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From the archives: The Church and Liberty

Screen Shot 2013-02-06 at 8.27.56 PMThe following is an essay printed in the May 26, 1877 edition of Notre Dame’s Scholastic Magazine. It is well worth reading. To see how the quality of education, writing, and thinking among undergraduates has progressed, one may wish to visit the Scholastic‘s current website here.

Even a casual observer cannot but wonder at the rapid growth of the Catholic Church in the United States during the last one hundred years. At the beginning of this period there were but few Catholics in this country, for although they were persecuted in England, Ireland and Scotland, deprived of the open ministrations of their spiritual pastors in those and other countries, yet they could find just as little toleration in the Colonies at that lime. Until Lord Baltimore and his coloni’ of English and Irish emigrants,—” nearly all of whom,” says McSherry, ” were Catholics, and gentlemen of fortune and respectability, who desired to fly from the spirit of intolerance which pervaded England, and to rear up their altars in freedom in the wilderness,”—there was no religious freedom in America, or at least in that portion of it which is now the United States. This was in 1634 At the same time the Puritans of Massachusetts were persecuting or banishing anyone who.happened among them of a different religious belief; there was no toleration there, and we see Roger Williams and others compelled to seek a home elsewhere or give up their religious belief. In fact they were getting off cheaply enough if they left in sano corpore. The Indians of Maine were hunted down because they professed the Faith of Columbus, and we see them spurning the oft’er of Governor Dudley of Boston in 1713 to rebuild their burned church if they would accept a minister instead of a ” black-gown.” O’Kane Murray in his Popular History of the United States tells us that an act of the penal code of New York in 1700 made it a felony to proclaim one’s self a Catholic there, a few of the penalties being (1) Any Catholic clergyman found within the limits of the Colony of New York after November 1st, 1700, should be ” deemed an incendiary, an enemy of the Christian religion, and shall be adjudged to suffer perpetual imprisonment.” (2) If a Catholic priest escaped from prison and was retaken, he was to suffer death. (3) Anyone harboring a priest was liable to be fined $1,000, and to stand three days on the pillory.’ Another law, passed in 170l, excluded Catholics from office, and deprived them of the right to vote. In 1703, Queen Ann “granted liberty of conscience to all the inhabitants of New York, Papists excepted.” The British Parliament in 1718 passed a law to the effect that any Popish Bishop, priest or Jesuit, found saying Mass or exercising any other part of his office, was to be perpetually imprisoned, and any Catholic convicted of keeping school or educating youth was to be perpetually imprisoned. Thus ” the tyrannical Government of England,” continues O’Kane Murray, “did its utmost to rob every man professing Catholicity of the rights bestowed upon him by the great God of earth and heaven!” This was 84 years after the Catholic Lord Baltimore proclaimed universal civil and religious liberty in Maryland, and 57 years before the breaking out of the Revolutionary War that gained us our independence—that struggle in which the Catholic names of Pulaski and Kosciusko from Catholic Poland,—Barry, Moylan, Montgomery and a host of others from Catholic Ireland,—Lafayette, De Grasse, Rochambeau and others from Catholic Prance, and the gallant Baron de Kalb, German by birth, French by adoption, shine in a galaxy beside those of WASHINGTON, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hancock and the Catholic Carroll of our own country,—and in which the Catholic Indians of Maine, the famed Abnaki, furnished some of the truest and bravest soldiers of the Revolution.

In the face of such facts is it not singular that many of our modern journalists—and among them in particular some of the editors of our American College papers—speak as though the Catholic Church were the enemy of freedom of every kind, religious, civil, and scientific! Only the other day we received an enlightened journal from the enlightened North, the Colby Echo, in which such a principle was advanced, and the enlightened journals of Harvard we believe it was who took the University Chronicle to task for exempting the Church froni the charge of persecuting Galileo. They seem to be ignorant of the fact that the belief and practice of Catholicity refine, elevate, and expand the human mind; that the philosophy of history first found a habitation and a name in St. Augustine’s “City of God” ; that the Catholics Bossuet, Schlegel and Balmes continued the work in their respective times; that the invention of water-mills, glass, and silk manufactures belongs to the 6th century; that bells and organs for churches were invented in the seventh century; that the music scale was invented by a monk; that double-entry book-keeping originated in Catholic Italy; that powder was invented by a monk; that Roger Bacon, the Franciscan monk of the 13ih century, was a far more learned man than Francis Bacon, the Protestant chancellor, of the 16th; that printing, the making of paper from rags, oil painting, and postal routes, owe their origin to the Catholics of the 15th century; that the luminous Catholic intellect of St. Thomas Aquinas built up the Summa; that the Catholic Leonardo da Vinci constructed the first canal with a series of locks; that as great architects the names of the Catholics Michael Angelo, Raphael and Bramante stand unrivalled; that the Catholic Virgilius, an Irish priest, first discovered the sphericity of the earth; that another Catholic priest, Copernicus, gave us our present system of astronomy; that Galileo, Torricelli, Boscovich, Gessandi, Descartes, Pascal, Piazzi, Malebranche, Galvani, De Vico, ,Volta and Secchi lay claim to the title of children of the same Church; that Pope Gregory it was who reformed the Calendar, and Protestant England, rather than agree with the Pope, fought against the sua and stars for nearly two hundred years; that the great universities of Paris, Salamanca, Coimbra, Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge, Pavia, Vienna, and others, were founded and maintained by CalboUcs; thai most of the great poets were Catholics or drew their inspiration from Catholic sources—that Dante, Petrarch, Chaucer—styled by some the ” Father of English Poetry ” —Shakespeare, Tasso, Calderon, Vega, Camoens, Racine, Dryden, Pope and Moore were Catholics; that the Catholic names of Palestrina, Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart stand first in the list of musical composers.* It would be well if some of these college editors and others read up a little before casting a slur on our honorable body, one to whom they owe nearly all that they have worthy of prizing. If they but read up history they will find that for the liberty we of the United States now enjoy we are greatly, aye mainly, indebted to Catholic arms and Catholic money. They will find that although Catholics were in the proportion of only one to one hundred and twenty in the population of the Colonies, they were largely represented in the gallant army which wrenched them from the clutches of tyrannic Protestant England. The Catholics took a noble part in the Revolution, says O’Kane Murray; with an admirable magnanimity the persecuted followers of the creed of Alfred and Charlemagne, of Columbus and Carroll, drew the veil of oblivion over all past grievances, thought only of present duty, and threw their whole weight into the scale of independence. One of the most famous and learned of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence was the. Catholic Charles Carroll, of Maryland. ” There go millions,” said Franklin, as Carroll, in a bold hand, wrote his name on the immortal document. Another remarking that he might, unlike Hancock and Adams, still escape with his neck and fortune in case of failure, as there were many Charles CarroUs, the heroic Marylander answered that there was but one Charles Carroll “of Carrollton,” as he added these memorable words to his signature. ” The Lexington of the Seas,” as Cooper terms it—the first sea-fight in the interest of American independence—was fought under a Catholic commander, Jeremiah O’Brien. This naval encounter took place May 11th, 1775, in Machias Bay, Maine, and resulted in the capture of two Brittish store-ships, O’Brien and his four brothers doing noble feats of valor on that day. Commodore John Barry, justly styled the “Father of the American Navy,” was also a pious Catholic—and a truer, braver man than whom, perhaps, never lived. He not only founded our navy, fought and won its early battles, but also trained those other brave and skilful commanders, Murray, Decatur, Dale and Stewart. “There was no Catholic traitor during our Revolution,” says Archbishop Spalding, although Catholics were to be found in all positions, from the simple sailor to the head of our navy, from the private to the major-general. The brave Moylan, a brother to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Cork, was, at the head of his dragoons, in nearly every important engagement during the war, and General Washington’s “Life Guard,” a chosen body of men, was composed largely of Catholics, in the list of whom may be found such names as Charles Dougherty, James Hughes, Denis Moriarty, William Hennessy, Jeremiah Driscoll, L. Dajley, John Finch, Thomas Gillen, and others, whose patronym alone is enough to show whence they sprung, but whose descendants would be excluded only a few years ago from all office and privilege by the know-nothing descendants’of the Tories of ’76. The rank and file of the Revolutionary army not only contained thousands of such men,—and, what to Catholics seems quite natural, but to those who have been brought up in a prejudiced school may appear extraordinary, there was also ” a Jesuit” leader among them, for when Franklin, Chase and Carroll were despatched by Congress to Canada in order to gain the Canadians over to their cause, Father John Carroll, of the Society of Jesus— afterwards appointed Bishop of the United States at the suggestion of Benjamin Franklin—was invited to join them, and De Courcy writes of him that he was ever ” a sincere patriot, a zealous partisan of liberty, and one of the real founders of American Independence.” Also, in 1780, when great distress prevailed, we see among the names of Philadelphia merchants contributing to the common fund such Catholic ones as James Mease, $25,000; Hugh Shell, $25,000; John Mease, $20,000; L Delaney, $4,000.’ And, then again, the great assistance lent our armies—in fact an equivalent, and more than au equivalent, to all they could of themselves, unaided, accomplish—by Catholic Prance and Spain, the former having supplied to the cause of the American Revolution 10,000 men and $300,000,000, while ‘ our army was mainly indebted to this the ” eldest daughter of the Church” for artillery and skilled engineers, while Catholic Spain threw open all her ports as neutral to the marine of the then struggling Colonies—”as yet unknown, even by name, to the political world, and ceased not until the powers of Northern Europe joined with her in proclaiming the ‘Armed Neutrality-Act,’ to which John Adams declared America owed her independence as much as to any other cause. Catholic Spain made a present of 1,000,000 francs to our struggling Republic, sent 3,000 barrels of gunpowder, and blankets for 10 regiments, threw open Havana to our navy, intimating that military stores could be got from the magazine there; paid the salary of the American Minister at Madrid; in a word proved herself a true friend in the hour of distressing need.” At home we see the Catholic Vicar-General Gibault, in 1778, using his infiuence here in Indiana in favor of the Colonies, and inducing his flock to declare in their favor and against England. When Viucennes was captured by the British in 1779, and Colonel Clarke assembled his troops to recapture the town, Father Gibault made a patriotic address to them and bestowed his blessing upon ” the heroic little band.” It is also stated that he administered the oath of allegiance to the American Government in his little church with great solemnity at a period anterior to this event. In fact his exertions are said to have greatly facilitated our conquest of the northwest.* It was therefore not without good reason that Washington, when he went to the camp at Boston and found that the bigots there intended to burn the Pope in effigy, issued the following order, in 1775, condemning such an outrageous proceeding: ” November 5th.—As the Commander-inchief has been apprized of a design formed for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the effigy of the Pope, he cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be officers and soldiers in this army so void of common sense as not to see the impropriety of such a step It is so monstrous as not to be suffered, or excused. Indeed, instead of offering the most remote in-suit, it is our duty to address public thanks to our (Catholic) brethren, as to them we are indebted for every late success over the common enemy in Canada.” We commend this extract from the writings of the Patri Patriae to the consideration of such College and other editors as make it a point from time to time to cast their slurs upon Catholics and the Catholic Church, without any just cause, for neither has ever done them or their forefathers any injury—in fact the injury is all on the other side; if they wish to read up a little further they may obtain a copy of Bishop Gibbons’s “Faith of Our Fathers” (and their fathers), and O’Kaue Murray’s ” History of the Church in the United States,” which may prepare them to take a step farther, and further, until they come to St. Thomas Aquinas’s grand compendium of Catholic Theology. There they will learn what the Catholic Church really is, and that she is not what they supposed her to be.

True, the Church has neither done nor instigated these things, has not been the cause of the foregoing acts in the history of the United Stales—for she is inimical to no particular form of government, whether monarchical or republican,—she is a spiritual body, leaving her children free in politics and to any form of government they deem best, requiring only of them what her Divine Founder exacted, namely that having given to Caesar the things that are Christ’s, they give also to God the things that are God’s,— but we think it is enough to convince the veriest blockhead that she in nowise hampers freedom of thought or action when conducted within the limits drawn by the Divine Law, the root and foundation of all beneficial laws, civil or religious. No: although the Church loves liberty, and everything else that tends to the happiness of her children without trenching on the Divine Law, she does not interfere directly or indirectly in the measure or manner in which they choose to have their civil liberty—whether in a monarchical, oligarchical or republican form; these are temporal—her domain is spiritual; they are for time, she works for eternity; she can therefore without partiality take to her bosom a Constantine, a Charlemagne, an Alfred the Great, a Bruce, or a St. Louis, as kings, as she can on the other hand give her maternal embrace to a Hofer, a Tell, a Moylan or a Barry. If our saying so has no weight, at least historic facts should, and would bring conviction if presented impartially. Therefore those who seem to be so much afraid of the growing influence of the Church should set their minds at rest on the matter. Her supremacy is only a question of time, and when it does come it will be the better for all concerned. It is in nowise surprising that the Catholic Church has made such rapid strides in the United States since they became a free country, for the Church is the only true friend of freedom, moral, civil, or religious. She it was that freed humanity from the degrading thrall in which paganism held it at the coming of Christ, that rehabilitated woman, raised her from a condition of the most abject slavery, and placed her as the queen of the household; and she it is who still protects her rights in the matrimonial bond where her benign sway is acknowledged. The Church can only thrive and grow strong in a free country, for she and tyranny are incongenial companions. She gives liberty without allowing it to deteriorate into licentiousness, and this latter is the true reason why she is condemned and persecuted; the two extremes of tyranny and licentiousness are condemned in her code of morals, hence it is that tyrants and profligates are her sworn enemies.

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