LETTERS TO THE EDITOR.
MR. GLADSTONE AND THE PROTESTATION OF 1789.
(TO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR") SIR,—It is time that the history of the "Declaration and Pro- testation signed by the English Protesting Catholic Dissenters in 1789" should be a little cleared up. If you will afford me space for the purpose, I will undertake to show that Mr. Gladstone has been betrayed into making a series of statements relative to that document absolutely unfounded and directly opposed to fact. Let me say at once that I yield to no one in respect for Mr. Gladstone's sincerity, veracity, and honour ; but in this matter I think it is impossible to acquit him of very grave negligence or, as I prefer to think, somewhat rash credulity. It is hard, of course, to ex- pect from him or from any person not a Catholic, and not trained in theological studies, consummate accuracy in describing the proceedings of the Council of Constance or the Council of the Vatican ; but it might reasonably be supposed that he could not utter half-a-dozen egregious misstatements in relating the history of an Act of Parliament, from which an hour's study of "Hansard" and the Statute-book would have preserved him.
Mr. Gladstone asserts that "this very important document" (the Protestation of the English Catholic Dissenters) "brought about the passing of the great English Relief Act of 1791 ;" that "this Protestation was in the strictest sense a representative and binding document ;" that the English Catholics "asked and obtained relief on the express ground that they renounced and condemned the doctrines" set forth in it, and especially on the ground of their declaration that they "acknowledge no infallibility in the Pope ;" that the Act accordingly prescribed an oath "including the 'words, It is not an article of the Catholic Faith, neither am I thereby required to believe or profess, that the Pope is infallible ;" that the Irish Bishops in 1810 declared that this oath had "be- come a part of the Roman Catholic religion ;" that by such means principally Catholics "obtained the remission of the Penal Laws" —" the Anglo-Roman Bishops, clergy, and laity" having pre- viously "rejected the tenet of the Pope's Infallibility"—and in Ireland the still stronger assurance having been given that Papal Infallibility was "no part of the Roman Catholic faith, and never could be made a part of it ;" finally, that the Roman See and Court, aware of these declarations and assurances, were "guilty of practising upon the British Crown one of the blackest frauds recorded in history."
Now, if Mr. Gladstone will take the trouble of referring to the debates on the Relief Bill of 1791 in the 28th and 29th volumes of "Hansard," he will find that in all these statements he is more or less, and in the majority and more important of them, abso- lutely mistaken. He will find that Parliament was in no sense in- fluenced by any declaration concerning the Infallibility of the Pope, but advisedly and avowedly gave relief in the Act to those, the vast majority, who refused to take any oath limiting the spiritual power of the Pope, as well as to those who were willing to take an oath in the terms of the Protestation. He will find that at the instance of the Anglican Bishop of St. David's the passage which he quotes concerning the Pope's Infallibility was struck out of the oath proposed by the Bill as it came from the Commons ; and that, in a word, no such oath has ever been imposed by Parliament or taken by Catholics.t Con- sequently it will be apparent that the oath which the Irish Catholic Bishops approved in 1810 was a different oath altogether from that which he imagines they were considering. So far is it from being true that the English Bishops, clergy, and laity rejected the Pope's Infallibility in 1791 in order to get relief from Parlia- ment, the truth is that they petitioned and otherwise moved Par- liament in 1791 not to give them relief under any delusion as to their true doctrines; and all the English Vicars-Apostolic, in two Ency- clical Letters, one dated October 21, 1789, and another January 19, 1791, condemned the oath which disavowed the doctrine of In- fallibility, and urged their people to demand the rejection of any Bill imposing such an oath. I cannot conceive where Mr. Gladstone can have discovered any assurance from the Irish Catholics not merely that Papal Infallibility was no part of the Catholic faith, but that it never could be made a part of it. I find no citation to justify this astounding statement in either of his pamphlets, while he had an absolutely authoritative declaration in the opposite sense, that of Archbishop Troy in 1793, quoted by F. Newman, t -Itefore him while he was writing " Vatieanism." Let me add that Arch- bishop Troy held in Ireland at that time about the same position and influence that Cardinal Cullen does now ; that he was a pre- late of very moderate opinions, greatly respected by and having considerable influence with the Government of the day ; and that this statement was made at the time when the Irish Parliament was engaged upon its great measure of Catholic Relief, which opened every public career save that of Parliament to us. It fairly takes one's breath away to be told that all these facts are only the elements of "one of the blackest frauds recorded in history."
Mr. Gladstone may, however, suppose that the question of Infallibility was insufficiently considered in 1791, and that Parlia- ment then took a leap in the dark. If he will refer to "Hansard," he will find that the topic of Infallibility and that of the Pope's influence on civil allegiance were as much in the air of public debate then as they have been since he published his "Expostula- tion." Mr. Fox, in his downright way, goes straight to the point.
He says :—
" It was said by some that the Pope was infallible, by others that the Church and Council were infallible, but none had ever contended that that House was infallible ; they might subject men to fines and penalties for being better than themselves, at all events only for differing from them on the mode of worshipping the Deity." ("Hansard," vol.
It is to be observed that Mr. Fox was here dealing with the question as to whether the advantages of the Bill should be limited to the minority of Protesting Catholic Dissenters, or extended to the majority of English Catholics, who objected to the oath dis- avowing Papal Infallibility. It is unfortunate that we do not possess a full report of Mr. Burke's speech, but the sentence, which you will allow me to quote, describing a passage from it is for every reason worthy of Mr. Gladstone's attention. Mr. Grattan said of Mr. Burke that he not merely "knew everything" and "saw everything," but that he "foresaw everything." Great as is my veneration for the genius of the greatest of my countrymen, I could not have imagined that in 1791 he would have stigmatised
• Vatteaniem," pp. 45-49. t 81 George In., C. 82. Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, pp. 12-18.
by anticipation the main argument of the "Expostulation." Mr. Burke, as "Hansard's" reporter says,—
"Was likewise very successful in his irony upon the doctrine that much was to be feared from the Pope's power to release Papists from all allegiance to government and every other scruple of conscience by his dispensing and absolving power." (Vol. xxviii., c. 1372.)
Mr. Pitt, too, declared he was averse to drawing a hard-and-fast line between the two descriptions of Roman Catholics, and argued that, if the Bill were to pass in its then shape, it would be necessary to repeal certain of the Penal Laws, in order to do even justice to all Catholics, whether they were Iltramontane or Pro- testing Dissenters :—
"It would be proper to repeal those statutes, if the present Bill or any measure of the kind passed, because in that case, if relief of the nature proposed by his honourable and learned friend who had made the motion was granted to one description of Roman Catholics, and the statutes to which he had alluded were suffered to remain unrepealed, it would have something like the effect of re-enacting them, as it would appear that the Legislature, apprised as they had been of their existence, thought that the other description of Roman Catholics merited to have such disgraceful statutes remain in force against them." ("Hansard," voL xxviii., c. 1374.) The Bill, however, went to the House of Lords as a Bill to relieve Protesting Catholic Dissenters only, and with the objec- tionable oath attached to it, but apparently qualified by the addition of some words recognising the Pope's Infallibility in spirituals. I have not been able to discover what those words were, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, though, as I gather from Ida speech, disposed to support the Bill, objected to the form of the oath, on the score that it did not sufficiently define the limit of Infallibility. His Grace said
To the oath there was one obvious objection, that though it denied the Infallibility of the Pope except in matters of spiritual doctrine, it was certainly clear that whoever was admitted to be infallible in points -of doctrine was admitted to be infallible in declaring what was doctrine, so that the restriction that was intended as to the influence of the Pope in temporal matters might be overcome if he himself chose to declare that such matters were not temporal, but spiritual." ("Hansard," vol.
Thus so far is it from being true that any fraud was practised on Parliament, the very question of the object and limit of In- fallibility was plainly brought before the House, much as it might be if Parliament were now legislating in the full light of the Vatican Council.
- By far the most remarkable speech in either House was that of the Bishop of St. David's, Dr. Horsley. To that high-minded prelate, the Cath olics of England are indebted for a frank, manly, and 'complete vindication of the grounds upon which they opposed the Bill, and for an argument against the oath disavowing Infallibility so convincing, that in committee the measure was enlarged so as to in- 'elude all Catholics, the more objectionable parts of the oath omitted, and the Irish oath (the same substantially as that taken by Catholics until the Act 34 and 35 Viet., c. 48, was passed) substituted in its -atead. I have stated that the majority of the English Catholics protested against the anti-Infallibilist clause of the oath. Bishop Horsley refers to this as a notorious fact. He says:—" Now, my Lords, it is, I believe, a well-known fact that a very great number- ' believe I should be correct if I were to say a very great majority- ofthe Roman Catholics scruple the terms in which the oath is unfor- tunately drawn, and declare they cannot bring themselves to take it,"—and he fully justifies their doing so. He goes further,—he
wonders that Catholics can be found of such a spirit as to be -willing to take the oath. "I believe," he says, "the gentlemen -of the Catholic Committee who declare themselves ready to take the oath will see some difficulty in particular parts of it when
they consider the full import of certain terms." Happily Bishop Horsley's entire speech is given by "Hansard." Mr. Gladstone .might have expected to have found some notice of such a speech and such a debate in Mr. Charles Butler's "Memoirs," to which he refers as a standard authority. Not a word of it. But, be it remembered, Mr. Charles Butler was Secretary to the Catholic Committee to which Bishop Horsley so pointedly referred, and was the prime mover in their least creditable proceedings. The art of cooking Catholic history so as to suit the taste of the age is by no means an original invention of Lord Acton. It appertains to the gentlemen of that school in all generations.
But the questiori remains,—Was the Protestation signed, as Mr. Gladstone asserts, by the four English Vicars-Apostolic and a great number of Catholics? and did it declare "we acknow- ledge no infallibility in the Pope "? It was so signed, and it did 'so declare. It was a very great mistake, but it was instantly, amply, openly repented of and atoned for. The proceedings in Parliament suffice to show that the great majority of English Catholics would not consent to purchase civil liberty on such terms.
The four Vicars-Apostolic, immediately after the Protestation was published, on October 21, 1789, solemnly condemned the oath pro- posed to be founded upon it (the oath of the Protesting Catholic Dissenters) ; in this condemnation the Bishops of Ireland and Scot- land agreed : and it was promptly confirmed by the Holy See. So that, though there was a great mistake, there was no deception of Parliament and no fraud upon the Crown. On January 19, 1791, the Vicars-Apostolic, in a letter to all the Faithful of their respective districts, on the eve of the introduction of the Bill into Parliament, renewed their condemnation of the oath ; called upon all good Catholics to petition Parliament not to pass any measure containing such an oath ; and expressly repudiated the name "Protesting Catholic Dissenters," a name surely as offen- sive to Catholic ears as I suppose the name " Romanising Pro- testant Ritualists" would be to members of the Church of England now-a-days. It is mentioned by one of the speakers in the House of Lords that copies of the condemnation and objections to the Bill were generally circulated among Members of both Houses. It is plain from these speeches that the great leaders on both sides of the House were fully informed as to the issues involved. Mr. Gladstone throughout argues as if the Protestation emanated from some adequate authority in the Catholic Church. He has overlooked Mr. Butler's statement that it was drawn up by Lord Stanhope, who (so Mr. Butler says) did not even consult any Catholic of his acquaintance as to its terms, it is in its form and verbiage an essentially Protestant document. In particular-- the statement concerning Infallibility is brought in, as it were, inadvertently and gratuitously, and without direct reference to the charge to which the paragraph containing it purports to reply. My own belief is that those who signed the paper, on trust or at random, did not at the moment discern the difference between saying that they did not " acknowledge " Infallibility, and saying, what all Catholics did and could safely say before 1870, that it was not a defined "article of faith." But, as I have already stated, the error was promptly and manfully atoned for. Our Catholic politics are, I am afraid, often very stupid, but I think it cannot be denied that they are always fairly straightforward. I submit that, under the circumstances, it is rather an abuse of terms to treat such a paper as the Protestation as, "in the strictest sense, a representative and binding document" upon the Catholics of this country.
I cannot close this letter without saying in all sincerity that I wish the task had not fallen to my hand of exposing Mr. Glad- stone's sin in this matter. I have that sense of his immortal labours for the good of my country, vainly spent as they may seem for the present day to have been on an ingrate generation, —I have that true knowledge of the heroic zeal with which he gave all his genius, capacity, and influence to the service of Ireland in those years of his glory—that it has been a great pain to me to have to say what I have said. But I have also that confidence in his magnanimity and love of truth, that I feel sure he will thank me if I have succeeded, as I hope I have, in showing that he has in haste made a mistake which it can only be to his honour to correct, in uttering a charge of such a cruel character against the memory of men, who, though they erred for a moment through "a blunder of the sudden," did not hesitate, at the risk of public obloquy and continuous civil outlawry, to avow their unpopular principles,—so approving themselves both honest Englishmen and