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THE LIBRARY MAGAZINE.
VOLUME 4, JULY, 1880.
THE FRENCH REPUBLIC AND THE CATHOLIC
THE English press has been all but unanimous in its censure of the recent action against the religious orders in France. The celebrated seventh clause of M. Ferry's Bill, especially, has been denounced as a violation of the liberties of both the members of the monastic congregations and the parents who have intrusted to them the education of their children. The decrees by which the Jesuits have been suppressed, and the other orders have been invited to sue for authorization, have met, if I mistake not, with a rather less sweeping condemnation, but still they have been pointed out as a proof that the French Republic is animated with a spirit of perse. cution against the Catholic Church. Such measures, we are assured, are but the beginning of the war of irreligious fanaticism against religious institutions and religion itself. We are, according to this view of things, the genuine children of the Jacobins of 1793. I remember having read an article in a leading Lundon newspaper, in which the words demagogy and demagogical were used six times within one column, to characterize our Government, its proceedings, and its supporters.
I want to appeal from that sentence, and to see whether a plain exposition of facts and half an hour of suber discussion cannot remove what I must consider as a total misconception of the case.
There are two preliminary considerations which ought to have put our English critics on their guard before passing su severe. a judgment on French Republicanism. The first is the character of many of the advocates of the seventh clause and of the decrees against the congregations. The authors and abettors of those measures are not all men of extreme and violent sentiments-very far from it. M. Jules Ferry is by no means a fanatic, but an able, honest, and practical reformer. M. Waddington, who was at the head of the Cabinet when the seventh clause was introduced, is
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one of the most moderate-not to say timid--of the group known under the designation of the Left Centre. M. de Freycinet, his. successor, who has issued the obnoxious decrees, is known for his conciliatory disposition no less than for his honesty, sagacity, and oratorical gifts. He visited some of our provinces when still a Minister of Public Works, and he produced a deep impression on that occasion by his appeals to forbearance and concord. The answer to this will be, of course, that MM. de Freycinet and Waddington, in the matter of the Jesuits, have acted against their own better judgment, and in obedience to the dictates of the majority of the Chamber of Deputies--a gratuitous assumption, based upon no fact whatever. I am not prepared to deny that these gentlemen, as is natural to men in office, would not have preferred being spared the trouble of a tenacious opposition in Parliament, and of a widespread agitation in the country ; but I feel confident that they have brought their measures forward under a sense of unavoidable necessity, and that in doing so they have done no violence to their convictions. They may regret to have to carry out a policy full of difficulties, but they cannot be said to bave consented to what was not right in their eyes.
The analysis of the division which took place on the seventh clause in the Senate is equally conclusive against the opinion of those who believe all the adversaries of the Jesuits in France to be prompted by anti-religious sentiments. The Senate, it is true, threw out that part of M. Ferry's Bill, but by a small majority, and a majority consisting almost entirely of Royalists, Bonapartists, and Ultramontanes, and therefore of such as systematically oppose all the measures which are introduced by the present Government or sent up from the other House. Their victory on the division was due to the casual accession of Republicans who voted with them from various motives, though mostly, I admit, from religious prepossessions. Not so, at all events, M. Jules Simon, whose vote has been held out as the significant protest of a genuine Liberal against the narrowness of his own party, hut whose conduct does pot admit of quite so simple an interpretation. It must not be forgotten that M. Jules Si n's statesmanship, as head of a Cabinet under Marshal MacMahon, gave general dissatisfaction to his friends, and that when, at the beginning of last year, he came forward as a candidate for the Presidency of the Senate, he was black-balled in consequence of the discredit into which he had fallen. I am far from wishing to impute motives to M. Jc.es Simon, but there is no deuying that his attitude of late has been that of a man who casts about for some parliamentary combination capable of raising him again to influence and power. Be that as it may, this much is certain, that M. Jules Simon can hardly be any more considered as a member of the Republican half of the Senate. I shall not say the same of M. Laboulaye, who also voted against the clause, and whose example may also have influenced the issue of the debate; but M. Laboulaye is known to be crotchety, unsafe, a blind admirer of American principles and institu tions. There is no discussion into which he does not drag in the example set by the United States. M. Dufaure, from his age, bis talent, his superiority to party spirit, and the constancy of his republican convictions, was certainly the inost formidable of the opponents of M. Ferry's Bill, and he had, of course, as well as his friends and followers, a full right to his opinion. But why should it be assumed that none of the senators who voted in the minority on that occasion are as well entitled as M. Dufaure to the credit of a high-minded and mature decision? There is no extreme party in the Senate ; the most advanced members of that assembly would pass muster among the most temperate of the Lower House ; M. Victor Hugo himself is visibly calmed down by the spirit of the place. The Left Centre, besides, did not go over in a body to the Opposition in the division we speak of, but only about one half of the group. I leave it to the English reader to judge whether, in the face of these facts, it is not unfair, and contrary to evidence, to brand as irreligious zealots the 132 senators (against 149) who were of opinion that the unauthorized orders ought to be cut off from the right of teaching.
Another motive fur caution in the estimate of our religious discussions is, that the struggle we are going through has been the lot of all the nations where the Catholic Church is powerful enough to throw difficulties in the way of the Government, and, by the threat of such difficulties, to exact compliance with her pretensions. And here we come to what I take to be the root and sum of the whole inatter.
The clerical party and its abettors contend that the Roman Cath. olic Church is a church like all others, an association similar to other associations, and entitled, in consequence, to enjoy the same liberties. This, however, is begging the question. The truth is, that the Catholic Church cannot be compared to anything else. It is an institution of a perfectly unique character. It is a fact sui generis. Catholicism has this distinctive feature, that it is theocratical. It claims the right of ruling rulers and governing govern; ments. Not that it denies the distinction between the temporal and the spiritual power; it recognizes the existence and the lawfulness of the State, but at the same time it alleges its own divine commission to bring the laws and conduct of the earthly regiment under the control of ecclesiastical authority. The Catholic ideal is a monarchy in which everything—institutions, State policy, aud public instruction-is informed by the spirit of the Church, and brought into agreement with the canons. What would become of the papacy, and of its pretension to be a living representation of the Deity upon earth, if its authority were a matter of opinion, an affair of personal conviction, if individuals and nations were at liberty to obey or not ? No, they must be made to obey, they must be made to believe ; dissent is to be accounted as sin, heresy to be visited as guilt, and citizen rights are to depend upon baptism and conformity. Such is the Catholic theory, a theory which the Catholic Church is not at liberty to disown, for that would be disowning herself, giving up her raison d’être, dwindling to the condition of a mere sect, of one religious denomination among all the others. True, it is not in the power of the Church to realize her own conception. The glorious vision, once embodied in the papacy of the Middle Ages, has vanished. One half of Europe has renounced its allegiance to Rome, and growing infidelity is completing the work of the Reformation. The Church, therefore, has a hard time of it. She is obliged to observe à certain discretion in the assertion of her claims, to make concessions to the spirit and to speak the lan. guage of the age; but she has not for all that abandoned anything of her pretensions ; through all difficulties and humiliations she still tends to the same end, endeavoring by force or favor, by selfassertion or tactics, to regain the situation she has lost. Her confi. dence in such an unlikely victory is indeed wonderful, and would deserve our admiration if the motive power of so great an effort were not the hope of bringing back humanity under temporal and spiritual bondage.
The irrepressible tendency of the Catholic Church to bring the State into subordination to itself has been at all times a source of collision between the spiritual and temporal power, but especially since France at the end of the last century set the example of making the law of the land independent of the law of the Church in such matters as marriage, ecclesiastical immunities, the validity of religious vows, etc. All the efforts of Catholicism have, ever since, been employed in trying to recover the ascendency of which the French revolution had deprived it. Seeing that power is nowadays a matter of majority, the Church threw herself everywhere into the electoral struggle, and when experience had taught her that the people were to be won over before any result could be ex-. pected from parliamentary strategy, she addressed herself to the task of education. Hence her endeavors to bring the public schools under her influence, and, failiug this, the zeal wiih which she availed herself of the modern principles of liberty to set up schools of her own in rivalry with those of ihe State. It is thus that edu. cational competition has come to play so great a part in the con. flicts between Church and State which, of late years, have taken place in all countries where Catholicism is powerful enough to at. tempt dominatiun.