The American Republic

The American Republic


Both act from the same principle to one and the same end.Each by its own constitution co-operates with, aids, and completes the other.It is true the church is not formally established as the civil law of the land, nor is it necessary that she should be;because there is nothing in the state that conflicts with her freedom and independence, with her dogmas or her irreformable canons.The need of establishing the church by law, and protecting her by legal pains and penalties, as is still done in most countries, can exist only in a barbarous or semi-barbarous state of society, where the state is not organized on catholic principles, or the civilization is based on false principles, and in its development tends not to the real or Divine order of things.When the state is constituted in harmony with that order, it is carried onward by the force of its own internal constitution in a catholic direction, and a church establishment, or what is called a state religion, would be an anomaly, or a superfluity.The true religion is in the heart of the state, as its informing principle and real interior life.The external establishment, by legal enactment of the church, would afford her no additional protection, add nothing to her power and efficacy, and effect nothing for faith or piety--neither of which can be forced, because both must, from their nature, be free-will offerings to God.

In the United States, false religions are legally as free as the true religion; but all false religions being one-sided, sophistical, and uncatholic, are opposed by the principles of the state, which tend, by their silent but effective workings, to eliminate them.The American state recognizes only the catholic religion.It eschews all sectarianism, and none of the sects have been able to get their peculiarities incorporated into its constitution or its laws.The state conforms to what each holds that is catholic, that is always and everywhere religion; and what ever is not catholic it leaves, as outside of its province, to live or die, according to its own inherent vitality or want of vitality.The state conscience is catholic, not sectarian; hence it is that the utmost freedom can be allowed to all religions, the false as well as the true; for the state, being catholic in its constitution, can never suffer the adherents of the false to oppress the consciences of the adherents of the true.The church being free, and the state harmonizing with her, catholicity has, in the freedom of both, all the protection it needs, all the security it can ask, and all the support it can, in the nature of the case receive from external institutions, or from social and political organizations.

This freedom may not be universally wise or prudent, for all nations may not be prepared for it: all may not have attained their majority.The church, as well as the state, must deal with men and nations as they are, not as they are not.To deal with a child as with an adult, or with a barbarous nation as with a civilized nation, would be only acting a lie.The church cannot treat men as free men where they are not free men, nor appeal to reason in those in whom reason is undeveloped.She must adapt her discipline to the age, condition, and culture of individuals, and to the greater or less progress of nations in civilization.

She herself remains always the same in her constitution, her authority, and her faith; but varies her discipline with the variations of time and place.Many of her canons, very proper and necessary in one age, cease to be so in another, and many which are needed in the Old World would be out of place in the New World.Under the American system, she can deal with the people as free men, and trust them as freemen, because free men they are.The freeman asks, why? and the reason why must be given him, or his obedience fails to be secured.The simple reason that the church commands will rarely satisfy him; he would know why she commands this or that.The full-grown free man revolts at blind obedience, and he regards all obedience as in some measure blind for which he sees only an extrinsic command.

Blind obedience even to the authority of the church cannot be expected of the people reared under the American system, not because they are filled with the spirit of disobedience, but because they insist that obedience shall be rationabile obsequium, an act of the understanding, not of the will or the affections alone.They are trained to demand a reason for the command given them, to distinguish between the law and the person of the magistrate.They can obey God, but not man, and they must see that the command given has its reason in the Divine order, or the intrinsic catholic reason of things, or they will not yield it a full, entire, and hearty obedience.The reason that suffices for the child does not suffice for the adult, and the reason that suffices for barbarians does not suffice for civilized men, or that suffices for nations in the infancy of their civilization does not suffice for them in its maturity.The appeal to external authority was much less frequent under the Roman Empire than in the barbarous ages that followed its downfall, when the church became mixed up with the state.

Orestes Augustus Brownson