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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 34



The Reformation has favoured the progress of the nations which have adopted it, by permitting them to found free institutions, while Catholicism leads to despotism or anarchy, and often alternately to both. Representative government is the natural government of Protestant populations. Despotic government is the congenial government of Catholic populations. As long as they remain subject to it they are at peace; they have the polity which suits them; when they try to shake it off they fall into confusion and are weakened, being in a state page 33 at variance with their nature. So argue L' Univers and La Civiltà Cattolica, organs of the Roman court, and the facts seem to warrant their judgment.

It has often been asked why the Revolution of the Low Countries, of England, and of America, succeeded, while the French Revolution seems to have failed. M. Guizot has even published a special treatise to elucidate this question, which in fact, contains the secret of our destinies. I answer without hesitation, it is because the former took place in Protestant countries, the latter in a Catholic country. Voltaire had already perceived this. He asks himself, how it has happened that the Governments of France and England have come to differ from each other as entirely as those of Morocco and Venice? "Is it not," says he, "by reason of the fact that, having always complained of the Roman court, the English have entirely cast off its shameful yoke, while a people of greater levity has borne it, affecting to laugh at it, and dancing in its chains?" Voltaire spoke truly; but was it not he who provoked the laugh and led the dance?

To-day we can prove to demonstration that which men of intellect in the eighteenth century were only beginning to perceive. The decisive influence which forms of worship bring to bear on political life and political economy had not hitherto been apparent. Now it breaks forth in the light, and is more and more clearly seen in contemporary events.

page 34

The action of religion on the minds of men is so profound, that they are always led to give to the organization of the State forms which they have borrowed from that of religion.

Wherever the sovereign is held to be the representative of Divinity, liberty cannot establish itself, inasmuch as the power of him who speaks and acts in the name of God is necessarily absolute. The mandates of Heaven cannot be discussed. Simple mortals have only to bow and obey. I know of no exception to this rule. In the ancient empires of Asia, as in those of the present day, in Mahometan States, as in Catholic countries where kings reigned by right divine, the people have been completely enslaved. They were free at Athens and at Rome, because those who governed, elected by their fellow-citizens, did not give themselves out to be representatives of Divinity. The priesthood was not a caste, and exerted but little influence in the State.

Primitive Christianity could not but favour the establishment of free and democratic institutions in no ordinary degree. Doubtless on its ascetic side it detached man from his worldly interests, and did not lead him to claim his privilege as a citizen; but by purifying and raising morals, it qualified him more for self-government and consequently for a life of liberty. Great equality existed in the bosom of the Christian societies of the first centuries, and all power emanated from the people. Freedom of speech page 35 and opinion were the mainsprings of government. The primitive Christian Churches were true democratic republics. Accordingly, when the Presbyterians of the sixteenth century re-established the ancient organization of the Church, they were compelled to establish republican institutions in the State.

The supporters and the adversaries of the Roman Church alike confound Christianity with Catholicism. Those who attack Christianity attribute to it the principles, the abuses, and the crimes of the Roman Church; while those who uphold the Roman Church invoke the merits, the virtues, and the benefits of Christianity. There is error on both sides. Christianity is favourable to liberty; Catholicism is its mortal enemy: so affirms its infallible head, the Pope.

The history of the institutions of the Church shows us constant progress towards an increasing concentration of power. She has departed from the equal and representative democracy of the first centuries, and, through the proclamation of Papal Infallibility, has arrived, in the nineteenth century, at the most concentrated absolutism. A Democratic Republic at the outset, she became aristocratic at the period when the bishops effected an extension of their power without losing their independence in relation to the Pope. As long as councils exercised supreme control she was still a constitutional monarchy. At the present time she realises the ideal of a theocracy, page 36 and of the most absolute despotism imaginable. If civil society, as facts show, tends to mould itself on religious society, Catholics must be subjected to a purely despotic government. In fact, it is in this sense that the partisans of the Church understand it. Bossuet, in his 'Politique tirée de l'Ecriture Sainte,' traces the condition of the government which suits a purely Catholic country—"God establishes kings as His ministers, and reigns through them over the nations." "Royal authority is absolute." "The prince is not accountable to any one for his orders." "Obedience must be rendered to princes as to Justice herself. They are gods, and in a measure participate in the Divine independence." "Subjects have only respectful remonstrance to oppose to the violence of princes, and must neither mutiny nor murmur." Thus, logically, in a Catholic country government ought to be despotic;* first, because such is the

* See in what pompous and vigorous language Bossuet gives us the definition of monarchy, such as it springs from Roman Catholic tradition, and such as it is handed down from Imperial and Papal Rome:—

"Obedience must be rendered to princes as unto Justice herself. They are gods, and in a measure, participate in the Divine independence; as in God all perfection is concentrated, so is all the power of individuals in the person of the prince. Were God to withdraw His hand, the world would relapse into nothingness; were authority to cease in the kingdom, all would be in confusion. Consider the prince in his closet: thence emanate the orders which cause magistrates and captains, provinces and armies to act in concert with each other. We have here the image of God, who, sitting on His throne in the highest heavens, sustains the course of nature. In vain do the wicked seek to hide themselves, the light of God follows them everywhere. Thus God puts it in the power of the prince to discover the most secret plots; he has eyes and hands everywhere, the birds of heaven tell him what is going on. He has even received from God a certain penetration, which appears like divination, to assist him in the management of affairs. If he has discovered intrigue at work, his long arms seize hold of his enemies at the extremities of the earth, they disinter them from the uttermost depths: there is no asylum safe from such might as this."

page 37 government of the Church which serves as its type; next, because kings hold their power directly from God or the Pope, which power can neither be limited nor controlled.

The Reformation, on the contrary, being a return towards primitive Christianity, engendered every where a spirit of liberty and of resistance to absolutism. It tended to bring into existence republican and constitutional institutions. The Protestant recognises in religion but one authority, the Bible. He does not bow to the authority of man, as does the Catholic; he examines and discusses for himself. Calvinists and Presbyterians having re-established republican organization in the Church, the Protestant, by a logical sequence, transported the same principles and the same habits into political society. The accusation levelled at the Reformation by Lamennais is completely true:—"All power," he says, "had been denied to religious society; it was necessary also to deny it to political life, and to substitute the will and page 38 reason of each individual for the will and reason of God; from that time every one depending on himself alone could not but enjoy entire liberty, and be Master, King, God to himself." Montesquieu says also:—"The Catholic religion is best suited to a monarchy; the Protestant adapts itself best to a republic."

Luther and Calvin do not preach resistance to tyranny;—they rather condemn it, and proclaim obedience. Neither do they admit full liberty of conscience. But, in spite of them, the principle of political and religious liberty, and that of the Sovereignty of the People, is the logical result of the Reformation. The proof consists in the fact that everywhere this has been its natural fruit. The writers of the reformed faith claim the rights of the people, and wherever Protestants triumph, there they establish free institutions. In this their enemies have not been deceived; they have announced this connection between the Reformation and liberty, as an evil.

"The Reformers," says a Venetian envoy in France in the sixteenth century, "preach that the king has no authority over his subjects. This tends," he adds, "to a government similar to that which exists in Switzerland, and to the ruin of the monarchical constitution of the kingdom."* "It was announced from the pulpit," says Montluc, "that kings could

* See, on the political ideas of the Reformation, the instructive work of M. Laurent, 'La Revolution Francaise,' t. i. sect. ii. § 3.

page 39 have no authority but that which pleased the people; others said that the nobility were no better than themselves."* This is in fact the free and levelling breath of Calvinism. Tavannes often reverts to the democratic spirit of the Huguenots. "They are," he says, "republics within monarchical states, having their resources, soldiers, and separate finances, and intending to establish a popular and democratic government." Dumoulin, the great jurist, denounced the Protestant pastors to the Parliament, saying "that they had no other purpose but to reduce France to a popular State, and to make of her a republic similar to that of Geneva, from whence they had expelled the Count and the Bishop, and that they were similarly striving to abolish the right of primogeniture, purposing to put the nobles on an equality with the plebeians, and the younger on an equality with the elder, as being all sons of Adam, and equal by divine and natural right." These are evidently the ideas of the French Revolution, and if France had adopted the Reformation in the sixteenth century, she would from that time have enjoyed, and she would have preserved, liberty and self-government. In the year 1622, Gregory XV wrote to the King of France to induce him to have nothing more to do with Geneva, that hotbed of Calvinism and republicanism. In France, after the

* 'Blaise de Montluc.' Collection des Mémoires de Fetitot. 1 Série, t. xxii. p. 26.

'Tavannes.' Same collection, t. xxiii. p. 72.

page 40 death of Henry IV., the Duke de Rohan, a Huguenot, wished to "establish a republic," saying that the time of kings had passed away.

The Protestant nobility have been taxed with the wish to divide France into small republican states, as in Switzerland, and it has been considered a merit on the part of the League that it maintained French unity. What the Huguenots in fact aimed at was local autonomy, decentralisation, and a federal polity which should secure communal and provincial liberties. This it is which France still in vain seeks to establish, and it is the Catholic passion for unity and uniformity which has been the cause of the failure of the Revolution, and which always brings back despotism.

Calvin holds that "the minister of the Holy Gospel should be elected with the consent and approbation of the people: the clergy presiding over the election." This is the government which the Calvinists wished to introduce into France. "In the year 1620," says Tavannes, "their State was truly popular, all authority, of which they only appeared to yield a part to their nobility, being lodged in the mayors of the towns and the ministers, so much so that, had they attained their object, the State of France would have arisen, like that of Switzerland, out of the ruin of princes and gentry."

As soon as the Reformation had in Germany placed the Gospel in the hands of the peasantry, they claimed abolition of serfdom, and the recogni- page 41 tion of their ancient rights, in the name of "Christian liberty." The Reformation everywhere inspired energetic demands for the restitution of the natural rights,—liberty, toleration, equality of right, the sovereignty of the people. They are inscribed in a great number of the writings of the time, amongst others in the celebrated pamphlet of Languet: 'Junii Bruti Celtæ, Vindiciæ contra tyrannos, de principe in populum populique in principem, legitima potestate,' and in the dialogue, 'De l'autorité du prince et de la liberté des peuples.'*

These ideas, which form the basis of modern liberty, have always found eloquent defenders among Protestants. The Minister, Jurieu, defended them against Bossuet in a well-known controversy, and Locke has set them forth under a scientific form. They were borrowed from Locke by Montesquieu, Voltaire, and the political writers of the eighteenth century, and from these same ideas the French Revolution sprang. But long before this they had been applied, with constant success, in the Protestant States, first in Holland, then in England, and above all, in America.

The famous Edict of the l6th July, 1581, by which the States-Greneral of the Low Countries proclaimed the dethronement of the King of Spain,

* 'Memoires do l'Etat de France sous Charles IX.,' t. ill., pp. 57-64. See Laurent, 'Révolution Francaise,' t. i. p. 345.

page 42 explicitly sanctions the sovereignty of the people. In order to dethrone a king, they were necessarily obliged to invoke the following principle: "Subjects are not created by God for the prince, in order that they should obey him in all that he may please to command, but rather the prince for his subjects, without whom he cannot be prince, in order that he may govern them according to right and reason." The Edict adds that the inhabitants, in order to withdraw themselves from the tyranny of the king, have been compelled to withdraw from their allegiance to him. "No other means remains to them whereby to preserve and defend their ancient liberty, and that of their wives, children, and posterity, for whom, according to the law of nature, they are obliged to risk their lives and their worldly goods." The authors of the English Revolution of 1648 appealed to the same principles. Milton and the other republicans of the period defended them with admirable force of spirit and of character.
We are in the habit of giving the credit of the famous principles of '89 to the French Revolution. This is a grave historical error. In France eloquent speeches were made on the subject; but liberties were never respected, not even the most sacred of all, liberty of conscience.* The Puritans and the

* On this subject a very instructive article by Prévost-Paradol, in the Revue des deux Mondes, 15th Sept., 1858, should be read, in which he shows that neither law nor magistrates have brought liberty of worship into Franco. It does not yet exist there.

page 43 Quakers have proclaimed and practised them in America for the last 200 years, and it is from thence and from England that Europe first adopted the idea towards the end of the eighteenth century.

Even as early as the year 1620, the constitution of Virginia established representative government, trial by jury, and the principle that taxes should be voted by those who pay them.

From its first origin Massachusetts established compulsory education, and complete separation of Church and State. The different sects lived free under the common law, and themselves chose their own ministers. Representative democracy existed there as fully then as in our own day. The judges themselves were annually chosen by the citizens. But one still more important fact comes to light. A man arises (in the year 1633), claiming not only toleration, but complete religious equality in the eye of the civil law, and on this principle he founds a State. This man is Roger Williams, a name little known on our continent, but which deserves to be inscribed amongst those of the benefactors of mankind. In a world which 4000 years of intolerance had bathed in blood, even before Descartes had established free research in philosophy, he was the first to sanction religious liberty as a political right. "Persecution page 44 for conscience sake," he repeats, "is manifestly and lamentably opposed to the teaching of Jesus Christ." "He who commands the bark of the State can maintain order on board and bring her into harbour, although all the crew be not obliged to assist at divine service." "The civil power has dominion only over men's bodies and worldly goods, it cannot interfere in matters of faith, even to prevent a Church from falling into apostasy or heresy." "By shaking off the yoke of tyranny from our souls, we not only do an act of justice to oppressed nations, we also found public liberty and peace on the interest of the conscience of all men."

It would be well to read, in the admirable history of Bancroft, how Roger Williams founded the town of Providence and the State of Rhode Island upon these principles, then little understood throughout Europe, except in the Protestant Low Countries. When a constitution was formed in 1641, all the citizens were summoned to vote upon it. The founders themselves called it a democracy, and such it certainly was in all the force of the term and in the sense in which Rousseau understood it. The people were directly self-governed. All citizens, without distinction of creed, were equal before the law; and every law had to be ratified in the primary assemblies. It was the most radical form of self-government that human societies had known; and page 45 for two centuries it has lasted without disturbance or revolution.

The Quakers of Pennsylvania and New Jersey founded their State on similar principles. "We put the power in the people"—this is the basis of the constitution of New Jersey. The following are its principal provisions: "No man, and no assembly of men possesses power over conscience. No one, at any time, by any method, or under any pretext, shall ever be prosecuted or injured, upon any ground whatever, for religious opinions. The general assembly shall be elected by secret ballot. Every man shall be qualified to elect and to be elected. Electors shall give obligatory instructions to their deputies. If the deputy does not fulfil his obligations, he may be prosecuted. Ten commissaries, elected by the assembly, exercise executive powers. Judges and constables are elected by the people for a term of two years. The judges preside over the jury, but judicial power is exercised by the twelve citizens who constitute the jury. No one shall be imprisoned for debt. Orphans shall be brought up at the charge of the State. Education is a branch of public service paid for out of the common treasury."

Nearly the same principles are laid down in Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

These ideas of man's self-ownership and freedom; of his immunity from service or taxation without his page 46 own express consent—this idea that government, justice, and all other powers emanate from the people—this aggregate of principles which modern societies struggle to enforce, is undeniably derived from Germanic tradition, and may even be found at its source among most races before the development of royal power. But if these principles, stifled as they were by feudalism during the Middle Ages, and by centralised and absolute monarchy dating from the fifteenth century, have revived in Switzerland, England, Holland and the United States, it is owing to the democratic breath of the Reformation; and only in Protestant countries have they maintained themselves, and secured order and prosperity to the people. If France had not persecuted, strangled, and banished those of her children who had become Protestants, she might have developed those germs of liberty and of self-government which had survived in the provincial States. This fact has been completely established by M. Gustave Garrison.* Every year contemporary studies and events bring fresh corroborative proofs. In the assemblies of La Rochelle and Grenoble, and in the States-General of Orleans, the spirit of liberty and the parliamentary spirit are as powerful as in the English parliament; and in them may be heard the strong, clear language of Calvin, so admirably fitted for

* Revue des Deux Mondes, loth February, 1848.

page 47 the treatment of the great interests of religion and politics.
"We shall know how to defend our cities against the king, without a king," said the Huguenots, and there is no doubt that if they had triumphed, they would have founded a constitutional monarchy as in England, or a federal Republic as in the Low Countries. Had the French nobility preserved the spirit of independence and of lawful resistance which they had borrowed from Protestantism, they would have imposed limits on the royal power, and France would have escaped that oriental despotism of Louis XIV. and his successors, which ruined the character of the nation.* Francis I., in giving the signal for the persecution of the Reformed, and

* M. Quinet, in his book on the Revolution, pronounces the following severe but just judgment on the French nobility of that period: "They had sold their religious faith—how could they be capable of founding political faith? During the Fronde they had shown a spirit of intrigue without ambition. While rebelling against Mazarin, they crouched before the King as soon as he appeared. Thus did their utter hollowness become apparent; they had never led the French in the direction of liberty."

"Francis I.," said Napoleon, at St. Helena, "was really in a position to adopt Protestantism at its birth, and declare himself its leader in Europe. Thus he would have spared Franco her terrible religious convulsions. Unfortunately, Francis I. understood nothing of the matter; for he could never allege scruples as his excuse, since he entered into alliance with the Turks and brought them into our midst. The plain truth is, that he was shortsighted. Stupidity of the times—feudal dulness! Francis I. was, after all, a mere tourney hero, a carpet knight, a pigmy of a great man!"—('Memorial,' 17th Aug. 1816.)

page 48 Henry IV. in abjuring Protestantism, betrayed the true interests of France, as the nobles had done. The saying, "Paris is well worth a mass," in which most French historians find a proof of practical sense, is a revolting cynicism. To sell oneself—to deny one's faith for material advantages—is surely an act to be branded by all honest men. France bears the punishment of this to the present day, as she still suffers from the fatal consequences of those two great outrages to liberty of conscience—the massacre of St. Bartholomew and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. France is above all things in want of men, who, without breaking with tradition, are willing to accept new ideas. The republicans are generally hostile or indifferent to all religious ideas, and, like their ancestors, the revolutionists of the last century, they lack a foundation on which any solid edifice can be raised. Those again who uphold religious ideas, wish to reanimate the old system, and oppose all reform. At this moment, France has an opportunity of founding free institutions. But the partisans of monarchy will either prepare the way for the return of a Napoleon, or they will plunge the country into anarchy by dint of their blind self-will. Under Louis Philippe, in 1850, and again at present, the conservatives ruin their country by page 49 their attachment to worn-out forms of government. A republic is now the only possible government for France, and the republicans will prevent its taking root, because Catholicism has saturated them with the spirit of intolerance* and despotism. France will hardly escape a fresh restoration of absolute power. The Roman religion has not fitted the French to live in freedom, to tolerate each other, and to govern themselves.
Toleration may occasionally be found among Catholic nations in their laws, but never in their habits of life. Woe to him who, desiring to avail himself of liberty of conscience, decides upon following the dictates of his own! He is even more derided by his kindred, and by the indifferent, than by believers. Sceptics find it more convenient to compound matters by bending before the priest

* The intolerance of the French is probably due to their Catholic education. Paris took part with the League. At the time of Voltaire, the people were still full of hatred of Protestants and sceptics. "We can ill bear contradiction in matters near our heart," says a very sensible French writer. "The rashest or the most absurd opinion is, in our eyes, a dogma outside of which is no salvation. Each party insists on being a Church, and will admit of no doubt as to its infallibility. The most liberal-minded seek to shut out by subterfuges from dissenters the liberty they claim for themselves. Hence the facility with which dictatorships are established, and with which are perpetuated, at the hands of the various parties, as in turn they rise and fall, the self-same methods of coercion."—(Emile Beaussire, Revue des Deux Mondex, 1st May, 1871.)

page 50 on all the important occasions of life, while they scruple not to ridicule or to attack him. Resigned to the yoke of orthodoxy, to which they submit while they deride it, they have no toleration for those who, finding it too heavy, have the courage openly to throw it off. By means of intimidation and ridicule, uniformity is enforced, and liberty is but a name.

All modern nations are striving to establish representative and constitutional government. This system, which took its rise in England, on the soil of ancient Germanic institutions watered by Protestantism, seems incapable of taking durable root in Catholic countries; the fact being, that the chief of a State, be he king or president, cannot be a true constitutional sovereign if he is a devotee, and confesses as an obedient penitent. He is governed by his confessor, who is subject to the Pope. By means of the confessional the Pope is accordingly the real sovereign, unless it be the Jesuits, who direct the Pope. The prerogatives granted by the constitution to the depositary of the executive power, are in such cases exercised by a foreign Power, and to the detriment of the country. Examples abound in history. Too docile to the demands of their confessors, we see Louis XIV. revoking the Edict of Nantes, James II. of England and Charles X. of France losing their crown, and Louis XVI. both crown and life, Ferdinand and Leopold of Austria ruining their country by the most frightful per- page 51 secution, Augustus and Sigismond of Poland paving the way to the partition of that country, by bringing into it Jesuits and intolerance. Under a pious sovereign given to confession, the constitutional system is either a fiction or a fraud, for it enslaves the country to the will of an unknown priest, the organ of his Church's pretensions, or else, when the land refuses to bear the humiliating yoke, it produces a revolution. In Austria the Emperor Francis Joseph only preserved his constitutional monarchy by resisting his confessor. In Protestant lands the constitutional system flourishes naturally, being on its native soil; while on Catholic soil, being an heretical importation, it is undermined by the priest unless it serves to secure his dominion, and thus it is either perverted by the clericals, or overthrown by the revolutionists.