Mr. Jay to
Vienna , March 26, 1874. (Received April 18th.)
Sir: The present movements in Austria for revising the relations between the church and state by the series of confessional laws presented [Page 19] to the Reichsrath by Prince Auersperg, the president of the ministry, and Mr. Stremayer, the minister of worship, are the legitimate outgrowth of the independent policy inaugurated by the recent chancellor, Count Beust.
In one of my earlier dispatches, No. 23, of July 27, 1869, transmitting the diplomatic red-book for that year, I alluded to the correspondence of Count Beust with Count Trautmannsdorff, the Austrian ambassador at Rome.
His excellency had said:
That the very existence of the state could only be preserved by the complete regeneration of constitutional liberties, and that to favor the free-living forces of the nation had become in consequence the fundamental principle of the government.
There was also a distinct assurance that it would be idle for Rome to continue to regard Austria as a country predestined to serve its views, and that it must recognize Austria as on the same line with other modern constitutional nations, nor attempt to impose upon her pretensions which it no longer dreamed of imposing on Belgium or France.
It was, I think, on the 30th of July, 1870, three days after the date of that dispatch, that the Emperor gave notice to the Roman court that in consequence of the new dogma of infallibility, destroying the assumed equality between the sovereignty at Vienna and that at Rome, the concordat of 1855 was ipso facto annulled.
The new confessional laws now before the Reichsrath have resulted from that change, their object being to regulate the relations left unsettled, and described as chaotic, between the church and the state.
The government no longer recognizes an equality between the two bodies; but the government, asserting its sovereignty, has proceeded to define what are the internal affairs of the church to be regulated by the church, and what the external ecclesiastical affairs to be regulated by the state.
The movement is naturally opposed from Rome. The sovereign pontiff, in an encyclical letter of the 7th March, addressed to the Austrian bishops, denounced the new laws as perniciously tending to subject the church to the will and power of the state. His Holiness declared that the laws, although appearing moderate when compared with the Prussian, were really inspired by the same spirit and had the same character. He protested anew against the rupture of the concordat, and declared that the pretended alienation of the church by the dogma of infallibility was a fatal pretext. He invoked the aid of the bishops, and said that he had addressed letter to the Emperor, praying him not to tolerate in his vast empire the dishonoring subjection of the church, nor to sanction unjust laws. The first of the confessional bills regulating the relations of the church aroused on the general debate a strong opposition, led by Count Hohenwart, formerly president of the Austrian ministry; and the speeches on the part of this minister showed wisdom and decision.
Herr Stremayer, the minister of public worship, declared that the bill was the product of a calm and unprejudiced consideration of the existing state of affairs, and not an attempt to oppress the Catholic church. He said:
The government cannot permit the abuse of religion for the purpose of intrigues fraught with danger to the state, or allow the servants of God to become the missionaries of an organized opposition to the laws of the country. It is not intended to wage war against the church, but to bring about order in her relations with the government, so that she may freely exercise her holy mission, and not encroach upon the inviolable rights of the state.
Prince Auersperg met the threat of Father Greater, who made a “solemn declaration” that “we in the Tyrol will never, never acknowledge such laws, come what may,” with the remark that it was the sort of thing which the opposition were accustomed to say when projects were advanced that did not please them; but that if it were intended to be more than this, and they really proposed to disregard the laws, the government would be prepared vigorously to enforce obedience. This declaration called forth enthusiastic cheers, and the bill passed by 224 votes against 71—a majority unexpectedly large.
The bishops, responding to the appeal of the Pope, have assembled at Vienna. Among the number are the cardinal archbishops of Prague, Salzburg, and Lemberg, with the bishops of Gratz, Marburg, Brixen, and Gurk. They boldly maintain that the concordat is in full vigor, the Holy Father not having consented to its abolition.
The lower house of the Reichsrath have responded to this declaration by choosing a commission on the electoral laws, of whom 13 are liberals and 8 clericals.
In the house of lords the Bishops Wiery, Faverger, and Gassel defended the concordat in the spirit of the episcopal declaration on the subject, and were responded to by the Count Potocki, Count Falkenstein, Count Trautmannsdorff, and Count Rechberg.
The controversy has undoubtedly excited much feeling, and while the success of the ministry, after the general debate, has led to the remark that Austria has definitively repudiated the principles of the syllabus, it would not be surprising if, in an empire so peculiarly Catholic and with the countenance of some members of the imperial family who are said to continue to exhibit for the ultramontanes an active sympathy akin to that attributed to the late empress mother, the Archduchess Sophia, some pause or even temporary re-action should be obtained by episcopal efforts.
In a pamphlet by the Prince Bishop of Seek an, Doctor Swerger, which is described as “inflammatory,” there is a distinct denial of the right of the state to deal with ecclesiastical matters, except by consultation with the Holy See. It is announced that, if the proposed laws should be enacted, Catholics will be absolved from all obligations to obey them; and with a reference to Prussia, it is added that the duty of resistance is the more imperative in Austria, where Catholics cannot plead the excuse of being in minority. “Here we are in the majority.”
Whether the ministry have foreseen the full extent of the opposition they have met, and are still to meet, I do not know; but they have exhibited great caution in the preparation of the bills, and are thought to have shown thus far uncommon tact and skill in their presentation.
Herr von Streymayer, whom I remember to have heard charged with Ultramontane tendencies, said to me a few weeks since:
You will not find our confessional laws all that they ought to be, or all that we would like to make them; but you will, I think, see a gradual and steady advance; and that is the only way we can advance in Austria.
The last movement in the matter was one touching the Jesuit seminary at Innsbruck, where the Reichsrath has continued the annual stipend, to the satisfaction of the clerical party and the discontent of the liberal Viennese press. The tone of the last pronunciamiento of the bishops is perhaps more moderate, and it seems to be thought that there will be a diminished opposition on the part of the clericals to the completion of the confessional bills.
The tone of some of the liberal journals is decided, and their language not wanting in frankness. “To-day,” says the New Free Press, “there [Page 21] is one, kindred in spirit to St. Thomas and Anselinus, of Canterbury, sitting in the chair of St. Peter. Pius IX will have the strife with the modern state as those men engaged in a contest with the awakened English constitution. And he hates the modern state from the bottom of his soul, because it preserves the blessings of civilization, liberty, and law against the assaults of the Roman priesthood.” * * * *
I append a translation of two articles on the subject, the one from the National Zeitung, of Berlin, the other from Le Monde, of Paris, opposing the “Journal des Débats.” * * * *
I have, &c.,