6 - Faith, Reason and Unreason (1648-1870)
The two decades of the 1640s and 1650s form one of the great watersheds in the history of Christianity. Up to this point, the ideal of the total Christian society, embracing every aspect of man's existence, still seemed attainable; and masses of men were prepared to wage war, to massacre, hang and burn to realize it. Christendom was split, but each of the rival parties saw their system of belief ultimately becoming coextensive with humanity, and themselves bidden by divine command to hasten the process at whatever cost. They were still, in a sense, mesmerized by the Augustinian vision conceived over 1200 years before. With the 1650s we get a change: war and suffering are replaced by exhaustion and doubt, and the European mind seems to sicken of the unattainable objective, and focus on more mundane ends. There is a huge, long-delayed and grateful relaxation of the spirit, a dousing of angry embers.
Anthony Wood, writing his diary from an Oxford coign of vantage, gives a sardonic picture of the university moving back, in the years 1660-1, from republican commonwealth to parliamentary monarchy, from the dominance of Calvinism to Anglican conformity. A century before, the fires had burned fiercely outside St John's College. Now the atmosphere is low-key, a mere heightening of the customary struggle for places, fellowships and influence, the raucous exchange of abuse and insult, low japes and ribaldry. The age of the martyrs had ended, for a second time. Wood relates what happened when the triumphant Anglicans brought back vestments to the cathedral services. 'On the night of 21 January 1661, some varlets of Christ Church' took all the new surplices issued to the choristers, and threw them 'in a common privy house belonging to Peckwater Quadrangle, and there with long sticks [did] thrust them downe into the excrements. The next day, being discovered, they were taken up and washed; but so enraged were the deane and canons, that they publickly protested, if they knew the person or persons that had committed that act, they not only would lose their places and be expelled the Universitie but also have their eares cut off in the market place. The Presbyterians were wonderfully pleased at this action, laughed hartily among themselves, and some in my hearing have protested that if they knew the person that did this heroick act they would convey to him an encouraging gratuity.'
Of course the instinct to insist on doctrinal purity, and indeed to persecute, was by no means dead. The official English 1662 Prayer Book offered few concessions to Puritan scruples; the Act of Uniformity emphasized the importance of the monarchical bishop; and the 'Clarendon Code' made life difficult for anyone who refused to accept the statutory brand of Christianity. Difficult; but not impossible. Anglicanism had, in effect, abandoned the effort to include all, and had accepted the notion of a dissenting body in its midst. The search for unity had ended in failure, and a plural society came into being. The drift from fanaticism was slow, but it was steady and ultimately irresistible. A grudging but increasing respect began to be paid to private opinion in religious matters. It was no longer contended, even in theory, that the prince determined all. The Peace of Westphalia, 1648, really marked the end of cuius regio, eius religio. When, in the 1680s, James n tried to steer England back to his Catholic faith, he was obliged to depart and was replaced by a parliamentary sovereign.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 plunged the Anglican Church into total ideological confusion, from which pure utilitarianism was the only possible egress. Seven bishops had defied James n, thus abandoning their doctrine of non-resistance to a king divinely appointed de juro. But five of them then refused to swear allegiance to a de facto monarch appointed by Parliament. Where was the consistency? Most Anglicans chose to be pragmatic; Archbishop Sharp of York dismissed the non-jurors with contempt: 'What an unaccountable Humour it is to make a Rent and Schism in the Church, upon a mere Point of State.' Thus there followed the first Toleration Act; and, thereafter, when the crown was settled, simply for constitutional convenience, on a reliably Protestant monarch, the idea of divine right, and of the pontifical king, was tacitly and totally abandoned. The 1660s had seen the first hint of divorce between religion and science; now religion and politics began to drift apart. In 1718 Parliament repealed the Schism Act and the Occasional Conformity Act; the Act for Quieting and Establishing Corporations allowed Dissenters to hold certain offices; and, from 1727, annual Indemnity Acts relieved the sectarians of most of their disabilities. It was, as a result, no longer possible to enforce by law the attendance of anyone at church on Sunday; so in England Christianity ceased to be a compulsory society. And, in the wake of the Dissenters, the Catholics slowly crept out into the open again.
Thus, at last, the Erasmian third force began to infuse society, and transform it from within. There were no spectacular victories - just a continual retreat from fire and sword. But with it, necessarily, there was a reconstruction of the intellectual and social basis of Christian belief. The idea of the total, compulsory society of faith had been a combination of the Augustinian system of Christian pessimism with the demands of the Dark Age agrarian economy of western Europe, as worked out by Gregory the Great, St Benedict, and their successors. The abandonment of compulsion and the emergence of a commercial economy rendered the old system obsolete, as Erasmus had foreseen, and made it necessary to evolve a new one, on the lines he had adumbrated. The century of religious warfare, witch-hunting and persecution merely imposed delay on its general acceptance: its roots were already firmly established in the Renaissance. What had seemed challenging, even dangerous, in the sixteenth century, began rapidly to acquire, after the watershed of 1640-60, the air of the prevailing wisdom. A case in point is Sir Walter Ralegh, reported to the Privy Council in the 1590s for challenging a clergyman, in a private conversation after dinner, to produce a rational definition of the word 'soul'. It was this sort of thing which led to the charge that he was an atheist. What Ralegh was trying to do, of course, was to reconcile religion with reason, not in the metaphysical terms of a schoolman like Aquinas, but in the real world of Renaissance knowledge and discovery. To Ralegh, the true evidence of God was in nature itself which, as he pointed out in his History of the World, spectacularly reinforced the revelation of the scriptures:
'By his own word, and by this Visible world, is God perceived of men, which is also the understood language of the Almighty, vouchsafed to all his creatures, whose Hieroglyphical Characters are the unnumbered stars, the sun and moon, written on these large volumes of the firmament: written also on the earth and the seas, by the letters of all those living creatures, and plants, which inhabit and reside therein'.
This splendid metaphor of the natural world, governed by laws ascertainable to reason, acting as a permanent if silent witness to God's Christian truth, established itself firmly in the minds of many western intellectuals by the end of the seventeenth century as the basis of a new system of apologetics. In England, such men were often members of the Royal Society. They did not bring their religious
debates into science, but they were eager to select from science evidence for religion. Many were in orders, steering a sensible middle road between strict Calvinism and the High Church. In university circles, especially at Cambridge, they were characterized as neo-Platonists; within the Church, as Latitudinarians. Gilbert Burnet, one of them, sums up the Cambridge group thus:
They declared against superstition on the one hand and enthusiasm on the other. They loved the constitution of the church and the liturgy, and could live well under them. But they did not think it unlawful to live under another form. They wished that things might have been carried out with more moderation. And they continued to keep a good correspondence with those who had differed from them in opinion, and allowed a great freedom in philosophy and in divinity.'
For these men, educated, urbane, up-to-date, constitutionalists in politics, religion was common sense, the days of persecution were over. All men would come to God in the natural way, if only the shouting and killing stopped, and the voice of reason was heard. Reason reinforced faith. The best ally of theology was natural philosophy. God could be seen in and through his creation. As John Smith put it: 'God made the universe and all the creatures contained therein as so many glasses wherein he might reflect his own glory ... in this outward world we may read the lovely characters of Divine goodness, power and wisdom.' Joseph Glanvill, Rector of Bath, thought that 'the power and wisdom and goodness of the Creator is displayed in the admirable order and workmanship of the creation.' God's existence could thus be demonstrated ; they constructed a reasonable pattern of belief, then showed that scriptural revelation coincided with it - for instance Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester, proved that Mosaic history conformed to the canons of reason. Like Erasmus, they thought that the essential beliefs were few and simple - reason was the corrective to Romanist superstition and the overconfident dogmatism of the Presbyterians. Like Erasmus, they were interested in morals, not theology. Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury, insisted 'the great design of Christianity was the reforming of men's natures.' There was a strong emphasis on ethics, duty, good works, but all to be conducted in a moderate spirit. Fanaticism in any shape or form was the enemy. Knowledge was the friend. Christian belief would be illuminated by the fresh insights of new discoveries, provided scientists were reverent. Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton agreed that nature showed God's order and beauty; and John Ray argued in the same manner from the evidence he found in the structure of plants and animals.
It was agreed that God had created the universe in a thoroughly scientific and rational manner, endowing it with immutable laws. What, then, did God do today? This was more difficult. Both Calvinists and Catholics thought God was constantly interfering, the former in pursuit of his predestined plans of salvation and damnation, the latter in response to prayer and the solicitations of the celestial court. But the Christian rationalists did not relish the idea of an active God: it led to superstition and 'enthusiasm'. They preferred the image of the clock: God made it, and wound it up; then left it to operate. Newton argued that God kept the mechanism in good repair, and prevented the occurrence of spatial catastrophe. Boyle thought God stopped the world from disintegrating. All agreed that scientific knowledge was a powerful agent against atheism; Boyle, in fact, endowed a lectureship for the defence of Christian truth, and its first holder, Richard Bentley, used Newtonian physics to confute those who argued there was no God.
The Augustinian system had stood for over a thousand years. How strong was its replacement? Let us look a little more closely at its most plausible and influential interpreter, John Locke. Locke was in many ways well suited to design a new ethical philosophy for an emergent capitalist system. He was born in 1632 in Somerset. Both his parents were middle-class Puritans, but he was young enough to have escaped the great age of 'conversion' and frenzy. His father was something of a lawyer, a JP, and a trader; his mother came from trade too. Locke was a senior student at Christ Church (1658), was associated with Robert Boyle in his chemical work, qualified as a physician. was elected to the Royal Society, and got into politics and public life as personal doctor to the Earl of Shaftesbury - he saved the Earl's life by using a silver tube to drain his infected liver. Locke shared Shaftesbury's work at the Department of Plantations and Trade, and later went into exile with him in Holland. He returned after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and it was during the next six years or so that he published all his major works. He spent his last years (he died in 1704) living in a Tudor manor house near Epping Forest, as the guest of Lady Masham, wife of a parliamentary baronet; there he had over 5,000 books. He said that in his youth he read romances, and he certainly wrote some love-letters. But he was a very prosaic soul indeed, or at any rate became one. Cautious, money-loving, unadventurous, calculating, unemotional, sharp and legalistic, he was not interested in religious idealism at all. Ecstasy was not for him. He wanted, as it were, a solid, commercial contract with the Deity, a spiritual insurance-policy with no loopholes, a system which worked in practice, and would stand up to persistent probing by a hard- headed gentleman like himself.
Within these emotional limitations, Locke was an extremely powerful personality, and in some respects ideally fitted to construct a solid basis for belief. In Christianity, above all other religious systems, there is an absolute connection between faith and truth. The two are identified, and any interference with the truth is immoral. This was the message of St Paul, and it was something that Locke not only understood but totally identified himself with, even though he lacked Paul's passion. Locke thought traditional theology worthless because it was not primarily concerned with truth. He put the point nobly in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1691):
'He that would seriously set upon the search for truth ought, in the first place, to prepare his mind with a love of it. For he that loves it not, will not take much pains to get it; nor be much concerned when he misses it. There is nobody in the commonwealth of learning who does not profess himself a lover of truth; and there is not a rational creature that would not take it amiss to be thought otherwise of. And yet, for all this, one may truly say, there are very few lovers of truth for truth's sake, even among those who persuade themselves that they are so. How a man may know whether he be so in earnest is worth inquiry: and I think there is this one unerring mark of it, viz, the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proofs it is built upon will warrant. Whoever goes beyond this measure of assent, it is plain, receives not truth in the love of it; loves not truth for truth's sake, but for some other by-end.'
This was, indeed, a strict methodology. Locke was saying that Christianity ought to be subjected to the same rigorous tests as any scientific proposition; and this is what, on the whole, he attempted to do in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695). He did not see the existence of God, or rather the need to demonstrate it. as the real problem - in Locke's day, hardly anyone at all denied God's existence altogether. He thought Newtonian physics made the existence of a creator inevitable. Purely material causes 'could never produce that order, harmony and beauty which are to be found in nature. And he adds: 'The visible marks of extraordinary wisdom and power appear so plainly in all the works of the creation that a rational creature who will but seriously reflect on them cannot miss the discovery of a deity.' However, to Locke the argument from design is not the clinching proof, which rests on causation. A mind, or at any rate the human mind, cannot be produced by a purely material cause. Hence the cause of our existence must be a 'cogitative being'. And, since this being must be adequate to produce all the perfections which can ever after exist, it must include infinite wisdom and power.
Locke found no difficulty in proving God exists by reason; but he thought it was the only doctrinal truth which could be so demonstrated. Reason could not prove the soul was immortal, for instance; all the rest of Christian belief thus rested on revelation. But the historical fact of revelation was itself reasonable. 'Reason is natural revelation, whereby the eternal Father of light and fountain of all knowledge communicates to mankind that portion of truth which he has laid within the reach of their natural faculties: revelation is natural reason enlarged by a new set of discoveries communicated by God immediately, which reason vouches the truth of by the testimony and proofs that it comes from God. So that he who takes away reason to make way for revelation puts out the light of both.' However, only reason provides knowledge - revelation nothing more than probable belief. If a truth is disclosed both by reason and revelation, reason therefore prevails: and if reason and a claim to revelation conflict, reason again prevails and the claim to revelation has to be rejected. For if we do not trust reason here, we cannot trust her anywhere, and this would make impossible the validation and interpretation of scriptural doctrines. On the other hand, revelation can provide truths which unaided reason cannot; and if revelation indicates a doctrine which reason itself would deem improbable (but no more), then revelation should be trusted.
Where, then, does this process of validation leave Christian belief? At what might be termed the irreducible Erasmian minimum. Locke distinguishes between essential and non-essential doctrine. In The Reasonableness of Christianity, he set out to identify the essential, and concluded that the only belief necessary and sufficient for salvation was that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of God. It might be argued that Acts and the Epistles require more: but Locke quoted St John's Gospel, generally believed to be later than them, as confirming the other gospels in requiring only the one central belief. It is Locke's demonstration that only this one dogma is necessary which confirms, at least to his satisfaction, that Christianity is a religion of reason and common sense, because the simplicity makes it workable. The fact that Jesus is the Son of God is 'a plain, intelligible proposition; and the all-merciful God seems here to have consulted the poor of this world and the bulk of mankind. These are articles that the labouring and illiterate man may comprehend. This is a religion suited to vulgar capacities and the state of mankind in this world destined to labour and travail. The writers and wranglers in religion fill it with niceties and dress it up with notions which they make necessary and fundamental parts of it, as if there were no way into the church but through the Academy or the Lyceum. The greatest part of mankind have not leisure for learning and logic and superfine distinctions in the schools.'
Here, indeed, was an argument Erasmus, who wanted the ploughboy to sing the psalms as he worked, would have relished. And of course it demolished at a stroke the opponents of the Latitudinarians on
either side of the spectrum. Naturally, as an Anglican, Locke does not deny other doctrines. In his Vindication and Second Vindication, he defended himself against the charge that he was a Deist or a Unitarian. But he insisted that, once you departed from his definition of what was absolutely essential, you had to set up on your own. without the assistance of reason, as 'arbiter and dispenser' and so you produced your own set of doctrines, typical of all systems 'set up by particular men or parties as the just measure of every man's faith'.
It was, Locke argued, precisely because men had departed from his minimum definition based on reason that Europe had sunk into confusion, division and religious war. As a younger man, he had used this as an argument for enforcement of uniformity. The exercise of private judgment in religious affairs leads to 'readiness for violence and cruelty' and 'grows into dangerous factions and tumults', especially 'among a people that are ready to conclude God dishonoured upon every small deviation from that way of his worship which either education or interest has made sacred to them, and that therefore they ought to vindicate the cause of God with swords in their hands.' But in the next thirty years he changed his mind completely. He would never grant toleration to Catholics, since he saw them as a political and military threat to the State which had nothing to do with religious truth; nor would he countenance atheists, since they assaulted society: The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.' But across a wide spectrum of belief he found that, in practice, it was more sensible to allow people their heads. Persecution did not work - witness the Clarendon Code. It drove people, often valuable people, to emigrate, as he discovered from his experience at Plantations. During his exile he was much impressed by the Dutch Armenians. Indeed. Locke's life and philosophy illustrate the eventual power wielded by the liberal (and often persecuted) wings of all the three main groups, Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist - it was the coalescing of their experience, common sense and brain-power which produced the Enlightenment.
Once Locke had abandoned compulsion, he fell naturally into an Erasmian attitude, to which he brought powerful commercial-type arguments characteristic of his own approach. 'I cannot be saved by a religion I distrust." The care of each man's salvation belongs only to himself.' Persecution can only succeed with men of weak will; and then its effect is hypocrisy. A Church is a uiluntary association, and its rules must be made 'by the members themselves, or by those whom the members have authorised thereunto'. The only sanction is expulsion. Enforced belief cannot be part of the civil contract of government, since no man can consent to abandon the care of his own salvation to another. Force means war, whereas 'moderate governments are everywhere quiet, everywhere safe.' Moreover, the points at issue are nearly always minor ones, properly considered: 'For the most part they are such frivolous things as these ... which breed implacable enmity among Christian brethren who are all agreed in the substantial and truly fundamental part of religion.' Moreover, vice was a much greater evil than dissent - it was the elimination of immorality that should preoccupy the Church.
Here, exactly like Erasmus, Locke gets to the heart of the problem. What matters is not so much what a man believes, as what he does. Christianity is about morals, not dogma. What made Locke such an immediately influential thinker - not only in England, but throughout the civilized world - was that he avoided abstraction by employing the language and mentality of the commercial contract. Life, including religious life, was a series of bargains. If you got the moral arithmetic right, the result would be beneficial for all concerned, you, God, your neighbour. Just as reason and faith were identical, so, ultimately, was goodness and self-interest. Locke was concerned to show that Christianity made sense just as much in this world as in the next; and he could do this best by showing that Christian morals were essential to happiness. His religious system is thus essentially an ethical one. And his ethics are practical, having been worked out quite prosaically from his own experience. Locke was himself undoubtedly much influenced by that harsh and rigorous thinker, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was an atheist and had contrived to make his philosophy unacceptable to almost any category of opinion, religious or political. Thus the cautious Locke would not acknowledge him; nonetheless, Hobbes penetrated Locke's ethical thinking, and in Locke's unpublished manuscripts is a statement of personal ethics which perfectly reflects Hobbes's hedonism: 'I will make it my business to seek satisfaction and delight and avoid uneasiness and disquiet ... But here I must have a care if I mistake not, for if I prefer a short pleasure to a lasting one, it is plain I cross my own happiness.' Again: 'Drinking, gaming and vicious delights will do me this mischief, not only by wasting my time but by a positive efficacy endanger my health, impair my parts, imprint bad habits, lessen my esteem and leave a constant lasting torment on my conscience.'
To Locke, then, morality was merely the long-term and prudent pursuit of happiness. The Christian, like a good merchant, forwent present pleasure to invest in more substantial, if delayed, rewards. He admitted that not all Christian commands could be demonstrated by reason: 'It is too hard a task for unassisted reason to establish morality in all its parts'; and even if it did, 'mankind might hearken to it, or reject it, as they pleased; or as it suited their interest, passions, principles or humours. They were under no obligation.' Therefore, says Locke: 'Such a law of morality Jesus Christ hath given us in the New Testament by revelation ... Here morality has a sure standard that revelation vouches, and reason cannot gainsay nor question; but both together witness to come from God the great law-maker.' Why should men, motivated by love of pleasure and fear of pain, obey these commands of God? 'Because God, who has the power of eternal life and death, requires it of us.' The true basis of morality can only be 'the will and law of a God who sees men in the dark, has in his hands rewards and punishments, and power enough to call to account the proudest offender'. We kept the law because it was our interest to do so, in the long run. Conscience was no guide, being 'nothing but our own opinion or judgment'. Hence pagan philosophies, however admirable, were ineffective. Men guided their actions in practice according to whether 'they are likely to procure them happiness or misery from the hands of the Almighty.' Ethics would not work without Heaven and Hell; it was their existence which made Christianity uniquely effective as a religion:
The [pagan] philosophers indeed showed the beauty of virtue ... but leaving her unendowed, very few were willing to espouse her. The generality could not refuse her their esteem and commendation, but still turned their back on her, and foresook her as a match not for their turn. But now there being put into the scales on her side "an exceeding and immortal weight of glory"', interest is come about to her, and virtue is now visibly the most enriching purchase and by much the best bargain.'
With the view of Heaven and Hell before their eyes, sensible men rejected short-term pleasures and vices, and invested in eternity. 'Upon this foundation and upon this only, morality stands firm and may defy all competition.' Thus Locke completed his religious system.
We may be shocked by Locke's brutal use of mercantile logic, and by his Stock Exchange terminology. There is no evidence that anyone was at the time. Granted the circumstances of his age, Locke argued with impressive skill. Seldom in its history has Christianity been presented more effectively to large numbers of people. He not only brought Christianity up to date, he made it the religion of the future, since capitalism, as a visible and embracing form of society, was only in its infancy; rational, utilitarian Christianity would grow with it. After the watershed of 1640-60, indeed, there had been a real risk that the reaction from the religious wars, and the enforced abandonment of many of the objects and assumptions on which they had been fought, would lead to a rapid displacement of the Christian faith itself. Locke's work, which crystallized and encapsulated a mood and provided it with a simple, clear argument, made it possible to dismiss the errors of the past and start afresh; and thereby it prolonged the life of Christianity, as the mass religion of the advanced societies, for more than two centuries.
But this very considerable achievement was bought at a price. Or, rather, several prices. Locke had cut dogma to the absolute minimum. In one way it was the absence of a heavy theological superstructure, with its inherent tendency to extend itself indefinitely, which made Locke's system so acceptable. But in another way it was a weakness. It could, so easily, lose its Christian character completely and topple over into mere deism. For some it did so. The risk, indeed, had existed before Locke. Lord Herbert of Cherbury. brother of the Anglican divine and poet, George Herbert, had reduced Christianity to five simple propositions; and this contraction was tightened by Charles Blount, who treated most of Revelation as superstition and Christ as little better than a pagan wonder-worker. Latitudinarian clergymen, of course, did not go so far. But the sermons of men like Tillotson stressed ethics and duties, and pleaded reason, while ignoring theology almost altogether Quite early in the eighteenth century, thanks largely to Locke, what were essentially non-Christian forms of belief, attached, of course, to rationalized ethical systems, began to inch towards the area of toleration and respectability ; and the process tended to go much faster in France (as we shall see shortly) where there was no roomy Anglican hotel to accommodate religious travellers.
Then again, Locke's system, as a working ethic for a modern society, was made absolutely dependent on rewards and punishments. Supposing belief in the rewards and punishments waned, as it was already doing in other departments of theology? The insistence on reason made this interpretation of eternity particularly vulnerable. The concept of Heaven could not easily be subjected to rational attack simply because theologians had never been able to define it in a concrete manner. On the other hand, because it lacked definition. it lacked real plausibility in the rewards-and-punishment mechanism. And then, supposing eternity itself were denied? Within a generation of Locke's death, this is precisely what some thinkers were doing, and getting away with it. David Hume was outstanding: he was not unique.
The real danger, however, came from the use of rational argument to undermine the effectiveness of Hell as a deterrent. The carefully imagined vision of Hell had been a very early Christian accretion, and it had always been regarded by the authorities as an essential element in maintaining Christian morality. Even those thinkers who were sceptical about the part played b; physical punishment in Hell, or even about its existence, thought it right that the generality of believers should be encouraged to fear it. Origen, as we have already noted, thought it possible that all might ultimately be saved, but added (in
Contra Celsum) that 'to go beyond this is not expedient for the sake of those who are with difficulty restrained, even by fear of eternal punishment, from plunging into any degree of wickedness, and into the floods of evil that result from sin'.
The Church later ruled that Origen's scepticism was itself mistaken, the Council of Constantinople (553) insisting: 'Whoever says or thinks that the punishment of demons and the wicked will not be eternal, that it will have an end ... let him be anathema.' From Augustine to the Reformation, only the ninth-century Irishman, John Scotus Erigena, positively denied an eternal, or even material Hell, substituting the misery inflicted by the pangs of conscience; and he did not think his view should be taught pastorally. Among a few theologians there was the theory of double truth, which allowed a more qualified attitude in private but insisted on the full horrors for public consumption. Luther himself held that the doctrine of Hell should not be discussed with intellectuals, but only with persons of simple, deep piety. This was, or appeared, a confession of weakness; but the Lutheran Augsburg Confession (1530), article 17, requires orthodox belief in Hell: 'Christ ... will give pious men eternal life and perpetual joy, but he will condemn impious men and devils to torture without end. They condemn the Anabaptists, who hold that there will be an end to the punishment of the damned and of devils.' The official Anglican position was broadly similar (though the Augsburg statement, article 42 of the 1552 collection, does not figure in the Elizabethan Thirty-Nine Articles).
In practice, then, the theologians had insisted on Hell, and done their utmost to bring it home to Christians by portraying it in the most vivid possible terms. Pastoral writers were much more specific about Hell than about Heaven; they wrote of it as though they had been there. The three most influential medieval teachers, Augustine, Peter Lombard and Aquinas, all insisted that the pains of Hell were physical as well as mental and spiritual, and that real fire played a part in them. The general theory was that Hell included any horrible pain that the human imagination could conceive of, plus an infinite variety of others. Hence writers felt at liberty to impress their public by inventing torments. Jerome said that Hell was like a huge winepress. Augustine said it was peopled by ferocious flesh-eating animals, which tore humans to bits slowly and painfully, and were themselves undamaged by the fires. St Stephanus Grandmotensis evaded the problem of imagination by saying that the pains of Hell were so unspeakable that if a human so much as conceived of them, he would instantly die of terror. Eadmer listed fourteen specific pains endured in Hell. Adam Scotus said that those who practised usury would be boiled in molten gold.
Many writers refer to a continuous beating with red-hot brazen hammers. Richard Rolle, in Stimulus Con-scientiae, argued that the damned tear and eat their own flesh, drink the gall of dragons and the venom of asps, and suck the heads of adders; their bedding and clothing consisted of 'horrible venomous vermin'. Another expert thought the damned would be nourished with green bread, washed down with a mere egg cupful of stinking water. German writers (and painters) were the most energetic in depicting the physical torments. They argued that a hundred million damned souls would be squeezed into every square mile of Hell, and would thus be treated 'like grapes in a press, bricks in a furnace, salt sediment in a barrel of pickled fish, and sheep in a slaughterhouse'. The French favoured more subtle psychological pains. Bridame said that when the guilty asked, 'What is the time?' a voice answered, 'Eternity'. There were 'no clocks in Hell, but an eternal ticking'.
Most Christian writers stressed the pain of loss; and Aquinas, in addition, thought that the enjoyment occasioned by witnessing the sufferings of the damned was one of the pleasures of Heaven: 'Sancti de poenis impiorum gaudebunt.' This displeasing notion was advanced and defended with great tenacity over several centuries, and was one of the points orthodox Calvinists and Catholics had in common. Scots preachers, in particular, thought the pains of Hell a matter for satisfaction. Thomas Boston thundered: 'God shall not pity them but laugh at their calamity. The righteous company in heaven shall rejoice in the execution of God's judgment, and shall sing while the smoke riseth up for ever.' Another Scots congregation was assured that the theological needs of the Atonement meant that the Son bore infinite pain 'from the vindictive anger of God ... pure wrath, nothing but wrath: the Father loved to see Him die.' Some, at least, of Locke's contemporaries went so far as to argue that the damned may have been created in the first place to make heavenly bliss complete. Thus William King speculated in De Origini Mali (1702): 'The goodness as well as the happiness of the blessed will be confirmed and advanced by reflections naturally arising from this view of the misery which some shall undergo, which seems to be a good reason for the creation of those beings who shall be finally miserable, and for the continuation of them in their miserable existence.'
However, with the eighteenth century, this huge superstructure of imaginative awfulness tended to collapse under its own weight. Scientific knowledge made much of the mechanism of Hell-fire seem wildly implausible, and cast doubt on any effort to visualize God's punishments. 'Reasonable Christianity' needed Hell as the great deterrent, but it found the idea of a ferociously vindictive God unreasonable; Hell remained, but it had to be, as it were, cooled down a little. With sophisticated audiences, preachers tended to protect themselves from possible ridicule by avoiding the topic. Thus Alexander Pope used to tell the story of the dean, preaching at Whitehall, who said that if his congregation did not 'vouchsafe to give their lives a new turn, they must certainly go to a place which he did not think it fit to name in that courtly audience.' And certainly, some Latitudinarians at least found it unacceptably unethical that eternal punishment should be visited on those whose faults had necessarily been committed in time. It was true that 'eternal' was a scriptural threat; but Tillotson, preaching before Queen Anne, argued that God would not be breaking his word if he failed to carry out his promise of perpetual punishment, since vengeance, though justified in this case, was not compulsory. Eternal Hell- fire was for the lower classes, and to some extent for the middle ones.
In De Statu Mortuorum (1720), Thomas Burnet argued strongly against eternal punishment, but insisted that only the traditional doctrine ought to be divulged to ordinary people. This would have been heresy north of the Tweed, or, for that matter, across the Channel. Catholics were taught that those who doubted Hell were themselves destined for it. A characteristic statement was Dom Sinsart in Defence du dogme catholique sur I'eternite despeines(ll4S): ' ... the system which limits the punishment in the after life has been conceived only by vicious and corrupt hearts ... a good conscience has no motive for inventing quibbles about a matter which does not concern it. It is therefore to crime, stubborn crime, that this opinion owes its existence.' Many Anglicans held this view; but they were confronted with the problem of divines who rejected it, at least in private; and the effort to maintain a double standard gradually foundered. By mid century there was wide agreement that belief in Hell was less firm than hitherto, and that the damping down of Hell-fire was attended with perceptible social consequences. Preaching to
Oxford University in 1741, William Dodwell lamented: 'It is but all too visible that since men have learned to wear off the Apprehension of Eternal Punishment, the Progress of Impiety and Immorality among us has been very considerable.' The authorities considered Hell to be the most effective deterrent against crime; as fear of it declined, therefore, judges and Parliament agreed that the statutory penalties must be increased. During the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth, a series of Acts, extending capital punishment to cover over 300 offences, tried to repair the yawning gaps in Locke's system of ethical enforcement.
However, the chief defect of rational Christianity was that it made no appeal to the emotions. It offered no incentive other than enlightened self-interest. The element of sacrifice and abnegation was eliminated. Morality was presented simply as a shrewd bargain. As Tillotson put it, 'Now these two things must make our duty very easy: a considerable reward in hand, and not only the hopes but the assurance of a far greater recompense hereafter.' The whole thing could be worked out and calculated. Conscience had no role to play, since it was merely subjective opinion. Thus the element of personal responsibility was scrapped, and all a man needed to be saved was to stick to the rules. Now this was to sacrifice the whole point of the Reformation and to return, in effect, to the mechanical Christianity of canon law. And mechanical Christianity necessarily produced a corrupt Church, led by a secular-minded clergy. This is precisely what happened in the eighteenth century. In their anxiety to avoid fanaticism of any kind, the rational Christians tended to depersonalize religion, and to emphasize its forms and institutions at the expense of its spirit. In these circumstances, a state Church is bound to become corrupt. As in the Middle Ages, its bishops tended to be seen, and to see themselves, as government servants rather than sacramental ministers, and as financially, rather than spiritually, privileged. The process went furthest in Lutheran Germany, above all in Prussia, where the Church possessed virtually no independent rights, and the ruler had absolute powers over all forms of religious activity. The system evolved in the reigns of Frederick William I and Frederick the Great, and was finally codified in a law of the Prussian Landrecht of 1794. The pastor became a kind of civil servant, who registered births, collected statistics, appointed midwives, published official decrees from the pulpit, was the chairman of the local court, and an official recruiting-sergeant for the army. In England the situation was a good deal better, since in most cases clerical offices were freeholds. On the other hand, higher clerical patronage was entirely in the hands of the government, and the bishops became an important element in the ministerial control of Parliament.
It was, above all, Sir Robert Walpole who created the party bishop. He had a special expression for a prelate who could be brought to serve his ends: 'He is mortal.' In a letter to the Duke of Newcastle, 6 September 1723, he described how he made Edmund Gibson, whom he had promoted to be Bishop of London, the Whig government's adviser on ecclesiastical patronage:
'At first he was all nolo episcopari. Before we parted, I perceived upon second thoughts he began to relish it, and the next morning, ex mero motu. he came to me, talked comically, is a mortal man, wants to be ravished, and desired me expressly to write to my Lord Townshend to prevent the King's coming to any resolution about the disposal of the Clerks of the Closet's and Lord Almoner's places. We grow well acquainted. He must be pope, and would as willingly be our pope as anybody's.'
Bishops often decided the vote in the House of Lords; Walpole could usually count on twenty-four out of twenty-six of them. For government had the power of translation and salaries ranged from £450 a year for Bristol up to £7,000 for Canterbury. Thus bishops were made to earn their keep. Benjamin Hoadley was the son of a Norwich schoolmaster, and so crippled that he could only preach on his knees; but Whig subservience assured him of a steady rise. In the Lords he could be relied upon for even the most disagreeable tasks, such as attacking anti-corruption bills, and Walpole used him as a pamphleteer on secular as well as Church matters. He was kept so busy by the government that he never visited Bangor, though he was its bishop for six years; thereafter he was translated to Hereford, Salisbury and Winchester, the last worth £5,000a year. He was the favourite object of abuse for clerical Tories: 'Deist Egyptian! A rebel against the Church! A vile republican! An apostate of his own order! The scorn and ridicule of the whole kingdom!'
Among the lesser clergy, stipends varied wildly. There were 5,500 livings worth less than £50 a year, of which 1,200 were less than £20; curates, of whom there were multitudes, could not expect to earn more than £30. Hence the upper classes were now reluctant to enter the Church. The Bishop of Killala pointed out that this limited the value of ecclesiastical patronage, and he urged: 'The only remedy to which is by giving extraordinary encouragements to persons of birth and interest whenever they seek preferment, which will encourage others of the same quality to come into the church and may thereby render ecclesiastical preferments of the same use to their Majesties with civil employments.' It was not just votes in the Lords: cathedral chapters often turned the scales in borough elections, and clergymen were widely used to organize local opinion.
The Duke of Newcastle's election agent in Sussex was the Reverend James Baker; so keen was he to proselytize (on behalf of the Whigs, not Christianity) that he interrupted a cricket match at Lewes and was nearly mobbed by the spectators. Archbishop Seeker of Canterbury maintained that 'the distinguishing mark of the present age' was 'an open and professed disregard of religion' reflected in 'dissoluteness and contempt of principle in the higher part of the world,' and 'profligate intemperance and fearlessness of committing crimes in the lower'. He claimed that 'Christianity is now railed at and ridiculed with very little reserve, and its teaching without any at all.' But who was Seeker to talk? His was a purely political appointment; Horace Walpole says he had earlier been an atheist. His fellow- metropolitan John Gilbert, promoted to York the year before (1757), was no better advertisement for the bench. 'Gilbert,' wrote Walpole, 'was composed of that common mixture, ignorance, meanness and arrogance ... On the news of [his] promotion, they rung the bells at York backwards, in detestation of him. He opened a great table there, and in six months they thought him the most Christian prelate that had ever sat in that see.' Walpole sums up the age neatly: 'There were no religious combustibles in the temper of the times. Popery and Protestantism seemed at a stand. The modes of Christianity were exhausted and could not furnish novelty enough to fix attention.'
In England the Establishment clergy virtually ceased to be a proselytizing or even an active force, though it remained a powerful social one. The many verbatim conversations recorded in James Boswell's diaries reveal the better sort of clergyman as learned, rather than pious. They were, in fact, encouraged to take a polite interest in the arts and sciences to fill the time. In 1785, for instance, William Paley, Archdeacon of Carlisle, gave a Charge entitled 'Amusements Suitable to the Clergy', based on the premise that 'the life of a clergyman ... does not supply sufficient encouragements to the time and thoughts of an active mind.' He recommended natural history, botany, electrical experiments, the use of a microscope, chemistry, the measurement of mountains, meteorology and, above all, astronomy, 'the most proper of all recreations to a clergyman'. With these pursuits, 'there is no man of liberal education who need be at a loss to know what to do with his time.'
In Scotland, the collapse of fanaticism was long delayed, but then came (at least in the big cities) quite abruptly in the mid eighteenth-century. An index of it is the attitude to the theatre, once defined by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as 'the actual temple of the Devil, where he frequently appeared clothed in a corporeal substance and possessed the spectators, whom he held as his worshippers'. First, English players made their appearance. Then, in the 1740s, Edinburgh acquired a permanent theatre, disguised as a concert hall. In 1756, The Tragedy of Douglas, actually written by a clergyman, was put on, and it was attended by the leading moderate, the Reverend Alexander Carlyle. Carlyle was publicly rebuked by the General Assembly, and the unfortunate minister of Liberton, also present, was prosecuted by the Edinburgh Presbytery. He answered that 'he owned the charge, but pleaded by way of alleviation that he had gone to the playhouse only once and endeavoured to conceal himself in a corner to avoid giving offence.' But by 1784, when Mrs Siddons appeared in Edinburgh, the General Assembly altered its timetable to give delegates the chance to go to a matinee. Clergymen led the Scottish Enlightenment, and Carlyle was able to claim in his Autobiography. 'Who has written the best histories, ancient and modern? It has been a clergyman of this church. Who has written the best system of rhetoric, and exemplified it by his own orations? A clergyman of this church. Who wrote a tragedy that has been deemed perfect? A clergyman of this church. Who was the most profound mathematician of the age he lived in? A clergyman of this church ...' The claim was to secular, not spiritual, excellence.
On the Continent, Catholicism, the pattern set by France, made its way essentially to the same destination, though by a more devious and complicated route. After Westphalia, Spain ceased to count, and until 1815 France determined the course of Roman orthodoxy. Now the French Church was a peculiar case. It had not, like Spain, undergone a pre-Reformation renewal. On the other hand, it was Gallican, not papist. It had, by concordat, achieved a degree of independence which Henry VIII and England seized unilaterally. Thus the reform movement in France had never been buttressed by the salient force of xenophobia and nationalism, and that was the principal reason why it had never become the majority. Instead, the essential conflict was fought out in the seventeenth century within the French Catholic Church itself, with the puritanical Jansenists representing moral and doctrinal reform, the Jesuits and the crown standing for traditional Catholic authority, and an entirely secular third force pressing the claims of reason.
Jansenism needs to be examined in some detail because it serves to show, more explicitly than the Protestant movement in the sixteenth century, that reform was an evangelical rather than a progressive force, and explains why in the long run Locke's synthesis between basic Christianity and science was bound to break down. Cornelius Jansen, the Bishop of Ypres, was essentially a Catholic Lutheran - that is, he moved from Paul's Romans, through Augustine to the doctrine of justification by faith and predestination. For this reason, his Augustinus, published in 1640, was anathematized by orthodox theologians at the Sorbonne as early as 1649, and papal condemnations were constant, culminating in the notorious bull Unigenitus of 1713. Yet Jansenism remained a force, in one sense the only real force, in French Christianity. It had many assets. It was Gallican and anti-papal. It was, like Puritanism in England, a counter-monarchical force, associated with the constitutional lawyers of the parliaments. It was zealous. Its centre was the pious foundation for women at Port-Royal, just outside Paris, and it was linked to such austere experiments as the Trappists. Above all, it opposed the attempt of the Jesuits to use canon law to transform Christianity into a mere court and state religion. These characteristics gave it a vicarious popular base, and ensured that even a monarch as powerful as Louis xiv, who grew to hate it as he aged, failed to eliminate its influence. But it was an elite, not a mass, religion; its appeal was not wide, but extremely deep, and it enslaved many highly intelligent men, as the Manicheans had done. Indeed, the link with Augustine was not fortuitous. The Jansenists were the Manichees of the pre- Enlightenment, the first harbingers of modern philosophies of pessimism. Jansen himself regarded the human predicament as an unrelieved tragedy:
'From the moment of its origin, the human race bears the full burden of its condemnation; and its life, if it can be called such, is totally bad. Do we not arrive in a horrible state of ignorance? From the womb does not the child lie in impenetrable darkness? ... Already guilty of a crime, and incapable of virtue, so enveloped and buried in obscurity that it is impossible to arouse him from the state of stupor of which he is unaware. And this torpor lasts for months and years. From this darkness come all the errors of human life. .. What love of vanity and evil, what gnawing care, worry, sufferings, fears, unhealthy joys, disputes, struggles, wars, pursuits, rages, hostilities, lies, flatteries, pains, thefts, rapes, perfidies, pride, ambitions, envies, homicides, parricides, cruelties, sadism, wickedness, lusts, boastings, impudence's, impurities, fornications, adulteries, incest's, infamies against the natures of both sexes, which are too shameful to mention - what sacrileges, heresies, blasphemies, perjuries, oppressions of the innocent, slanders, swindles, frauds, false witnesses, miscarriages of justice, violence, larcenies ... Who can describe the yoke that weighs on the sons of Adam?'
Describing the yoke fell to the lot of Blaise Pascal, who found an uneasy relish in Jansen's huge and baleful pessimism. He was born in 1623, a hard, grasping Auvergnat, the son of a mathematician and government tax-collector. All the Pascals were fierce, aggressive, quarrelsome, arrogant, litigious and desperately clever. By the age of twenty-two, he had constructed a workable calculating machine; and he also experimented with vacuums and atmospheric pressure, and used gambling to work out theories of probability. He was the same generation as Locke but rejected the Royal Society type of attitude to religious experience. Why? Primarily because, while in Locke's England Zealotry was not only unfashionable but seen as dangerous and antisocial, in Pascal's France it was just coming into vogue among Catholics. His case suggests that even great minds are prisoners of their environment. For Pascal was a wonderful controversial writer, clear, profound, wise and savagely witty. Born a century later, he might have rivaled Voltaire in demolishing organized religion. As it was, he underwent the type of religious 'change' which transformed Englishmen of the previous generation, like Milton and Cromwell.
In 1654, while reading the New Testament, he had a weird emotional experience; this was confirmed, two years later, when his little goddaughter, dying of a lacrymal fistula, was cured by an eccentric relic- collector, who touched her with a supposed thorn of Christ. Thus Pascal, who had the talents of a sensational journalist, became a propagandist on behalf of Jansenist Port-Royal, where his sister was a leading inmate. He used the batteries of rationalist ridicule to expose the verbosity and meaninglessness of the Thomists, who still flourished at the Sorbonne, and the immorality of the Jesuits and their system of casuistry. His Provincial Letters had to be printed secretly, under a pseudonym, but they sold 10,000 copies each, and were read by over a million. Bossuet, the orthodox Gallican court-preacher, said he would rather have written them than any other book.
Yet Pascal did not use rationalist techniques to advance the cause of reason; on the contrary. What he really disliked in the Jesuits was their lack of religion, as he understood it. He grew more angry, as he went on, at a system which tried to reconcile Catholicism with the hateful court of Louis xiv; it seemed to him worldliness and atheism masquerading as a faith. (In his last years he became convinced the Pope was wrong, and in heresy; but he did not press the point as he was wearying of controversy.) He wanted Christianity to preserve its original character - austere, harsh, almost scandalous in its rejection of earthly norms. In short, like Tertullian, he moved to a position where he saw Christian truth as transcending, even defying reason, and Christians rejoicing in its implausibility. Rene Descartes, an authentic member (though a late convert) of the old third force, had thought that truth was reached by a combination of careful doubting and clear reasoning. Pascal was concerned to point out that reason was human, not superhuman; it had its limitations and distortions. Cartesianism was an external enemy of the Church, just as casuistry was an internal one.
Now here Pascal touched on a very powerful line of argument, and a permanent one, calculated in all ages and in all societies to exercise a certain appeal. But he did not live to present it as a philosophical system. What he left behind was a 500-page volume of miscellaneous writing, which, after various vicissitudes, now forms MS 9,202 in the Bibliotheque Nationale. A selection of his Pensees, as they were called, appeared as early as 1670, and others, selected and edited by different hands, followed. The original manuscript was hopelessly confused, and raised intrinsic difficulties as to Pascal's meaning. It was not always clear, for instance, whether he was presenting his own or his opponents' arguments. Early editors shed darkness rather than light, and they irreversibly rearranged the manuscript, so that the editorial problems are now insuperable. Thus all except the most modern editions of Pascal give his thoughts in a distorted or misleading form, and commentaries by the most eminent names in French literature, Bossuet, Fenelon, Voltaire, Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Valery and so forth, are often based on misconceptions which add to the disarray. We now know, for instance, that Pascal's supposed remark, 'the eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me', was intended as a frightened comment from an atheist. There are many other pitfalls, equally fatal. Hence much of Pascal's influence bore no relation, or even a contrary relation, to what he actually thought, and one of the modern world's most provocative books proved only partly authentic. This was of considerable historical significance.
Pascal became, in effect, a secular monk, and he was undoubtedly concerned to emancipate his spirit from the flesh. He ate vegetables and drank water, swept his own room, took his plates to the kitchen and lived like a pauper; his method of sustaining meditation was to wear a spiked belt next to the flesh. But he was not an obscurantist. He suffered from fearful chronic rheumatism, and argued that this gave him peculiar insights. He was preoccupied with theodicy, and rightly recognized that suffering posed as many problems to rationalism as to religion. Illness, he thought, was 'an integral part of the mechanism
of sanctity'. Christianity disintegrated 'without wretchedness, poverty and sickness', because it was, in a sense, an answer to them. Reason, too, claimed to shed more light that it actually could. 'Let me therefore be no longer reproached for lack of clarity, since I make a point of it; but let the truth of religion be recognized in its very obscurity, in the little understanding of it we have, and in our indifference about knowing it.' Man's suffering and ignorance were thus permanent facts:
'On seeing the blindness and misery of man, and the astonishing contradictions presented by his nature, and seeing the whole universe dumb, and man without light, abandoned to himself, and as it were lost in this corner of the universe, without knowing who has put him there, what he will become when he dies, I become fearful, like a man who, transported in his sleep to a deserted and frightful island, awakens without knowing where he is, and without having any possibility of leaving it; and I then marvel that one does not despair of so wretched a condition.'
Faced with this predicament, Pascal argued that Christianity provided a better answer than a solution which depended purely on reason. In all probability, it was a better bet. Pascal was not anti-reason. He saw it as neutral. A rational proof of God, or Christianity, would never displace the gift of faith. He saw a sinister tendency for man's reason to end in irrationality, just as his natural goodwill was corrupted by animosity. Human life was not necessarily progressing towards sweetness and light: man has a two-fold nature - the Fall, as well as divine grace, operates within him. More positively, the establishment and survival of Christianity was itself a challenge to rationalism (a point Tertullian, or for that matter St Paul, might have made), and in rare moments of inspiration we discover a reality which it is absurd to dissect by reason, and which shows Christ still operates in this world. Thus: 'Reason's final step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it.' Or again: 'There is nothing more reasonable than the rejection of reason.' Finally: 'We come to know truth not only by reason, but still more so through our hearts.'
The phenomenon of Pascal, who echoed medieval mysticism and adumbrated nineteenth-century romanticism, dominated the forces of protest within French Catholicism, and so prevented the fusion of reform and reason which produced Locke's system in England, and allowed the Enlightenment there to develop peacefully within the framework of the Established Christian religion. Under continual official attack - the bull Unigenitus became the law of France in 1730 - Jansenism degenerated into a mere political party, lost its spiritual fervour, and eventually resurfaced as a lawyer's religion in 1789. Thus Catholicism remained unreformed, and the third force - the Enlightenment - emerged as varieties of deism or atheism operating outside Christianity, or even against it. Locke's arguments in favour of reason, and the methodology of empirical science, were eagerly applied but in a non-Christian context. Thus Montesquieu's Esprit des Lois and Diderot's Encyclopedic are essentially non-Christian monuments, something inconceivable in England (or Scotland, where Hume, though esteemed, was regarded as an aberration). The French Enlightenment emerged as the first European intellectual movement since the fourth century to develop outside the parameters of Christian belief.
The result was to subject the rational interpretation of phenomena to the test Locke had skillfully avoided, and which Pascal claimed it could not survive. French rationalism was even more self- confident than rational Anglicanism, and challenged wider targets. The philosophers ransacked the past
to expose Christianity as the generator of evil - Raynal's Philosophical and Political History of the Indies, for instance, demonstrated how contact with Christianity destroyed societies. Voltaire wrote to Frederick the Great: 'Your Majesty will do the human race an eternal service in extirpating this infamous superstition, I do not say among the rabble, who are not worthy of being enlightened and who are apt for every yoke; I say among the well-bred, among those who wish to think.' Diderot and his friends conceived of enlightenment itself as an ethic, an alternative religion: 'It is not enough to know more than theologians do; we must show them that we are better, and that philosophy makes men more honourable than sufficient or efficacious grace.' For Diderot, man's self-fulfilment was a kind of vicarious atonement, and the love of humanity a substitute for the love of God: hence posterity, not God, was to judge man's present behaviour. 'Posterity is for the philosopher what the next world is for the religious man.' Or again: 'O, Posterity, holy and sacred support of the oppressed and unhappy, thou who art just, thou who art incorruptible, thou who wilt revenge the good man and unmask the hypocrite. consoling and certain ideal, do not abandon me.'
All this, of course, was to ask for trouble in the future. Locke would have argued that the common man was not interested in the verdict of posterity, whereas he might be persuaded to accept a system of rewards and punishments ; Pascal would have asked why anyone should suppose posterity likely to deliver, in our terms, a rational judgment. Voltaire was careful never to entrench himself in such an exposed position. As a matter of fact, it is exceptionally difficult to determine what Voltaire's creedal position really was. Some of his statements appear both definite and emphatic: 'I believe in God, not the god of the mystics and the theologians but the god of nature, the great geometrician, the architect of the universe, the prime mover, unalterable, transcendental, everlasting.' Voltaire lived to an immense age and wrote prodigiously at all times; but his real convictions are not necessarily reflected in anything he wrote on a particular occasion, or in a particular context, or at a particular time. It is an astonishing fact that, for quite different reasons, the inner convictions of both Pascal and Voltaire, the two most influential thinkers on the Continent after Erasmus, remain mysterious. Voltaire called himself both a deist and theist, and used the words as though identical. He contradicted himself constantly and without apology: 'There is not a single atheist in all Europe'; 'Only young and inexperienced preachers, who know nothing about the world, maintain that there can be no atheists.' Like George Bernard Shaw, he was a performer, often willing to allow style to take precedence over meaning. 'God is not for the big battalions but for those who fire the best' became, in another incarnation, 'God is always for the big battalions.' (The saying may not have been original with him.)
Where Voltaire was, it would seem, being most sincere, he edges off into doubt and qualification. He defined deist as 'pure adoration of a supreme being, free of all superstition'. Those who believed God created the world but did not endow it with a moral law should, he thought, be called philosophers. A deist who admitted God's law had, he argued, a real religion. And any belief beyond these two categories was an evil. He echoed Pascal's 'What is true on this side of the Pyrenees is false on the other', meaning that ethics were relative. (Like other eighteenth-century men he believed that they, with much else, depended on geography.) The more (apparently) sincere his intention, the closer he comes to God, or to a tone of resigned and reverent agnosticism. In the Traite de metaphysique: 'The opinion that there is a god presents difficulties; but there are absurdities in the contrary opinion.' Or: 'What is this being? Does he exist in immensity? Is space one of his attributes? Is he in a place or in all places or in no place? May
I be for ever preserved from entering into these metaphysical subtleties! I should too much abuse my feeble reason if l tried fully to understand the being who, by his nature and mine, must be incomprehensible to me.' He was clear on one point: 'God cannot be proved, nor denied, by the mere force of our reason'; and his most serious work in this context, Essai sur les moeurs, touches the topic only once: 'To believe in absolutely no god ... would be a frightful moral mistake, a mistake incompatible with good government.' A letter written as late as 1770, which has only recently turned up, reads: I do not believe that there is in the world a mayor or a podesta, having only 400 horses called men to govern, who does not realize that it is necessary to put a god into mouths to serve as a bit and a bridle.'
Voltaire, in short, was always careful to stress the social need for a deity, and so avoided falling into the Enlightenment trap. And he was too much of a historian to suppose that reason alone was likely to prove a reliable guide for mankind - he had no need of Pascal's admonitions - or that optimism was a sensible posture for a philosopher. What makes Voltaire a really great man, and an important figure in the history of Christianity, is that in this and other respects he swam against the prevailing tide of the Enlightenment. He found both the underlying notions behind Leibniz's Theodicee (1710), that everything was for the best in this world, and that in any event the Christian should resign himself and submit, quite misguided: the first fallacious, the second morally repugnant. He rejected Alexander Pope's Essay on Man (1733):
Safe in the hand of one disposing power, Or in the natal, or the mortal hour ... One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
He thought this was tempting Providence, and was delighted when Providence, tempted, produced the spectacular Lisbon earthquake of 1755. It was as though Voltaire had been waiting for this catastrophe to attack the received wisdom of the age, whether Christian or rationalist: 'My dear sir, nature is very cruel. One would find it hard to imagine how the laws of movement caused such frightful disasters in the best of possible worlds ... I flatter myself that at least the reverend fathers Inquisitors have been crushed like the others. That ought to teach men not to persecute each other, for while a few holy scoundrels burn a few fanatics, the earth swallows up one and all.' Voltaire used the occasion of the earthquake, which aroused a European interest quite disproportionate to its magnitude, to rush out a didactic poem, which went through a score of editions in 1756:
Un jour tout sera bien, voila notre esperance, Tout est bien aujourd'hui, voila l'illusion ...
The poem was a challenge to the European intelligentsia, sceptical or Christian, to explain natural disasters in terms of moral assumptions. Pamphlets poured out by the hundred. Christian theodicy proved particular!} feeble. Rousseau, trying to blend rationalism with emotion, was no better: men were responsible, he reasoned, since the casualties would have been less if men did not huddle together unnaturally in cities. Young Emmanuel Kant was another respondent. He was already moving towards a post-rational and romantic solution: insight is really more important than exact scientific knowledge, and moral experience carries us further than the truths revealed by phenomena: 'I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to leave room for faith.' The lesson of the earthquake, Kant argued, was that in the world of phenomena man was subject to the necessities of natural law, but in the world of the spirit he is free - nature was subordinate to the realm of ends governed by purpose, and spirit was superior to matter.
The process of reasoning thus ended in God. All this was beside the point for Voltaire, since he had, in fact, deliberately posed a non-question: the earthquake, horrible and inexplicable though it might be, was not the worst we had to fear: 'Men do themselves more harm on their little molehill than does nature. More men are slaughtered in their wars than are swallowed up in earthquakes.' He produced Candide, which exposed the best of all possible worlds optimism as stupid fatalism, 'a cruel philosophy under a consoling name'. The true solution was 'to cultivate our garden', that is, oppose and remove evils, and use not just our reason but all our faculties to reform society and so to reduce the incidence of suffering. Here was a deist theodicy. In 1761 Voltaire punctured the prevailing optimism, in reality a form of complacency, the besetting sin of the eighteenth century, by pointing out that irrationality still flourished triumphantly, not least among the supposedly supine world of orthodox Christianity. His intervention in the Callas case made him the active conscience of the age, the prophet of justice and reason not in abstract but in concrete and personal form, on behalf of a judicially murdered Huguenot, demonstrably the victim of priestcraft and its legal and political (and social) accessories.
What made Voltaire hate Pascal was not the latter's awareness of the limitation of reason, for he shared it, but the way in which Pascal was used to defend a Christianity still capable of monstrous cruelty. In 1766 there was a further outrage, when the young Chevalier de la Barre failed to doff his hat in respect while a Capuchin religious procession passed through the streets of Abbeville. (It was raining.) He was charged and convicted of blasphemy, and sentenced to 'the torture ordinary and extraordinary', his hands to be cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and to be burned alive. This atrocious case haunted Voltaire for the rest of his life, and indeed it was a reminder to the European intelligentsia that Catholic Europe, despite the apparent triumph of reason, was still basically unreformed.
Was the Church reformable? Or would it be necessary to smash it? The Treaty of Westphalia had been a catastrophe for the papacy. Thereafter, it was rarely consulted on international problems; it was unrepresented at great European peace congresses. The Catholic national Churches were virtually independent. Only Italy was ultramontane, a contradiction in terms. There was a general assumption that only a council was infallible in doctrine, and that it could overrule the Pope; normal authority in each country devolved on synods of bishops; but the Church was too comatose to put the theory to the test. The Popes were nonentities. The only exception, Benedict xiv (1740-58), was mildly progressive: 'I prefer to let the thunders of the Vatican rest. Christ would not call down fire from heaven ... Let us take care not to mistake passion for zeal, for this mistake has caused the greatest evils to religion.' This was a Voltairian point. Progressive or no, however, the papacy seemed doomed to extinction, or complete impotence. It ceased to be able to protect its most avid defenders. In 1759, the Jesuits, accused of a variety of offences (true or false) ranging from plotting assassination to frauds in the colonies, were expelled from Portugal. In 1764 a royal decree dissolved them in France, and three years later they were
suppressed in Spain and its dominions.
In 1773, the European powers forced Clement xiv to dissolve the society by the bull Dominus ac redemptor. One of the few places where Jesuits still operated was Lutheran Prussia, where Frederick the Great found them useful for schooling his future officers and bureaucrats. In the 1770s, the papal position began to collapse in Counter-Reformation Germany, with the severing of many links to Rome, and the insistence on imperial permission before the publication of papal bulls. In 1781 the Emperor Joseph n ended religious persecution in the Austrian empire and passed an edict of toleration. Dissenters could worship in private; Lutherans, Calvinists and Greek Orthodox could even build churches (but with no steeples); anyone could practise law, medicine and hold office; education was secularized and made compulsory; and the censorship was abolished. Despite papal protests, the State engaged in a great shake-out of mechanical Christianity.
Training of priests was placed under government control, 700 religious houses were shut down, only the utilitarian orders were allowed to survive, and 38,000 monks were turned loose; there was an imperial assault on pilgrimages, saints' days and superstition. In the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Joseph's brother Leopold moved on a similar course, taxing clerical incomes, cutting off funds to Rome, abolishing Roman appeals and the nuncio's court, suppressing convents and transferring hospitals to lay hands, ending the Inquisition, papal provisors and curial control of the religious orders. Other, similar movement could be detected virtually all over Europe, in Protestant and Greek Orthodox as well as Catholic states. It was, in almost every case, reform from above, imposed by despotic or oligarchic governments which believed themselves in tune with the Enlightenment. It was often superficial, or ineffective or irrelevant; and, quite erroneously, it was assumed to mark the beginning of the final triumph of reason.
Oddly enough, the changes were least marked in France, supposedly the centre of Europe's enlightened forces. As in Britain, though for different reasons, the French State Church escaped the reforming visitation from above. Not that it was in a regenerate condition. What Horace Walpole said of England applied a fortiori to France: the modes of Christianity were exhausted. The century of Jansenist-Jesuit struggle had left no legacy except indifference. The Enlightenment had spread to the Church in some ways, especially among the higher clergy. Bishops, if they were energetic, busied themselves building roads or canals, and if they had intellectual pretensions set up as philosophers. Forms of deism were common. Louis xv, no prude, refused Paris to Cardinal Lomenie de Brienne: 'No, the Archbishop of Pans must at least believe in God.' Chamfort sneered: 'A vicar-general may permit himself a smile when religion is attacked, a bishop may laugh outright, and a cardinal may give his cordial assent.' In most other respects the Church was still the same organization as in the early sixteenth century. It was huge (130,000 clerics) and enormously rich, especially in the north: it owned thirty per cent of the land in Picardy, over sixty per cent in the Cambresis. But differentials in income, bad enough in England, were nearly ten times worse in France, ranging from the statutory 300 livres minimum for a priest up to 400,000 for leading bishops, a ratio of 1:1300. Virtually all the bishops were nobles and most nonresident.
Seen from a local level, the Church was an extraordinary mixture of idleness and industry. In Angers,
for instance, which had a population of 34,000 in 1789, there were seventy-two canons and over forty parochial clergy, plus a huge number of clerical hangers-on (most of them priests) at the cathedral, and at the parish and collegiate churches, sixty monks, forty friars and over three hundred nuns. One in sixty of the citizens was a priest, and this did not include tonsured clerks and students at the seminary. There were an enormous number and variety of ecclesiastical institutions, most of which rang bells at all hours of the day and night; houses facing on the main square were said to be 'almost uninhabitable' in consequence. Some clerics, as in England, were well-educated and dabbled in local antiquarianism. Some were modern-minded. The Benedictines of St Aubin installed plaster busts of Voltaire and Rousseau; and Fr Cotelle de la Blandiniere, the local orthodox theologian and writer of the Diocesian Handbook, submitted his maiden speech at the Angers Academy to Voltaire for his approval. But much of the routine and atmosphere can only be described as medieval. Relics were exposed twice a week in the cathedral; and on the second Sunday after the Epiphany wine was still dispensed from a stone jar supposedly used at the marriage-feast at Cana. There were almost daily religious processions, a hazard or a humiliation for unbelievers, particularly since relics were carried in them - a piece of the True Cross, the head of St Loup, the bones of Saints Serene and Godebert, the arm of St Julian, a scrap of the Blessed Virgin's clothing and a lock of her hair, the blood of St Maurice and the tooth of St Decent - plus twelve portable waxworks, each with fifteen life-size figures. When a medieval tomb was opened in the cathedral in 1757, word got around that a new saint had been discovered, and a frenzied mob tore the remains to pieces, making off with bits of bones and rags.
The religious houses of Angers presented a sorry, though not exactly a scandalous, picture. There were no reports of fornicating nuns; but the Benedictine sisters (the richest) were allowed to go out, unescorted and without veils, in their carriages. Unmarried noble ladies were almost exclusively the beneficiaries of this, and other, wealthy institutions; indeed it was officially admitted they existed 'to provide decent and honourable retreats for that numerous portion of the nation which is too well-bred to degrade itself by doing the humble tasks to which lack of income seems to condemn it' (1770). The monks, too, usually came from privileged backgrounds. The 'best' monastery, St Aubin, had an income of 50,000 livres a year. Of this 11,000 went on upkeep, taxes, and so on, 20,000 to the non-resident noble abbot, and the rest to fifteen monks. They led a gentlemanly existence with horses and carriages, 120 livres a year pocket-money, a month's holiday, card-parties and a concert on Sundays. They had given up the habit, and adopted comfortable shoes and silk stockings. It is true they did not eat 'red' meat (except at the so-called 'infirmary table', where the prior dined), but they had the best salt and fresh fish, hares, duck, teal, woodcocks and so forth. Many abbacies were now held in commendam by under- endowed (or well-connected) bishops. In Angers, four Benedictine houses provided four high ecclesiastics (nonresident) with supplementary stipends, and an easy life for fewer than fifty monks, out of a total income of over 200,000 livres; at St Nicholas, the abbot pocketed two-thirds of its revenue of 25,000 and spent his time entirely at Versailles. The Augustine canons were no better. Of the friars, recruited from the non-noble classes, the Capuchins were really poor. The rest led comfortable lives. One observer noted: 'There are more coffee-pots and tea-sets, snuff boxes and knick-knacks on their tables than books of theology.' The Cordeliers ate from silver, had a hundred and sixty linen sheets and twenty-four pipes of wine; the Dominicans had their own furniture, clothing allowance and private possessions, and their menu included capons, partridges, rabbits and pigs' trotters ('extraordinary expediture').
Among progressive-minded people it was agreed that reforms were necessary and overdue but no one foresaw a complete smash-up. There was a fundamental division in the Church between the cathedral chapters and religious, who were over-endowed, unemployed and mainly aristocratic, and the parish clergy, who were plebeian and poor. It was generally agreed, among philosophers, that the latter were worthy and hard-working too. Indeed, it was among the parish clergy that the clamour for reform was loudest. Everyone agreed the monks would have to go. Plans had been set on foot before the Estates- General met in 1789, and the eventual decree of 1790, which dispersed and sold up all but educational and charitable establishments, was carried through with virtually no protest and no resistance whatever. The cures, indeed, were seen as a reformist force; as one of them put it, they were 'to the Church of France what the Third Estate is to the nation.' Bowing to this pressure, in 1788, Necker changed the electoral rules in favour of the cures, and against the cathedral chapters and monks, and thus out of 296 clerical deputies, 208 were cures. An analysis of the cahiers of grievances brought to Versailles by the Estates-General shows that Catholicism was not, in itself, unpopular. There was a general assumption that it would continue as the state Church, with a predominant role in education and state ceremonial. Even the National Assembly was not, initially, anti-clerical; it included only three Jansenists and fifteen Protestants. It was, rather, Erastian and Gallican, and regarded the Church as a necessary part of the nation's moral machinery: otherwise, who would prevent the servants stealing the spoons? In November 1788, Louis xvi had discussed the possibility of an approaching crisis with his reforming minister, Malesherbes, and the relevancy of the English Civil War. Malesherbes remarked: 'Fortunately, religious quarrels are not involved.' The king agreed:'L'atrocite ne sera pas la meme.'
In fact what happened was a combination of England's experience in the 1530s and the 1640s, a revolution directed not only against the crown and the possessing classes, but against the clergy as a whole, and against Christianity as such. Thus the idea of the modern secular State came into existence, and the concept of Christendom as a total, international society, already damaged by schism, finally dissolved. The process had its roots deep in the Enlightenment which in France (as we have seen) developed outside, rather than within, a Christian framework, and portrayed reason and religion pulling in opposite directions rather than (as in England) in harness. But if the roots were deep the flowering of anti-clericalism and atheism was to some extent accidental, one of the great muddles of history. The result was a confrontation between 'reason' and 'religion' which revealed the limitations and weaknesses of both, and raised a number of fundamental issues which have not yet been solved.
How did this happen? The cahiers of 1789 showed no general desire for fundamental changes in the Church; hardly one in fifty even wanted to end monastic vows. But the National Assembly was misled by two indicators. One was the popularity of the Paris anti-clerical theatre, which put on previously banned plays, including M-J. Chenier's Charles IX, showing a cardinal blessing the daggers of St Bartholomew. The other was the ease with which the first batch of Church reforms went through. The cancellation of annates in 1789 raised no papal protest, though it clearly breached the concordat. Tithes were abolished at the suggestion of the Due de Chatelet (furious because the Bishop of Chartres had proposed to end hunting-rights). The appropriation and sale of Church lands was virtually unopposed. The bishops told the Pope: 'Our silence demonstrated how we were inaccessible, personally, to all the temporal interests whose possession had drawn on us hatred and envy.' The land was sold at high prices, usually to very respectable persons (including, it is thought, the king). The Assembly believed the sales would provide a wide number of people with a stake in the new regime, and they proposed to bind regime and state together by giving the clergy a civil constitution, which, among other things, would rationalize their salaries.
Here the deputies grievously miscalculated. What most of the parish clergy wanted was internal democracy within the Church, a system of convocation. Instead, they got a scheme which realigned parish and diocesan boundaries with the new civil ones, swept away cathedral chapters, colleges and benefices without cure of souls, and provided for bishops to be nominated by the electors of departments, and cures by the electors of districts. This was Presbyterianism, a return to what was widely assumed to have been the practice of the Apostolic Age. Hardly any priests wanted the new system. Most were opposed, some strongly so; the bishops and higher clergy hated it. The Pope, too, was virtually obliged to oppose it, since all the elected bishops had to do was to write him a letter indicative of unity of faith. It was assumed that Pius vi could be blackmailed into compliance by using his property in Avignon (where the locals had revolted against papal rule) as a bargaining counter. In fact he wrote to the king informing him that the constitution was schismatic, and the king foolishly sat on the letter until the Assembly was too committed to draw back. The second blunder was the failure to consult the clergy before the constitution was framed, or to endeavour to sell it to them afterwards. Instead, the clergy were simply required to take an oath to observe it or face dismissal. Only seven out of a hundred and sixty bishops accepted it; the figures for parochial clergy are incomplete and somewhat confusing, but in general the constitution was accepted in the centre, the lie de France and the south-east, and rejected in Flanders, Artois, Alsace and Brittany. The nonjuring areas remain, today, the most fervently Catholic in France. The divisions seem to have existed even in 1791, but the oath reinforced them. Even so, catastrophe might have been averted. Bishop Talleyrand, one of the seven juror bishops, duly consecrated eighty 'constitutional' bishops, most of whom were perfectly respectable and some of whom were outstanding; and the Assembly wanted the law to be interpreted liberally, so that non-juring clergy could administer to non-constitutionalist congregations.
Unfortunately, enforcement was entrusted to municipalities and local directories of Districts and Departments, many of whom were professional anti-clericals with scores to settle. Thus began the practice of treating non-juring clergy as suspects. Soon, fear of clericalism merged with fear of royal and aristocratic reaction, combined with foreign invasion. The new Assembly of October 1791 was crowded with anti-clericals and contained only twenty clergy, all jurors. It passed a decree declaring non-jurors 'suspects' and linking them with the swelling ranks of the militant emigres. Then came war with Austria, which in effect made non-juring treason, and a provocative remark by Cardinal Maury, who told the emigres at Mayence that the Pope needed 'their sabres to trim his pens'. Of course this was what the anti- clericals had suspected all along. In May 1792 came the first repressive decree, ordering the deportation of any non-juring priest denounced by twenty 'active' citizens. Many were locked up, and when the prison massacres of September 1792 took place, three bishops and two hundred and twenty priests were among the victims. There were a good many other killings. In what had been sleepy Angers, a new method of execution was devised, 'de-Christianization by immersion'. Clerics were bound together in pairs, packed into boats, and turned loose in the river. In December 1794, fifty-eight were disposed of in this fashion. A local anti-clerical wrote: 'Last night they were one and all swallowed by the river. What a revolutionary torrent is the Loire!' There was mounting terror until the fall of Robespierre, and stability was not restored until Napoleon established a quite different regime.
Thus for the first time a frontal attack was made on Christian institutions. Catholicism was tested to destruction and found to be, at least temporarily, highly vulnerable. But reason, which took its place, was also tested to destruction and found to be inadequate, even ridiculous. Of course all this had been foreseen by Voltaire, who guessed that reason in charge might cut an unimpressive figure unless linked closely to specific and justified reforms in society. (He admired the English approach.) As a matter of fact, by the 1790s, reason was no longer the guiding principle of the European intelligentsia. It was having to compete not only with the romantic movement, infused by Kantian spirituality, but a swelling variety of fashionable superstitions. The situation was not unlike that of the first century, with paganism, Gnosticism and scepticism, as well as Christianity, all jostling each other. In Germany, the most active form of eighteenth-century religious expression, Pietism, had yielded to Illuminism, which was connected to newly surfaced freemason and Rosicrucian movements once, in the early seventeenth century, an expression of the third force. Andre Chenier described the Illumines in his De I'esprit de parti (1791) as 'adapting a whole accumulation of ancient superstitions to the ideas of their sect, preaching liberty and equality like the Eleusian or Ephesian mysteries, translating natural law into an occult doctrine and a mythological jargon'. Such weird sects homed on Paris even before the Revolution. There was Mesmer, who arrived there in 1778, with his theory of animal magnetism as a healing force; he held séances at which social and intellectual leaders joined hands round a bucket of water. Lavater taught that character could be deduced from facial appearance; his rival measured skulls. The Rosicrucians presented apparitions and set up their boxes of tricks in the very room where Voltaire had once bandied rationalism with Frederick the Great. Joseph de Maistre was already working on his mystical theories of right-wing tyranny (Considerations sur la France appeared in 1796); there were Gnostics in plenty, like Robespierre's friend Catherine Theol, and mystics like Saint-Martin, who described himself as 'official defender of Providence'.
Against this background, the new rulers of France set about the removal and replacement of Catholic Christianity. One eye-witness, Mercier, later recorded in his memoirs that if Robespierre had only appeared with an old Bible under his arm, and firmly told the French to become Protestant, he might have succeeded. But the Revolution was not reformist, it was millenarian. It was, in fact, the first modern millenarian revolt. It looked backwards to the Munster of the 1520s, and the Middle Ages, and forward to Karl Marx and Mao Tse-tung. It was also influenced by its own decor, a reflection of the classical revival: thus it had overtones of the Emperor Julian's pathetic attempts to revivify imperial paganism. Cadet de Vaux erected the first 'patriotic altar' in January 1790 at his country house; it had Roman axes and fasces, a pike crowned with a cap of Liberty, a shield with a portrait of Lafayette and verses by Voltaire; the arrangement was widely copied. Such altars were the foci of open-air ceremonies, where oaths of loyalty were sworn, the Te Deum sung, and communal banquets consumed. The designer and regisseur was J-P. David, who staged a huge ceremony in July 1791 to convey the remains of Voltaire to the Pantheon. This raised the issue of the role of religion in state ceremonies, and so in turn the question of civil marriage and secular education. Should not the Revolution, creating a new society, give it a new religion? Many of the revolutionaries were deists. They believed in nature; or, like Rousseau, in direct communication with God without intermediaries. Other elements in their belief were patriotism and the cult of sensibilite - hence Saint-Just's Temple of Friendship, where every adult waste record the names of his friends once a year, and explain to the magistrates why any had been dropped.
Unfortunately, the new cults could not be separated from de-Christianization and the guillotine, which served as it were to terminate awkward arguments in a thoroughly rationalistic manner. On 7 October 1793, a ceremony was held at Rheims in which a local blacksmith smashed the miraculous flask of holy oil used at the coronation. Many of the deChristianizers were renegades, as in earlier millenarian movements - Fouche had been an Oratorian, Laplanche a Benedictine, Charles a canon of Chartres. Some were communists, like another former Oratorian, Joseph Lebon: 'If, when the Revolution is over, we still have the poor with us, our revolutionary efforts will have been in vain.' He said at his trial that he derived all his revolutionary maxims from the gospels, 'which, from beginning to end, preach against the rich and priests'. Some churches were wrecked. In Paris, the very poor provided the rank and file of the de-Christianizes; in the provinces it was often the troops of the line. Aristocratic tombs were smashed, and the royal mausoleum at St Denis demolished. (The shrunken and preserved heart of Louis xiv came to light, and was eventually eaten by mistake.) Some 30,000-40,000 of the non-juring priests became exiles; anything from 2,000-5,000 were executed. The 'constitutional' Church was wrecked when about 20,000 of the juring priests, most of them under pressure, agreed to be de-Christianized; forty-two bishops gave up their rank, though only twenty-three actually apostasized. Some priests married to save their lives, others voluntarily; but there were clerical marriages, performed by bishops, before the de-Christianization began. (Afterwards, when the Church returned to celibacy under Napoleon, thousands applied for absolution.) Formal separation of Church and State was decreed in 1795, the country became a Roman Republic in 1798, and Pope Pius vi became a French prisoner, dying at Valence in August 1799; the municipality recorded the death of 'Jean-Ange Bisaschi, exercising the profession of pontiff.
But the alternative cults proved as unstable and ephemeral as the Gnosticism they curiously resembled. And they had the air of travesty. David designed and organized funerals for republican martyrs, such as Marat; some women took an oath to bring up their children in the Marat cult, and give them no other scriptures but his works (mostly journalism). A feast was held for the 'translation' of his heart to a revolutionary clubroom, where it was hung from the roof in an urn. David also designed the celebration for the acceptance of the constitution in August 1793, held on the site of the Bastile, and based around a huge statue of Nature, spurting water from her breasts. A member of the Committee of Public Safety intoned: 'Sovereign of nations, savage or civilized - Oh, Nature! - this great people is worthy of thee. It is free. After traversing so many centuries of errors and servitudes, it had to return to the simplicity of thy ways to rediscover equality and liberty.' Then he drank from the fountain. For the Festival of Reason in Notre-Dame on 10 November, the Church itself was declared a Temple of Reason, and a stage mountain, crowned with a Temple of Philosophy, was built inside it. But there was no agreement on the forms of worship, or even on the subject, or object.
At Poitiers, priests were forced to make humiliating abjurgations, and people dressed as popes and monks were whipped through the streets. (This ceremony, atheist in objective, was almost identical with anti-Catholic masquerades staged by Protestants in the mid sixteenth century.) Most of the ceremonies
were deist. Occasionally, as an alternative to reason, such abstractions as law, truth, liberty or nature were worshipped. But God had a way of popping up behind these concepts; at Beauvais, reason, liberty and nature emerged as three goddesses, and at Auch, the celebrant asked: 'What is the cult of reason, if not the homage we render to the order established by the eternal wisdom?' Robespierre ended de- Christianization, and replaced reason with the Supreme Being; the creed he laid down included immortality of the soul, so it went beyond Locke's minimal Anglicanism. But without the savage excitement of de-Christianization, the ceremonies were tedious to the mob, and attracted only those solid bourgeois citizens who had a vested interest in them (like late-Roman paganism). The props were repainted and renamed. For a time, enthusiasts called their children Marat, Brutus, and so forth. Poupinel, who wrote republican hymns, urged: 'Let us use civic pomp to make people forget the old displays of superstition; in a word, provide more striking and attractive alternatives to the ceremonies that for so long have deceived the people, and the skeleton of sacerdotalism will disintegrate of its own accord.'
This was more easily said than done. Christianity, with its many insights and matrices, had found no difficulty at all in absorbing elements of pagan ceremonial, and transforming them. The Republicans, divided and self-conscious, floundered, and their ceremonies oscillated between parody and empty bombast, like the Red Square displays of Soviet Communism or the neo-gymnastics of Mao's China. It seems to have been assumed that public morale depended on religious or gnostic displays of one kind of another; the Erasmian emphasis on private belief and piety was dismissed as not enough. The Institut in two successive years set an essay-competition under the title: 'Quelles sont les institutions les plus propres a jonder la morale d'un peuple?' A large number of cults were invented. There was the 'Culte des Adorateurs', compounded of ideas and images from Rousseau, Indian temples, Pompeii and the paintings of Greuze; its priests, elected annually, were to tend an eternal fire, burn incense at funerals and pour libations of milk, honey and wine. A variation had doctors and scientists serving instead of priests, with laboratory experiments replacing the mass. A third was an amalgam of the teachings of Moses, Christ, Confucius and Mohammad. There were social or communist secular cults. The most successful of all seems to have been Theophilanthropie, a form of deism close to Christianity (some of its members called themselves Christians), which had a manual, sixteen places of worship in Paris, and others in the provinces, and whose 'observances' were run by 'directors', most of them civil servants, schoolmasters and so forth. Former priests provided sermons. But a formal request to make it official was turned down by the Directory: Barras sneeringly told its advocate, La Revelliere, that he should first get himself martyred, to launch the religion properly, and Carnot ended the discussion by saying that a successful religion needed absurdity and unintelligibility - and in these respects nothing could beat Christianity.
Beneath the public surface, the pattern of belief varied enormously, and often centered around individual Montanist-type figures, ranging from saints to pure charlatans. There was general agreement that some kind of religious mechanism was needed to keep people up to scratch. Some, like Madame de Stael, Necker's daughter, pushed the argument further. In De la Litterature (1800) she coined what later became a truism: 'Scientific progress makes moral progress a necessity.' Her own circle at Coppet swarmed with religious eccentrics, many from German pietist backgrounds. There was Madame de Krudener, 'converted' in 1804 at Riga, when an acquaintance raised his hat to her in the street and promptly dropped dead. She had been instructed by Councilor Jung-Stilling of Baden, who had calculated that the world would end in 1819, and Pastor Friedrich Fontaines, who gave her a detailed description of the Kingdom of Heaven; in turn, she later persuaded the Tsar Alexander I to found the notorious Holy Alliance. Another de Stael prophet was the poet Zacharias Werner, who had become a convert to what might be termed Catholic Sexuality. His mother had imagined she was the Blessed Virgin, and he Christ; and he himself believed in 'Christ and copulatory love' -'man's soul in its ascent must pass during its earthly life through the purgatory of female bodies'. Thus he was a great grabber of servant-girls at inns and private houses, and at Weimar he shocked Goethe and broke up Frau Schopenhauer's tea-party by noisily trying to rape a maid in the kitchen. His pockets were full of crumpled mystic-erotic sonnets, variously addressed to current mistresses or God, 'the great hermaphrodite'. He wrote: 'Everything that love makes us do with a mistress, is done for the love of God.'
Such caricatures tended to make Christianity seem by comparison 'normal' and familiar (and rational). At the other end of the non-Christian spectrum, the rationalists had either been damaged by the association with terrorism or, at best, exposed as emotionally anaemic. Rivarol, in his Discours sur l'homme intellectuel et moral (1797), argued: The radical defect of philosophy is that it cannot speak to the heart ... Even if we consider religions as nothing more than organized superstitions, they would still be beneficial to the human race; for in the heart of man there is a religious fibre that nothing can extirpate.' This, of course, was the point on which Voltaire tended to agree even with the hated Pascal. And there was another Voltairian point: the State needed a religion, and a religion that worked, which actually made ordinary people conform to the daily rules of society. This Voltairian apercu was the guiding principle behind Napoleon's reconciliation with the papacy and the Catholic Church, marked by the new concordat of 1801. He claimed he had himself lost his faith at the age of eleven, when he learned that Caesar and Cato, 'the most virtuous men of antiquity would burn in eternal flames for not having practised a religion of which they knew nothing.'
At seventeen he wrote an essay approving Rousseau's contention that pure Christianity was a menace to the State. For him, Christianity was replaced by the cult of honour and the military ethic. Like others in the Directoire period, he leaned on patriotism, but eventually came to the conclusion that patriotism worked better when reinforced by religion, and that in France the religion had to be Catholicism -he saw no way of ending the guerilla war in the West otherwise. Thus he acted like Henri iv: if Paris was worth a mass, the Vendee was worth a concordat, which recognized officially that Catholicism was 'the religion of the great majority of French people'. The statement was true in the sense that, throughout this period, most French children had continued to be educated by the clergy; and Napoleon's decision to reopen the churches in 1802 was the most popular thing he ever did in France. His motives were entirely secular. 'The people must have a religion, and this religion must be under the control of the government.' Equality was unattainable, and belief in a future life helped the poor to accept their lot. Without a 'respectable' religion, people would turn to anything. 'Religion is a sort of inoculation ... which by satisfying our love of the marvellous, makes us immune to fakes and sorcerers.' He was not sure what he believed in himself: he thought the soul was some kind of magnetic or electrical force. But he found that, in practice, foreign statesmen would not negotiate with him unless they thought he believed in God. So he set himself up as a sceptical Charlemagne, and went through an uneasy recreation of the papal coronation of 800, insisting (this time) on placing the crown on his head himself, with Pope Pius VII almost as a spectator.
Napoleon's coronation, which included an oath, wholly unacceptable to the papacy, to uphold 'freedom of religious worship', was seen at the time as a humiliation for the Pope. One of the Bourbon ministers remarked: 'The sale of offices by Alexander vi is less revolting that this apostasy by his weak successor.' In point of fact, the papacy was the one undoubted gainer of the whole Napoleonic period. In 1789 it was, as an institution, virtually on its last legs. The European crowns, and the states they represented, had been gaining ground at papal expense ever since the sixteenth century, and even in Italy. The papacy's one instrument of international control, the Jesuits, had been tamely surrendered, and in all Catholic states the churches had become virtually independent. The reason why the papacy had become so weak went back to the papal-Habsburg alliance of the sixteenth century. The popes had become accustomed to identifying their policies and interests with those of the great ruling Catholic families of Europe, and so had become in effect subservient to royalist states. This, of course, ran directly counter to the triumphalism of Hildebrand, Innocent in and Boniface VIII. Pius VII, no hero and no great intellect, halted and reversed the disastrous trend. He was one of those Italians who found the infusion of French revolutionary ideas welcome, at any rate up to a point. He had been Bishop of Imola when Napoleon invaded, and wrote 'Liberty and Equality' at the top of his letters. He urged in a sermon: 'Be good Christians, and you will be good democrats. The early Christians were full of the spirit of democracy.' Elected Pope in 1800, his decision to abandon legitimacy and negotiate a settlement with Napoleon allowed the papacy to emerge, once more, as an independent force in European affairs.
Now this occurred at precisely the moment when the failure of deism and rationalism in France had revealed the inherent, residual strength of Christianity, and indeed Catholic Christianity, as a mass religion, especially among the bourgeois, petit-bourgeois and peasants to whom the revolution had accorded political power. The point, and the conjunction, was brilliantly perceived by Chateaubriand, who published his Genie du Christianisme in 1802, just before the new concordat was celebrated with a Te Deum in Notre Dame. The horrible events of the past decade, he argued, had demonstrated the strength of Christian theodicy: Christians in their thousands had been able to face suffering and death, and transform these experiences, whereas to deists the killings and executions had merely served to call into question the existence of God. Where Napoleon made a Voltairian point, Chateaubriand made a Pascalian one. Christianity was not just a reinforcement of patriotism; it was - if not for all, then for a large and vocal minority - a continuous, living force, which responded to the permanent needs of the human spirit. Christianity not only spiritualized suffering but actually built on it. France, in particular, now had a lot of martyrs, whose blood refreshed the faith of those who remained. The stage was thus set for a Catholic revival, which the institution of the papacy could internationalize: 'If Rome understands her position truly, she never had before her such great hopes, such a brilliant destiny. We say hopes for we count tribulations in the number of things that the church of Jesus Christ desires.'
This proved to be an astute prediction, though for a number of additional reasons which Chateaubriand could not exactly foresee at the time. The Revolution and its consequences throughout Europe and the world did not assist the papacy directly, but it damaged forces and institutions which were inimical to it. It swept away institutions like the Inquisition, which embarrassed international Catholicism, but which the papacy was unwilling or powerless to reform or abolish itself. It terminated the ecclesiastical princedoms of Germany, which had interposed their own claims between the papacy and the German Catholic masses. It marked the end of the old legitimate monarchies, with their Gallican or national churches, whose 'enlightened' despots overruled Rome, whose bishops were greedy aristocrats and whose cardinals ensured that only the weak and the malleable should occupy the throne of St Peter. It opened up the crown colonies of Spain and Portugal, hitherto royalist preserves, to papal penetration. Above all, it tended to establish a direct link between Catholic enthusiasts throughout Europe, and the institution they now began to recognize as a more permanent source of legitimacy and order than the unstable crowns of the ancien regime the papal tiara. The resurgence of papal authority and self- confidence was marked in 1814 by the reestablishment of the Jesuits throughout the world, and by the presence at the Congress of Vienna the next year of Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, the able papal Secretary of State, who brought the papacy back into the arena of European diplomacy after an absence of nearly two centuries. A new Vatican department was set up to tighten the bonds between the Holy See and Catholics throughout Europe, and fresh concordats or similar arrangements were made with all the Catholic states. Thus we have the paradox that the convulsion which threatened to engulf Roman Christianity ended by endowing a dying papacy with a new cycle of life. And the papacy, thus reborn, returned to an ancient theme but with a modern orchestration populist triumphalism.
To see clearly how this phenomenon came to dominate modern Christianity we must first return to Enlightenment England. The system of belief constructed by Locke, and applied by the Whig Establishment of the Church of England, went a long way towards satisfying the needs of the commercial middle classes of the towns, and it did so without driving a wedge between science and learning on the one hand, and institutional religion on the other. But it had nothing to offer to the lower orders, in particular to the swelling proletariat of the new industrial cities. Moreover, in its anxiety to dispel dangerous 'enthusiasm' and avoid any kind of fanaticism, it presented a Christianity which was part cerebral, part ceremonial, and wholly purged of emotion. To the magistrates and the squirearchy, the release of personal emotions in religious expression - the Montanist or millenarian impulse - was necessarily a form of protest against the existing social order. Memories of the egalitarian, Munster-like Civil War sects were long; and authority was determined, if possible, to restrict the religious dynamic within the prescribed forms of the statutory Church. But of course this was a dangerous strategy, with the risk that the popular forces thus confined might, as in France, eventually break out in a secular, political, even revolutionary direction. This did not happen. The existing order was not only saved but greatly reinforced by a man the authorities first thought of as an arch-enemy: John Wesley.
Like so many others, Wesley came to active religion by re-reading St Paul to the Romans, in his case in the light of Luther's preface. This was in 1738, and Wesley was thirty-five and an Anglican clergyman. 'I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart.' His Christianity was almost totally devoid of intellectual content. It had no doctrinal insights. It was wholly ethical and emotional. If anything, Wesley was an Arminian. He thought: 'God willeth all men to be saved.' Among his associates were strict Calvinists, like the great preacher George Whitfield, who subscribed to double predestination, accused Wesley of the heresy of universalism, and told him: 'Your God is my devil'. It was necessary to 'rouse the soul out of its carnal security' which Wesley's 'assurances of salvation' induced. But Wesley did not concern himself much with such matters. Right to the end he thought of himself as an Anglican: 'I live and die a member of the Church of England. None who regard my judgment or advice will ever separate from it.' But he believed he had been appointed by God to assume the role of a modern Paul, and 'proclaim the glad tidings of salvation' among a supposedly Christian people who had forgotten them. This meant breaking the conventions of the Anglican parochial system and preaching wherever he could find an audience. He travelled over 250,000 miles, and spoke to gatherings in the open air of up to 30,000 people. On forty-two occasions he crossed the Irish Sea, and it is calculated he preached over 40,000 sermons, some of which lasted for three hours.
Moreover, Wesley was not just a Montanist charismatic: he had the organizing ability of a Gregory the Great or a Benedict. He discovered that religious enthusiasm was an ephemeral thing unless it was harnessed to a carefully defined structure, periodically galvanized by meetings, and given a chance to express itself in regular, planned and arduous activities. He started with 'societies' and 'classes'. Then he introduced the Methodist Conference, 'circuits or rounds', quarterly meetings, then district meetings. Lay leadership was organized in the shape of 'class leaders', stewards, trustees, and local preachers. Every member was drawn into a corporate life, giving (or receiving) financial support, and all pledged themselves to take part in activities such as Bible-meetings, sewing for charity, and so forth. He produced regulations about clothes, food and drink, ornaments, money, buying and selling, and language. There was strict corporate and personal discipline; victories and defeats were reported at class meetings, and offenders excommunicated. Thus at Newcastle in 1743, Wesley himself expelled sixty- four members for a variety of sins ranging from swearing and Sabbath-breaking to vaguer categories such as 'idleness, railing, lightness, etc.'.
In short, Wesley despite his disclaimers was creating an alternative Church, especially among the lower orders; and there was a natural and widespread belief it would be a radical one. Like the early Christians, whom they resembled in some ways, especially in their charitable organizations, they fell victims both to official disapproval and popular prejudice. As with the early Christians, their use of the expression 'love- feast' was unfortunate. At their nocturnal gatherings behind closed doors, Methodists were believed to take part in orgies; it was reported, wrote Nicholas Manners, 'when they were assembled together, they put out the candles and committed lewdness.' Their conversions often divided families, and this was particularly resented: it was the direct cause of the Wednesday riots of 1744. They were also accused of robbing widows of their savings; and their habit of inducing fits and convulsions among the 'elect' was thought to be due to conjuring or witchcraft. *
* Wesley deplored the decline in witch-hunting. Virtually all the Methodists believed in witches, and the Primitive Methodists engaged in titanic battles against spirits. The Journals of William Clowes (London, 1844) show him defeating the notorious Kidsgrove Bogget; and in 1810 Hugh Bourne's Journal records: 'I visited Clowes He had been terribly troubled by the woman we saw ... I believe she will prove to be a witch. These are the head labourers under Satan ... So we are fully engaged in the battle ... It appears that they have been engaged against James Crawfoot ever since he had a terrible time praying with and for a woman who was in witchcraft. For the witches throughout the world all meet and have connection with the power-devil.' See W.R. Ward, 'Popular religion and the
problem of control, 1790-1830', in Studies in Church History (Cambridge, 1972).
Among recorded crowd-cries aimed at Methodists were: 'You make people go mad; and we cannot get drink or swear, but every fool must correct us, as if we were to be taught by them.' 'After May-day we shall have nothing but preaching or praying; but I will make noise enough to stop it.'
Hence the gentry often had no difficulty in stirring up a mob against the Methodists. They had their preaching-houses pulled down at St Ives, Sheffield, Arborfield, Wolverhampton, Nantwich and Chester. John Smythe, known as 'the Conjuror' - he was an expert at inducing fits - had the reputation of the most mobbed Methodist in Ireland, and was eventually murdered; so were several others, including William Seward, first blinded, then torn to pieces at Hay in 1741. Wesley's first biographer, Henry Moore, thought: 'The lower orders of the people would never become riotous on account of religion, were they not excited to it under false pretences by persons who have some influence over them and who endeavour to keep behind the scenes.' Wesley himself said it was a case of 'the great Vulgar stirring up the small'. Incitement came from clergymen, the gentry or 'some blustering, influential farmer'. Often, free ale was laid on at the local inn. Church accounts at Illogan, Cornwall, show the entry: 'expenses ... on driving the Methodists, nine shillings'. Men in livery frequently figured at the head of mobs; at Barnard Castle, the gentry provided a gold-laced hat and sword for the local mob leader; at Teesdale, the vicar persuaded the Earl of Darlington to set his servants on the Methodists; and gentlemen's bailiffs often organized the violence. Mobs were also led, on occasions, by Anglican clergy in full canonicals. At Otley, the magistrate told them: 'Do what you will to them so long as you break no bones.' Wesley maintained that immediately the law was enforced the mobs melted away - many having joined them on the assumption that it was the Methodists who were breaking the law or that 'there is no law for the Methodists'. The gentry often thought Wesley preached community of goods, and there was a case at Middleton in Yorkshire of a gentleman picking up a stick and joining the mob himself, swearing 'most dreadfully that the Methodists should not take his lands from him'.
This combination of upper-class hostility and lower-class prejudice had the effect, as it undoubtedly did with many of the early Christian groups, of strengthening the conventional and conservative forces within the movement. This was Wesley's own inclination (he was a Hanoverian Tory), and he used popular reactions to repress any tendency for Methodists to drift to millenarianism. Not only did his sermons endorse the existing order of society; he urged his converts to strive actively to prevent economic or political discontent breaking out into violence, and to obey the law in all its rigour. His appeal was particularly powerful among the upper echelons of the working classes - skilled craftsmen and journeymen - and small traders and shopkeepers, all those anxious to improve their status, inch their way up the social or commercial ladder, and to achieve respectability and modest affluence. Such groups could easily be detached from any revolutionary element among the proletariat, and used to emasculate it.
Wesley never had the slightest fear that he was stirring up social demons. On the contrary, he noted from the start that his converts tended to improve their social and economic situation, and his only anxiety was that this would lead to a loss of religious fervour: 'I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any renewal of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger and the love of the world in all its branches. How then is it possible that Methodism, that is, a religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit as swiftly vanishes away. Is there no way to prevent this the continual decay of pure religion? We ought not to prevent people from being diligent and frugal; we must exhort all Christians to gain all they can. and save all they can: that is, in effect, to grow rich.'
In 1773, he noted in his Journal: 'I went to Macclesfield, and found a people still alive to God, in spite of swiftly increasing riches. If they continue so, it will be the first instance I have known in above half a century.'
As the eighteenth century progressed, Methodism accordingly identified itself with the established order of society, and after its break with the Anglican Church it became an institution on its own. Like the primitive Church itself, it became immersed in the problems and responsibilities of finance, it built expensive churches, and virtually abandoned itinerant preaching - it underwent the subtle transformation from awakening and enthusing to teaching and ruling. As Methodism changed itself from a revival to an established sect, the more militant sections of the movement hived off. In 1807, when the Methodist Conference voted against camp-meetings, a group broke away to form the Primitive Methodist Connection in which revivalism was institutionalized. Among the poorer elements of the working class, it provided religious fireworks as a substitute for political activism. At Redruth in Cornwall, in 1814, a revival went on for nine successive days and nights: 'Hundreds were crying for mercy at once. Some remained in great distress of soul for one hour, some for two, some six, some nine, 12 and 15 hours before the Lord spoke peace in their souls - then they would rise, extend their arms and proclaim the wonderful works of God with such energy that bystanders would be struck in a moment and fall to the ground and roar for the disquieture of their souls.'
This wild revivalism, known in Britain as 'Ranterism', was an international phenomenon during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic period, and was particularly common in Germany. In the Middle Ages and the sixteenth century, revivalism was always liable to transform itself into political violence. Now, in Britain, the two forms of activism became alternatives. It is true that the sons of strict Methodists sometimes became political revolutionaries: six out of seventeen Luddites hanged at York in January 1813, for instance, came from Methodist families. But Methodist radicals were more likely to be political reformers - the beginning of a tradition which made Methodism and other nonconformist sects the allies first of the Liberals, then of the Labour Party. And the Methodist organization itself almost invariably sided with law, order and property during difficult times. In 1812, the rich Burton family, leading Methodists who were said to be exceptionally generous to their workers, summoned cannons to defend their print-works at Rhodes and, aided by the prayers of Methodist preachers, mowed down the factory hands. In 1818 the preachers took the conformist title of 'Reverend', thus defying an earlier ruling; and three years later, one of them, John Stephens, put their social philosophy plainly: 'The objects we have to keep in view are: (1) to give the sound part of society a decided ascendancy ... (2) To put down the opposition ... (3) To cure those of them that are worth saving. (4) To take the rest one by one and crush them ... They are down and we intend to keep them down ... Methodism stands high among the respectable people.'
Of course it did. though it did not primarily interest itself in 'respectable people'. Or, rather, it was designed - and in this it was highly successful - to convert a significant section of the upper working- class to moral 'respectability'. Wesley ignored the upper classes. He told his preachers: 'You are no more concerned to have the manners of a gentleman than a dancing-master.' Yet indirectly Methodism was to have a powerful influence on the ruling class. A number of wealthy families were associated with the movement; and when it split from the Anglicans they remained within the Establishment and sought to evangelize it from within. They were primarily concerned with moral reform, but also to some extent with social reform, since they believed that poverty, squalor and cruelty were enemies of the Ten Commandments. They wanted to make society more moral by making it more bearable; but of course they did not want to change its structure.
Most of the Evangelicals were Tories. Their real founder was John Thornton of Clapham, who was born in 1720 and who became the wealthiest merchant in England. After his death in 1790, the leadership devolved on William Wilberforce, the heir to a Hull merchant fortune, a diminutive orator and friend of William Pitt, the Prime Minister. He and his friend Hannah More constituted the nucleus of the Clapham Sect, which was not really a sect at all but a pressure-group within the Anglican Church and within the ruling class. The idea had met with Wesley's approval. He said to Hannah's sister: 'Teil her to live in the world - there is the sphere of her usefulness; they will not let us come nigh them.' While Methodism sought to make the working class respectable, reformist and tame, the Evangelicals sought to instill a spirit of noblesse oblige among their betters. They presented a 'change of heart' as a more moral, and acceptable, alternative to change of a more fundamental kind. They made a great point of their gentility. The first Evangelical in Parliament, Sir Richard Hill, was lovingly described by the Reverend Edward Sidney, his biographer, as 'a model of a Christian gentleman and an upright senator'. Hill quoted the Bible to the Commons to 'prolonged roars of laughter'. Willingness to face ridicule was a hallmark of the group. After the French Revolution broke out, however, the laughter changed to tolerance: fear of radicalism and its consequences brought the Evangelicals a widening foothold among the upper and middle classes; its programme gave many influential people an object in life when the road to political reform was barred, or seemed too dangerous.
Hence Wilberforce and his group prospered. He carried earnest religion from Wesley's fields to the public hall, and to the hearing of what the papers always termed a 'noble and respectable gathering'. In Parliament the Tory Evangelicals voted against suffrage reform, and in favour of the government's repressive legislation, such as the Combination Laws against trades unions, and the notorious Six Acts. Their own legislative programme was also in many respects repressive, since it included heavy taxes on sporting guns, prints, music, visiting cards, theatres, operas, playhouses, masquerades. cards, dice, races, magazines, Sunday newspapers and Sabbath travel. Hill even wanted actors licensed; and during the
scarcity of 1800 he told the Commons that it was much better to have a dearth of earthly food than a famine of the word of God. The Evangelical-run Proclamation Society Against Vice and Immorality was founded to enforce the law when the authorities were slow or unwilling to act, and it instituted prosecutions against writers, publishers and printers, brothel-keepers, prostitutes, unlicensed private theatricals, purveyors of obscene prints and objects, operators of illegal dance-halls and commercial Sabbath-breakers. On the other hand, Evangelicals campaigned very effectively to abolish first the slave- trade, and later slavery itself throughout the British Empire. *
* The founder of the Quakers, George Fox, had condoned slavery, reflecting the prevailing wisdom of Protestantism in the mid seventeenth century. But Quakers began to oppose slavery from 1688 on. A growing number of mainstream Protestants swung into opposition with the eighteenth-century development of the idea of 'progressive revelation' and the 'benign Providence", which increasingly identified Christian action with reform This was the theologica! impulse behind the Evangelical anti-slavery campaign. See Roger Anstey, The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition, 1760-1810 (London, 1975)
Nor was this the only instance in which Evangelical plans to improve society, and those of secular reformers overlapped. Wilberforce subscribed to seventy societies, which embraced, besides purely religious objects, a huge spectrum of human grievance and misery. They included the Bible Society, the Church Missionary Society, the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Amongst the Jews, the School Society, the Sunday School Society, various Irish Societies, the Climbing Boys (chimneysweeps) Society, the Betting Society, societies to befriend or improve Bliicher's Soldiers, French Refugees, Foreigners in Distress, Sick Strangers, Irish Serving-Girls, Orphans and Vagrants, Juvenile Mendicants, Youthful Sinners, Distressed Widows, Poor Clergymen, Infirm Gentlewomen, Degraded Females, those imprisoned for Small Debts, and Societies to build and maintain hospitals, fever-wards, asylums, lying-in homes, infirmaries, refuges and penitentiaries.
Wilberforce's letters recorded progress: 'It is delightful to witness the many accessions to the cause of Christian piety in the higher ranks of life' (1811); ' ... wide and more wide the blessed circle spreads in the elevated walks of life ... a great increase in piety, especially among the higher classes' (1813). Gradually, the robust commercial rationalism of Locke ceased to be the main characteristic of middle- and upper-class religion, and yielded to the emotion-charged propriety which we associate with Victorianism, but which established its grip a whole generation before Victoria came to the throne. An Evangelical had to be 'converted', however long he had been a member of the Church, or even if he were in holy orders. In the movement, both sexes tended to wear black gloves. There were many other characteristics, especially the phrase 'Shall we engage?' as a prelude to discussing religion. Most amusements were banned. One of the Clapham Sect, John Venn, said of his children: 'They never go anywhere where Cards and dancing are introduced, neither do they learn to dance.' His son banned dancing, cards, theatres and novel-reading amongst his family. Abner Brown recorded of one Evangelical parson's wife: 'When her fine and manly boys came home for the holidays, she would not allow them to stand at the window of their father's parsonage without making them turn their backs so as not to look at the romantic views by which the house was encircled, lest the loveliness of "Satan's Earth" should alienate their affections from the better world to come.' The Evangelical paper, the Record, set the tone. It suspected Handel's oratorios because they were performed at Ranelagh and Vauxhall; indeed, it called an oratorio 'an awful and impious desecration of holy things by a giddy and perishing world'; it wanted theatres 'shut altogether', since people went there 'to see a strumpet crowned with garlands and cheered to the echo by a demoralized multitude'; it deplored the idea of clergymen playing cards, and published the names of those present at balls and hunts; it thought Scott's novels 'in the highest degree injurious' and lamented the fact that even Wilberforce read them - several readers wrote in horrified disgust when they heard this news, one signing himself Flag of Distress'. As Evangelicalism penetrated down the social scale, meeting Methodist influence on the way, it tended to take on an additional middle- or lower-class colouring, and from the 1830s supported temperance and even prohibition. The Lord's Day Observance Society, founded in 1831, was another non-gentlemanly feature. But the wealthy Evangelicals had long campaigned to abolish Sunday work. In 1809 one of them. Spencer Percival. stopped Parliament sitting on Monday so that MPs would not have to travel on the Sabbath; and Evangelicals gave their servants the day off. This advertisement, for a coachman, was typical of many carried by the Record: 'High wages not given. A person who values Christian privileges will be much preferred.' Where Evangelicals of all classes united was in their opposition to any open treatment of the sexual or bodily functions. The Reverend Lewis Way's daughter, Drusilla, wrote home after seeing the Medici Venus: 'As to the Venus, she looks like what she is, and ought to be - a naked woman thoroughly ashamed of herself
Instead, they dwelt lovingly on the subject of death. Through their children's magazines, they popularized the child death-beds later immortalized by Dickens (for instance, the death of Paul Dombey in Dombey and Son). They thought it a public duty to publicize 'successful' deaths. Hannah More wrote in 1792: 'I, and indeed all of us, have been for nearly three weeks closely engaged in another triumphant death-bed scene.' When Bishop Home died, she thought 'a more delightful or edifying death-bed cannot well be imagined' - 'two such dying beds, so near to each other, are not to be found.' They also enjoyed funerals. One of her correspondents, Miss Patty, wrote to her: 'The undertaker from Bristol wept like a child and confessed that, without emolument, it was worth going a hundred miles to see such a sight.' There were also bad deaths. It was an axiom of the Evangelicals that religious scoffers. atheists and so forth invariably died horribly. They frequently quoted the cases of Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire and Paine, without taking the slightest trouble to verify the accuracy of their accounts. Thus Paine's doctor, Manly, specifically denied that his patient changed his views while dying, or suffered moral distress. But Hannah More wrote an account of his death which was 'widely circulated among the lower classes of society' stating that in America he 'lived in brutal violence and detestable filthiness ... during the whole of the week preceding his death he never failed to get drunk twice a day ... His last words were: "If ever a devil had an agent on earth, I AM THAT MAN!'"
There was, too, an element of high-minded deviousness underneath the Evangelical disclaimers of worldly ambitions. Wilberforce had a doctrine of 'usefulness' which led him to concentrate on those who were influential or important in some way. He wrote to his son Sam, later Bishop of Winchester, that he had just contrived to introduce an 'excellent man' to the Archbishop of Dublin, 'in conformity to a principle I hold to be of first-rate importance ... It is that of bringing together all men who are like- minded, and who may probably at some time or other combine and concert for the public good. Never omit any opportunity, my dear Samuel, of getting acquainted with any good or useful man ... More perchance depends on the selection of acquaintances than on any other Circumstance in life ... Acquaintances, indeed, are the raw Materials, from which are manufactured friends, wives, husbands etc.' The Evangelicals believed in 'getting on' and pushing ahead anyone who agreed with them.
In particular, the way in which Evangelicals penetrated the Church of England was thoroughly worldly, and almost Jesuitical in its subordination of means to ends. In 1814, for instance, the Reverend Charles Sumner, a young Evangelical, went on a Continental tour with the two sons of the Marquess of Conyngham. To prevent the elder marrying the daughter of a Geneva professor, Sumner married her himself. In gratitude, Lady Conyngham, George IV's mistress, had Sumner made royal chaplain and historiographer, Deputy-Clerk of the Closet, Bishop of Llandaff in 1826, and the next year, aged thirty- seven, Bishop of Winchester, a see he held for forty-two years during which he nominated Evangelicals throughout the diocese. His brother, another Evangelical, got Chester in 1828 and, in 1848, Canterbury. Like-minded clergy were termed by Evangelicals 'religious' 'sincere' or 'pious'; the rest were 'Scribes and Pharisees', 'Fat Bull of Bashan' or 'priests walking in darkness'. Like the Puritans in the sixteenth century, they plotted hard to grab positions of power within the Establishment. In 1788, they captured Queens', Cambridge, by getting Isaac Milner elected President. Tutors who opposed him had to resign or accept country livings. The college expanded rapidly; Evangelicals sent their clever sons there; and it churned out large numbers of potential right-thinking clergymen.
From this bridgehead, the Evangelicals expanded their hold on Cambridge through a brilliant and wealthy organizer, Charles Simeon, who was 'converted' in 1779, at the age of nineteen, and who was minister at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, for fifty-three years. The aim was to exploit the existing, but under-utilized, propaganda resources of the Anglican Church itself. Cobbett argued shrewdly in 1802: 'The clergy are less powerful from their rank and industry than from their locality. They are, from necessity, everywhere, and their aggregate influence is astonishingly great. When, from the top of any high hill, one looks around the country, and sees the multitude of regularly distributed spires, one not only ceases to wonder that order and religion are maintained, but one is astonished that any such things as disaffection or irreligion should prevail.'
With enough Evangelical Cambridge graduates, it was hoped in time to put the right kind of clergyman in every parish, or at least every centre of influence. Simeon used the movement's wealth and contacts in a number of highly practical ways. He got Evangelicals appointed to Church lectureships, by nomination of the founder, by nomination of livery companies and other institutions, and by election of the seat- holders. Others were given chaplaincies at hospitals, asylums and so forth, by working on the officers or large subscribers. Evangelicals also built churches, the right of presentation going to Simeon and his friends. Finally, Evangelical money was used both to buy up advowsons and 'next presentations', which were sold on the open market, or to establish trusts to do this. Thus flagrant abuses in the old system were exploited in a direct and systematic manner to achieve other-worldly ends. Moreover, these carefully organized 'victories' were treated as the direct intervention of Providence on the side of the Evangelical cause, for it was one of their assumptions - they were tinged with Calvinism - that nothing was accidental.
Yet in the end Evangelicalism tended to be self-defeating. By its very pervasiveness and assiduity it forced large numbers of people, including large numbers of clergymen, to take religion seriously and to endeavour to clarify their own positions. It set up shock-waves in the placid Anglican sea, and thus caused cross- and counter-currents to flow. Moreover, Evangelicalism was not really a theological system. Though it was tinged with Calvinism, it was not based on any solid structure, like Calvin's Institutes. In fact it had no structure at all, other than the Bible, which it took quite literally.
Now here we come to a paradox. In the later Middle Ages, and throughout the Reformation period, the Bible had been the great strength of the Protestants. Christianity, as we have noted before, is essentially a historical religion; and in giving absolutely priority to the historical documents - the scriptures - the Protestants had appeared to be on infinitely stronger ground than the Catholics, who relied for their dogmatic justification on the unscriptural authority or magisterium of the Church - that is, the mere opinions of uninspired men - and who could justly be accused of trying to keep the text of the inspired Revelation from the hands of the multitude.
The Evangelicals, in particular, relied on the traditional strength of the Bible. Everything was to be found there; and nothing that was not found there was of consequence. Their standard textbook, the Elements of Christian Theology by Bishop George Pretyman Tomline, had a totally uncritical approach to scripture. Thus, the thirteenth edition (1820) noted: The great length to which human life was extended in the patriarchal ages rendered it very practicable for the Jews, in the time of Moses, to trace their lineal descents as far as the Flood, nay even to Adam'; Methuselah 'was 243 years contemporary with Adam, and 600 with Noah'; and so forth. Both the Old and the New Testaments were treated as historical records, and to question their literacy accuracy was to deny their inspirational status.
By the end of the eighteenth century, this position was beginning to be highly vulnerable. Science itself was not necessarily a threat to Christianity. Christianity could rationalize within its own assumptions changes in cosmology and the discovery of new operative laws. Indeed, up to a point at least, the very existence of scientifically demonstrable laws was welcome to Christian apologists who could instance them to prove the workings of an all-powerful divine intelligence. But could religion withstand the invariable application of scientific methodology, that is the pursuit of truth for its own sake regardless of the consequences? Christianity being a faith which identified itself with truth, it was essential that it should do so. Locke's presentation was based on this assumption. But then Locke had lived at a time when it had seemed more likely that scientific demonstration of truth would confirm rather than discredit Christian claims. A hundred years later the situation was changing radically. It then emerged that what Christianity had to fear was not so much science itself as scientific method applied historically. This worked in two ways. Geologists and astronomers on the one hand, and biologists and anthropologists on the other, combined to present a historical picture of the earth's origin, and of man's habitation of it, which was wholly incompatible with the historical account in the Old Testament. Secondly, study of the scriptural texts using the new methods of historical analysis, and with the assistance of philology and archaeology, revealed the scriptures as a much more complicated collection of documents than anyone had hitherto imagined, a bewildering compound of allegory and fact, to be sifted like any other ancient literature.
Could Protestantism, with its heavy dependence on scriptural documentation, survive this process? It was from Protestant Germany that much of the new scriptural scholarship came. And it was accompanied by new theological approaches and insights which in fact provided a way out of the dilemma. In the 1820s and 1830s, Friedrich Schleiermacher made the first real reappraisal of Christian theology since Calvin. He thought it possible to devise a theology valid for all time, subject to continual renewal through experience. Dogma, he argued, was not so much knowledge as the result of history; revelation was the sum total of individual conceptions of God; articles of Christian belief were not proofs so much as expressions furthering piety. What was essential to Christianity was the redemption, dependent on Jesus, who did not need to be redeemed. Heresies were departures from these affirmations; but the doctrine of two natures in Christ, and three persons in God, he believed to be misleading, and the resurrection, ascension and return in judgment inessential. The Church was a fellowship of believers. Election was determined by God's good pleasure, but not necessarily to exclude permanently a part of the human race. This analysis made it possible, in theory at least, to recruit Lutherans and Calvinists, and it opened the way for Christian theology to reconcile itself to science, modern biblical scholarship, and other disciplines more or less indefinitely. Indeed, it was in the tradition of 'minimum theology' established by Erasmus and continued by Locke.
Nevertheless, it was a line of defence few Protestants, at least initially, were prepared to adopt. The Evangelical fundamentalists simply averted their gaze both from science and German 'higher criticism', as it was termed. Others peered - and lost their faith. In 1835, almost coincidental with the most devastating revelations of geology, the German biblical scholar David Friedrich Strauss published the first volume of his Leben Jesus, which analysed the gospel narratives like any other collections of sources, and sought to detect the element of myth. Strauss argued that 'the supernatural birth of Christ, his miracles, his resurrection and ascension, remain eternal truths, whatever doubts may be cast on their reality as historical facts', and he claimed that 'the dogmatic significance of the life of Jesus remains inviolate'; yet the impact of the book was overwhelmingly to emphasize the contradictions, and minimize the accuracy, of the New Testament. One of the new agnostics, Arthur Hugh Clough, noted the event in his poem Epi-Straussium:
Matthew and Mark and Luke and Holy John Evanished all and gone
The first big exodus from Christianity came in the 1830s; thereafter there was a steady drift away, especially in the 1850s and early 1860s. under the impact of Darwin. Some Protestants welcomed the challenge. The Reverend Charles Kingsley wrote of evolution: 'Men find that now they have got rid of an interfering God - a master-magician as I call it - they have to choose between the absolute empire of accident, and a living, immanent, ever-working God.' But the majority resisted theological change with varying degrees of anger. This raised special disciplinary difficulties for the Anglican Church. It was an Establishment, subject to Parliament. In fact, in the cause of institutional reform, Parliament was becoming more active in the affairs of the Church. Measures passed included the Established Church Act and the Tithes Act (1836), the Church Pluralities Act (1838), the Church Discipline Act and the Sinecures Act (1840), and a measure which transferred church appeals to the Judicial Committee of the
Privy Council (1833). In fact the Church did not have charge of its own discipline and doctrine, except in so far as statute allowed; and Anglican theologians who offended against majority opinion could look for protection to the State. In 1832, the Reverend Reed Dickson Hampden gave the Bampton Lectures at Oxford, in which he took the German position that theology varies from age to age, and reflects contemporary philosophy, that doctrines are built on inspired facts by uninspired men, and that church pronouncements had been repeatedly inconsistent and could not be infallible. His Observations on Religious Dissent (1834) declared that dogma was unimportant compared to religion itself, and it pleaded for toleration, since on the essence of religion few Christians differed. In short, the line was again Erasmian. There were violent Anglican protests when Hampden was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1836; and when, in 1847, he was promoted to be Bishop of Hereford, an attempt to prevent his formal election was abandoned only after the Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, threatened to invoke statutory sanctions against the protestors.
There was, moreover, the further problem within the Anglican Church of reconciling a huge spectrum of theological opinion, which tended to widen in the light of the new scholarship. In 1847, the Bishop of Exeter refused to institute the Reverend G. C. Gorham to a living on the grounds that his Calvinistic views on baptismal regeneration were inconsistent with the Thirty-Nine Articles. Gorham fought the case, was defeated in the Anglican Court of Arches in 1849, but was upheld when he appealed to the secular Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in 1850. The effect of these two cases, as it seemed, was to demonstrate that the Anglican Church did not control its own doctrines and could not prevent the rise to authority within it of men whom it considered heretics.
It was against this background that the High Church developed and began to turn in the direction of Rome. Here again, the Evangelicals were ultimately responsible, since the revivalist atmosphere they introduced inevitably stimulated hostile and contrary tendencies: it is a permanent characteristic of Christianity that emphasis on one of its matrices always leads to the development of a rival. In the 1820s, Oxford, and notably Oriel College, was undergoing an intellectual revival. The Oriel fellows included John Keble, John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey, the Regius Professor of Hebrew, and R. H. Froude. They began their campaign with Keble's Assize Sermon at Oxford in July 1833, on the theme of 'National Apostasy', and continued it by publishing tracts which took as the standard of what they believed the faith and practices of the early apostles of the Church. It is notable that whereas in the Reformation, the first Protestants had appealed to the early Church against papal triumphalism, and mechanical Christianity, this new group of Christian reformers employed the early Church to illumine a path back to Rome. Some of the members of the Oxford tractanan movement came from Evangelical families. Yet it was Evangelical Protestantism which they saw as the enemy within. Keble and Newman found the Evangelical way of talking about religion distasteful; Newman deplored 'the mechanical way ... in which the great doctrine of His sacred death and the benefit of his blood-shedding is thrown to and fro, at best as if a spell or charm, which would surely convert men'. They wanted beauty and mystery. Keble thought it 'dangerous' to 'impart the oracles of God to profane and unworthy men'. 'New truth,' he added, 'in the proper sense of the word, we neither can nor wish to arrive at. But the monuments of antiquity may disclose to our personal perusal much that will be to this age new, because it has been mislaid and forgotten.' Both men denounced the 'low-minded school of Burnet and Hoadley' which 'robbed the church of all her most beautiful pronouncements'.
In a sense, the Oxford Movement was a repudiation of Erasmianism. If Newman and Keble had been privileged to follow in the steps of Colet and Erasmus, and visit the shrine of St Thomas before it was destroyed, they might have drawn precisely the opposite conclusions from the experience. That was the real Christian Church, not 'minimum theology'. Newman began to drift away from Anglicanism when he worked on his book about Arianism in the fourth century. He discovered on his own account how serious a threat history was to Protestantism because of its biblical fundamentalism. He wrote: 'To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.' He saw history as an asset to Catholicism in that its study reminded the believer of the incredible richness of its past, which Rome alone seemed fully to represent in the nineteenth century. The movement began by assuming that they were safe within the Church of England, at any rate as they conceived it, 'a true branch or portion of the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ'. It taught the truth, whereas the Nonconformists and Evangelicals taught only part of the truth, and Rome more than the truth. They rejected the Latitudinarian doctrine that 'every man's view of revealed religion is acceptable to God if he acts on it'; and they argued that religious truth was not part scriptural, part authority, as Rome maintained, but wholly scriptural - 'though it is in tradition, yet it can also be gathered from the communication of the scripture ... the Gospel message or doctrine ... is but indirectly and covertly recorded there, under the surface.' This was an exceptionally difficult half-way house to occupy. In the end many found themselves unable to maintain it, if only because they needed to rely more and more on the principle of authority to defend scripture from the 'higher criticism'. Thus Newman wrote in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, attacking Protestant liberalism:
'Liberty of thought is in itself a good; but it gives an opening to false liberty. Now by Liberalism I mean false liberty of thought, or the exercise of thought on matters in which, from the constitution of the human mind, thought cannot be brought to any successful issue, and therefore is out of place. Among such matters are first principles of whatever kind; and of these the most sacred and momentous are especially to be reckoned the truths of Revelation. Liberalism then is the mistake of subjecting to human judgment those revealed doctrines which are in their nature beyond and independent of it, and of claiming to determine on intrinsic grounds the truth and value of propositions which rest for their reception simply on the external authority of the Divine word.'
Now this is a very clear and weighty statement, which effectively repudiates the Erasmian tradition and specifically denies Locke's insistence that truth must be pursued wherever it leads. Some Anglicans of the school, such as Samuel Wilberforce and W. E. Gladstone, believed that they could argue themselves successfully out of the problems raised by science, by new interpretations of the scriptures and by the impact of the modern world generally. Hence they remained Anglicans. Newman did not want to take that risk. On the contrary, he believed that there must be a cut-off point beyond which human inquiry was not allowed to penetrate. Up to that point, thought and argument were free; after it, prohibited. But who was to determine that point? And who was to decide what was to be believed beyond that point? Only one Church was really prepared to take on such responsibilities, and their draconian consequences, and that was Rome. Hence in the 1840s and 1850s, Newman and others crossed to Rome in the quest for authority.
Of course their decision did not revolve solely around this issue. The heart-searchings both of those who became converts and those of the movement who did not are fully documented in many thousands of letters. Since all these men knew each other, wrote to each other frequently and copiously, and could discuss their problems and views freely without fear of censorship, inquisition or punishment, the various factors which shape the changing beliefs of serious, educated Christians are fully revealed, as has perhaps happened at no other time, before or since. In this sense the episode was unique, and important. The letters show that reason, ambition, social factors, friendship, fashion, and innumerable aspects of Church life from aesthetics to pure theology, all played their part in varying degrees depending on the individual. They remind us that a change in religious belief is a very complicated process, more likely to resemble a Pascalian than a Voltairean sequence. 'It was not logic which carried me on,' wrote Newman, but 'the state of my heart'. 'Surely,' added Manning, 'if anything ever brought us to the Foot of the Cross it is confession, the altar and the sacrifice.'
Certainly there were Catholic converts for whom the use of the sacraments and ritual were the main motives. But for the great spirits, like Manning and Newman, it is hard not to conclude that the impulse was the need for a Church which not only accepted, but gloried in, the exercise of authority. To Manning, the effect of state control was to strip the Anglican Church of any claim to authority. When Hampden was made a bishop, Manning protested: 'It is monstrous and unspeakably irreverent towards Him who is the Head of the Body that the bishops of the church should be chosen by any layman who may chance to lead the House of Commons. It is worthy of the age when courtesans made popes.' A few years later, in 1851, when the Gorham judgment had pushed him over the brink, he was not so sure about the historical truth of courtesans making popes, which he now saw as a Protestant libel: ' ... may not the Catholic Church know its own history better, and by a lineal knowledge and consciousness, to which no individual can oppose himself without unreasonableness?' Moreover, in Manning's case there was no doubt, from the start, that authority must reside wholly in clerical hands; that its delegation should be strictly hierarchical; and that it ultimately resided solely with the Pope, whose person and role was mystical. He wrote of 'the firm belief that I have long had that the Holy Father is the most supernatural person I have ever seen. ... The effect on me is of awe, not fear, but a conscious nearness to God and the supernatural agencies and sufferings of His church.'
Thus, at a time when the intellectual advances of the nineteenth century were thrusting some Protestants into agnosticism, others into mindless fundamentalism, and yet others into a heroic reappraisal of their theology, Catholicism and above all papalism developed a new power of attraction by characteristics which had once made it seem repellent. In 1846, Manning indicted Anglicanism: 'There seems about the Church of England a want of antiquity, system, fullness, intelligence, order, strength, unity; we have dogmas on paper; a ritual almost universally abandoned; no discipline, a divided episcopate, priesthood and laity.' The Roman Church was the opposite to this sorry picture - a triumphalist monolith, unchanged, unchangeable and, granted its assumptions, impervious to challenge. It alone, in practice, was prepared to accept wholeheartedly Newman's premise that inquiry into such assumptions was illegitimate, and exert ecclesiastical power to render it impossible. Thus on the darkening plain of nineteenth-century agnosticism and fading belief, the Church of Rome stood out like a fortress: once within, the drawbridge could be raised, and the solid walls would separate absolutely the true Christians from the rest. By comparison the walls of the Protestant citadel were crumbling, were, in fact, being rapidly demolished, since the enemy was already within. The images of safety, refuge and the flight to security abound in the writings of the converts. It gives us the essential clue to the reinvigoration of the nineteenth-century Roman Church, and the reassertion of papal power.
Of course, the presence within the Church of those who fled there for security and authority necessarily reinforced those burgeoning tendencies. A case in point was W. G. Ward, who, even before he left the Anglicans for Rome in 1845, had been working on his Ideal of a Christian Church, with its stress on the abdication of personal responsibility. 'Within the magic circle which it protects, we are saved from the pain of doubt, from the necessity of disputation, and are called upon but to learn and to believe.' What he called 'conscience' was the act of obeying Church authority; there was no role in it for the reason or the intellect. As a refugee from liberalism, he naturally fought fiercely against any attempt to establish it within the fortress. He strongly approved, in 1857, of the Vatican's condemnation of works by Anton Gunther, who held that there was no real cleavage between natural and supernatural truth, a position fundamental to the whole scientific argument. In 1863 Ward became editor of the influential Dublin Review and used it to urge that Rome should direct and control all scientific and historical research conducted by Catholics. This was the return to the medieval assumption of a total society, in which it was impossible to mark a point where the authority of the Church ended since spiritual considerations pervaded all material affairs. Ward argued that a separation between theology and other aspects of human knowledge was in practice impossible because the overlay was too great: 'We therefore see over how large a field of secular science the church's authority extends. She has the power ... of infallibly pronouncing propositions to be erroneous if they tend by legitimate consequence to a denial of any religious doctrine which she teaches. But secular science contains a vast number of such propositions, and on all these, therefore, the church has power to pronounce . an infallible judgment.'
This attack on the intellect and the free pursuit of knowledge was only one aspect of the reassertion of control which characterized Roman Christianity in the nineteenth century. Among the English converts there was an impressive attempt to apply the full rigours of a moral theology which claimed to deal with every minute aspect of human action and thought, and left the penitent wholly in the hands of the clerical supervisor. Once again, the habit of Victorians of committing everything to paper (and preserving the results) enables us to penetrate the details of their spiritual lives. F. W. Faber, the poet and hymn writer, came from a social and religious background similar to that of the Wilberforces; as a convert and a Catholic priest, he was a good exemplar of the new triumphalist pastoralism. Here he is, for instance, writing to one of his penitents, Mrs Elizabeth Thompson (11 August 1851): 'All your faults turn on two things: you make yourself the centre of everything, and you are greatly wanting in simplicity. You have at present not the least notion of the literally desolating extent of this latter fault in your soul. Pray daily against these two faults and look particularly after them in your examen of conscience. You must read no high spiritual books. ... Pray silence as much as you can - never ... argue on religion. ... There is at present no symptom whatever of God calling you to perfection. ... So far your spiritual life has been no more than an unreal ambition and built on sand. Your work is to begin.'
We also have a note of remonstration, dating from 1860, which Fr Faber, in accordance with his invariable custom, slipped under the bedroom door of Fr William Morris, one of the priests in his charge:
'The absence of supernatural principles illustrated in your refusing to give Miss Merewether Holy
Communion, because it might have shortened your breakfast by five minutes (1) Want of obligingness to one of your brothers and that when he was sick. (2) The example of what Jesus would have done obviously not your rule of action. (3) Want of penance, for even an almost microscopic inconvenience. (4) Want of silence in speaking of the breakfast. (5) Clear loss of spiritual sense in letting the length of breakfast be an obstacle, and in quoting it without any sense of shame or unspirituality. (6) Want of charity to an extern, and she sick. (7) Want of zeal of souls, depriving an invalid of the Fountain of Grace. (8) Want of love of Jesus, who longs to communicate Himself to souls, and you hindered Him, rather than curtail your breakfast five minutes, and His three hours on the Cross for you! You talk much of Our Lady - think of the want of love of her, who so jubilees in Communions. (9) Want of humility, in not doing so, if you thought you were being put upon. (10) Want of charity in judging, if you thought you were being put upon. (11) Plain absence of the saints' principle of always being on the look out to increase your merits, and to do something for God. (12) The extreme nastiness of this pettiness, as compared with the grand, large, kindly apostolic spirit of St Philip's Institute. (13) The disclosure of it is the absence of a life and spirit of prayer. (14) A token of fearful want of sensitiveness of conscience. (15) A proof of non-abiding presence of God: your first thought is self- and self s comfort. Only your selfishness is prompt and at home: supernatural principles not at all. My poor child, sad and shameful as this disclosure of your interior must be for you, it is what I have seen all along- but I cannot put aside the mists of self-love and self-occupation and hardened delusion in which you habitually live. Vileness ... is your characteristic.'
This, it should be emphasized, is one intellectual writing to another.
The stress on authority, and the maintenance of detailed clerical control of the conscience of the individual, were almost necessarily accompanied by a continued insistence on eternal punishment. The retreat from Hell was a characteristic of the nineteenth century liberal Protestant churchmen, many of whom, claimed their opponents, were guilty of the heresy of universalism. The nearer a man moved to Rome, the more the need for Hell seemed to increase (though it was also marked on the extreme fundamentalist wing of Protestantism). The Tractarians insisted that burning by physical fire was an essential part of eternal punishments. In his sermon on Hell (1856) Pusey noted: This, then is the first outward suffering of the damned, that they are purged, steeped in a lake of fire. O woe, woe, woe! Woe unutterable, woe unimaginable, woe interminable!' He wrote to Keble: 'People risk too much now. They would risk everything, if they did not dread an eternity of suffering. A mere purgatory for the bad would not move them.' Newman, while believing in physical torture, gave a description of the plight of the" damned soul, in the sermon reprinted in Discourses to Mixed Congregations which is far more imaginative and frightening. It was evidently a topic on which his mind frequently dwelt, and he emphasized the centrality of the doctrine: Hell was 'the great crux in the Christian system. ... It is the turning point between pantheism and Christianity, it is the critical doctrine - you can't get rid of it - it is the very characteristic of Christianity. We must therefore look matters in the face. Is it more improbable that eternal punishment should be true, or that there should be no God? For if there be a God there is eternal punishment (a posteriori).'
Of course Rome itself had always insisted on the importance of Hell. It was the solidity of this, and similar, doctrines which attracted so many converts. But Rome's pastoral use of Hell was greatly
augmented as a result of the work of St Alphonsus Liguori, who in 1732 founded the Order of the Re- demptorists. They specialized in Hell-fire sermons and made themselves available for retreats and Lenten missions in ordinary Catholic parishes. The order flourished; hence, at a time when Protestantism as a whole was pushing Hell into the background, it played a more colourful role for Catholics. Liguori published in 1758 a book called The Eternal Truths, which served as a handbook both for his own community and for parish priests generally. He thought that the stench of one damned person would be enough to asphyxiate all mankind. Oddly enough, he refused to describe Heaven, since he argued it was impossible to picture it for those who had experience only of earthly pleasures; but no such inhibition prevented him from conjuring up Hell: ' ... the unhappy wretch will be surrounded by fire like wood in a furnace. He will find an abyss of fire below, an abyss above, and an abyss on every side. If he touches, if he sees, if he breathes, he touches, sees, breathes only fire. He will be in fire like a fish in water. This fire will not only surround the damned, but it will enter into his bowels to torment him. His body will become all fire, so that the bowels within him will burn, his heart will burn in his bosom, his brains in his head, his blood in his veins, even the marrow in his bones; each reprobate will in himself become a furnace of fire.'
It was the Redemptorists who, in 1807, resurrected a remarkable seventeenth-century work by F. Pinamonti, Hell Opened to Christians, and reprinted it with horrific woodcuts. One edition was published in Ireland as late as 1889, and it has demonstrable links with the sermon on Hell described in James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Redemptorists often preached Hell-sermons at Catholic schools. One of them, the Reverend Joseph Furniss, wrote a number of books for children, in which Hell figured prominently. In The Sight of Hell he showed Hell as a mid-earth enclosure (thus following Liguori), with streams of burning pitch and sulphur, deluged with sparks and filled with a fog of fire. Tormented souls shrieked, 'roaring like lions, hissing like serpents, howling like dogs and wailing like dragons.' There were six dungeons, each with an appropriate torture - a burning press, a deep pit, a red-hot floor, a boiling kettle, a red-hot oven and a red-hot coffin. The little child is in the redhot oven. Hear how it screams to come out; see how it turns and twists itself about in the fire. It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor. ... God was very good to this little child. Very likely God saw it would get worse and worse and never repent, and so it would have been punished more severely in Hell. So God in his mercy called it out of the world in early childhood.' About four million copies of Furniss's works were sold in English-speaking countries. But we must not suppose that Hell was directed chiefly at children.
The Catholics, unlike some of the Protestants, had no 'double doctrine' on Hell; they taught it, in all its imaginative rigour, to all ages and all classes. Father Faber, who was greatly interested in death and its consequences ('O grave and pleasant cheer of death ... the diligent, ubiquitous benignity of death'; 'Deathbeds form a department of the church ... which belongs to her officially'), deplored any tendency to preach Hell-fire to the lower classes but not to their betters: 'I see real, good wholesome work to be done in real, good wholesome souls, by frequent meditation on Hell ...' Moreover, Catholic intellectuals were expected to subscribe to the doctrine, and, where appropriate, to reflect it in their writings. In 1892, Professor St George Mivart, a Catholic zoologist, suggested that the sufferings of the damned might gradually be ameliorated, a speculation Newman thought admissible. Cardinal Vaughan, Archbishop of Westminster, thought otherwise, and required Mivart to subscribe to a statement of orthodox doctrine.
Mivart refused, and found himself outside the Church. * Footnote:
* Apart from Manning and Ward, the converts did not flourish in the Catholic Church. Dean Church wrote of Frederick Oakeley on his death in 1880: 'The Romans made nothing of him, but sent him up to Islington to live poorly in a poor house with two Irish colleagues ... a genuine bit of the old Balliol Common Room, set in the frame of this dingy Islington parlour.' Newman complained: 'I was made a humiliation at my minor orders and at my examination for them, and I had to stand at Dr Wiseman's door waiting for confession amid the Oscott boys. ... We have been (necessarily) treated as children, being grown men.' The married converts were worse off. T.W. Allies was condemned to 'the drudgery of teaching dunces'. Henry Wilberforce, said Newman, was sentenced to a life of 'dull, listless inactivity, and of fitful, precarious employment'. The Catholic Church knew how to use masterful men like Manning, but had no employment for intellectuals. This wastage helps to explain why, in families divided by conversions, animosities lingered on. At Bishop Samuel Wilberforce's impressive funeral in 1873, the Catholic members of the family refused to join in the prayers but sat saying the De Profundis to themselves; though it was a Friday, the Protestant members insisted that cutlets be served for lunch - so the Catholics got nothing to eat. See David Newsome, The Parting of Friends: a study of the Wilberforces and Henry Manning (London. 1966).
The image of Rome as a repository of medieval certitudes, of social homogeneity, of a unitary view of life, exercised a marked appeal to a certain type of intellectual, and not only in England. In France, the current was, initially at least, much stronger, and it was linked to social and political forces which made nineteenth-century French Catholicism the driving force behind populist triumphalism. Chateaubriand's Genie du Christianisme was the harbinger of a new Catholic and papal apologetic. For the first time since the twelfth century, various vocal interests saw the papacy, potentially at least, as a popular force, as a protection against unwelcome secular claims, and as a far more acceptable defender of civilized tradition than the old royal houses.
The decline of Gallicanism and localism in the Church, and the virtual eclipse of the old type of bishop- aristocrat, produced an abrupt and permanent decline in episcopal authority, and thus placed the Pope and the parish priests (and through them, their congregations) in a direct relationship. In 1819 de Maistre published his remarkable celebration of the papacy, Du Pape, which not only reasserted the complete doctrine of papal infallibility, which had been devalued in the eighteenth century, but advanced persuasive and modern secular reasons for keeping, and exalting, the papal institution, as a barrier against barbarism and proletarian terror. The French Revolution and its consequences had destroyed Christianity as a total society; but it gave it a new place as a huge and vocal minority movement, active against change, ardent for conservatism, fighting reason with romance and progress with tradition, appealing strongly to certain ineradicable emotions in the human spirit. Catholicism, as conservative intellectuals recognized, was the chief beneficiary of the Christian reinvigoration because it made the fewest concessions to the modern egalitarian world, and because it radiated its unshaken faith in
hierarchy and authority. And it also had a single ruling figure, a charismatic or cynosure, holy and international, on whom could focus all the aspirations of traditionalists throughout the world. Why should not the Pope lead a great popular movement of faith, a triumphalism for the millions?
The idea was not entirely new. Gregory VII had seen himself interposing between the people and regal tyranny; Becket, and other prelates in conflict with the State, had loudly appealed for popular support. The identification of the Church with one variety of freedom was an ancient doctrine, rooted in St Paul. But the French revolution seemed to give it new life, since it was a reminder that tyranny was multifarious - there could be tyrannies of reason and tyrannies of ideology, tyrannies of progress, and even tyrannies of liberty, equality and fraternity. An institution which upheld an international and timeless divine law was a necessary counterpoise to unbridled human assertion. In 1809, the Abbe Felicite de La Mennais began a new movement within the French Church with his Reflections, which put a distinctively Catholic case against the philosophers for the first time, and argued that Catholicism was indispensable to the well-being of the world; in Tradition (1814), a study of the episcopate and the papacy, he rejected Gallicanism and presented ultramontanism as the true and necessary face of modern Catholicism.
La Mennais was an aristocrat, by birth, a Celt, a visionary, a weak, stunted man, with a thin body wrapped in a brown frock-coat, wearing a skullcap; his friends said he looked like a sacristan. He was ordained priest in 1816 and set about compiling a huge four-volume restatement of Christian faith as opposed to the prevailing rationalism of the intellectuals, the first modern summa, but presented in the form of a personal statement. In the 1820s, he emerged as a natural leader, the centre of a group of young, intense Catholic propagandists and activists, a phenomenon unknown in France since the meridian days of the Jansenists. There was Lacordaire, the Bonapartist son of a Burgundy surgeon, a convert, a priest and a liberal; and Montalembert, a romantic aristocrat, wanting to get back to the Middle Ages, which had been destroyed, in his view, by Richelieu and Louis XIV. At the study-centre La Mennais set up at the College de Juilly, many of the future bishops, preachers, apologists and historians of the French Church gathered. They also met for long and highly emotional discussions at La Chenaie, in Normandy, where in 1828 he formed the voluntary Congregation of St Peter and operated a kind of spiritual dictatorship over the abler young clerics. The group was held together by La Mennais's strong personality, by personal links - 'the deep, generous friendship of the kind that is formed in youth and under enemy fire', as Lacordaire put it - and by the vision of a reinvigorated Church appealing and responding to all the noblest elements in European society and civilization.
In many respects, the group at La Chenaie resembled the Oxford Movement, which came together in the same decade, with La Mennais playing the role of Keble. There was the same romantic preoccupation with medievalism, the same tense atmosphere of male celibacy, of intellectual struggle overlaid with high-strung emotions. And there was the same instability of conviction. But whereas the Oxford Movement was primarily concerned with doctrine, La Mennais was obsessed with the social force of the Church. He wanted to make it a dominant element in European society, as it had been (so he thought) in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. 'Without the pope,' he argued, 'there can be no church, without the church no Christianity, and without Christianity no religion and no society, which implies that the life of the European nations is solely dependent on the power of the papacy.' This was the theory. How
to make it the practice?
As a young man, La Mennais wanted to revert to the Augsburg idea of the princes of Europe settling religion, and thus serving as the agents of a Catholic-papal revival: 'The people are what one makes of them, criminals or well behaved, peaceful or agitators, religious or unbelieving, according to the wishes of those who lead them.' He saw himself and those who felt as he did as the nineteenth-century equivalent of the Jesuits, redeeming the ravages of the Revolution, as the Jesuits had rescued Catholicism from the Reformation. He seems to have thought that the whole of Europe would be Catholic in ten years, if only the princes wished it that way. This Waterloo perspective of the ancien regime restored, or rather of a group of enlightened monarchs applying God's law to man under the direction of the Pope, did not survive the actual experience of the years 1815-30. La Mennais and his friends grew to hate the Bourbons and the other sovereign houses of Europe', and gradually their slogan changed from 'the Pope and the king', to 'the Pope and the people'. The new, direct relationship between papacy and individual Catholics, which the destruction of Gallicanism made possible, was to be used to align Catholicism with democracy and construct a social identity of interests between the spiritual influence of the Pope and the mass economic and political power of the ordinary people.
La Mennais launched his new Catholic social philosophy with a small paper called L'Avenir in 1830, just three years before Keble's Assize Sermon. The time was well-chosen, since the new bourgeois regime of Louis-Philippe was anxious, as the king put it, 'to keep my finger out of church affairs ... for once you put it in you cannot pull it out, and there it has to stay.' La Mennais had now come to the view that the Vatican's policy of rebuilding Church-State relationships with the European powers, painstakingly pursued through innumerable concordats and agreements over the last twenty years, was mistaken. He now saw the State as an obstacle to religious truth, and urged that the Church should seek its freedom from it. It should have nothing more to do with the concept of 'legitimacy', which was a burden and an embarrassment. It should not seek privileges at the cost of tying its hands. It should not play safe by aligning itself with the old forces of Europe, but should turn to the people, the force of the future.
La Mennais did not actually coin the phrase 'Christian Democracy', but that was undoubtedly the concept towards which he was moving; and to which, indeed, the Catholic Church itself moved, more than a century later. At the time, however, it was hard to see the papacy reversing its historic conservative role -just at a time, too, when it had appeared to regain so much by maintaining its traditional posture so stoutly. The impact of La Mennais and his group was exceedingly powerful; but it was also narrow. L'Avenir had an impressive following among the younger clergy, but its total subscribers only numbered 2,000. Moreover, the French hierarchy and older Catholics tended to put their trust completely in the monarchy, the idea of legitimacy, and the established forces of the past; the privileges of a Church-State relationship, regarded by La Mennais as encumbrances, they felt to be essential to the defence of religion. We see here the emergence for the first time of the great debate in the modern Catholic Church - the policy of security versus the policy of risk. In 1831, L'Avenir ran into trouble with the French bishops, and La Mennais, Lacordaire and Montalembert decided to make a personal appeal to the Pope.
The gesture was naive. It would be hard to imagine a man less likely to be sympathetic to La Mennais's ideas, or indeed to any new ideas. Chateaubriand, the first to hail the new opportunities of Catholicism in the post-Revolutionary era, had sadly come to recognize Rome's limitations when he came to serve as ambassador there: 'Old men name an old man as their sovereign. Once in power he himself appoints old cardinals. Turning in a vicious circle the supreme power is exhausted and stands permanently on the edge of the tomb.' Bartolomeo Cappellari, elected Pope as Gregory xvi not long before the L'Avenir appeal, was an old-fashioned monk and in papal terms an embittered triumphalist - indeed, in 1799 he had written a book called Il Trionfo della Santa Sede. He belonged to what was called the Zelanti group, a freemasonry of Vatican right-wingers, and his Secretary of State, Lambruschini, the General of the Barnabites, was strongly anti-liberal and worked closely with the Jesuits. The natural conservatism of the two men was intensified by constant political unrest in the papal states. Indeed, Gregory thought he had no alternative but to support princely power everywhere, in the hope that his fellow-sovereigns would rally to his own if the need arose. His was a medieval mind, but not quite in the sense that the La Chenaie group understood. He was crudely superstitious - during a cholera epidemic, he led a propitiatory procession through the streets of Rome carrying a picture of the Madonna he believed had been painted by St Luke; and he accepted uncritically the rights of hereditary title and property, which to him were the very foundations of society.
The idea that people had rights, or monarchs obligations, was foreign to him. To the Polish Catholics who rose for religious and national freedom against the oppressive rule of Orthodox Russia he flatly refused support or sympathy; they were, he wrote in an encyclical, 'certain intriguers and spreaders of lies, who under pretence of religion in this unhappy age, are raising their heads against the power of princes'. On 1 March 1832, Gregory granted La Mennais and his lieutenants an interview, but only provided religious topics were not mentioned; it took place in the hostile presence of their legitimist enemy, the Cardinal de Rohan, and was confined to cold platitudes. La Mennais found the Pope 'a cowardly old imbecile', and Rome 'a huge tomb in which there are nothing but bones'. Of the Vatican court he wrote: 'I saw there the most dreadful cesspit that it has ever been the lot of man to look upon. The great sewer of Tarquin itself would have been incapable of dealing with such a mass of filth.' Six months later, during a banquet given in La Mennais's honour by German progressive Catholics in Munich, he was handed the Pope's answer on a silver tray: it took the form of the encyclical Mirari vos, which totally condemned his ideas without mentioning his name.
This was effectively the end of the initiative. Lacordaire slipped away from La Chenaie in the night, without saying good-bye. La Mennais himself was ordered to submit openly, and he did so, saying afterwards: 'I signed, yes I signed. I would have admitted that the moon was made of green cheese.' But in fact he intensified, rather than repudiated, his radical ideas. As an anti-aristocratic gesture he henceforth wrote his surname as one word, Lammenais; and his Paroles d'un Croyant (1834) was a sustained attack on tyranny, an aggressive defence of democracy, and a plea for 'a free church in a free state' - he prophesied that God would shortly transform society by casting down the oppressors of the poor, and by inaugurating a new age of justice, peace and love. Thus Lammenais in his own lifetime had come full circle, from a legitimist condemnation of revolution to the hope of a Christian millenium. The book was the subject of an explicit papal condemnation, and for the rest of his life (he died in 1854) Lammenais, though never excommunicated, was pushed into the shadows of Catholic disapproval. The failure of his movement meant that the Church in France lost the romantic intellectuals - Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset, Alfred de Vigny, Lamartine and many others. Thus at the very moment when the Oxford intellectuals - or some of them - were moving to Rome and even crossing the Tiber, the Paris intellectuals were moving out. Intellectually, they met on the drawbridge -some pursuing authority, others fleeing it.
But it would not be true to say that the Church, or even specifically the triumphalists, learned nothing from Lammenais. They accepted his view that the Church could become a popular institution, and the Pope a populist leader. What they denied was his assumption that the Church needed to compromise on its traditional social attitudes to win such support. Indeed some of them, if only dimly, grasped the important point that it was the very refusal of the papacy to compromise that, for many, formed its chief attraction. What repelled a Lammenais attracted a Manning; and not just Mannings but men and women of all classes and nations who saw the Vatican fortress as a security-symbol. It was this instinct which lay behind the success of Giovanni Mastari-Ferretti, who became Pope as Pius IX on the death of Gregory xvi in 1846. His life was a Lammenais-type pilgrimage in reverse. He was an aristocrat and a soldier, but epilepsy forced him to give up the army. He had been to Latin-America during the anticolonial period, and he began his pontificate with a series of liberal reforms in the papal states. He visited prisons and released political prisoners, allowed some freedom of the press, reformed the criminal code, excused Rome's Jews from attending compulsory sermons, installed gas-lighting and built a railway.
The desperate revolutionary year of 1848 turned him round completely: thereafter, for the next thirty years, he aligned himself totally with reaction in Church and State, and set his face steadily against liberalism in any form. In his old age, indeed, he seemed to have taken an almost physical delight in his personal struggle to hold the liberal world at bay, and a pride in epitomizing the traditions and characteristics of the ancien regime. He incarnated the papacy as de Maistre had conceived it; and, as de Maistre had perceived, this constituted part of his undoubted power to attract loyalty and devotion from very large numbers of people, including many who were his intellectual superiors. He was the first pope for centuries to become a popular symbol; and it was his very quality of intransigence which seemed to constitute his chief appeal. Sixteen centuries before, Tertullian had remarked with satisfaction that Christianity made outrageous demands on one's credulity - therein lay the glory and power of faith. The point was still valid: indeed, the seemingly relentless march of science and liberalism made it seem, to some, more valid than ever before.
There were also less paradoxical reasons for the success of populist triumphalism. 1848 had frightened other people besides the Pope. In France (and the movement can be paralleled elsewhere) there was a mid-century bourgeois rallying to the stable old faith. The motive was not so much religious as Voltairean: 'I like my lawyer, my tailor, my servants and my wife to believe in God because I can then expect to be robbed and cuckolded less often.' As Lacordaire's friend, Frederic Ozanam, put it (1849): 'Every Voltairean with a decent income is anxious to send people to mass, provided he does not have to go himself.' Ernest Renan called them 'Christians by fear'. (They nevertheless read his shocking and best- selling Vie de Jesus.) During the nineteenth century, the Church's economic and financial assets were steadily rebuilt. By the 1860s, especially in certain countries like France, Italy, Germany and Belgium, it
had more schools and institutions than ever before, and all the religious orders, but especially the teaching ones, were expanding their numbers.
The Church was a 'possessing' body, with which the bourgeois could feel strong affinities, economic if not intellectual. In the state schools, radical secular teachers aroused bourgeois fear and hostility. As Thiers put it: 'Their teachers are 35,000 Socialists and Communists. There is only one remedy: elementary education must be left in the Church's hands.' Such attitudes became the prevailing wisdom of French bourgeois society under the Second Republic of Napoleon in. Perhaps as much by accident as by design -certainly not as a result of deeply shared convictions - Napoleon and Pius IX became allies and, in a sense, partners. Each propped up the regime of the other. From the 1850s, Napoleon, while generally supporting the House of Savoy's anti-Austrian campaign to reunite Italy, used his ultramontane army to prevent the new crown, and its revolutionary supporters, from making Rome the capital of Italy and annexing the papal states by force. So Pius IX gloried in reaction by virtue of Napoleon's bayonets. Equally, the steady approval of the Church was a principal factor in keeping Napoleon in power.
The arrangement was more practical than edifying. Not only Montalembert found it distasteful when the Empress Eugenie, Napoleon's raffish consort, sent the Pope a present of £25,000 on his jubilee. The Bourbon Restoration had been a Catholic regime; the Second Empire was merely a clerical one, marked by cynical attention to the quid pro quo on both sides. When Napoleon visited Brittany in 1858, a bishop told him publicly that he was the most devoted Christian king of France since St Louis. The prelate was duly promoted to be archbishop, 'thus earning his tip, like a cab-driver'. This last remark was made not by a fierce anti-clerical but by the Viscomte de Falloux, author of the regime's pro-Catholic schools- laws. Indeed, it was among the Catholics that the alliance evoked the most irreverent comments. At election-time, the Pope's vast and obedient clerical army duly turned out Napoleon's voters; in return, the emperor was obliged to suppress his embarrassment when, in 1858, a three-year-old Jewish boy, called Mortara, baptized by a Catholic servant when in danger of death, was removed from parental control by the Holy Office as soon as he recovered. This was the law of Rome, upheld solely by French infantry. Hence Montalembert's sneer that the alliance was 'a coalition between the guard-room and the sacristy', capped by General Chargarnier's epitome of Napoleon's regime: 'A bawdy house blessed by bishops.'
Yet there was also a number of active and able French Catholics who upheld the new papalism with passionate devotion. Nearly all were converts, that is former agnostics or atheists who had turned to Rome after an emotional or intellectual crisis. As with the Oxford converts, what chiefly attracted them in their new Church was its authority, and its crude self-confidence in cutting through complex intellectual issues. They were not only ultramontanist but, in most cases, violent papalists. Among them was Louis Veuillot, who became editor of the Catholic daily l'Univers, and radiated the views of a W. G. Ward but on an incomparably greater scale, and in more virulent form. Veuillot was the son of a cooper, self-taught working-class in manner and outlook - totally unlike the well-heeled and highly-educated Oxford Tractarians, or, for that matter, the upper middle-class French Catholic liberals. He had turned himself into a barrister's clerk and so graduated to journalism, for which he had a kind of genius. He wrote magnificent French prose, and had a sharp eye for the sensational. His posture was one of aggressive enthusiasm, with his short, stocky body, huge head and bristling mane. Veuillot's views of religion and history were unsubtle, the crude prejudices of the traditionalist working-class croyant: 'If
there is anything to be regretted, it is that they did not burn John Huss earlier, that Luther was not burned with him, and that, at the time of the Reformation, there was not one prince in Europe with enough piety and political sense to start a crusade against the countries it had infected.' On the other hand, he grasped the potentialities of working-class Catholicism. Just as, with a mass-suffrage, the Catholic parish clergy could prove themselves indispensable election-agents to the Right - one of the salient discoveries of the mid nineteenth century - so the advent of modern communications made it possible to organize and regiment the Catholic proletariat and peasantry into a huge force within the Church.
The churchgoing masses and the Pope, in alliance, were an unbeatable combination. Veuillot's populism coincided with the growth, under papal impulse, of new forms of mass devotion associated with the Sacred Heart, the Virgin Mary, and the eucharist. Many of these were, in fact, a return to late medieval ideas, and were associated with visions, visitations and the ecstasies of mystics. The Madonna made her appearance twice in Paris, in 1830 and 1836, in Savoy in 1846 and, from 1858, at Lourdes. The two most celebrated religious figures of the age were both sensational, and both French: Bernadette herself, and J-B. Marie Vianney, the parish-priest of Ars, near Lyons. The Cure of Ars flogged himself unmercifully, fasted prodigiously, held all-night prayer sessions and wrestled physically with the Devil. He became a cult-figure, thousands travelling from all over France (and abroad) to confess to him.
Father Vianney was significant of a new trend to exalt the work of the priest and his contacts with the Catholic masses. Veuillot, the astute populist, reinforced this tendency in L'Univers. Nearly all the parish priests took it; it was sold outside their churches on Sunday. It reflected and amplified their simple views on religion: devotional piety, the cult of the papacy, and, concealed beneath a thick veneer of emotionalism and sentimentality, the mechanical Christianity of the Middle Ages, the creedal climate in which populist triumphalism could flourish. Ozanam said of Veuillot and his friends: They are not trying to convert unbelievers but to rouse the passions of believers.' This was broadly true. The ultimate object of a total Christian society was not abandoned, but it was subordinated to the organization of the faithful for the purpose of exercising power. As Veuillot saw it, this would be achieved by readjusting the balance within the Church, by strengthening the links between the sole and autocratic power of the papacy, on the one hand, and the parish priests and the masses on the other; and by turning the episcopate into mere Vatican functionaries. L'Univers, and the spiritual atmosphere it created, was an important instrument in this process. It became extremely difficult for any French bishop, unless his personal position was exceptionally strong, to argue or act against a line taken by the paper, especially if, as was usual, it was supported by the Pope and a majority of the parish priests. When in 1853 the Archbishop of Paris and Bishop Doupanloup of Orleans, the outstanding individualist of the French hierarchy, condemned the paper, Veuillot appealed to the Pope. Pius exonerated him in the encyclical Inter Multiplies, in which he commanded the hierarchy to be 'generous in their encouragements and to show their goodwill and love towards those men who ... devote the watches of the night to writing books and papers ... so that the ancient rights of the Holy See and its acts may enjoy their full force, so that opinions and sentiments contrary to this Holy See may disappear, so that the darkness of error may be dissipated and the minds of men flooded with the blessed light of the truth.' And what was this 'blessed light of the truth'? L'Univers had the answer: 'Who is the Pope? He is Christ on earth.' This was the paper's theme throughout the 1850s and 1860s. It was also the theme of an increasing number of bishops. Trains and steamships made it possible for most of them to travel to the Vatican regularly, and they did so increasingly at the Pope's invitation; communications thus served to break down the 'Gallican' element in the Church, itself a product of isolation and distance as much as anything else, and to make it increasingly difficult for bishops to resist the papal inclination, even on quite minor matters. Many bishops, in fact, moved wholly into the triumphalist camp, and became the fuglemen and drum- beaters of the new populism. Bishop Mermillod went so far as to deliver a sermon on the three incarnations of Christ - in the womb of the Virgin Mary, in the eucharist, and in the person of Pius IX. As episcopal subservience developed, the resurrected conciliar theory of the eighteenth century was quietly buried again, and it became clear that Pius IX had very little, if anything, to fear from a council.
A council was necessary to crown triumphalism by giving the sanction of the Church Fathers to the doctrine of papal infallibility, long asserted but never formally pronounced as dogma. For many years Pius IX had been urged to take such a step by his supporters, led by Manning, now Archbishop of Westminster, for whom papal infallibility was the necessary and ultimate endorsement of the authoritarian principle. And much of Pius's reign had seemed a preparation for the event. In 1854, his bull Ineffabilis Deus plunged into the heady waters of theological adventurism by declaring 'the Blessed Virgin Mary to have been, from the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Saviour of mankind, preserved free from stain or original sin'. Here was a case of a pious traditional belief turned into ineradicable dogma - and in the teeth of Protestant, and even liberal Catholic, hostility. Such gestures appealed to the faithful Catholic masses; they were part of the populist repertoire. So, too, were great gatherings of the clergy. In 1862, to mark the canonization of twenty-six missionaries martyred in Japan, Pius invited the entire episcopate to attend a Pentecostal celebration in Rome. The response was encouraging: 323 cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops and bishops, over 4,000 priests, and 100,000 Catholic lay-folk. In 1864, the Pope made a characteristically late-medieval gesture: he published an encyclical, Quanta cura, announcing that the following year would be a jubilee, in which a plenary indulgence might be gained by those strong in the Catholic faith. And by way of an appendix to the encyclical he included a document listing the propositions which a good Catholic was specifically enjoined not to hold. This 'Syllabus of Errors' was in fact an index, giving references to various views already condemned in papal speeches, letters, addresses and encyclicals. Its precise status and authority was not, therefore, entirely clear, but in the circumstances it appeared to be a defiant manifesto against the whole of the modern world. Sections 1-7 condemned pantheism, naturalism and absolute rationalism; 8-14 moderate rationalism; 15-18 indifferentism, latitudinarianism. socialism, communism, secret societies, Bible societies and liberal clerical groups. Sections 19-76 set out the rights of the Church, and of the Roman pontiff and his state, in the most uncompromising and triumphalist manner, and any infringements by civil society were roundly condemned. It was wrong to deny the Pope the right to 'a civil princedom' or to the use of force to defend it; Catholics were forbidden to accept civil education, or to deny the assertion that the 'Catholic religion was the sole religion of the state to the exclusion of all others'; and in Section 79 freedom of speech was condemned as leading to 'corruption of manners and minds' and 'the pest of indifferentism'. Finally, Section 80 summarized the document by condemning the assertion that 'the Roman pontiff can and should reconcile and harmonize himself with progress, with liberalism, and with recent civilization'.
The Syllabus was received with astonishment, not to say incredulity by many non-Catholics, and with
dismay by liberal Catholics (and a number of bishops). Some governments, notably those of France, Austria and Bavaria, feared that it might be invested with full dogmatical authority at any forthcoming council. There was some attempt, on the part of those Catholics who thought it both theologically possible and socially essential, for the Church to adjust to the modern world, to organize opposition and put the brakes on the headlong progress to triumphalism. Among the leading English laity, the liberal historian Lord Acton, who had extensive academic and political contacts on the Continent, went on a tour of European state archives in the years 1864-8, which awoke him to what he termed 'the vast tradition of conventional mendacity', including the willingness of a triumphalist papacy to employ lying and violence to further essentially secular policies. In his travels he was able to consult with the critical Catholic element, especially in Germany. In France, too, Montalembert now became convinced that the ultramontanism he had once vigorously sponsored had been perverted to transform the Pope into a theological monster, what he termed 'a papal Louis xiv'. But it would be an error to suppose these opposition elements were significant either in numbers or influence. In Britain, the Catholic Church, for all practical purposes, was wholly controlled by Cardinal Manning, the most ardent of triumphalists; in France, the liberals were in a tiny minority -Montalembert's Correspondent was a monthly selling only 3,000 copies. In 1867, Pius summoned another gathering to Rome, to celebrate the eighteenth centenary of the great pontifical feast of SS Peter and Paul. This time over 500 bishops attended, with 20,000 priests and 150,000 lay-pilgrims. Finally, the invitations to the council went out. W. G. Ward, who had greeted the publication of the Syllabus with noisy approval, and who used to say 'I should like to have a fresh papal bull to read every morning with my breakfast', not only assumed that papal infallibility would be declared dogmatic, but publicly expressed the hope that it would be defined as widely as possible, that is, to include papal letters and encyclicals. A new Jesuit publication, the Civilita Cattolica, published in Rome and believed to be the semi-official organ of Vatican opinion, went further: in an attack on French progressives, it divided the faithful 'into two parties - one, simply Catholics, the other those who call themselves liberal Catholics'; the latter were not really Catholics at all, and were to be distinguished by their critical approach to papal infallibility. When the dogma was placed before the council, 'which it is hoped will be very shortly', the proper course would be for the Fathers 'to define it by acclamation', without debate or vote. This was also the position adopted by L'Univers and other ultramontanist organs. It clearly had the approval of Pius IX himself, who was fond of saying 'La tradizione sono io!'
In the event, the dogma was denned in 1870 only after long debate and in a qualified form which limited the Pope's freedom from error only to matters of faith and morals defined ex cathedra. But in all other respects the council marked the apparent extinction of the liberal Catholics. It took place against the background of the Franco-Prussia war, the withdrawal of French military protection, the Italian seizure of Rome and the extinction of the papal states. But this eclipse of the Pope's temporal power served, in real terms, to emphasize the huge importance of his new and dominant position within the Church and, it seemed, within Christianity in consequence. The fortress had been constructed not in perishable stone but in ideas and populist notions. Its garrison was unanimous.
Montalembert had turned his back on the council in disgust: 'I do not want to offer up justice, reason and history as a burnt offering to the idol that the lay theologians of Catholicism have set up for themselves in the Vatican.' Bishop Doupanloup protested in vain that Cardinal Barnabe, Prefect of the College of
Propaganda, was 'driving the bishops like pigs'. Professor Johann von Dollinger, leader of the German antitriumphalists, and Acton's close friend, rejected the dogma: 'As a Christian, as a theologian, as a historian and as a citizen, I cannot accept this doctrine.' A few, mainly academics, went with him, and formed the Old Catholic Church. Acton himself washed his hands of ecclesiastical politics. These desertions or renunciations caused scarcely a ripple within the Church, and were welcome to most of the triumphalists. Of the few bishops who initially voted against the dogma, or allowed their opposition to it to become known, some survived because of the strength of their personal position. Others were victimized, not indeed by the Vatican - that was unnecessary - but by their own triumphalist clergy. Thus Mgr de Marguerye, Bishop of Autun, after his return from the council, tried to justify his negative vote at a meeting of his diocesan clergy: they denied him a hearing by drumming their feet on the wooden boards of the chapter-house, and he felt he had no choice but to resign his see. A great silence descended on the Catholic Church.
By 1870, then, the papacy had achieved a position of total control within Roman Christianity which it had been unable to secure even in the thirteenth century, and it had achieved it in circumstances which seemed to suggest that the overwhelming majority of Christians who owed allegiance to Rome were not only willing, but eager, to accord the Holy See this unprecedented paramountcy. In the dawn of democracy, Rome had erected a popular despotism; and it had done so in a Christian Europe which, in the 1870s, was rapidly extending its dominion to cover virtually the entire civilized world. The papacy had constructed for itself a fortress against modernity: in 1870 it had seemed to enter the fortress with a united garrison, and raise the drawbridge. But the 'idol in the Vatican' assumed, and most of his supporters assumed with him, that a time would come when the garrison would issue forth and, in the name of a united European Christianity, complete its Universalist mission. 'To the City and to the World' - the ancient papal phrase seemed to have acquired a new significance in 1870. But how real was this vision of global Christianity?