Popular Science Monthly/Volume 37/September 1890/King Bomba's Philosophical Catechism


By Prof. E. P. EVANS.

THE proper education of a prince and heir to the throne has been regarded from time immemorial as one of the most perplexing problems of pedagogics. Especially in the past ages of absolutism, when the monarch was the source of all authority, it was a matter of immense importance that the man whose will was to be the law of the land, and upon whose merest whim the weal or woe of a whole people depended, should, as a child, be trained up in the way he should go, and, as an adult, should not be permitted to depart from it.

In the Orient, where the sovereign was revered as a demi-divine incarnation and plenipotentiary delegate from heaven for the administration of justice on earth, he was also supposed to be supernaturally endowed with wisdom from on high—a pleasing fiction, which still survives in the claims of kings to wear their crowns and wield their scepters "by the grace of God." As a natural sequence of this theory, scions of royal stock were confided to members of the sacerdotal order for their education. In India the Brahman claimed for his caste all posts of honor and emolument in the realm, and all positions of influence near the person of the ruler. Not only was it deemed essential to the power and permanence of the dynasty that he should perform the duties of court priest (purohita), but he also arrogated to himself the functions of court fool (vidúshaka); in his overweening ambition and insatiable greed of supremacy, he could bear no rival near the throne, even though the competitor were a man of motley.

It was likewise the privilege of the Brahman to be pedagogue in perpetuity to the royal family. His son or some member of his caste was as sure of succeeding to the ferule as the king's son or some prince of the blood was of inheriting the scepter; and, judging from what we know of the manuals of instruction, in which his teachings were embodied, he was eminently worthy of his high office. Thus the Hitopadesá was composed or rather compiled by Vishnu Sárman for several young princes who were his pupils; and it would be difficult to find in the whole vast range of didactic literature any work containing in the same compass a greater sum of homely wisdom and a larger number of prudential maxims and ethical rules for the conduct of life than are compressed into this little treatise on deportment, or nítividyá, a word which the modern masters of this science would translate by savoir vivre. This Kind Counsel, as the title Hitopadesá signifies, is illustrated and enforced by a series of fables and kindred stories, skillfully woven together into a consecutive narration, which has remained for centuries the unsurpassable model of all productions of a like character. In Greek literature we have Xenophon's Cyropædia, which gives an imaginary picture of the education of the elder Cyrus, in order to present the ideal of a prince whose moral and intellectual faculties have been developed according to the principles of the Socratic philosophy. Less worthy of note, and yet not devoid of significance, is the De dementia ad Neronem Cæsarem of Seneca, whose imperial pupil Nero does not redound to his credit as a tutor, and whose own conduct did not always exemplify his fine ethical maxims. In the sixteenth century Duke Julius, of Brunswick, began with his Deutscher Fürstenspiegel the fabrication of those moral mirrors in which princes are enabled to see themselves as others see them.

The Prince of Machiavelli is a different kind of production, being less a pedagogical than a political treatise—not so much an exposition of ethical principles as an enforcement of practical policy. It is the final, energetic effort of a sincere patriot to rescue his country from the demoralizing and disintegrating influences, aristocratic, democratic, and hierarchical, which made it the prey of factions from within and foreigners from without. If the remedy prescribed is drastic, the disease was also desperate.

Of all modern works belonging to the class under consideration, The Adventures of Telemachus, written by Fénelon for the instruction and guidance of the grandsons of Louis XIV, holds perhaps the highest place in literature. But the ideal of conduct, which the Archbishop of Cambrai here offers for imitation, is so pure and exalted, that the king regarded the book as a satire on his reign and forbade its publication. It was also the common opinion of his courtiers that Calypso was the Marquise de Montespan, Antiope the Duchesse de Bourgogne, and Sesostris no less a personage than the Grand Monarch himself. No one, nowadays, in reading Fénelon's masterpiece of fiction, thinks of the didactic purpose for which it was written; we are attracted solely by the charm of style and the perfection of artistic form which have made it classic.

Very different in this respect is the notorious Philosophical Catechism collaborated by King Ferdinand II and Monsignore Apuzzo, Archbishop of Sorrento, for the use of the Hereditary Prince and of the Most Faithful People of the Two Sicilies. This book, which appeared in 1850, was written to justify the perfidies and perjuries of King Bomba, and also, ad usum Delphini, to inculcate and perpetuate the principles of monarchical absolutism.

After the suppression of the Revolution of 1848, and the abrogation of the reforms which this movement had temporarily effected, the sovereign of the Two Sicilies began to manifest an extraordinary interest in diffusing what lie deemed useful information among his benighted subjects. He made a Collection of Good Books in favor of Truth and Virtue, in which the doctrine of the divine right of kings and the duty of passive obedience on the part of their subjects were taught in the most emphatic terms. These cheaply printed pamphlets and little volumes were scattered broadcast over the country; but as the great majority of the people were unable to read them, owing to the general illiteracy which his system of government had produced, the priests were instructed to communicate the contents of them to their parishioners, and to make the ideas contained in them the subject of frequent discourse. His Majesty also caused to be published a New Philosophic-Democratic Vocabulary indispensable to every one who desires to understand the New Revolutionary Language, in which the logic of the Holy Office is combined with the rhetoric of the barracks and of Billingsgate to heap contempt upon liberal opinions. But the famous series reaches its climax in the aforementioned Catechism, the capolavoro of Monsignore Apuzzo, who, to the exercise of his archiepiscopal functions, added the sinecure of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the confidential post of tutor to the crown prince.

In the preface the author addresses himself directly to "princes, bishops, magistrates, instructors of youth, and all men of goodwill," and enjoins upon them to use their authority, their money, and their influence to secure the widest possible distribution of his work. Those who have control of the public funds in the cities of the realm, he says, should apply them generously and systematically to this worthy end, and assures these officials that God will bless their pious embezzlements.

The following is a translation of the first chapter, which treats of Philosophy:

Disciple. What is philosophy?

Master. It is the science of truth, or rather the science which teaches us to distinguish truth from error.

"D. Is it necessary to teach this science to very young persons?

"M. It would not be necessary, since they would learn it gradually from experience and from the words and writings of honest and wise men; but at the present time it is necessary that Christian teachers should begin early to instruct their pupils in the true philosophy, in order that they may not learn from others a perverse and false philosophy.

"D. Why is it that some persons wish to teach a wicked philosophy, and desire to diffuse error rather than truth?

"M. Because they are vicious and bad, and wish that all other men should become vicious and bad.

D. Who are those who teach a false and perverse philosophy?

M. They are the liberal philosophers.

"D. Would it not be well to massacre all these corrupters and deceivers of the human race?

"M. No, my son; we should detest their errors, but should regard their persons with the eye of charity, pray God to convert them, pardon the offenses which they commit, do good to them, and succor them in their necessities. These are the doctrines of Christianity, and we should show what a difference there is between the followers of the liberal philosophy and the followers of the gospel.

"D. What are the effects of the doctrines taught by the liberal philosophers?

"M. They cause the decay of religion, bring disaster upon the state, produce the slaughter of war, the weeping of mothers, and the general misery of the people, as may be seen in all those countries whose inhabitants have let themselves be led astray by these fatal and foolish notions. And, above all, they cause the eternal damnation of souls, because he who lives contrary to the law of God on earth can not expect anything but hell in the next world.

D. Are all liberals wicked in the same degree? M. Not all, my son, because some are willful deceivers, and others are wretchedly deceived; nevertheless, they all go the same way, and, if they do not turn from this path, will all reach the same goal.

D. How are liberal philosophers to be recognized? M. When you see any one who keeps away from the sacraments and the religious services, who does not go to church, or, if he sometimes goes there, acts irreverently and disrespectfully, who ostentatiously neglects to take off his hat before the images of Jesus Christ and the saints, and is ashamed to be seen making the sign of the cross; when you hear any one joking about heaven and hell, speaking evil of the prince or of the government, deriding priests and friars and ecclesiastical persons; when, finally, you perceive any one who is glad to learn of the progress of rebellions and the success of rebels, and who disapproves of the vigorous acts of the legitimate authorities, and receives with signs of sorrow news favorable to the preservation of religion, of the sovereign power, and of public tranquillity—then you can say for certain that all these are liberal philosophers.

"D. Are all those who wear whiskers and full beards liberal philosophers?

"M. Not all, because many people merely follow the fashion in wearing the beard.

"D. Are not young men, then, permitted to follow the fashion?

"M. When the fashions are neither obscene nor ridiculous, each, one is free to follow them if he sees fit, provided, however, that such or such a fashion may not be generally recognized as a mark of adhesion to a bad class. The garb of a hangman or of an assassin may not be scandalous in itself, but no honorable and respectable man would clothe himself as an assassin or hangman in order to be in fashion. In like manner "wise and Christian persons ought to be ashamed to imitate in their apparel the liberals and liberal philosophers, and, for this reason, whoever nowadays under the pretext of adapting his dress to the mode plasters his face with those demi-periwigs, shows signs of little honesty, or at least of little sense."

This is a fair specimen of the puerility of the archbishop's reasoning. He then proceeds to discuss the origin and nature of human society, which, he maintains, is a divine institution, and began to exist essentially in its present constitution with the creation of man. The theory of a primitive state of savagery, out of which the race was gradually evolved, he denounces as a figment of the imagination, having no more reality than the dog with seven heads or the sea-creature half fish and half maiden described by the poets. "Modern philosophers, for their own base ends, have feigned to believe in such a state of nature, as they call it, whereas it should be called a state contrary and repugnant to nature." The moral which the Right Reverend Apuzzo draws from his doctrine is, that society being an institution established by God, man has no right to change it under the pretext of reform or by the force of revolution, thus impiously endeavoring, by overturning the thrones of divinely appointed kings, and subverting the social, civil, and religious arrangements which God has ordained, to improve upon the wisdom of the Omniscient.

As regards liberty, he says it would be madness and blasphemy to maintain that the freedom of the gospel has anything in common with the freedom preached by modern philosophers. What the redemption of Christ freed man from was the condemnation and slavery of sin, and from the dominion of the devil. "Before his advent, demons tormented and afflicted the human race in a thousand ways, but Jesus Christ so effectually released mankind from that scourge, and so conquered the power of hell, that nowadays one scarcely knows that there are any such creatures as demons." Was ever any utterance of even the clerical mind more naïve than this! All aspirations and struggles for a freedom differing from his definition of the freedom of the gospel he denounces as destructive of human happiness and offensive to the Saviour of the world.

In the chapter on equality, we are told that men are tall, short, smart, stupid, learned, ignorant, virtuous, vicious, rich, poor, strong, and feeble, and that it is therefore impossible for them to be all equal. Equality before the law, with which liberal philosophers seek to flatter the vanity and excite the passions of the populace, is also a chimera. To punish all persons equally for the same overt acts would be manifestly unjust. Throwing a handful of mud at a common laborer should not be visited with as severe a penalty as throwing a handful of mud at a nobleman, because in the case of the laborer the act only occasions a slight inconvenience, while in the case of the nobleman it involves a grievous insult. By such plausible but wholly impertinent illustrations the shrewd archbishop seeks to shirk the main principle, and to impose upon the simple-minded, who may not have wit enough to detect the fallacies of his reasoning, and to perceive that equality before the law does not imply the necessity of ignoring all circumstances, motives, and effects attending a culpable action. He admits, in conclusion, that all men should be equal in the eye of justice, but asserts that "such an equality is already enjoyed by the inhabitants of the whole civilized world, so that there is no need of the liberal philosophers wasting their breath in proclaiming it." If some persons now and then suffer wrong, "this is due to the wickedness of the human heart, and not to any defects of institutions and laws." That it is, however, the object of laws and institutions to restrain the wickedness of the human heart, and that so far as they fail to do this they are defective, is a point wholly ignored.

After the close of the Franco-German War, the cities of the fatherland began to grow with unwonted rapidity, and many persons of the baser sort became owners of urban habitations, and in their pride of acquisition waxed exceedingly arrogant. A citizen of Munich, who had suddenly risen from the low estate of a handicraftsman to the dignity of a householder, posted up in the lower halls of his tenements a long list of printed rules and regulations to be observed by his tenants, who were not only informed when they must clean and light the stairs, and when they might or might not play on musical instruments, but also received definite and minute instructions touching their personal relations to himself, how they must greet him in passing, and must treat him with proper respect on all occasions. Having specified all the cases which he could think of, and fearing lest any loophole should be left by which obligations might be evaded, he laid down, in a concluding paragraph, the following general principle: "In short, the tenant has no rights, but only duties."

According to Monsignore Apuzzo, God has regulated the universe on the same principle, and man has no rights in opposition to the sovereigns who rule over him, but only duties toward them. "The law of God commands kings and rulers not to be tyrannical and not to oppress their subjects unnecessarily, and thereby guarantees to the people all the liberty they can enjoy without disturbing the social order." But. as the sovereign alone is to decide what degree of oppression is necessary, and as there is no means of enforcing the law of God in case he sees fit to violate it, this guarantee of the liberty of the people seems to be of the slenderest and filmiest texture.

"The people of themselves have no right to determine what shall be the constitution and fundamental laws of the state, since this would be a limitation of sovereignty, which can not be conditioned and circumscribed except by itself, otherwise it would not be that supreme power established by God for the good of society." Even if a king has sworn to observe the constitution of the realm, he may set it aside if he finds it prejudicial to the exercise of his sovereignty and injurious to the highest interests of the state. "An oath can never be permitted to become a bond of iniquity, or a cause of harm to the people. Besides, the head of the Church has been authorized by God to absolve consciences from oaths, whenever he thinks there are good reasons for doing so. Even if a monarch should violate the constitution and laws of the country inconsiderately and without just cause, universal contempt and censure would be the only possible penalty for such an act. The supreme power may be praised or blamed, but can not be judged or condemned by any other power, since it is supreme. The people must accept the result with resignation, and will lose nothing thereby, because the fundamental laws are the work of man, but the sovereign power is the work of God.

"D. But suppose the king burdens his subjects with enormous taxes and squanders the money of the state, would not the revolt of the people be justifiable?

"M. No, it would not be justifiable, because the people have no right to judge of the necessities and expenditures of the sovereign, and the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Saint Paul has commanded the people to pay tribute, but has nowhere said that they should audit the accounts of kings.

"D. When the king cruelly abuses and does not respect the lives and blood of his subjects, would not revolt and revolution be justifiable?

"M. Not at all, because the people are not judges and avengers of injuries done them by private persons, and much less of those inflicted upon them by princes whom God has appointed to rule over them."

As regards freedom of opinion, every man is at liberty to entertain whatever opinions he pleases, and the government can not persecute him on this account, because it has no means of knowing his opinions. But when these secret thoughts and judgments of the mind are expressed in words, whether spoken or written, they cease to be mere opinions and become overt acts, and are, as such, subject to the scrutiny and control of the public authorities. It is not only the right but also the duty of the supreme power to prevent the promulgation and to punish the diffusion and propagation of false and pernicious opinions, which imperil the existing religious, political, and social institutions. "God did not endow men with speech in order that they might utter absurdities and blasphemies, nor favor the invention of printing in order that it might serve to excite scandals, spread abroad impiety, and stir up the people against the powers that be, which are ordained of him." What kind of opinions are dangerous and injurious, it is, of course, for sovereigns, aided and advised by sacerdotal counselors to decide, and from their decision there is no appeal.

The most perfect form of civilization, according to Monsignore Apuzzo, is the mean between extreme ignorance and excessive knowledge. "Of course it is not meant to inculcate absolute ignorance, and to imply that men of the lower classes should live like beasts and blocks of stone, but that each person should be taught what is suitable to his class, and avoid that superfluity which can only prove harmful and troublesome to him. The Holy Spirit says through the mouth of Saint Paul that one should not know more than is convenient, and should be content to know with moderation, 'non plus sapere quam oportet sapere seel sapare ad sobrietatem'; and these words of the apostle are addressed not only to the learned, but to men of all classes. For laborers and peasants, moderation consists in knowing the catechism and the vocal prayers, and nothing more. For mechanics and shopkeepers, moderation consists in knowing how to read, write, and cipher a little, and nothing more. For the professional classes, moderation consists in studying merely what pertains to their professions; and for the higher classes, moderation consists in learning what they can, provided they do not abuse the teachings of man by setting them in opposition to the teachings of God. This is what is called knowing soberly, and these are the limits within which the spread of learning, culture, and enlightenment must be kept."

These are the views of a man who was the highest ecclesiastical dignitary and the Superintendent of Public Instruction in the kingdom of the Two Sicilies under Ferdinand II; and this is the sort of sophistical stuff with which the crown prince, who afterward ascended the throne as Francis II, was systematically crammed. His education was entirely in the hands of Jesuits, and it was in this wise that they carried it on. No wonder that, as king, he was a gloomy and narrow-minded bigot, the helpless puppet of priests, utterly alien to the prevailing spirit of the age and the noblest aspirations of his time, and that Garibaldi's mere presence in southern Italy sufficed to cause his scepter to fall from his impotent grasp.

In the concluding chapters of his Philosophical Catechism our author ridicules love of country as a shallow sentiment, censures patriotism as sedition, burns holy incense under the noses of the score of petty potentates who were then the curse of Italy, praises foreign domination, extols the "loyal and Christian" house of Hapsburg, and even invokes the blessing of heaven upon the Austrian soldiers, and has the impudence to assert that there is not a foot of soil in the whole peninsula that has not been freed and saved by them.

The rapid march of events since 1860 has now made it seem almost incredible that such a work, worthy of the darkest period of the middle ages, should have been written, approved by the Church and the state, and circulated as a public document in southern Italy less than fifty years ago.

It is at present almost impossible to obtain a copy of the original volume; but the people of the Two Sicilies had no sooner achieved their independence than the liberal party at Naples reprinted it as a monument to the deposed Bourbon dynasty—a monument that performs the functions of a pillory.