Chapter XV. Destiny -- Political and Religious
It has been said in the Introduction to this essay that every living nation receives from Providence a special work or mission in the progress of society, to accomplish which is its destiny, or the end for which it exists; and that the special mission of the United States is to continue and complete in the political order the Graeco-Roman civilization.
Of all the states or colonies on this continent, the American Republic alone has a destiny, or the ability to add any thing to the civilization of the race. Canada and the other British Provinces, Mexico and Central America, Columbia and Brazil, and the rest of the South American States, might be absorbed in the United States without being missed by the civilized world. They represent no idea, and the work of civilization could go on without them as well as with them. If they keep up with the progress of civilization, it is all that can be expected of them. France, England, Germany, and Italy might absorb the rest of Europe, and all Asia and Africa, without withdrawing a single laborer from the work of advancing the civilization of the race; and it is doubtful if these nations themselves can severally or jointly advance it much beyond the point reached by the Roman Empire, except in abolishing slavery and including in the political people the whole territorial people. They can only develop and give a general application to the fundamental principles of the Roman constitution. That indeed is much, but it adds no new element nor new combination of preexisting elements. But nothing of this can be said of the United States.
In the Graeco-Roman civilization is found the state proper, and the great principle of the territorial constitution of power, instead of the personal or the genealogical, the patriarchal or the monarchical; and yet with true civil or political principles it mixed up nearly all the elements of the barbaric constitution. The gentile system of Rome recalls the patriarchal, and the relation that subsisted between the patron and his clients has a striking resemblance to that which subsists between the feudal lord and his retainers, and may have had the same origin. The three tribes, Ramnes, Quirites, and Luceres, into which the Roman people were divided before the rise of the plebs, may have been, as Niebuhr contends, local, not genealogical, in their origin, but they were not strictly territorial distinctions, and the division of each tribe into a hundred houses or gentes was not local, but personal, if not, as the name implies, genealogical. No doubt the individuals or families composing the house or gens were not all of kindred blood, for the Oriental custom of adoption, so frequent with our North American Indians, and with all people distributed into tribes, septs, or clans, obtained with the Romans. The adopted member was considered a child of the house, and took its name and inherited its goods. Whether, as Niebuhr maintains, all the free gentiles of the three tribes were called patres or patricians or whether the term was restricted to the heads of houses, it is certain that the head of the house represented it in the senate, and the vote in the curies was by houses, not by individuals en masse. After all, practically the Roman senate was hardly less an estate than the English house of lords, for no one could sit in it unless a landed proprietor and of noble blood. The plebs, though outside of the political people proper, as not being included in the three tribes, when they came to be a power in the republic under the emperors, and the old distinction of plebs and patricians was forgotten, were an estate, and not a local or territorial people.
The republican element was in the fact that the land, which gave the right to participate in political power, was the domain of the state, and the tenant held it from the state. The domain was vested in the state, not in the senator nor the prince, and was therefore respublica, not private property--the first grand leap of the human race from barbarism. In all other respects the Roman constitution was no more republican than the feudal. Athens went farther than Rome, and introduced the principle of territorial democracy. The division into demes or wards, whence comes the word democracy, was a real territorial division, not personal nor genealogical. And if the equality of all men was not recognized, all who were included in the political class stood on the same footing. Athens and other Greek cities, though conquered by Rome, exerted after their conquest a powerful influence on Roman civilization, which became far more democratic under the emperors than it had been under the patrician senate, which the assassins of Julius Caesar, and the superannuated conservative party they represented, tried so hard to preserve. The senate and the consulship were opened to the representatives of the great plebeian houses, and the provincials were clothed with the rights of Roman citizens, and uniform laws were established throughout the empire.
The grand error, as has already been said, of the Graeco-Roman or gentile civilization, was in its denial or ignorance of the unity of the human race, as well as the Unity of God, and in its including in the state only a particular class of the territorial people, while it held all the rest as slaves, though in different degrees of servitude. It recognized and sustained a privileged class, a ruling order; and if, as subsequently did the Venetian aristocracy, it recognized democratic equality within that order, it held all outside of it to be less than men and without political rights. Practically, power was an attribute of birth and of private wealth. Suffrage was almost universal among freemen, but down almost to the Empire, the people voted by orders, and were counted, not numerically, but by the rank of the order, and the comitia curiata could always carry the election over the comitia centuriata, and thus power remained always in the hands of the rich and noble few.
The Roman Law, as digested by jurists under Justinian in the sixth Century, indeed, recognizes the unity of the race, asserts the equality of all men by the natural law, and undertakes to defend slavery on principles not incompatible with that equality. It represents it as a commutation of the punishment of death, which the emperor has the right to inflict on captives taken in war, to perpetual servitude; and as servitude is less severe than death, slavery was really a proof of imperial clemency. But it has never yet been proved that the emperor has the right under the natural law to put captives taken even in a just war to death, and the Roman poet himself bids us "humble the proud, but spare the submissive." In a just war the emperor may kill on the battle-field those in arms against him, but the jus gentium, as now interpreted by the jurisprudence of every civilized nation, does not allow him to put them to death after they have ceased resistance, have thrown down their arms, and surrendered. But even if it did, it gives him a right only over the persons captured, not over their innocent children, and therefore no right to establish hereditary slavery, for the child is not punishable for the offences of the parent. The law, indeed, assumed that the captive ceased to exist as a person and treated him as a thing, or mere property of the conqueror, and being property, he could beget only property, which would accrue only to his owner. But there is no power in heaven or earth that can make a person a thing, a mere piece of merchandise, and it is only by a clumsy fiction, or rather by a bare-faced lie, that the law denies the slave his personality and treats him as a thing. I the unity of all men had been clearly seen and vividly felt, the law would never have attempted to justify perpetual slavery on the ground of its penal character, or indeed on any ground whatever. All men are born under the law of nature with equal rights, and the civil law can justly deprive no man of his liberty, but for a crime, committed by him personally, that justly forfeits his liberty to society.
These defects of the Graeco-Roman civilization the European nations have in part remedied, and may completely remedy. They can carry out practically the Christian dogma of the unity of the human race, abolish slavery in every form, make all men equal before the law, and the political people commensurate with the territorial people. Indeed, France has already done it. She has abolished slavery, villenage, serfage, political aristocracy, asserted the equality of all men before the law, vindicated the sovereignty of the people, and established universal suffrage, complete social and territorial democracy. The other nations may do as much, but hardly can any of them do more or advance farther. Yet in France, territorial democracy the most complete results only in establishing the most complete imperial centralism, usually called Caesarism.
The imperial constitution of France recognizes that the emperor reigns "by the grace of God and the will of the nation," and therefore, that by the grace of God and the will of the nation he may cease to reign; but while he reigns he is supreme, and his will is law. The constitution imposes no real or effective restraint on his power: while he sits upon the throne he is practically France, and the ministers are his clerks; the council of state, the senate, and the legislative body are merely his agents in governing the nation. This may, indeed, be changed, but only to substitute for imperial centralism democratic centralism, which were no improvement, or to go back to the system of antagonisms, checks and balances, called constitutionalism, or parliamentary government, of which Great Britain is the model, and which were a return toward barbarism, or mediaeval feudalism.
The human race has its life in God, and tends to realize in all orders the Divine Word or Logos, which is Ionic itself, and the principle of all conciliation, of the dialectic union of all opposites or extremes. Mankind will be logical; and the worst of all tyrannies is that which forbids them to draw from their principles their last logical consequences, or that prohibits them the free explication and application of the Divine Idea, in which consists their life, their progress. Such tyranny strikes at the very existence of society, and wars against the reality of things. It is supremely sophistical, and its success is death; for the universe in its constitution is supremely logical, and man, individually and socially, is rational. God is the author and type of all created things; and all creatures, each in its order, imitate or copies the Divine Being, who is intrinsically Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, principle, medium, and end. The Son or Word is the medium, which unites the two extremes, whence God is living God a real, active, living Being--living, concrete, not abstract or dead unity, like the unity of old Xenophanes, Plotinus, and Proclus. In the Holy Trinity is the principle and prototype of all society, and what is called the solidarity of the race is only the outward expression, or copy in the external order, of what theologians term the circumsession of the three Divine Persons of the Godhead.
Now, human society, when it copies the Divine essence and nature either in the distinction of persons alone, or in the unity alone, is sophistical, and wants the principle of all life and reality. It sins against God. and must fail of its end. The English system, which is based on antagonistic elements, on opposites, without the middle term that conciliates them, unites them, and makes them dialectically one, copies the Divine model in its distinctions alone, which, considered alone, are opposites or contraries. It denies, if Englishmen could but see it, the unity of God. The French, or imperial system, which excludes the extremes, instead of uniting them, denies all opposites, instead of conciliating them--denies the distinctions in the model, and copies only the unity, which is the supreme sophism called pantheism. The English constitution has no middle term, and the French no extremes, and each in its way denies the Divine Trinity, the original basis and type of the syllogism. The human race can be contented with neither, for neither allows it free scope for its inherent life and activity. The English system tends to pure individualism; the French to pure socialism or despotism, each endeavoring to suppress an element of the one living and indissoluble TRUTH.
This is not fancy, is not fine-spun speculation, or cold and lifeless abstraction, but the highest theological and philosophical truth, without which there were no reason, no man, no society; for God is the first principle of all being, all existence, all science, all life, and it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. God is at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of all things--the universal principle, medium, and end; and no truth can be denied without His existence being directly or indirectly impugned. In a deeper sense than is commonly understood is it true that nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum, in vanum laboraverunt qui aedificant eam. The English constitution is composed of contradictory elements, incapable of reconciliation, and each element is perpetually struggling with the others for the mastery. For a long time the king labored, intrigued, and fought to free himself from the thraldom in which he was held by the feudal barons; in 1688 the aristocracy and people united and humbled the crown; and now the people are at work seeking to sap both the crown and the nobles. The state is constituted to nobody's satisfaction; and though all may unite in boasting its excellences, all are at work trying to alter or amend it. The work of constituting the state with the English is ever beginning, never ending. Hence the eternal clamor for parliamentary reform.
Great Britain and other European states may sweep away all that remains of feudalism, include the whole territorial people with the equal rights of all in the state or political people, concede to birth and wealth no political rights, but they will by so doing only establish either imperial centralism, as has been done in France, or democratic centralism, clamored for, conspired for, and fought for by the revolutionists of Europe. The special merit of the American system is not in its democracy alone, as too many at home and abroad imagine; but along with its democracy in the division of the powers of government, between a General government and particular State governments, which are not antagonistic governments, for they act on different matters, and neither is nor can be subordinated to the other.
Now, this division of power, which decentralizes the government without creating mutually hostile forces, can hardly be introduced into any European state. There may be a union of states in Great Britain, in Germany, in Italy, perhaps in Spain, and Austria is laboring hard to effect it in her heterogeneous empire; but the union possible in any of them is that of a Bund or confederation, like the Swiss or German Bund, similar to what the secessionists in the United States so recently attempted and have so signally failed to establish. An intelligent Confederate officer remarked that their Confederacy had not been in operation three months before it became evident that the principle on which it was founded, if not rejected, would insure its defeat. It was that principle of State sovereignty, for which the States seceded, more than the superior resources and numbers of the Government, that caused the collapse of the Confederacy. The numbers were relatively about equal, and the military resources of the Confederacy were relatively not much inferior to those of the Government. So at least the Confederate leaders thought, and they knew the material resources of the Government as well as their own, and had calculated them with as much care and accuracy as any men could. Foreign powers also, friendly as well as unfriendly, felt certain that the secessionists would gain their independence, and so did a large part of the people even of the loyal States. The failure is due to the disintegrating principle of State sovereignty, the very principle of the Confederacy. The war has proved that united states are, other things being equal, an overmatch for confederated states.
The European states must unite either as equals or as unequals. As equals, the union can be only a confederacy, a sort of Zollverein, in which each state retains its individual sovereignty; if as unequals, then someone among them will aspire to the hegemony, and you have over again the Athenian Confederation, formed at the conclusion of the Persian war, and its fate. A union like the American cannot be created by a compact, or by the exercise of supreme power. The Emperor of the French cannot erect the several Departments of France into states, and divide the powers of government between them as individual and as united states. They would necessarily hold from the imperial government, which, though it might exercise a large part of its functions through them, would remain, as now, the supreme central government, from which all governmental powers emanate, as our President is apparently attempting, in his reconstruction policy, to make the government of the United States. The elements of a state constituted like the American do not exist in any European nation, nor in the constitution of European society; and the American constitution would have been impracticable even here had not Providence so ordered it that the nation was born with it, and has never known any other.
Rome recognized the necessity of the federal principle, and applied it in the best way she could. At first it was a single tribe or people distributed into distinct gentes or houses; after the Sabine war, a second tribe was added on terms of equality, and the state was dual, composed of two tribes, the Ramnes and the Tities or Quirites, and, afterward, in the time of Tullus Hostilius, were added the Lucertes or Luceres, making the division into three ruling tribes, each divided into one hundred houses or gentes. Each house in each tribe was represented by its chief or decurion in the senate, making the number of senators exactly three hundred, at which number the senate was fixed. Subsequently was added, by Ancus, the plebs, who remained without authority or share in the government of the city of Rome itself, though they might aspire to the first rank in the allied cities. The division into tribes, and the division of the tribes into gentes or houses, and the vote in the state by tribes, and in the tribes by houses, effectually excluded democratic centralism; but the division was not a division of the powers of government between two co-ordinate governments, for the senate had supreme control, like the British parliament, over all matters, general and particular.
The establishment, after the secession of the plebs, of the tribunitial veto, which gave the plebeians a negative power in the state, there was an incipient division of the powers of government; but only a division between the positive and negative powers, not between the general and the particular. The power accorded to the plebs, or commons, as Niebuhr calls them--who is, perhaps, too fond of explaining the early constitution of Rome by analogies borrowed from feudalism, and especially from the constitution of his native Ditmarsch--was simply an obstructive power; and when it, by development, became a positive power, it absorbed all the powers of government, and created the Empire.
There was, indeed, a nearer approach to the division of powers in the American system, between imperial Rome and her allied or confederated municipalities. These municipalities, modelled chiefly after that of Rome, were elective, and had the management of their own local affairs; but their local powers were not co-ordiinate in their own sphere with those exercised by the Roman municipality, but subordinate and dependent. The senate had the supreme power over them, and they held their rights subject to its will. They were formally, or virtually, subjugated states, to which the Roman senate, and afterward the Roman emperors, left the form of the state and the mere shadow of freedom. Rome owed much to her affecting to treat them as allies rather than as subjects, and at first these municipal organizations secured the progress of civilization in the provinces; but at a later period, under the emperors, they served only the imperial treasury, and were crushed by the taxes imposed and the contributions levied on them by the fiscal agents of the empire. So heavy were the fiscal burdens imposed on the burgesses, if the term may be used, that it needed an imperial edict to compel them to enter the municipal government; and it became, under the later emperors, no uncommon thing for free citizens to sell themselves into slavery, to escape the fiscal burdens imposed. There are actually imperial edicts extant forbidden freemen to sell themselves as slaves. Thus ended the Roman federative system, and it is difficult to discover in Europe the elements of a federative system that could have a more favorable result.
Now, the political destiny or mission of the United States is, in common with the European nations, to eliminate the barbaric elements retained by the Roman constitution, and specially to realize that philosophical division of the powers of government which distinguish it from both imperial and democratic centralism on the one hand, and, on the other, from the checks and balances or organized antagonisms which seek to preserve liberty by obstructing the exercise of power. No greater problem in statesmanship remains to be solved, and no greater contribution to civilization to be made. Nowhere else than in this New World, and in this New World only in the United States, can this problem be solved, or this contribution be made, and what the Graeco-Roman republic began be completed.
But the United States have a religious as well as a political destiny, for religion and politics go together. Church and state, as governments, are separate indeed, but the principles on which the state is founded have their origin and ground in the spiritual order--in the principles revealed or affirmed by religion--and are inseparable from them. There is no state without God, any more than there is a church without Christ or the Incarnation. An atheist may be a politician, but if there were no God there could be no politics. theological principles are the basis of political principles. The created universe is a dialectic whole, distinct but inseparable from its Creator, and all its parts cohere and are essential to one another. All has its origin and prototype in the Triune God, and throughout expresses unity in triplicity and triplicity in unity, without which there is no real being and no actual or possible life. Every thing has its principle, medium, and end. Natural society is initial, civil government is medial, the church is teleological, but the three are only distinctions in one indissoluble whole.
Man, as we have seen, lives by communion with God through the Divine creative act, and is perfected or completed only through the Incarnation, in Christ, the Word made flesh. True, he communes with God through his kind, and through external nature, society in which he is born and reared, and property through which he derives sustenance for his body; but these are only media of his communion with God, the source of life--not either the beginning or the end of his communion. They have no life in themselves, since their being is in God, and, of themselves, can impart none. They are in the order of second causes, and second causes, without the first cause, are nought. Communion which stops with them, which takes them as the principle and end, instead of media, as they are, is the communion of death, not of life. As religion includes all that relates to communion with God, it must in some form be inseparable from every living act of man, both individually and socially; and, in the long run, men must conform either their politics to their religion or their religion to their politics. Christianity is constantly at work, moulding political society in its own image and likeness, and every political system struggles to harmonize Christianity with itself. If, then, the United States have a political destiny, they have a religious destiny inseparable from it.
The political destiny of the United States is to conform the state to the order of reality, or, so to speak, to the Divine Idea in creation. Their religious destiny is to render practicable and to realize the normal relations between church and state, religion and politics, as concreted in the life of the nation.
In politics, the United States are not realizing a political theory of any sort whatever. They, on the contrary, are successfully refuting all political theories, making away with them, and establishing the state--not on a theory, not on an artificial basis or a foundation laid by human reason or will, but on reality, the eternal and immutable principles in relation to which man is created. They are doing the same in regard to religious theories. Religion is not a theory, a subjective view, an opinion, but is, objectively, at once a principle, a law, and a fact, and, subjectively, it is, by the aid of God's grace, practical conformity to what is universally true and real. The United States, in fulfilment of their destiny, are making as sad havoc with religious theories as with political theories, and are pressing on with irresistible force to the real or the Divine order which is expressed in the Christian mysteries, which exists independent of man's understanding and will, and which man can neither make nor unmake.
The religious destiny of the United States is not to create a new religion nor to found a new church. All real religion is catholic, and is neither new nor old, but is always and everywhere true. Even our Lord came neither to found a new church nor to create a new religion, but to do the things which had been foretold, and to fulfil in time what had been determined in eternity. God has himself founded the church on catholic principles, or principles always and everywhere real principles. His church is necessarily catholic, because founded on catholic dogmas, and the dogmas are catholic, because they are universal and immutable principles, having their origin and ground in the Divine Being Himself, or in the creative act by which He produces and sustains all things. Founded on universal and immutable principles, the church can never grow old or obsolete, but is the church for all times and Places, for all ranks and conditions of men. Man cannot change either the church or the dogmas of faith, for they are founded in the highest reality, which is above him, over him, and independent of him. Religion is above and independent of the state, and the state has nothing to do with the church or her dogmas, but to accept and conform to them as it does to any of the facts or principles of science, to a mathematical truth, or to a physical law.
But while the church, with her essential constitution, and her dogmas are founded in the Divine order, and are catholic and unalterable, the relations between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities may be changed or modified by the changes of time and place. These relations have not been always the same, but have differed in different ages and countries. During the first three centuries of our era the church had no legal status, and was either connived at or persecuted by the state. Under the Christian emperors she was recognized by the civil law; her prelates had exclusive jurisdiction in mixed civil and ecclesiastical questions, and were made, in some sense, civil magistrates, and paid as such by the empire. Under feudalism, the prelates received investiture as princes and barons, and formed alone, or in connection with the temporal lords, an estate in the kingdom. The Pope became a temporal prince and suzerain, at one time, of a large part of Europe, and exercised the arbitratorship in all grave questions between Christian sovereigns themselves, and between them and their subjects. Since the downfall of feudalism and the establishment of modern centralized monarchy, the church has been robbed of the greater part of her temporal possessions, and deprived, in most countries, of all civil functions, and treated by the state either as an enemy or as a slave.
In all the sectarian and schismatic states of the Old World, the national church is held in strict subjection to the civil authority, as in Great Britain and Russia, and is the slave of the state; in the other states of Europe, as France, Austria, Spain, and Italy, she is treated with distrust by the civil government, and allowed hardly a shadow of freedom and independence. In France, which has the proud title of eldest daughter of the church, Catholics, as such, are not freer than they are in Turkey. All religious are said to be free, and all are free, except the religion of the majority of Frenchmen. The emperor, because nominally a Catholic, takes it upon himself to concede the church just as much and just as little freedom in the empire as he judges expedient for his own secular interests. In Italy, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, and the Central and South American states, the policy of the civil authorities is the same, or worse. It may be safely asserted that, except in the United States, the church is either held by the civil power in subjection, or treated as an enemy. The relation is not that of union and harmony, but that of antagonism, to the grave detriment of both religion and civilization.
It is impossible, even if it were desirable, to restore the mixture of civil and ecclesiastical governments which obtained in the Middle Ages; and a total separation of church and state, even as corporations, would, in the present state of men's minds in Europe, be construed, if approved by the church, into a sanction by her of political atheism, or the right of the civil power to govern according to its own will and pleasure in utter disregard of the law of God, the moral order, or the immutable distinctions between right and wrong. It could only favor the absolutism of the state, and put the temporal in the place of the spiritual. Hence, the Holy Father includes the proposition of the entire separation of church and state in the Syllabus of Errors condemned in his Encyclical, dated at Rome, December 8, 1864. Neither the state nor the people, elsewhere than in the United States, can understand practically such separation in any other sense than the complete emancipation of our entire secular life from the law of God, or the Divine order, which is the real order. It is not the union of church and state--that is, the union, or identity rather, of religious and political principles--that it is desirable to get rid of, but the disunion or antagonism of church and state. But this is nowhere possible out of the United States; for nowhere else is the state organized on catholic principles, or capable of acting, when acting from its own constitution, in harmony with a really catholic church, or the religious order really existing, in relation to which all things are created and governed. Nowhere else is it practicable, at present, to maintain between the two powers their normal relations.
But what is not practicable in the Old World is perfectly practicable in the New. The state here being organized in accordance with catholic principles, there can be no antagonism between it and the church. Though operating in different spheres, both are, in their respective spheres, developing and applying to practical life the one and the same Divine Idea. The church can trust the state, and the state can trust the church. Both act from the same principle to one and the same end. Each by its own constitution co-operates with, aids, and completes the other. It is true the church is not formally established as the civil law of the land, nor is it necessary that she should be; because there is nothing in the state that conflicts with her freedom and independence, with her dogmas or her irreformable canons. The need of establishing the church by law, and protecting her by legal pains and penalties, as is still done in most countries, can exist only in a barbarous or semi-barbarous state of society, where the state is not organized on catholic principles, or the civilization is based on false principles, and in its development tends not to the real or Divine order of things. When the state is constituted in harmony with that order, it is carried onward by the force of its own internal constitution in a catholic direction, and a church establishment, or what is called a state religion, would be an anomaly, or a superfluity. The true religion is in the heart of the state, as its informing principle and real interior life. The external establishment, by legal enactment of the church, would afford her no additional protection, add nothing to her power and efficacy, and effect nothing for faith or piety--neither of which can be forced, because both must, from their nature, be free-will offerings to God.
In the United States, false religions are legally as free as the true religion; but all false religions being one-sided, sophistical, and uncatholic, are opposed by the principles of the state, which tend, by their silent but effective workings, to eliminate them. The American state recognizes only the catholic religion. It eschews all sectarianism, and none of the sects have been able to get their peculiarities incorporated into its constitution or its laws. The state conforms to what each holds that is catholic, that is always and everywhere religion; and what ever is not catholic it leaves, as outside of its province, to live or die, according to its own inherent vitality or want of vitality. The state conscience is catholic, not sectarian; hence it is that the utmost freedom can be allowed to all religions, the false as well as the true; for the state, being catholic in its constitution, can never suffer the adherents of the false to oppress the consciences of the adherents of the true. The church being free, and the state harmonizing with her, catholicity has, in the freedom of both, all the protection it needs, all the security it can ask, and all the support it can, in the nature of the case receive from external institutions, or from social and political organizations.
This freedom may not be universally wise or prudent, for all nations may not be prepared for it: all may not have attained their majority. The church, as well as the state, must deal with men and nations as they are, not as they are not. To deal with a child as with an adult, or with a barbarous nation as with a civilized nation, would be only acting a lie. The church cannot treat men as free men where they are not free men, nor appeal to reason in those in whom reason is undeveloped. She must adapt her discipline to the age, condition, and culture of individuals, and to the greater or less progress of nations in civilization. She herself remains always the same in her constitution, her authority, and her faith; but varies her discipline with the variations of time and place. Many of her canons, very proper and necessary in one age, cease to be so in another, and many which are needed in the Old World would be out of place in the New World. Under the American system, she can deal with the people as free men, and trust them as freemen, because free men they are. The freeman asks, why? and the reason why must be given him, or his obedience fails to be secured. The simple reason that the church commands will rarely satisfy him; he would know why she commands this or that. The full-grown free man revolts at blind obedience, and he regards all obedience as in some measure blind for which he sees only an extrinsic command. Blind obedience even to the authority of the church cannot be expected of the people reared under the American system, not because they are filled with the spirit of disobedience, but because they insist that obedience shall be rationabile obsequium, an act of the understanding, not of the will or the affections alone. They are trained to demand a reason for the command given them, to distinguish between the law and the person of the magistrate. They can obey God, but not man, and they must see that the command given has its reason in the Divine order, or the intrinsic catholic reason of things, or they will not yield it a full, entire, and hearty obedience. The reason that suffices for the child does not suffice for the adult, and the reason that suffices for barbarians does not suffice for civilized men, or that suffices for nations in the infancy of their civilization does not suffice for them in its maturity. The appeal to external authority was much less frequent under the Roman Empire than in the barbarous ages that followed its downfall, when the church became mixed up with the state.
This trait of the American character is not uncatholic. An intelligent, free, willing obedience, yielded from personal conviction, after seeing its reasonableness, its justice, its logic in the Divine order--the obedience of a free man, not of a slave--is far more consonant to the spirit of the church, and far more acceptable to God, than simple, blind obedience; and a people capable of yielding it stand far higher in the scale of civilization than the people that must be governed as children or barbarians. It is possible that the people of the Old World are not prepared for the regimen of freedom in religion any more than they are prepared for freedom in politics; for they have been trained only to obey external authority, and are not accustomed to look on religion as having its reason in the real order, or in the reason of things. They understand no reason for obedience beyond the external command, and do not believe it possible to give or to understand the reason why the command itself is given. They regard the authority of the church as a thing apart, and see no way by which faith and reason can be harmonized. They look upon them as antagonistic forces rather than as integral elements of one and the same whole. Concede them the regimen of freedom, and their religion has no support but in their good-will, their affections, their associations, their habits, and their prejudices. It has no root in their rational convictions, and when they begin to reason they begin to doubt. This is not the state of things that is desirable, but it cannot be remedied under the political regime established elsewhere than in the United States. In every state in the world, except the American, the civil constitution is sophistical, and violates, more or less, the logic of things; and, therefore, in no one of them can the people receive a thoroughly dialectic training, or an education in strict conformity to the real order. Hence, in them all, the church is more or less obstructed in her operations, and prevented from carrying out in its fulness her own Divine Idea. She does the best she can in the circumstances and with the materials with which she is supplied, and exerts herself continually to bring individuals and nations into harmony with her Divine law: but still her life in the midst of the nations is a struggle, a warfare.
The United States being dialectically constituted, and founded on real catholic, not sectarian or sophistical principles, presents none of these obstacles, and must, in their progressive development or realization of their political idea, put an end to this warfare, in so far as a warfare between church and state, and leave the church in her normal position in society, in which she can, without let or hindrance, exert her free spirit, and teach and govern men by the Divine law as free men. She may encounter unbelief, misbelief, ignorance, and indifference in few, or in many; but these, deriving no support from the state, which tends constantly to eliminate them, must gradually give way before her invincible logic, her divine charity, the truth and reality of things, and the intelligence, activity, and zeal of her ministers. The American people are, on the surface, sectarians or indifferentists; but they are, in reality, less uncatholic than the people of any other country because they are, in their intellectual and moral development, nearer to the real order, or, in the higher and broader sense of the word more truly civilized. The multitude of sects that obtain may excite religious compassion for those who are carried away by them, for men can be saved or attain to their eternal destiny only by truth, or conformity to Him who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life;" but in relation to the national destiny they need excite no alarm, no uneasiness, for underlying them all is more or less of catholic truth, and the vital forces of the national life repel them, in so far as they are sectarian and not catholic, as substances that cannot be assimilated to the national life. The American state being catholic in its organic principles, as is all real religion, and the church being free, whatever is anticatholic, or uncatholic, is without any support in either, and having none, either in reality or in itself, it must necessarily fall and gradually disappear.
The sects themselves have a half unavowed conviction that they cannot subsist forever as sects, if unsupported by the civil authority. They are free, but do not feel safe in the United States. They know the real church is catholic, and that they themselves are none of them catholic. The most daring among them even pretends to be no more than a "branch" of the catholic church. They know that only the catholic church can withstand the pressure of events and survive the shocks of time, and hence everywhere their movements to get rid of their sectarianism and to gain a catholic character. They hold conventions of delegates from the whole sectarian world, form "unions," "alliances," and "associations;" but, unhappily for their success, the catholic church does not originate in convention, but is founded by the Word made flesh, and sustained by the indwelling Holy Ghost. The most they can do, even with the best dispositions in the world, is to create a confederation, and confederated sects are something very different from a church inherently one and catholic. It is no more the catholic church than the late Southern Confederacy was the American state. The sectarian combinations may do some harm, may injure many souls, and retard, for a time, the progress of civilization; but in a state organized in accordance with catholic principles, and left to themselves, they are powerless against the national destiny, and must soon wither and die as branches severed from the vine.
Such being the case, no sensible Catholic can imagine that the church needs any physical force against the sects, except to repel actual violence, and protect her in that freedom of speech and possession which is the right of all before the state. What are called religious establishments are needed only where either the state is barbarous or the religion is sectarian. Where the state, in its intrinsic constitution, is in accordance with catholic principles, as in the United States, the church has all she needs or can receive. The state can add nothing more to her power or her security in her moral and spiritual warfare with sectarianism, and any attempt to give her more would only weaken her as against the sects, place her in a false light, partially justify their hostility to her, render effective their declamations against her, mix her up unnecessarily with political changes, interests, and passions, and distract the attention of her ministers from their proper work as churchmen, and impose on them the duties of politicians and statesmen. Where there is nothing in the state hostile to the church, where she is free to act according to her own constitution and laws, and exercise her own discipline on her own spiritual subjects, civil enactments in her favor or against the sects may embarrass or impede her operations, but cannot aid her, for she can advance no farther than she wins the heart and convinces the understanding. A spiritual work can, in the nature of things, be effected only by spiritual means. The church wants freedom in relation to the state--nothing more; for all her power comes immediately from God, without any intervention or mediation of the state.
The United States, constituted in accordance with the real order of things, and founded on principles which have their origin and ground in the principles on which the church herself is founded, can never establish any one of the sects as the religion of the state, for that would violate their political constitution, and array all the other sects, as well as the church herself, against the government. They cannot be called upon to establish the church by law, because she is already in their constitution as far as the state has in itself any relation with religion, and because to establish her in any other sense would be to make her one of the civil institutions of the, land, and to bring her under the control of the state, which were equally against her interest and her nature.
The religious mission of the United States is not then to establish the church by external law, or to protect her by legal disabilities, pains, and penalties against the sects, however uncatholic they may be; but to maintain catholic freedom, neither absorbing the state in the church nor the church in the state, but leaving each to move freely, according to its own nature, in the sphere assigned it in the eternal order of things. Their mission separates church and state as external governing bodies, but unites them in the interior principles from which each derives its vitality and force. Their union is in the intrinsic unity of principle, and in the fact that, though moving in different spheres, each obeys one and the same Divine law. With this the Catholic, who knows what Catholicity means, is of course satisfied, for it gives the church all the advantage over the sects of the real over the unreal; and with this the sects have no right to be dissatisfied, for it subjects them to no disadvantage not inherent in sectarianism itself in presence of Catholicity, and without any support from the civil authority.
The effect of this mission of our country fully realized, would be to harmonize church and state, religion and politics, not by absorbing either in the other, or by obliterating the natural distinction between them, but by conforming both to the real or Divine order, which is supreme and immutable. It places the two powers in their normal relation, which has hitherto never been done, because hitherto there never has been a state normally constituted. The nearest approach made to the realization of the proper relations of church and state, prior to the birth of the American Republic, was in the Roman Empire under the Christian emperors; but the state had been perverted by paganism, and the emperors, inheriting the old pontifical power, could never be made to understand their own incompetency in spirituals, and persisted to the last in treating the church as a civil institution under their supervision and control, as does the Emperor of the French in France, even yet. In the Middle Ages the state was so barbarously constituted that the church was obliged to supervise its administration, to mix herself up with the civil government, in order to infuse some intelligence into civil matters, and to preserve her own rightful freedom and independence. When the states broke away from feudalism, they revived the Roman constitution, and claimed the authority in ecclesiastical matters that had been exercised by the Roman Caesars, and the states that adopted a sectarian religion gave the sect adopted a civil establishment, and subjected it to the civil government, to which the sect not unwillingly consented, on condition that the civil authority excluded the church and all other sects, and made it the exclusive religion of the state, as in England, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, and the states of Northern Germany. Even yet the normal relations of church and state are nowhere practicable in the Old World; for everywhere either the state is more or less barbaric in its constitution, or the religion is sectarian, and the church as well as civilization is obliged, to struggle with antagonistic forces, for self-preservation.
There are formidable parties all over Europe at work to introduce what they take to be the American system; but constitutions are generated, not made--providential, not conventional. Statesmen can only develop what is in the existing constitutions of their respective countries, and no European constitution contains all the elements of the American. European Liberals mistake the American system, and, were they to succeed in their efforts, would not introduce it, but something more hostile to it than the governments and institutions they are warring against. They start from narrow, sectarian, or infidel premises, and seek not freedom of worship, but freedom of denial. They suppress the freedom of religion as the means of securing what they call religious liberty--imagine that they secure freedom of thought by extinguishing the light without which no thought is possible, and advance civilization by undermining its foundation. The condemnation of their views and movements by the Holy Father in the Encyclical, which has excited so much hostility, may seem to superficial and unthinking Americans even, as a condemnation of our American system--indeed, as the condemnation of modern science, intelligence, and civilization itself; but whoever looks below the surface, has some insight into the course of events, understands the propositions and movements censured, and the sense in which they are censured, is well assured that the Holy Father has simply exercised his pastoral and teaching authority to save religion, society, science, and civilization from utter corruption or destruction. The opinions, tendencies, and movements, directly or by implication censured, are the effect of narrow and superficial thinking, of partial and one-sided views, and are sectarian, sophistical, and hostile to all real progress, and tend, as far as they go, to throw society back into the barbarism from which, after centuries of toil and struggle, it is just beginning to emerge. The Holy Father has condemned nothing that real philosophy, real science does not also condemn; nothing, in fact, that is not at war with the American system itself. For the mass of the people, it were desirable that fuller explanations should be given of the sense in which the various propositions censured are condemned, for some of them are not, in every sense, false; but the explanations needed were expected by the Holy Father to be given by the bishops and prelates, to whom, not to the people, save through them, the Encyclical was addressed. Little is to be hoped, and much is to be feared, for liberty, science, and civilization from European Liberalism, which has no real affinity with American territorial democracy and real civil and religious freedom. But God and reality are present in the Old World as, well as in the New, and it will never do to restrict their power or freedom.
Whether the American people will prove faithful to their mission, and realize their destiny, or not, is known only to Him from whom nothing is hidden. Providence is free, and leaves always a space for human free-will. The American people can fail, and will fail if they neglect the appointed means and conditions of success; but there is nothing in their present state or in their past history to render their failure probable. They have in their internal constitution what Rome wanted, and they are in no danger of being crushed by exterior barbarism. Their success as feeble colonies of Great Britain in achieving their national independence, and especially in maintaining, unaided, and against the real hostility of Great Britain and France, their national unity and integrity against a rebellion which, probably, no other people could have survived, gives reasonable assurance for their future. The leaders of the rebellion, than whom none better knew or more nicely calculated the strength and resources of the Union, counted with certainty on success, and the ablest, the most experienced, and best informed statesmen of the Old World felt sure that the Republic was gone, and spoke of it as the late United States. Not a few, even in the loyal States, who had no sympathy with the rebellion, believed it idle to think of suppressing it by force, and advised peace on the best terms that could be obtained. But Ilium fuit was chanted too soon; the American people were equal to the emergency, and falsified the calculations and predictions of their enemies, and surpassed the expectations of their friends.
The attitude of the real American people during the fearful struggle affords additional confidence in their destiny. With larger armies on foot than Napoleon ever commanded, with their line of battle stretching from ocean to ocean, across the whole breadth of the continent, they never, during four long years of alternate victories and defeats--and both unprecedentedly bloody--for a moment lost their equanimity, or appeared less calm, collected, tranquil, than in the ordinary times of peace. They not for a moment interrupted their ordinary routine of business or pleasure, or seemed conscious of being engaged in any serious struggle which required an effort. There was no hurry, no bustle, no excitement, no fear, no misgiving. They seemed to regard the war as a mere bagatelle, not worth being in earnest about. The on-looker was almost angry with their apparent indifference, apparent insensibility, and doubted if they moved at all, Yet move they did: guided by an unerring instinct, they moved quietly on with an elemental force, in spite of a timid and hesitating administration, in spite of inexperienced, over-cautious, incompetent, or blundering military commanders, whom they gently brushed aside, and desisted not till their object was gained, and they saw the flag of the Union floating anew in the breeze from the capitol of every State that dared secede. No man could contemplate them without feeling that there was in them a latent power vastly superior to any which they judged it necessary to put forth. Their success proves to all that what, prior to the war, was treated as American arrogance or self-conceit, was only the outspoken confidence in their destiny as a Providential people, conscious that to them is reserved the hegemony of the world.
Count de Maistre predicted early in the century the failure of the United States, because they have no proper name; but his prediction assumed what is not the fact. The United States have a proper name by which all the world knows and calls them. The proper name of the country is America: that of the people is Americans. Speak of Americans simply, and nobody understands you to mean the people of Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Paraguay, but everybody understands you to mean the people of the United States. The fact is significant, and foretells for the people of the United States a continental destiny, as is also foreshadowed in the so-called "Monroe doctrine," which France, during our domestic troubles, was permitted, on condition of not intervening in our civil war in favor of the rebellion, to violate.
There was no statesmanship in proclaiming the "Monroe doctrine," for the statesman keeps always, as far as possible, his government free to act according to the exigencies of the case when it comes up, unembarrassed by previous declarations of principles. Yet the doctrine only expresses the destiny of the American people, and which nothing but their own fault can prevent them from realizing in its own good time. Napoleon will not succeed in his Mexican policy, and Mexico will add some fifteen or twenty new States to the American Union as soon as it is clearly for the interests of all parties that it should be done, and it can be done by mutual consent, without war or violence. The Union will fight to maintain the integrity of her domain and the supremacy of her laws within it, but she can never, consistently with her principles or her interests, enter upon a career of war and conquest. Her system is violated, endangered, not extended, by subjugating her neighbors, for subjugation and liberty go not together. Annexation, when it takes place, must be on terms of perfect equality and by the free act of the state annexed. The Union can admit of no inequality of rights and franchises between the States of which it is composed. The Canadian Provinces and the Mexican and Central American States, when annexed, must be as free as the original States of the Union, sharing alike in the power and the protection of the Republic--alike in its authority, its freedom, its grandeur, and its glory, as one free, independent, self-governing people. They may gain much, but must lose nothing by annexation.
The Emperor Napoleon and his very respectable protege, Maximilian, an able man and a liberal-minded prince, can change nothing in the destiny of the United States, or of Mexico herself; no imperial government can be permanent beside the American Republic, no longer liable, since the abolition of slavery, to be distracted by sectional dissensions. The States that seceded will soon, in some way, be restored to their rights and franchises in the Union, forming not the least patriotic portion of the American people; the negro question will be settled, or settle itself, as is most likely, by the melting away of the negro population before the influx of white laborers; all traces of the late contest in a very few years will be wiped out, the national debt paid, or greatly reduced, and the prosperity and strength of the Republic be greater than ever. Its moral force will sweep away every imperial throne on the continent, without any effort or action on the part of the government. There can be no stable government in Mexico till every trace of the ecclesiastical policy established by the Council of the Indies is obliterated, and the church placed there on the same footing as in the United States; and that can hardly be done without annexation. Maximilian cannot divest the church of her temporal possessions and place Protestants and Catholics on the same footing, without offending the present church party and deeply injuring religion, and that too without winning the confidence of the republican party. In all Spanish and Portuguese America the relations between the church and state are abnormal, and exceedingly hurtful to both. Religion is in a wretched condition, and politics in a worse condition still. There is no effectual remedy for either but in religious freedom, now impracticable, and to be rendered practicable by no European intervention, for that subjects religion to the state, the very source of the evils that now exist, instead of emancipating it from the state, and leaving it to act according to its own constitution and laws, as under the American system.
But the American people need not trouble themselves about their exterior expansion. That will come of itself as fast as desirable. Let them devote their attention to their internal destiny, to the realization of their mission within, and they will gradually see the Whole continent coming under their system, forming one grand nation, a really catholic nation, great, glorious, and free.
Revised April 16, 2000 Top