Lothair, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 84

They breakfasted at Vauxe, in the long gallery. It was always a merry meal, and it was the fashion of the house that all should be present. The cardinal was seldom absent. He used to say: “I feel more on equal terms with my friends at breakfast, and rather look forward to my banquet of dry toast.” Lord St. Jerome was quite proud of receiving his letters and newspapers at Vauxe earlier by far than he did at St. James’s Square; and, as all were supplied with their letters and journals, there was a great demand, for news, and a proportional circulation of it. Lady Clanmorne indulged this passion for gossip amusingly one morning, and read a letter from her correspondent, written with the grace of a Sevigne, but which contained details of marriages, elopements, and a murder among their intimate acquaintance, which made all the real intelligence quite insipid, and was credited for at least half an hour.

The gallery at Vauxe was of great length, and the breakfast-table was laid at one end of it. The gallery was of panelled oak, with windows of stained glass in the upper panes, and the ceiling, richly and heavily carved, was entirely gilt, but with deadened gold. Though stately, the general effect was not free from a certain character of gloom. Lit, as it was, by sconces, this was at night much softened; but, on a rich summer morn, the gravity and repose of this noble chamber were grateful to the senses.

The breakfast was over; the ladies had retired, stealing off with the Morning Post, the gentlemen gradually disappearing for the solace of their cigars. The cardinal, who was conversing with Lothair, continued their conversation while walking up and down the gallery, far from the hearing of the servants, who were disembarrassing the breakfast-table, and preparing it for luncheon. A visit to a country-house, as Pinto says, is a series of meals mitigated by the new dresses of the ladies.

“The more I reflect on your travels,” said the cardinal, “the more I am satisfied with what has happened. I recognize the hand of Providence in your preliminary visit to Rome and your subsequent one to Jerusalem. In the vast events which are impending, that man is in a strong position who has made a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre. Yo remember our walk in the park here,” continued the cardinal; “I felt then that we were on the eve of some mighty change, but it was then indefinite, though to me inevitable. You were destined, I was persuaded, to witness it, even, as I hoped, to take no inconsiderable share in its fulfilment. But I hardly believed that I should have been spared for this transcendent day, and, when it is consummated, I will gratefully exclaim, ‘Nunc me dimittis!’”

“You, allude, sir, to some important matter which Lady St. Jerome a few days ago intimated to me, but it was only an intimation, and purposely very vague.”

“There is no doubt,” said the cardinal, speaking with solemnity, “of what I now communicate to you. The Holy Father, Pius IX., has resolved to summon an Oecumenical Council.”

“An Oecumenical Council!” said Lothair.

“It is a weak phrase,” resumed the cardinal, “to say it will be the greatest event of this century. I believe it will be the greatest event since the Episcopate of St. Peter; greater, in its consequences to the human race, than the fall of the Roman Empire, the pseudo-Reformation, or the Revolution of France. It is much more than three hundred years since the last Oecumenical Council, the Council of Trent, and the world still vibrates with its decisions. But the Council of Trent, compared with the impending Council of the Vatican, will be as the mediaeval world of Europe compared with the vast and complete globe which man has since discovered and mastered.”

“Indeed!” said Lothair.

“Why, the very assembly of the Fathers of the Church will astound the Freemasons, and the secret societies, and the atheists. That alone will be a demonstration of power on the part of the Holy Father which no conqueror from Sesostris to Napoleon has ever equalled. It was only the bishops of Europe that assembled at Trent, and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, their decisions have governed man for more than three hundred years. But now the bishops of the whole world will assemble round the chair of St. Peter, and prove by their presence the catholic character of the Church. Asia will send its patriarchs and pontiffs, and America and Australia its prelates; and at home, my dear young friend, the Council of the Vatican will offer a striking contrast to the Council of Trent; Great Britain will be powerfully represented. The bishops of Ireland might have been counted on, but it is England also that will send her prelates now, and some of them will take no ordinary share in transactions that will give a new form and color to human existence.”

“Is it true, sir, that the object of the council is to declare the infallibility of the pope?”

“In matters of faith and morals,” said the cardinal quickly. “There is no other infallibility. That is a secret with God. All that we can know of the decision of the council on this awful head is, that its decision, inspired by the Holy Spirit, must infallibly be right. We must await that decision, and, when made known, we must embrace it, not only with obedience, but with the interior assent of mind and will. But there are other results of the council on which we may speculate; and which, I believe, it will certainly accomplish: first, it will show in a manner that cannot be mistaken that there is only one alternative for the human intellect: Rationalism or Faith; and, secondly, it will exhibit to the Christian powers the inevitable future they are now preparing for themselves.”

“I am among the faithful,” said Lothair.

“Then you must be a member of the Church Catholic,” said the cardinal. “The basis on which God has willed that His revelation should rest in the world is the testimony of the Catholic Church, which, if considered only as a human and historical witness, affords the highest and most certain evidence for the fact and the contents of the Christian religion. If this be denied, there is no such thing as history. But the Catholic Church is not only a human and historical witness of its own origin, constitution, and authority, it is also a supernatural and divine witness, which can neither fail nor err. When it oecumenically speaks, it is not merely the voice of the fathers of the world; it declares what ‘it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.’”

There was a pause, and then Lothair remarked: “You said, air, that the council would show to the civil powers of the Christian world the inevitable future they are preparing for themselves?”

“Even so. Now mark this, my child. At the Council of Trent the Christian powers were represented, and properly so. Their seats will be empty at the Council of the Vatican. What does that mean? The separation between Church and State, talked of for a long time, now demonstrated. And what does separation between Church and State mean? That society is no longer consecrated. The civil governments of the world no longer profess to be Catholic. The faithful indeed among their subjects will be represented at the council by their pastors, but the civil powers have separated themselves from the Church; either by royal edict, or legislative enactment, or revolutionary changes, they have abolished the legal status of the Catholic Church within their territory. It is not their choice; they are urged on by an invisible power that is anti-Christian, and which is the true, natural, and implacable enemy of the one visible and universal Church. The coming anarchy is called progress, because it advances along the line of departure from the old Christian order of the world. Christendom was the offspring of the Christian family, and the foundation of the Christian family is the sacrament of matrimony, the sprit of all domestic and public morals. The anti-Christian societies are opposed to the principle of home. When they have destroyed the hearth, the morality of society will perish. A settlement in the foundations may be slow in sinking, but it brings all down at last. The next step in deChristianizing the political life of nations is to establish national education without Christianity. This is systematically aimed at wherever the revolution has its way. The period and policy of Julian are returning. Some think this bodes ill for the Church; no, it is the State that will suffer. The secret societies are hurrying the civil governments of the world, and mostly the governments who disbelieve in their existence, to the brink of a precipice, over which monarchies, and law, and civil order, will ultimately fall and perish together.”

“Then all is hopeless,” said Lothair.

“To human speculation,” said the cardinal; “but none can fathom the mysteries of Divine interposition. This coming council may save society, and on that I would speak to you most earnestly. His holiness has resolved to invite the schismatic priesthoods to attend it, and labor to bring about the unity of Christendom. He will send an ambassador to the patriarch of the heresy of Photius, which is called the Greek Church. He will approach Lambeth. I have little hope of the latter, though there is more than one of the Anglican bishops who revere the memory and example of Laud. But I by no means despair of your communion being present in some form at the council. There are true spirits at Oxford who sigh for unity. They will form, I hope, a considerable deputation; but, as not yet being prelates, they cannot take their seats formally in the council, I wish, in order to increase and assert their influence, that they should be accompanied by a band of powerful laymen, who shall represent the pious and pure mind of England — the coming guardians of the land in the dark hour that may be at hand. Considering your previous knowledge of Rome, your acquaintance with its eminent men and its language, and considering too, as I well know, that the Holy Father looks to you as one marked out by Providence to assert the truth, it would please me — and, trust me, it would be wise in you — were you to visit Rome on this sublime occasion, and perhaps put your mark on the world’s history.”

“It must yet be a long time before the council meets,” said Lothair, after a pause.

“Not too long for preparation,” replied the cardinal. “From this hour, until its assembling, the pulse of humanity will throb. Even at this hour they are speaking of the same matters as ourselves alike on the Euphrates and the St. Lawrence. The good Catesby is in Ireland, conferring with the bishops, and awakening them to the occasion. There is a party among them narrow-minded and local, the effects of their education. There ought not to be an Irish priest who was not brought up at the Propaganda. You know that admirable institution. We had some happy hours at Rome together — may we soon repeat them! You were very unwell there; next time you will judge of Rome in health and vigor.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19