Short Catechism of Church History - J. Oechtering

The Eighteenth Century

166. Q. What was the final outcome of the Protestant heresy?

R. After setting aside the authority of God's Church, and making each individual the interpreter of his own Bible and the framer of his own religion, men advanced from denying certain doctrines of Christianity to the denial of all revealed religion, and thus ended in infidelity.

167. Q. What did they call themselves?

R. They called themselves "Free-thinkers," i.e., men, who recognize no Divine authority in matters of religion,—or "Rationalists," i.e., men, who form their religious ideas from weak human reason and nature alone.

168. Q. Where did free-thought originate?

R. Free-thought originated in Protestant England and spread to Holland, France, Germany, and the United States.

169. Q. Who became its most notorious promoters?

R. The so-called Encyclopedists of France, a society of free-thinkers, who were filled with satanic hatred against Christ and his Church, and had sworn to destroy it. Voltaire was their prophet. After a life of unspeakable immorality and blasphemy he died in despair.

The most prominent encyclopedists were Diderot and D'Alembert. Their friend J. J. Rousseau wrote books which undermined the existing order in Church and state. He taught a religion of nature without Christ, education without God, and a state, in which right and law are derived solely from the people's will, completely ignoring God who is the prime source of right and law. In his book on education he blasphemously answers a beggar who had asked alms "for the sake of God": "No, not for the sake of God, but for the sake of man." He became the prophet of the so-called religion of humanity, which was intended to replace Christian charity.

170. Q. What sect adopted free-thought as its doctrine?

R. Freemasonry, which was founded in London on the 24th of July, 1717, adopted free-thought as its fundamental doctrine. Bound by oaths of secrecy, it spread quietly but swiftly through the world, and everywhere opposed the Church of God.

Pope Clement XII. put the censure of excommunication on Freemasonry, and all succeeding popes renewed it.

171. Q. Did the rulers and governments oppose free-thought and Freemasonry?

R. Many of the rulers and governments of Christian countries became not only infected, but even upheld and fostered them among their people.

172. Q. What false doctrines about the relation of Church and State added to the dangers of the age?

R. The doctrines of Gallicanism and Josephinism, which arrogated to the princes undue power in ecclesiastical affairs and tended to reduce the Church to the condition of a mere servant of the state. (Compare list of the popes of the 18th Century.)

173. Q. Which Catholic countries became infested with these doctrines?

R. These false doctrines were put into execution by Joseph II., emperor of Austria, and other German princes. (Josephinism).

The government of Portugal, and the kings of the Bourbon family who ruled in France, Spain, and in several of the Italian states, combined for the same purpose. (Gallicanism).

174. Q. To what unfortunate measure did they force the Pope?

R. In the year 1772, they forced Pope Clement XIV. to decree the abolition of the Jesuit Order, which had been one of the strongest bulwarks of the Church and the rights of the Papacy since the so-called Reformation.

175. Q. What was the aim of these Catholic rulers in their hostility to the Church?

R. Like the Protestant princes who had become supreme in spiritual as well as in temporal things and thus obtained absolute power over their people, the Catholic princes now also sought absolute power to the detriment of religious and political liberty.

176. Q. What were the consequences of these destructive measures?

R. 1) The absolute power of princes severely curtailed the people's rights.

2) Unprincipled free-thought set loose the spirit of rebellion and anarchy.

3) The Church, shackled by unjust state laws, was unable to protect the people against their oppressors, as she did in the Middle Ages; nor could she guard their just struggles for liberty against the excesses of anarchy.

This absolute power of princes was declared in a most pronounced manner by King Louis XIV. of France who sent the representatives of the people home from parliament with the defiant words. "I am the state." With equal haughtiness he lorded it over the Church in his kingdom according to Gallican principles and opposed the Holy See.

177. Q. What was the final result?

R. The fearful French Revolution broke out in 1789 and filled France with bloodshed and Europe with horror.

The national assembly promulgated the so-called Rights of Man in 17 articles. The most important of them declared, that the people is sovereign and its will supreme law, understood so as to ignore God and His law, natural as well as revealed. (According to Rousseau.)

178. Q. To what excesses did free-thought lead men in this revolution?

R. 1) They declared publicly in their assembly at Paris, that France had ceased to acknowledge God, and then brought a bad woman in solemn procession to the church, where they placed her on the altar and worshipped her as goddess of reason.

2) They established the guillotine, and, after having beheaded their King, Louis XVI. and his wife, Queen Mary Antoinette, they sent daily about two hundred victims of all classes and sexes to the guillotine. Two millions of innocent French people perished within a few years in the name of reason and liberty.

The national assembly decreed the confiscation of all church property and framed a civil constitution of the clergy, contrary to canon law. But only three bishops and very few priests obeyed, whereas 127 bishops and 50,000 priests preferred exile, poverty, prison and death to apostasy.

179. Q. Who were the leaders of this fearful terrorism?

R. Robespierre, Marat, and Danton were the leaders in this reign of terror.

180. Q. How did the revolution end?

R. Trembling for their own lives, Robespierre and his party announced that the French nation should believe again in God and in the immortality of the soul. But they also fell victims to the guillotine as they had deserved.

181. Q. How did the revolution treat Pope Pius VI?

R. The venerable Pontiff who had forbidden the oath on the civil constitution of the clergy as unlawful, was brutally dragged into captivity and died at Valence, France, 82 years old, with gentle pardon for the persecutors on his lips.

Then infidelity boastfully announced the end of the papacy, but six months later Pope Pius VII. was elected at Venice to succeed in the indestructible chair of St. Peter.

182. Q. What was the final outcome of the revolution?

R. The final outcome of the revolution was the empire of the French, established and ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte.

183. Q. What measures did he take in order to give stability to his government?

R. Knowing that without God and religion no nation can prosper, he made peace with the Church and gave religious freedom.

184. Q. Did he persevere in his friendliness to the Church?

R. Blinded by his worldly success, he dared to attack the Pope, Pius VII., and had him brought as prisoner to France.

185. Q. How did God punish this sacrilege?

R. On the snowfields of Russia Napoleon's immense army, which had conquered Europe, was destroyed by the elements, and out of a million soldiers only about fifty thousand returned. Napoleon died a prisoner on the Island of St. Helena, but Pope Pius VII. returned triumphantly to Rome.

NOTE.—Twenty years of bloody wars followed the outbreak of the French revolution and swept with destructive fury over the countries of Europe. Finally, when, after a three days' battle at Leipsic, the power of Napoleon had been overthrown and the allied rulers of Europe met on the blood-stained battlefield, they recognized in fear and trembling the judgment of God over the infidelity of the eighteenth century, and, kneeling down, they pledged themselves solemnly: "We and our people will serve the Lord."