When one of the foundation beliefs of a church is that its spiritual leader and head is sovereign to the extent that, when speaking ex cathedra, his pronouncements on matters relating to faith or morals are infallible, it follows that there is no room for any real dissent within that body and that nothing short of absolute obedience is expected of those within its pale. Such is the position with regard to the Church of Rome. When, in 1870, the doctrine of the Pope’s infallibility was defined and promulgated by a Vatican Council, an anathema was pronounced on all who would presume to disagree with it. Infallibility, as already noted, was supposed to be limited, but in actual practice, as Loraine Boettner has pointed out, “the term ‘faith and morals’ is broad enough and elastic enough to cover almost any and every phase of religious and civil life. Practically every public issue can be looked upon as having some bearing on faith or morals or both. The Vatican takes full advantage of this, and the result is that within the Roman Church almost any statement issued by the Pope is assumed to be authoritative.”
Thus all Roman Catholics, if they are to be consistent, must acknowledge the Pope’s authority as supreme, and if there should arise a conflict of loyalties, they are under the obligation of paying homage to him first and foremost. In the case of British subjects who belong to the Church of Rome, it is clear that, if they are to be absolutely faithful to its teachings, their first allegiance must be to the Roman Pontiff rather than to Queen Elizabeth II and that it is his interests and pronouncements that they are primarily to have in view. After all, they are taught that their eternal salvation would be placed in jeopardy were they to deny him the authority which he claims to have as vicar of Christ on earth. Where, we may well ask, does this leave British Roman Catholic Cabinet Ministers and Privy Councillors – indeed, all Romanists who occupy places of authority under the British Crown? Are they not, by virtue of this obligation of obedience to a foreign personage or power, politically self-disabled and unable to render true and undivided allegiance to the Queen and country? The Pope’s claim is, of course, false and blasphemous, and it was the recognition of this in time past that led to the passing of the Act of Settlement and the drawing up of the Bill of Rights, both of which were designed to free our nation totally from the yoke of Popery. It had been discovered “by experience” that it was “inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant Kingdom to be governed by a Popish Prince, or by any King or Queen marrying a Papist”, and the safeguarding of the Protestant succession “in all time coming” was therefore enshrined in law.
In drawing attention to the pretensions of the Roman Pontiff and the obligation under which all who revere him are placed, it is not being suggested that all of the Queen’s Roman Catholic subjects are necessarily potential traitors; it is simply pointing out that their religion places them under the obligation of subscribing to the dogma that their spiritual leader claims universal jurisdiction over all princes and kings of the earth. It is freely granted that Roman Catholics are often better citizens than their political creed would make them. In successive World Wars many of them fought side by side with Protestant subjects, many of them losing their lives faithfully serving King and country. But in doing so, there was no conflict of interest or of allegiance, since the Pope did not publicly declare himself on the one side or the other, his “official” position being one of neutrality, notwithstanding Pius XII’s signing of a Concordat with Hitler before the Second World War began. These servicemen therefore, in fighting for their British homeland, were not exposing themselves to Romish excommunication.
A Canadian journalist, Judy Schuett, has suggested that it was because of this Concordat that the Jesuit-trained, former Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, refused to fight in the Second World War. “Was Trudeau’s allegiance”, she asks, “first to the Pope and not first to Canada?” This journalist, who describes herself as belonging to a large Roman Catholic family, has carried out her own research and she is surprisingly forthright in expressing her view on this question of divided allegiance. She maintains that it raises a lot of questions and, not least, that of Canadian sovereignty. “Do Canadians”, she asks, “have a problem of allegiance when political party leaders have to choose between remaining [Roman] Catholic or refusing to submit to the Pope in certain situations? Are [Roman] Catholics in any leadership situation tied by bonds that might require them to deny Canadian sovereignty in the face of conflicting orders from the Vatican? This is a concept most non-[Roman] Catholics would not think of. Now the Pope is king, in essence, of a foreign State and the Vatican acts as a nation state with political offices in almost 200 countries.
“It is not bigoted to wonder what this power does; it is a valid question. How would people raised from childhood in comparative isolation from the views of other Canadians in separate [Roman] Catholic schools have the courage as adults to deny their religious leader and face the scorn of all their peers? Their whole lives often revolve around the church. If put in a situation where as leader they are caught between a required decision and the Vatican, how can they deny the Vatican without losing their eternal safety as [Roman] Catholics, as they believe? When faced with a decision requiring them to stand for Canadian sovereignty against their Pontiff, if and when the situation arises, how many would have the strength to do so under threat of excommunication by the [Roman] Catholic bishops. To whom could they turn for help if they decided to act alone for Canada against the Pope? All this could happen behind the scenes without other Canadians even suspecting.” (1)
This question of divided allegiance is therefore not one which affects Britain alone; it is one which ought to give concern to nations the world over. It is of long standing. It has been there ever since, as Wylie (quoting Machiavelli) tells us, Charlemagne decreed in 800AD “that his Holiness, being God’s vicar, could not be subject to the judgement of man” and was rewarded for doing so by having the crown of the western empire placed on his head by Leo III. “Whereas formerly, the Popes were confirmed by the emperors, the emperor now, in his election, was to be beholden to the Pope; by which means the power and dignity of the empire declined and the church began to advance, and by these steps to usurp upon the authority of the temporal princes.” (2) This usurpation was much advanced by Gregory VII (Hildebrand), who is remembered as the Pope who annulled Emperor Henry IV’s right to the kingdoms of Germany and Italy and absolved his subjects from their allegiance. Such was the Emperor’s fear of the Pontiffs excommunication and so great was his anxiety to have it removed that he was prepared to cross the Alps in the dead of winter and endure the privation of having to stand barefoot in the snow for three days until the lordly Gregory was prepared to grant him an audience.
“The principle”, says Wylie, “on which the whole system of the popes was founded, virtually implied their supremacy over kings as well as over priests. They claimed to be the successors of Peter and the vicars of Christ. But Christ is Lord of the world as well as Head of the Church. He is a King of kings; and the popes aimed at exhibiting on earth an exact model or representation of Christ’s government in heaven; and accordingly they strove to reduce monarchs to the rank of their vassals, and assume into their own hands the management of all the affairs of earth. If their claim was a just one – if they were indeed the vicars of Christ and the vice-gerents of God, as they affirmed – there were plainly no bounds to their authority, either in temporal or spiritual matters. The symbol which to pontifical rhetoric has alone seemed worthy to shadow forth the more-than-mortal magnificence of the popes is the sun, which, they tell us, the Creator has set in the heavens as the representative of the pontifical authority; while the moon, shining with borrowed splendour, has formed the humble symbolisation of the secular power. According to their theory, there was strictly but one ruler on earth – the Pope. In him all authority was centred. From him all rule and jurisdiction emanated. From him kings received their crowns, and priests their mitres. To him all were accountable, while he was accountable to no one save God alone.
“The pontiffs, we say, judged it premature to startle the world as yet by an undisguised and open avowal of this claim: they accounted it sufficient, meanwhile, to embody its fundamental principles in the decrees of councils and in the pontifical acts, and allow them to lie dormant there, in the hope that a better age would arrive, when it would be possible to avow in plain terms, and enforce by direct acts, a claim which they had put forth only inferentially as yet. But to make good this claim was the grand object of Rome from the beginning; and this object she steadily pursued through a variety of fortune and a succession of centuries. The vastness of the object was equalled by the ability and perseverance with which it was prosecuted. The policy of Rome was profound, subtle, patient, unscrupulous, and audacious. And as she has had no rival as respects the greatness of the prize and the qualities with which she has contended for it, so neither has she had a rival in the dazzling success with which at last her contest was crowned.” (3)
That coronation was finally accomplished in 1870 when the infallible supremacy of the Roman Pontiff was officially promulgated: “Therefore, we, faithfully adhering to the tradition received from the beginning of the Christian faith, for the glory of God our Saviour, the exaltation of the Catholic religion, and the salvation of Christian people, the sacred council approving, teach and define that it is a dogma divinely revealed that the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when discharging the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith and morals to be held by the universal Church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, the same is possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and that therefore, the definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves irreformable, and not dependent upon the consent of the Church. But if any presume to contradict this our definition – which may God avert – let him be accursed.”
There are many who accuse us of dwelling too much in the past, who argue that Rome has changed, that the days of papal intrigue are at an end and that we should magnanimously acknowledge this to be the case and move with the times! But in reality nothing has changed. Any changes which may have taken place are minor and cosmetic; the doctrines and practices of the Church of Rome remain intact, as they were defined by the decrees and canons of the Council of Trent. We see that even the dogma of papal infallibility was not really new; it was simply promulgated officially in 1870. Moreover, it was declared to be retrospective, which means that all popes from the very beginning of the order are to be regarded as having possessed this power. All ex cathedra pronouncements, bulls and encyclicals over the centuries are therefore to be regarded as being as authoritative now as they were on the day they were first issued. In 1535, Pius V, for instance, asserting his claim as “prince over all people and all kingdoms, to pluck up, destroy, scatter, consume, plant and build”, declared Elizabeth I to be “deprived of her pretended title to this kingdom, and of all dominion, dignity and privilege whatsoever”. In 2002, the Roman Pontiff still claims to be Christ’s vicar on earth, and does it not therefore follow that he must still lay claim to universal sovereignty?
The fact that Popery is not merely a religion but a political system is commonly overlooked. How can we remain complacent and undisturbed when we witness so many attempts being made to undermine our Protestant throne by removing from the statute book all legislation placed there for its protection? If our present Prime Minister openly avows himself (which is not impossible) to be a Roman Catholic, will he not find himself in the untenable position of having to serve two masters, and if a conflict of interests should arise, will he not, since his eternal salvation would otherwise be imperilled, choose to obey the one whose claim to universal supremacy he must now acknowledge? Rome plans well ahead and we would be naive indeed were we to believe that it is simply coincidental that so many Roman Catholics are at present sitting on both front benches in the House of Commons – and in the Speaker’s chair as well.
“The Papacy,” in the words of Prince Bismarck, the famous late-nineteenth-century German chancellor, “has ever been a political power which, with the greatest audacity and the most momentous consequences, has interfered in the affairs of this world.” It is clear to any impartial observer that there has always been antagonism between the claims of the papacy and the sovereign rights of nations. The evidence is there for all to see and the apathy and indifference of our generation is to be attributed to wilful ignorance, blindness and failure to face up to the facts. Our own Adam Smith, of Wealth of Nations fame, wrote long ago: “The constitution of the Church of Rome may be considered the most formidable combination that was ever formed against the authority and security of civil government, as well as against the liberty, reason and happiness of mankind”. (4) Before his time and since, there has been ample evidence to support this affirmation. Endnotes:
1. The Protestant Challenge, 2001, no 1, p 11.
2. J A Wylie, The Papacy, 1889, p 44.
3. The Papacy, p 60.
4. Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1863 ed, p 337.