Christ's Faithful People
|The Liberals tell us that our violent methods of warfare against them are not in
conformity with the Pope's counsels to moderation and charity. Has he not exhorted
Catholic writers to a love of peace and union, to avoid harsh, aggressive and personal
polemics? How then can we Ultramontanes reconcile the Holy Father's wishes with our fierce
methods? Let us consider the force of the Liberals' objection. To whom does the Holy
Father address these repeated admonitions? Always to the Catholic press, to Catholic
journalists, to those who are supposed to be worthy of the name. These counsels to
moderation and charity, therefore, are always addressed to Catholics, discussing with
other Catholics free questions, i.e., those not involving established principles of faith
and morality, and they do not in any sense apply to Catholics waging a mortal combat with
the declared enemies of the Faith.
There is no doubt that the Pope here makes no allusion to the incessant battles between Catholics and Liberals, for the simple reason that Catholicity is truth and Liberalism heresy, between which there can be no peace, but only war to the death. By consequence, therefore, it is certain that the Pope intends his counsels to apply to our "family quarrels" unhappily much too frequent, and that by no means does he seek to forbid us from waging an unrelenting strife with the eternal enemies of the Church, whose hands, filled with deadly weapons, are ever lifted against the Faith and its defenders.
Therefore, there can be no contradiction between the doctrine we expound and that of the briefs and allocutions of the Holy Father on the subject, provided that logically both apply to the same matter under the same respect, which holds perfectly in this instance. For how can we interpret the words of the Holy Father in any other way? It is a rule of sound exegesis that any passage in Holy Scripture should always be interpreted according to the letter, unless such meaning be in opposition to the context; we can only have recourse to a free or figurative interpretation when this opposition is obvious. This rule applies also to the interpretation of pontifical documents.
How could we suppose the Pope to be in contradiction with all Catholic tradition from Jesus
Christ to our own times? Is it for a moment admissible that the style and method of most of the celebrated Catholic polemists and apologists from St. Paul to St. Francis de Sales should be condemned by a stroke of the pen? Clearly not, for if we were to understand the Pope's counsels to moderation and calm in the sense in which the Liberal conclusion would construe them, we should evidently have to answer, "Yes." Consequently, we must conclude that the Holy Father's words are not addressed to Catholics battling with the enemies of Catholicity, but only to Catholics controverting on free questions amongst themselves.
Common sense itself shows this. Imagine a general in the midst of a raging battle, issuing an order to his soldiers not to injure the enemy too severely! Imagine a captain rushing up and down the ranks shouting to his soldiers, "Be careful! Don't hurt the enemy! Attention there! Don't aim at the heart!" What more need be said! Pius IX has given us an explanation of the proper meaning of his words. On a memorable occasion he calls the sectaries of the Commune demons; and worse than demons the sectaries of Liberalism. Who then need fear to thunderbolt such an enemy with epithets too harsh and severe? In vain do the Liberals cite the words of Leo XIII (1878-1903) in the encyclical Cum Multa , exhorting Catholics to avoid violence in the discussion of the sacred rights of the Church, and to rely rather upon the weight of reason to gain victory; for the words have reference to polemics between Catholics discussing the best means to preserve their common cause, and by no means apply as a rule to govern polemics with the sectaries of Liberalism. The intrinsic evidence of the encyclical proves this beyond cavil. The Pope concludes by exhorting all associations and individual Catholics to a still closer and more intimate union, and after pointing out the inestimable advantages of such a union, he instances, as the means of preserving it, that moderation of language and charity of which we are speaking. The argument is plain: the Pope recommends moderation and charity to Catholic writers as a means of preserving peace and mutual union. Clearly, this peace and union is between Catholics and not between Catholics and their enemies. Therefore, the moderation and charity recommended by the Pope to Catholic writers applies only to Catholic polemics between Catholics on free questions. Would it not be absurd to imagine that there could be any union between truth and error, therefore between the advocates of truth on the one side and error on the other? Irreconcilable opposites never unite. One or the other must disappear.