376. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 4 February 1799

376. Robert Southey to the Editor of the Monthly Magazine, 4 February 1799 ⁠* 


In the 13th volume of the works of Louis de Saint-Simon, [1]  printed at Strasburg in 1791, I find some curious remarks on the ecclesiastical discipline of Spain, and on the authority of the Inquisition, which I flatter myself will not be unacceptable to your readers.

“One day,” says the duke, “the Archbishop of Toledo took me aside, and with the most lively emotions, said to me: for Heaven’s sake, Sir, let your bishops in France beware of the following the example of their brethren here in Spain. For, by little and little, Rome has brought us under her yoke, and reduced us to mere cyphers in our own dioceses. Mere priests of the inquisition are become our teachers and our masters, and are in possession of our authority; and we are daily indebted to our very servants for the information, that a decree on doctrinal points is affixed to the doors of our cathedrals, of which we had no previous knowledge, but to which we must submit without reply. The correction of vice and the regulation of the manners of the people belongs also to the inquisition. In the concerns of the bishop’s court, whoever pleases may disregard the proper officers and go to the tribunal of the nuncio, where, if dissatisfied with his officers too, he has only to appeal from their decision to that of the nuncio. So that, deprived as we are of all authority, we have only the powers of ordination and of confirmation left us: in truth, we are no longer the bishops of our own dioceses. The pope is the immediate bishop of every diocese here, and we are no more than his vicars, consecrated indeed, and mitred, but for the sole purpose ordaining priests, and of performing a few other manual operations, without daring to intermeddle with, otherwise than by blindly submitting to, the inquisition, the nunciature, and whatever is sent us from Rome: and should a bishop happen to displease them in the smallest tittle, he is instantly punished, without being allowed to offer any thing in his own defence; because nothing less than the submission of deaf and dumb animals is expected from him. It seldom indeed happens now, that any one is sent to the prison of the inquisition, or to Rome, bound and gagged, because these instances, in past times, have been too frequent, and because they wish to run no risk; yet we are not entirely without such punishments, and these very recent.

“Judge then, Sir, what weight and authority the constitution can derive from the acceptance of bishops thus enslaved, as we in Italy, Portugal, and Spain are; and from the universities, the doctors, and the secular, regular, and monastic bodies of the clergy in the same countries. But this is not all. Do you imagine that a single individual among us would have accepted the bull, if the pope had not, by his nuncio, commanded it? Our very acceptance of it would itself have been a crime, which would not long have remained unpunished. It would have been deemed an encroachment on the infallibility of the holy father; for to dare to accept what he decides, is to judge that he has decided aright. Now who are we to add our judgment to that of the Pope? When he has spoken, silence and blind obedience are our portion: we must bow down in perfect adoration to what he has said, and surrender, as I may say, into his hands, our will, memory, and understanding. So that far from daring to contradict, move any amendment, or ask for any explication, we are not allowed to approve, accept, or do any thing, that bespeaks an active part in what he decrees.

“Such, Sir, is the nature of the acceptance given by Spain, by Portugal, and by Italy, and which I find, is so much extolled in France, and held out as the free judgment and approbation of all the churches and schools! But, in truth, they are no better than slaves, whose matter has condescended to open his lips, and has prescribed the form of words that they are to pronounce, and which, without the change of a letter, or an iota, they have servilely pronounced. This is the pretended judgment, that is so much talked of in France, and which we have given indeed unanimously, because the same form was prescribed to us all!

“At this view of the calamitous situation of the church, the archbishop could no longer contain himself, but melted into tears. He intreated me, for obvious reasons, not to mention to any one what he had said. Accordingly I kept the secret inviolably as long as he lived, but as he is now no more, I think myself equally bound to reveal it to the world.” [2] 

The inquisition, Mr. Editor, which generally narrows and debases the mind of those who live within the sphere of its activity, had little or no effect, it seems, on this sensible primate of Spain, whoever he was – for I am not sufficiently conversant in the history of Roman Catholics to know his name, nor of what constitution and bull he speaks, unless of that which is called Unigenitus, which, as history tells us, convulsed all France and Flanders in the beginning of the present century [3]  – yet, as his language appears to be so very unusual in the mouths of bishops of the Romish communion, I shall be glad to learn, from some of your correspondents, what degree of credit is due to Louis de Saint-Simon, and to the archbishop. Permit me also to ask, whether the inquisition ever found its way into England before the Reformation; or whether any such tribunal now exists among the Roman Catholics of this kingdom. I hope, for the credit of Englishmen, they are under no such baneful influence. Yet as they acknowledge the Bishop of Rome to be the head of their church, they cannot but be influenced, in some degree, by him. What then has hitherto been the nature of this influence? and, what change is it likely to undergo from the present state of affairs at Rome? [4] 

S. R.

February 4th, 1799.


* MS: MS has not survived
Previously published: Monthly Magazine, 7 (Feb 1799), 125–126 [from where the text is taken] under the pseudonym ‘S.R.’. New attribution to Southey. BACK

[1] Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon (1675–1755), Oeuvres Complettes (1791). BACK

[2] Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon, Oeuvres Complettes, 13 vols (Strasburg, 1791), XIII, pp. 245–248. BACK

[3] The Papal Bull Unigenitus, issued in 1713, condemned as heretical the 101 Propositions of the Jansenist Pasquier Quesnel (1643–1719). BACK

[4] Rome had been occupied by French troops in February 1798 and a client Roman Republic inaugurated. However, the Inquisition had never operated in England. BACK