“Editorial” American Sentinel 9, 39, pp. 305-307.

October 4, 1894

LAMST week we said: Let not the people of these States, or of the United States, laugh at the absurd conception from which springs the “infallibility” of the pope of Rome until they are sure that they themselves are entirely clear of all such conception in their own practice, or in their consent even.

THIS word of advice is strictly appropriate, for the simple reason that in nearly all the States, and in the United States, there is established in its very essence the papal principle of infallibility: namely, that authority to act for the public in matters of religion and religious observances, is derived from the seat that is occupied by the officious official at the time of his officious action.

IN all the States of this Union, and in the Government of the United States there are officials—especially legislative and judiciary—who exercise prerogatives that are either usurped wholly, or else derived solely from the official seat which they occupy, and from nothing else under the sun. And the vast majority of the people consent to it without a word, while perhaps a majority of these justify it in their actions and in the practice of the officious officials.

IT is a fact too notorious to require any proof, that in the legislative and judicial proceedings of the government of the States and of the United States, laws are made, construed, and confirmed, and executed which establish religious dogmas and institutions and enforce them upon the people. For instance, the Supreme Court of the United States has decided for the people of the United States that “this is a religious people,” and accordingly that “this is a Christian nation.” And the Congress of the United States has decided for the people that the fourth commandment “means” that “the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday,” is the Sabbath, and have fixed that interpretation in the legislation of the nation to be enforced upon all the people. The same things, and other like things, have been done by the legislators and judges of all the States, except one or perhaps two. And not only do the vast majority of the people consent to it, but thousands upon thousands of the people justify it, while nearly the whole religious element of the nation—professed Protestants too—actually require it, and, indeed, so far as lies in their power, force it.

NOW where did these men who happen for the time to be legislators or judges, get their right to do these things? How did they become possessed of the prerogative to interpret the Scriptures and decide religious questions for the people? No one will allow that any one of these persons merely as a man, simply as a private citizen, ever had, or ever could have had, any shadow of right to interpret the Bible or decide any religious question for any other man or citizen in any way, much less to decide it and fix it in an authoritative rule to be enforced upon all, or upon any man, in the State or nation. So certainly is this true that if any one of these men, when he was merely a man and a private citizen, had undertaken to do such a thing his action would have been swiftly resented as a piece of unbearable impertinence. Yet, lo! when he is an official he not only does this very thing, but it is expected by multitudes of the people that his action in this shall be accepted by all as valid, and be received as authoritative, and be respected and obeyed accordingly. Yesterday any such action would have been resented by everybody, while to-day it must needs be accepted and respected by everybody! But what wrought this so important a change in the condition and prerogatives of the man?

OH, yesterday he was but a man like all the rest of us, while to-day he is in official position. But what caused this change? How did he get into that official position?—It was all done simply by the votes of man like himself—his fellow-citizens. Yesterday he was as destitute as all the others of every shadow of such prerogative, while to-day he is amply clothed with it: and all this because, as with the other pope, enough men as destitute of it as himself, voted for him to elect him to that office; or because he was appointed to the office by a man who was so elected. Yet even this is not the full statement of the case; because even when he is elected he does not possess it until he has been “sworn in” to the office, and even then he does not possess it in available form until he takes his seat in the legislative hall or on the judicial bench and acts officially from that seat. As a mere man or private citizen no one will allow that he has any shadow of right or authority to act for another in any question of religion or religious observance; when he is elected he does not have it till he is sworn in; and even when he is sworn in he does not have it until he acts from his official seat.

IT is therefore perfectly plain that all our legislators and judges get all the authority and prerogative that they exercise in matters of religion, precisely where and precisely as the pope of Rome gets his, namely, from the seat which they occupy when they speak by the whole people. For as no one of them as a man or a private citizen had any shadow of such authority, it is impossible that any one of them could have derived this prerogative from anything that made him an official, except upon the principle from which the other pope derives his, namely, that like produces totally unlike, and out of nothing something comes. And as even when he has become an official by the votes of those who had no shadow of any such right or authority, this prerogative is not available until he occupies the official seat, it follows inevitably that it is the seat alone from which the legislator or the judge obtains all his right, all his authority, and all his prerogative, to speak or act in questions of religion or religious observances for all the people.

CONSEQUENTLY no legislator or judge who ever did, or who ever shall, act in the making or enforcing of a Sunday law, or any other law touching religion or [306] religious observances or religious obligation of any kind, can ever consistently object to the claim of the infallibility of the pope of Rome, or laugh at the absurd conception of the source from which that infallibility comes to him, laughable as it undoubtedly is; because every such legislator and every such judge has in such action made the precise claim and has acted upon the very principle that the pope of Rome makes and acts upon in his “infallibility.”

THE absurdity, and much more than this—the danger—of this evil principle was clearly seen by the men who made the Government of the United States, and was specially guarded against by them in the total separation of religion and the State and the absolute prohibition of any State official from touching in his official capacity any question of religion in any way. This is why they observed, and so pointedly, that “it is impossible for the magistrate to adjudge the right of preference among the various sects which profess the Christian faith without erecting a claim to infallibility which would lead us back to the church of Rome.” And this—

1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth “that religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” The religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated in their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men. It is unalienable, also, because what is here a right towards men is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of civil society. Before any man can be considered a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the universe; and if a member of civil society who enters into any subordinate association must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority, much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular civil society do it with a saving of his allegiance to the universal Sovereign. We maintain, therefore, that in matters of religion no man’s right is abridged by the institution of civil society, and that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance.

2. Because, if religion be exempt from the authority of society at large still less can it be subject to that of the legislative body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited. It is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments; more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free government requires not merely that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained, but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great barrier which defends the rights of the people. The rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are tyrants. The people who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by any authority derived from then, and are slaves.

And because they were “well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy Author of our religion, who, being Lord of both body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;” and “that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty.”

SUCH are the noble and weighty words of Madison and Jefferson as they conducted the campaigns that established the principle of the total separation of Church and State in this country, and for the enlightenment of all countries. And these words clearly show that they well understood both the fallacy and the danger of the prerogative of “infallibility.” They saw readily enough that all the authority that any man ever could have over another in matters of religion could only be by sheer usurpation, and contained in itself all the elements of the papacy, even to the extreme element of infallibility. And knowing both the fallacy and the tyranny of the principle, they exposed it as it deserved, and repudiated it, and, as they hoped, delivered the people of this nation from it forever, by fixing in the supreme law the absolute prohibition of the governmental power from ever touching any question of religion in any way. This they did that the people of this splendid nation—the last, the greatest, and the best—might be forever free from anybody here ever “erecting a claim to infallibility which would lead us back to the church of Rome.”

LET no one jump to the conclusion that the foregoing argument applies with equal force against civil authority “because no legislator, or judge, or other civil official can exercise even civil authority until he has been duly installed in office and occupies his official place.” For although it is true that no man can exercise the authority of legislator, or judge, or other civil office, even after he has been elected, until he has been duly installed in the office, and only then when he acts from the official seat or place; yet it is equally true that when he does so act, he exercises only the authority and prerogative that from the beginning were in himself as a man and a citizen, and that were also in all his fellow-men and fellow-citizens. All the legitimate authority that he exercises in office, except in the degree of it, was inherent in himself, and in all concerned, simply as men and citizens. Every person, merely as a man in the world, has within himself full right, authority, and prerogative to act, even to the use of force, to protect from violence the life, person, or property of himself or any of his fellow-men. For instance, any man who sees another setting fire to his property or the property of his neighbor, has full and inherent right, even to the application of force, to prevent that man from accomplishing his purpose. It is equally so in the event of any other threatened danger to the life, property, or person of himself or any other man.

WITHOUT organization, however, that is, without government, it would devolve upon each individual, of himself and for himself, to exercise this authority, and would lead to every man’s hand being against his neighbor. Therefore, in order that this inherent right and authority of every man may be the better exercised in behalf of all, men enter into organization and establish an order of government for this very purpose, and such an order of government as to them seems best calculated to accomplish this purpose. This is the origin and object of civil government.

THIS organization having been formed, each man is now a citizen as well as a man; and all this right, authority, and prerogative, that inhered in him as a man, still are inherent in him as a citizen—the only change that is undergone is in the manner of the exercise of these inherent qualities. That is to say: As the object of the organization that has been created is to relieve the individual from the personal exercise of this authority, the more fully to secure all in the unmolested enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, each one now by vote delegates to one of their number the exercise of his authority in this matter to be exercised by the chosen one as the representative of all. And he who is thus chosen acts with the duly delegated authority of all. And in all this he acts with no authority, neither does he exercise any prerogative, that he did not in himself possess before—except in degree. Whereas before the organization he must of necessity act for himself and from himself alone, now he acts for himself and for hundreds or thousands of others who, equally with himself, possessed this authority in himself; now he acts from the delegated authority of all these, who by vote have duly clothed him with the right and power to exercise for them the authority which inhered in them as individual men.

AND although when elected he cannot exercise this delegated authority until he has been duly installed in office, this is not because he derives any additional authority, prerogative, or characteristic, from the seat or official position itself; but because that, as his fellow-citizens have signified their confidence in him for the exercise of the authority which they have delegated to him, it is necessary and but proper that he should respond by submitting to the forms that have been established, and pledge himself to his fellow-citizens for the faithful exercise of the authority which they have delegated to him. The oath or affirmation of office, and whatever other ceremonies or pledges required in the installation in office of the elected one, are but the response of mutual obligation on his part to the delegation of authority on the part of the electors; and are not in any sense used with any idea that from these ceremonies or from the office itself he derives any additional dignity, authority, or prerogative whatever. So in no instance does any legislator, or judge, or other civil officer, acting in civil things, ever act with any authority or exercise any prerogative which he in himself did not possess, or that those who voted for him did not in themselves possess before he was elected; or which they did not have full right and power to delegate to him to be exercised in their behalf and for the better service of all concerned.

NOT so however is it in matters of religion. That pertains to man’s duty or relationship to God. These come not from himself. They are laid upon him by the Lord; and are therefore incapable of being delegated, incapable of being exercised by any one in behalf of another. And as the exercise of these powers, the performance of these duties, and the fulfillment of these [308] relationships are incapable of being delegated, and so incapable of being exercised by any one in behalf of another; it absolutely follows that no legislator, or judge, or other official of any kind can ever have any authority in matters pertaining to religion in any way. Consequently any attempt to exercise any authority over, or for, another in matters of religion, springs from sheer usurpation. And if it be denied that it is sheer usurpation then the only conceivable source from which such authority or prerogative could be derived is the seat which said official occupies when he acts officially. And thus we are brought again to the absurd conception of the source from which “the infallibility of the pope” is derived.

AND the professed Protestant churches of the United States and of the world, in appealing to the government, or allowing officials, without protest, to act in matters of religion; and the legislators and judges of the States, and of the United States, and of the world in acting in matters of religion, as they have done and as they continue to do, are in very principle and in actual practice committed to the identical conception of infallibility to which the papacy is committed in the dogma of the “infallibility of the pope.” And this, too, without as much as the seeming justification that the papacy claims: for the papacy does claim that “blessed Peter” did occupy the official seat which the pope occupies when he speaks “ex cathedra,” and therefore “infallibly;” but no one can ever even claim that Peter ever occupied any seat that ever was or ever shall be occupied by any legislator or judge in any of the States or the United States—not even when they decided ex cathedra that “this is a Christian nation,” or that “the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday,” is the Sabbath according to the “meaning” of the fourth commandment.

SO the professed Protestants of the United States and of the world, and the legislators and judges of the States, the United States, and of the world, who presume to act officially and governmentally in matters of religion, will have to clear their skirts of the smirch of “infallibility” before they can ever consistently indulge any smiles at the absurdity of the claim of “the infallibility of the Roman pontiff.” All these will have to abdicate the exercise of the prerogative of infallibility themselves, before any of them shall ever be able consistently to criticise or reject the exercise of it by another, even though that other be the pope of Rome. In short, all these will have to cease to be popes themselves before they can consistently object against the pope of Rome.

THE basis of the papal claim as derived from “blessed Peter” will be examined next week. [307]

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