Anti-Catholicism

Joachim and Draper

A number of historians of the idea of progress trace the notion to the mystic Joachim of Floris (1131-1202). Karl Löwith, in his classic Meaning in History (1949), believed that Joachim had delineated a “new scheme of epochs and dispensations by which the traditional scheme of religious progress from Old to the New Testament became extended and superseded.” This new scheme is found in his work that came to be called the “Eternal Gospel,” which outlined three stages in history, the Age of the Father, Age of the Son, and Age of the Holy Spirit, corresponding with the Old Testament, New Testament, and an impending apocalyptic event, or eschaton.

Robert Nisbet, in his History of the Idea of Progress (1994), also saw in Joachim and his followers, the Joachimites, a combination of “belief in the necessity of a period of catastrophic violence to usher in the golden age on earth with a philosophy of cumulative, stage-by-stage progress from the past to the future.” Both Nisbet and Löwith explain how Joachim’s vision of history had unintended consequences, when Saint-Simon, Comte, and other positivists appropriated his vision for their own purposes.

Joachim had rejected the Church of his day as corrupt. His followers, the Spiritual Franciscans, or Fraticelli, also decried the corruptions of the Church.

I mention Joachim because about midway through his Intellectual Development of Europe (1863), Draper praised his “Everlasting Gospel.” He observed that “notwithstanding its heresy, the work displayed an enlarged and mastery conception of the history of progress of humanity.” Earlier in his book, Draper had also concurred with the Fraticelli when they claimed that the “fatal gift of a Christian emperor had been the doom of true religion.” According to Draper, the Spiritual Franciscans were reformers, and those generations who had survived the fires of the Inquisition became followers of Martin Luther.

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The Bodleian Library: A Protestant Arsenal against Catholicism

Bodleian LibraryThe other day I began reading the introduction to Anthony Grafton’s Worlds Made by Words: Scholarship and Community in the Modern West (2009). This work is a collection of essays, originally published between 1983 and 2008, on the nature of scholarship. Grafton covers a wide-ranging set of topics, from The Republic of Letters to Google’s digitizing empire and the future of reading. Amidst such topics are concise, but erudite, discussions on Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Casaubon, Mark Pattison, Leon Battista Alberti, Johannes Trithemius, Tommaso Campanella, his own postgraduate supervisor Arnaldo Momigliano, and the Warburg Institute of the University of London. Grafton also discusses John O’Malley and his work on the Jesuits, in addition to the relationship between Christian and Jewish learning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

What particularly struck me in the introduction was his reference to Paul Nelles’ essay on the Bodleian library of Oxford, “The Uses of Orthodoxy and Jacobean Erudition: Thomas James and the Bodleian Library” (2007). Citing Nelles, Grafton writes: “The Bodlien was created…to serve as an arsenal of erudition for the Protestant side in the great intellectual war that raged over the Christian past.” He goes on to say that Bodleian’s first librarian, Thomas James (1573-1629), “believed that Catholic scholars had deliberately corrupted the texts of the church fathers to make them support their theological positions.”

I immediately found Nelles’ piece with a quick Google search. Nelles begins his essay with a thought-provoking question: What was the Bodleian library for when it opened its doors in 1602? Whatever the intentions of its founder, Sir Thomas Bodley (1545-1613), as its first librarian, Thomas James set its early program. According to Nelles, James was a “rabid anti-papist,” and thus something of an embarrassment to historians of the library. Nevertheless, “the scholarly work James carried out as Bodley’s librarian affords a rare glimpse of the interaction of libraries, manuscripts, printed books, and the readers who used them.”

For three decades James labored at collecting the textual tradition of the Latin Church Fathers and Medieval English authors. According to Nelles, James’ scholarship became a “store-house of Protestant learning and a bulwark against Roman Catholicism or, in the language of the period, ‘popery.'”

Of course, James was not alone in this initiative. Indeed, Bodley supported his goals, and shared much of the same religious orientation. They were sons of Marian exiles, and both were strict Calvinists. While attending New College at Oxford from 1593-1602, James was surrounded by anti-Roman sentiment and theology. James eventually became a “profound student of manuscripts, an able textual scholar, and an acute reader of the church Fathers,” marshaling “library resources at Oxford and elsewhere in order to engage Roman Catholic theologians and church historians on their own ground.” He was convinced that the “historical roots of the modern English church were to be found in a pure Saxon ecclesiastical community which had conformed to the primitive church as described in the writings of the Fathers and the early councils.” His near contemporary, Richard Hooker (1554-1600), likewise used the writings of the Church Fathers in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594) in sketching out the history of the English church. Others included John Jewel (1522-1571), Thomas Bilson (1547-1616), and Andrew Willet (1562-1621). In short, “by the early seventeenth century the use of the Fathers had emerged as a pivotal, though not uncontroversial, element within Anglican theology as the conformity of the contemporary reformed church with the primitive church.”

Another element in James’ scholarship was his emphasis on the historical continuity between ancient Christianity and the contemporary English church. According to Nelles, this view goes as far back as John Foxe’s (1517-1587) Book of Martyrs (1563), where he allegedly “documents the trials and tribulations of the ‘true church’ which had survived underground and invisible through centuries of papal corruptions and outright persecution.” James contributed to this tradition with his Apologie for John Wickliffe (1608).

And of course the final element of James’ scholarship is his obvious anti-popery. According to Nelles, “almost all of James’s published writings—particularly those devoted to textual scholarship—are directed against papist corruption and deception.” Nelles aptly summarizes this commonplace:

According to this view, attempts by the Bishop of Rome to control and corrupt Christian religion had been adroitly seen off within the early church: the church of the Fathers had not been subject to papal jurisdiction and at times could be seen to have been aggressively anti-Roman. Yet through deceit and treachery the pope had usurped Christ’s rightful place at the centre of  the  church  over  the  course  of  the  middle  ages.  The  pope  (now Antichrist) used all means possible to increase his power: he withheld the  true  teachings  of  Scripture;  he  appealed  to  popular  superstition through  liturgical  hocus-pocus  and  abuse  of  the  sacraments;  and  he invented traditions founded neither in Scripture nor the writings of the Fathers.  From  this  perspective  it  was  at  the  Council  of Trent  that  the views of the popish minority came to dominate the church as a whole. Thus, while early Protestants had merely broken with Rome, the contemporary reformed church was engaged in a pitched battle with a united Roman  Catholic  church  supported  by  foreign  Catholic  princes  and receiving instructions directly from the pope.

In the case of James, he believed that papist corruption went beyond doctrine, the sacraments, and church government, extending to “falsification, corruption, and destruction of ecclesiastical records and the textual heritage of the church.” According to Nelles, James’ “conception of the history of the church and his unique vision of the value of the insular textual legacy directly influenced his views on the nature and purposes of books and libraries.”

For instance, in 1600, James published a catalogue of manuscripts housed in Cambridge and Oxford colleges. Dedicated to King James I, the palaeographical Ecloga Oxonio-Cantabrigiensis won much acclaim, the famous biblical chronographer James Ussher once told him that “you are in a manner the only man among us that make search for the furthering of God’s cause.” James saw himself in the tradition of “Elizabethan hunters of medieval manuscripts,” cataloging nearly 3,000 codices (1,325 in Oxford; 1,498 in Cambridge). But despite its scholarly character, according to Nelles, “James firmly positioned the Ecloga within the context of the paper war which raged between Catholic and Protestant scholars over the sources of church doctrine.” Indeed, the Ecloga was presented as a “gateway for Protestant scholars to an untainted manuscript tradition of patristic texts.” According to James, the Reformed church was supported and confirmed by authentic manuscripts, whereas the Catholics, “habitual liars and gross forgers,” were the true “heretics.” This was a well-known commonplace, from William Perkins to William Crashawe. As Nelles sums it up, “Armed with evidence of present-day Catholic suppression and altering of texts from the Index librorum prohibitorum and the Index expurgatorius and further justified by notorious medieval forgeries such as the Donation of Constantine and the False Decretals, Protestant polemicists imagined centuries of papist textual meddling.”

A few years later, James turned to the Latin Church Fathers, and again complained that they had been “manifoldly corrupted” by the hands of “Popery and superstition.” In his proposal, Humble Supplication…for the reformation of the ancient Fathers Works, James set out with a team of students of Divinity to hunt down as many manuscript copies as possible. Once completed, James maintained that this new index would “show the corruptions of the printed copies of either Papists or Protestant editions, which have been very lamentably abused in this kind by too much trusting of the Papists.”

James never finished this project, the financial support drying up by 1612. Nelles turns to James’ program as Bodleian librarian. Interestingly enough, although he remorselessly attacked Catholic scholars, it is clear that James appropriated much of their findings. “On most technical issues of scholarship,” writes Nelles, “James and his Catholic opponents in fact had much in common.” This engagement with the Catholic world of scholarship is found in a large number of Bodleian indices of “prohibited and expurgated books published by Catholic authorities in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and Germany.” But as Nelles is careful to mention, “Bodleian was by no means exceptional in the orientation of its holdings. On the contrary, the amassing of an abundance of Catholic scholarship in the Bodleian in its first decades reflected activities” in other libraries in Britain.

In the conclusion of the essay, Nelles considers the relationship between James’ Ecloga and the early collections of Bodleian. When James became its first librarian, he donated several volumes to the library, which were listed in his Ecloga. While some manuscripts were in fact ignored, others listed in the Ecloga were not even present in the library at the time. This suggests, Nelles tells us, that James not only “stole these volumes,” but that James “appropriated these manuscripts while preparing the Ecloga, later bringing them into the Bodleian.”

At any rate, studying Oxford’s first Bodleian librarian reveals a remarkable religious and cultural context. “From its inception,” Nelles writes, “the Bodleian was much more than an Oxford or even a university library. For James and others it played a central role upon both the English and continental religious and political stage. The contemporary observer who viewed the Bodliean Library…through lenses heavily tinted with anti-popery was surely not alone in his sentiments…the Bodleian, whose riches were considered to exceed those of even the Vatican library, served as ‘a very lively fruit of the true religion of Jesus Christ.'”

Anti-Catholicism in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Anti-catholicThe last few days I have been exploring anti-Catholicism in the nineteenth century. Hugh McLeod, in his Secularisation in Western Europe, 1848-1914 (2000), in his chapter on “Identity,” observed that a general feature of nineteenth-century Protestantism was marked by a pervasive anti-Catholicism. A number of other scholars have also noted a pronounced anti-Catholicism in the Victorian era. An older, but still useful, study of this tradition is E.R. Norman’s Anti-Catholicism in Victorian England (1968). In more recent times, historian of religion John Wolffe’s The Protestant Crusade in Great Britain 1829-1860 (1991), Hartmut Lehmann’s “Anti-Catholic and Anti-Protestant Propaganda in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America and Europe” (1991), and D.G. Paz’s Popular Anti-Catholicism in Mid-Victorian Britain (1993) offer additional insight. More recently, Marjule Anne Drury’s 2001 review article, “Anti-Catholicism in Germany, Britain, and the United States,” in Church History (2001), provides a helpful bibliography of the transnational character of anti-Catholic discourse then raging in the nineteenth century. Finally, in a series of fascinating articles in the 2013 issue of European Studies, demonstrate how “anti-Catholicism was a transnational cultural phenomenon, and similarly negative accusations and stereotypes regarding Catholicism existed in a number of countries.” In their introduction to the issue, Yvonne Maria Werner and Jonas Harvard provide a brief outline of the origins of anti-Catholicism in early modern Europe, beginning with the principle cuius region, eius religions of the Peace Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. According to Werner and Harvard, “anti-Catholicism as well as anti-Protestantism was…part of the legal and cultural system of the time, and in several countries it was bound up closely with questions of monarchical succession.” By the nineteenth century, with religion increasingly becoming a “private matter,” anti-Catholicism began “shifting to target the Catholic Church and the papacy on matters of national integrity, progress and modernity.” Or, as John Wolffe puts it in his article in the issue, in England “much of the animus that had earlier been directed against the Roman Catholic Church was now focused on ritualist clergymen in the Church of England, who were seen as advancing Popery by subverting the Protestantism of the establishment from within.”Griffin - Anti-Catholicism and Nineteenth-Century Fiction

Opposition to “popery” was of course not a new feature of life in nineteenth-century Europe. Fear of Catholicism extends as far back as Protestantism itself. A number of historical events in the nineteenth century, however, increased the intensity of anti-Catholic sentiment. The passing of the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act; the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement in the 1830s, led by John Keble, John Henry Newman, and Edward Bouverie Pusey; Newman’s Tract XC in 1841 and later his conversion to Catholicism in 1845; the “no Popery” movement of 1850-51; Irish immigration; the notorious pastoral letter, “Flaminian Gate,” from Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Nicholas Wisemen; and a lecture entitled “The Decline of Protestantism, by John Hughes, Catholic Archbishop of New York, all played a role in increasing hostilities between Protestants and Catholics.

Anti-Catholicism was undoubtedly a significant feature of the Victorian period. It was manifested in sermons, petitions, tracts, pamphlets, newspapers, and magazines. But as other recent scholarship has demonstrated, it was decisively through fiction that anti-Catholicism was largely disseminated. Susan Griffin’s Anti-Catholicism and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (2004) and Diana Peschier’s Nineteenth-Century Anti-Catholicism Discourses (2005) persuasively argue that the Victorian novel dramatized the supposed evils of Catholicism. As Griffin argues, the Protestant obsession with Rome was “distilled to provide Victorians with a set of political, cultural, and literary tropes through which they defined themselves as Protestant and therefore normative.” From Sarah Josepha Hale, Charlotte Bronte, Benjamin Disraeli, Henry James, Frances Trollope, and Charles Kingsley, Victorian fiction provided plots, characters, and imagery for an anti-Catholic imagination.