No. 11.
Mr. Jay to Mr. Fish.

No. 721.]

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.

[Page 20]

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.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 721.—Translation.]

The Pope and the Austrian church bills.

We strongly recommend all French and Italian censurers of our church laws not to lose sight of the Pope’s letter to the Austrian bishops. In France and Italy people are fond of ascribing the Prussian or German “persecution of the church” to protestant intolerance. In this the Pope, as he has so often done, comes to our aid. It will be known in France as well as in Italy, that there are but few protestants in Austria; but the Pope now says:

“Compared with the new Prussian laws, those which are about to be discussed in Austria do indeed appear to be more moderate, but in truth they are of the same spirit and character, and prepare the same destruction for the Catholic Church in Austria.”

While we thank the Holy Father for this testimony, we will gratefully transcribe another sentence of his, in which with his precious ingenuousness he repeats a doctrine which is now beginning to be regarded as really and seriously the doctrine of the Church. The Pope says once again, that humanity at large is destined to be ruled in all things by Romish priests. His words are:

“As the wonderful power of the ecclesiastical kingdom is derived from Christ himself, and is altogether distinct from and independent of the political power, this kingdom of God upon earth has the rule over the whole of human society, and is ruled by its own laws and rights, and by its own superiors who have to give an account, not to the heads of civic society, but to the chief shepherd, Jesus, by whom they have been, appointed.” This time the Pope repeats this doctrine with regard to the Austrian government, whose view is that it is for the state to define the boundary between the external and internal affairs of the Church, and to prescribe the domain upon which the Church is free. Of course the bills in question could not have been introduced without the assent of the Emperor Francis Joseph. We therefore miss the usual candor of the Pope, when he describes the Emperor and his house as adherents of the doctrines of the Vatican council. It is even too much to say that in early times the house of Hapsburg always actively supported the apostolic see in the struggle for the Catholic faith. But the rights which are now claimed by the Austrian government for the state were at most times asserted by the emperors of the house of Hapsburg, and were only given up in the concordat of 1855.

In his letter to the Austrian bishops the Pope solemnly protests against the abolition of the concordat, which suited him so well, and agreed so well with the fundamental doctrines of the Church, while, as he says, it provided as well for the safety of souls as for the weal of the state, and thus coincided with the principle that, not only religion, but also the affairs of the state, are subject to the Pope. That the concordat was abolished “on the proposal of the representatives of the Empire” is again only half the truth. The imperial government itself was convinced of the necessity of that step as soon as the council was closed; nay, as soon as it was opened. Now, the Pope urges the bishops—and this is the principal object of his letter of the 7th of March—to resist and disobey the new laws. The people, too, are briefly reminded that they ought rather to obey the doctrines of the Church than the powers of the state, when not acting in harmony with these doctrines; but the bishops are expressly exhorted to enter courageously upon a struggle worthy of their virtue, and not to fall short of their Prussian brethren in courage and determination.

This exciting emanation from the Vatican does not enter into a close examination of the contents or of the separate provisions of these bills. It is incredible how far the empty phraseology of this document goes. It says: “The contemplated squandering of the goods of the Church is so great that it is hardly distinguishable from open plundering. [Page 22] The civic government will bring these goods into its power, and considers itself entitled to divide them, and to diminish them to such an extent by the imposition of taxes that the miserable possession and enjoyment which will be left to the Church must be described not as an honor, but rather as a jest and as a cloak for injustice.” What real foundation is there for such words? The Austrian government, which in reality is extremely moderate on this point, proposes nothing further than to impose taxes on superfluous benefices and the superfluous property of convents. All ecclesiastical persons are to retain the income suited to their rank without diminution, and it is only on superfluous property that a tax, beginning at ½ per cent, and rising with the wealth of the owner, is to be imposed. This tax, however, is not intended, like the ordinary property tax, for the coffers of the state, but the money so raised is to be devoted to the improvement of the incomes of the needy lower clergy, and to the payment of those expenses of public worship which have hitherto been defrayed by the state. The Pope does not appear to observe this application of the money for church purposes; to his economic wisdom it seems a squandering and plundering of the goods of the Church, and even a disgrace to the Church, when the government defrays the necessary Church expenses out of the superfluous property of the Church. This is all the gratitude the government gets for dealing so sparingly with the convents and their enormous possessions.

The Austrian government would have adopted very different measures, if it had followed the example set by all other Catholic countries.

Twenty years ago Cavour provided, in a similar way, for the starving lower clergy in Piedmont. He supported them with the superabundance of the convents, the number of which was so great that the whole country seemed to be a convent. He went further than is now done by the Austrian government, which at that time excited the Pope against him, and abolished some hundreds of those convents which were not engaged with education or any other useful occupation, and applied the proceeds partly in maintaining the lower clergy, who were at that time terribly numerous. Of course Plus IX protested against all this, as usual. He also protested against the abolition of the spiritual courts and against the abolition of the right of asylum and of tithes. Victor Emmanuel and all persons who co-operated in the new laws were excommunicated. But this did no injury to little Piedmont, although at that time courage was required to do battle with the Pope, who had great supporters behind him. Further proceedings of the same kind afterward took place in Piedmont; and in Austria, too, more will be done than is written in the bills now before the Reichstag. Cries from the Vatician will not prevent this, but the war which the Austrian bishops, at the command of the Pope, have begun against the state, will hasten it on.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 721.—Translation.]

The Journal des Débats regards as inopportune the intervention of the Pope in the religious affairs of Austria. In its opinion it would be better for the Pope not to trouble himself with such things. But that a lay assembly should decree laws on the Catholic religion, and should fix the boundaries between the two powers, appears quite proper to our contemporary. A concordat was annulled by only one of the contracting parties. Was any offer made to the sovereign pontiff to regulate religious affairs by another agreement? No; the secular power declares itself omnipotent. The Pope was, therefore, obliged to protest against such a claim, which, after all, is only the same claim as that raised by the Prussian Empire. To support its thesis the Débats must admit that, in principle, religion belongs to the domain of the state, and, especially, that it is for the state to rule the Catholic Church. That journal goes with the persecuting princes and assemblies. In Italy, Switzerland, and Germany men are banished, imprisoned, and robbed for the cause of Catholicism. The Débats will tell us that this is the fault of the Catholics; why do they not show themselves more obedient to the laws of the state? No doubt, if the Catholics obeyed the laws there would be no more persecutors; but neither would there be any more Catholics, as the object of the law is to destroy the Church. * * * The Empire of Austria is undermined. The unfortunate Francis Joseph retains only a shadow of power. A few more reforms and the Austrian Empire will have its 1789. The idea of offending and irritating twenty-five millions of Catholics in a country with a population of only thirty-five millions is such an act of madness that we must go back to the France of 1793 to find its parallel. The battle of Sadowa was nothing in comparison with the efforts made by ministers and assemblies to demolish what remains of the Empire of Austria.