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Answer. I do not bind myself by oath not to believe the church in her doctrinal decision; I only swear that I do not
think myself acquitted or absolved' of my obligations, by a dispensation granted by the Pope, &c. The last paragraph, as I remarked before, is entirely levelled against the dispensing power. .
Our legislators know, that the infallibility of the church is a tenet of Roman Catholics. By the very preamble of the act, they enable us to give public assurances of our allegiance, without prejudice to our real principles. In swearing that I do not think myself acquitted of this declaration, although the Pope, or any authority what. soever, shall declare that it was, null and void from the be-.
ginning,' I do not mean to deny the infallibility of the church, nor the authority of God, nor even the supreme au. thority of the state ; and the magistrate, in whose presence I swear, knows that it is not my intention. As there is no design on one part, nor deception on the other, I neither re. nounce my faith, nor perjure myself, although the severity of the letter seems to import one, or the other, or both. Oaths and laws are liable to interpretations: and one general rule prevails over the world, viz. 'That a greater stress is to be i laid on the sense, than on the words. It is not to be
doubted,' says the emperor Justinian, but that he acts con"trary to the law, who, confining himself to the letter, acts
contrary to the spirit, and intent of it: and whoever, to excuse • himself, endeavours fraudulently to elude the true sense of a
law, by rigorous attachment to the words of it, shall not "escape its penalties by such prevarication.' *Non dubium est in lege committere eum, qui verba legis amplexus, contra legis nititur voluntatem: nec poenas insertas legibus evitabit, qui se contra juris sententiam sæva prærogativa 'verborum fraudulenter excusat.' .. Whoever swears, must do it according to the intention 6 of him to whom he swears, let the mode and form of the
expressions be what they will,' says St. Isidorus. Qua• cumque arte verborum quisque juret, Deus tamen, qui con6 scientiæ testis est, ita hoc accipit, sicut ille, cui juratur, in
telligit.'* Far from renouncing the infallibility of the
..Isidorus apud Gratianum. 22. 9. 5. c. 9.
church, which is neither the purport of the oath, nor the design of a Catholic who takes it, I am convinced that the unerring spirit that guides her, will never permit her to define as an article of faith, any proposition rejected in the test, or sanctify any doctrine against the institution of Christ.
Faith is founded on revelation; and the church can never make a new article of faith. She can only declare what has been revealed, to prevent the chaff of human opinions from mixing with the pure grain of the Evangelical doctriñe.
Supposing that faith is founded on revelation, and that, as the bishop of Meaux remarks, after Christ there is no new revelation, for in him is the plenitude--the Catholics rest secure that it is out of the church's power, to declare that their oath is null and void; as it is out of her power to declare that fraud, murder, and perjury are lawful. This shall appear by analyzing the oath.
First : Has God revealed that I am not to bear true alle• giance to George III. or to renounce any allegiance to the • Pretender? If he has revealed it, Pope Clement XIII. • died an heretic: he banished an Irish superior for compli• menting the Pretender with the title of King of Great Brie stain.'
Second : Has God revealed, that I can lawfully and piously murder my fellow-creature, and break a just promise, or refuse paying what I owe him, because he is of a • different religion ?
Third : • Has God revealed that I am to believe that Popes 6 and foreign princes ought to have any civil authority within this realmı?"
Fourth: Has God revealed, that kings can be deposed • and murdered by their subjects, because they are excommunicated by the Pope and council ?
There is the whole substance of the oath: and as God has not revealed any of those assertions, but commanded the reverse, the church can never declare them as articles of faith. Did St. Paul mean to renounce the authority of Heaven, when he said, “ should an angel from Heaven preach 6 another doctrine, do not believe him ? Does a Catholic renounce the authority of the church, in not thinking'tbat she can allow perjury? But if such be the case, you will ask me, why some people have written against this oath ?' or, why the small number of Catholics have not united with the great number who have taken it??
I can assure you, Sir, that the Catholics who have not taken the oath, look on the deposing power as a dream; the murder of heretics as an impious slander, calculated in times of turbulence, to murder the character of the innocent, and only adapted to those distant æras, when •Papists attempted • to blow up a river, with gun-powder, in order to drown a
city."* In fine, they are ready to swear allegiance to George the Third, and renounce any allegiance to the Stuarts. · But the chief exception to the oath is the manner in which it is worded. It must be taken in the plain and or. • dinary sense of the words. This cannot be reconciled • with any authority whatsoever. A Catholic abjures upon oath a doctrine he never believed. Abjuration implies the belief of a previous error. • Foreign princes ought not to • have,' &c. How can subjects know? or what is it to them? • Without any dispensation already granted.' You suppose then that we have a dispensation to perjure ourselves; consequently it is nugatory to swear, when you are enabled not to believe us. It is too dangerous to sport with the awful name of the Divinity: and if a free-thinker reverenced the Supreme Being, his conscience would be screwed in taking an oath which minces a syllable, and requires a long commentary. Further: Every invader, every usurper, would avail himself of a similar oath. In Ireland, he would find it framed to his hand, and makes us swear that George the • Third ought to have no authority within this realm,' though the lawful king would be at the same time asserting his right in England. The alternative would be; death or
Such are the exceptions of the few who have not taken the oath: exceptions not to be disregarded by those, with whom they may have any weight. For an oath is dreadful in itself: and we can never act against the dictates of an erroneous conscience, till our scruples are removed, Quod non est ex fide, peccatum est,'
* Walker, p. 349. Hume, Hist, of England, Vol. I.
· Here below “ we see in a glass darkly,' says St. Paul. Providence has thrown a sable veil over the human intellect. The scripture itself, this law of spirit and life, proposed as a rule to the learned and ignorant, is become the subject of disputes and controversies. All legal acts are liable to inconveniencies. It is impossible for the legislators who devise them, to read in the minds of other men, the doubts which may arise concerning the sense and force of some expresşions. Hence, bew acts to explain and amend former laws.
Should the wisdom of the legislative powers deign to reduce the oath to a few plain words, whereby we should swear allegiance to his Majesty ; renounce any to the Stuarts ; swear never to maintain nor abet any doctrine inconsistent with the rights of sovereigns, the security of our fellow-subjects, nor ever to accept of any dispensation to the contrary--all the ends of government would be fully answered, and the few scrupulous Catholics, who cavil about words, would join the great numbers who have proceeded upon more enlarged and liberal principles.
Should our neighbours doubt the delicacy of our consciences, when we swear, we have no argument to convince them, but the following: 5 .. We groan under the yoke of mysery and oppression, throughout the long and trying periods of six successive reigns. We suffer for crimes we have never committed. The punishment, which according to all laws should finish with the delinquent, is entailed on the innocent posterity to the fourth and fifth generation, by a rigorous severity, similar to that of those Tuscan princes, who used to fasten living men to dead bodies. The laws, which in other countries are the resource and protection of the errant pilgrim, are here the mortal enemies of the settled natives. These abortives of the Stuart race reign uncontrouled a long time after the death of their inauspicious progenitors. On every part they spread penal bitterness, with an unwearied hand; deal out transportation to the clergy; poverty and distress to the laity. They continually hang as so many swords, over our heads. The lenity of the magistrates, with the humanity of our Protestant neighbours, are the only clouds that intercept the scorching influence of those blazing comets, kindled in times of turbulence and confusion. Were it a principle of
our religion to pay no regard to the dictates of consciencewere our pastors and clergy such as they are described, • people who dispense with every law of God and man, who • sanctify rebellion and murder, and even change the very • nature and essential differences of vice and virtue ;'* were we people of this kind, the penal restraints would be soon removed. One verbal recantation of Popery, backed with a false oath, would dissolve our chains. In three weeks you would see all the Catholics at Church, and their clergy along with them. Licensed guilt would soon kick in wantonness, where starving innocence shivers without a covering. A remedy neglected from motives of conscience, is a proof of the patient's integrity. Our sufferings and perseverance plead aloud in favour of our abhorrence and detestation of perjury: and though our Protestant neighbours may laugh at the seeming errors of our minds, yet they will do justice to the
grity of our hearts. si Now, as in the primitive ages of the Church, it is our principle and duty to pray for our kings, that God would be 6 pleased to grant them a long life and a quiet reign; that • their family may be safe, and their forces valiant; their • senate lawful, their people orderly and virtuous; that they may rule in peace, and have all the blessings they can desire, either as men or princes.'+
I have the honour to remain,
Sir, your most humble,
And obedient Servant,
* Leland, b. 5. ch. 3.
+ Tertull. Apolog.