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Life and Letters of Sir Wilfrid Laurier


An interesting account of the furious political warfare waged between sections of Catholic Quebec, which culminated in the attainment of Sir Wilfrid Laurier to leadership of the Liberal party.


IN the first ten years of Wilfrid Laurier's public career the outstanding issue which he had to face was the hostility of a vigorous and aggressive section of the Quebec clergy to the party of which he was one of the responsible leaders. It has been seen that in the twenty years before confederation the Rouge party and its journalistic spokesmen had, not without reason, found themselves in the black books of the clergy, and that with much less reason Bishop Bourget and his abettors had waged war upon the young men grouped in l'Institut Canadien who had dared to maintain the liberty of inquiry and discussion. the dozen years that followed, the storm, instead of abating, grew more violent. The area of conflict widened, occupying the whole provincial stage, and the connection with the contemporaneous movements in Europe became still more marked than in the union period.

One factor in the situation was that the aggressively Ultramontane wing of the church in Quebec had grown more powerful. Mgr. Bourget and Mgr. Laflèche were now older and more firmly established in their seats, with wills which had become no less firm with years of exercised authority. Around them, and particularly in Montreal, there gathered the men of what Mgr. Bourget termed the "New School," journalists like the editors of the "Nouveau Monde" and the "Franc Parleur," pamphleteers like Alphonse Villeneuve, and preachers like Abbé Pelletier and Father Braun, a newly come Jesuit. In the archbishop's palace, in the Seminary of St. Sulpice,

and in Laval University, at Quebec, another temper and other views of how the church's interest could best be served prevailed; but the fighting, uncompromising, unrecking minority daily gained ascendancy.

The activity of this school was the more intense because confederation seemed to have left them a free field. In Quebec, as in the other provinces, there had been set up a provincial government to which were assigned education and the local matters in which the church was chiefly concerned. No longer was it necessary to run the gantlet of a vigilant and biassed Clear Grit group from Upper Canada when matters ecclesiastical were brought before the house. In Quebec the people were four fifths Catholic, and on this fact the Ultramontane wing based its hopes of molding the province to its will.

But more effective than any other factor was the influence of the Old-World conflict. The Canadian movement was not merely parallel with the European, but in issues and inspiration, party labels and party cries, it was directly and closely shaped by it.

In Catholic Europe, and particularly in France, a struggle had waged for centuries between opposing tendencies that before 1789 were usually termed Gallican and Ultramontane, and after 1789, liberal and Ultramontane, though the shades of opinion were too multiform and shifting for any single labels to qualify them aright. The Gallican sought to build up an independent national church, demanding administrative authority for the king and doctrinal authority for church councils, as against

"Inopportune questions, such as the secularisation of the schools and the strict limitation of ecclesiastical rights of mainmort, had had the effect of alarming the clergy, who feared a coalition between a certain number of Catholics and the Protestants of Upper Canada, and of raising against the Liberals a tempest which left behind it bitter feelings that have required many years to efface." "Le Pays," 1871.

the claims of the papacy. The Ultramontane, looking "beyond the mountains" to Rome, insisted that the one holy Catholic Church must be ruled as a unity, that the pope as its head and God's viceregent not only was supreme in spiritual affairs, but was entitled, because of the inherent superiority of spiritual power over temporal, to control all temporal affairs-and they were not few-in which moral or spiritual issues could be said to be involved. The Gallican, on the whole, had the better of the dispute until the French Revolution seemed likely to end it by completing the destruction alike of national church and papal power. The national churches, undermined by the nationalist questioning of the age of Voltaire and weakened by the worldliness of the higher clergy, appeared destined to crumble under the attacks of the revolutionary spirit, which accepted no institution however ancient and no claim that could not justify itself at the bar of reason. The papacy, with its Italian possessions invaded and seized and the popes themselves exiled and prisoners, had fallen to its lowest ebb of power.

Yet the tide speedily turned. The nineteenth century witnessed no more remarkable development than the steady revival of the Roman Catholic Church and the still more rapid growth of the Ultramontane spirit within the church. The people, when admitted to power, proved to be much more religious than the skeptical aristocrats of the old régime. In the softer lights of romanticism faiths revived that had wilted under the harsh noonday glare of rationalism. Kings and nobles and capitalists, seeking to build up bulwarks against tumultuous change, turned to the most ancient and unchanging seat of authority in Europe. But the new religious zeal, for all the efforts of Bourbon and Hapsburg kings, could not be put back into the old bottles of Gallicanism. The clergy in France had ceased to be a separate estate of the realm; the episcopate had ceased to be made up of scions of ancient families, bound by training and territorial possessions to the political interests of their kingdom. All the men of vitality in the reviving church pred to be the religious servants of the

vicar of Christ rather than the civil servants of a Bourbon king.

What was to be the attitude of the ancient power thus revived to the new power unloosed by the Revolution? Could the church accept the principles of '89 and '93, inscribe "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity" on its banners, and make terms with liberalism and the states in which liberalism was in control? Continental liberalism, with its emphasis on the individual, had assumed a state founded on the free contract of individual men, had asserted the right to freedom of thought, of speech, and of organization, and then had often inconsistently refused the church freedom to act and organize as it willed. The church had held that political societies were not man-made, but ordained of Heaven, and that individual reason and individual claims must be subordinated to the authority in church and state that God himself had set up.

There were many ardent spirits in France Lamennais, Lacordaire, and Montalembert foremost among them— who believed it would be possible to bring the church and liberalism to terms, and to develop a Catholic liberalism which would meet the needs of the new day. They besought the pope to place himself at the head of a purified liberal movement in Europe, and to base Catholicism firmly once more on the will and the devotion of the multitudes. In revolt against the policy which made the church merely an instrument of state policy, they turned to Rome for freedom from royal shackles; urging freedom for themselves, they were prepared to extend it to others. Fighting Gallican kings and ministers, they sought to be at once Ultramontane and liberal, Ultramontane from religious conviction, and liberal from political expediency. "Men tremble before liberalism," Lamennais had declared; "make it Catholic, and society will be born again." "There are two liberalisms," he wrote in "L'Avenir" in 1830, "the old and the new: the old, heir to the doctrines of eighteenth-century philosophy, breathes only religious intolerance and oppression, but the new liberalism, which will in time overcome the old, is only concerned, as regards religion, with demanding the separation

of Church and State, a separation which is necessary for the liberty of the Church." "Understand clearly, my Catholic brethren," Lacordaire had added, "if you wish liberty for yourselves, you must wish it for all men and for every land. If you demand it for yourselves alone, it will never be given you. Grant it where you are masters in order that it may be given you where you are slaves." And the Bishop of Orleans, Mgr. Dupanloup, had been equally clear-cut: "These liberties, so dear to those who accuse us of not loving them, we proclaim and we invoke for ourselves as well as for others. We accept, we invoke, the principles and the liberties proclaimed in '89." Catholic liberalism fought in vain. The liberals of the straiter sect would not make peace, continuing to attack the doctrines of the church and too suspicious of its power to grant it the unrestricted liberty of teaching and organization that was demanded. Liberal or constitutional politicians, particularly in central Europe, insisted that the church had no rights save what the state conferred, and that the religious affairs of a nation should be regulated by the minister of worship, as foreign affairs by the foreign secretary. Skeptical wits pictured Lamennais as "putting the red cap on the cross," "leading '93 to its Easter communion," or "taking Babeuf into the service of the prophet Ezekiel." Nor was Rome more ready to accept a compromise. Liberalism had too much to say about the rights of man and too little about duty to God; it erred in endeavoring to found society upon the shifting sands of individual compact instead of upon the rock of divine ordinance applied and interpreted by the church and its earthly head; liberalism was only Gallicanism transformed for

the worse, kingless as well as godless. Liberty was not for all times and places, for while truth must always be given liberty, the right to do wrong or think wrong could not be claimed. In the famous encyclical "Mirari vos," Gregory XVI condemned the Catholic liberal policy, exhorted believers to adhere to the old truths as interpreted by their old guides, and condemned in turn "the absurd and erroneous maxim that liberty of conscience must be assured and guaranteed to all," "that fatal liberty, which one cannot regard with sufficient horror, the liberty of printing whatsoever is desired," and the dangerous movement for separation of church and state. Lamennais had appealed to Rome, and Rome had spoken. Catholic liberalism had received its first defect.


For the time the rebuke brought peace and seeming unity. The passing of the Falloux law of 1850, giving the Catholic Church in France freedom of teaching and a wide share in the control of primary schools, marked the effectiveness of a united Catholic party. But the old divergences soon reappeared, if on a different plane. The Gallican tradition was dead; national churches with royal defenders of the faith were no more. What was to take the vacant place? On the one side men like Lacordaire, Montalembert,-Lamennais had long since drifted wholly away from the church, and Abbé Dupanloup urged in politics full and frank acceptance of democracy, and in religion the same liberty to other faiths they demanded for their own. On the other, Mgr. Parisis and Mgr. Pie, and especially Louis Veuillot, a flaming, fighting, uncompromising journalist, upheld authority, insisted that liberty was good

Bishop Laflèche of Trois-Rivières. 1818-98

only where the true believers were in a minority, and urged unquestioning recognition of the pope's supreme doctrinal authority. Each hoped for recognition from Rome, but as the controversy waged throughout the fifties and sixties, it became clear which way Rome would lean. Pope Pius IX had been hailed as a liberal when he succeeded Gregory XVI in 1846, but after he himself had experienced the fury of the Revolution. of 1848 and been driven from Rome until restored by French troops, his sympathies became steadily more conservative, until in the Syllabus of 1864 and the Vatican Council of 1870 Catholic liberalism received its second crushing defeat.

The Syllabus was a list of "the principal errors of our time," issued by Pius IX in 1864. The eighty condemned propositions included the errors of naturalism and rationalism, of socialism, communism, and secret societies, errors regarding morality and marriage, the relations of church and state, the temporal power of the pope, and the claims of modern liberalism. Chief interest was attached to the listing as dangerous errors of such propositions as "that the Church has no right to employ force," "that in case of conflict between the two powers the civil authority must prevail," "that the Church should be separated from the State and the State from the Church," "that the abrogation of the temporal sovereignty of the Holy See would advance the liberty and prosperity of the Church," "that in the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be considered as the sole state religion, to the exclusion of all other creeds," "that it has been wisely provided by law in certain Catholic countries that strangers who come to reside there may enjoy the public exercise of their own religion," and "that the Roman Pontiff can and should reconcile himself and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization."

The publication of the Syllabus gave rise to the most violent controversy; it was lauded by Ultramontanes, and received by Continental liberals as a declaration of war; Napoleon III forbade its publication in France. The Catholic liberal group endeavored to avert the

blow by pointing out that it had not been signed by the pope, and that the various propositions were subject to comment. Montalembert insisted that the interpretations given to the Syllabus by the chief organ of Ultramontanism, the "Civilta Catholica," published by the Jesuits at Rome, were as unauthorized as they were monstrous, “outraging reason, justice, and honor." But the sweeping triumph of the Ultramontane tendency in the proclamation of papal infallibility at the Vatican Council made it impossible for the most sanguine Catholic liberal to deny defeat.

After long preparation there assembled in Rome in 1869 a great ecumenical council, comprising over seven hundred bishops and prelates representing virtually every country in the world. Many matters were debated, but the vital and testing issue of papal infallibility overshadowed all others. It was soon apparent that those who supported the dogma greatly outnumbered, though it was denied that they outweighed, those who opposed it or believed its proclamation inopportune. In Italy, Spain, France, and the English-speaking countries alike a majority supported the doctrine; only among the German-Austrian prelates was a majority opposed. From December to July negotiation and debate waged ceaselessly. The most active of the supporters were Archbishop Manning of Westminster, Bishop Senestréz of Regensburg, Archbishop Dechamps of Mechlin, Bishop Martin of Paderbom, and Bishop Spalding of Baltimore; the most active opponents within the council were Bishop Dupanloup of Orleans, Cardinal Mathieu of Besançon, Archbishop Darboy of Paris, Cardinal Schwartzenberg of Prague, Archbishop Scherr of Munich, Cardinal Rauscher of Vienna, Bishop Ketteler of Mainz, Bishop Hefele of Rottenburg, Dr. Kenrick of St. Louis, and Bishop Connolly of Halifax, while outside the council Döllinger in Munich and Newman and Acton in England took the same stand. Opposition was vain; on the eighteenth of July, with many of the minority abstaining, the formula was adopted by 533 to 2, and the decree solemnly promulgated by Pius IX. Hereafter it was unquestioned Catholic doctrine "that the Ro

man Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is to say, when, in virtue of his supreme apostolical authority, and in the exercise of his office as pastor and instructor of all Christians, he pronounces any doctrine touching faith or morality to be binding on the whole Church, is, by reason of the divine assistance promised to him in the person of St. Peter, endowed with that infallibility which, according to the will of the Redeemer, is vouchsafed to the Church when she desires to fix a doctrine of faith or morality; and that consequently all such decisions of the Roman Pontiff are per se immutable and independent of the subsequent assent of the Church."

Ultramontanism had triumphed-triumphed so completely that leaders of the church thereafter denied that it was merely one current of action and opinion, and insisted that it was synonymous with any permissible interpretation of Roman Catholicism itself. Yet if accepted within the church, the tendencies of which the proclamation of papal infallibility was the crowning achievement were not accepted by European statesmen. Austria annulled the Concordat, Prussia launched out upon its Kulturkampf, and in France the war between clerical and anti-clerical parties grew ever more bitter until it led, many years later, to the disestablishment of the church and the expulsion of the religious orders. The day after the decree was issued war broke out between France and Prussia, Napoleon withdrew the troops which had garrisoned the Papal States, and the temporal power of the pope collapsed in the very year that his spiritual authority reached transcendent heights.

In Canada, as elsewhere, the church authorities were divided in opinion as to the doctrinal soundness or the practical expediency of the Syllabus and the definition of papal infallibility. In Quebec Archbishop Baillargeon circulated among his clergy the famous letter in which Bishop Dupanloup, on the eve of departing for the council, had vigorously and minutely called in question both the soundness and opportuneness of the doctrine. But the men of the newer school, led by Bishop Bourget, gave hearty support to the Ultramontane

movement, and were encouraged by its success to assert a wider influence in state affairs and to take a stronger line against their more moderate brethren within the church itself.

A remarkable episode, making dramatically clear the closer bonds that now united Quebec and Rome, was the organization in 1867 and the two years following of companies of Papal Zouaves for the defense of the pope's temporal realms. So strong was the conviction that the whole future of religion and the church was imperiled, that hundreds of young crusaders, fêted and garlanded by sympathetic friends and blessed by Bishop Bourget in a glowing pastoral, crossed the seas from this land that had seemed to know little and care less for Old-World quarrels, prepared to fight side by side with Papal Guards against the forces that were striving to make Italy a single nation, with Rome as its center and crown.

The new spirit was manifested in many onslaughts against the men of moderate views. The Seminary of St. Sulpice in Montreal and Laval University in Quebec, with the archbishop as its patron, were vigorously attacked in the sixties and seventies. Mgr. Bourget was Bishop of Montreal but the seminary, as seigneur in receipt of rents and lods et ventes, and as curé, in receipt of tithes, secured the chief revenues accruing within the diocese. The main issue at stake was the right of the bishop to subdivide the old single parish of Montreal, hitherto in charge of the seminary; a subsidiary question was as to whether he could establish the new parishes without the consent of the majority of the parishioners concerned, and the formal approval of the state. Sir George Cartier and "La Minerva" stoutly championed the seminary; in "Le Nouveau Monde," established in 1864 under his direct control, Mgr. Bourget found vigorous newspaper support. Of the many writings in the wordy war, doubtless the most extraordinary was the "Comédie Infernale" of Alphonse Villeneuve, in which the seminary, "the last refuge of Gallicanism and Catholic Liberalism," was portrayed as receiving the approbation of Lucifer, Beelzebub, and other demons assembled in council,

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