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Rome and the Free State

ISSUE:  Summer 1928

The Roman Catholic Church in the Modem State. By Charles C. Marshall. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. $2.50.

Mr. Marshall’s book has in it nothing new, nothing of sex, nothing that promises commercial success. There is nothing new in truth and Mr. Marshall claims nothing more than did the monk of Wittenberg when in 1517 he nailed his colors to the mast, so to speak, and protested against both Pope and Emperor. The war he waged was not against religion. He attacked only what he deemed abuses or usurpation. He only demanded reform within the church; and little dreamed that this pious move would end in the great Reformation that has made of Protestant Europe the most enlightened, the most progressive, and the best governed section of the globe.

There is no vituperation in the pages of Mr. Marshall; he does not rail against constructive heretics; he is not a theologian. I have read his book with care and regard it as necessary on the shelves of a thinking American and above all of those Romanists who profess allegiance to the American Constitution rather than to that of an Italian potentate.

Thomas Jefferson wrote these words one hundred and fifty years ago—they are part of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and Mr. Marshall quotes them because they are denounced in this very year (1928) by the present head of the Roman Hierarchy—”. . . the impious presumption of legislature and ruler, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible; and, as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time . . .”

Mr. Marshall is not a priest by profession—on the contrary he is a broad scholar with genius for extracting truth and presenting it in few words and forcible form. To me his work is timely for I am a Jeffersonian Democrat by inheritance and education. My first vote was cast for the illustrious Tilden who was elected President in 1876 but cheated out of it by methods which have relegated his rival to a notoriety contested only by Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot. Democracy in the days of Tilden meant that every law owed its validity, to the consent of the governed. This doctrine is opposed to Roman Catholic teaching and some day there may be an election in this country when a foreign potentate shall through his legates and monsignori and bishops and confessors decree excommunication against such as claim the liberty to vote according to their American conscience.

The Democratic Governor of my state, New York, has officially published this very interesting statement: “I believe in the absolute separation of Church and State.” This was uttered last year and our Governor is a fervent Roman Catholic. Indeed, so fervent is his piety that in the executive chambers at Albany, where frequently I had the honor of meeting the then Governor Tilden (1874-5), there hang now portraits of Roman Ecclesiatics with autograph dedications to Governor Smith as a worthy column in the hagiological temple of Rome. Successive popes during my own lifetime have consigned to the flames of a future life | such as dared to utter such blasphemy as the words here quoted of Governor Smith.

The war of Rome against Italy, France, and Mexico is waged on this issue. These countries have dared to imitate the United States in proclaiming the separation of Church and State and limiting papal power to matters purely religious.

In my boyhood such questions as these were never discussed; Romanists were protected in the exercise of their faith much as were Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians and a dozen more. The United States from the Bay of Fundy to Florida was homogeneous in its adherence to the Constitution as elaborated by the fathers of the Republic. We welcomed all creeds, for we feared none. Maryland became a refuge for Catholics who professed loyalty to American institutions and a toleration in matters religious. No American of the eighteenth and few of the nineteenth century would have imagined a succession of Roman Popes commencing with Pius IX who in defiance of law would hurl their theological thunder against all such as dared question the supremacy of canon law.

Mr. Marshall rarely offers his own opinion—he quotes uniformly that of Catholic documents approved by pontifical authorities. He enables us to see that, so far from showing liberality or even toleration with advancing years, this gigantic machine moves with a medieval mind flattening down and out any, in its path who feebly plead for a scintilla of civil liberty or self-government.

When I was first in Rome (1859), Pius IX gave me his blessing and soon afterward cursed all who assisted in the unification of Italy. At that time the Papal States made an area of 16,000 square miles, and thus the Pope sat on a temporal no less than a spiritual throne; and history teaches us that such experiments are apt to end in falling between two stools. Pius IX met this difficulty by proclaiming himself infallible and cursing all such as questioned the doctrine. Some think that the Pope has a flavor of democracy from the office being elective. This is a mistake. It is he who makes bishops and cardinals and when the voting begins he knows on whom he can depend. A philosophical theologian has perhaps noticed that popes and cardinals and legates and nuncios and monsignori are mostly Italian.

In my time Juarez was President of Mexico and attempted to enforce the Constitution of 1857 which made the civil power superior to that of the clerical. Juarez was excommunicated and also every Mexican who supported him. j Pius IX gave Maximilian a special blessing when he sailed I for Mexico (1864); and the United States replied by sending arms to Juarez and encouraging his resistance to pontifical claims.

Latterly the French Republic has attempted to give universal education free from priestly admixture. As a result the French President is under papal ban and all French catholics are excommunicated who assist in sustaining the national as against the papal Constitution.

We have seen, even in our country, a widely ramified organization of Roman Catholics demanding that we interfere in Mexican affairs in order to make the priests once more masters over civil authorities. This could not have been imagined when Juarez and Abraham Lincoln were alive.

Mr. Marshall’s book can not be criticized as a bid for literary fame; much less does it invite discussion of a controversial nature. It is above the suspicion of paid propaganda, being the work of one whose position at the bar of New York and in his family relations raises him to the rank of a thinker and leader. His work is as dispassionate as a judgment of the Supreme Court; it is as final as the code of Civil Procedure.


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