The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 14/Number 82/How Rome is Governed
HOW ROME IS GOVERNED.
There are a thousand descriptions of Rome, its antiquities, galleries, ceremonies, and manners, but hardly any, that I remember, of the organization of the Papal Government,—that wonderful power which long played the chief part in the social and political revolutions of Europe, which, even in its decay, preserves so much of its original grandeur, and still clings to its traditions with a tenacity of conviction that commands our respect, although the remembrance of the evil that it has done compels us, as men and as Christians, to rejoice at the prospect of its fall.
This omission on the part of so many thoughtful travellers is by no means an unnatural one. We go to Rome in order to see and to feel, rather than to study and to think. The past crowds upon us overladen with history and poetry; and the present is so full of new forms of life that it is only when we come to sit down at a distance and gather up our recollections that we ask ourselves how all the instruments of that gorgeous pageantry are put together and moved. The Pope has palaces and villas. The cardinals live in splendid apartments, and ride in massive coaches of purple and gilt, drawn by horses richly caparisoned, and attended by servants in livery. Bishops and prelates and monks and priests and friars fill long processions on public occasions, and move about in their daily life with the air and bearing of men who belong to a sphere that common men have no concern in.
There is a church or a chapel for every day in the year, and some emblem of external recognition for every saint in the calendar. There are lenten days, when the rich eat fresh tunny from the Adriatic or eels from Comacchio, and the poor whatever they can get; and holidays, when the shops are shut and the churches and theatres open, and everybody amuses himself as well as his tastes and his means allow. Nowhere are processions so splendid, festivals so magnificent, the whole body of the population accustomed, either as actors or as spectators, to such daily displays of opulence and grandeur.
How is all this done? How do all these men live? What do they do for themselves and for one another? What is the object of this multiplication of insignia and titles? What is the meaning of the red stockings and the purple stockings, and the red and the purple hat-band, and the various decorations of the horses, and the infinite varieties of cut and color and device in dress and equipage, which you begin to distinguish only when you become accustomed to objects so unlike anything you have ever seen before? For every one of them has a meaning, and tells the instructed eye the hopes and aspirations and half the history of the bearer as plainly as a tablet or an inscription.
Without attempting, on the present occasion, to answer all of these questions in detail, I shall endeavor to give such an outline of the organization of the Roman Government as shall cover the most important of them.
The head of this vast body, the Pope, is better known than any of the inferior members; for, as spiritual head of the Church and absolute sovereign of her temporal dominions, his peculiar position has always made him the object of peculiar attention. Officially, he was for centuries the acknowledged chief of Christendom, jealous of his prerogatives, bold in his assumptions, often feared where he was not reverenced, and often courted and flattered where he inspired neither reverence nor fear. Individually, his education and habits, the books he reads and the company he keeps, have seldom led him to study the causes of national prosperity, and still more seldom taught him to sympathize with the feelings or respect the rights of mankind.
From his childhood, the purest source of sympathies and affections is closed for him rigorously and hopelessly. He grows up as a stranger at the family-hearth; for, as he sits there, he is taught that he can never have a family-hearth of his own. He begins life by renouncing its dearest privileges, and training all his faculties for a relentless war upon himself,—for repressing natural impulses, not guiding them, extirpating his passions, not subduing them, and aiming at an insensibility that can be attained only by the sacrifice of every human instinct, rather than that serene tranquillity of spirit in which every passion is recognized as a power for good as well as for evil, and all are subjected alike to the guidance of a discriminating and conscientious self-control.
He is in a false position from his first step in life, and strays farther and farther from the true course to the very end of it. His hopes and aspirations are all directed to one object, trained to flow in a dark and narrow channel, on which the sunbeams never play, and which the pure breath of Nature never visits. His brothers and sisters have a thousand things to talk about and think about which he has no part in. If he joins in their games, it is still as the abbatino: the formal small-clothes and narrow neckband and three-cornered hat that contrast so strongly with their gay dresses are ever present to remind him and them that they have different paths to travel, and have already entered upon them. It is a dreary process that education of his, and one that makes your heart ache to look upon. A rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed boy, with boyish blood in his veins, running through them quick and warm, and every now and then making them tingle with some boyish longing that will out, although he is a priest in miniature and a Pope in prospective. I never could look at it without thinking of the gardener, in the fulness of his topiary pride, cutting trees and shrubs into towers and walls, and every shape but that which Nature designed them for. Clip, clip, go the long, scythe-like shears, and with every clip down comes a branch with its thousand songs unsung, or a shoot with its half-blown promise of spring. Cut away earnestly, patiently. You have your faith to help you; and though your eyes are of the strongest and keenest, you have never been taught to use them. Cut away till your arms ache and your head swims with the strain of measuring angles and inches and pyramids and obelisks; Nature is working at the root while you are warring on the branches. True, the birds will not build where your shears have passed; and the winds will wail where they would have piped it merrily, if the young boughs had been there to dance to their breathings. But the roots are tough and the trunks are strong, and the sap wells surely up from those mysterious sources where, in darkness and silence, Nature works her wondrous transformations,—proving, through each waxing and waning year, by bud and leaf and branch, that, thwart and mutilate and deny her as you may, she is the same kind mother still.
As life advances, the dividing lines grow sharper and more defined. He has got his Latin, and, in getting it, read Virgil and Horace and Cicero, as his brothers did. But henceforth St. Augustine becomes his Cicero; and he already begins to suspect that the best service his Homer and Thucydides and Demosthenes have rendered him has been by enabling him to understand St. Chrysostom. What is Herodotus to the Lives of the Saints, or Livy to Baronius? Why should he waste his time on human nature in Tacitus, or follow, with Guicciardini, the tortuous paths of princes, when he can find lessons more to his taste, and wisdom more to his purpose, in Mabillon and Pallavicini? His daily conversation is about the interests and concerns of his order, and, as he enters upon its duties, about the questions which those duties raise, and the rewards which their fulfilment promises or brings. It was a great day for him and for his friends, when he first ascended the altar in cope and stole; but mass soon becomes a daily exercise, and, like all things done daily, sinks into routine. A still more anxious day was it, when he first took his seat in the confessional to absolve and to condemn, to interpret and to enjoin, to listen to secrets which are like the lifting of the veil from one of the darkest mysteries of life, and feel the breath that bore them through the punctures of the thin partition fall on his cheek with a warmth that made his veins glow and his own breath come fast and thick.
I once heard a confession of murder from the murderer's lips, as we sat alone, side by side, on the same sofa. It was of a Sunday morning, bright, beautiful, and still, one of those days in which earth looks so pure and lovely that you can hardly believe sin could ever have found a home thereon. He was a Sicilian, a gentleman by birth and fortune; and when he first came into the room, apologizing for the intrusion, and regretting that he was taking up my time with the business of a stranger, I thought that I had never seen a more intelligent face or felt more immediately at home with an utter stranger. He began his story in a low, musical voice,—Italian loses none of its softness in the mouth of a Sicilian,—and I had followed him through a midnight ride over a wild and solitary road before I began to suspect how it was to end. Then came the details: a sudden meeting,—angry words, heating to madness blood already too hot,—a shot,—a body writhing on the ground in its own blood. His voice hardly changed, though the tones, perhaps, were somewhat deeper; but his cheek flushed and his eye kindled, and I felt such a sickening shudder come over me as I had never felt before. He was dressed in white, too,—spotless white, as it seemed to me, when he first came into the room; I had even admired the neatness of his trousers and waistcoat: but as I looked and listened, big drops of blood seemed to come out upon them,—a drop for every word, slowly exuding from some mysterious source, till he was bathed all over in it from head to foot. A day or two afterwards, I met him upon the Pincian, in the midst of walkers and riders and all the gay throng of a crowded promenade at its most crowded hour. But the blood was on him still, and, under the locks that clustered darkly over his forehead, the ineffaceable mark of Cain.
But even the story of murder may become familiar. Human nature at the confessional is the dark side of human nature, and it is as hard for the moral eye to preserve a healthy tone in the midst of this moral darkness as for the physical eye to preserve its clearness and strength in the constant presence of physical darkness. Curious questions come up there, undoubtedly, of a deep, strange interest, and often, too, of a deep and strange fascination. But it is not Nature's generous impulses, its tender yearnings, its noble aspirations, that the stricken conscience pours into the confessor's ear. The strugglings and writhings of the soul, the convulsive efforts to cast off an insupportable burden, to escape from an insufferable anguish, to find rest for itself in its weariness, peace for its warring passions, an answer and a solution to its doubts,—these are the events of the confessional. And its fruits are the folios of Molina and Vasquez and Filutius and Lessius and Escobar, wherein sin and temptation are weighed in scales so delicate that the tenderest conscience can hardly hesitate to indulge itself now and then in the flowery little by-paths that run so pleasantly close to the straight and narrow way. It was not in the confessional that Filangieri and Gioja and Romagnosi studied, that Adam Smith sought the secret of national prosperity, or that Sismondi found that perennial fountain of generous sympathies, which, through his fifty years of incessant labor, welled up with such a quickening and invigorating vitality from the profound investigations of the historian and the patient statistics of the economist.
Not all, however, who wear the priest's dress are confessors and priests. There is a body of reserves always in waiting upon the vast army of regular ecclesiastics: men ready to push forward into the ranks, but who stop short at the prima tonsura till they have ascertained how much their chances will be bettered by taking the final and irrevocable step. Yet, although they now and then bring somewhat more of worldly leaven into their intellectual and moral training, they well know that there is but one road to the red hat and the tiara, and that they who give themselves up to this ambition must give themselves up to it with undivided hearts. Thus the models which they set before themselves, the ideals after which they strive, are all taken from successful aspirants to the honors of the Church. And the interests of that great body, as a body independent of laymen, and which can preserve its immunities only by preserving its independence, and its independence only by a rigid exclusion of foreign elements, become as dear to them as if they already enjoyed all its privileges and had assumed all its obligations.
If any one wishes to know what sort of statesmen such an education makes, let him go thoughtfully over the twenty legations, prolegations, delegations, and governments into which the twelve thousand nine hundred and twenty square miles of the Pontifical States were still divided only four years ago, and see how the two million nine hundred and eighty thousand subjects of the Pope lived and throve under the care of cardinals and prelates. Subtle negotiators, skilled in the crooks and tangles of a wily and selfish policy, they have always been,—for they have studied well the selfish elements of the human heart; patient, too, and persevering and keen-eyed, as they must needs be who walk in tortuous ways,—but cold, contracted, and arrogant, mistaking artifice for statesmanship, unwilling to learn from the lessons of the past, and unable to comprehend the changes that are going on around them, or to see that every forward step of the human race is the result of causes which man has sometimes been permitted to modify, but which he can never hope to control.
It is from men thus educated that the Pope and his counsellors are chosen.
As far as theoretical origin goes, the Pope is the most democratic of sovereigns; for there is nothing to prevent his being taken from any rank or order of the faithful. The sons of peasants and mechanics have sat upon the Papal throne, and the thunderbolts of the Vatican have been launched by hands familiar with the pruning-knife and the plough. But in practice these bounds were effectually narrowed, when the college of cardinals tacitly restricted the choice to the members of their own body,—and still more effectually, when, by the same silent usurpation, they resolved that Adrian of Utrecht should be the last of foreign pontiffs. For three hundred and forty years none but Italians have been called to the chair of St. Peter's, thus, by an inevitable result of the unnatural alliance of temporal with spiritual sovereignty, confining the birthright of Christendom to the nation which all Christendom delighted to humiliate and oppress.
Theoretically, also, the election of the Pope is made by the special intervention of the Holy Ghost, although the doings of most conclaves fill many pages of very unholy history. Intrigues begin the moment the Pope's health is known to be failing, and grow thicker and more intricate with each unfavorable bulletin. There are few among the cardinals who do not feel that they have at least a chance of election; and not one, perhaps, but enters the conclave prepared to make the most of his individual pretensions. Some even, like Consalvi at the conclave of Leo XII., set their hearts so strongly upon it that they have been supposed to have died of the disappointment. Great services are not always the best recommendation; for it is difficult to serve the public well without making some private enemies. Little griefs, long forgotten by the offender, but carefully treasured up in the more tenacious memory of the offended, have more than once proved insurmountable obstacles in the path to the throne. Each, too, of the great Catholic powers has a right to exclude one among the candidates, if the exclusion be announced before the votes are all given in: a privilege which, as it narrows the circle of the eligible and increases individual chances, seldom fails to be faithfully exercised. Indeed, up to the last moment, no one can tell who may and who may not be chosen. The most prominent candidates are often the first to be set aside; and the election, like all elections, from that of a President of the United States to that of a village-constable, is oftener decided by a combination of personal ambitions and interests than by those pure and elevated motives which look so attractive in the programme.
The death of the Pope is announced by the tolling of the great bell of the Capitol, and with all convenient haste the nine days' funeral begins. Everybody that has been at Rome will remember the beautiful little chapel on the right hand as you enter St. Peter's; for in the niche above the altar is the group of the Virgin with the dead Christ on her knees, one of the few works which the volcanic genius of Michel Angelo could bring itself to finish in marble. In this chapel, directly in front of this marvellous group, the body of the dead Pope, embalmed and clad in Pontifical robes, is laid on a sumptuous bier, amid a blaze of tapers, with sentinels from the Swiss guard at his feet, leaning on their long halberds, and officers of the household in official costume, and all that imposing mixture of sacred and profane which Rome knows so well how to use upon all great occasions. And here, day after day, the faithful still crowd to take the last look of their "Holy Father," and kiss the cross on his slipper, and repeat a prayer for his soul. And hundreds among them, especially the very young and the very old, go a few yards farther on to the bronze statue of St. Peter, once the bronze statue of Jupiter, and with equal faith imprint a fervent kiss on the well-worn toe, and repeat a prayer for themselves.
On the opposite side, over the doorway that leads to the dome, is a large sarcophagus of white marble, looking down, if marble can be supposed to look, upon the monument of the last of the Stuarts: dead Pope and dead King almost face to face; crown and tiara mouldering within a few paces of each other; for in that sarcophagus Pope after Pope has silently taken his place, till summoned by the death of his successor to go down to the darker slumbers of the vaults below. And at the close of the ninth day of the funeral, when the crowd is gone, and the doors are closed, and the evening shadows begin to fall upon chapel and altar, and the votive tapers twinkle like dim stars through the gathering gloom, the sarcophagus is opened, the coffin taken out and examined and then carried down to the vault, the newly dead is raised to his temporary resting-place, and amid a silence seldom broken by lamentation the apostolic notary writes by flickering torchlight that once more the successor of the throne has become the successor of the grave.
Then begins the conclave. Each cardinal comes in state with his two conclavistas, or conclave-companions, usually prelates, and always chosen with a view to the services they may be able to render in the approaching struggle; the mass of the Holy Spirit is solemnly said, if not always devoutly listened to; the ambassadors of the Catholic powers utter their official exhortations to harmony and a single eye to the good of the Church; and when they withdraw, the mason of the conclave steps gravely forth, trowel in hand, to build up a solid wall of brick and mortar betwixt the electors and that world which still looks forward with curious interest, although with diminished faith, to the result of the election.
The conclave, as the name indicates, is a room, and when the constitution of Gregory X. was in force, not a very comfortable one. This Gregory was one of the best of the Popes,—a holy man in thought and action as well as in words,—one of whom even Protestant Christendom might sadly say,—
"Ostendunt terris hunc tantum fata, neque ultra
His brief reign of four years, four months, and ten days had been preceded by a scandalous interregnum of thirty-four months, filled with intrigues and bitter feuds that might almost have made a Luther of Erasmus, if there had been either an Erasmus or a Luther there. But, unfortunately, or rather fortunately, as time has shown, neither St. Bonaventura nor St. Thomas Aquinas, who both saw and sighed over them, was of the stuff that reformers are made of; and although the scandal ended, at last, by the fifteen cardinals who had been wrangling at Viterbo delegating the power of election to six, who immediately chose Tealdo of Piacenza, neither cardinal nor prelate, it is true, but still a choice which savored more of inspiration than any that had been made for years, yet it came too late to repair the breach which their dissensions had made in the great fabric of Gregory and Innocent. One of the early acts of the new Gregory was to call a general council at Lyons, into which he sought, like his predecessors, to breathe his own spirit,—happily, for once, a spirit of harmony and love. To prevent a recurrence of scandak like those which had preceded his own election, he framed a new constitution for the conclave, appealing, not to the higher motives in which they had so often been found wanting, but to the coarsest form of that selfishness which they had so signally displayed. By this constitution they were confined to a single room,—to be used by all in common for all purposes: a death-blow to those intrigues and bargainings which had so often drawn out the election to a length fatal to the true interests of the Church. If after three days they failed to agree upon a choice, they received a preliminary admonition of the virtue of a temperate diet, being confined to a single dish at noon and a single dish in the evening. If five days of moderation failed, they were brought down for the remainder of the session to bread with wine and water. Lest, too, there should be any unnecessary delay in coming together, the conclave was to begin on the tenth day afler the death of the last Pope, and be held in the place where he died.
With all their reverence for their spiritual father, the cardinals held out against the new constitution like men who knew how to prize the privilege of keeping Christendom in suspense; and it was only by private negotiations with the prelates that it could be carried at last. If any but the cardinals themselves had doubted its efficacy, their doubts must have been shaken by the first trial; for Innocent V., Gregory's immediate successor, was chosen on the very first day of the conclave. The next election, it is true, brought the reverend body to their single dish; but they shrank with instinctive loathing from the bread and water, although the water was kindly tempered with wine, and on the sixth day Adrian V. received the number of votes necessary to save himself and his companions from the humiliation of being starved into a choice. Almost the only act of his thirty-eight days' reign, during which he could not find time to be ordained either bishop or priest, was to suspend the hated constitution; and upon his death the cardinals entered the conclave prepared to take their time about it, as in the happy days of old. Now, however, the people took the matter into their own hands, threatened them with the literal enforcement of the constitution, and secured a speedy election. But what could the people do with both Pope and cardinals against them? Without waiting to issue the customary circular letters announcing his election, the new Pope, John XXI., better known, if known at all, by his "Thesaurus Pauperum" than by his administration of the Holy See, issued a Bull confirming the suspension of the obnoxious constitution, as containing things "obscure, impracticable, and opposed to the acceleration of the election." The next conclave lasted six months and eight days.
Still the conclave is a kind of imprisonment, which nothing but that love of power which reconciles man to so many things he hates, and those hopes that never die in hearts that have once cherished them, could induce seventy men accustomed to lives of luxury and indulgence to submit to. The usual place of holding it is the Quirinal, a cooler and healthier palace than the Vatican; and, in a spirit very different from that of the Gregorian constitution, everything is done to make it as comfortable as is consistent with narrow space and walled-up doors. Each cardinal has four small rooms for himself and his two companions, and the number and quality of the dishes at his dinner and supper depend upon his own habits and the skill of his cook. The approaches are guarded by the senators and conservatori, patriarchs and bishops, and at meal-times, a judge of the Rota is stationed at the dumb-waiter to examine the dishes as they are brought up, and make sure that the intrigues within get no help from the intrigues without. Daily mass forms, of course, a part of the daily routine, and is followed by the morning vote.
The voting usually begins with the scrutinio, or, as we should term it, the ballot. Each cardinal writes his own name and that of his candidate on a ticket. Then, with many ceremonies and genuflections, not very edifying to profane eyes, if profane eyes were permitted to see them, but each of which has its mystical interpretation, he ascends to the altar and lays his ticket on the communion-plate, whence it is transferred to the chalice,—communion-plate and communion-cup playing a part in the ceremony which has made more than one good Catholic groan deeply in spirit. The votes are then counted, care being taken that they correspond in number to the number of cardinals present, and if any candidate is found to have two-thirds of the votes cast, the election is complete. If, however, the legal two-thirds are not reached, any voter may change his vote by saying that he accedes to the votes thrown in favor of any other candidate. This mode of election is called accession, and has often been found successful where the prominence of any candidate was sufficient to make it evident that two or three votes would secure a choice.
Inspiration is another mode of election, not so common as the ballot, but which, whenever any candidate has succeeded in forming a strong party, is not without its advantages. Several cardinals call out together the name of their candidate, and if many of them agree in calling the same name, the rest are seldom willing to hold out in open opposition to a choice which after all may be made without them: the successful candidate always being expected to remember those who favored, and seldom known to forget those who opposed his election.
A fourth and last mode, never resorted to except in desperate straits, and when the contest seems interminable, is by delegation: the power of choice being delegated by the cardinals to one or more of their number, and all solemnly pledging themselves to abide by the decision. It was thus that Gregory X. was chosen by a delegation of six,—and that John XXII. became Pope after two years of regular voting had failed to procure a successor to the Prince of the Apostles. It has been said, however, that John, who, partly by his talents and partly by fraud, had raised himself from the lowest walks of life, had no sooner secured a pledge of concurrence than he announced his own name as that of the candidate of his choice. Surprised, but not edified, the cardinals made no opposition to his elevation, for Christendom and they themselves were tired of waiting; but the lesson was not forgotten, and no delegation of this tempting power has ever been made since, without such preliminary guaranties as effectually to prevent a repetition of the fraud.
As soon as the choice has been ascertained, the successful candidate is placed in a chair upon the altar, and his rivals of ten minutes ago come one by one to adore him (I use the technical word) as their spiritual father. In 844 a Roman of the name of Osporco was chosen Pope, who, unwilling to bring so unseemly an appellation to the throne, dropped it and took that of Sergtus, in its stead. The example pleased, and from that day to this the first act of the new sovereign has been to choose for himself a new name. And the choice is promptly made; for in the thousand years and more that have elapsed since that day, there has not been, probably, one among them all who did not come to the conclave, like Leo X., with his choice ahready made. Next, a window on the square is broken open, and the dean of the sacred college announces in Latin to the crowd below.—as a great joy—gaudium magnum—that they have a new "Father," and the Church a new head. Then the Pope himself comes forward, not yet pontifically arrayed, but in full possession of his spiritual treasury, raises his right hand and pronounces a blessing upon his children; and thus the curtain falls gracefblly upon the first act of the solemn drama. Solemn indeed! for how often have the dearest interests of humanity depended upon the choice of those seventy men!
The reader of Ælian will remember the gravity with which the credulous Prænestian tells us that Philip of Macedon, feeling his head grow dizzy by prosperity, appointed an officer to repeat to him three times a day,—"Philip, thou art a man." Nor win most readers have forgotten how little die solemn admonition prevented him from indulging his royal passions to the top of his bent. An analogous warning, and unhappily too oflen equally ineffective, greets the Pope on his first official visit to St Peter's. For, as he approaches the high altar amid a crowd of attendants, eveiy knee bending in external reverence, the master of ceremonies holds up before his eyes a staff with a bunch of tow upon the top of it, and, setting fire to the tow, says in a grave voice,—"Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi." Thrice the staff is raised, thrice the flax is burned, and thrice the solemn words are repeated; and then, after praying awhile at the altar, the Pope withdraws to meditate, under the gilded canopy, which has cast its bewildering shadows upon the heads of a long line of men equally warned and equally heedless of the warning, how he shall make the most of this transitory glory before it has all passed away.
I pass over die coronation at St Peter's, and the taking possesnon at St John's, and other pageants and ceremonies which have no bearing upon my present purpose. Borne is as fiill of ceremonies as the calendar of saints: clogs in the great wheel of government, almost all of them, if by government we mean the study of the welfare of the governed; for they compel the workman to stand idle when his wants bid him work, and drain the resources of the State for things which bring neither moral nor material return. But it is one of the disadvantages of the pretensions of the Church of Rome, that rites which were full of meaning in the age of infinite symbols have lost all their meaning in an age wherein the exclusive symbols of printing-press and steam devour, like Aaron's rod, their impotent brethren. The rite remains; but the spirit which inspired the actors with devotion and the spectators with reverence has passed away, and forever.
The life of the Pope is regular almost to monotony. He is generally an early riser: early bedtime and the national siesta making it easy to be up wiih the sun, and even before. Mass inaugurates the day. His breakfast, like that of most Italians, is habitually light Official audiences begin at nine. The Secretary of State has his days, the Treasurer his. The Governor of Rome brings a portfolio crammed with projects and reports: bishops and missionaries transport him in a moment from England to China, from Egypt to Peru. If you could look into those piles of papers which are awaiting his signature, you would find petitions and remonstrances, death-warrants and pardons, political processes and criminal processes, schemes for a new bishopric or a new canonization, plans for a cathedral in New York or a convent in Syria, for a new prison in the Patrimony or a new tax in the Marches, architecture and law, finance and theology, sacred and profane all jumbled together: and what wonder they should keep jumbled, from the beginning to the end, from his coronation to his funeral, leaving him, even with the best intentions and the most untiring industry, a helpless prey to intrigues and cabals and all the artifices and deceptions which beset a throne? Gioja and Romagnosi are under the ban, and he has no wish to ask them for the clue to the labyrinth he is wandering in, even if he had the time. He has no time to read the newspapers. His knowledge of them is derived from abstracts prepared for him by a clerk in the Governor's office,—containing, therefore, what the minister allows to be put there, and nothing more; while their living pictures, those columns of advertisements which bring before you day by day the wants and hopes and pursuits of so many of your fellow-creatures, carrying you, as it were, into hundreds of families, and laying open to your scrutiny hundreds of human hearts, the different lights in which men and things appear to the organs of different parties, and the proof which, in the midst of their contradictions, they all concur in giving that there is a spirit abroad which cannot be lulled to sleep, are lessons all lost for him, and which, perhaps, would be equally lost, even if he had the leisure and the knowledge to study them.
He dines alone,—for in the city, in the dearth of publicans and sinners, no one can sit at table with the Vicar of Christ; and thus dinner-hour, the open-hearted hour, puts him almost more absolutely in the hands of his immediate attendants than any hour of the twenty-four. If he walks, it is in the garden or library; if he rides, it is surrounded by guards and followed by his household train. He took his last walk in the streets when he was a prelate, and thenceforth knows no more of the city than he can see through his carriage-windows; and now even that imperfect view is more than half cut off by the officers of the guard, who ride their great black horses close to the carriage-door.
But enough of the Pope, and much more than I had intended when I first took up my pen. That, even when he has studied them most, the temporal interests of his people must suffer in his hands, has been proved by the sufferings of millions through centuries of oppression and misrule. And must it not always be so, when the interests of husbands and fathers are intrusted to men cut off by education and profession from the domestic sympathies wherein these interests have birth, and that domestic hearth which is at once the source and the emblem and the purifier of the State?
The electors and advisers of the Pope form the College of Cardinals, seventy in number, when full: six bishops, fifty priests, and fourteen deacons; once merely the parish priests of Rome, then princes of the Church and electors of its visible head. In this body, formerly so important and on which so much still depends, all Catholic Europe has its representatives, although it is mainly composed of native Italians. Many of them are men of exemplary piety, many of them eminent for talent and learning, but some, too, mere worldlings, raised by intrigue or favor or the necessities of birth to a position too exalted for weak heads, and too much beset with temptation for corrupt hearts.
The path that leads to the sacred college is neither a straight nor a narrow one. There are no prescribed qualifications of age or of rank. Leo X. was cardinal at thirteen; and although no such premature appointment to the gravest duties has been made since, or will ever, probably, be made again, yet there is always a salutary sprinkling of youth in this eminent body, if priests and prelates can ever be said to be truly young. And although families of a certain rank are sure of the speedy promotion of any child whom they may see fit to dedicate to the Church, yet the representative of untainted blood has often found himself side by side with the son of a peasant or of an artisan. The cardinal is not necessarily even a priest. Adrian V. died without ordination; and Leo X. held the keys of St. Peter four days with unconsecrated hands. He may even have been married, but must be single again when he puts on the red hat.
The appointment is made by the Pope, and, although announced to the whole body assembled in consistory, requires no confirmation to make it valid. Certain offices lead to it, and are known as cardinalate offices. Every prelate looks forward to it with hope, and every priest with longing; and besides the priests and prelates, the regular orders also, the monks and friars, claim a representation in the college. But whatever the pretensions or expectations of individuals may be, the decision rests with the Pope, whose good-will, adroitly managed, has often let fall the coveted honor upon men who had little else to recommend them. It was certainly honorable to this reverend body in our own day that they numbered Mai and Mezzofante among their brethren; but in Rome the story ran that neither the palimpsestic labors of the one nor the fifty languages of the other would have won him the well-earned promotion, if the Pope's favorite servant had not set his heart upon making his children's tutor assistant-librarian of the Vatican.
Although nominally the council of the Pope, the consistory or official assembly of the cardinals has few of the characteristics of a deliberative body. The Pope addresses them from his throne; but the substance of his address is already known to most of them beforehand, and his opinion upon the subject, as well as theirs, made up before they come together. They have no constituents to enlighten, nothing to hope and nothing to fear from public opinion. They are all so near the topmost round that each of them is justified in feeling as if he already had his hand upon it; but to whichever of them that envied preëminence may be destined, it is neither the favor nor the gratitude of the people that can raise him to it. What they already hold they are sure of; and it is only to the good-will of their colleagues that they are to look for more.
But it is in those public meetings that the Roman court puts on all its splendor. The very hall has a grave and imposing air about it that inspires serious thoughts in serious minds, and checks, for a moment, the frivolous vivacity of lighter ones. You cannot look at the walls without feeling a solemn sadness steal over you, as you think of the thousands of your fellow-creatures who have gazed on them with the same freshness and fulness of life with which you now gaze on them, since Raphael and Michel Angelo first clothed them with their own immortal conceptions, three hundred years ago. It was in an assembly like this, and perhaps in this very room, that the condemnation of Luther was pronounced, that Henry was proclaimed "Defender of the Faith," and that Cardinal Pole rejoiced with his brethren of the purple over the approaching return of England to the bosom of the Church. And as you are musing on these things, and centuries seem to pass before you like the figures of a dream, the room gradually fills, the cardinals come in and take their places, each clad in the simple majesty of the purple, and last of all comes the Pope himself, the steel sabres of his guard ringing on the marble floor with a clang that breaks the harmonious silence most discordantly. Then in a moment all is hushed again. The cardinals go one by one to pay their homage to their spiritual father, kneeling and kissing the cross on his mantle, he blessing them all, as duteous children, in return. If you are an American and a Catholic, you look on devoutly, feeling, perhaps, at moments, although you take good care not to say so, that, although highly edifying, it is a little dull; if an American and a Protestant, you think of the morning prayer in Congress, and members with newspapers or half-read letters in their hands, a very busy one now and then forgetting that he is standing with his hat on, and all of them in a hurry to have it over and enter upon the business of the day,—or of a reception-night, perhaps, at the White House, with the President shaking hands as fast as they can be held out, and trying hard to smile each new-comer into the belief that the "present incumbent" is the very best man he can vote for at the next election.
But hush! the Pope is speaking,—not always as orators speak, it is true, but gravely, at least, and with that indefinable air of dignity which the habit of command seldom fails to impart. The language is sonorous, and if you have had the good sense to unlearn your barbarous application of English sounds—cunningly devised by Nature herself to keep damp fogs and cold winds out of the mouth—to Italian vowels, which the same judicious mother framed with equal cunning to let soft and odoriferous airs into it, you will probably understand what he says, for his speech is generally in Latin, and very good Latin too.
But still you grow tired, and, like the actors in the splendid pageant, are heartily glad when it is all over,—well pleased to have seen it, but, unless a sight-seer by nature, equally pleased to feel that you will never be compelled by your duty to your guide-book and cicerone to see it again.
There are three kinds of consistory,—the private, the public, and the semi-public. The most interesting are those in which ambassadors are received, for the ambassador's speech gives some variety to the routine. But in substance they are all equally splendid, equally formal, and—now that the world no longer looks to the Vatican for its creeds—all equally insignificant and dull.
Thus it is not as a deliberative body that the cardinals take part in the government. Their collective functions are for the most part purely formal, and the great wheel turns steadily on its axle without any direct help from them. But as sole electors of the sovereign, whom they are not only to choose, but to choose from among themselves, and as the body from which the highest functionaries of the State are drawn, their individual influence is always very considerable, often whatever they have the tact and skill to make it.
Another body which shares with the "Sacred College" the privilege of furnishing the instruments of government is the Prelacy,—a term which must be taken in its restricted sense, of men, whether laymen or ecclesiastics, destined by profession to various offices of dignity and trust in the civil and ecclesiastical administration, some of which lead directly to the cardinalate, and all of them to personal privileges and a competent income. Their education is often less exclusive than that of the priests, for many of them have belonged to the world before they gave themselves up to the Church, and profane studies have employed some of the time which might otherwise have been devoted to Bellarmino and his brethren. In dress they are distinguished by the color of their stockings and hat-band. When they walk out, a liveried servant follows them a few paces in the rear; and while the cardinals, from "Illustrious" have become "Eminent," these aspirants to the purple are always addressed as "Monsignore," or "My Lord."
The first set of wheels in this complicated machine is composed of the twenty-three Congregations, a kind of executive and deliberative committees, consisting of cardinals and prelates, and first used by Sixtus V., as a speedier and more effective method of eliciting the opinions of his counsellors and bringing their administrative talents into play than the deliberations in full consistory which had obtained till his time. Sixteen of them are ecclesiastical, the remaining seven civil, although the number may at any time be restricted or enlarged according to the wants and the views of the reigning Pontiff. They have their stated meetings, their regular offices and officers; and while theoretically under the immediate direction of the sovereign, they actually relieve him from many of the details and not a few of the direct responsibilities of sovereignty.
The first of these Congregations bears a name which sounds harshly in Protestant ears, although but a shadow of that fearful power which once carried terror to every fireside, and made even princes tremble and turn pale on their thrones. The Holy Office still retains the form and authority conferred upon it by Paul III., if not the spirit breathed into it by the grasping Innocent and fiery Dominic. Its dark walls, which so long shrouded darkest deeds, stand close to St. Peter's, under the very eye of the Pope, as he looks from his bedroom-window,—within ear-shot of the thousands whom curiosity or devotion brings yearly to the church or to the palace, little heeding, as they gaze on the dome of Michel Angelo or climb the stairway of Bernini, that almost beneath the pavement they tread on are dungeons and chains and victims.
But the Inquisition, you say, is no longer the Inquisition of three hundred years ago. Bunyan tells us that Christian, on his pilgrimage to the Celestial City, saw, among other memorable sights, a cave hard by the way-side, wherein sat an old man, grinning at pilgrims as they passed by, and biting his nails because he could not get at them. And now let me tell you a story of the Inquisition which I know to be true.
Some twenty-five years ago there lived in Rome a physician well known for his professional skill, and still better for his good companionship and ready wit. He was, in fact, a pleasant companion, fond of a good story, fonder still of his dog and gun, fondest of all of talking about poetry and reciting verses, which he could do by the hour,—sometimes repeating whole pages from Dante or Petrarch or Tasso or his favorite of all, Alfieri,—and sometimes extemporizing sonnets, or terzine, or odes, with that wonderful facility which Nature has given to the Italian improvvisatore and denied to the rest of mankind. It has often been remarked that the study of medicine goes hand in hand with a certain boldness of speculation not altogether in harmony with the lessons of the priest. No one who has lived in Italy long enough to get at the true character of the people can have failed to observe this in Italian physicians; and our doctor, like many of his brethren, was suspected of carrying his speculations into forbidden fields. Still, his practice was large, and went on increasing. Laymen, if they must needs be sick, were glad to have him at their bedsides; and there were even men with purple on their shoulders who had strong faith in his skill, if they had strong doubts of his orthodoxy. Externally he conformed to the requirements of the Church: heard mass of Sundays, and went once a year to the confessional; for this much is a police regulation, a tax upon conscience which every Roman is bound to pay. But he was too much behind the scenes to do it with a good will, and saw professionally too much of the daily life of the clergy, looked too freely and too closely at some of their "pleasant vices," to feel much reverence either for them or for their teachings.
Suddenly his chair, for he was professor in the medical college, was taken from him: a warning, thought his friends, that unfriendly eyes were upon him; and so, also, thought some of his patients, and called in a new physician. Still his general practice continued large; and although he found a little more time for his dog and gun, he was not obliged to give up his carriage.
Italian physicians, instead of waiting for calls at their houses, have a kind of office in common at their apothecaries', where, sometimes in an inner room, sometimes in the front shop, yon will be sure, at stated honrs, of meeting several of them together, talking as amicably as though they had never quarrelled over a patient. One evening, as Doctor M——— was at his seven-o'clock post, a boy came in in great haste to tell him that he was wanted immediately. It was not an uncommon summons, and he followed him into the street without further inquiry. The apothecary's shop was on a comer, with a wide street in front and a narrow street at the side. The boy turned into the narrow street, saying,—
"Here is the carriage, Signar Dottore."
"A carriage?" thought he; "so much the better! it must be for somebody of importance."
The door was open, he got in, the horses started at a trot; all had passed so suddenly that he had asked no questions. Then, too, the coming suddenly from a lighted room into a dark street had blinded him for a moment, and it was not until the carriage passed close to a street-lamp that he became aware of a person on the front-seat, and, looking closely at him, distinguished the well-known features of the dreaded Nardoni.
The truth flashed upon him. They were carrying him to prison.
But to what prison? For the notorious Caposbirro was used to all work, and seemed to love it all. M———'s resolution was taken instantly. Whatever else they might do, they should not break his spirit, and until gagged or stiffened in death, his tongue should do its office, as it had always done, freely and boldly.
"Where are yon carrying me?"
"To the Holy Office."
"And you have taken this rascally way of arresting, to repay me, I suppose, for saving your son's life for you, last week." For M——— had been called only the week before to attend Nardoni's child, and cured him.
"I am only obeying my orders. Doctor."
"Obey them, then."
It was a long ride, and M——— employed the time in marking out for himself a plan of action." He knew Rome too well not to know that he had long been watched by spies, and that their record was probably a long, and certainly a black one. Denial could not help him; for the Holy Office has no lack of witnesses, and every word that the informers had put in his mouth would be backed by secret testimony beyond his control. He resolved, therefore, to put on a bold face, deny nothing, and trust to his ready wit for extricating himself from the toils that had been so stealthily woven around him.
At last the carriage stopped at the gate of the Inquisition, dark without, and within, two or three sickly lamps vainly contending with the shadows of the vaulted corridors. Silent, too: the door opened silently, the guards moved noiselessly: not a sound, not a whisper, as Nardoni consigned him to the door-keeper and they began to ascend the stairs together. M——— felt the chill stealing towards his heart. "Now or never!" said he to himself,—and began to hum a well-known air, as if he were gmng up his own stairs, at the end of a good day's work.
"You seem to be in good spirits. Doctor," said the Register, as he entered his name upon the prison-roll.
"I always am. God gave them to me, and nobody can take them away."
The official looked doubtful, but did not think it worth while to gainsay so orthodox a sentiment, especially as he very well knew that he had time and appliances on his side io test it by. So he contented himself for the moment by finishing his entry and consigning the bold singing-bird to his cage.
It was not an uncomfbrtabfe one, though small; for it was not particularly damp, and the trundle-bed looked sufficiently clean. But it was not a pleasant place for a husband to lie down in and think of his wife,—for a father to sit in, in darkness and silence, and recall the sunny faces and sweet prattle of his children. But he felt that unseen eyes might be watching him even there, and that a sigh, though breathed never so softly, might reach the ears of some who would rejoice in it and come all the more confidently to the work they had resolved to do upon him. So, setting down his lamp, he made two or three turns across the room, and then, drawing out his watch, as if to assure himself that it was bedtime, deliberately undressed and went to bed.
And to sleep?
You will not call him coward, if with closed eyes he lay wakeful upon his pillow, thinking over the last hour with a heart that beat quick, though it faltered not, listening vainly for some sound to break the unearthly silence, and longing for daylight, if, indeed, the light of day was permitted to visit that lonely cell. It came at last, the daylight,—though not as it was wont to come to him in his own dear home, with a fresh morning breath and a fresher song of birds, waking familiar voices and greeted with endearing accents. How would it be in that home this morning? How had it been there through the slow hours of that feverish night? How was it to be thenceforth with those precious ones, and with him too, whom they all looked to for guidance and counsel?
He got up and dressed himself a little more carefully than usual, resolved that there should be no outside telltales of the thoughts that were struggling within. He had hardly finished dressing when the door opened. Neither footsteps in the corridor nor the turning of the key had he heard, but there stood a familiar of the Inquisition, friar in dress, and with the stony face of a man accustomed to live by lamp-light and talk in whispers. He brought the prisoner's breakfast,—coffee and bread. "You have been listening," thought M———; "but I will be even with you." And to make a fair start, he refused to touch either the bread or the coffee until the familiar had tasted both.
The morning passed slowly, though he helped it along as well as he could by repeating verses and writing a sonnet on the wall with his pencil. Dinner came: a good meal, more substantial than dungeon-air could give an appetite for; but he ate it. Supper followed,—brought by the same silent familiar who had served breakfast and dinner, and who still came with the same noiseless step, set the dishes upon the table, tasted the food as the Doctor bade him, and then went silently away.
Five days passed, slowly, monotonously, wearily. Five nights of unwelcome dreams and sleep that brought no rest. The close air and narrow bounds began to tell upon his appetite and strength. He had soon gone over his poets. Fortunately, they were well chosen and would bear repeating. The fountain in his own mind, too, was still full, and he found great relief in declaiming extempore verses in a loud voice, and writing out those that pleased him best. But could he hold out? for it was evidently intended to wear him down by anxiety and solitude, and when they had broken his spirits bring him to an examination.
At last a new face appeared: not cold like that of the familiar, nor wreathed in smiles like that of a successful enemy, but wearing a decent expression of gravity tempered by compassion. And "How do you do, Doctor?" asked the visitor in a soothing voice, trained like his face to tell lies at his bidding.
"Well, Father, perfectly well."
"I am very glad to hear it. I was afraid your appetite might have suffered from the sudden change in your mode of life."
"Not in the least. I have a sound stomach, and can digest anything you send me."
"And how do you contrive to pass your time? For so active a man, the change is very great."
"Oh, that is easy enough. I am very fond of poetry, and have such a good memory that I know volumes of it by heart. There is nothing pleasanter than There is nothing pleasanter than repeating verses that you like,—except, perhaps, making verses yourself."
"Do you ever compose?"
"I? It has always been my favorite pastime. Would you like to hear some of my verses?"
The sympathizing father was, of course, too happy; and M——— recited, in his most effective manner, a sonnet, not very complimentary to eavesdroppers and spies. A shadow passed over the monk's face; but he was too well trained to let out his feelings prematurely; and resuming the conversation as if nothing had occurred to disturb his equanimity, he told M——— in his softest tone that he hoped there had been nothing in his treatment to complain of. M——— sprang to his feet.
"Oh, this, by Heaven, is too much, even from you! Nothing to complain of! To tear the father of a family from the arms of his wife and children, a physician from patients who are looking to him for life and health,—and nothing to complain of!"
It was just the question he wanted; and partly from design, and partly from irrepressible indignation, he poured out a torrent of invective and reproach which soon sent his visitor away, perfectly convinced that the spirit they had undertaken to break had not yet begun to bend.
Five more weary days, and then began the examination,—cautious, minute, perplexing: questions framed to entangle; charges advanced, not for discussion, but for conviction; a review of the whole course and tenor of his past life; his stories and verses; his jests among friends; sayings that he had forgotten; things that he had done years before, mixed up with things that he had never done; all adroitly commingled, and so skilfully arranged, that, while each seemed comparatively unimportant in itself, each had its place prepared for it with malignant craft and wondrous subtlety; and all taken together forming a network of harmonious evidence from which there seemed no possibility of escape. Familiar as he was with the history of the Holy Office, and aware as he had always been that his steps, like those of every man upon whom suspicion had ever fallen, were dogged by spies, he had never supposed that his daily life had been tracked with such persistence, and so carefully treasured up against him.
He saw his danger, and saw, too, that the course he had resolved upon in the first hour of his arrest was the only course that could save him. Denial would be useless. They expected it and were well prepared for it. But it remained to be seen whether they were equally well prepared for frank confession and adroit interpretation. To every question with regard to acts or words he answered, "Yes, I did so,—I said so,—but"——— and then, by putting an unexpected interpretation upon it, he either stripped it of its offensive bearing, or reduced it to an idle jest of which nothing worse could be said than that it was indiscreet.
The fathers were puzzled. For denial they had proofs. Prevarication they were familiar with, and never so happy as when they saw a poor, perplexed, bewildered victim vainly struggling in the toils, driven triumphantly from subterfuge to subterfuge, and at last, with nerveless arms and faltering tongue, dropping hopeless upon his chair, as the conviction forced itself upon him that he was there, not for trial, but for condemnation.
But a bold, self-possessed, self-reliant man, looking them in the face with an eye as keen and scrutinizing as their own, answering every question promptly in a firm voice, and, just as the blow seemed ready to fall, parrying it by a movement so skilful as to compel his adversary to change his ground and gird himself up for a new attack,—this was something which, with all their experience, they had not counted upon, and knew not how to meet. Day after day he was brought to the bar. Hour after hour they laboriously plied question upon question. On their side was the written record,—nothing omitted, nothing forgotten; the words of yesterday close by the words of ten years ago; each accusation propping the others; and every explanation and answer written minutely down, to be brought out unexpectedly, and compared with each new one as it came. On his, a ready wit, perfect self-control, a thorough knowledge of the character of those whom he was dealing with, a remarkable command of language, and a courage that nothing could shake.
It was an exhausting process, and the Inquisitors, like the royal patron of their institution, well knew that time was a powerful ally. Still they resolved to call in a new one to their aid. M——— was known to be very fond of his family; and long experience had taught the reverend fathers that even the manliest heart may be shaken by a sudden awakening of tender emotions. The examinations were discontinued. For three days M——— was left to the solitude of his cell,—a solitude deeper and more unnerving from contrast with the mental tension of the last fortnight. Then, at the usual hour of examination, the door opened. The usual attendants were in waiting. "Now for a new trial of wits," thought he, as he rose to follow them. Then it occurred to him that it might be for sentence that he was summoned; and while he was weighing the probabilities, and calling up his strength for the occasion, he reached the door, the attendants threw it open, and he found himself in the presence, not of his judges, but of his wife and children. Pale, bewildered, looking timidly towards him, through eyes dim with tears, there they stood, utterly at a loss what to say or what to do.
He felt his heart bound. But he saw the snare, and, repressing his emotions by a powerful effort, held out his hand instead of opening his arms, and bidding them, cheer up and give themselves no uneasiness about him, and above all not to let their enemies fancy that either he or they would be cast down by anything that they could do, he calmly turned to the guards, and told them, that, if that stale trick was all they had brought him there for, they had better take him back to his cell.
Meanwhile his friends were not idle: and he had friends, as I have already hinted, even in the sacred college. With a cardinal on your side, you may do many things in Rome which it would hardly answer to venture upon without him; for who can tell but that that Cardinal may one day be Pope? The precise nature of the accusation lodged against him M——— never knew; but he had gathered enough from the interrogatories to feel that he had got lightly off, when he found himself condemned to say his prayers and read books of devotion three months in a convent, with the privilege of walking in the garden and talking theology with the elder brethren.
And thus the old man whom Bunyan's English Pilgrim saw in the cave by the way-side two hundred years ago still sits there, biting his nails and grinning, not altogether impotently, at Roman Pilgrims, to this very day.
The Congregation of the Holy Office is composed of thirteen cardinals, one of whom is secretary, and an assessor, a commissary, counsellors, and several officers taken from the prelates and regular orders. The Pope himself is Prefect. The counsellors meet on Mondays in the Palace of the Inquisition; the whole body on Wednesdays in the Convent of the Minerva,—where St. Dominic still smiles upon his faithful followers,—and Thursdays before the Pope. The examination of their records and the opening of their prisons, during the brief existence of the "Roman Republic" of 1849, showed that these meetings were not always mere matters of form.
The Congregation of the Index was founded by Pius V., in order to relieve the Holy Office of that part of its duties which relates to written and printed thought: censorship of the press would be the proper term, if censorship, even in its most rigid form, did not fall short of the attributes and functions of this odious tribunal. It is composed of cardinals and ecclesiastics, many of them distinguished by their learning, some, doubtless, by their piety,—but all leagued together, and solemnly pledged to sleepless warfare against every form of intellectual freedom. Without their approbation no manuscript can be seat to the press, no new editions issued, no thought promulgated. Even the stone-carver is not permitted to use his chisel until they have decided how far love or pride may go in commemoration of the dead. They mutilate, with equal sovereignty of will, the printed pages of a classic and the manuscript of an unknown scribbler,—sit in judgment upon Botta and Laplace, as their predecessors sat in judgment upon Guicciardini and Galileo,—and, in the fervor of their undiscriminating zeal, condemn Robertson and Gibbon, Reid and Hume, the skeptic Bolingbroke and the pious Addison, to the same fiery purgation. That Italian literature was not crushed by them long ago is, perhaps, the strongest proof of the irrepressible vigor and marvellous vitality of the Italian mind. Not to be on the "Index" would call a blush to the cheek of the most unambitious of authors,—would carry a presumption of worthlessness with it from which even the penny-a-liner would shrink with dismay,—and to the poet and historian would sound like a sentence of perpetual exclusion from all those cherished hopes which irradiate with heavenly light the steep and thorny paths of intellectual renown.
Next to these in importance is the Congregation of the "Propaganda," or of that celebrated institution for the propagation of the Roman Catholic religion which, since the reign of Gregory XV., has governed, as from a common centre, the immense network of missions that Christian Rome has spread over the lands she hopes to conquer, as Pagan Rome spread her network of military roads over the lands which she had already reduced to subjection. Cardinals, with a cardinal for prefect and a prelate for secretary, compose this congregation, which holds regular meetings twice a month, and, not unfrequently, extraordinary meetings in the presence of the Pope. In these the important questions of the missionary world are discussed, reports examined, new missions proposed, new missionaries appointed, new bishoprics founded "among the heathen," and all these complicated interests taken into impartial consideration.
For here, at least, there is little room for heart-burnings and jealousies. It is of equal importance to all that the conquests of the Church should be extended to the utmost limits of the earth, the heathen converted, and heretics won back to the fold. While John Eliot was translating the Bible into a language which no one has been left to read, and his Puritan brethren were hanging and shooting the Indians whom they had neither the patience to win by their teaching nor the charity to enlighten by their example, Indians from the true Indies were preparing themselves in the halls of the Propaganda to carry the healing promises of the gospel to the fathers and mothers who had watched over their heathen infancy. In the record of the great things that Rome has done, there is nothing greater than the foundation of the Propaganda,—no conception so worthy of a steadfast faith, or more in harmony with the spirit of the Saviour of mankind. To borrow the helpless child, and restore him a helpful man,—to enlist the sympathies of birth, and secure for themselves the eloquence of natural affection,—to overleap the barriers of race and elude the sensitiveness of national pride by putting the doctrines they sought to diffuse into mouths which, untainted by repulsive accents, could enforce new truths by well-known images and familiar illustrations,—was like laying anew the foundations of the Capitol, and consecrating that spirit of worldly wisdom wherein ancient Rome was never found wanting by that spirit of Christian philanthropy which modern Rome has always claimed as her peculiar distinction.
But alas that a twenty-minutes' walk should take us from the Piazza di Spagna to the Via di Sant' Uffizio!
The other ecclesiastical functions of government are performed in a similar way: one congregation superintending the churches of Rome and its district, under the title of Visita Apostolica; one, the ceremonies of the Church; one, ecclesiastical immunities; one, sacred rites; one, indulgences and relies. Questions relative to bishops, bishoprics, and the regular orders are intrusted to four congregations, under different and appropriate names. St. Peter's has a special congregation for itself, and not the least dignified and important of them; for, besides eight cardinals and four prelates, it commands the official services of the Auditor of the Apostolic Chamber, the Treasurer, a judge of the Rota, a comptroller, an attorney-general, a secretary, and several counsellors-at-law. Not St. Peter's only, but all the churches of Rome, come in for a share of their attention; and what is more important, they form a court of probate, with exclusive jurisdiction over all wills containing charitable bequests, or bequests to heretics and strangers, fugitives, exiles, or the dead. Even a doubt as to the probability of being able to execute the bequest according to the wishes of the testator, or an apparent contradiction in the devises themselves, brings the will within the jurisdiction of this tribunal; and should the legatee, after full experience of the law's delay, succeed in obtaining a favorable decree, the income of his legacy, from the death of the testator to the publication of the decision, is sequestrated to the treasury of the church of St. Peter's. Few congregations are more assiduous in the performance of their duties.
A criminal court of appeals, with the appellation of Sacra Consulta,—how this sacred meets you at every turn!—a council called Buon Governo, for the superintendence of municipal administration,—one for roads, fountains, and water-courses, called the General Prefecture of Waters and Roads,—a Council of "Economy," a Council of Studies, a Council for the Examination of Accounts, in which four laymen sit side by side with four prelates, under the presidency of a cardinal, and the Congregation of the Census for the apportionment of taxes on real estate in the country, form the seven civil congregations by which the Pope is assisted in his labors, and the cardinals and prelates brought in to a share of the administration. Add to these sixteen tribunals, or courts, civil and ecclesiastical, two Secretaries of State, a Secretary of Briefs and one of Memorials, a Camerlengo, a Treasurer, and a Governor of Rome, and you have an outline of the Roman Government under Gregory XVI.
The Secretaries of State are always cardinals; the Camerlengo, who is the official head of government during the vacancies of the Holy See, a cardinal; the Treasurer and Governor of Rome, prelates, who, on leaving office, become cardinals by right. The only part of this complex machinery which was intrusted to laymen was the Tribunal of the Capitol and the Tribunal of Commerce: the latter an institution of Pius VII., and directly connected with the Chamber of Commerce, from whose fifteen members two of its three judges are chosen, while the third is furnished by the bar; the former, the feeble representative of all that is left of the municipal government of Rome.
Rome has sixty noble families who enjoy the title of Conscript. From these are chosen, every three months, three Conservatori and a Prior of the Wards, who form a committee for the superintendence of the walls and public monuments, and for the administration of the income of the Capitoline Chamber. If we look at them in connection with the ancient government of Rome, we shall find them employed in functions not unlike those of the Ædiles. From the same point of view, the Senator may be said to resemble the City Prefect; although, when you see him on public days, standing like a statue on the steps of the Pontifical throne, above the prelates, but a little lower than the cardinals, you can think neither of prefect nor of senate, nor of anything that recalls the days when Romans acknowledged no superior but the fellow-citizens whom they themselves had chosen as representatives of their sovereign will.
It requires no very profound examination of this system to see that it is purely and rigidly ecclesiastical. The ecclesiastical leaven penetrates it in every part. Wherever you go, either for business or for amusement, you find some representative of the Church. Whichever way you turn, you see keen eyes peering upon you from under a three-cornered hat or a cowl. And even when the path seems for a while to be leading you back to the world, through rows of shops, under the windows of bankers, within sight of sails and steam, or within sound of humming wheels, there are still shrines and oratories numberless by the way, and a church or a convent at the end.
Elective sovereign by origin, the moment the Pope ascends the throne, he becomes absolute. Authority and honors proceed from him as from their legitimate source. Money bears his image and superscription. Monuments are inscribed with his name. Laws and decrees are promulgated as voluntary emanations of his sovereign will. As head of the Church, all spiritual interests are under his protection. As chief of the State, all temporal interests are subject to his control. He reigns, not merely like other sovereigns, by the "grace of God," but by a peculiar privilege and inherent right, as Vicar of Christ. Resistance to his will is not simply rebellion, but the deeper and deadlier sin of sacrilege. His interpretation relieves the mind from the agony of doubt; his blessing frees the conscience from the burden of sin. And how, if earnest-minded and sincere, can he fail to look upon the interests of the State as subordinate to the interests of the Church, and interpret his duties and obligations as the legatee of Constantine by his feelings and convictions as the successor of St. Peter?
In the practical exercise of this authority be feels the want of other eyes to help him see and other hands to help him do. He cannot read all that is to be read, or write all that is to be written, or even hear and say all that is to be heard and said. However great his love of detail, there are details which he cannot reach. However comprehensive his glance, or unwearied his industry, there are objects that lie beyond the compass of his vision, and labor to be performed which no industry can bring within the human allotment of twenty-four hours.
Therefore, reserving to himself the final decision, he distributes the various functions of government among his official counsellors and those from whom new counsellors are to be chosen. He spreads an elaborate network over all the interests and functions of the State, holding the line in his own hand, and drawing or relaxing it at his own pleasure. He is still the lawgiver and the judge, dictating according to his own judgment, and deciding according to his own conviction. Of his laws there is no revision; from his sentence there is no appeal. The duties of the subject are defined by the rights of the sovereign; and of those rights he is the sole and absolute judge.
Hence a consciousness of power ever present and supreme, extending to all that has been left him of the common relations of life,—to the hour of business and the hour of repose, to the hall of audience and the garden-walk, and giving equally its deceptive coloring to the thoughts that stir him when borne on the shoulders of men through a prostrate crowd, and those that flit dimly through his brain as he lays a weary head upon a solitary pillow. And hence, too, he becomes for himself, as well as for others, an object of constant contemplation,—valuing things as they contribute to his pleasure, and men as they subject themselves to his will,—not always cruel in heart, even when his acts are cruel, nor unfeeling when he inflicts unmerited suffering and needless pain, but seeming both cruel and unfeeling, because education and habit have dried up within him that fount of human sympathies which Nature has set in the heart of man at his birth, that he might ever bear something about him to remind him of a mother's tenderness and a father's pride.
If that be the best government wherein all the moral and intellectual faculties of the governed receive their fullest development, and the responsibility of the sovereign is made so immediate that he can neither lose sight of it nor escape from its obligations, that surely must be the worst in which one man thinks and judges for all, and, by an unnatural union of spiritual and temporal attributes, is raised above all human responsibility,—a theocracy, with man to interpret the will of God, and to enforce his own interpretations.
- I was once trying to convince an eminent prelate—one of the most learned and liberal of his order, and even then close to the red hat—of the importance of admitting laymen to certain State functions. "All right," said he, "from your point of view; but still I shall oppose it always, tooth and nail; for, if they come in, we must go out."
- Gregory seems to have been of Napoleon's opinion,—"C'est la faim, c'est le petit ventre, qui fait mouvoir le monde!"—Las Casas, Tom. V. p. 32
- Dr. Lieber, in his "Reminiscences of Niebuhr,"—a delightful book of a delightful class,—records the great historian's testimony in favor of Italian Latin.