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We have no hesitation in asserting, that the supposed general contrast between the social and political condition of Catholic and Protestant nations has no real existence whatever. We have no wish to overstate our own case.
We do not sympathise with those writers or speakers who pretend that in promoting the mere temporal civilisation of mankind, Catholicism is immeasurably ahead of Protestantism. We have no preconceived theory to defend. We shrink from none of the truths of history. We do not wish to argue against Protestantism on a misrepresentation of the facts of the case similar to that on which Protestants argue against Catholicism. We ask for the whole facts of the case; for nothing less, and for nothing more. And taking the whole, and not merely this or that isolated illustration of a favourite view, we repeat, that the popular English notion of the general inferiority of the human mind in Catholic countries, as compared with its civilisation in Protestant countries, is utterly without foundation in historical truth.
In the first place, we insist that it would be most fallacious to raise any argument on such a subject on the facts of a single year, or a single generation. What Catholicism or Protestantism does for a people must be ascertained by observing what it does in the long-run, and not what it does within the space of some twenty, fifty, or even a hundred years.
suit the convenience of an anti-Catholic controversialist to limit the question to one or two countries on each side, and to their relative condition at this present moment alone; but we cannot conceive that any
fair-minded person, whose sole desire is truth, would consciously be entrapped into so delusive a means of bringing the question to a solution. It is all very well for a fierce Protestant newspaper or speech-maker to pit the England of to-day against the Naples of to-day ; but it is monstrous to assume that the contrast between a few generations of one nation and a few generations of another nation can embrace the real bearings of a subject which includes not less than thirteen centuries and the destinies of an entire continent.
At the very outset, therefore, we refuse to be bound by any such preposterous mutilation of history as that which is implied in the limitation of the question to a few selected cases, or a few short years. We insist upon carrying back the investigation to that period when Europe began to rise from the desolation produced by the fall of the Roman Empire, and when her religion, even by the confession of our enemies, was undeniably and universally “popish.” We do not push the date into a still more remote antiquity,
because in the earlier ages of Christianity the Church was not dominant in the world as she afterwards became; and further, because our adversaries would complicate the discussion by denying that Christianity was then really what Catholicism is now. We start, then, from that day of desolation and social disorganisation, when the decay of imperial Rome had tempted the northern barbarians to seek in her territories a prey as easy as it was magnificent; when society seemed altogether to resolve itself into its primitive elements; when the old Pagan civilisation was crushed for ever; and ignorance, violence, and every odious passion, appeared about to divide the empire of humanity among them.
At that time there was undoubtedly but one idea of Christianity existing among those who called themselves by the name of Christ. Europe knew only of papal Christianity. A religion without a visible church, and a visible church without bishops, and bishops without a Pope, was a thing unknown and unheard of. Christianity was a religion of sacraments, masses, image-worship and monkery, and every other of those “ corruptions” to which the supposed degradation of Catholic states is now popularly imputed. And more than that, the priesthood then were the dominant class, so far powers
of the intellect can confer absolute sway upon one social class over all others. Nay, further still, that intellec.
, tual power did measure its strength against the savage demonstrations of brute force; and it conquered. The victory of the priestly intelligence over the strong arm of kings and nobles, was no mere matter of speculation as to the truth of the modern saying that “knowledge is power.” The Popes and prelates of the dark and middle ages put the theory to a trial; and it was found, while all humanity exulted in the result, that “knowledge is power.” It was seen, that if the gift of cultivation, in ever so slight a degree, be conferred on popes, prelates, and priests, and they are called into conflict with the fiery passions and armed hosts of secular sovereigns and princes, the power of the animal strength licks the dust before the knowledge of the priesthood, though the former be counted by hundreds, and the latter by units.
Here, then, was a fair illustration of the natural tendencies of Catholicism to advance or impede a secular civilisation. Popery had it all its own way; and how did it use the unexampled opportunity ? Let the records of ten centuries reply. From the year when the last successor of Augustus fell with the last remains of Roman greatness and cultivation, let the history of Europe bear witness to the deeds of “Popery,” when it stood alone among men.
Is there a ques
tion, a doubt, the shadow of a doubt, as to the testimony of the thousand years between the fall of Rome and the commencement of Protestantism? During all that long and often weary period, who but the Church civilised the human race, wherever she came? Amidst the crash of kingdoms, the mingling of races, the creation of new political relationships; while the old landmarks were swept away, and the old barriers against reckless passion crumbled into dust; with scarcely a trace of an elder civilisation to reward the researches of an antiquary, and scarcely a tradition of the old Roman grandeur to rouse the Church to rivalry; while the world stormed upon her from without, and intrigued within her fold; while often her own children proved corrupt; while hot controversies raged among her learned men; while her clergy too often violated her laws, or sold themselves to the interests of the secular power; while the possession of the Holy See itself was for many years contested by anti-Popes; while the riches of the world were at length poured into her lap, and she was tempted to subside into that luxurious indolence which had proved the ruin of the old imperial Rome; amidst all this, the ceaseless progress of the human intelligence, and the foundation of all present European political freedom, under the direct guidance of Romish ecclesiastics, are as clearly to be seen as the progress of the sun in the heavens from east to west in his diurnal journey. Representative government, municipal institutions, an equal administration of justice, hospitals, roads, bridges, the arts, music, literature in all its branches, the discoveries of unknown parts of the world, even the elements of those purely physical sciences which are the especial boast of the modern Englishman,-every thing had its rise, and was cultivated with an untiring zeal and a fearless conviction that there is no natural hostility between Catholicism and civilisation, for century after century, by priests and monks, and under their undisputed sway. Without the aid of the printing-press, with no stimulus of Protestant rivalry to excite them, with no poverty to force them to intellectual toils for the sake of their bread,—they laid the foundations of the entire structure of European civilisation. We have nothing which we do not in some measure owe to the Church as it existed before the “Reformation."
Can Protestantism parallel this extraordinary spectacle from the records of its own achievements? Did any single Protestant nation ever civilise itself from within, as the entire European commonwealth civilised itself under the influence of European Catholicism? To compare the progress of England since the days of Henry VIII., or the condition of
the Protestant cantons of Switzerland, or modern Prussian or Dutch civilisation, or the present state of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, or the results of British sway in India, or the restless movement of the United States, with the work done by the Church for all Europe before the sixteenth century, is really so ridiculous, that the very idea of instituting such a comparison has only to be put forward in order to carry its refutation along with its pretensions. Will any reasonable inquirer, we ask, deny that the direct tendencies of Catholicism are to the highest possible cultivation of the human mind, and to the promotion of social order and perfection, with such a history before him? Surely this one fact alone decides the question. If some Catholic nations, since the “Reformation," have fallen behind in the race, is it not obvious that such a result must be imputed to the operation of certain disturbing influences not religious in their nature ? Whatever the present decadence of Spain or Naples, you cannot destroy the facts of ten centuries, you must look elsewhere than to the “paralysing influence of Popery” for the true causes that have produced the decline of certain Catholic powers. We speak, of course, to men of candour, who seek the real truth, and not to those who aim to maintain their own theories; and, addressing such persons, we repeat once more, that if for 1000 years, during which Catholicism stood alone, her influence on civilisation was in the highest degree beneficial,--if during that time the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church only, actually created that modern life whose benefits we now enjoy,—the conclusion is inevitable, that the more recent decay of the social system in some few Catholic nations must be sought elsewhere than in the dogmas and discipline of the Church of Rome.
What those paralysing causes have been, we shall presently point out. But, first, we call attention to the unblushing character of that reasoning, which assumes that, as things now are, civilisation is the invariable accompaniment of Protestantism, and decay and degradation the result of Catholicism. Cast your eyes over the map of Europe, and say which are the civilised and advancing nations, and which are those who have more or less relapsed into barbarism and disorganisation. And in so doing, beware of adopting the monstrous notion that civilisation is identical with national power, or with any one peculiar form of political government. If a representative system like that of England (not a thoroughly popular and democratic one, be it observed), and if the possession of an invincible fleet and a first-rate army, be essential to the perfecting of man as a cultivated being, then undoubtedly England is the Paradise of humanity, and a comparison between Great Britain and any other nation is needless and futile. We need hardly say that we repudiate any such a false and shallow test. The true question is, Where are men most refined, most orderly, most cheerful, most intelligent, most moral, most industrious, most productive, most contented? These are the proofs of civilisation, and not the accidents of a House of Commons (which may be most uncongenial to a nation's tastes, and unsuitable to its habits), or of a preponderating power in the councils of Europe. A nation may be unconquered and unconquerable, yet semi-barbarous; it may present the very beau-ideal of “self-government,” yet be a disgrace to humanity. Power is not necessarily happiness; nor is a man a gentleman, a scholar, and a benefactor to mankind, merely because he is neither taxed nor governed except in accordance with his own personal votes.
Tried, then, not by insular bigotry, but by the dictates of reason, how do the nations of Europe rank in the scale of civilisation?. Contrast, first, England and France as neighbours and rivals, and as equals in political power. In what way are the French people less civilised than we are? In literature, in the arts, in diplomacy, in their love for peace instead of war, in war itself, in the general happiness of the entire mass of their people, will any candid man pretend that they are behind ours? To this day we are constrained to learn more from them than they from us. They are utterly unlike us, in requiring a species of despotism for their government, in contradistinction to our own representative system; but the necessity for this despotism does not spring from an inferior degree of civilisation, but from the fact that with them the discontented masses are fiery and organised, and therefore powerful; while with us they are brutal, but without organisation, and therefore powerless. The “million" in France is more daring and revolutionary than in England ; but who that knows the utter demoralisation, stupidity, and degradation of the enormous labouring class in our cities and villages will venture to allege that our barn-door savages and town populations are one single degree higher in the scale of humanity than the peasantry and "ouvriers” of
' France ? English brutality is not better than French ferocity. Vice gains nothing by exchanging the vivacious recklessness of Paris for the stupid animalism of London. As to intellect, if civilisation means intellectual power, the French Redrepublican, or frequenter of the Palais Royal, has certainly his wits more sharpened than the denizen of St. Giles's and the