WHAT the New York World, of September 16, styles “an extraordinary utterance,” was delivered in this city on the preceding Sunday, by a Roman Catholic priest “Father” Ducey. He said:—
“No law of man which conflicts with the law of God can exact obedience and submission from men. There is a higher law, as Seward said before he was stricken down for his efforts to preserve the independence of man. And we claim to-day, as moral teachers, that the higher body still exists. And no laws passed by corruption in the interests of trusts and monopolies, against the interest and welfare of God’s creatures in contradiction of the laws of God, are binding on the conscience of any man.”
The World says it feels in duty bound to protect against “the dangerous doctrine preached” in this utterance, and inquires:—
“What is it except an incitement to every man, no matter how ignorant or reckless, to become his own interpreter of the validity and the justice of laws? What practical difference is there between the anarchism of Goldman and Most, ranting against all law, and the broad assertion of the existence of a ‘higher law’ for the consciousness of men? Who is to decide when ‘the law of man so conflicts with the law of God’ as to keep men from obedience? Is it to be Father Ducey or his hearers? And what will become of government or of society if this doctrine of every man his own judge does not prevail?”
Does the World mean to deny that there is any “higher law” than the statutes of men? If so, it is most certainly in the wrong.
And if there be a “higher law” which is binding upon the consciences of men—even the law of the Most High God—what attitude shall men assume toward it? When man’s law comes in conflict with it—as it has very often done in the history of this world—who is to point out the duty of the individual? Will the State do it? The State says, Obey my laws. But in case of a conflict between them and the law of God, the individual’s duty is to the latter. There is no condition or circumstances whatsoever under which any individual is absolved from the duty of obedience to the law of God.
How then is the duty of the individual to be determined? That is the inquiry of the World. Does the individual become “his own interpreter of the validity and the justice of laws?” No; not in the case of the Christian; far from it. But that is the way it appears in the eye of the State. And the State usually proceeds to deal with him accordingly. This is precisely what happened in the case of the martyrs who went to the dungeon and the stake for conscience’ sake.
It is the function of conscience to guide an individual in choosing between right and wrong. It is not the business of the State to define right and wrong. The State is exercising its legitimate function when it is protecting the individual in the enjoyment of his rights. Nor can conscience, alone, define right and wrong. Conscience must be educated in the principles and precepts of right and wrong, as revealed by a higher authority, before it can become a safe guide. The Word of God defines right and wrong for every individual; the Spirit of God illuminates the Word of God in the mind, when its meaning is earnestly and prayerfully sought, so that the pathway of right and duty is clearly seen. And thus the individual is not alone,—a self-constituted “interpreter of the validity and the justice of laws”—though he appears to be so in the eye of the State. The State deals with him as such; but God sees to it that nothing befalls such an individual that is not for his own good.
The genuine Christian is never an anarchist. His doctrine is the doctrine of the Prince of Peace. No anarchist, no foe of law and order and peace, was ever at the same time a humble, conscientious, prayerful student of the Word of God.
The really “extraordinary utterance” is not that given by “Father” Ducey, but that made by the World, in asking “what practical difference” there is between this obedience of conscience to the higher law of God, and “the anarchism of Goldman and Most, ranting against all law.” That is an extraordinary question, indeed.