Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

general harmony with the prevailing ecclesiasticism. 'While this expression of Alzog may be formally correct, we cannot but believe that he has failed to reach the efficient and inipiring cause of these opinions of the jurists. He had really given the reason of all this in the same paragraph, and this addition of the jurists and the schools of law furnishes no new nor more powerful reason for formulating the rights of papal sovereignty. And when Alzog adds that "in matter-of-fact the political supremacy of the Popes has disappeared since the thirteenth century," nothing is contained in the history which leads ns to believe that this was in consequence of a voluntary surrender of prerogative by the Popes themselves, but rather by virtue of a force and a principle which were entirely foreign to the theory and policy of Hildebrand and of his successors for two hundred and thirty years. "Grant," as Neander has well expressed it in his estimate of Gregory's theory, "that when not pushed by opposition to this extreme, he recognizes the kingly authority as also ordained of God; only maintaining that it should confine itself within its proper limits, remaining subordinate to the papal power, which is sovereign over all," (and to this opinion Alzog fully subscribes.—Vol. ii, p. 28'J;) and how, out of this papal assumption, there can come the growth' of constitutional freedom, as is intimated by our author, it is difficult for ordinary minds to conceive. And we may be excused for adding that, in the presence of the claim of semper eadem, it is just as difficult to understand how in this nineteenth century the Romish Church can teach and foster a spirit of genuine personal and constitutional liberty. When Alzog, therefore, inquires, "Who but the sons of honest artisans and peasants, with miters on their heads and crosiers in their hands, would have had the courage to resist reckless princes and semi-barbarous feudal lords?" we are led also to inquire, Who but such as these had the courage often to array themselves with these same kings and barons in defense of the rights of the people against the insolent and tyrannical demands of a more grasping oppressor, on the papal throne, who would dominate all realms, both spiritual and temporal?

The period of Church history from the death of BonifaceVIII. to the beginning of the public career of Luther has ever presented to the honest Catholic historian most serious embarrassments and well-nigh insuperable difficulties. This is a period when all who profess the Christian faith feel amazement and shame at the terrible unfaithfulness of clergy and laity alike. But for the Catholic, loaded down with the dogmas of the primacy of the Pope, and of his infallibility in matters of faith and morals when speaking ex cathedra for tlTe universal Church, the reconciliation of the glaring contradictions of this portion of history, on the part of the Popes and councils, to these accepted dogmas, becomes a well-nigh hopeless task. With all his ability and ingenuity, Alzog staggers under the tremendous burden. Catholics ought not to take offense if the most intelligent Protestant students of this period of ecclesiastical history never cease to wonder at the faith (not to call it credulity) which can firmly grasp the papal primacy and the papal infallibility during these two hundred years of strife and wickedness. All are familiar with the arguments by which it is sought to defend these dogmas. But when councils opposed them; when the greatest and best theologians and canon lawyers stoutly argued against them; when the fearfully criminal character of many of the occupants of the chair of St. Peter was, prima facie, a standing contradiction of this assumption; when the clergy continued to sink lower and lower in immorality, and the sheep of the flock were devoured by ravenous wolves clothed in the shepherd's garb—and all this, too, without rebuke from the vicar of that Christ who said, "My kingdom is not of this world;" when bloated bestiality, wicked cunning, low deceit, repulsive adultery, and cruel homicide marked the career of so many of these Popes—we marvel at the ingenuity that can attempt to trace, and wonder at the faith that pretends to believe in, the pure stream of the primacy and of infallibility through all the abominable tilth of this moral cloaca. It is this divorce of religion and morals, and this repeated contradiction of the Saviour's crucial principle—" Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor tigs of thistles "—which so stagger the faith of the average inquirer after truth, and compel him to reject claims and doctrines which need to be supported by arguments whose fallaciousness readily appeal's in other departments of inquiry. Calmness and high courtesy are demanded of the reviewer of a work on so high and noble a theme as Church history. The general justice of this claim is recognized. In many, very many, respects Alzog is justly severe on the recreancy and unfaithfulness of the Church in its head and members. In this he has been more fearless and honest than most Catholic historians. He often makes careful discriminations, and faithfully places the culpableness where it justly belongs. Nevertheless there is a too manifest attempt to conceal and apologize; and i# is difficult to suppress indignation at the treatment which some of the worst men receive at his hands. Take, for example, his closing notice of the career of Innocent VIII.: "This Pope, however, deserves considerable credit for his energetic efforts to suppress sorcery and witchcraft and the remnants of the heresy of John Huss;" and this statement of the pontificate of the impious Alexander VI.: "It is certainly a little remarkable that Alexander, while making so flagrant a misuse of his pontifical power, never lost sight of the essential duties of the Head of the Church, and never compromised either faith or morals in any of the numerous official documents issued by him." "Never lost sight of the essential duties of the Head of the Church!" What is the man of average intellect and average moral sense to think of such expressions as these? There are intuitions of right which no ecclesiastical system, however stupendous and hoary with age, can possibly eradicate. The average heathen mind, in countries not absolutely barbaric, would rise in stubborn protest against a system which needs such statements as these to prop up and defend some of its favorite dogmas.* Not a commandment of the Decalogue that this Pope did not repeatedly infract; not a beatitude of the humble Nazarene that he did not habitually and openly con

• The severe arraignment of the Catholic Church in Italy and Spain by Sismondi, some sixty years ago, will here be recalled: "The same religious prejudice exists) in Italy; an assassin is always sure of protection, under the name of Christian charity, from all belonging to the Church, and by that class of people immediately under the influence of the priests. Thus, in no country of the world have assassinations been more frequent than in Italy and Spain. In the latter country a village fete scarcely ever occurs without a person getting killed. . . . But neither the Spaniards nor the Italians ever consult their reason in legislating on morals; they submit blindly to the decisions of casuists, and when they have undergone the expiations imposed on them by their confessors they believe themselves absolved from all crime. These expiations have been rendered so much the more easy, as they are a source of riches to the clergy. A foundation of masses for the soul of the deceased, or alms to the Church, or a sacrifice of money, in short, however disproportionate to the wealth of the culprit, will always suffice to wash away the stain of blood. The Greeks in the heroic age required expiations before a murderer was permitted again to enter into their temple; but their expiations, far from enfeebling the civil temn. When the marvelous prayer of the departing Lord— "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world; sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth "—and the high and holy character which should pertain to the officers of the Church of God, as so powerfully drawn by St. Paul in the pastoral epistles, are placed in contrast with the scandalous lives of these Popes, and with these extenuations and apologies of professedly one of the most scientific and conscientious historians of the Catholic Church, the moral sense experiences a most terrible shock, and the suspicion is awakened that Alzog is writing in fear of the Index Expurgatorius.

"We have before remarked that, in a Church history written from a Catholic stand-point, no sympathy with, or defense of, movements in opposition to the peculiar tenets and genius of the Romish Church may be looked for. Such expectation would be most unwise. Yet we may demand of any writer of respectability such statement of facts as will give to the reader of average intelligence a just resultant impression of the period under examination. We are reluctantly compelled to believe that, in his treatment of the "Reformers before the Reformation," Alzog has failed to satisfy this reasonable demand. The feeling awakened in the mind of one who should read the history, for the first time, from the pages of this writer, is, that Wiclif, Huss, Jerome of Prague, John of Wesel, John von Goch, Savonarola, and the whole hue of heroic men who uttered their stout protest against the fearful corruption and wickedness which were consuming away the Church in both head and members, were only wretched vipers, which it was the duty of all men to crush out with the heel of power, or consume in the fires of the auto-da-fe. In a Catholic history we are prepared to find opposition to these men; indeed, we expect their hearty condemnation; but we confess to utter astonishment at the stony heartlessness of Alzog as he treats this period of history. His spirit is that of a gloomy inquisitor, with not a touch of sympathy or a tear of regret at what he believes to be the errors

authority, were designed to strengthen it; they were long and severe; the murderer was compelled to make public penance, and felt himself stained by the blood he had shed. Thus, among a fierce and half-savage people, the authority of religion, in accordance with humanity, checked the effusion of blood, and rendered an instance of assassination more rare in all Greece than in a single village in Spain." —literature of the South of Europe, chap. iixi.

of these men; but he is willing to give one more twist to the thumb-screw, and one more turn to the rack, to compel recantation. He utterly forsakes the high domain of the historian, to play the part of the most wretched partisanship. Look at this picture, painted by a powerful, yet truthful, artist:

We betake ourselves in spirit to the fifteenth century. It is difficult to describe how sad the Church's condition then seemed. The Lord's vineyard was a desert; thorns and thistles covered it, in place of vines. The priesthood was grown worldly and even dissolute. The Popes, overstepping all limits in their assumptions, led lives scandalous and horrible beyond measure. The monkish orders were following them in the way of ruin. Simony, extortion of every kind, and concubinage, were the order of the day. Church assemblies seemed only held for the bacchanalian orgies that went with them. During the Council of Constance there were no less than fifty thousand strangers in the town, and a great swarm of abandoned women among them. At this time the Church saw at her head three pretended vicegerents of Christ instead of one, alternately excommunicating and cursing each the others. The poor people, designedly chained down by basest superstitions, fainted as sheep without a shepherd. Was it a wonder, when a part of them, casting aside all restraints of chastity aiid morality, followed in the footsteps of their corrupt leaders, and gave themselves up to every vice, if the other and nobler portion, in sore need of the bread and water of life, gave vent to loud and still louder demands for the Church's reformation, iu head and in members ?—F. W. Krummacuer.

All of this, and no word of extenuation from Alzog of the conduct of these branded heretics! We repeat that impartial readers of this portion of our author's work must pronounce him lacking in the highest qualities of the historian, and his work well calculated to foster in members of his own communion a spirit of bigotry and uncharitableness. In these crucial examples he plainly violates the principles which he had already laid down to guide the historian. (See vol. i, p. 14.)

In further confirmation of this opinion we notice the author's treatment of the Inquisition. Doubtless, satisfactory reasons for the establishment of this court can be found in the spirit of the times. In an age when the doctrine of religious toleration had found no defenders, it is easy to understand how heresy, which was judged to be the most heinous crime, would be suppressed by the strong arm of the civil and ecclesiastical power alike. But it is totally unworthy a writer of the nine

« IndietroContinua »