Monday, July 31, 2017

My name is Inigo Loyola. You attacked my Church. Prepare to be converted.

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In our flaccid, faithless modern era, when the superior of the Society of Jesus dances on the edge of heresy, and was presented on a Jesuit website as a “baptized Buddhist”, the feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola can be bittersweet for those who devoutly love and uphold the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church. As we recall the beautiful, powerful spirituality of Ignatius and his staunch devotion to defending the Catholic faith against error, one can not help but mourn the fact that the order he founded—an order which spawned so many courageous saints over the centuries—is now largely moribund. The tongue-in-cheek joke told by many devout Catholics that certain institutions are “Jesuit, not Catholic” elicits few laughs beyond a bemused nod from those few of us who endured modern Jesuit education and managed to emerge with our faith intact.

The Society of Jesus today presents Ignatius in caricature. Modern “Ignatian ideals” blandly encourage people to be caring, tolerant, and understanding. It enjoins them to love diversity and be “men and women for others.” The spiritual aspects, however, are vague. Mentions of the name of Jesus are rare. Sacred Scripture is cherry-picked to support this anodyne, toothless gospel. Teaching from the Catechism is practically verboten. Indeed, after eight years of Jesuit education in the 1980s and 90s, I can honestly say that I didn’t even know what a “catechism” was. Nor did I know what the word “magisterium” meant. I had to figure these things out for myself when my formal education ended and my actual education began.

The real Ignatius, however, was the man who adopted the motto “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam inque hominum salutem.” Everything he did was for the greater glory of God and the salvation of mankind. The Gospel that he preached was that of Jesus Christ in its full, unadulterated glory. His primary mission was to confront the heretics of his day with logic and sound teaching, and convert them from their errors. As far as dealing with those who enabled or promoted error within Catholic institutions, Ignatius was actually very intolerant. In a letter to Saint Peter Canisius dated August 18, 1554, Ignatius fulminated:
"All public professors and all persons holding administrative positions at the University of Vienna or other universities should be stripped of those positions if they speak negatively about things pertaining to the Catholic religion. We feel the same about rectors, administrators, and teachers at private colleges lest those who should be guiding young people to godliness corrupt them instead. Hence those who are suspect should not be retained there lest they taint the young people. Those who are openly heretical should certainly not be retained. It also seems obvious that those students, if any, who seem incapable of reconsidering, should also be expelled. All schoolmasters and teachers should understand this and be fully aware of the fact that they will hold no position in the king's provinces unless they are, and comport themselves as, Catholics." 
If such a strategy were applied to Jesuit institutions in our own time, about 80% of their faculty and most of the administration would be fired, and the majority of the students would be expelled. How often we hear those who are given the responsibility of running Jesuit universities, lay and religious alike, declare that so-called "academic freedom" supersedes their duty to hold and teach the truths of the Catholic faith, and not tolerate the proliferation of error. It is well to remember that the Society of Jesus was not always so wishy-washy, as the above quote from their founder amply demonstrates.

In another letter to St. Peter Canisius, Ignatius explains why protestant errors have been able to advance, and reveals the mandate of the Society of Jesus, using particularly vivid language:
"Seeing the progress that the heretics have made in so short a time, spreading the poison of their evil teaching throughout so many countries and peoples, and making use of the verse of the Apostle to describe their progress, and their speech will eat its way like gangrene [2 Tim. 2:17], it would seem that our Society, having been accepted by Divine Providence among the efficacious means to repair such great damage, should not only be solicitous in preparing the proper remedies but should be ready to apply them, exerting itself to the utmost of its powers to preserve what is still sound and to restore what has fallen sick of the plague of heresy, especially in the northern countries.
The heretics have made their false theology popular and presented it in a way that is within the capacity of the common people. They preach it to the people and teach it in the schools, and scatter pamphlets that can be bought and understood by many; they influence people by their writings when they cannot reach them by preaching. Their success is largely due to the negligence of those who should have shown some interest, and the bad example and the ignorance of Catholics, especially the clergy, have made such ravages in the vineyard of the Lord. Hence it would seem that our Society should use the following means to end and cure the evils which the Church has suffered through these heretics."
Ignatius then gives suggestions on how to fight the heresies then raging, including the teaching of sound theology in Catholic institutions of higher learning, the creation of short catechisms for teaching the truths of the Church to children, the necessity of well-educated and moral priests to provide examples of virtue for the people, and the publication of pamphlets to specifically refute heretical errors.

These are the true Ignatian ideals as offered by Ignatius himself. Indeed, compassion and tolerance are to be used to assist those in error to understand the true teachings of Jesus Christ, not to confirm them in their errors, or to enable grotesquely sinful behavior because the true Gospel might be "hurtful" or "triggering." Ignatius knew that there is no compassion in enabling sin, nor is there understanding in condoning immoral behaviors.

Can anyone imagine our modern day Jesuits (with a few noteworthy exceptions) using such overtly and unapologetically Catholic language? Had Ignatius been born in 1991 instead of 1491, it is likely he would be rejected by the very order he founded as too "rigid". That, in itself, should tell us all we need to know.

May the Society of Jesus be both Jesuit and staunchly Catholic as it once was. May God send us courageous saints to reform the great religious order founded by Inigo Loyola and return it to its original mandate.

Saint Ignatius, pray for the conversion of your spiritual children.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Death of Constantius I, the father of Constantine the Great ~ Primary Accounts

A gold aureus of Constantius I Chlorus, ca. AD 303.
On July 24 (or July 25 in some sources), AD 306, the Roman emperor Flavius Valerius Constantius Chlorus passed into eternity at Eboracum (York) in Roman Britain at the age of 56.

Reputed to be related to the emperor Claudius II Gothicus, Constantius Chlorus was made a Caesar in AD 293 and was a junior member of Diocletian's original tetrarchy. He ruled as Augustus of the West after the resignation of Diocletian and Maximian in AD 305.

Of course, Constantius is best known as the father of Constantine the Great who followed him as emperor. But Constantine's succession was a close-run thing, considering he had resided in the East for much of his young life under the dubious protection of Diocletian and his Caesar, Galerius. In reality, it seems that Constantine was a hostage whom the eastern tetrarchs were using to exert influence over their colleague in the West. When Constantius fell ill in AD 305, and requested the presence of his son, it is perhaps not surprising that Galerius was not quick in granting permission.

Here are two accounts of the situation at the end of Constantius's life. In the first one, by Eusebius in his Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine, is dramatic, but lacking in details:
The emperors then in power, observing [Constantine's] manly and vigorous figure and superior mind, were moved with feelings of jealousy and fear, and thenceforward carefully watched for an opportunity of inflicting some brand of disgrace on his character. But the young man, being aware of their designs, the details of which, through the providence of God, more than once came to him, sought safety in flight...
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Immediately, therefore, on his escape from the plots which had been thus insidiously laid for him, he made his way with all haste to his father, and arrived at length at the very time that he was lying at the point of death. As soon as Constantius saw his son thus unexpectedly in his presence, he leaped from his couch, embraced him tenderly, and, declaring that the only anxiety which had troubled him in the prospect of death, namely, that caused by the absence of his son, was now removed, he rendered thanks to God, saying that he now thought death better than the longest life, and at once completed the arrangement of his private affairs. Then, taking a final leave of the circle of sons and daughters by whom he was surrounded, in his own palace, and on the imperial couch, he bequeathed the empire, according to the law of nature, to his eldest son, and breathed his last. [Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine, Book I, Chapters XX-XXI]
It should be pointed out here that Constantius had a total of seven children, with Constantine being the eldest from his first marriage with Helena, whom he was forced to repudiate in order to take the throne. His second marriage with Theodora, the daughter of the senior Western emperor, Maximian, produced a further six children, including Julius Constantius who was the father of the Emperor Julian the Apostate.

Lactantius's account of Constantine's escape to his ailing father, while also dramatic, contains a few additional details:
Constantius, having become exceedingly ill, wrote to Galerius, and requested that his son Constantine might be sent to see him. He had made a like request long before, but in vain; for Galerius meant nothing less than to grant it. On the contrary, he laid repeated snares for the life of that young man, because he durst not use open violence, lest he should stir up civil wars against himself, and incur that which he most dreaded, the hate and resentment of the army. Under pretence of manly exercise and recreation, he made him combat with wild beasts. But this device was frustrated, for the power of God protected Constantine, and in the very moment of jeopardy rescued him from the hands of Galerius.
At length, Galerius, when he could no longer avoid complying with the request of Constantius, one evening gave Constantine a warrant to depart, and commanded him to set out next morning with the imperial despatches. Galerius meant either to find some pretext for detaining Constantine, or to forward orders to Severus for arresting him on the road. Constantine discerned his purpose; and therefore, after supper, when the emperor was gone to rest, he hasted away, carried off from the principal stages all the horses maintained at the public expense, and escaped. Next day the emperor, having purposely remained in his bed-chamber until noon, ordered Constantine to be called into his presence; but he learnt that Constantine had set out immediately after supper. Outrageous with passion, he ordered horses to be made ready, that Constantine might be pursued and dragged back; and hearing that all the horses had been carried off from the great road, he could hardly refrain from tears. Meanwhile Constantine, journeying with incredible rapidity, reached his father, who was already about to expire. Constantius recommended his son to the soldiers, delivered the sovereign authority into his hands, and then died, as his wish had long been, in peace and quiet. [Lactantius, Of the Manner in Which the Persecutors Died, Chapter XXIV].
Both of these accounts seem to be remiss in mentioning that Constantine reached his father not at the brink of death, but just as the latter was embarking on a new campaign in Britain. The two then campaigned in the far north together for over a year, achieved a victory, and then returned to York where Constantius perished. For these facts, we are indebted to the Latin Panegyricist of AD 310, who wrote:
The day would end before my speech, if I were to recapitulate all the deeds of your father…For it was not that he who had accomplished so many great feats thought it worthwhile to acquire—I won’t mention the forests and swamps of the Caledonians and the other Picts—either nearby Hibernia or Farthest Thule, or the Isles of the Blest themselves, if they exist, but rather…when he was about to join the gods, he gazed upon the Ocean…so that when about to enjoy thereafter perpetual light, he might now see there almost continuous daylight.
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What is more, he was immediately asked his opinion as to whom he would decree the command, and he spoke as befitted Constantius Pius: for manifestly you were chosen, O Emperor, by your father’s vote….For you were summoned even then to the rescue of the State by the votes of the immortals at the very time when your father was crossing the sea to Britain, and your sudden arrival illuminated the fleet which was already making sail, so that you seemed not to have been conveyed by the public post, but to have flown in some divine chariot. [Nixon and Rodgers, In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini, page 277].
The praise of the panegyricist may sound over-the-top to modern ears, but the accomplishments of Constantius I Chlorus should not be understated. He lived a largely commendable life, was an able defender of the Roman Empire, a tolerant man in an age of grotesque anti-Christian persecution, and the sire of a heroic son who would go on to be ranked among the greatest Roman emperors.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Three Years Behind the Guns of USFS Olympia

I am happy to present the preface for a brand new edition of the classic Three Years Behind the Guns. Originally published in 1908, this book is a gritty, rambunctious memoir describing a young sailor's life aboard USFS Olympia from 1895 through 1898, including his first-hand account of the battle of Manila Bay.

The book is a treasure, and anyone with an interest in naval history in general, or the museum ship Olympia in particular, should read it. The publisher is donating part of the proceeds to the upkeep of the ship.

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May 1, 1898 is often cited as the exact date when the United States of America transformed from a relatively minor regional power, to a bona fide player on the world stage. On that day, the U.S. Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey in his flagship Olympia, utterly crushed the fleet of the fast-fading Spanish empire at Manila Bay in the Philippines.

Though it was penned during these heady days, Three Years Behind the Guns is not so much a chronicle of this turning point in history, as it is the unique perspective of one young sailor on the events leading up to it. It is a pithy memoir of life aboard a man-o’-war as the age of “wooden ships and iron men” was giving way to the era of big guns, heavy steel, and high speed. Of these new ships, the protected cruiser Olympia was both a prototype and an outstanding example. Though our author is the main character of this memoir, U.S.F.S. Olympia is the leading lady.

Little is known about the author of Three Years Behind the Guns. On the earliest editions of the book, he is listed cryptically as “L. G. T.” In later editions, he is identified as “Lieu Tisdale.” A check of Olympia’s crew roster at Manila Bay, however, reveals no one of that precise name. Instead, there is a listing for “John B. Tisdale, Landsman.” This is probably our fellow, given that within the book itself, he is addressed on numerous occasions as “Jack” by his shipmates, a Japanese girl, and even by himself while soliloquizing. The reason he chose to publish the book anonymously is unknown. [Olympia's crew roster at Manila Bay may be found here.]

Since the days of Ulysses, sailors have been known for their tall-tales, and our Jack is no exception. His numerous anecdotes sparkle with wit and verve, even when they sound suspiciously apocryphal. The reader will find literal fish-stories here—such as when Jack captures a two-foot-long flying fish on the deck or when a shipmate nearly loses a toe while doing some illicit angling. But there are also descriptions of more somber events that are easily verified by outside sources, such as the death Coxswain John Johnson who was killed during gunnery practice, and the wreck of the steamer On-Wo with the loss of 255 passengers and crew. Jack and his Olympian crewmates pulled 38 survivors from the water and were commended for their efforts.

Olympia in a typhoon.
Perhaps the most impressive thumbs-up for the memoir’s authenticity comes from none other than Admiral Dewey himself, the hero of Manila Bay. In an antique advertisement, the admiral provides a generous endorsement of the book, saying: “Many of my friends and I have read it with the greatest interest. I can vouch for many of the facts; and the description of the Battle of Manila Bay is one of the best I have ever seen published. The type and active life of our American seamen is well and interestingly portrayed, and the book is well worth the attention of both young and old.”

When originally published in 1908—ten years after the battle—Jack’s anonymous memoir met with critical acclaim. The New York Times called it: “An intimate record of life aboard an American man-of-war, and is written with such detail, vivacity, and the knack for vivid expression that it keeps one turning pages until the last one is reached. This Jackie has keen eyes and quick ears, and can put the things he saw and thought about into particularly vigorous English.”

The New York Observer added: “Though sufficiently simple and direct in style to hold the interest of the young reader, this book will be found by grown-ups to be absorbing as a novel.”

When first published, the book was billed as a behind-the-scenes look at life aboard a modern American warship at a time when the U.S. was building giant dreadnought battleships by the dozen and recruiting thousands of young fellows to man them. But time and technology were flying by and within another decade, the catastrophe of the Great War had thrown into eclipse the comparatively minor incident of the Spanish-American War. The subsequent epic struggle of World War II with its colossal ships, ocean-spanning battles and city-shattering weaponry made Dewey’s victory at Manila Bay seem as ancient and obscure as Trafalgar or Salamis.

I believe that the modern reader, particularly the student of history, will find Three Years Behind the Guns even more captivating than the reader of 110 years ago. For young readers of today whose grandparents were born during the 1950s, reading about life aboard a warship from the 1890s is like a visit to an old Victorian mansion. If you’ve toured Dewey’s Olympia in Philadelphia where she exists to this day, you know that is a literal truth. The lovely dark wood paneling and antique furniture in the officers’ quarters contrasts sharply with the painted steel and spartan decks of the crew areas, and the grime and oppressive atmosphere of the engineering spaces. This is the scene where the authentic “steam punk” of Tisdale’s story plays out, complete with coming-of-age hijinks, grinding machinery, clouds of black smoke and moments of sad contemplation.

Like Olympia herself, Three Years Behind the Guns is a hybrid—part solid fact, part work of art. Both ship and book are unique historical artifacts of a bygone era, which is one of the reasons why a portion of the sales of this book will be donated to the continuing upkeep of U.S.F.S. Olympia and her steward, the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. Such beautiful mementos deserve to be maintained if for no other reason than as concrete reminders of how we got here.

A sailor on board Olympia.
This new edition of this classic work will be published in a format that is easily accessible for modern readers. The text is practically untouched from the original. Jack’s unique voice and witty observations come through loud and clear as they did over a century before. His vivid account breathes life into Olympia which he knew not as a retired museum ship, but as the powerful, hardy seahawk that she was in her prime. “The flag-ship is a thing alive,” he wrote. “It has parts and being. We have heard it breathe, and who will question that in Captain Reed, it has both brain and soul?” 

Tisdale originally dedicated Three Years Behind the Guns to “every man who has walked the decks of a man-of-war.” This new edition should be dedicated in particular to the repose of the soul of John B. Tisdale. He was a man who not only walked the decks, but who recorded his impressions with such trenchant good humor and eloquent detail, that people a century and more afterwards might feel as if they are walking along right beside him.

Indeed, if you every find yourself aboard Olympia, go and look for him. You may glimpse his shade still standing faithfully at his post—behind the guns.

To pre-order Three Years Behind the Guns on (due to publish, July 28, 2017), click here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When Saint Benedict met Totila, King of the Goths

Totila kneels before Saint Benedict by Spinello Aretino (1388).
In the mid 6th century, the Eastern Roman Emperor, Justinian I, launched a campaign to reconquer the lost province of Italy for the Empire. Though his great general, Belisarius, was able to cripple the Gothic kingdom in Italy and capture its capital at Ravenna, he not able to complete the conquest at that time. Soon after he returned to Constantinople, a fierce new Gothic king arose, Totila by name, who revived the fortunes of the Goths and very nearly undid all of the gains made by Belisarius.

One of the lesser known acts of Totila was his visit the famous abbot Benedict at his monastery at Monte Cassino. This event was not recorded in Procopius, the primary classical historian of the age, but rather in the Dialogues of Saint Gregory the Great. The Dialogues include the oldest extant biography of the Saint Benedict and this account may be found therein. Since July 11 is the feast day of Saint Benedict, it seems fitting to present Pope Gregory's description of this extraordinary encounter:
In the time of the Goths, when Totila, their king, understood that the holy man had the spirit of prophecy, as he was going towards his monastery, he remained in a place somewhat far off, and beforehand sent the father word of his coming: to whom answer was returned, that he might come at his pleasure. The king, as he was a man wickedly disposed, thought he would try whether the man of God were a prophet, as it was reported, or no.
A certain man of his guard he had, called Riggo, upon whom he caused his own shoes to be put, and to be apparelled with his other princely robes, commanding him to go as it were himself to the man of God; and to give the better colour to this device, he sent three to attend upon him, who especially were |74 always about the king: to wit, Vultericus, Rudericus, and Blindinus; charging them that in the presence of the servant of God, they should be next about him, and behave themselves in such sort as though he had been king Totila indeed: and that diligently they should do unto him all other services, to the end that both by such dutiful kind of behavior, as also by his purple robes, he might verily be taken for the king himself. Riggo, furnished with that brave apparel, and accompanied with many courtiers, came unto the Abbey: at which time the man of God sat a little way off, and when Riggo was come so near that he might well understand what the man of God said, then, in the hearing of them all, he spake thus: "Put off, my good son, put off that apparel, for that which thou hast on, is none of thine."
Riggo, hearing this, fell straightways down to the ground, and was very much afraid, for presuming to go about to mock so worthy a man, and all his attendants and servitors fell down likewise to the earth, and after they were up again, they durst not approach any nearer to his presence: but returned back to their king, telling him with fear, how quickly they were discovered. [Dialogues, Book II, Chapter 14]
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After his strategem failed, Totila approached the abbot in his own right and sought an interview with him. Things did not go as well as he might have hoped:
Then Totila himself in person went unto the man of God; and seeing him sitting afar off, he durst not come near, but fell down to the ground: whom the holy man (speaking to him twice or thrice) desired to rise up and at length came unto him, and with his own hands lifted him up from the earth, where he lay prostrate: and then, entering into talk, he reprehended him for his wicked deeds, and in few words told him all that which should befall him, saying: "Much wickedness do you daily commit, and many great sins have you done: now at length give over your sinful life. Into the city of Rome shall you enter, and over the sea shall you pass: nine years shall you reign, and in the tenth shall you leave this mortal life."
The king, hearing these things, was wonderfully afraid, and desiring the holy man to commend him to God in his prayers, he departed: and from that time forward he was nothing so cruel as before he had been. Not long after he went to Rome, sailed over into Sicily, and, in the tenth year of his reign, he lost his kingdom together with his life. [Dialogues, Book II, Chapter 15]
Procopius records that Totila, while besieging the city of Rome in AD 546, had a bishop's hands cut off, and furthermore threatened to raze the city to the ground and execute the entire Roman senate. Soon afterwards, he thought better of his threats, and when he finally took the city he spared both its inhabitants and its monuments. Procopius attributes this clemency to a letter written by his adversary, Belisarius, which read, in part: 
"[Rome's] monuments belong to posterity, and an outrage committed upon them will rightly be regarded as a great injustice to all future generations...Remember that your reputation in the eyes of the world is at stake." [Procopius, History of the Wars, VII, xii]
It's quite possible that this letter turned aside the wrath of Totila. However, it could also be that the Goth king's moderation was brought about by a stern warning given to him by the holy founder of Western monasticism, Saint Benedict of Nursia.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

"At the age of 20, I committed a crime of passion." ~ The confession of Alessandro Serenelli

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July 6 is the feast day of Saint Maria Goretti, a girl of 11 who was brutally murdered because she refused to submit to the sexual advances of Alessandro Serenelli, age 20. Having been stabbed 14 times, Maria survived another day while surgeons tried in vain to save her. During this time, she forgave her attacker and expressed hope that he would be with her someday in heaven. Maria died of her wounds on July 6, 1902.

Nearly 60 years later, Alessandro Serenelli wrote an amazing letter. It was found in a sealed envelope after his death, and reads as follows:
I am now almost 80 years old. I am close to the end of my days.
Looking back at my past, I recognize that in my early youth I followed a false road—an evil path that led to my ruin.  
Through the content of printed magazines, immoral shows, and bad examples in the media, I saw the majority of the young people of my day following evil without even thinking twice. Unworried, I did the same thing.
There were faithful and practicing Christian believers around me, but I paid no attention to them. I was blinded by a brute impulse that pushed me down the wrong way of living.  At the age of 20, I committed a crime of passion, the memory of which still horrifies me today. Maria Goretti, now a saint, was my good angel whom God placed in my path to save me. Her words both of rebuke and forgiveness are still imprinted in my heart. She prayed for me, interceding for her killer. Thirty years in prison followed.
The only known photo of
Maria Goretti.
If I had not been a minor in Italian law I would have been sentenced to life in prison. Nevertheless, I accepted the sentence I received as something I deserved. 
Resigned, I atoned for my sin. Little Maria was truly my light, my protectress. With her help, I served those 27 years in prison well. When society accepted me back among its members, I tried to live honestly. With angelic charity, the sons of St. Francis, the minor Capuchins of the Marches, welcomed me among them not as a servant, but as a brother. I have lived with them for 24 years. Now I look serenely to the time in which I will be admitted to the vision of God, to embrace my dear ones once again, and to be close to my guardian angel, Maria Goretti, and her dear mother, Assunta.
May all who read this letter of mine desire to follow the blessed teaching of avoiding evil and following the good. May all believe with the faith of little children that religion with its precepts is not something one can do without. Rather, it is true comfort, and the only sure way in all of life’s circumstances—even in the most painful. 
Peace and all good. 
Alessandro Serenelli
Macerata, Italy 5 May 1961 
We were fortunate enough to have the relics of St. Maria Goretti at our parish a few years ago, thanks to the Pilgrimage of Mercy Tour of the Major Relics. Their website is an excellent source of information about Saint Maria, as well as Alessandro Serenelli.

The major relics of St. Maria Goretti.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

"Christianity rests here on a firmer foundation than in any other country in the world." ~ Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831

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"Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all its battles and its triumphs; the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom."
~Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, 1835
This quote comes courtesy of Alexis de Tocqueville's previously well known but now practically neglected work, Democracy in America, written beginning in 1835.

A Frenchman and a Catholic, de Tocqueville traveled around the US in the early 1830s observing with fascination how the American republic functioned, as compared with the completely dysfunctional and catastrophic French Republic of the previous generation. One of the aspects of the American nation which impressed him the most was the positive effect of the Christian religion upon society and politics. Here is the above quote with some additional context
“Religion perceives that civil liberty affords a noble exercise to the faculties of man, and that the political world is a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of the intelligence. Contented with the freedom and power which it enjoys in its own sphere, and with the place which it occupies, the empire or religion is never more surely established than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught besides its native strength. Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all its battles and its triumphs; the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom.” 
To read more, see Democracy in America on Google Books.

In a letter to Count Louis de Kergorlay dated June 20, 1831, while situated about forty five miles from New York, de Tocqueville related thoughts relating to the future of religion in the United States, particularly to the expansion of Catholicism and Unitarianism at the expense of the traditional Protestant sects.
"My observations incline me to think that the Catholics increase in numbers. They are considerably recruited from Europe and there are many conversions. New England and the valley of the Mississippi begin to fill with them. It is evident that all the naturally religious minds among the Protestants the men of strong and serious opinions disgusted by the vagueness of Protestantism yet ardently desirous to have a faith give up in despair the search after truth and submit to the yoke of authority. They throw off with pleasure the heavy burden of reason and they become Catholics. Again Catholicism captivates the senses and the imagination and suits the masses better than the reformed religion thus the greater number of converts are from the working classes.
De Tocqueville from a modern sculpture.
"We will pass now to the opposite end of the chain. On the confines of Protestantism is a sect that is Christian only in name I mean the Unitarians. They all deny the Trinity and acknowledge but one God but among them are some who believe Christ to have been an angel others a prophet and others a philosopher like Socrates. The last are pure Deists. They quote the Bible because they do not wish to shock too much public opinion which supports Christianity. They have a service on Sundays. I went to it. Verses are read from Dryden and other English poets on the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. There is a sermon on some moral subject and the service is over. This sect makes proselytes in about the same proportion as Catholicism, but its recruits come from the higher ranks of society.
In these two observations, de Tocqueville seems to be rather prescient considering the present make of of Christian America. Speaking more generally about the impact Christianity has on American society, de Tocqueville goes on to say in the same letter:
"Christianity rests here on a firmer foundation than in any other country in the world which I know and I have no doubt but that the religious element influences the political one. It induces morality and regularity it restrains the eccentricities of the spirit of innovation above all it is almost fatal to the mental condition so common with us in which men leap over every obstacle per fas et nefas to gain their point. Any party, however anxious to obtain its object, would in the pursuit feel obliged to confine itself to means apparently legitimate and not in open opposition to the maxims of religion which are always more or less moral even when erroneous."
The above passages are taken from Memoir, Letter and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume 1, beginning on page 308.

Thus we see the genesis of de Tocqueville's belief, echoed in the maxims of the Founding Fathers, that only a religious and moral people can properly maintain a republican form of government. And his belief that Christianity is on firmer footing in American than elsewhere around the world has certainly borne out given that among Western nations today, the United States is practically the only one where the Christian faith endures among a large majority of the people.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Ben Franklin Nominates a Bishop ~ Catholicism and the Early American Republic

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Most people know that the American Republic inherited from its mother country, Great Britain, an antipathy toward Catholicism. However, given that Catholic France had played such a vital role in assisting the American colonies to win their independence, it is perhaps not surprising that the years immediately following the American victory witnessed a softening of the traditional American aversion to "Popery".

During his long stay in France while acting as ambassador during the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin seems to have become adept at moving in Catholic circles. Though a very public Freemason, an occasional abuser of "Popish" customs in his public writings, and an all-around worldly and sometimes vulgar fellow, Franklin seems to have mellowed later in life with regard to Catholicism and Christian morality. His embassy to Quebec in 1776 is sometimes cited as the genesis of this sentiment. While on this failed expedition, his health deteriorated and he was forced to return home in the company of one Rev. John Carroll.  No doubt, Dr. Franklin at least acquired an affection for Father Carroll at that time, if not for his religious beliefs.

Later, while nearing the end of his time in France after the successful conclusion of the Treaty of Paris, Franklin played a role in having his friend, Father John Carroll, named as the first Catholic bishop in formerly British America. Following is an interesting entry from Franklin's journal, detailing a conversation Franklin had with the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Giuseppe Doria Pamphili, on the subject. Of particular note is Franklin's confusion with regard to how bishops are made and to whom they are beholden in terms of authority:
July 1st [1784].—The Pope’s Nuncio called, and acquainted me that the Pope had, on my recommendation, appointed Mr. John Carroll superior of the Catholic clergy in America, with many of the powers of a bishop; and that probably he would be made a bishop in partibus before the end of the year. He asked me which would be more convenient for him, to come to France, or go to St. Domingo, for ordination by another bishop, which was necessary. I mentioned Quebec as more convenient than either. He asked whether, as that was an English province, our government might not take offence at his going thither? I thought not, unless the ordination by that bishop should give him some authority over our bishop. He said, not in the least; that when our bishop was once ordained, he would be independent of the others, and even of the Pope; which I did not clearly understand. He said the Congregation de Propagandâ Fide had agreed to receive, and maintain and instruct, two young Americans in the languages and sciences at Rome (he had formerly told me that more would be educated gratis in France). He added they had written from America that there are twenty priests, but that they are not sufficient, as the new settlements near the Mississippi have need of some. 
Abp. Giuseppe Doria Pamphili
The Nuncio said we should find that the Catholics were not so intolerant as they had been represented; that the Inquisition in Rome had not now so much power as that in Spain; and that in Spain it was used chiefly as a prison of state. That the Congregation would have undertaken the education of more American youths, and may hereafter, but that at present they are overburdened, having some from all parts of the world. He spoke lightly of their New Bostonian convert Thayer’s conversion; that he had advised him not to go to America, but settle in France. That he wanted to go to convert his countrymen; but he knew nothing yet of his new religion himself, etc. [Source: The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Volume X]
It's worth noting that the "Thayer" mentioned above is John Thayer, a Congregationalist minister from Boston who converted to the Catholic faith in 1783 and was later ordained a priest. The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Thayer mentions that he had attempted to dispute certain miracles which were wrought via the intercession of Blessed (later Saint) Benedict Joseph Labre and was later converted as a result. The full story may be found in his book, An Account of the Conversion of the Reverend John Thayer, formerly a Protestant minister of Boston.

It seems that Franklin's toleration of things Catholic survived the end of his tenure in France. On April 17, 1787, a date exactly three years before his death, Franklin wrote to two Catholic priests, the Abbés Chalut and Arnaud whom he had befriended while in Paris. From this short letter, we see Franklin echoing a common theme of that time that would have rung true with his correspondents as well--namely, that freedom can not exist without virtue:
Dear Friends,
Your reflections on our situation compared with that of many nations of Europe, are very sensible and just. Let me add, that only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.
Our public affairs go on as well as can reasonably be expected after so great an overturning. We have had some disorders in different parts of the country, but we arrange them as they arise, and are daily mending and improving; so that I have no doubt but all will come right in time.
Yours, B Franklin
(Source: The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Volume 10) 

Saturday, July 01, 2017

"Without morals a republic can not subsist." ~ Charles Carroll, the only Catholic Signatory of the Declaration of Independence

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"Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion...are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments."
Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence
In anticipation of Independence Day, here is another quote in a continuing series on the Founding Fathers of the American Republic. This one, from Charles Carroll, demonstrates the commonly held view that the propagation of Christian concepts of morality is absolutely vital for the maintenance of liberty. This particular quote is taken from a letter of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, as written to James McHenry on November 4, 1800.

Following is some context. In the letter, Carroll sounds a prophetic warning of the dangers posed by the rational atheism of revolutionary France which, far from enshrining liberty for the French people, instead served as a prelude to despotism:
"If the people of this country were united, it would have nothing to fear from foreign powers; but unhappily this is not the case; many of the opposers of ye present administration, I suspect want change of the federal constitution; if that should be altered, or weakened so as to be rendered a dead letter, it will not answer the purposes of its formation and will expire from mere inanity: other confederacies will start up & ye scene of ye Grecian States, after an interval of more than two thousand years, will be renewed on this continent, & some British or Buonaparte will melt the whole of them into one mass of despotism. 
"These events will be hastened by the pretended Philosophy of France: divine revelation has been scoffed at by the Philosophers of the present day, the immortality of the soul treated as the dreams of fools, or the invention of knaves, & death has been declared by public authority an eternal sleep: these opinions are gaining ground among us, & silently sapping the foundations of a religion the encouragement of ye good, the terror of evil doers, and the consolation of the poor, the miserable, and the distressed. Remove the hope and dread of future rewards & punishments, the most powerful restraint on wicked actions, & ye strongest inducement to virtuous ones is done away. Virtue may be said is its own reward; I believe it to be so and even in this life the only source of happiness; and this intimate & necessary connection between virtue & happiness here and between vice and misery is to my mind one of the surest pledges of happiness or misery in a future state of existence. 
"But how few practice virtue for its own reward! Some of happy disposition & temperament, calm reflecting men, exempt in a great degree from the turbulence of passions may be virtuous for virtue's sake: small, however, is the number who are guided by reason alone, & who can always subject their passions to its dictates? He, who can thus act, may be said to be virtuous; but reason is often inlisted on the side of the passions, or at best, when most wanted, is weakest — Hence the necessity of a superior motive for acting virtuously; now, what motive can be stronger than ye belief, founded on revelation, that a virtuous life will be rewarded by a happy immortality? 
"Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time. They therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, who denounces against the wicked eternal misery, & insures to the good eternal happiness are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.
"If there be force in this reasoning, what judgment ought we to form of our pretended republicans, who admire & applaud the proceedings of revolutionary France! 
"These declaimers in favor of freedom & equality act in such a questionable shape that I cannot help suspecting their sincerity." 
As to this last sentence, I have often asked myself this same question regarding those who profess to the common libertarian viewpoints—who find talk of virtue tedious, but never tire of demanding that the law be loosened as regards to common vices of the most destructive sort.

Click here to read Charles Carroll's whole letter in The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry, Secretary of War under Washington and Adams by Bernard Christian Steiner.