The Church in the United States
The Church in the United States
Mr. Henry De Courcy is a Frenchman who came to this country ten or a dozen years ago for the laudable purpose of making his fortune, as an agent or partner of a French commercial house in this city, which purpose, we are happy to learn, he effected, and that having effected it, he had returned to his native France. While here he took great interest in church matters, contributed several articles to the Freeman's Journal, and did regularly the American affairs for the Univers, as Mr. Gondon does those of England for the same Paris newspaper. He had zeal and industry, very likely good intentions, but he never approached to the slightest understanding of the American people of American institutions, and those of his contributions to the Univers on American subjects or on Catholic affairs in the United States, which have fallen under our notice, are marked by silliness, ignorance, impertinence and untruthfulness, which we have rarely seen matched. We have never seen
any thing from his pen that indicated large thought, or manly and liberal feeling. His mind is narrow and one sided, and instead of being a broad and liberal-hearted Frenchman, such as France often sends us, and to whom as Catholics we willingly acknowledge our debt of gratitude, he is the little man of a clique, incapable of seeing what little he does see, save as lessened and distorted by being seen through its spectacles. He appears to have come here with the impression, not uncommon among European provincials, that the Americans are for the most part native Indians, and still in their original savage state, saving a few gleams of civilization emitted by French missionaries to furrow for an instant their darkness, and we cannot discover that he ever became aware of his error. A man less qualified to write on American society, American institutions, or the church in the United States, it were hard to find, and we beg our friends in France to place not the slightest confidence in any statement, opinion or judgment of his concerning any thing American.
Aided by his learned translator, Mr. Shea, he has in the work before us collected a certain number of facts, documents, details, and anecdotes, not without interest, nor without importance for such portions of our ecclesiastical history, but the work before us is not itself history. It is a series of newspaper articles, if we may so speak, on church matters in the United States, hastily thrown off and carelessly strung together. They might pass without much censure as the chance contributions to a Parisian journal by a French traveler willing to give his countrymen such information of the doings of French missionaries in the heathen land as fell in his way, but they should never have been collected into a volume, and far less have been "done" into English. We can conceive, and we say it with sorrow, no good purpose of their publication can answer. They have a foreign and hostile tone, and can have no other effect here than to set Catholics of one nationality by the ears with those of another, and to deepen the impression in non-Catholic American minds, deep enough already, that Catholicity is in this country a foreign religion, and that whoever embraces it makes himself virtually a foreigner. From his long residence here he will be presumed to have associated with Catholics and to have experienced their sentiments. There is a snappishness, and ill-nature, towards non-Catholic Americans, running through the greater part of the volume, which if taken to be characteristic of Catholics would embarrass us not a little, and greatly strengthen the hands of our enemies. It is a great mistake on the part of our foreign Catholic friends to suppose that they can serve the cause of Catholicity here by abusing non-Catholic Americans.
The American people are frank, plain-dealing people, and wish those who address them to speak out in free and manly tones, from honest and ingenuous hearts. They love courage, boldness, and independence, but they despise littleness, meanness, crookedness, blarney, and vituperation. Tell them their faults in a straightforward way, in a free manly tone, without passion or ill-temper, and they will respect you; but attempt to play the virago with them, and they will despise you, or kick you out of their way. The Americans, like Englishmen, are proud, not vain, nay, too proud to be vain, and you must win their respect, and make them feel that your good opinion of them is worth having, before you can influence them by appeals to their love of approbation. It may be their misfortune or their crime that they care so little about your opinion of them, and are so insensible to your gibes or your sneers, but that they think too much of themselves to be moved to change their conduct by any thing you may say against them, is a fact that you must take into the account in your dealing with them. They look up in Catholics here as the weaker part, and the judgment of Catholics, unsupported by the manliness and vigor of their character, their personal dignity and self-respect, will count for little with them. To scold them, to tell them that they have lost your good opinion, and that unless they behave differently you must cut them, will only call forth from them the gruff reply, "Who the devil are you?" We are simply describing, not defending; and we merely tell foreign Catholics what they are to expect in their dealings with non-Catholic Americans. As long as Catholics are here the weaker party, and want the power to render their views efficacious, their good or their bad opinion will not be taken into serious consideration, and they can gain nothing by arguments addressed to vanity or love of approbation. To suppose it were as great a mistake as to suppose that there respect is to be won by tameness and servility. The American admires courage, he respects power, and if you have not much of either, you can reach him only through his sense of justice. Convince him that his course towards you is essentially unjust, and he will change it, for he cannot be unjust without forfeiting his self-respect, and it is always his own self-respect, not your approbation, he seeks.
Mr. De Courcy appears to be ignorant of this trait in the American, nay, the so-called Anglo-Sax character, and writes as if the true way to bring non-Catholic Americans to treat the church properly is either to flatter or to mortify their vanity. But he should know that in dealing with them it is pride, not vanity, he has to deal with, though sometimes, it grieves us to confess, the pride of provincials or colonists, rather than of the denizens of the metropolis. We have not as a people wholly forgotten as yet the sense of colonial dependants, and many of us still look to England as our metropolis. This is one of our weaknesses, but a weakness of which we are everyday getting the better. A few more such diplomatic victories as those recently gained over English European statesmen by Mr. Secretary Marcy, and we shall get bravely over it, and cease to look for our metropolis out of our own country. Ignorant of the real American character, Mr. De Courcy has adopted a tone better fitted to excite their contempt than to command their respect, and at the same time well adapted to irritate Catholics themselves against our non-Catholic countrymen. This is the worst of all. The aim of Catholics in or out of the country should be its conversion. It is a low and narrow view of our duty to suppose that it is simply to protect and preserve the Catholics already here, and it is a grave mistake to suppose that we can advance in the discharge of our duty as Catholics, by means that irritate us against, or alienate us from, our non-Catholic countrymen. Our duty is, after that of preserving our own faith, and bringing up our children in the way they should go, to do all in our power to win to the church all those who are without. But we cannot labor with any effect for this, unless we love them, and make them feel that we are prompted to it only by our sincere and disinterested affection for them. We are not here in an old Catholic country, where the great body of the people are really or nominally Catholic, and all we have to do is to repulse heresy or infidelity; but in a missionary country, where the mass of the people are non-Catholics, and what we have to do is to convert them to the true faith. This we cannot do by means which alienate them from us, or us from them. Love begets love, and our love must beget their love. The love of God in us, must beget the love of God in them, and bind them and us together in the bonds of a never-failing charity. We must bear their indifference, their hardness, their stubbornness, and even with their injustice to ourselves. We must not return wrath for wrath, railing for railing or wrong for wrong. We must overcome anger by meekness, that Mr. De Courcy did not see proper to write in a more timely feeling towards non-Catholic Americans, and exhibit more of the blessed charity which never fails, and without which faith and zeal are but as sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.
We regret also that Mr. De Courcy had not a mind and heart large and liberal enough to comprehend that all Catholics are brethren, and that Catholicity soars above all the petty distinctions of nation or race. He is a capital Frenchman, but it was his duty to write with the stern impartiality of Catholic truth. In writing on the church in this country, it was his duty to write for the glory of God rather than for the glory of France and Frenchmen. France aided us generously, if you will, in our struggle for national independence, although she had her own ends to answer by separating us from her maritime rival; French Catholics have contributed their full share to the planting, growth, and prosperity of the church in our country, and never will an American Catholic forget the service rendered in past or present times by holy prelates and missionaries of French origin and education. But in doing liberal justice to French Catholics, we see no necessity of forgetting that others have labored not without success in the same field. As an American by birth and lineage, we cannot forget, to say nothing of native Americans, the Carrolls, the Neals, the Fenwicks, the Ecclestons, the Spalfings, the Reynolds, that Belgains, Hollanders, Russians, Poles, Spaniards, Englishmen, Italians, and last, but certainly not least, Irishmen have also rendered us important service. No nationality has the monopoly of the glory of founding and promoting Catholicity in the United States. The writer who provokes invidious comparisons between the various nationalities of which our Catholic population is composed, is our enemy, and not our friend. The French revolution, which exiled religion, virtue, and nobility from France, sent us in early times a large proportion of our most laborious, eminent, and most successful missionaries, and Frenchmen, or men of French descent, fill at this moment a larger number of American sees that are filled by men of any other nationality, except our own. We complain not if this; we rejoice that it is so, for we are as opposed to the introduction of Know-nothing-ism into the church as we are to its introduction into the state. But we do complain of Mr. De Courcy for seeming to be unable to see any good in the country that has not come from France, for calling up the recollection of difficulties, jealousies, and envyings which were better forgotten, and speaking disparagingly of illustrious prelates who have deserved well of Catholic America, but who happen not to have been of French birth or lineage. He has wronged in particular the memory of the first bishop of Charleston, and cast unworthy suspicions on this character and services. We treasure the memory of a Marechal, a Cheverus, a Flaget. A Dubois, a Brute, as a part of the wealth of our infant church, but we treasure with equal pride and affection that of John England. Mr. De Courcy leaves that impression of his readers that no Irish-born prelate in this country has ever understood his position, or worthily discharged the duties of his office; but we are aware of no prelate we have had, whatever his nationality, that better understood his position as a Catholic bishop, or the position to be assumed and maintained by Catholics in the United States, than Bishop England. We have had, as far as our knowledge extends, no bishop who more thoroughly divested himself of that Europeanism, borrowed from the secular society, which can never take root here, and ought not to do so if it could; or more thoroughly identified himself with the country and her institution. We have no sympathy with his Gallicanism, which, by the way, he renounced before his death, and we do not deny that he made some mistakes, and did not always discriminate with sufficient care between American principles and the popular understanding of them by American politicians, but he sought with true wisdom and true-hearted loyalty to represent the church before the American people in her Catholicity, free from all foreign nationalisms which would tend to conceal or mar her loveliness, and to make Catholics understand that their relation to the American republic and government is one of concord and affection, not of antagonism and hatred. His policy, if we may so speak, was American, and substantially what we urged in the article on the Mission of America. We have visited Charleston for ourselves, seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears from those who knew him well what have been the results of his episcopal labors, and we cannot suffer a single remark to be uttered in disparagement of him without making such protest as we may. He was a great prelate, a great man, a learned man, and able, eloquent, and accomplished writer and orator, and the standing and tone he gave to Catholics in his own diocese are such as we would see given to them in every diocese in the Union. If he differed in opinion with another bishop it does not necessarily follow that he was wrong. We speak not of the living, we provoke not comparisons between them and the dead. Among living prelates there may be many that will rival, and even our-rival the late Bishop England, although of Irish origin like himself, and not often misapprehended and misappreciated by honest, intelligent, and well-meaning Catholics. We laymen who write on ecclesiastical affairs are very liable, with the best intensions in the world, to pass judgment on matters on which we know nothing. No layman, whatever his zeal, his learning, his talent, or his piety, is able to judge the administration of any bishop, for no layman does or can know all the difficulties a bishop has to contend with, the complicated and delicate affairs he has to manage, or the compromises to avoid greater evils he is frequently obliged to make. While it is lawful for us laymen to defend the bishop who is assailed, or whose character is disparaged, we should be chary of breathing censure against any bishop who has not manifestly forgotten his character and office, whether living or dead. We have spoken of Bishop England as an act of justice to his memory, and because we have been ourselves accused of injustice, and we fear we have not always been just to him. But let that pass. What is principally our concern at present is to enter our indignant protest against Catholics in Catholic matters setting up one nationality against another. There is not only bad policy, but there is forgetfulness of Catholic dogma as well as of Catholic charity in it. In our country men of all nationalities have labored faithfully according to their gifts and opportunities for the salvation of souls and the interests of the church, and he who would institute invidious comparisons or excite jealousies between them is doing the work of Satan, and is a firebrand in our Catholic community. French Catholics have laid us under a deep debt of gratitude, but they have done it as Catholics, not as Frenchmen. Belgian, Dutch, and German Catholics have also done us and are doing us great service, but by their Catholicity, not by their distinctive nationalities. So of Italian, Spanish, and English Catholics. So in a degree certainly inferior to none must be said of Irish Catholics, who with their children constitute the largest and most active portion of our Catholic population. Yet they have served the church as Catholics, not as Irish, and our gratitude is due them as Catholics, not as Irishmen. We know them, love them, honor them, and are grateful to them as Catholics; and as Catholics, not as Irishmen, will they receive their share in the glory of contributing to the growth and prosperity of the Catholic religion United States. They are nothing to us Irishmen. In religion we know we know no national distinctions, and if we ever allude to them, it is to rebuke the ill-judged and dangerous attempt to bring them into the church, or to make the church in the country the monopoly of any nationality. We censure no man for his nationality; we judge no man by his nationality; and we suffer no man to censure us, or attempt, especially in our own native land to abridge our freedom of speech or action, for our own. Religious is catholic, not national, and whenever we find any man attempting to foist a distinctive nationality on the church, or, under pretence of religion, a foreign nationality on our country, we shall judge it our duty to rebuke him, and do all in our power to defeat his mad attempt. Mr. De Courcy has done us great disservice by his petty national prejudice, and by provoking comparisons and calling up recollections not unfitted to disturb our peace and good fellowship.
We cannot, furthermore, understand on what principle Mr. De Courcy has composed his book. It is a strange jumble of facts and opinions, thrown together without any perceptible order or bond of union. Professedly it contains the history of Catholicity only in five states, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, but in reality it glances at the church in the whole Union, and gives a complete view of it in no diocese or state. The author has apparently no conception of the relative importance of facts, and often dismisses matters of great significance with a passing allusion, and dwells even to tediousness on minute details of no interest or importance. What is creditable to his own countrymen he relates with fullness, as well as what is discreditable to Catholics of other nationalities. He dismisses Mount St. Mary’s College, Maryland, certainly one of the first literary institutions we have, with a passing note, and spends pages in describing others of little importance. In giving the history of the church in New York, he notices, under the head of the New York diocese, what has been done by our presence illustrious archbishop only within what is that diocese now, without giving him credit for what he had done in the dioceses of Albany, Buffalo, Brooklyn, and the half of Newark, before the division. This is not just, for it is due to the archbishop that his administration should have credit for what it did out of the present diocese as well as in it, when his diocese included the whole state, and half of New Jersey. The truth we suppose to be that Mr. De Courcy had only a fragmentary knowledge of Catholic affairs in the country, knew not where to seek the requisite information, and concluded that what he did not know could hardly be worth knowing. The work is carelessly translated, and still more carelessly printed. The translator transfers the French word preventions untranslated, and has paid no attention to the purity of his mother tongue. In one place we are told that Archbishop Carroll was the son of Charles Carroll, and in another that he was the son of Daniel Carroll; in the one case making him the brother and in the other the cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton. He was, we believe, the first cousin of the venerable signer of the declaration of American independence. In one place we find events spoken of as having happened in 1886, which is, we believe, still future. The author, we presume, intended to write in 1586. These inaccuracies, and they are legion throughout the volume, are for the most part typographical, and due to the carelessness of the proof-reader. How far errors of a more serious character have crept into the narrative, we are not, we are ashamed to confess, familiar enough with Catholic history of our own country to say.
But enough of the fault-finding. With all its errors, crotchets, short-comings, omissions, and commissions, we have not been able to read this volume without edification, or without having our love and veneration for the fathers of the American church increased. Let us say frankly that they were greater men, and better understood the difficulties and duties of their time and position than we have, somehow or other, been let to believe, and we are half afraid that in our ignorance we may have said things that might seem unjust to their memory. If so, deeply do we regret it. Times change, and the course most proper to be adopted at one time is not always the most proper to be adopted at another. And never have we intended any thing we have written to be in the slightest degree disrespectful or ungrateful to them; but had we known in the outset as much of their difficulties, their labors, their trials, their struggles, their self-denial, their prudence, their wisdom, and their enlightened zeal, as we are able to gather even from the crude statements in the book before us, our heart would have warmed more to them, and we should have referred to them in terms of far deeper gratitude and affection. It really seems to us that they did better in their day and generation than we are doing in ours, and that the laity of those early times, considering their means and numbers, effected more than we effect at present. But perhaps this is an allusion common to all persons when contrasting what they see in the present to be done, with what they see that a past generation has done. Yet if we of the present generation do our duty as well as our fathers did theirs, we shall do well. It was no slight work that of conciliating Protestant prejudice, and gaining a position for Catholics in a country so hostile as ours was when our first bishop was consecrated. Perhaps the French urbanity and high cultivation served us then far better than would have done that boulder, more energetic, and more uncompromising spirit which we have sought to stimulate, and which is more in accordance with the American character; and though we deny the justice of the charge of harshness and severity which in the beginning was brought against our review, we can well explain and excuse it.
We have spoken severely against Mr. De Courcy’s volume, for we do not like it, and there are things in it not unlikely to do harm; but yet to those who know how to pick it out, there is much useful information in it, and as the production of a man engaged while writing it in making his fortune as a merchant, it deserves to be honorably mentioned. In devoting his leisure to serious studies for the interest, as he doubtless believed, of religion, he set an example worthy of the imitation of our young men engaged of our business. The work, we are told, is to be continued, whether by Mr. De Courcy himself or by his translator we are not informed. We should prefer that it should be by his translator, to whom we are indebted for several valuable historical works. The fault with Mr. Shea is his want of proper artistic skill, and his carelessness as to style and diction. He has ability, great industry, and might with proper time and care continue Mr. De Courcy’s work in a manner to serve the cause of religion, and secure the gratitude of the whole Catholic community. A history of the church in this country is needed, and especially by the numerous converts added daily to the number of the faithful, to enable them to place themselves in possession of the Catholic tradition of the country, to which for the most part on their conversion they are strangers. It would enable them to understand better Catholic things in America, and to avoid many misapprehensions and misjudgments to which they are now almost inevitably exposed. Written with taste and judgment, not from a national but a Catholic point of view, with the requisite information and accuracy, in a loving spirit, without exaggeration or acrimony, passion or prejudice, it would be one of the best books we could put either into the hands of our own youth or those of non-Catholic Americans. Mr. De Courcy cannot write it; Mr Shea ought to be able to do it, and were he to do it, and to do it as well as he can, he would find his account in it.
But if he proposes to do any thing of the sort, his best way is to let the present work go, and begin his history from the beginning, that is, from the landing of the first settlers Maryland; for though the church is earlier planted in other sections of what is now the Union, Maryland is the real mother of American Catholicity. Or if he should adopt Mr. De Courcy’s volume, it should not be without thoroughly revising it, in the light of more extended researches, and fuller information. There are far richer documents for our church history, we are told, than Mr. De Courcy has had access to, or dreamed of, and of these the historian should be careful to avail himself.