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family were imprisoned for reading the Bible with their
friends in their own house ; when monks swarmed every-
where, gross and dirty; when, at the centers of power,
the Jesuits had it all their own way, as they generally
do when the final exasperating impulse is needed to bring
on a revolution. All old abuses of the church were at
their highest flavor. So far as ceremonial was concerned,
nothing could be more gorgeous than the services at St.
Peter's as conducted by Pope Pius IX. For such duties
no one could be better fitted ; for he was handsome, kindly,
and dignified, with a beautiful, ringing voice.

During Holy Week of 1856 I was present at various
services in which he took the main part, in the Sistine
Chapel and elsewhere; but most striking of all were his
celebration of pontifical high mass beneath the dome of
St. Peter's on Easter morning, and his appearance on
the balcony in front of the cathedral afterward. The
effect of the first ceremony was somewhat injured by the
easy-going manners of some of the attendant cardinals.
It was difficult to imagine that they believed really in
the tremendous doctrine involved in the mass when one
saw them taking snuff in the midst of the most solemn
prayers, and going through the whole in the most per-


functory fashion. At the close of the service, the Pope,
being borne on his throne by Roman nobles, surrounded
by cardinals and princes, and wearing the triple crown,
gave his blessing to the city and to the world. There
must have been over ten thousand of us in the piazza to
receive it, and no one could have performed his part more
perfectly. Arising from his throne, and stretching forth
his hands with a striking gesture, he chanted a benedic-
tion heard by every one present, even to the remotest
corners of the square. Many years afterward, Lord Odo
Russell, British ambassador at Berlin, on my mention-
ing the splendor of this ceremony to him, said to me,
1 'Yes, you are right; but it was on one of those occasions
that I discovered that the Pope was mortal." On my
asking him how it was, he said, "I had occasion, as the
British diplomatic representative, to call on Pope Pius
IX on Easter Monday, and, after finishing my business
with him, told him that I had been present at the benedic-
tion in front of St. Peter's on the day before, and had
been much impressed by the beauty of his voice; and I
added, 'Your Holiness must have been trained as a
singer.' At this the Pope was evidently greatly pleased,
and answered, ' You are right, I was trained as a singer ;
but you ought to have heard me two or three years ago.'

But while these great services at St. Peter's in those
halcyon days were perfect in their kind, the same could
not be said of many others. The worst that I ever saw-
one which especially dwells in my memory was at Pisa.
I had previously visited the place and knew it well, so
that when, one Sunday morning, a Canadian clergyman
at the hotel wished to go to the cathedral, I offered to
guide him. He was evidently a man of deep sincerity,
and, as was soon revealed by his conversation, of high-
church and even ritualistic tendencies; but, to my great
surprise, he remarked that he had never attended service
in a Roman Catholic church. Arriving at the cathedral
too late for the high celebration, we walked down the
nave until we came to a side altar where a priest was


going through a low mass, with a small congregation of
delayed worshipers, and we took our place back of these.
The priest raced through the service at the highest
possible speed. His motions were like those of an autom-
aton: he kept turning quickly to and fro as if on a pivot;
clasping his hands before his breast as if by machinery ;
bowing his head as if it moved by a spring in his
neck; mumbling and rattling like wind in a chimney;
the choir-boy who served the mass with him jingling
his bell as irreverently as if he were conducting a green-
grocer's cart. My Anglican companion immediately be-
gan to be unhappy, and was soon deeply distressed. He
groaned again and again. He whispered, "Good hea-
vens, is it like this? Is this the way they do it? This
is fearful!" As we came from the church he was very
sorrowful, and I administered to him such comfort as
I could, but nothing could remedy this most painful dis-

And here I may say that I have never been able to un-
derstand how any Anglican churchman can feel any in-
sufficiency in the Lord's Supper as administered in his
own branch of the church. I have never taken part in
it, but more than once I have lingered to see it, and even
in its simplest form it has always greatly impressed me.
It is a service which all can understand; its words have
come down through the ages ; its ceremonial is calm, com-
prehensible, touching; and the whole idea of communion
in memory of the last scene in the Saviour's life, which
brings the worshiper into loving relation not only with
him, but with all the church, militant and triumphant,
is, to my mind, infinitely nobler and more religious than
all paraphernalia, genuflexions, and man-millinery. How
any Protestant, however "high" in his tendencies, can
feel otherwise is incomprehensible to me.

At that first of my many visits to Rome, there had
come one experience which had greatly softened any of
my inherited Protestant prejudices. Our party had been
lumbering along all day on the road from Civita Vecchia,


when suddenly there dashed by us a fine traveling-coach
drawn by four horses ridden by postilions. Hardly had
it passed when there came a scream, and our carriage
stopped. We at first took it for granted that it was an
attack by bandits, but, on getting out and approaching the
other coach, found that one of the postilions, a beautiful
Italian boy of sixteen, in jaunty costume, had been thrown
from his horse, had been run over by the wheels of the
coach, and now lay at the roadside gasping his last. We
stood about him, trying to ease his pain, when a young
priest came running from a neighboring church. He
showed no deference to the gorgeously dressed person-
ages who had descended from the coach ; he was regard-
less of all conventionalities, oblivious of all surroundings,
his one thought being evidently of his duty to the poor
sufferer stretched out before him. He knelt, tenderly
kissed the boy, administered extreme unction, and re-
peated softly and earnestly the prayers for the dying,
to which fervent responses came from the peasants kneel-
ing about him. The whole scene did much to tone down
the feelings which had been aroused the previous day by
the filth and beggary at the papal port where we had
landed, and to prepare me for a more charitable judg-
ment of what I was to see in the papal city.

But an early experience in Rome showed a less beau-
tiful manifestation of Christian zeal. We were a band
of students, six in number, who had just closed a year
of study at the University of Berlin; and the youngest,
whom I will call Jack Smith, was a bright young fellow,
son of a wealthy New England manufacturer. The even-
ing after arriving in Rome, Jack, calling on an American
aunt, was introduced to a priest who happened to be
making her a visit. It was instantly evident that the
priest, Father Cataldi, knew what Jack's worldly pros-
pects were ; for from the first he was excessively polite to
the youth, and when the latter remarked that during his
stay in Rome he would like to take Italian lessons, the
priest volunteered to send him a teacher. Next day, at


the appointed hour, the teacher appeared, and in the per-
son of the priest himself. Thenceforward he stuck to the
young American like a brother, kept him away from the
rest of us as much as possible, and served not only as his
teacher, but as his cicerone.

Among various dignitaries to whom he presented the
young American was his Eminence Cardinal Tosti; and
when the cardinal extended his hand to be kissed, Jack
grasped and cordially shook it. The two clerical gentle-
men were evidently disconcerted; but the priest said to
the cardinal, in an undertone, "E un principe Ameri-
cano, ' ' whereupon the cardinal seemed relieved and shook
hands heartily.

One day, when the priest was not with our companion,
we all visited one of the basilicas, where some great func-
tion was going on, and, though we found a crowd at
the doors, obtained a sight of the high altar, and
there, in magnificent attire, in the midst of the great
prelates, was a person who bore a most striking resem-
blance to Jack's clerical guide. We were all struck by
this curious coincidence, but concluded that in the dis-
tance and through the clouds of incense we had simply
seen a chance resemblance, and in the multitude of mat-
ters we soon forgot it. A month afterward, as we were
leaving Rome, Jack asked his new friend for his bill,
whereupon the priest drew himself up with a superb ges-
ture and, presenting his card, said: "You evidently do
not know who I am." The card bore the inscription,
"Monsignor Cataldi, Master of the Papal Ceremonies."
The young American was quite confounded, but listened
submissively while this dignitary expressed the hope that
they might yet meet within the pale of that church which
alone could give a claim to salvation.

The condition of Rome at that period was not such as
to induce much respect for priestly government. Any-
thing more dirty, slipshod, and wretched could hardly
be imagined. No railways had yet been allowed; the
Vatican monsignori feeling by instinct the truth stated


by Buckle, that railways promote the coming in of new
ideas. Nor did the moral condition of the people seem
to be any better.

Any one who visits Rome to-day, with the army of
monks swept out of the place, with streets well cleaned,
with the excavations scientifically conducted, with a gov-
ernment which, whatever its faults, is at any rate patri-
otic, finds it difficult to imagine the vileness of the city
under the old regime.

But, bad as was Rome, Naples was worse. The
wretched Bourbon then on the throne, "King Bomba,"
was the worst of his kind. Our minister of that period,
Mr. Robert Dale Owen, gave me some accounts of the
condition of things. He told me, as a matter of fact, that
any young man showing earnest purpose of any sort was
immediately suspected and discouraged, while worthless
young debauchees were regarded as harmless, and there-
fore favored.

The most cherished counselor of the King was Apuzzo,
Archbishop of Sorrento. In addition to what I have al-
ready said of Leopardi's political catechism, which the
archbishop forced upon the people, I may note that this
work took great pains to show that no education was
needed save just enough .to enable each man to accom-
plish his duties within the little sphere in which he was
born, and that for the great body of the people education
was a curse rather than a blessing. The result of this
policy was evident : the number of persons unable to read
or write, which was from forty to fifty per cent, in Pied-
mont, was from sixty to sixty-five per cent, in Rome, from
eighty to eighty-five per cent, in the Papal States, and
above eighty-five per cent, in Naples and Sicily. 1

I also had the advantage of being present at the great
religious function of Naples the liquefaction of the
blood of St. Januarius, patron of the city. It was in the

1 See maps in Vol. II, of "I/Italia Economica nel 1873" (Roma, Tipografia
Barbera,1873). This work was the result of official surveys and most careful
studies made by leading economists and statisticians. For a copy of it I am
indebted to Mr. H. N. Gay, Fellow of Harvard University.


gorgeous chapel of the saint which forms part of the
Cathedral of Naples, and the place was filled with devout
worshipers of every class, from the officials in court dress,
representing the Bourbon king, down to the lowest laz-
zaroni. The reliquary of silver gilt, shaped like a large
human head, and supposed to contain the skull of the
saint, was first placed upon the altar; next, two vials,
containing a dark substance said to be his blood, were
also placed upon the altar, near the head. As the priests
said prayers, they turned the vials from time to time;
and, the liquefaction being somewhat delayed, the great
crowd of people burst out into more and more impas-
sioned expostulations and petitions to the saint. Just in
front of the altar were the lazzaroni who claimed to be
descendants of the saint's family, and these were espe-
cially importunate: at such times they beg, they scold,
they even threaten; they have been known to abuse the
saint roundly, and to tell him that, if he does not care
to show his favor to the city by liquefying his blood, St.
Cosmo and St. Damian are just as good saints as he, and
will, no doubt, be very glad to have the city devote itself
to them. At last, as we were beginning to be impatient,
the priest, turning the vials suddenly, announced that the
saint had performed the miracle, and instantly priests,
people, choir, and organ burst forth into a great "Te
Deum"; bells rang and cannon roared; a procession was
formed, and the shrine containing the saint's relics was
carried through the streets, the people prostrating them-
selves on both sides of the way and showering rose-leaves
upon the shrine and upon the path before it. The con-
tents of these precious vials are an interesting relic in-
deed, for they represent to us vividly that period when
men who were willing to go to the stake for their reli-
gious opinions thought it not wrong to "save souls f ' by
pious mendacity and consecrated fraud. To the scien-
tific eye this miracle is very simple: the vials contain,
no doubt, one of those waxy mixtures fusing at low tem-
perature, which, while kept in its place within the cold


stone walls of the church, remains solid, but which, upon
being brought out into the hot, crowded chapel and fon-
dled by the warm hands of the priests, gradually softens
and becomes liquid. It was curious to note, at the time
above mentioned, that even the high functionaries repre-
senting the King looked at the miracle with awe : they evi-
dently found "joy in believing," and one of them assured
me that the only thing which could cause it was the direct
exercise of miraculous power.

So, too, I had here an opportunity to study one of the
fundamental ideas of the prevalent theology namely, the
doctrine of * ' intercession, ' ' which has played such a part
not only in Catholic but in Protestant countries, the
idea that, just as in an earthly court back-stairs influ-
ence is necessary to secure favor, so it must be in the
heavenly courts. I was much edified by the way in which
this doctrine was presented in certain great pictures rep-
resenting the intervention of the Almighty to save Naples
from the plague. One of them, as I remember it, repre-
sented, on an enormous canvas, the whole transaction as
follows: In the immediate foreground the people of Na-
ples were represented on their knees before their magis-
trates, begging them to rescue the city from the pesti-
lence; farther back the magistrates were represented as
on their knees before the monks, begging for their
prayers; the monks were on their knees before St. Jan-
uarius, begging him to intervene ; St. Januarius was then
represented as on his knees before the Blessed Virgin;
the Blessed Virgin was then pictured as beseeching her
divine Son ; and he at last was represented as presenting
the petition to a triangle in the heavens behind which
appeared the lineaments of a venerable face.

One can understand, after seeing pictures of this kind,
what Erasmus was thinking of, five hundred years ago,
when he wrote his colloquy of "The Shipwreck," the
most exquisite satire on mediaeval doctrine ever made.
After a most comical account of the petitions and prom-
ises made by the shipwrecked to various saints, Adolphus


says : ' ' To which of the saints did you pray f ' ' Antony
answers, "To not one of them all, I assure you. I don't
like your way of bargaining with the saints : ' Do this and
I '11 do that. Here is so much for so much. Save me
and I will give you a taper or go on a pilgrimage. ' Just
think of it ! I should certainly have prayed to St. Peter,
if to any saint ; for he stands at the door of heaven, and
so would be likeliest to hear. But before he could go
to the Almighty and tell him my condition, I might be
fifty fathoms under water." Adolphus: "What did you
do then ? ' ' Antony : " I went straight to God himself, and
said my prayer to him ; the saints neither hear so readily
nor give so willingly."

In the city itself were filth, blasphemy, and obscenity
unspeakable. No stranger could take his seat at a cafe
without having proposals openly made to him which
would have disgraced Pompeii. Cheatery and lying pre-
vailed on all sides. Outside the city was brigandage,
so much so that various parties going to Paestum took
pains to combine their forces and to bear arms.

This, then, was the outcome of fifteen hundred years
of Christian civilization in a land which had been entirely
in the hands of the church authorities ever since the down-
fall of the Roman Empire ; a country in which education,
intellectual, moral, and religious, had been from the first
inthe hands of a body, claiming infallibility in its teach-
ing of faith and morals, which had molded rulers and
people at its own will during all these centuries. This
was the result ! It seemed to me then, as it seems to me
now, a reductio ad dbsurdum of the claims of any church
to superintend the education of a people; and if it be
insisted that there is anything exceptional in Italy, one
may point for examples of the same results to Spain,
the Spanish republics, Poland, and sundry other coun-

Before going to Italy, I had taken pains to read as
much as possible of the history of the country, and,
among other works, had waded through the ten octavo


volumes of Sismondi's " History of the Italian Repub-
lics," as well as Gibbon's " Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire"; and this history had served to show me what
any body of ecclesiastics, not responsible to sound lay
opinion, may become. In looking over the past history
and present condition of Italy, there constantly rang in
my ears that great warning by Christ himself, "By their
fruits ye shall know them. ' '


IN LATER YEARS 1856-1905

ON my return to America I remained for a short time
as a resident graduate at New Haven, and there
gained a friend who influenced me most happily. This
was Professor George Park Fisher, at that time in
charge of the university pulpit, an admirable scholar
and historian. His religious nature, rooted in New Eng-
land orthodoxy, had come to a broad and noble bloom
and fruitage. Witty and humorous, while deeply thought-
ful, his discussions were of great value to me, and our
long walks together remain among the most pleasing
recollections of my life. He had a genius for conversa-
tion ; in fact, he was one of the two or three best conver-
sationists I have ever known, and his influence on my
thinking, both as regards religious and secular questions,
was thoroughly good. While we did not by any means
fully agree, I came to see more clearly than ever what a
really enlightened Christianity can do for a man.

I had returned to America in the hope of influencing
opinion from a professor 's chair, and my dear old friend
Professor afterward President Porter urged me to
remain in New Haven, assuring me that the professor-
ship of history for which I had been preparing myself
abroad would be open to me there. A few years later
a professorship at Yale was offered me, and in a way
for which I shall always be grateful ; but it was not the
professorship of history: from that I was debarred by
my religious views, and therefore it was that, having



been elected to a professorship in that department at
the State University of Michigan, I immediately and
gladly entered upon its duties.

Installed in this new position at Ann Arbor, I not
only threw myself very heartily into my work, but be- ;
came interested in church and other good work as it went
on about me. From the force of old associations, and
because my family had also been brought up in the Epis-
copal Church, I attended its services regularly; and,
while it represented much that I could not accept, there
were noble men in it who became my very dear friends,
with whom I was glad to work.

It has always seemed to me rather an amusing episode
in my life during this period that, in spite of grave doubts
regarding my orthodoxy, my friends elected me vestry-
man of St. Andrew 's Church at Ann Arbor, and gave me
full power to select and call a rector for the parish at my
next vacation excursion in the East. This in due time I
proceeded to do. Attending the convention of the Episco-
pal Church in the diocese of Western New York, I con-
sulted with various clerical friends, visited one or two
places in order to hear sundry clergymen who were rec-
ommended to me, and at last called to our rectorate a
man who proved to be not only a blessing to that parish,
but to the State at large. In the annals of American
charitable work his name is writ large, though probably
there never lived a man more averse to publicity. He
has since been made a bishop, and in that capacity has
shown the same self-sacrifice and devotion to works of
mercy which marked his career as pastor.

As to my religious ideas in general, they were at that
time influenced in various ways. I read much ecclesias-
tical history as given by leading authorities, Protestant
and Catholic, and in various original treatises by think-
ers eminent in the history of the church. A marked in-
fluence was exercised upon me by reading sundry lives
of the mediaeval saints: even the quaintest of these
showed me how, in spite of childlike credulity, most noble

IN LATER YEARS 1856-1905 559

lives had been led, well worthy to be pondered over in
these later centuries.

The general effect of this reading was to arouse in me
admiration for the men who have taken leading parts in
developing the great religions of the world, and espe-
cially Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant; but
it also caused me to distrust, more and more, every sort
of theological dogmatism. More and more clear it be-
came that ecclesiastical dogmas are but steps in the evo-
lution of various religions, and that, in view of the fact
that the main underlying ideas are common to all, a
beneficent evolution is to continue.

This latter idea was strengthened by my careful read-
ing of Sale's translation of the Koran, which showed
me that even Mohammedanism is not wholly the tissue
of folly and imposture which in those days it was gen-
erally represented to be.

Influence was also exerted upon me by various other
books, and especially by Fra Paolo Sarpi's "History of
the Council of Trent," probably the most racy and pun-
gent piece of ecclesiastical history ever written; and
though I also read as antidotes the history of the Council
by Pallavicini, and copious extracts from Bossuet, Arch-
bishop Spalding, and Balmez, Father Paul taught me, as
an Italian historian phrases it, "how the Holy Spirit con-
ducts church councils." At a later period Dean Stanley
made a similar revelation in his account of the Council of

The works of Buckle, Lecky, and Draper, which were
then appearing, laid open much to me. All these authors
showed me how temporary, in the sum of things, is any
popular theology; and, finally, the dawn of the Darwin-
ian hypothesis came to reveal a whole new orb of thought
absolutely fatal to the claims of various churches, sects,
and sacred books to contain the only or the final word
of God to man. The old dogma of "the fall of man"
had soon fully disappeared, and in its place there rose
more and more into view the idea of the rise of man.


But while my view was thus broadened, no hostility
to religion found lodgment in my mind : of all the books
which I read at that time, Stanley's life of Arnold ex-
ercised the greatest influence upon me. It showed that
a man might cast aside much which churches regard

Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 47 of 54)