Letters to the Editor
[Letters of the length of one of our leading paragraphs are often m9re read, and therefore m9re effective, than those which fill treble the space. They should be written clearly on one side of the paper only.] • RELIGION WITHOUT THE CREEDS [To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] SIR,—Your pseudonymous correspondent (who plunges into the fray with a bludgeon and calls himself " Bystander") tries to prejudice your readers by informing them that I am a Catholic, and inviting them thereupon to make a. new penal law and an a priori deduction that I have no regard for truth, and would be prepared to sacrifice truth in ecclesiastical interests. In the interests of truth he then writes a series of irrelevant untruths on the old story of Galileo, from which any competent modern authority (or even the Encyclopaedia Britannica) would have saved him. He asserts that the Catholic Church did not hesitate to use torture in order to make. Galileo recant. the truth which he-had discovered" (he wisely forgets a certain Catholic priest of an earlier date named Copernicus) and that the Church " took great pride in this vindication of its infallibility."
The Encyclopaedia Britannica states that Galileo was not tortured, and that there was no intention of torturing him ; that he was drawing a pension from the Pope for his scientific merits, and went on drawing it to the end of his life ; that the worst part of his " imprisonment " was a princely lodging in the house of the Tuscan ambassador ; that the famous Eppur si muove was invented in the eighteenth century, and that there is no earlier record of it. While I was writing a book called The Torch-bearers some years ago, on thepioneers of science (a book to which men of science have been very generous) facts of this kind were borne in upon me with such force that I had to revise my Protestant " history." The record is there for anyone who cares to discover whether truth or some other influence led me. It is usually forgotten that Galileo was not a sort of Protestant. Hampden ; but was himself a Catholic ; and that his discoveries " were rejected with contempt by that great god of Protestant philosophy, Francis Bacon, who said that there must be something wrong with Galileo's telescope, and that he was foolish to defy the general opinion of mankind. It is the attitude of an age that has. to be considered, not the attitude of a few eccle- siastical officials in whom no " infallibility " was vested. Kepler was condemned by the Protestants of Tubingen • Servetus was brought to the stake by Calvin and burnt to death at a slow fire ; Darwin was condemned by the older scientists as well as by Anglican churchmen ; and there was a monk called Mendel . . . but we shall get no further on these lines.
Galileo maintained that a hypothesis (for which Copernicus, a canon of the Church, was largely responsible) was a proven fact. He scoffed at Kepler for connecting the tides with the moon (even charging him with bad faith) and he denied flatly the reports of the two daily tides on the Atlantic coast, because they clashed with the fallacious arguments on which he based his theory. He described these reports as " fables." This scientific error was the chief point on which he was directly contradicted by the Cardinals, who did, as Huxley admitted, point to real fallacies in his argument (the argument about the sun-spots, for instance, was merely fantastic). At the same time a fallible congregation," egged on by jealous scientific rivals and personal enemies of Galileo, did blunder about the probability of the Copernican hypothesis. They did not blunder about Galileo's assertion that he had proved it ; and the Encyclopaedia Britannica says that Galileo was " treated with unexampled indulgence." I need say nothing of the murder of Sir Thomas More in England ; or of the unexampled indulgence which left Tintem Abbey and Glastonbury in ruins, or of the outrages that followed the Catholic refusal to gratify the lusts of Henry VIII. Galileo has long been a parrot-cry. The bare ruined choirs are still there. But we shall get no further along these lines. The last penal insult has only lately been withdrawn in this free country ; but, even supposing that Galileo had been wickedly tortured by fallible individuals, what would it prove ? No more than is proved by the wickedness of the Rorgias ; or, if your correspondent likes to go further back,
no more than is proved by the presence of Judas among the disciples of Christ Himself.
In the interests of his own integrity, your correspondent should discover what Catholics really believe before he accuses them of intellectual dishonesty. Newman shattered that slander once and for all. " Bystander's " remarks about infallibility are simply nonsense. It is really appalling that two-thirds of .a nation like ours should still be brought up to believe a wild series of myths about the beliefs of their neighbours. The great Protestant scholar, Hainackt wrote, " the students who leave our schools have the most absurd ideas about ecclesiastical history. Of the Catholic Church, the greatest political and religious creation known to history, they know absolutely nothing, and they indulge in its regard in wholly trivial, vague, and often nonsensical notions."
" Infallibility " applies to a limited, though infinitely precious, body or " deposit " of religious knowledge. It has nothing to do with " inspiration," and it is very strictly and narrowly defined in its functions, which are concerned with the definition of matters of faith and morals only, with such developments as are organically involved in definition, and then only in very strictly defined circumstances. Unlike the " infallibility " of the privately interpreted Bible on which Protestants relied till recently, it has never come into collision with scientific truth, and cannot do so. It takes an infinitely more humble view than that of certain " moderns " with their mechanical " laws" and their closed mechano-morphic and self- running universe. Mr. Shaw has said (in his pteface to St. Joan) that, compared with the other infallibilities of to-daY, infallible democracy, infallible science, the Head Of the Catholic Church seems to be on his knees in the dust before the Throne of God.
My remarks on Bishop Barnes were in answer to his own offensive language—it was condemned later by his own ArchbishoP--not only about the beliefS of others, Nit also about the " Mediterranean people " in general. Whining about " persecution " when he gets a straight answer" is contemptible. Bishop Barnes divides the universe into two mutually exclusive parts. He believes in a God, apparently, who resides elsewhere, beyond the range of scientific " law," a range which, as it extends with the extension of knowledge, must, in the last analysis, exclude Him altogether. Your correspondent says he is upholding an exclusively spiritual religion. But man is not purely spiritual ; and the universe is not purely spiritual. The whole idea of Christianity centres upon the Incarnation, which gives the sacramental key to the purpose of that universe and bridges the gulf between man and God.—I am, Sir, &c.,
- 13 Hanover Terrace, Regent's Park, N.W. 1.
[We print this letter exactly as we received it. For the sake of clarity we wish Mr. Noyes would use the term Roman Catholic instead of Catholic. The word Catholic applies to many devout Christians who do not acknowledge the supre- macy of Rome. We know that very few Roman Catholics do call themselves Roman Catholics ; possibly the term would not have the approval of their Church, and perhaps in asking that they should apply the term to themselves we are asking for a consideration for Anglican Catholics which is not practical politics.—En., Spectator.]