By popular liberty, we mean democracy; by democracy, we mean the democratic form of government; by the democratic form of government, we mean that form of government which vests the sovereignty in the people as population, and which is administered by the people, either in person or by their delegates. By sustaining popular liberty, we mean, not the introduction or institution of democracy, but preserving it when and where it is already introduced, and securing its free, orderly, and wholesome action. By Catholicity, we mean the Roman Catholic Church, faith, morals, and worship. The thesis we propose to maintain is, therefore, that without the Roman Catholic religion it is impossible to preserve a democratic government, and secure its free, orderly, and wholesome action. Infidelity, Protestantism, heathenism may institute a democracy, but only Catholicity can sustain it.
Our own government, in its origin and constitutional form, is not a democracy, but, if we may use the expression, a limited elective aristocracy. In its theory, the representative, within the limits prescribed by the constitution, when once elected, and during the time for which he is elected, is, in his official action, independent of his constituents, and not responsible to them for his acts. For this reason, we call the government an elective aristocracy. But, practically, the government framed by our fathers no longer exists, save in name. Its original character has disappeared, or is rapidly disappearing. The Constitution is a dead letter, except so far as it serves to prescribe the modes of election, the rule of the majority, the distribution and tenure of offices, and the union and separation of the functions of government. Since 1828, it has been becoming in practice, and is now, substantially, a pure democracy, with no effective constitution but the will of the majority for the time being. Whether the change has been for the better or the worse, we need not stop to inquire. The change was inevitable, because men are more willing to advance themselves by flattering the people and perverting the constitution, than they are by self-denial to serve their country. The change has been effected, and there is no return to the original theory of the government. Any man who should plant himself on the Constitution, and attempt to arrest the democratic tendency, — no matter what his character, ability, virtues, services, — would be crushed and ground to powder. Your Calhouns must give way for your Polks and Van Burens, your Websters for your Harrisons and Tylers. No man, who is not prepared to play the demagogue, to stoop to flatter the people, and, in one direction or another, to exaggerate the democratic tendency, can receive the nomination for an important office, or have influence in public affairs. The reign of great men, of distinguished statesmen and firm patriots, is over, and that of the demagogues has begun. Your most important offices are hereafter to be filled by third and fourth-rate men, — men too insignificant to excite strong opposition, and too flexible in their principles not to be willing to take any direction the caprices of the mob — or the interests of the wire-pullers of the mob — may demand. Evil or no evil, such is the fact, and we must conform to it.
Such being the fact, the question comes up, How are we to sustain popular liberty, to secure the free, orderly, and wholesome action of our practical democracy? The question is an important one, and cannot be blinked at with impunity.
The theory of democracy is, Construct your government and commit it to the people to be taken care of. Democracy is not properly a government; but what is called the government is a huge machine contrived to be wielded by the people as they shall think proper. In relation to it the people are assumed to be what Almighty God is to the universe, the first cause, the medial cause, the final cause. It emanates from them; it is administered by them, and for them; and, moreover, they are to keep watch and provide for its right administration.
It is a beautiful theory, and would work admirably, if it were not for one little difficulty, namely, — the people are fallible, both individually and collectively, and governed by their passions and interest, which not unfrequently lead them far astray, and produce much mischief. The government must necessarily follow their will; and whenever that will happens to be blinded by passion, or misled by ignorance or interest, the government must inevitably go wrong; and government can never go wrong without doing injustice. The government may be provided for; the people may take care of that; but who or what is to take care of people, and assure us that they will always wield the government so as to promote justice and equality, or maintain order and the equal rights of all, of all classes and interests?
Do not answer by referring us to the virtue and intelligence of the people. We are writing seriously, and have no leisure to enjoy a joke, even if it be a good one. We have too much principle, we hope, to seek to humbug and have had too much experience to be humbugged. We are Americans, American born, American bred, and we love our country, and will, when called upon, defend it, against any and every enemy, to the best of our feeble ability; but, though we by no means rate American virtue and intelligence so low as do those who will abuse us for not rating it higher, we cannot consent to hoodwink ourselves, or to claim for our countrymen a degree of virtue and intelligence they do not possess. We are acquainted with no salutary errors, and are forbidden to seek even a good end by any but honest means. The virtue and intelligence of the American people are not sufficient to secure the free, orderly, and wholesome action of the government; for they do not secure it. The government commits, every now and then, a sad blunder, and the general policy it adopts must prove, in the long run, suicidal. It has adopted a most iniquitous policy, and its most unjust measures are its most popular measures, such as it would be fatal to any man’s political success directly and openly to oppose; and we think we hazard nothing in saying, our free institutions cannot be sustained without an augmentation of popular virtue and intelligence. We do not say the people are not capable of a sufficient degree of virtue and intelligence to sustain a democracy; all we say is, they cannot do it without virtue and intelligence, nor without a higher degree of virtue and intelligence than they have as yet attained to. We do not apprehend that many of our countrymen, and we are sure no one whose own virtue and intelligence entitle his opinion to any weight, will dispute this. Then the question of the means of sustaining our democracy resolves itself into the question of augmenting the virtue and intelligence of the people.
The press makes readers, but does little to make virtuous and intelligent readers. The newspaper press is, for the most part, under the control of men of very ordinary abilities, lax principles, and limited acquirements. It echoes and exaggerates popular errors, and does little or nothing to create a sound public opinion. Your popular literature caters to popular taste, passions, prejudices, ignorance, and errors; it is by no means above the average degree of virtue and intelligence which already obtains, and can do nothing to create a higher standard of virtue or tone of thought. On what, then, are we to rely?
“On Education,” answer Frances Wright, Abner Kneeland, the Hon. Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, and the Educationists generally. But we must remember that we must have virtue and intelligence. Virtue without intelligence will only fit the mass to be duped by the artful and designing; and intelligence without virtue only make one the abler and more successful villain. Education must be of the right sort, if it is to answer our purpose; for a bad education is worse than none. The Mohametans are great sticklers for education, and, if we recollect aright, it is laid down in the Koran, that every believer must at least be taught to read; but we do not find their education does much to advance them in virtue and intelligence. Education, moreover, demands educators, and educators of the right sort. Where are these to be obtained? Who is to select them, judge of their qualifications, sustain or dismiss then? The people? Then you place education in the same category with democracy. You make the people through their representatives the educators. The people will select and sustain only such educators as represent their own virtues, vices, intelligence, prejudices, and errors. Whether they educate mediately or immediately, they can impart only what they have and are. Consequently, with them for educators, we can, by means even of universal education, get no increase of virtue and intelligence to bear on the government. The people may educate, but where is that which takes care that they educate in a proper manner? Here is the very difficulty we began by pointing out. The people take care of the government and education; but who or what is to take care of the people, who need taking care of quite as much as either education or government? — for, rightly considered, neither government nor education has any other legitimate end than to take care of the people.
We know of but one solution of the difficulty, and that is in RELIGION. There is no foundation for virtue but in religion, and it is only religion that can command the degree of popular virtue and intelligence requisite to insure to popular government the right direction and a wise and just administration. A people without religion, however successful they may be in throwing off old institutions, or in introducing new ones, have no power to secure the free, orderly, and wholesome working of any institutions. For the people can bring to the support of institutions only the degree of virtue and intelligence they have; and we need not stop to prove that an infidel people can have very little either of virtue or intelligence, since, in this professedly Christian country, this will and must be conceded us. We shall, therefore, assume, without stopping to defend our assumption, that religion is the power or influence we need to take care of the people, and secure the degree of virtue and intelligence necessary to sustain popular liberty. We say, then, if democracy commits the government of the people to be taken care of, religion is to take care that they take proper care of the government, rightly direct and wisely administer it.
But what religion? It must be a religion which is above the people and controls them, or it will not answer the purpose. If it depends on the people, if the people are to take care of it, to say what it shall be, what it shall teach, what it shall command, what worship or discipline it shall insist on being observed, we are back in our old difficulty. The people take care of religion; but who or what is to take care of the people? We repeat, then, what religion? IT cannot be Protestantism, in all or any of its forms; for Protestantism assumes as its point of departure that Almighty God has indeed given us a religion, but has given it to us not to take care of us, but to be taken care of by us. It makes religion the ward of the people; assumes it to be sent on earth a lone and helpless orphan, to be taken in by the people, who are to serve as its nurse.
We do not pretend that Protestants say this in just so many words; but this, under the present point of view, is their distinguishing characteristic. What was the assumption of the Reformer? Was it not that Almighty God has failed to take care of his Church, that he had suffered it to become exceedingly corrupt and corrupting, so much as to have become a very Babylon, and to have ceased to be his Church? Was it not for this reason that they turned reformers, separated themselves from what had been the Church, and attempted, with such materials as they could command, to reconstruct the Church on its primitive foundation, and after the primitive model? Is not this what they tell us? But if they had believed the Son of Man came to minister and not to be ministered unto, that Almighty God had instituted his religion for the spiritual government of men, and charge himself with the care and maintenance of it, would they ever have dared to take upon themselves the work of reforming it? Would they ever have fancied that either religion or the Church could ever need reforming, or, if so, that it could ever be done by human agency? Of course not. They would have taken religion as preserved by the church as the standard, submitted to it as the law, and confined themselves to the duty of obedience. It is evident, therefore, from the fact of their assuming to be reformers that they, consciously or unconsciously, regarded religion as committed to their care, or abandoned to their protection. They were, at least, its guardians, and were to govern it, instead of being governed by it.
The first stage of Protestantism was to place religion under the charge of the civil government. The Church was condemned, among other reasons, for the control it exercised over princes and nobles, that is, over the temporal power; and the first effect of Protestantism was to emancipate the government from this control, or, in other words, to free the government from the restraints of religion, and to bring religion in subjection to the temporal authority. The prince, by rejecting the authority of the Church, won for himself the power to determine the faith of his subjects, to appoint its teachers, and to remove them whenever they should teach what he disapproved, or whenever they should cross his ambition, defeat his oppressive policy, or interfere with his pleasures. Thus was it and still is it with the Protestant princes in Germany, with the temporal authority in Denmark, Sweden, England, Russia, — in this respect also Protestant, — and originally was it the same in this country. The supreme civil magistrate make himself sovereign pontiff, and religion and the Church, if disobedient to his will, are to be turned out of house and home, or dragooned into submission. Now, if we adopt this view, and subject religion to the civil government, it will not answer our purpose. We want religion, as we have seen, to control the people, and through its spiritual governance to cause them to give the temporal government always a wise and just direction. But, if the government control the religion, it can exercise no control over the sovereign people, for they control the government. Through the government the people take care of religion, but who or what takes care of the people! This would leave the people ultimate, and we have no security unless we have something more ultimate than they, something which they cannot control, but which they must obey.
The second stage in Protestantism is to reject, in matters of religion, the authority of the temporal government, and to subject religion to the control of the faithful. This is the full recognition in matters of religion of the democratic principle. The people determine their faith and worship, select, sustain, or dismiss their own religious teachers. They who are to be taught judge him who is to teach, and say whether he teaches them truth or falsehood, wholesome doctrine or unwholesome. The patient directs the physician what to prescribe. This is the theory adopted by Protestants generally in this country. The congregation select their own teacher, unless it be among the Methodists, and to them the pastor is responsible. If he teaches to suit them, well and good; if he crosses none of their wishes, enlarges their numbers, and thus lightens their taxes and gratifies their pride of sect, also well and good; if not, he must seek a flock to feed somewhere else.
But this view will no more answer our purpose than the former; for it places religion under the control of the people, and therefore in the same category with the government itself. The people take care of religion, but who takes care of the people?
The third and last stage of Protestantism is Individualism. This leaves religion entirely to the control of the individual, who selects his own creed, or makes a creed to suit himself, devises his own worship and discipline, and submits to no restraints but such as are self-imposed. This makes a man’s religion the effect of his virtue and intelligence, and denies it all power to augment or to direct them. So this will not answer. The individual takes care of his religion, but who or what takes care of the individual? The state? But who takes care of the state? The people? But who takes care of the people? Our old difficulty again.
It is evident from these considerations, that Protestantism is not and cannot be the religion to sustain democracy; because, take it which stage you will, it, like democracy itself, is subject to the control of the people, and must command and teach what they say, and of course must follow, instead of controlling, their passions, interest, and caprices.
Nor do we obtain this conclusion merely by reasoning. It is sustained by facts. The Protestant religion is everywhere either an expression of the government or of the people, and must obey either the government or public opinion. The grand reform, if reform it was, effected by the Protestant chiefs, consisted in bringing religious questions before the public, and subjecting faith and worship to the decision of public opinion, — public on a larger or smaller scale, that is, of the nation, the province, or the sect. Protestant faith and worship tremble as readily before the slightest breath of public sentiment, as the aspen leaf before the gentle zephyr. The faith and discipline of a sect take any and every direction the public opinion of that sect demand. All is loose, floating, — is here to-day, is there tomorrow, and, next day, may be nowhere. The holding of slaves is compatible with Christian character south of a geographical line, and incompatible north; and Christian morals change according to the prejudices, interests, or habits of the people, — as evidenced by the recent divisions in our own country among the Baptists and Methodists. The Unitarians of Savannah refuse to hear a preacher accredited by Unitarians of Boston.
The great danger in our country is from the predominance of material interest. Democracy has a direct tendency to favor inequality and injustice. The government must obey the people; that is, it must follow the passions and interests of the people, and of course the stronger passions and interests. These with us are material, such as pertain solely to this life and this world. What our people demand of government is, that it adopt and sustain such measures as tend most directly to facilitate the acquisition of wealth. It must, then follow the passion for wealth, and labor especially to promote worldly interests.
But among these worldly interests, some are stronger than others, and can command the government. These will take possession of the government, and wield it for their own special advantage. They will make it the instrument of taxing all the other interest of the country for the special advancement of themselves. This leads to inequality and injustice, which are incompatible with the free, orderly, and wholesome working of the government.
Now, what is wanted is some power to prevent this, to moderate the passion for wealth, and to inspire the people with such a true and firm-sense of justice, as will prevent any one interest from struggling to advance itself at the expense of another. Without this the stronger material interests predominate, make the government the means of securing their predominance, and of extending it by the burdens which, through the government, they are able to impose on the weaker interests of the country.
The framers of our government foresaw this evil, and thought to guard against it by a written Constitution. But they intrusted the preservation of the Constitution to the care of the people, which was as wise as to lock up your culprit in prison and intrust him with the key. The Constitution, as a restraint on the will of the people or the governing majority, is already a dead letter. It answers to talk about, to declaim about, in electioneering speeches, and even as a theme of newspaper leaders, and political essays in reviews; but its effective power is a morning vapor after the sun is well up.
Even Mr. Calhoun’s theory of the Constitution, which regards it not simply as the written instrument, but as the disposition or the constitution of the people into sovereign states united in a federal league or compact, for certain purposes which concern all the states alike, and from which it follows that any measure unequal in its bearing, or oppressive upon any portion of the confederacy, is ipso facto null and void, and may be vetoed by the aggrieved state, — this theory, if true, is yet insufficient; because, 1. It has no application within the State governments themselves; and because, 2. It does not, as a matter of fact, arrest what are regarded as the unequal, unjust, and oppressive measures of the Federal government. South Carolina, in 1833, forced a compromise, but in 1842, the obnoxious policy was revived, is pursued now successfully, and there is no State to attempt again the virtue of State interposition. Not even South Carolina can be brought to do so again. The meshes of trade and commerce are so spread over the whole land, the controlling influences of all sections have become so united and interwoven, by means of banks, other moneyed corporations, and the credit system, that henceforth State interposition becomes practically impossible. The constitution is practically abolished, and our government is virtually, to all intents and purposes, as we have said, a pure democracy, with nothing to prevent it from obeying the interests which for the time being can succeed in commanding it. This, as the Hon. Caleb Cushing would say, is a “fixed fact.” There is no restraint on predominating passions and interests but in religion. This is another “fixed fact.”
Protestantism is insufficient to restrain these, for it does not do it, and is itself carried away by them. The Protestant sect governs its religion, instead of being governed by it. If one sect pursues, by the influence of its chiefs, a policy in opposition to the passions and interests of its members, or any portion of them, the disaffected, if a majority, change its policy; if too few or too weak to do that, they leave it an join some other sect, or form a new sect. If the minister attempts to do his duty, reproves a practice by which his parishioners “get gain,” or insists on their practicing some real self-denial not compensated by some self-indulgence, a few leading members will tell him very gravely, that they hired him to preach and pray for them, not to interfere with their business concerns and relations; and if he does not mind his own business, they will no longer need his services. The minister feels, perhaps, the insult; he would be faithful; but he looks at his lovely wife, at his little ones. These to be reduced to poverty, perhaps to beggary, — no, it must not be; one struggle, one pang, and it is over. He will do the bidding of his masters. A zealous minister in Boston ventured, one Sunday, to denounce the modern spirit of trade. The next day, he was waited on by a committee of wealthy merchants belonging to his parish, who told him he was wrong. The Sunday following, the meek and humble minister publicly retracted, and made the amende honorable.
Here, then, is the reason why Protestantism, though it may institute, cannot sustain popular liberty. It is itself subject to popular control, and must follow in all things the popular will, passion, interest, ignorance, prejudice, or caprice. This, in reality, is its boasted virtue, and we find it commended because under it the people have a voice in its management. Nay, we ourselves shall be denounced, not for saying Protestantism subjects religion to popular control, but for intimating that religion ought not to be so subjected. A terrible cry will be raised against us. “See, here is Mr. Brownson,” it will be said, “he would bring the people under the control of the Pope of Rome. Just as we told you. These Papists have no respect for the people. They sneer at the people, mock at their wisdom and virtue. Here is this unfledged Papistling, not yet a year old, boldly contending that the control of their religious faith and worship should be taken from the people, and that they must believe and do just what the emissaries of Rome are pleased to command; and all in the name of liberty too.” If we only had room, we would write out and publish what the anti-Catholic press will say against us, and save the candid, the learned, intellectual, and patriotic editors the trouble of doing it themselves; and we would do it with the proper quantity of italics, small capitals, capitals, and exclamation points. Verily, we think we could do the thing up nearly as well as the best of them. But we have no room. Yet it is easy to foresee what they will say. The burden of their accusation will be, that we labor to withdraw religion from the control of the people, and to free it form the necessity of following their will; that we seek to make it the master, and not the slave, of the people. And this is good proof of our position, that Protestantism cannot govern the people, — for they govern it, — and therefore that Protestantism is not the religion wanted; for it is precisely a religion that can and will govern the people and be their master, that we need.
If Protestantism will not answer the purpose, what religion will? The Roman Catholic, or none. The Roman Catholic religion assumes, as its point of departure, that it is instituted not to be taken care of by the people, but to take care of the people; not to be governed by them, but to govern them. The word is harsh in democratic ears, we admit; but it is not the office of religion to say soft or pleasing words. It must speak the truth even in unwilling ears, and it has few truths that are not harsh and grating to the worldly mind or the depraved heart. The people need governing, and must be governed, or nothing but anarchy and destruction await them. They must have a master. The word must be spoken, but it is not our word. We have demonstrated its necessity in showing that we have no security for popular government, unless we have some security that their passions will be restrained, and their attachments to worldly interests so moderated that they will never seek, through the government, to support them at the expense of justice; and this security we can have only in a religion that is above the people, exempt from their control, which they cannot command, but must, on peril of condemnation OBEY. Declaim as you will; quote our expression — THE PEOPLE MUST HAVE A MASTER, — as you doubtless will; hold it up in glaring capitals, to excite the unthinking and unreasoning multitude, and to doubly fortify their prejudices against Catholicity; be mortally scandalized at the assertion that religion ought to govern the people, and then go to work and seek to bring it into subjection to your banks or moneyed corporations through their passions, ignorance, and worldly interests, and in doing so, prove what candid men, what lovers of truth, what noble defenders of liberty, and what ardent patriots you are. We care not. You see we understand you, and, understanding you, we repeat, the religion which is to answer our purpose must be above the people, and able to COMMAND them. We know the force of the word, and we mean it. The first lesson to the child is, obey; the first and last lesson to the people, individually or collectively is, OBEY; — and there is not obedience where there is no authority to enjoin it.
The Roman Catholic religion, then, is necessary to sustain popular liberty, because popular liberty can be sustained only by a religion free from popular control, above the people, speaking from above and able to command them, — and such a religion is the Roman Catholic. It acknowledges no master but God, and depends only on the divine will in respect to what it shall teach, what it shall ordain, what it shall insist upon as truth, piety, moral and social virtue. It was made not by the people, but for them; is administered not by the people, but for them; is accountable not to the people, but to God. Not dependent on the people, it will not follow their passions; not subject to their control, it will not be their accomplice in iniquity; and speaking from God, it will teach them the truth, and command them to practice justice. To this end the very constitution of the Church contributes. It is Catholic, universal; it teaches all nations, and has its center in no one. If it was a mere national church, like the Anglican, the Russian, the Greek, or as Louis the Fourteenth in his pride sought to make the Gallican, it would follow the caprice or interest of that nation, and become a tool of its government or of its predominating passion. The government, if anti-popular, would use it to oppress the people, to favor its ambitious projects, or its unjust and ruinous policy. Under a popular government, it would become the slave of the people, and could place no restraint on the ruling interest or on the majority; but would be made to sanction and consolidate its power. But having its center in no one nation, extending over all, it becomes independent of all, and in all can speak with the same voice and in the same tone of authority. This the Church as always understood, and hence the noble struggles of the many calumniated popes to sustain the unity, Catholicity, and independence of the ecclesiastical power. This, too, the temporal powers have always seen and felt, and hence their readiness, even while professing the Catholic faith, to break the unity of Catholic authority for, in doing, they could subject the Church in their own dominions, as did Henry the Eighth, and as does the emperor of Russia, to themselves.
But we pray our readers to understand us well. We unquestionably assert the adequacy of Catholicity to sustain popular liberty, on the ground of its being exempted from popular control and able to govern the people; and its necessity, on the ground that it is the only religion, which, in a popular government, is or can be exempted from popular control, and able to govern the people. We say distinctly, that this is the ground on which, reasoning as the statesmen, not as the theologian, we assert the adequacy and necessity of Catholicity; and we object to Protestantism, in our present argument, solely on the ground that it has no authority over the people, is subject to them, must follow the direction they give it, and therefore cannot restrain their passions, or so control them as to prevent them from abusing their government. This we assert, distinctly and intentionally, and so plainly, that what we say cannot be mistaken.
But in what sense do we assert Catholicity to be the master of the people? Here we demand justice. The authority of Catholicity is spiritual, and the only sense in which we have here urged or do urge its necessity is as the means of augmenting the virtue and intelligence of the people. We demand it as a religious, not as a political power. We began by defining democracy to be that form of government which vests the sovereignty in the people. If, then, we recognize the sovereignty of the people in matters of government, we must recognize their political right to do what they will. The only restriction on their will we contend for is a moral restriction; and the master we contend for is not a master that prevents them from doing politically what they will, but who, but his moral and spiritual influence, prevents them from willing what they ought not to will. The only influence on the political or governmental action of the people which we ask from Catholicity, is that which it exerts on the mind, the heart, and the conscience; — an influence which it exerts by enlightening the mind to see the true end of man, the relative value of all worldly pursuits, by moderating the passions, by weaning the affections from the world, inflaming the heart with true charity, and by making each act in all things seriously, honestly, conscientiously. The people will thus come to see and to will what is equitable and right, and will give to the government a wise and just direction, and never use it to effect any unwise or unjust measures. This is the kind of master we demand for the people, and this is the bugbear of “Romanism” with which miserable panders to prejudice seek to frighten old women and children. Is there anything alarming in this? In this sense, we wish this country to come under the Pope of Rome. As the visible head of the Church, the spiritual authority which Almighty God has instituted to teach and govern the nations, we assert his supremacy, and tell our countrymen that we would have them submit to him. They may flare up at this as much as they please, and write as many alarming and abusive editorials as they choose or can find time or space to do, — they will not move us, or relieve themselves of the obligation Almighty God has placed them under of obeying the authority of the Catholic Church, Pope and all.
If we were discussing the question before us as a theologian, we should assign many other reasons why Catholicity is necessary to sustain popular liberty. Where the passions are unrestrained, there is license, but not liberty; the passions are not restrained without divine grace; and divine grace come ordinarily only through the sacraments of the Church. But from the point of view we are discussing the question, we are not at liberty to press this argument, which, in itself, would be conclusive. The Protestants have foolishly raised the question of the influence of Catholicity on democracy, and have sought to frighten our countrymen from embracing it by appealing to their democratic prejudices, or, if you will, convictions. We have chosen to meet them on this question, and to prove that democracy without Catholicity cannot be sustained. Yet in our own minds the question is really unimportant. We have proved the insufficiency of Protestantism to sustain democracy. What then? Have we in so doing proved that Protestantism is not the true religion? Not at all; for we have no infallible evidence that democracy is the true or even the best form of government. It may be so, and the great majority of the American people believe it is so; but they may be mistaken, and Protestantism be true, not withstanding its incompatibility with republican institutions. So we have proved that Catholicity is necessary to sustain such institutions. But what then? Have we proved it to be the true religion? Not at all. For such institutions may themselves be false and mischievous. Nothing in this way is settled in favor of one religion or another, because no system of politics can ever constitute a standard by which to try a religious system. Religion is more ultimate than politics, and you must conform your politics to your religion, and not your religion to your politics. You must be the veriest infidels to deny this.
This conceded, the question the Protestants raise is exceedingly insignificant. The real question is, Which religion is from God? If it be Protestantism, they should refuse to subject it to any human test, and should blush to think of compelling it to conform to any thing human; for when God speaks, man has nothing to do but to listen and obey. So, having decided that Catholicity is from God, save in condescension to the weakness of our Protestant brethren, we must refuse to consider it in its political bearings. It speaks from God, and its speech overrides every other speech, its authority every other authority. It is the sovereign of sovereigns. He who could question this, admitting it to be from God, has yet to obtain his first religious conception, and to take his first lesson in religious liberty; for we are to hear God, rather than hearken unto men. But we have met the Protestants on their own ground, because, though in doing so we surrendered the vantage-ground we might occupy. We know the strength of Catholicity and the weakness of Protestantism. We know what Protestantism has done for liberty, and what it can do. It can take off restraints, and introduce license, but it can do nothing to sustain true liberty. Catholicity depends on no form of government; it leaves the people to adopt such forms of government as they please, because under any or all forms of government it can fulfill its mission of training up souls for heaven; and the eternal salvation of one single soul is worth more than, is a good far outweighing, the most perfect civil liberty, nay, all the worldly prosperity and enjoyment ever obtained or to be obtained by the whole human race.
It is, after all, in this fact, which Catholicity constantly brings to our minds, and impresses upon our hearts, that consists its chief power, aside from the grace of the sacraments, to sustain popular liberty. The danger to that liberty comes from love of the world, — the ambition for power or place, the greediness of gain or distinction. It comes from lawless passions, from inordinate love of the goods of time and sense. Catholicity, by showing us the vanity of all these, by pointing us to the eternal reward that awaits the just, moderates this inordinate love, these lawless passions, and checks the rivalries and struggles in which popular liberty receives her death blow. Once learn that all these things are vanity, that even civil liberty itself is no great good, that even bodily slavery is no great evil, that the one thing needful is a mind and heart conformed to the will of God, and you have a disposition which will sustain a democracy wherever introduced, though doubtless a disposition that would not lead you to introduce it where it is not.
But this last is no objection, for the revolutionary spirit is as fatal to democracy as to any other form of government. It is the spirit of insubordination and of disorder. It is opposed to all fixed rule, to all permanent order. It loosens every thing, and sets all afloat. Where all is floating, where nothing is fixed, where nothing can be counted on to be to-morrow what it is to-day, there is no liberty, no solid good. The universal restlessness of Protestant nations, the universal disposition to change, the constant movements of populations, so much admired by shortsighted philosophers, are a sad spectacle to the sober-minded Christian, who would, as far as possible, find in all things a type of that eternal fixedness and repose he looks forward to as the blessed reward of his trials and labors here. Catholicity comes here to our relief. All else may change, but it changes not. All else may pass away, but it remains where and what it was, a type of the immobility and immutability of the eternal God.