29 JUNE 1867, Page 4



I T is more than probable, it is almost certain, that one of the strangest scenes of an age fertile in strange scenes is about to transact itself in Rome. We are informed on good authority, which cannot on such a point be mistaken, that Reuter's unnoticed telegram of the 26th inst. is true, that the Papacy, in its despair, has resolved to use its last resource, to wield once more the weapon which for three hundred years Popes have dreaded to unsheathe, lest it should be turned against themselves, to summon once more the body which even the Ultramontanes hold to be greater than the Popes, the mystic depositary of inspiration, the Sovereign Parlia- ment of the Universal Church. Unless the Pope is daunted at the eleventh hour by the remonstrances of the few men around him who still retain their secular sense, or the Princes of this world interfere, or the instinct of danger which always protects Catholicism warn the governing committee of the Society of Jesus, the gather- ing of Bishops, Patriarchs, and. Archimandrites now assem- bling in Rome, from the East and the West, a gathering which already represents all the Christian nations of the world, which has flocked up from the newest as from the oldest lands, from Ohio and Florida as from Lebanon and Armenia, is to be changed into an (Ecumenical Council of the Church, a real Council, with power to depose Popes and modify creeds, to declare new dogmas and establish new formulas of discipline, a true successor to the Council of Trent. An appeal is to be made to the one power before which even Liberal Catholics bow, the one authority to which belief is due, on the Catholic theory, as well as obedi- ence. The plan, a rooted one with the Society of Jesus for the past thirty years, has been very carefully laid. Needless to say that the Popes and the Society would equally dread a true Council, a representative Assembly of Christendom, possessed of absolute power and free to use it ; but a packed Council—? Might not the potent instrument be employed with- out danger of its asserting an independent volition, be so con- structed as to represent the Vatican instead of Christendom ? The Society think it can, and Archbishop Manning also thinks it, and so does Cardinal Antonelli, and it is by no means certain that they think wrong. All appointments to the Episcopate have for years been governed by this thought, the list is choked with Ultramontanes of the deepest dye, and so long ago as September last a letter was addressed to the Bishops asking their views as to the expediency of summoning a General Council. The majority of the replies are believed to have been favourable, but immense care has been employed in the invitations. French and Spanish priests are swarming in Rome, and are reinforced, first, by Bishops selected because of their extreme opinions ; and secondly, by Oriental Bishops whose primary idea is obedience, and who have assembled in such numbers, that with their strange dresses, dark features, and conspicuous bearing, they seem in the streets of Rome to outnumber their Western colleagues. One of them, a mere lad of surpassing presence, seems at this moment to concentrate on himself the attention of a populace surprised by his beauty and the strangeness of his costume out of its indifference to dignitaries of the Church. The ultimate design, moreover, has been carefully concealed. The ostensible cause of the gathering is the elevation of certain martyrs to the degree of saintship, and it is noteworthy that the first of these martyrs, the man whose deeds are depicted on' paintings hung by the altar of St. Peter's, is a priest best described as the Marat of Catholicism, Arboes, the Spanish Inquisitor, perhaps the worst even among Spanish Inquisi- tors, a man infamous even in the annals of the Inquisi- tion, who gloated over roasting Jews, and perished at last by no martyrdom, but at the hands of an infuriated relative of his victims. This, we say, was the ostensible reason, but the prelates were, of course, privately informed that more would be attempted, that it had become expedient to revise some ancient statutes, and invest the Pope with a more plenary measure of authority over the discipline of the Church. As the Bishops arrived, however, it was found that the fervency of their zeal would bear much more than this,—the spell of Rome began to fall upon them, and at last the great idea was broached that the time had arrived for changing the Republic into a monarchy by formally declaring as a dogma of the Faith the personal infallibility of the Pope, thus investing the occupant of the Chair with the full power of a General Council, to which there la, at all events, no theo- retic limit, to proclaim dogmas, to promulgate rituals, alter discipline,—in short, do everything which by possibility caa, be done by the Universal Church. All laws are to shrink before that supreme will, and trifles such as, for example,. the summary unfrocking of Cardinal Andrea, which is at pre- sent beyond the Pope's power, will be as easy as writing a despatch. The whole of that mass of decrees, statutes,. traditions, and customs by which the inordinate power of the. central Bishop is at present regulated and moderated. will be. at once deprived of authority, save such as they may derive from the forbearance or the wisdom of the ruling Pontiff. It would even be possible to him to alter the form of succession to his own Primacy ; and no concordat, unless supported by temporal power, could any longer be of force. It is use- less, however, to multiply further illustrations. It suffices that from the instant the decree is passed, the breath. of a single mouth becomes the supreme law of the Church,. that an individual replaces the mystic Corporation, and that the faith of the half of Christendom becomes. dependent on a personal will. The mass of Protestanta we believe, think it is so now, but they are in error, the power of_ the Pope over belief, and, indeed, over action, being more strictly limited than they are accustomed to suppose. He has, indeed, no power of establishing dogma, and exceedingly little of varying, or suspending the essential ordinances of disoipline,--could not, for example, limit, enlarge, or even closely define the sacerdotal power of absolving sinners_ He and his Congregations together could, but only by in- terpretations, glosses, and explanations, not by mere decree.. The Catholic world, at all events, will feel the full ithport- ance of the change, and the single question is, will the decree, in its full plenitude be passed ?

We cannot bring ourselves to believe it. That the ruling' Powers in the Vatican intend, if they can, to pass it, is beyond doubt, but there are able men even initOme, men who know the world which does not confess to them, men bred up in an atmo- sphere which is not that of Rome, genuine English Catholics,. German prelates who understand D611inger, Frenchmen who are not free from the " taint " of Gallicanism, and they are murmur- ing almost audibly, whispering that it will be wise to pause, sug- gesting a thought which weighs heavily in the Pope's own mind_ Can he trust the Council? Once assembled, the Council is all- powerful, its members must be free to speak, and who knows. what will be said, or how infectious eloquence may prove ?. Even Bishops have grievances, the Society of Jesus is not loved, and. the tremendous machine once set in motion may accomplish far more than its authors intended. Is there not danger that the dogma may in the end be rejected, to the sad weakening of authority, or that the Council' may add riders which, by explaining, will restrict it, or that' the secular Princes, alarmed at such absolutism, may inter- vene with the arm of flesh? Napoleon does not love Ultra- montanism, or Italy, or any secular Prince, when presented in this undisguised form. Even the Bishops see danger in it for themselves, think that it changes the ecclesiastical Republic. into too complete a Camarism. These whispers circulate fast, and are mingled with others which, out of Rome, would be doubts, doubts whether the Church can abdicate her supremacy, whether aught but herself can be infallible, whether the function delegated to her by Christ can be delegated even by herself in Council to any human hands. The Pope pauses, struck with the enormous magnitude of the revolution he proposes ; informs the Bishops in Consistory that he will summon the Council, but does not fix the time, or even issue that notice. to Christendom with which even he, who really believes in his own mystic authority, really thinks that he is more than the mouthpiece of the Universal Church, will not venture to dis- pense. He may recede, even now, busily as Archbishop Manning works on to his end with the full approval of the Vatican, but if he persists and the gathering to canonize Axboes be changed into an (Ecumenical Council, 1867 will be marked in history by an event greater than Sadowa, nothing less than the proclamation throughout the world of the descent of a- new Avatar. imagine( it is not only possible but likely that. in the nineteenth century the larger section of Christendom- may be called on by irresistible authority—for the decree- of a Council is to Roman Catholics throughout the world irresistible—to believe that the written utterance of a single human being is equivalent in obligation to a revelation from on High. It seems incredible, but in spite of the denials with which, if the scheme is postponed, we shall be flooded, it is true.