History of the Catholic Church - J. MacCaffrey

The Catholic Church in the Continental Countries

During the Age of Revolutions

The French Revolution changed the whole aspect of affairs on the Continent, and opened up a new era in the political conditions of the various countries of Europe, in the relations of the peoples towards the governments, and in the position of the Catholic Church. It owed its origin principally to the well-grounded discontent of a large body of the French people, to the spread of writings and opinions hostile to both Church and State, and to the disordered condition of the public finances in France. The assembly of the Three Estates, at Versailles in 1789, may be regarded as the beginning of the French Revolution. New developments followed one another in rapid succession. The National Assembly assumed to itself complete control; the king and queen, Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette, were arrested, deposed and beheaded (1793); the government of France passed practically into the hands of the Committee of Public Safety, which, owing to its violence, led to the establishment of the Directory, and finally, Napoleon Bonaparte was appointed First Consul in 1799. For ten years France had been deluged with blood, the only result of which was the establishment of a strong tyrant in place of a weak one. During the conflict the Church suffered much. Its sources of revenue were destroyed; its property confiscated, and the clergy reduced to dependence on the State. The priests and bishops were called upon to accept the Civil Constitution of the clergy, which aimed at placing the Church under the control of the masses and at separating it from Rome. Those of them who refused to accept it were either put to death or forced to seek a refuge in some of the neighbouring countries. The states of the Pope were seized, and Pope Pius VI. was carried into exile to Valence, where he died in 1799.

When Napoleon succeeded to the position of supreme ruler in France, wishing to strengthen his own position by making peace with the Church, he opened negotiations for a Concordat with the Pope. This celebrated treaty (1802), regulating the question of the ecclesiastical property and of the appointment of French bishops and clergy, would have done much to secure the freedom of the Church in France had it not been nullified to a great extent by the publication of the Organic Articles, which were an embodiment of Gallicanism in its worst form. After his coronation at Paris as emperor by Pius VII. (1804), Napoleon, annoyed because the Pope would not declare war on all the enemies of France, seized Rome, arrested the Pope and carried him to France, where he remained till the advance of the allies forced Napoleon to liberate him (1814). Pius VII., however, refused to yield to the wishes of. Napoleon, and Napoleon, fearing that the country would not follow him, did not wish to break with the Church.

The restoration of the Bourbons meant the continuation of Gallicanism, and as a protest against the enslavement of the Church, Lamennais, Lacordaire and Montalembert founded the newspaper L'Avenir  and tried to establish a Catholic party that would bring about a union of the Church and democracy. But their zeal carried them too far, and their views were condemned by Gregory XVI. (1832). The work of organizing a Catholic party in France was continued and was to a great extent successful. It secured a large measure of educational freedom for the Church (1852).

In Germany the wars of the Revolution, followed by the Napoleonic wars, led to the complete downfall of the Holy Roman Empire (1806), to the seizure of the territories ruled over by the Catholic bishops and abbots and to their transference to Prussia and the other German states. During this secularization movement the Church suffered severely in the loss of her property, in the destruction of the monasteries, and especially in the total disturbance of the ecclesiastical organisation. The states of Germany, influenced by Lutheran ideals, claimed complete control over religion, and the concordats which were negotiated between the Holy See and the different rulers did very little to put an end to this state of affairs. The controversy on Mixed Marriages (1825–41), the conditions for which marriages Prussia insisted upon laying down, and during which Clement Augustus of Cologne and Von Dunlin, archbishop of Gnesen-Posen, were arrested and thrown into prison, marked the beginning of the Catholic organisation which developed so quickly in Germany.

In Switzerland the disturbances brought about during the French Revolution put an end to the old constitutions of the cantons, and served to strengthen the hands of the Protestant party. The frequent attacks upon religion, and the armed attempts made to drive out the Jesuits from Lucerne, forced the Catholics to take up arms, and the civil war, known as the Sonderbund, broke out, which ended in the complete overthrow of the Catholic Cantons (1848). But this defeat, bad as it was, only helped to prepare the way for future victories.

The union of the two kingdoms, Belgium and Holland, under the house of Orange according to the arrangements made at the Congress of Vienna, was very unfortunate and led to constant disputes between Belgium, which was Catholic, and Holland, which was largely Calvinist. These disputes resulted in the rebellion of 1830, which brought about the establishment of an independent Belgium, and the acceptance of a constitution that was distinctly favourable to the Catholic Church. The old revolutionary faction in Belgium was still strong, and the differences of opinion which soon manifested themselves among Belgian politicians led to the formation of political parties on religious lines, namely, the Liberal party and the Catholic party.

Spain and Portugal were disturbed, both by the French Revolution and by civil wars. The rulers of Portugal were forced to flee to Brazil, and the king of Spain was obliged to abdicate in favour of Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon. After the restoration in Spain a civil war broke out between Don Carlos, the brother of the late king, Ferdinand VII., and the partisans of Ferdinand's daughter, Isabella (1833). Owing to the fact that Don Carlos was a good Catholic, the clergy generally supported him, and after he was defeated they were obliged to pay the penalty. The persecution lasted for a long time, and it was only when a concordat was concluded with the Holy See in 1853 that peace was restored in some measure to the Church. In Portugal a civil war broke out between Dom Miguel and Dom Pedro, in which the clergy took the side of Dom Miguel, the friend of the Church, against Dom Pedro, the leader of the Freemasons. When Dom Miguel was driven from the country (1834), the conquerors took vengeance on the Church by the destruction of the monasteries and of the seminaries, and by the seizure of ecclesiastical property.

During the Age of Constitutionalism

The revolution of 1848 gave the people a voice in the government by the establishment of constitutions, and since that time the power of the people has increased steadily. This period is remarkable for the development of constitutionalism in politics and of secularism, especially in education, as well as for the sharp division that has taken place between capital and labour.

In France the government of Napoleon III. (1852–70) was at first favourable to the Catholics, but the dissensions between the liberal and conservative parties, led by Montalembert and Dupanloup on the one side and by Louis Veuillot on the other, the interference of Napoleon III. in Italian politics—an interference which prepared the way for the downfall of the temporal sovereignty of the Pope—and the spread of irreligious views would have led undoubtedly to a conflict had not the Franco-Prussian war put an end to the second empire (1870).

The establishment of the Third Republic placed the power in the hands of the party opposed to religion; while the dissensions amongst those who were really friendly to the Church, the indifference and the coldness of a large section of the French people, the imprudent mixing up of religion and politics, and the splendid discipline and organisation of the enemies of Catholicity have maintained them in power since. The campaign against the Church that began in 1879 was carried to a successful conclusion in the period between 1900 and 1905, when most of the religious orders were expelled, the Catholic schools were closed, official relations were broken off with the Holy See and the separation of Church and State was brought about. This latter step, which was meant to put an end to religion in France, has served, instead, to give a new impetus to religion by restoring to the Church a large measure of freedom. Many of the schools have been re-opened; better relations exist between the clergy and people than formerly, and the union of the bishops and clergy with the Holy See has never before been so close.

In Germany the Catholic organisation, that had been begun before 1848, was carried to perfection during the war known as the Kulturkampf  (1873–86) waged by Bismarck against the Church after his success in the Franco-Prussian war. He framed a body of laws, the "May Law," the effect of which would have been the complete enslavement of the Church, but the bishops and clergy preferred to go to prison rather than accept them, and the people stood loyal to their spiritual leaders. Windthorst, to whose skill in leadership the Catholic party in Germany owes so much, took up the challenge thrown down by Bismarck and forced him to sue for peace. As a result the Centre Party, representing the Catholics of Germany, is now the strongest party in the empire and the organisation of German Catholics is the envy of their co-religionists throughout the world.

Austria followed the example of the other countries in trying to assert complete control over the Church, and after the Vatican Council the Liberal party was triumphant; but the Catholics, encouraged by the success of the Catholics of Germany, took advantage of the excesses and mistakes of their opponents and the result has been a strong Catholic reaction in Austria. The appearance in Austrian politics of the Christian Democrat party for the organisation of which Dr. Lueger was largely responsible, is likely to prove of advantage to the Catholic Church.

In Switzerland the progress of Catholicity has been little less than marvellous. This is due again to good organisation, developed under stress of persecution, to the efforts of Cardinal Mermillod and of Decurtins to weld the Catholic labourers and artisans into a great Christian labour organisation, as well as to good schools and colleges, and more especially to the recently founded University of Freiburg. (1889).

In Belgium the differences between the Liberals and Catholics came to a crisis when the Liberal party, having been returned to office in 1878, determined to drive out religion from the schools. The Catholics strongly resisted such a measure; the country supported them, and the Liberal government fell. Since 1884 the Catholic party has ruled Belgium, and with what success the present industrial and agricultural position of Belgium bears ample testimony. In Holland, where Catholicism appeared to have been almost suppressed, a remarkable revival has taken place. Owing to the divisions between the liberal and conservative sections of the Calvinists, the Catholics hold the balance of power in the government, and have secured complete freedom and an excellent system of religious education.

In Spain the revolt of 1868 and the disturbed state of affairs till the accession of Alphonsus XII. in 1874, did much to injure religion, while the quarrels between the Carlists and the supporters of the present reigning family, together with the rise of a strong socialist, anti-religious party, have tended to create trouble at times. But in the main, the people of Spain are still thoroughly Catholic, and with a little more organisation they would have nothing to fear. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Portugal. There, the effects of the anti-Christian teaching of the universities and of some of the schools, of the spread of the free-mason and other secret societies, and of the interference of the government in all ecclesiastical matters, more especially in the education of the clergy, have been shown in the recent revolution, when the king was forced to flee from Portugal, and when the separation of Church and State was carried in such a high-handed and tyrannical manner. Possibly in the end this separation may, as in France, help to create a better religious spirit.