John Henry Newman.

The pope and the revolution : a sermon, preached in the Oratory Church, Birmingham, on Sunday, October 7, 1866 online

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\The right of Translation is reserved.']


THIS Sermon is given to the world in consequence
of its having been made the subject in the public
prints of various reports and comments, which,
though both friendly and fair to the author, as
far as he has seen them, nevertheless, from the
necessity of the case, have proceeded from in-
formation inexact in points of detail.

It is now published from the copy written be-
forehand, and does not differ from that copy, as
delivered, except in such corrections of a critical
nature as are imperative when a composition,
written currente calamo, has to be prepared for
the press. There is one passage, however, which
it has been found necessary to enlarge 9 with a
view of expressing more exactly the sentiment
which it contained; viz. the comparison made at
pp. 43, 44, between Italian and English Catholics.

The author submits the whole, as he does all
his publications, to the judgment of Holy Church.

October 13, 1866.

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The Church shone brightly in her youthful days,

Ere the world on her smiled ;
So now, an outcast, she would pour her rays

Keen, free, and undefiled ;
Yet would I not that arm of force were mine,
To thrust her from her awful ancient shrine.

'Twas duty bound each convert-king to rear

His Mother from the dust ;
And pious was it to enrich, nor fear

Christ for the rest to trust :
And who shall dare make common or unclean,
What once has on the Holy Altar been ?

Dear Brothers ! hence, while ye for ill prepare,

Triumph is still your own ;
Blest is a pilgrim Church ! yet shrink to share

The curse of throwing down.
So will we toil in our old place to stand,
Watching, not dreading, the despoiler's hand.



THIS day, the feast of the Holy Rosary of the
Blessed Virgin Mary, has been specially devoted
by our ecclesiastical superiors to be a day of prayer
for the Sovereign Pontiff, our Holy Father, Pope
Pius the Ninth.

His Lordship, our Bishop, has addressed a
Pastoral Letter to his clergy upon the subject,
and at the end of it he says, " Than that Festival
none can be more appropriate, as it is especially
devoted to celebrating the triumphs of the Holy
See obtained by prayer. We therefore propose
and direct that on the Festival of the Rosary, the
chief Mass in each church and chapel of our
diocese be celebrated with as much solemnity as
circumstances will allow of. And that after the
Mass the Psalm Miserere and the Litany of the
Saints be sung or recited. That the faithful be
invited to offer one communion for the Pope's
intention. And that, where it can be done, one


part at least of the Rosary be publicly said at
some convenient time in the church, for the same

Then he adds : " In the Sermon at the Mass of
the Festival, it is our wish that the preacher
should instruct the faithful on their obligations to
the Holy See, and on the duty especially incum-
bent on us at this time of praying for the Pope."

I. " Our obligations to the Holy See." What
Catholic can doubt of our obligations to the Holy
See ? especially what Catholic under the shadow
and teaching of St. Philip Neri can doubt those
obligations, in both senses of the word " obliga-
tion," the tie of duty and the tie of gratitude ?

1. For first as to duty. Our duty to the Holy
See, to the Chair of St. Peter, is to be measured
by what the Church teaches us concerning that
Holy See and of him who sits in it. Now St.
Peter, who first occupied it, was the Vicar of
Christ. You know well, my Brethren,, our Lord
p.nd Saviour Jesus Christ, who suffered on the
Cross for us, thereby bought for us the kingdom
of heaven. "When Thou hadst overcome the
sting of death," says the hymn, " Thou didst
open the kingdom of heaven to those who believe."
He opens, and He shuts; He gives grace, He
withdraws it; He judges, He pardons, He con-
demns. Accordingly, He speaks -of Himself in
the Apocalypse as "Him who is the Holy and
the True, Him that hath the key of David, (the


key, that is, of the chosen king of the chosen
people,) Him that openeth and no man shutteth,
that shutteth and no man openeth." And what our
Lord, the Supreme Judge, is in heaven, that was
St. Peter on earth ; he had the keys of the king-
dom, according to the text, " Thou art Peter, and
upon this rock I will build My Church, and the
gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And
I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of
heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon
earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and what-
soever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed
also in heaven."

Next, let it be considered, the kingdom which
our Lord set up with St. Peter at its head was
decreed in the counsels of God to last to the end
of all things, according to the words I have just
quoted, " The gates of hell shall not prevail
against it." And again, " Behold, I am with you
all days, even to the consummation of the world."
And in the words of the prophet Isaias, speaking
of that divinely established Church, then in the
future, " This is My covenant with them, My
Spirit that is in thee, and My words which I
have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of
thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor
out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the
Lord, from henceforth and for ever." And the
prophet Daniel says, " The God of heaven will set
up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed . . .


and it shall break in pieces and shall consume all
those kingdoms (of the earth, which went before
it), and itself shall stand for ever."

That kingdom our Lord set up when He came
on earth, and especially after His resurrection;
for we are told by St. Luke that this was His
gracious employment, when He visited the Apos-
tles from time to time, during the forty days which
intervened between Easter Day and the day of
His Ascension. " He showed Himself alive to
the Apostles," says the Evangelist, "after His
passion by many proofs, for forty days appearing
to them and speaking of the kingdom of God."
And accordingly, when at length He had ascended
on high, and had sent down " the promise of His
Father," the Holy Ghost, upon His Apostles, they
forthwith entered upon their high duties, and
brought that kingdom or Church into shape, and
supplied it with members, and enlarged it, and
carried it into all lands. As to St. Peter, he
acted as the head of the Church, according to
the previous words of Christ ; and, still accord-
ing to his Lord's supreme will, he at length placed
himself in the see of Rome, where he was mar-
tyred. And what was then done, in its substance
cannot be undone. " God is not as a man that
He should lie, nor as the son of man, that He
should change. Hath He said then,, and shall He
not do ? hath He spoken, and will He not fulfil ?"
And, as St. Paul says, " The gifts and the calling


of God are without repentance." His Church
then, in all necessary matters, is as unchangeable
as He. Its framework, its polity, its ranks, its
offices, its creed, its privileges, the promises made
to it, its fortunes in the world, are ever what they
have been.

Therefore, as it was in the world, but not of
the world, in the Apostles' times, so it is now :
as it was " in honour and dishonour, in evil report
and good report, as chastised but not killed, as
having nothing and possessing all things," in the
Apostles' times, so it is now : as then it taught
the truth, so it does now; as then it had the
sacraments of grace, so has it now ; as then it had
a hierarchy or holy government of Bishops, priests,
and deacons, so has it now ; and as it had a Head
then, so must it have a head now. Who is that
visible Head? who is the Vicar of Christ? who
has now the keys of the kingdom of heaven, as St.
Peter had then ? Who is it who binds and looses
on earth, that our Lord may bind and loose in
heaven? Who, I say, is the successor to St.
Peter, since a successor there must be, in his
sovereign authority over the Church? It is he
who sits in St. Peter's Chair; it is the Bishop of
Rome. We all know this ; it is part of our faith ; I
am not proving it to you, my Brethren. The visible
headship of the Church, which was with St. Peter
while he lived, has been lodged ever since in his
Chair ; the successors in his headship are the sue-


cessors in his Chair, the continuous line of Bishops
of Eome, or Popes, as they are called, one after
another, as years have rolled on, one dying and
another coming, down to this day, when we see
Pius the Ninth sustaining the weight of the glo-
rious Apostolate, and that for twenty years past,
a tremendous weight, a ministry involving mo-
mentous duties, innumerable anxieties, and im-
mense responsibilities, as it ever has done.

And now, though I might say much more about
the prerogatives of the Holy Father, the visible head
of the Church, I have said more than enough for
the purpose which has led to my speaking about
him at all. I have said that, like St. Peter, he is
the Vicar of his Lord. He can judge, and he can
acquit ; he can pardon, and he can condemn ; he
can command, and he can permit ; he can forbid,
and he can punish. He has a supreme jurisdiction
over the people of God. He can stop the ordinary
course of sacramental mercies; he can excom-
municate from the ordinary grace of redemption ;
and he can remove again the ban which he has
inflicted. It is the rule of Christ's providence,
that what His Vicar does in severity or in mercy
upon earth, He Himself confirms in heaven. And
in saying all this I have said enough for my pur-
pose, because that purpose is to define our obli-
gations to him. That is the point on which our
Bishop has fixed our attention ; " our obligations
to the Holy See ;" and what need I say more to


measure our own duty to it and to him who sits in
it, than to say that, in his administration of Christ's
kingdom, in his religious acts, we must never
oppose his will, or dispute his word, or criti-
cize his policy, or shrink from his side ? There
are kings of the earth who have despotic autho-
rity, which their subjects obey indeed and disown
in their hearts; but we must never murmur at
that absolute rule which the Sovereign Pontiff has
over us, because it is given to him by Christ, and,
in obeying him, we are obeying his Lord. We must
never suffer ourselves to doubt, that, in his govern-
ment of the Church, he is guided by an intelligence
more than human. His yoke is the yoke of Christ,
he has the responsibility of his own acts, not we ;
and to his Lord must he render account, not to us.
Even in secular matters it is ever safe to be on his
side, dangerous to be on the side of his enemies.
Our duty is, not indeed to mix up Christ's Vicar
with this or that party of men, because he in his
high station is above all parties, but to look at
his acts, and to follow him, whither he goeth, and
never to desert him, however we may be tried, but
to defend him at all hazards, and against all
comers, as a son would a father, and as a wife
a husband, knowing that his cause is the cause
of God. And so, as regards his successors, if we
live to see them ; it is our duty to give them in
like manner our dutiful allegiance and our un-
feigned service, and to follow them also whither-


soever they go, having that same confidence that
each in his turn and in his own day will do God's
work and will, which we felt in their predecessors,
now taken away to their eternal reward. .

2. And now let us consider our obligations to
the Sovereign Pontiff in the second sense, which is
contained under the word " obligation." " In the
Sermon in the Mass," says the Bishop, " it is our
wish that the preacher should instruct the faith-
ful on their obligations to the Holy See;" and
certainly those obligations, that is, the claims of
the Holy See upon our gratitude, are very great.
We in this country owe our highest blessings to
the See of St. Peter, to the succession of Bishops
who have filled his Apostolic chair. For first it
was a Pope who sent missionaries to this island in
the beginning of the Church, when the island was
yet in pagan darkness. Then again, when our
barbarous ancestors, the Saxons, crossed over
from the Continent and overran the country, who
but a Pope, St. Gregory the First, sent over St.
Augustine and his companions to convert them to
Christianity ? and by God's grace they and their
successors did this great work in the course of a
hundred years. From that time, twelve hundred
years ago, our nation has ever been Christian.
And then in the lawless times which followed, and
the break up of the old world all over Europe,
and the formation of the new, it was the Popes,
humanly speaking, who saved the religion of Christ


from being utterly lost and coming to an end, and
not in England only, but on the Continent ; that
is, our Lord made use of that succession of His
Vicars, to fulfil His gracious promise, that His
religion should never fail. The Pope and the
Bishops of the Church, acting together in that
miserable time, rescued from destruction all that
makes up our present happiness, spiritual and
temporal. Without them the world would have
relapsed into barbarism but God willed other-
wise ; and especially the Roman Pontiffs, the suc-
cessors of St. Peter, the centre of Catholic Unity,
the Vicars of Christ, wrought manfully in the
cause of faith and charity, fulfilling in their own
persons the divine prophecy anew, which primarily
related to the Almighty Redeemer Himself: "I
have laid help upon One that is mighty, and I
have exalted One chosen out of the people. I
have found David My servant, with My holy oil
have I anointed him. For My hand shall help him,
and My arm shall strengthen him. The enemy
shall have no advantage over him, nor the son of
iniquity have power to hurt him. I will put to
flight his enemies before his face, and them that
hate him I will put to flight. And My truth
and My mercy shall be with him, and in My Name
shall his horn be exalted. He shall cry out to Me,
Thou art my Father, my God, and the support of
my salvation. And I will make him My first-born,
high above the kings of the earth. I will keep


My mercy for him for ever, and My covenant shall
be faithful to him."

And the Almighty did this in pity towards His
people, and for the sake of His religion, and by
virtue of His promise, and for the merits of the
most precious blood of His own dearly-beloved
Son, whom the Popes represented. As Moses and
Aaron, as Josue, as Samuel, as David, were the
leaders of the Lord's host in the old time, and
carried on the chosen people of Israel from age to
age, in spite of their enemies round about, so have
the Popes from the beginning of the Gospel, and
especially in those middle ages when anarchy pre-
vailed, been faithful servants of their Lord, watch-
ing and fighting against sin and injustice and
unbelief and ignorance, and spreading abroad far
and wide the knowledge of Christian truth.

Such they have been in every age, and such are
the obligations which mankind owes to them;
and, if I am to pass on to speak of the present
Pontiff, and of our own obligations to him, then I
would have you recollect, my Brethren, that it is
he who has taken the Catholics of England out of
their unformed state and made them a Church.
He it is who has redressed a misfortune of nearly
three hundred years' standing. Twenty years ago
we were a mere collection of individuals ; but Pope
Pius has brought us together, has given us Bishops,
and created out of us a body politic, which (please
God), as time goes on, will play an important part


in Christendom, with a character, an intellect,
and a power of its own, with schools of its own,
with a definite influence in the counsels of the
Holy Church Catholic, as England had of old

This has been his great act towards our country ;
and then specially, as to his great act towards us
here, towards me. One of his first acts after he
was Pope was, in his great condescension, to call
me to Rome ; then, when I got there, he bade me
send for my friends to be with me ; and he formed
us into an Oratory. And thus it came to pass
that, on my return to England, I was able to
associate myself with others who had not gone to
Rome, till we were so many in number, that not
only did we establish our own Oratory here,
whither the Pope had specially sent us, but we
found we could throw off from us, a colony of
zealous and able priests into the metropolis, and
establish there, with the powers with which the
Pope had furnished me, and the sanction of the
late Cardinal, that Oratory which has done and
still does so much good among the Catholics of

Such is the Pope now happily reigning in the
chair of St. Peter; such are our personal obli-
gations to him ; such has he been towards Eng-
land, such towards us, towards you, my Brethren.
Such he is in his benefits, and, great as are the
claims of those benefits upon us, great equally are


the claims on us of his personal character and of
his many virtues. He is one whom to see is to
love; one who overcomes even strangers, even
enemies, by his very look and voice; whose pre-
sence subdues, whose memory haunts, even the
sturdy resolute mind of the English Protestant.
Such is the Holy Father of Christendom, the
worthy successor of a long and glorious line.
Such is he ; and, great as he is in office, and in
his beneficent acts and virtuous life, as great is he
in the severity of his trials, in the complication of
his duties, and in the gravity of his perils, perils,
which are at this moment closing Vn'm in on every
side ; and therefore it is, on account of the crisis
of the long-protracted troubles of his Pontificate
which seems near at hand, that our Bishop has
set apart this day for special solemnities, the
Feast of the Holy Rosary, and has directed us to
"instruct the faithful on their obligations to the
Holy See," and not only so, but also " on the duty
especially incumbent on us at this time of praying
for the Pope."

II. This then is the second point to which I have
to direct your attention, my Brethren the duty of
praying for the Holy Father ; but, before doing so,
I must tell you what the Pope's long-protracted
troubles are about, and what the crisis is, which
seems approaching : I will do it in as few words
as I can.

More than a thousand years ago, nay near upon


fifteen hundred, began that great struggle, which
I spoke of just now, between the old and the new
inhabitants of this part of the world. Whole
populations of barbarians overran the whole face
of the country, that is, of England, France, Ger-
many, Spain, Italy, and the rest of Europe. They
were heathens, and they got the better of the
Christians ; and religion seemed likely to fail to-
gether with that old Christian stock. But, as I
have said, the Pope and the Bishops of the Church
took heart, and set about converting the new
comers, as in a former age they had converted
those who now had come to misfortune; and,
through God's mercy, they succeeded. The Saxon
English, Anglo-Saxons, as they are called,' are
among those whom the Pope converted, as I said
just now. The new convert people, as you may
suppose, were very grateful to the Pope and
Bishops, and they showed their gratitude by
giving them large possessions, which were of
great use, in the bad times that followed, in main-
taining the influence of Christianity in the world,
Thus the Catholic Church became rich and power-
ful. The Bishops became princes, and the Pope
became a Sovereign Ruler, with a large extent of
country all his own. This state of things lasted
for many hundred years; and the Pope and
Bishops became richer and richer, more and more
powerful, until at length the Protestant revolt
took place, three hundred years ago, and ever



since that time, in a temporal point of view, they
have become of less and less importance, and less
and less prosperous. Generation after generation
the enemies of the Church, on the other hand,
have become bolder and bolder, more powerful,
and more successful in their measures against the
Catholic faith. By this time the Church has well-
nigh lost all its wealth and all its power; its
Bishops have been degraded from their high places
in the world, and in many countries have scarcely
more, or not more, of weight or of privilege than
the ministers of the sects which have split off
from it. However, though the Bishops lost, as
time went on, their temporal rank, the Pope did not
lose his ; he has been an exception to the rule ; ac-
cording to the Providence of God, he has retained
Rome, and the territories round about Rome, far
and wide, as his own possession without let or
hindrance. But now at length, by the operation
of the same causes which have destroyed the
power of the Bishops, the Holy Father is in
danger of losing his temporal possessions. For the
last hundred years he has had from time to time
serious reverses, but he recovered his ground. Six
years ago he lost the greater part of his dominions,
all but Rome and the country immediately about
it, and now the worst of difficulties has occurred
as regards the territory which remains to him.
His enemies have succeeded, as it would seem, in
persuading at least a large portion of his subjects


to side with them. This is a real and very trying
difficulty, While his subjects are for him, no
one can have a word to say against his temporal
rule ; but who can force a Sovereign on a people
which deliberately rejects him ? You may attempt
it for a while, but at length the people, if they
persist, will get their way.

'They give out then, that the Pope's government
is behind the age, that once indeed it was as good
as other governments, but that now other govern-
ments have got better, and his has not, that he can
neither keep order within his territory, nor defend
it from attacks from without, that his police and
his finances are in a bad state, that his people
are discontented within, that he does not show
them how to become rich, that he keeps them
from improving their minds, that he treats them
as children, that he opens no career for young
and energetic minds, but condemns them to in-
activity and sloth, that he is an old man, that
he is an ecclesiastic, -that, considering his great
spiritual duties, he has no time left him for tem-
poral concerns, and that a bad religious govern-
ment is a scandal to religion.

I have stated their arguments as fairly as I can,
but you must not for an instant suppose, my
Brethren, that I admit either their principles or"
their facts. It is a simple paradox to say that
ecclesiastical and temporal power cannot lawfully,
religiously, and usefully be joined together. Look
B 2


at what are called the middle ages, that is, the
period which intervenes between the old Roman
Empire and the modern world ; as I have said, the
Pope and the Bishops saved religion and civil order
from destruction in those tempestuous times, and
they did so by means of the secular power which they
possessed. And next, going on to the principles
which the Pope's enemies lay down as so very
certain, who will grant to them, who has any pre-
tension to be a religious man, that progress in
temporal prosperity is the greatest of goods, and
that every thing else, however sacred, must give
way before it ? On the contrary, health, long life,
security, liberty, knowledge, are certainly great
goods, but the possession of heaven is a far greater
good than all of them together. With all the
progress in worldly happiness which we possibly
could make, we could not make ourselves im-
mortal, death must come; that will be a time
when riches and worldly knowledge will avail us
nothing, and true faith, and divine love, and a past
life of obedience will be all in all to us. If we
were driven to choose between the two, it would

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Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanThe pope and the revolution : a sermon, preached in the Oratory Church, Birmingham, on Sunday, October 7, 1866 → online text (page 1 of 3)