Friday, April 1, 2011

Origins of Radical Catholicism XVII: American fuel on a French fire: part 1

We have looked at the liberal-conservative split among the American bishops in the late nineteenth century.  We saw the struggles over labor unions, over Father McGlynn and his views on private property, over a Catholic University in the United States, over parochial schools and the language issue, and over an Apostolic Delegation and a permanent Papal Representative living in the United States.  To understand what is happened next, we need to be aware of what was  happening in France.  Events in one part of the world affect those in others and the Church—the papacy in particular—is just as political as any other world government.  For example, should we ever take a look at the changed direction of  the American Church in the first third of the pontificate of John Paul II, we will need to see what was happening in Poland as the events that led to the collapse of Russian-allied communism in Poland depended on a Vatican-Reagan administration alliance.  That alliance in turn altered the liberal direction that the American Church and bishops had taken in the post-Vietnam years with the pastoral letters on nuclear weapons and on the economy.  But those topics are for the future blogs.  As for now, we go back to the final quarter of the nineteenth century and see how the events in France relate to the struggle between liberals and conservatives in the United States. 
In the 1860’s the papacy, you may remember, depended on the French troops of Napoleon III to hold back the unification armies of the newly constituted Kingdom of Italy.  By 1870 Garibaldi and his armies had managed to unite the Italian peninsula—except for Rome and its immediate environs—into this new nation which replaced the assortment of independent kingdoms, duchies, and principalities that for centuries had governed what is today Italy.  When war broke out between Prussia and France in 1870, Napoleon needed those troops;  their withdrawal from Rome left the pope defenceless.  In September 1870 the forces of the Italian Kingdom broke through the Porta Pia and Papal Rome fell.  For almost the next 60 years the popes sulked (well Pius IX sulked, and so too did Pius X, but the rest of them just sort of put on a good show about having their nose out of joint) behind the walls of the Vatican.  This was a time in which Democratic movements were not popular with the Vatican because while Italy was a monarchy, it was a populist monarchy and one—like most constitutionalist monarchies today—is really a “republic with carriages.” It was this very sort of bourgeois democratic mentality that was responsible for the displacement of the old aristocratic authoritarianism which the popes did so well.  The papal bemoaning popular government wasn’t simply about the loss of the Papal States; it was that the Church had still never forgiven the French Revolution and its destruction of the old order.  The material and political damage the French Revolution had done to the Catholic Church cannot be overstated. (The spiritual damage is another matter—in many ways the Revolution and its fallout would be responsible for the vitality the Church has had in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The Church often is its best in times of persecution or political disadvantage.)    
France, whose Revolution, had been so traumatic for the Church, seemed with the collapse of the Second Empire to be on the verge of becoming what the Vatican thought would be the very ideal Christian State.  France with its Revolution and Republics and two Empires (Napoleon I and Napoleon III) had grown disillusioned with the world of Republics and arriviste emperors and wanted to restore the old Bourbon monarchy.  France was actually in a bit of a clamour to bring back a king and restore the official ties between Government and Church.  The problem was that they couldn’t agree on which of two princes should be given the crown.  Those who wanted an absolutist monarchy preferred the Count de Chambord (who was the legitimist heir).  Those who wanted a constitutional monarchy preferred the Count of Paris (who was the grandson of Louis-Philippe, the more recent King).  A republic (The Third French Republic) was established as a temporary government until the issue could be resolved.  While the Third Republic was to be only temporary it lasted 70 years and the monarchy never was re-established.  And this is where the trouble for America comes about.  Strict Catholics were claiming that Catholics could not cooperate  with this Republic—that Catholics had a duty to support monarchy.  “Liberal” Catholics claimed that they could support the Republic until such time as the monarchy could be established.  Tied into this question was the issue of the separation of Church and State.    Could Catholics support a government which did not establish the Catholic Religion as the official religion of the State?  Now this all sounds ridiculous to us Americans—we have long espoused Republican government and Separation of Church and State.  But the fact of the matter is that Catholic doctrine had—to this point and for some time after—affirmed that monarchy was the divinely ordained form of government as well as the form taught by “natural law.”  And Catholic doctrine also proclaimed that the State had the moral obligation to establish Roman Catholicism as the official religion of the State and proscribe other forms of Worship—Christian or non-Christian—for “error has no rights.”  As long as the United States was a somewhat inconsequential nation beyond the seas (the Atlantic) no one cared what they did.  Who knew if this American Republic would even last?  But all that was changing.  The American Republic was becoming a world power and spreading its “heresies” of democracy and Protestantism.  O Dear.  The fire alarm was ringing in Rome: would the American conflagration spread to Europe?
The image today is a portrait of Napoleon III

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