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exposed, is perfectly unconnected with the temporal claims of your ecclesiastical head; it flows directly from the spiritual. Hence the constant efforts of your political advocates to fix the attention of the public on the question of temporal supremacy, in which they may make a show of independence. Hence the irrelevant questions proposed to the, Catholic universities, which, as their object was known, gave ample scope to the versatile casuistry of those bodies. Their task, in assisting their brethren of England and Ireland, would have certainly required a greater degree of ingenuity, had the following question been substituted for the three which were actually proposed:—Can the Pope, in virtue of what Roman Catholics believe his divine authority, command the assistance of the faithful in checking the progress of heresy, by any means not likely to produce loss or danger to the Roman Catholic church ; and can that church acknowledge the validity of any engagement to disobey the Pope in such cases 2 This is a question of great practical importance to all sincere Catholics in these kingdoms. Allow me, therefore, to can
vass it according to the settled principles of your faith and practice, since political views prevent your own writers from placing it in its true light.
At the time when I am writing this, one branch of the legislature has declared itself favourable to what is called Catholic emancipation; and, for any thing I can conjecture, Roman Catholics may be allowed to sit in parliament before these Letters appear in public. A Roman Catholic legislator of Protestant England would, indeed, feel the weight of the difficulty to which my suggested question alludes, provided his attachment to the Roman Catholic faith were sincere. A real Roman Catholic once filled the throne of these realms, under similar circumstances; and neither the strong bias which a crown at stake must have given to his mind, nor all the ingenious evasions proposed to him by the ablest divine of the court of Louis XIV. could remove or disguise the obstacles which his faith opposed to his political duties. The source of the religious scruples which deprived James II. of his regal dignity, is expressed in one of the questions which he proposed to several divines of his persuasion. It
comprises, in a few words, what every candid mind
must perceive to be the true and only difficulty in the admission of Roman Catholics to the parliament of these kingdoms. What James doubted respecting the regal sanction, a member of either house may apply to the more limited influence of his vote. He asked “Whether the king could promise to give his assent to all the laws which might be proposed for the greater security of the church of England ?" Four English divines, who attended James, in his exile, answered without hesitation in the negative. The casuistry of the French court was certainly less abrupt. Louis XIV. observed to James, that “as the evercise of the Catholic religion could not be re-established in England, save by removing from the people the impression that the king was resolved to make it triumph, he must dissuade him from saying or doing any thing which might authorise or augment this fear.” The powerful talents of Bossuet were engaged to support the political views of the French monarch. His answer is a striking specimen of casuistic subtlety. He begins by establishing a distinction between adhering to the erroneous
principles professed by a church, and the protection given to it “ostensibly, to preserve public tranquillity.” He calls the Edict of Nantes, by which the Huguenots were, for a time, tolerated, “a kind of protection to the reformed, shielding them from the insults of those who would trouble them in the exercise of their religion. It never was thought (adds Bossuet) that the conscience of the monarch was interested in these concessions, except so far as they were judged necessary for public tranquillity. The same may be said of the king of England; and if he grant greater advantages to his Protestant subjects, it is because the state in which they are in his kingdoms, and the object of public repose, require it.” Speaking of the Articles, the Liturgy, and the Homilies, “it is not asked (he says) that the king should become the promoter of these three things, but only that he shall osTENSIBLY leave them a free course, for the peace of his subjects.” “The Catholics (he concludes) ought to consider the state in which they are, and the small portion they form of the population of England; which obliges them not to ask what is impossible of their king, but on the con
trary, to sacrifice all the advantages with which they might vainly flatter themselves, to the real and solid good of having a king of their religion, and securing his family on the throne, though Catholic; which may lead them naturally to ea pect, in time, the entire establishment of their church and faith.”.” Such is the utmost stretch which can be given to the Roman Catholic principles in the toleration of a church which dissents from the Roman faith.
A conscientious Roman Catholic may, for the sake |
of public peace, and in the hope of finally serving the
cause of his church, ostensibly give a free course to
heresy. But, if it may be done without such dan
gers, it is his unquestionable duty to undermine a system of which the direct tendency is, in his opi
nion, the spiritual and final ruin of men. Is there
a Catholic divine who can dispute this doctrine 2 Is there a learned and conscientious priest among you, who would give absolution to such a person as, having it in his power so to direct his votes and conduct in parliament as to diminish the influence of Protestant principles, without disturbing or alarming the country, would still heartily
* See the whole of Bossuet's answer in note B.