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The Papacy:

Its Historic Origin and Primitive Relations with the Eastern Churches

by Abbé Guettée

Source: http://reocities.com/heartland/5654/orthodox/essays.html



Biographical Notice of the Author

The nature of the questions discussed in the following work would ordinarily lift them above all personal considerations and require that the argument be left to take care of itself in the honest vindication of Catholic truth. There attaches to the present treatise, however, an interest quite separated from its merits as an argument, in its identification with the history of a man of whose remarkable career and labors it is one of the most valuable fruits. It is believed, therefore, that it can scarcely fail to derive additional force from the account which it is proper here to give of the author. Réné-François Guettée was born at Blois, on the banks of the Loire, in the Department of the Loire et Cher, on the first of December, 1816, of worthy parentage, but with no other inheritance than a good name and fair opportunities for education. Self-devoted from the beginning to the Church, his studies were pursued regularly and entirely in his native city. From a very early age his mind seems to have revolted against the wearisome routine that ruled the system of instruction, under which the seminarist becomes a mere receptacle in quantity and quality of the knowledge judged by the Church of Rome to be the needful preparation for the instruments of her despotic rule. Guettée, without comprehending then the evil results of such a system, felt only its restraints and insufficiency. His mind, in its ardent desire for knowledge and its rapid acquisition, worked out of the prescribed limits with an instinctive appropriation of the whole domain of truth, and read and studied in secret. He consecrated to study the time devoted by others to amusement, and thus stored his mind with knowledge both varied and accurate. But such predilections, never viewed with favor by the Church of Rome, disquieted Guettée’s professors, and marked him as an independent young man, a character always regarded with jealousy and suspicion. All possible obstacles were accordingly thrown in his way, and had not his scrupulous regularity of conduct and unquestionable piety counterbalanced these unfavorable impressions, he might have found difficulty in obtaining orders.

At the age of twenty-one M. Guettée was admitted to the sub-diaconate; at twenty-two he was made deacon, and at twenty-three years he was advanced to the priesthood, receiving his ordination on the twenty-first day of December, 1839, at the hands of Mgr. de Sausin, Bishop of Blois. He began at once the faithful exercise of his ministry, first as vicar, then as curé. Mgr.de Sausin was succeeded in the see of Blois by Mgr. Fabre des Essarts, a man of liberal mind and of strong Gallican predilections. He soon perceived in the young curé qualities that inspired him with warm interest in his welfare. M. Guettée’s studies, directed by a mind unshackled by prejudice, spurred by an ardent love of truth and insatiable thirst for knowledge, had led him, soon before his ordination to the priesthood, to conceive the idea of writing a History of the Church of France. To this work he gave himself with characteristic ardor immediately after his ordination. Having been appointed in 1841 to the curé of a small parish distant about twelve miles from Blois, where the duties left him the larger portion of his time for study, he frequently rose at daybreak, and walked to the city for the purpose of studying in the public library, which is very rich in religious literature, and where he found all the great historical collections and monuments of learning in France. After devoting six hours to close study, he returned on foot to the solitude of his own chamber, where a large part of the night was consumed in work upon the materials he had gathered. Absorbed thus between the cares of his ministry and his literary labors, he at length attracted the notice of his bishop, who remarked that he never presented himself at the episcopal palace, although coming frequently to the episcopal city. He accordingly sent to him a request to know the subject of his laborious study at the library; and having learned the truth, asked to see the manuscript of the first volume, then nearly completed. This he caused to be carefully examined by his Vicar-General, M. Guillois, the most learned man in the diocese, whose report was of the most flattering character. Mgr. des Essarts thereupon resolved to encourage the young writer and give him every facility for his work. M. Guettée was accordingly transferred to another parish very near the episcopal city, and where the charge of the ministry upon his time was equally light. The episcopal library was placed at his service and the emoluments of his post enabled him to go from time to time to Paris for such researches in the great libraries as became necessary.

Thus M. Guettée passed several years in the successful prosecution of his great work. In 1847 Mgr. Fabre des Essarts proposed to his own publisher to begin the publication of the History of the Church of France. No sooner had the first volume appeared than the author received from a large number of the French bishops lettera of the warmest commendation; while on the other hand there was formed against him in his own diocese a hostile party, composed of priests immediately surrounding the bishop, who were rendered jealous by the marks of episcopal favor lavished upon the new writer, and of the directors of the seminaries, who could not forgive one who had shown so little reverence for their narrow prescriptions, and who owed so little to them. The bitterness of this party could only acquire intensity in the steady progress of our author in the path of distinction. In 1849 M. Guettée, with the approbation of the Bishop, resigned his curé, and came to Blois to accept the editorial charge of a political journal which had been offered to him by the authorities of the department. After the public excitement caused by the proclamation of the Republic in 1848 had somewhat, subsided, the sincere democrats of the country who did not sever the cause of order from that of liberty, felt the necessity of creating such organs of a true democracy as should enlighten the people upon their duties as well as upon the question of their rights. With this aim was founded Le Republicain de Loire et Cher, and some surprise was caused at seeing the editorship of the journal confided to a priest by democrats, who had until then passed for enemies of the clergy and of the Church. The confidence of his friends was fully justified in the influence which M. Guettée obtained for this journal by his earnest defense of the principles to which it was devoted, founding and strengthening them upon the authority of the Gospel, and showing them to be in harmony with the principles of revealed religion.

By this service he attached more firmly to him the regard of the Bishop of Blois, who then conceived the design of drawing the Abbé into closer relations with himself by giving him a residence in the episcopal palace; but before this plan could be executed the Bishop was prostrated by the disease that was destined to remove him from life in the following year. M. l’Abbé Garapin, a vicar-general, an intelligent and learned man in the episcopal administration of Blois, who, like the Bishop, felt a strong regard for M. Guettée, informed him secretly of the Bishop’s kind intentions, but counselled him to decline them and thereby escape the machinations of his enemies in the administration, who would be certain, as soon as the Bishop’s approaching death should put the power into their hands, to signalize it by driving him from the palace. M. Guettée followed this friendly advice, and having resigned the charge of the journal he had edited for eighteen months, because by this change of regime he could no longer edit it with independence, and seeing his friend the Bishop at the point of death, he resolved to quit the diocese of Blois, and demand permission to establish himself at Paris, where he might enjoy more facilities for the completion of his History of the Church of France. Knowing that the first vicar-general would very joyfully seize the opportunity of ridding the diocese of one for whom he cherished so cordial a dislike, he asked and readily obtained a full letter of credit certifying to his learning and piety.

Thus furnished, M. Guettée arrived in Paris, and made no other request of the archiepiscopal administration there than to be authorized to say mass within the diocese, attaching himself at the same time to an ecclesiastical college as professor. Mgr. Sibour, then Archbishop of Paris, having been apprised of the residence of M. Guettée in the capital, invited him to present himself at the episcopal palace, and offered him a chaplaincy with such warmth of manner that he did not feel at liberty to refuse so evident a desire to serve him. In 1851 six volumes of the History of the Church of France had already been published, and the author had received for it the approbation of more than forty of the French bishops. This success caused great uneasiness to the ultramontane party. M. Guettée, it appeared, while so treating his great subject as to win the high suffrages just referred to, manifested so sincere a love of truth that his work became dangerous to a party with whom this was no recommendation. The design was immediately formed of gaining over the author, and accordingly Mgr. Gousset, Archbishop of Rheims, who was at the head of the ultramontane party, made overtures to him, intimating that honors and ecclesiastical preferment would not be tardy in rewarding his unreserved devotion to the ultramontane doctrines. But this dignitary quickly saw that he had to deal with one who could not be brought to traffic with his convictions, nor be intimidated by threats. From this moment began that war against him which issued in his present entire withdrawal from communion with the Church of Rome as a branch of the Catholic Church schismatical in position and corrupted in doctrine. This alienation, however, was gradual, the fruit of his growing convictions and deeper insight into the principles of the complicated and powerful system with which now he had to grapple. The struggle called for all the resources of his thoroughly balanced and severely disciplined mind, as well as of his extensive learning. He saw at first far less clearly than did the ultramontane party, the steady divergence of his views from the Papal doctrine. The Gallican tone that pervaded more and more his History of the Church of France proceeded not from a deliberate point of view from which he wrote, but was the scrupulous and truthful rendering of history by his honest mind, the impartial and logical use of the materials out of which his history was to be made. To such a mind, therefore, the forced revelation of this divergence from the doctrines of a party who for that reason solely demanded his retractation and unquestioning submission, could only increase the dissidence, and so it proved. The first seven volumes of the History, approved by more than forty bishops, and six of them published under the direction and with the sanction of the Bishop of Blois, were placed in the Index of books prohibited by the court of Rome. Mgr. Sibour gave his approbation to the resistance made at once by M. Guettée to this decree. The author was immediately attacked with great violence by the Univers and other Jesuit journals, and defended himself with great spirit and ability, all his replies being first submitted to Mgr. Sibour and approved by him. During this struggle the eighth and ninth volumes of the History appeared. Mgr. Sibour charged one of his vicars-general, M. l’Abbé Lequeux, with the mission of submitting them to the "Congregation of the Index," with the request that its objections might be made known to the author before they were censured. The author had furnished M. Lequeux with letters bearing a similar petition. This ecclesiastic had himself suffered by the censure of the Congregation, passed upon his Manual of Canon Law, a classic of many years’ standing in the seminaries. He had submitted, and was on his way to Rome for the purpose of learning the objections of the Congregation and correcting his work. But he obtained no satisfaction either for himself or for M. Guettée, whose two new volumes were placed arbitrarily in the Index without a word of explanation as to the grounds of censure. Thus M. Guettée was baffled in his many respectful and patient endeavors to obtain the desired communication with the Congregation at Rome. He resolved, therefore, to pursue his work without concerning himself about censures so tyrannical and unreasonable. But matters were about to change their aspect at the archiepiscopal palace. In the course of the year 1854, the bishops were called to Rome to be present at the promulgation of the new dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mgr. Sibour was not invited. He had addressed to Rome a paper in which he proved that this dogma, or belief, was not definable, because it was not taught either in Holy Scripture, or by Catholic tradition. To punish him for this act he was not included among the bishops invited. Deeply mortified at this omission, he wrote to the Pope touching it, and in a manner so submissive that he was at once rewarded with an invitation couched in the most gracious terms. The character of Mgr. Sibour was well understood at Rome as that of a weak and ambitious man, full of vanity and without fixed convictions, who could be won by flatteries and bought with promises. He was, therefore, received with studied politeness and lodged in the Vatican. His namesake and friend, M. Sibour, curé of the church of St. Thomas Aquinas in Paris, was made Bishop of Tripoli in partibus, and his friend, M. l’Abbé Darboy, the present Archbishop of Paris, was appointed Prothonotaire Apostolique. For himself he received the promise of a cardinal’s hat. In return for these kindnesses he was constrained to sacrifice his Gallican friends among the clergy of Paris, and the promise made to that effect was well kept. M. l’Abbé Lequeux, his vicar-general, found himself dismissed to his old place among the Canons of Notre Dame; M. l’Abbé Laborde was persecuted and finally found no better refuge than the hospital, where he soon after died; M. l’Abbé Prompsault, who had been for nearly thirty years chaplain of the Hospice of les Quinze Vingt, was deprived of his position, left without resources, and subsequently died in the hospital not long after. Finally, forgetful or regardless of all the encouragement he had given to M. l’Abbé Guettée in his resistance to the action of the Congregation of the Index, and of his repeated proofs of regard and confidence, he withdrew his support, deprived him of his place, and reduced him, like the others, to poverty. Here, however, he found a less submissive spirit. Roused by the injustice and tyranny of this act, M. Guettée printed a letter to Mgr. Sibour which proved a home-thrust to this vacillating prelate. It recounted all the facts of his past relations with the Archbishop, his patient endeavors to be at peace with the court of Rome, his offers of every reasonable submission, and earnest application directly to the Congregation of the Index, and afterward to Mgr. Sibour himself, to have his obnoxious work examined by a commission; how this was refused when proceeding from himself as an overture of conciliation, but was subsequently suggested by the Archbishop himself, in the form of a menace, to induce the Abbé Guettée to withdraw from Paris voluntarily, and save himself from the threatened censure and disability; that he declined the latter course and opened himself and his work with every facility to the scrutiny of his judges. He set forth the action of the Council of Rochelle in 1853—the same which proposed to censure Bossuet—which attacked the eighth volume of the History of the Church of France, and did not spare even the Abbé’s personal character; that when he had prepared his defense and asked permission of the Archbishop to publish it, lest it should be seized as the pretext for depriving him of his functions, he was answered that before such permission could be accorded he must resign those functions in the diocese of Paris; that he refused to do this, and that by agreement certain copies of his defense were deposited with the Archbishop, and an agreement made that it should not be published; that though this defense was not made the occasion of his premeditated removal, the pretext for a measure so determined upon was soon after made out of a petty difference of a personal kind between himself and a confrere, without any regard to the importance or the justice of the case; that Mgr. Sibour finally deprived him of the poor office of hospital chaplain, with the evident design of withdrawing from him such means of subsistence as alone prevented his quitting Paris.

This letter, addressed to Mgr. Sibour, protesting against his action and fully exposing the motives that could alone have operated to these persecutions, was printed and a copy sent to the Archbishop before it was published. Under the impression, however, that it had been published, the Archbishop immediately replied by depriving the Abbé of the permission to say mass in Paris, thus completing the disability cast upon him. But upon the Abbé’s informing him that the letter had not been published, that it was designed as a defense of himself, not as an attack upon the administration of the diocese, and offering to deposit the edition of the letter at the archiepiscopal palace, to avoid the evils of publicity, Mgr. Sibour next day sent, a very kind note to M. Guettée, expressing himself touched by the terms of his response, restoring to him the authority to celebrate mass, accepting the deposit of the copies of his printed letter, and desiring to see him to give him some further proof of his satisfaction. At a personal interview the same evening, Mgr. Sibour promised him shortly new ecclesiastical functions.

It would seem, however, that the Archbishop’s eyes were beginning to be opened toward Rome. His submission and absolute conversion had so satisfied that court that it was in no haste to confer the promised cardinal’s hat; and Mgr. Sibour feeling that he had been amused with words, repented of his acts of injustice and was meditating some reparation, of which his gentler disposition toward M. Guettée was a sign, when these better intentions were arrested by the tragic death he so suddenly met at the hand of the assassin Verger, in the church of St. Etienne du Mont.

His successor, Cardinal Morlot, was a man of political ideas and aspirations, astute and scheming, who never lost sight of the importance or neglected the means of maintaining the best relations with the powerful. He made every needful concession to the successive governments in France, and at the same time conciliated Rome, feeding its insatiable greed of riches by sending large sums of money for its necessities. Such a man could have no thoughts to bestow upon the trivial work of repairing the wrongs of his predecessor. On the contrary, he was not long in showing himself yet more severe against M. Guettée, and at the close of the year 1855 finally refused to renew his permission to say mass in Paris. From this moment began the war in earnest which ended in the separation of our author from the Church of Rome. After having in vain endeavored to procure from the Archbishop in writing the refusal to sanction the continuance of his ministry in the diocese of Paris—a refusal that was prudently communicated to him verbally by the proper official—he published his appeal to the Pope against the decision as a gross violation of canon law, and another to the government, as an abuse of authority and an invasion of his civil-ecclesiastical rights. These appeals, firm in their language and unanswerable in their facts and arguments, were not published with any hope of answer or justice, but for the purpose of exposing clearly the outrageous violation by his adversary of the ancient liberties of the Gallican Church, and the arbitrary and despotic character of the whole proceeding. He did not imagine that the Pope would ever be permitted to hear of his wrongs, or if he were, that he would listen to them at the expense of his own friends and of the principles upon which the power of the Papacy is built. Nor was it to be expected that the State would embroil itself with an individual confiict with the Church upon a question of canon law. Thus M. l’Abbé Guettée, innocent of the smallest offense against good morals, and with a character free from all taint, without any ecclesiastical censure resting upon him, or any proceedings directed against him, was deprived of the exercise of his ministry, with the evident purpose of driving him from Paris, where his enlightened views caused too much inconvenience to,the ultramontane party.

It is unnecessary to say that the scheme failed, or to follow the controversy that ensued upon this open rupture. It had the natural result of disclosing more clearly than ever to M. Guettée the principles of the Church of Rome and the despotic usurpation of the Papacy. The energy and industry with which he answered the attacks upon him developed his views, defined his objections and thoroughly awakened the latent protest of his enlightened conscience against the pretensions of Rome. He became finally the watchful and open antagonist of the Papacy, and shortly after found himself the editor of the Review called l’Observateur Catholique, which had, and still has, for its object the resistance of Papal usurpations and corruptions in the Church by the principles of primitive truth and a pure Catholicity. He has published successively a History of the Jesuits, in three volumes; the Memoirs et Journal de l’Abbé Le Dieu sur la Vie et les Ouvrages de Bossuet, in four volumes; also a refutation of Renan’s Vie de Jesus. His latest and most important work is the Papauté Schismatique, now presented in English. Six years ago he founded, in conjunction with the Rev. Archpriest Wassilieff, titular head of the Russo-Greek church in France, and especially attached to the Russian Church in Paris, l’ Union Chrétienne, a weekly publication in quarto form, having for its specific object the diffusion of information upon the principles of the primitive Church as those of a true Catholicity, upon which the non-Roman branches of the Church should be recalled to a renewal of their outward unity, and thus a resistless influence be opposed to the invasions of the Papal principle and the corruptions it has introduced into the primitive faith. It is natural that such a consecration of his labor and such associations, should have led M. Guettée into close and increasingly devoted relations with the Oriental Church, and especially with the Orthodox Church of Russia. His views ceasing to be Roman and Papal only because more intensely Catholic, he sought a home in the East, where the Papal power could never seat itself, and especially in the Orthodox Russian Church, where its pretensions are held in abhorrence. All that is venerable, pure, and Catholic in the faith and form of the Church of Christ, our author believes he has found in the Russo-Greek branch, and he has therefore attached himself warmly to it, making it the platform for his earnest and pure-minded labors for the restoration of visible unity. He is in turn held in high esteem by the authorities and learned men of the Russian Church, and has recently received from it the high and rare honor of a doctorate in theology. His labors for union are warmly appreciated aud encouraged there as they are everywhere by all who understand them. M. Guettée is no enthusiast; he is fully aware of the difficulties and magnitude of the work to which his life is consecrated, and looks for no marked progress or fiattering results to show themselves in his lifetime, but is content to sow wide and deep the seeds of truth, leaving them to germinate and become fruitful in God’s good time. He has a warm and intelligent appreciation of our American branch of the Church, and looks to its activity in the great endeavor as of the highest importance, believing that her catholic character and free and mobile structure peculiarly mark her as a powerful instrument to promote the interests of the Catholic faith. M. Guettée has in preparation a work of much interest and importance, designed to bring into a single view the harmonies and differences of the various branches of the Catholic Church. It forms a careful survey of the ground, and is likely to become a valuable help to an enlightened view of the work of unity, to which the providence of God seems to be directing all Christian minds. This new production of M. Guettée will be translated without delay, and published simultaneously in French, Russian, and English.


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Article published in English on: 17-9-2005.

Last update: 12-10-2005.