The Roman Catholic Religion In Italy -- By: B. B. Edwards

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 005:20 (Nov 1848)
Article: The Roman Catholic Religion In Italy
Author: B. B. Edwards


The Roman Catholic Religion In Italy

B. B. Edwards

Over the door of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome are the words: Sacro sancta Lateranensis Ecclesia, omnium urbis et orbis Ecclesiarum Mater et Caput. This is no idle boast. The realm over which Augustus Caesar swayed his sceptre was narrow compared with that of his spiritual successor. The encyclical letter which emanates from the Quirinal Palace is addressed to one half the civilized world, and binds the consciences of a fourth of the human race. What is the complexion of this religion at home? What are its features when seen on its native soil? Does the heart of the great system beat with energy, or does it give signs of decay and dissolution? We are naturally interested in visiting the spring of a mighty river, in examining the elements of an influence that has shaped the destiny of the world through one third of its duration.

When viewed historically the subject is one of extraordinary interest. It is often said that men are never aroused in the highest degree, except on religious grounds; that to accomplish a great and difficult political object, the conscience must be invoked; motives that reach beyond the grave must be appealed to. In Italy this complexity of motives, this intermingling of human passions with the awful sanctions of religion, this blending of civil and ecclesiastical interests have been witnessed as they have been nowhere else. Political con-

spiracies have been concealed or disclosed on pain of eternal death. The darkest crimes against the State have been committed on the promise of God’s forgiveness. The police have found their readiest coadjutors or their bitterest foes at the confessional. Elsewhere the State has trampled on the church. In other countries, the church is the obsequious handmaid of the political power, is chained to the chariot wheel of kings and cabinets. In Rome an aged priest has united all the offices of the Jewish theocracy. Senators and armies, councils and courts, have done the bidding of a superannuated monk.

The extraordinary events which have rapidly followed each other, and which are now occurring, through all Southern and Western Europe, clothe this topic with especial interest. What effect will these political revolutions exert on the established and dominant Religion? Will they essentially weaken its hold on the affections of the people? Will they undermine all prescriptive rights? If ecclesiastical reforms shall follow in the train of those which are municipal or civil, will such reforms endanger the supremacy of the Catholic system? Should all State patronage be withdrawn, has the church a recuperative force so that she could adapt herself to the new order of society? Or if t...

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