6 AUGUST 1870, Page 11


NOW that the Council of the Vatican has declared the Pope to be Infallible when he speaks ex cathedra on questions of faith or morals, it is interesting to note the grounds on which the doctrine has been defended by the ablest minds of the Latin Church. Indeed, for a defence that will bear the slightest scrutiny of the unfettered reason, we must go back from the Meanings of the present generation to the De Maistres of the past. Although the ablest man in the Infallibilist party, Archbishop Manning is essentially dogmatic in his process of thought; his intellect does not betray even a dawning aptitude to perceive the necessities of philosophical proof; the first and the last word of his dialectic is an appeal to the ipse dixit of the Church ; and with such a reasoner, it is as hopeless to contend on grounds of scientific certitude, as with a man who should answer an argument for the overthrow of the Napoleonic dynasty by an appeal to the divine right of Kings. Dr. Newman, on the other hand, is essen- tially rationalistic. His intellect ever goes in search of a meta- physical or an ethical basis for his dogmatic system. But for his profoundly reverential nature, his sense of the awfulness of sin, and his distrust of that very reasoning power with which he has been pre-eminently gifted, he would have been the most sceptical thinker of his generation, and have applied to dogmatic theology some such destructive analysis as Hume applied to all systems of philosophy. Essentially the same in type of mind was the Comte de Maistre. At once a thinker and a fanatic, he had lived through the terrors of the French Revolution, had noted the strength of the intellectual forces which laid throne and altar in the dust, and had seen the inability of theology to win the battle of intel- lectual conviction unless she should use such weapons of dialectic as were forged in the armoury of Voltaire. Hence, although the most devoted of believers and the most loyal subject of the Holy See, he made his apologies for the faith essentially rationalistic. His defence of Papal Infallibility is such an argument as might have come from Voltaire, if that satirist had been a believer, and if the clearness of his head had lessened in proportion to the increase of his reverence. De Maistre's Du Pape is the ablest plea for the reality of the powers with which the successive Holy Fathers are now declared to have been invested since the dawn

of the Church ; and, indeed, it is also the only plea that can be conscientiously read by thinkers who scruple to waste their time, or who do not seek to fathom the depth of human credulity.

Casting aside the rubbish which has been piled up round the grave of General Councils, De Maistre at once appeals to the reasoning intellect, and says that "infallibility in the spiritual order, and sovereignty in the temporal order, are two words per- fectly synonymous. Both express that high power which governs all others, from which all others are derived, which rules and is not ruled, which judges and is not judged. When," he adds," we say that the Church is infallible, we demand for her, I must point out, no special privilege ; we demand only that she should enjoy a right common to all possible Sovereigns, who necessarily act as if they were infallible ; for all Government is absolute ; and from the moment in which it can be resisted on the pretext that it is wrong or unjust, it ceases to exist." De Maistre thus states his argument with admirable brevity and precision. To give it logical completeness, he adds that in every country absolute power must be the attri- bute of some one person or assembly. Although the power of governing England, for example, is said to be distributed among the three Estates of the realm, the distribution is only theoretical, and the real custodian of supreme authority is neither the Crown nor the House of Lords, but the House of Commons. And so, argues De Maistre, must it be with the Church. The supreme authority over the Church must dwell somewhere. All Catholics admit that it dwells either in an (Ecumenical Council or in the Papacy. De Maistre adds that, in one sense, it resides in both. It must reside in a General Council ; for such an assembly represents the whole Church, and the whole Church has the guarantee of its Divine Founder against the victory of error. But practically it must reside in the Papacy ; for General Councils can be summoned only at periods separated by generations, or by centuries, and the Church must be governed during the interval by some authority com- missioned to pronounce what is infallibly true in morals or in faith. The Pope must be the custodian of that certitude. Did the Church lack such a court of appeal as that furnished by the See of St. Peter, she would fall into an anarchy of warring sects. Statesmen and men of the world must so clearly see this fact that, even if they had never heard of the commission given to the chief of the Apostles, and never read a page of the apologists for Papal Infalli- bility, they would look among the courts of the Church for some abiding tribunal whose decrees had the finality of death.

Such is De Maistre's argument. It is addressed to rationalists as much as to believers in the most dogmatic form of Christianity. It assumes no basis of theology, and makes no appeal to the authority of the Church. And, above all things, it is essentially French. It is French in its neatness, its lucidity, and the appar- ently unanswerable force which it packs into the compass of suc- cessive epigrams. The very completeness of such arguments, however, instantly raises a suspicion of their soundness in minds familiar with the intricacy of the logical avenues which lead to philosophical truth, and with what we may call the highly organ- ized character of human conviction. Such emphatically is the suspicion raised by the:seemingly triumphant completeness of De Maistre's chain of proof. The doctrine is too clear to be true. And, in fact, it is the mere mirage of logic, with as little reality as the air-built cities of the desert, which lure on the traveller by their defined array of terrace and dome, only to reward him with an expanse of empty air. Between the supremacy of a secular govern- mentor tribunal, on the one hand, and the infallibility of the Papacy on the other, there is no such analogy as that drawn by the Comte de Maistre. A secular government or tribunal must, indeed, be supreme within its own boundaries ; but it exercises, and can exercise, supremacy over actions or words alone. Thoughts or beliefs are beyond its province. In effect it says to the subjects of a country, "You must fulfil certain conditions in order to obtain the right of residence or the privilege of citizenship ; and, if you fail to comply with the stipulated terms, you will be punished in propor- tion to the gravity:of your offence,—punished by imprisonment, or by exile, or by death." Nothing more can a secular power do, or attempt to do. And in so far as the Papacy attempts to reach no remoter end, the analogy between its jurisdiction and that of a secular court is complete. When it stipulates that a certain faith must be taught, and certain acts of obedience performed, by those who fill the offices of the episcopate and the priesthood, it exercises no greater authority over the Latin Church than our own Parlia- ment exercises over England. If there is any analogy between a nation and a church, the Papacy cannot be denied such supremacy over act and word. But such a supremacy does not bring the Papacy one hairsbreadth nearer to infallibility. In the sense that we have described, the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland is not less supreme than the Papacy itself, and were the reasoning of De Maistre sound, it would be not less infallible ; for it has supreme power to lay down the conditions on which it will grant admission to its communion-table, or which it will exact from the members of its ministry. But the French apologist is not content to abide by the analogy which really exists between a Government like that of England, and a Govern- ment like that of Rome. Although the several States of Europe are ruled collectively by no central authority, he assumes that such an authority must exercise jurisdiction over the several sections of the Christian Church ; and that assump- tion takes for granted a crowd of the very doctrines which have caused and which perpetuate the divisions of Christendom. Da Maistre makes the far more important assumption, that there exists an analogy between an authority which defines the words that men must not say, or the acts that men must not do, and an authority which defines the thoughts that men must not think. While the secular tribunal proclaims that persons who commit certain offences will forfeit the rights of citizens or receive the punishment of felons, the Papacy declares that men who believe certain doctrines, or do not believe certain others, are guilty of a. sin for which, if they do not repent, they shall be punished with, hell fire. The one authority exacts obedience to a definite code of law, but does not and cannot require the citizen to believe that the code is morally just; the other claims a despotism over the most hidden recesses of the mind, the most subtile promptings of the will, and utters the command, "Think as I think, or go into the place of the damned." The two claims are bound together by not the faintest thread of analogy. The difference between the pretensions is as great as that between time and eternity. De Maistre would, of course, reply that it is the function of the. Church to define her doctrines ; that, in order to be effective, her definition must be authoritative ; that they cannot be authorita- tive unless they be infallibly true; and that the custodian of infalli- bility must be the Pope. Butin the sense implied by De Maistre, not one of these propositions receives the slightest warrant from the analogy of the power wielded by civil Governments ; each takes for granted a whole world of disputed doctrines ; and, if tested by that reasoning faculty to which De Maistre makes his appeal, each is adjudged to be as monstrous a fiction as the stories of the Greek gods. So the French logician's clever dialectic brings us back to the weary cloud-land whence we set out, and once more sets us. face to face with the old fog-bank of assumptions.

But if the doctrine of Papal Infallibility is untenable on the grounds set forth by De Maistre, equally untenable on the same grounds is the doctrine that the attribute of Infallibility guides the. deliberations of a General Council. An (Ecumenical synod of the Church, no less than the Papacy, claims despotic jurisdiction over the thought and the will ; and, whether the claim be just or not, it finds no warrant from the analogy of the jurisdiction exercised by secular assemblies over actions and words. The rationalistic argument of De Maistre fails in the one case as completely as in the other. And, indeed, no man who can reason logically will attempt to argue that on rationalistic grounds the doctrine of Conciliar infallibility is more tenable than the doctrine of Papal infallibility. The proposition that 750 men are more likely to be endowed collectively with the attribute of infallibility than one man lies utterly beyond the domain of proof. For in estimating

degrees of probability we must argue from such facts as lie within our own experience, and that monitor says as little about collective as about individual infallibility. If we can trust to the evidence of our senses and our reason, no assembly ever gave its decisions with infallible precision. The theory that a Council is infallible is, therefore, as completely outsiile the sphere of probability as the theory that the inhabitants of

the planet Mars are at this moment studying the Hegelian philo- sophy. To speak of applying the doctrine of probability to such a case is as meaningless as to propose a trigonometrical survey of our moral consciousness. On rationalistic grounds, it is not more probable that seven hundred men, or seven hundred million men, should be infallible, than it is that infallibility should be the attri- bute of one ; nor, on the same grounds, is it more improbable that an uninstructed Hottentot should be infallible, than it is that infallibility should stamp the collective decrees of the Vatican Council. On rationalistic grounds, all we can aver is that,

in certain cases, bodies of men have a greater chance of being right than one man ; but such a proposition is separated by

an infinite distance from the proposition that bodies of men have a greater chance than one man of being infallible. And,

indeed, both outside and inside the Latin Church, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility has been exposed to criticisms which are absolutely marvellous examples of logical inconsistency. The doctrine that God has given the power of infallibly uttering His decrees to elegant Pagans like Leo X., or to monsters of depravity like Alexander IV., has been branded as an indictment against the morality of Heaven, by men who teach in the same breath that Heaven permits sinless infants to perish if they die unsanc- tified by the sprinkling of water and the invocation of the Trinity. As an essentially immoral doctrine, the tenet of Papal Infallibility is insignificant when compared with the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration. But the most remarkable specimen of inconsistent criticism is presented by those who laugh at the doctrine of Papal infallibility, and yet believe in the High- Church doctrine of clerical ordination. It is, no doubt, a marvel- bus theory that an elderly gentleman in the Vatican should have power to determine with infallible accuracy what is right or wrong in matters of faith or morals ; but the marvel becomes absolutely insignificant when compared with the marvel of the stupendous doctrine that, by the act of canonical ordination, every clergy- man is gifted with the power of working an indefinite number of " invisible miracles" in the dispensation of the sacraments. In comparison with that indefinitely multiplied and self-perpetuating miracle, the standing-still of Joshua's sun at Ajalon was a trifling occurrence, and the fact of Papal Infallibility is scarcely worthy of notice. That educated men should readily believe the Pope or the meanest of the priesthood to be capable of transubstantiating bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and yet should hold it absurd to believe him capable of infallibly distinguishing theological truth from error, shows how unguided are the mass even of educated men by the rudimentary processes of logical thought.

With every weapon of logic except the logic of facts the his earliest years he was placed in a situation which demanded the Mannings have won a signal triumph over their opponents. The exercise of more than ordinary sagacity, and in this quality he sight of Newman and Gratry, Dupanloup and Hyacinthe, driven was unfortunately entirely wanting. Weak men, who have been into a corner, and struggling against the resistless inferences from thus dangerously forced into action, are divided in the course they the professions of their own faith, is a sight which, to use the pursue into two classes. In the one class the mental incapacity pathetic words cited by Newman himself, "makes the heart of the takes the form of overweening self-confidence, and their con- just sad." And yet it is to the inconsistent men that earnest thinkers duct is consequently marked by a total disregard of the opinion turn with yearning sympathy. The minds of those men are too and counsels of everyone else. Perhaps this is the leas dan- noble, their impulses too true, to let them speak with the con- gerous class, since we can ascertain with some certainty the sistency demanded by their dogmatic system of faith. It is easy tendencies and limits of the incapacity, from our knowledge of for narrow and essentially ecclesiastical natures like Archbishop the personal character of the self-sufficient fool, and so can guard Manning to accept the guidance of what Newman contemptuously to some extent against the consequences of his folly. But there is calls a "paper logic." The clay of their souls readily takes the another class, who are sufficiently conscious of their own incapacity shape of the dogmatic mould. Their aspirations find ample room of forming a correct judgment as to any course of action, and who within the paltry limits of what, through a pitiful misapplication consequently are never happy unless they are consulting and con- of the words used by our Lord, is called the Church. They have fiding absolutely in other men. If there were any reliance to so permitted theology to stifle the promptings of nature and of be placed on the constancy of this dependence, we might, even reason, that no dogmatic tenet shocks their mind or even their moral here, be to a certain extent assured as to the future. But with sense. Their condemnation is found in their very consistency. many of this class the distrust of their own abilities which leads But men of larger natures and more heroic hearts find, as them to consult and throw themselves on another man, leads them Newman has found, that even when they formally surrender their also af ter atime to distrust their own judgment of that man's capacity reason and their will into the keeping of a Fetish which they call for giving them good advice, or his disposition to do so ; and then, the Church, they cannot free themselves from the recurring agony of aspirations for a wider and mistier horizon of faith than that pre- seated by a theology which sharply divides the true from the false, been drawn by some chance, or in whose hands they have been which marks off with terrible precision the lost from the saved, and which draws the line at the dictates of a principle that outrages the moral sense. Even Newman has not allowed his fine nature free play. As Mr. Goldwin Smith has said, in an essay of remark- the consequences of his vacillating confidences. Such a man was able power and precision of statement, "the structure of his mind Henry III. A modern writer says of him :—" Henry spent his is such, that it seeks first that which is good, and in the second life in pitiable alternations between blind confidence and almost place that which is true." But his nature is too broad and his ludicrous mistrust. De Burgh, Des Roches, Peter of Rivaulx, instincts too fine to allow of his being narrowly consistent with

the principles of his creed ; and the protest which he penned ment,—the result, probably, not so much of caprice, in the common against the dogma of Papal Infallibility, in his famous sense of the word, as of a clinging weakness of character and a letter to Bishop Ullathorne, presents a memorable picture of

conscious inability to estimate the men by whom he was served. a great and good man struggling with unavailing agony in

the iron embrace of a dogmatic system. Newman is greater nerved his weak judgment when presented by another, and he than his creed, and hence he wins the reverential homage fancied himself betrayed and undone by the man to whom but an of thinkers who believe the distinctive tenets of his theology to hour before he would have trusted everything." Henry not only be fundamentally immoral. A rationalist in the camp of the found it impossible to make up his mind on any subject without dogmatists, he has tried, like Joseph de Maistre, to array dialec- referring to the counsels of those who swayed him for the time, tic on the side of his Church, and he has failed as signally as the but he could hardly ever be relied on, even by them, for continu- French apologist. And equally signal will be the failure of lag long in the same resolution. A curious example of this is pre- apologies for every system of theology, except that which ad- sented in his matrimonial negotiations. It seemed as if he would dresses its last word of appeal, not to the Church, but to the moral never be married. Fair representatives of Brittany, Austria, law which, in a thousand forms, is written by God on the Bavaria, Bohemia, and the Counts of Bigorre and Ponthiou