THE PAPAL DRAMA.*
Tins book is a huge leading article of the Telegraph kind. The author, Mr. T. H. Gill, a writer of much learning and patience, bas read many books, consulted many authorities, and ex-
pended a praiseworthy amount of labour in the effort to pro- duce a popular version of the story of the Papacy. We do not know that he has failed. On the contrary, we dare say
he has succeeded, that he has produced a book which will be in great demand among men eager for historical pemmican, for a book which will give them a sufficient outline of the facts they want in a sufficiently interesting form. To them a rapid, rattling history of the Papacy, which can be read through in a day, yet leaves an effective impression of every great Pope, may well be acceptable, and if this is all they want they may find it here. This, however, is but a petty success, and Mr. Gill is disqualified, or rather has disqualified himself, for claiming more. He is not philosophical, he is not impartial, and he has chosen to write in the most abominable of all styles, that which seeks to give an impression of power and freshness by imitation oratory, oratory of the stump, oratory in which large words are used to give the idea of sincerity, epithets that of force, and tautology that of eloquence. No man with a gleam of philosophical instinct could have written such a sentence as the following :—" Disbelievers in the divine origin and the divine authority of the Christian religion may regard the Papacy with feelings of mingled complacency and dislike, as an institution serviceable and beneficent in ages past, though worn out and pernicious now. But every earnest believer in Christianity as the full and final revelation of God, must look upon the Popedom either as the perfection or as the nethermost degradation thereof. It was more at home in those dark ages of which it was the creature ; it may have done less harm then, it may have put forth some social restraint and held brute force in some check. But it was as much a spiritual corruption in the eleventh as in the sixteenth or the nineteenth century. Circum- stances have rendered it more or less formidable, more or less pernicious ; but it has remained throughout the supreme corruption of Christianity; and as such I deal with it throughout this volume." We are believers at once in the divine origin and the divine authority of Christianity, and certainly to us the Popedom is neither the " perfection " nor the "nethermost degradation" of that faith. It seems to us the embodiment of two very great ideas indeed—the visible unity of Christ's Church on earth, and the absolute supremacy of the spiritual over the material interests of mankind. No doubt the first idea was a mistake, but it was one into which a population incapable of abstract ideas was certain to fall, and which was excessively beneficial, in keeping up among mankind the notion of a common humanity which ought to bind all sections of the human race together. The Popedom was for ages the only centripetal force in the world, to this day is the sole power which openly affirms that there can exist no distinction of race, or birth, or colour before Christ. The second idea is true, the spiritual having an absolute right to rule the material, a right as absolute as that of the mind to rule the body, the only error being the assumption that the Papacy was the true interpreter of the spiritual on earth. We, who are Protestants to the backbone, venture to doubt whether the Papacy has even yet proved itself a mere corruption, whether a purified Papacy cleaned of many non- essentials, such as image worship, might not exercise a more beneficial influence among the dark races than any form of Protestantism. To say that the power which, in the worst age of human violence, declared that heaven was a higher object than glory, found retreats for men of learning which the men * The Papal Drama. A Historical Essay. By Thema H. Gill, author of " The Anniversaries." London: Longman&
of armour dared not touch, protested against and nearly abol- ished European slavery, guarded the revival of learning from the fury of the mob, and systematically fought the successive pretenders to universal monarchy, was a mere corruption, is to write history in the mere spirit of a partizan. Indeed Mr. Gill admits that "he lays no elahn to the impartiality of religious indifference," and seems not to recognize that there may exist an impartiality of perfect faith. There have been martyrs who were impartial, and one or two at least of the early Reformers could see the whole utility of the Papal organization. There is no particular objection of course to one more avowedly partizan history of the Papacy, but can such a history be of real benefit to any sort of readers? Englishmen hate the Papacy already to such an extent that the infinite majority of them could not state the special Catholic doctrines, would tell you gravely that the Church be- lieved bread and salt to be actually changed into the body of Christ, and that it upheld the theory of the worship of images, —is it worth while simply to increase that hate? Is the time never to come for analyzing the causes of the success and the failure of the greatest organization man has ever produced? We do not say Mr. Gill often or ever misrepresents ; it is rather in a general tone of special pleading that he fails. He denounces Hildebrand for his ambition of universal empire, and never men- tions that Catholicism by the law of its existence must claim universal power or none, and that Hildebrand in particular had no idea, any more than anybody else in his age, that the Roman Empire was dead, thought that he was simply claiming its powers for the spiritual instead of the secular power, said secular power being in objects at least very much worse than the spiritual. Secular power nowadays professes at all events to do justice, and love mercy, and seek the enlightenment and welfare of mankind, and the spiritual power does not, but in Iiildebrand's time the positions were reversed. The persecution of Languedoc, again, was an atrocity, but it is hardly fair to call the Albigenses "early Puritans," or to conceal the undoubted fact that with emancipation from the priesthood came an emancipation from the moral law which would soon have dissolved society.
We are not, however, about to follow Mr. Gill step by step through the story of the Papacy ; that would be to write it again, a task for which we have no qualifications, and we have a quarrel with him of another kind.- That he can write well is plain from many pages of his book, and why does he deliberately adopt the style of all others least suited to the historian, the style which incessantly alludes to a fact instead of stating it, which mistakes colour for brilliancy, and stains even blood deep purple ? Take this summary of Hildebrand's misdeeds :—" The Papal idea was altogether the conception of Hildebrand, and its realization was in great measure his work. He did not less skilfully devise the means than steadfastly pursue the end. He made war upon clerical matrimony as a source of clerical weakness, and built up Papal omnipotence upon priestly celibacy. He assisted at the triumph of transubstantiation. He set the Papacy in a path wherein it really walked for some time, and wherein it has affected to walk ever since. No man ever conceived a vaster or more daring design, or laboured more earnestly or successfully for its accomplishment. The great architect of Papal power, the perfecter of the arch- corruption of God's truth, must needs fill a very high, though a very unenviable, place among the master-spirits of the world." This "Papal drama" must be written either for those who know it or those who do not. Those who do, do not want it, and what will those who do not get out of that sentence about transubstantiation? They may deduce, though they are not 'told, that Hildebrand was the first to secure the compulsory celibacy of the clergy, and thus change the clerical order into a corporation without earthly ties or human affections, but about transubstantiation they will learn nothing whatever. Or what can be the temptation of a scholar to "pile up the agony" like this ? Mr. Gill is not writing for the Telegraph, yet he says of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew :—" Gregory XIII., if not quite the match, was no unworthy successor of the perfect pontiff, was no faint and lukewarm foe of the Reformation, no slack or unskilful captain of the Roman Catholic host in its onslaught on Protestantism. He began his pontificate worthily and significantly. The opening of his reign was signalized by the chief exploit and supreme triumph of the Roman Catholic reaction, by the most horrible crime in history, that largest and most deadly manifestation of the evil passions of man's heart, that master- piece of treachery and cruelty, that huge bath and mighty banquet of blood, which never has had and never will have fellow or rival, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew—the long and deliberately planned slaughter of 30,000 Protestants by fellow-countrymen with whom they had recently contracted amity, of subjects by a Government that had lately and solemnly pledged them its protec- tion, and of guests by hosts who had given a special invitation and afforded an ostentatious hospitality." How can anything be at once a bath and a banquet, and what is the good of calling a massacre either? When he has said all that he still thinks he has not.,said enough, and ind.ulges in an immensely long note in A further pro- fusion of epithets:-" This transcendent crime, the joint work of a perjured ,Government, a corrupt Court, infuriated party chiefs, a frantic mob, and a ruthless priesthood, .the foulest and most per- fidious of plots, the most deliberate and terrible of coups d'itat, the most ferocious of popular outrages, the uttermost achievement of political faction and' religious hatred, stands forth facillime princeps among the many. horrors of history." Surely the "per- jured, Government" was also the corrupt Court, Catherine de Medici being the moving spring of both. The only effect of such a profusion of woreli,.such dabbing with .colour, is to make quiet men doubt whether a writer who can let himself loose in that style can be trusted at all. As it happens, we believe Mr. Gill's point is fairly 'correct, that the Maacaere of St. Bartholomew was the most treacherous ewer committed, though we doubt whether two acts of the same kind, which he has- not . included in his enumeration, the expulsion of the Moors and the Dragonnades, were not more. deliberately and coldly. cruel.. But writing of this kind only disguises accuracy to . those who cannot test it, while it
gusts those those who can,,till a book like this, the result of patient
labour. and much thought, is cast aside with a contemptuous " pshaw." Itis no doubt a hard thing to define the style which best suits a narrative in which such condensation is demanded as in Mr. Gill's book, the condensation of a biography like Hilde- brand's into half-a-dozen pages, but Gibbon weakened is most certainly not the style. The words take up the room of-facts, and the excess of colour accumulates in almost- grotesque patches. The annalist's style is a little too cold for to-day, but simplicity is always strong and almost invariably clear. HadMr. Gill cul- tivated it a little more, pruned away epithets, substituted direct statements for allusions, and remembered that perpetual.antithesis is as tiresome as perpetual partridge, his book might' have had a popularity with classes who sicken at Telegraph leaders- and hold George Gilfillan a silly charlatan.