitude. Time shows their counterfeit intentions, their deceptive statements, the littleness of their ideas, and the mischievousness of their projects; truth begins to recover its empire, things regain their real names, and, thanks to the new direction of the public mind, that which before was considered innocent and generous is now looked upon as criminal and vile. The deceitful masks are taken off, and falsehood is discovered surrounded by the discredit which ought always to have accompanied it.

Irreligious ideas, like all those which are prevalent in an advanced state of society, would not, and could not be confined to mere speculation; they invaded the domain of practice, and labored to gain the upper hand in all branches of administration and politics. But the revolution which they produced in society became fatal to themselves; for there is nothing which better exposes the faults and errors of a system, and undeceives men on the subject, than the touchstone of experience. There is in our minds a certain power of viewing an object under a variety of aspects, and an unfortunate aptitude for supporting the most extravagant proposition by a multitude of sophisms. In mere disputation, it is difficult for the most reasoning minds to keep clear of the snares of sophistry. But when we come to experience, it is otherwise; the mind is silent, and facts speak; and if the experience has been on a large scale, and applied to objects of great interest and importance, it is difficult for the most specious arguments to counteract the convincing eloquence of the result. Hence it is that a man of much experience obtains an instinct so sure and delicate, that when a system[Pg 71] is but explained he can point out all its inconveniences. Inexperience, presumptuous and prejudiced, appeals to argument in support of its doctrines; but good sense, that precious and inestimable quality, shakes its head, shrugs its shoulders, and with a tranquil smile leaves its prediction to be tested by time.

It is not necessary now to insist on the practical results of those doctrines of which infidelity was the motto; we have said enough on that subject. Suffice it to say, that those same men who seem to belong to the last century by their principles, interests, recollections, or for other reasons, have been obliged to modify their doctrines, to limit their principles, to palliate their propositions, to cool the warmth and passion of their invectives; and when they wish to give a mark of their esteem and veneration for those writers who were the delight of their youth, they are compelled to declare "that those men were great philosophers, but philosophers of the cabinet;" as if in reality what they call the knowledge of the cabinet was not the most dangerous ignorance.

It is certain that these attempts have had the effect of throwing discredit on irreligion as a system. If people do not regard it with horror, at least they look upon it with mistrust. Irreligion has labored in all the branches of science, in the vain hope that the heavens would cease to relate the glories of God, that the earth would disown Him who laid its foundations, and that all nature would give testimony against the Lord who gave it existence and life. These same labors have banished the scandalous division which had begun between religion and science; so that the ancient accents of the man of Hus have again resounded, without dishonor to science, in the mouths of men in the nineteenth century; and what shall we say of the triumphs of religion in all that is noble, tender, and sublime on earth? How grand are the operations of Providence displayed therein! Admirable dispensation! The mysterious hand which governs the universe seems to hold in reserve for every great crisis of society an extraordinary man. At the proper moment this man presents himself; he advances, himself ignorant whither he is going, but he advances with a firm step towards the accomplishment of the high mission for which Providence has destined him.

Atheism was bathing France in a sea of tears and blood; an unknown man silently traverses the ocean. While the violence of the tempest rends the sails of his vessel, he listens attentively to the hurricane—he is lost in the contemplation of the majesty of the heavens. Wandering in the solitudes of America, he asks of the wonders of creation the name of their Author; the thunder on the confines of the desert, the low murmuring of the forests, and the beauties of nature answer him with canticles of love and harmony. The view of a solitary cross reveals to him mysterious secrets; the traces of an unknown missionary awaken important recollections which connect the new world with the old; a monument in ruins, the hut of a savage, excite in his mind thoughts which penetrate to the foundations of society and to the heart of man. Intoxicated with these spectacles, his mind full of sublime conceptions, and his heart inundated with the charms of so much beauty, this man returns to his native soil. What does he find there? The bloody traces of Atheism; the ruins and ashes of ancient temples devoured by the flames or destroyed by violence; the remains of a multitude of innocent victims, buried in the graves which formerly afforded an asylum to persecuted Christians. He observes, however, that something is in agitation; he sees that religion is about to redescend upon France, like consolation upon the unfortunate, or the breath of life upon a corpse. From that moment he hears on all sides a concert of celestial harmony; the inspirations of meditation and solitude revive and ferment in his great soul; transported out of himself, and ravished into ecstasy, he sings with a tongue of fire the glories of religion, he reveals the delicacy and beauty of the relations between religion and nature, and in surpassing language he points out[Pg 72] to astonished men the mysterious golden chain which connects the heavens and the earth. That man was Chateaubriand.

It must, however, be confessed, that the confusion which has been introduced into ideas cannot be corrected in a short time, and that it is not easy to eradicate the deep traces of the ravages of irreligion. Men's minds, it is true, are tired of the irreligious system; society, which had lost its balance, is generally ill at ease; the family feels its ties relaxed, and individuals sigh after a ray of light, a drop of hope and consolation. But where shall the world find the remedy which is wanting? Will it follow the best road—the only road? Will it re-enter the fold of the Catholic Church? Alas! God alone knows the secrets of the future; He alone has clearly unfolded before His eyes the great events which are no doubt awaiting humanity. He alone knows what will be the result of that activity, of that energy, which again urges men to the examination of great political and religious questions; and He alone knows what, to future generations, will be the result of the triumphs obtained by religion, in the fine arts, in literature, in science, in politics, in all the operations carried on by the human mind.

As to us, carried away as we are by the rapid and precipitate course of revolution, hardly have we time to cast a fleeting glance upon the chaos in which our country is involved. What can we confidently predict? All that we can be sure of is, that we are in an age of disquietude, of agitation, of transition; that the multiplied examples and warnings of so many disappointed expectations, the fruits of fearful revolutions and unheard-of catastrophes, have everywhere thrown discredit upon irreligious and disorganizing doctrines, without having established the legitimate empire of true religion. Hearts sick of so many misfortunes are willingly open to hope; but minds are in a state of great uncertainty as to the future: perhaps they even anticipate a new series of calamities. Owing to revolutions, to the efforts of industry, to the activity and extension of commerce, to the progress and prodigious diffusion of printing, to scientific discoveries, to the ease, rapidity, and universality of communication, to the taste for travelling, to the dissolving action of Protestantism, of incredulity, and skepticism, the human mind certainly now presents one of the most singular phases of its history. Reason, imagination, and the heart are in a state of agitation, of movement, and of extraordinary development, and show us at the same time the most singular contrasts, the most ridiculous extravagances, and the most absurd contradictions. Observe the sciences, and you will no longer find those lengthened labors, that indefatigable patience, that calm and tranquil progress, which characterized these studies at other epochs; but you will find there a spirit of observation, and a tendency to place questions in that transcendental point of view where may be discovered the relations subsisting between them, the ties by which they are connected, and the way in which they throw light upon each other. Questions of religion, of politics, of legislation, of morals, of government, are all mingled, stand prominently forward, and give to the horizon of science a grandeur and immensity which it did not previously possess. This progress, this confusion, this chaos, if you like to call it so, is a fact which must be taken into account in studying the spirit of the age, in examining the religious condition of the time; for it is not the work of a single man, or the effect of accident; it is the result of a multitude of causes, the fruit of a great number of facts; it is an expression of the present state of intelligence; a symptom of strength and disease, an announcement of change and of transition, perhaps a sign of consolation, perhaps a presage of misfortune. And who has not observed the fertility of imagination and unbounded reach of thought in that literature, so various, so irregular, and so vague, but at the same time so rich in fine images, in delicate feeling, and in bold and generous thought? You may talk as much as you please of the debasement of science,[Pg 73] of the falling off in study. You may speak in a tone of derision of the lights of the age, and turn with regret to ages more studious and more learned; there will be some exaggeration, truth and error, in all this, as there always is in declamation of this kind; but whatever may be the degree of utility belonging to the present labors of the human mind, never, perhaps, was there a time when it displayed more activity and energy, never was it agitated by a movement so general, so lively, so various, and never, perhaps, did it desire, with a more excusable curiosity and impatience, to raise a part of the veil which covers the boundless future. What will be able to govern elements so powerful and so opposite? What can calm this tempestuous sea? What will give the union, the connection, the consistency necessary to form, out of these repulsive and discordant elements, a whole compact and capable of resisting the action of time? Will this be done by Protestantism, with its fundamental principle which establishes and diffuses and sanctions the dissolving principle of private interpretation in matters of religion, and realizes this unhappy notion by circulating among all classes of society copies of the Bible?

Nations numerous, proud of their power, vain of their knowledge, rendered dissipated by pleasure, refined by luxury, continually exposed to the powerful influence of the press, and possessing means of communication which would have appeared fabulous to their ancestors; nations in whom all the violent passions have an object, all intrigues an existence, all corruptions a veil, all crimes a title, all errors an advocate, all interests a support; nations which, warned and deceived, still vacillate in a state of dreadful uncertainty between truth and falsehood; sometimes looking at the torch of truth as if they meant to be guided by its light, and then again seduced by an ignis fatuus; sometimes making an effort to rule the storm, and then abandoning themselves to its violence; modern nations show us a picture as extraordinary as it is interesting, where hopes, fears, prognostics, and conjectures have free scope, and nobody can pretend to predict with accuracy, and the wise man must await in silence the dénouement marked out in the secret decrees of God, where alone are clearly written the events of all time, and the future destinies of men.

But it may be easily understood that Protestantism, on account of its essentially dissolving nature, is incapable of producing any thing in morals or religion to increase the happiness of nations, for it is impossible for this happiness to exist as long as men's minds are at war on the most important questions which can occupy them.

When the observer, amid this chaos and obscurity, seeks for a ray of light to illuminate the world—for a powerful principle capable of putting an end to so much confusion and anarchy, and of bringing back men's minds to the path of truth, Catholicity immediately presents herself to him, as the only source of all these benefits. When we consider with what éclat and with what power Catholicity maintains herself against all the unprecedented attempts which are made to destroy her, our hearts are filled with hope and consolation; and we feel inclined to hail this divine religion, and to congratulate her on the new triumph which she is about to achieve on earth.

There was a time when Europe, inundated by a torrent of barbarians, saw at once overwhelmed all the monuments of ancient civilization and refinement. Legislators and their laws, the empire and its power and splendor, philosophers and the sciences, the arts and their chef-d'œuvres, all disappeared; and those immense regions, where had flourished all the civilization and refinement that had been gained during so many ages, were suddenly plunged into ignorance and barbarism. Nevertheless, the spark of light which had appeared to the world in Palestine, continued to shine amid the chaos: in vain did whirlwinds threaten to extinguish it; kept alive by the breath of the Eternal, it continued to shine. Ages rolled away, and it appeared with greater brilliancy; and[Pg 74] when, perchance, the nations only expected a beam of light to guide them in the darkness, they found a resplendent sun, everywhere diffusing life and light: and who shall say that there is not reserved for her in the secrets of the Eternal, another triumph more difficult, but not less useful, not less brilliant? If in other times that religion instructed ignorance, civilized barbarism, polished rudeness, softened ferocity, and preserved society from being always the prey of the fiercest brutality and the most degrading stupidity, will it be less glorious for her to correct ideas, to harmonize and refine feelings, to establish the eternal principles of society, to curb the passions, to remove animosities, to remove excesses, to govern all minds and hearts? How honorable will it be to her, if, while regulating all things, and unceasingly stimulating all kinds of knowledge and improvement, she can inspire with a proper spirit of moderation that society which so many elements, devoid of central attraction, threaten every moment with dissolution and death!

It is not given to man to penetrate the future; but in the same way as the physical world would be broken up by a terrible catastrophe, if it were deprived for a moment of the fundamental principle which gives unity, order, and concert to the various movements of the system; in the same way, if society, full as it is of motion, of communication, and life, were not placed under the direction of a constant and universal regulating principle, we could not fix our eyes on the lot of future generations without the greatest alarm.

There is, however, a fact which is consoling in the highest degree, viz. the wonderful progress which Catholicity has made in different countries. It is gaining strength in France and Belgium: the obstinacy with which it is combated in the north of Europe shows how much it is feared. In England its progress has been recently so great that it would not be credited without the most irresistible evidence; and in the foreign missions it has shown an extent of enterprise and fruitfulness, worthy of the time of its greatest ascendency and power.

When other nations tend towards unity, shall we commit the gross mistake of adopting schism? at a time when other nations would be happy to find within their bosoms a vital principle capable of restoring the power which incredulity has destroyed, shall Spain, which preserves Catholicity, and alone possesses it full and complete, allow the germ of death to be introduced into her bosom, thereby rendering impossible the cure of her evils, or rather entailing on herself complete and certain ruin? Amid the moral regeneration towards which nations are advancing, seeking to quit the painful position in which they have been placed by irreligious doctrines, is it possible to overlook the immense advantage which Spain still preserves over most of them? Spain is one of those least affected by the gangrene of irreligion; she still preserves religious unity, that inestimable inheritance of a long line of ages. Is it possible to overlook the advantage of that unity if properly made use of, that unity which is mixed up with all our glories, which awakens such noble recollections, and which may be made so wonderful an instrument in the regeneration of social order?

If I am asked my opinion of the nearness of the danger, and if I think the present attempts of Protestants have any probability of success, I must draw a distinction in my reply. Protestantism is extremely weak, both on account of its own nature, and of its age and decaying condition. In endeavoring to introduce itself into Spain, it will have to contend with an adversary full of life and strength, and deeply rooted in the soil. This is the reason why I think that its direct action is not to be feared; and yet, if it should succeed in establishing itself in any part of our country, however limited may be its domain, it is sure to produce fearful results. It is evident that we shall then have in the midst of us a new apple of discord, and it is not difficult to foresee that collisions will frequently arise. Protestantism in Spain, besides its intrinsic weakness, will[Pg 75] labor under the disadvantage of not finding its natural aliment. Hence it will be obliged to take advantage of any support that is offered; it will immediately become the point of reunion for the discontented; and although failing in its intended object, it will succeed in becoming the nucleus of new parties and the banner of factions. Scandal, strife, demoralization, troubles, and perhaps catastrophes,—such will be the immediate and infallible results of the introduction of Protestantism among us. On this point I appeal to the candid opinion of every man who is well acquainted with Spain. But this is not all: the question is enlarged, and acquires an incalculable importance, if we consider it with reference to foreign politics. What a lever will be afforded to foreigners for all kinds of attempts in our unhappy country! How gladly will those, who are perhaps on the look-out for such an aid, avail themselves of it!

There is in Europe a nation remarkable for her immense power, and worthy of respect on account of the great progress which she has made in the arts and sciences; a nation that holds in her hands powerful means of action in all parts of the world, and knows how to use them with wonderful discretion and sagacity. As that nation has taken the lead in modern times in passing through all the phases of political and religious revolution, and has seen, during fearful convulsions, the passions in all their nakedness, and crime in all its forms, she is better acquainted than all others with their causes.

Not misled by the vain names under which, at such periods, the lowest passions and the most sordid interests disguise themselves, she is too much on her guard to allow the troubles which have inundated other countries with tears and blood, to be easily excited within herself. Her internal peace is not disturbed by the agitation and heat of disputes; although she may expect to have to encounter, sooner or later, difficulties and embarrassments, she enjoys, in the mean time, the tranquillity which is secured to her by her constitution, her manners, her riches,—and, above all, by the ocean which surrounds her. Placed in so advantageous a position, that nation watches the progress of others, for the purpose of attaching them to her car by golden chains, if they are simple enough to listen to her flattery; at least she attempts to hinder their advance, when a noble independence is about to free them from her influence. Always attentive to her own aggrandizement, by means of commerce and the arts, and by a policy eminently mercantile, she hides her self-interest under all sorts of disguises; and although religion and politics, where she has to do with another people, are quite indifferent to her, she knows how to make an adroit use of these powerful arms, to make friends, to defeat her enemies, and to enclose all within the net of commerce, which she is always extending in all quarters of the world. Her sagacity must necessarily have perceived how much progress she will have made in adding Spain to the number of her colonies, when she has persuaded the Spanish people to fraternize with her in religion; not so much on account of the sympathy which such a fraternization would establish between them, as because she would find therein a sure method of stripping the Spanish people of that peculiar character and grave appearance which distinguishes them from all others, by depriving them of the only national and regenerative idea which remains to them after so many convulsions; from that moment, in truth, Spain, that proud nation, would be rendered accessible to all kinds of foreign impressions, docile and pliable in bending to all opinions, and subject to the interests of her astute protectors. Let it not be forgotten that there is no other nation that conceives her plans with so much foresight, prepares them with so much prudence, executes them with so much ability and perseverance. As she has remained since her great revolutions, that is, since the end of the seventeenth century, in a settled condition, and entirely free from the convulsions undergone since that time by other European nations, she has been able to follow a regular political system, both internal and external; and her politicians have[Pg 76] been formed to the perfect science of government, by constantly inheriting the experience and views of their predecessors. Her statesmen well know how important it is to be prepared beforehand for every event. They deeply study what may aid or impede them in other nations. They go out of the sphere of politics: they penetrate to the heart of every nation over which they propose to extend their influence: they examine what are the conditions of its existence; what is its vital principle; what are the causes of the strength and energy of every people.

During the autumn of 1805, Pitt gave a dinner in the country to some of his friends. While thus engaged, a despatch was brought to him announcing the surrender of Mack at Ulm, with 40,000 men, and the march of Napoleon on Vienna. Pitt communicated the fatal news to his friends, who cried out, "All is lost; there is no longer any resource against him." "There is one still left," replied the minister, "if I can excite a national war in Europe; and that war must begin in Spain." "Yes, gentlemen," he added, "Spain will be the first country to commence the patriotic war which shall give liberty to Europe." Such was the importance attributed by this profound statesman to a national idea; he expected from it what the strength of all the governments could not effect, the downfall of Napoleon, and the liberation of Europe. But it not uncommonly happens that the march of events is such, that these same national ideas, which one time were the powerful auxiliaries of ambitious cabinets, become, at another, the greatest obstacles; and then, instead of encouraging, it becomes their interest to extinguish them. As the nature of this work will not allow me to enter into the details of politics, I must content myself with appealing to the judgment of those who have observed the line of conduct pursued by England during our war and revolution, since the death of Ferdinand VII. If we consider what the interests of that powerful nation require for the future, we may conjecture the part which she will take.

The means of saving a nation, by delivering it from interested protectors, and of securing her real independence, are to be found in great and generous ideas, deeply rooted in the people; in feelings engraved on their hearts by the action of time, by the influence of powerful institutions, by ancient manners and customs; in fine, in that unity of religious thought, which makes a whole people as one man. Then the past is united with the present, the present is connected with the future; then arises in the mind that enthusiasm which is the source of great deeds; then are found disinterestedness, energy, and constancy; because ideas are fixed and elevated, because hearts are great and generous.

It is not impossible that during one of the convulsions which disturb our unhappy country, men may arise amongst us blind enough to attempt to introduce the Protestant religion into Spain. We have had warnings enough to alarm us; we have not forgotten events which showed plainly enough how far some would sometimes have gone, if the great majority of the nation had not restrained them by their disapprobation. We do not dread the outrages of the reign of Henry VIII.; but what we do fear is, that advantage may be taken of a violent rupture with the Holy See, of the obstinacy and ambition of some ecclesiastics, of the pretext of establishing toleration in our country, or some other pretext, to attempt to introduce amongst us, in some shape or other, the doctrines of Protestantism. We certainly have no need of importing toleration from abroad; it already exists amongst us so fully, that no one is afraid of being disturbed on account of his religious opinions. What would be thus introduced and established in Spain, would be a new system of religion, provided with every thing necessary for gaining the upper hand; and for weakening, and, if possible, destroying Catholicity. Then would resound in our ears, with a force constantly increasing, the fierce declamation which we have heard for[Pg 77] several years; the vain threatenings of a party who are delirious, because they are on the point of expiring. The aversion with which the nation regards the pretended Reformation, we have no doubt, would be looked upon as rebellion; the pastorals of bishops would be treated as insidious persuasions, and the fervent zeal of our priests as sedition; the unanimity of Catholics to preserve themselves from contagion would be denounced as a diabolical conspiracy, devised by intolerance and party spirit, and executed by ignorance and fanaticism. Amid the efforts of the one party, and the resistance of the other, we should see enacted, in a greater or less degree, the scenes of times gone by; and although the spirit of moderation, which is one of the characteristics of this age, would not allow the perpetration of excesses which have stained the annals of other nations, they would not be without imitators. We must not forget that, with respect to religion in Spain, we cannot calculate on the coldness and indifference which other nations would now display on a similar occasion. With the latter, religious feelings have lost much of their force, but in Spain they are still deep, lively, and energetic; and if they were to come into open and avowed opposition to each other, the shock would be violent and general. Although we have witnessed lamentable scandals, and even fearful catastrophes in religious matters, yet, up to this time, perverse intentions have been always concealed by a mask, more or less transparent. Sometimes the attack was made against a person charged with political machinations; sometimes against certain classes of citizens, who were accused of imaginary crimes. If, at times, the revolution exceeded its bounds, it was said that it was impossible to restrain it, and thus the vexations, the insults, the outrages heaped upon all that was most sacred upon earth, were only the inevitable results, and the work of a mob that nothing could restrain. There has always been more or less of disguise; but if the dogmas of Catholicity were attacked deliberately, and with sang froid; if the most important points of discipline were trodden under foot; if the most august mysteries were turned into ridicule, and the most holy ceremonies treated with public contempt; if church were raised against church, and pulpit against pulpit, what would be the result? It is certain that minds would be very much exasperated; and if, as might be feared, alarming explosions did not ensue, at least religious controversy would assume a character so violent that we should believe ourselves transferred to the sixteenth century.

It is a common thing among us for the principles which prevail in politics to be entirely opposed to those which rule in society; it may then easily happen that a religious principle, rejected by society, may find support among influential statesmen. We should then see reproduced, under more important circumstances, a phenomenon which we have witnessed for so many years, viz. governments attempting to alter the course of society by force. This is one of the principal differences between our revolution and those of other countries; it is, at the same time, a key which explains the greatest anomalies. Everywhere else revolutionary ideas took possession of society, and afterwards extended themselves to the sphere of politics; with us they first ruled in the political sphere, and afterwards strove to descend into the social sphere; society was far from being prepared for such innovations; this was the cause of shocks so violent and so frequent. It is on account of this want of harmony that the government of Spain exercises so little influence over the people; I mean by influence, that moral ascendency which does not require to be accompanied by the idea of force. There is no doubt that this is an evil, since it tends to weaken that authority which is indispensably necessary for all societies. But on more than one occasion it has been a great benefit. It is no slight advantage that in presence of a senseless and inconstant government there is found a society full of calmness and wisdom, and that that society pursues its quiet and majestic march, while the government is carried away by rashness. We may expect[Pg 78] much from the right instinct of the Spanish nation, from her proverbial gravity, which so many misfortunes have only augmented, and from that fact, which teaches her so well how to discern the true path to happiness, by rendering her deaf to the insidious suggestions of those who seek to lead her astray. Although for so many years, owing to a fatal combination of circumstances, and a want of harmony between the social and political order, Spain has not been able to obtain a government which understands her feelings and instincts, follows her inclinations, and promotes her prosperity, we still cherish the hope that the day will come when from her own bosom, so fertile in future life, will come forth the harmony which she seeks, and the equilibrium which she has lost. In the mean time, it is of the highest importance that all men who have a Spanish heart in their breasts, and who do not wish to see the vitals of their country torn to pieces, should unite and act in concert to preserve her from the genius of evil. Their unanimity will prevent the seeds of perpetual discord from being scattered upon our soil, will ward off this additional calamity, and will preserve from destruction those precious germs, whence may arise, with renovated vigor, our civilization, which has been so much injured by disastrous events.

The soul is overwhelmed with painful apprehensions at the thought that a day may come when religious unity will be banished from among us; that unity which is identified with our habits, our customs, our manners, our laws; which guarded the cradle of our monarchy in the cavern of Covadonga, and which was the emblem on our standard during a struggle of eight centuries against the formidable crescent; that unity which developed and illustrated our civilization in times of the greatest difficulty; that unity which followed our terrible tercios, when they imposed silence upon Europe; which led our sailors when they discovered the new world, and guided them when they for the first time made the circuit of the globe; that unity which sustains our soldiers in their most heroic exploits, and which, at a recent period, gave the climax to their many glorious deeds in the downfall of Napoleon. You who condemn so rashly the work of ages; you who offer so many insults to the Spanish nation, and who treat as barbarism and ignorance the regulating principle of our civilization, do you know what it is you insult? Do you know what inspired the genius of Gonzalva, of Ferdinando Cortez, of the conqueror of Lepanto? Do not the shades of Garcilazo, of Herrara, of Ercilla, of Fray Luis de Leon, of Cervantes, of Lope de Vega, inspire you with any respect? Can you venture to break the tie which connects us with them, to make us the unworthy posterity of these great men? Do you wish to place an impassable barrier between their faith and ours, between their manners and ours, to make us destroy all our traditions, and to forget our most inspiring recollections? Do you wish to preserve the great and august monuments of our ancestors' piety among us only as a severe and eloquent reproach? Will you consent to see dried up the most abundant fountains to which we can have recourse to revive literature, to strengthen science, to reorganize legislation, to re-establish the spirit of nationality, to restore our glory, and replace this nation in the high position which her virtues merit, by restoring to her the peace and happiness which she seeks with so much anxiety, and which her heart requires?

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After having placed Catholicity and Protestantism in contrast, in a religious point of view, in the picture which I have just drawn; after having shown the superiority of the one over the other, not only in certainty, but also in all that regards the instincts, the feelings, the ideas, the characteristics of the human mind, it seems to me proper to approach another question, certainly not less important, but much less understood, and in the examination of which we shall have to contend against strong antipathies, and to dissipate many prejudices and errors. Amid the difficulties by which the question that I am about to undertake is surrounded, I am supported by a strong hope that the interest of the subject, and its analogy with the scientific taste of the age, will invite a perusal; and that I shall thereby avoid the danger which commonly threatens those who write in favor of the Catholic religion, that of being judged without being heard. The question may be stated thus: "When we compare Catholicity and Protestantism, which do we find the most favorable to real liberty, to the real progress of nations, to the cause of civilization?" Liberty! This is one of those words which are as generally employed as they are little understood; words which, because they contain a certain vague idea, easily perceived, present the deceptive appearance of perfect clearness, while, on account of the multitude and variety of objects to which they apply, they are susceptible of a variety of meanings, and, consequently, are extremely difficult to comprehend. Who can reckon the number of applications made of the word liberty? There is always found in this word a certain radical idea, but the modifications and graduations to which the idea is subject are infinite. The air circulates with liberty; we move the soil around the plant, to enable it to grow and increase with liberty; we clean out the bed of a stream to allow it to flow with liberty; when we set free a fish in a net, or a bird in a cage, we give them their liberty; we treat a friend with freedom; we have free methods, free thoughts, free expressions, free successions, free will, free actions; a prisoner has no liberty; nor have boys, girls, or married people; a man behaves with greater freedom in a foreign country; soldiers are not free; there are men free from conscription, from contributions; we have free votes, free acknowledgments, free interpretation, free evidence; freedom of commerce, of instruction, of the press, of conscience; civil freedom, and political freedom; we have freedom just, unjust, rational, irrational, moderate, excessive, limited, licentious, seasonable, unseasonable. But I need not pursue the endless enumeration. It seemed to me necessary to dwell upon it for a moment, even at the risk of fatiguing the reader; perhaps the remembrance of all this may serve to engrave deeply on our minds the truth, that when, in conversation, in writing, in public discussions, in laws, this word is so frequently employed as applied to objects of the highest importance, it is necessary to consider maturely the number and nature of the ideas which it embraces in the particular case, the meaning that the subject needs, the modifications which the circumstances require, and the precaution demanded in the case.

Whatever may be the acceptation in which the word liberty is taken, it is apparent that it always implies the absence of a cause restraining the exercise of a power. Hence it follows that, in order to fix in each case the real meaning of the word, it is indispensable to pay attention to the circumstances as well as to the nature of the power, the exercise of which is to be prevented or limited, without losing sight of the various objects to which it applies, the conditions of its exercise, as also the character, power, and extent of the means which are[Pg 80] employed to restrain it. To explain this matter, let it be proposed to form a judgment on the proposition, "Man ought to enjoy liberty of thought."

It is here affirmed that freedom of thought in man ought not to be restrained; but do you speak of physical force exercised directly on thought itself? In that case the proposition is entirely vain; for as such an application of force is impossible, it is useless to say that it ought not to be employed. Do you mean to say that it is not allowable to restrain the expression of thought; that is to say, that the liberty of manifesting thought ought not to be hindered or restrained? You have, then, made a great step, you have placed the question on a different footing. Or if you do not mean to say that every man, at all times, in all places, and on all subjects, has a right to give utterance to all that comes into his head, and that in any way he may think proper, you must then specify the things, the persons, the places, the times, the subjects, the conditions; in short, you must note a variety of circumstances, you must prohibit altogether in some cases, limit in others, bind in some, loosen in others; in fine, make so many restrictions, that you will make little progress in establishing your general principle of freedom of thought, which at first appeared so simple and so clear. Even in the sanctuary of thought, where human sight does not extend, and which is open to the eye of God alone, what means the liberty of thought? Is it owing to chance that laws are imposed on thought to which it is obliged to submit under pain of losing itself in chaos? Can it despise the rules of sound reason? Can it refuse to listen to the counsels of good sense? Can it forget that its object is truth? Can it disregard the eternal principles of morality? Thus we find, in examining the meaning of the word liberty, even as applied to what is certainly freer than any thing else in man, viz. thought—we find such a number and variety of meanings that we are forced to make many distinctions, and necessity compels us to limit the general proposition, if we wish to avoid saying any thing in opposition to the dictates of reason and good sense, the eternal laws of morality, the interests of individuals, and the peace and preservation of society. And what may not be said of so many claims of liberty which are constantly propounded in language intentionally vague and equivocal?

I avail myself of these examples to prevent a confusion of ideas; for in defending the cause of Catholicity, I have no need of pleading for oppression, or of applauding tyranny, or of approving the conduct of those who have trodden under foot men's most sacred rights. Yes, I say, sacred; for after the august religion of Jesus Christ has been preached, man is sacred in the eyes of other men on account of his origin and divine destiny, on account of the image of God which is reflected in him, and because he has been redeemed with ineffable goodness and love by the Son of the Eternal. This divine religion declares the rights of man to be sacred; for its august Founder threatens with eternal punishment not only those who kill a man, those who mutilate or rob him, but even those who offend him in words: "He who shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire." (Matt. v. 22.) Thus speaks our divine Lord.

Our hearts swell with generous indignation, when we hear the religion of Jesus Christ reproached with a tendency towards oppression. It is true that, if you confound the spirit of real liberty with that of demagogues, you will not find it in Catholicity; but, if you avoid a monstrous misnomer, if you give to the word liberty its reasonable, just, useful, and beneficial signification, then the Catholic religion may fearlessly claim the gratitude of the human race, for she has civilized the nations who embraced her, and civilization is true liberty.

It is a fact now generally acknowledged, and openly confessed, that Christianity has exercised a very important and salutary influence on the development of European civilization; if this fact has not yet had given to it the[Pg 81] importance which it deserves, it is because it has not been sufficiently appreciated. With respect to civilization, a distinction is sometimes made between the influence of Christianity and that of Catholicity; its merits are lavished on the former, and stinted to the latter, by those who forget that, with respect to European civilization, Catholicity can always claim the principal share; and, for many centuries, an exclusive one; since, during a very long period, she worked alone at the great work. People have not been willing to see that, when Protestantism appeared in Europe, the work was bordering on completion; with an injustice and ingratitude which I cannot describe, they have reproached Catholicity with the spirit of barbarism, ignorance, and oppression, while they were making an ostentatious display of the rich civilization, knowledge, and liberty, for which they were principally indebted to her.

If they did not wish to fathom the intimate connection between Catholicity and European civilization, if they had not the patience necessary for the long investigations into which this examination would lead them, at least it would have been proper to take a glance at the condition of countries where the Catholic religion has not exerted all her influence during centuries of trouble, and compare them with those in which she has been predominant. The East and the West, both subject to great revolutions, both professing Christianity, but in such a way that the Catholic principle was weak and vacillating in the East, while it was energetic and deeply rooted in the West; these, we say, would have afforded two very good points of comparison to estimate the value of Christianity without Catholicity, when the civilization and the existence of nations were at stake. In the West, the revolutions were multiplied and fearful; the chaos was at its height; and, nevertheless, out of chaos came light and life. Neither the barbarism of the nations who inundated those countries, and established themselves there, nor the furious assaults of Islamism, even in the days of its greatest power and enthusiasm, could succeed in destroying the germs of a rich and fertile civilization. In the East, on the contrary, all tended to old age and decay; nothing revived; and, under the blows of the power which was ineffectual against us, all was shaken to pieces. The spiritual power of Rome, and its influence on temporal affairs, have certainly borne fruits very different from those produced, under the same circumstances, by its violent opponents.

If Europe were destined one day again to undergo a general and fearful revolution, either by a universal spread of revolutionary ideas or by a violent invasion of social and proprietary rights by pauperism; if the colossus of the North, seated on its throne amid eternal snows, with knowledge in its head, and blind force in its hands, possessing at once the means of civilization, and unceasingly turning towards the East, the South, and the West that covetous and crafty look which in history is the characteristic march of all invading empires; if, availing itself of a favorable moment, it were to make an attempt on the independence of Europe, then we should perhaps have a proof of the value of the Catholic principle in a great extremity; then we should feel the power of the unity which is proclaimed and supported by Catholicity, and while calling to mind the middle ages, we should come to acknowledge one of the causes of the weakness of the East and the strength of the West. Then would be remembered a fact, which, though but of yesterday, is falling into oblivion, viz. that the nation whose heroic courage broke the power of Napoleon was proverbially Catholic; and who knows whether, in the attempts made in Russia against Catholicity, attempts which the Vicar of Jesus Christ has deplored in such touching language—who knows whether there be not the secret influence of a presentiment, perhaps even a foresight of the necessity of weakening that sublime power, which has been in all ages, when the cause of humanity was in question, the centre of great attempts? But let us return.

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It cannot be denied that, since the sixteenth century, European civilization has shown life and brilliancy; but it is a mistake to attribute this phenomenon to Protestantism. In order to examine the extent and influence of a fact, we ought not to be content with the events which have followed it; it is also necessary to consider whether these events were already prepared; whether they are any thing more than the necessary result of anterior facts; and we must take care not to reason in a way which is justly declared to be sophistical by logicians, post hoc, ergo propter hoc: after that, therefore on account of it. Without Protestantism, and before it, European civilization was already very much advanced, thanks to the labors and influence of the Catholic religion; the greatness and splendor which it subsequently displayed were not owing to it, but arose in spite of it.

Erroneous ideas on this matter have arisen from the fact, that Christianity has not been deeply studied; and that, without entering into a serious examination of Church history, men have too often contented themselves with taking a superficial view of the principles of brotherhood which she has so much recommended. In order fully to understand an institution, it is not enough to remain satisfied with its leading ideas; it is necessary to follow all its steps, see how it realizes its ideas, and how it triumphs over the obstacles that oppose it. We shall never form a complete idea of an historical fact, unless we carefully study its history. Now the study of Church history in its relations with civilization, is still incomplete. It is not that ecclesiastical history has not been profoundly studied; but it may be said that since the spirit of social analysis has been developed, that history has not yet been made the subject of those admirable labors which have thrown so much light upon it in a critical and dogmatical point of view.

Another impediment to the complete comprehension of this matter is, that an exaggerated importance is given to the intentions of men, and the great march of events is too much neglected. The greatness of events is measured, and their nature judged of, by the immediate means which produces them, and the objects of the men whose actions are treated of; this is a very important error. The eye ought to range over a wider field; we ought to observe the successive development of ideas, the influence which they have exercised on events, the institutions which have sprung from them; but it is necessary to see all these things as they are in themselves, that is, on a large scale, without stopping to consider particular and isolated facts. It is an important truth, which ought to be deeply engraven on the mind, that when one of those great facts which change the lot of a considerable portion of the human race is developed, it is rarely understood by those who take part in it, and figure as the principal actors. The march of humanity is a grand drama; the parts are played by persons who pass by and disappear: man is very little; God alone is great. Neither the actors who figured on the scene in the ancient empires of the East, nor Alexander invading Asia and reducing numberless nations into servitude, nor the Romans subjugating the world, nor the barbarians overturning the empire and breaking it in pieces, nor the Mussulmen ruling Asia and Africa and menacing the independence of Europe, knew, or could know, that they were the instruments in the great designs whereof we admire the execution.

I mean to show from this, that when we have to do with Christian civilization, when we collect and analyze the facts which distinguish its march, it is not necessary, or even often proper, to suppose that the men who have contributed to it in the most remarkable manner understood, to the full extent, the results of their own efforts. It is glory enough for a man to be pointed out as the chosen instrument of Providence, without the necessity of attributing to him great ability or lofty ambition. It is enough to observe that a ray of light has descended from heaven and illumined his brow; it is of little importance[Pg 83] whether he foresaw that this ray, by reflection, was destined to shed a brilliant light on future generations. Little men are commonly smaller than they think themselves, but great men are often greater than they imagine; if they do not know all their grandeur, it is because they are ignorant that they are the instruments of the high designs of Providence. Another observation which we ought always to have present in the study of these great events is, that we should not expect to find there a system, the connection and harmony of which are apparent at the first coup d'œil. We must expect to see some irregularities and objects of an unpleasant aspect; it is necessary to guard against the childish impatience of anticipating the time; it is indispensable to abandon that desire which we always have, in a greater or less degree, and which always urges us to seek every thing in conformity with our own ideas, and to see every thing advance in the way most pleasing to us.

Do you not see nature herself so varied, so rich, so grand, lavish her treasures in disorder, hide her inestimable precious stones and her most valuable veins of metal in masses of earth? See how she presents huge chains of mountains, inaccessible rocks, and fearful precipices, in contrast with her wide and smiling plains. Do you not observe this apparent disorder, this prodigality, in the midst of which numberless agents work, in secret concert, to produce the admirable whole which enchants our eyes and ravishes the lover of nature? So with society; the facts are dispersed, scattered here and there, frequently offering no appearance of order or concert; events succeed each other, act on each other, without the design being discovered; men unite, separate, co-operate, and contend, and nevertheless time, that indispensable agent in the production of great works, goes on, and all is accomplished according to the destinies marked out in the secrets of the Eternal.

This is the march of humanity; this is the rule for the philosophic study of history; this is the way to comprehend the influence of those productive ideas, of those powerful institutions, which from time to time appear among men to change the face of the earth. When in a study of this kind we discover acting at the bottom of things a productive idea, a powerful institution, the mind, far from being frightened at meeting with some irregularities, is inspired, on the contrary, with fresh courage; for it is a sure sign that the idea is full of truth, that the institution is fraught with life, when we see them pass through the chaos of ages, and come safe out of the frightful ordeals. Of what importance is it that certain men were not influenced by the idea, that they did not answer the object of the institution, if the latter has survived its revolutions, and the former has not been swallowed up in the stormy sea of the passions? To mention the weaknesses, the miseries, the faults, the crimes of men, is to make the most eloquent apology for the idea and the institution.

In viewing men in this way, we do not take them out of their proper places, and we do not require from them more than is reasonable. We see them enclosed in the deep bed of the great torrent of events, and we do not attribute to their intellects, or to their will, any thing that exceeds the sphere appointed for them; we do not, however, fail to appreciate in a proper manner the nature and the greatness of the works in which they take part, but we avoid giving to them an exaggerated importance, by honoring them with eulogiums which they do not deserve, or reproaching them unjustly. Times and circumstances are not monstrously confounded; the observer sees with calmness and sang froid the events which pass before his eyes; he speaks not of the empire of Charlemagne as he would of that of Napoleon, and is not hurried into bitter invectives against Gregory VII. because he did not adopt the same line of political conduct as Gregory XVI.

Observe that I do not ask from the philosophical historian an impassive indifference to good and evil, to justice and injustice; I do not claim indulgence for[Pg 84] vice, nor would I refuse to virtue its eulogy. I have no sympathy with that school of historic fatalism, which would bring back to the world the destiny of the ancients; a school which, if it acquired influence, would corrupt the best part of history, and stifle the most generous emotions. I see in the march of society a plan, a harmony, but not a blind necessity; I do not believe that events are mingled up together indiscriminately in the dark urn of destiny, nor that fatalism holds the world enclosed in an iron circle. But I see a wonderful chain stretching over the course of centuries, a chain which does not fetter the movements of individuals or of nations, and which accommodates itself to the ebb and flow which are required by the nature of things; at its touch great thoughts arise in the minds of men: this golden chain is suspended by the hand of the Eternal, it is the work of infinite intelligence and ineffable love.


In what condition did Christianity find the world? This is a question which ought to fix all our attention, if we wish to appreciate correctly the blessings conferred by that divine religion on individuals and on society, if we are desirous of knowing the real character of Christian civilization. Certainly at the time when Christianity appeared, society presented a dark picture. Covered with fine appearances, but infected to the heart with a mortal malady, it presented an image of the most repugnant corruption, veiled by a brilliant garb of ostentation and opulence. Morality was without reality, manners without modesty, the passions without restraint, laws without authority, and religion without God. Ideas were at the mercy of prejudices, of religious fanaticism, and philosophical subtilties. Man was a profound mystery to himself; he did not know how to estimate his own dignity, for he reduced it to the level of brutes; and when he attempted to exaggerate its importance, he did not know how to confine it within the limits marked out by reason and nature: and it is well worthy of observation, that while a great part of the human race groaned in the most abject servitude, heroes, and even the most abominable monsters, were elevated to the rank of gods.

Such elements must, sooner or later, have produced social dissolution. Even if the violent irruption of the barbarians had not taken place, society must have been overturned sooner or later, for it did not possess a fertile idea, a consoling thought, or a beam of hope, to preserve it from ruin.

Idolatry had lost its strength; it was an expedient exhausted by time and by the gross abuse which the passions had made of it. Its fragile tissue once exposed to the dissolving influence of philosophical observation, idolatry was entirely disgraced; and if the rooted force of habit still exercised a mechanical influence on the minds of men, that influence was neither capable of re-establishing harmony in society, nor of producing that fiery enthusiasm which inspires great actions—enthusiasm which in virgin hearts may be excited by superstition the most irrational and absurd. To judge of them by the relaxation of morals, by the enervated weakness of character, by the effeminate luxury, by the complete abandonment to the most repulsive amusements and the most shameful pleasures, it is clear that religious ideas no longer possessed the majesty of the heroic age; no longer efficacious, they only exerted on men's minds a feeble influence, while they served in a lamentable manner as instruments of dissolution. Now it was impossible for it to be otherwise: nations who had obtained the high degree of cultivation of the Greeks and Romans;[Pg 85] nations who had heard their great sages dispute on the grand questions of divinity and man, could not continue in the state of simplicity which was necessary to believe with good faith the intolerable absurdities of which Paganism is full; and whatever may have been the disposition of mind among the ignorant portion of the people, assuredly those who were raised above the common standard did not believe them—those who listened to philosophers as enlightened as Cicero, and who daily enjoyed the malicious railleries of their satirical poets.

If religion was impotent, was there not another means, viz. knowledge? Before we examine what was to be hoped from this, it is necessary to observe, that knowledge never founded a society, nor was it ever able to restore one that had lost its balance. In looking over the history of ancient times, we find at the head of some nations eminent men who, thanks to the magic influence which they exercised over others, dictated laws, corrected abuses, rectified ideas, reformed morals, and established a government on wise principles; thus securing, in a more or less satisfactory manner, the happiness and prosperity of those who were confided to their care. But we should be much mistaken if we imagined that these men proceeded according to what we call scientific combinations. Generally simple and rude, they acted according to the impulses of their generous hearts, only guided by the wisdom and good sense of the father of a family in the management of his domestic affairs: never did these men adopt for their rule the wretched subtilties which we call theories, the crude mass of ideas which we disguise under the pompous name of science. Were the most distinguished days of Greece those of Plato and Aristotle? The proud Romans, who conquered the world, certainly had not the extent and variety of knowledge of the Augustan age; and yet who would exchange the times or the men?

Modern times also can show important evidences of the sterility of science in creating social institutions; which is the more evident as the practical effects of the natural sciences are the more visible. It seems that in the latter sciences man has a power which he has not in the former; although, when the matter is fully examined, the difference does not appear so great as at the first view.

Let us briefly compare their respective results.

When man seeks to apply the knowledge which he has acquired of the great laws of nature, he finds himself compelled to pay respect to her; as, whatever might be his wishes, his weak arm could not cause any great bouleversement, he is obliged to make his attempts limited in extent, and the desire of success induces him to act in conformity with the laws which govern the bodies he has to do with. It is quite otherwise with the application made of the social sciences. There man is able to act directly and immediately on society itself, on its eternal foundations; he does not consider himself necessarily bound to make his attempts on a small scale, or to respect the eternal laws of society; he is able, on the contrary, to imagine those laws as he pleases, indulge in as many subtilties as he thinks proper, and bring about disasters which humanity laments. Let us remember the extravagances which have found favor, with respect to nature, in the schools of philosophy, ancient and modern, and we shall see what would have become of the admirable machine of the universe, if philosophers had had full power over it. Descartes said, "Give me matter and motion, and I will form a world!" He could not derange an atom in the system of the universe. Rousseau, in his turn, dreamed of placing society on a new basis, and he upset the social state. It must not be forgotten that science, properly so called, has little power in the organization of society: this ought to be remembered in modern times, when it boasts so much of its pretended fertility. It attributes to its own labors what is the fruit of the lapse of ages, of the instinctive law of nations, and sometimes of the inspirations of genius; now neither this instinct of nations nor genius at all resembles science.

[Pg 86]

But without pushing any further these general considerations, which are, nevertheless, very useful in leading us to a knowledge of man, what could be hoped from the false light of science which was preserved in the ruins of the ancient schools at the time we are speaking of? However limited the knowledge of the ancient philosophers, even the most distinguished, may have been on these subjects, we must allow that the names of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle command some degree of respect, and that amid their errors and mistakes they give us thoughts which are really worthy of their lofty genius. But when Christianity appeared, the germs of knowledge planted by them had been destroyed; dreams had taken the place of high and fruitful thoughts, the love of disputation had replaced that of wisdom, sophistry and subtilties had been substituted for mature judgment and severe reasoning. The ancient schools had been upset, others as sterile as they were strange had been formed out of their ruins; on all sides there appeared a swarm of sophists like the impure insects which announce the corruption of a dead body. The Church has preserved for us a very valuable means of judging of the science of that time, in the history of the early heresies. Without speaking of what therein deserves all our indignation, as, for example, their profound immorality, can we find any thing more empty, absurd, or pitiable?14

The Roman legislation, so praiseworthy for its justice and equity, its wisdom and prudence, and much as it deserves to be regarded as one of the most precious ornaments of ancient civilization, was yet incapable of preventing the dissolution with which society was threatened. Never did it owe its safety to jurisconsults; so great a work is beyond the sphere of action of jurisprudence. Let us suppose the laws as perfect as possible, jurisprudence carried to the highest point, jurisconsults animated by the purest feelings and guided by the most honest intentions, what would all this avail if the heart of society is corrupt, if moral principles have lost their force, if manners are in continual opposition with laws? Let us consider the picture of Roman manners such as their own historians have painted them; we shall not find even a reflection of the equity, justice, and good sense which made the Roman laws deserve the glorious name of written reason.

To give a proof of impartiality, I purposely omit the blemishes from which the Roman law was certainly not exempt, for I do not desire to be accused of wishing to lower every thing which is not the work of Christianity. Yet I must not pass over in silence the important fact, that it is by no means true that Christianity had no share in perfecting the jurisprudence of Rome; I do not mean merely during the period of the Christian emperors, which does not admit of a doubt, but even at a prior period. It is certain that some time before the coming of Jesus Christ the number of the Roman laws was very considerable, and that their study and arrangement already occupied the attention of many of the most illustrious men. We know from Suetonius (In Cæsar. c. 44) that Julius Cæsar had undertaken the extremely useful task of condensing into a small number of books those which were the most select and necessary among the immense collection of laws; a similar idea occurred to Cicero, who wrote a book on the methodical digest of the civil law (de jure civili in arte redigendo), as Aulus Gellius attests. (Noct. Att. lib. i. c. 22.) According to Tacitus, this work also occupied the attention of the Emperor Augustus. Certainly these projects show that legislation was not in its infancy; but it is not the less true that the Roman law, as we possess it, is in great part the product of later ages. Many of the most famous jurists, whose opinions form a considerable part of the law, lived long after the coming of Jesus Christ. As to the constitutions of the emperors, their very names remind us of the time when they were digested.

These facts being established, I shall observe that it does not follow that be[Pg 87]cause the emperors and jurists were pagans, the Christian ideas had no influence on their works. The number of Christians was immense in all places; the cruelty alone with which they had been persecuted, the heroic courage which they had displayed in the face of torments and death, must have drawn upon them the attention of the whole world; and it is impossible that this should not have excited, among men of reflection, curiosity enough to examine what this new religion taught its proselytes. The reading of the apologies for Christianity already written in the first ages with so much force of reasoning and eloquence, the works of various kinds published by the early Fathers, the homilies of Bishops to their people, contain so much wisdom, breathe such a love for truth and justice, and proclaim so loudly the eternal principles of morality, that it was impossible for their influence not to be felt even by those who condemned the religion of Christ. When doctrines having for their object the greatest questions which affect man are spread everywhere, propagated with fervent zeal, received with love by a considerable number of disciples, and maintained by the talent and knowledge of illustrious men, these doctrines make a profound impression in all directions, and affect even those who warmly combat them. Their influence in this case is imperceptible, but it is not the less true and real. They act like the exhalations which impregnate the atmosphere; with the air we inhale sometimes death, and sometimes a salutary odor which purifies and strengthens us.

Such must necessarily have been the case with a doctrine which was preached in so extraordinary a manner, propagated with so much rapidity, and the truth of which, sealed by torrents of blood, was defended by writers such as Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Irenæus, and Tertullian. The profound wisdom, the ravishing beauty of these doctrines, explained by the Christian doctors, must have called attention to the sources whence they flowed; it was natural that curiosity thus excited should put the holy Scriptures into the hands of many philosophers and jurists. Would it be strange if Epictetus had imbibed some of the doctrines of the Sermon on the Mount, and if the oracles of jurisprudence had imperceptibly received the inspiration of a religion whose power, spreading in a wonderful manner, took possession of all ranks of society? Burning zeal for truth and justice, the spirit of brotherhood, grand ideas of the dignity of man, the continued themes of Christian instruction, could not remain confined among the children of the Church. More or less rapidly they penetrated all classes; and when, by the conversion of Constantine, they acquired political influence and imperial authority, it was only the repetition of an ordinary phenomenon; when a system has become very powerful in the social order, it ends by exerting an empire, or at least an influence, in the political.

I leave these observations to the judgment of thinking men with perfect confidence; I am sure that if they do not adopt them, at least they will not consider them unworthy of reflection. We live at a time fruitful in great events, and when important revolutions have taken place; therefore we are better able to understand the immense effects of indirect and slow influences, the powerful ascendency of ideas, and the irresistible force with which doctrines work their way.

To this want of vital principles capable of regenerating society, to all those elements of dissolution which society contained within itself, was joined another evil of no slight importance,—the vice of its political organization. The world being under the yoke of Rome, hundreds of nations differing in manners and customs were heaped together in confusion, like spoils on the field of battle, and constrained to form a factitious body, like trophies placed upon a spear. The unity of the government being violent, could not be advantageous; and moreover, as it was despotic, from the emperor down to the lowest proconsul, it will be seen that it could not produce any other result than the debasement and[Pg 88] degradation of nations, and that it was impossible for them to display that elevation and energy of character which are the precious fruit of a feeling of self-dignity and love for national independence. If Rome had preserved her ancient manners, if she had retained in her bosom warriors as celebrated for the simplicity and austerity of their lives as for the renown of their victories, some of the qualities of the conquerors might have been communicated to the conquered, as a young and robust heart reanimates with its vigor a body attenuated by disease. Unfortunately such was not the case. The Fabiuses, the Camilluses, the Scipios, would not have acknowledged their unworthy posterity; Rome, the mistress of the world, like a slave, was trodden under the feet of monsters who mounted to the throne by perjury and violence, stained their sceptres with corruption and cruelty, and fell by the hands of assassins. The authority of the Senate and people had disappeared; only vain imitations of them were left, vestigia morientis libertatis, as Tacitus calls them, vestiges of expiring liberty; and this royal people, who formerly disposed of kingdoms, consulships, legions, and all, then thought only of two things, food and games,

"Qui dabat olim
Imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se
Continet, atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
Panem et Circenses."—Juvenal
, Satire X.

At length, in the plenitude of time Christianity appeared; and without announcing any change in political forms, without intermeddling in the temporal and earthly, it brought to mankind a twofold salvation, by calling them to the path of eternal felicity, but at the same time bountifully supplying them with the only means of preservation from social dissolution, the germ of a regeneration slow and pacific, but grand, immense, and lasting, and secure from the revolutions of ages; and this preservative against social dissolution, this germ of invaluable improvements, was a pure and lofty doctrine, diffused among all mankind, without exception of age, sex, and condition, as the rain which falls like a mild dew on an arid and thirsty soil. No religion has ever equalled Christianity in knowledge of the hidden means of influencing man; none has ever, when doing so, paid so high a compliment to his dignity; and Christianity has always adopted the principle, that the first step in gaining possession of the whole man is that of gaining his mind; and that it is necessary, in order either to destroy evil or to effect good, to adopt intellectual means: thereby it has given a mortal blow to the systems of violence which prevailed before its existence; it has proclaimed the wholesome truth, that in influencing men, the weakest and most unworthy method is force; a fruitful and beneficial truth, which opened to humanity a new and happy future. Only since the Christian era do we find the lessons of the sublimest philosophy taught to all classes of the people, at all times and in all places. The loftiest truths relating to God and man, the rules of the purest morality, are not communicated to a chosen number of disciples in hidden and mysterious instructions; the philosophy of Christianity has been bolder; it has ventured to reveal to man the whole naked truth, and that in public, with a loud voice, and that generous boldness which is the inseparable companion of the truth. "That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light; and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetop." (Matt. x. 27.)

As soon as Christianity and Paganism met face to face, the superiority of the former was rendered palpable, not only by its doctrines themselves, but by the manner in which it propagated them. It might easily be imagined that a religion so wise and pure in its teachings, and which, in propagating them, addressed itself directly to the mind and heart, must quickly drive from its usurped dominion the religion of imposture and falsehood. And, indeed, what did Paganism do for the good of man? What moral truths did it teach? How did it check[Pg 89] the corruption of manners? "As to morals," says St. Augustine, "why have not the gods chosen to take care of those of their adorers, and prevent their irregularities? As to the true God, it is with justice that He has neglected those who did not serve Him. But whence comes it that those gods, the prohibition of whose worship is complained of by ungrateful men, have not established laws to lead their adorers to virtue? Was it not reasonable that, as men undertook their mysteries and sacrifices, the gods, on their side, should undertake to regulate the manners and actions of men? It is replied, that no one is wicked but because he wishes to be so. Who doubts this? but the gods ought not on that account to conceal from their worshippers precepts that might serve to make them practise virtue. They were, on the contrary, under the obligation of publishing those precepts aloud, of admonishing and rebuking sinners by their prophets; of publicly threatening punishment to those who did evil, and promising rewards to those who did well. Was there ever heard, in the temples of the gods, a loud and generous voice teaching any thing of the kind?" (De Civit. lib. ii. c. 4.) The holy doctor afterwards paints a dark picture of the infamies and abominations which were committed in the spectacles and sacred games celebrated in honor of the gods—games and shows at which he had himself assisted in his youth; he continues thus: "Thence it comes that these divinities have taken no care to regulate the morals of the cities and nations who adore them, or to avert by their threats those dreadful evils which injure not only fields and vineyards, houses and properties, or the body which is subject to the mind, but the mind itself, the directress of the body, which was drenched with their iniquities. Or if it be pretended that they did make such menaces, let them be shown and proved to us. But let there not be alleged a few secret words whispered in the ears of a small number of persons, and which, with a great deal of mystery, were to teach virtue. It is necessary to point out, to name the places consecrated to the assemblies—not those in which were celebrated games with lascivious words and gestures; not those feasts called fuites, and which were solemnized with the most unbridled license; but the assemblies where the people were instructed in the precepts of the gods for the repression of avarice, moderating ambition, restraining immodesty; those where these unfortunate beings learn what Perseus desires them to know, when he says, in severe language, 'Learn, O unhappy mortals, the reason of things, what we are, why we come into the world, what we ought to do, how miserable is the term of our career, what bounds we ought to prescribe to ourselves in the pursuit of riches, what use we ought to make of them, what we owe to our neighbor, in fine, the obligations we owe to the rank we occupy among men.' Let them tell us in what places they have been accustomed to instruct the people in these things by order of the gods; let them show us these places, as we show them churches built for this purpose wherever the Christian religion has been established." (De Civit. lib. ii. c. 6.) This divine religion was too deeply acquainted with the heart of man ever to forget the weakness and inconstancy which characterize it; and hence it has ever been her invariable rule of conduct unceasingly to inculcate to him, with untiring patience, the salutary truths on which his temporal well-being and eternal happiness depend. Man easily forgets moral truths when he is not constantly reminded of them; or if they remain in his mind, they are there like sterile seeds, and do not fertilize his heart. It is good and highly salutary for parents constantly to communicate this instruction to their children, and that it should be made the principal object of private education; but it is necessary, moreover, that there should be a public ministry, never losing sight of it, diffusing it among all classes and ages, repairing the negligences of families, and reviving recollections and impressions which the passions and time constantly efface.

This system of constant preaching and instruction, practised at all times and[Pg 90] in all places by the Catholic Church, is so important for the enlightenment and morality of nations, that it must be looked upon as a great good, that the first Protestants, in spite of their desire to destroy all the practices of the Church, have nevertheless preserved that of preaching. We need not be insensible on this account to the evils produced at certain times by the declamation of some factious or fanatical ministers; but as unity had been broken, as the people had been precipitated into the perilous paths of schism, we say that it must have been extremely useful for the preservation of the most important notions with respect to God and man and the fundamental maxims of morality, that such truths should be frequently explained to the people by men who had long studied them in the sacred Scriptures. No doubt the mortal blow given to the hierarchy by the Protestant system, and the degradation of the priesthood which was the consequence, have deprived its preachers of the sacred characteristics of the Holy Spirit; no doubt it is a great obstacle to the efficacy of their preachers, that they cannot present themselves as the anointed of the Lord, and that they are only, as an able writer has said, men clothed in black, who mount the pulpit every Sunday to speak reasonable things; but at least the people continue to hear some fragments of the excellent moral discourses contained in the sacred Scriptures, they have often before their eyes the edifying examples spread over the Old and New Testament, and, what is still more precious, they are reminded frequently of the events in the life of Jesus Christ,—of that admirable life, the model of all perfection, which, even when considered in a human point of view, is acknowledged by all to be the purest sanctity par excellence, the noblest code of morality that was ever seen, the realization of the finest beau idéal that philosophy in its loftiest thoughts has ever conceived under human form, and which poetry has ever imagined in its most brilliant dreams. This we say is useful and highly salutary; for it will always be salutary for nations to be nourished with the wholesome food of moral truths, and to be excited to virtue by such sublime examples.


Although the Church attached the greatest importance to the propagation of truth, although she was convinced that to destroy the shapeless mass of immorality and degradation that met her sight, her first care should be to expose error to the dissolving fire of true doctrines, she did not confine herself to this; but, descending to real life, and following a system full of wisdom and prudence, she acted in such a manner as to enable humanity to taste the precious fruit which the doctrines of Jesus Christ produce even in temporal things. The Church was not only a great and fruitful school; she was also a regenerative association; she did not diffuse her general doctrines by throwing them abroad at hazard, merely hoping that they would fructify with time; she developed them in all their relations, applied them to all subjects, inoculated laws and manners with them, and realized them in institutions which afforded silent but eloquent instructions to future generations. Nowhere was the dignity of man acknowledged, slavery reigned everywhere; degraded woman was dishonored by the corruption of manners, and debased by the tyranny of man. The feelings of humanity were trodden under foot, infants were abandoned, the sick and aged were neglected, barbarity and cruelty were carried to the highest pitch of atrocity in the prevailing laws of war; in fine, on the summit of the social edifice[Pg 91] was seen an odious tyranny, sustained by military force, and looking down with an eye of contempt on the unfortunate nations that lay in fetters at its feet.

In such a state of things it certainly was no slight task to remove error, to reform and improve manners, abolish slavery, correct the vices of legislation, impose a check on power, and make it harmonize with the public interest, give new life to individuals, and reorganize family and society; and yet nothing less than this was done by the Church. Let us begin with slavery. This is a matter which is the more to be fathomed, as it is a question eminently calculated to excite our curiosity and affect our hearts. What abolished slavery among Christian nations? Was it Christianity? Was it Christianity alone, by its lofty ideas on human dignity, by its maxims and its spirit of fraternity and charity, and also by its prudent, gentle, and beneficent conduct? I trust I shall prove that it was. No one now ventures to doubt that the Church exercised a powerful influence on the abolition of slavery; this is a truth too clear and evident to be questioned. M. Guizot acknowledges the successful efforts with which the Church labored to improve the social condition. He says: "No one doubts that she struggled obstinately against the great vices of the social state; for example, against slavery." But, in the next line, and as if he were reluctant to establish without any restriction a fact which must necessarily excite in favor of the Catholic Church the sympathies of all humanity, he adds: "It has been often repeated that the abolition of slavery in the modern world was entirely due to Christianity. I believe that this is saying too much; slavery existed for a long time in the bosom of Christian society without exciting astonishment or much opposition." M. Guizot is much mistaken if he expects to prove that the abolition of slavery was not due exclusively to Christianity, by the mere representation that slavery existed for a long time amid Christian society. To proceed logically, he must first see whether the sudden abolition of it was possible, if the spirit of peace and order which animates the Church could allow her rashly to enter on an enterprise which, without gaining the desired object, might have convulsed the world. The number of slaves was immense; slavery was deeply rooted in laws, manners, ideas, and interests, individual and social; a fatal system, no doubt, but the eradication of which all at once it would have been rash to attempt, as its roots had penetrated deeply and spread widely in the bowels of the land.

In a census of Athens there were reckoned 20,000 citizens and 40,000 slaves; in the Peloponnesian war no less than 20,000 passed over to the enemy. This we learn from Thucydides. The same author tells us, that at Chio the number of slaves was very considerable, and that their defection, when they passed over to the Athenians, reduced their masters to great extremities. In general, the number of slaves was so very great everywhere that the public safety was often compromised thereby. Therefore it was necessary to take precautions to prevent their acting in concert. "It is necessary," says Plato (Dial. 6, de Leg.), "that slaves should not be of the same country, and that they should differ as much as possible in manners and desires; for experience has many times shown, in the frequent defections which have been witnessed, among the Messenians, and in other cities that had a great number of slaves of the same language, that great evils commonly result from it." Aristotle in his Government (b. i. c. 5) gives various rules as to the manner in which slaves ought to be treated; it is remarkable that he is of the same opinion as Plato, for he says: "That there should not be many slaves of the same country." He tells us in his Politics (b. ii. c. 7), "That the Thessalians were reduced to great embarrassments on account of the number of their Penestes, a sort of slaves; the same thing happened to the Spartans on account of the Helotes. The Penestes have often rebelled in Thessaly; and the Spartans, during their reverses, have been menaced by the plots of the Helotes." This was a difficulty which required the[Pg 92] serious attention of politicians. They did not know how to prevent the inconveniences induced by this immense multitude of slaves. Aristotle laments the difficulty there was in finding the best way of treating them; and we see that it was the subject of grave cares; I will transcribe his own words: "In truth," he says, "the manner in which this class of men ought to be treated is a thing difficult and full of embarrassment; for if they are treated mildly, they become insolent, and wish to become equal to their masters; if they are treated harshly, they conceive hatred, and conspire."

At Rome, the multitude of slaves was such that when, at a certain period, it was proposed to give them a distinctive dress, the Senate opposed the measure, fearing that if they knew their own numbers the public safety would be endangered; and certainly this precaution was not vain, for already, a long time before, the slaves had caused great commotions in Italy. Plato, in support of the advice which I have just quoted, states, "That the slaves had frequently devastated Italy with piracy and robbery." In more recent times Spartacus, at the head of an army of slaves, was the terror of that country for some time, and engaged the best generals of Rome. The number of slaves had reached such an excess, that many masters reckoned them by hundreds. When the Prefect of Rome, Pedanius Secundus, was assassinated, four hundred slaves who belonged to him were put to death. (Tac. Ann. b. xiv.) Pudentila, the wife of Apulcius, had so many that she gave four hundred to her son. They became a matter of pomp, and the Romans vied with each other in their number. When asked this question, quod pascit servos, how many slaves does he keep, according to the expression of Juvenal (Sat. 3, v. 140), they wished to be able to show a great number. The thing had reached such a pass that, according to Pliny, the cortege of a family resembled an army.

It was not only in Greece and Italy that this abundance of slaves was found; at Tyre they arose against their masters, and, by their immense numbers, they were able to massacre them all. If we turn our eyes towards barbarous nations, without speaking of some the best known, we learn from Herodotus that the Scythians, on their return from Media, found their slaves in rebellion, and were compelled to abandon their country to them. Cæsar in his Commentaries (de Bello Gall. lib. vi.) bears witness to the multitude of slaves in Gaul. As their number was everywhere so considerable, it is clear that it was quite impossible to preach freedom to them without setting the world on fire. Unhappily we have, in modern times, the means of forming a comparison which, although on an infinitely smaller scale, will answer our purpose. In a colony where black slaves abound, who would venture to set them at liberty all at once? Now how much are the difficulties increased, what colossal dimensions does not the danger assume, when you have to do, not with a colony, but with the world? Their intellectual and moral condition rendered them incapable of turning such an advantage to their own benefit and that of society; in their debasement, urged on by the hatred and the desire of vengeance which ill-treatment had excited in their minds, they would have repeated, on a large scale, the bloody scenes with which they had already, in former times, stained the pages of history; and what would then have happened? Society, thus endangered, would have been put on its guard against principles favoring liberty; henceforth it would have regarded them with prejudice and suspicion, and the chains of servitude, instead of being loosened, would have been the more firmly riveted. Out of this immense mass of rude, savage men, set at liberty without preparation, it was impossible for social organization to arise; for social organization is not the creation of a moment, especially with such elements as these; and in this case, since it would have been necessary to choose between slavery and the annihilation of social order, the instinct of preservation, which animates society as well as all beings, would undoubtedly have brought about the continuation of slavery[Pg 93] where it still existed, and its re-establishment where it had been destroyed. Those who complain that Christianity did not accomplish the work of abolishing slavery with sufficient promptitude, should remember that, even supposing a sudden or very rapid emancipation possible, and to say nothing of the bloody revolutions which would necessarily have been the result, the mere force of circumstances, by the insurmountable difficulties which it would have raised, would have rendered such a measure absolutely useless. Let us lay aside all social and political considerations, and apply ourselves to the economical question. First, it was necessary to change all the relations of property. The slaves played a principal part therein; they cultivated the land, and worked as mechanics; in a word, among them was distributed all that is called labor; and this distribution being made on the supposition of slavery, to take away this would have made a disruption, the ultimate consequences of which could not be estimated. I will suppose that violent spoliations had taken place, that a repartition or equalization of property had been attempted, that lands had been distributed to the emancipated, and that the richest proprietors had been compelled to hold the pickaxe and the plough; I will suppose all these absurdities and mad dreams to be realized, and I say that this would have been no remedy; for we must not forget that the production of the means of subsistence must be in proportion to the wants of those they are intended to support, and that this proportion would have been destroyed by the abolition of slavery. The production was regulated, not exactly according to the number of the individuals who then existed, but on the supposition that the majority were slaves; now we know that the wants of a freeman are greater than those of a slave.

If at the present time, after eighteen centuries, when ideas have been corrected, manners softened, laws ameliorated; when nations and governments have been taught by experience; when so many public establishments for the relief of indigence have been founded; when so many systems have been tried for the division of labor; when riches are distributed in a more equitable manner; if it is still so difficult to prevent a great number of men from becoming the victims of dreadful misery, if that is the terrible evil, which, like a fatal nightmare, torments society, and threatens its future, what would have been the effect of a universal emancipation, at the beginning of Christianity, at a time when slaves were not considered by the law as persons, but as things; when their conjugal union was not looked upon as a marriage; when their children were property, and subject to the same rules as the progeny of animals; when, in fine, the unhappy slave was ill-treated, tormented, sold, or put to death, according to the caprices of his master? Is it not evident that the cure of such evils was the work of ages? Do not humanity and political and social economy unanimously tell us this? If mad attempts had been made, the slaves themselves would have been the first to protest against them; they would have adhered to a servitude which at least secured to them food and shelter; they would have rejected a liberty which was inconsistent even with their existence. Such is the order of nature: man, above all, requires wherewith to live; and the means of subsistence being wanting, liberty itself would cease to please him. It is not necessary to allude to the individual examples of this, which we have in abundance; entire nations have given signal proofs of this truth. When misery is excessive, it is difficult for it not to bring with it degradation, stifle the most generous sentiments, and take away the magic of the words independence and liberty. "The common people," says Cæsar, speaking of the Gauls (lib. vi. de Bello Gall.), "are almost on a level with slaves; of themselves they venture nothing; their voice is of no avail. There are many of that class, who, loaded with debts and tributes, or oppressed by the powerful, give themselves up into servitude to the nobles, who exercise over those who have thus delivered themselves up the same rights as over slaves." Examples of the[Pg 94] same kind are not wanting in modern times; we know that in China there is a great number of slaves whose servitude is owing entirely to the incapacity of themselves or their fathers to provide for their own subsistence.

These observations, which are supported by facts that no one can deny, evidently show that Christianity has displayed profound wisdom in proceeding with so much caution in the abolition of slavery.

It did all that was possible in favor of human liberty; if it did not advance more rapidly in the work, it was because it could not do so without compromitting the undertaking—without creating serious obstacles to the desired emancipation. Such is the result at which we arrive when we have thoroughly examined the charges made against some proceedings of the Church. We look into them by the light of reason, we compare them with the facts, and in the end we are convinced that the conduct blamed is perfectly in accordance with the dictates of the highest wisdom and the counsels of the soundest prudence. What, then, does M. Guizot mean, when, after having allowed that Christianity labored with earnestness for the abolition of slavery, he accuses it of having consented for a long time to its continuance? Is it logical thence to infer that it is not true that this immense benefit is due exclusively to Christianity? That slavery endured for a long time in presence of the Church is true; but it was always declining, and it only lasted as long as was necessary to realize the benefit without violence—without a shock—without compromitting its universality and its continuation. Moreover, we ought to subtract from the time of its continuance many ages, during which the Church was often proscribed, always regarded with aversion, and totally unable to exert a direct influence on the social organization. We ought also, to a great extent, to make exception of later times, as the Church had only begun to exert a direct and public influence, when the irruption of the northern barbarians took place, which, together with the corruption which infected the empire and spread in a frightful manner, produced such a perturbation, such a confused mass of languages, customs, manners, and laws, that it was almost impossible to make the regulating power produce salutary fruits. If, in later times, it has been difficult to destroy feudality; if there remain to this day, after ages of struggles, the remnants of that constitution; if the slave-trade, although limited to certain countries and circumstances, still merits the universal reprobation which is raised throughout the world against its infamy; how can we venture to express our astonishment—how can we venture to make it a reproach against the Church, that slavery continued some ages after she had proclaimed men's fraternity with each other, and their equality before God?


Happily the Catholic Church was wiser than philosophers; she knew how to confer on humanity the benefit of emancipation, without injustice or revolution. She knew how to regenerate society, but not in rivers of blood. Let us see what was her conduct with respect to the abolition of slavery. Much has been already said of the spirit of love and fraternity which animates Christianity, and that is sufficient to show that its influence in this work must have been great. But perhaps sufficient care has not been taken in seeking the positive and practical means which the Church employed for this end. In the darkness of ages, in circumstances so complicated or various, will it be possible to discover any traces of the path pursued by the Catholic Church in accomplish[Pg 95]ing the destruction of that slavery under which a large portion of the human race groaned? Will it be possible to do any thing more than praise her Christian charity? Will it be possible to point out a plan, a system, and to prove the existence and development of it, not by referring to a few expressions, to elevated thoughts, generous sentiments, and the isolated actions of a few illustrious men, but by exhibiting positive facts, and historical documents, which show what were the esprit de corps and tendency of the Church? I believe that this may be done, and I have no doubt that I shall be able to do it, by availing myself of what is most convincing and decisive in the matter, viz. the monuments of ecclesiastical legislation.

In the first place, it will not be amiss to remember what I have already pointed out, viz. that when we have to do with the conduct, designs, and tendencies of the Church, it is by no means necessary to suppose that these designs were conceived in their fullest extent by the mind of any individual in particular, nor that the merit and all the prudence of that conduct was understood by those who took part in it. It is not even necessary to suppose that the first Christians understood all the force of the tendencies of Christianity with respect to the abolition of slavery. What requires to be shown is, that the result has been obtained by the doctrines and conduct of the Church, as with Catholics, (although they know how to esteem at their just value the merit and greatness of each man,) individuals, when the Church is concerned, disappear. Their thoughts and will are nothing; the spirit which animates, vivifies, and directs the Church, is not the spirit of man, but that of God himself. Those who belong not to our faith will employ other names; but at least we shall agree in this, that facts, considered in this way, above the mind and the will of individuals, preserve much better their real dimensions; and thus the great chain of events in the study of history remains unbroken. Let it be said that the conduct of the Church was inspired and directed by God; or that it was the result of instinct; that it was the development of a tendency contained in her doctrines; we will not now stay to consider the expressions which may be used by Catholics, or by philosophers; what we have to show is, that this instinct was noble and well-directed; that this tendency had a great object in view, and knew how to attain it.

The first thing that Christianity did for slaves, was to destroy the errors which opposed, not only their universal emancipation, but even the improvement of their condition; that is, the first force which she employed in the attack was, according to her custom, the force of ideas. This first step was the more necessary, as the same thing applies to all other evils, as well as to slavery; every social evil is always accompanied by some error which produces or foments it. There existed not only the oppression and degradation of a large portion of the human race, but, moreover, an accredited error, which tended more and more to lower that portion of humanity. According to this opinion, slaves were a mean race, far below the dignity of freemen: they were a race degraded by Jupiter himself, marked by a stamp of humiliation, and predestined to their state of abjection and debasement. A detestable doctrine, no doubt, and contradicted by the nature of man, by history and experience; but which, nevertheless, reckoned distinguished men among its defenders, and which we see proclaimed for ages, to the shame of humanity and the scandal of reason, until Christianity came to destroy it, by undertaking to vindicate the rights of man. Homer tells us (Odys. 17) that "Jupiter has deprived slaves of half the mind." We find in Plato a trace of the same doctrine, although he expresses himself, as he is accustomed to do, by the mouth of another; he ventures to advance the following: "It is said that, in the mind of slaves, there is nothing sound or complete; and that a prudent man ought not to trust that class of persons; which is equally attested by the wisest of our poets." Here Plato cites the[Pg 96] above-quoted passage of Homer (Dial. 8, de Legibus). But it is in the Politics of Aristotle that we find this degrading doctrine in all its deformity and nakedness. Some have wished to excuse this philosopher, but in vain; his own words condemn him without appeal. In the first chapter of his work, he explains the constitution of the family, and attempts to state the relations of husband and wife, of master and slave; he states that, as the wife is by nature different from the husband, so is the slave from the master. These are his words: "Thus the woman and the slave are distinguished by nature itself." Let it not be said that this is an expression that escaped from the pen of the writer; it was stated with a full knowledge, and is a résumé of his theory. In the third chapter, where he continues to analyze the elements which compose the family, after having stated "that a complete family is formed of free persons and slaves," he alludes particularly to the latter, and begins by combating an opinion which he thinks too favorable to them: "There are some," he says, "who think that slavery is a thing out of the order of nature, since it is the law itself which makes some free and others slaves, while nature makes no distinction." Before combating this opinion, he explains the relations between master and slave, by using the comparison of artist and instrument, and that of the soul and body; he continues thus: "If we compare man to woman, we find that the first is superior, therefore he commands; the woman is inferior, therefore she obeys. The same thing ought to take place among all men. Thus it is that those among them who are as inferior with respect to others, as the body is with respect to the soul, and the animal to man; those whose powers principally consist in the use of the body, the only service that can be obtained from them, they are naturally slaves." We should imagine, at first sight, that the philosopher spoke only of idiots; his words would seem to indicate this; but we shall see, by the context, that such is not his intention. It is evident that if he spoke only of idiots, he would prove nothing against the opinion which he desires to combat; for the number of them is nothing with respect to the generality of men. If he spoke only of idiots, of what use would be a theory founded on so rare and monstrous an exception?

But we have no need of conjectures as to the real intention of the philosopher, he himself takes care to explain it to us, and tells us at the same time for what reason he ventures to make use of expressions which seem, at first, to place the matter on another level. His intention is nothing less than to attribute to nature the express design of producing men of two kinds; one born for slavery, the other for liberty. The passage is too important and too curious to be omitted. It is this: "Nature has taken care to create the bodies of free men different from those of slaves; the bodies of the latter are strong, and proper for the most necessary labors: those of freemen, on the contrary, well formed, although ill adapted for servile works, are proper for civil life, which consists in the management of things in war and peace. Nevertheless, the contrary often happens. To a free man is given the body of a slave; and to a slave the soul of a free man. There is no doubt that, if the bodies of some men were as much more perfect than others, as we see is the case in the image of the Gods, all the world would be of opinion that these men should be obeyed by those who had not the same beauty. If this is true in speaking of the body, it is still more so in speaking of the soul; although it is not so easy to see the beauty of the soul as that of the body. Thus it cannot be doubted that there are some men born for liberty, as others are for slavery; a slavery which is not only useful to the slaves themselves, but, moreover, just." A miserable philosophy, which, in order to support that degraded state, was obliged to have recourse to such subtilties, and ventured to impute to nature the intention of creating different castes, some born to command and others to obey; a cruel philosophy, which thus labored to break the bonds of fraternity with which the[Pg 97] Author of nature has desired to knit together the human race, pretending to raise a barrier between man and man, and inventing theories to support inequality; not that inequality which is the necessary result of all social organization, but an inequality so terrible and degrading as that of slavery.

Christianity raises its voice, and by the first words which it pronounces on slaves, declares them equal to all men in the dignity of nature, and in the participation of the graces which the Divine Spirit diffuses upon earth. We must remark the care with which St. Paul insists on this point; it seems as if he had in view those degrading distinctions which have arisen from a fatal forgetfulness of the dignity of man. The Apostle never forgets to inculcate to the faithful that there is no difference between the slave and the freeman. "For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free." (1 Cor. xii. 13.) "For you are all children of God, by faith in Jesus Christ. For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither bond or free; there is neither male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. iii. 26-28.) "Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian or Scythian, bond or free; but Christ is all and in all." (Colos. iii. 11.) The heart dilates at the sound of the voice thus loudly proclaiming the great principles of holy fraternity and equality. After having heard the oracles of Paganism inventing doctrines to degrade still more the unhappy slaves, we seem to awake from a painful dream, and to find ourselves in the light of day in the midst of the delightful reality. The imagination delights to contemplate the millions of men who, bent under degradation and ignominy, at this voice raised their eyes towards Heaven, and were animated with hope.

It was with this teaching of Christianity as with all generous and fruitful doctrines; they penetrate the heart of society, remain there as a precious germ, and, developed by time, produce an immense tree which overshadows families and nations. When these doctrines were diffused among men, they could not fail to be misunderstood and exaggerated. Thus there were found some who pretended that Christian freedom was the proclamation of universal freedom. The pleasing words of Christ easily resounded in the ears of slaves: they heard themselves declared children of God, and brethren of Jesus Christ; they saw that there was no distinction made between them and their masters, between them and the most powerful lords of the earth; is it, then, strange that men only accustomed to chains, to labor, to every kind of trouble and degradation, exaggerated the principles of Christian liberty, and made applications of them which were neither just in themselves, nor capable of being reduced to practice? We know, from St. Jerome, that many, hearing themselves called to Christian liberty, believed that they were thereby freed. Perhaps the Apostle alluded to this error when, in his first epistle to Timothy, he said, "Whosoever are servants under the yoke, let them count their masters worthy of all honor; lest the name of the Lord and His doctrines be blasphemed." (1 Timothy vi. 1.) This error had been so general, that after three centuries it was still much credited; and the Council of Gangres, held about 324, was obliged to excommunicate those who, under pretence of piety, taught that slaves ought to quit their masters, and withdraw from their service. This was not the teaching of Christianity; besides, we have clearly shown that it would not have been the right way to achieve universal emancipation. Therefore this same Apostle, from whose mouth we have heard such generous language in favor of slaves, frequently inculcates to them obedience to their masters; but let us observe, that while fulfilling this duty imposed by the spirit of peace and justice which animates Christianity, he so explains the motives on which the obedience of slaves ought to be based, he calls to mind the obligations of masters in such affecting and energetic words, and establishes so expressly and conclusively the equality[Pg 98] of all men before God, that we cannot help seeing how great was his compassion for that unhappy portion of humanity, and how much his ideas on this point differed from those of a blind and hardened world. There is in the heart of man a feeling of noble independence, which does not permit him to subject himself to the will of another, except when he sees that the claims to his obedience are founded on legitimate titles. If they are in accordance with reason and justice, and, above all, if they have their roots in the great objects of human love and veneration, his understanding is convinced, his heart is gained, and he yields. But if the reason for the command is only the will of another, if it is only man against man, these thoughts of equality ferment in his mind, then the feeling of independence burns in his heart, he puts on a bold front, and his passions are excited. Therefore, when a willing and lasting obedience is to be obtained, it is necessary that the man should be lost sight of in the ruler, and that he should only appear as the representative of a superior power, or the personification of the motives which convince the subject of the justice and utility of his submission; thus he does not obey the will of another because it is that will, but because it is the representative of a superior power, or the interpreter of truth and justice; then man no longer considers his dignity outraged, and obedience becomes tolerable and pleasing.

It is unnecessary to say that such were not the titles on which was founded the obedience of slaves before Christianity: custom placed them in the rank of brutes; and the laws, outdoing it if possible, were expressed in language which cannot be read without indignation. Masters commanded because such was their pleasure, and slaves were compelled to obey, not on account of superior motives or moral obligations, but because they were the property of their masters, horses governed by the bridle, and mere mechanical machines. Was it, then, strange that these unhappy beings, drenched with misfortune and ignominy, conceived and cherished in their hearts that deep rancor, that violent hatred, and that terrible thirst for vengeance, which at the first opportunity exploded so fearfully? The horrible massacre of Tyre, the example and terror of the universe, according to the expression of Justin; the repeated revolts of the Penestes in Thessaly, of the Helotes in Sparta; the defections of the slaves of Chio and Athens; the insurrection under the command of Herdonius, and the terror which it spread in all the families of Rome; the scenes of blood, the obstinate and desperate resistance of the bands of Spartacus; was all this any thing but the natural result of the system of violence, outrage, and contempt with which slaves were treated? Is it not what we have seen repeated in modern times, in the catastrophes of the negro colonies? Such is the nature of man, whoever sows contempt and outrage will reap fury and vengeance. Christianity was well aware of these truths; and this is the reason why, while preaching obedience, it took care to found it on Divine authority. If it confirmed to masters their rights, it also taught them an exalted sense of their obligation. Wherever Christian doctrines prevailed, slaves might say: "It is true that we are unfortunate; birth, poverty, or the reverses of war have condemned us to misfortune; but at least we are acknowledged as men and brethren; between us and our masters there is a reciprocity of rights and obligations." Let us hear the Apostle: "You, slaves, obey those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the simplicity of your hearts, as to Jesus Christ himself. Not serving to the eye, as it were pleasing men, but, as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With a good will serving, as to the Lord, and not to men. Knowing that whatsoever good things any man shall do, the same shall he receive from the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And you, masters, do the same thing to them, forbearing threatenings, knowing that the Lord both of them and you is in heaven, and there is no respect of persons with Him." (Eph. vi. 5-9.) In the Epistle to the Colossians he in[Pg 99]culcates the same doctrine of obedience anew, basing it on the same motives; for, to console the unfortunate slaves, he tells them: "You shall receive of the Lord the reward of inheritance: serve ye the Lord Christ. For he that doth wrong shall receive for that which he hath done wrongfully, and there is no respect of persons with God" (Colos. iii. 24, 25); and lower down, addressing himself to masters: "Masters, do to your servants that which is just and equal, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven." (iv. 1.)

The diffusion of such beneficent doctrines necessarily tended to improve greatly the condition of slaves; their immediate effect was to soften that excessive rigor, that cruelty which would be incredible if it were not incontrovertibly proved. We know that the master had the right of life and death, and that he abused that power even to putting a slave to death from caprice, as Quintus Flaminius did in the midst of a festival. Another caused one of these unfortunate beings to be thrown to the fishes, because he broke a glass of crystal. This is related of Vedius Pollio; and this horrible cruelty was not confined to the circle of a few families subject to a master devoid of compassion; no, cruelty was formed into a system, the fatal but necessary result of erroneous notions on this point, and of the forgetfulness of the sentiments of humanity. This violent system could only be supported by constantly trampling upon the slave; and there was no cessation of tyranny until the day when he, with superior power, attacked his master and destroyed him. An ancient proverb said, "So many slaves, so many enemies." We have already seen the ravages committed by men thus rendered savage by revenge, whenever they were able to break their chains; but certainly, when it was desired to terrify them, their masters did not yield to them in ferocity. At Sparta, on one occasion when they feared the ill-will of the Helotes, they assembled them all at the temple of Jupiter, and put them to death. (Thucyd. b. iv.) At Rome, whenever a master was assassinated, all his slaves were condemned to death. We cannot read in Tacitus without a shudder (Ann. l. xiv. 43) the horrible scene which was witnessed when the prefect of the town, Pedanius Secundus, was assassinated by one of his slaves. Not less than four hundred were to die; all, according to the ancient custom, were to be led to punishment. This cruel and pitiable spectacle, in which so many of the innocent were to suffer death, excited the compassion of the people, who raised a tumult to prevent this horrid butchery. The Senate, in doubt, deliberated on the affair, when an orator named Cassius maintained with energy that it was necessary to complete the bloody execution, not only in obedience to the ancient custom, but also because without it it would be impossible to preserve themselves from the ill-will of the slaves. His words are all dictated by injustice and tyranny; he sees on all sides dangers and conspiracies; he can imagine no other safeguards than force and terror. The following passage is above all remarkable in his speech, as showing in a few words the ideas and manners of the ancients in this matter: "Our ancestors," says the senator, "always mistrusted the character of slaves, even of those who, born on their possessions and in their houses, might be supposed to have conceived from their cradle an affection for their masters; but as we have slaves of foreign nations, differing in customs and religion, this rabble can only be restrained by terror." Cruelty prevailed, the boldness of the people was repressed, the way was filled with soldiers, and the four hundred unfortunate beings were led to punishment.

To soften this cruel treatment, to banish these frightful atrocities, ought to have been the first effect of the Christian doctrines; and we may rest assured that the Church never lost sight of so important an object. She devoted all her efforts to improve as much as possible the condition of slaves; in punishments she caused mildness to be substituted for cruelty; and what was more important than all, she labored to put reason in the place of caprice, and to[Pg 100] make the impetuosity of masters yield to the calmness of judges; that is to say, she every day assimilated the condition of slaves more and more to that of freemen, by making right and not might reign over them. The Church never forgot the noble lesson which the Apostle gave when writing to Philemon, and interceding in favor of a fugitive slave named Onesimus; he spoke in his favor with a tenderness which this unhappy class had never before inspired: "I beseech thee," he says to him, "for my son Onesimus. Receive him as my own bowels; no more as a slave, but as a most dear brother. If he hath wronged thee in any thing, or is in thy debt, put that to my account." (Epis. to Phil.) The Council of Elvira, held in the beginning of the fourth century, subjects the woman who shall have beaten her slave so as to cause her death in three days to many years of penance; the Council of Orleans, held in 549, orders that if a slave guilty of a fault take refuge in a church, he is to be restored to his master, but not without having exacted from the latter a promise, confirmed by oath, that he will not do him any harm; that if the master, in violation of his oath, maltreat the slave, he shall be separated from the communion of the faithful and the sacraments. This canon shows us two things: the habitual cruelty of masters, and the zeal of the Church to soften the treatment of slaves. To restrain this cruelty, nothing less than an oath was required; and the Church, always so careful in these things, yet considered the matter important enough to justify and require the invocation of the sacred name of God.

The favor and protection which the Church granted to slaves rapidly extended. It seems that in some places the custom was introduced of requiring a promise on oath, not only that the slave who had taken refuge in the church should not be ill-treated in his person, but even that no extraordinary work should be imposed on him, and that he should wear no distinctive mark. This custom, produced no doubt by zeal for humanity, but which may have occasioned some inconveniences by relaxing too much the ties of obedience, and allowing excesses on the part of slaves, appears to be alluded to in a regulation of the Council of Epaone (now Abbon, according to some), held about 517. This Council labors to stop the evil by prescribing a prudent moderation; but without withdrawing the protection already granted. It ordains, in the 39th canon, "That if a slave, guilty of any atrocious offence, takes refuge in a church, he shall be saved from corporal punishment; but the master shall not be compelled to swear that he will not impose on him additional labor, or that he will not cut off his hair, in order to make known his fault." Observe that this restriction is introduced only in the case when the slave shall have committed a heinous offence, and even in this case all the power allowed to the master consists in imposing on the slave extraordinary labor, or distinguishing him by cutting his hair.

Perhaps such indulgence may be considered excessive; but we must observe that when abuses are deeply rooted, they cannot be eradicated without a vigorous effort. At first sight it often appears as if the limits of prudence were passed; but this apparent excess is only the inevitable oscillation which is observed before things regain their right position. The Church had therein no wish to protect crime, or give unmerited indulgence; her object was to check the violence and caprice of masters; she did not wish to allow a man to suffer torture or death because such was the will of another. The establishment of just laws and legitimate tribunals, the Church has never opposed; but she has never given her consent to acts of private violence. The spirit of opposition to the exercise of private force, which includes social organization, is clearly shown to us in the 15th canon of the Council of Merida, held in 666. I have already shown that slaves formed a large portion of property. As the division of labor was made in conformity with this principle, slaves were absolutely necessary to those who possessed property, especially when it was considerable. Now the Church found this to be the case; and as she could not change the organization[Pg 101] of society on a sudden, she was obliged to yield to necessity, and admit slavery. But if she wished to introduce improvements in the lot of slaves in general, it was good for her to set the example herself: this example is found in the canon I have just quoted. There, after having forbidden the bishops and priests to maltreat the servants of the Church by mutilating their limbs, the Council ordains that if a slave commit an offence, he shall be delivered to the secular judges, but so that the bishops shall moderate the punishment inflicted on him. We see by this canon that the right of mutilation exercised by private masters was still in use; and perhaps it was still more strongly established, since we see that the Council limits itself to interdicting that kind of punishment to ecclesiastics, without saying any thing as to laymen. No doubt, one of the motives for this prohibition made to ecclesiastics, was to prevent their shedding human blood, and thus rendering themselves incapable of exercising their lofty ministry, the principal act of which is the august sacrifice in which they offer a victim of peace and love; but this does not in any way detract from the merit of the regulation, or at all diminish its influence on the improvement of the condition of slaves. It was the substitution of public vengeance for private; it was again to proclaim the equality of slaves and freemen with respect to the effusion of their blood; it was to declare that the hands which had shed the blood of a slave, had contracted the same stain as if they had shed that of a freeman. Now, it was necessary to inculcate these salutary truths on men's minds in every way, for they ran in direct contradiction to the ideas and manners of antiquity; it was necessary to labor assiduously to destroy the shameful and cruel exceptions which continued to deprive the majority of mankind of a participation in the rights of humanity. There is, in the canon which I have just quoted, a remarkable circumstance, which shows the solicitude of the Church to restore to slaves the dignity and respect of which they had been deprived. To shave the hair of the head was among the Goths a very ignominious punishment; which, according to Lucas de Tuy, was to them more cruel than death itself. It will be understood, that whatever was the force of prejudice on this point, the Church might have allowed the shaving of the hair without incurring the stain which was attached to the shedding of blood. Yet she was not willing to allow it, which shows us how attentive she was to destroy the marks of humiliation impressed on slaves. After having enjoined priests and bishops to deliver criminal slaves to the judges, she commands them "not to allow them to be shaved ignominiously." No care was too great in this matter; to destroy one after another the odious exceptions which affected slaves, it was necessary to seize upon all favorable opportunities. This necessity is clearly shown by the manner in which the eleventh Council of Toledo, held in 675, expresses itself. This Council, in its 6th canon, forbids bishops themselves to judge crimes of a capital nature, as it also forbids them to order the mutilation of members. Behold in what terms it was considered necessary to state that this rule admitted of no exception; "not even," says the Council, "with respect to the slaves of the Church." The evil was great, it could not be cured without assiduous care. Even the right of life and death, the most cruel of all, could not be extirpated without much trouble; and cruel applications of it were made in the beginning of the sixth century, since the Council of Epaone, in its 34th canon, ordains that "the master who, of his own authority, shall take away the life of his slave, shall be cut off for two years from the communion of the Church." After the middle of the ninth century, similar attempts were still made, and the Council of Worms, held in 868, labored to repress them, by subjecting to two years of penance the master who, of his own authority, shall have put his slave to death.

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While improving the condition of slaves and assimilating it as much as possible to that of freemen, it was necessary not to forget the universal emancipation; for it was not enough to ameliorate slavery, it was necessary to abolish it. The mere force of Christian notions, and the spirit of charity which was spread at the same time with them over the world, made so violent an attack on the state of slavery, that they were sure sooner or later to bring about its complete abolition. It is impossible for society to remain for a long time under an order of things which is formally opposed to the ideas with which it is imbued. According to Christian maxims, all men have a common origin and the same destiny; all are brethren in Jesus Christ; all are obliged to love each other with all their hearts, to assist each other in their necessities, to avoid offending each other even in words; all are equal before God, for they will all be judged without exception of persons. Christianity extended and took root everywhere—took possession of all classes, of all branches of society; how, then, could the state of slavery last—a state of degradation which makes man the property of another, allows him to be sold like an animal, and deprives him of the sweetest ties of family and of all participation in the advantages of society? Two things so opposite could not exist together; the laws were in favor of slavery, it is true; it may even be said that Christianity did not make a direct attack on those laws. But, on the other hand, what did it do? It strove to make itself master of ideas and manners, communicated to them a new impulse, and gave them a different direction. In such a case, what did laws avail? Their rigor was relaxed, their observance was neglected, their equity began to be doubted, their utility was disputed, their fatal effects were remarked, and they gradually fell into desuetude, so that sometimes it was not necessary to strike a blow to destroy them. They were thrown aside as things of no use; or, if they deserved the trouble of an express abolition, it was only for the sake of ceremony; it was a body interred with honor.

But let it not be supposed, after what I have just said, that in attributing so much importance to Christian ideas and manners, I mean that the triumph of these ideas and manners was abandoned to that force alone, without that co-operation on the part of the Church which the time and circumstances required. Quite the contrary: the Church, as I have already pointed out, called to her aid all the means the most conducive to the desired result. In the first place, it was requisite, to secure the work of emancipation, to protect from all assault the liberty of the freed—liberty which unhappily was often attacked and put in great danger. The causes of this melancholy fact may be easily found in the remains of ancient ideas and manners, in the cupidity of powerful men, the system of violence made general by the irruptions of the barbarians, in the poverty, neglect, and total want of education and morality in which slaves must have been when they quitted servitude. It must be supposed that a great number of them did not know all the value of liberty; that they did not always conduct themselves, in their new state, according to the dictates of reason and the exigences of justice; and that, newly entered on the possession of the rights of freemen, they did not know how to fulfil all their new obligations. But these different inconveniences, inseparable from the nature of things, were not to hinder the consummation of an enterprise called for both by religion and humanity, and it was proper to be resigned to them from the consideration of the numerous motives for excusing the conduct of the enfranchised; the state which these men had just quitted had checked the development of their moral and intellectual faculties.

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The liberty of newly-emancipated slaves was protected against the attacks of injustice, and clothed with an inviolable sanctity, from the time that their enfranchisement was connected with things which then exercised the most powerful ascendency. Now the Church, and all that belonged to her, was in this influential position; therefore the custom, which was then introduced, of performing the manumission in the churches, was undoubtedly very favorable to the progress of liberty. This custom, by taking the place of ancient usages, caused them to be forgotten; it was, at the same time, a tacit declaration of the value of human liberty in the sight of God, and a proclamation, with additional authority, of the equality of men before Him; for the manumission was made in the same place where it was so often read, that before Him there was no exception of persons; where all earthly distinctions disappeared, and all men were commingled and united by the sweet ties of fraternity and love. This method of manumission more clearly invested the Church with the right of defending the liberty of the enfranchised. As she had been witness to the act, she could testify to the spontaneity and the other circumstances which assured its validity; she could even insist on its observance, by representing that the promised liberty could not be violated without profaning the sacred place, without breaking a pledge which had been given in the presence of God himself. The Church did not forget to turn these circumstances to the advantage of the freed. Thus we see that the first Council of Orange, held in 441, ordains, in its 7th canon, that it was necessary to check, by ecclesiastical censures, whoever desired to reduce to any kind of servitude slaves who had been emancipated within the enclosure of the church. A century later we find the same prohibition repeated in the 7th canon of the fifth Council of Orleans, held in 549.

The protection given by the Church to freed slaves was so manifest and known to all, that the custom was introduced of especially recommending them to her. This recommendation was sometimes made by will, as the Council of Orange, which I have just quoted, gives us to understand; for it orders that the emancipated who had been recommended to the Church by will, shall be protected from all kinds of servitude, by ecclesiastical censures.

But this recommendation was not always made in a testamentary form. We read in the sixth canon of the sixth Council of Toledo, held in 589, that when any enfranchised persons had been recommended to the Church, neither they nor their children could be deprived of the protection of the Church: here they speak in general, without limitation to cases in which there had been a will. The same regulation may be seen in another Council of Toledo, held in 633, which simply says, that the Church will receive under her protection only the enfranchised of individuals who shall have taken care to recommend them to her.

In the absence of all particular recommendation, and even when the manumission had not been made in the Church, she did not cease to interest herself in defending the freed, when their liberty was endangered. He who has any regard for the dignity of man, and any feeling of humanity in his heart, will certainly not find it amiss that the Church interfered in affairs of this kind; indeed, she acted as every generous man should do, in the exercise of the right of protecting the weak. We shall not be displeased, therefore, to find in the twenty-ninth canon of the Council of Agde in Languedoc, held in 506, a regulation commanding the Church, in case of necessity, to undertake the defence of those to whom their masters had given liberty in a lawful way.

The zeal of the Church in all times and places for the redemption of captives has no less contributed to the great work of the abolition of slavery. We know that a considerable portion of slaves owed their servitude to the reverses of war. The mild character which we see in modern wars would have appeared fabulous to the ancients. Woe to the vanquished! might then be said with[Pg 104] perfect truth; there was nothing but slavery or death. The evil was rendered still greater by a fatal prejudice, which was felt with respect to the redemption of captives—a prejudice which was, nevertheless, founded on a trait of remarkable heroism. No doubt the heroic firmness of Regulus is worthy of all admiration. The hair stands upon our head when we read the powerful description of Horace; the book falls from our hands at this terrible passage:

"Fertur pudicæ conjugis osculum
Parvosque natos, ut capitis minor,
Ab se removisse, et virilem
Torvus humi posuisse vultum."—Lib. iii. od. 5.

Nevertheless, if we lay aside the deep impression which such heroism produces on us, and the enthusiasm at all that shows a great soul, we must confess that this virtue bordered on ferocity; and that, in the terrible discourse of Regulus, that is a cruel policy, against which the sentiments of humanity would strongly recoil, if the mind were not, as it were, prostrated at the sight of the sublime disinterestedness of the speaker. Christianity could not consent to such doctrines; it could not allow the maxim to be maintained that, in order to render men brave in battle, it was necessary to deprive them of hope. The wonderful traits of valor, the magnificent scenes of force and constancy, which shine in every page of the history of modern nations, eloquently show that the Christian religion was not deceived; gentleness of manners may be united with heroism. The ancients were always in excess, either in cowardice or ferocity; between these two extremes there is a middle way, and that has been taught to mankind by the Christian religion. Christianity, in accordance with its principles of fraternity and love, regarded the redemption of captives as one of the worthiest objects of its charitable zeal. Whether we consider the noble traits of particular actions, which have been preserved to us by history, or observe the spirit which guided the conduct of the Church, we shall find therein one of the most distinguished claims of the Christian religion to the gratitude of mankind.

A celebrated writer of our times, M. de Chateaubriand, has described to us a Christian priest who, in the forests of France, voluntarily made himself a slave, who devoted himself to slavery for the ransom of a Christian soldier, and thus restored a husband to his desolate wife, and a father to three unfortunate orphan children. The sublime spectacle which Zachary offers us, when enduring slavery with calm serenity for the love of Jesus Christ, and for the unhappy being for whom he has sacrificed his liberty, is not a mere fiction of the poet. More than once, in the first ages of the Church, such examples were seen; and he who has wept over the sublime disinterestedness and unspeakable charity of Zachary, may be sure that his tears are only a tribute to the truth. "We have known," says St. Clement the Pope, "many of ours who have devoted themselves to captivity, in order to ransom their brethren." (First Letter to the Corinth. c. 55.) The redemption of captives was so carefully provided for by the Church that it was regulated by the ancient canons, and to fulfil it, she sold, if necessary, her ornaments, and even the sacred vessels. When unhappy captives were in question, her charity and zeal knew no bounds, and she went so far as to ordain that, however bad might be the state of her affairs, their ransom should be provided for in the first instance. (Caus. 12, 5, 2.) In the midst of revolutions produced by the irruption of barbarians, we see that the Church, always constant in her designs, forgot not the noble enterprise in which she was engaged. The beneficent regulations of the ancient canons fell not into forgetfulness or desuetude, and the generous words of the holy Bishop of Milan, in favor of slaves, found an echo which ceased not to be heard amid the chaos of those unhappy times. We see by the fifth canon of the Council of Mâcon, held in 585, that priests undertook the ransom of captives by devoting to it the Church property. The Council of Rheims, held in 625, inflicts the punishment[Pg 105] of suspension from his functions on the bishop who shall have destroyed the sacred vessels; but with generous foresight, it adds, "for any other motive than the redemption of captives;" and long afterwards, in the twelfth canon of the Council of Verneuil, held in 844, we find that the property of the Church was used for that merciful purpose. When the captive was restored to liberty, the Church did not deprive him of her protection; she was careful to continue it, by giving him letters of recommendation, for the double purpose of protecting him from new trouble during his journey, and of furnishing him with the means of repairing his losses during his captivity. We find a proof of this new kind of protection in the second canon of the Council of Lyons, held in 583, which ordains that bishops shall state in the letters of recommendation which they give to captives, the date and price of their ransom. The zeal for this work was displayed in the Church with so much ardor, that it went so far as to commit acts of imprudence which the ecclesiastical authority was compelled to check. These excesses, and this mistaken zeal, prove how great was the spirit of charity. We know by a Council, called that of St. Patrick, held in Ireland in the year 451 or 456, that some of the clergy ventured to procure the freedom of captives by inducing them to run away. The Council, by its thirty-second canon, very prudently checks this excess, by ordaining that the ecclesiastic who desires to ransom captives must do so with his own money; for to steal them, by inducing them to run away, was to expose the clergy to be considered as robbers, which was a dishonor to the Church. A remarkable document, which, while showing us the spirit of order and equity which guides the Church, at the same time enables us to judge how deeply was engraved on men's minds the maxim, that it is holy, meritorious, and generous to give liberty to captives; for we see that some persons had persuaded themselves that the excellence of the work justified seizing them forcibly. The disinterestedness of the Church on this point is not less laudable. When she had employed her funds in the ransom of a captive, she did not desire from him any recompense, even when he had it in his power to discharge the debt. We have a certain proof of this in the letters of St. Gregory, where we see that that Pope reassures some persons who had been freed with the money of the Church, and who feared that after a time they would be called upon to pay the sum expended for their advantage. The Pope orders that no one, at any time, shall venture to disturb either them or their heirs, seeing that the sacred canons allow the employment of the goods of the Church for the ransom of captives. (L. 7, ep. 14.)

The zeal of the Church for so holy a work must have contributed in an extraordinary way to diminish the number of slaves; the influence of it was so much the more salutary, as it was developed precisely at the time when it was most needed, that is, in those ages when the dissolution of the Roman empire, the irruption of the barbarians, the fluctuations of so many peoples, and the ferocity of the invading nations, rendered wars so frequent, revolutions so constant, and the empire of force so habitual and prevailing. Without the beneficent and liberating intervention of Christianity, the immense number of slaves bequeathed by the old society to the new, far from diminishing, would have been augmented more and more; for wherever the law of brute force prevails, if it be not checked and softened by a powerful element, the human race becomes rapidly debased, the necessary result of which is the increase of slavery. This lamentable state of agitation and violence was in itself very likely to render the efforts which the Church made to abolish slavery useless; and it was not without infinite trouble that she prevented what she succeeded in preserving on one side, from being destroyed on the other. The absence of a central power, the complication of social relations, almost always badly determined, often affected by violence, and always deprived of the guarantee of stability and consistency, was the reason why there was no security either for things or persons,[Pg 106] and that while properties were unceasingly invaded, persons were deprived of their liberty. So that it was at that time necessary to fight against the violence of individuals, as had been formerly done against manners and legislation. We see that the third canon of the Council of Lyons, held about 566, excommunicates those who unjustly retain free persons in slavery; in the seventeenth canon of the Council of Rheims, held in 625, it is forbidden, under the same penalty, to pursue free persons in order to reduce them to slavery: in the twenty-seventh canon of the Council of London, held in 1102, the barbarous custom of dealing in men, like animals, is proscribed: and in the seventh canon of the Council of Coblentz, held in 922, he who takes away a Christian to sell him is declared guilty of homicide; a remarkable declaration, when we see liberty valued at as high a price as life itself. Another means of which the Church availed herself to abolish slavery was, to preserve for the unfortunate who had been reduced to that state by misery, a sure means of quitting it.

We have already remarked above that indigence was one of the causes of slavery, and we have seen that this was frequently the cause among the Gauls, as is evidenced by a passage of Cæsar. We also know that by virtue of an ancient law, he who had fallen into slavery could not recover his liberty without the consent of his master; as the slave was really property, no one could dispose of him without the consent of his master, and least of all himself. This law was in accordance with Pagan doctrines, but Christianity regarded the thing differently; and if the slave was still in her eyes a property, he did not cease to be a man. Thus on this point the Church refused to follow the strict rules of other properties; and when there was the least doubt, at the first favorable opportunity she took the side of the slave. These observations make us understand all the value of the new law introduced by the Church, which ordained that persons who had been sold by necessity should be able to return to their former condition by restoring the price which they had received. This law, which is expressly laid down in a French Council, held about 616 at Boneuil, according to the common opinion, opened a wide field for the conquests of liberty; it supported in the heart of the slave a hope which urged him to seek and put into operation the means of obtaining his ransom, and it placed his liberty within the power of any one who, touched with his unhappy lot, was willing to pay or lend the necessary sum. Let us remember what we have said of the ardent zeal which was awakened in so many hearts for works of this kind; let us call to mind that the property of the Church was always considered as well employed when it was used for the succor of the unfortunate, and we shall understand the incalculable influence of the regulation which we have just mentioned. We shall see that it was to close one of the most abundant sources of slavery, and prepare a wide path to universal emancipation.


The conduct of the Church with respect to the Jews also contributed to the abolition of slavery. This singular people, who bear on their forehead the mark of proscription, and are found dispersed among all nations, like fragments of insoluble matter floating in a liquid, seek to console themselves in their misfortune by accumulating treasures, and appear to wish to avenge themselves for the contemptuous neglect in which they are left by other nations, by gaining possession of their wealth by means of insatiable usury. In times when revolutions and so many calamities must necessarily have produced distress, the odious vice of unfeeling avarice must have had a fatal influence. The harsh[Pg 107]ness and cruelty of ancient laws and manners concerning debtors were not effaced, liberty was far from being estimated at its just value, and examples of persons who sold it to relieve their necessities were not wanting; it was therefore important to prevent the power of the wealthy Jews from reaching an exorbitant extent, to the detriment of the liberty of Christians. The unhappy notoriety which, after so many centuries, attaches to the Jews in this matter, proves that this danger was not imaginary; and facts of which we are now witnesses are a confirmation of what we advance. The celebrated Herder, in his Adrastus, ventures to prognosticate that the children of Israel, from their systematic and calculating conduct, will in time make slaves of all Christians. If this extraordinary and extravagant apprehension could enter the head of a distinguished man, in circumstances which are certainly infinitely less favorable to the Jews, what was to be feared from this people in the unhappy times of which we speak? From these considerations, every impartial observer, every man who is not under the influence of the wretched desire of taking the part of every kind of sect, in order to have the pleasure of accusing the Catholic Church, even at the risk of speaking against the interests of humanity; every observer who is not one of those who are less alarmed by an irruption of Caffres than by any regulation by which the ecclesiastical power appears in the smallest degree to extend the circle of its prerogative; every man, I say, who is neither thus bitter, little, nor pitiful, will see, not only without being scandalized, but even with pleasure, that the Church, with prudent vigilance, watched the progress of the Jews, and lost no opportunity of favoring their Christian slaves, until they were no longer allowed to have any.

The third Council of Orleans, held in 538, by its 13th canon, forbids Jews to compel Christian slaves to do things contrary to the religion of Jesus Christ. This regulation, which guarantied the liberty of the slave in the sanctuary of conscience, rendered him respectable even in the eyes of his master: it was besides a solemn proclamation of the dignity of man, it was a declaration that slavery could not extend its dominion over the sacred region of the mind. Yet this was not enough; it was proper also that the recovery of their liberty should be facilitated to the slaves of Jews. Three years only pass away; a fourth Council is held at Orleans; let us observe the progress which the question had made in so short a time. This Council, by its 30th canon, allows the Christian slaves who shall take refuge in the church to be ransomed, on paying to their Jewish master the proper price. If we pay attention, we shall see that such a regulation must have produced abundant results in favor of liberty, as it gave Christian slaves the opportunity of flying to the churches, and there imploring, with more effect, the charity of their brethren, to gain the price of their ransom. The same Council, in its 31st canon, ordains that the Jew who shall pervert a Christian slave shall be condemned to lose all his slaves; a new sanction given to the security of the slave's conscience—a new way opened to liberty. The Church constantly advanced with that unity of plan—that admirable consistency—which even her enemies have acknowledged in her. In the short interval between the period alluded to and the latter part of the same century, her progress was more perceptible. We observe, in the canonical regulations of the latter period, a wider scope, and, if we may so speak, greater boldness. In the Council of Mâcon, held in 581 or 582, canon 16, Jews are expressly forbidden to have Christian slaves; and it is allowed to ransom those who are in their possession for twelve sous. We find the same prohibition in the 14th canon of the Council of Toledo, held in 589; so that at this time the Church shows what her desire is; she is unwilling that a Christian should be in any way the slave of a Jew. Constant in her design, she checked the evil by all the means in her power; if it was necessary, limiting the right of selling slaves, when there was danger of their falling into the hands of Jews.[Pg 108] Thus we see that, by the 9th canon of the Council of Châlons, held in 650, it is forbidden to sell slaves out of the kingdom of Clovis, lest they should fall into the power of Jews. Yet the intention of the Church on this point was not understood by all, and her views were not seconded as they ought to have been; but she did not cease to repeat and inculcate them. In the middle of the seventh century there were found clergy and laity who sold their Christian slaves to Jews. The Church labored to check this abuse. The tenth Council of Toledo, held in 657, by its 7th canon, forbids Christians, and especially clerics, to sell their slaves to Jews; the Council adds these noble words: "They cannot be ignorant that these slaves have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ; wherefore they ought rather to buy than sell them."

This ineffable goodness of a God made man, who had shed His blood for the redemption of all men, was the powerful motive which urged the Church to interest herself with so much zeal in the enfranchisement of slaves; and, indeed, was it not enough to inspire horror for so degrading an inequality, to think that these same men, reduced to the level of brutes, had been, as well as their masters, as well as the most powerful monarchs upon earth, the objects of the merciful intentions of the Most High? "Since our Redeemer, the Creator of all things," said Pope S. Gregory, "has deigned, in His goodness, to assume the flesh of man, in order to restore to us our pristine liberty, by breaking, through the means of His Divine grace, the bonds of servitude, which held us captives, it is a salutary deed to restore to men, by enfranchisement, their native liberty; for, in the beginning, nature made them all free, and they have only been subjected to the yoke of servitude by the law of nations." (L. 5, lett. 72.)

During all times the Church has considered it very necessary to limit, as much as possible, the alienation of her property; and it may be said that the general rule of her conduct in this point was to trust very little to the discretion of any one of her ministers individually; she thus endeavored to prevent dilapidations, which otherwise would have been frequent. As her possessions were dispersed on all sides, and intrusted to ministers chosen from all classes of the people, and exposed to the various influences which the relations of blood, friendship, and a thousand other circumstances, the effects of difference of character, knowledge, prudence, and even of times and places, always exercise, the Church showed herself very watchful in giving her sanction to the power of alienation; and, when requisite, she knew how to act with salutary rigor against those ministers who, neglecting their duty, wasted the funds confided to them. We have seen that, in spite of all this, she was not stopped by any consideration when the ransom of captives was in question; it may be also shown that, with respect to property in slaves, she saw things in a different light, and changed her rigor into indulgence. When slaves had faithfully served the Church, the Bishops could grant them their liberty, and add a gift to assist them in maintaining themselves. This judgment as to the merit of slaves appears to have been confided to the discretion of the Bishops; and it is evident that such a regulation opened a wide door to their charity; at the same time, it stimulated the slaves to behave themselves, so as to deserve so precious a recompense. As it might happen that the succeeding Bishop might raise doubts as to the sufficiency of the motives which induced his predecessor to give liberty to a slave, and attempt afterwards to call it in question, it was ordained that they should respect the appointments of their predecessors on this point, and leave to the enfranchised not only their liberty, but also the gratuity which had been given to them in lands, vineyards, or houses: this is prescribed in the 7th canon of the Council of Agde in Languedoc, held in the year 506. Let it not be objected that manumission is forbidden by the canons of this Council in other places; they speak only in general terms, and allude not to cases where slaves[Pg 109] had merited well. Alienations or mortgages made by a Bishop who left no property were to be revoked. This regulation itself shows that it alludes to cases in which the Bishops had acted against the canons. Yet if he had given liberty to any slaves, the rigor of the law was mitigated in their favor, and it was ordained that the enfranchised should continue to enjoy their liberty. This is ordained by the 9th canon of the Council of Orleans, held in 541. This canon only imposes on the enfranchised the obligation of lending their services to the Church; services which were evidently only those of the enfranchised. On the other hand, she recompensed them with the protection which she always granted to men in this condition.

As another proof of the indulgence of the Church with respect to slaves, may be cited the 10th canon of the Council of Celchite, in England, held in 816, the result of which must have been to enfranchise, in a few years, all the English slaves of the Churches existing in the countries where the Council was observed. Indeed, this canon ordained that, at the death of a Bishop, all his English slaves should be set at liberty; it added, that each of the other Bishops and Abbots might enfranchise three slaves on the occasion, by giving each of them three sous. Such regulations smoothed the way more and more, and prepared circumstances and men's minds, so that, some time later, was witnessed that noble scene, where, at the Council of Armagh, in 1172, liberty was given to all the English who were slaves in Ireland.

The advantageous conditions enjoyed by the slaves of the Church were so much the more valuable, because a regulation newly introduced prevented their losing them. If they could have passed into the hands of other masters, in this case they would have lost the benefits which they derived from living under the rule of so kind a mistress. But happily, it was forbidden to exchange them for others; and if they left the power of the Church, it was for freedom. We have a positive proof of this regulation in the decretals of Gregory IX. (l. 3, t. 19, chaps. 3 and 4). It should be observed that in this document the slaves of the Church are regarded as consecrated to God; thereon is founded the regulation which prevents their passing into other hands and leaving the Church, except as freemen. We also see there that the faithful, for the good of their souls, had the custom of offering their slaves to God and the Saints. By placing them thus in the power of the Church, they put them out of common dealing and prevented their again falling into profane servitude. It is useless to enlarge on the salutary effect which must have been produced by these ideas and manners, in which we see religion so intimately allied with the cause of humanity; it is enough to observe, that the spirit of that age was highly religious, and that which was attached to the cause of religion was sure to ride in safety.

Religious ideas, by constantly developing their strength and directing their action to all branches, were intended in a special manner to relieve men by all possible means from the yoke of slavery. On this subject we may be allowed to remark a canonical regulation of the time of Gregory the Great. In a Council at Rome, held in 595, and presided over by that Pope, a new means of escaping from their degraded state was offered to slaves, by deciding that liberty should be given to all those who desired to embrace the monastic life. The words of the holy Pope are worthy of attention; they show the ascendency of religious motives, and how much these motives preponderated over considerations and interests of a worldly nature. This important document is found in the letters of St. Gregory; it may be read in the notes at the end of the volume.

To imagine that such regulations would remain barren, is to mistake the spirit of those times: on the contrary, they produced the most important effects. We may form an idea of them by reading in the decree of Gratian (Distin. 54, c. 12), that they led to scandal; slaves fled from the houses of their masters and took[Pg 110] refuge in monasteries, under pretext of religion. It was necessary to check this abuse, against which complaints arose on all sides. Without waiting to consider what these abuses themselves indicate, is it difficult to imagine that these regulations of the Church must have had valuable results? They not only gained liberty for a great many slaves, but also raised them very much in the eyes of the world, for they placed them in a state which every day gained importance and acquired an immense prestige and a powerful influence. We may form an idea of the profound change which took place every day in the organization of society, thanks to these various means, by fixing our attention for a moment on what resulted with respect to the ordination of slaves. The discipline of the Church on this point was in accordance with her doctrines. The slave was a man like other men, and he could be ordained as well as the greatest noble. Yet while he was subject to the power of his master, he was devoid of the independence necessary for the dignity of the sacred ministry; therefore it was required that he should not be ordained until he had been previously set at liberty. Nothing could be more just, reasonable, and prudent, than the limit thus placed on a discipline otherwise so noble and generous—a discipline which was in itself an eloquent protest in favor of the dignity of man. The Church solemnly declared that the misfortune of being a slave did not reduce him below the level of other men, for she did not think it unworthy of her to choose her ministers from among those who had been in servitude. By placing in so honorable a sphere those who had been slaves, she labored with lofty generosity to disperse the prejudices which existed against those who were placed in that unhappy condition, and created strong and effective ties between them and the most venerated class of freemen. The abuse which then crept in of conferring orders on slaves, without the consent of their masters, is above all worthy of our attention; an abuse, it is true, altogether contrary to the sacred canons, and which was checked by the Church with praiseworthy zeal, but which is not the less useful in enabling the observer duly to appreciate the profound effect of religious ideas and institutions. Without attempting in any way to excuse what was blamable therein, we may very well make use of the abuse itself, by considering that it frequently happens that abuses are only exaggerations of a good principle. Religious ideas accord but ill with slavery, although supported by laws; thence the incessant struggle, repeated under different aspects, but always directed towards the same end, viz. universal emancipation. It appears to us that we may now the more confidently avail ourselves of this kind of argument, as we have seen the most dreadful attempts at revolution treated with indulgence, on account of the principles with which the revolutionists were imbued and the objects which they had in view; objects which, as every one knows, were nothing less than an entire change in the organization of society. The abuse to which we have alluded, is attested by the curious documents which are found collected in the decree of Gratian (Dist. 54, c. 9, 10, 11, 12). When we examine these documents with attention, we find, 1st, that the number of slaves thus freed was very considerable, since the complaints on this subject were almost universal: 2d, that the Bishops were generally in favor of the slaves; that they carried their protection very far; that they labored in all ways to realize these doctrines of equality; indeed, it is affirmed in these documents that there was hardly a Bishop who could not be charged with this reprehensible compliance: 3d, that slaves were aware of this spirit of protection, and were eager to throw off their chains and cast themselves into the arms of the Church: 4th, that this combination of circumstances must have produced in men's minds a movement very favorable to liberty; and that this affectionate communication established between slaves and the Church, then so powerful and influential, must soon have weakened slavery, and rapidly have promoted the advance of nations towards that liberty which completely triumphed a few centuries later.[Pg 111] The Church of Spain, whose civilizing influence has received so many eulogiums from men certainly but little attached to Catholicity, equally displays her lofty views and consummate prudence on this point. Charitable zeal in favor of slaves was so ardent, the tendency to raise them to the sacred ministry so decided, that it was necessary to allow free scope to this generous impulse, while reconciling it as much as possible with the sacredness of the ministry. Such was the twofold object of the discipline introduced into Spain, by virtue of which it was allowed to confer sacred orders on the slaves of the Church, on their being previously enfranchised. This is ordered by the 74th canon of the fourth Council of Toledo, held in 633; it is also inferred from the 11th canon of the ninth Council of Toledo, which ordains that Bishops shall not introduce the slaves of the Church among the clergy without having previously given them their liberty.

It is remarkable that this regulation was extended by the 18th canon of the Council of Merida, in 666, which gives to parish-priests the right of selecting clerks among the slaves of their own church, with the obligation of maintaining them according to their means. This wise discipline prevented, without any injustice, all the difficulties that might have ensued from the ordination of slaves; while it was a very mild way of effecting the most beneficent results, since in conferring orders on the slaves of the Church, it was easy to choose from among them such as were most deserving by their intellectual and moral qualifications. At the same time, it was affording the Church a most favorable and honorable mode of liberating her slaves, by enrolling them among her ministers. Finally, the Church by her generous conduct towards slaves, gave a salutary example to the laity. We have seen that she allowed the parochial clergy, as well as the bishops, the privilege of setting them free; and this must have rendered it less painful for laymen to emancipate their slaves, when circumstances seemed to call the latter to the sacred ministry.


Thus did the Church, by a variety of means, break the chains of slavery, without ever exceeding the limits marked out by justice and prudence: thus did she banish from among Christians that degrading condition, so contrary to their exalted ideas on the dignity of man, and their generous feelings of fraternity and love. Wherever Christianity shall be introduced, chains of iron shall be turned into gentle ties, and humiliated men shall raise their ennobled heads. With what pleasure do we read the remarks of one of the greatest men of Christianity, S. Augustine, on this point (De Civit. Dei, l. xix. c. 14, 15, 16). He establishes in a few words the obligation incumbent upon all who rule—fathers, husbands, and masters—to watch over the good of those who are under them: he lays down the advantage of those who obey, as one of the foundations for obedience; he says that the just do not rule from ambition or pride, but from duty and the desire of doing good to their subjects: "Neque enim dominandi cupiditate imperant, sed officio consulendi, nec principandi superbia, sed providendi misericordia;" and by these noble maxims he proscribes all opinions which tend to tyranny, or found obedience on any degrading notions; but on a sudden, as if this great mind apprehended some reply in violation of human dignity, he grows warm, he boldly faces the question; he rises to his[Pg 112] full height, and, giving free scope to the noble thoughts that ferment in his mind, he invokes the idea of nature and the will of God in favor of the dignity of man thus menaced. He says: "Thus wills the order of nature; thus has man been created by God. He has given him to rule over the fishes of the sea, the birds of the air, and the reptiles that crawl on the face of the earth. He has ordained that reasoning creatures, made according to His own image, shall rule only over creatures devoid of reason. He has not established the dominion of man over man, but that of man over the brute." This passage of S. Augustine is one of those bold features which shine forth in writers of genius, when grieved by the sight of a painful object, they allow their generous ideas and feelings to have free scope, and cease to restrain their daring energies. Struck by the force of the expression, the reader, in suspense and breathless, hastens to read the succeeding lines; he fears that the author may be mistaken, seduced by the nobleness of his heart, and carried away by the force of his genius. But, with inexpressible pleasure, he finds that the writer has in no degree departed from the path of true doctrine, when, like a brave champion, he has descended into the arena to defend the cause of justice and humanity. Thus does S. Augustine now appear to us: the sight of so many unfortunate beings groaning in slavery, victims of the violence and caprice of their masters, afflicted his generous mind. By the light of reason and the doctrines of Christianity, he saw no reason why so considerable a portion of the human race should be condemned to live in such debasement; wherefore, when proclaiming the doctrines of submission and obedience, he labors to discover the cause of such ignominy; and not being able to find it in the nature of man, he seeks for it in sin, in malediction. "The primitive just men," says he, "were rather established as pastors over their flocks, than as kings over other men; whereby God gives us to understand what was called for by the order of creation, and what was required by the punishment of sin; for the condition of slavery has, with reason, been imposed on the sinner. Thus we do not find the word slave in the Scriptures before the day when the just man, Noah, gave it as a punishment to his guilty son; whence it follows that this word came from sin, and not from nature." This manner of considering slavery as the offspring of sin, as the fruit of the Divine malediction, was of the highest importance. By protecting the dignity of human nature, that doctrine completely destroyed all the prejudices of natural superiority which the pride of free men could entertain. Thereby also, slavery was deprived of all its supposed value as a political principle or means of government: it could only be regarded as one of the numberless scourges inflicted on the human race by the anger of the Most High. Henceforth slaves had a motive for resignation, while the absolute power of masters was checked, and the compassion of all free men was powerfully excited. All were born in sin, all might have been in a state of slavery. To make a boast of liberty would have been like the conduct of a man who, during an epidemic, should boast of having preserved his health, and imagine that on that account he had a right to insult the unhappy sick. In a word, the state of slavery was a scourge, nothing more; like pestilence, war, famine, or any thing else of the kind. The duty of all men was to labor to remedy and abolish it. Such doctrines did not remain sterile. Proclaimed in the face of day, they were heard in all parts of the Catholic world; and not only were they put in practice, as we have seen by numberless examples, but they were carefully preserved as a precious theory, throughout the confusion of the times. After the lapse of eight centuries, we see them repeated by one of the brightest lights of the Catholic Church, S. Thomas Aquinas (I. p. q. xcvi. art. 4). That great man does not see in slavery either difference of race or imaginary inferiority or means of government; he only considers it as a scourge inflicted on humanity by the sins of the first man.

[Pg 113]

Such is the repugnance with which Christians have looked upon slavery: we see from this, how false is the assertion of M. Guizot: "It does not seem that Christian society was surprised or much offended by it." It is true there was not that blind disturbance and irritation which, despising all barriers and paying no attention to the rules of justice or the counsels of prudence, ran with foolish haste to efface the mark of degradation and ignominy. But if that disturbance and irritation are meant which are caused by the sight of oppression and outrages committed against man, sentiments which can well accord with longanimity and holy resignation, and which, without checking for a moment the action of charitable zeal, nevertheless avoid precipitating events, preferring mature arrangement in order to secure a complete result; how can this perturbation of mind and holy indignation be better proved to have existed in the bosom of the Church than by the facts and doctrines which we have just quoted? What more eloquent protest against the continuance of slavery can you have than the doctrine of these two illustrious doctors? They declare it, as we have just seen, to be the fruit of malediction, the chastisement of the prevarication of the human race; and they only acknowledge its existence by considering it as one of the great scourges that afflict humanity.

I have explained, with sufficient evidence, the profound reasons which induced the Church to recommend obedience to slaves, and she cannot be reproached on that account with forgetting the rights of humanity. We must not suppose on that account that Christian society was wanting in the boldness necessary for telling the whole truth; but it told only the pure and wholesome truth. What took place with respect to the marriages of slaves is a proof of what I advance. We know that their union was not regarded as a real marriage, and that even that union, such as it was, could not be contracted without the consent of their masters, under pain of being considered as void. Here was a flagrant violation of reason and justice. What did the Church do? She directly reprobated so gross a violation of the rights of nature. Let us hear what Pope Adrian I. said on this subject: "According to the words of the Apostles, as in Jesus Christ we ought not to deprive either slaves or freemen of the sacraments of the Church, so it is not allowed in any way to prevent the marriage of slaves; and if their marriages have been contracted in spite of the opposition and repugnance of their masters, nevertheless they ought not to be dissolved in any way." (De Conju. Serv., lib. iv. tom. 9, c. 1.) And let it not be supposed that this regulation, which secured the liberty of slaves on one of the most important points, was restricted to particular circumstances; no, it was something more; it was a proclamation of their freedom in this matter. The Church was unwilling to allow that man, reduced to the level of the brute, should be forced to obey the caprice or the interest of another, without regard to the feelings of his heart. St. Thomas was of the same opinion, for he openly maintains that, with respect to the contracting of marriage, slaves are not obliged to obey their masters (2a. 2, q. 104, art. 5).

In the hasty sketch which I have given, I believe that I have kept the promise which I made at the beginning, not to advance any proposition without supporting it by undeniable documents, and not to allow myself to be misled by enthusiasm in favor of Catholicity, so as to concede to it that to which it is not entitled. By passing, rapidly it is true, the course of ages, we have shown, by convincing proofs, which have been furnished by times and places the most various, that it was Catholicity that abolished slavery, in spite of ideas, manners, interests, and laws, which opposed obstacles apparently invincible; and that it has done so without injustice, without violence, without revolutions,—with the most exquisite prudence and the most admirable moderation. We have seen the Catholic Church make so extensive, so varied, and so efficacious an attack on slavery, that that odious chain was broken without a single violent stroke.[Pg 114] Exposed to the action of the most powerful agents, it gradually relaxed and fell to pieces. Her proceedings may be thus recapitulated:—

First, she loudly teaches the truth concerning the dignity of man; she defines the obligations of masters and slaves; she declares them equal before God, and thus completely destroys the degrading theories which stain the writings even of the greatest philosophers of antiquity. She then comes to the application of her doctrines: she labors to improve the treatment of slaves; she struggles against the atrocious right of life and death; she opens her temples to them as asylums, and when they depart thence, prevents their being ill-treated; she labors to substitute public tribunals for private vengeance. At the same time that the Church guarantees the liberty of the enfranchised, by connecting it with religious motives, she defends that of those born free; she labors to close the sources of slavery, by displaying the most active zeal for the redemption of captives, by opposing the avarice of the Jews, by procuring for men who were sold, easy means of recovering their liberty. The Church gives an example of mildness and disinterestedness; she facilitates emancipation, by admitting slaves into monasteries and the ecclesiastical state; she facilitates it by all the other means that charity suggests; and thus it is that, in spite of the deep roots of slavery in ancient society—in spite of the perturbation caused by the irruptions of the barbarians—in spite of so many wars and calamities of every kind, which in great measure paralyzed the effect of all regulating and beneficent action—yet we see slavery, that dishonor and leprosy of ancient civilization, rapidly diminish among Christians, until it finally disappears. Surely in all this we do not discover a plan conceived and concerted by men. But we do observe therein, in the absence of that plan, such unity of tendencies, such a perfect identity of views, and such similarity in the means, that we have the clearest demonstration of the civilizing and liberating spirit contained in Catholicity. Accurate observers will no doubt be gratified in beholding, in the picture which I have just exhibited, the admirable concord with which the period of the empire, that of the irruption of the barbarians, and that of feudality, all tended towards the same end. They will not regret the poor regularity which distinguishes the exclusive work of man; they will love, I repeat it, to collect all the facts scattered in the seeming disorder, from the forests of Germany to the fields of Bœotia—from the banks of the Thames to those of the Tiber. I have not invented these facts; I have pointed out the periods, and cited the Councils. The reader will find, at the end of the volume, in the original and in full, the texts of which I have just given an abstract—a résumé: thus he may fully convince himself that I have not deceived him. If such had been my intention, surely I should have avoided descending to the level ground of facts; I should have preferred the vague regions of theory; I should have called to my aid high sounding and seductive language, and all the means the most likely to enchant the imagination and excite the feelings; in fine, I should have placed myself in one of those positions where a writer can suppose at his pleasure things which have never existed, and made the best use of the resources of imagination and invention. The task which I have undertaken is rather more difficult, perhaps less brilliant, but certainly more useful.

We may now inquire of M. Guizot what were the other causes, the other ideas, the other principles of civilization, the great development of which, to avail myself of his words, was necessary "to abolish this evil of evils, this iniquity of iniquities." Ought he not to explain, or at least point out, these causes, ideas, and principles of civilization, which, according to him, assisted the Church in the abolition of slavery, in order to save the reader the trouble of seeking or divining them? If they did not arise in the bosom of the Church, where did they arise? Were they found in the ruins of ancient civilization? But could these remains of a scattered and almost annihilated civilization effect what that[Pg 115] same civilization, in all its vigor, power, and splendor, never did or thought of doing?—Were they in the individual independence of the barbarians? But that individuality, the inseparable companion of violence, must consequently have been the source of oppression and slavery. Were they found in the military patronage introduced, according to M. Guizot, by the barbarians themselves; patronage which laid the foundation of that aristocratical organization which was converted at a later period into feudality? But what could this patronage—an institution likely, on the contrary, to perpetuate slavery among the indigent in conquered countries, and to extend it to a considerable portion of the conquerors themselves—what could this patronage do for the abolition of slavery? Where, then, is the idea, the custom, the institution, which, born out of Christianity, contributed to the abolition of slavery? Let any one point out to us the epoch of its formation, the time of its development; let him show us that it had not its origin in Christianity, and we will then confess that the latter cannot exclusively lay claim to the glorious title of having abolished that degraded condition; and he may be sure that this shall not prevent our exalting that idea, custom, or institution which took part in the great and noble enterprise of liberating the human race.

We may be allowed, in conclusion, to inquire of the Protestant churches, of those ungrateful daughters who, after having quitted the bosom of their mother, attempt to calumniate and dishonor her, where were you when the Catholic Church accomplished in Europe the immense work of the abolition of slavery? and how can you venture to reproach her with sympathizing with servitude, degrading man, and usurping his rights? Can you, then, present any such claim entitling you to the gratitude of the human race? What part can you claim in that great work which prepared the way for the development and grandeur of European civilization? Catholicity alone, without your concurrence, completed the work; and she alone would have conducted Europe to its lofty destinies, if you had not come to interrupt the majestic march of its mighty nations, by urging them into a path bordered by precipices,—a path the end of which is concealed by darkness which the eye of God alone can pierce.15


WE have seen that European civilization owes to the Catholic Church its finest ornament, its most valuable victory in the cause of humanity, the abolition of slavery. It was the Church that, by her doctrines, as beneficent as elevated, by a system as efficacious as prudent, by her unbounded generosity, her indefatigable zeal, her invincible firmness, abolished slavery in Europe; that is to say, she took the first step towards the regeneration of humanity, and laid the first stone for the wide and deep foundation of European civilization; we mean the emancipation of slaves, the abolition for ever of so degrading a state,—universal liberty. It was impossible to create and organize a civilization full of grandeur and dignity, without raising man from his state of abjection, and placing him above the level of animals. Whenever we see him crouching at another's feet, awaiting with anxiety the orders of his master or trembling at the lash; whenever he is sold like a beast, or a price is set upon his powers and his life, civilization will never have its proper development, it will always be weak, sickly, and broken; for thus humanity bears a mark of ignominy on its forehead.

After having shown that it was Catholicity that removed that obstacle to all social progress, by, as it were, cleansing Europe of the disgusting leprosy with[Pg 116] which it was infected from head to foot, let us examine what it has done towards creating and erecting the magnificent edifice of European civilization. If we seriously reflect on the vitality and fruitfulness of this civilization, we shall find therein new and powerful claims on the part of the Catholic Church to the gratitude of nations. In the first place, it is proper to glance at the vast and interesting picture which European civilization presents to us, and to sum up in a few words its principal perfections; thereby we shall be enabled the more easily to account to ourselves for the admiration and enthusiasm with which it inspires us.

The individual animated by a lively sense of his own dignity, abounding in activity, perseverance, energy, and the simultaneous development of all his faculties; woman elevated to the rank of the consort of man, and, as it were, recompensed for the duty of obedience by the respectful regards lavished upon her; the gentleness and constancy of family ties, protected by the powerful guarantees of good order and justice; an admirable public conscience, rich in maxims of sublime morality, in laws of justice and equity, in sentiments of honor and dignity; a conscience which survives the shipwreck of private morality, and does not allow unblushing corruption to reach the height which it did in antiquity; a general mildness of manners, which in war prevents great excesses, and in peace renders life more tranquil and pleasing; a profound respect for man, and all that belongs to him, which makes private acts of violence very uncommon, and in all political constitutions serves as a salutary check on governments; an ardent desire of perfection in all departments; an irresistible tendency, sometimes ill-directed, but always active, to improve the condition of the many; a secret impulse to protect the weak, to succour the unfortunate—an impulse which sometimes pursues its course with generous ardor, and which, whenever it is unable to develop itself, remains in the heart of society, and produces there the uneasiness and disquietude of remorse; a cosmopolitan spirit of universality, of propagandism, an inexhaustible fund of resources to grow young again without danger of perishing, and for self-preservation in the most important junctures; a generous impatience, which longs to anticipate the future, and produces an incessant movement and agitation, sometimes dangerous, but which are generally the germs of great benefits, and the symptoms of a strong principle of life; such are the great characteristics which distinguish European civilization; such are the features which place it in a rank immensely superior to that of all other civilizations, ancient and modern.

Read the history of antiquity; extend your view over the whole world; wherever Christianity does not reign, and where the barbarous or savage life no longer prevails, you will find a civilization which in nothing resembles our own, and which cannot be compared with it for a moment. In some of these states of civilization, you will perhaps find a certain degree of regularity and some marks of power, for they have endured for centuries; but how have they endured? Without movement, without progress; they are devoid of life; their regularity and duration are those of a marble statue, which, motionless itself, sees the waves of generations pass by. There have also been nations whose civilization displayed motion and activity; but what motion and what activity? Some, ruled by the mercantile spirit, never succeeded in establishing their internal happiness on a firm basis; their only object was to invade new countries which tempted their cupidity, to pour into their colonies their superabundant population, and establish numerous factories in new lands: others, continually contending and fighting for a few measures of political freedom, forgot their social organization, took no care of their civil liberty, and acted in the narrowest circle of time and space; they would not be even worthy of having their names preserved for posterity, if the genius of the beautiful had not shone there with indescribable charm, and if the monuments of their knowledge, like a[Pg 117] mirror, had not preserved the bright rays of Eastern learning: others, great and terrible, it is true, but troubled by intestine dissensions, bear inscribed upon their front the formidable destiny of conquest; this destiny they fulfilled by subjugating the world, and immediately their rapid and inevitable ruin approached: others, in fine, excited by violent fanaticism, raged like the waves of ocean in a storm; they threw themselves upon other nations like a devastating torrent, and threatened to involve Christian civilization itself in their deafening uproar; but their efforts were vain; their waves broke against insurmountable barriers; they repeated their attempts, but, always compelled to retire, they fell back again, and spread themselves on the beach with a sullen roar: and now look at the Eastern nations; behold them like an impure pool, which the heat of the sun is about to dry up; see the sons and successors of Mahomet and Omar on their knees at the feet of the European powers, begging a protection, which policy sometimes affords them, but only with disdain. Such is the picture presented to us by every civilization, ancient and modern, except that of Europe, that is, the Christian. It alone at once embraces every thing great and noble in the others; it alone survives the most thorough revolutions; it alone extends itself to all races and climates, and accommodates itself to forms of government the most various; it alone, in fine, unites itself with all kinds of institutions, whenever, by circulating in them its fertile sap, it can produce its sweet and salutary fruits for the good of humanity. And whence comes the immense superiority of European civilization over all others? How has it become so noble, so rich, so varied, so fruitful; with the stamp of dignity, of nobility, and of loftiness; without castes, without slaves, without eunuchs, without any of those miseries which prey upon other ancient and modern nations? It often happens that we Europeans complain and lament more than the most unfortunate portion of the human race ever did; and we forget that we are the privileged children of Providence, and that our evils, our share of the unavoidable patrimony of humanity, are very slight, are nothing in comparison with those which have been, and still are, suffered by other nations. Even the extent of our good fortune itself renders us difficult to please, and exceedingly fastidious. We are like a man of high rank, accustomed to live respected and esteemed in the midst of ease and pleasure, who is indignant at a slighting word, is filled with disquietude and affliction at the most trifling contradiction, and forgets the multitude of men who are plunged in misery, whose nakedness is covered with a few rags, and who meet with a thousand insults and refusals before they can obtain a morsel of bread to satisfy the cravings of hunger.

The mind, when contemplating European civilization, experiences so many different impressions, is attracted by so many objects that at the same time claim its attention and preference, that, charmed by the magnificent spectacle, it is dazzled, and knows not where to commence the examination. The best way in such a case is to simplify, to decompose the complex object, and reduce it to its simplest elements. The individual, the family, and society; these we have thoroughly to examine, and these ought to be the subjects of our inquiries. If we succeed in fully understanding these three elements, as they really are in themselves, and apart from the slight variations which do not affect their essence, European civilization, with all its riches and all its secrets, will be presented to our view, like a fertile and beautiful landscape lit up by the morning sun.

European civilization is in possession of the principal truths with respect to the individual, to the family, and to society; it is to this that it owes all that it is and all that it has. Nowhere have the true nature, the true relations and object of these three things been better understood than in Europe; with respect to them we have ideas, sentiments, and views which have been wanting in other civilizations. Now, these ideas and feelings, strongly marked on the face of[Pg 118] European nations, have inoculated their laws, manners, institutions, customs, and language; they are inhaled with the air, for they have impregnated the whole atmosphere with their vivifying aroma. To what is this owing? To the fact, that Europe, for many centuries, has had within its bosom a powerful principle which preserves, propagates, and fructifies the truth; and it was especially in those times of difficulty, when the disorganized society had to assume a new form, that this regenerating principle had the greatest influence and ascendency. Time has passed away, great changes have taken place, Catholicity has undergone vast vicissitudes in its power and influence on society; but civilization, its work, was too strong to be easily destroyed; the impulse which had been given to Europe was too powerful and well secured to be easily diverted from its course. Europe was like a young man gifted with a strong constitution, and full of health and vigor; the excesses of labor or of dissipation reduce him and make him grow pale; but soon the hue of health returns to his countenance, and his limbs recover their suppleness and vigor.


THE individual is the first and simplest element of society. If the individual is not well constituted, if he is ill understood and ill appreciated, there will always be an obstacle to the progress of real civilization. First of all, we must observe, that we speak here only of the individual, of man as he is in himself, apart from the numerous relations which surround him when we come to consider him as a member of society. But let it not be imagined from this, that I wish to consider him in a state of absolute isolation, to carry him to the desert, to reduce him to the savage state, and analyze the individuality as it appears to us in a few wandering hordes, a monstrous exception, which is only the result of the degradation of our nature. Equally useless would it be to revive the theory of Rousseau, that pure Utopianism which can only lead to error and extravagance. We may separately examine the pieces of a machine, for the better understanding of its particular construction; but we must take care not to forget the purpose for which they are intended, and not lose sight of the whole, of which they form a part. Without that, the judgment we should form of them would certainly be erroneous. The most wonderful and sublime picture would be only a ridiculous monstrosity, if its groups and figures were considered in a state of isolation from its other parts; in this way, the prodigies of Michael Angelo and Raffael might be taken for the dreams of a madman. Man is not alone in the world, nor is he born to live alone. Besides what is he in himself, he is a part of the great scheme of the Universe. Besides the destiny which belongs to him in the vast plan of creation, he is raised, by the bounty of his Maker, to another sphere, above all earthly thoughts. Good philosophy requires that we should forget nothing of all this. It now remains for us to consider the individual and individuality.

In considering man, we may abstract from his quality of citizen,—an abstraction which, far from leading to any extravagant paradoxes, is likely to make us thoroughly understand a remarkable peculiarity of European civilization, one of the distinctive characteristics, which will be alone sufficient to enable us to avoid confounding it with others. All will readily understand that there is a distinction to be made between the man and the citizen, and that these two aspects lead to very different considerations; but it is more difficult to say how far the limits of this distinction should extend; to what extent the feeling of[Pg 119] independence should be admitted; what is the sphere which ought to be assigned to purely individual development; in fine, whatever is peculiar to our civilization on this point. We must justly estimate the difference which we find herein between our state of society and that of others; we must point out its source, and its result; we must carefully weigh its real influence on the advance of civilization. This task is difficult; I repeat it,—for we have here various questions, great and important, it is true, but delicate and profound, and very easily mistaken,—it is not without much trouble that we can fix our eyes with certainty on these vague, indeterminate, and floating objects, which are connected together by no perceptible ties.

We here meet with the famous personal independence, which, according to M. Guizot, was brought by the barbarians from the North, and played so important a part, that we ought to look upon it as one of the chief and most productive principles of European civilization. This celebrated publicist, analyzing the elements of this civilization, and pointing out the share which the Roman empire and the Church had therein, in his opinion, finds a remarkable principle of productiveness in the feeling of individuality, which the Germans brought with them, and inoculated into the manners of Europe. It will not be useless to discuss the opinion of M. Guizot on this important and delicate matter. By thus explaining the state of the question, we shall remove the important errors of some persons, errors produced by the authority of this writer, whose talent and eloquence have unfortunately given plausibility and semblance of truth to what is in reality only a paradox. The first care we ought to take, in combating the opinions of this writer, is not to attribute to him what he has not really said; besides, as the matter we are treating of is liable to many mistakes, we shall do well to transcribe the words of M. Guizot at length. "What we require to know," he says, "is the general condition of society among the barbarians. Now it is very difficult, now-a-days, to give an account of it. We can understand, without too much trouble, the municipal system of Rome, and the Christian Church; their influence has continued down to our times; we find traces of them in many institutions and existing facts. We have a thousand means of recognising and explaining them. The manners, the social condition of the barbarians, have entirely perished; we are compelled to divine them, by the most ancient historical documents, or by an effort of imagination."

What has been preserved to us of the manners of the barbarians is, indeed, little; this is an assertion which I will not deny. I will not dispute with M. Guizot about the authority which ought to belong to facts which require to be filled up by an effort of the imagination, and which compel us to have recourse to the dangerous expedient of divining. As for the rest, I am aware of the nature of these questions; and the reflections which I have just made, as well as the terms which I have used, prove that I do not think it possible to proceed with rule and compass in such an examination. Nevertheless, I have thought it proper to warn the reader on this point, and combat the delusion into which he might be led by a doctrine which, when fully examined, is, I repeat it, only a brilliant paradox. "There is a feeling, a fact," continues M. Guizot, "which it is above all necessary to understand well, in order to represent to ourselves with truth what a barbarian was: this is, the pleasure of individual independence—the pleasure of playing amid the chances of the world and of life, with power and liberty; the joys of activity without labor; the taste for an adventurous destiny, full of surprises, vicissitudes, and perils. Such was the ruling feeling of the barbarian state, the moral necessity which put these masses of men in motion. To-day, in the regular society in which we live, it is difficult to represent to one's self this feeling, with all the influence which it exercised over the barbarians of the fourth and fifth centuries. There is only one work, in my opinion, in which this character of barbarism is described with all its[Pg 120] force, viz. The History of the Conquest of England by the Normans, of M. Thierry—the only book where the motives, the inclinations, the impulses which actuate man in a social state bordering on barbarism, are felt and described with a truth really Homeric. Nowhere do we see so clearly what a barbarian was, and what was his life. We also find something of this, although in a very inferior degree, in my opinion, in a manner much less simple, much less true, in the romances of Mr. Cooper on the American savages. There is in the life of the savages of America, in the relations and feelings which exist in those forests, something which reminds one, to a certain extent, of the manners of the ancient Germans. No doubt these pictures are a little ideal, a little poetical; the unfavorable side of barbarian life and manners is not displayed in all its crudity. I do not speak merely of the evils which these manners produce in the individual social condition of the barbarian himself. In this passionate love of personal independence, there was something more rude and coarse than one would imagine from the work of M. Thierry; there was a degree of brutality, of indolence, of apathy, which is not always faithfully described in his pictures. Nevertheless, when one examines the thing to the bottom, in spite of brutality, coarseness, and this stupid egotism, the taste for individual independence is a noble moral feeling, which draws its power from the moral nature of man: it is the pleasure of feeling himself a man—the sentiment of personality, of spontaneous action in his free development. Gentlemen, it was by the German barbarians that this feeling was introduced into the civilization of Europe; it was unknown to the Roman world, unknown to the Christian Church, unknown to almost all the ancient civilizations:—when you find liberty in the ancient civilizations, it is political liberty, the liberty of the citizen. It is not with his personal liberty that the man is prepossessed, but with his liberty as a citizen. He belongs to an association—he is devoted to an association—he is ready to sacrifice himself for an association. It was the same with the Christian Church: there prevailed a feeling of great attachment to the Christian corporation—of devotion to its laws—a strong desire of extending its empire; the religious feeling produced a reaction on the man himself—on his soul—an internal struggle to subdue his own will, and make it submit to the demands of his faith. But the feeling of personal independence, the taste for liberty showing itself at any hazard, with hardly any other object than its own satisfaction—this feeling, I repeat, was unknown to the Roman and Christian society. It was brought in by the barbarians, and placed in the cradle of modern civilization. It has played so great a part, it has produced such noble results, that it is impossible not to bring it to light as one of the fundamental elements thereof." (Histoire Générale de la Civilisation en Europe, leçon 2.) This feeling of personal independence, exclusively attributed to a nation—this vague, undefinable feeling—a singular mixture of nobleness and brutality, of barbarism and civilization—is in some degree poetical, and is very likely to seduce the fancy; but, unfortunately, there is in the contrast, intended to increase the effect of the picture, something extraordinary, I will even say contradictory, which excites the suspicion of cool reason that there is some hidden error which compels it to be on its guard. If it be true that this phenomenon ever existed, what was its origin? Will it be said that it was the result of climate? But how can it be imagined that the snows of the north protected what was not found in the ardent south? How comes it that the feeling of personal independence was wanting precisely in those southern countries of Europe, where the feeling of political independence was developed with so much force? and would it not be a strange thing, not to say an absurdity, if these different climates had divided these two kinds of liberty between them, like an inheritance? It will be said, perhaps, that this feeling arose from the social state. But in that case, it cannot be made the characteristic mark of one nation: it must be said, in general terms, that[Pg 121] the feeling belonged to all the nations who were in the same social condition as the Germans. Besides, even according to this hypothesis, how could that which was peculiar to barbarism have been a germ, a fruitful principle of civilization? This feeling, which must have been effaced by civilization, could not even preserve itself in the midst thereof, much less contribute to its development. If its perpetuation in some form was absolutely necessary, why did not the same thing take place in the bosom of other civilizations? Surely the Germans were not the only people who passed from barbarism to civilization. But I do not pretend to say that the barbarians of the north did not present some remarkable peculiarity in this point of view; and I do not deny that we find in European civilization a feeling of personality, if I may so speak, unknown to other civilizations. But what I venture to affirm is, that it is little philosophical to have recourse to mysteries and enigmas to explain the individuality of the Germans, and that it is useless to seek in their barbarism the cause of the superiority which European civilization possesses in this respect. To form a clear idea of this question, which is as complicated as it is important, it is first of all necessary to specify, in the best way we can, the real nature of the barbarian individuality. In a pamphlet which I published some time ago, called Observations Sociales, Politiques, et Economiques, sur les Biens du Clergé, I have incidentally touched upon this individuality, and attempted to give clear ideas on this point. As I have not changed my opinion since that time, but, on the contrary, as it has been confirmed, I will transcribe what I then said, as follows: "What was this feeling? Was it peculiar to those nations? Was it the result of the influence of climate, of a social position? Was it perchance a feeling formed in all places and at all times, but which is here modified by particular circumstances? What was its force, its tendency? How far was it just or unjust, noble or degrading, profitable or injurious? What benefits did it confer on society; what evils? How were these evils combated, by whom, by what means, and with what result? These questions are numerous, but they are not so complicated as they appear at first sight; when once the fundamental idea shall be cleared up, the others will be understood without difficulty, and the theory, when simplified, will immediately be confirmed and supported by history. There is a strong, active, an indestructible feeling in the human heart which urges men to self-preservation, to avoid evils, and to attain to their well-being and happiness. Whether you call it self-love, instinct of preservation, desire of happiness or of perfection, egotism, individuality, or whatever name you give to it, this feeling exists; we have it within us. We cannot doubt of its existence; it accompanies us at every step, in all our actions, from the time when we first see the light till we descend into the tomb. This feeling, if you will observe its origin, its nature, and its object, is nothing but a great law of all beings applied to man; a law which, being a guarantee for the preservation and perfecting of individuals, admirably contributes to the harmony of the universe. It is clear that such a feeling must naturally incline us to hate oppression, and to suffer with impatience what tends to limit and fetter the use of our faculties. The cause is easily found; all this gives us uneasiness, to which our nature is repugnant; even the tenderest infant bears with impatience the tie that fastens him in his cradle; he is uneasy, he is disturbed, he cries.

"On the other hand, the individual, when he is not totally devoid of knowledge of himself, when his intellectual faculties are at all developed, will feel another sentiment arise in his mind which has nothing in common with the instinct of self-preservation with which all beings are animated, a sentiment which belongs exclusively to intelligence; I mean, the feeling of dignity, of value of ourselves, of that fire which, enkindled in our hearts in our earliest years, is nourished, extended, and supported by the aliment afforded to it by time, and acquires that immense power, that expansion which makes us so rest[Pg 122]less, active, and agitated during all periods of our life. The subjection of one man to another wounds this feeling of dignity; for even supposing it to be reconciled with all possible freedom and mildness, with the most perfect respect for the person subjected, this subjection reveals a weakness or a necessity which compels him in some degree to limit the free use of his faculties. Such is the second origin of the feeling of personal independence. It follows from what I have just said, that man always bears within himself a certain love of independence, that this feeling is necessarily common to all times and countries, for we have found its roots in the two most natural feelings of man—viz. the desire of well-being and the consciousness of his own dignity. It is evident that these feelings may be modified and varied indefinitely, on account of the infinity of situations in which the individual may be placed, morally and physically. Without leaving the sphere which is marked out for them by their very essence, these feelings may vary as to strength or weakness on the most extensive scale; they may be moral or immoral, just or unjust, noble or vile, advantageous or injurious. Consequently they may contribute to the individual the greatest variety of inclinations, of habits, of manners; and thereby give very different features to the physiognomy of nations, according to the particular and characteristic manner in which they affect the individual. These notions being once cleared up by a real knowledge of the constitution of the heart of man, we see how all questions which relate to the feeling of individuality must be resolved; we also see that it is useless to have recourse to mysterious language or poetical explanations, for in all this there is nothing that can be submitted to a rigorous analysis. The ideas which man forms of his own well-being and dignity, the means which he employs to promote the one and preserve the other, these are what will settle the degrees of energy, will determine the nature and signalize the tendency of all these feelings; that is to say, all will depend on the physical and moral state of society and the individual. Now, supposing all other circumstances to be equal, give a man true ideas of his own well-being and dignity, such as reason and above all the Christian religion teach, and you will form a good citizen; give false, exaggerated, absurd ideas, such as are entertained by perverted schools and promulgated by agitators at all times and in all countries, and you spread the fruitful seeds of disturbance and disorder.

"In order to complete the clearing up of the important point which we have undertaken to explain, we must apply this doctrine to the particular fact which now occupies us. If we fix our attention on the nations who invaded and overturned the Roman empire, confining ourselves to the facts which history has preserved of them, to the conjectures which are authorized by the circumstances in which they were placed, and to the general data which modern science has been able to collect from the immediate observation of the different tribes of America, we shall be able to form an idea of what was the state of society and of the individual among the invading barbarians. In their native countries, among their mountains, in their forests covered with frost and snow, they had their family ties, their relationships, their religion, traditions, customs, manners, attachment to their hereditary soil, their love of national independence, their enthusiasm for the great deeds of their ancestors, and for the glory acquired in battle; in fine, their desire of perpetuating in their children a race strong, valiant, and free; they had their distinctions of family, their division into tribes, their priests, chiefs, and government. Without discussing the character of their forms of government, and laying aside all that might be said of their monarchy, their public assemblies, and other similar points, questions which are foreign to our subject, and which besides are always in some degree hypothetical and imaginary, I shall content myself with making a remark which none of my readers will deny, viz. that among them the organization of society was such as might have been expected from rude and superstitious ideas, gross habits, and[Pg 123] ferocious manners; that is to say, that their social condition did not rise above the level which had naturally been marked out for it by two imperious necessities: first, that complete anarchy should not prevail in their forests; and second, that in war they should have some one to lead their confused hordes. Born in rigorous climates, crowding on each other by their rapid increase, and on that account obtaining with difficulty even the means of subsistence, these nations saw before their eyes the abundance and the luxuries of ample and well-cultivated regions; they were at the same time urged on by extreme want, and strongly excited by the presence of plunder. There was nothing to oppose them but the feeble legions of an effeminate and decaying civilization; their own bodies were strong, their minds full of courage and audacity; their numbers augmented their boldness; they left their native soil without pain; a spirit of adventure and enterprise developed itself in their minds, and they threw themselves on the Empire like a torrent which falls from the mountains, and inundates the neighboring plains. However imperfect was their social condition, and however rude were its ties, it sufficed, nevertheless, in their native soil, and amid their ancient manners; if the barbarians had remained in their forests, it may be said that that form of government, which answered its purpose in its way, would have been perpetuated; for it was born of necessity, it was adapted to circumstances, it was rooted in their habits, sanctioned by time, and connected with traditions and recollections of every kind. But these ties were too weak to be transported without being broken. These forms of government were, as we have just seen, so suited to the state of barbarism, and consequently so circumscribed and limited, that they could not be applied without difficulty to the new situation in which these nations found themselves almost suddenly placed. Let us imagine these savage children of the forest precipitated on the south; their fierce chiefs precede them, and they are followed by crowds of women and children; they take with them their flocks and rude baggage; they cut to pieces numerous legions on their way; they form intrenchments, cross ditches, scale ramparts, ravage the country, destroy forests, burn populous cities, and take with them immense numbers of slaves captured on the way. They overturn every thing that opposes their fury, and drive before them multitudes who flee to avoid fire and sword. In a short time see these same men, elated with victory, enriched by immense booty, inured by so many battles, fires, sackings, and massacres, transported, as if by enchantment, into a new climate, under another sky, and swimming in abundance, in pleasure, in new enjoyments of every kind. A confused mixture of idolatry and Christianity, of truth and falsehood, is become their religion; their principal chiefs are dead in battle; families are confounded in disorder, races mixed, old manners and customs altered and lost. These nations, in fine, are spread over immense countries, in the midst of other nations, differing in language, ideas, manners, and usages; imagine, if you can, this disorder, this confusion, this chaos, and tell me whether the ties which formed the society of these nations are not destroyed and broken into a thousand pieces, and whether you do not see barbarian and civilized society disappear together, and all antiquity vanish without any thing new taking its place? And at this moment, fix your eyes upon the gloomy child of the North, when he feels all the ties that bound him to society suddenly loosened, when all the chains that restrained his ferocity break; when he finds himself alone, isolated, in a position so new, so singular, so extraordinary, with an obscure recollection of his late country and without affection for that which he has just occupied; without respect for law, fear of man, or attachment to custom. Do you not see him, in his impetuous ferocity, indulge without limit his habits of violence, wandering, plunder, and massacre? He confides in his strong arm and activity of foot, and led by a heart full of fire and courage, by an imagination excited by the view of so many different countries and by the hazards of so many travels[Pg 124] and combats, he rashly undertakes all enterprises, rejects all subjection, throws off all restraint, and delights in the dangers of fresh struggles and adventures. Do you not find here the mysterious individuality, the feeling of personal independence, in all its philosophical reality and all the truth which is assigned to it by history? This brutal individuality, this fierce feeling of independence, which was not reconcileable with the well-being or with the true dignity of the individual, contained a principle of eternal war and a continually wandering mode of life, and must necessarily produce the degradation of man and the complete dissolution of society. Far from containing the germ of civilization, it was this that was best adapted to reduce Europe to the savage state; it stifled society in its cradle; it destroyed every attempt made to reorganize it, and completed the annihilation of all that remained of the ancient civilization."

The observations which have just been made may be more or less well founded, more or less happy, but at least they do not present the inexplicable inconsistency, not to say contradiction, of allying barbarism and brutality with civilization and refinement; they do not give the name of an eminent and fruitful principle of European civilization to that which a little further on is pointed out as one of the strongest obstacles to the progress of social organization. As M. Guizot, on this last point, agrees with the opinion which I have just stated, and shows the incoherence of his own doctrines, the reader will allow me to quote his own words. "It is clear," he says, "that if men have no ideas extending beyond their own existence, if their intellectual horizon is limited to themselves, if they give themselves up to the caprices of their own passions and wills, if they have not among them a certain number of common notions and feelings, around which they rally; it is clear, I say, that no society can be possible among them; that such individual, when he enters into any association, will be a principle of disturbance and dissolution. Whenever individuality almost absolutely prevails, or man only considers himself, or his ideas do not extend beyond himself, or he obeys only his own passions, society, I mean one with any thing of extent or permanency, becomes almost impossible. Now such was the moral condition of the conquerors of Europe at the period of which we speak. I have pointed out, in the last lecture, that we owe the energetic feeling of individual liberty and humanity to the Germans. Now, in a state of extreme rudeness and ignorance, this feeling is egotism in all its brutality, in all its unsociability. From the fifth to the eighth century, such was the case among the Germans. They consulted only their own interests, their own passions, their own wills; how could this accord with the social state? It was attempted to make them enter it; they attempted it themselves; they soon left it from some sudden act, some sally of passion or misunderstanding. Every moment we see society attempted to be formed; every moment we see it broken by the act of man, by the want of the moral conditions necessary for its subsistence. Such, gentlemen, were the two prevailing causes of the state of barbarism. As long as they lasted, barbarism continued." (Histoire Générale de la Civilisation en Europe, leçon 3.)

With respect to his theory of individuality, M. Guizot has met with the common fate of men of great talents. They are forcibly struck by a singular phenomenon, they conceive an ardent desire of finding its cause, and they fall into frequent errors, led away by a secret tendency always to point out a new, unexpected, astonishing origin. In his vast and penetrating view of European civilization, in his parallel between this and the most distinguished ones of antiquity, he discovered a very remarkable difference between the individuals of the former and of the latter. He saw in the man of modern Europe, something nobler, more independent than in the Greek or Roman; it was necessary to point out the origin of this difference. Now this was not an easy task, considering the peculiar situation in which the philosophical historian found himself. From[Pg 125] the first glance which he took at the elements of European civilization, the Church presented herself to him as one of the most powerful and the most influential agents on the organization of society; and he saw issue from her the impulse which was most capable of leading the world to a great and happy future. He had already expressly acknowledged this, and had paid homage to the truth in magnificent language; in order to explain this phenomenon, should he again have recourse to Christianity, to the Church? This would have been conceding to her the whole of the great work of civilization; and M. Guizot was desirous, at all hazards, of giving her coadjutors. Therefore, fixing his eyes upon the barbarian hordes, he expects to discover in the swarthy brows, the savage countenances, and the menacing looks of these children of the forest, a type, somewhat rude but still very just, of the noble independence, the elevation, and dignity which the European bears in his features.

After having explained the mysterious personality of the Germans, and shown that, far from being an element of civilization, it was a source of disorder and barbarism; it is besides necessary to examine the difference which exists between the civilization of Europe and other civilizations, with respect to the feeling of dignity; it is necessary to determine with precision what modifications have been undergone by a feeling, which, considered by itself, is, as we have seen, common to all men. In the first place, there is no foundation for this assertion of M. Guizot, that the feeling of personal independence, the taste for liberty, displaying itself at all hazards, with scarcely any other object than its own satisfaction, was unknown to Roman society. It is clear that in such a comparison, it is not meant to allude to the feeling of independence in the savage state, in the state of barbarism; for as well might it be said that civilized nations could not have the distinctive character of barbarism. But laying aside that circumstance of ferocity, we will say that the feeling was very active, not only among the Romans, but also among the other most celebrated nations of antiquity. "When you find in ancient civilization," says M. Guizot, "liberty, it is political liberty, the liberty of the citizen. It is not with his personal liberty that the man is prepossessed, it is with his liberty as a citizen; he belongs to an association, he is devoted to an association, he is ready to sacrifice himself for an association." I will not deny that this spirit of sacrifice for the benefit of an association did exist among ancient nations; I acknowledge also that it was accompanied by remarkable peculiarities, which I intend to explain further on; yet it may be doubted whether the taste for liberty, with scarcely any other object than its own satisfaction, was not more active with ancient nations than with us. Indeed, what was the object of the Phœnicians, the Greeks of the Archipelago and of Asia Minor, the Carthaginians, when they undertook those voyages which, for such remote times, were as bold and perilous as those of our most intrepid sailors? Was it, indeed, to sacrifice themselves for an association that they sought new territories with so much ardour, in order to amass there money, gold, and all kinds of articles of value? Were they not led by the desire of acquiring to gratify themselves? Where, then, is the association? Where do you find it here? Do you see any thing but the individual, with his passions and tastes, and his ardour in satisfying them? And the Greeks—those Greeks so enervated, so voluptuous, so spoiled by pleasures, had they not the most lively feeling of personal independence, the most ardent desire of living with perfect freedom, with no other object but to gratify themselves? Their poets singing of nectar and of love; their free courtesans receiving the homage of the most illustrious citizens, and making sages forget their philosophical moderation and gravity; and the people celebrating their festivals amid the most fearful dissoluteness; did they also only sacrifice on the altars of association? Had they not the desire of gratifying themselves? With respect to the Romans, perhaps it would not be so easy to demonstrate this, if[Pg 126] we had to speak of what are called the glorious times of the Republic; but we have to deal with the Romans of the empire, with those who lived at the time of the irruption of the barbarians; with those Romans, greedy of pleasures, and devoured by that thirst for excess of which history has preserved such shameful pictures. Their superb palaces, their magnificent villas, their delicious baths, their splendid festive halls, their tables loaded with riches, their effeminate dresses, their voluptuous dissipation; do they not show us individuals who, without thinking of the association to which they belonged, only thought of gratifying their own passions and caprices; lived in the greatest luxury, with every delicacy and all imaginable splendour; had no care but to enjoy society, to lull themselves asleep in pleasure, to gratify all their passions, and give way to a burning love of their own satisfactions and amusements?

It is not easy, then, to imagine why M. Guizot exclusively attributes to the barbarians the pleasure of feeling themselves men, the feeling of personality, of human spontaneousness in its free development. Can we believe that such sentiments were unknown to the victors of Marathon and Platæa, to those nations who have immortalized their names by so many monuments? When, in the fine arts, in the sciences, in eloquence, in poetry, the noblest traits of genius shone forth on all sides, had they not among them the pleasure of feeling themselves men, the feeling and the power of the free development of all their faculties? and in a society where glory was so passionately loved, as we see it was among the Romans, in a society which shows us men like Cicero and Virgil, and which produced a Tacitus, who still, after nineteen centuries, makes every generous heart thrill with emotion, was there no pleasure in feeling themselves men, no pride in appreciating their own dignity? Was there no feeling of the spontaneousness of man in his own free development? How can we imagine that the barbarians of the north surpassed the Greeks and Romans in this respect? Why, then, these paradoxes, this confusion of ideas? Of what avail are these brilliant expressions meaning nothing? Of what use are these observations, of a false delicacy, where the mind at first sight discovers vagueness and inexactitude; and where it finds, after a complete examination, nothing but incoherency and revery?


IF we profoundly study this question, without suffering ourselves to be led into error and extravagance, by the desire of passing for deep observers; if we call to our aid a just and cool philosophy, supported by the facts of history, we shall see that the principal difference between the ancient civilizations and our own with respect to the individual is, that, in antiquity, man, considered as man, was not properly esteemed. Ancient nations did not want either the feeling of personal independence, or the pleasure of feeling themselves men; the fault was not in the heart, but in the head. What they wanted was the comprehension of the dignity of man; the high idea which Christianity has given us of ourselves, while, at the same time, with admirable wisdom, it has shown us our infirmities. What ancient societies wanted, what all those, where Christianity does not prevail, have wanted, and will continue to want, is the respect and the consideration which surround every individual, every man, inasmuch as he is a man. Among the Greeks the Greeks are every thing; strangers, barbarians, are nothing: in Rome, the title of Roman citizen makes the man; he who wants this is nothing. In Christian countries, the infant who is born deformed, or deprived of some member, excites compassion, and becomes an[Pg 127] object of the tenderest solicitude; it is enough that he is man, and unfortunate. Among the ancients, this human being was regarded as useless and contemptible; in certain cities, as for example at Lacedæmon, it was forbidden to nourish him, and, by command of the magistrates charged with the regulation of births, horrible to relate! he was thrown into a ditch. He was a human being; but what matter? He was a human being who would be of no use; and society, without compassion, did not wish to undertake the charge of his support. If you read Plato and Aristotle, you will see the horrible doctrine which they professed on the subject of abortion and infanticide; you will see the means which these philosophers imagined, in order to prevent the excess of population; and you will be sensible of the immense progress which society has made, under the influence of Christianity, in all that relates to man. Are not the public games, those horrible scenes where hundreds of men were slaughtered to amuse an inhuman multitude, an eloquent testimony to the little value attached to man, when he was sacrificed with so much barbarism for reasons so frivolous?

The right of the strongest was exercised among the ancients in a horrible manner; and this is one of the causes to which must be attributed the state of annihilation, so to speak, in which we see the individual with respect to society. Society was strong, the individual was weak; society absorbed the individual, and arrogated to itself all imaginable rights over him; and if ever he made opposition to society, he was sure to be crushed by it with an iron hand. When we read the explanation which M. Guizot gives us of this peculiarity of ancient civilizations, we might suppose that there existed among them a patriotism unknown to us; a patriotism which, carried to exaggeration, and stripped of the feeling of personal independence, produced a kind of annihilation of the individual in presence of society. If he had reflected deeply on the matter, M. Guizot would have seen that the difference is not in the feelings of antiquity, but in the immense fundamental revolution which has taken place in ideas; hence he would easily have concluded, that the difference observed in their feelings must have been owing to the differences in the ideas themselves. Indeed, it is not strange that the individual, seeing the little esteem in which he was held, and the unlimited power which society arrogated to itself over his independence and his life, (for it went so far as to grind him to powder, when he opposed it,) on his side formed an exaggerated idea of society and the public authority, so as to annihilate himself in his own heart before this fearful colossus. Far from considering himself as a member of an association the object of which was the safety and happiness of every individual, the benefits of which required from him some sacrifices in return, he regarded himself as a thing devoted to this association, and compelled, without hesitation, to offer himself as a holocaust on its altars. Such is the condition of man; when a power acts upon him, for a long time, unlimitedly, his indignation is excited against it, and he rejects it with violence; or else he humbles, he debases, he annihilates himself before the strong influence which binds and prostrates him. Let us see if this be not the contrast which ancient societies constantly afford us; the blindest submission and annihilation on the one hand, and, on the other, the spirit of insubordination, of resistance, showing itself in terrible explosions. It is thus, and thus only, that it is possible to understand how societies, whose normal condition was confusion and agitation, present us with such astonishing examples as Leonidas with his three hundred Spartans perishing at Thermopylæ, Sævola thrusting his hand into the fire, Regulus returning to Carthage to suffer and die, and Marcus Curtius, all armed, leaping into the chasm which had opened in the midst of Rome. All these phenomena, which at first sight appear inexplicable, are explained when we compare them with what has taken place in the revolutions of modern times. Terrible revolutions have thrown some nations into confusion; the struggle of[Pg 128] ideas and interests, inflaming their passions, has made them forget their true social relations, during intervals of greater or less duration. What has happened? At the same time that unlimited freedom was proclaimed, and the rights of individuals were incessantly extolled, there arose in the midst of society a cruel power, which, concentrating in its own hands all public authority, inflicted on them the severest blows. At such periods, when the formidable maxim of the ancients, the salus populi, that pretext for so many frightful attempts was in full force, there arose, on the other hand, that mad and ferocious patriotism which superficial men admire in the citizens of ancient republics.

Some writers have lavished eulogiums on the ancients, and, above all, on the Romans. It seemed as if, to gratify their ardent wishes, modern civilization must be moulded according to the ancient. They made absurd attempts; they attacked the existing social system with unexampled violence; they labored to destroy, or at least to stifle, Christian ideas concerning the individual and society, and they sought their inspiration from the shades of the ancient Romans. It is remarkable that, during the short time that the attempt lasted, there were seen, as in ancient Rome, admirable traits of strength, of valor, of patriotism, in fearful contrast with cruelties and crimes without example. In the midst of a great and generous nation there appeared again, to affright the human race, the bloody spectres of Marius and Sylla; so true it is that man is everywhere the same, and that the same order of ideas in the end produces the same order of events. Let the Christian ideas disappear, let old ones regain their force, and you will see that the modern world will resemble the ancient one. Happily for humanity, this is impossible. All the attempts hitherto made to produce such a result have been necessarily of short continuance, and such will be the case in future. But the bloody page which these criminal attempts have left in history offers an abundant subject for reflection to the philosopher who desires to become thoroughly acquainted with the intimate and delicate relations between ideas and facts. There he will see fully exhibited the vast scheme of social organization, and he will be able to appreciate at its just value the beneficial or injurious influence of the various religious and the different philosophical systems.

The periods of revolutions, that is to say, those stormy times when governments are swallowed up one after another like edifices built upon a volcanic soil, have all this distinctive character, the tyranny of the interests of public authority over private interests. Never is this power feebler, or less lasting; but never is it more violent, more mad. Every thing is sacrificed to its safety or its vengeance; the shade of its enemies pursues it and makes it continually tremble; its own conscience torments it and leaves it no repose; the weakness of its organization, its instable position, warn it at every step of its approaching fall, and in its impotent despair it makes the convulsive efforts of one dying in agony. What, then, in its eyes are the lives of citizens, if they excite the slightest, the most remote suspicion? If the blood of thousands of victims could procure for it a moment of security, and add a few days to its existence, "Perish my enemies," it says; "this is required for the safety of the state, that is, for mine!" Why this frenzy, this cruelty? It is because the ancient government, having been overturned by force, and the new having been enthroned in the same way, the idea of right has disappeared from the sphere of power. Legitimacy does not protect it, even its novelty betrays its little value; every thing forebodes its short existence. Stripped of the reason and justice which it is obliged to invoke in its own support, it seeks for both in the very necessity of power, a social necessity, which is always visible, and it proclaims that the safety of the people is the supreme care. Then the property and lives of individuals are nothing; they are annihilated in the presence of the bloody spectre which arises in the midst of society; armed with force, and surrounded by[Pg 129] guards and scaffolds, it says, "I am the public power; to me is confided the safety of the people; it is I who watch over the interests of society."

Now, do you know what is the result of this absolute want of respect for the individual, of this complete annihilation of man in presence of the alarming power which claims to represent society? It is that the feeling of association reappears in different directions; no longer a feeling directed by reason, foresight, and beneficence, but a blind, instinctive feeling, which urges man not to remain alone, without defence, in the midst of a society which is converted into a field of battle and a vast conspiracy; men then unite either to sustain power, when, influenced by the whirlwind of revolution, they are identified with it, and regard it as their only rampart, or to overturn it, if, some motive having urged them into the opposite ranks, they see their most terrible enemy in the existing power, and a sword continually suspended over their heads. These men belong to an association, are devoted to an association, are ready to sacrifice themselves for it, for they cannot live alone; they know, they comprehend, at least instinctively, that the individual is nothing; for as the restraints that maintain social order have been broken, the individual no longer has a tranquil sphere where he can live in peace and independence, confident that a power founded on legitimacy and guided by reason and justice watches over the preservation of public order and the respect due to individual rights. Then timid men are alarmed and humbled, and begin to represent that first scene of servitude where the oppressed is seen to kiss the hand of the oppressor, and the victim to reverence the executioner. Daring men resist and contend, or rather, conspiring in the dark, they prepare terrible explosions. No one then belongs to himself; the individual is absorbed on all sides, either by the force which oppresses or by that which conspires. The tutelary divinity of individuals is justice; when justice vanishes, they are no more than imperceptible grains of dust carried away by the wind, or drops of water in the stormy waves of ocean. Imagine to yourself societies where this passing frenzy does not prevail, it is true, but which are yet devoid of true ideas on the rights and duties of individuals, and of those of public authority; societies where there are some wandering, uncertain, obscure, imperfect notions thereon, stifled by a thousand prejudices and errors; societies under which, nevertheless, public authority is organized under one form or another, and has become consolidated, thanks to the force of habit, and the absence of all other government better calculated to satisfy urgent necessities; you will then have an idea of the ancient societies, we should rather say, societies without Christianity, and you will understand the annihilation of the individual before the force of public power, either under an Asiatic despotism or the turbulent democracy of the ancient republics. And what you will then see will be precisely what you have observed in modern societies at times of revolution, only with this difference, that in these the evil is transitory and noisy, like the ravages of the tempest, while among the ancients it was the normal state, like the vitiated atmosphere which injures and corrupts all that breathe it.

Let us examine the cause of these two opposite phenomena, the lofty patriotism of the Greeks and Romans, and the state of prostration and political degradation in which other nations lay, and in which those still lie who are not under the influence of Christianity; what is the cause of this individual abnegation which is found at the bottom of two feelings so contrary? and why do we not find among any of those nations that individual development which is observed in Europe, and which with us is connected with a reasonable patriotism, from which the feeling of a legitimate personal independence is not excluded? It is because in antiquity man did not know himself, or what he was; it is because his true relations with society were viewed through a thousand prejudices and errors, and consequently were very ill understood. This will show[Pg 130] that admiration for the patriotism, disinterestedness, and heroic self-denial of the ancients has been sometimes carried too far, and that these qualities, far from revealing in the men of antiquity a greater perfection of the individual, a superior elevation of mind to that of the men of modern times, rather indicate ideas less elevated and feelings less independent than our own. Perhaps some blind admirers of the ancients will be astonished at these assertions. Let them consider the women of India throwing themselves on the funeral-pile after the death of their husbands, and slaves putting themselves to death because they could not survive their masters, and they will see that personal self-denial is not an infallible sign of elevation of mind. Sometimes man does not understand his own dignity; he considers himself devoted to another being, absorbed by him, and then he regards his own existence only as a secondary thing, which has no object but to minister to the existence of another. We do not wish to underrate the merit which rightly belongs to the ancients; we do not wish to lower their heroism, as far as it is just and laudable, any more than we wish to attribute to the moderns an egotistical individuality, which prevents their sacrificing themselves for their country: our only object is to assign to every thing its place, by dissipating prejudices which are excusable up to a certain point, but do lamentable mischief by falsifying the principal features of ancient and modern history.

This annihilation of the individual among the ancients arose also from the weakness and imperfection of his moral development, and from his want of a rule for his own guidance, which compelled society to interfere in all that concerned him, as if public reason was called upon to supply the defect of private reason. If we pay attention, we shall observe that in countries where political liberty was the most cherished, civil liberty was almost unknown. While the citizens flattered themselves that they were very free, because they took part in the public deliberations, they wanted that liberty which is most important to man, that which we now call civil liberty. We may form an idea of the thoughts and manners of the ancients on this point, by reading one of their most celebrated writers, Aristotle. In the eyes of this philosopher, the only title which renders a man worthy of the name of citizen, seems to be the participation in the government of the republic; and these ideas, apparently very democratic and calculated to extend the rights of the most numerous class, far from proceeding, as one would suppose, from an exaggeration of the dignity of man, was connected in his mind with a profound contempt for man himself. His system was to reserve all honor and consideration for a very limited number; the classes of citizens who were thus condemned to degradation and nullity were all laborers, artisans, and tradesmen. (Pol. l. vii. c. 9, 12; l. viii. c. 1, 2; l. iii. c. 1.) This theory supposed, as may be seen, very curious ideas on individuals and society, and is an additional confirmation of what I have said respecting the eccentricities, not to say monstrosities, which we see in the ancient republics. Let us never forget that one of the principal causes of the evil was the want of an intimate knowledge of man; it was the little value which was placed upon his dignity as man; the individual, deprived of guides to direct him, could not conciliate esteem; in a word, there was wanting the light of Christianity, which was alone capable of illuminating the chaos.

The feeling of the dignity of man is deeply engraven on the heart of modern society; we find everywhere, written in striking characters, this truth, that man, by virtue of his title of man, is respectable and worthy of high consideration; hence it is that all the schools of modern times that have foolishly undertaken to exalt the individual, at the imminent risk of producing fearful perturbations in society, have adopted as the constant theme of their instructions, this dignity and nobility of man. They thus distinguish themselves in the most decided manner from the democrats of antiquity; the latter acted in[Pg 131] a narrow sphere, without departing from a certain order of things, without looking beyond the limits of their own country; in the spirit of modern democrats, on the contrary, we find a tendency to invade all branches, an ardent propagandism which embraces the whole world. They never invoke mean ideas; man, his reason, his imprescriptible rights, these are their perpetual theme. Ask them what is their design, and they will tell you that they desire to level all things, to avenge the sacred cause of humanity. This exaggeration of ideas, the pretext and motive for so many crimes, shows us a valuable fact, viz. the immense progress which Christianity has given to ideas with relation to the dignity of our nature. When they have to mislead societies which owe their civilization to Christianity, they find no better means than to invoke the dignity of human nature. The Christian religion, the enemy of all that is criminal, could not consent to see society overturned, under the pretence of defending and raising the dignity of man; this is the reason why a great number of the most ardent democrats have indulged in insults and sarcasms against religion. On the other hand, as history loudly proclaims that all our knowledge and feeling of what is true, just, and reasonable on this point, is due to the Christian religion, it has been recently attempted to make a monstrous alliance between Christian ideas and the most extravagant of democratic theories. A celebrated man has undertaken this enterprise; but true Christianity, that is, Catholicity, rejects these adulterous alliances; it ceases to acknowledge its most eminent apologists when they have quitted the path of eternal truth. De Lamennais now wanders in the darkness of error, embracing a deceitful shadow of Christianity; and the voice of the supreme Pastor of the Church has warned the faithful against being dazzled by the illusion of a name illustrious by so many titles.16


IF we give a just and legitimate meaning to the word individuality, taking the feeling of personal independence in an acceptation which is not repugnant to the perfection of the individual, and does not oppose the constitutive principles of all society; moreover, if we seek the various causes which have influenced the development of this feeling, without speaking of that which we have already pointed out as one of the most important, viz. the true notion of man, and his connections with his fellows, we shall find many of them which are quite worthy of attention in Catholicity. M. Guizot was greatly deceived when, putting the faithful of the Church in the same rank with the ancient Romans, he asserted that both were equally wanting in the feeling of personal independence. He describes the faithful as absorbed by the association of the Church, entirely devoted to her, ready to sacrifice themselves for her; so that, according to him, it was the interests of the association which induced them to act. There is an error here; but as this error has originated in a truth, it is our duty to distinguish the ideas and the facts with much attention.

There is no doubt that from the cradle of Christianity the faithful have had an extreme attachment to the Church, and it was always well understood among them, that they could not leave the communion of the Church without ceasing to be numbered among the true disciples of Jesus Christ. It is equally undeniable that, in the words of M. Guizot, "There prevailed in the Christian Church a feeling of strong attachment to the Christian corporation, of devotion to its laws, and an ardent desire to extend its empire;" but it is not true that the origin and source of all these feelings was the spirit of association alone, to[Pg 132] the exclusion of all development of real individuality. The Christian belonged to an association, but that association was regarded by him as a means of obtaining eternal happiness, as the ship in which he was embarked, amid the tempests of the world, to arrive safe in the port of eternity: and although he believed it impossible to be saved out of the Church, he did not understand from that that he was devoted to the Church, but to God. The Roman was ready to sacrifice himself for his country; the Christian, for his faith. When the Roman died, he died for his country; the faithful did not die for the Church, but for God. If we open the monuments of Church history, and read the acts of the martyrs, we shall then see what passed in that terrible moment, when the Christian, fully arousing himself, showed in the presence of the instruments of torture, burning piles, and the most horrible punishments, the true principle which acted on his mind. The judge asks his name; he declares it, and adds, "I am a Christian." He is asked to sacrifice to the gods. "We only sacrifice to one God, the Creator of heaven and earth." He is reproached with the disgrace of following a man who has been nailed to the cross; for him the ignominy of the cross is a glory, and he loudly proclaims that the Crucified is his Saviour and his God. He is threatened with tortures; he despises them, for they are passing, and rejoices in being able to suffer something for his Master. The cross of punishment is already prepared, the pile is lighted before his eyes, the executioner raises the fatal axe to strike off his head; what does it matter to him? all this is but for a moment, and after that moment comes a new life of ineffable and endless happiness. We thus see what influenced his heart; it was the love of his God and the interest of his eternal happiness. Consequently, it is utterly false that the Christian, like men of the ancient republics, destroyed his individuality in the association to which he belonged, allowing himself to be absorbed in that association like a drop of water in the immensity of ocean. The Christian belonged to an association which gave him the rule of his faith and conduct; he regarded that association as founded and directed by God himself; but his mind and his heart were raised to God, and when following the voice of the Church, he believed that he was engaged with his own individual affair, which was nothing less than his eternal happiness. This distinction is quite necessary in an affair which has relations so various and delicate that the slightest confusion may produce considerable errors. Here a hidden fact reveals itself to us, which is infinitely precious, and throws much light upon the development and perfecting of the individual in Christian civilization. It is absolutely necessary that there should be a social order to which the individual must submit; but it is also proper that he should not be absorbed by society to such an extent that he cannot be conceived but as forming part of it, and remains deprived of his own sphere of action. If this were the case, never would true civilization be completely developed; as it consists in the simultaneous perfecting of the individual and of society, it is necessary, for its existence, that both should have a well determined sphere, where their peculiar and respective movements may not check and embarrass each other.

After these reflections, to which I especially call the attention of all thinking men, I will point out a thing which has, perhaps, not yet been remarked; it is, that Christianity has eminently contributed to create that individual sphere in which man, without breaking the ties which connect him with society, is free to develop all his peculiar faculties. From the mouth of an Apostle went forth that generous expression which strictly limits political power: "We ought to obey God rather than man." (Acts v. 29.) "Obedire oportet Deo magis quam hominibus." The Apostle thereby proclaims that the individual should cease to acknowledge power, when power exacts from him what he believes to be contrary to his conscience. It was among Christians that this great example was witnessed for the first time; individuals of all countries, of all ages, of both[Pg 133] sexes, of all conditions, braving the anger of authority, and all the fury of popular passions, rather than pronounce a single word contrary to the principles which they professed in the sanctuary of conscience; and this, not with arms in their hands, in the midst of popular commotions, where their impetuous passions are excited, which communicate to the mind temporary energy, but in the solitude and obscurity of dungeons, amid the fearful calmness of the tribunals, that is, in that situation where man, alone and isolated, cannot show force and dignity without revealing the elevation of his ideas, the nobleness of his feelings, the unalterable firmness of his conscience, and the greatness of his soul. Christianity engraved this truth deeply on the heart of man, that individuals have duties to perform, even when the whole world is aroused against them; that they have an immense destiny to fulfil, and that it is entirely their own affair, the responsibility of which rests upon their own free will. This important truth, unceasingly inculcated by Christianity at all times, to both sexes, to all conditions, must have powerfully contributed to excite in man an active and ardent feeling of personality. This feeling, with all its sublimity, combining with the other inspirations of Christianity, all full of dignity and grandeur, has raised the human mind from the dust, where ignorance and rude superstitions, and systems of violence, which oppressed it on all sides, had placed and retained it. How strange and surprising to the ears of Pagans must have been those energetic words of Justin, which nevertheless expressed the disposition of mind of the majority of the faithful, when, in his Apology, addressed to Antoninus Pius, he said, "As we have not placed our hopes on present things, we contemn those who kill us, death being, moreover, a thing which cannot be avoided."

This full and entire self-consciousness, this heroic contempt of death, this calm spirit of a man who, supported by the testimony of intimate feeling, sets at defiance all the powers of earth, must have tended the more to enlarge the mind, as they did not emanate from that cold stoical impassibility, the constant effort of which was to struggle against the nature of things without any solid motive. The Christian feeling had its origin in a sublime freedom from all that is earthly, in a profound conviction of the holiness of duty, and in that undeniable maxim, that man, in spite of all the obstacles which the world places in his way, should walk with a firm step towards the destiny which is marked out for him by his Creator. These ideas and feelings together communicated to the soul a strong and vigorous temper, which, without reaching in any thing the savage harshness of the ancients, raised man to all his dignity, nobleness, and grandeur. It must be observed that these precious effects were not confined to a small number of privileged individuals, but that, in conformity with the genius of the Christian religion, they extended to all classes; for one of the noblest characters of that divine religion is the unlimited expansion which it gives to all that is good; it knows no distinction of persons, and makes its voice penetrate the obscurest places of society. It was not only to the elevated classes and philosophers, but to the generality of the faithful, that St. Cyprian, the light of Africa, addressed himself, when, summing up in a few words all the grandeur of man, he marked with a bold hand the sublime position where our soul ought to maintain itself with constancy. "Never," he says, "never will he who feels himself to be the child of God admire the words of man. He falls from his noblest state who can admire any thing but God." (De Spectaculis.) Sublime words, which make us boldly raise our heads, and fill our hearts with noble feelings; words which, diffusing themselves over all classes, like a fertilizing warmth, were capable of inspiring the humblest of men with what previously seemed exclusively reserved for the transports of the poet:

Os homini sublime dedit, cœlumque tueri
Jussit, et erectos ad sidera tollere cultus.

[Pg 134]

The development of the moral life, the interior life, that life in which man, reflecting on himself, is accustomed to render a circumstantial account of all his actions, of the motives which actuate him, of the goodness or the wickedness of those motives, and the object to which they tend, is principally due to Christianity, to its unceasing influence on man in all his conditions, in all situations, in all moments of his life. Such a progress of the individual life in all that it has most intimate, most active, and most interesting for the heart of man, was incompatible with that absorption of the individual by society, with that blind self-denial, in which man forgot himself, to think only of the association of which he formed a part. This moral and interior life was unknown to the ancients, because they wanted principles for supporting, rules for guiding, and inspirations for exciting and nourishing it. Thus at Rome, where the political element tries its ascendency over minds, when enthusiasm becomes extinguished by the effect of intestine dissensions, when every generous feeling becomes stifled by the insupportable despotism which succeeds to the last agitations of the republic, we see baseness and corruption develop themselves with fearful rapidity. The activity of mind which before occupied itself in debates of the Forum and the glorious exploits of war, no longer finding food, gave itself up to sensual pleasures with an abandonment which we can hardly imagine now-a-days, in spite of the looseness of morals which we so justly deplore. Thus we see among the ancients only these two extremes, either the most exalted patriotism, or the complete prostration of the faculties of the soul, which abandons itself without reserve to the dictates of its irregular passions; there man was the slave either of his own passions, of another man, or of society.

Since the moral tie which united men to Catholic society has been broken, since religious belief has been weakened, in consequence of the individual independence which Protestantism has proclaimed in religious matters, it has unhappily become possible for us to conceive, by means of examples found in European civilization, what man still deprived of real knowledge of himself, his origin and destiny, must have been. We will indicate in another place the points of resemblance which are found between ancient and modern society in the countries where the influence of religious ideas is enfeebled. It is enough now to remark, that if Europe had completely lost Christianity, according to the insane desires of some men, a generation would not have passed away without there being revived among us the individual and society such as they were among the ancients, except the modifications which the difference of the material state of the two civilizations would necessarily produce.

The doctrine of free will, so loudly proclaimed by Catholicity, and sustained by her with such vigour, not only against the old Pagan teaching, but particularly against sectarians at all times, and especially against the founders of the pretended Reformation, has also contributed more than is imagined to develop and perfect the individual, to raise his ideas of independence, nobleness, and dignity. When man comes to consider himself as constrained by the irresistible force of destiny, and attached to a chain of events over which he has no control—when he comes to suppose that the operations of his mind, those active proofs of his freedom, are but vain illusions—he soon annihilates himself; he feels himself assimilated to the brute; he ceases to be the prince of living beings, the ruler of the earth; he is nothing more than a machine fixed in its place, which is compelled to perform its part in the great system of the universe. The social order ceases to exist; merit and demerit, praise and blame, reward and punishment, are only unmeaning words. If man enjoys or suffers, it is only in the same way as a shrub, which is sometimes breathed upon softly by the zephyrs, and sometimes blasted by the north wind. How different it is when man is conscious of his liberty! Then he is master of his destiny; good and evil, life and death, are before his eyes; he can choose, and nothing[Pg 135] can violate the sanctuary of his conscience. There the soul is enthroned, there she is seated, full of dignity, and the whole world raging against her, the universe falling upon her fragile body, cannot force her will. The moral order is displayed before us in all its grandeur; we see good in all its beauty, and evil in all its deformity; the desire of doing well stimulates, and the fear of doing ill restrains us; the sight of the recompense which can be obtained by an effort of free will, and which appears at the end of the path of virtue, renders that path more sweet and peaceful, and communicates activity and energy to the soul. If man is free, there remains something great and terrible, even in his crime, in his punishment, and even in the despair of hell. What is man deprived of liberty and yet punished? What is the meaning of this absurd proposition, a chief dogma of the founders of Protestantism? This man is a weak and miserable victim, in whose torture a cruel omnipotence delights; a God who has created him in order to see him suffer; a tyrant with infinite power, that is, the most dreadful of monsters. But if man is free, when he suffers, he suffers because he has deserved it; and if we contemplate him in the midst of despair, plunged into an ocean of horrors, his brow furrowed by the just lightnings of the Eternal, we seem to hear him still pronounce those terrible words with a haughty bearing and proud look, non serviam, I will not obey.

In man, as in the universe, all is wonderfully united; all the faculties of man have delicate and intimate relations with each other, and the movement of one chord in the soul makes all the others vibrate. It is necessary to call attention to this reciprocal dependence of all our faculties on each other, in order to anticipate an objection which may be made. We shall be told, all that has been said only proves that Catholicity has developed the individual in a mystical sense. No, the observations which I have made show something more than this; they prove that we owe to Catholicity the clear idea and lively feeling of moral order in all its greatness and beauty; they prove that we owe her the real strength of what we call conscience, and that if the individual believes himself to be called to a mighty destiny, confided to his own free will, and the care of which belongs entirely to him, it is to Catholicity he owes that belief; they prove that Catholicity has given man the true knowledge which he has of himself, the appreciation of his dignity, the respect which is paid to him as man; they prove that she has developed in our souls the germs of the noblest and most generous feelings; for she has raised our thoughts by the loftiest conceptions, dilated our hearts by the assurance of a liberty which nothing can take away, by the promise of an infinite reward, eternal happiness, while she leaves in our hands life and death, and makes us in a certain manner the arbiters of our own destiny. In all this there is more than mere mysticism; it is nothing less than the development of the entire man; nothing less than the true, the only noble, just, and reasonable individuality; nothing less than the collected powerful impulses which urge the individual towards perfection in every sense; it is nothing less than the first, the most indispensable, the most fruitful element of real civilization.


WE have seen what the individual owes to Catholicity; let us now see what the family owes her. It is clear that the individual, being the first element of the family, if it is Catholicity which has tended to perfect him, the improvement of the family will thus have been very much her work; but without insisting on this inference, I wish to consider the conjugal tie in itself, for which[Pg 136] purpose it is necessary to call attention to woman. I will not repeat here what she was among the Romans, and what she is still among the nations who are not Christians; history, and still more the literature of Greece and Rome, afford us sad or rather shameful proofs on this subject; and all the nations of the earth offer us too many evidences of the truth and exactness of the observation of Buchanan, viz. that wherever Christianity does not prevail, there is a tendency to the degradation of woman. Perhaps on this point Protestantism will be unwilling to give way to Catholicity; it will assert that in all that affects woman the Reformation has in no degree prejudiced the civilization of Europe. We will not now inquire what evils Protestantism has occasioned in this respect; this question will be discussed in another part of the work; but it cannot be doubted, that when Protestantism appeared, the Catholic religion had already completed its task as far as woman is concerned. No one, indeed, is ignorant that the respect and consideration which are given to women, and the influence which they exercise on society, date further back than the first part of the 16th century. Hence it follows that Catholicity cannot have had Protestantism as a coadjutor; it acted entirely alone in this point, one of the most important of all true civilization; and if it is generally acknowledged that Christianity has placed woman in the rank which properly belongs to her, and which is most conducive to the good of the family and of society, this is a homage paid to Catholicity; for at the time when woman was raised from abjection, when it was attempted to restore her to the rank of companion of man, as worthy of him, those dissenting sects that also called themselves Christians did not exist, and there was no other Christianity than the Catholic Church.

It has been already remarked in the course of this work, that when I give titles and honours to Catholicity, I avoid having recourse to vague generalities, and endeavour to support my assertions by facts. The reader will naturally expect me to do the same here, and to point out to him what are the means which Catholicity has employed to give respect and dignity to woman; he shall not be deceived in his expectation. First, and before descending to details, we must observe that the grand ideas of Christianity with respect to humanity must have contributed, in an extraordinary manner, to the improvement of the lot of woman. These ideas, which applied without any difference to woman as well as to man, were an energetic protest against the state of degradation in which one-half of the human race was placed. The Christian doctrine made the existing prejudices against woman vanish for ever; it made her equal to man by unity of origin and destiny, and in the participation of the heavenly gifts; it enrolled her in the universal brotherhood of man, with his fellows and with Jesus Christ; it considered her as the child of God, the coheiress of Jesus Christ; as the companion of man, and no longer as a slave and the vile instrument of pleasure. Henceforth that philosophy which had attempted to degrade her, was silenced; that unblushing literature which treated women with so much insolence found a check in the Christian precepts, and a reprimand no less eloquent than severe in the dignified manner in which all the ecclesiastical writers, in imitation of the Scriptures, expressed themselves on woman. Yet, in spite of the beneficent influence which the Christian doctrines must have exercised by themselves, the desired end would not have been completely attained, had not the Church undertaken, with the warmest energy, to accomplish a work the most necessary, the most indispensable for the good organization of the family and society, I mean the reformation of marriage. The Christian doctrine on this point is very simple: one with one exclusively, and for ever. But the doctrine would have been powerless, if the Church had not undertaken to apply it, and if she had not carried on this task with invincible firmness; for the passions, above all those of man, rebel against such a doctrine; and they would undoubtedly have trodden it under foot, if they had[Pg 137] not met with an insurmountable barrier, which did not leave them the most distant hope of triumph. Can Protestantism, which applauded with such senseless joy the scandal of Henry VIII., and accommodated itself so basely to the desires of the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, boast of having contributed to strengthen that barrier? What a surprising difference! During many centuries, amid circumstances the most various, and sometimes the most terrible, the Catholic Church struggles with intrepidity against the passions of potentates, to maintain unsullied the sanctity of marriage. Neither promises nor threats could move Rome; no means could obtain from her any thing contrary to the instructions of her Divine Master: Protestantism, at the first shock, or rather at the first shadow of the slightest embarrassment, at the mere fear of displeasing a prince who certainly was not very powerful, yields, humbles itself, consents to polygamy, betrays its own conscience, opens a wide door to the passions, and gives up to them the sanctity of marriage, the first pledge for the good of the family, the foundation-stone of true civilization.

Protestant society on this point, wiser than the miscalled reformers who attempted to guide it, with admirable good sense repudiated the consequences of the conduct of its chiefs; although it did not preserve the doctrines of Catholicity, it at least followed the salutary impulse which it had received from them, and polygamy was not established in Europe. But history records facts which show the weakness of the pretended reformation, and the vivifying power of Catholicity. It tells us to whom it is owing that the law of marriage, that palladium of society, was not falsified, perverted, destroyed, amid the barbarous ages, amid the most fearful corruption, violence, and ferocity, which prevailed everywhere, as well at the time when invading nations passed pell-mell over Europe, as in that of feudality, and when the power of kings had already been preponderant,—history will tell what tutelary force prevented the torrent of sensuality from overflowing with all its violence, with all its caprices, from bringing about the most profound disorganization, from corrupting the character of European civilization, and precipitating it into that fearful abyss in which the nations of Asia have been for so many centuries.

Prejudiced writers have carefully searched the annals of ecclesiastical history for the differences between popes and kings, and have taken occasion therein to reproach the Court of Rome with its intolerant obstinacy respecting the sanctity of marriage; if the spirit of party had not blinded them, they would have understood that, if this intolerant obstinacy had been relaxed for a moment, if the Roman Pontiff had given way one step before the impetuosity of the passions, this first step once made, the descent into the abyss would have been rapid; they would have admired the spirit of truth, the deep conviction, the lively faith with which that august see is animated; no consideration, no fear, has been able to silence her, when she had occasion to remind all, and especially kings and potentates, of this commandment: "They shall be two in one flesh; man shall not separate what God has joined." By showing themselves inflexible on this point, even at the risk of the anger of kings, not only have the popes performed the sacred duty which was imposed on them by their august character as chiefs of Christianity, but they have executed a political chef d'œuvre, and greatly contributed to the repose and well-being of nations. "For," says Voltaire, "the marriages of princes in Europe decide the destiny of nations; and never has there been a court entirely devoted to debauchery, without producing revolutions and rebellions." (Essai sur l'Histoire générale, t. iii. c. 101.)

This correct remark of Voltaire will suffice to vindicate the pope, together with Catholicity, from the calumnies of their wretched detractors: it becomes still more valuable, and acquires an immense importance, if it is extended beyond the limits of the political order to the social. The imagination is affrighted[Pg 138] at the thought of what would have happened, if these barbarous kings, in whom the splendor of the purple ill disguised the sons of the forest, if those haughty seigneurs, fortified in their castles, clothed in mail, and surrounded by their timid vassals, had not found a check in the authority of the Church; if at the first glance at a new beauty, if at the first passion which, when enkindled in their hearts, would have inspired them with a disgust for their legitimate spouses, they had not had the always-present recollection of an inflexible authority. They could, it is true, load a bishop with vexations; they could silence him with threats or promises; they might control the votes of a particular Council by violence, by intrigue, by subornation; but, in the distance, the power of the Vatican, the shadow of the Sovereign Pontiff, appeared to them like an alarming vision; they then lost all hope; all struggles became useless; the most violent endeavors would never have given them the victory; the most astute intrigues, the most humble entreaties, would have obtained the same reply: "One with one only, and for ever."

If we read but the history of the middle ages, of that immense scene of violence, where the barbarian, striving to break the bonds which civilization attempted to impose on him, appears so vividly; if we recollect that the Church was obliged to keep guard incessantly and vigilantly, not only to prevent the ties of a marriage from being broken, but even to preserve virgins (and even those who were dedicated to God) from violence; we shall clearly see that, if she had not opposed herself, as a wall of brass, to the torrent of sensuality, the palaces of kings and the castles of seigneurs would have speedily become their seraglios and harems. What would have happened in the other classes? They would have followed the same course; and the women of Europe would have remained in the state of degradation in which the Mussulman women still are. As I have mentioned the followers of Mohammed, I will reply in passing to those who pretend to explain monogamy and polygamy by climate alone. Christians and Mohammedans have been for a long time under the same sky, and their religions have been established, by the vicissitudes of the two races, sometimes in cold and sometimes in mild and temperate climates; and yet we have not seen the religions accommodate themselves to the climates; but rather, the climates have been, as it were, forced to bend to the religions. European nations owe eternal gratitude to Catholicity, which has preserved monogamy for them, one of the causes which undoubtedly have contributed the most to the good organization of the family, and the exaltation of woman. What would now be the condition of Europe, what respect would woman now enjoy, if Luther, the founder of Protestantism, had succeeded in inspiring society with the indifference which he shows on this point in his commentary on Genesis? "As to whether we may have several wives," says Luther, "the authority of the patriarchs leaves us completely free." He afterwards adds that "it is a thing neither permitted nor prohibited, and that he does not decide any thing thereupon." Unhappy Europe! if a man, who had whole nations as followers, had uttered such words some centuries earlier, at the time when civilization had not yet received an impulse strong enough to make it take a decided line on the most important points, in spite of false doctrines. Unhappy Europe! if at the time when Luther wrote, manners had not been already formed, if the good organization given to the family by Catholicity had not been too deeply rooted to be torn up by the hand of man. Certainly the scandal of the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel would not then have remained an isolated example, and the culpable compliance of the Lutheran doctors would have produced bitter fruits. What would that vacillating faith, that uncertainty, that cowardice with which the Protestant Church was seen to tremble at the mere demand of such a prince as the Landgrave, have availed, to control the fierce impetuosity of barbarous and corrupted nations? How would a struggle, lasting for ages, have been[Pg 139] sustained by those who, at the first menace of battle, gave way, and were routed before the shock?

Besides monogamy, it may be said that there is nothing more important than the indissolubility of marriage. Those who, departing from the doctrine of the Church, think that it is useful in certain cases to allow divorce, so as to dissolve the conjugal tie, and permit each of the parties to marry again, still will not deny that they regard divorce as a dangerous remedy, which the legislator only avails himself of with regret, and only on account of crime or faithlessness; they will see, also, that a great number of divorces would produce very great evils, and that in order to prevent these in countries where the civil laws allow the abuse of divorce, it is necessary to surround this permission with all imaginable precaution; they will consequently grant that the most efficacious manner of preventing corruption of manners, of guarantying the tranquillity of families, and of opposing a firm barrier to the torrent of evils which is ready to inundate society, is to establish the indissolubility of marriage as a moral principle, to base it upon motives which exercise a powerful ascendency over the heart, and to keep a constant restraint on the passions, to prevent them from slipping down so dangerous a declivity. It is clear that there is no work more worthy of being the object of the care and zeal of the true religion. Now, what religion but the Catholic has fulfilled this duty? What other religion has more perfectly accomplished so salutary and difficult a task? Certainly not Protestantism, for it did not even know how to penetrate the depth of the reasons which guided the conduct of the Church on this point. I have taken care to do justice in another place to the wisdom which Protestant society has displayed in not giving itself up entirely to the impulse which its chiefs wished to communicate to it. But it must not be supposed from this that Protestant doctrines have not had lamentable consequences in countries calling themselves reformed. Let us hear what a Protestant lady, Madame de Staël, says in her book on Germany, speaking of a country which she loves and admires: "Love," she says, "is a religion in Germany, but a poetical religion which tolerates very freely all that sensibility can excuse. It cannot be denied that in the Protestant provinces the facility of divorce is injurious to the sanctity of marriage. They change husbands as quietly as if they were arranging the incidents of a drama: the good nature of the man and woman prevents the mixture of any bitterness with their easy ruptures; and as there is among the Germans more imagination than real passion, the most curious events take place with singular tranquillity. Yet it is thus that manners and characters lose all consistency; the paradoxical spirit destroys the most sacred institutions, and there are no well established rules on any subject." (De l'Allemagne, p. 1, c. 3.) Misled by their hatred against the Roman Church, and excited by their rage for innovation in all things, the Protestants thought they had made a great reform in secularizing marriage, if I may so speak, and in rejecting the Catholic doctrine, which declared it a real sacrament. This is not the place to enter upon a dogmatical discussion of this matter; I shall content myself with observing, that by depriving marriage of the august seal of a sacrament, Protestantism showed that it had little knowledge of the human heart. To consider marriage, not as a simple civil contract, but as a real sacrament, was to place it under the august shade of religion, and to raise it above the stormy atmosphere of the passions; and who can doubt that this was absolutely necessary to restrain the most active, capricious, and violent passion of the heart of man? The civil laws are insufficient to produce such an effect. Motives are required, which, being drawn from a higher source, exert a more efficacious influence. The Protestant doctrine overturned the power of the Church with respect to marriage, and gave up matters of this kind exclusively to the civil power. Some one will perhaps think that the increase of the secular power on this point could not but serve[Pg 140] the cause of civilization, and that to drive the ecclesiastical authority from this ground was a magnificent triumph gained over exploded prejudices, a valuable victory over unjust usurpation. Deluded man! If your mind possessed any lofty thought, if your heart felt the vibration of those harmonious chords which display the passions of man with so much delicacy and exactness, and teach the best means of directing them, you would see, you would feel, that to place marriage under the mantle of religion, and to withdraw it as much as possible from profane interference, was to purify, to embellish, and to surround it with the most enchanting beauty; for thus is that precious treasure, which is blasted by a look, and tarnished by the slightest breath, inviolably preserved. Would you not wish to have the nuptial bed veiled and strictly guarded by religion?


But it will be said to Catholics, "Do you not see that your doctrines are too hard and rigorous? They do not consider the weakness and inconstancy of the human heart, and require sacrifices above its strength. Is it not cruel to attempt to subject the most tender affections, the most delicate feelings, to the rigor of a principle? Cruel doctrine, which endeavors to hold together, bound to each other by a fatal tie, those who no longer love, who feel a mutual disgust, who perhaps hate each other with a profound hatred! When you answer these two beings who long to be separated, who would rather die than remain united, with an eternal Never, showing them the divine seal which was placed upon their union at the solemn moment, do you not forget all the rules of prudence? Is not this to provoke despair? Protestantism, accommodating itself to our infirmity, accedes more easily to the demands, sometimes of caprice, but often also of weakness; its indulgence is a thousand times preferable to your rigor." This requires an answer; it is necessary to remove the delusion which produces these arguments, too apt, unhappily, to mislead the judgment, because they begin by seducing the heart. In the first place, it is an exaggeration to say that the Catholic system reduces unhappy couples to the extremity of despair. There are cases in which prudence requires that they should separate, and then neither the doctrines nor the practice of the Catholic Church oppose the separation. It is true that this does not dissolve the conjugal tie, and that neither of the parties can marry again. But it cannot be said that one of them is subject to tyranny; they are not compelled to live together, consequently they do not suffer the intolerable torment of remaining united when they abhor each other. Very well, we shall be told, the separation being pronounced, the parties are freed from the punishment of living together; but they cannot contract new ties, consequently they are forbidden to gratify another passion which, perhaps, their heart conceals, and which may have been the cause of the disgust or the hatred whence arose the unhappiness or discord of their first union. Why not consider the marriage as altogether dissolved? Why should not the parties become entirely free? Permit them to obey the feelings of their hearts, which, newly fixed on another object, already foresee happier days. Here, no doubt, the answer seems difficult, and the force of the difficulty becomes urgent; but, nevertheless, it is here that Catholicity obtains the most signal triumph; it is here it clearly shows how profound is its knowledge of the heart of man, how prudent its doctrines, and how wise and provident its conduct. Its rigor, which seems excessive, is only necessary severity; this conduct, far from meriting the reproach of cruelty, is a guarantee for the repose and well-being of man. But it is a thing which it is difficult to understand at first sight; thus we are com[Pg 141]pelled to develop this matter by entering into a profound examination of the principles which justify by the light of reason the conduct pursued by the Catholic Church; let us examine this conduct, not only in respect to marriage, but in all that relates to the direction of the heart of man.

In the direction of the passions there are two systems, the one of compliance, the other of resistance. In the first of these they are yielded to as they advance; an invincible obstacle is never opposed to them; they are never left without hope. A line is traced around them which, it is true, prevents them from exceeding a certain boundary; but they are given to understand that if they come to place their foot upon this limit, it will retire a little further; so that the compliance is in proportion to the energy and obstinacy of their demands. In the second system, a line is equally marked out to the passions which they cannot pass; but it is a line fixed, immovable, and everywhere guarded by a wall of brass. In vain do they attempt to pass it; they have not even the shadow of hope; the principle which resists them will never change, will never consent to any kind of compromise. Therefore, no resource remains but to take that course which is always open to man, that of sin. The first system allows the fire to break out, to prevent an explosion; the second hinders the beginning of it, in the fear of being compelled to arrest its progress. In the first, the passions are feared and regulated at their birth, and hopes of restraining them when they have grown up are entertained; in the second, it is thought that, if it is difficult to restrain them when they are feeble, it will be still more so when they are strengthened. In the one, they act on the supposition that the passions are weakened by indulgence; in the other, it is believed that gratification, far from satiating, only renders them every day more devouring.

It may be said, generally speaking, that Catholicity follows the second of these systems; that is to say, with respect to the passions, her constant rule is to check them at the first step, to deprive them of all hope from the first, and to stifle them, if possible, in their cradle. It must be observed, that we speak here of the severity with respect to the passions themselves, not with respect to man, who is their prey; it is very consistent to give no truce to passion, and to be indulgent towards the person under its influence; to be inexorable towards the offence, and to treat the offender with extreme mildness. With respect to marriage, this system has been acted on by Catholicity with astonishing firmness; Protestantism has taken the opposite course. Both are agreed on this point, that divorce, followed by the dissolution of the conjugal tie, is a very great evil; but there is this difference between them, that the Catholic system does not leave even the hope of a conjuncture in which this dissolution will be permitted; it forbids it absolutely, without any restriction; it declares it impossible: the Protestant system, on the contrary, consents to it in certain cases. Protestantism does not possess the divine seal which guaranties the perpetuity of marriage, and renders it sacred and inviolable; Catholicity does possess this seal, impresses it on the mysterious tie, and from that moment marriage remains under the shadow of an august symbol. Which of the two religions is the most prudent in this point? Which acts with the most wisdom? To answer this question, let us lay aside the dogmatical reasons, and the intrinsical morality of the human actions which form the subject of the laws which we are now examining; and let us see which of the two systems is the most conducive to the difficult task of managing and directing the passions. After having considered the nature of the human heart, and consulted the experience of every day, it may be affirmed that the best way to repress a passion is to leave it without hope; to comply with it, to allow it continual indulgences, is to excite it more and more; it is to play with fire amid a heap of combustibles, by allowing the flame to be lit, from time to time, in the vain confidence of being always able to put out the conflagration. Let us take a rapid glance at the most violent[Pg 142] passions of the heart of man, and observe what is their ordinary course, according to the system which is pursued in their regard. Look at the gambler, who is ruled by an indefinable restlessness, which is made up of an insatiable cupidity and an unbounded prodigality, at the same time. The most enormous fortune will not satisfy him; and yet he risks all, without hesitation, to the hazard of a moment. The man who still dreams of immense treasures amid the most fearful misery, restlessly pursues an object which resembles gold, but which is not it, for the possession thereof does not satisfy him. His heart can only exist amid uncertainty, chances, and perils. Suspended between hope and fear, he seems to be pleased with the rapid succession of lively emotions which unceasingly agitate and torment him. What remedy will cure this malady—this devouring fever? Will you recommend to him a system of compliance? will you tell him to gamble, but only to a certain amount, at certain times, and in certain places? What will you gain by this? Nothing at all. If these means were good for any thing, there would be no gambler in the world who would not be cured of his passion; for there is no one who has not often marked out for himself these limits, and often said to himself, "You shall only play till such an hour, in such a place, and to such an amount." What is the effect of these palliations—of these impotent precautions—on the unhappy gambler? That he miserably deceives himself. The passion consents, only in order to gain strength, and the better to secure the victory: thus it gains ground; it constantly enlarges its sphere; and leads its victim again into the same, or into greater excesses. Do you wish to make a radical cure? If there be a remedy, it must be to abstain completely; a remedy which may appear difficult at first, but will be found the easiest in practice. When the passion finds itself deprived of all hope, it will begin to diminish, and in the end will disappear. No man of experience will raise the least doubt as to the truth of what I have said; every one will agree with me, that the only way to destroy the formidable passion of gambling is to deprive it at once of all food, to leave it without hope.

Let us pass to another example, more analogous to the subject which I intend to explain. Let us suppose a man under the influence of love. Do you believe that the best way to cure his passion will be to give him opportunities, even though very rare, of seeing the object of his passion? Do you think that it will be salutary to authorize him to continue, while you forbid him to multiply, these dangerous interviews? Will such a precaution quench the flame which burns in his heart? You may be sure that it will not. The limits will even augment its force. If you allow it any food, even with the most parsimonious hand, if you permit it the least success, you see it constantly increase, until it upset every thing that opposes it. But take away all hope, send the lover on a long journey, or place before him an impediment which precludes the probability, or even the possibility, of success; then, except in very rare cases, you will obtain at first distraction, and then forgetfulness. Is not this the daily teaching of experience? Is it not the remedy which necessity every day suggests to the fathers of families? The passions resemble fire. They are extinguished by a large quantity of water; but a few drops only render them more ardent. Let us raise our thoughts still higher; let us observe the passions acting in a wider field, in more extended regions. Whence comes it that so many strong passions are awakened at times of public disturbance? It is, because then they all hope to be gratified; it is, because the highest ranks, the oldest and most powerful institutions, having been overturned, and replaced by others, which were hitherto imperceptible, all the passions see a road open before them, amid the tempest and confusion; the barriers apparently insurmountable, the sight of which prevented their existence, or strangled them in the cradle, do not exist; as all is then unprotected and defenceless, it is only required to have boldness and intrepidity enough to stand amid the ruins of all that was old.

[Pg 143]

Regarding things in the abstract, there is nothing more strikingly absurd than hereditary monarchy, the succession secured to a family which may at any time place on the throne a child, a fool, or a wretch: and yet in practice there is nothing more wise, prudent, and provident. This has been taught by the long experience of ages, it has been shown by reason, and proved by the sad warnings of those nations who have tried elective monarchy. Now, what is the cause of this? It is what we are endeavoring to explain. Hereditary monarchy precludes all the hopes of irregular ambition; without that, society always contains a germ of trouble, a principle of revolt, which is nourished by those who conceive a hope of one day obtaining the command. In quiet times, and under an hereditary monarchy, a subject, however rich, however distinguished he may be for his talent or his valour, cannot, without madness, hope to be king; and such a thought never enters his head. But change the circumstances,—admit, I will not say, the probability, but the possibility of such an event, and you will see that there will immediately be ardent candidates.

It would be easy to develop this doctrine more at length, and apply it to all the passions of man; but enough has been said to show that the first thing to be done when you have to subdue a passion, is to oppose to it an insurmountable barrier, which it can have no hope of passing. Then the passion rages for a little time, it rebels against the obstacle that resists it; but when it finds that to be immovable, it recedes, it is cast down, and, like the waves of the sea, it falls back murmuring to the level which has been marked out for it.

There is a passion in the heart of man, a passion which exerts a powerful influence on the destinies of his life, and too often, by its deceitful illusions, forms a long chain of sadness and misfortune. This passion, which has for its necessary object the preservation of the human race, is found, in some form, in all the beings of nature; but, inasmuch as it resides in the soul of an intelligent being, it assumes a peculiar character in man. In brutes, it is only an instinct, limited to the preservation of the species; in man, the instinct becomes a passion; and that passion, enlivened by the fire of imagination, rendered subtile by the powers of the mind, inconstant and capricious, because it is guided by a free will, which can indulge in as many whims as there are different impressions for the senses and the heart, is changed into a vague, fickle feeling, which is never contented, and which nothing can satisfy. Sometimes it is the restlessness of a man in a fever; sometimes the frenzy of a madman; sometimes a dream, which ravishes the soul into regions of bliss; sometimes the anguish and the convulsions of agony. Who can describe the variety of forms under which this deceitful passion presents itself? Who can tell the number of snares which it lays for the steps of unhappy mortals? Observe it at its birth, follow it in its career, up to the moment when it dies out like an expiring lamp. Hardly has the down appeared on the face of man, when there arises in his heart a mysterious feeling, which fills him with trouble and uneasiness, without his being aware of the cause. A pleasing melancholy glides into his heart, thoughts before unknown enter his mind, seductive images pervade his imagination, a secret attraction acts on his soul, unusual gravity appears in his features, all his inclinations take a new direction. The games of childhood no longer please him; every thing shows a new life, less innocent, less tranquil; the tempest does not yet rage, the sky is not darkened, but clouds, tinged with fire, are the sad presage of what is to come. When he becomes adolescent, that which was hitherto a feeling, vague, mysterious, incomprehensible, even to himself, becomes, from that time, more decided; objects are seen more clearly, they appear in their real nature; the passion sees, and seizes on them. But do not imagine that it becomes more constant on that account. It is as vain, as changeable, as capricious as the multitude of objects which by turns present themselves to it. It is constantly deluded, it pursues fleeting shadows, seeks a[Pg 144] satisfaction which it never finds, and awaits a happiness which it never attains. With an excited imagination, a burning heart, with his whole soul transported, and all his faculties subdued, the ardent young man is surrounded by a brilliant chain of illusions; he communicates these to all that environs him; he gives greater splendor to the light of heaven, he clothes the earth with richer verdure and more brilliant coloring, he sheds on all the reflection of his own enchantment.

In manhood, when the thoughts are more grave and fixed, when the heart is more constant, the will more firm, and resolutions more lasting; when the conduct which governs the destinies of life is subjected to rule, and, as it were, confirmed in its faith, this mysterious passion continues to agitate the heart of man, and it torments him with unceasing disquietude. We only observe that the passion is become stronger and more energetic, owing to the development of the physical organization; the pride which inspires man with independence of life, the feeling of greater strength, and the abundance of new powers, render him more decided, bold, and violent; while the warnings and lessons of experience have made him more provident and crafty. We no longer see the candor of his earlier years. He now knows how to calculate; he is able to approach his object by covert ways, and to choose the surest means. Woe to the man who does not provide in time against such an enemy! His existence will be consumed by a fever of agitation; amid disquietudes and torments, if he does not die in the flower of his age, he will grow old still ruled by this fatal passion; it will accompany him to the tomb, surrounding him, in his last days, with those repulsive and hideous forms which are exhibited in a countenance furrowed by years, and in eyes which are already veiled by the shades of death.

What plan should be adopted to restrain this passion, to confine it within just limits, and prevent its bringing misfortune to individuals, disorder to families, and confusion to society? The invariable rule of Catholicity, in the morality which she teaches, as well as in the institutions which she establishes, is repression; Catholicism does not allow a desire she declares to be culpable in the eyes of God; even a look, when accompanied by an impure thought. Why this severity? For two reasons; on account of the intrinsic morality which there is in this prohibition; and also, because there is profound wisdom in stifling the evil at its birth. It is certainly easier to prevent a man's consenting to evil desires, than it is to hinder his gratifying them when he has allowed them to enter his inflamed heart. There is profound reason in securing tranquillity to the soul, by not allowing it to remain, like Tantalus, with the water at his burning lips. "Quid vis videre, quod non licet habere?" Why do you wish to see that which you are forbidden to possess? is the wise observation of the author of the admirable Imitation of Christ; thus summing up, in a few words, all the prudence which is contained in the holy severity of the Christian doctrine.

The ties of marriage, by assigning a legitimate object to the passions, still do not dry up the source of agitation and the capricious restlessness which the heart conceals. Possession cloys and disgusts, beauty fades and decays, the illusions vanish, and the charms disappear; man, in the presence of a reality which is far from reaching the beauty of the dreams inspired by his ardent imagination, feels new desires arise in his heart; tired with what he possesses, he entertains new illusions; he seeks elsewhere the ideal happiness which he thought he had found, and quits the unpleasing reality which thus deceives his brightest hopes.

Give, then, the reins to the passions of man; allow him in any way to entertain the illusion that he can make himself any new ties; permit him to believe that he is not attached for ever, and without recall, to the companion of his life; and you will see that disgust will soon take possession of him, that discord will[Pg 145] be more violent and striking, that the ties will begin to wear out before they are contracted, and will break at the first shock. Proclaim, on the contrary, a law which makes no exception of poor or rich, weak or powerful, vassals or kings, which makes no allowance for difference of situation, of character, health, or any of those numberless motives which, in the hands of passions, and especially those of powerful men, are easily changed into pretexts; proclaim that this law is from heaven, show a divine seal on the marriage tie, tell the murmuring passions that if they will gratify themselves they must do so by immorality; tell them that the power which is charged with the preservation of this divine law will never make criminal compliances, that it will never dispense with the infraction of the divine law, and that the crime will never be without remorse; you will then see the passions become calm and resigned; the law will be diffused and strengthened, will take root in customs; you will have secured the good order and tranquillity of families for ever, and society will be indebted to you for an immense benefit. Now this is exactly what Catholicity has done, by efforts which lasted for ages; it is what Protestantism would have destroyed, if Europe had generally followed its doctrine and example, if the people had not been wiser than their deceitful guides.

Protestants and false philosophers, examining the doctrines and institutions of the Catholic Church through their prejudices and animosity, have not understood the admirable power of the two characteristics impressed at all times and in all places on the ideas and works of Catholicity, viz. unity and fixity; unity in doctrines, and fixity in conduct. Catholicity points out an object, and wishes us to pursue it straight forward. It is a reproach to philosophers and Protestants, that after having declaimed against unity of doctrine, they also declaimed against fixity of conduct. If they had reflected on man, they would have understood that this fixity is the secret of guiding and ruling him, and, when desirable of restraining his passions, of exalting his mind when necessary, and of rendering him capable of great sacrifices and heroic actions. There is nothing worse for man than uncertainty and indecision; nothing that weakens and tends more to make him useless. Indecision is to the will what skepticism is to the mind. Give a man a definite object, and if he will devote himself to it, he will attain it. Let him hesitate between two different ways, without a fixed rule to guide his conduct; let him be ignorant of his intention; let him not know whither he is going, and you will see his energy relax, his strength diminish, and he will stop. Do you know by what secret great minds govern the world? Do you know what renders them capable of heroic actions? And how all those who surround them are rendered so? It is that they have a fixed object, both for themselves and for others; it is that they see that object clearly, desire it ardently, strive after it directly, with firm hope and lively faith, without allowing any hesitation in themselves or in others. Alexander, Cæsar, Napoleon, and the other heroes of ancient and modern times, no doubt exercised a fascinating influence by the ascendency of their genius; but the secret of this ascendency, the secret of their power, and of that force of impulse by which they surmounted all, was the unity of thought, the fixity of plan, which produced in them that invincible, irresistible character which gave them an immense superiority over other men. Thus Alexander passed the Granicus, undertook and completed his wonderful conquest of Asia; thus Cæsar passed the Rubicon, put Pompey to flight, triumphed at Pharsalia, and made himself master of the world; thus did Napoleon disperse those who parleyed about the fate of France, conquered his enemies at Marengo, obtained the crown of Charlemagne, alarmed and astonished the world by the victories of Austerlitz and Jena.

Without unity there is no order, without fixity there is no stability; and in the moral as in the physical world, without order and stability nothing prospers. Protestantism, which has pretended to advance the individual and society by[Pg 146] destroying religious unity, has introduced into creeds and institutions the multiplicity and fickleness of private judgment; it has everywhere spread confusion and disorder, and has altered the nature of European civilization by inoculating it with a disastrous principle which has caused and will continue to cause lamentable evils. And let it not be supposed, that Catholicity, on account of the unity of her doctrines and the fixity of her conduct, is opposed to the progress of ages. There is nothing to prevent that which is one from advancing, and there may be movement in a system which has some fixed points. The universe whose grandeur astonishes us, whose prodigies fill us with admiration, whose beauty and variety enchant us, is united, is ruled by laws constant and fixed. Behold some of the reasons which justify the strictness of Catholicity, behold why she has not been able to comply with the demands of a passion which, once let loose, has no boundary or barrier, introduces trouble into hearts, disorder into families, takes away the dignity of manners, dishonors the modesty of women, and lowers them from the noble rank of the companions of men. I do not deny that Catholicity is strict on this point; but she could not give up this strictness without renouncing at the same time the sublime functions of the depository of sound morality, the vigilant sentinel which guards the destinies of humanity.17


We have seen, in the fifteenth chapter, with what jealousy Catholicity endeavors to veil the secrets of modesty; with what perseverance she imposes the restraint of morality on the most impetuous passion of the human heart. She shows us all the importance which belongs to the contrary virtue, by crowning with peerless splendor the total abstinence from sensual pleasure, viz. virginity. Frivolous minds, and principally those who are inspired by a voluptuous heart, do not understand how much Catholicity has thus contributed to the elevation of woman; but such will not be the case with reflecting men who are capable of seeing that all that tends to raise to the highest degree of delicacy the feeling of modesty, all that fortifies morality, all that contributes to make a considerable number of women models of the most heroic virtue, equally tends to place women above the atmosphere of gross passion. Woman then ceases to be presented to the eyes of man as the mere instrument of pleasure; none of the attractions with which nature has endowed her are lost or diminished, and she has no longer to dread becoming an object of contempt and disgust, after having been the unhappy victim of profligacy.

The Catholic Church is profoundly acquainted with these truths; and while she watched over the sanctity of the conjugal tie, while she created in the bosom of the family this admirable dignity of the matron, she covered with a mysterious veil the countenance of the Christian virgin, and she carefully guarded the spouses of the Lord in the seclusion of the sanctuary. It was reserved for Luther, the gross profaner of Catharine de Boré, to act in defiance of the profound and delicate wisdom of the Church on this point. After the apostate monk had violated the sacred seal set by religion on the nuptial bed, his was the unchaste hand to tear away the sacred veil of virgins consecrated to God: it was worthy of his hard heart to excite the cupidity of princes, to induce them to seize upon the possessions of these defenceless virgins, and expel them from their abodes. See him everywhere excite the flame of sensuality, and break through all control. What will become of virgins devoted to the sanctuary? Like timid doves, will they not fall into the snares of the libertine? Is this[Pg 147] the way to increase the respect paid to the female sex? Is this the way to increase the feeling of modesty and to advance humanity? Was this the way in which Luther gave a generous impulse to future generations, perfected the human mind, and gave vigor and splendor to refinement and civilization? What man with a tender and sensitive heart can endure the shameless declamation of Luther, especially if he has read the Cyprians, the Ambroses, the Jeromes, and the other shining lights of the Catholic Church, on the sublime honor of the Christian virgin? Who, then, will object to see, during ages when the most savage barbarism prevailed, those secluded dwellings where the spouses of the Lord secured themselves from the dangers of the world, incessantly employed in raising their hands to heaven, to draw down upon the earth the dews of divine mercy? In times and countries the most civilized, how sad is the contrast between the asylums of the purest and loftiest virtue, and the ocean of dissipation and profligacy! Were these abodes a remnant of ignorance, a monument of fanaticism, which the coryphæi of Protestantism did well to sweep from the earth? If this be so, let us protest against all that is noble and disinterested; let us stifle in our hearts all enthusiasm for virtue; let every thing be reduced to the grossest sensuality; let the painter throw away his pencil, the poet his lyre; let us forget our greatness and our dignity; let us degrade ourselves, saying, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die!"

No; true civilization can never forgive Protestantism for this immoral and impious work; true civilization can never forgive it for having violated the sanctuary of modesty and innocence, for having employed all its efforts to destroy respect for virginity; thus treading under foot a doctrine professed by all the human race. It did not respect what was venerated by the Greeks in the priestesses of Ceres, by the Romans in their vestals, by the Gauls in their druidesses, by the Germans in their prophetesses. It has carried the want of respect for modesty farther than was ever done by the dissolute nations of Asia, and the barbarians of the new world. It is certainly a disgrace for Europe to have attacked what was respected in all parts of the world, to have treated as a mistaken prejudice the universal belief of the human race, sanctioned, moreover, by Christianity. What invasion of barbarians was equal to this attack of Protestantism on all that ought to be most inviolable among men? It has set the fatal example in modern revolutions of the crimes which have been committed.

When we see, in warlike rage, the barbarity of the conquerors remove all restraint from a licentious soldiery, and let them loose against the abodes of virgins consecrated to God, there is nothing but what may be conceived. But when these holy institutions are persecuted by system, when the passions of the populace are excited against them, by grossly assailing their origin and object, this is more than brutal and inhuman. It is a thing which cannot be described, when those who act in this way boast of being Reformers, followers of the pure Gospel, and proclaim themselves the disciples of Him who, in His sublime councils, has pointed out virginity as one of the noblest virtues that can adorn the Christian's crown. Now, who is ignorant that this was one of the works to which Protestantism devoted itself with the greatest ardor?

Woman without modesty will be an incentive to sensuality, but will never attract the soul by the mysterious feeling which is called love. It is very remarkable, that although the most urgent desire of the heart of woman is to please, yet as soon as she forgets modesty she becomes displeasing and disgusting. Thus it is wisely ordained that what wounds her heart the most sharply, becomes the punishment of her fault. Hence, every thing that maintains in woman the delicate feeling of modesty, elevates her, adorns her, gives her greater ascendency over the heart of man, and creates for her a distinguished place in the domestic as well as in the social order. These truths were not understood[Pg 148] by Protestantism when it condemned virginity. It is true this virtue is not a necessary condition of modesty, but it is its beau idéal and type of perfection; and certainly we cannot destroy this model, by denying its beauty, by condemning its imitation as injurious, without doing great injury to modesty itself, which, continually struggling against the most powerful passion of the heart of man, cannot be preserved in all its purity, unless it be accompanied by the greatest precautions. Like a flower of infinite delicacy, of ravishing colours, of the sweetest perfume, it can scarcely support the slightest breath of wind; its beauty is destroyed with extreme facility, and its perfume readily evaporates.

But you will perhaps urge against virginity the injury which it does to population; you will consider the offerings which are made on the altar by this virtue as so much taken from the multiplication of the human race. Fortunately the observations of the most distinguished political economists have destroyed this delusion, originated by Protestantism, and supported by the incredulous philosophy of the 18th century. Facts have shown, in a convincing manner, two truths of equal importance in vindicating Catholic doctrines and institutions; 1, that the happiness of nations is not necessarily in proportion to the increase of their population; 2, that the augmentation and diminution of the population depend on many concurrent causes; that religious celibacy, if it be among them, has an insignificant influence.

A false religion and an illegitimate and egotistical philosophy have attempted to assimilate the secrets of this increase of the human race to that of other living beings. All idea of religion has been taken away; they have seen in humanity only a vast field where nothing was to be left sterile. Thus they have prepared the way for the doctrine which considers individuals as machines from which all possible profit should be drawn. No more was thought of charity, or the sublime instructions of religion with respect to the dignity and destinies of man; thus industry has become cruel, and the organization of labor, established on a basis purely material, increases the present, but fearfully menaces the future well-being of the rich.

How profound are the designs of Providence! The nation which has carried these fatal principles to the fullest extent now finds itself overcharged with men and products. Frightful misery devours her most numerous classes, and all the ability of her rulers will not be able to avoid the rock she is running on, urged by the power of the elements to which she has abandoned herself. The eminent professors of Oxford who, it seems, begin to see the radical vices of Protestantism, would find here a rich subject for meditation, if they would examine how far the pretended reformers of the 16th century have contributed, in preparing the critical situation in which England finds herself, in spite of her immense progress.

In the physical world all is disposed by number, weight, and measure; the laws of the universe show infinite calculation—infinite geometry; but let us not imagine that we can express all by our imperfect signs, and include every thing in our limited combinations; let us, above all, avoid the foolish error of assimilating too much the moral and the physical world—of applying indiscriminately to the first what only belongs to the second, and of upsetting by our pride the mysterious harmony of the creation. Man is not born simply for multiplication of his species; this is not the only part which he is intended to perform in the great machine of the universe; he is a being according to the image and likeness of God—a being who has his proper destiny—a destiny superior to all that surrounds him on earth. Do not debase him, do not level him with the earth, by inspiring him with earthly thoughts alone; do not oppress his heart, by depriving him of noble and elevated sentiments—by leaving him no taste for any but material enjoyments. If religious thoughts lead him to an austere life—if the inclination to sacrifice the pleasures of this life on the altar of the[Pg 149] God whom he adores takes possession of his heart—why should you hinder him? What right have you to despise a feeling which certainly requires greater strength of mind than is necessary for abandoning one's self to pleasure?

These considerations, which affect both sexes, have still greater force when they are applied to the female. With her lively imagination, her feeling heart, and ardent mind, she has greater need than man of serious inspiration, of grave, solemn thoughts, to counterbalance the activity with which she flies from object to object, receiving with extreme facility impressions of every thing she touches, and, like a magnetic agent, communicating them in her turn to all that surrounds her. Allow, then, a portion of that sex to devote itself to a life of contemplation and austerity; allow young girls and matrons to have always before their eyes a model of all the virtues—a sublime type of their noblest ornament, which is modesty. This will certainly not be without utility. Be assured, these virgins are not taken away from their families, nor from society—both will recover with usury what you imagine they have lost.

In fact, who can measure the salutary influence which the sacred ceremonies with which the Catholic Church celebrates the consecration of a virgin to God, must have exercised on female morals! Who can calculate the holy thoughts, the chaste inspirations which have gone forth from those silent abodes of modesty, erected sometimes in solitary places, and sometimes in crowded cities! Do you not believe that the virgin whose heart begins to be agitated by an ardent passion, that the matron who has allowed dangerous feelings to enter her soul, have not often found their passions restrained by the remembrance of a sister, a relative, a friend, who, in one of these silent abodes, raises her pure heart to Heaven, offering as a holocaust to the Divine Son of the blessed Virgin all the enchantments of youth and beauty? All this cannot be calculated, it is true; but this, at least, is certain, that no thought of levity, no inclination to sensuality has arisen therefrom. All this cannot be estimated; but can we estimate the salutary influence exercised by the morning dew upon plants? can we estimate the vivifying effect of light upon nature? and can we understand how the water which filters through the bowels of the earth fertilizes it by producing fruits and flowers?

There is, then, an infinity of causes of which we cannot deny the existence and the power, but which it is nevertheless impossible to submit to rigorous examination. The cause of the impotence of every work exclusively emanating from the mind of man is, that his mind is incapable of embracing the ensemble of the relations which exist in facts of this kind; it is impossible for him to appreciate properly the indirect influences—sometimes hidden, sometimes imperceptible—which act there with an infinite delicacy. This is the reason why time dispels so many illusions, belies so many prognostics, proves the weakness of what was reckoned strong, and the strength of what was considered weak. Indeed, time brings to light a thousand relations, the existence of which was not suspected, and puts into action a thousand causes which were either unknown or despised: the results advance in their development, appearing every day in a more evident manner, until at length we find ourselves in such a situation that we can no longer shut our eyes to the evidence of facts, or any longer evade their force.

One of the greatest mistakes made by the opponents of Catholicity is this. They can only see things under one aspect; they do not understand how a force can act otherwise than in a straight line; they do not see that the moral world, as well as the physical, is composed of relations infinitely varied, and of indirect influences, sometimes acting with more force than if they were direct. All form a system correlative and harmonious, the parts of which it is necessary to avoid separating, more than is absolutely needful for becoming acquainted with the hidden and delicate ties which connect the whole. It is necessary, more[Pg 150]over, to allow for the action of time, that indispensable element in all complete development, in every lasting work.

I trust I shall be pardoned for this short digression, necessary for the inculcation of the great truths which have not been sufficiently attended to in examining the great institutions founded by Catholicity. Philosophy is now compelled to withdraw propositions advanced too boldly, and to modify principles applied too generally. It would have avoided this trouble and mortification by being cautious and circumspect in its investigations. In league with Protestantism, it declared deadly war against the great Catholic institutions; it loudly appealed against moral and religious centralization. And now a unanimous shout is raised from all quarters of the world in favour of the principle of unity. The instinct of nations seeks for it; philosophers examine the secrets of science to discover it. Vain efforts! No other foundation can be established than that which is already laid; duration depends upon solidity.


An indefatigable zeal for the sanctity of marriage, and an anxious solicitude to carry the principle of modesty to the highest degree of delicacy, are the two rules which have guided Catholicity in her efforts for the elevation of woman. These are the two great means she has employed in attaining her object, and hence comes the influence and importance of women in Europe. M. Guizot is, therefore, wrong in saying that "it is to the development, to the necessary preponderance of domestic manners in the feudal system, that this change, this improvement in their condition is chiefly owing." I will not discuss the greater or less influence of the feudal system on the development of European manners. Undoubtedly when the feudal lord "shall have his wife, his children, and scarcely any others in his house, they alone will form his permanent society; they alone will share his interests, his destiny. It is impossible for domestic influence not to acquire great power." (Leçon 4.) But if the lord, returning to his castle, found one wife there, and not many, to what was that owing? Who forbade him to abuse his power by turning his house into a harem? Who bridled his passions and prevented his making victims of his timid vassals? Surely these were the doctrines and morals introduced into Europe, and deeply rooted there by the Catholic Church; it was the strict laws which she imposed as a barrier to the invasions of the passions; therefore, even if we suppose that feudality did produce this good, it is still owing to the Catholic Church.

That which has no doubt tended to exaggerate the influence of feudality in all that raises and ennobles women, is a fact that appears very evidently at that period, and is dazzling at first sight. This is the brilliant spirit of chivalry, which, rising out of the bosom of the feudal system, and rapidly diffusing itself, produced the most heroic actions, gave birth to a literature rich in imagination and feeling, and contributed in great measure to soften and humanize the savage manners of the feudal lords. This period is particularly distinguished for the spirit of gallantry; not the gallantry which consists generally in the tender relations of the two sexes, but a greatly exaggerated gallantry on the part of man, combining, in a remarkable way, the most heroic courage with the most lively faith and the most ardent religion. God and his lady; such is the constant thought of the knight; this absorbs all his faculties, occupies all his time, and fills up all his existence. As long as he can obtain a victory over the infi[Pg 151]dels, and is supported by the hope of offering at the feet of his lady the trophies of his triumph, no sacrifice costs him any thing, no journey fatigues, no danger affrights, no enterprise discourages him. His excited imagination transports him into a world of fancy; his heart is on fire; he undertakes all, he finishes all; and the man who has just fought like a lion on the plains of Spain, or of Palestine, melts like wax at the name of the idol of his heart; then he turns his eyes amorously towards his country, and is intoxicated with the idea that one day, sighing under the castle of his beloved, he may obtain a pledge of her affection, or a promise of love. Woe to any one who is bold enough to dispute his treasure, or indiscreet enough to fix his eyes on those battlements. The lioness who has been robbed of her cubs is not more terrible, the forest torn to pieces by the hurricane is not more agitated than his heart; nothing can stop his vengeance, he must destroy his rival or die. In examining this mixture of mildness and ferocity, of religion and passion, which, no doubt, has been exaggerated by the fancies of chroniclers and troubadours, but which must have had a real type, we shall observe that it was very natural at that time, and that it is not so contradictory as it appears at first sight. Indeed, nothing was more natural than violent passions among men whose ancestors, not long before, had come from the forests of the north to pitch their bloody tents on the site of ruined cities; nothing was more natural than that there should be no other judge than strength of arm among men whose only profession was war, and who lived in an embryo society, where there was no public law strong enough to restrain private passions. Nothing, too, was more natural to those men than a lively sense of religion, for religion was the only power which they acknowledged; she had enchanted their imaginations by the splendour and magnificence of her temples, by the majesty and pomp of her worship. She had filled them with astonishment, by placing before their eyes the most sublime virtue, by addressing them in language as lofty as it was sweet and insinuating; language, no doubt, imperfectly understood by them, but which, nevertheless, convinced them of the holiness and divinity of the Christian mysteries and precepts, inspired them with respect and admiration, and also exercising a powerful influence on their minds, enkindled enthusiasm and produced heroism. Thus we see that all that was good in this exalted sentiment emanated from religion; if we take away faith, we shall find nothing but the barbarian, who knew no other law than his spear, and no other rule of conduct than the inspirations of his fiery soul.

The more we penetrate into the spirit of chivalry and examine in particular the feelings which it professed towards women, the more we shall see that, instead of raising them, it supposes them already raised and surrounded by respect. Chivalry does not give a new place to women; it finds them already honoured and respected; and indeed, if it were not so, how could it imagine a gallantry so exaggerated, so fantastical? But if we imagine to ourselves the beauty of a virgin covered by the veil of Christian modesty; if we imagine this charm increased by illusion, we shall then understand the madness of the knight. If we imagine, at the same time, the virtuous matron, the companion of man, the mother of a family, the only woman in whom were concentrated all the affections of husband and children, the Christian wife, we shall understand why the knight was intoxicated at the mere idea of obtaining so much happiness, why his love was more than a sensual feeling, it was a respect, a veneration, a worship.

It has been attempted to find the origin of this kind of worship in the manners of the Germans; on the strength of some expressions of Tacitus, the social amelioration of woman's lot has been attributed to the respect with which the barbarians surrounded her. M. Guizot rejects this assertion, and justly combats it by observing that what Tacitus tells us of the Germans was not exclusively applicable to them, since "phrases similar to those of Tacitus, and[Pg 152] sentiments and customs analogous to those of the ancient Germans, are met with in the statements of many observers of savage or barbarous nations." Yet in spite of this wise remark, the same opinion has been maintained: it is necessary, then, to combat it again.

The passage of Tacitus is this: "Inesse quin etiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant, nec aut consilia eorum aspernantur, aut responsa negligunt. Vidimus sub Divo Vespasiano Velledam diu apud plerosque numinis loco habitare." (De Mor. Germ.) "They go so far as to think that there is in women something holy and prophetical; they do not despise their counsels, and they listen to their predictions. In the time of the divine Vespasian, we have seen the greater part of them for a long time regard Velleda as a goddess." It seems to me that it is mistaking the passage of Tacitus, to extend its meaning to domestic manners, and to see in it a trait of married life. If we attend to the historian's words, we shall see that such an explanation is far from his idea. His words only relate to the superstition which made the people attribute to some women the prophetic character. Even the example chosen by Tacitus serves to show the truth and justness of this observation. "Velleda," he says, "was regarded as a goddess." In another part of his works, Tacitus explains his idea by telling us, of this same Velleda, "that this girl of the nation of Bructeres enjoyed great power, owing to an ancient custom among the Germans, which made them look upon many women as prophetesses, and, in fine, with the progress of superstition, as real divinities." "Ea virgo nationis Bructeræ late imperitabat, vetere apud Germanos more quo plerasque fœminarum fatidicas et augescente superstitione arbitrantur deas." (Hist. 4.) The text which I have just quoted proves to demonstration that Tacitus speaks of superstition and not of family regulations, very different things; as it might easily happen that some women were regarded as divinities, while the rest of their sex only occupied a place in society inferior to that which belonged to them. At Athens, great importance was given to the priestesses of Ceres; at Rome to the Vestals, the Pythonesses; and the history of the Sibyls shows that it was not peculiar to the Germans to attribute the prophetical character to women. It is not for me now to explain the cause of these facts; it is enough for my purpose to state them; perhaps, on this point, physiology might throw light on the philosophy of history.

When Tacitus, in the same work, describes the severity of the manners of the Germans with respect to marriage, it is easy to observe that the order of superstition and the order of the family were among them very different. We have no longer here any thing of the sanctum et providum; we find only a jealous austerity in maintaining the line of duty; and we see woman, instead of being regarded as a goddess, given up to the vengeance of the husband, if she has been unfaithful. This curious passage proves that the power of man over woman was not much limited by the customs of the Germans. "Accisis crinibus," says Tacitus, "nudatam coram propinquis expellit domo maritus, ac per omnem vicum verbere agit." "After having cut off her hair, the husband drives her from his house in presence of her relations, and beats her with rods ignominiously through the village." Certainly this punishment gives us an idea of the infamy which was attached to adultery among the Germans; but it was little calculated to increase the respect entertained for them publicly; this would have been greater had they been stoned to death.

When we read in Tacitus the description of the social state of the Germans, we must not forget that some traits of their manners are purposely embellished by him, which is very natural for a writer of his sentiments. We must not forget that Tacitus was indignant and afflicted at the sight of the fearful corruption of manners at that time in Rome. He paints, it is true, in glowing colours, the sanctity of marriage among the Germans; but who does not see[Pg 153] that, when doing so, he had before his eyes matrons who, according to Seneca, reckoned their years not by the succession of consuls, but by change of husbands, and women without a shadow of modesty, given up to the greatest profligacy? We can easily see to whom he alludes when he makes these severe remarks: "Nemo enim illic vitia ridet, nec corrumpere et corrumpi sæculum vocatur." "There vice is not laughed at, and corruption is not called the fashion." A strong expression, which describes the age, and explains to us the secret joy with which Tacitus cast in the face of Rome, so refined and so corrupted, the pure image of German manners. That which sharpened the raillery of Juvenal andenvenomed his bitter satires, excited the indignation of Tacitus, and drew from his grave philosophy these severe reprimands. Other information which we possess shows us that the pictures of Tacitus are embellished, and that the manners of this people were far from being as pure as he wishes to persuade us. Perhaps they may have been strict with respect to marriage; but it is certain that polygamy was not unknown among them. Cæsar, an eye-witness, relates, that the German king Ariovistus had two wives (De Bello Gallico, l. i.); and this was not a solitary instance, for Tacitus himself tells us that a few of them had several wives at once, not on account of sensuality, but for distinction. "Exceptis admodum paucis, qui non libidine, sed ob nobilitatem, pluribus nuptiis ambiuntur." This distinction, non libidine sed ob nobilitatem, is amusing; but it is clear that the kings and nobles, under one pretence or another, allowed themselves greater liberty than the severe historian would have approved of.

Who can tell what was the state of morality among those forests? If we may be allowed to conjecture by analogy, from the resemblance which may naturally be supposed to exist among the different nations of the North, what an idea might we conceive of it from certain customs of the Britons, who, in bodies of ten or twelve, had their wives in common; chiefly brothers with brothers, and fathers with sons; so that they were compelled to distinguish the families conventionally, by giving the children to him who had first married the woman! It is from Cæsar, an eye-witness, that we also learn this: "Uxores habent (Britanni) deni duodenique inter se communes, et maxime fratres cum fratribus et parentes cum liberis; sed si qui sunt ex his nati, eorum habentur liberi a quibus primum virgines quæque ductæ sunt." (De Bello Gallico, l. v.)

However this may have been, it is at least certain that the principle of monogamy was not so much respected among the Germans as people have been willing to suppose; an exception was made in favour of the nobles, that is, of the powerful; and that was enough to deprive the principle of all its force, and to prepare its ruin. In such a matter, to establish an exception to the law in favour of the powerful, is almost to abrogate it. It may be said, I admit, that the powerful will never want means of violating it; but it is one thing for the powerful to violate the law, and another for the law itself to retire before them, leaving the way open: in the first case, the employment of force does not destroy the law—the very shock which breaks it, makes its existence felt, and visibly shows the wrong and injustice; in the second case, the law prostitutes itself, if I may so speak; the passions have no need of force to open for themselves a passage, the law itself opens the door for them. From that time it remains degraded and disgraced; its own baseness has undermined the moral principle on which it was founded; and, owing to its own fault, it becomes itself the subject of animadversion to those who are still compelled to observe it. Thus the right of polygamy, once recognised among the Germans in favour of the great, must, with time, have become general among the other classes of the people; and it is very probable that this was the case when the conquest of more productive countries, the enjoyment of more genial climates, and some improvement in their social condition furnished them more abundantly with[Pg 154] the means of gratifying their inclinations. An evil so great could only be withstood by the inflexible severity of the Catholic Church. Nobles and kings still had a strong inclination towards the privileges which we have seen their predecessors enjoying before they embraced the Christian religion. Thence it came that, in the first centuries after the irruption of the barbarians, the Church had so much trouble in restraining their violent inclinations. Would not those who have endeavored to find among the Germans so large a portion of the constitutive elements of modern civilization have shown more wisdom, if they had recognised, in the manners which we have been examining, one of the causes which made the struggles between the secular princes and the Church so frequent?

I do not see why we should seek in the forests of the barbarians for the origin of one of the finest attributes of our civilization, or why we should give to those nations virtues of which they showed so little evidence when they invaded the countries of the south.

Without monuments, without history—almost without any index as to their social condition—it is difficult, not to say impossible, to know any thing certain with respect to their manners; but I ask, what must have been their morality, in the midst of such ignorance, such superstition, and such barbarism?

The little that we know about these nations has been necessarily taken from the Roman historians; and unfortunately this is not one of the purest sources. It almost always happens that observers, especially when they are conquerors, only give some slight notions with regard to the political state of a people, and are almost silent as to their social and domestic condition. In order to form an idea of this part of the condition of a nation, it is necessary to mingle with them, and be intimate with them; now this is generally prevented by their different states of civilization, especially when the observers and the observed are exasperated against each other by long years of war and slaughter. Add to this, that, in such cases, the attention is particularly attracted by what favors or opposes the designs of the conquerors, who for the most part attach no great importance to moral subjects; this will show us how it is that nations who are observed in this way are only superficially known, and why such statements with respect to religion and manners are unworthy of much confidence.

The reader will judge whether these reflections are out of place in estimating the value of what the Romans have told us about the state of the barbarians. It is enough to fix our eyes on the scenes of blood and horror prevailing for centuries, which show us, on the one hand, the ambition of Rome, which, not content with the empire of the then known world, wished to extend its power over the most distant forests of the North; and, on the other, the indomitable spirit of barbarian independence, breaking in pieces the chains which were attempted to be imposed upon them, and destroying, by their bold incursions, the ramparts which the skill of the Roman generals labored to raise against them. See, then, what we ought to think of barbarian society, as described by Roman historians. What shall we think, if we consult the few traits which the barbarians themselves have left us, of their manners and maxims with respect to their social condition? It is always risking much to seek in barbarism for the origin of one of the most beautiful results of civilization, and to attribute to vague and superstitious feelings what, during centuries, forms the normal state of the most advanced nations. If these noble sentiments, which are represented to us as emanating from the barbarians, really existed among them, how did they avoid perishing in the midst of their migrations and revolutions? How did they alone remain, when every thing relating to the social condition of the barbarians disappeared?

These sentiments would not have been preserved in a stationary state, but we should have seen them stripped of their superstition and grossness, purified, ennobled, and made reasonable, just, salutary, chivalrous, and worthy of civi[Pg 155]lized nations. Such assertions have, from the first sight, the character of bold paradoxes. Certainly, when we have to explain great phenomena in the social order, it is rather more philosophical to seek for their origin in ideas which for a long time have exercised a powerful influence on society, in manners and institutions emanating from them, in laws, in fine, which have been recognised and respected for many centuries as established by Divine power.

Why, then, attempt to explain the respect in which women are held in Europe, by the superstitious veneration which barbarous nations offered in their forests to Velleda, Aurinia, and Gauna? Reason and good sense tell us that the real origin of this wonderful phenomenon is not to be found there, and that we must seek elsewhere for the causes which have contributed to produce it. History reveals to us these causes, and renders them palpable to us, by showing us facts which leave no doubt as to the source whence this powerful and salutary influence emanated. Before Christianity, woman, oppressed by the tyranny of man, was scarcely raised above the rank of slavery; her weakness condemned her to be the victim of the strong. The Christian religion, by its doctrines of fraternity in Jesus Christ, and equality before God, destroys the evil in its root, by teaching man that woman ought not to be his slave, but his companion. From that moment the amelioration of woman's lot was felt wherever Christianity was spread; and woman, as far as the degradation of ancient manners allowed, began to gather the fruit of a doctrine which was to make a complete change in her condition, by giving her a new existence. This is one of the principal causes of the amelioration of woman's lot: a sensible, palpable cause, which is easily shown without making any gratuitous supposition, a cause which is not founded on conjecture, but which appears evident on the first glance at the most notorious facts of history.

Moreover, Catholicity, by the severity of its morality, by the lofty protection which it affords to the delicate feeling of modesty, corrected and purified manners; thus it very much elevated woman, whose dignity is incompatible with corruption and licentiousness. In fine, Catholicity itself, or the Catholic Church, (and observe, I do not say Christianity,) by its firmness in establishing and preserving monogamy and the indissolubility of the marriage tie, restrained the caprices of man, and made him concentrate his affections on one wife, who could not be divorced. Thus woman passed from a state of slavery to that of the companion of man. The instrument of pleasure was changed into the mother of a family, respected by her children and servants. Thus was created in the family identity of interests; thus was guarantied the education of children, which produced the close intimacy which among us unites husband and wife, parents and children. The atrocious right of life and death was destroyed; the father had not even the right to inflict punishments too severe; and all this admirable system was strengthened by ties strong but mild, was based on the principles of sound morality, sustained by prevailing manners, guarantied and protected by the laws, fortified by reciprocal interests, sanctioned by time, and endeared by love. This is the truly satisfactory explanation of the enigma; this is the origin of the honor and dignity of woman in Europe; thence we have derived the organization of the family,—an inestimable benefit which Europeans possess without appreciating it, without being sufficiently acquainted with it, and watching over its preservation as they ought.

In treating of this important matter, I have purposely distinguished between Christianity and Catholicity, in order to avoid a confusion in words, which would have entailed a confusion in things. In reality, the true, the only Christianity is Catholicity; but, unfortunately, we cannot now employ these words indiscriminately, not only on account of Protestantism, but also on account of the monstrous philosophico-Christian nomenclature which ranks Christianity among philosophical sects, as if it were nothing more than a system imagined[Pg 156] by man. As the principle of charity plays a great part wherever the religion of Jesus Christ is found, and as this principle is evident even to the eyes of the incredulous, philosophers who have wished to persevere in their incredulity without incurring the scandalous epithet of disciples of Voltaire, have adopted the words fraternity and humanity, to make them the theme of their instructions; they have consented to give to Christianity the chief glory of originating its sublime ideas and generous sentiments: thus they appear not to contradict the history of the past as the philosophy of the age gone by in its madness did; but they pretend to accommodate all to the present time, and prepare the way for a greater and happier future. For these philosophers Christianity is not a divine religion; by no means. With them it is an idea, fortunate, magnificent, and fruitful in grand results, but purely human; it is the result of long and painful human labors. Polytheism, Judaism, the philosophy of the East, of Egypt, of Greece, were all preparatory to that great work. Jesus Christ, according to them, only moulded into form an idea which was in embryo in the bosom of humanity. He fixed and developed it, and, by reducing it to practice, made the human race to take a step of great importance in the path of progress into which it has entered. But, He is always, in the eyes of these philosophers, nothing more than a philosopher of Judea, as Socrates was of Greece, and Seneca of Rome. Still we should rejoice that they grant to Him this human existence, and do not transform Him into a mythological being, by considering the Gospel narrative as a mere allegory.

Thus, at the present time, it is of the first importance to distinguish between Christianity and Catholicity, whenever we have to bring to light and present to the gratitude of mankind the unspeakable benefits for which they are indebted to the Christian religion. It is necessary to show that what has regenerated the world was not an idea thrown at hazard among all those who have struggled for preference and pre-eminence; but that it was a collection of truths sent from Heaven, transmitted to the human race by a God made Man, by means of a society formed and authorized by Himself, in order to perpetuate to the end of time the work which His word had established, which His miracles had sanctioned, and which He had sealed with His blood. It is consequently necessary to exhibit this society, that is, the Catholic Church, realizing in her laws and institutions the inspirations and instructions of her Divine Master, and accomplishing the lofty mission of leading men towards eternal happiness, while ameliorating their condition here below, and consoling them in this land of misfortune. In this way we form a correct idea of Christianity, if we may so speak, or rather we show it as it really is, not as men vainly represent it. And observe, that we ought never to fear for the truth, when the facts of history are fully and searchingly examined. If in the vast field into which our investigations lead us, we sometimes find ourselves in obscurity, walking for a long time in dark vaults which the rays of the sun do not visit, and where the soil under our feet threatens to swallow us up, let us fear nothing, let us advance with courage and confidence; amid the darkest windings we shall discover at a distance the light that shines upon the end of our journey; we shall see truth seated on the threshold, placidly smiling at our terrors and anxieties.

To philosophers, as well as to Protestants, we would say, if Christianity were not realized in a visible society, always in contact with man, and provided with the authority necessary for teaching and guiding him, it would be only a theory, like all others that have been and still are seen on the earth; consequently it would be either altogether sterile, or at least unable to produce any of those great works which endure unimpaired for ages. Now one of these is undoubtedly Christian marriage, and the family organization which has been its immediate consequence. It would have been vain to advance notions favorable to the dignity of woman and tending to improve her lot, if the sanctity of mar[Pg 157]riage had not been guarantied by a power generally acknowledged and revered. That power is continually struggling against the passions which labor to overcome it; what would have happened if they had had to contend with no other obstacle than a philosophic theory, or a religious idea without reality in society, and without power to obtain submission and obedience?

We have, then, no need of recurring to that extravagant philosophy which seeks for light in the midst of darkness, and which, on seeing order arise out of chaos, has conceived the singular notion of affirming that it was produced by it. If we find in the doctrines, in the laws of the Catholic Church the origin of the sanctity of marriage and the dignity of woman, why should we seek for it in the manners of brutal barbarians, who had no veil for modesty and the privacy of the nuptial couch? Let us hear Cæsar speaking of the Germans: "Nulla est occultatio, quod et promiscui in fluminibus perluuntur, et pellibus aut rhenorum tegumentis utuntur, magna corporis parte nuda." (De Bello Gall., l. vi.)

I have been obliged to oppose authority to authority; I was under the necessity of destroying the fantastical systems into which men have been seduced by an over love of subtilty, by the mania of finding extraordinary causes for phenomena, the origin of which may easily be discovered when we have recourse, in good faith and sincerity, to the concurring instructions of philosophy and history. It was highly necessary, in order to clear up one of the most delicate questions in the history of the human race, and to find the source of one of the most fruitful elements of European civilization. My task was nothing less than to explain the organization of families, that is, to fix one of the poles on which the axis of society turns.

Let Protestantism boast of having introduced divorce, of having deprived marriage of the beautiful and sublime character of a sacrament, of having withdrawn from the care and protection of the Church the most important act of human life; let it rejoice in having destroyed the sacred asylums of virgins consecrated to God; let it declaim against the most angelic and heroic virtue; let us, after having defended the doctrine and conduct of the Catholic Church at the tribunal of philosophy and history, conclude by appealing to the judgment, not indeed of high philosophy, but of good sense and feeling.18


When enumerating, in the twentieth chapter, the characteristics which mark European civilization, I pointed out, as one of them, "an admirable public conscience, rich in sublime maxims of morality, in rules of justice and equity, in sentiments of honor and dignity, a conscience which survives the shipwreck of private morality, and does not allow the open corruption to go so far as it did in ancient times." We must now explain more at length in what this public conscience consists, what is its origin, what are its results, showing at the same time what share Catholicity and Protestantism have had in its formation. This delicate and important question is, I will venture to say, untouched; at least I do not know that it has yet been attempted. Men constantly speak of the excellence of Christian morality, and on this point all the sects, all the schools of Europe are agreed; but they do not pay sufficient attention to the way in which that morality has become predominant, by first destroying Pagan corruption, then by maintaining itself for centuries in spite of the ravages of infidelity, so as to form an admirable public conscience; a benefit which we now enjoy without appreciating it as we ought, and without even thinking of it.[Pg 158] In order fully to comprehend this matter, it is above all necessary to form a clear idea of what is meant by conscience. Conscience in the general, or rather ideological sense of the word, means the knowledge which each man has of his own acts. Thus we say that the soul is conscious of its thoughts, of the acts of its will, and of its sensations; so that the word conscience, taken in this sense, expresses a perception of what we do and feel. Applied to the moral order, this word signifies the judgment which we ourselves form of our actions as good or evil. Thus, when we are about to perform an action, conscience points it out to us as good or bad, and consequently lawful or unlawful; and it thus directs our conduct. The action being performed, it tells us whether we have done well or ill, it excuses or condemns us, it rewards us with peace of mind, or punishes us with remorse.

This explanation being given, we shall easily understand what is meant by public conscience; it is nothing but the judgment formed of their actions by the generality of men. It results from this that, like private conscience, the public conscience may be right or wrong, strict or relaxed; and that there must be differences on this point among societies of men, the same as there are among individuals; that is to say, that, as in the same society we find men whose consciences are more or less right or wrong, more or less strict or relaxed, we must also find societies superior to others in the justice of the judgment which they form on actions, and in the delicacy of their moral appreciation.

If we observe closely, we shall see that individual conscience is the result of widely different causes. It is an error to suppose that conscience resides solely in the intelligence; it is also rooted in the heart. It is a judgment, it is true; but we judge of things in a very different way according to the manner in which we feel them. Add to this, that the feelings have an immense influence on moral ideas and actions; the result is, that conscience is formed under the influence of all the causes which forcibly act on our hearts. Communicate to two children the same moral principles, by teaching them from the same book and under the same master; but suppose that one in his own family sees what he is taught constantly practised, while the other sees there nothing but indifference to it; suppose, moreover, that these two children grow up with the same moral and religious conviction, so that as far as the intellect is concerned there is no difference between them; nevertheless, do you believe that their judgment of the morality of actions will be the same? By no means; and why? Because the one has only convictions, while the other has also feelings. In the one, the doctrine enlightens the mind; while, in the other, example engraves it constantly on the heart. Thus what one regards with indifference, the other looks upon with horror; what the one does with negligence, the other performs with the greatest care; and the same subject that to one is of slight interest, is to the other of the highest importance.

Public conscience, which, in fact, is the sum of private consciences, is subject to the same influences as they are; so that mere instruction is not enough for it, and it requires the concurrence of other causes to act on the heart, as well as the mind. When we compare Christian with pagan society, we instantly see that the former must be infinitely superior to the latter on this point; not only on account of the purity of its morality, and the strength of the principles and motives sanctioning it, but also because it follows the wise course of continually inculcating this morality, and impressing it strongly on the mind by constant repetition. By this constant repetition of the same truths, Christianity has done what other religions never could do; none of them, indeed, have ever succeeded in organizing and putting into practice so important a system. But I have said enough on this point in the fourteenth chapter; it is useless to repeat it here; I pass on to some observations on the public conscience in Europe.

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It cannot be denied that, generally speaking, reason and justice prevail in that public conscience. If you examine laws and actions, you will not find those shocking acts of injustice or those revolting immoralities which are to be met with among other nations. There are certainly evils, and very grave ones, but they are at least acknowledged, and called by their right names. We do not hear good called evil, or evil good; that is to say, society, in certain things, is like those persons of good principles and bad morals who are the first to acknowledge that their conduct is blamable, and that their words and deeds contradict each other. We often lament the corruption of morals, the profligacy of our large towns; but what is all the corruption and profligacy of modern society compared with the debauchery of the ancients? It certainly cannot be denied that there is a fearful extent of dissoluteness in some of the capitals of Europe. The records of the police, as well as those of the benevolent establishments where the fruits of crime are received, show shocking demoralization. In the highest classes dreadful ravages are caused by conjugal infidelity, and all sorts of dissipation and disorder; yet these excesses are very far from reaching the extent which they did among the best-governed nations of antiquity, the Greeks and Romans. So that our society, which we so bitterly lament, would have appeared to them a model of modesty and decorum. Need we call to mind the infamous vices then so common and so public, and which have scarcely a name among us now, whether it be because they are so rarely committed, or because the fear of public conscience forces them to hide themselves in the dark places, and, so to speak, in the bowels of the earth? Need we recall to mind the infamies which stain the writings of the ancients as often as they describe the manners of their times? Names illustrious in science and in arms have passed down to posterity with stains so black that we cannot consent to describe them. Now, how corrupt must have been the state of the other classes, when such degradation was attributed to men who, by their elevated positions or other circumstances, were the lights of society!

You talk of the avarice which is so prevalent now-a-days; but look at the usurers of antiquity who sucked the blood of the people everywhere; read the satirical poets, and you will see what was the state of manners on this point; consult, in fine, the annals of the Church, and you will see what pains she took to diminish the effects of this vice; read the history of ancient Rome, and you will find the cursed thirst for gold, and lenders without mercy, who, after having impudently robbed, carried in triumph the fruits of their rapine to live with scandalous ostentation, and buy votes again to raise them to command. No, in European civilization, among nations taught and elevated by Christianity, such evils would not be long tolerated. If we suppose administrative disorder, tyranny, and corruption of morals carried as far as you please, still public opinion would raise its voice and frown on the oppressors. Partial injustice may be committed, but rapine will never be formed into a shameless system, or be regarded as the rule of government. Rely upon it, the words justice, morality, humanity, which constantly resound in our midst, are not vain words; this language produces great results; it destroys immense evils. These ideas impregnate the atmosphere we breathe; they frequently restrain the arm of criminals, and resist with incredible force materialistic and utilitarian doctrines; they continue to exert an incalculable influence on society. We have among us a feeling of morality which mollifies and governs all; which is so powerful that vice is compelled to assume the appearance of virtue, and cover itself with many veils, in order to escape becoming the subject of public execration.

Modern society, it would seem, ought to have inherited the corruption of the old, since it was formed out of its ruins, at a time when its morals were most dissolute. We must observe, that the irruption of the barbarians, far from improving society, contributed, on the contrary, to make it worse; and this, not[Pg 160] only on account of the corruption belonging to their fierce and brutal manners, but also on account of the disorder introduced among the nations they invaded, by violating laws, throwing their manners and customs into confusion, and destroying all authority. Whence it follows, that the improvement of public opinion among modern nations is a very singular fact; and that this progress can only be attributed to the influence of the active and energetic principle which has existed in the bosom of Europe for so many centuries.

Let us observe the conduct of the Church on this point—it is perhaps one of the most important facts in the history of the middle ages. Imagine an age when corruption and injustice most unblushingly raised their heads, and you will see that, however impure and disgusting the fact may be, the law is always pure; that is to say, that reason and justice always found some one to proclaim them, even when they appeared to be listened to by nobody. The state of ignorance was the darkest, licentious passions were uncontrolled; but the instructions and admonitions of the Church were never wanting; it is thus that, amidst the darkest night, the lighthouse shines from afar, to guide the mariners in safety.

When in reading the history of the Church we see on all sides assembled councils proclaiming the principles of the gospel morality, while at every step we meet with the most scandalous proceedings; when we constantly hear inculcated the laws which are so often trodden under foot, it is natural to ask, of what use was all this, and of what benefit were instructions thus unheeded? Let us not believe that these proclamations were useless, nor lose courage if we have to wait long for their fruits.

A principle which is proclaimed for a long time in society will in the end acquire influence; if it is true, and consequently contains an element of life, it will prevail in the end over all that opposes it, and will rule over all around it. Allow, then, the truth to speak—allow it to protest continually; this will prevent the prescription of vice. Thus vice will preserve its proper name; and you will prevent misguided men from deifying their passions, and placing them on their altars after having adored them in their hearts. Be confident that this protest will not be useless. Truth in the end will be victorious and triumphant; for the protests of truth are the voice of God condemning the usurpations of His creatures. This is what really happened; Christian morality, first contending with the corrupt manners of the empire, and afterwards with the brutality of the barbarians, had for centuries rude shocks to sustain; but at last it triumphed over all, and succeeded in governing legislation and public morals. We do not mean to say that it succeeded in raising law and morals to the degree of perfection which the purity of the gospel morality required, but at least it did away the most shocking injustice; it banished the most savage customs; it restrained the license of the most shameless manners; it everywhere gave vice its proper name; it painted it in its real colors, and prevented its being deified as impudently as it was among the ancients. In modern times, it has had to contend against the school which proclaims that private interest is the only principle of morals; it has not been able, it is true, to prevent this fatal doctrine from causing great evils, but at least it has sensibly diminished them. Unhappy for the world will be the day when men shall say without disguise, "My own advantage is my virtue; my honor is what is useful to myself; all is good or evil, according as it is pleasing or displeasing to me." Unhappy for the world will be the day when such language will no longer be repudiated by public conscience. The opportunity now presenting itself, and wishing to explain so important a matter as fully as possible, I will make some observations on an opinion of Montesquieu respecting the censors of Greece and Rome. This digression will not be foreign to the purpose.

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Montesquieu has said that republics are preserved by virtue, and monarchies by honor. He observes, moreover, that honor renders the censors, who were required among the ancients, unnecessary among us. True it is, that in modern times there are no censors charged with watching over the public morals; but the cause of this is not as stated by this famous publicist. Among Christian nations, the ministers of religion are the natural censors of public morals. The plenitude of this office belongs to the Church, with this difference, that the censorial power of the ancients was purely civil, while that of the Church is a religious power, which has its origin and sanction in divine authority. The religion of Greece and Rome neither did, nor could, exercise this censorial power over morals. To be convinced of this, it is enough to read the passage from St. Augustine, quoted in the fourteenth chapter—a passage so interesting on this matter, that I will venture to ask the reader to peruse it again. This is the reason why we find among the Greeks and Romans censors who are not seen among Christian nations. These censors were an addition to the Pagan religion, the impotence of which they clearly showed—a religion which was mistress of society, and yet could not fulfil one of the first duties of all religions—that of watching over the public morals. What I assert is so perfectly true, that in proportion as the influence of religion and the ascendency of its ministers have been lowered among modern nations, the ancient censors have reappeared in some sort in the institution of police. When moral means are wanting, it is necessary to have recourse to physical ones; violence is substituted for persuasion, and instead of a zealous and charitable missionary, delinquents fall into the hands of the ministers of public justice.

Much has been already written of the system of Montesquieu, with respect to the principles on which the different forms of government are based; but perhaps sufficient attention has not been paid to the phenomenon which has served to mislead him. As this question is intimately connected with the point which I have just touched upon, in relation to the existence of the censorial authority, I shall explain myself at some length. In the time of Montesquieu, the Christian religion was not so fully understood as it now is with respect to its social importance; and although on this point the author of the Esprit des Lois has done homage to her, it is well to remember what were his antichristian prejudices during his youth, and also that this work is still far from rendering to the true religion what is due to her. The ideas of an irreligious philosophy which, some years later, misled so many fine intellects, had begun at that time to gain the ascendant, and Montesquieu had not sufficient strength of mind to make a decided opposition to the prejudices which threatened universal dominion. To this cause we must add another, which, although distinct from the last, yet had the same origin, viz. a prejudice in favor of all that was old, and a blind admiration for every thing Roman or Grecian. It seemed to the philosophers of that time, that social and political perfection had reached their greatest height among the ancients, that there was nothing to be added to or taken from it, and that even in religion the fables and festivals of antiquity were a thousand times preferable to the faith and worship of the Christian religion. In the eyes of the new philosophers, the heaven of the Apocalypse could not sustain a comparison with that of the Elysian fields; the majesty of Jehovah was inferior to that of Jupiter; all the loftiest Christian institutions were a legacy of ignorance and fanaticism; the most holy and beneficent institutions were the work of tortuous and interested views—the vehicle and expression of[Pg 162] sordid interests; public authority was only an atrocious tyranny; and the only noble, just, and salutary institutions were those of Paganism. There every thing was wise, and evinced profound designs highly advantageous to society; the ancients alone had enjoyed social advantages, and had succeeded in organizing public authority, with guarantees for the liberty of citizens. Modern nations should bitterly lament not being able to mingle in the agitation of the forum, being deprived of such orators as Demosthenes and Cicero,—having no Olympic games, or contests of athletæ; in fine, they must always regret a religion which, although full of illusion and falsehood, gave to all nature a dramatic interest, gave life to fountains, rivers, cascades, and seas, peopled the fields, the meadows, and the woods with beautiful nymphs, gave to man gods as the companions of his hearth, and above all, knew how to render life pleasant and charming, by giving full scope to all the passions, and deifying them under the most enchanting forms.

How, in the midst of such prejudices, was it possible to discover the truth in modern institutions? Every thing was in the most deplorable state of confusion; all that was established was condemned without appeal, and every one who attempted to defend it was considered a fool or a knave. Religion and political constitutions, which seemed destined soon to disappear, could reckon on no other support than the prejudices or the interests of governments. Lamentable aberration of the human mind! What would these writers now say if they could arise from their tombs? And yet a century has not yet elapsed since the epoch when their school began to acquire its influence. They have, for a long time, ruled the world at their pleasure; and they have only shed torrents of blood, heaping lesson upon lesson, and deception upon deception, in the history of humanity.

But let us return to Montesquieu. This publicist, who was so much affected by the atmosphere in which he lived, and who had no small share in perverting the age, saw the facts which are here so apparent; he recognised the results of that public opinion which has been created among European nations by the influence of Christianity. But while observing the effects, he did not ascertain the real causes, and labored in every way to accommodate them to his own system. In comparing ancient with modern society, he discovered between them a remarkable difference in the conduct of men; he observed that we see accomplished among us the noblest and most heroic actions, while we avoid a great part of the vices which defile the ancients; but, on the other hand, Montesquieu, like others, could not help seeing that men among us have not always that high moral aim which ought to be the motive of their laudable conduct. Avarice, ambition, love of pleasure, and other passions, still reign in the world, and are easily discovered everywhere. Still these passions do not reach the excess they did among the ancients; there is a mysterious power which restrains them; before giving way to their impulses, they throw a cautious glance around them, and do not indulge in certain excesses unless they are sure of being able to do so in secret. They have great dread of being seen by man; they can only live in solitude and darkness. The author of the Esprit des Lois asked himself what is the cause of this phenomenon. Men, he said to himself, often act, not from moral virtue, but from respect for the judgment which other men will pass upon their actions; this is to act from honor. Now, this is the case in France and in the other monarchies of Europe; it must be, therefore, the distinctive characteristic of monarchical governments; it must be the base of that form of government, the distinction between a republic and despotism. Let us hear the author himself: "Dans quel governement," says he, "faut il des censeurs? Il en faut dans une république, où le principe du governement est la vertu. Ce ne sont pas seulement les crimes qui detruisent la vertu, mais encore les negligences, les fautes, une certaine tiédeur dans l'amour de la patrie, des exemples[Pg 163] dangereux, des semences de corruption; ce qui ne choque point les lois, mais les élude; ce qui ne les détruit pas, mais les affaiblit. Tout cela doit être corrigé par les censeurs. * * * Dans les monarchies il ne faut point de censeurs, elles sont fondées sur l'honneur; et la nature de l'honneur est d'avoir pour censeur tout l'univers. Tout homme qui y manque est soumis aux reproches de ceux mêmes qui n'en ont point." (De l'Esprit des Lois, liv. v. chap. 19.) Such is the opinion of this publicist. But if we reflect on the matter, we shall see that he was wrong in transferring to politics, and explaining by simply political causes, a fact purely social. Montesquieu points out, as the distinguishing characteristic of monarchies, what is the general characteristic of all modern European society; he seems not to have understood why the institution of censors was not necessary in Europe, any more than he did the real reason why they were required among the ancients. Monarchical forms have not exclusively prevailed in Europe. Powerful republics have existed there; and there are still some not to be despised. Monarchy itself has undergone numerous modifications; it has been allied sometimes with democracy, sometimes with aristocracy; sometimes its power has been very limited, and sometimes it has been unbounded; and yet we always find this restraint which Montesquieu speaks of, and which he calls honor; that is, a powerful influence stimulating to good deeds and deterring from bad, and all this from respect for the judgments which other men will pass.

"Dans les monarchies," says Montesquieu, "il ne faut point de censeurs, elles sont fondées sur l'honneur; et la nature de l'honneur est d'avoir pour censeur tout l'univers;" remarkable words, which reveal to us the ideas of the writer, and at the same time show us the origin of his mistake. They will assist us in solving the enigma. In order to explain this point as fully as the importance of the subject requires, and with as much clearness as the multitude and intricacy of its relations demand, I shall endeavour to convey my ideas with as much precision as possible.

Respect for the judgment of others is a feeling innate in man; consequently it is in his nature to do or avoid many things on account of this judgment. All this is founded on the simple fact of self-love: this is nothing but love of our own good fame, the desire of appearing to advantage, and the fear of appearing to disadvantage, in the eyes of our fellows. These things are so simple and clear, that they do not require or even admit of proofs or comments. Honor is a stimulant more or less active, or a restraint more or less powerful, according to the degree of severity which we expect in the judgments of others. Thus it is that the miser, when among the generous, makes an effort to appear liberal; the prodigal restrains himself in the presence of the lovers of strict economy; in meetings where decorum generally reigns we see that even libertines control themselves, while men whose manners are usually correct allow themselves certain freedoms in licentious societies. Now the society in which we live is, as it were, one vast company. If we know that strict principles prevail there, if we hear everywhere proclaimed the rules of sound morality, if we think that the generality of the men with whom we live give the right name to every action, without allowing the irregularity of their conduct to falsify their judgment, we see ourselves surrounded on all sides by witnesses and judges who cannot be corrupted; and this checks us at every step when we wish to do evil, and urges us on when we wish to do good. It will be far otherwise if we have reason to expect indulgence from the society in which we move. In this case, and supposing us all to entertain the same convictions, vice will not appear to us so horrible, crime so detestable, or corruption so disgusting; our ideas with regard to the morality of our conduct will be very different, and in the end our actions will show the fatal influence of the atmosphere in which we live. It follows from this, that, in order to infuse into our hearts a feeling of honor strong enough to produce good, it is necessary that principles of sound morality should regulate society,[Pg 164] and that they should be generally and fully believed. This being granted, social habits will be formed, which will regulate manners; and even if these habits do not succeed in hindering the corruption of a great number of individuals, they will, nevertheless, be sufficient to compel vice to adopt certain disguises, which, although hypocritical, will not fail to add to the decorum of manners. The salutary effects of these habits will still continue after the faith on which their moral principles are based has been considerably weakened, and society will still gather in abundance the beneficent fruits of the despised or forgotten tree. This is the history of the morality of modern nations: although lamentably corrupt, they are still not so bad as the ancients. They preserve in their legislation, and in their morals, a fund of morality and dignity which the ravages of irreligion have not been able to destroy. Public opinion never dies; every day it censures vice, and extols the beauty and advantages of virtue; it reigns over governments and nations, and exercises the powerful ascendency of an element which is found universally diffused.

"Outre l'Aréopage," says Montesquieu, "il y avait à Athènes des gardiens des mœurs et des gardiens des lois. A Lacédémone, tous les vieillards étaient censeurs. A Rome, deux magistrats particuliers avaient la censure. Comme le Senat veille sur le peuple, il faut que des censeurs aient les yeux sur le peuple et sur le Senat. Il faut qu'ils rétablissent dans la république tout ce qui a été corrompu, qu'ils notent la tiédeur, jugent les négligences, et corrigent les fautes, comme les lois punissent les crimes." (De l'Esprit des Lois, liv. v. chap. 7.) In describing the duties of the censors of antiquity, the author seems to state the functions of religious authority. To penetrate where the civil laws do not extend; to correct, and in some measure to chastise, what they leave unpunished; to exercise over society an influence more delicate and minute than that which belongs to legislation,—such are the objects of the censorial power; and who does not see that that power has been replaced by religious authority? and that if the former has been unnecessary among modern nations, it is owing to the existence of the latter, or to the influence which it has exercised for many centuries?

It cannot be denied that religious authority has for a long time gained a decided ascendency over men's minds and hearts; this fact is written in every page of the history of Europe. As to the results of that influence, so calumniated and ill understood, we meet with them every day,—we who see the principles of justice and sound morality still reigning over public conscience, in spite of the ravages which irreligion and immorality have committed among individuals.

The powerful influence of public conscience will be best explained by some examples. Let us suppose that the richest of nobles, or the most powerful of monarchs, indulged in the abominable excesses of a Tiberius, a Nero, or the other monsters who disgraced the imperial throne, what would happen? We will not predict; but we are confident that the universal shout of indignation and horror would be so loud, and the monster would be so crushed under the load of public execration, that it appears to us impossible for him to exist. It seems to us an anachronism, an impossibility at this time. Even if we admit that there might be men immoral enough to commit such enormities, sufficiently perverted in mind and heart to exhibit such depravity, we see that it would be an outrage against universal morals, and that such a spectacle could not stand for a moment in presence of public opinion. I could draw numberless contrasts, but I shall content myself with one, which, while it reminds us of a fine trait in ancient history, exhibits, with the virtue of a hero, the manners of the time and the melancholy condition of the public conscience. Let us suppose that a general of modern Europe captures by assault a town in which a distinguished lady, the wife of one of the principal leaders of the enemy, falls into the hands[Pg 165] of the soldiers. The beautiful prisoner is brought to the general; what should be his conduct? Every one will immediately say, that she ought to be treated with the most delicate attention, that she ought to be immediately set at liberty and allowed to rejoin her husband. Such conduct appears to us so strictly obligatory, so much according to the order of things, and so conformable to our ideas and sentiments, that there certainly does not appear to us to be any peculiar merit in adopting it. We should say that the general had performed a strict and sacred duty, which he could not evade without covering himself with shame and ignominy. We certainly should not immortalize such an action in history; we should allow it to pass unnoticed in the ordinary course of events. Now, this is what Scipio did with respect to the wife of Mardonius at the taking of Carthagena; and ancient history records this generosity as an eternal monument of his virtues. This parallel explains better than any commentary the immense progress of morality and public conscience under the influence of Christianity. Now, such conduct, which among us is considered as simple, natural, and strictly obligatory, does not flow from the honor belonging to monarchies, as Montesquieu asserts, but from more lofty notions of human dignity, from a clearer knowledge of the true state of society, from a morality the purer and more powerful because it is established on eternal foundations. This, indeed, is found and felt everywhere, it governs the good and is respected even by the bad; this is what would stop the licentious man, who, in a case of this sort, would be inclined to indulge his cruelty or his other passions. The author of the Esprit des Lois would doubtless have perceived these truths if he had not been prejudiced by the favorite distinction established at the beginning of his work, and which throughout bound him to an inflexible system. We know what a preconceived system is—one that serves as the mould for a work. Like the bed of Procrustus, ideas and facts, right or wrong, are accommodated to the system; what is too much is taken away, and what is wanting is added. Thus Montesquieu finds in political motives, founded on the republican form of government, the reason for the power exercised over Roman women by their husbands. The cruel rights given to fathers over their children, the unlimited paternal power established by the Roman laws, also appeared to him to flow from political causes, as if it were not evident that these two regulations of the ancient Roman law were owing to causes purely domestic and social, altogether independent of the form of government.19


We have defined the nature of public conscience; we have pointed out its origin and effects. It now remains to examine whether Protestantism has had any share in forming it, and whether it is fairly entitled to the glory of having been of any service to European civilization on this point. We have already shown that the origin of this public conscience is to be found in Christianity. Now Christianity may be considered under two aspects—as a doctrine, and as an institution intended to realize that doctrine; that is to say, Christian morality may be considered in itself, or as taught and inculcated by the Church. To form the public conscience, and make Christian morality regulate it, it was not enough to announce this doctrine; there was still required a society, not only to preserve it in all its purity, that it might be transmitted from generation to generation, but to preach it incessantly to man, and apply it continually to all[Pg 166] the acts of life. We must observe that ideas, however powerful they may be, have only a precarious existence until they are realized, and become embodied, as it were, in an institution which, while it is animated, moved, and guided by them, serves them as a rampart against the attacks of other ideas and other interests. Man is formed of body and soul; the whole world is a collection of spiritual and corporeal beings—a system of moral and physical relations; thus it is that all ideas, even the greatest and the loftiest, begin to fall into oblivion when they have no outward expression—no organ by which they make themselves heard and respected. They are then confounded and overwhelmed amid the confusion of the world, and in the end disappear altogether. Therefore, all ideas that are to have a lasting influence on society, necessarily tend to create an institution to represent them, in which they may be personified; not satisfied with addressing themselves to the mind, and with descending to practice by indirect means, they seek to give form to matter, they present themselves to the eyes of humanity in a palpable manner. These observations, which I submit with confidence to the judgment of sensible men, contain a condemnation of the Protestant system. So far from the pretended Reformation being able to claim any part in the salutary events which we are explaining, we should rather say that, by its principles and conduct, it would have been an obstacle in their way, if, as was happily the case, Europe had not been of adult age in the sixteenth century, and consequently almost incapable of losing the doctrines, feelings, habits, and tendencies which the Catholic Church had communicated to it during an education of so many centuries. Indeed, the first thing that Protestantism did was to attack authority, not by a mere act of resistance, but by proclaiming resistance to be a real right, by establishing private judgment as a dogma. From that moment Christian morality remained without support, for there was no longer a society which could claim the right of explaining and teaching it; that is to say, it was reduced to the level of those ideas which, not being represented or supported by an institution, and not having any authorized organ to explain them, possessed no direct means of acting on society, and had no means of protection when attacked.

But I shall be told that Protestantism has preserved the institution which realizes this idea; for it has preserved its ministers, worship, and preaching—in a word, all that truth requires in dealing with man.

I will not deny that there is some truth in this, and I will repeat what I have not hesitated to affirm in the fourteenth chapter of this work, "That we ought to regard it as a great good, that the first Protestants, in spite of their desire to upset all the practices of the Church, have yet preserved that of preaching." I added in the same place: "It is not necessary to deny on this account the evils produced at certain times by the declamation of some ministers, either furious or fanatical; but as unity was broken, and as the people had been hurried into the perilous path of schism, we say that it must have been very conducive to the preservation of the most important ideas concerning God and man, and the fundamental maxims of morality, for such truths to be frequently explained to the people by men who had long studied them in the Holy Scriptures." I repeat here what I there said: preaching practised among Protestants must have had very good effects; but this only amounts to saying, that it did not do so much mischief as was to be feared from its own principles. On this point, they were like men of immoral opinions, who are not so bad as they would be, were their hearts in accordance with their minds: they had the good fortune to be inconsistent. Protestantism had proclaimed the abolition of authority, and the right of private judgment without limit; but in practice it did not quite act up to these doctrines. Thus, it devoted itself with ardor to what it called gospel preaching, and its ministers were called gospellers. So that, at the very time when they just established the principle that every individual had the free right[Pg 167] of private judgment, and ought to be guided by reason or private inspiration alone, without listening to any external authority, Protestant ministers were seen spreading themselves everywhere, and claiming to be the legitimate organs of the divine word.

The better to understand the strange nature of such a doctrine, we must remember the maxims of Luther with respect to the priesthood. We know that this heresiarch, embarrassed by the hierarchy which constitutes the ministry of the Church, pretended to overturn it at one blow, by maintaining that all Christians are priests, and that, to exercise the sacred ministry, a simple appointment is necessary, which adds nothing essential or characteristic to the quality of priests, which is the universal patrimony of all Christians. It follows from this doctrine, that the Protestant preacher wanting a mission is not distinguished from other Christians by any characteristic; he cannot, consequently, speak to them with any authority; he is not allowed, like Jesus Christ, to speak quasi potestatem habens (as having authority); he is nothing more than an orator who addresses the people with no other right than what he derives from his education, knowledge, or eloquence.

This preaching without authority, which, in reality and according to the preacher's own principles, was only human, although it committed the glaring inconsistency of pretending to be divine, may, no doubt, have contributed something to the preservation of good moral principles when they were already everywhere established; but it would certainly have been unable to establish them in a society where they were unknown, especially if it had had to struggle with other principles directly opposed to it, and supported by ancient prejudices, by deeply rooted passions, and by strong interests.

Yes, we repeat it, this preaching would have been unable to introduce its principles into such a society; unable to preserve them in safety amid the most alarming revolutions and the most unexampled catastrophes; unable to impart them to barbarous nations, who, proud of their triumph, listened to no other voice than that of their ferocious instinct; unable to make the conquerors and the conquered bow before these principles, to mould the most different nations into one people, by stamping on their laws, institutions, and manners the same seal, in order to form from them that admirable society, that assemblage of nations, or rather that one great nation, which is called Europe. In a word, Protestantism, from its very constitution, would have been incapable of realizing what the Catholic Church has done.

Moreover, this attempted preaching preserved by Protestantism is, at bottom, an effort to imitate the Church that it may not remain unarmed in the presence of so redoubtable an adversary. It required a means of influencing the people,—a channel open to communicate, at the will of each usurper of religious authority, different interpretations of the Bible; this is the reason why, in spite of violent declamation against all that emanated from the chair of St. Peter, it preserved the valuable practice of preaching.

But the best way to feel the inferiority of Protestantism in regard to the knowledge and comprehension of the means proper to extend and strengthen morality, and make it prevail in all the acts of life, is to observe, that it has interrupted all communication between the conscience of the faithful and the direction of the priest; it only leaves to the latter a general direction, which, owing to its being extended over all at the same time, is exerted with effect over none. If we confine ourselves to the consideration of the abolition of the sacrament of Penance among Protestants, we may rest assured that they have thereby given up one of the most legitimate, powerful, and gentle means of rendering human conduct conformable to the principles of sound morality. Its action is legitimate; for nothing can be more legitimate than direct and intimate communication between the conscience of man who is to be judged by God, and the[Pg 168] conscience of the man who represents God on earth;—an action which is powerful, because this intimate communication, established between man and man, between soul and soul, identifies, as it were, the thoughts and affections; because, in the presence of God alone, to the exclusion of every other witness, admonitions have more force, precepts more authority, and advice more unction and sweetness to penetrate into the inmost soul;—an action full of gentleness, for it supposes the voluntary manifestation of the conscience which seeks guidance—a manifestation which is commanded, it is true, by authority, but which cannot be enforced by violence, as God alone is the judge of its sincerity;—an action, I repeat, which is gentle, for the minister is compelled to the strictest secrecy; all imaginable precautions have been taken by the Church to prevent a betrayal, and man may rest with tranquillity in the assurance that the secrets of his conscience will never be revealed.

But you will ask me, do you believe all this is necessary to establish and preserve a good state of morality? If morality is to be any thing more than a mere worldly probity, which is exposed to destruction at the first shock of interest, or easily seduced by the passions; if it is to be a morality delicate, strict, and profound, extending over all the acts of life, guiding and ruling the heart of man, and transforming it into that beau idéal which we admire in Catholics who are really devoted to the observances and practices of their religion; if this is the morality which you mean, it is necessary, undoubtedly, that, placed under the inspection of religious authority, it should be directed and guided by a minister of the sanctuary, by a faithful communication of the secrets of our hearts and the numberless temptations which continually assail our weak nature. This is the doctrine of the Catholic Church; and I will add, that it is pointed out by experience and taught by philosophy. I do not mean to say, that Catholics alone are capable of performing virtuous actions; this would be to contradict the experience of every day. I only wish to prove the efficacy of a Catholic institution which is despised by Protestants. I speak of the great influence which this institution has in infusing into our hearts, and preserving in them, a morality which is cordial, constant, and applicable to all the acts of our souls.

No doubt, there is in man a monstrous mixture of good and evil; I know that it is not given him to attain in this life to that ineffable degree of perfection which consists in a perfect conformity with Divine truth and holiness—a perfection which he will not be able even to conceive until the moment when, stripped of his mortal body, he will be plunged into the pure ocean of light and love. But we cannot be permitted to doubt that man, in this earthly abode, in the land of misery and darkness, can, nevertheless, attain to the universal, delicate, and profound state of morality which I have just described; and, however much the present corruption of the world may be a too legitimate subject of affliction, it must be allowed that we still find, in our own days, a considerable number of honorable exceptions in the multitude of persons who conform to the strict rule of gospel morality in their conduct, their wishes, and even in their thoughts and inmost affections. To attain to this degree of morality (and observe, I do not say of evangelical perfection, but of mere morality), it is necessary that the religious principle should be visibly present to the eyes of the soul, that it should act continually upon her, urging on or restraining her in an infinite variety of circumstances which, in the course of life, occur to mislead from the path of duty. The life of man is, as it were, a chain composed of an infinite variety of acts, which cannot be constantly in accordance with reason and the eternal law, unless it remains constantly in the hands of a fixed and universal regulator. And let it not be said that such a state of morality is a beau idéal, the existence of which would bring such confusion into the acts of the soul, and complication of the whole life, as in the[Pg 169] end to make it insupportable. No, this is not a mere fancy; it is a reality which is frequently seen by our eyes, not only in the cloister and the sanctuary, but amid the confusion and distractions of the world. That which establishes a fixed rule cannot bring confusion into the acts of the soul, or complicate the affairs of life. Quite the contrary; instead of confusion, it serves to distinguish and illuminate; instead of complicating, it puts in order and simplifies. Establish this rule, and you will have unity; and with unity general order.

Catholicity is always distinguished by its extreme vigilance with respect to morality, by its care in regulating all the acts of life, and even the most secret movements of the heart. Superficial observers have declaimed against the prolixity of moralists—against the minute and detailed study which they make of human actions considered under a moral aspect; they should have observed, that if Catholicity is the religion in the bosom of which has appeared so great a number of moralists, by whom all human actions have been examined in the greatest detail, it is because this religion has for its object to moralize for the whole man, as it were, in all his relations with God, with his neighbor, and with himself. It is clear that such an enterprise requires a more profound and attentive examination than would be necessary, if it had only to give to man an imperfect morality, stopping at the surface of actions, and not penetrating to the bottom of the heart. With respect to Catholic moralists, and without attempting to excuse the excess into which some among them have fallen, either by too great subtility, or by a spirit of party and dispute (excesses which cannot be imputed to the Catholic Church, since she has testified her displeasure when she has not expressly condemned them), it must be observed, that this abundance, this superfluity, if you will, of moral studies, has contributed more than people think to direct minds to the intimate study of man, by furnishing a multitude of facts and observations to those who have subsequently wished to devote themselves to this important science. Now, can there be a more worthy or more useful object for our labors? In another part of this work, I propose to develop the relations of Catholicity with the progress of science and literature; I shall not, therefore, enter more fully on the matter now. Still I may be allowed briefly to observe, that the development and education of the human mind have been principally theological; and that on this point, as well as on many others, philosophers are more indebted to theologians than they seem to imagine.

Let us return to the comparison of the Protestant and Catholic influence on the formation and preservation of a sound public conscience. We have showed that Catholicity, having constantly maintained the principle of authority which Protestantism rejects, has given to moral ideas a force and influence which Protestantism could not. Protestantism, indeed, by its nature and fundamental principles, has never given to these ideas any other support than they might have derived from a school of philosophy. But you will perhaps ask me, do you not acknowledge the force of these ideas; a force peculiar to them, and inherent in their nature, and which frequently changes the face of the world, by deciding its doctrines? Do you not know that they always, in the end, force a passage, in spite of every obstacle, and of all resistance? Have you forgotten the teaching of all history; and do you pretend to deprive human thought of that vital, creative force, which renders man superior to all that surrounds him? Such is the common panegyric on the strength of ideas; thus we see them transformed every moment into all-powerful beings, whose magical wand is capable of changing every thing at their pleasure.

However this may be, I am full of respect for human thought, and allow that there is much truth in what is called the force of an idea; yet I must beg leave to offer a few observations to these enthusiasts, not directly to combat their opinion, but to make some necessary modifications. In the first place, ideas, in[Pg 170] the point of view in which we are now considering them, must be divided into two orders; some flattering our passions, the others checking them. It cannot be denied that the former have an immense expansive force. They have a motion of their own; they act in all places; they exert a rapid, violent power; one would say that they overflow with life and activity. The latter have great difficulty in making their way; they advance slowly, they cannot pursue their career without an institution to secure their stability. And why? Because it is not the ideas themselves which act in the former case, but the passions which accompany them, and assume their names; thus masking what is repulsive in them at first sight. In the latter case, on the contrary, it is the truth that speaks. Now, in this land of misfortune, the truth is but little attended to; for it leads to good; and the heart of man, as the Scripture says, is inclined to evil from his youth. Those who vaunt so much the native force of ideas, should point out to us, in ancient or modern history, one idea which, without going out of its own circle, that of the purely philosophical order, is entitled to the glory of having materially contributed to the amelioration of individuals and society.

It is commonly said that the force of ideas is immense; that once shown among men, they will fructify sooner or later; that once deposited in the bosom of humanity, they will remain there as a precious legacy, and contribute wonderfully to the improvement of the world, to the perfection towards which the human race advances. No doubt these assertions contain some truth; as man is an intelligent being, all that immediately affects his mind must certainly influence his destiny. Thus no great change is worked in society without being first realized in the order of ideas; all that is established contrary to our ideas, or without them, must be weak and passing. But it is by no means to be supposed that every useful idea contains in itself a conservative force capable of dispensing with all institutions; that is to say, with support and defence, even during times of social disorder: between these two propositions there is a gulf which cannot be closed without contradicting all history. Now humanity, considered by itself, and given up to its own strength, as it appears to philosophers, is not so safe a depositary as people wish to suppose. Unhappily we have melancholy proofs of this truth: we see too clearly that the human race, far from being a faithful trustee, has but too much imitated the conduct of a foolish spendthrift. In the cradle of the human race, we find great ideas on the unity of God, on man, on relations of man with God and their fellowmen. These ideas were certainly true, salutary, and fruitful: and yet, what did man do with them? Did he not lose them by modifying, mutilating, and distorting them in the most deplorable way? Where were they when Jesus Christ came into the world? What had humanity done with them? One nation alone preserved them; but in what way? Fix your attention on the chosen people, the Jews, and you will see that there was a continual struggle between truth and error; you will see that, by an inconceivable blindness, they incessantly inclined to idolatry; they had a constant tendency to substitute the abominations of the Gentiles for the sublime law of Mount Sinai. And do you know how the truth was preserved among this people? Observe it well; it was supported by the strongest institutions that can be imagined; it was armed with all the means of defence with which an inspired legislator could surround it. It will be said that they were a hard-hearted nation, in the language of the Scriptures; unhappily, since the fall of our first parent, this hardness of heart is become the patrimony of humanity; the heart of man is inclined to evil from his youth; ages before the existence of the Jews, God had covered the earth with the waters of heaven, and had blotted out man from the face of the world; for all flesh had corrupted its way. We must conclude from this, that the preservation of great moral ideas requires powerful institutions; it is evident, therefore, that they cannot be abandoned to the fickleness of the human mind without being disfigured, or even[Pg 171] lost. I will say, moreover, that institutions are not only necessary to teach, but also to apply them. Moral ideas, especially those which openly contradict the passions, are never reduced to practice without great efforts; now the ideas themselves do not suffice to make these great efforts, and means of action are required capable of connecting ideas with facts; this is one of the reasons of the impotence of philosophical schools when they attempt to construct any thing. They are often powerful in destroying; momentary action is enough for this, and this action may be easily acquired in a moment of enthusiasm. But when they wish to establish and reduce their conceptions to practice, they are impotent; their only resource is what is called the force of ideas. Now, as ideas constantly vary and change—an inconstancy of which these schools themselves afford the first example—it happens that what we hear them announce one moment as an infallible means of human progress, is the next reduced to a mere object of curiosity.

These last observations anticipate the objection that may be urged against us with respect to the immense force which printing has given to ideas. But this is so far from being a preserver, that it may be said to be the best destroyer of all opinions. If we measure the immense orbit which the human mind has passed through since that important discovery, we shall see that the consummation of opinions (if I may be allowed the expression) is increased in a prodigious degree. The history of the human race, especially since the press has become periodical, appears to be the representation of a rapid drama, where the decorations change every moment, where the scenes succeed each other, scarcely allowing the spectator to catch any of the author's words. Half of this century has not yet passed away, and already it seems as if many centuries had elapsed, so great has been the number of schools which have been born and are dead, of reputations which, after being raised to the highest pitch of renown, have been soon forgotten. This rapid succession of ideas, so far from contributing to increase their force, necessarily renders them weak and unproductive. The natural order in the progress of ideas is this: at first to make their appearance, then to be realized in an institution representing them, and in fine to exert their influence on facts by means of an institution in which they are personified. Now, it is necessary that during these transformations, which essentially require time, ideas should preserve their credit, if they are to produce any favorable result. But when they succeed each other too rapidly, time is wanting for their successive transformations; new ideas strive to discredit the old ones, and consequently to render them useless. This is the reason why the strength of ideas, that is, of philosophy, was never so little to be relied on as now, to produce any thing durable and consistent in the moral order: in this respect, the gain to modern society may well be questioned. More is conceived, but less matured; what the mind gains in extent, it loses in depth, and the pretension in theory makes a sad contrast with the impotence of practice. Of what importance is it that our predecessors were not so ready as we are in improvising a discussion on great social and political questions, if they nevertheless organized and founded such admirable institutions? The architects who raised the astonishing monuments of ages which we call barbarous, were certainly not so learned or so cultivated as those of our time; and yet who has the boldness even to commence what they have finished? Thus it is in the social and political order. Let us remember that great thoughts are produced rather by intuition than by reasoning; in practice, success depends more upon the invaluable quality called tact, than upon enlightened reflection; and experience often teaches that he who knows much, sees little. The genius of Plato would not have been the best guide for Solon or Lycurgus; and all the knowledge of Cicero would not have succeeded in doing what was done by the tact and good sense of two unlettered men like Romulus and Numa.20

[Pg 172]


A certain general gentleness of manners, which in war prevents great atrocities, and in peace renders life more quiet and agreeable:—such is one of the valuable qualities which I have pointed out as forming the distinguishing characteristics of European civilization. This is a fact which does not require proof; we see and feel it everywhere when we look around; it is evident to all who open the pages of history, and compare our times with any others. Wherein does this gentleness of manners in modern times consist? what is the cause of it? what has favoured it? what has opposed it? These interesting questions directly apply to our present subject; for they lead straight to the examination of other questions, such as the following: has Catholicity contributed in any way to this gentleness of manners; or, on the other hand, has it opposed or retarded it? in fine, what part has Protestantism played in the work, for good or evil? First of all, we must determine wherein gentleness of manners consists. Although we have here to deal with an idea which every one sees, or rather feels, we must still endeavor to explain and analyze it by a definition as complete and exact as possible. Gentleness of manners consists in the absence of force; so that manners will be more or less gentle according as force is less or more employed. Thus, we must not confound gentle with charitable manners; the latter work good, the former only exclude the idea of force. We must also distinguish gentle manners from those that are pure, and conformable to reason and justice. Immorality is often gentle, when, instead of resorting to force, it makes use of seduction and stratagem. This gentleness of manners consists in directing the human mind, not by violence which constrains the body, but by reasons which address themselves to the intellect, or by appeals to the passions. Thus it is that gentle manners are not always under the influence of reason; but their rule is always intellectual, although they are often made the slaves of the passions by golden chains of their own formation.

If gentleness of manners consists in not making use, in human transactions, of other means than those of conviction, persuasion, or seduction, it is clear that the most advanced society—that is, that in which intelligence has been most developed—should always participate more or less in this social advantage. There the mind rules, because it is strong; while material force disappears, because the body has less strength. Moreover, in societies very much advanced, where relations and interests are necessarily much multiplied, there is an indispensable want of means capable of acting in a universal and lasting manner, and applicable to all the details of life. These means are, unquestionably, moral and intellectual: the mind operates without destruction, while force dashes violently against obstacles, and breaks itself to pieces, if it cannot overturn them. Thus it is the cause of continual commotions, which cannot subsist in a society which has numerous and complicated relations, without throwing into confusion and destroying society itself.

We always observe in young nations a lamentable abuse of force. Nothing is more natural: the passions ally themselves with force, because they resemble it; they are energetical as violence, and rude as its shocks. When society has reached a great degree of development, the passions are divorced from force, and become allied with the intelligence; they cease to be violent, in order to become artful. In the first case, if it is the people who struggle, they make war on, they contend with, and destroy each other; in the second case, they contend with the arms of industry, commerce, and contraband. Governments attack, in the first case, by arms and invasions; and in the second by diplomacy. In[Pg 173] the first epoch, warriors are every thing; in the second, they are nothing; they have not a very important part to play when negotiation, and not fighting, is required. When we look at ancient civilization, we observe a remarkable difference between the character of its manners and the gentleness of ours. Neither the Greeks nor Romans ever regarded this precious quality in the light in which we regard it, for the honor of European civilization. Those nations became enervated, but they did not become gentle; we may say that their manners were made effeminate, but they were not softened; for we see them make use of force on all occasions, when neither vigor of body nor energy of mind was required. There is nothing more worthy of observation than this peculiarity of ancient civilization, especially of that of Rome. Now this phenomenon, which at first sight appears to us to be very strange, has very deep causes. Besides the principal of these causes, which is, the want of an element of civilization such as that which modern nations have had in Christian charity, we shall find among the ancients, if we descend to the details of their social organization, certain causes which necessarily hindered this gentleness of manners being established among them.

In the first case, slavery, one of the constituent elements of their social and domestic organization, was an eternal obstacle to the introduction of this precious quality. The man who has the power of throwing another to the fishes, and of punishing with death the crime of breaking a glass; he who during a feast, to gratify his caprice, can take away the life of one of his brethren; he who can rest upon a voluptuous couch, surrounded by the most sumptuous magnificence, while he knows that hundreds of men, crowded together in dark vaults, work incessantly for his cupidity and his pleasures; he who can hear without emotion the lamentations of a crowd of unhappy beings imploring a morsel of bread to pass through the night's misery which is to unite their labors and fatigues of the evening with those of the morning, such a man may have effeminate, but he cannot have gentle manners; his heart may become enervated, but it will not cease to be cruel. This was precisely the situation of the free man in ancient society: the organization of which we have just stated the results was regarded as indispensable; they could not even conceive the possibility of any other order of things. What removed this obstacle? was it not the Catholic Church, by abolishing slavery, after having ameliorated the cruel lot of slaves? Those who revert to the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th chapters of this work, with the notes appended to them, will find the truth of this demonstrated by incontestable reasons and documents.

In the second place, the right of life and death, given by the laws to the paternal power, introduced into families an element of severity which could not but produce injurious effects. Happily, the hearts of fathers were continually contending against the power thus granted by law: but if this feeling did not prevent some deeds the perusal of which makes us shudder, must we not suppose that, in the ordinary course of life, cruel scenes constantly reminded the members of families of this atrocious right with which the chief was invested? Will not he who is possessed of the power of killing with impunity, be frequently hurried into acts of cruel despotism? Now this tyrannical extension of the rights of paternal authority, carried far beyond the limits pointed out by nature, was taken away by the force of laws and manners which were much aided by the influence of Catholicity (see the 24th chap. of this work). To the two causes which I have just pointed out, may be added another perfectly analogous, viz. the despotism which the husband exercised over his wife, and the little respect which was paid to her. Public spectacles were, among the Romans, another element of severity and cruelty. What could be expected of a people whose principal amusement is to look coolly upon homicide—who took pleasure[Pg 174] in witnessing the slaughter in the arena of hundreds of men fighting against each other, or against wild beasts?

As a Spaniard, I feel called upon here to insert a paragraph, in reply to the observations which will be made against me on this point: I allude to the Spanish bull-fights. I shall naturally be asked, Is it not in a Christian and Catholic country that the custom of making men fight against animals is preserved? The objection, however plausible it may seem, can be answered. In the first place, to avoid any misunderstanding, I declare that this popular amusement is, in my opinion, barbarous, and ought, if possible, to be completely extirpated. But after this full and explicit avowal, let me be permitted to make a few observations, to screen the honor of my country. In the first place, it must be remarked, that there is in the human heart a secret taste for risks and dangers; in order to make an adventure interesting, it is necessary that the hero should be encompassed with great and multiplied perils; if a history is to excite curiosity to a high degree, it must not be an uninterrupted chain of peaceful and happy events. We wish to find ourselves frequently in the presence of extraordinary and surprising facts; and, however unpleasant may be the avowal, our hearts, while they feel the tenderest compassion for the unfortunate, seem to require the contemplation of scenes of a more violent and exciting character. Hence the taste for tragedies: hence the love of scenes in which the actors incur great risks, in appearance or in reality. It is not my duty here to explain the origin of this phenomenon; it is enough for me here to point out its existence to show foreigners who accuse us of being barbarians, that the taste of the Spanish people for bull-fights is only the application to a particular case, of an inclination inherent everywhere in the heart of man. Those who, with respect to this custom of the Spanish people, affect so much humanity, would do well to answer the following questions: To what is owing the pleasure taken by the multitude in every exhibition, when the actors run any risk in one way or another? Whence comes it that all would willingly be present at the bloodiest battle, if they could do so without danger? Whence comes it that everywhere an immense multitude assembles to witness the agonies and the last convulsions of a criminal on the gibbet? Whence comes it, in fine, that foreigners, when at Madrid, render themselves accomplices in the barbarity of Spaniards by assisting at these bull-fights? I say this, not in any degree to excuse a custom which appears to me to be unworthy of a civilized people, but to show that in this point, as well as in almost all that relates to the Spanish people, there are exaggerations which ought to be reduced within reasonable limits. Let us add an important observation, which is the best excuse that can be made for this reprehensible exhibition: instead of fixing our attention on the spectacle itself, let us consider the evils that flow from it. Now, I ask, how many men die in Spain in bull-fights? The number is extremely small, and altogether insignificant in proportion to the frequency of these spectacles; so that if a comparison were made between the accidents which occur in consequence of this amusement and those that happen in other sports, such as horse-races and others of the same kind, we should perhaps find that bull-fights, however barbarous they may be in themselves, still do not deserve all the anathemas with which foreigners have loaded them. To return to our principal object, how, we ask, is it possible to compare an amusement which, perhaps, may not cost the life of one man during many years, to those terrible shows in which death was a necessary condition for the pleasure of the spectators? After the triumph of Trajan over the Dacians, the public games lasted twenty-three days, and the fearful number of six thousand gladiators was slain. Such were the amusements at Rome, not only of the populace, but of the highest classes; such were the horrible spectacles required by a people who added voluptuousness to the most atrocious cruelty. This is a most convincing proof of what I have said, viz.[Pg 175] that manners may be effeminate without being gentle, and that the brutality of unbounded luxury is not inconsistent with the instinct of blood-thirsty ferocity.

It is impossible that such spectacles should be tolerated among modern nations, however corrupt their manners may be. The principle of charity has extended its empire too universally for such excesses to be renewed. This charity, it is true, does not induce men to do all the good to each other that they ought; but, at least, it prevents their coldly perpetrating evil, and assisting quietly at the slaughter of their brethren to gratify the pleasure of the moment. Christianity, at its birth, cast into society the seed of this aversion to homicide. Who is not aware of the repugnance of Christians for the shows of the Gentiles—a repugnance prescribed and kept alive by the admonitions of the early pastors of the Church? It was an acknowledged fact, that Christian charity prohibited the being present at games where homicide formed part of the spectacle. "As for us," said one of the apologists of the early ages, "we make little difference between committing murder and seeing it committed."21


Modern society ought, it would seem, to be distinguished for severity and cruelty, since it was formed from that of the Romans and barbarians, from both of whom it should have inherited these qualities. Who is not aware of the fierce manners of the northern barbarians? The historians of that time have left us statements that make us shudder when we read them. It was believed that the end of the world was at hand; and, indeed, it was excusable to consider the last catastrophe as near, when so many other melancholy ones had already been heaped upon humanity. The imagination cannot figure to itself what would have happened to the world at this crisis, if Christianity had not existed. Even supposing that society would have been organized anew under one form or another, it is certain that private and public relations would have remained in a state of lamentable disorder, and that legislation would have been unjust and inhuman. Thus the influence of the Church on civil legislation was an inestimable benefit; thus even the power of the clergy in temporal things was one of the greatest safeguards of the highest interests of society.

Attacks are often made upon this temporal power of the clergy and this influence of the Church in worldly affairs. But, in the first place, it should be remembered, that this power and influence were brought about by the very nature of things; that is to say, they were natural, and, consequently, to assail them is to declaim in vain against the force of events, of which no man could hinder the realization. This power and influence, besides, were legitimate; for when society is in danger, nothing can be more legitimate than that that which can save it should save it. Now, at the time we speak of, the Church alone could save society. The Church, which is not an abstract being, but a real and substantial society, acted upon civil society by real and substantial means. If the purely material interests of society were in question, the minister of the Church ought, in some way or other, to take part in the direction of those interests. These reflections are so natural and simple, that their truth must be seen by good sense. All those who know any thing of history are now generally agreed on this point; and if we are not aware how much it generally costs the human mind to enter upon the path of truth, and, above all, how much bad faith there has been in the examination of these questions, we shall have a difficulty in understanding that so much time should have been[Pg 176] required to bring the world to agree on a thing which is apparent to those who read history. But let us return to our subject. This extraordinary mixture of the cruelty of a cultivated but corrupted people with the atrocious ferocity of a barbarous one, proud of its triumphs, and intoxicated with blood during long wars, placed in European society a germ of severity and cruelty which fermented there for ages, and the remains of which we find at a late period. The precept of Christian charity was in men's heads, but Roman cruelty and barbarian ferocity still prevailed in their hearts; ideas were pure and beneficent, since they proceeded from a religion of love, but they encountered a terrible resistance in the habits, manners, institutions, and laws, for all these were more or less disfigured by the two mixed principles which I have just pointed out. If we reflect upon the constant and obstinate struggle between the Catholic Church and the elements which contended with her, we shall clearly see that Christian ideas could never have prevailed in legislation and manners, if Christianity had been a religious idea abandoned to human caprice, as Protestants imagine; it was necessary for it to be realized in a powerful institution, in a strongly constituted society, such as we find in the Catholic Church. In order to give an idea of the efforts made by the Church, I will point out some of the regulations which she made for the purpose of improving manners. Private animosities were very violent at the time of which we speak; and right was decided by force, and the world was threatened with becoming the patrimony of the strongest. Public law did not exist, or was hurried away and confounded by outrages which its feeble hand could never prevent or repress; it was altogether powerless in rendering manners pacific, and in subjecting men to reason and justice. Then we see that the Church, besides the instruction and the general admonitions inseparable from her sacred mission, adopted at that time certain measures calculated to restrain the torrent of violence which ravaged and destroyed every thing. The Council of Arles, celebrated in the middle of the fifth century, between 443 and 452, ordains, in its 50th canon, that the Church should be interdicted to those who have public animosities, until they were reconciled. The Council of Angers, celebrated in 453, proscribes, by its 3d canon, acts of violence and mutilation. The Council of Agde, in Languedoc, celebrated in 506, ordains, in its 31st canon, that enemies who would not be reconciled should be admonished by the priests, and excommunicated if they did not follow their apostolical counsels.

The Franks at that time had the custom of going armed, and they always entered the churches with their arms. It will be understood that such a custom must have produced great evils; the house of prayer was often converted into an arena of blood and vengeance. In the middle of the seventh century, the Council of Chalons-sur-Saone, in its 17th canon, pronounces excommunication against all laymen who excite tumults, or draw their swords to strike any one in the churches or in their precincts. Thus, we see the prudence and foresight which dictated the 29th canon of the third Council of Orleans, celebrated in 538, which forbids any one to be present at mass or vespers, armed. It is curious to observe the uniformity of design and plan pursued by the Church. In countries the most distant from each other, and at times when communication could not be frequent, we find regulations analogous to those which we have pointed out. The Council of Lerida, held in 546, ordains, by its 7th canon, that he who shall have sworn not to be reconciled with his enemy, shall be deprived of the participation of the body and blood of Jesus Christ until he has done penance for his oath and been reconciled.

Centuries passed away, acts of violence continued, the precept of fraternal charity, which obliges us to love even our enemies, always met with open resistance in the harsh character and fierce passions of the descendants of the barbarians; but the Church did not cease to preach the divine command; she[Pg 177] continually inculcated and labored to render it efficacious by means of spiritual penalties. More than four hundred years had elapsed since the celebration of the Council of Arles, where we have seen the church forbidden to those who were openly at variance; we then see the Council of Worms, held in 868, pronouncing, in its 41st canon, excommunication against enemies who refused to be reconciled. It will suffice to have some idea of the disorders of that time, to know whether it was possible to appease the violence of animosities during this long period. One would fancy that the Church would have been wearied of inculcating a precept which the unhappy state of circumstances so often rendered fruitless; but such was not the case: she continued to speak as she had spoken for ages; she never lost her confidence that her words would produce fruit in the present, and would be productive in the future. Such is her system; one would think that she heard these words constantly repeated, "Cry out, cry out without ceasing; raise thy voice like a trumpet." It is then that she triumphs over all resistance; when she cannot exert her power over the will of a nation, she makes her voice heard with indefatigable diligence in the sanctuary. There she assembles seven thousand who have not bent the knee to Baal; and while she endeavors to confirm them in faith and good works, she protests, in the name of God, against those who resist the Holy Spirit. Let us imagine that, amid the dissipation and distraction of a populous city, we enter a sacred place, where seriousness and moderation reign, in the bosom of silence and religious retirement; there a minister of the sanctuary, surrounded by a chosen number of the faithful, utters from time to time some serious and solemn words. This is the personification of the Church in times disastrous from weakened faith and corrupted morals. One of the rules of conduct of the Catholic Church has been, not to bend before the powerful. When she has proclaimed a law, she has proclaimed it for all, without distinction of rank. In the time of the power of those petty tyrants, who, under different names, persecuted the people, this conduct of the Church contributed in an extraordinary degree to render the ecclesiastical laws popular; for nothing was more likely to make a law tolerable to the people than to show that it applied to nobles, and even to kings. In the times of which we speak, hatred and violence among plebeians were severely proscribed; but the same law extended to great men and to royalty. A short time after the establishment of Christianity in England, we find a very curious example in that country, applicable to this question. It is nothing less than excommunication pronounced against three kings in the same year, and in the same town; all these were compelled by the Councils to do penance for the crimes which they had committed. The town of Llandaff, in Wales, within the metropolitan see of Canterbury, witnessed the celebration of three Councils, in the year 560. In the first, Monric, king of Glamorgan, was excommunicated for having put to death King Cinétha, although he had sworn the peace on the sacred relics; in the second, King Morcant was excommunicated for having put to death Friac, his uncle, in whose favor he had equally sworn the peace; in the third, King Guidnert was excommunicated for having put to death his brother, the competitor for the throne.

Thus, these barbarian chiefs, just changed into kings, and prone to slaughter, are compelled to acknowledge the authority of a superior power, and to expiate by penance the murder of their relatives and the violation of sacred engagements; it is useless to point out how much this must have contributed to the improvement of manners. "It was easy," the enemies of the Church will say—those who endeavor to lower the merit of her acts—"it was easy to preach gentleness of manners, to impose the observance of divine precepts on chiefs whose power was limited, and who had only the name of kings; it was easy to manage those petty barbarian chiefs, who, rendered fanatical by a religion of which they understood nothing, humbly bowed before the first priest who ven[Pg 178]tured to menace them on the part of God. But of what importance was that? What influence could it have on the course of great events? The history of European civilization presents a vast theatre, where events must be studied on a large scale, and where none but the most important scenes exercised any influence on the spirit of nations." Let us observe, that these petty barbarian kings were the origin of the principal families which now occupy the most important thrones of the world. To place the germ of real civilization in their hearts, was to graft the tree which was one day to overshadow the earth. But without staying to show the futility of such reasoning, and as our opponents desire great scenes capable of influencing European manners on a large scale, let us open the history of the Church in the first ages, and we shall soon find a page which redounds to the eternal honor of Catholicity. The whole of the known world was subject to an emperor, whose name, then universally venerated, will continue to be respected by the remotest posterity. In an important city, the rebellious inhabitants put to death the commander of the garrison; the emperor, transported with anger, orders them to be exterminated. Returning to himself, he revokes the order; but it was too late, the order was executed, and thousands of victims had been involved in the horrible carnage; at the news of this dreadful catastrophe, a bishop quits the court of the emperor, leaves the city, and writes to him in this grave language: "I dare not offer the sacrifice if you attempt to be present at it; the blood of one innocent person would suffice to forbid me; how much more the massacre of a large number." The emperor, confident in his power, takes no notice of this letter, and goes towards the church. When he arrives at the door, he finds himself in the presence of a venerable man, who, with a grave and stern countenance, stops him and forbids him to enter the church. "Thou hast imitated David in crime," he says, "imitate him also in penance." The emperor yields, humbles himself, and submits to the regulations of the bishop, and religion and humanity gain an immortal triumph. This unhappy city was Thessalonica; the emperor was Theodosius; the prelate was St. Ambrose, Archbishop of Milan.

We find face to face, in this sublime fact, force and justice personified. Justice triumphs over force; but why? Because he who represents justice, represents it in the name of Heaven; because the sacred vestments and the imposing attitude of the man who stops the emperor reminds Theodosius of the divine mission of the holy bishop, and of the office which he holds in the sacred ministry. Put a philosopher in the place of the bishop, and tell him to arrest the proud culprit by an injunction of doing penance, and you will see whether human wisdom can do as much as the Catholic priest speaking in the name of God. Put, if you please, a bishop of the Church, who has acknowledged spiritual supremacy in the civil power, and you will see whether in his mouth words have the same effect in obtaining so glorious a triumph. The spirit of the Church was always the same; her arms were always directed towards the same end; her language was always equally strict, equally strong, whether she spoke to the Roman plebeian or a barbarian, whether she addressed her admonitions to a patrician of the empire or to a noble German. She was no more afraid of the purple of the Cæsars than of the frowns of the long-haired kings. The power which she possessed during the middle ages was not exclusively owing to her having preserved alone the light of science and the principles of government; but it was also owing to the invincible firmness, which no resistance and no attack could destroy. What would Protestantism have effected in such difficult and dangerous circumstances? Without authority, without a centre of action, without security for her own faith, without confidence in her resources, what means would she have had to assist her in restraining the torrent of violence—that impetuous torrent, which, after having inundated the world, was about to destroy the remains of ancient civilization, and opposed to[Pg 179] all attempts at social reorganization an obstacle almost insurmountable? Catholicity, with its ardent faith, its powerful authority, its undivided unity, its well-compacted hierarchy, was able to undertake the lofty enterprise of improving manners; and it brought to the undertaking that constancy which is inspired by conscious strength, and that boldness which animates a mind secure of triumph.

We must not, however, imagine that the conduct of the Church, in her mission of improving manners, always brought her into collision with force. We also see her employ indirect means, limit her demands to what she could obtain, and ask for as little, in order to obtain as much as possible. In a capitulary of Charlemagne, given at Aix-la-Chapelle in 813, and consisting of twenty-six articles, which are nothing more than a sort of confirmation and résumé of the five Councils held a little before in France, we find in an appendix of two articles the method of proceeding judicially against those who, under pretext of the right called faida, excited tumults on Sundays, holidays, and also working days. We have already seen above that they had recourse to the holy relics, to give greater authority to the oaths of peace and friendship taken by kings towards each other—an august act, in which Heaven was invoked to prevent the effusion of blood, and to establish peace on earth. We see in the capitulary which we have just quoted, that the respect for Sundays and holidays was made use of to bring about the abolition of the barbarous custom, which authorized the relations of a murdered man to avenge his death in the blood of the murderer. The deplorable state of European society at that time is vividly painted by the means which the ecclesiastical power was compelled to use, to diminish in some degree the disasters occasioned by the prevailing violence. Not to attack, not to maltreat any one, not to have recourse to force to obtain reparation or to gratify a desire of vengeance, appears to us to be so just, so reasonable, and so natural, that we can hardly imagine another way of acting. If, now, a law were promulgated, to forbid one to attack one's enemy on such or such a day, at such or such an hour, it would appear to us the height of folly and extravagance. But it was not so at that time; such prohibitions were made continually, not in obscure hamlets, but in great towns, in very numerous assemblies, when bishops were present in hundreds, and where counts, dukes, princes, and kings were gathered together. This law, by which authority was glad to make the principles of justice respected, at least on certain days,—principally on the great solemnities,—this law, which now would appear to us so strange, was, in a certain way, and for a long period, one of the chief points of public and private law in Europe. It will be understood that I allude to the truce of God, a privilege of peace very necessary at that time, as we see it very often renewed in various countries. Of all that I might say on this point, I shall content myself with selecting a few of the decisions of Councils at the time. The Council of Tubuza, in the diocese of Elne, in Roussillon, held by Guifred, Archbishop of Narbonne, in 1041, established the truce of God, from the evening of Friday until Monday morning. Nobody during that time could take any thing by force, or revenge any injury, or require any pledge in surety. Those who violated this decree were liable to the same legal composition as if they had merited death; in default of which, they were excommunicated and banished from the country.

The practice of this ecclesiastical regulation was considered so advantageous, that many other Councils were held in France during the same year, on the same subject. Moreover, care was taken frequently to repeat the obligation, as we see by the Council of Saint Gilles, in Languedoc, held in 1042, and by that of Narbonne, held in 1045. In spite of these, repeated efforts did not obtain all the desired fruit; this is indicated by the changes which we observe in the regulations of the law. Thus we see that, in the year 1047, the truce of God[Pg 180] was fixed for a less time than in 1041; the Council of Telugis, in the same diocese of Elne, held in 1047, only ordains that it is forbidden to any one in all the comté of Roussillon to attack his enemy between the hours of none on Sunday and prime on Monday; the law was then much less extensive than in 1041, when, as we have seen, the truce of God was extended from Friday evening till Monday morning. We find in the same Council a remarkable regulation, the object of which was to preserve from all attack men who were going to church or returning from it, or who were accompanying women. In 1054, the truce of God had gained ground; we see it extended, not only from Friday evening till Monday morning after sunrise, but over considerable periods of the year. Thus we see that the Council of Narbonne, held by Archbishop Guifred, in 1045, after having included in the truce of God the time from Friday evening till Monday morning, declares it obligatory during the following periods: from the first Sunday of Advent till the octave of the Epiphany; from Quinquagesima Sunday till the octave of Easter; from the Sunday preceding the Ascension till the octave of Pentecost; the festival days of Our Lady, of St. Peter, of St. Laurence, of St. Michael, of All Saints, of St. Martin, of St. Just and Pasteur, titularies of the Church of Narbonne, and all fasting days, under pain of anathema and perpetual banishment. The same Council gives some other regulations, so beautiful that we cannot pass them over in silence, when we are engaged in showing the influence of the Catholic Church in improving manners. The 9th canon forbids the cutting of olive-trees; a reason for it is given, which, in the eyes of jurists, will not appear sufficiently general or adequate, but which, in the eyes of the philosophy of history, is a beautiful symbol of the beneficial influence exercised over society by religion. This is the reason given by the Council: "It is," it says, "that the olive-trees may furnish matter for the holy chrism, and feed the lamps that burn in the churches." Such a reason was sure to produce more effect than any that could be drawn from Ulpian and Justinian. It is ordained in the 10th canon that shepherds and their flocks shall enjoy at all times the security of the truce; the same favor is extended by the 11th canon to all houses within thirty paces of the churches. The 18th canon forbids those who have a suit, to take any active steps, to commit the least violence, until the cause has been judged in presence of the bishop and lord of the place. The other canons forbid the robbing of merchants and pilgrims, and the commission of wrong against any one, under pain of being separated from the Church, if the crime be committed during the time of the truce.

In proportion as we advance in the 11th century, we see the salutary practice of the truce of God more and more inculcated; the Popes interpose their authority in its favor. At the Council of Gironne, held by Cardinal Hugues-le-Blanc, in 1068, the truce of God is confirmed by the authority of Alexander II., under pain of excommunication; the Council held in 1080, at Lillebonne, in Normandy, gives us reason to suppose that the truce was then generally established, since it ordains, by its first canon to bishops and lords, to take care that it was observed, and to inflict on offenders against it censures and other penalties. In the year 1093, the Council of Troja, in Apulia, held by Urban II., continues the truce of God. To judge of the extent of this canonical regulation, we should know that this Council consisted of sixty-five bishops. The number was much greater at the Council of Clermont, in Auvergne, held by the same Urban II., in 1095; it reckoned no less than thirteen archbishops, two hundred and twenty bishops, and a great number of abbots. The first canon of this Council confirms the truce for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; it wishes, moreover, that it should be observed on all the days of the week, with respect to monks, clergy, and women. The canons 29 and 30 ordain, that if a man pursued by an enemy take refuge near a cross, he[Pg 181] should be in safety, as if he had found asylum in a church. The sublime sign of redemption, after having given salvation to the world, by drinking on Calvary the blood of the Son of God, had already proved a refuge, during the sack of Rome, to those who fled from the fury of the barbarians; centuries later, we find it erected on the roads, to save the unfortunate, who, by embracing it, escaped their enemies, who were thus deterred from vengeance.

The Council of Rouen, held in 1096, extending still further the benefit of the truce, ordains the observance of it from the Sunday before Ash Wednesday till the second feast after the octave of Pentecost, from sunset on Wednesday preceding Advent to the octave of Epiphany, and every week from Friday after sunset till the Monday following at sunrise; in fine, on all the feasts and vigils of the Virgin and the Apostles. The 2d canon of the same Council secures perpetual peace to all clergy, monks, and nuns, to women, to pilgrims, to merchants and their servants, to oxen and horses of labor, to carmen and laborers; it gives the same privileges to all lands that belong to sacred institutions; all such persons, animals, and lands are protected from the attacks of pillage and all kinds of violence. At this time the law felt itself stronger; it could now call for obedience in a firmer tone; we see, indeed, that the third canon of the same Council enjoins upon all who have reached the age of twelve, to engage by oath to observe the truce; in the fourth canon, all who refuse to take this oath are excommunicated. Some years after, in 1115, the truce, instead of comprising certain stated parts of the year, embraces whole years; the Council of Troja in Apulia, held in that year by Pope Pascal, establishes the truce for three years.

The Popes pursued with ardor the work thus commenced; they sanctioned it with their authority, and extended the observance of the truce by means of their influence, then universal and powerful over all Europe. Although the truce was apparently only a testimony of respect paid to religion by the violent passions, which, in her favor, consented to suspend their hostilities, it was, in reality, a triumph of right over might, and one of the most admirable devices ever used to improve the manners of a barbarous people. The man who, during four days of the week, and during long periods of the year, was compelled to suspend the exercise of force, was necessarily led to more gentle manners; he must, in the end, entirely renounce it. The difficulty is not, to convince a man that he does ill, but to make him lose the habit of doing so; and it is well known that habits are engendered by the repetition of acts, and are lost when they cease for a time. Nothing is more pleasing to the Christian soul than to see the Popes laboring to maintain and extend this truce. They renew the command of it with a power the more efficacious and universal according to the number of bishops who assist at the Councils where their supreme authority presides. At the Council of Rheims, opened by Pope Calixtus II. in person, in 1119, a decree confirming the truce is promulgated. Thirteen archbishops, more than two hundred bishops, and a great number of abbots and ecclesiastics, distinguished for their rank, assisted at this Council. The same command is renewed at the General Council of Lateran, held under the care of the same Pontiff, Calixtus II., in 1123. There were assembled more than three hundred archbishops and bishops, and more than six hundred abbots. In 1130, the Council of Clermont, in Auvergne, held by Innocent II., insists on the same point, and repeats the regulations concerning the observance of the truce. The Council of Avignon, held in 1209, by Hugh, Bishop of Riez, and Milon, notary of Pope Innocent III., both legates of the Holy See, confirms the laws before enacted on the subject of the peace and the truce, and condemns the rebellious who dare to infringe them. In the year 1215, at the Council of Montpellier, assembled by Robert de Courçon, and presided over by Cardinal Benavent, in his office as legate of the province, all the regulations established at different[Pg 182] times for the public safety, and more recently to secure peace between lord and lord, and town and town, are renewed and confirmed.

Those who have regarded the intervention of the ecclesiastical power in civil affairs as a usurpation of the rights of public authority, should tell us how it is possible to usurp that which does not exist, and how a power which is unable to exercise the authority which ought to belong to it, can reasonably complain when that authority passes into the hands of those who have force and skill to make use of it. At that time, the public authority did not at all complain of these pretended usurpations. Governments and nations looked upon them as just and legitimate; for, as we have said above, they were natural and necessary, they were brought about by the force of events, they were the result of the situation of affairs. Certainly, it would now seem extraordinary to see bishops provide for the security of roads, publish edicts against incendiaries, against robbers, against those who cut down olive-trees and commit other injuries of the kind; but, at the time we are speaking of, this proceeding was very natural, and more, it was necessary. Thanks to the care of the Church, to that incessant solicitude which has been since so inconsiderately blamed, the foundations of the social edifice, in which we now dwell in peace, were laid; an organization was realized which would have been impossible without the influence of religion and the action of ecclesiastical authority. If you wish to know whether any fact of which you have to judge is the result of the nature of things, or the fruit of well contrived combinations, observe the manner in which it appears, the places where it takes its rise, the times which witness its appearance; and if you shall find it reproduced at once in places far distant from each other, by men who can have had no concert, be assured that it is not the result of human contrivance, but of the force of events. These conditions are found united in a palpable manner in the action of the ecclesiastical power on public affairs. Open the Councils of those times, and everywhere the same facts meet your eyes; thus, to quote a few examples, the Council of Palentia, in the kingdom of Leon, held in 1129, decrees, in its 12th canon, exile or seclusion in a monastery, against those who attack the clergy, monks, merchants, pilgrims, and women. Let us pass into France; the Council of Clermont, in Auvergne, held in 1130, pronounces, in its 13th canon, excommunication against incendiaries. In 1157, the Council of Rheims, in the 3d canon, orders to be respected, during war, the persons of the clergy, of monks, women, travellers, laborers, and vine-dressers. Let us pass into Italy; the 11th Council of Lateran, a General Council, convoked in 1179, forbids, in its 22d canon, to maltreat or disturb monks, clergy, pilgrims, merchants, peasants, either travelling or engaged in the labors of agriculture, and animals laboring in the fields. In its 24th canon, the same Council excommunicates those who make slaves of, or rob, Christians on voyages of commerce, or for other lawful purposes; those who plunder the shipwrecked are subjected to the same penalty, unless they make restitution. Let us go to England; there the Council of Oxford, held in 1222, by Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, forbids, by its 20th canon, any one to have robbers in their service. In Sweden, the Council of Arbogen, held in 1396, by Henry, Archbishop of Upsala, directs, by its 5th canon, that church-burial shall be refused to pirates, ravishers, incendiaries, highway robbers, oppressors of the poor, and other malefactors; so that in all parts, and at the same periods, we see the same fact appear, viz. the Church struggling against injustice and violence, and endeavoring to substitute in their stead the empire of law and justice.

In what spirit must they read the history of the Church, who do not feel the beauty of the picture presented to us by the multitude of regulations, scarcely indicated here, all tending to protect the weak against the strong? The clergy and monks, on account of the weakness consequent on their peaceful profession,[Pg 183] find in the canons which we have just quoted peculiar protection; but the same is granted to females, to pilgrims, to merchants, to villagers, travelling, or engaged in rural labors, and to beasts of labor—in a word, to all that is weak; and observe, that this protection is not a mere passing effort of generosity, but a system practised in widely different places, continued for centuries, developed and applied by all the means that charity suggests—a system inexhaustible in resources and contrivances, both in producing good and in preventing evil. And surely it cannot be said that the Church was influenced in this by views of self-interest: what interested motive could she have in preventing the spoliation of an obscure traveller, the violence inflicted on a poor laborer, or the insult offered to a defenceless woman? The spirit which then animated her, whatever might be the abuses which were introduced during unhappy times, was, as it now is, the spirit of God himself—that spirit which continually communicates to her so marked an inclination towards goodness and justice, and always urges her to realize, by any possible means, her sublime desires. I leave the reader to judge whether or not the constant efforts of the Church to banish the dominion of force from the bosom of society were likely to improve manners. I now speak only of times of peace; for I need not stay to prove that during the time of war that influence must have had the happiest results. The væ victis of the ancients has disappeared from modern history, thanks to the divine religion which knew how to inspire man with new ideas and new feelings—thanks to the Catholic Church, whose zeal for the redemption of captives has softened the fierce maxims of the Romans, who, as we have seen, had considered it necessary to take from brave men the hope of being redeemed from servitude, when by the chances of war they had fallen into the hands of their enemies. The reader may revert to the seventh chapter of this work, and the third paragraph of the fifteenth note, where there are, in the original text, numerous documents that may be quoted in support of our assertion; he will thus be better able to judge of the gratitude which is due to the charity, disinterestedness, and indefatigable zeal of the Catholic Church in favor of the unfortunate, who groaned in bondage in the power of their enemies. We must also consider that, slavery once abolished, the system was necessarily improved; for if those who surrendered could no longer be put to death, or be kept in slavery, the only thing to be done was, to retain them for the time necessary to prevent their doing mischief, or until they were ransomed. Now, this is the modern system, which consists in retaining prisoners till the end of the war, or until they are exchanged.

Although the amelioration of manners, as I have said above, consists, properly speaking, in the exclusion of force, we must yet avoid considering this exclusion of force in the abstract, and believing that such an order of things was possible, by virtue of the mere development of mind. All is connected in this world; it is not enough, to constitute the real improvement of manners, that they avoid violence as much as possible; they must also be benevolent. As long as they are not so, they will be less gentle than enervated; the use of force will not be banished from society, but it will remain artificially disguised. It will be understood, then, that we are obliged here to take a survey of the principle whence European civilization has drawn the spirit of benevolence which distinguishes it; we shall thus succeed in showing that the gentleness of our present manners is principally owing to Catholicity. There is, besides, in the examination of the principle of benevolence, so much importance of its own, independently of its connection with the question which now occupies us, that we cannot avoid devoting some pages to it, in the course of an analytical review of the elements of our civilization.22

[Pg 184]


Never will manners be perfectly gentle without the existence of public beneficence; so that gentleness of manners and beneficence, although distinct, are sisters. Public beneficence, properly so called, was unknown among the ancients. Individuals might be beneficent there, but society was without compassion. Thus, the foundation of public establishments of beneficence formed no part of the system of administration among ancient nations. What, then, did they do with the unfortunate? We will answer with the author of the Génie de Christianisme, that they had no resources but infanticide and slavery. Christianity having become predominant everywhere, we see the authority of the Church employed in destroying the remains of cruel customs. In the year 442, the Council of Vaison, establishing a regulation for the legitimate possession of foundlings, decrees ecclesiastical censure against those who disturb by importunate reproaches charitable persons who have received children. The Council adopts this measure with the view of protecting a beneficent custom; for, adds the canon, these children were exposed to be eaten by dogs. There were still found fathers unnatural enough to kill their children. The Council of Lerida, held in 546, imposes seven years of penance on those who commit such a crime; and that of Toledo, held in 589, forbids, in the 17th canon, parents to commit this crime. Still, the difficulty did not consist in correcting these excesses; crimes thus opposed to the first notions of morality—so much in contradiction to the feelings of nature—tended to their own extirpation. The difficulty consisted in finding proper means to organize a vast system of beneficence, to provide constant succor, not only for children, but for old men, for the sick, for the poor incapable of living by their own labor; in a word, for all the necessitous. Familiarized as we are with such a system universally established, we see nothing in it but what is simple and natural; we can hardly find any merit in it. But let us suppose for a moment that such institutions do not exist; let us transport ourselves to the times when there was not even the first idea of them, what continued efforts would there not be required to establish and organize them!

It is clear that by the mere extension of Christian charity in the world the various wants of humanity must have been more frequently succored, and with more efficacy, than they were before; and this even if we suppose that the exercise of charity was limited to purely individual means. Assuredly, there would always have been a great number of the faithful who would have remembered the doctrines and example of Jesus Christ. Our Saviour did not content Himself with teaching us by his discourses the obligation of loving our neighbor as ourselves, nor with a barren affection, but by giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked; by visiting the sick and prisoners. He showed us in his own conduct a model of the practice of charity. He could have shown in a thousand ways the power which belonged to Him in heaven and on earth; his voice could have controlled all the elements, stopped the motions of the stars, and suspended all the laws of nature; but He delighted above all in displaying his beneficence; He only attested his divinity by miracles which healed or consoled the unfortunate. His whole life is summed up in the sublime simplicity of these two words of the sacred text: pertransiit benefaciendo; He went about doing good.

Whatever good might be expected from Christian charity when left to its own inspiration, and acting in a sphere purely individual, it was not desirable to leave it in this state. It was necessary to realize it in permanent institutions, and not to leave the consolation of the unfortunate to the mercy of man[Pg 185] and passing circumstances; this is the reason why there was so much wisdom and foresight in the idea of founding establishments of beneficence. It was the Church that conceived and executed this idea. Therein she only applied to a particular case her general rule of conduct; which is, never to leave to the will of individuals what can be connected with an institution: and observe, that this is one of the causes of the strength inherent in all that belongs to Catholicity. As the principle of authority in matters of faith preserves to her unity and constancy therein, so the rule of intrusting every thing to institutions secures the solidity and duration of all her works. These two principles have an intimate connection; for if you examine them attentively, the one supposes that she distrusts the intellect of man, the other, that she distrusts his individual will and capacity. The one supposes that man is not sufficient of himself to attain to, and preserve the knowledge of, certain truths; the other, that he is so feeble and capricious, that it is unwise to leave to his weakness and inconstancy the care of doing good. Now, neither one nor the other is injurious to man; neither one nor the other lowers his proper dignity. The Church only tells him, that he is, in reality, subject to error, inclined to evil, inconstant in his designs, and very miserable in his resources. These are melancholy truths; but the experience of every day attests them, and the Christian religion explains them, by establishing, as a fundamental dogma, the fall of man in the person of our first parent. Protestantism, following principles diametrically opposite, applies the same spirit of individuality to the will as to the intelligence; it is even the natural enemy of institutions. Without going further than our present subject, we see that its first step, on its appearance, was to destroy what existed, without in any way replacing it. Will it be believed that Montesquieu went so far as to applaud this work of destruction? This is another proof of the fatal influence exerted over minds by the pestilential atmosphere of the last century: "Henri VIII.," says Montesquieu, "voulant réformer l'église d'Angleterre, détruisit les moines: nation paresseuse elle-même, et qui entretenait la paresse des autres, parceque, practiquant l'hospitalité, une infinité de gens oisifs, gentilhommes et bourgeois, passoient leur vie à courir de couvent en couvent. Il ôta encore les hôpitaux, où le bas peuple trouvait sa subsistence, comme les gentilhommes trouvaient la leur dans les monastères. Depuis ce changement, l'esprit de commerce et d'industrie s'établit en Angleterre." (De l'Esprit des Lois, liv. xxiii. chap. 19.) That Montesquieu should praise this conduct of Henry VIII., and the destruction of monasteries, for the miserable reason, that it was good to deprive the idle of the hospitality of the monks, is a notion which ought not to astonish us, as such vulgar ideas were in accordance with the taste of the philosophy which had then begun to prevail. It attempted to find profound economical and political reasons for all that was in opposition to the institutions of Catholicity; and this was not difficult, for a prejudiced mind always finds in books, as well as in facts, what it seeks. We might inquire of Montesquieu, however, what is become of the property of the monasteries? As these rich spoils were in great part given to the same nobles who found hospitality with the monks, we might observe to him, that it was a singular way of diminishing the idleness of people, to give them as their own the property which they had previously enjoyed as guests. It cannot be denied, that to take to the houses of the nobles the property which had supported the hospitality which the monks showed them, was certainly to save them the trouble of running from monastery to monastery. But what we cannot tolerate is, to hear vaunted as a political chef-d'œuvre, the suppression of the hospitals where the poor people found their subsistence. What! are these your lofty views, and is your philosophy so devoid of compassion, that you think the destruction of the asylums of misfortune proper means for encouraging industry and commerce? The worst of it is, that Montesquieu, seduced by the desire of offering new and piquant obser[Pg 186]vations, goes so far as to deny the utility of hospitals, pretending that, in Rome, they make all live in comfort except those who labor. He does not wish to have them in rich nations or in poor ones. He supports this cruel paradox by a reason stated in the following words: "Quand la nation est pauvre," says he, "la pauvreté particulière dérive de la misère générale, et elle est, pour ainsi dire, la misère générale. Tous les hôpitaux du monde ne sauraient guérir cette pauvreté particulière; au contraire l'esprit de paresse qu'ils inspirent augmente la pauvreté générale, et par conséquent la particulière." Thus, hospitals are represented as dangerous to poor nations, and consequently condemned. Let us now listen to what is said of rich ones: "J'ai dit que les nations riches avaient besoin d'hôpitaux, parceque la fortune y était sujette a mille accidents; mais on sent que les recours passagers vaudraient bien mieux que les établissements perpétuels. Le mal est momentané; il faut donc des secours de même nature, et qui soient applicables à l'accident particulier." (De l'Esprit des Lois, liv. xxiii. chap. 19.) It is difficult to find any thing more empty or more false. Undoubtedly, if we were to judge, by these passages, of the Esprit des Lois, the merit of which has been so much exaggerated, we should be compelled to condemn it in terms more severe than those employed by M. de Bonald, when he called it "the most profound of superficial works." Happily for the poor, and for the good order of society, Europe in general has not adopted these maxims; and on this point, as on many others, prejudices against Catholicity have been laid aside, in order to continue, with more or less modification, the system which she taught. We find in England herself a considerable number of establishments of beneficence; and it is not believed in that country that it is necessary, in order to excite the activity of the poor, to expose them to the danger of dying of hunger. We should always remember that the system of public establishments for beneficence, now general in Europe, would not have existed without Catholicity; indeed, we may rest assured, that if the religious schism had taken place before the foundation and organization of this system, European society would not now have enjoyed these establishments which do it so much honor, and are so precious an element of good government and public tranquillity. It is one thing to found and maintain an establishment of this kind, when a great number of similar ones already exist,—when governments possess immense resources, and strength sufficient to protect all interests; but it is a very different thing to establish a multitude of them in all places, when there is no model to be copied, when it is necessary to improvise in a thousand ways the indispensable resources,—when public authority has no prestige or force to control the violent passions that struggle to gain every thing that they can feed on. Now, in modern times, since the existence of Protestantism, the first only of these things has been done; the second was accomplished centuries before by the Catholic Church; and let it be observed, that what has been done in Protestant countries in favor of public beneficence, has been done by administrative acts of the government, acts which were necessarily inspired by the view of the happy results already obtained from similar institutions. But Protestantism, by itself, considered as a separate Church, has done nothing, and it could do nothing; for in all places where it preserves any thing of hierarchical organization, it is the mere instrument of the civil power; consequently it cannot there act by its own inspirations. Such is the vice of its constitution. Its prejudice against the religious institutions, both of men and women, make it sterile in this respect. Thus, indeed, it is deprived of one of the most powerful elements possessed by Catholicity to accomplish the most arduous and laborious works of charity. For the great works of charity, it is necessary to be free from worldly attachments and self-love; and these qualities are found in an eminent degree in persons who are devoted to charity in religious institutions. There they commence with that freedom which is the root of all the rest—the absence of self-love.[Pg 187] The Catholic Church has not been instigated to this by the civil power; she has considered it as one of her own peculiar duties to provide for the unfortunate. Her bishops have always been looked upon as the protectors and the natural inspectors of beneficent establishments. Therefore there was a law which placed hospitals under the charge of the bishops; and thence it comes that that class of charitable institutions has always occupied a distinguished place in canonical legislation. The Church, from remote times, has made laws concerning hospitals. Thus, we see the Council of Chalcedon place under the authority of the bishop the clergy residing in Ptochüs,—that is, as explained by Zonarus, in the establishments destined to support and provide for the poor: "Such," he says, "as those where orphans and the old and infirm are received and cared for." The Council makes use of this expression, according to the tradition of the holy Fathers; thereby indicating that regulations had been made of old by the Church concerning establishments of this kind. The learned also know what the ancient diaconies were,—places of charity, where poor widows, orphans, old men, and other unfortunate persons, were received.

When the irruption of the barbarians had introduced everywhere the reign of force, the possessions which hospitals already had, and those which they afterwards gained, were exposed to unbounded rapacity. The Church did all she could to protect them. It was forbidden to take them, under the severest penalties; those who made the attempt were punished as murderers of the poor. The Council of Orleans, held in 549, forbids, in its 13th canon, taking the property of hospitals; the 15th canon of the same Council confirms the foundation of a hospital at Lyons, a foundation due to the charity of King Childebert and Queen Ultrogotha. The Council takes measures to secure the safety and good management of the funds of that hospital; all violating these regulations are anathematized as guilty of homicide of the poor.

We find, with respect to the poor, in very ancient Councils, regulations of charity and police at the same time, quite similar to measures now adopted in certain countries. For example, parishes are enjoined to make a list of their poor, to maintain them, &c. The Council of Tours, held in 566 or 567, by its 5th canon orders every town to maintain its poor; and the priests in the country, as well as the faithful, to maintain their own, in order to prevent mendicants from wandering about the towns and provinces. With respect to lepers, the 21st canon of the Council of Orleans, before quoted, prescribes to bishops to take particular care of these unfortunate beings in all dioceses, and to furnish them with food and clothing out of the Church funds; the Council of Lyons, held in 583, in its 6th canon ordains that the lepers of every town and territory shall be supported at the expense of the Church under the care of the bishop. The Church had a register of the poor, intended to regulate the distribution which was made to them of a portion of the ecclesiastical property; it was expressly forbidden to demand any thing from the poor for being inscribed in this book of charity. The Council of Rheims, held in 874, in the second of its five articles forbids receiving any thing from the poor thus inscribed, and that under pain of deposition. Zeal for improving the condition of prisoners, a kind of charity which has been so much displayed in modern times, is extremely ancient in the Church. We must observe that in the sixth century there was already an inspector of prisons; the archdeacon or the provost of the church was obliged to visit prisoners on all Sundays; no class of criminals was excluded from the benefit of this solicitude. The archdeacon was bound to learn their wants, and to furnish them, by means of a person recommended by the bishop, with food and all they stood in need of. This was ordered by the 20th canon of the Council of Orleans, held in 549. It would be too long to enumerate even a small part of the ordinances which attest the zeal of the Church for the comfort and consolation of the unfortunate; besides, it would be beyond my purpose, for[Pg 188] I have only undertaken to compare the spirit of Protestantism with that of Catholicity with respect to works of charity. Yet, and as the development of this question has naturally led me to state several historical facts, I shall allude to the 141st canon of the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle, enjoining upon prelates to found, according to the example of their predecessors, a hospital to receive all the poor that the revenues of the Church were able to support. Prebendaries were bound to give to the hospital the tenth of their fruits; one of them was appointed to receive the poor and strangers, and to watch over the administration of the hospital. Such was the rule of prebendaries. In the rule destined for the canonesses, the same Council ordains that a hospital shall be established close to the house, and that it shall itself contain a place reserved for poor women. Therefore, were there seen, many centuries later, in various places, hospitals near to prebendal churches. As we approach our own times, we everywhere see innumerable institutions founded for charity. Ought we not to admire the fruitfulness with which there arise, on all sides, as many resources as are necessary to succour all the unfortunate? We cannot calculate with precision what would have happened if Protestantism had not appeared, but at least there is a conjecture authorized by reasons of analogy. If the development of European civilization had been fully carried out under the principle of religious unity, if the so-called Reformation had not plunged Europe into continual revolutions and reactions, there would certainly have been produced in the bosom of the Catholic Church some general system of beneficence, which, organized on a grand scale and in conformity with the new progress of society, would have been able to prevent or effectually to remedy the sore of pauperism, that cancer of modern nations. What was not to be expected from all the intelligence and all the resources of Europe, working in concert to obtain this great result? Unhappily, the unity of faith was broken; authority, the proper centre, past, present, and future, was rejected. From that time Europe, which was destined to become a nation of brothers, was changed into a most fiercely-contested battle-field. Hatred, engendered by religious differences, prevented any united efforts for new arrangements; and the necessities which arose out of the bosom of the social and political organization, which was for Europe the fruit of so many centuries of labor, could not be provided for. Bitter disputes, rebellions, and wars were acclimatized among us.

Let us remember that the Protestant schism not only prevented the union of all the efforts of Europe to attain the end in question, but, moreover, it has been the reason why Catholicism has not been able to act in a regular manner even in those countries where it has preserved its complete empire, or a decided predominance. In these countries it has been compelled to hold itself in an attitude of defence; it has been obliged, by the attacks of its enemies, to employ a great part of its resources in defending its own existence: it is very probably for this reason that the state of things in Europe is entirely different from what it would have been on a contrary supposition; and perhaps in the latter case there would not have existed the sad necessity of exhausting itself in impotent efforts against an evil, which, according to all appearances, and unless hitherto unknown means can be devised, appears without remedy. I shall be told that the Church in this case would have had an excessive authority over all that relates to charity, and would have unjustly usurped the civil power. This is a mistake; the Church has never claimed any thing that is not quite conformable to her indelible character of protector of all the unfortunate. During some centuries, it is true, we hardly hear any other voice or perceive any other action than hers, in all that relates to beneficence; but we must observe that the civil power during that time was very far from possessing a regular and vigorous administration, capable of doing without the aid of the Church. The latter was so far from being actu[Pg 189]ated by any motives of ambition, that her double charge of spiritual and temporal things imposed on her all sorts of sacrifices.

Three centuries have passed away since the event of which we now lament the fatal results. Europe during this period has been submitted in great part to the influence of Protestantism, but it has made no progress thereby. I cannot believe that these three centuries would have passed away under the exclusive influence of Catholicity, without producing in the bosom of Europe a degree of charity sufficient to raise the system of beneficence to the height demanded by the difficulties and new interests of society. If we look at the different systems which ferment in minds devoted to the study of this grave question, we shall always find there association under one form or another. Now association has been at all times one of the favorite principles of Catholicity, which, by proclaiming unity in faith, proclaims it also in all things; but there is this difference, that a great number of associations which are conceived and established in our days are nothing but an agglomeration of interests; they want unity of will and of aim, conditions which can be obtained only by means of Christian charity. Yet these two conditions are indispensably necessary to accomplish great works of beneficence, if any thing else is required than a mere measure of public administration. As to the administration itself, it is of little avail when it is not vigorous; and unfortunately, in acquiring the necessary vigor, its action becomes somewhat stiff and harsh. Therefore it is that Christian charity is required, which, penetrating on all sides like a balsam, softens all that is harsh in human action. I pity the unfortunate who in their necessities find only the succor of the civil authorities, without the intervention of Christian charity. In reports presented to the public, philanthropy may and will exaggerate the care which it lavishes on the unfortunate, but things will not be so in reality. The love of our brethren, when it is not founded on religious principle, is as fruitful in words as it is barren in deeds. The sight of the poor, of the sick, of impotent old age, is too disagreeable for us long to bear it, unless we are urged to it by very powerful motives. Even much less can we hope that a vague feeling of humanity will suffice to make us encounter, as we should, the constant cares required to console these unfortunate beings. When Christian charity is wanting, a good administration will no doubt enforce punctuality and exactitude—all that can be demanded of men who receive a salary for their services: but one thing will be wanting, which nothing can replace and money cannot buy, viz. love. But it will be asked, have you no faith in philanthropy? No; for as M. de Chateaubriand says, philanthropy is only the false coin of charity. It was then perfectly reasonable that the Church should have a direct influence in all branches of beneficence, for she knew better than any others how to make Christian charity active, by applying it to all kinds of necessities and miseries. Therein she did not gratify her ambition, but found food for her zeal; she did not claim a privilege, but exerted a right. In fine, if you will persevere in calling such a desire ambition, you cannot deny at least that it was ambition of a new kind. An ambition truly worthy of glory and reward, is that which claims the right of succoring and consoling the unfortunate.23


The question of the improvement of manners, treated in the preceding chapters, naturally leads me to another, sufficiently thorny in itself, and rendered still more so by innumerable prejudices. I allude to toleration in matters of religion. The word Catholicity, to certain persons, is the synonyme of intole[Pg 190]rance; and the confusion of ideas on this point has become such, that no more laborious task can be undertaken than to clear them up. It is only necessary to pronounce the word intolerance, to raise in the minds of some people all sorts of black and horrible ideas. Legislation, institutions, and men of past times, all are condemned without appeal, the moment there is seen the slightest appearance of intolerance. More than one cause contributes to this universal prejudice. Yet, if called upon to point out the principal one, we would repeat the profound maxim of Cato, who, when accused at the age of eighty-six of certain offences of his past life, committed at times long gone by, said, "It is difficult to render an account of one's own conduct to men belonging to an age different from that in which one has lived." There are some things of which one cannot accurately judge without, not only a knowledge of them, but also a complete appreciation of the times when they occurred. How many men are capable of attaining to this? There are few who are able to succeed in freeing their minds from the influence of the atmosphere which surrounds them; but there are fewer still who can do the same with their hearts. The age in which we live is precisely the reverse of the ages of intolerance; and this is the first difficulty which meets us in discussing questions of this kind. The prejudice and bad faith of some who have applied themselves to this subject, have contributed also in a considerable degree to erroneous opinions. There is nothing in the world which cannot be undervalued by showing only one side of it; for thus considered, all things are false, or rather are not themselves. All bodies have three dimensions; only to look at one is not to form an idea of the body itself, but of a quantity very different from it. Take any institution, the most just and useful that can be imagined, then all the inconveniences and evils which it has caused, taking care to bring together into a few pages what in reality was spread over a great many ages; then your history will be disgusting, hideous, and worthy of execration. Let a partisan of democracy describe to you in a narrow compass, and by means of historical facts, all the inconveniences and evils of monarchy, the vices and the crimes of kings; how will monarchy then appear to you? But let a partisan of monarchy paint to you, in his turn, by the same method of historical facts, democracy and demagogues; and what will you then think of democracy? Assemble in one picture all the evils occasioned to nations by a high degree of development of the social state; civilization and refinement will then appear detestable. By seeking and selecting in the annals of the human mind certain traits, the history of science may be made the history of folly, and even of crime. By heaping together the fatal accidents that have occurred to masters of the healing art, their beneficent profession may be represented as a career of homicide. In a word, every thing may be falsified by proceeding in this way. God himself would appear to us as a monster of cruelty and tyranny, if, taking away his goodness, wisdom, and justice, we only attended to the evils which we see in a world created by his power and governed by his providence.

Having laid down these principles, let us apply them. The spirit of the age, particular circumstances, and an order of things quite different from ours, are all forgotten, and the history of the religious intolerance of Catholics is composed by taking care to condense into a few pages, and paint in the blackest colours, the severity of Ferdinand and Isabella, of Philip II., of Mary of England, of Louis XIV., and every thing of the kind that occurred during three centuries. The reader who receives, almost at the same moment, the impression of events which occurred during a period of three hundred years,—the reader, accustomed to live in society where prisons are being converted into houses of recreation, and where the punishment of death is vigorously opposed, can he behold the appearance of darksome dungeons, the instruments of punishment, the san-benitos and scaffolds, without being deeply moved? He will be[Pg 191]wail the unfortunate lot of those who perish; he will be indignant against the authors of what he calls horrible atrocities. Nothing has been said to this candid reader of the principles and conduct of Protestants at the same time; he has not been reminded of the cruelty of Henry VIII. and of Elizabeth of England. Thus all his hatred is directed against Catholics, and he is accustomed to regard Catholicity as a religion of tyranny and blood. But will a judgment thus formed be just? Will this be a sentence passed with a full knowledge of the cause? What would impartiality direct us to do, if we met with a dark picture, painted in the way we have described, of monarchy, democracy, or civilization, of science, or of the healing art? What we should do, or rather what we ought to do, is to extend our view further, to examine the subject in its different phases; to inquire into its good as well as its evil: this would be to look upon these evils as they really are, that is, spread at great distances over the course of centuries; this would weaken the impression they had made upon us: in a word, we should thus be just, we should take the balance in hand to weigh the good and evil, to compare the one with the other, as we ought always to do when we have duly to appreciate things in the history of humanity. In the case in question, we should act in the same way, in order to provide against the error into which we may be led by the false statements and exaggerations of certain men, whose evident intention it has been to falsify facts by representing only one side of them. The Inquisition no longer exists, and assuredly there is no probability of its being re-established; the severe laws in force on this matter in former times no longer exist; they are either abrogated or they are fallen into desuetude: no one, therefore, has an interest in representing this institution in a false point of view. It may be imagined that some men had an interest in this while they were engaged in destroying their ancient laws, but that once attained, the Inquisition and its laws are become a historical fact, which ought to be examined here with attention and impartiality. We have here two questions, that of principle, and that of its application; in other words, that of intolerance, and that of the manner of showing it. We must not confound these two things, which, although very closely connected, are very different. I shall begin with the first.

The principle of universal toleration is now proclaimed, and all kind of intolerance is condemned without appeal. But who takes care to examine the real meaning of these words? who undertakes to analyze the ideas which they contain by the light of reason, and explain them by means of history and experience? Very few. They are pronounced mechanically; they are constantly employed to establish propositions of the highest importance, without even the suspicion that they contain ideas, the right or wrong comprehension and application of which is every thing for the preservation of society. Few persons consider that these words include questions as profound as they are delicate, and the whole of a large portion of history; very few observe that, according to one solution given to the problem of toleration, all the past is condemned, and all the present overturned; nothing is left thereby to build on for the future but a moving bed of sand. Certainly, the most convenient way in such a case is, to adopt and employ these words such as we already find them in circulation, in the same way as we take and circulate the current coin, without considering whether it be composed of alloy or not. But what is the most convenient is not always the most useful; and, as when receiving coins of value, we carefully examine them, so we ought to weigh words the meaning of which is of such paramount importance. Toleration—what is the meaning of this word? It means, properly speaking, the patience with which we suffer a thing which we judge to be bad, but which we think it desirable not to punish. Thus, some kinds of scandals are tolerated; prostitutes are tolerated; such and such abuses are tolerated; so that the idea of toleration is always accompanied by[Pg 192] the idea of evil. When toleration is exercised in the order of ideas, it always supposes a misunderstanding, or error. No one will say that he tolerates the truth. We have an observation to make here. The phrase to tolerate opinions is commonly used: now, opinion is very different from error. At first sight, the difficulty appears great; but if we examine the thing well, we shall be able to explain it. When we say that we tolerate an opinion, we always mean an opinion contrary to our own. In this case, the opinion of another is, according to us, an error; for it is impossible to have an opinion on any point whatever—that is, to think that a thing is or is not, is in one way or in another—without thinking at the same time that those who judge otherwise are deceived. If our opinion is only an opinion—that is, if our judgment, although based on reasons which appear to us to be good, has not attained to a degree of complete certainty—our judgment of another will be only a mere opinion; but if our conviction has become completely established and confirmed—that is, if it has attained to certainty—we shall be sure that those who form a judgment opposed to ours are deceived. Thence it follows, that the word toleration, applied to opinions, always means the toleration of an error. He who says, yes, thinks no is false; and he who says, no, thinks yes is a mistake. This is only an application of the well-known principle, that it is impossible for the same thing to be and not to be at the same time. But, we shall be asked, What do you mean when you use these words, 'to respect opinions?' is it always understood that we respect errors? No; for these words can have two different and equally reasonable meanings. The first is founded on the feebleness of the conviction of the person from whom the respect comes. When on any particular point we have only just formed an opinion, it is understood that we have not reached certainty; consequently, we know that there are reasons on the other side. In this sense, we may well say that we respect the opinions of others: we express thereby our conviction that it is possible that we are deceived—that it is possible the truth is not on our side. In the second meaning, to respect opinions is to respect, sometimes those who profess them, sometimes their good faith, sometimes their intentions. Thus, when we say that we respect prejudices, it is clear that we do not mean a real respect professed in this place. We see thus, that the expression 'to respect the opinions of others' has a very different meaning, according as the person from whom the respect comes has or has not assured convictions in the contrary sense.

In order the better to understand what toleration is, what its origin and its effects, it is necessary, before we examine it in society, to reduce it to its simplest element. Let us analyze toleration considered in the individual. An individual is called tolerant, when he is habitually in a disposition of mind to bear without irritation or disturbance opinions contrary to his own. This toleration will bear different names, according to the different matters to which it relates. In religious matters, tolerance as well as intolerance may be found in those who have religion as well as in those who have none; so that neither of these situations, with respect to religion, necessarily implies the one or the other. Some people imagine that tolerance is peculiar to the incredulous, and intolerance to the religious; but they are mistaken. Who is more tolerant than St. Francis de Sales? who more intolerant than Voltaire?

Tolerance in religious men—that tolerance which does not come from want of faith, and which is not inconsistent with an ardent zeal for the preservation and propagation of the faith—is born of two principles, charity and humility. Charity, which makes us love all men, even our greatest enemies; charity, which inspires us with compassion for their faults and errors, and obliges us to regard them as brothers, to employ all the means in our power to withdraw them from being fatally deceived; charity, which forbids us ever to regard them as deprived of the hope of salvation as long as they live. Rousseau has said, that[Pg 193] "it is impossible to live in peace with those that one believes to be damned." We do not, and we cannot, believe in the condemnation of any man as long as he lives; however great may be his iniquity, the mercy of God and the value of the blood of Jesus Christ are still greater. We are so far from thinking with the philosopher of Geneva, "that to love such people would be to hate God," that no one could maintain such a doctrine among us without ceasing to belong to our faith. The other source of tolerance is Christian humility: humility, which inspires us with a profound sense of our weakness, and makes us consider all that we have as given by God; humility, which makes us consider our advantages over our neighbor as so many more powerful motives for acknowledging the liberality of Providence; humility, which, placing before our eyes the spectacle of humanity in its proper light, makes us regard ourselves and all others as members of the great family of the human race, fallen from its ancient dignity by the sin of our first parent; humility, which shows us the perverse inclinations of our hearts, the darkness of our minds, and the claims which man has to pity and indulgence in his faults and errors; humility, that virtue sublime even in its abasement. "If humility is so pleasing to God," is the admirable observation of St. Theresa, "it is because it is the truth." This is the virtue which renders us indulgent towards all men, by never allowing us to forget that we ourselves, perhaps, more than any others, have need of indulgence.

Yet for a man to be tolerant, in the full extent of the word, it is not enough for him to be humble and charitable; this is a truth which experience teaches and reason explains to us. In order perfectly to clear up a point, the obscurity of which produces the confusion which almost always prevails in these questions, let us make a comparison between two men equally religious, whose principles are the same, but whose conduct is very different. Let us suppose two priests both distinguished for learning and eminent virtue. The one has passed his life in retirement, surrounded by pious persons, and having no intercourse with any but Catholics: the other has been a missionary in countries where different religions are established, he has been obliged to live and converse with men of creeds different from his own; he has been under the necessity of witnessing the establishment of temples of a false religion close to those of the true one. The principles of Christian charity will be the same with both these priests; both will look upon faith as a gift of God, which he has received, and must preserve; their conduct, however, will be very different, if they meet with a man of a faith different from their own, or of none at all. The first, who, never having had intercourse with any but the faithful, has always heard religion spoken of with respect, will be horrified, will be indignant, at the first word he shall hear against the faith or ceremonies of the Church; it will be impossible, or nearly so, for him to remain calm during a conversation or discussion on the question: the second, accustomed to such things, to hear his faith impugned, to dispute with men of creeds opposed to his own, will remain tranquil; he will engage in a discussion with coolness, if it be necessary; he will skilfully avoid one, if prudence shall advise such a course. Whence comes this difference? It is not difficult to discover. The second of these priests, by intercourse with men, by experience, by contradiction, has obtained a clear notion of the real condition of men's minds in the world; he is aware of the fatal combination of circumstances which has led a great number of unfortunate persons into error, and keeps them there; he knows how, in some measure, to put himself in their place; and the more lively is his sense of the benefit conferred upon him by Providence, the more mild and indulgent he is towards others. The other may be as virtuous, as charitable, and as humble as you please; but how can you expect of him that he will not be deeply moved, and give utterance to his indignation, the first time that he hears that denied which he has always believed with the most lively faith? He has up to this time met[Pg 194] with no opposition in the world, but a few arguments in books. Certainly he was not ignorant that there existed heretics and unbelievers, but he has not frequently met with them, he has not heard them state their hundred different systems, and he has not witnessed the erroneous creeds of men of all sorts, of different characters, and the most varied minds; the lively susceptibility of his mind, which has never met with resistance, has not been blunted; for this reason, although endowed with the same virtues, and, if you will, with the same knowledge as the other, he has not acquired that penetration, that vivacity, so to speak, with which a man of practised intellect enters into the minds of those with whom he has to deal, discerns the reasons, seizes the motives which blind them and hinder them from obtaining a knowledge of the truth.

Thus tolerance, in a person who is religious, supposes a certain degree of gentleness of mind, the fruit of intercourse with men, and the habits thereby engendered; yet this quality is consistent with the deepest conviction, and the purest and most ardent zeal for the propagation of the truth. In the moral, as in the physical world, friction polishes, use wears away, and nothing can remain for a long time in an attitude of violence. A man will be indignant, once, twice, a hundred times, when he hears his manner of thinking attacked; but it is impossible for him to remain so always; he will, in the end, become accustomed to opposition; he will, by habit, bear it calmly. However sacred may be his articles of belief, he will content himself with defending and putting them forward at convenient opportunities; in all other cases, he will keep them in the bottom of his soul, as a treasure which he is desirous to preserve from any thing that may injure them. Tolerance, then, does not suppose any new principles in a man, but rather a quality acquired by practice; a disposition of mind, into which a man finds himself insensibly led; a habit of patience, formed in him by constantly having to bear with what he disapproves of.

Now, if we consider tolerance in men who are not religious, we shall observe that there are two ways of being irreligious. There are men who not only have no religion, but who have an animosity against it, either on account of some fatal error they entertain, or because they find it an obstacle to their designs. These men are extremely intolerant; and their intolerance is the worst of all, because it is not accompanied by any moral principle which can restrain it. A man thus circumstanced feels himself, as it were, continually at war with himself and the human race; with himself, because he must stifle the cries of his own conscience: with the human race, because all protest against the mad doctrine that pretends to banish the worship of God from the earth. Therefore we find among men of this kind much rancor and spleen; therefore their words are full of gall; therefore they have constantly recourse to raillery, insult, and calumny.

But there is another class of men who, although devoid of religion, are not strongly prejudiced against the faith. They live in a kind of skepticism, into which the reading of bad books, or the observations of a superficial and frivolous philosophy, have led them; they are not attached to religion, but they are not its enemies. Many of them acknowledge the importance of religion for the good of society, and some of them even feel within themselves a certain desire to return to the faith; in their moments of recollection and meditation, they remember with pleasure the days when they offered to God an obedient spirit and a pure heart; and at the sight of the rapid course of life, they perhaps love to cherish the hope of becoming reconciled with the God of their fathers, before they descend into the grave. These men are tolerant; but, if carefully examined, their tolerance is not a principle or a virtue, it is only a necessity resulting from their position. It is difficult to be indignant at the opinions of others, when we have none of our own—when, consequently, we do not come into collision with any. It is difficult to be violently opposed to religion, when[Pg 195] we consider it as a thing necessary for the welfare of society; there can be no hatred or rancor towards faith in a soul which desires its mercy, and which, perhaps, fixes its eyes upon it as the last beam of hope amid the terrors of an alarming future. Tolerance, in this case, is nothing strange; it is natural and necessary. Intolerance would be inconceivable and extravagant, and could arise only from a bad heart.

In applying these remarks to society instead of individuals, it must be observed that tolerance, as well as intolerance, may be considered in government, or in society. It sometimes happens that government and society are not agreed; while the former maintains one principle, the reverse may prevail in the latter. As governments are composed of a limited number of individuals, all that has been said of tolerance, considered individually, may be applied to them. Let us not forget, however, that men placed in authority are not free to give themselves up without limit to the impulses of their own opinions or feelings; they are often forced to immolate their own feelings on the altar of public opinion. They may, owing to peculiar circumstances, oppose or impede that opinion for a time; but it will soon stop them, and force them to change their course.

As sooner or later government becomes the expression of the ideas and feelings of society, we shall content ourselves with considering tolerance in the latter; we shall observe that society, with respect to tolerance, follows the same path as individuals. This is with it not the effect of a principle, but of a habit. Men of different creeds, who live together for a long time in the same society, end by tolerating each other; they are led to this by growing weary of collision with each other, and by the wish for a kind of life more quiet and peaceful. But when men, thus divided in creed, find themselves face to face for the first time, a shock more or less rude is the inevitable result. The causes of this phenomenon are to be found in human nature itself; it is one of those necessities against which we struggle in vain.

Some modern philosophers have imagined that society is indebted to them for the spirit of toleration which prevails there; they have not seen that it is much rather a fact slowly brought about by the force of circumstances, than it is the fruit of their doctrines. Indeed, what have they said that is new? They have recommended universal fraternity; but this has always been one of the doctrines of Christianity. They have exhorted men of all the different religions to live in peace together; but before they had opened their mouths to tell them this, men began to adopt this course in many countries of Europe; for, unhappily, religions in many countries were so numerous and different, that none of them could pretend to exclusive dominion. It is true that some infidel, philosophers have a claim, and a deplorable one, in support of their pretensions with respect to the development of toleration; it is, that, by their efforts to disseminate infidelity and skepticism, they have succeeded in making general, in nations and governments, that false toleration which has nothing virtuous, but is indifference with respect to all religions. Indeed, why is tolerance so general in our age? or, rather, in what does our tolerance consist? If you observe well, you will find that it is nothing but the result of a social condition perfectly similar to that of the individual who has no creed, but who does not hate creeds, because he considers them as conducive to the public good, and cherishes a vague hope of one day finding a last asylum therein. All that is good in this is in no degree owing to the infidel philosophers, but may rather be said to be a protest against them. Indeed, when they could not obtain the supreme command, they lavished calumnies and sarcasms on all that is most sacred in heaven and on earth; and, when they did raise themselves to power, they overturned with indescribable fury all that existed, and destroyed millions of victims in exile or on the scaffolds. The multitude of religions,—infidelity, indifference, the improvement[Pg 196] of manners, the lassitude produced by wars,—industrial and commercial organization, which every day becomes more powerful in society,—communication rendered more frequent among men by means of travelling,—the diffusion of ideas by the press;—such are the causes which have produced in Europe that universal tolerance which has taken possession of all, and has been established in fact when it could not by law. These causes, as it is easy to observe, are of different kinds; no doctrine can pretend to an exclusive influence; they are the result of a thousand different influences, which act simultaneously on the development of civilization.24


How much, during the last century, was said against intolerance! A philosophy less superficial than that which then prevailed would have reflected a little more on a fact which may be appreciated in different ways, but the existence of which cannot be denied. In Greece, Socrates died drinking hemlock. Rome, whose tolerance has been so much vaunted, tolerated, indeed, foreign gods; but these were only foreign in name, since they formed a part of that system of pantheism which was the foundation of the Roman religion; gods, who, in order to be declared gods of Rome, only needed the mere formality, as it were, of receiving the name of citizens. But Rome did not admit the gods of Egypt any more than the Jewish or Christian religion. She had, no doubt, many false ideas with respect to these religions; but she was sufficiently acquainted with them to know that they were essentially different from her own. The history of the Pagan emperors is the history of the persecution of the Church; as soon as they became Christians, a system of penal legislation was commenced against those who differed from the religion of the state. In subsequent centuries, intolerance continued under various forms; it has been perpetuated down to our times, and we are not so free from it as some would wish to make us believe. The emancipation of Catholics in England is but of recent date; the violent disputes of the Prussian government with the Pope, on the subject of certain arbitrary acts of that government against the Catholic religion, are of yesterday; the question of Argau, in Switzerland, is still pending; and the persecution of Catholicity by the Russian government is pursued in as scandalous a manner as at any former period. Thus it is with religious sects. As to the toleration of the humane philosophers of the 18th century, it was exemplified in Robespierre.

Every government professing a religion is more or less intolerant towards those which it does not profess; and this intolerance is diminished or destroyed, only when the professors of the obnoxious religions are either feared on account of their great power, or despised on account of their weakness. Apply to all times and countries the rule which we have just laid down, you will everywhere find it exact; it is an abridgment of the history of governments in their relations with religions. The Protestant government of England has always been intolerant toward Catholics; and it will continue to be so, more or less, according to circumstances. The governments of Russia and Prussia will continue to act as they have done up to this time, with the exception of modifications required by difference of times; in the same way, in countries where Catholicity prevails, the exercise of the Protestant worship will always be more or less interfered with. I shall be told of the instance of France as a proof of the contrary; in that country, where the immense majority profess the Catholic religion, other worships are allowed, without any disposition on the part of the[Pg 197] state to disturb them. This toleration will perhaps be attributed to public opinion; it comes, I think, from this, that no fixed principle prevails there in the government: all the policy of France, internal and external, is a constant compromise to get out of difficulties in the best possible way. This is shown by facts; it appears from the well-known opinions of the small number of men who, for some years, have ruled the destinies of France. It has been attempted to establish in principle universal toleration, and refuse to government the right of violating consciences in religious matters; nevertheless, in spite of all that has been said, philosophers have not been able to make a very clear exposition of their principle, still less have they been able to procure its general adoption as a system in the government of states. In order to show that the thing is not quite so simple as has been supposed, I will beg leave to ask a few questions of these soi-disant philosophers. If a religion which required human sacrifices were established in your country, would you tolerate it? No. And why? Because we cannot tolerate such a crime. But then you will be intolerant; you will violate the consciences of others, by proscribing, as a crime, what in their eyes is a homage to the Divinity. Thus thought many nations of old, and so think some now. By what right do you make your conscience prevail over theirs?—It matters not; we shall be intolerant, but our intolerance will be for the good of humanity.—I applaud your conduct; but you cannot deny that it is a case in which intolerance with respect to a religion appears to you a right and a duty. Still further: if you proscribe the exercise of this atrocious worship, would you allow the doctrine to be taught which preaches as holy and salutary the practice of human sacrifices? No; for that would be permitting the teaching of murder. Very well, but you must acknowledge that this is a doctrine with respect to which you have a right to be, and are obliged to be, intolerant. Let us pursue our subject. You are aware, no doubt, of the sacrifices offered in antiquity to the goddess of Love, and the infamous worship which was paid to her in the temples of Babylon and Corinth. If such a worship reappeared among you, would you tolerate it? No; for it is contrary to the sacred laws of modesty. Would you allow the doctrine on which it was based to be taught? No; for the same reason. This, then, is another case in which you believe you have the right and the obligation to violate the consciences of others; and the only reason you can assign for it is, that you are compelled to do so by your own conscience. Moreover, suppose that some men, over-excited by reading the Bible, desired to establish a new Christianity, in imitation of Mathew of Haarlem or John of Leyden; suppose that these sectaries began to propagate their doctrines, to assemble together in bodies, and that their fanatical declamation seduced a portion of the people, would you tolerate this new religion? No; for these men might renew the bloody scenes of Germany in the 16th century, when, in the name of God, and to fulfil, as they said, the order of the Most High, the Anabaptists invaded all property, destroyed all existing power, and spread everywhere desolation and death. This would be to act with as much justice as prudence; but you cannot deny that you would thereby commit an act of intolerance. What, then, becomes of universal toleration, that principle so evident, so predominant, if you are compelled at every step to limit, and I will say more, to lay it aside, and act in a way diametrically opposite to it? You will say that the security of the state, the good order of society, and public morality compel you to act in this way. But then, what sort of a principle is it that, in certain cases, is in opposition to the interests of morality and to society, and to the safety of the state? Do you think that the men against whom you declaim did not intend also to protect these interests, by acting with that intolerance which is so revolting to you?

It has been acknowledged at all times and in all countries, as an incontestable principle, that the public authority has, in certain cases, the right of prohibiting[Pg 198] certain acts, in violation of the consciences of individuals who claim the right of performing them. If the constant testimony of history were not enough, at least the dialogue which we have just held ought to convince us of this truth; we have seen that the most ardent advocates of tolerance may well be compelled, in certain cases, to be intolerant. They would be obliged to be so in the name of humanity, of modesty, of public order; universal toleration, then, with respect to doctrines and religions—that toleration which is proclaimed as the duty of every government—is an error; it is a theory which cannot be put in practice. We have clearly shown that intolerance has always been, and still is, a principle recognised by all governments, and the application of which, more or less indulgent or severe, depends on circumstances, and above all, on the particular point of view in which the government considers things.

A great question of right now presents itself—a question which seems, at first sight, to require to be solved by condemning all intolerance, both with respect to doctrines and acts; but which, when thoroughly examined, leads to a very different result. If we grant that the mind is incapable of completely removing the difficulty by means of direct reasoning, it is not the less certain that indirect means, and the reasoning called ad absurdum, are here sufficient to show us the truth, at least as far as it is necessary for us to know it as a guide for human prudence, always uncertain. The question is this: "By what right do you hinder a man from professing a doctrine, and acting in conformity with it, if he is convinced that it is true, and that he only fulfils his duty, or exercises a right, by acting as it prescribes?" In order to prevent the prohibition being vain and ridiculous, there must be a penalty attached to it; now, if you inflict this penalty, you punish a man who, according to his own conscience, is innocent. Punishment by the hand of justice supposes culpability; and no one is culpable without being so first in his conscience. Culpability has its root in the conscience; and we cannot be responsible for the violation of a law, unless that law has addressed us through our conscience. If our conscience tells us that an action is bad, we cannot perform it, whatever may be the injunctions of the law which prescribes it; on the contrary, if conscience tells us that an action is a duty, we cannot omit it, whatever may be the prohibitions of the law. This is, in a few words, and in all its force, the whole argument that can be alleged against intolerance in regard to doctrines and facts emanating from them. Let us now see what is the real value of these observations, apparently so conclusive.

It is apparent that the admission of this principle would render impossible the punishment of any political crime. Brutus, when plunging his dagger into the heart of Cæsar; Jacques Clement, when he assassinated Henry III., acted, no doubt, under the influence of an excitement of mind, which made them view their attempts as deeds of heroism; and yet, if they had both been brought before a tribunal, would you have thought them entitled to impunity—the one on account of his love of country, and the other on account of his zeal for religion? Most political crimes are committed under a conviction of doing well; and I do not speak merely of those times of trouble, when men of parties the most opposed are fully persuaded that they have right on their side. Conspiracies contrived against governments in times of peace are generally the work of some individuals who look upon them as illegal and tyrannical; when working to overthrow them, they are acting in conformity with their own principles. Judges punish them justly when they inflict on them the penalties appointed by legislators; and yet, neither legislators when they decree the penalty, nor the judges when they inflict it, are, or can be, ignorant of the condition of mind of the delinquent who has violated the law. It may be said, that compassion and indulgence with respect to political crimes increase every day, for these reasons. I shall reply, that if we lay down the principle that human justice has not the right to punish, when the delinquent acts according to his convic[Pg 199]tion, we must not only mitigate our punishments, but even abolish them. In this case, capital punishment would be a real murder, a fine a robbery, and other penalties so many acts of violence. I shall remark in passing, that it is not true that severity towards political crimes diminishes as much as it is said to do; the history of Europe of late years affords us some proofs to the contrary. We do not now see those cruel punishments which were in use at other times; but that is not owing to the conscience of the criminal being considered by the judge, but to the improvement of manners, which, being everywhere diffused, has necessarily influenced penal legislation. It is extraordinary that so much severity has been preserved in laws relating to political crimes, when so great a number of legislators among the different nations of Europe knew well that they themselves, at other times, had committed the same crimes. And there is no doubt that more than one man, in the discussion of certain penal laws, has inclined to indulgence, from the presentiment that these very laws might one day apply to himself. The impunity of political crimes would bring about the subversion of social order, by rendering all government impossible. Without dwelling longer on the fatal results which this doctrine would have, let us observe, that the benefit of impunity in favor of the illusions of conscience would not be due to political crimes alone, but would be applicable also to those of an ordinary kind. Offences against property are crimes of this nature; and yet we know that many at former periods regarded, and that unfortunately some still regard, property as a usurpation and an injustice. Offences against the sanctity of marriage are ordinarily considered crimes; and yet have there not been sects in whose sight marriage was unlawful, and others who have desired, and still desire, a community of women? The sacred laws of modesty and respect for innocence have alike been regarded by some sects as an unjust infringement of the liberty of man; to violate these laws, therefore, was a meritorious action. At the time when the mistaken ideas and blind fanaticism of the men who professed these principles were undoubted, would any one have been found to deny the justice of the chastisement which was inflicted on them when, in pursuance of their doctrines, they committed a crime, or even when they had the audacity to diffuse their fatal maxims in society?

If it were unjust to punish the criminal for acting according to his conscience, all imaginable crimes would be permitted to the atheist, the fatalist, the disciple of the doctrine of private interest; for by destroying, as they do, the basis of all morality, these men do not act against their consciences; they have none. If such an argument were to hold good, how often would we have reason to charge tribunals with injustice, when they inflict any punishment on men of this class. By what right, we would say to magistrates, do you punish this man, who, not admitting the existence of God, does not acknowledge himself culpable in his own eyes, or consequently in yours? You have made a law, by virtue of which you punish him; but this law has no power over the conscience of this man, for you are his equals; and he does not acknowledge the existence of any superior, to give you the power of controlling his liberty. By what right do you punish another, who is convinced that all his actions are the effect of necessary causes, that free-will is a chimera, and who, in the action which you charge on him as a crime, believes that he had no more power of restraining himself than the wild beast, when he throws himself upon the prey before his eyes, or upon any other animal that excites his fury? With what justice do you punish him, who is persuaded that all morality is a lie; that there is no other principle than individual interest; that good and evil are nothing but this interest, well or ill understood? If you make him undergo any punishment, it will not be because he is culpable in his own conscience; you will punish him for being deceived in his calculation, for having ill-understood the probable result of the action which he was about to commit. Such are the necessary and inevitable[Pg 200] deductions from the doctrine, which refuses to the public authority the power of punishing crimes committed in consequence of an error of the mind.

But I shall be told that the right of punishment only extends to actions, and not to doctrines; that actions ought to be subject to the law, but that doctrines are entitled to unbounded liberty. Do you mean doctrines shut up in the mind and not outwardly manifested? It is clear that not only the right, but also the possibility of punishing them is wanting, for God alone can tell the secrets of the heart of man. If avowed doctrines are meant, then the principle is false; and we have just shown that those who maintain it in theory, find it impossible to reduce it to practice. In fine, we shall be told that, however absurd in its results may be the doctrine which we have been combating, it is still impossible to justify the punishment of an action which was ordered or authorized by the conscience of the man who committed it. How is this difficulty to be solved? How is this great obstacle to be removed? Is it lawful in any case to treat as culpable the man who is not so at the tribunal of his own conscience?

Although this question seems entirely to turn upon some point on which men of all opinions are agreed, there is nevertheless a wide difference in this respect between Catholics on one side and unbelievers and Protestants on the other. The first lay it down as an incontestable principle, that there are errors of the understanding which are faults; the others, on the contrary, think, that all errors of the understanding are innocent. The first consider error in regard to great moral and religious truths, as one of the gravest offences which man can commit against God; their opponents look upon errors of this kind with great indulgence, and they ought to do so in order to be consistent. Catholics admit the possibility of invincible ignorance with respect to some very important truths; but with them this possibility is limited to certain circumstances, out of which they declare man to be culpable: their opponents constantly extol liberty of thought, without any other restriction than that imposed by the taste of each one in particular; they constantly affirm that man is free to hold the opinions which he thinks proper; they have gone so far as to persuade their followers that there are no culpable errors or opinions, that man is not obliged to search into the secret recesses of his soul, to make sure that there are no secret causes which induce him to reject the truth; they have in the end monstrously confounded physical with moral liberty of thought; they have banished from opinions the ideas of lawful and unlawful, and have given men to understand that such ideas are not applicable to thought. That is to say, in the order of ideas, they have confounded right with fact, declaring, in this respect, the uselessness and incompetency of all laws, divine and human. Senseless men! as if it were possible for that which is most noble and elevated in human nature to be exempt from all rule; as if it were possible for the element which makes man the king of the creation, to be exempted from concurring in the ineffable harmony of all parts of the universe with themselves and with God; as if this harmony could exist, or even be conceived in man, unless it were declared to be the first of human obligations to adhere constantly to truth.

This is one of the profound reasons which justify the Catholic Church, when she considers the sin of heresy as one of the greatest that man can commit. You, who smile, with pity and contempt at these words, the sin of heresy; you, who consider this doctrine as the invention of priests to rule over consciences, by retrenching the liberty of thought; by what right do you claim the power of condemning heresies which are opposed to your orthodoxy? By what right do you condemn those societies that profess opinions hostile to property, public order, and the existence of authority? If the thought of man is free, if you cannot attempt to restrain it without violating sacred rights, if it is an absurdity and a contradiction to wish to oblige a man to act against his conscience, or disobey its dictates—why do you interfere with those men who desire to destroy[Pg 201] the existing state of society? Why baffle, why oppose those dark conspiracies, which, from time to time, send one of their members to assassinate a king? You invoke your convictions to declare unjust and cruel the intolerance which has been practised at certain times against your enemies; but you must remember that such societies and such men can also invoke their convictions. You say that the doctrines of the Church are human inventions; they say that the doctrines prevailing in society are also human inventions. You say that the ancient social order was a monopoly; they say the present social order is a monopoly. In your eyes, the ancient authorities were tyrannical; in theirs the present ones are so. You pretended to destroy what existed, in order to found new institutions conducive to the good of humanity; to-day these men hold the same language. You have proclaimed holy the war which was waged against ancient power; they proclaim holy the war against present power. When you availed yourselves of the means which offered themselves, you pretended that necessity rendered them legitimate; they declare to be not less legitimate the only means which they possess, that of combinations, of preparing for their opportunity, and of hastening it by assassinating great men. You have pretended to make all opinions respected, even atheism, and you have taught that nobody has a right to prevent your acting in conformity with your principles; but the fanatics in question have also their horrible principles and their dreadful convictions. Do you require a proof of this? See them amid the gayety of public celebrations, glide, pale and gloomy, among the joyful multitude, choose the fitting moment to cast desolation over a royal family, and cover a nation with mourning, while they accumulate on their own heads the public execration, certain, moreover, of finishing their lives on the scaffold. But our adversaries will say, such convictions are inexcusable. Yours are so also. All the difference is, that you have contrived your ambitious and fatal systems amid ease and pleasure, perhaps in opulence, and under the shadow of power, while they have conceived their abominable doctrines in the bosom of obscurity, poverty, misery, and despair.

Indeed, the inconsistency of some men is shocking to the last degree. To ridicule all religions, to decry the spirituality and immortality of the soul, and the existence of God, to overturn all morality, and sap its deepest foundations, all this they have considered excusable, and we may even say, worthy of praise; moreover, the writers who have undertaken this fatal task are worthy of apotheosis; men must expel the Divinity from his temples to place there the names and busts of the leaders of their schools; under the vaults of splendid basilicas, where repose the ashes of Christians awaiting the resurrection, they must raise the mausoleum of Voltaire and Rousseau, in order that future generations, when they descend into their dark and silent abodes, may receive the inspirations of their genius. But have they, then, a right to complain that property, and domestic life, and social order are attacked? Property is sacred; but is it more sacred than God? However great may be the importance of the truths relating to the family and to society, are they of a superior order to the eternal principles of morality, or rather, are they any thing more than the application of these principles?

But let us resume the thread of our discourse. When the principle, that there are culpable errors, is once established (a principle which in practice, if not in theory, must be received by all men, but which Catholicity alone can logically maintain in theory), it is easy to see the reason of the punishments which human power decrees against the propagation and teaching of certain doctrines; and we can understand why it is legitimate to punish, without considering the conviction that animated the culprit, the actions which are the result of his doctrines. The law shows that this mortal error has existed, or can exist; but in this case it declares the error itself to be culpable; and if man adduces[Pg 202] the testimony of his own conscience, the law reminds him that it is his duty to rectify his conscience. Such is, in truth, the foundation of a legislation which has appeared so unjust; a foundation which it is necessary to point out, in order to vindicate a great many human laws from a deep disgrace; for it would be a great disgrace to claim the right of punishing a man who was really innocent. Such an absurd right is so far from belonging to human justice, that it does not belong even to God. The infinite justice of God would cease to be what it is, if it could punish the innocent.

Perhaps another origin will be assigned for the right which governments possess, of punishing the propagation of certain doctrines and the actions committed in consequence of them, when the criminal has acted from the deepest conviction. "Governments," it may be said, "act in the name of society, which, like every being, possesses the right of self-defence. There are certain doctrines which menace its existence; it has, therefore, of necessity and right, the power of resisting those who promulgate them." Such a reason, however plausible it may appear, is liable to this grave objection, that it destroys at one blow the idea of punishment and justice. To wound an aggressor in self-defence is not to chastise but to resist him. If we consider society in this point of view, the criminal led to punishment will no longer be a real criminal, but the unfortunate victim of a rash and unequal struggle. The voice of the judge condemning him will no longer be the august voice of justice; his sentence will only be the act of society avenging the attack made upon it. The word punishment will then assume quite a different meaning; the gradations of it will depend entirely upon calculations, and not on justice. We must remember this; if we suppose that society, by virtue of the right of self-defence, inflicts a punishment upon the man whom it considers quite innocent, it no longer judges or condemns, but fights and struggles. That which is perfectly suitable with respect to the relations between one society and another, is in no way suitable to society in its relations with individuals. It then appears like a combat between a giant and a pigmy. The giant takes the pigmy in his hand, and crushes him against a stone.

The doctrine which I have just explained evidently shows the value of the much vaunted principle of universal toleration; it has been demonstrated that that principle is as impracticable in fact as it is unsustainable in theory; consequently all the accusations made against the Catholic Church on the subject of intolerance are overturned. It has been clearly shown that intolerance is in some measure the right of all public power; this has always been acknowledged; it is acknowledged still, generally speaking, when philosophers, the partisans of tolerance, attain to power. No doubt, governments have a thousand times abused this principle; no doubt, more than once the truth has been persecuted in virtue of it; but what do men not abuse? Their duty, then, as good philosophers, was not to establish principles that cannot be sustained, and are extremely dangerous; not to declaim to satiety against the times and institutions which have preceded us; but to endeavor to propagate sentiments of mildness and indulgence, and, above all, not to impugn important truths, without which society cannot be sustained, and which cannot be destroyed without abandoning the world to the empire of force, and, consequently, to despotism and tyranny.

Men have attacked dogmas; but they have not been willing to see that morality was intimately connected with dogmas, and that it was itself a dogma. By proclaiming unbounded liberty of thought, they have asserted the impeccability of the mind; error has ceased to figure among the faults of which men can be guilty. They have forgotten that, in order to will, it was necessary to know; and that to will rightly, it was necessary to know truly. If we examine the greater part of the errors of our hearts, we shall see that they have their source in a misunderstanding; is it possible, then, that it should not be the duty of[Pg 203] man to preserve his mind from error? But since it has been said that opinions are of little importance, that man is free to choose such as please him, even in matters of religion and morality, truth has lost its value; its intrinsic worth is no longer what it was in the eyes of man; and too many consider themselves exempt from attempting to attain it,—a deplorable condition of mind, which is one of the greatest evils afflicting society.25


I find myself naturally led to make a few observations on the intolerance of certain Catholic princes, on the Inquisition, and in particular on that of Spain. I must make a rapid examination of the charges against Catholicity on account of its conduct during the last centuries. The dungeons, the burnings of the Inquisition, and the intolerance of some Catholic princes, have furnished the enemies of the Church with one of their most effective arguments in depreciating her, and rendering her the object of odium and hatred; and it must be allowed that they have, in attacks of this kind, many advantages, which give them good prospects of success. Indeed (as we have said above, for the generality of readers, who, without undertaking to examine things to the bottom, naïvely allow themselves to be led away by a subtle writer; as we have said, for all those who have sensitive hearts, and are prompt to pity the unfortunate), what is more likely to excite indignation than the exhibition of dark dungeons, instruments of torture, san-benitos, and burnings? Imagine what effect must be produced, amid our toleration, our gentle manners, our humane penal codes, by the sudden exhibition of the severities, the cruelties of another age; the whole exaggerated and grouped into one picture, where are shown all the melancholy scenes which occurred in different places, and were spread over a long period of time. They take care to remind us that all this was done in the name of the God of peace and love; thereby the contrast is rendered more vivid, the imagination is excited, the heart becomes indignant; and the result is, that the clergy, magistrates, kings, and popes of those remote times, appear like a troop of executioners, whose pleasure consists in tormenting and desolating the human race. Writers, who have ventured to act in this way, have certainly not added to their reputation for delicacy of conscience. There is a rule which orators and writers ought never to forget, viz. that it is not allowable to excite the passions, until they have convinced the reason, unless it had been convinced before. Besides, there is a degree of bad faith in appealing to the feelings with respect to matters which ought to be examined by the light of reason alone, if they are to be examined properly. In such a case we ought not to begin by moving, but by convincing; to do otherwise is to deceive the reader.

I am not going to write the history of the Inquisition, or of the different systems which various countries have adopted with respect to religious intolerance; this would be impossible within my narrow limits; besides, it would lead me away from the object of my work. Ought we to draw from the Inquisition in general, that of Spain in particular, or from the greater or less intolerance of the legislation of some countries, an accusation against Catholicity? Can it, in this respect, be put in comparison with Protestantism? Such are the questions I have to examine.

Three things at first present themselves to the eyes of the observer: 1st, the legislation and institutions proceeding from the principle of intolerance; 2d, the use which has been made of this legislation and these institutions; 3d, the intolerant acts which have been committed illegally. With[Pg 204] respect to the latter, I must say at once that they have nothing to do with the question. The Massacre of St. Bartholomew, and other atrocities committed in the name of religion, ought not to trouble the apologists of religion: to render her responsible for all that has been done in her name, would be to act with manifest injustice. Man is endowed with so strong and lively a sense of the excellence of virtue, that he endeavors to cover the greatest crimes with her mantle;—would it be reasonable to banish virtue from the earth on that account? There are, in the history of mankind, terrible periods, where a fatal giddiness seizes upon the mind; rage, inflamed by disorder, blinds the intellect and changes the heart; evil is called good, and good evil; the most horrible attempts are made under the most respectable names. Historians and philosophers, in treating of such periods, should know what ought to be their line of conduct; strictly accurate in the narration of such facts, they ought to beware of drawing from them a judgment as to the prevailing ideas and institutions. Society then resembles a man in a state of delirium; we should ill judge of the ideas, character, and conduct of such a man, from what he says and does in that deplorable condition. What party, in those calamitous times, can boast of not having committed great crimes? If we fix our eyes on the period just mentioned, do we not see the leaders of both parties assassinated by treason? Admiral Coligny died by the hands of the assassins who began the massacre of St. Bartholomew; but the Duke of Guise had been also assassinated by Poltrot, before Orleans. Henry III. was assassinated by Jacques Clement; but this same Henry III. had treacherously murdered the other Duke of Guise in the corridors of his palace, and his brother, the Cardinal, in the tower of Moulins; this same Henry III. had taken part in the massacre of St. Bartholomew. We see atrocities committed by the Catholics; but did not their opponents also commit them? Let us throw a veil over these catastrophes, over these afflicting proofs of the misery and perversity of the human heart. The tribunal of the Inquisition, considered in itself, is only the application to a particular case of that doctrine of intolerance, which, to a greater or less degree, is that of every existing power. Thus, we have only to examine the character of that particular application, and see whether its enemies are correct in their charges against it. In the first place, we must observe that those who extol antiquity, sadly falsify history, if they pretend that intolerance only appeared after the time when, according to them, the Church had degenerated from her primitive purity. As for myself, I see that from the earliest times, when the Church began to exert political influence, heresy began to figure in the codes as a crime; and I have never been able to discover a period of complete tolerance. I must here make an important remark, which shows one of the causes of the rigor displayed in later centuries. The Inquisition was first directed against the Manichean heretics; that is, against the sectaries who at all times were treated with the greatest severity. In the 11th century, when the punishment of fire had not yet been applied to the crime of heresy, the Manicheans were excepted from this rule. Even in the time of the Pagan emperors, these sectaries were treated with extreme rigor. In the year 296, we see Diocletian and Maximilian, by an edict, condemning to different punishments the Manicheans who had not abjured their dogmas, and consigning their leaders to the fire. These sectaries have always been considered as great criminals; and to punish them has always been judged necessary, not only for the interests of religion, but even for the morals and good order of society. This was one of the causes of the rigor of the Inquisition at its commencement: if we add to this, the turbulent character of the sects which, under various names, arose in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, we shall have two of the causes that contributed to produce those scenes which now we can scarcely credit. In studying the history of those centuries, and fixing our attention on the troubles and disasters which ravaged[Pg 205] the south of France, we clearly see that it was not a dispute as to a particular dogma, but that the whole social system was compromised. The sectaries of those times were precursors of those of the 16th century; with this difference, that the latter, if we except the frantic Anabaptists, were less democratic, less apt to address the multitude. Amid the cruelties of those times, when long ages of violence and revolution had given an excessive preponderance to brute force, what could be expected from governments incessantly menaced with such imminent danger? It is clear that the laws, and their application, must savour of the times.

As to the Spanish Inquisition, which was only an extension of that which was established in other countries, we must divide it, with respect to its duration, into three great periods;—we omit the time of its existence in the kingdom of Aragon, before its introduction into Castille. The first of these comprehends the time when the Inquisition was principally directed against the relapsed Jews and Moors, from the day of its installation under the Catholic sovereigns, till the middle of the reign of Charles V. The second extends from the time when it began to concentrate its efforts to prevent the introduction of Protestantism into Spain, until that danger entirely ceased; that is, from the middle of the reign of Charles V. till the coming of the Bourbons. The third and last period is that when the Inquisition was limited to repress infamous crimes, and exclude the philosophy of Voltaire; this period was continued until its abolition in the beginning of the present century. It is clear that, the institution being successively modified according to circumstances at these different epochs,—although it always remained fundamentally the same,—the commencement and termination of each of these three periods which we have pointed out cannot be precisely marked; nevertheless, these three periods really existed in its history, and present us with very different characters.

Every one knows the peculiar circumstances in which the Inquisition was established in the time of the Catholic sovereigns; yet it is worthy of remark, that the Bull of establishment was solicited by Queen Isabella; that is, by one of the most distinguished sovereigns in our history,—by that queen who still, after three centuries, preserves the respect and admiration of all Spaniards. Isabella, far from opposing the will of the people in this measure, only realized the national wish. The Inquisition was established chiefly against the Jews; the Papal Bull had been sent in 1478; now, before the Inquisition published its first edict, dated Seville, in 1481, the Cortes of Toledo, in 1480, had adopted severe measures on the subject. To prevent the injury which the intercourse between Jews and Christians might occasion to the Catholic faith, the Cortes had ordered that unbaptized Israelites should be obliged to wear a distinctive mark, dwell in separate quarters, called Juiveries, and return there before night. Ancient regulations against them were renewed; the professions of doctor, surgeon, shopkeeper, barber, and tavern-keeper, were forbidden them. Intolerance was, therefore, popular at that time. If the Inquisition be justified in the eyes of friends to monarchy, by conformity with the will of kings, it has an equal claim to be so in the eyes of lovers of democracy.

No doubt the heart is grieved at reading the excessive severities exercised at that time against the Jews; but must there not have been very grave causes to provoke such excesses? The danger which the Spanish monarchy, not yet well established, would have incurred if the Jews, then very powerful on account of their riches and their alliances with the most influential families, had been allowed to act without restraint, has been pointed out as one of the most important of these causes. It was greatly to be feared that they would league with the Moors against the Christians. The respective positions of the three nations rendered this league natural: this is the reason why it was looked upon as necessary to break a power which was capable of compromising anew the inde[Pg 206]pendence of the Christians. It is necessary also to observe, that at the time when the Inquisition was established, the war of eight hundred years against the Moors was not yet finished. The Inquisition was projected before 1474; it was established in 1480, and the conquest of Granada did not take place till 1492. Thus it was founded at the time when the obstinate struggle was about to be decided; it was yet to be known whether the Christians would remain masters of the whole peninsula, or whether the Moors should retain possession of one of the most fertile and beautiful provinces; whether these enemies, shut up in Granada, should preserve a position, excellent for their communication with Africa, and a means for all the attempts which, at a later period, the Crescent might be disposed to make against us. Now, the power of the Crescent was very great, as was clearly shown by its enterprises against the rest of Europe in the next century. In such emergencies, after ages of fighting, and at the moment which was to decide the victory for ever, have combatants ever been known to conduct themselves with moderation and mildness? It cannot be denied that the system of repression pursued in Spain, with respect to the Jews and the Moors, was inspired, in great measure, by the instinct of self-preservation: we can easily believe that the Catholic princes had this motive before them when they decided on asking for the establishment of the Inquisition in their dominions. The danger was not imaginary: it was perfectly real. In order to form an idea of the turn which things might have taken if some precaution had not been adopted, it is enough to recollect the insurrections of the last Moors in later times.

Yet it would be wrong, in this affair, to attribute all to the policy of royalty; and it is necessary here to avoid exalting too much the foresight and designs of men; for my part, I am inclined to think that Ferdinand and Isabella naturally followed the generality of the nation, in whose eyes the Jews were odious when they persevered in their creed, and suspected when they embraced the Christian religion. Two causes contributed to this hatred and animadversion. First, the excited state of religious feeling then general in all Europe, and especially in Spain; 2d, the conduct by which the Jews had drawn upon themselves the public indignation.

The necessity of restraining the cupidity of the Jews, for the sake of the independence of the Christians, was of ancient date in Spain: the old assemblies of Toledo had attempted it. In the following centuries the evil reached its height; a great part of the riches of the peninsula had passed into the hands of the Jews, and almost all the Christians found themselves their debtors. Thence the hatred of the people against the Jews; thence the frequent troubles which agitated some towns of the peninsula; thence the tumults which more than once were fatal to the Jews, and in which their blood flowed in abundance. It was difficult for a people accustomed for ages to set themselves free by force of arms, to resign themselves peacefully and tranquilly to the lot prepared for them by the artifices and exactions of a strange race, whose name, moreover, bore the recollection of a terrible malediction.

In later times, an immense number of Jews were converted to the Christian religion; but the hatred of the people was not extinguished thereby, and mistrust followed these converts into their new state. It is very probable that a great number of these conversions were hardly sincere, as they were partly caused by the sad position in which the Jews who continued in Judaism were placed. In default of conjectures founded on reason in this respect, we will regard as a sufficient corroboration of our opinion, the multitude of Judaizing Christians who were discovered as soon as care was taken to find out those who had been guilty of apostacy. However this may be, it is certain that the distinction between new and old Christians was introduced; the latter denomination was a title of honor, and the former a mark of ignominy; the converted Jews were contemptu[Pg 207]ously called marranos,—impure men, pigs. With more or less foundation, they were accused of horrible crimes. In their dark assemblies they committed, it was said, atrocities which could hardly be believed, for the honor of humanity. For example, it was said that, to revenge themselves on the Christians and in contempt of religion, they crucified Christian children, taking care to choose for the purpose the greatest day among Christian solemnities. There is the often-repeated history of the knight of the house of Guzman, who, being hidden one night in the house of a Jew whose daughter he loved, saw a child crucified at the time when the Christians celebrated the institution of the sacrifice of the Eucharist. Besides infanticide, there were attributed to the Jews, sacrileges, poisonings, conspiracies, and other crimes. That these rumors were generally believed by the people is proved by the fact, that the Jews were forbidden by law to exercise the professions of doctor, surgeon, barber, and tavern-keeper; this shows what degree of confidence was placed in their morality. It is useless to stay to examine the foundations for these sinister accusations. We are not ignorant how far popular credulity will go, above all when it is under the influence of excited feelings, which makes it view all things in the same light. It is enough for us to know that these rumors circulated everywhere and with credit, to understand what must have been the public indignation against the Jews, and consequently how natural it was that authority, yielding to the impulse of the general mind, should be urged to treat them with excessive rigor.

The situation in which the Jews were placed is sufficient to show, that they might have attempted to act in concert to resist the Christians; what they did after the death of St. Peter Arbues shows what they were capable of doing on other occasions. The funds necessary for the accomplishment of the murder, the pay of the assassins, and the other expenses required for the plot, were collected by means of voluntary contributions imposed on themselves by all the Jews of Aragon. Does not this show an advanced state of organization, which might have become fatal if it had not been watched.

In alluding to the death of St. Peter Arbues, I wish to make an observation on what has been said on this subject, as proving the unpopularity of the establishment of the Inquisition in Spain. What more evident proof, we shall be told, can you have than the assassination of the Inquisitor? Is it not a sure sign that the indignation of the people was at its height, and that they were quite opposed to the Inquisition? Would they otherwise have been hurried into such excesses? If by 'the people' you mean the Jews and their descendants, I will not deny that the establishment of the Inquisition was indeed very odious to them; but it was not so with the rest of the nation. The event we are speaking of gave rise to a circumstance which proves just the reverse. When the report of the death of the Inquisitor was spread through the town, the people made a fearful tumult to avenge his death. They spread through the town, they went in crowds in pursuit of the new Christians, so that a bloody catastrophe would have ensued, had not the young Archbishop of Saragossa, Alphonsus of Aragon, presented himself to the people on horseback, and calmed them by the assurance that all the rigor of the laws should fall on the heads of the guilty. Was the Inquisition as unpopular as it has been represented; and will it be said that its adversaries were the majority of the people? Why, then, could not the tumult at Saragossa have been avoided in spite of all the precautions which were no doubt taken by the conspirators, at that time very powerful by their riches and influence?

At the time of the greatest rigor against the Judaizing Christians, there is a fact worthy of attention. Persons accused, or threatened with the pursuit of the Inquisition, took every means to escape the action of that tribunal: they left the soil of Spain and went to Rome. Would those who imagine that Rome has always been the hotbed of intolerance, the firebrand of persecution, have imagined this? The number of causes commenced by the Inquisition, and summoned[Pg 208] from Spain to Rome, is countless, during the first fifty years of the existence of that tribunal; and it must be added, that Rome always inclined to the side of indulgence. I do not know that it would be possible to cite one accused person who, by appealing to Rome, did not ameliorate his condition. The history of the Inquisition at that time is full of contests between the Kings and Popes; and we constantly find, on the part of the Holy See, a desire to restrain the Inquisition within the bounds of justice and humanity. The line of conduct prescribed by the court of Rome was not always followed as it ought to have been; thus we see the Popes compelled to receive a multitude of appeals, and mitigate the lot that would have befallen the appellants, if their cause had been definitely decided in Spain. We also see the Pope name the judge of appeal, at the solicitation of the Catholic sovereigns, who desired that causes should be finally decided in Spain: the first of these judges was Dr. Inigo Manrique, Archbishop of Seville. Nevertheless, at the end of a short time, the same Pope, in a Bull of the 2d of August, 1483, said that he had received new appeals, made by a great number of the Spaniards of Seville, who had not dared to address themselves to the judge of appeal for fear of being arrested. Such was then the excitement of the public mind; such was, at that time, the necessity of preventing injustice, or measures of undue severity. The Pope added, that some of those who had had recourse to his justice had already received the absolution of the Apostolical Penitentiary, and that others were about to receive it; he afterwards complained that indulgences granted to divers accused persons had not been sufficiently respected at Seville; in fine, after several other admonitions, he observed to Ferdinand and Isabella, that mercy towards the guilty was more pleasing to God than the severity which it was desired to use; and he gave the example of the good Shepherd following the wandering sheep. He ended by exhorting the sovereigns to treat with mildness those who voluntarily confessed their faults, desiring them to allow them to reside at Seville, or in some other place they might choose; and to allow them the enjoyment of their property, as if they had not been guilty of the crime of heresy.

Moreover, it is not to be supposed that the appeals admitted at Rome, and by virtue of which the lot of the accused was improved, were founded on errors of form and injustice committed in the application of the law. If the accused had recourse to Rome, it was not always to demand reparation for an injustice, but because they were sure of finding indulgence. We have a proof of this in the considerable number of Spanish refugees convicted at Rome of having fallen into Judaism. Two hundred and fifty of them were found at one time; yet there was not one capital execution. Some penances were imposed on them, and when they were absolved, they were free to return home, without the least mark of ignominy. This took place at Rome in 1498.

It is a remarkable thing that the Roman Inquisition was never known to pronounce the execution of capital punishment, although the Apostolic See was occupied during that time by Popes of extreme rigor and severity in all that relates to the civil administration. We find in all parts of Europe scaffolds prepared to punish crimes against religion; scenes which sadden the soul were everywhere witnessed. Rome is an exception to the rule; Rome, which it has been attempted to represent as a monster of intolerance and cruelty. It is true, that the Popes have not preached, like Protestants, universal toleration; but facts show the difference between the Popes and Protestants. The Popes, armed with a tribunal of intolerance, have not spilled a drop of blood; Protestants and philosophers have shed torrents. What advantage is it to the victim to hear his executioners proclaim toleration? It is adding the bitterness of sarcasm to his punishment. The conduct of Rome in the use which she made of the Inquisition, is the best apology of Catholicity against those who attempt to stigmatize her as barbarous and sanguinary. In truth, what is there in com[Pg 209]mon between Catholicity and the excessive severity employed in this place or that, in the extraordinary situation in which many rival races were placed, in the presence of danger which menaced one of them, or in the interest which the kings had in maintaining the tranquillity of their states, and securing their conquests from all danger? I will not enter into a detailed examination of the conduct of the Spanish Inquisition with respect to Judaizing Christians; and I am far from thinking that the rigor which it employed against them was preferable to the mildness recommended and displayed by the Popes. What I wish to show here is, that rigor was the result of extraordinary circumstances,—the effect of the national spirit, and of the severity of customs in Europe at that time. Catholicity cannot be reproached with excesses committed for these different reasons. Still more, if we pay attention to the spirit which prevails in all the instructions of the Popes relating to the Inquisition; if we observe their manifest inclination to range themselves on the side of mildness, and to suppress the marks of ignominy with which the guilty, as well as their families, were stigmatized, we have a right to suppose that, if the Popes had not feared to displease the kings too much, and to excite divisions which might have been fatal, their measures would have been carried still further. If we recollect the negotiations which took place with respect to the noisy affair of the claims of the Cortes of Aragon, we shall see to which side the court of Rome leaned.

As we are speaking of intolerance with regard to the Judaizers, let us say a few words as to the disposition of Luther towards the Jews. Does it not seem that the pretended reformer, the founder of independence of thought, the furious declaimer against the oppression and tyranny of the Popes, should have been animated with the most humane sentiments towards that people? No doubt the eulogists of this chieftain of Protestantism ought to think thus also. I am sorry for them; but history will not allow us to partake of this delusion. According to all appearances, if the apostate monk had found himself in the place of Torquemada, the Judaizers would not have been in a better position. What, then, was the system advised by Luther, according to Seckendorf, one of his apologists? "Their synagogues ought to be destroyed, their houses pulled down, their prayer-books, the Talmud, and even the books of the Old Testament, to be taken from them; their rabbis ought to be forbidden to teach, and be compelled to gain their livelihood by hard labor." The Inquisition, at least, did not proceed against the Jews, but against the Judaizers; that is, against those who, after being converted to Christianity, relapsed into their errors, and added sacrilege to their apostacy, by the external profession of a creed which they detested in secret, and which they profaned by the exercise of their old religion. But Luther extended his severity to the Jews themselves; so that, according to his doctrines, no reproach can be made against the sovereign who expelled the Jews from their dominions.

The Moors and the Mooriscoes no less occupied the attention of the Inquisition at that time; and all that has been said on the subject of the Jews may be applied to them with some modifications. They were also an abhorred race—a race which had been contended with for eight centuries. When they retained their religion, the Moors inspired hatred; when they abjured it, mistrust; the Popes interested themselves in their favor also in a peculiar manner. We ought to remark a Bull issued in 1530, which is expressed in language quite evangelical: it is there said, that the ignorance of these nations is one of the principal causes of their faults and errors; the first thing to be done to render their conversion solid and sincere was, according to the recommendation contained in this Bull, to endeavor to enlighten their minds with sound doctrine.

It will be said that the Pope granted to Charles V. the Bull which released him from the oath taken in the Cortes of Saragossa in the year 1519; an oath,[Pg 210] by which he had engaged not to make any change with respect to the Moors; whereby, it is said, the Emperor was enabled to complete their expulsion. But, we must observe, that the Pope for a long time resisted that concession; and, that if he at length complied with the wishes of the Emperor, it was only because he thought that the expulsion of the Moors was indispensable to secure the tranquillity of the kingdom. Whether this was true or not, the Emperor, and not the Pope, was the better judge; the latter, placed at a great distance, could not know the real state of things in detail. Moreover, it was not the Spanish monarch alone who thought so; it is related that Francis I., when a prisoner at Madrid, one day conversing with Charles V., told him that tranquillity would never be established in Spain, if the Moors and Mooriscoes were not expelled.


It has been said that Philip II. founded a new Inquisition in Spain, more terrible than that of the Catholic sovereigns; at the same time the Inquisition of Ferdinand and Isabella receives a certain degree of indulgence, which is refused to that of their successors. At the very outset, we find an important historical mistake in this assertion. Philip did not establish a new Inquisition; he maintained that which the Catholic sovereigns had left him, and which Charles V., his father and predecessor, had particularly recommended to him by will. The Committee of the Cortes of Cadiz, in the project for the abolition of the tribunal of the Inquisition, excuses the conduct of the Catholic sovereigns, and blames with severity that of Philip II.; it attempts to make all the fault and odium fall on that prince. An illustrious French writer, very recently treating of this important question, has allowed himself to be led into the same errors, with that candor which sometimes accompanies genius. "There were," says M. Lacordaire, "in the Spanish Inquisition, two solemn periods, which must not be confounded; the one at the end of the fifteenth century, under Ferdinand and Isabella, before the Moors were expelled from Granada, their last asylum; the other, in the middle of the sixteenth, under Philip II., when Protestantism threatened to propagate itself in Spain. The Committee of the Cortes has perfectly distinguished these two epochs; and while it stigmatizes the Inquisition of Philip II., expresses itself with moderation with respect to that of Ferdinand and Isabella." After these words the writer quotes a text, where it is affirmed that Philip II. was the real founder of the Inquisition; if that institution attained in the end to a high degree of power, it was owing, it says, to the refined policy of that prince. We read, a little further on, that Philip II. was the inventor of the auto-da-fé, to terrify heretics; and that the first of these bloody spectacles was seen at Seville in 1559. (Mémoire pour le rétablissement de l'Ordre des Frères Precheurs, chap, vi.) Setting aside the historical mistake with respect to the auto-da-fés, it is well known that neither the san-benitos nor the fagots were the invention of Philip II. Such mistakes easily escape a writer who is satisfied with alluding to a fact incidentally; if we bring forward this one, it is because it contains an accusation against a monarch to whom, for a long time, too little justice has been done. Philip II. continued the work which had been begun by his predecessors; if they are excused, he ought not to be treated with greater severity. Ferdinand and Isabella directed the Inquisition against the apostate Jews; why could not Philip II. avail himself of it against Protestants? But I shall be told he abused his right and carried rigor to excess. Certainly there was not more[Pg 211] indulgence in the times of Ferdinand and Isabella. Are the numerous executions at Seville and other places forgotten? Or what Mariana says in his history, and the public measures taken by the Popes for the purpose of checking the excessive severity? The words quoted against Philip II. are taken from the work called La Inquicitión sin mascura (the Inquisition unveiled,) published in Spain in 1811. We may judge of the value of this authority, when we know that the author of the book was distinguished till his death by a deep hatred to the Spanish kings. The book bears the name of Nathanael Jomtob; but the real author is a well-known Spaniard, who, in his latter writings, seems to have undertaken to avenge, by his unbounded exaggerations and furious invectives, all that he had previously attacked; a writer who assails, with an intolerable partiality, all that presents itself before him—religion, country, classes of society, individuals, and opinions—insulting and tearing to pieces all, as if he had been seized with a sally of passion, and not even sparing the men of his own party. Is it, then, surprising that this writer regarded Philip II. as Protestants and philosophers do, that is, as a monarch placed on the earth for the disgrace and misfortune of humanity,—a monster of Machiavellianism, anxious to diffuse darkness, in order to maintain himself in safety in his cruelty and perfidy? I will not undertake to justify, on all points, the policy of Philip II.; I will not deny that there are exaggerations in the eulogiums which some Spanish writers have given to that prince. But, on the other hand, it cannot be doubted, that Protestants and the political enemies of Philip II. have ever been careful to denounce him. And do you know why Protestants have done this? It is because it was he who prevented Protestantism from penetrating into Spain; it was he who, at that period of agitation, maintained the cause of Catholicity. Let us set aside the great events of the rest of Europe, of which each one will judge as he pleases; let us limit ourselves to Spain. We do not fear to assert, that the introduction of Protestantism into that country was imminent and inevitable without the system which he pursued. Whether Philip used the Inquisition for political purposes, in certain cases, is not the question we have to examine here; but at least it must be acknowledged that it was not a mere instrument of ambitious projects; it was an institution strengthened and maintained in presence of an imminent danger.

It appears, from the proceedings of the Inquisition at this time, that Protestantism began to spread in an incredible manner in Spain; eminent ecclesiastics, monks, nuns, seculars of distinction, in a word, individuals of the most influential classes, were attached to the new errors. Could the efforts of Protestants to introduce their creed into Spain remain altogether unproductive, when they employed every stratagem in their ardor to introduce their books? They went so far as to place their prohibited writings in casks of Champagne and Burgundy wine, with so much art as to deceive the custom-house men: thus wrote the Spanish Ambassador at Paris.

To perceive the whole danger, it is enough to observe with attention the state of minds in Spain at this time; besides, incontestable facts come in support of conjectures. The Protestants, taking great care to declaim against abuses, represented themselves as reformers, and labored to draw to their side all who were animated by an ardent desire for reform. This desire for reform had existed for a long time in the Church; but with some it was inspired by bad intentions; in other words, the specious name of reform concealed the real intention of many, which was to destroy. At the same time, with some sincere Catholics, this desire, although pure in principle, went to imprudent zeal, and reached an ill-regulated ardor. It is probable that such zeal, carried to too great an extent, was, with many, changed into acrimony; thence a certain facility in receiving the insidious suggestions of the enemies of the Church. Many people who had[Pg 212] begun with indiscreet zeal, perhaps fell into exaggeration, then into bitterness, and finally into heresy. Spain was not exempt from this disposition of mind, from whence the course of events might have drawn very bitter results, if Protestantism had obtained any footing on our soil. We know that the Spaniards at the Council of Trent distinguished themselves by their reforming zeal, and their boldness in expressing their opinions. Let us remark, moreover, that religious discord being once introduced into a country, minds are excited by disputes, they are irritated by frequent shocks, and it sometimes happens that respectable men precipitate themselves into excesses which they would have abhorred a short time before. It is difficult to say with precision what would have happened if the rigor had been at all relaxed on this point. Certain it is, that, when reading some passages of Luis Vives, of Arias Montanus, of Carranza, and of the consultation of Melchior Cano, we can fancy we find, at the bottom of their minds, a sort of disquietude and agitation, which may best be compared to those heavy murmurings which announce from afar the commencement of a tempest.

The famous trial of the Archbishop of Toledo, Fray Bartolomé de Carranza, is one of the facts which are most frequently cited to show the arbitrary nature of the proceedings of the Spanish Inquisition. We certainly cannot see without emotion, shut up in prison for many years, one of the most learned men in Europe, the Archbishop of Toledo, honored with the intimate confidence of Philip II. and the Queen of England, allied in friendship with the most distinguished men of the time, and known to all Christendom by the brilliant part which he had played at the Council of Trent. The process lasted seventeen years; and although the cause was carried to Rome, where the Archbishop must have found powerful friends, a declaration of innocence in his favor could not be obtained. Without staying to notice the many incidents of a cause so long and so complicated, without insisting on the more or less reason which the discourses and writings of Carranza may have afforded for suspicions against his faith, I am quite certain, in my own mind, that, in his own conscience and before God, he was perfectly innocent. Here is a proof that places my opinion beyond a doubt. A short time after the judgment was given, he fell ill; his malady was supposed to be mortal, and the sacraments were administered to him. At the moment of receiving the Viaticum, in the presence of a large concourse, he declared, in the most solemn manner, that he had never left the Catholic faith, that his conscience acquitted him of all the accusations made against him; and he confirmed his declaration by calling to witness God, in whose presence he was, whom he was about to receive under the most sacred species, and before whose awful tribunal he was in a few moments to appear. This pathetic act drew tears from all present; all suspicions against him were dissipated as by a breath, and a new sympathy was added to that which his continued misfortunes had excited. The Sovereign Pontiff did not doubt the sincerity of the declaration, as a magnificent epitaph was placed upon his tomb, which certainly would not have been allowed if there had been the least doubt of it. It certainly would be rash to refuse to believe a declaration so explicit from the mouth of such a man as Carranza, expiring, and in the presence of Jesus Christ Himself.

After having paid this tribute to the knowledge, virtues, and misfortunes of Carranza, it remains for us to examine whether, whatever may have been the purity of his conscience, it can be justly said that his trial was a perfidious intrigue, carried on by envy and hatred. This is not the place to examine the immense procedure in this case; but since allusion has been made to it to condemn Philip II. and the adversaries of Carranza, I wish, in my turn, to make some observations, to endeavor to place the affair in its proper light. In the first place, is it not astonishing that a trial devoid of all foundation should have[Pg 213] had so extraordinary a duration? At least there must have been some appearance of it. Besides, if the cause had been decided in Spain, the length of the trial might not have been so extraordinary. But it was not so; the cause remained pending in Rome many years. Were the judges so blind or so wicked that they could not discover the calumny, or that they wanted the virtue to destroy it, supposing it to have been as clear and evident as it has been pretended? It may be replied to this, that the intrigues of Philip II., who was determined on the destruction of the Archbishop, prevented the truth from appearing; in proof of this assertion, have we not the difficulties which the king made to allow the prisoner to be transferred to Rome? It was necessary, it is said, for Pius V. to effect this by the threat of excommunication. I will not deny that Philip II. attempted to aggravate the situation of the Archbishop, and wished for a sentence little favorable to the illustrious accused. Yet, before deciding that the conduct of the king was criminal, we must know whether he acted thus from personal resentment, from conviction, or from the suspicion that the Archbishop inclined towards Lutheranism. Carranza, before his disgrace, was highly favored and esteemed by Philip, as appears from the missions which were confided to him in England, and from his elevation to the first ecclesiastical dignity in Spain. How, then, can we presume that so much good-will was converted on a sudden into personal and violent hatred? Is it not, at least, necessary that history should afford a fact in support of this conjecture? Now, I find this nowhere in history, nor am I aware that others have done so. If Philip took so decided a part against the Archbishop, it was evidently because he believed, or strongly suspected him of being heretical. In that case, Philip may have been rash, imprudent—all that you please; but it cannot be said that, in the pursuit, he was moved by the spirit of vengeance, or by low animosity.

Other men of the time were equally accused. Among the rest, Melchior Cano. Carranza himself seemed to be suspicious; he bitterly complained that Melchior Cano had ventured to say that the Archbishop was as heretical as Luther. But Salazar de Mendoza, when relating the fact in the life of Carranza, asserts that Cano, hearing this, openly denied it, saying, that he had said nothing of the kind. Indeed, the mind is easily inclined to believe him; men with intellects as favored as his, have, in their own dignity, too powerful a preservative against baseness, to allow them to be suspected of playing the infamous part of calumniators.

I do not believe that it is necessary to seek for the cause of the misfortunes of Carranza in private hatred or jealousy; it is found in the critical circumstances of the time, and in the character of this illustrious man himself. The grave symptoms which produced alarm lest Protestantism might make proselytes in Spain; the efforts of the Protestants to introduce their books and emissaries there; the experience of what happened in other countries, and particularly in the kingdom of France, created so much dread in men's minds, rendered them so fearful and mistrustful, that the least suspicion of error, above all, in persons elevated in dignity or distinguished for their knowledge, occasioned disquietude and apprehension. We are aware of the hot disputes which took place with respect to the Polyglot of Antwerp and Arias Montanus, and we are not ignorant of the sufferings of the famous Fray Luis de Leon, and some other illustrious men of that time. Another conjuncture which contributed to push things to extremes was, the political situation of Spain with respect to strangers. The Spanish monarchy had too many enemies and rivals for her not to have reason to fear that heresy, in the hands of her adversaries, would become a means of introducing discord and civil war into her bosom. These causes united, naturally rendered Philip suspicious and mistrustful; the hatred of heresy combining in his mind with the desire of self-preservation, he showed himself severe[Pg 214] and inexorable with respect to all that could affect the purity of the Catholic faith in his empire.

On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that the character of Carranza was not exactly what was required, in such critical times, to avoid all dangerous wanderings. We perceive, in reading his commentaries on the Catechism, that he was a man of acute penetration, of vast erudition, of profound learning, of severe character, and of a heart generous and frank. He spoke his thoughts without circumlocution, without regard to the displeasure which his words might give to this person or that. When he believed that he had discovered an abuse, he pointed it out and condemned it openly, wherein he resembled his supposed adversary, Melchior Cano, in more features than one. The accusations against him in the trial were founded, not only on his writings, but also on some of his sermons and private conversations. I know not to what extent he exceeded the just limits; but I hesitate not to affirm, that a man who wrote in the tone which we find in his works, must have expressed himself viva voce with great force, and perhaps with excessive boldness. It must be added, to speak the whole truth, that when treating of justification, in his commentaries on the Catechism, he does not explain himself with all the clearness desirable, and is wanting in the simplicity required by the unhappy circumstances of the times. Men versed in this delicate matter know how delicate certain points are. These points were then the subject of the errors of Germany; and it may be easily imagined how much the attention must have been fixed on the words of Carranza, and how alarming the least shadow of ambiguity must have been. It is certain that, at Rome he was not acquitted of all the accusations; he was compelled to abjure a series of propositions, with respect to which he was judged liable to suspicion; and some penances were imposed on him. Carranza on his death-bed protested his innocence; but he took care to declare that he did not regard the sentence of the Pope as unjust. The explanation of the enigma is this: the innocence of the heart is not always accompanied by the prudence of the lips.

I have dwelt upon this famous cause because it involves considerations which strikingly exhibit the spirit of the age. These considerations have, besides, the advantage of showing the truth in its proper light, and prevent every thing being explained according to the wretched measure of the malice of men. There is unhappily a tendency to explain all in this way; and it may be truly said, that men too often give a just foundation for it; yet, whenever there is no evident necessity to do so, we ought to abstain from condemnation. The picture of the history of humanity is sombre enough in itself; let us not take pleasure in darkening it still more by new stains. We often call crime that which was only ignorance. Man is inclined to evil; but he is not less subject to error, and error is not always culpable.

Moreover, I believe that to Protestants themselves were owing the rigor and anxious mistrust which the Inquisition of Spain displayed at that time. They excited a religious revolution; and it is a constant law, that all revolutions either destroy the power assailed, or render it more harsh and severe. What before was looked upon as indifferent, is now considered as suspected; and what, in all other circumstances, would only have appeared a fault, is now regarded as a crime. Men are in continual dread of seeing liberty converted into licentiousness; and as revolutions destroy all, while they profess to reform, whoever ventures to speak of reform, runs the risk of being blamed as a disturber. Even prudent conduct is stigmatized as hypocritical caution; frank and sincere language is termed insolence and dangerous suggestion; reserve is a concealment full of cunning; even silence itself assumes a meaning—it becomes alarming dissimulation. We have seen so many things come to pass in our days, that we are placed in an incomparable situation easily to understand the various phases of the history of humanity. It is an undoubted fact, that Protestantism pro[Pg 215]duced a reaction in Spain. Its errors and excesses were the reason why the ecclesiastical and civil power infinitely restrained the liberty which had been previously enjoyed in all that related to religion. Spain was preserved from the Protestant doctrines, when all the probabilities were in favor of their being introduced there, in one way or another. It is clear that this could not be obtained without extraordinary efforts. Spain, at that time, appears to me like a place besieged by a powerful enemy, where the leaders continually watched, not only against attacks from without, but also against treason from within. I will confirm these observations by an example, which will serve for many others. Let us remember what took place with respect to Bibles in the vulgar tongue; we shall then have an idea of what passed with relation to all the rest, according to the natural order of things. I have before me a testimony of what I have just said, as respectable as it is worthy of interest—that of Carranza himself. Hear what he says in his prologue to his commentaries on the Christian Catechism: "Before the heresies of Luther had come from the infernal regions to the light of this world, I do not know that the Holy Scriptures in the vulgar tongue were anywhere forbidden. In Spain, Bibles were translated into it by order of the Catholic sovereigns, at the time when the Moors and Jews were allowed to live among the Christians according to their own law. After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, the judges of religion found that some of those who had been converted to our holy faith instructed their children in Judaism, and taught them the ceremonies of the law of Moses by means of those Bibles in the vulgar tongue, which they took care to have printed in Italy, in the town of Ferrara. This is the real cause why Bibles in the vulgar tongue were forbidden in Spain; but the possession and reading of them were always allowed to colleges and monasteries, as well as to persons of distinction above all suspicion." Carranza continues to give, in a few words, the history of these prohibitions in Germany, France, and other countries; then he adds: "In Spain, which was, and still is, by the grace and goodness of God, pure from the cockle, care was taken to forbid generally all the translations of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongue, in order to prevent strangers having an opportunity of holding controversy with simple and ignorant persons, and also because they had, and still have, experience of certain particular cases, and of the errors which began to arise in Spain from the ill-understood reading of certain passages of the Bible. What I have just stated is the real history of what took place; this is why the Bible in the vulgar tongue was prohibited."

This curious passage of Carranza shows us, in a few words, the progress of things. At first there was no prohibition; but the abuse committed by the Jews provoked one, although still confined, as we have just seen, within certain limits. Afterwards came the Protestants, upsetting all Europe by means of their Bibles; Spain is threatened with the introduction of the new errors; it is discovered that some persons have been misled by the false interpretation of certain passages of the Bible; they are compelled to take away this weapon from these strangers, who attempt to use it to seduce simple people: from that time the prohibition becomes rigorous and general.

To return to Philip II., let us not forget that this monarch was one of the firmest defenders of the Catholic Church; and that in him was personified the policy of the faithful ages, amid the vertigo which, under the impulse of Protestantism, had taken possession of European policy. If the Catholic Church, amid these great perturbations, could reckon on a powerful protection from the princes of the earth, it was in great measure owing to Philip II. This age was critical and decisive in Europe. If it is true that he was unfortunate in Flanders, it is not less undoubted that his power and ability afforded a counterpoise to the Protestant power, which prevented it making itself master of Europe. Even supposing that the efforts of Philip had only the result of gaining[Pg 216] time, by breaking the first shock of the Protestant policy, this was not a slight service rendered to the Catholic Church, then attacked on so many sides. What would have happened to Europe, if Protestantism had been introduced into Spain as into France? if the Huguenots had been able to count on the assistance of the Peninsula? And what would have happened in Italy, if she had not been held in respect by the power of Philip? Would not the sectaries of Germany have succeeded in introducing their errors there? Here I appeal to all men who are acquainted with history, whether, if Philip had abandoned his much-decried policy, the Catholic religion would not have run the risk of finding itself, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, under the hard necessity of existing only as a tolerated religion in the generality of the kingdoms of Europe? Now, we know what this toleration is worth to the Catholic Church; England has told us for centuries; Prussia shows us at this moment, and Russia adds her testimony in a manner still more lamentable. Such is the point of view in which we must consider Philip II. One is forced to allow that, considered in this way, that prince is a great historical personage,—one of those who have left the deepest marks on the policy of the age which followed,—one of those who exert the greatest influence after them on the course of events.

Spaniards, who anathematize the founder of the Escurial, have you, then, forgotten our history, or do you esteem it of no value? Do you stigmatize him as an odious tyrant? Do you not know that, in denying his glory, in covering it with ignominy, you efface a feature of your own glory, and throw into the mud the diadem which encircled the brows of Ferdinand and Isabella? If you cannot pardon Philip II. for having sustained the Inquisition,—if that reason alone obliges you to load his name with execration, do the same with his illustrious father, Charles V.; and, going back to Isabella of Castille, write also on the list of the tyrants and scourges of humanity that name which was venerated by both worlds, and which is the emblem of the glory and power of the Spanish monarchy. They all took part in the fact which excites your indignation; do not curse some, while you lavish hypocritical indulgence on the others. If that indulgence is found in your words, it is that the feeling of nationality which beats in your bosom compels you to partiality—to inconsistency; you recoil when you are about to efface the glories of Spain with a stroke of the pen—to wither all her laurels—to deny your country. We have nothing left, unfortunately, but great recollections; let us at least avoid despising them: these recollections are, in a nation, like the titles of ancient nobility in a fallen family; they raise the mind, they fortify the soul in adversity; and, nourishing hope in the bottom of the heart, they serve to prepare what is to come.

The immediate effect of the introduction of Protestantism into Spain would have been, as in other countries, civil war; and this war would have been more fatal to us than to other people, because the circumstances were much more critical for us. The unity of the Spanish monarchy could not have resisted the shocks and disturbances of intestine dissension; the different parts were so heterogeneous among themselves, and were so slightly united, that the least blow would have parted them. The laws and manners of the kingdoms of Navarre and Aragon were very different from those of Castille; a lively feeling of independence, supported by frequent meetings of their own Cortes, was kept alive in the hearts of those unconquered nations; they would certainly have availed themselves of the first opportunity to shake off a yoke which was not pleasing to them. Moreover, in the other provinces, factions were not wanting to distract the country. The monarchy would have been miserably divided at a time when it was necessary to make head in the affairs of Europe, Africa, and America. The Moors were still in sight of our coasts; the Jews had not had time to forget Spain: certainly both would have availed themselves of the conjuncture to raise themselves by means of our discords. On the policy of Philip[Pg 217] depended not only the tranquillity, but perhaps even the existence of the Spanish monarchy. He is now accused of having been a tyrant; if he had pursued another course, he would have been taxed with incapacity and weakness.

One of the most unjust attacks of the enemies of religion against her friends is, to attribute bad faith to them, to accuse them of having in every thing false intentions, tortuous and interested views. When they speak of the Machiavellianism of Philip II., they suppose that the Inquisition, while apparently only religious in its object, was, in reality, an obedient instrument of policy in the hands of a crafty monarch. Nothing is more specious to the man in whose eyes history is only a matter for piquant and malicious observations; but nothing is more false according to facts. Some people, seeing in the Inquisition an extraordinary tribunal, have not been able to imagine the existence of that exceptional tribunal, without supposing, in the monarch who sustained and encouraged it, profound reasons, and views carried much further than appears on the surface of things. They have not been willing to see that an epoch has its spirit, its own manner of regarding things, its own system of action, both in doing good and in preventing evil. During those times, when all the nations of Europe appealed to fire and sword to decide questions of religion, when Protestants and Catholics burnt their adversaries, when England, France, and Germany assisted at the bloodiest scenes, to bring a heretic to the scaffold was a natural and customary thing, which gave no shock to prevailing ideas. We feel our hair grow stiff on our heads at the mere idea of burning a man alive. Placed in society where the religious sentiment is considerably diminished; accustomed to live among men who have a different religion, and sometimes none at all; we cannot bring ourselves to believe that it could be at that time quite an ordinary thing to see heretics or the impious led to punishment. But, if we read the authors of the time, we shall see the immense difference on this point between their manners and ours; and we shall remark, that our language of moderation and toleration would not even have been understood by the man of the sixteenth century.

Do you know what Carranza himself, who suffered so much from the Inquisition, thought of this matter? Every time that he has occasion to touch on this point in the work which I have quoted, he expresses the ideas of his time, without even staying to prove them; he gives them as undoubted principles. In England, with Queen Mary, he did not fear to express his opinions as to the rigor with which heretics ought to be treated; and he was certainly far from suspecting that his name would one day be made use of to attack this intolerance. Kings and peoples, ecclesiastics and seculars, were all agreed on this point. What would be said now-a-days of a king who would carry with his own hands the wood to burn heretics, and would condemn blasphemers to have their tongues pierced with a hot iron? Now, the first of these things is related of St. Ferdinand, and we know that the second was done by St. Louis. We now exclaim in seeing Philip II. assisting at an auto-da-fé; but, if we consider that the court, the great men, all that was most select in society, surrounded the king on these occasions, we shall understand that, if this spectacle is horrible and intolerable to us, it was not so in the eyes of those men, widely different from us in ideas and feelings. And let it not be said that they were forced there by the will of the monarch,—that they were compelled to obey: this was not the effect of the monarch's will; it was only a consequence of the spirit of the age. No monarch would have been sufficiently powerful to perform such a ceremony, if the spirit of the age had been opposed to it; besides, no monarch is so hard and insensible as not to feel the influence of the times in which he lives. Suppose the most absolute despot of our time, Napoleon, at the height of his power, or the present Emperor of Russia, and see whether they could thus violate the manners of the age.

[Pg 218]

An anecdote is related which is little adapted to confirm the opinion of those who assert that the Inquisition was a political instrument in the hands of Philip. As it paints in a curious and interesting manner the customs and ideas of the age, I will insert it here. Philip II. held his court at Madrid; a certain preacher, in a sermon delivered in presence of the king, advanced, that sovereigns had an absolute power over the persons as well as over the property of their subjects. The proposition was not of a nature to displease a king; the preacher at one blow relieved kings from all control over the exercise of their power. Now, it seems that at that time all men were not in such abject subjection to despotic control as we have been led to believe; some one was found to denounce to the Inquisition the words in which the preacher had not been ashamed to flatter the absolute power of kings. Surely the orator had chosen a secure asylum; and our readers may well suppose that this denunciation coming into collision with the power of Philip, the Inquisition would have maintained a prudent silence. Yet it was not so: the Inquisition made an inquiry, found the proposition contrary to sound doctrine, and the preacher, who was perhaps far from expecting such a reward, had divers penances imposed on him, and was condemned to retract publicly his proposition in the same place where he had made it. The retractation took place with all the ceremonies of a juridical proceeding; the preacher declared that he retracted his proposition as erroneous; he explained the reasons by reading, as he had been directed, the following words, well worthy of remark: "Indeed, messieurs, kings have no other power over their subjects than that which is given to them by the divine and human law; they have none proceeding from their own free and absolute will." This is related by D. Antonio Perez, as may be seen at length in the note which corresponds to the present chapter. We know, moreover, that he was not a fanatical partisan of the Inquisition.

This took place at the time which some persons never mention without stigmatizing it with the words obscurantism, tyranny, and superstition. Yet I doubt whether, at a time nearer to us—that, for example, when it is asserted that light and liberty dawned on Spain under the reign of Charles III.—a public and solemn condemnation of despotism would have been carried so far. This condemnation, at the time of Philip II., did as much honor to the tribunal which ordered it as to the monarch who consented to it.

With respect to knowledge, it is a calumny to say that a design was formed to maintain and perpetuate ignorance. Certainly the conduct of Philip does not indicate such a design, when we see this prince, not content with favoring the great enterprise of the Polyglot of Antwerp, recommending to Arias Montanus to devote to the purchase of chosen works, printed or manuscript, the money which would revert to the printer Plantinus, to whom the king had advanced a large sum to aid in the enterprise. This chosen collection was to be placed in the library of the monastery of the Escurial, which was then built. The king had also charged Don Francis de Alaba, his ambassador in France, to collect in that kingdom the best books which it was possible for him to procure, as he himself says in his letter to Arias Montanus. No; the history of Spain, with respect to intolerance in religious matters, is not so black as it has been represented. When foreigners reproach us with cruelty, we will reply that, when Europe was stained with blood by civil wars, Spain was at peace. As to the number of persons who perished on the scaffold or died in exile, we challenge the two nations who claim to be at the head of civilization, France and England, to show us their statistics on that subject at the same time, and to compare them with ours: we do not fear the comparison.

In proportion as the danger of the introduction of Protestantism into Spain diminished, so did the rigor of the Inquisition. We may observe, moreover, that the procedure of that tribunal always became milder, in accordance with[Pg 219] the spirit of criminal legislation in the other countries of Europe. Thus we see the auto-da-fé becoming more rare as we approach our own times, so that, at the end of the last century, the Inquisition was only a shadow of what it had been. It is useless to insist on this point, which nobody denies, and on which we are in unison with the most ardent enemies of that tribunal; and this it is which, in our eyes, proves, in the most convincing manner, that we must seek in the ideas and manners of the time, what people have attempted to find in the cruelty, in the wickedness, or in the ambition of men. If the doctrines of those who plead for the abolition of the punishment of death are carried into effect, posterity, when reading the executions of our time, will be seized with the same horror with which we view the punishment of times past, and the gibbet and the guillotine will figure in the same rank as the ancient Quemaderos.26


Religious institutions are another of those points whereon Protestantism and Catholicity are in complete opposition to each other: the first abhors, the second loves them; the one destroys them, the other establishes and encourages them. One of the first acts of Protestantism, whenever it is introduced, is to attack religious institutions by its doctrines and its acts; it labors to destroy them immediately; one would say that the pretended Reformation cannot behold without irritation those holy abodes, which continually remind it of the ignominious apostacy of its founder. Religious vows, especially that of chastity, have been the subject of the most cruel invectives on the part of Protestants; but it must be observed, that what is said now, and what has been repeated for three centuries, is only the echo of the first voice which was raised in Germany; and what was that voice? It was the voice of a monk without modesty, who penetrated into the sanctuary and carried away a victim. All the pomp of learning employed to combat a sacred dogma is insufficient to hide so impure an origin. Through the excitement of the false prophet we perceive the impure flames which devour his heart.

Let us observe in passing, that the same thing took place with respect to the celibacy of the clergy. Protestants, from the beginning, could not endure this; they threw off the mask, and condemned it without disguise; they attempted to combat it with a certain ostentation of learning; but, at the bottom of all their declamation, what do we find? The clamor of a priest who has forgotten his duty; who strives against the remorse of his conscience, and endeavors to hide his shame by diminishing the horror of the scandal by the allegations of falsehood. If such conduct had been pursued by the Catholics, all the arms of ridicule would have been employed to cover them with contempt, to stamp it, as it deserves, with the brand of infamy; but it was a man who declared deadly war against Catholicity: that was enough to turn away the contempt of philosophers, and find indulgence for the declamation of a monk whose first argument against celibacy was, to profane his vows and consummate a sacrilege.

The rest of the disturbers of that age imitated the example of so worthy a master. All demanded and required from Scripture and philosophy a veil to cover their weakness and baseness. Just punishment! blindness of the mind was the result of corruption of the heart; impudence sought and obtained the companionship of error. Never is the mind more vile than when, to excuse a fault, it becomes the accomplice of it; then it is not deceived, but prostituted.

This hatred of religious institutions has been inherited by philosophy from Protestantism. This is the reason why all revolutions, excited and guided by[Pg 220] Protestants or philosophers, have been signalized by their intolerance towards the institutions themselves, and by their cruelty towards those who belonged to them. What the law could not do was completed by the dagger and the torch of the incendiary. What escaped the catastrophe was left to the slow punishment of misery and famine. On this point, as well as on many others, it is manifest that the infidel philosophy is the daughter of the Reformation. It is useless to seek for a more convincing proof of this than the parallel of the histories of both, in all that relates to the destruction of religious institutions; the same flattery of kings, the same exaggeration of the civil power, the same declamation against the pretended evil inflicted on society, the same calumnies; we have only to change the names and the dates. And we must also remark this peculiarity, that, in this matter, the difference which, apparently, ought to have resulted from the progress of toleration and the softening of manners in recent times, has scarcely been felt.

But is it true that religious institutions are as contemptible as they have been represented? is it true that they do not even deserve attention, and that all the questions relating to them can be solved by merely pronouncing the word fanaticism? Does not the man of observation, the real philosopher, find in them any thing worthy of attracting his attention? It is difficult to believe that such was the nullity of these institutions, whose history is so grand, and which still preserve in their existence the promise of a great future. It is difficult to believe that such institutions are not worthy of attention in the highest degree, and that their study is wholly devoid of lively interest and solid profit. We see them appear at every epoch of Church history; their memorials and monuments are found every moment under our feet; they are preserved in the regions of Asia, in the sands of Africa, in the cities and solitudes of America; in fine, when, after so much adversity, we see them more or less prosperous in the various countries of Europe, sending forth again fresh shoots in those lands where their roots had been the most deeply torn up, there naturally arises in the mind a spirit of curiosity to examine this phenomenon, to inquire what is the origin, the genius, and the character of these institutions. Those who love to descend into the heart of philosophical questions discover, at first sight, that there must be there an abundant mine of the most precious information for the science of religion, of society, and of man. He who has read the lives of the ancient fathers of the desert without being touched, without feeling profound admiration, and being filled with grave and lofty thoughts; he who, treading under his feet with indifference the ruins of an ancient abbey, has not called up in fancy the shades of the cenobites who lived and died there; he who passes coldly through the corridors and cells of convents half-demolished, and feels no recollections, and not even the curiosity to examine,—he may close the annals of history, and may cease to study the beautiful and the sublime. There exist for him no historical phenomena, no beauty, no sublimity; his mind is in darkness, his heart is in the dust.

With the intention of hiding the intimate connection which subsists between religious institutions and religion herself, it has been said that she can exist without them. This is an incontrovertible truth, but abstract and wholly useless—a barren and isolated assertion, which can throw no light upon science, nor serve as any practical guide—an insidious truth, which only tends entirely to change the whole state of the question, and persuade men that when religious institutions are concerned, religion has nothing to do with the matter. There is here a gross sophism, which is too much employed, not only on this question, but on many others. This consists in replying to all difficulties by a proposition perfectly true in itself, but which has nothing to do with the question. By this means, attention is turned another way; the palpable truth which is presented to the mind makes men wander from the principal object, and[Pg 221] induces them to take that for a solution which is only a distraction. With respect, for example, to the support of the clergy and divine worship, it is said, "Temporals are altogether different from spirituals." When the ministers of religion are systematically calumniated, "Religion," they say, "is one thing, and her ministers are another." If it is wished to represent the conduct of Rome for many centuries as an uninterrupted chain of injustice, of corruption, and of invasion of right, all reply is anticipated by saying, "The supremacy of the Sovereign Pontiff has nothing to do with the vices of Popes or their ambition." Reflections perfectly just, and truths palpable, no doubt, which are very useful in certain cases, but which writers of bad faith cunningly employ to conceal from the reader the real object they have in view. Such are the jugglers who attract the attention of the simple multitude on one side, while their companions perform their criminal operations on the other.

Because a thing is not necessary to the existence of another, it does not follow that the first does not originate in the second,—does not find in the spirit of the latter its peculiar and permanent existence, and that a system of intimate and delicate relation does not subsist between them. The tree can subsist without flowers and fruits; these can certainly fall without destroying the trunk; but as long as the tree shall exist, will it ever cease to give proofs of its vigor and its beauty, and to offer its flowers to the eye, and its fruits to the taste? The stream may constantly flow in its crystal bed without the green margin which embellishes its sides; but while its source is not dried up—as long as the fertilizing water penetrates the ground, can its favored banks remain dry, barren, without color and ornament? Let us apply these images to our subject. It is certain that religion can exist without religious communities, and that their ruin does not necessarily entail that of religion herself. More than once it has been seen that in countries where religious institutions have been destroyed, the Catholic faith has been long preserved. But it is not less certain, that there is a necessary dependence between them and religion; that is, that she has given being to them, that she animates them with her spirit, and nourishes them with her substance: this is the reason why they immediately germinate wherever the Catholic faith takes root; and if they have been driven from a country where she continues to exist, they will reappear. Without alluding to the examples of other countries, do we not see this phenomenon take place in France in a remarkable manner? The number of convents of men and women which are again established on the French soil is already very considerable. Who would have told the men of the Constituent Assembly, the Legislative Assembly, the Convention, that half a century should not elapse without seeing religious institutions reappear and flourish in France, in spite of all their efforts to destroy even their memory? "If that happen," they would have said, "it will be because the revolution which we are making will not be allowed to triumph—because Europe will have again imposed despotism upon us; then, and then only, will be witnessed in France—in Paris—in this capital of the Christian world—the re-establishment of religious institutions, that legacy of fanaticism and superstition, transmitted to us by the ideas and manners of an age which has passed away, never to return."

Senseless men! your revolution has triumphed; you have conquered Europe; the old principles of the French monarchy have been erased from legislation, institutions, and manners; the genius of war has led your doctrines in triumph over Europe, and they were gilded by the rays of your glory. Your principles, all your recollections have again triumphed at a recent period; they still live in all their force and pride, personified in some men who glory in being the heirs of what they call the glorious Revolution of '89; and yet, in spite of so many triumphs, although your revolution has only receded as much as was necessary the better to secure its conquests, religious institutions have again arisen—they ex[Pg 222]tend, they are propagated everywhere, and they regain an important place in the annals of our times. To prevent this revival, it would have been necessary to extirpate religion; it was not enough to persecute her; faith remained like a precious germ covered by stones and thorns; Providence sends down a ray of that divine star which softens stones, and gives life and fertility; the tree rises again in all its beauty, in spite of the ruins which hindered its growth and development, and its leaves are immediately covered with charming blossoms:—behold the religious institutions which you thought were for ever annihilated!

The example which we have just mentioned clearly shows the truth of what we wish to establish, with respect to the intimate connection which exists between religion and religious institutions. Church history furnishes proofs in support of this truth. Besides, the mere knowledge of religion, and of the nature of the institutions of which we speak, would suffice to prove it to us, even if we had not history and experience in our favor.

The force of general prejudice on this subject is such, that it is necessary to descend to the root of things, to show the complete mistake of our adversaries. What are religious institutions considered generally? Putting aside the differences, the changes, the alterations necessarily produced by variety of times, countries, and other circumstances, we will say that a religious institute is a society of Christians living together, under certain rules, for the purpose of practising the Gospel precepts. We include, in this definition, even the orders which are not bound by a vow. It will be seen that we have considered the religious institution in its most general sense, laying aside all that theologians and canonists say with respect to the conditions indispensable to constitute or complete its essence. We must, moreover, observe that we ought not to exclude from the honorable denomination of religious institutes, those associations which possess all the conditions except the vows. The Catholic religion is fertile enough to produce good by means and forms widely different. In the generality of religious institutions, she has shown us what man can do by binding himself by a vow, for his whole life, to a holy abnegation of his own will; but she has also wished to show us that, while leaving him at liberty, she could attach him by a variety of ties, and make him persevere until death, as if he had been obliged by a perpetual vow. The congregation of the oratory of St. Philip Neri, which is found in this latter category, is certainly worthy of figuring among religious institutions as one of the finest monuments of the Catholic Church. I am aware that the vow is comprised in the essence of religious institutes, as they are commonly understood; but my only object now is, to vindicate this kind of association against Protestants. Now we know that they condemn indiscriminately, associations bound by vows and those which only consist of the permanent and free adhesion of the persons who compose them. All that has the form of a religious community is regarded by them with a look of anger. When they proscribed the religious orders, they included in the same fate those which had vows and those which had not. Consequently, when defending them, we must class them together. Moreover, this will not prevent our considering the vow in itself, and justifying it before the tribunal of philosophy.

I do not imagine that it is necessary to say more to show that the object of religious institutions—that is, as we have just said, the putting in practice of the Gospel counsels—is in perfect uniformity with the Gospel itself. And let us well observe that, whatever may be the name, whatever may be the form of the institutions, they have always for their object something more than the simple observance of the precepts; the idea of perfection is always included, then, either in the active or the contemplative life. To keep the Divine commandments is indispensable to all Christians who wish to possess eternal life; the religious orders attempt a more difficult path; they aim at perfection. This is the object of the men who, after having heard these words from the mouth of[Pg 223] their Divine Master: "If you wish to be perfect, go sell all you have, and give it to the poor," have not departed sorrowful, like the young man in the Gospel, but have embraced with courage the enterprise of quitting all and following Jesus Christ.

We have now inquired whether association is the best means to carry into execution so holy an object. It would be easy for me to show this by adducing various texts of Scripture, where the true spirit of the Christian religion, and the will of our Divine Master, are clearly shown on this point; but the taste of our age, and the self-evidence even of the truths in question, warn us to avoid, as much as possible, all that savors of theological discussion. I will remove the question, then, from this level, to consider it in a light purely historical and philosophical; that is to say, without accumulating citations and texts, I will prove that religious institutes are perfectly conformable to the spirit of the Christian religion; and that consequently that spirit has been deplorably mistaken by Protestants, when they have condemned or destroyed them. If philosophers, while they do not admit the truth of religion, still avow that it is useful and beautiful, I will prove to them that they cannot condemn those institutions which are the necessary result of it. In the cradle of Christianity, when men preserved, in all their energy and purity, the sparks from the tongues of the Holy Spirit; in those times, when the words and examples of its Divine Founder were still fresh, when the number of the faithful who had had the happiness of seeing and hearing Him was still very great in the Church, we see the Christians, under the direction of the Apostles themselves, unite, have all their property in common; thus forming only one family, the Father of which was in heaven, and which had only one heart and one soul.

I will not dispute as to the extent of this primitive proceeding; I will abstain from analyzing the various circumstances which accompanied it, and from examining how far it resembled the religious institutions of latter times; it is enough to state its existence, and show therefrom what is the true spirit of religion with respect to the most proper means to realize evangelical perfection. I will only allude to the fact, that Cassian, in the description which he gives of the commencement of religious institutions, assigns as their cradle the proceeding we have just mentioned, and which is reported in the Acts of the Apostles. According to the same author, this kind of life was never wholly interrupted; so that there were always some fervent Christians who continued it; thus attaching, by a continued chain, the existence of the monks to the primitive associations of the apostolical times. After having described the kind of life of the first Christians, and traced the alterations of the times that followed, Cassian continues thus: "Those who preserved the apostolical fervor in this way, recalling primitive perfection, quitted towns, and the society of those who believed that they were allowed to live with less severity; they began to choose secret and retired places, where they could follow in private the rules which they remembered to have been appointed by the Apostles for the whole body of the Church in general. Thus commenced the formation of the discipline of those who had quitted that contagion, as they lived separate from the rest of the faithful; abstaining from marriage, and having no communication with the world, even with their own families. In the progress of time, the name of monks was given to them, in consideration of their singular and solitary life." (Collat. 18, cap. 5.)

Times of persecution immediately followed, which, with some interruptions, that may be called moments of repose, lasted till the conversion of Constantine. There were, then, during this time, some Christians who attempted to continue the mode of life of the apostolical years. Cassian clearly indicates this in the passage which we have just read. He omits to say that this primitive life was necessarily modified, in its exterior form, by the calamities with which the[Pg 224] Church was afflicted at that period. In all that time we ought not to look for Christians living in community; we shall find them confessing Jesus Christ, with imperturbable calmness, on the rack, amid all torments, in the circus, where they were torn to pieces by wild beasts, on the scaffold, where they quietly gave up their heads to the axe of the executioner. But observe what happened even during the time of persecution; the Christians, of whom the world was not worthy, pursued in the towns like wild beasts, wandered about in solitude, seeking refuge in the deserts. The solitudes of the East, the sand and rocks of Arabia, the most inaccessible places of the Thebaïd, receive those troops of fugitives, who dwell in the abodes of wild beasts, in abandoned graves, in dried-up cisterns, in the deepest caverns, only asking for an asylum for meditation and prayer. And do you know the result of this? These deserts, in which the Christians wandered, like a few grains of sand driven by the wind, became peopled, as it were by magic, with innumerable religious communities. There they meditated, prayed, and read the Gospel; hardly had the fruitful seed touched the earth, when the precious plant arose in a moment.

Admirable are the designs of Providence! Christianity, persecuted in the towns, fertilizes and embellishes the deserts; the precious grain requires for its development neither the moisture of the earth nor the breeze of a mild atmosphere; when carried through the air on the wings of the storm, the seed loses nothing of its vitality; when thrown on a rock, it does not perish. The fury of the elements avails nothing against the work of God, who has made the north wind His courser: the rock ceases to be barren when He pleases to fertilize it. Did He not make pure water spring forth at the mysterious touch of His Prophet's rod?

When peace was given to the Church by the conqueror of Maxentius, the germs contained in the bosom of Christianity were able to develop themselves everywhere; from that moment the Church was never without religious communities. With history in our hands, we may defy the enemies of religious institutions to point out any period, however short, when these institutions had entirely disappeared. Under some form or in some country, they have always perpetuated the existence which they had received in the early ages of Christianity. The fact is certain and constant, and is found in every page of ecclesiastical history; it plays an important part in all the great events in the annals of the Church. It is found in the west and in the east, in modern and in ancient times, in the prosperity and in the adversity of the Church; when the pursuit of religious perfection was an honor in the eyes of the world, as well as when it was an object of persecution, raillery, and calumny. What clearer proof can there be that there is an intimate connection between religious institutions and religion herself? What more is required to show us that they are her spontaneous fruit? In the moral and in the physical order of things, the constant appearance of the one following the other, is regarded as a proof of the reciprocal dependence of two phenomena. If these phenomena have towards each other the relations of cause and effect—if we find in the essence of the one all the principles that are required in the production of the other, the first is called the cause and the other the effect. Wherever the religion of Jesus Christ is established, religious communities are found under some form or other; they are, therefore, its spontaneous effect. I do not know what reply can be made to so conclusive an argument.

By viewing the question in this way, the favor and protection which religious institutions always found with the Pontiff is naturally explained. It was his duty to act in conformity with the spirit which animates the Church, of which he is the chief ruler upon earth; it is certainly not the Pope who has made the regulation, that one of the means most apt to lead men to perfection is to unite themselves in associations under certain rules, in conformity with the instruc[Pg 225]tions of their Divine Master. The Eternal Lord thus ruled in the secrets of His infinite wisdom, and the conduct of the Popes could not be contrary to the designs of the Most High. It has been said that interested views interposed; it has been said that the policy of the Popes found in these institutions a powerful means of sustaining and aggrandizing itself. But can you not see any thing but the sordid instruments of cunning policy in the societies of the primitive faithful, in the monasteries of the solitudes of the East, in that crowd of institutions which have had for their object only the sanctification of their own members and the amelioration of some of the great evils of humanity? A fact so general, so great, so beneficent, cannot be explained by views of interest and narrow designs; its origin is higher and nobler; and he who will not seek for it in heaven ought at least to seek for it in something greater than the projects of a man or the policy of a court; he ought to seek for lofty ideas, sublime feelings, capable, if they do not mount to heaven, at least of embracing a large part of the earth; nothing less is here required than one of those thoughts which preside over the destinies of the human race.

Some persons may be inclined to imagine private designs on the part of the Popes, because they see their authority interfere in all the foundations of later ages, and their approbation constitute the validity of the rules of religious institutions; but the course pursued in this respect by ecclesiastical discipline shows us that the most active intervention of the Popes, far from emanating from private views, has been called for by a necessity of preventing an excessive multiplication of the religious orders in consequence of an indiscreet zeal. This vigilance in preventing abuses was the origin of this supreme intervention. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the tendency to new foundations was so strong that the most serious inconveniences would have resulted from it, without a continual watchfulness on the part of the ecclesiastical authority. Thus we see the Sovereign Pontiff Innocent III. ordain, in the Council of Lateran, that whoever wished to found a new religious house shall be bound to adopt one of the approved rules and institutions.

But let us pursue our design. I can understand how those who deny the truth of the Christian religion, and turn into ridicule the counsels of the Gospel, bring themselves to deny all that is celestial and divine in the spirit of the religious communities; but the truth of religion once established, I cannot conceive how men who boast of following its laws can declare themselves the enemies of these institutions considered in themselves. How can he who admits the principle refuse the consequence? How can he who loves the cause reject the effect? They must either affect a religion hypocritically, or they profess without comprehending it.

In default of any other proof of the anti-evangelical spirit which guided the leaders of the pretended Reformation, their hatred to an institution so evidently founded on the Gospel itself should suffice. Did not these enthusiasts for reading the Bible without note or comment—they who pretend to find all its passages so clear—did they not remark the plain and easy sense of that multitude of passages which recommend self-abnegation, the renunciation of all possessions, and the privation of all pleasures? These words are plain—they cannot be taken in any other signification—they do not require for their comprehension a profound study of the sacred sciences, or that of languages; and yet they have not been heard: we should rather say, they have not been listened to. The intellect has understood, but the passions have rejected them.

As to those philosophers who have regarded religious institutions as vain and contemptible, if not dangerous, it is clear that they have meditated but little on the human mind, and on the deep feelings of our hearts, full as they are of mystery. As their hearts have felt nothing at the sight of those numbers of men and women assembled for the purpose of sanctifying themselves or others,[Pg 226] or of relieving wants, and consoling the unfortunate, it is but too clear that their souls have been dried up by the breath of skepticism. To renounce for ever all the pleasures of life; to live in solitude, there to offer one's self, in austerity and penance, as a holocaust to the Most High: this, certainly is a matter of horror to those philosophers who have only viewed the world through their own prejudices. But humanity has other thoughts; it feels itself attracted by those objects which philosophers find so vain, so devoid of interest, so worthy of horror.

Wonderful are the secrets of our hearts! Although enervated by pleasure, and involved in the whirlwind of amusement and mirth, we cannot avoid being seized with deep emotion at the sight of austerity and recollection of soul. Solitude, and even sadness itself, exert an inexpressible influence over us. Whence comes that enthusiasm which moves a whole nation, excites and makes it follow, as if by enchantment, the steps of a man whose brow is marked by recollection, whose features display austerity of life, whose clothes and manners show freedom from all that is earthly, and forgetfulness of the world? Now, it is a fact, proved by the history both of true and of false religions; so powerful a means of attracting respect and esteem has not remained unknown to imposture: licentiousness and corruption, desirous of making their fortunes in the world, have more than once felt the imperious necessity of disguising themselves under the mantle of austerity and purity. What at first sight might appear the most opposed to our feelings, the most repugnant to our tastes—this shade of sadness diffused over the recollection and solitude of the religious life—is precisely what enchants and attracts us the most. The religious life is solitary and pensive; therefore it is beautiful, and its beauty is sublime. Nothing is more apt than this sublimity to move our hearts deeply, and make indelible impressions on them. In reality, our soul has the character of an exile; it is affected by melancholy objects only; it has not attained to that noisy joy which requires to borrow a tint of melancholy only for the sake of a happy contrast. In order to clothe beauty with its most seductive charms, it is necessary that a tear of anguish should flow from her eyes, that her forehead should assume an air of sadness, and her cheeks grow pale with a melancholy remembrance. In order that the life of a hero excite a lively interest in us, it is requisite that misfortune be his companion, lamentation his consolation—that disaster and ingratitude be the reward of his virtues. If you wish that a picture of nature or art should strongly attract our attention, take possession of and absorb the powers of our soul, it is necessary that a memorial of the nothingness of man, and an image of death, should be presented to our minds; our hearts should be appealed to by the feelings of a tranquil sadness; we desire to see sombre tints on a monument in ruins—the cross reminding us of the abode of the dead, the massive walls covered with moss, and pointing out the ancient dwelling of some powerful man, who, after having lived on earth for a short time, has disappeared.

Joy does not satisfy us, it does not fill our hearts; it intoxicates and dissipates them for a few moments; but man does not find there his happiness, because the joys of earth are frivolous, and frivolity cannot attach a traveller who, far from his country, walks painfully through the valley of tears. Thence it comes that, while sorrow and tears are accepted—we should rather say, are carefully sought for by art—whenever a deep impression is to be made upon the soul, joy and smiles are inexorably banished. Oratory, poetry, sculpture, painting, music, have all constantly followed the same rule; or, rather, have always been governed by the same instinct. It certainly required a lofty spirit and a heart of fire to declare that the soul is naturally Christian. In these few words an illustrious thinker has known how to express all the relations which unite the faith, morality, and counsels of this divine religion, with all that is most intimate, delicate, and noble in our hearts. Do you know Christian pensiveness; that grave and elevated feeling which is painted on the forehead of the Christian,[Pg 227] like a memorial of sorrow on that of an illustrious proscribed one; this feeling which moderates the enjoyments of life by the image of the tomb, and lights up the depths of the grave with the rays of hope; that pensiveness so natural and consoling, so grave and noble, which causes diadems and sceptres to be trodden under foot like dust, and the greatness and splendor of the world to be despised as a passing illusion? This melancholy, carried to its perfection, vivified and fertilized by grace, and subjected to a holy rule, is what presides over the foundation of religious institutions, and accompanies them as long as they preserve their primitive fervor, which they received from men who were guided by divine light, and animated by the Spirit of God. This holy melancholy, which carries with it freedom from all earthly things, is the feeling which the Church wishes to instil into and preserve in, the religious orders, when she surrounds their silent abodes with a shade of retirement and meditation.

That amid the fury and the convulsions of parties, a mad and sacrilegious hand, secretly excited by malice, should plunge a fratricidal dagger into an innocent heart, or set fire to a peaceful dwelling, may be conceived; for, unhappily, the history of man abounds in crimes and frenzies; but that the essence of religious institutions should be attacked, that their spirit should be considered narrow and imbecile, that they should be deprived of the noble titles which give honor to their origin, and the beauties which adorn their history, can be allowed neither by the intellect nor by the heart. A false philosophy, which dries up and withers all that it touches, has undertaken so mad a task. But, setting aside religion and reason, literature and the fine arts have rebelled against this attempt; literature and the fine arts, which have need of old recollections, and which are indebted for their wonders to lofty thoughts, to grave and noble scenes, and deep and melancholy feelings; literature and the arts, which delight in transporting the mind of man into regions of light, in guiding the imagination through new and unknown paths, and in ruling the heart by mysterious charms.

No; a thousand times no! As long as the religion of that God made man, who had not where to repose his head, and who sat down by a well on the wayside to rest, like an humble traveller, shall last; of that God-man, whose appearance was announced to the nations by a mysterious voice coming from the desert—by the voice of a man clothed in a goat-skin, whose reins were bound with a leathern girdle, and who lived on nothing but locusts and wild honey: as long as this divine religion shall last, nothing will be more holy or more worthy of our respect than those institutions, the true and original object of which is to realize what Heaven intended to teach man by such eloquent and sublime lessons. Times, vicissitudes, and revolutions, succeed each other; the institution will change its form, will undergo alterations, will be affected more or less by the weakness of men, by the corrosive action of time, and the destructive power of events; but it will live—it will never perish. If one society rejects it, it will seek an asylum in another; driven from towns, it will take refuge in forests; if there pursued, it will flee to the horrors of the desert. There will always be, in some privileged hearts, an echo for the voice of that sublime religion, which, holding in her hand a standard of sorrow and love—the sacred standard of the sufferings and death of the Son of God—the Cross, will proclaim to men: "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation; if you assemble to pray, the Lord will be in the midst of you; all flesh is but grass; life is a dream; above your heads is an ocean of light and happiness; under your feet an abyss; your life on earth is a pilgrimage, an exile." Then she marks his forehead with the mysterious ashes, telling him, "Thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return."

We shall perhaps be asked why the faithful cannot practise evangelical perfection while living in the bosom of their families, without assembling in com[Pg 228]munities? We shall reply, that we have no intention of denying the possibility of that practice, even in the midst of the world; and we willingly acknowledge that a great number of Christians have done so at all times, and do so now; but this does not prove that the surest and easiest means is not that of the life in community with others who have the same object in view, and in retirement from all the things of this world. Laying aside for a moment all consideration of religion, are you not aware of the ascendency which the spirit of repeated examples exerts on those with whom we live? Do you not know how easily our spirit fails when we find ourselves alone in a difficult enterprise? Do you not know that, in the greatest misfortunes, it is a consolation to behold others participate in our sorrows? On this point, as well as on all others, religion accords with sound philosophy, and both unite in explaining to us the profound meaning contained in those words of Scripture: "Væ soli! Wo to him who is alone!"

Before concluding this chapter, I wish to say a few words on the vows which commonly accompany religious institutes. Perhaps they are one of the principal causes of the violent antipathy of Protestantism against these institutions. Vows render things fixed and stable; and the fundamental principle of Protestantism does not admit of fixity or stability. Essentially separating and anarchical, this principle rejects unity and destroys the hierarchy; dissolving in its nature, it allows the mind neither to remain in a permanent faith nor to be subject to rule. For if virtue itself is only a vague entity, which has no fixed foundation—a being which is fed on illusions, and which cannot endure the application of any certain and constant rule, this holy necessity of doing well, of constantly walking in the path of perfection, must be incomprehensible to it, and in the highest degree repugnant; this necessity must appear to it inconsistent with liberty; as if man, by binding himself by a vow, lost his free will; as if the sanction which a promise given to God imparts to a design, at all diminished the merit of him who has the firmness necessary to accomplish what he had the courage to promise.

Those who, to condemn this necessity which man imposes on himself, invoke the rights of liberty against it, seem to forget that this effort of man to make himself the slave of good, and secure his own future, besides the sublime disinterestedness which it supposes, is the vastest exercise which man can make of his liberty. By one act alone, he disposes of his whole life, and by fulfilling the duties resulting from that act, he continually fulfils his own will. But we shall be told that man is so inconstant: this is the reason why, in order to prevent the effects of this inconstancy, he finds himself penetrating into the vicissitudes of the future, renders himself superior to them, and governs them in advance. But, it will be said, in that case, good is done from necessity: this is true; but do you not know that the necessity of doing good is a happy one, and in some measure assimilates man with God? Do you not know that Infinite Goodness is incapable of doing evil, and Infinite Holiness can do nothing that is not holy? Theologians explain why a created being is capable of sinning by pointing out this profound reason. "It is," they say, "because the creature is made out of nothing." When man forces himself, as far as he can, to do well, when he thus fetters his will, he ennobles it, he renders himself more like to God, he assimilates himself to the state of the blessed, who have no longer the melancholy liberty of doing evil, and who are under the happy necessity of loving God.

The name of liberty, from the time when Protestants and false philosophers took possession of it, seems condemned to be ill understood in all its applications. In the religious, moral, social, and political order, it is enveloped in such obscurity, that we can perceive the many efforts which have been made to darken and misrepresent it. Cicero gives an admirable definition of liberty when he[Pg 229] says, that it consists in being the slave of law. In the same way it may be said, that the liberty of the intellect consists in being the slave of truth; and the liberty of the will in being the slave of virtue; if you change this, you destroy liberty. If you take away the law, you admit force; if you take away the truth, you admit error; if you take away virtue, you admit vice. If you venture to exempt the world from the external law, from that law which embraces man and society, which extends to all orders, which is the divine wisdom applied to reasonable creatures; if you venture to seek for an imaginary liberty out of that immense circle, you destroy all; there remains in society nothing but the empire of brute force, and in man that of the passions; with tyranny, and consequently slavery.


I have just examined religious institutions in a general point of view, by considering them in their relations with religion and the human mind. I am now going to take a glance at the principal points of their history. This examination, I think, will show us an important truth: viz. that the appearance of these institutions under different forms has been the expression and the fulfilment of great moral necessities, and a powerful means, in the hands of Providence, of promoting not only the spiritual good of the Church, but also the salvation and regeneration of society. It will be understood that it is not possible for me to enter into details, or pass in review the numerous religious institutions which have existed; besides, this is not necessary for my object. I shall limit myself, therefore, to running over the principal phases of religious institutes, and making a few remarks on each of them; I shall act like the traveller who, being unable to make a stay in the country through which he passes, looks at it for a short time from the highest points. I will begin with the solitaries of the East.

The Colossus of the Roman Empire threatened an approaching and stunning fall: the spirit of life was rapidly becoming extinguished, and there was no longer any hope of a breath to reanimate it. The blood circulated slowly in its veins; the evil was incurable: the symptoms of corruption everywhere manifested themselves, and this agony was exactly coincident with the critical and formidable hour when it was necessary to collect all its forces to resist the violent shock which was about to destroy it. The barbarians appeared on the frontiers of the empire, like the carnivorous animals attracted by the exhalations of a dead body; and at this crisis society found itself on the eve of a fearful catastrophe. All the world was about to undergo an alarming change; the next day was not likely to resemble the last; the tree was about to be torn up; but its roots were too deep for it to be extirpated without changing the whole face of the soil where it was planted. The greatest refinement had to contend with barbarian ferocity,—the effeminate luxury of southern nations with the energy of the robust sons of the forest; the result of the struggle could not be doubtful. Laws, customs, manners, monuments, arts and sciences,—all the civilization and refinement acquired during the course of many ages was all in peril, all foreboded approaching ruin, all understood that God had appointed an end to the power, and even the existence of the rulers of the globe. The barbarians were only the instrument of Providence; the hand which had given a mortal blow to the mistress of the world, the queen of nations, was that formidable hand which touches mountains with fire, and reduces them to ashes, which touches the rocks and melts them like metal; it was the hand of[Pg 230] Him who sends forth His fiery breath upon the nations, and burns them up like straw.

The world must be the prey of chaos for a short time; but was not light again to come upon it? Was mankind to be melted, like gold in the furnace, in order to come out more brilliant and more pure? Were ideas respecting God and man to be corrected? Were more delicate and exalted notions of morality to be diffused? Was it reserved for the heart of man to receive more grave and sublime inspirations, to emerge from its corrupt state, and live in an atmosphere higher and more worthy of an immortal being? Yes! Providence thus decreed, and His infinite wisdom has brought about this end by ways which man could not understand.

Christianity was already spread over the face of the world; her holy doctrines, rendered fruitful by grace, prepared the complete regeneration of the world; but it was necessary that mankind should again receive a new impulse from her divine hands, that the mind of man should be moved by a new shock, that it might take its proper flight, and raise itself at once to the exalted position which was intended for it, and from which it was never to descend. History tells us of the obstacles which opposed the establishment and development of Christianity. According to the warlike expression of the Prophet, God was compelled to assume His sword and buckler; by the strength of wonderful prodigies, He broke the resistance of the passions, destroyed every knowledge which raised itself against the knowledge of God, scattered all the powers which rebelled against Him, and extinguished the pride and obstinacy of hell. When, after three centuries of persecution, victory declared itself throughout the world in favor of the true religion; when the temples of the false gods were deserted, and those idols which were not yet overthrown trembled on their pedestals; when the sign of Calvary was inscribed on the Labarum of the Cæsars, and the legions of the empire bowed religiously before the Cross, then had the moment arrived for Christianity to realize, in a permanent manner, in those sublime institutions conceived and established by herself alone, the lofty counsels given three centuries before in Palestine. The wisdom of philosophers had been vain; the time was come to realize the wisdom of the Carpenter of Nazareth, of Him who, without having consulted human learning, had proclaimed and taught truths unknown to the most privileged of mortals.

The virtues of the Christians had already emerged from the obscurity of the catacombs; they were to be resplendent in the light of heaven and amid peace, as they had formerly shone in the depths of dungeons and amid the flames. Christianity had obtained possession of the sceptre of command, as of the domestic hearth; her disciples, who now were multitudinous, no longer lived in a community of goods; it is clear that entire continence, and complete freedom from all earthly things, could no longer be the mode of life of the regenerated families. The world was to continue; the duration of the human race was not to cease at this point of its career; therefore, all Christians were not to observe the lofty counsels which convert the life of man on earth into the angelic. A great number of them were to belong to those who, in order to obtain eternal life, were satisfied with keeping the precepts, without aspiring to the sublime perfection which results from the renouncement of all that is earthly, and the complete abnegation of self. Yet the Founder of the Christian religion was unwilling that the counsels which He had given to men should be for a moment without some disciples amid the coldness and dissipation of the world. He had not given them in vain; and, besides, the practice of them, although confined to a limited number of the faithful, exerted on all sides a beneficent influence which facilitated and secured the observance of the precepts. The force of example exerts so powerful an ascendency over the human heart, that it is often sufficient of itself to triumph over the strongest and most obstinate resistance;[Pg 231] there is something in our hearts which inclines them to sympathize with all that approaches them, whether good or evil; and there seems to be a secret stimulus urging us to follow others, whatever direction they may take. Therefore it is that there are so many advantages in the establishment of religious institutions, in which the virtues and austerity of life are given as an example to the generality of men, and make an eloquent reproach to the errors of passion.

Providence desired to attain this great end by singular and extraordinary means; the Spirit of God breathed on the earth, and immediately the men and power to commence this great work appeared. The frightful deserts of Thebaïd, the burning solitudes of Arabia, Palestine, and Syria, show us men rudely clad, with a mantle of goat-skin on their shoulders, and a plain cowl on their heads: behold all the luxury with which they confound the vanity and pride of worldlings! Their bodies, exposed to the rays of the most burning sun and the most severe cold, besides being attenuated by long fasts, resemble walking spectres who have arisen from the dust of their sepulchres. The herbs of the earth are their only food, water their only drink; the labor of their hands procures for them the scanty resources they require. Under the direction of a venerable old man, whose claims to rule are a long life passed in the desert, and hairs grown white amid privations and austerities, they constantly keep the profoundest silence; their lips are opened only to pronounce the words of prayer; their voice is only heard to intone a hymn of praise to God. For them the world has ceased to exist; the relations of friendship, the sweet ties of family and relationship, are all broken by a spirit of perfection, carried to an extent which surpasses all earthly considerations. The cares of property do not disturb them; before retiring to the desert, they have abandoned all to him who was to succeed them; or they have sold all they had, and given the price to the poor. The Holy Scriptures are the nourishment of their minds; they learn by heart the words of that divine book; they meditate on them unceasingly, beseeching the Lord to grant that they may understand them aright. In their retired meetings, nothing is heard but the voice of some venerable cenobite, explaining with naïve simplicity and touching unction the sense of the sacred text; but always in such a way as to draw profit for the purification of souls.

The number of these solitaries was so great that we could not credit it, if it were not vouched for by eye-witnesses worthy of the highest respect. As to their sanctity, spirit of penance, and purity of life, we cannot doubt them after the testimonies of Rufinus, Palladius, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and all the other illustrious men who distinguished themselves at that time. The fact is singular, extraordinary, prodigious; but no one can question its historical truth; it is attested by all who came to the desert from all parts to seek for light in their doubts, cures for their evils, and pardon for their sins. I could quote a thousand authorities to prove what I have said; but I will content myself with one, which shall suffice for all—that of St. Augustine. Hear how this holy doctor describes the life of these extraordinary men: "These fathers, not only very holy in their manners, but very learned in the Christian doctrine, excellent men in all respects, do not govern with pride those whom they justly call their sons, on account of the high authority of those who command, and the ready will of those who obey. At the decline of day, one of them, still fasting, quits his habitation, and all assemble to hear their master. Each of these fathers has at least three thousand under his direction; for the number is sometimes much greater. They listen with incredible attention, in profound silence, manifesting by their groans, or tears, or by their modest and tranquil joy, the various feelings which the discourse excites in their souls." (St. Augustin. lib. 1, De Moribus Ecclesiæ, cap. 31.)

But it will be said, Of what use were these men, except for their own sancti[Pg 232]fication? what good did they do to society? what influence did they exert on ideas? what change did they make in manners? If we admit that this plant of the desert was beautiful and fragrant, yet what did it avail? it remained sterile. It certainly would be an error to think that so many thousands of solitaries did not exercise great influence. In the first place, and to speak only of what relates to ideas, we must observe, that the monasteries of the East arose within reach, and under the eyes of, the schools of philosophy. Egypt was the country where the cenobitic life flourished the most. Now every one is aware of the high renown which the schools of Alexandria enjoyed a short time before. On all sides of the Mediterranean—on that border of land which, beginning in Libya, terminates in the Black Sea—men's minds were at that time in a state of extraordinary motion. Christianity and Judaism, the doctrines of the East and those of the West—all was collected and accumulated in this part of the world; the remains of the ancient schools of Greece were formed of the treasures, which the course of ages and the passage of the most famous nations of the earth had brought to those countries. New and gigantic events were come to throw floods of light upon the character and the value of ideas; minds had felt shocks which did not allow them any longer to be contented with the quiet lessons contained in the dialogues of the ancient masters. From these famous countries came the most eminent men of the early ages of Christianity; and we know from their works the extent and elevation of mind which man had attained at that time. Was it possible that a phenomenon so extraordinary—a girdle of monasteries and hermitages, embracing this zone of the world, and showing themselves in the face of the schools of philosophy—should not exert great influence on men's minds? The ideas of the solitaries passed incessantly from the desert into the towns; since, in spite of all the care which they took to avoid the contact of the world, the world sought and approached them, and continually came to receive their inspirations.

When we see the nations crowd to the solitaries the most eminent for their sanctity, to implore from their wisdom a remedy for suffering and a consolation in misfortunes; when we see these venerable men impart, together with the unction of the Gospel, the sublime lessons which they had learned during long years of meditation and prayer in the silence of solitude, it is impossible not to understand how much these communications must have contributed to correct and elevate ideas relating to religion and morality, and to amend and purify morals. Let us not forget that the human mind was, as it were, materialized by the corruption and grossness of the pagan religion. The worship of nature, of sensible forms, was so deeply rooted that, in order to raise minds to the conception of superior things, a strong and extraordinary reaction was required; it was necessary in some measure to annihilate matter in order to present to man only the mind. The life of the solitaries was the best adapted to produce this effect. In reading the history of these times, we seem to find ourselves transported out of this world; the flesh has disappeared, and there remains nothing but the spirit; and the force which has been employed in order to subdue the flesh is such—they have insisted so much on the vanity of earthly things—that reality itself is changed into illusion, and the physical world vanishes to make way for the moral and intellectual; all the ties of earth have been broken; man puts himself in intimate communication with Heaven. Miracles multiply exceedingly in these lives; apparitions continually appear; the abodes of the solitaries are arenas where earthly means are nothing; good angels struggle against demons, heaven against hell, God against Satan: the earth is there only to serve as a field of battle; the body exists no longer except to be consumed as a holocaust on the altars of virtue, in the presence of the demon who struggles furiously to render it the slave of vice.

What has become of the idolatrous worship which Greece paid to sensible[Pg 233] forms, that adoration which it offered to nature by deifying all that was delicious and beautiful, all that could interest the senses and the heart? What a profound change! the same senses are subjected to the most severe privations; they are most strictly circumcised in heart; and man, who then scarcely attempted to raise his mind above the earth, now keeps it constantly fixed on Heaven. It is impossible to form an idea of what we are attempting to describe, without having read the lives of these solitaries; to understand all the effect of their great prodigies, it is necessary to have spent many hours over these pages, where, so to speak, nothing is found which follows the natural course of things. It is not enough to imagine pure lives, austerities, visions, and miracles; it is necessary to see all this collected together, and carried to the most wonderful extent in the path of perfection.

If you refuse to acknowledge the action of grace in facts so surprising; if you will not see any supernatural effect in this religious movement; I say more, if you go so far as to suppose that the mortification of the flesh and the elevation of the soul are carried to blamable exaggeration, still you cannot help allowing that such a reaction was very likely to spiritualize ideas, to awaken the moral and intellectual forces in man, and to concentrate all within himself, by giving him the sentiment of that interior, intimate, and moral life, with which, until then, he had not been occupied. The forehead which, till then, had been bent towards the earth, was raised towards the Divinity; something nobler than material enjoyments was offered to the mind, and the brutal excesses authorized by the example of the false divinities of paganism, at length appeared an offence against the high dignity of human nature.

In the moral order, the effect must have been immense. Man, until then, had not even imagined that it was possible to resist the impetuosity of his passions. There were found, it is true, in the cold morality of a few philosophers, certain maxims intended to restrain the dangerous passions; but this morality was only in the books, the world did not regard it as practicable, and if some men attempted to realize it, they did so in such a manner that, far from giving it credit, they rendered it contemptible. What did it avail to abandon riches and profess freedom from all earthly things, as some philosophers did, if at the same time they appeared so vain, so full of themselves, that it was evident that they only sacrificed on the altar of pride? It was to overturn all the idols in order to place themselves on the altar, and reign there without rival gods; this was not to direct the passions, to subject them to reason, but to create a monster passion surpassing and devouring all. Humility, the foundation-stone whereon the solitaries raised the edifice of their virtue, placed them immediately in a position infinitely superior to that of the ancient philosophers who were distinguished for a life more or less severe. In fine, men were taught to avoid vice and practise virtue, not for the futile pleasure of being regarded and admired, but for superior motives founded on the relations of man with God, and the destinies of eternity. From that moment man knew that it was not impossible for him to triumph over evil, in the obstinate struggle which he felt continually going on within himself. At the sight of so many thousands of persons of both sexes who followed a rule of life so pure and austere, mankind took fresh courage, and were convinced that the paths of virtue were not impracticable for them.

The generous confidence with which man was inspired by the sight of such sublime examples, lost nothing of its strength in presence of the Christian dogma, which does not allow actions meritorious of eternal life to be attributed to man himself, and teaches him the necessity of divine aid, if he wishes to escape the paths of perdition. This dogma, which, on the other hand, accords so well with the daily lessons of experience as to human frailty, far from destroying the strength of the mind or diminishing its courage, on the contrary, ani[Pg 234]mates it more and more to persevere in spite of all obstacles. When man thinks himself alone, when he does not feel himself supported by the powerful hand of Providence, he walks with the tottering steps of infancy; he wants confidence in himself, in his own strength; the object he has in view seems too distant, the enterprise too arduous, and he is discouraged. The dogma of grace, as it is explained by the Catholic Church, is not that fatalist doctrine, the mother of despair, which has hardened the heart among Protestants, as Grotius laments. It is a doctrine which, leaving man all his free will, teaches him the necessity of superior aid; but that aid will be abundantly furnished him by the infinite goodness of God, who has shed His blood for him in torments and ignominy, and has breathed out for him His last sigh on Mount Calvary.

It seems as if Providence had been pleased to choose a climate where mankind could make a trial of their strength vivified and sustained by grace. It was under a sky apparently the most fatal for the corruption of the soul, in countries where the relaxation of the body naturally leads to relaxation of mind, and where even the air that they breathed inclined to pleasure,—it was there that the greatest energy of mind was displayed, that the greatest austerities were practised, and the pleasures of the senses were proscribed and banished with the greatest severity. The solitaries fixed their abodes in deserts within the influence of the balmy breezes of the neighboring lands; from their mountains and sandy hills their eyes could distinguish the peaceful and smiling countries which invited to pleasure and enjoyment; like the Christian virgin who abandoned her obscure cave to go and place herself in the hollow of a rock, whence she saw the palace of her fathers overflowing with riches, pleasures, and delights, while she herself lamented like a solitary dove in the holes of the rock. From that time all climates were good for virtue; austerity of morals did not at all depend on the proximity of the equatorial line; the morality of man, like man himself, could live in all climates. When the most perfect continence was practised in so wonderful a manner under the sky which we have described, the monogamy of Christianity could well be established and preserved. When, in the secrets of the Eternal, the time had arrived for calling a people to the light of truth, it mattered not whether they lived amid the snows of Scandinavia, or on the burning plains of India. The spirit of the divine laws was not to be confined within the narrow circle which the Esprit des Lois of Montesquieu has attempted to assign it.


The influence exercised by the lives of the solitaries of the East over religion and morality is beyond a doubt; in truth it is not easy to appreciate it in all its extent and in all its effects; but it is not the less true and real on that account. It has not marked the doctrines of humanity like those thundering events the effects of which are often inadequate to their promises; but it is like a beneficial rain which, diffusing itself gently over the thirsty earth, fertilizes the meadows and the fields. If it were possible for man to comprehend and distinguish the vast assemblage of causes which have contributed to raise his mind, to give him a lively consciousness of his immortality, and to render a return to his ancient degradation almost impossible, perhaps it would be found that the wonderful phenomenon of the Eastern solitaries had a considerable share in that immense change. Let us not forget that from thence did the great men of the East receive their inspiration; St. Jerome lived in a cave at Beth[Pg 235]lehem, and the conversion of St. Augustine was accompanied by a holy emulation excited in his mind by reading the life of St. Anthony the Abbot.

The monasteries which were founded in the East and West in imitation of these early establishments of the solitaries, were a continuation of them, although with many differences, in consequence of times and circumstances. Thence came the Basils, the Gregories, the Chrysostoms, and so many distinguished men, the glory of the Church. If a miserable spirit of dispute, ambition, and pride, sowing the seeds of discord, had not prepared the rupture which was to deprive the East of the vivifying influence of the Roman See, perhaps the ancient monasteries of the East would have served, like those of the West, to prepare a social regeneration, by forming one people out of the conquerors and the conquered.

It is evident that the want of unity was one of the causes of the weakness of the East; I will not deny that their position was very different from ours; the enemy opposed to them did not at all resemble the barbarians of the North; but I am not sure that it was easier to subdue the latter than it was to rule the nations by whom the East was conquered. In the East, the victory remained with the aggressors, as with us; but a conquered nation is not dead; its defeat does not take from it all the great advantages which are able, by giving it a moral ascendency over the conquerors, to prepare, in silence, their transformation, if not their expulsion. The northern barbarians conquered the South of Europe; but the South, in its turn, triumphed over them by the Christian religion; the barbarians were not driven out, but they were transformed. Spain was conquered by the Arabs, and the Arabs could not be transformed; but they were driven out in the end. If the East had preserved unity, if Constantinople and the other episcopal sees had remained subject to Rome like those of the West; in a word, if all the East had been contented to be a member of a great body, instead of having the ambitious pretensions of being a great body itself, I consider it certain that, after the conquest of the Saracens, a struggle, at once intellectual, moral, and physical, would have been engaged in; a profound change would have been worked in the conquered nation, or the struggle would have ended by the conquering barbarians being driven back to their deserts.

It will be said that the transformation of the Arabs was the work of ages. But was not that of the barbarians of the North so likewise? Was this great work finished by their conversion to Christianity? A considerable part of them were Arians; and besides, they understood the Christian ideas so ill, they found the practice of Gospel morality so difficult, that for a long time it was almost as difficult to treat with them as with nations of a different religion. On the other hand, let us not forget that the irruption of the barbarians was not a solitary event; an event which, when once finished, did not recur; it was continued for ages. But the force of the religious principle in the West was such, that all the invading nations were compelled to retire, or were forced to bend to the ideas and manners of the countries they had recently acquired. The defeat of the hordes of Attila, the victories of Charlemagne over the Saxons and the other nations beyond the Rhine, the successive conversion of the various idolatrous nations of the North by means of the missionaries sent from Rome,—in fine, the vicissitudes and the final result of the invasions of the Normans, and the ultimate triumph of the Christians of Spain over the Moors after a war of eight centuries, are so many decisive proofs of what I have just laid down—viz. that the West, vivified and fortified by Catholic unity, had had the secret of assimilating and appropriating to itself all that it was not able to reject, and the force to reject all that it could not make its own.

This is what was wanting in the East: the enterprise was not more difficult there than in the West. If the West alone was able to liberate the Holy Se[Pg 236]pulchre, the West and East together would never have lost it; or, at least, after having freed it, they would have kept it for ever. The same cause prevented the monasteries of the East from attaining to the same vitality and energy which distinguished those of the West; therefore, they have always been seen to grow weak with time, without producing any thing great, and capable of preventing social dissolution, of silently preparing and slowly elaborating regeneration for posterity, after the calamities with which it pleased Providence to afflict ancient times. He who has seen in history the brilliant commencement of the Eastern monasteries, cannot behold without pain the decline of their strength and splendor in the course of ages, after the ravages caused by invasion, wars, and finally, the deadly influence of the schism of Constantinople; the ancient abodes of so many men illustrious for science and sanctity gradually disappeared from the page of history like expiring lamps, or the dying fires of an abandoned camp.

Immense injury was done to all the branches of human knowledge by this decline, which, after having rendered the East barren, ended by destroying it. If we pay attention, we shall see that, amid the great shocks and revolutions which disturbed Europe, Africa, and Asia, the natural refuge for the remains of ancient knowledge, was not the West, but the East. It was not in our monasteries that the books, and other intellectual riches, of which quieter and happier generations were one day to enjoy the benefit, should naturally have been preserved; this, it would seem, belonged to the monasteries of the eastern countries; those lands, where the most different civilizations were brought together and commingled as on neutral ground; those regions, where the human mind had displayed the greatest activity, and taken the highest flights; where the most abundant treasures of tradition and sciences, and the beauties of art were accumulated; in a word, it was in this vast mart of all the riches of the civilization and refinement of all nations,—it was in this sanctuary and museum of antiquity, that the intellectual patrimony of future generations ought to have been preserved.

Let it not, however, be supposed that the monasteries of the East were of no service to the human mind; the science and literature of Europe are still mindful of the impulse which was communicated to them, by the arrival of the precious materials thrown upon the coasts of Italy, after the taking of Constantinople: but even these riches, brought to Europe by a few men, driven upon our shores by a tempest, came to us, like the remains of a shipwrecked crew, who, after having with difficulty saved their lives from the fury of the waves, have only preserved in their benumbed hands some gold and a few precious stones.

For this reason, precisely, do we lament, because from the example we have adduced, we are enabled the better to understand the immense riches of the vessel which was lost; this makes us grieve the more bitterly that the early times of the illustrious cenobites of the East have not been brought down to our day by a continued chain. When we see their works overflow with sacred and profane learning, when their labors show us proofs of indefatigable activity, we think with sorrow of the inestimable treasures which their libraries must have contained.

Yet, in spite of the justness of the melancholy reflections we have here made, it must be allowed that the influence of these monasteries never ceased to be extremely useful to the preservation of knowledge. The Arabs, in the times of their success, showed themselves to be intelligent and cultivated; and Europe, in many respects, is indebted to them for much advancement. Bagdad and Grenada, during the middle ages, are two brilliant centres of intellectual movement and art, which serve not a little to diminish the sombre effect of the barbarities of Islamism: they are two tranquil and pleasing features in a fright[Pg 237]ful picture. If it were possible to follow the history of intellectual development among the Arabs, through the transformations and catastrophes of the East, perhaps we should find in the sciences of the nations which they conquered or destroyed the origin of much of their progress. It is certain that their own civilization did not contain any vital principle favorable to the development of the mind; we have a proof of this in their religious and social organization, and in the small results which they obtained, after having been for so many centuries peacefully established in the conquered countries. Their whole system, with respect to letters and intellectual cultivation, is founded on that stupid maxim, uttered by one of their chiefs, when he condemned an immense library to the flames: "If these books are contrary to the Alcoran, they should be burnt as pernicious; if they are not contrary to it, they should be burnt as useless."

We read in Palladius, that the monks of Egypt did not content themselves with working with rude and simple objects, but that they devoted themselves to labors of all kinds. These thousands of men, who, belonging to all classes and to all countries, embraced the solitary life, must have brought to the desert a large treasure of knowledge. We know how far the human mind can go when left to itself, and applied to a fixed occupation; there is always some reason for thinking that a great part of the valuable ideas on the secrets of nature, the utility and properties of certain ingredients, the principles of some of the arts and sciences, knowledge which formed the rich patrimony of the Arabs at the time when they appeared in Europe, were nothing but the remains of ancient learning, gathered by them in countries which had formerly been inundated by men from all parts. We must remember that at the time of the first invasions of the northern barbarians, when Spain, the south of France, Italy, the north of Africa, and all the islands adjacent to these countries, were ravaged by these terrible men, the East became a refuge, an asylum, for all those who could undertake the voyage. Thus the treasures of Western science accumulated every day in these countries; this emigration from all the Western regions may have contributed, in an extraordinary manner, to convey to the East the remains of ancient knowledge, which afterwards came to us transformed and disfigured by the hands of the Arabs.

Deeply convinced of the nothingness of the world by so long a succession of heavy misfortunes, these unfortunate men felt the religious sentiment strengthened in their hearts; the fugitives assembled in the East listened with lively emotion to the energetic words of the solitary of the cave of Bethlehem. A great many of them retired into the monasteries, where they found relief for their wants, and consolation for their souls; thus did the Eastern monasteries gain a great addition of valuable knowledge and information of all sorts.

If European civilization one day become complete mistress of the countries which now groan under the Mussulman yoke, perhaps it will be given to the history of science to add a noble page to its labors, when, through the obscurities of the times, and by means of manuscripts discovered by curiosity or chance, she shall have found the thread which shall lead to a knowledge of the connection of Arabian science with that of antiquity. The succession of transformations will then be displayed, and we shall understand how the science of the sons of Omar has appeared to have a different origin in our eyes. The archives of Spain contain, in documents relating to the dominion of the Saracens, riches, the examination of which may be said not yet to be commenced; perhaps they will throw some light on this point. There is no doubt that they afford matter for careful investigation, extremely curious for appreciating these two very different civilizations, the Mohammedan and the Christian.

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Let us now examine religious institutions, such as they appear in the West, but laying aside those which, although established in various parts of the West, were only a sort of ramification of the Eastern monasteries. We observe that the religious establishments among us added to the Gospel spirit, the principle of their foundation, a new character, that of conservative, restorative, and regenerative associations. The monks of the West were not content with sanctifying themselves; from the first they influenced society. The light and life which their holy abodes contained, labored to enlighten and fertilize the chaos of the world. I do not know in history a nobler or more consoling spectacle than that which is presented to us by the foundation, existence, and development of the religious institutions of Europe. Society had need of strong efforts to preserve its life in the terrible crisis through which it had to pass. The secret of strength is in the union of individual forces, in association; and it is remarkable that this secret has been taught to European society as if by a revelation from heaven. Every thing shakes, falls to pieces, and perishes. Religion, morality, public authority, laws, manners, sciences, and arts—every thing has sustained immense losses, every thing goes to ruin; and judging of the future fate of the world according to human probabilities, the evils are so great and numerous that a remedy appears impossible.

The observer who, fixing his eyes upon those desolate times, finds there St. Bennet giving life to and animating the religious institutions, organizing them, giving them his wise rule and stability, imagines that he sees an angel of light issuing from the bosom of darkness. Nothing can be imagined better calculated to restore to dissolved society a principle of life capable of reorganizing it, than the extraordinary and sublime inspiration which guided this man. Who does not know what at that time was the condition of Italy—I should rather say, of the whole of Europe? What ignorance, what corruption, what elements of social dissolution! What desolation everywhere! and it is amid this deplorable state of things that the holy solitary appears, the child of an illustrious family of Norcia, resolved to combat the evil which threatens to invade the world. His arms are his virtues; the eloquence of his example gives him an irresistible ascendency; elevated above the whole age, burning with zeal, and yet full of prudence and discretion, he founds that institution which is to remain amid the revolution of ages, like the pyramids unmoved by the storms of the desert.

What idea has there been more grand, more beneficent, more full of foresight and wisdom? At a time when knowledge and virtue had no longer an asylum, when ignorance, corruption, and barbarism rapidly extended their conquests, was it not a grand idea to raise a refuge for misfortune, to form a sacred deposit for the precious monuments of antiquity, and to open schools of knowledge and virtue, where men destined one day to figure in the vortex of the world might come for instruction? When the reflecting man fixes his attention on the silent abode of Monte Cassino, where the sons of the most illustrious families of the empire are seen to come from all parts to that monastery; some with the intention of remaining there for ever, others to receive a good education, and soon to carry back to the world a recollection of the serious inspirations which the holy founder had received at Subiaco; when the monasteries of the order are seen to multiply everywhere, to be established as great centres of activity in all places—in the plains, in the forests, in the most uninhabited countries; he cannot help bending, with profound veneration, before[Pg 239] the extraordinary man who has conceived such grand designs. If we are unwilling to acknowledge in St. Bennet a man inspired by Heaven, at least we ought to consider him as one of those geniuses who, from time to time, appear on earth to become the tutelary angels of the human race.

Not to acknowledge the powerful effect of such institutions would be to show but little intelligence. When society is dissolved, it requires not words, not projects, not laws, but strong institutions, to resist the shock of the passions, the inconstancy of the human mind, and the destructive power of events; institutions which raise the mind, pacify and ennoble the heart, and establish in society a deep movement of reaction and resistance to the fatal elements which lead it to destruction. If there exists, then, an active mind, a generous heart, a soul animated by a feeling of virtue, they will all hasten to seek a refuge in the sacred asylums; it is not always granted to them to change the course of the world, but at least, as men of solitude and sacrifice, they labour to instruct and calm their own minds, and they shed a tear of compassion over the senseless generations who are agitated by great disasters. From time to time they succeed in making their voices heard amid the tumult, to alarm the hearts of the wicked by accents which resemble the formidable warnings of Heaven; thus they diminish the force of the evil while it is impossible to prevent it entirely; by constantly protesting against iniquity, they prevent its acquiring prescriptive right; in attesting to future generations, by a solemn testimony, that there were always, amid darkness and corruption, men who made efforts to enlighten the world and to restrain the torrent of vice and crime, they preserve faith in truth and virtue, and they reanimate the hopes of those who are afterwards placed in similar circumstances. Such was the action of the monks in the calamitous times of which we speak; such was their noble and sublime mission to promote the interests of humanity.

Perhaps it will be said that the immense properties acquired by the monasteries were an abundant recompense for their labors, and perhaps also a proof that their exertions were little disinterested. No doubt, if we look at things in the light in which certain writers have represented them, the wealth of the monks will appear as the fruit of unbounded cupidity, of cruelty, and perfidious policy; but we have the whole of history to refute the calumnies of the enemies of religion; and impartial philosophy, while acknowledging that all that is human is liable to abuse, takes care to assume a higher position, to regard things en masse, and to consider them in the vast picture where so many centuries have painted their features. It therefore despises the evil, which is only the exception, while it contemplates and admires the good, which is the rule.

Besides the numerous religious motives which brought property into the hands of the monks, there is another very legitimate one, which has always been regarded as one of the justest titles of acquisition. The monks cultivated waste lands, dried up marshes, constructed roads, restrained rivers within their beds, and built bridges over them; that is to say, in countries which had undergone another kind of general deluge, they renewed, in some measure, what the first nations had done to restore the revolutionized globe to its original form. A considerable portion of Europe had never received cultivation from the hands of men; the forests, the rivers, the lakes, the thorny thickets, were as rough as they had been left by the hands of nature. The monasteries which were founded here and there may be regarded as the centres of action, which the civilized nations established in the new countries, the faces of which they proposed to change by their powerful colonies. Did there ever exist a more legitimate title for the possession of large properties? Is not he who reclaims a waste country, cultivates it, and fills it with inhabitants, worthy of preserving large possessions there? Is not this the natural course of things? Who knows how many cities and towns arose and flourished under the shadow of the abbeys?

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Monastic properties, besides their substantial utility, had another, which perhaps has not been sufficiently noticed. The situation of a great part of the nations of Europe, at the time we speak of, much resembled the state of fluctuation and inconstancy in which nations are found, who have not yet made any progress in the career of civilization and refinement. The idea of property, one of the most fundamental in all social organization, was but little rooted. Attacks on property at that time were very frequent, as well as attacks on persons. The man who is constantly compelled to defend his own, is also constantly led to usurp the property of others; the first thing to do to remedy so great an evil, was to locate and fix the population by means of the agricultural life, and to accustom them to respect for property, not only by reasons drawn from morality and private interest, but also by the sight of large domains belonging to establishments regarded as inviolable, and against which a hand could not be raised without sacrilege. Thus religious ideas were connected with social ones, and they slowly prepared an organization which was to be completed in more peaceable times.

Add to this a new necessity, the result of the change which took place at that time in the habits of the people. Among the ancients, scarcely any other life than that of cities was known; life in the country, that dispersion of an immense population, which in modern times forms a new nation in the fields, was not known among the ancients; and it is remarkable that this change in the mode of life was realized exactly when the most calamitous circumstances seemed to render it the most dangerous and difficult. It is to the existence of the monasteries in fields and in retired places that we owe the establishment and consolidation of this new kind of life, which, no doubt, would have been impossible without the ascendency and the beneficial influence of the powerful abbeys. These religious foundations joined all the riches and the power of feudal lords with the mild and beneficent influence of religious authority.

How much does not Germany owe to the monks! Did they not bring her lands into cultivation, make her agriculture flourish, and cover her with a numerous population? How much are not France, Spain, and England indebted to them! It is certain that this latter country would never have reached the high degree of civilization of which she now boasts, if the apostolic labors of the missionaries who penetrated thither in the sixth century had not drawn her out of the darkness of gross idolatry. And who were these missionaries? Was not the chief of them Augustine, a monk full of zeal, sent by a Pope who had also been a monk, St. Gregory the Great? Where do you find, amid the confusion of the middle ages, the great writers of knowledge and virtue, except in those solitary abodes whence issue St. Isidore, the Archbishop of Seville; the holy abbot St. Columbanus; St. Aurelian, Bishop of Arles; St. Augustine, the Apostle of England; that of Germany, St. Boniface; Bede, Cuthbert, Auperth, Paul, monks of Monte Cassino; Hincmar of Rheims, brought up at the monastery of St. Denis; St. Peter Damiens, St. Ives, Lanfranc, and so many others, who form a generation of distinguished men, resembling in no respect the other men of their time.

Besides the service rendered to society by the monks in religion and morals, they conferred inestimable benefits on letters and science. It has already been observed more than once, that letters took refuge in the cloisters, and that the monks, by preserving and copying the ancient manuscripts, prepared the materials which were one day to assist in the restoration of human learning. But we must not limit their merit to that of mere copyists. Many of them advanced far in science, many ages in advance of the times in which they lived. Not content with the laborious task of preserving and putting into order the ancient manuscripts, they rendered the most eminent service to history by compiling chronicles. Thereby, while continuing the tradition of the most important[Pg 241] branches of study, they collected the contemporary history, which, perhaps, without their labor would have been lost. Adon, Archbishop of Vienne, brought up in the Abbey of Ferrière, writes a universal history, from the beginning of the world to his own time; Abbon, monk of St. Germain-des-Prés, composes a Latin poem, in which he relates the siege of Paris by the Normans; Aymon of Aquitaine writes the history of the French in four books; St. Ives publishes a chronicle of their kings; the German monk Witmar leaves us the chronicle of Henry I., of the Kings Otho and Henry II., which is much esteemed for its candor, and has been published many times; Leibnitz has used it to throw light on the history of Brunswick. Adhemar is the author of a chronicle, which embraces the whole time from 829 to 1029. Glaber, monk of Cluny, has composed a much-esteemed history of the events which happened in France from 980 to his own time; Herman, a chronicle which embraces the six ages of the world down to the year 1054. In fine, we should never finish if we were to mention the historical labors of Sigebert, Guibert, Hugh, Prior of St. Victor, and so many other illustrious men, who, rising above their times, applied themselves to labors of this kind; of which we cannot easily appreciate the difficulty and the high degree of merit, we who live in an age when the means of knowledge are become so easy, when the accumulated riches of so many ages are inherited, and when we find on all sides wide and well-beaten paths. Without the existence of religious institutions, without the asylum of the cloisters, these eminent men would never have been formed. Not only had the sciences and letters been lost sight of, but ignorance was so great, that seculars who knew how to read and write were very rare. Surely such circumstances were not well adapted to form men of merit enough to do honor to advanced ages. Who has not often paused to contemplate the distinguished triumvirate, Peter the Venerable, St. Bernard, and the Abbot Suger? May it not be said that the twelfth century is elevated above its rank in history, by producing a writer like Peter the Venerable, an orator like St. Bernard, and a statesman like Suger?

These ages show us another celebrated monk, whose influence on the progress of knowledge has not been rated at its just value by many critics who love only to point out defects: I mean Gratian. Those who have declaimed against him, eager to look for his mistakes, should have placed themselves in the position of a compiler in the thirteenth century, at a time when all resources were wanting, when the lights of criticism were yet to be created; they would then have seen whether the bold enterprise of the monk was not attended with more success than there was reason to hope for. The profit which was drawn from the collection of Gratian is incalculable. By giving in a small compass a great part of what was most precious in antiquity with respect to civil and canon law; by making an abundant collection of texts from the holy fathers, applied to all kinds of subjects, he awakened a taste for that species of research; he created the study of them; he made an immense step towards satisfying one of the first necessities of modern nations, the formation of civil and ecclesiastical codes. It will be said that the errors of Gratian were contagious, and that it would have been better to have recourse directly to the originals; but to read the originals it was necessary to know them; it was necessary to be informed of their existence, to be excited by the desire of explaining a proposed difficulty, to have acquired a taste for researches of that kind; all this was wanting before Gratian; all this was brought out by his enterprise. The general favor with which his labors were received is the most convincing proof of their merit; and if it be objected that this favor was owing to the ignorance of the time, I will reply, that we owe a tribute of gratitude to any one who throws a ray of light on the darkness, however feeble and wavering this ray may be.

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The rapid view which we have just taken of religious institutions from the irruption of the barbarians to the twelfth century, has shown us that the monastic foundations, during that time, were a powerful support for that remaining portion of society which was ready to fall to pieces in the universal ruin; an asylum for misfortune, for virtue, and for knowledge; a storehouse for the precious monuments of antiquity, and in some measure an assemblage of civilizing associations, which labored in silence at the reconstruction of the social edifice, by neutralizing the force of the dissolving principles which had ruined its basis; they were, besides, a nursery for forming the men who were required for the elevated posts in Church and State. In the twelfth and the following centuries, these institutions take a new form, and assume a character very different from that which we have just pointed out. Their aim remains not less highly religious and social; but the times are changed, and we must remember the words of the Apostle, omnia omnibus. Let us examine the causes and the results of these novelties.

Before going further, I will say a few words on the religious military orders, the name of which sufficiently indicates their double character of monk and soldier. The union of the monastic state with war: what a monstrous mixture! will be the cry. In spite of the supposed monstrosity, this union was in conformity with the natural and regular order of things; it was a strong remedy applied to very great evils; a rampart against imminent dangers; in a word, the expression of a great European necessity. This is not the place to relate the annals of the military orders, annals which, like the most illustrious history, afford wonderful and interesting pictures, with that mixture of heroism and religious inspiration which assimilates history with poetry. It is enough to pronounce the names of the knights of the Temple, of St. John of Jerusalem, of the Teutonic order, of St. Raymond, of the Abbot of Fitero, of Calatrava, instantly to remind the reader of a long series of marvellous events, forming one of the noblest pages in the history of that time. Let us omit these narrations, which do not regard us; but let us pause for a moment to examine the origin and spirit of these famous institutions.

The Cross and the Crescent were enemies irreconcilable by nature, and urged to the greatest fury by a long and bloody struggle. Both had great power and vast designs; both were supported by brave nations, full of enthusiasm and ready to throw themselves on each other; both had great hopes of success founded on former achievements; on which side will the victory remain? What course ought the Christians to pursue in order to avoid the dangers which threaten them? Is it better quietly to await the attack of the Mussulmen in Europe, or make a levy en masse to invade Asia and seek the enemy in his own country, where he believes himself to be invincible? The problem was solved in the latter way; the Crusades took place, and centuries have given their suffrage as to the wisdom of that resolution. What avails a little declamation affecting to favor the cause of justice and humanity? Let no one allow himself to be dazzled; the philosophy of history taught by the lessons of experience, enriched with a more abundant treasure of knowledge, the fruit of a more attentive study of the facts, has given a decisive judgment in this case; in this, as in other cases, religion has retired in triumph from the tribunal of philosophy. The Crusades, far from being considered as an act of barbarism and rashness, are justly regarded as a chef-d'œuvre of policy, which, after having secured the independence of Europe, gave to the Christian nations a decided preponderance[Pg 243] over the Mussulmen. The military spirit was thereby increased and strengthened among European nations; they all received a feeling of fraternity, which transformed them into one people; the human mind was developed in many ways; the state of feudal vassals was improved, and feudality was urged towards its entire ruin; navies were created, commerce and manufactures were encouraged; thus society received from the Crusades a most powerful impulse in the career of civilization. We do not mean to say, that the men who conceived them, the Popes who excited, the nations who undertook, the princes and lords who promoted them with their power, were aware of the whole extent of their own works, or even had a glimpse of the immensity of their results; it is enough that they settled the existing question in the way the most favorable to the independence and prosperity of Europe; this, I repeat, is enough. I would observe, moreover, that we should attribute so much the more importance to things as human foresight has had little share in the events; now these things are nothing less than the principles and feelings of religion in connection with the preservation and happiness of society, Catholicity covering with her ægis and animating with her breath the civilization of Europe.

Such were the Crusades. Now, remember that this idea, so great and generous, was conceived with a degree of vagueness, and executed with that precipitation which is the fruit of the impatience of ardent zeal; remember that this idea—the offspring of Catholicity, which always converts its ideas into institutions—was to be realized in an institution, which faithfully represented it, and served, as it were, as its organ, in order that it might render itself felt, and gain strength and fruitfulness for its support. After this, you will look for some means of uniting religion and arms; and you will be filled with joy when, under a cuirass of steel, you shall find hearts zealous for the religion of Jesus Christ—when you shall see this new kind of men, who devote themselves without reserve to the defence of religion, while they renounce all that the world can offer—gentler than lambs, bolder than lions, in the words of St. Bernard. Sometimes they assembled in community, to raise their voices to Heaven in fervent prayer; sometimes they boldly marched to battle, brandishing their formidable lances, the terror of the Saracens. No; there does not exist in the annals of history an event so colossal as the Crusades, and you might search there in vain for an institution more generous than the military orders. In the Crusades we see numberless nations arise, march across deserts, bury themselves in countries with which they are unacquainted, and expose themselves to all the rigors of climates and seasons; and for what purpose? To deliver a tomb! Grand and immortal movement, where hundreds of nations advance to certain death—not in pursuit of a miserable self-interest—not to find an abode in milder and more fertile countries—not from an ardent desire to obtain for themselves earthly advantages—but inspired only by a religious idea, by a jealous desire to possess the tomb of Him who expired on the cross for the salvation of the human race! When compared with this, what becomes of the lofty deeds of the Greeks, chanted by Homer? Greece arises to avenge an injured husband; Europe to redeem the sepulchre of a God.

When, after the disasters and the triumphs of the Crusades, we see the military orders appear, sometimes fighting in the oriental regions, sometimes in the islands of the Mediterranean, sustaining and repelling the rude assaults of Islamism, which, emboldened by its victories, again longs to throw itself on Europe, we imagine that we behold those brave men, who, on the day of a great battle, remain alone upon the field, one against a hundred, securing by their heroism, and at the hazard of their lives, the safety of their companions in arms who retire behind them. Honor and glory to the religion which has been capable of inspiring such lofty thoughts, and has been able to realize such great and generous enterprises!

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Perhaps they who are the most opposed to religious communities may be reconciled to the solitaries of the East, when they perceive in them a class of men who, by practising the most sublime and austere counsels of religion, have communicated a generous impulse to humanity, have raised it from the dust where Paganism had held it, and made it wing its flight towards purer regions. To accustom man to grave and strict morality; to bring back the soul within itself; to give a lively feeling of the dignity of his nature, of the loftiness of his origin and his destiny; to inspire him, by means of extraordinary examples, with confidence that the mind, aided by divine grace, can triumph over the animal passions, and make man lead an angelic life upon earth: these are benefits so signal, that a noble heart must show itself grateful and full of lively interest for the men who have given them to the world. As to the monasteries of the West, the benefits of their civilizing influence are so visible, that no man who loves humanity can regard them with animadversion; in fine, the military orders present us with an idea so noble, so poetical, and realize in so admirable a manner one of those golden dreams which cross the human mind in moments of enthusiasm, that they must certainly find respectful homage in every heart which beats at a noble and sublime spectacle.

There yet remains a more difficult task, that of presenting at the tribunal of philosophy—that philosophy so indifferent in religious matters—the other religious communities which are not comprised in the sketch which I have just made. Judgments of great severity have been passed upon those institutions which I have now to speak of; but in such things justice cannot be prescriptive. Neither the applause of irreligious men, nor the revolutions which upset all that stand in their way, can prevent the truth being placed in its true light, and folly and crime being stigmatized with disgrace.

The thirteenth century has just commenced; there appears a new kind of men, who, under different titles, denominations, and forms, profess a singular and extraordinary way of life. Some put on clothing of coarse cloth; they renounce all wealth and property; they condemn themselves to perpetual mendicity, spreading themselves over the country and the towns for the sake of gaining souls for Jesus Christ. Others bear on their dress the distinctive mark of the redemption of man, and undertake the mission of releasing from servitude the numberless captives who, from the misfortune of the times, have fallen into the hands of the Mussulmen. Some erect the cross in the midst of a people who eagerly follow them, and they institute a new devotion—a constant hymn of praise to Jesus and to Mary; at the same time they indefatigably preach the faith of the Crucified. Others go in search of all the miseries of man, bury themselves in hospitals, in all the asylums of misfortune, to succour and console. They all bear new standards; all show equal contempt for the world; they all form a portion separate from the rest of mankind; but they resemble neither the solitaries of the East, nor the sons of St. Bennet. The new monks arise not in the desert, but in the midst of society: their object is not to live shut up in monasteries, but to spread themselves over the fields and hamlets, to penetrate to the heart of the great masses of the population, and to make their voices heard both in the cottage of the shepherd and in the palace of the monarch. They increase on all sides in a prodigious manner. Italy, Germany, France, Spain, England, receive them; numerous convents arise as if by enchantment in the villages and towns; the Popes protect them and enrich them with many privileges; kings grant them the highest favors, and support[Pg 245] them in their enterprises; the people regard them with veneration, and listen to them with respectful docility. A religious movement appears on all sides; religious institutions, more or less resembling each other, arise like the branches from the same trunk. The observer, when he sees this immense and astonishing picture, asks himself, What are the causes of so extraordinary a phenomenon? whence this singular movement? what is its tendency? what will be its effects on society?

When a fact of such high importance is realized all at once in many different countries, and lasts for centuries, it is a proof that there existed very powerful means to produce it. It is vain to be entirely forgetful of the views of Providence: no one can deny that such a fact must have had its root in the essence of things; consequently it is useless to declaim against the men and the institutions. Acknowledging this, the true philosopher will not lose his time in anathematizing the fact, but he will examine and analyze it. No declamation or invectives against the monks can efface their history; they have existed for many centuries, and centuries do not retrace their steps.

We will not inquire if there was here some extraordinary design of Providence, and we will lay aside the reflections which religion suggests to every true Catholic; we will confine ourselves to considering the religious institutions of modern times in a purely philosophical point of view; we can show that they were not only very conformable to the well-being of society, but also perfectly adapted to the situation in which it was placed; we can show that they displayed neither cunning, malice, nor vile self-interest; that their object was highly advantageous, and that they were at the same time the expression and the fulfilment of great social necessities.

The question of its own accord assumes the position in which we have just regarded it; and it is strange that men have not acknowledged all the importance of the magnificent points of view which here present themselves.

In order the better to clear up this important matter, I will enter upon an examination of the social condition of Europe at the time of which we speak. As soon as we take the first glance at this epoch, we observe that, in spite of the intellectual rudeness which one would imagine must have kept nations in abject silence, there was at the bottom of men's minds an anxiety which deeply moved and agitated them. These times are ignorant; but it is an ignorance which is conscious of itself and which longs for knowledge. There is felt a want of harmony in the relations and institutions of society; but that want is everywhere felt and acknowledged, and a continual agitation indicates that this harmony is anxiously desired and ardently sought for. I know not what singular character is stamped upon the nations of Europe, but we do not find there the symptoms of death; they are barbarous, ignorant, corrupt, any thing you please; but, as if they constantly heard a voice calling them to light, to civilization, to a new life, they incessantly labor to leave the fatal condition into which unhappy circumstances have plunged them. They never sleep in tranquillity amid the darkness; they never live without remorse amid the corruption of manners. The echo of virtue continually resounds in their ears; flashes of light appear in the darkness; a thousand efforts are made to advance a step in the career of civilization; a thousand times they are vain; but they are renewed as often as they are repulsed; the generous attempt is never abandoned; they fail a thousand times; but they never lose courage. Courage and ardour are never wanting. There is this remarkable difference between the nations of Europe, and those nations among whom the Christian religion has not yet penetrated, or from whose bosom it has been banished. Ancient Greece falls, never to rise again; the Republics of the shore of Asia disappear, and do not rise out of their ruins. The ancient civilization of Egypt is broken to pieces by the conquerors, and posterity has scarcely preserved a remembrance of them. Certainly none of the nations on the coast[Pg 246] of Africa can show us signs which reveal the ancient country of St. Cyprian, of Tertullian and St. Augustine. Still more; a considerable portion of Asia has preserved Christianity, but a Christianity separated from Rome; and this has been unable to establish or regenerate any thing. Political power has aided and protected it, but the nation remains feeble; it cannot stand erect; it is a dead body, incapable of advancing; it is not like Lazarus, who has just heard the all-powerful voice: "Lazarus, come forth; Lazare veni foras."

This anxiety, this agitation, this extreme eagerness towards a greater and happier future, this desire for reformation in manners, for enlargement and correction in ideas, for amelioration in institutions—the distinctive characteristics of modern nations—made themselves felt in a fearful manner at the time to which we allude. I will say nothing of the military history of those times, which would furnish us with abundant proofs of our assertion; I will confine myself to facts which, owing to their religious and social character, have the greatest analogy with the subject which now occupies us. A formidable energy of mind, a great fund of activity, a simultaneous development of the most ardent passions, an enterprising spirit, a lively desire of independence, a decided inclination to employ violent means, an extraordinary zeal for proselytism, ignorance combined with a thirst for knowledge, even combined with enthusiasm and fanaticism for all that bears the name of science; a high esteem for the titles of nobility, and of illustrious blood, united with the spirit of democracy, and a profound respect for merit, wherever it may be found; a childlike candor, an excessive credulity, and, at the same time, the most obstinate indocility; a tenacious spirit of resistance, fearful stubbornness, corruption, and licentiousness of manners, allied with admiration for virtue; a taste for the most austere practices, combined with an inclination for the most extravagant habits and manners; such are the traits which history exhibits among these nations.

So singular a mixture appears strange at first sight; and yet nothing was more natural. Things could not be otherwise: societies are formed under the influence of certain principles, and of certain particular circumstances, which impart to them their genius, character, and countenance. It is the same with society as with individuals; education, instruction, temperament, and a thousand other physical and moral circumstances, concur in forming a collection of influences which produce qualities the most different, and sometimes the most contradictory. This concurrence of different causes was shown in a singular and extraordinary manner among the nations of Europe; it is on this account that we observe there the most extravagant and discordant effects. Let us recollect the history of those nations since the fall of the Roman empire to the end of the Crusades; never did an assemblage of nations present a combination of more varied elements, and a spectacle of greater events. The moral principles which preside over the development of these nations were in direct opposition to their genius and situation. These principles were essentially pure, unchangeable as the God who had established them; radiant with light, because they emanated from the source of all light and life: the nations, on