The Liberals tell us that our violent methods of warfare against them are not in conformity with the Pope's counsels to moderation and charity. Has he not exhorted Catholic writers to a love of peace and union; to avoid harsh, aggressive and personal polemics? How then can we Ultramontanes reconcile the Holy Father's wishes with our fierce methods?
Let us consider the force of the Liberals' objection. To whom does the Holy Father address these repeated admonitions? Always to the Catholic press, to Catholic journalists, to those who are supposed to be worthy of the name. These counsels to moderation and charity, therefore, are always addressed to Catholics, discussing with other Catholics free questions, i.e., not involving established principles of faith and morality, and do not in any sense apply to Catholics waging a mortal combat with the declared enemies of the faith.
There is no doubt that the Pope here makes no allusion to the incessant battles between Catholics and Liberals, for the simple reason that Catholicity is truth and Liberalism heresy, between which there can be no peace, but only war to the death. It is certain by consequence, therefore, that the Pope intends his counsels to apply to our "family quarrels," unhappily much too frequent; and that by no means does he seek to forbid us from waging an unrelenting strife with the eternal enemies of the Church, whose hands, filled with deadly weapons, are ever lifted against the faith and its defenders.
Therefore there can be no contradiction between the doctrine we expound and that of the Briefs and Allocutions of the Holy Father on the subject, provided that logically both apply to the same matter under the same respect, which holds perfectly in this instance. For how can we interpret the words of the Holy Father in any other way? It is a rule of sound exegesis that any passage in Holy Scripture should always be interpreted according to the letter, unless such meaning be in opposition to the context; we can only have recourse to a free or figurative interpretation, when this opposition is obvious. This rule applies also to the interpretation of pontifical documents.
How can we suppose the Pope in contradiction with all Catholic tradition from Jesus Christ to our own times? Is it for a moment admissible that the style and method of most of the celebrated Catholic polemicists and apologists from St. Paul to St. Francis de Sales should be condemned by a stroke of the pen? Clearly not, for if we were to understand the Pope's counsels to moderation and calm, in the sense in which the Liberal conclusion would construe them, we should evidently have to answer, "Yes." Consequently we must conclude that the Holy Father's words are not addressed to Catholics battling with the enemies of Catholicity, but only to Catholics controverting on free questions amongst themselves.
Common sense itself shows this. Imagine a general in the midst of a raging battle issuing an order to his soldiers not to injure the enemy too severely! "Be careful! Don't hurt the enemy! Attention there! Don't aim at the heart!"
What more be said! Pius IX has given us an an explanation of the proper meaning of his words. On a memorable occasion he calls the sectaries of the Commune demons; and worse than demons the sectaries of Liberalism. Who then need fear to thunderbolt such an enemy with epithets too harsh and severe?
In vain do the Liberals cite the words of Leo XIII in the
Encyclical Cum Multa , exhorting Catholics to avoid
of the sacred rights of the Church, and to rely rather upon the weight
of reason to gain victory; for the words have reference to polemics
Catholics discussing the best means to preserve their common cause, and
by no means apply as a rule to govern polemics with the sectaries of
The intrinsic evidence of the encyclical proves this beyond cavil. The
Pope concludes by exhorting all associations and individual Catholics
a still closer and more intimate union, and, after pointing out the
advantages of such a union, he instances, as the means of preserving
that moderation of language and charity of which we are speaking. The
argument is plain: the Pope recommends moderation and charity to
writers, as a means of preserving peace and mutual union. Clearly this
peace and union is between Catholics and not between Catholics and
enemies. Therefore the moderation and charity recommended by the
to Catholic writers applies only to Catholic polemics between
on free questions. Would it not be absurd to imagine that there could
any union between truth and error, therefore between the advocates of
on the one side and error on the other? Irreconcilable opposites never
unite. One or the other must disappear.