RATIONALISM IN EUROPE.
THE SECULARISATION OF POLITICS.
THE SECULARISATION OF POLITICS.
The evidence I have collected in the preceding chapters will be sufficient to exhibit the nature of the rationalistic movement, and also the process by which it has been developed. To establish the first, I have reviewed a long series of theological conceptions which the movement has weakened or transformed. To establish the second, I have shown that the most important changes were much less the results of direct controversy than of the attraction of the prevailing modes of thought, which themselves represented the convergence of a great variety of theological influences. In the remainder of this work, I propose to trace more fully than I have yet had occasion to do, the relations of the rationalistic movement to the political and economical history of Europe; or, in other words, to show on the one hand how the theological development has modified political and economical theories; and, on the other hand, how the tendencies produced by these have reacted upon theology.
But, before entering upon this field, it will perhaps not be altogether unnecessary to remind the reader once more of the main principle upon which the relevance of this species of narrative depends. It is that the speculative opinions which are embraced by any large body of men are accepted not on account of the arguments upon which they rest, but on account of a predisposition to receive them. This predisposition depends with many persons entirely upon the circumstances of their position, that is to say, upon the associations of childhood, friendship, or interest, and is of such a nature as altogether to dispense with arguments. With others, it depends chiefly upon the character of their minds, which induces them to embrace one class of arguments rather than another. This intellectual character, again, results partly from natural and innate peculiarities, and partly from the totality of influences that act upon the mind. For the mind of man is no inert receptacle of knowledge, but absorbs and incorporates into its own constitution the ideas which it receives. In a healthy condition, increased knowledge implies an increased mental capacity, and each peculiar department of study not merely comprises a peculiar kind of information, but also produces a peculiar ply and tendency of judgment. All minds are more or less governed by what chemists term the laws of elective affinity. Like naturally tends to like. The predominating passion of every man colours the whole train of his reasoning, and in every subject he examines, he instinctively turns to that aspect which is most congruous to his favourite pursuit.
If this be so, we should naturally expect that politics, which occupy so large a place in the minds of men, should at all times have exercised a considerable influence on the tone of thought from which theological opinions arise, and that a general tendency to restrict the province of theology should have resulted in a secularisation of politics. In the present chapter, I shall examine the stages of that secularisation and the minor changes that are connected with it. The subject will naturally divide itself into two parts. We shall first see how theological interests gradually ceased to be a main object of political combinations; and afterwards, how, by the repudiation of the divine right of kings and the assertion of the social contract, the basis of authority was secularised.
If we take a broad view of the course of history, and examine the relations of great bodies of men, we find that religion and patriotism are the chief moral influences to which they have been subject, and that the separate modifications and mutual interaction of these two agents may almost be said to constitute the moral history of mankind. For some centuries before the introduction of Christianity, patriotism was in most countries the presiding moral principle, and religion occupied an entirely subordinate position. Almost all those examples of heroic self-sacrifice, of passionate devotion to an unselfish aim, which antiquity affords, were produced by the spirit of patriotism, Decius and Regulus, Leonidas and Harmodius, are the pagan parallels to Christian martyrs. [1:102] Nor was it only in the great cruses of national history that this spirit was evoked. The pride of patriotism, the sense of dignity which it inspires, the close bond of sympathy produced by a common aim, the energy and elasticity of character which are the parents of great enterprises, were manifested habitually in the leading nations of antiquity. The spirit of patriotism pervaded all classes. It formed a distinct type of character, and was the origin both of many virtues and of many vices.
If we attempt to estimate the moral condition of such a phase of society, we must in some respects place it extremely high. Patriotism has always proved the best cordial of humanity, and all the sterner and more robust virtues were developed to the highest degree by its power. No other influence diffuses abroad so much of that steady fortitude which is equally removed from languor and timidity on the one hand, and from feverish and morbid excitement upon the other. In nations that have been long pervaded by a strong and continuous political life, the pulse beats high and steadily; habits of self-reliance are formed which enable men to confront danger with a calm intrepidity, and to retain a certain sobriety of temperament amidst the most trying vicissitudes. A capacity for united action, for self-sacrifice, for long and persevering exertion, becomes general. A high, though sometimes rather capricious, standard of honour is formed, and a stern simplicity of habits encouraged. It is probable that in the best days of the old classic republics the passions of men were as habitually under control, national tastes as simple and chastened, and acts of heroism as frequent and as grand, as in the noblest periods of subsequent history. Never did men pass through life with a more majestic dignity, or meet death with a more unfaltering calm. The full sublimity of the old classic type has never been reproduced in its perfection, but the spirit that formed it has often breathed over the feverish struggles of modern life, and has refused into society a heroism and a fortitude that have proved the invariable precursors of regeneration.
All this was produced among nations that were notoriously deficient in religious feeling, and had, indeed, degraded their religion into a mere function of the State. The disinterested enthusiasm of patriotism had pervaded and animated them, and had called into habitual action many of the noblest moral capacities of mankind.
To this picture there is, however, a melancholy reverse. If the ancient civilisations exhibited to a very high degree the sterner virtues, they were preëminently deficient in the gentler ones. The pathos of life was habitually repressed. Suffering and weakness met with no sympathy and no assistance. The slave, the captive, the sick, the helpless, were treated with cold indifference, or with merciless ferocity. The hospital and the refuge for the afflicted were unknown. The spectacle of suffering and of death was the luxury of all classes. An almost absolute destruction of the finer sensibilities was the consequence of the universal worship of force. The sentiment of reverence was almost extinguished. The existence of the gods was, indeed, recognised, but the ideals of excellence were not sought on the heights of Olympus, but in the annals of Roman prowess. There was no sense of the superhuman, no conception of sin, no desire to rise above the things of earth; pride was deemed the greatest of virtues, and humility the most contemptible of weaknesses. The welfare of the State being the highest object of unselfish devotion, virtue and vice were often measured by that standard, and the individual was habitually sacrificed to the community.
But perhaps the greatest vice of the old form of patriotism was the narrowness of sympathy which it produced. Outside the circle of their own nation all men were regarded. With contempt and indifference, if not with absolute hostility. Conquest was the one recognised form of national progress, and the interests of nations were, therefore, regarded as directly opposed. The intensity with which a man loved his country was a measure of the hatred which he bore to those who were without it. The enthusiasm which produced the noblest virtue in a narrow circle was the direct and powerful cause of the strongest international antipathies.
In Judæa the religious system occupied a more prominent position than among the Greeks or Romans, but it had been indissolubly connected with national interests, and the attachment to it was in reality only a form and aspect of patriotism. Whatever opinion may be held as to whether a future life was intended to be among the elements of the Levitical revelation, there can be no question that the primary incentives which that revelation offered were of a patriotic order. The devotion of the people to their religious system was to be the measure of their national prosperity. When their faith burnt with a strong and unsullied flame, every enemy succumbed beneath their arms; but whenever idolatry had corrupted their devotions, a hostile army encircled Mount Moriah. All the traditions of their religion were identified with splendid national triumphs. The rescue from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan and the massacre of its inhabitants, the long series of inspired warriors who had broken the chains of a foreign master, the destruction of the hosts of the Assyrian, the numerous vicissitudes of national fortune, had all contributed to interweave in the Jewish mind the association of the Church and of the State. The spirit of sect, or an attachment not to abstract principles but to a definite and organised ecclesiastical institution, is a spirit essentially similar to patriotism, but is directed to a different object, and is therefore in most cases hostile to it. In Judæa the spirit of patriotism and the spirit of sect were united; each intensified the other, and the exclusive intolerance which is the result of each existed with double virulence.
Such was the condition of the Pagan and Jewish world when the sublime doctrine of universal brotherhood was preached to mankind. After eighteen hundred years men are only beginning to realise it, and at the time when it was first proclaimed it was diametrically opposed to the most cherished prejudices of the age.
In Judæa the spirit of an exclusive patriotism not only pervaded the national mind, but was also at this period an intensely active moral principle. In the Roman Empire patriotism was little more than an intellectual conception; society was in a condition of moral dissolution, and a disinterested enthusiasm was unknown. The fortunes of the infant Church were, probably, in no slight measure determined by these circumstances. In Judæa it was rejected with indignant scorn. In the Roman Empire it obtained a marvellous triumph, but it triumphed only by transforming itself under the influence of the spirit of sect. The passion for the visible and material which in that age it was impossible to escape -- which incrusted the teachings of the Church with an elaborated and superstitious ritualism, designed to appeal to and enthral the senses, and converted its simple moral principles into a complicated creed -- acted with equal force upon its government, and transformed it into a highly centralised monarchy, pervaded by a spirit of exclusiveness very similar to that which had animated the old Roman republic. The spirit of sect was, indeed, far stronger and more virulent than the most envenomed spirit of nationality. The ancient patriot regarded nations that were beyond his border with indifference, or with a spirit of rivalry; but the priest declared every one who rejected his opinions to be a criminal.
From this period for many centuries Catholicism, considered as an ecclesiastical organisation, was the undisputed mistress of Europe; national feelings scarcely ever came into collision with its interests, and the whole current of affairs was directed by theology. When, however, the first breathings of the spirit of Rationalism were felt in Europe, when, under the influence of that spirit, dogmatic interests began to wane, and their paramount importance to be questioned, a new tendency was manifested. The interests of the Church were subordinated to those of the State. Theology was banished from department after department of politics, until the whole system of government was secularised.
The period in which political affairs were most completely governed by theological considerations was unquestionably the age of the Crusades. It was no political anxiety about the balance of power, but an intense religious enthusiasm, that impelled the inhabitants of Christendom towards the city which was at once the cradle and the symbol of their faith. All interests were then absorbed, all classes were governed, all passions subdued or coloured by religious fervour. National animosities that had raged for centuries were pacified by its power. The intrigues of statesmen and the jealousies of kings disappeared beneath its influence. Nearly two millions of lives are said to have been sacrificed in the cause. Neglected governments, exhausted finances, depopulated countries, were cheerfully accepted as the price of success. No wars the world had ever before seen were so popular as these, which were at the same time the most disastrous and the most unselfish.
Long before the Reformation such wars as the Crusades had become impossible, and the relative prominence of secular policy had materially increased. This was in part the result of the better organisation of the civil government, which rendered unnecessary some of the services the Church had previously rendered to the community. Thus, when the general tolerance of private wars had produced a condition of anarchy that rendered all the relations of life insecure, the Church interposed and proclaimed in the eleventh century the 'Truce of God,' which was the first effective barrier to the lawlessness of the barons. Her bishops became the arbitrators of every quarrel, and succeeded in a great measure in calming the ferocity of the age. But when this object was in part attained, and when the regal power was consolidated, the Truce of God, in spite of many attempts to revive it, [1:108] fell rapidly into desuetude, and the preservation of tranquillity passed from the ecclesiastical to the civil government. This is but a single example of a process that was continually going on during the latter half of the middle ages. The Church had formerly exercised nearly every function of the civil government, on account of the inefficiency of the lay governors; and every development of secular administration, while it relieved the ecclesiastics of a duty, deprived them of a source of power.
But, besides the diminution of influence that resulted from this cause, the Church for many centuries found a strenuous antagonist in the regal power. The famous history of the investitures, and the equally remarkable, though less famous, ordinance by which in 1319 all bishops were expelled from the Parliament of Paris, are striking examples of the energy with which the conflict was sustained. Its issue depended mainly on the superstition of the people. In a profoundly superstitious age neither skill nor resolution could resist the effects of an excommunication or an interdict, and the most illustrious monarchs of the middle ages succumbed beneath their power. But some time before the Reformation their terror was in a great measure destroyed. The rapid growth of the industrial classes, which were at all times separated from theological tendencies, the revival of a spirit of bold and unshackled enquiry, and the discredit that had fallen upon the Church on account of the rival popes, [1:109] and of the corruption of the monasteries, were the chief causes of the emancipation. The Reformation was only possible when the old superstitions had been enfeebled by the spirit of doubt, and diluted by the admixture of secular interests. Kings then availed themselves gladly of the opportunity of throwing off the restraints of the Papacy. Patriots rebelled against the supremacy of a foreign power. The lay classes welcomed a change by which the pressure of the clergy was lightened.
A comparison of the religious wars produced by the Reformation with the Crusades shows clearly the great change that had passed over the spirit of Europe. The Crusades had been purely religious. They represented solely the enthusiasm of the people for dogmatic interests, and they were maintained for more than two centuries by an effort of unexampled self-sacrifice. In the religious wars, on the other hand, the secular and the ecclesiastical elements were very evenly balanced. The object sought was political power, but difference of religious belief formed the lines of demarcation separating the hostile coalitions, and created the enthusiasm by which the struggle was maintained. The spirit of the theologian was sufficiently powerful to inundate Europe with blood, but only when united with the ambition of the politician. Yet dogmatic agreement still formed the principle of alliance, and all coöperation with heretics was deemed a sin.
This phase of opinions continued for more than a century after the Reformation. It passed away under the pressure of advancing civilisation, but not before the ministry of Richelieu; for although Francis I. had made an alliance with the Turks, and a few other sovereigns had exhibited a similar indifference to the prevailing distinctions, their policy was rarely successful. Even at the last, the change was only effected with considerable difficulty, and Italy, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands swarmed with writings denouncing the alliance of the French with the Swedes as little short of an apostasy from Christianity; A book entitled 'Mars Gallicus,' and published in 1635, under the pseudonyme of Alexander Patricius Armacanus, was especially singled out as the most conclusive demonstration of the sinfulness of alliances with heretics, and it marks the first dawn of the reputation of one who was destined to exercise a deep and lasting influence over the fortunes of the Church. It was written by Jansenius, who owed to it his promotion to the bishopric of Ypres. [1:110] But the genius of Richelieu, seconded by the intellectual influences of the age, prevailed over every difficulty; and the Peace of Westphalia is justly regarded as closing the era of religious wars. The invasion of Holland by Louis XIV. was near becoming one, and religious fanaticism has more than once lent its aid to other modern struggles; [2:110] but wars like those which once distracted Europe have become almost impossible. Among all the elements of affinity and repulsion that regulate the combinations of nations, dogmatic interests, which were once supreme, can scarcely be said to exist. Among all the possible dangers that cloud the horizon, none appears more improbable than a coalition formed upon the principle of a common belief, and designed to extend the sphere of its influence. Such coalitions were once the most serious occupations of statesmen. They now exist only in the speculations of the expounders of prophecy.
It was in this way that, in the course of a few centuries, the foreign policy of all civilised nations was completely and finally secularised. Wars that were once regarded as simple duties became absolutely impossible. Alliances that were once deemed atrocious sins became habitual and unchallenged. That which had long been the centre around which all other interests revolved, receded and disappeared, and a profound change in the actions of mankind indicated a profound change in their belief.
I have already noticed the decline of that religious persecution which was long the chief sign and measure of ecclesiastical influence over the internal policy of nations. There is, however, one aspect of the Inquisition which I have not referred to, for it belongs to the subject of the present chapter -- I mean its frequent hostility to the civil power.
Before the thirteenth century, the cognisance of heresy was divided between the bishop and the civil magistrate. The Church proclaimed that it was a crime more deadly than any civil offence, and that it should be punished according to its enormity; the bishop accused the heretic, and the magistrate tried and condemned him. During the earlier part of the middle ages, this arrangement, which had been that of the Theodosian Code, was accepted without difficulty. The civil government was then very submissive, and heretics almost unknown, the few cases that appeared being usually resolved into magic. When, however, at the close of the twelfth century, a spirit of rebellion against the Church had been widely diffused, the Popes perceived that some more energetic system was required, and among the measures that were devised the principal was the Inquisition, which was intended not merely to suppress heresy, but also to enlarge the circle of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
This new tribunal [1:112] was placed in the hands of the two religious orders of St. Dominick and St. Francis, and its first object was to monopolise the trials of cases of heresy. The bishop of the diocese had a certain position in the local tribunal, but it was generally little more than honorary, and was entirely subordinate to that of the chief Inquisitor. The civil government was only represented by an 'Assessor,' and by some minor officers appointed by the Inquisitor himself, and its function was merely to execute those whom the ecclesiastics had condemned. A third of the confiscated goods was bestowed upon the district where the trial took place, which in its turn was to bear the expenses of the confinement of the prisoners. To crown all, the society was centralised by the appointment of an Inquisitor-General at Rome, with whom all the branches of the tribunal were to be in constant communication.
It is obvious that this organisation, in addition to its religious importance, had a very great political importance. It transferred to ecclesiastics a branch of jurisdiction which had always been regarded as belonging to the civil power, and it introduced into every country where it was acknowledged, a corporation of extraordinary powers entirely dependent on a foreign potentate. The Inquisitors early found a powerful, though somewhat encroaching, friend in the Emperor Frederick II., who in 1224 issued four edicts at Padua, in which he declared himself their protector, commanded that all obstinate heretics should be burnt, and all penitent heretics imprisoned for life, and delegated the investigation of the crime to the ecclesiastics, though the power of pronouncing the condemnation was reserved to the secular judge. In the first half of the thirteenth century, the new tribunal was introduced into Lombardy, the Marches, Romagna, Tuscany, the Balearic Isles, Aragon, and some of the cities of France and Germany. In Naples, however, the hostility of the king to the Pope, and the spirit of the people, resisted it. In Venice, too, the magistrates long refused to admit it, and heretics were burnt on the designation of the bishop, and by sentence of the Doge and of the majority of the Supreme Council, until 1289, when the government yielded, and the Inquisition was introduced, though with some slight restrictions favourable to the civil power. [1:113] In Spain, owing to the combination of a very strong Catholic and a very strong national feeling, it assumed a somewhat peculiar form. There, as elsewhere, it was an essentially ecclesiastical institution, created, extended, and modified under the express sanction of the Pope; but the Inquisitor-General and the Chief Council were appointed by the sovereign, subject to the papal confirmation; and the famous prosecution of Antonio Perez, which resulted in the destruction of the liberties of Aragon, furnishes an example, though perhaps a solitary one, of its employment merely as a political tool. [2:113] At first its jurisdiction was confined to the land, and many sailors of different religions had enrolled themselves in the Spanish navy; but in 1571 Sixtus V., at the request of Philip II., appointed a special Inquisitor to preside over the navy, [1:114] who speedily restored its orthodoxy. By Spanish influence the tribunal was extended to the Netherlands, to the New World, to Sicily, Sardinia, and Malta.
It is said in the legend of St. Dominick that his mother, when in the season of childbirth, dreamed that a dog was about to issue from her womb, bearing a lighted torch that would kindle the whole world; and certainly the success of the Inquisition well-nigh fulfilled the portent. [2:114] For two or three centuries its extension was the main object of the papal policy; it was what the struggle of the investitures had been in the preceding age, the chief form which the spirit of ecclesiastical encroachment assumed; and during this long period there was probably not a single pope who did not expressly eulogise it. But although there can be no doubt that a powerful blow was thus given to heresy, it may well be questioned whether the papal policy was not, on the whole, shortsighted, for the Inquisition probably contributed largely to the ultimate secularisation of politics. Before its institution no one doubted that the investigation and punishment of heresy formed one of the first duties of the civil government, but by the Inquisition the two things were slightly separated. The cognisance of heresy was in a measure withdrawn from the lay rulers, and by a curious inversion that very doctrine of the religious incapacity of the latter, which was afterwards urged in favour of tolerance, was at this time urged in favour of the Inquisition. [1:115] Nor was the new tribunal merely distinct from the civil government. It was also frequently opposed to it. Its very institution was an encroachment on the jurisdiction of the magistrate, and there were constant differences as to the exact limits of its authority. Wherever it was acknowledged it was the undisputed judge of heresy and of a large section of ecclesiastical offences; and one of these latter -- the employment by priests of the confessional for the purpose of seducing the penitents -- occupied a very prominent place in the writings it produced. [2:115] Witchcraft, too, was usually, though by no means always, regarded as within its province, but the magistrates sometimes refused to execute its sentences. Usury was said by the ecclesiastics to be an ecclesiastical offence, but the legislators refused to allow the Inquisition to try it. Perjury, bigamy, and several other crimes gave rise to similar conflicts.
While the province of persecution was thus in some degree separated from the civil government, the extreme violence of the tribunal to which it had fallen aroused a very general popular indignation. Spain, it is true, was in this respect an exception. In that country the Inquisition was always cherished as the special expression of the national religion, and the burning of Jews and heretics was soon regarded in a double light, as a religious ceremony and also as a pageant or public amusement that was eminently congenial to the national taste. [1:116] In other countries, however, but especially in Italy, it excited intense hostility. When the Spaniards tried to force it upon the Neapolitans, so general an insurrection ensued that even Spanish zeal recoiled from the undertaking. The north and centre of Italy writhed fiercely under the yoke. Terrific riots arising from this cause almost threatened the destruction of Milan in 1242, and of Parma in 1279, and minor disturbances took place in many other towns. [1:117] Although the Popes had done every thing in their power to invest the office with a religious attraction -- although they had granted the same indulgences to its officers as had formerly been granted to the Crusaders, and an indulgence of three years to all who, not being Inquisitors, assisted in bringing a heretic to condemnation -- although, too, the sentence of excommunication was launched against all who impeded the Inquisitors in the discharge of their office -- the opposition of the Italians was for centuries unextinguished. Thus we find in 1518 the district of Brescia in so wild a ferment of excitement on account of the condemnation of numerous persons on the charge of incantation, that the government could with difficulty pacify it by annulling the sentences. A similar outburst took place in Mantua in 1568, and even in Rome at the death of Paul IV. the prisons of the Inquisition were burst open, and their records burnt by an infuriated crowd. [2:117]
All these things have their place in the history of the secularisation of politics, for they all contributed to weaken the spirit of persecution, and to separate it from the civil government. As long, however, as dogmatic interests were supreme, persecution in some form or other must have continued. How that supremacy was weakened, and how, in consequence of the decline, men ceased to burn or imprison those who differed from their opinions, the last chapter will have shown.
But, important as was this stage of the secularisation of politics, a literary censorship was still directed against heretical writings, and the system of religious disqualifications still continued. The first of these had been a very ancient practice in religious controversy. Among the pagans we find Diocletian making it one of his special objects to burn the Christian writings, and Julian, without taking precisely the same step, endeavouring to attain the same end by withholding from the Christians the means of instruction that could enable them to propagate their opinions. [1:118] In the same way the early councils continually condemned heretical books, and the civil power, acting upon their sentence, destroyed them. Thus Constantine ordered the destruction of the writings of the Arians when the Council of Nice had condemned them. Arcadius, following the decision of the Council of Constantinople, suppressed those of Eunomius. Theodosius, after the Council of Ephesus, prohibited the works of Nestorius, and after the Council of Chalcedon those of Eutyches. [2:118] At first, though the condemnation belonged to the Church, the execution of the sentence was regarded as the prerogative of the civil ruler; but as early as 443 we find Pope St. Leo burning books of the Manichæans on his own authority. [1:119] All through the middle ages, the practice was of course continued, and the Inquisition succeeded in destroying almost the entire heretical literature before the Reformation; but at the time of the revival of learning, these measures excited some opposition. Thus, when in 1510 the theologians of Cologne, represented especially by an Inquisitor named Hoestrat, and supported by the mendicant orders and after some hesitation by the University of Paris, desired to destroy the whole literature of the Jews with the exception of the Old Testament, Reuchlin, who was one of the chief Hebrew scholars of his age, protested against the measure; and having been on this account denounced in violent language by a converted Jew named Phefercorne, who had originally counselled the destruction, he rejoined in a work strongly asserting the philosophical and historical value of the Jewish literature, and urging the importance of its preservation. Nearly all the ablest pens of Germany were soon engaged on the same side; and the civil authority as well as many distinguished ecclesiastics having taken part in the controversy, it became for a time the most prominent in Europe, and resulted in the suspension of the intended measure. [2:119] The rise of the Reformation served, however, to increase the severity of the censorship. The system of licenses followed almost immediately upon the invention of printing, and in 1559 Paul IV. originated the Index Expurgatorius. In England, Convocation was accustomed to censure, and the Star Chamber to suppress, heretical works. In Holland a love of free discussion was early generated by the fact that, during the antagonism between France and Spain, it suited the interests of the latter country to make the Netherlands the asylum of the French refugees, who were accustomed to publish there innumerable seditious writings which were directed against the French Government, but which had a very strong and favourable influence upon the country in which they appeared. When the Spanish yoke was broken, Holland became equally famous for the freedom of its religious press. With the exception of this country and of some of the cities of Italy, there were scarcely any instances of perfect liberty of religious publications, till the Revolutions, first of all, of England, and afterwards of France, established that great principle which is rapidly becoming universal, that the judgment of theological works is altogether external to the province of legislators.
Among the earliest advocates of toleration most accepted as a truism the doctrine, that it is the duty of every nation in its national capacity to adopt some one form of religious belief, and to act upon its precepts with the consistency that is expected from an individual. This Church and State theory, which forms the last vestige of the old theocratic spirit that marks the earlier stages of civilisation, is still supreme in many countries; but in our own day it has been assailed or destroyed in all those nations that have yielded to the political tendencies of the age. Stating the theory in its most definite form, the upholders of this system of policy demanded that every nation should support and endow one form of religion and only one, that every other should be regarded as altogether outside the cognisance of the State, and that the rulers and representatives should belong exclusively to the established faith. This theory has sometimes been curtailed and modified in modern times after successive defeats, but any one who will trace it back to the days when it was triumphant, and follow the train of argument that has been pursued by the Tory party for more than a century, can satisfy himself that I have not exaggerated its purport.
The two European nations which represent most fully in their policy the intellectual tendencies of the age are unquestionably France and England, and it is precisely in these nations that the theory has been successfully assailed. After several slight oscillations, the French people in 1830 finally proclaimed, as a basis of their constitution, the principle, that no state religion is recognised by France; and as a comment upon this decision, we have seen a Protestant holding the reins of power under Louis Philippe, and a Jew sitting in the Provisional Government of 1848. A more complete abnegation of the old doctrine it would be impossible to conceive, and it places France, in at least this respect, at the head of modern liberalism. [1:121]
The progress of the movement in England has been much more gradual, and it represents the steady growth of rationalistic principles among statesmen. The first great step was taken during the depression of the clergy that followed the Revolution. The establishment of the Scotch Kirk, whether we consider the principle it revolved or the vast amount of persecution it terminated, was undoubtedly one of the most signal defeats the English Church has ever undergone. For a considerable time, however, the clergy succeeded in arresting the movement, which at last received a fresh propulsion by the Irish Parliament, and attained its full triumph under the exigencies of Irish policy.
Whatever may be thought of the purity of the Irish Parliament during the brief period in which it exercised an independent authority, there are certainly few things more absurd than the charges of bigotry that are frequently directed against it. If we measure it by the standard of the present day, it will of course appear very defective; but if we compare it with contemporary legislatures, and above all if we estimate the peculiar temptations to which it was exposed, our verdict would be very different. It would be scarcely possible to conceive a legislature with greater inducement to adopt a sectarian policy. Before 1793 it was elected exclusively by Protestants. The government had created, and most sedulously maintained, that close-borough system which has always a tendency to make private interest the guiding motive of policy; and the extraordinary monopoly the Protestants possessed of almost all positions of wealth and dignity, rendered the strictest toryism their obvious interest. There was scarcely any public opinion existing in Ireland, and the Catholics were so torpid through continued oppression, that they could exercise scarcely any influence upon legislation. Under these circumstances, the Irish Parliament, having admitted them to the magistracy, to the jury box, and to several minor privileges, at last accorded them the elective franchise, which, in a country where they formed an immense majority of the nation, and where every reform of Parliament and every extension of education must have strengthened their interest, necessarily implied a complete emancipation. It is worthy, too, of notice that the liberalism of the Irish Parliament was always in direct proportion to its political independence. It was when the events of the American war had infused into it that strong national feeling which produced the declaration of independence in 1782, that the tendency towards toleration became manifest. Almost all those great orators who cast a halo of such immortal eloquence around its closing period, were the advocates of emancipation. Almost all who were the enemies of its legislative independence, were the enemies of toleration.
The Irish Parliament was, in truth, a body governed very constantly by corrupt motives, though probably not more so than the English Parliament in the time of Walpole. It was also distinguished by a recklessness of tone and policy that was all the more remarkable on account of the unusually large measure of genius it produced; but it was during the period of its independence probably more free from religious bigotry than any other representative body that had ever sat in the United Kingdom. That it would have completed the measure of 1793 by the admission of Catholics to Parliament, if the Government had supported or had even refrained from opposing that measure, is almost absolutely certain. The opposition of the ministers threw out the bill, and the recall of Lord Fitzwilliam damped the hopes of the Catholics, and was one of the chief proximate causes of the Rebellion of 1798. But although emancipation was not then conceded, the Irish Parliament directed a deadly blow against the Tory theory, by endowing the College of Maynooth, a distinctively Catholic institution designed for the education of the Catholic priesthood. [1:123]
The Union was, on the whole, very unfavourable to the movement. To exclude the Catholics from the Parliament of an empire in which they were a small minority, did not appear such a glaring anomaly as to exclude them from the Parliament of a nation of which they formed the great majority. The national feeling that made the Irish Protestants wish to emancipate their fellow-countrymen could not act with the same force on an English Parliament; and the evangelical movement which had originated with Wesley, and which was in general strongly adverse to the Catholic claims, had in a great measure pervaded English society, when it had scarcely penetrated to Ireland. Besides this, a profound change had passed over public opinion in Ireland. The purely national and secular spirit the Irish Parliament had fostered perished with its organ. Patriotism was replaced by sectarianism, and the evil continued till it made Ireland one of the most priest-ridden nations in Europe. These causes account sufficiently for the delay of more than a quarter of a century in according the boon which in 1796 appeared almost attained. [1:124] On the other hand, the Whig party, which had constituted itself the representative of the secular movement, and which contained an unusually large proportion of religious latitudinarians, [2:124] steadily advanced, and its organ, the Edinburgh Review, was for some years one of the most powerful intellectual influences in England. At the same time the agitation of O'Connell gave a new and imperative tone to the demands of the Catholics, and O'Connell very judiciously maintained the claims of the dissenters as strongly as those of his coreligionists. At last the victory was achieved. The dissenters were admitted to Parliament, and the theological unity that had so long been maintained was broken. Still stage after stage of the emancipation was fiercely contested. The Catholics were avowedly admitted through fear of a revolution, and the act was performed in such a grudging and ungracious manner as to destroy all the gratitude, and many of the benefits, it would otherwise have conferred. Even then many years elapsed before the Jews were emancipated. The invasion and partial destruction of the sectarian character of the universities represents the last stage of the movement which the earliest advocates of toleration had begun.
A necessary consequence of this movement was that the clergy were, as a body, identified either with retrogression or with immobility in politics. During the middle ages they had been the initiators of almost every progressive movement; but in modern times, the current being directly opposed to their interests, they have naturally become the champions of the past. At the same time, and as a result of the same causes, their political influence has been steadily declining. In England the first great blow to their power was the destruction of the monasteries. Fuller has reckoned at twenty-seven, Lord Herbert at twenty-eight, and Sir Edward Coke at twenty-nine, the number of mitred abbots and priors who by this measure lost their seats in the House of Lords. [1:125] In the reign of Henry III., the spiritual peers had formed one-half of the upper house; in the beginning of the eighteenth century they formed only one-eighth, and in the middle of the nineteenth century only one-fourteenth. [1:126] Since the beginning of the eighteenth century no clergyman has occupied any important office in the State, [2:126] and the same change has passed over almost every other nation in Europe.
To those who have appreciated the great truth that a radical political change necessarily implies a corresponding change in the mental habits of society, the process which I have traced will furnish a decisive evidence of the declining influence of dogmatic theology. That vast department of thought and action which is comprised under the name of politics was once altogether guided by its power. It is now passing from its influence rapidly, universally, and completely. The classes that are most penetrated with the spirit of special dogmas were once the chief directors of the policy of Europe. They now form a baffled and desponding minority, whose most cherished political principles have been almost universally abandoned, who are struggling faintly and ineffectually against the ever-increasing spirit of the age, and whose ideal is not in the future but in the past. It is evident that a government never can be really like a railway company, or a literary society, which only exercises an influence over secular affairs. As long as it determines the system of education that exists among its subjects, as long as it can encourage or repress the teaching of particular doctrines, as long as its foreign policy brings it into collision with governments which still make the maintenance of certain religious systems a main object of their policy, it will necessarily exercise a gigantic influence upon belief. It cannot possibly be uninfluential, and it is difficult to assign limits to the influence that it may exercise. If the men who compose it (or the public opinion that governs them) be pervaded by an intensely-realised conviction that the promulgation of a certain system of doctrine is incomparably the highest of human interests, that to assist that promulgation is the main object for which they were placed in the world, and should be the dominant motive of their lives, it will be quite impossible for these men, as politicians, to avoid interfering with theology. Men who are inspired by an absorbing passion will inevitably gratify it if they have the power. Men who sincerely desire the happiness of mankind will certainly use to the uttermost the means they possess of promoting what they feel to be beyond all comparison the greatest of human interests. If by giving a certain direction to education they could avert fearful and general physical suffering, there can be no doubt that they would avail themselves of their power. If they were quite certain that the greatest possible suffering was the consequence of deviating from a particular class of opinions, they could not possibly neglect that consideration in their laws. This is the conclusion we should naturally draw from the nature of the human mind, and it is most abundantly corroborated by experience. [1:127] In order to ascertain the tendencies of certain opinions, we should not confine ourselves to those exceptional intellects who, having perceived the character of their age, have spent their lives in endeavouring painfully and laboriously to wrest their opinions in conformity with them. We should rather observe the position which large bodies of men, governed by the same principles, but living under various circumstances and in different ages, naturally and almost unconsciously occupy. We have ample means of judging in the present case. We see the general tone which is adopted on political subjects by the clergy of the most various creeds, by the religious newspapers, and by the politicians who represent that section of the community which is most occupied with dogmatic theology. We see that it is a tendency distinct from and opposed to the tendencies of the age. History tells us that it was once dominant in politics, that it has been continuously and rapidly declining, and that it has declined most rapidly and most steadily in those countries in which the development of intellect has been most active. All over Europe the priesthood are now associated with a policy of toryism, of reaction, or of obstruction. All over Europe the organs that represent dogmatic interests are in permanent opposition to the progressive tendencies around them, and are rapidly sinking into contempt. In every country in which a strong political life is manifested, the secularisation of politics is the consequence. Each stage of that movement has been initiated and effected by those who are most indifferent to dogmatic theology, and each has been opposed by those who are most occupied with theology. [1:128]
And as I write these words, it is impossible to forget that one of the great problems on which the thoughts of politicians are even now concentrated is the hopeless decadence of the one theocracy of modern Europe, of the great type and representative of the alliance of politics and theology. That throne on which it seemed as though the changeless Church had stamped the impress of her own perpetuity -- that throne which for so many centuries of anarchy and confusion had been the Sinai of a protecting and an avenging law -- that throne which was once the centre and the archetype of the political system of Europe, the successor of Imperial Rome, the inheritor of a double portion of her spirit, the one power which seemed removed above all the vicissitudes of politics, the iris above the cataract, unshaken amid so much turmoil and so much change -- that throne has in our day sunk into a condition of hopeless decrepitude, and has only prolonged its existence by the confession of its impotence. Supported by the bayonets of a foreign power, and avowedly incapable of self-existence, it is no longer a living organism, its significance is but the significance of death. There was a time when the voice that issued from the Vatican shook Europe to its foundations, and sent forth the proudest armies to the deserts of Syria. There was a time when all the valour and all the chivalry of Christendom would have followed the banner of the Church in any field and against any foe. Now a few hundred French, and Belgians, and Irish are all who would respond to its appeal. Its august antiquity, the reverence that centres around its chief, the memory of the unrivalled influence it has exercised, the genius that has consecrated its past, the undoubted virtues that have been displayed by its rulers, were all unable to save the papal government from a decadence the most irretrievable and the most hopeless. Reforms were boldly initiated, but they only served to accelerate its ruin. A repressive policy was attempted, but it could not arrest the progress of its decay. For nearly a century, under every ruler and under every system of policy, it has been hopelessly, steadily, and rapidly declining. At last the influences that had so long been corroding it attained their triumph. It fell before the Revolution, and has since been unable to exist, except by the support of a foreign army. The principle of its vitality has departed.
No human pen can write its epitaph, for no imagination can adequately realise its glories. In the eyes of those who estimate the greatness of a sovereignty, not by the extent of its territory, or by the valour of its soldiers, but by the influence which it has exercised over mankind, the papal government has had no rival, and can have no successor. But though we may not fully estimate the majesty of its past, we can at least trace the causes of its decline. It fell because it neglected the great truth that a government to be successful must adapt itself to the ever-changing mental condition of society; that a policy which in one century produces the utmost prosperity, in another leads only to ruin and to disaster. It fell because it represented the union of politics and theology, and because the intellect of Europe has rendered it an anachronism by pronouncing their divorce. It fell because its constitution was essentially and radically opposed to the spirit of an age in which the secularisation of politics is the measure and the condition of all political prosperity.
The secularisation of politics is, as we have seen, the direct consequence of the declining influence of dogmatic theology. I have said that it also reacts upon and influences its cause. The creation of a strong and purely secular political feeling diffused through all classes of society, and producing an ardent patriotism, and a passionate and indomitable love of liberty, is sufficient in many respects to modify all the great departments of thought, and to contribute largely to the formation of a distinct type of intellectual character.
It is obvious, in the first place, that one important effect of a purely secular political feeling will be to weaken the intensity of sectarianism. Before its existence sectarianism was the measure by which all things and persons were contemplated. It exercised an undivided control over the minds and passions of men, absorbed all their interests, and presided over all their combinations. But when a purely political spirit is engendered, a new enthusiasm is introduced into the mind, which first divides the affections and at last replaces the passion that had formerly been supreme. Two different enthusiasms, each of which makes men regard events in a special point of view, cannot at the same time be absolute. The habits of thought that are formed by the one, will necessarily weaken or efface the habits of thought that are formed by the other. Men learn to classify their fellows by a new principle. They become in one capacity the cordial associates of those whom in another capacity they had long regarded with unmingled dislike. They learn to repress and oppose in one capacity those whom in another capacity they regard with unbounded reverence. Conflicting feelings are thus produced which neutralise each other; and if one of the two increases, the other is proportionately diminished. Every war that unites for secular objects nations of different creeds, every measure that extends political interests to classes that had formerly been excluded from their range, has therefore a tendency to assuage the virulence of sects.
Another consequence of the intellectual influence of political life is a tendency to sacrifice general principles to practical results. It has often been remarked that the English constitution, which is commonly regarded as the most perfect realisation of political freedom, is beyond all others the most illogical, and that a very large proportion of those measures which have proved most beneficial, have involved the grossest logical inconsistencies, the most partial and unequal applications of some general principle. The object of the politician is expediency, and his duty is to adapt his measures to the often crude, undeveloped, and vacillating conceptions of the nation. The object, on the other hand, of the philosopher is truth, and his duty is to push every principle which he believes to be true to its legitimate consequences, regardless of the results which may follow. Nothing can be more fatal in politics than a preponderance of the philosophical, or in philosophy than a preponderance of the political spirit. In the first case, the ruler will find himself totally incapable of adapting his measures to the exigencies of exceptional circumstances; he will become involved in inextricable difficulties by the complexity of the phenomena he endeavours to reduce to order; and he will be in perpetual collision with public opinion. In the second case, the thinker will be continually harassed by considerations of expediency which introduce the bias of the will into what should be a purely intellectual process, and impart a timidity and a disingenuousness to the whole tone of his thoughts. There can, I think, be little doubt that this latter influence is at present acting most unfavourably upon speculative opinions in countries where political life is very powerful. A disinterested love of truth can hardly coexist with a strong political spirit. In all countries where the habits of thought have been mainly formed by political life, we may discover a disposition to make expediency the test of truth, to close the eyes and turn away the mind from any arguments that tend towards a radical change, and above all to make utilitarianism a kind of mental perspective according to which the different parts of belief are magnified or diminished. All that has a direct influence upon the well-being of society is brought into clear relief; all that has only an intellectual importance becomes unrealised and inoperative. It is probable that the capacity for pursuing abstract truth for its own sake, which has given German thinkers so great an ascendency in Europe, is in no slight degree to be attributed to the political languor of their nation.
This predisposition acts in different ways upon the progress of Rationalism. It is hostile to it on account of the intense conservatism it produces, and also on account of its opposition to that purely philosophical spirit to which Rationalism seeks to subordinate all departments of speculative belief. It is favourable to it, inasmuch as it withdraws the minds of men from the doctrinal aspect of their faith to concentrate them upon the moral aspect, which in the eyes of the politician as of the rationalist is infinitely the most important.
But probably the most important, and certainly the most beneficial, effect of political life is to habituate men to a true method of enquiry. Government in a constitutional country is carried on by debate, all the arguments on both sides are brought forward with unrestricted freedom, and every newspaper reports in full what has been said against the principles it advocates by the ablest men in the country. Men may study the debates of Parliament under the influence of a strong party bias, they may even pay more attention to the statements of one party than to those of the other, but they never imagine that they can form an opinion by an exclusive study of what has been written on one side. The two views of every question are placed in juxtaposition, and every one who is interested in the subject examines both. When a charge is brought against any politician, men naturally turn to his reply before forming an opinion, and they feel that any other course would be not only extremely foolish, but also extremely dishonest. This is the spirit of truth as opposed to the spirit of falsehood and imposture, which in all ages and in all departments of thought has discouraged men from studying opposing systems, lamented the circulation of adverse arguments, and denounced as criminal those who listen to them. Among the higher order of intellects, the first spirit is chiefly cultivated by those philosophical studies which discipline and strengthen the mind for research. But what philosophy does for a very few, political life does, less perfectly, indeed, but still in a great degree, for the many. It diffuses abroad not only habits of acute reasoning, but also, what is far more important, habits of impartiality and intellectual fairness, which will at last be carried into all forms of discussion, and will destroy every system that refuses to accept them. Year after year, as political life extends, we find each new attempt to stifle the expression of opinion received with an increased indignation, the sympathies of the people immediately enlisted on behalf of the oppressed teacher, and the work which is the object of condemnation elevated in public esteem often to a degree that is far greater than it deserves. Year after year the conviction becomes more general, that a provisional abnegation of the opinions of the past and a resolute and unflinching impartiality are among the highest duties of the enquirer, and that he who shrinks from such a research is at least morally bound to abstain from condemning the opinions of his neighbour.
If we may generalise the experience of modern constitutional governments, it would appear that this process must pass through three phases. When political life is introduced into a nation that is strongly imbued with sectarianism, this latter spirit will at first dominate over political interests, and the whole scope and tendency of government will be directed by theology. After a time the movement I have traced in the present chapter will appear. The secular element will emerge into light. It will at length obtain an absolute ascendency, and, expelling theology successively from all its political strongholds, will thus weaken its influence over the human mind. Yet in one remarkable way the spirit of sectarianism will still survive: it will change its name and object, transmigrate into political discussion, and assume the form of an intense party-spirit. The increasing tendency, however, of political life seems to be to weaken or efface this spirit, and in the more advanced stages of free government it almost disappears. A judicial spirit is fostered which leads men both in politics and theology to eclecticism, to judge all questions exclusively on the ground of their intrinsic merits, and not at all according to their position in theological or political systems. To increase the range and intensity of political interests is to strengthen this tendency; and every extension of the suffrage thus diffuses over a wider circle a habit of thought that must eventually modify theological belief. If the suffrage should ever be granted to women, it would probably, after two or three generations, effect a complete revolution in their habits of thought, which by acting upon the first period of education would influence the whole course of opinion.
Such then have been some of the leading tendencies produced by that purely secular political spirit which is itself a result of the declining influence of theology. It now remains for us to examine the second branch of our subject the secularisation of the basis or principle of authority upon which all political structures rest.
In the course of the last few years a great many insurrections of nations against their sovereigns have taken place, which have been regarded with warm approval by the public opinion of the most advanced nations in Europe. Some countries have cast off their rulers in order by coalescing to form one powerful State, others because those rulers were tyrannical or incapable, others because the system of their government had grown antiquated, and others in order to realise some historical nationality. In many cases the deposed rulers had been bound to their people by no distinct stipulations, had violated no law, and had been guilty of no extraordinary harshness. The simple ground upon which these changes were justified was that the great majority of the nation desired them, and that ground has generally been acquiesced in as sufficient. To exhibit in the plainest form the change that has come over public opinion, it may be sufficient to say that for many centuries all such insurrections would have been regarded by theologians as mortal sins, and all who participated in them as in danger of perdition.
The teaching of the early Fathers on the subject is perfectly unanimous and unequivocal. Without a single exception, all who touched upon the subject pronounced active resistance to the established authorities to be under all circumstances sinful. If the law enjoined what was wrong, it should be disobeyed, but no vice and no tyranny could justify revolt. [1:137] This doctrine was taught in the most emphatic terms, not as a counsel of expediency applicable to special circumstances, but as a moral principle universally binding upon the conscience. It was taught in the midst of the most horrible persecutions. It was taught when the Christians were already extremely numerous, and their forbearance, notwithstanding their numbers, was constantly claimed as a merit. [2:137] So harmonious and so emphatic are the Patristic testimonies upon the subject, that the later theologians who adopted other views have been utterly unable to adduce any passages in their support, and have been reduced to the melancholy expedient of virtually accusing the early Christians of hypocrisy, by maintaining that, notwithstanding the high moral tone they assumed on the subject, the real cause of their submission was their impotence, [3:137] or to the ludicrous expedient of basing a system of liberal politics on the invectives of Cyril and Gregory Nazianzen against the memory of Julian. [4:137]
It is manifest that such a doctrine is absolutely incompatible with political liberty. 'A limited monarch,' as even the Tory Hume admitted, 'who is not to be resisted when he exceeds his limitations, is a contradiction in terms.' Besides, in almost every case, the transition from an absolute to a limited monarchy has been the result of the resistance of the people; and the whole course of history abundantly proves that power, when once enjoyed, is scarcely ever voluntarily relinquished. From these considerations Grotius and many other writers have concluded that a Christian people, when oppressed by tyrants, is bound to sacrifice its hopes of liberty to its faith, while Shaftesbury and his followers have denounced Christianity as incompatible with freedom. But to those who regard the history of the Church not as one homogeneous whole, but as a series of distinct phases, the attitude of its early leaders will appear very different. For the first condition of liberty is the establishment of some higher principle of action than fear. A government that rests on material force alone must always be a tyranny, whatever may be the form it assumes; and at the time Christianity became supreme the Roman Empire was rapidly degenerating into that frightful condition. Increasing corruption had destroyed both the tie of religion and the tie of patriotism, and the army was the sole arbiter of the destinies of the State. After a time the invasion of the barbarians still further aggravated the situation. Hordes of savages, fresh from a life of unbounded freedom, half-frenzied by the sudden acquisition of immense wealth, and belonging to many different tribes, were struggling fiercely for the mastery. Society was almost resolved into its primitive elements; force had become the one measure of dignity. Alone amid these discordant interests the Christians taught by their precepts and their example the obligation of a moral law, and habituated men to that respect for authority and that exercise of self-restraint which form the basis of every lasting political structure. Had they followed the example of others, they might probably have more than once saved themselves from frightful persecutions, and would have certainly become a formidable power in the State long before the accession of Constantine. But, guided by a far nobler instinct, they chose instead to constitute themselves the champions of legality, they irradiated submission with a purer heroism than has ever glowed around the conqueror's path, and they kept alive the sacred flame at a time when it had almost vanished from the earth. We may say that they exaggerated their principle, but such exaggeration was absolutely essential to its efficacy. The temptations to anarchy and insubordination were so great, that had the doctrine of submission been stated with any qualifications, had it been stated in any but the most emphatic language, it would have proved inoperative. Indeed, what cause for resistance could possibly have been more just than the persecutions of a Nero or a Diocletian? Yet it was in the reign of Nero that St. Paul inculcated in unequivocal language the doctrine of passive obedience; and it was the boast of Tertullian and other of the Fathers, that at a time when Rome was swarming with Christians, the most horrible persecutions were endured without a murmur or a struggle. Such conduct, if adopted as a binding precedent, would arrest the whole development of society; but, considered in its own place in history, it is impossible to overvalue it.
Besides this, it should be remembered that the early Church had adopted a system of government that was based upon the most democratic principles. It can be no exaggeration to say, that if the practice of electing bishops by universal suffrage had continued, the habits of freedom would have been so diffused among the people, that the changes our own age has witnessed might have been anticipated by many centuries, and might have been effected under the direct patronage of Catholicism. This, however, was not to be. The system of episcopal election was far in advance of the age, and the disorders it produced were so great that it was soon found necessary to abolish it. At the same time many circumstances pointed out the Roman See as the natural centre of a new form of organisation. The position Rome occupied in the world, the increasing authority of the bishop resulting from the transfer of the civil ruler to Constantinople, the admirable administrative and organising genius the Roman ecclesiastics had inherited from the Empire, their sustained ambition, the splendour cast upon the see by the genius and virtues of St. Gregory and St. Leo, the conversion of the barbarians, the destruction of the rival sees of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria, and the Greek schism -- all tended to revive in another form the empire Rome had so long exercised over the destinies of mankind.
When the Papal power was fully organised, and during the whole of the period that elapsed between that time and the Reformation, the rights of nations against their sovereigns may be said to have been almost unnoticed. The great question concerning the principle of authority lay in the conflicting claims of temporal sovereigns and of popes. Although the power the latter claimed and often exercised over the former has produced some of the most fearful calamities, although we owe to it in a great degree the Crusades and religious persecution, and many of the worst features of the semi-religious struggles that convulsed Italy during the middle ages, there can be no question that it was on the whole favourable to liberty. The simple fact that nations acknowledged two different masters was itself a barrier to despotism, and the Church had always to appeal to the subjects of a sovereign to enforce its decisions against him. There was therefore a certain bias among ecclesiastics in favour of the people, and it must be added that the mediæval popes almost always belonged to a far higher grade of civilisation than their opponents. Whatever may have been their faults, they represented the cause of moral restraint, of intelligence, and of humanity, in an age of physical force, ignorance, and barbarity.
It is not necessary to follow in detail the history of the encroachments of the spiritual upon the civil power, or to enter into the interminable controversies about the power of deposition. Such topics are only connected indirectly with the subject of the present chapter, and they have been treated with great ability by several well-known writers. [1:141] There are, however, two points connected with them to which it may be advisable to refer. In the first place, in judging the question as to the right of the Pope to depose sovereigns, it is evident that the advantage must have always remained with the former, in an age in which he was himself regarded as the final arbiter of moral questions. Every conclusion was then arrived at not by way of reasoning but by way of authority, and, with the very doubtful exception of general councils, there was no higher authority than the Pope. General councils too were rare occurrences; they could only be convened by the Pope, and in the majority of cases they were the creatures of his will. When a bull of excommunication had been launched, the sovereign against whom it was directed might indeed assemble a council of the bishops of his own people, and they might condemn the excommunication; but, however strong might be their arguments, their authority was necessarily inferior to that which was opposed to them. They might appeal to the declarations of the Fathers, but the right of interpreting those declarations rested with the Church, of which the Pope was, in fact, the authoritative representative. Nor had he any difficulty in this respect. If it was said that the early bishops enjoined absolute submission to the pagan persecutors, it was answered that this was an irrelevant argument, for the Church only claimed the power of deposing those who by baptism were placed under her dominion. If it was rejoined that the same submission was shown under Constantius or Valens or Julian, the reply was that the weakness of the Christians was the cause of their resignation, and that the fact of the Church possessing the power of excommunication did not at all imply that she was bound on every legitimate occasion to exercise it. If, in fine, the passages in which the Fathers dilated upon the sinfulness of all rebellion against the sovereign were adduced, it was answered that the Pope exhorted no one to such rebellion, for by the sentence of deposition the sovereign had been deprived of his sovereignty. [1:143] In this way the Patristic utterances were easily evaded, and the ecclesiastical authority of the Pope made it almost a heresy to question his claims.
In the next place, it should be observed that this doctrine of deposition was not so much an isolated assumption on the part of the Popes as a logical and necessary inference from other parts of the teaching of the Church. The point on which the controversies between Catholics on this subject have chiefly turned is the right of the Popes to condemn any notorious criminal to public penance, a sentence which involved the deprivation of all civil functions, and therefore in the case of a sovereign amounted to deposition. [2:143] But whether or not this right was always acknowledged in the Church, there can be little doubt that the power which was generally conceded to the ecclesiastical authorities of relaxing or annulling the obligation of an oath necessarily led to their political ascendency, for it is not easy to see how those who acknowledged the existence of this power could make an exception in favour of the oath of allegiance.
When the rise of the scholastic philosophy had introduced into Christendom a general passion for minute definitions, and for the organisation and elaboration of all departments of theology, the attitude of hostility the Church had for some time exhibited towards the civil power was more or less reflected in the writings that were produced. St. Thomas Aquinas, indeed, the ablest of all these theologians, distinctly asserts the right of subjects to withhold their obedience from rulers who were usurpers or unjust; [1:144] but this opinion, which was probably in advance of the age, does not appear to have been generally adopted, or at least generally promulgated. The right of popes to depose princes who had fallen into heresy was, however, at this time constantly asserted. [2:144] To the schoolmen too we chiefly owe the definition of the doctrine of the mediate character of the Divine Right of Kings, which is very remarkable in the history of opinions as the embryo of the principles of Locke and Rousseau. It was universally admitted that both popes and kings derived their authority from the Deity, and from this fact the royal advocates inferred that a pope had no more power to depose a king than a king to depose a pope. But, according to some of the schoolmen, there was this distinction between the cases: a pope was directly and immediately the representative of the Almighty, but a king derived his power directly from the people. Authority, considered in the abstract, is of Divine origin; and when the people had raised a particular family to the throne, the sanction of the Deity rested upon its members, but still the direct and immediate source of regal power was the nation. [1:145] Although this doctrine was not asserted in the popular but in the Papal interest, and although it was generally held that the people, having transferred their original authority to the sovereign, were incapable of recalling it, except perhaps in such extreme cases as when a sovereign had sought to betray to a foreign power the country he ruled, it is not the less certain that we have here the first link of a chain of principles that terminated in the French Revolution.
After all, however, it is rather a matter of curiosity than of importance to trace among the vast mass of speculations bequeathed to us by the schoolmen the faint outlines of a growing liberalism. Whatever may have been the opinions of a few monkish speculators, however splendid may have been the achievements of a few industrial half-sceptical republics, [2:145] it was not till the Reformation that the rights of nationalities became a great question in Europe. The spirit of insubordination created by the struggle, and the numerous important questions which Protestantism submitted to the adjudication of the multitude, predisposed the people to enlarge the limits of their power; while the countless sects that were appealing to popular favour, and the frequent opposition of belief between the governors and the governed, ensured a full discussion of the subject. The result of this was the creation of a great variety of opinions, the views of each sect being determined mainly by its circumstances, or, in other words, by the predisposition resulting from its interests.
If we begin our review with the Ultramontane party in the Church of Rome, which especially represented the opinions of the Popes, we find that it was confronted with two great facts. In the first place, a multitude of sovereigns had embraced Protestantism simply to emancipate themselves from Papal control; and in the next place, the Catholic population in several countries was sufficiently numerous to resist with some chance of success their Protestant rulers. The points, therefore, which were most accentuated in the teaching of the writers of this school, were the power of the Pope to depose sovereigns, especially for heresy, and the right of the people to resist an heretical ruler. The vigour with which these propositions were maintained is sufficiently illustrated by the dealings of the Popes with the English Government; and the arguments in their support were embodied by Cardinal Bellarmine in his treatise 'On the Supremacy of the Sovereign Pontiff over Temporal Affairs,' and by the famous Jesuit Suarez in his 'Defence of the Faith.' The Parliament of Paris ordered the first of these works to be burnt in 1610, and the second in 1614.
The most ardent and by far the most able champions of Ultramontanism were the Jesuits, who, however, went so far beyond the other theologians in their principles that they may be justly regarded as a separate class. The marvellous flexibility of intellect and the profound knowledge of the world that then at least characterised their order, soon convinced them that the exigencies of the conflict were not to be met by following the old precedents of the Fathers, and that it was necessary to restrict in every way the overgrown power of the sovereigns. They saw, what no others in the Catholic Church seem to have perceived, that a great future was in store for the people, and they laboured with a zeal that will secure them everlasting honour to hasten and direct the emancipation. By a system of the boldest casuistry, by a fearless use of their private judgment in all matters which the Church had not strictly defined, and above all by a skilful employment and expansion of some of the maxims of the schoolmen, they succeeded in disentangling themselves from the traditions of the past, and in giving an impulse to liberalism wherever their influence extended. Suarez, in the book to which I have just referred, devoted himself especially to the question of the mediate or immediate nature of the Divine Right of Kings. [1:148] It was a question, he acknowledged, that could not be decided either by Scripture or the Fathers; but the schoolmen were on the whole favourable to the latter view, and the Popes had often asserted their own authority over sovereigns, which, according to Ultramontane principles, was almost decisive of the question. He elaborated the doctrine of the 'social contract' with such skill and emphasis as to place the sovereign altogether upon a lower level than the nation, while the Pope towered over all. According to these principles, the interests of the sovereign should be subordinated to those of the people. The king derived all his power immediately from the State; and in a case of extreme misgovernment, when the preservation of the State required it, the nation might depose its sovereign, [2:148] and might, if necessary, depute any person to kill him. [3:148] The case of an heretical prince was still plainer; for heresy being a revolt against that Divine authority to which the sovereign ultimately owed his power, it in a certain sense annulled his title to the throne. Still, as the Pope was the arbiter of these questions, a sentence of deposition should precede rebellion. [1:149] The Pope had the power of issuing this sentence on two grounds -- because he was the superior of the temporal ruler, and also because heresy was a crime which fell under his cognisance, and which was worthy of temporal penalties. To deny that the Pope could inflict such penalties on heretics, no matter what may be their rank, is to fall under the suspicion of heresy; [2:149] to deny that death is a natural punishment for heresy was to assail the whole system of persecution which the Church had organised. In defending this doctrine against the charges brought against it on the ground of its dangerous consequences, Suarez maintained that the deposed king could only be killed by those whom the Pope had expressly authorised; [3:149] but there can be little doubt that the Jesuits looked with a very indulgent eye on all attempts at assassination that were directed against a deposed sovereign who was in opposition to the Church.
It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that the Jesuits advocated liberal principles only with a view to theological advantages, or in Protestant countries, or under the shelter of ecclesiastical authorities. More than once they maintained even their most extreme forms in the midst of Catholic nations, and, strange as the assertion may appear, it is in this order that we find some of the most rationalistic intellects of the age. Two of the leading characteristics of a rationalistic mind, as we have already seen, are a love of appealing to the general principles of natural religion rather than to dogmatic tenets, and a disposition to wrest the latter into conformity with the former; and of these two tendencies we find among the Jesuits some striking examples. The famous work of Mariana 'Concerning the King and the Regal Institution' will furnish us with an illustration of these truths.
This extremely remarkable book was published at Toledo in 1599, and it bears at its commencement the approbation of the leaders of the Jesuits. [1:150] It was dedicated to Philip III., for whose benefit it was written; and it must be acknowledged that, among the countless works that have been dedicated to sovereigns, it would be impossible to find one more free from the taint of adulation. Its ostensible object was to collect a series of moral precepts for the benefit of sovereigns, but the really important part, and that with which we are alone concerned, is the examination of the rights of nations against their sovereigns. The cardinal point upon which this examination turns is a distinction which some of the schoolmen had derived from Aristotle, and which became very prominent in the beginning of the seventeenth century, between a king and a tyrant, as two things almost generically different. A ruler who belonged to the latter class had no right to the name of king, nor could he claim the privileges or the reverence attached to it; and to be a tyrant, as Mariana explained, it was not necessary to be a usurper. [2:150] Every ruler, however legitimate, belongs to this category if the main principle of his government is selfishness, and if he habitually sacrifices the interests of his people to his lusts or to his pride. Such rulers are the worst of evils, the enemies of the human race. They had been figured by the ancients in the fables of Antæus, the Hydra, and the Chimera, and the greatest achievements of the heroes of antiquity had been their destruction. [1:151]
This being the case, the important question arose, whether it is now lawful to kill a tyrant? [2:151] That there should be no equivocation as to the nature of the inquiry, Mariana takes for his text the recent assassination of Henry III. of France by Clément. He relates, in a tone of evident admiration, how this young Dominican, impelled by a religious enthusiasm, and having fortified his courage by the services of the Church, had contrived to obtain an interview with the king, had stabbed him to death with a poisoned knife, and had himself fallen beneath the swords of the attendants. 'Thus,' he says, 'did Clément perish as many deem the eternal honour of France -- a youth but four-and-twenty years of age, simple in mind and weak in body; but a higher might confirmed both his courage and his strength.' [3:151]
In examining the moral character of this act, there was a great division of opinion. Very many extolled it as worthy of immortality; others, however, whose learning and sagacity were not to be despised, severely condemned it. They said that it was not lawful for a single unauthorised individual to condemn and slaughter the consecrated ruler of a nation; that David did not dare to slay his bitterest enemy because that enemy was the Lord's Anointed; that amid all the persecutions the early Church underwent, no Christian hand was ever raised against the monsters who filled the throne; that political assassinations have, in the great majority of cases, injured the cause they were meant to serve, and that if their legitimacy were admitted, all respect for sovereigns would vanish and universal anarchy would ensue. 'Such,' added Mariana, 'are the arguments of those who espouse the cause of the tyrant, but the champions of the people can urge others that are not less numerous or less powerful. [1:152] He then proceeds, in a strain that leaves no doubt as to his own opinion, to enumerate the arguments for tyrannicide. The people had conceded a certain measure of their power to their sovereign, but not in such a manner that they did not themselves retain a greater authority, and might not at any time recall what they had given if it was misused. [2:152] The common voice of mankind had enrolled the great tyrannicides of the past among the noblest of their race. Who ever censured the acts or failed to admire the heroism of Harmodius or Aristogeiton or Brutus, or of those who freed their land from the tyranny of a Domitian, a Caracalla, or a Heliogabalus? And what was this common sentiment but the voice of nature that is within us, teaching us to distinguish what is right from what is wrong? [3:152] If some ferocious beast had been let loose upon the land, and was devastating all around him, who would hesitate to applaud the man who, at the risk of his life, had ventured to slay it? Or what words would be deemed too strong to brand the coward who remained a passive spectator while his mother or the wife of his soul was torn and crushed? Yet the most savage animal is but an inadequate image of a tyrant, and neither wife nor mother has so high a claim upon our affections as our country. [1:153]
These were the chief arguments on either side, and it remained to draw the conclusion. The task, Mariana assures us, is not difficult, but it is necessary to distinguish between different cases. In the first place, the tyrant may be a conqueror who by force of arms, and without any appeal to the people, had obtained possession of the sovereign power. In this case there was no obscurity: the example of Ehud was a guide, and the tyrant might be justly slain by any of the people. [2:153] The next case was that of a sovereign elected by the nation, or who had obtained his throne by hereditary right, but who sacrificed his people to his lusts, infringed the laws, despised true religion, and preyed upon the fortunes of his subjects. If there existed in the nation any authoritative assembly of the people, or if such an assembly could be convoked, it should warn the sovereign of the consequences of his acts, declare war against him if he continued obdurate, and, if no other resource remained, pronounce him to be a public enemy and authorise any individual to slay him. [3:153] If in the last place the king who had degenerated into a tyrant had suppressed the right of assembly, no steps should be taken unless the tyranny was flagrant, unquestionable, and intolerable; but if this were so, the individual who, interpreting the wishes of the people, slew the sovereign should be applauded. [1:154] Nor was this doctrine likely to lead to as many tragedies as was supposed. 'Happy indeed would it be for mankind were there many of such unflinching resolution as to sacrifice life and happiness for the liberty of their country; but the desire of safety withholds most men from great deeds, and this is why of the great multitude of tyrants so few have perished by the sword.' 'It is, however, a salutary thought for princes to dwell upon, that if they oppress their people and make themselves intolerable by their vices, to slay them is not only without guilt, but is an act of the highest merit.' [2:154]
There was, however, one aspect of the question of tyrannicide which presented to the mind of our author considerable difficulty, and to which he devoted a separate chapter. That to slay a tyrant with a dagger was a meritorious act he was perfectly convinced, but to mingle poison with his food was a somewhat different matter. This distinction, Mariana tells us incidentally, was first suggested to him, many years before the publication of the book, by one of his scholars, when, as a public instructor, he was impressing his doctrines upon the youth of Sicily. [1:155] The way in which he resolves it is very remarkable, as exhibiting the modes of thought or reasoning from which these speculations sprang. He in the first place shows very clearly that nearly every argument that justifies the one mode of slaughter may be also urged in favour of the other; but notwithstanding this he concludes that poison should be prohibited, because he says it is prohibited by that common sentiment of mankind which is the voice of nature and the test of right. [2:155]
The doctrine of tyrannicide, of which Mariana may be regarded as the chief apostle, is one that is eminently fitted to fascinate men who are just emerging out of a protracted servitude, and who have not yet learned to calculate the ulterior consequences of political acts. To slay a royal criminal, who, for the gratification of his own insatiable vanity, is causing the deaths of thousands of the innocent, and blasting the prosperity of his nation, is an act that seems at first sight both laudable and useful, especially if that sovereign had violated the obligations by which he had bound himself. A man who has committed an act of treason, which the law would punish by death, has incurred a penalty and retained a privilege. The penalty is that he should be put to death; the privilege is that he should only be put to death by the constituted authorities and in the legal way. But if in addition to his original crime he has paralysed the law that should avenge it, it may plausibly be argued that he has forfeited his privilege: he has placed himself above the law, and has therefore placed himself out of the law and become an outlaw. Besides this, the exceedingly prominent place tyrannicide occupies in the history both of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Jews, tells powerfully upon the imagination, and it is quite certain that none of these nations looked upon the act with the feelings of modern Englishmen.
But to those who take a wider view of the field of politics, the immense danger of encouraging individuals to make themselves the arbiters of the destinies of a nation will be far more than sufficient to counterbalance these arguments. The degree of favour that public opinion shows to political assassinations, though by no means the sole, is perhaps the principal regulator of their number; for although the conspirator may be prepared to encounter universal obloquy, the direction his enthusiasm has taken is, in the first instance, determined by the mental atmosphere he breathes. And if it be true, as Mariana asserts, that the number of those who possess sufficient resolution to engage in such enterprises is under all cases small, it is also true that those few would usually be men preëminently unfit to adjudicate upon the policy of nations. For the amount of heroism it evokes is no test or measure of the excellence of a cause. Indeed, nothing can be more certain than that the highest displays of courage, self-sacrifice, and enthusiasm are usually elicited not by those motives of general philanthropy which all men must applaud, but by attachment to some particular class of disputed questions or to the interests of some particular party. The excitement of controversy, the very fact that the opinions in question have but few adherents, the impossibility of triumphing by normal means, and the concentration of every thought upon a single aspect of a single subject, all stimulate fanaticism. The great majority of men will do far more for a cause they have espoused in spite of the opposition of those around them, than for one that is unquestionably good. We accordingly find that among the many attempts that were made upon the lives of rulers in the sixteenth century, nearly all were produced by attachment to certain religious opinions which the conspirator desired to see predominate, and from which an immense proportion of the people dissented. Never was there a spirit of more complete and courageous self-sacrifice than instigated Ravaillac to slay perhaps the very best sovereign in modern Europe. And have we not, in our own day, seen the representatives of a sect of revolutionists whose principles are rejected by the great majority of educated men attempting, again and again, to further their views by the assassination of a monarch of a different nation from their own, whose throne is based upon universal suffrage, and who, in the judgment of at least a very large proportion of his contemporaries, has proved himself the chief pillar of order in Europe?
These considerations, which the old Jesuit writers completely omitted, serve to show that even in the best case -- even in those instances in which the conspirator is seeking only what he firmly believes to be good -- the practice of tyrannicide is almost always an evil. But we have to add to this the assassinations from corrupt motives that in societies favourable to tyrannicide have always been frequent; we have to add also the danger to the State resulting from that large class of men so prominent in all criminal records who verge upon the border of insanity, who, partly from an excess of vanity and partly from natural weakness of volition, and partly under the influence of a kind of monomania, are drawn by an irresistible fascination to the perpetration of any crime surrounded with circumstances of notoriety; and when we still further consider the perpetual insecurity and the distrust between sovereign and people that must necessarily exist when these conspiracies are frequent, we shall have little hesitation in pronouncing upon the question. Political assassination is denounced, in general terms, as an atrocious crime, simply because in the great majority of instances it is so; and even in the extremely few cases that are generally recognised as exceptions, we have to deduct from the immediate advantages that were obtained the evil of an example that has been misused.
It is arguments of this kind, drawn from expediency, that are now regarded as most decisive on this as on many other questions of political ethics; but they could have little weight in the early stages of political life, when the minds of men were still moulded by theological discussions, and were consequently predisposed to deduce all conclusions with an inflexible logic from general principles. Tyrannicide accordingly occupied an extremely prominent place in the revival of liberalism in Europe. The first instance in which it was formally supported by a theologian appears to have been in 1408, shortly after the Duke of Orleans had been murdered at the instigation of the Duke of Burgundy, when a priest, and, as is generally said, a Franciscan, [1:158] named John Petit, who was then professor of theology in the University of Paris, justified the act, and delivered a public oration in defence of the thesis, 'That it is lawful, according to natural an d divine law, for every subject to slay or cause to be slain a traitor and disloyal tyrant.' This doctrine was afterwards energetically denounced by Gerson and condemned by the Council of Constance. [1:159] After the Reformation, however, it was very widely diffused. Grévin, one of the immediate successors of Jodelle, and therefore one of the founders of the French Drama, brought it upon the stage in a play upon 'The Death of Cæsar,' which was first acted in 1560, and was reprinted with an anti-monarchical preface at the time of Ravaillac. [2:159] A few years before the publication of the work of Mariana, no less than three Jesuits -- Franciscus Toletus, Emmanuel Sa, and the famous Molina -- had defended it. [3:159] The first, who was made a cardinal in 1583, justified it chiefly in the case of tyrants who had usurped dominion; [4:159] but intimated also, that the nation might depose a lawful sovereign, that it might condemn him to death, and that then any individual might slay him. Sa [1:160] and Molina [2:160] expressed the same opinion with still greater emphasis, and Balthazar Ayala, the most illustrious Spanish lawyer of the age, in his celebrated work on the 'Rights of War,' which was published in 1582, though utterly repudiating their doctrine concerning tyrants with a lawful title, cordially embraced it in the case of usurpers. [3:160] The French Jesuits, it is true, appalled by the outcry that was raised against them on account of the work of Mariana, repudiated its principles; but, in 1611, Mariana found a defender in another Jesuit named Kellerus, [4:160] who only made a single reservation -- that a formal sentence was always necessary before tyrannicide was justifiable. When Henry III. was assassinated by Clément, the Catholics of the League received the news with a burst of undisguised exultation, and in many churches the image of the murderer was placed for reverence upon the altar of God. The Pope publicly pronounced the act to be worthy of ranking with that of Judith; he said that it could only have been accomplished by the special assistance of Providence, and he blasphemously compared it to the Incarnation and to the Resurrection. [1:161] On the other hand, it would be unfair to forget the murder of the Duke of Guise in France and of Cardinal Beaton in Scotland, the justification of these instances of political assassination by the most eminent Protestants, and the many seditious works at least verging upon an approval of tyrannicide that issued from the Protestant press.
Still the main champions of tyrannicide were unquestionably the Jesuits, and it is not difficult to discover the reason. It has been said that the despotic character of their government has in these later times proved inimical to the growth of individuality among them, and that while the institution considered as a whole has flourished, it has failed remarkably to produce originality either in intellect or in character. [2:161] But however this may be now, it is certain that it was not so in the early days of the society, when a few isolated Jesuits were scattered through a community of heretics waging continued war against overwhelming numbers. All the resources of their minds were then taxed to the utmost, and they had every motive to encourage an opinion that enabled a single individual, by an act of self-devotion, to sway the destinies of a nation.
[Fifth Chapter Continued on Next File]