The point to which we referred at the close of the last lecture was that, as an outward and visible Church and a State founded on law and on force, Roman Catholicism has nothing to do with the Gospel, nay, is in fundamental contradiction with it. That this State has borrowed a divine lustre from the Gospel, and finds this lustre extraordinarily advantageous, cannot avail to upset the verdict. To mix the divine with the secular, and what is innermost in a man with a political element, is to work the greatest of mischiefs, because the conscience is thereby enslaved and religion robbed of its solemn character. It is inevitable that this character should be lost when every possible measure which serves to maintain the earthly empire of the Church—for example, the sovereignty of the Pope—is proclaimed as the divine will. We are reminded, however, that it is just this independent action on the part of the Church which saves religion in Western Europe from entirely degenerating into nationality, or the State, or police. The Church, it is urged, has maintained intact the high idea of the complete self- subsistence of religion and its independence of the State. We may admit the claim, but the price which Western Europe has had to pay for this service, and still pays, is much too great; by having to pay so heavy a tribute, the nations are threatened with bankruptcy within; and, as for the Church, the capital which it has amassed is truly a capital that consumes. With all the apparent increase in its power, a pauperising process is slowly being accomplished in the Church; slowly but surely. Let me here digress from our subject for a moment.
No one who looks at the present political situation can have any ground for asserting that the power of the Roman Church is on the wane. What a growth it has experienced in the nineteenth century! And yet—any one with a keen eye sees that the Church is far from possessing now such a plenitude of power as it enjoyed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when all the material and spiritual forces available were at its disposal. Since that epoch its power has, in point of intensity, suffered an enormous decline, arrested by a few brief outbursts of enthusiasm between 1540 and 1620, and in the nineteenth century. Earnest Catholics, concerned at this fact, make no secret of it; they know and admit that an important portion of the spiritual possessions necessary to the dominion of the Church has been lost to it. And again; what is the position of the Latin nations which, when all is said, form the proper province of the Roman Church’s rule? There is only one of them which can really be called a great Power, and what sort of spectacle will it present in another generation? As a State this Church lives to-day, to a not inconsiderable extent, on its history, its old Roman and mediaeval history; and it lives as the Roman Empire of the Romans. But empires do not live for ever. Will the Church be capable of maintaining itself in the great changes to come? Will it bear the increasing tension between it and the intellectual life of the people? Will it survive the decline of the Latin nations?