Catholicism’s Impotence and the Liberal Revolution
I am conscious of the fact that, in the struggle against the Revolution, Christianity has found eloquent defenders among the Catholics. Should we conclude that Rome is capable of effectively resisting the spirit of the age?
I am far from ignoring the invaluable services rendered by Christian Rome during the early part of the Middle Ages; whether to religion, by the spread of the gospel, or to society, by raising a moral barrier against tyranny and by encouraging the birth and development of European freedoms.
But a degenerate Rome; a Rome opposed to Gospel revival; a superstitious, unbelieving Rome; a Rome that claims for itself divine authority over the entire world and subordinates all temporal power to the will of a so-called Vicar of Christ; a Rome that at one time calls on people to revolt, at another makes common cause in its own interest with despots; a Rome that is the enemy of freedom, tolerance, and knowledge; a Rome that is wholly incapable of either protecting or delivering Europe from the Revolution, and has twice already prepared the ground for it and opened the floodgates to it?
Never! The fifteenth century was the prelude to a universal upheaval, when the Reformation stopped the revolutionary tendencies in their tracks.
Three centuries later, when the complacency of the Protestant churches rendered them incapable of exercising their salutary influence a second time, it was Rome once more — the Rome that had dispersed or stifled the seeds of life and Gospel progress in France by violent exile and oppression of Reformers and Jansenists alike — that, through the scandal of its errors and vices, its intolerance and immorality, sowed the seeds that shortly sprouted into novel opinions and caused the reuption that was the Revolution of 1789.
Never forget that most of the abuses of the Roman Church are inextricably bound up with its doctrines, and that its so-called infallibility renders it incorrigible. Amendment would be tantamount to self-condemnation and abdication. Its innate character and bent drives it to give its errors unchangeable form and transform its false maxims into eternal principles…
…[C]onsider the Catholic who has sincerely and wholeheartedly embraced liberalism. If he gets carried away by the logic of his situation he may easily adopt the course taken by Lamennais: yielding to the current, abandoning church and faith, and summing up his apostasy in the antithetical proposition: “On the one side we have the Pontificate; on the other the human race. That just about says it all.”
Consider, next, those whose actions are calculated and geared to their personal interests. While many a Catholic was prepared to mount the scaffold for his faith during the Terror of 1793, we have recently witnessed clerics and laity in France following the herd and supporting the revolution in all its various manifestations. This is not based on dubious evidence but on the unimpeachable testimony of Montalembert, who exposed the ridiculous and contemptible nature of the ardency with which any victorious party is always greeted. “After the February Revolution of 1848, a large body of Catholics, both clerical and lay, could be seen expressing their support for and delight in what they called a new era. In 1852, constitutions, debates parliaments, and the control of the legislatures and assemblies no longer provoked ridicule or contempt.”
What did he [Montalembert] think was the secret behind this astonishing turnaround? He certainly didn’t think it took any special insight to root it out. “The high priests of violence and the worshippers of success think that, by going along with current events, they can mould both past and future to their fickle whims.”
But we shall not dwell on these outbreaks of baseness, of which the Protestants were just as guilty. Rather we want to confront the main issue.
Neither should we forget that, while the very nature of Catholic absolutism renders it incapable of successfully engaging the Revolution, an alliance of the latter with ultramontanism is no pipe-dream. History demonstrates that it is fully capable of allying itself with the Revolution and to some extent of merging with it, in the hope of eventually dominating it. At one time the Jesuits — preaching a radicalism for their own ends — had grafted the Pope’s omnipotence onto the abiding and unchangeable sovereignty of the people as a universal principle applicable to all forms of society.
Rousseau had already proposed such an idea, with the Pope as supreme president.
The latter was to be the servant of the servants of God, ruling over the kings of the earth through the sovereign people. In our own day, Lamennais has called for the absolute separation of church and state and put himself forward as the defender of every form of liberty. He saw this as the only way of genuinely serving the cause of Rome, and of regaining the power it had lost on all sides. This could only be achieved by putting it in touch with the people directly, and by bringing about — through a lawless liberty — the triumph of the numerical majority; thus ensuring universal dominion by a clever detour.
[Roman Catholic] ultramontanism may, in desperation, temporarily resign itself to an abdication of its omnipotence and a share in its privileges. It may retreat within the boundaries of its spiritual authority, reinvigorate the system of the Middle Ages by adapting it to the exigencies of the time, and ally itself with the Revolution through its representatives and institutions. It wheedles its way into the Revolutionary governments, with whose support the people are thereby brought under the yoke of a twofold tyranny.
Indeed, in keeping with its principles, if the Roman Church is not free to rule and persecute, it feels insulted and moans about being subjected to a Bablyonian captivity.
Groen Van PrinstererSee More Essays
Groen van Prinsterer was a Dutch politician who birthed the great Anti-Revolutionary Party which Abraham Kuyper came to lead. Possessing a formidable mind; Groen was the first to articulate the concept of worldview, articulated in his “Revolution and Unbelief,” a landmark work showing the great antithesis in worldviews.