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THE VOW OF OBEDIENCE





WHAT kind of obedience is that which makes religious "unwilling to
acknowledge any superior but the Pope?" We have been confidently
informed this is the ground given in several instances for their
removal. And we confess that, if the words "acknowledge" and "superior"
are used in certain of the meanings they undoubtedly have, there is
good and sufficient ground for such removal. At the same time we submit
that the foregoing phrase is open to different interpretations of
meaning, several of which would make out this measure of repression to
be one of rank injustice.

The studied misrule and abuse of language serves a detestable purpose
that is only too evident. A charge like the above is true and false,
that is to say, it is neither true nor false; it says nothing, unless
explained, or unless you make it say what you wish. It is a sure, safe,
but cowardly way of destroying an enemy without being obliged to admit
the guilt to oneself.

Now the religious, and Catholic laity as well, never think of
acknowledging, in the full acceptation of the word, any other spiritual
superior than the Pope, and there can be nothing in this deserving
repression. Again, no Catholic may consistently with Catholic
principles, refuse to accept as legitimate the legally constituted
authority of the country in which he resides. As to a man's views on
the different forms of government, that is nobody's business but his
own. But whether he approves or disapproves in theory, his life and
conduct must conform with the laws justly enacted under the form of
Government that happens to be accepted. To depart from this rule is to
go counter to Catholic teaching, and no religious order does so without
incurring strict censure.

The vow of obedience in a religious respects Caesar as well as God. It
cannot validly bind one to violate the laws of State any more than to
violate the law of God. This vow does not even concern itself with
civil and political matters; by it the religious alone is affected, the
citizen looks out for himself. But the citizen is already bound by his
conscience and the laws of the Church to respect and obey lawful
authority.

A good religious is a good citizen, and he cannot be the former, if he
is not the latter. As a mere Catholic, he is more liable to be always
found on the side of good citizenship, because in his religion he is
taught, first of all, to respect authority on which all his religious
convictions are based. There is a natural tendency in a Protestant, who
will have nothing to do with authority in spiritual matters, to bring
this state of mind over with him into temporary affairs; being
self-willed in greater things, he is fore-inclined to be self-willed
in lesser. The Catholic and, for a greater reason, the religious knows
less of this temptation; and the better Catholic and religious he is,
the farther removed he is from possible revolt against, or even
disrespect of, authority.

Against but one Order of all those repressed can the charge of
insubordination be brought with any show of truth. The Assumptionists
made the mistake of thinking that they could with impunity criticise
the doings of the Government, just as it is done in Paris every day by
the boulevard press. It is generally conceded that, considering the
well-known attitude of the Government towards the order, this was a
highly imprudent course for a religious paper to pursue. But their
right to do so is founded on the privilege of free speech. It takes
very little to find abuse of free speech in the utterances of the
clergy or religious in France. They are safe only when they are silent.
If there were less docility and more defiance in their attitude, if the
French Catholics relied less on God and more on man for redress, they
would receive more justice than they have been receiving.

The punishment meted out to the religious for their insubordination has
had, we are told, a doleful effect on the temporal power of the Pope,
an interesting patch of which has been broken up by the new French law.
It is a mystery to us how this law can affect the temporal power of the
Pope any more than the political status of Timbuctoo. It is passably
difficult to make an impression on what has ceased to exist these
thirty years. We thought the temporal power was dead. This bit of news
has been dinned into our ears until we have come to believe. No
conference, synod or council is considered by our dissenting friends
without a good strong sermon on this topic. Strange that it should
resurrect just in time to lose "an interesting patch" of itself! This
is cruelty. Why not respect the grave? We recommend the perusal of the
obituary of the temporal power written in Italian politics since the
year 1870. We believe the tomb is carefully guarded.





Next: THE VOW OF CHASTITY

Previous: THE VOW OF POVERTY



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