My Children, Father, Thy forgiveness need;
Alas! their hearts have only place for tears!
Forgive them, Father, ev’ry wrongful deed,
And every sin of those four bloody years;
And give them strength to bear their boundless loss,
And from their hearts take every thought of hate;
And while they climb their Calvary with their Cross,
Oh! help them, Father, to endure its weight.
— from The Prayer of the South
|Jefferson Davis, president of the CSA|
Letter of Pope Pius IX to Jefferson Davis
in Varina Davis, Jefferson Davis: Ex-President of the Confederate States of America: A Memoir by His Wife Varina Davis, (Baltimore: The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, Inc., 1990), II, 448.
Illustrious and honorable sir, greeting:
We have lately received with all kindness, as was meet, the gentlemen sent by your Excellency to present to us your letter dated on the 23rd of last September. We have received certainly no small pleasure in learning both from these gentlemen and from your letter the feelings of gratification and of very warm appreciation with which you, illustrious and honorable sir, were moved when you first had knowledge written in October of the preceding year to the venerable brethren, John [Hughes], archbishop of New York, and John [Odin], archbishop of New Orleans, in which we again and again urged and exhorted those venerable brethren that because of their exemplary piety and episcopal zeal they should employ their most earnest efforts, in our name also, in order that the fatal civil war which had arisen in the States should end, and that the people of America might again enjoy mutual peace and concord, and love each other with mutual charity. And it has been very gratifying to us to recognize illustrious and honorable sir, that you and your people are animated by the same desire for peace and tranquility, which we had so earnestly inculcated in our aforesaid letters to the venerable brethren above named. May it please God at the same time to make the other peoples of America and their rulers, considering seriously how cruel and how deplorable is this internecine war, would receive and embrace the counsels of peace and tranquility. We indeed shall not cease with most fervent prayer to beseech God, the best and highest, and to implore Him to pour out the spirit of Christian love and peace upon all the people of America, and to rescue them from the great calamities with which they are afflicted. We, at the same time, beseech the God of pity to shed abroad upon you the light of His grace, and attach you to us by a perfect friendship.
Given at Rome at St. Peter’s on the 3rd of December, 1863, in the eighteenth year of our pontificate.
Illustrious and Hon. Jefferson Davis
President of the Confederate States of America, Richmond
Throughout its short history, the Confederate government sought earnestly and repeatedly to gain some kind of foreign support. The closest it ever came was in 1863, when His Holiness Pope Pius IX sent a letter addressed to the "Illustrious and Hon. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, Richmond," and concluded with a hope for a union in "perfect friendship" Davis interpreted this communication as a form of recognition, even though some measure of his interpretation was subject to false expectations. The letter was reported in Southern newspapers with the implication that Pope Pius IX supported the Confederacy ("Telegraphic. –From Richmond," The Charleston Mercury, Jan. 23, 1864). The President hoped that this letter would be the first step towards widespread European recognition of the Confederate government, but it proved to be the only such communication, and within two years, the Confederacy would be dead. Still, the letter does raise the question of why the Holy Pontiff would express public friendship to the Confederacy and risk being associated with a slavery-supporting government.
When the War Between the States erupted in America, pitting the opponents of slavery in the North against the slave-dependent agrarian society of the Confederacy, social, political, and even religious organizations were forced to take sides. Two of the country's major churches, the Baptists and the Methodists, divided over the issue of slavery–the Baptists remaining separated to this day. The Catholic Church, however, did not break in half, though its unity was severely strained. Instead of dividing, episcopal alliances were virtually along geographical lines. The reason for this was that the Pope, Pius IX, saw the same kinds of threatening tendencies in the American North that had driven him from his papal throne in Italy in 1848. These tendencies in both Italy and America came in the form of progressivism towards a more centralized democracy, economic reform, and opposition to aristocracy. They were considered to be liberal in both Catholic and Southern society, and were viewed as dangerous to the spread of Catholicism. Furthermore, the Church's own political weakness in America severely hindered her ability to attempt to change anything about slavery other than the hearts of those who condoned it. The Catholic Church considered the tendencies of the North to be more dangerous than slavery, and considered the conservative Southern society to be more suitable to the spread of Catholicism than the North.
Pope Pius IX ascended to the papacy in 1846. After the death of Pope Gregory XVI, the College of Cardinals faced a difficult decision in electing the next pope. Many Cardinals in the conclave supported Cardinal Lambruschini, whose extreme opposition to liberalism would have kept Gregory XVI's conservative and prudent Church policies alive. Others sought to elect a liberal and conciliatory pope in order to counter Pope Gregory XVI's confrontational policies with the government. The conclave chose the latter, and elected Cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, who chose the name Pius IX. Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti had been well-liked by Pope Gregory XVI despite the Cardinal's ideas in terms of Church reform and relations with the secular Italian government.
Pope Pius IX appeared to live up to his reputation immediately following his election to the Chair of St. Peter. The Papal States were dangerously close to revolution due to Italian nationalism, and he promised reforms and changes in order to restore stability.1 He was responsible for the introduction of railroads into Rome and the reformulation of tariff laws in order to improve trade. He installed gas-powered street lighting in Rome, apportioned a share of the papal charities for the Jews, and abolished the law which required Jews to attend weekly Catholic sermons. He coupled this program of economic and social reform with political reforms of the same magnitude. The Pope incorporated democracy into the governance of the Papal States by appointing laymen to the government of the Church. He allowed exiled revolutionaries to return to the Papal States, and even approved a new constitution that gave an elected body of laymen the power to veto the pope. Protestant leaders from all over Europe congratulated Pius IX, and Italian nationalists dubbed the Pope "the most important man in Italy."2 The Pope seemed to be conceding to the wishes of Italian nationalists who cried in thanksgiving for his reforms: " Viva Italia! Viva Pio Nono"3 Liberal Italians expected these policies to continue so that the secular government could gain more power and ultimately become completely separated from the Church. However, Pope Pius IX considered these changes to be the completion of his reforms. When the Pope rejected further demands, his popularity waned. He had excited the Italian nationalists with his promises of reform, but he was not prepared to fulfill all of their expectations.4 The consequence was disappointment and bitterness.5
In 1848, revolutions erupted throughout Europe. The Italians went to war in order to expel Austria from Italy, but the Italians treated the war more like a crusade than a political war. When the Italians called for the Pope to lead their "crusade," he gave an address in which he explained papal policy in relation to Italy. His new policies took a sharp turn and began to resemble those of his conservative predecessor, Pope Gregory XVI, causing the Italian people to feel betrayed. In his address to the College of Cardinals, Pius IX stated that he would have no part in this war and that he would send no troops to Austria:
When there was revolution over Europe, I sent troops to guard the frontiers. But when some demanded that these troops join with other [Italian] states to war against Austria, I must say solemnly, that I abhor the idea. I am the Vicar of Christ, the author of peace and lover of charity, and my office is to bestow an equal affection on all nations.6
According to one authority, this statement to the College of Cardinals "was a douche of icy water on the overheated enthusiasm which had surrounded his first two years as pope."7
Pius IX went from being one of the most loved men in Italy to one of the most hated, and this public resentment eventually led to exile. He lost all control over Rome, and Pellegrino Rossi, his Prime Minister, was murdered in November of 1848. The Pope sensed grave danger and, disguised as an ordinary priest, fled to Gaeta in the Neapolitan territory. As revolution continued in Rome and an anti-clerical regime took control, Pius IX called for the Catholic powers of the world to reclaim Rome on his behalf and to restore the power of his office. In July of 1849, French troops re-conquered Rome for the Pope, and he once again took power in April of 1850.8
On his return to Rome, Pius IX blamed tendencies such as liberalism and centralized democracy9 for the Italian revolution and for his exile. As a result, he believed for the rest of his life that conceding in good faith to the political ideals of democracy only paved the way for revolution.10 The revolution of 1848 caused the Pope to turn against constitutionalism, and he also condemned many of his past reforms which the Italian nationalists had praised.11 By the time he had returned to power, his "honeymoon was over."12
Pope Pius IX subsequently issued the Syllabus of Errors [available from Angelus Press. Price: $3.45] in which he listed the modernist errors of his time, including the separation of Church and State. He also condemned the notion that "the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization."13 In addition to condemning these errors, he tightened his reins on the government of the Church with the definition of the dogma of papal infallibility in the First Vatican Council. No longer would he embrace the modernist and liberal tendencies in the world, but he would condemn and oppose them wherever they existed.
A decade after Pope Pius IX's denunciation of liberalism, the United States was being torn apart by a similar clash of ideals. Industrialization and technology widened the gap between the progressive North and agrarian South to the point where the two seemed incompatible. To some, and especially to Pope Pius IX, the clash between these two cultures resembled the revolution which had taken place a decade earlier in Italy, where those who favored democracy vied for control of one of the oldest and most conservative institutions in Europe: the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, there were direct political ties between post-revolution Italy and ante-bellum America in that Pope Pius IX's reforms were welcomed by progressives in the United States.
Sympathy and support for Pope Pius IX's reforms in the early years of his papacy were main factors for America's recognition of the Papal States.14 Additionally, the increased Italian support of the concepts of democracy, liberalism, and a free Church in a free state excited secular Americans and aligned many of them with the agenda of the Italian nationalists.15 In a Philadelphia public meeting addressed to Pope Pius IX, Robert Tyler, a vice president of the meeting, offered the following resolution concerning the changes that were taking place in Italy:
The liberal movement now in progress in Italy under the example and auspices of the Papal Sovereign, awakens in the breasts of the American People, the deepest interest, sympathy, and respect.
In a letter addressed to this public meeting, the Hon. Lewis Cass stated that if Pope Pius IX were to continue with his spirit, "he will become the man of his age."17 Similar to the North's approval of the Italian reforms, the Italian nationalists also sympathized with many Northern ideals. With the exception of the Catholic clergy, nearly all of Italy rallied behind the Union and their ideals during the Civil War.18
Though the North often celebrated what the Catholic Church considered to be liberalism, many Southerners feared these tendencies. As a Charleston newspaper of the time explained, the South believed that a centralized, liberal democracy would destroy their agrarian culture and way of life through rampant industrialization and the abolition of slavery:
There can be no doubt in any sound mind that the North and the South require a different government. The conservative elements of Southern society would be in too small a minority to control the aggressiveness of the wild and wanton democracy, which is found ever and anon to seize the reins of government at the North, under the most propitious circumstances.
The South believed that Northern society was radical and in direct opposition to their conservative and orderly society. Southerners realized that to remain a part of the Union might mean the destruction of the Southern way of life and a concession to a Northern-controlled centralized democracy: "Under the existing Union, the theory and institutions of Southern society, or that of Northern society, will eventually give way. For both to exist, continue and work out their own ends, they must be separated."20 And separate they did.
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States, even though he did not appear on any Southern ballots and thus received no votes from any state in the South. Although the presidency was in Republican hands, the U.S. Congress was controlled by Democrats. This stand-off of power was very much responsible for arrogance on both sides. Many Southerners realized at that moment that the North controlled the Southern society and that the South no longer had any effective voice in the Union. As a result of Lincoln's election, South Carolina formally withdrew from the Union, followed immediately by six other states.21
Although slavery played an important role for many Americans in deciding which side to support, Catholics in America had to reconcile Church teachings with their own sectional philosophies, which often proved to be a difficult task.22 The issue of slavery did not divide the Catholic Church in half, but it did pose a grave threat to the Church's unity in America.23 While many Americans were able to remain ambivalent to slavery, the Catholic Church had to take a stand on the issue while also attempting to avoid the same sectional disputes within the Church that caused most Protestant denominations to divide. Because of the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church, as opposed to the lack of central authority in most Protestant denominations, obedience to her teachings and to the pope was enough to maintain Church unity. However, the issue of slavery, as well as the division of the country, complicated this task.
Catholics in the South found themselves in a situation very similar to the early Christians in terms of political influence. Both constituted a minority jroup with practically no political power in a society that advocated slavery. Although the Catholic Church avoided permanent division in the United States, American bishops differed in their opinions about where the loyalty of Catholics should lie. Northern bishops tended to support the Union, whereas Southern bishops generally aligned themselves with the cause of the Confederacy. However, while Southern bishops supported the South with little or no reservation, Northern bishops often had trouble justifying the Northern position because Church teaching often clashed with the North's policies. Bishops on both sides generally supported the section in which they lived, which strained the Church and often pitted bishop against bishop.
Archbishop William Henry Elder of Natchez was one of the most prominent Church leaders in the South. He was a rare native Southerner among his fellow bishops and was the leader of all Catholics in the state of Mississippi. In a letter to the Bishop of Chicago in 1861, Bishop Elder made it very clear that Catholics in the South were to give their allegiance to the Confederate government:
I hold it is the duty of all Catholics in the seceding states to adhere to the actual government without reference to the rights or the wisdom of making the separation-or the grounds for it-our state government [and] our new Confederation are de facto our only existing government here and it seems to me as good citizens we are bound not only to acquiesce in it but to support it [and] contribute means [and] arms [and] above all to avoid weakening it by division of counsel without necessity.25
Although Bishop Elder did give recognition to the Confederate government, he was careful not to align the entire Catholic Church with the secession movement; to do so could cause too much division in the Catholic Church in America. He did make it very clear, however, that one could personally support the Confederate secession and still remain in good standing with the Church. He explained his position in a letter to the Archbishop of Baltimore: "...if [Catholics] were satisfied, dispassionately, that secession was the only practical remedy...their religion [does] not forbid them to advocate it."26Bishop Elder also stated to a priest-friend that Catholics could support the secession movement because Confederate secession itself was in accordance with Catholic morality:
Some say the Union was a kind of free association which any state had a right to forsake whenever she judged it to be conductive to her interests: the right of secession. Others say...we were released by the right of self-preservation-because it was impossible for us to live in the Union [and] we had a right to provide for our safety outside of it....Now any of these positions is perfectly consistent with Catholic morality–with the highest patriotism.27
Bishop Elder was very skeptical of the Southern cause at first, but he later changed his views. In an 1863 letter to a friend in Rome, the bishop voiced his fears that the South's actions were too rash and that they should have relied on "Constitutional Remedies."28 However, he later viewed the South's actions as necessary:
The scornful treatment of all attempts at compromise in Congress seemed to confirm the sagacity of their views [and] I must confess that the progress of events in the North has persuaded me the constitution would have afforded little or no protection.29
The bishop saw Northern troops use brutal tactics in his homeland of Mississippi and stated it "shows how little reliance [could] be placed on the power of constitutions or even of the universal laws of Christian nations, to protect us against fanaticism."30 Bishop Elder was very sympathetic to the Southern cause and believed that the South had no other choice than to secede.
Bishop Elder taught that Catholics in the South owed their allegiance to both the Confederacy as well as to their individual state governments. He recognized these governments as the de facto governments, but was careful not to officially support secession in order to maintain Church unity. Although he attempted to stay neutral, his actions and words caused him many troubles with Northern authorities who considered him to be disloyal to the Union government. During the Northern occupation of Mississippi in 1863 and 1864, Union authorities attempted to force Bishop Elder to direct all priests under his jurisdiction to pray publicly for President Lincoln at every Mass. Refusal to do so would have constituted disloyalty and would have been punished. Bishop Elder refused to comply and as a result, was ordered to remain inside Federal military lines, which included Mississippi at that time. The Union took control of his cathedral, as well as every other church aat refused to offer prayers for President Lincoln. Lincoln eventually ordered Bishop Elder's release, but these experiences gave the Southern bishop even more reason to support the Confederate cause.31
SOUTHERN BISHOPS DURING THE WAR
Bishop William Henry Elder (1819-1904) Bishop of Natchez, Mississippi (1857-80) A native of Baltimore, he was consecrated bishop of Natchez, Mississippi in 1857. He was made famous in 1864 when he "refused to obey the order of the Federal troops at Natchez and to have certain prayers for the President of the United States recited publicly in the churches of his diocese. He was arrested, tried, and convicted; but the decision of the military court was reversed at Washington" (Catholic Encyclopedia).
Bishop Austin Verot (1805-76) Bishop of Savannah. Georgia (1861-70) Born in Le Puy, France, he was appointed to the See of Savannah in 1861 by Pope Pius IX. He simultaneously defended the rights of the Confederacy while seeking to improve the conditions of slaves in the South in order to eventually free them and bring them into the Church.
Bishop Patrick Lynch (1817-82) Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina (1858-82) Bishop Lynch was born in Ireland and consecrated bishop of Charleston, South Carolina, a post which he held until his death in 1882. "One of the most learned members of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States; his numerous lectures, essays and treatises exhibit the versatility and accuracy of his knowledge... towards the end of the war Bishop Lynch went to Rome as the accredited representative of the Confederacy on a confidential mission" (Catholic Encyclopedia).
Bishop Martin John Spalding (1810-72) Bishop of Louisville, Kentucky (1850-64) An American who was consecrated bishop of Louisville, Kentucky in 1848. Becoming Archbishop of Baltimore in 1864, he presided over the deliberations of the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1866. He was also widely known as a strong defender of papal infallibility at the time of the First Vatican Council. His "Dissertation on the American Civil War" inspired the Vatican's intellectual sympathies for the South.
Archbishop John Odin (1801-70) Archbishop of Hew Orleans (1861-70) Born in Ambierle, France, he was the Archbishop of New Orleans during the time of the War of Southern Independence. "His influence was extraordinary among the Catholic soldiers. Pope Pius IX wrote to him in the South, as to Archbishop Hughes in the North, to use their influence for peace. His Apostolic labors were interrupted only by journeys to Europe in the interest of his archdiocese" (Catholic Encyclopedia).
1. Frank J. Coppa, "Papal Rome in 1848: From Reform to Revolution," in the Proceedings of the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe: 1750-1850, Session 2 (Athens: [n.p] 1979), p. 93.
2. Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, p. 222.
4. Coppa, "Papal Rome in 1848: From Reform to Revolution," p. 95.
5. Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, p. 222.
6. Pope Pius IX quoted in Owen Chadwick, A History of the Popes 1830-1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 77.
7. Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, p. 223.
8. Coppa, "Papal Rome in 1848: From Reform to Revolution," p. 99.
9. In 1848, Pope Pius IX urged Italians to stay loyal to their local princes and condemned the notion of a centralized Italian government. For more see Chadwick, A History of the Popes 1830-1914, p. 77.
10. Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, p. 224.
11. Coppa, "Papal Rome in 1848: From Reform to Revolution," p. 99.
12. Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, p. 224.
13. Pope Pius IX, "The Syllabus of Errors Condemned by Pius IX," http://www.papalencyclicals. net/Pius09/p9syll.htm, 26 Apr., 2005.
14. David J. Alvarez, "American Recognition of the Papal States: A Reconsideration," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia, 1980), pp. 49-50.
15. Samuel J. Thomas, "The American Press Response to the Death of Pope Pius IX and the Election of Pope Leo XIII," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia (1975), Vol. 86, p. 43.
16. Robert Tyler, Esq. quoted in Raymond H. Schmandt, "A Philadelphia Reaction to Pope Pius IX in 1848," Records of the American Catholic Historical Society of Philadelphia (1977), Vol. 88, p. 72.
17. Lewis Cass quoted in ibid., p. 76.
18. Luca Codignola, "The Civil War: The View from Italy," Reviews in American History, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Dec. 1975), p. 458.
19. "Reconstruction and Subjugation One and the Same." The Charleston Mercury, Oct. 1, 1864. http://www.accessible.com/accessible/text/civilwar/00000103/00010360.htm.
20. "Union With the Northern States Necessarily Destructive of Southern Liberty." The Charleston Mercury, Jan. 18,1861. http://www.accessible.com/accessible/text/civilwar/ 00000001/00000181.htm.
21. Four other states withdrew from the Union after hostilities began.
22. Chattel slavery did not become widespread in the world until the 15th century, and the first formal papal condemnation of it is seen around the same time. In 1404, Spanish explorers discovered the Canary Islands and enslaved its native peoples in the process of colonization. In response, Pope Eugene IV issued his bull Sicut Dudum, in which he condemned their enslavement and ordered all slaves to be freed. Those who chose to keep their slaves incurred ipso facto excommunication. One hundred years later, Pope Paul III encountered similar struggles with slavery in the world and issued the bull Sublimis Deus in which he describes enslavers as friends of the devil. Popes Urban VIII and Benedict XIV both condemned the slave trade, as did Pope Pius IX's conservative predecessor, Pope Gregory XVI, in his 1839 bull In Supremo Apostolatus. For more, see Mark Brumley, "Let My People Go: The Catholic Church and Slavery," This Rock, Jul.-Aug. 1999, pp. 18-20.
23. Willard E. Wight, ed., "Letters of the Bishop of Savannah." The Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. l (1958), p. 93.
24. Willard E. Wight, "Bishop Elder and the Civil War," Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 4, No. 3 (1958), 290.
25. Letter of Bishop Elder to the Bishop of Chicago, quoted in Wight, "Bishop Elder and the Civil War," p. 290.
26. Letter of Bishop Elder to the Archbishop of Baltimore, ibid., p. 293.
27. Letter of Bishop Elder to Father Napolean J. Perche, ibid., p. 292.
28. Letter of Bishop Elder to William G. McGloskey, ibid., p. 294.
30. Ibid., p. 295.
31. Wight, "Bishop Elder and the Civil War," pp. 304-306.
|God save the South!|
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