Letter to the Professors of the University of Oxford

[This letter was written by Blessed Dominic Barberi in response to a letter by John Dobree Dalgairns in the journal “L’Univers” addressing the parties of the Anglican Church and a Catholic interpretation of the 39 articles.]


A letter addressed to the professors of the University of Oxford on the occasion of seeing an epistle from one of their body in a journal called “L’Univers” 1841


I. X. P.


May 5th, 1841

Beloved brethren in Christ and servants of the Lord, – There is nothing too daring for love to venture. Love neglects itself, minds not what is its own. And is concerned only about the happiness of the object beloved. It goes on straight to its point; it avoids byways; it hates pretences, avoids flatteries. It feels safe in its actions cares not about being despised, provided it imagines it gets love for love. It argues, rebukes, strikes even, if so be its cause requires it. Happy are the wounds which are caused by love! Better are the wounds of a lover than the deceitful kisses of an enemy. Love, saith Chrysologus, lacketh reason, knoweth not moderation. Such being the case, do not be surprised brethren, if you perceive that one of the last of men presumes to address so distinguished and learned a body, and if one who deserves no consideration on your part dares to write you a letter. Do not be surprised, I beseech you; or if surprise do arise; it would immediately subside did you know how much you were loved by the writer. A wonderful love for you directs his heart, mind and pen.

            Many years back – yes, more than five lustres – did God deign to enkindle in my heart a love for my brethren of England, for whose salvation from that time forward until now I never ceased to pray[1]. Although I have never seen you with the eyes of the flesh, I have always kept you in my heart; and on, how often and how fervently in the bitterness of that same heart have I besought the Lord for you! How long, O Lord, wilt thou be forgetful of us? When will the heart of the Father be turned towards his children? How long am I to wait in expectation? When shall there be one fold and one shepherd? Wilt thou be angry with us even for ever? Wilt thou forget us in the length of days? Thee, O Lord, do the islands expect, and thy name will they honour: but how long are they to wait? Ah! Remember, Lord, what hath happened unto us; look down and regard with pity our disgrace. Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, to foreigners have been given our houses. Arise, O Lord! Why dost thou slumber? Arise, and shake us off not even to the end. Doth thy inheritance reach even unto the ends of the earth? Why, then, dost thou abandon thy inheritance? These and many such things have I uttered with a special wail for many years.

            From what I have said, I trust that you will be convinced of the sincere love I bear towards you. Now let us come to the point.

            What impels me to write this letter and to address it to you is a letter from one of your body in the Univers, No. 563, April, 1841. With what feeling I read that letter what I have already written will easily make you understand. How often in the reading of it did tears break forth from me in the sheer exuberance of joy! How often I have I kissed that letter! How often have I pressed it to my bosom, imagining I was thereby embracing you all in Jesus Christ! Why cannot my arms stretch themselves forth as far as extend my heart and wishes? Nor my tongue can tell, nor your minds conceive, with what thankfulness I read that letter. What catholic could dream of seeing the like but a few years ago? Let those years be given to oblivion, neither be they written in the numbering of years! Let what is past be forgotten, so that we may look forward to the future more clearly. Come the day we may all with one heart and one tongue glorify the Lord.

            Let us pray, however – a thing I shall continue to do as I have done hitherto. But is there anything else I can do? If I only knew what, how willingly should I do it. I do not know if efforts on my part are of any use to you; I hope, at least, they will not go thankless. Therefore, with the confidence which my love for you inspires, I shall try to write something for your behoof. Do not expect controversial arguments – things which seldom do good – from me, but a paternal address dictated by affection and uttered with the desire of profiting the work of your salvation. Receive it in the same spirit, I beseech you, in which it is addressed.

            It rejoiceth me exceedingly, my dearly beloved, to know that you candidly acknowledge the evils which can upon you and your communion after your lamentable separation from the Mother Church. You bitterly weep over your sad lot, and the doom of having to drink to the dregs the cup of the wrath of God. Far be it from me to rejoice in your misfortune; only in that I do rejoice which I know to be wholesome unto you. The first step for the recovery of health is the discovery of the root of the disease, and the causes from which the malady drew its origins. You know all this, I presume. The root in your case is no other than pride, that pride whereby the Reformers of a bygone age, having despised and put aside the authority of the Church, set up themselves and their private judgements as the arbiter of the controverted points. An accursed root, from which the evil branches of so many divisions and schism  have sprung and do spring daily, insomuch that the authority of the Universal Church being once put aside, it is impossible now to count or to define the various societies of professing Christians. It is true, I deny not, that in Catholic countries many have sprung from the same root. Since the time of Luther there have been found amongst us many philosophers who, by abusing liberty, have endeavoured to subvert all things: the footsteps of those even some theologians blush not to follow. But amongst us the evil never went so far as to divide any of the dogmas of the Church. Since all our writers, whether theologians or philosophers, admit the authority and infallibility of the Church, and all acknowledge one centre of jurisdiction, none ever attempted so insane a thing as to propose any of his theories as a dogma to be believed. There remains, therefore, always amongst Catholics the life principle, and the hope is never lost of bringing back stray sheep to the fold, admitting the definition of the Church, which all Catholics accept, and look upon as its corner-stone or touchstone. It is not so with you: for the infallibility of the Church being denied, what hope does there remain of bringing back those, who stray awhile and walk in devious bypaths, to the path of rectitude? Can you set up the authority of the Anglican Church? How can that be done? If the Universal Church be not infallible, how can nay particular Church rejoice in that attribute? If it be laid down in Article XIX[2] of that Church that the Churches of Jerusalem, of Alexandria, of Antioch and of Rome have erred, what can be the authority of the Church of England? I know Article XX[3] says the Church hath authority in controversies regarding the faith, but when it is added that she neither can nor ought to decide anything against Scripture, it remains to be examined whether the Church hath passed these limits in her decisions or not: and who is the judge of this? The Universal Church? Not at all; her judgement can be re-examined. Another particular Church? Equally absurd. If a Universal Church erred a fortiori, so can a particular. It only remains that each one do examine for himself whether the Church’s definitions are to be received or not. 

            You will refer me, perhaps, to the Creeds – the apostles’, the Nicene, the Constantinopolitan, and what is commonly called the Athanasian; but what weight can they have when, in Article XIX, it is averred: “The fathers in each Council assembled were only men, and consequently liable to error”? We have to find out, then, whether they did ipso facto err or not. And I say again, who is the judge? Where are we to find the end of calling in question? Can protestations be forbidden against a Church which derives her origin from protesting? If Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer were justified in protesting against the Universal Church, why is it not permitted to me to protest against a particular one? Will you excommunicate them? They have aright, then, to complain of your injustice, as your fathers complained of the injustice of Trent, and the tyranny of the Supreme Pontiff. There is no other way of preventing or curing schisms than the old one. Far be it from me to wish to sharpen your arms against you, or I should not go on with my letter. I write to friends and dear brothers. It is not lawful to hide the truth: and we accept truth joyfully from friends. I will not say much: few words suffice for the wise. I shall do nothing more than lay down principles from which much more can be inferred, in order that, the root of the evil being discovered, the axe may be laid to the tree, and it may be cut away altogether. Enough has been said now about the first period of your letter; I pass to the subsequent ones.

            Oh, how glad I was to see you rejoice in the fact that the Universal Church was turning towards you, and showing an anxiety to take you to her bosom! If the Church always put forth most ardent desires that all believers in Christ should be of one fold, she even multiplies her wishes and petitions for that end at the present time. I cannot doubt but the almighty wishes your salvation in a special manner at this juncture, when I see fervent prayers going up from fervent souls for you on every side of me. Did you know, beloved brethren, how may prayers I myself have said and how many I have engaged to pray wheresoever I exercised my sacred ministry, for many years back, I think you would feel yourselves softened by the sheer gratitude into the Catholic faith. How many souls have I found in Italy, of every age and sex, who never cease praying for you! How many of those are ready, not only to pour out prayers, but their very life’s blood if need be, for your return to the Church! How many offer themselves as victims, in union with the sufferings of Jesus Christ, for the expiation of the evils caused by the separation! Not a few only, but thousands with such dispositions, have I come across in Italy alone. But what about France? and what of other Catholic nations? What shall I say of those souls known only to God? What has moved all those souls so powerfully to send up such earnest petitions? Not man certainly, but God. I consider it should be held as a maxim that, when God stirs in the hearts of many to ask incessantly for any one thing, it is an evident sign that he wishes to grant it. For fifty years dear my venerable founder pray for the return of England to the Church[4], and died without seeing any fruit of his prayers. But I hope his children will see what he longed for and never did with his mortal vision.

            The night and the shades of darkness have passed away: the day of joy and light is approaching. The first dawnings of this auspicious morning appear when the Church takes back to herself some of her lost ones, and cherishes them as an affectionate mother. The time will come, and is not far distant, in which these, like new-born babes, reasonably desiring the sweet milk of truth, shall be nourished thereby, and grow into the salvation which is Christ Jesus in the glory of heaven. Oh, what joy and what exaltation! He shall not remember his life when God shall occupy his heart with joy. I firmly hold that I can see with my eyes what I have so long wished for. Then shall I die happy. If before that time I depart, death will be to me death indeed; but, if after it, will only be life and gain. Resting on such a hope, be ye likewise consoled. Yes, be consoled; for coming, he shall come, and will not delay. God doth not delay his promise; he giveth to all abundantly, and upbraideth not. What a pain it would be to me were any of you to miss this happiness! Hasten therefore, brethren, to enter into that rest, that you fall not into the snare of infidelity. You yourselves know that this common hope of Catholics lacketh not lawful grounds to rest upon, as is evident from the favourable disposition of your own University, which is, as I may say, the sapling, and that root from an arid soil which rises from the midst of the deserted and untrodden ground, that grain of mustard-seed growing into a great tree, in whose branches the birds of the air can have their rest. Your University, if I mistake not, is the seed of Catholicity, not only for England, but for many other regions of the world. From it shall go forth fruits of which it will be said, “they have gone across the sea.” I do not think I am far amiss if I say that, as god, who strongly and sweetly disposes all things , predisposed that amongst all nations should be connection with one imperial government – the Roman, namely – and should all hear what Rome heard in the infancy of Christianity, so doth he now wishing to diffuse the rays of his light throughout the universe, that the most learned men should be gathered together in one University and that no corner of the world should be ignorant of what the men of oxford have learnt and are teaching. This opinion I formed some time ago and whatsoever I have read of your productions, whatsoever I have heard, and whatsoever signs I have seen, even into your last letter, have only strengthened the same.

            This opinion has risen to a certain conviction when I perceived that one of your body published a work in which he undertakes to show that the church adopted no formal errors in the Council of Trent, and that no formal definition of that Council, including those of the Invocation of Saints, on Purgatory, and on the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff, contained anything which was against sound doctrine, or opposed to any of your formularies. I do not know what those authorised formularies amongst you are to which the Decrees of Trent are not opposed. If reference be made to the Thirty-Nine Articles contained in the Book of Common Prayer, it seems to me that the proposition is false. I do not know how many of them – notably Articles VI[5], XIX[6], XXI[7], XXII[8], XXVIII[9], and XXXI[10] – can be reconciled with the faith of the Catholic Church and the Tridentine Decrees. There are passages in them diametrically opposed, and some sufficiently out of accord with the Decrees of Trent. In the matter of Transubstantiation, for instance, it does not seem to me to be merely a question about a word, but rather about the thing signified by that word, if we compare the definition of the Council with your Article XXVIII. I find the Definition of the Council (Sess. XIII, Can. 2) as follows: “if anyone shall say that in the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist there remain the substance of the bread and wine, together with the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and shall deny that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole and of the substance of the bread into the body, and of the whole of the substance of the wine into the blood…..which conversion the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation, let him be Anathema.” On the other hand, in the above cited Article of your Book of Common Prayer we have these words: “Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine, in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” In these two definitions I find a difference not merely of words, but of the things the words are intended to signify. The question is not merely about the word Transubstantiation, but about the changing of the substance of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, a thing our Church confesses, and your formulary denies. Since, therefore, I know not by what processes the difficulty here can be reduced to a verbal one, I must suppose that you do not refer to the formulary edited in 1562, and which was approved by Queen Elizabeth, but rather of some other one which I have not seen. The author, however, seems to be speaking of this very formulary, for immediately after he says he does not much like the Thirty-Nine Articles; and when he subjoins that they can be explained in a Catholic sense, and that there is not to be found in them (God’s grace so ordaining it, and divine providence so disposing) any Protestant dogmas clearly inserted, my doubt grows stronger, and I hardly see how to solve it. If the question be about the Articles known to me, and of which I made mention above, I do not believe they can all be explained in a Catholic sense. Those things which are opposed to each other in so many points, how can they be reconciled? On the part of the Catholic Church, indeed explanations may be given, but such as are by no means opposed to the definitions handed down, which will and must always, to the end of time, remain in their entire sense and meaning. Although the Catholic Church, for the sake of peace and unity, can forgo many of those matters which concern the discipline only, she never can remit or alter one jot or tittle of what concerns faith. The Church would sacrifice the lives of all children rather than abate or omit one jot from the sacred deposit of doctrine which she has received from god. The pretended, other could allow the division of the child, but the true mother could not stand such a treatment of the offspring of her womb. The deposit of faith and doctrine which the Church has received from God, and which she proposes to all the faithful under the guiding influence of the Holy Ghost, is so sacred that she cannot allow the smallest particle of it to be lost.

            The only possible solution for the difficult about which we are speaking (supposing the author of the work is referring to the Thirty-Nine Articles) is to be found in the words he immediately makes use of, namely, that he is little satisfied with them, that he looks upon them as a very heavy burden which God in his inscrutable judgement permitted to be imposed upon you in punishment of the sins and delinquencies of your fathers before you.

            Ah, beloved friends! I seem to hear you crying out with the prophet: “Our fathers have sinned and are not: we have borne their iniquities.” You have borne indeed, and long enough, those loads; but why, I beseech you, why do you continue carrying them? Why will you go on carrying them for the time to come? Who can compel you to go on burdened so any longer? Can you not pitch the load off whenever you choose? There will be some difficult, of course, to be overcome, but what sayeth the Scripture? “Contend for thy soul, and even unto death strive for justice, and God will vanquish thine enemies for thee.” Do not fear the insults of men, and at their blasphemies be not afraid. What can men, even the most powerful, be able to accomplish? At most they can send you to death; after that they can do nothing. Fear God the rather who can send body and soul into hell. I say so also, fear him. He who feareth God shall tremble at nothing, neither shall he be afraid, because he is his hope. No evils occur to a man fearing the lord, but in temptation the Lord will preserve him and free him from evils. You are not far from the kingdom of God: that you acknowledge. The kingdom of God is the Church, as saith St. Gregory, Pope; but without violence you cannot enter it. The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violence bear it away. Precious is the violence which can make you possessors of the kingdom of God. Strive, strive manfully to enter by the narrow gate; many desire to enter and they cannot. And why can they not? Is it absolutely impossible? By no means; but because they want to enter without any inconvenience, without any violent wrench, and in the interim the time comes when time shall be no more. To-day, therefore, if you hear the voice of God, harden not your hearts. This is the hour to arise from sleep, for your salvation is nearer. God will be with you; he shall bring your enemies to nothing, and if God be with you, who is against you? Who shall accuse you? If God be he who justifieth, who shall dare to call into question? Do you fear your relations? But what doth Christ say? “He who loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me.” You wait, perhaps, until everybody agrees with you? This is difficult. You are not aware, perhaps, that two shall be in the one house; one shall be taken and the other left. Why, therefore, will toy remain with those who stay outside rather than enter with those invited to the wedding? Excuse my importunity. I argue in season and out of season. I hear the father of the bridegroom crying out: “Compel them to enter, that my house may be filled.” I urge you, and if I possibly could, compel you, and gladly would do so. Happy force, happy necessity which drives to better thing! I fear though, very much, lest some of you may be pronounced that dreadful sentence, “none of those who were invited shall taste my supper.” Therefore I beg of you, therefore I beseech you, because I am very solicitous about you.

            You say that you must drag on this chain until God think you worthy to break the links for you. But are you not worthy of this grace? Yes, you are worthy, for you are called, and if you look out for a greater worthiness you will look out in vain. “Not by the works of justice which we have done, but by his own mercy hath he saved us,” saith the Apostle. The worthiness, therefore, for entering into the Church is to be sought only in the mercy and the goodness of God.

            Perhaps you will answer: “We cannot now; we are kept back by justifiable motives.” If truth has shone upon you, and if you have known it, what reason can prevail against truth? Great is truth and it will prevail: so it was decided, it is said in the hall of the pagan prince. Should a Christian be ignorant of what a Gentile acknowledged? It remains, then, that you can if you will. What is impossible with man is possible with God. Why do you not strive to follow Paul the Apostle, who could say: “When it pleased him……who called me…….I ceased immediately to give way to flesh and blood”? Why do you not say with him: “I can do all things in him who strengthened me”? Of ourselves we can do nothing, but in God we can do all things.

            You say you do not lack humility. This is something to rejoice at. True humility renders men, so to say, omnipotent; for true humility, at one and the same time, brings to pass that we distrust ourselves, and are raised up towards God, and from him expect the help we need, in whom we can do all things the Apostle saith. St Michael was amongst the humble ones – at least, in point of time, the first: observe with what facility he was able to do batter with and conquer the rebellious angels. Who is like God? Who can resist God, or dare oppose himself to him? Behold a perfect victory! If you are really humble, then why not follow his example? You are neither content in, nor satisfied with, your present position – very well. The first step towards convalescence is a knowledge of the evil, as was said above. Why, then, do you not say: “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me whole”? What would be the answer? Hear and rejoice thereat! “I will, be thou made whole”! I will; yes, I will, and there is no room of doubting about that. God willeth all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. God is waiting patiently for your will.

            You sigh when you reflect upon the sin committed by your fathers in separating from the Catholic Church. Ah! Brethren and how I have sighed with you, even from my youth, How often have I said: “Slaves have lorded it over us, and there is no one to deliver us from their hands.” I am far indeed from being a Paul , but yet I can say, if so be I may: “Is any one sick amongst you and I do not suffer?” My sighing is always before me, and it will never cease unless I see my dearest English brought back to the unity of the faith. You sigh, dear brethren, but what is the cause of your sighs? Is it that, perchance, which the Apostle seems to hint at when he says: “We sigh borne down, because we wish to put off our present state and be clothed anew, that what is mortal of us may be absorbed in life”? Although the apostle in this place seems to signify something else, I fear, nevertheless, that it may be said of a truth concerning you, that you indeed desire to be received into the Catholic Church without renouncing the errors of the Anglican. I fear you want to be clothed anew without putting off the old: that is impossible. Two things are prescribed: Putting off the old man with his acts, that you put on the new man, who is created according to God. Two evils have your fathers done: they have left the fount of living water, and dug to themselves broken cisterns which can contain no water. That a stop may be put into these two evils, you must first give up the broken cisterns, and then go to the fountain of living water. You must advance backwards, but it is quite necessary. Unless such a process be observed, no one can hope for advantage. And because this is hard, therefore do you sigh. But your sadness will be turned into joy. A woman is sad when she is in labour, but when she had brought forth she rejoices: so will you rejoice if you come to the birth-giving, and your joy no one shall take from you.

            You most ardently desire a union with your brethren. You love with a sincere affection the chair of the Prince of the apostles, the roman Church, namely, which you acknowledge to be the mother and centre of all Christianity, and so to you under a special title, because by her was sent forth Augustine, who announced to your nation the kingdom of God. Ah, dear brethren, as many words so many gems! In reading I scarcely could restrain tears of consolation. If all Churches should revere the Roman Church, the Anglican should do so more especially, because that is the only mother she can lay claim to. Nearly all the other Churches had their apostles and first missionaries from other countries, England from Rome direct. St Eleutherius was the first who sent from Rome Ignatius and Damian, at the request of a British prince, it is said. Then, in the course of time, St. Gregory the Great sent Augustine and his companions to cultivate a field already overcrowded with brambles.

            England, therefore, is indebted to no country for her faith except to Italy and to Rome. This, I think, is one of the reasons why all the good Italians (amongst whom I should like to be numbered) are more solicitous about England than any other nation. The Anglican Church is, if I might so speak, a directly-descended daughter of, and one of predilection to, the Roman Church. If a mother loveth her children, it is but meet that children should recognise and reverence a mother. The Carthaginians loved the Sidonians, because form them was their origin. Love ye Italy and the Italians, Rome and the Romans. Give your mother due honour; defend her, and do battle for her. Filial piety, brotherly love, Christian truth, the unity of the Church, all seem to culminate in one point; but your return to your mother’s embrace is the first honour you have to pay. In the meantime, cordially receive those, I beg and beseech you, who, trying to imitate the fervour of Augustine, have come to you from the same city and from the same Monte Coelio. These, having left their country are on their way to you, pilgrims of a most peculiar kind, who seem as if they were never to see either the country or the land of their affections – England. When shall my expectation come? And what is my expectation but the Lord? Do we seek aught else? Do we seek aught of yours? Nought, beloved brethren, but yourselves – to return.

            You acknowledge and confess that there is nothing to be found in the council of Trent which might prevent you from returning to Catholic unity; and if there be anything in your formularies, you care little or nothing about them. Nevertheless, you say there are many things in the way, although there be no error, say you, in the Council of Trent, yet amongst “Catholic there be many errors in practice. Theory is pure, practice never is. Among Catholics there is a certain traditional doctrine too much in vogue which prescribes a Gospel to be observed other than the gospel of Christ. The ministers of the Roman Church,” you continue “in place of the Trinity, put in the Blessed Virgin and other saints, and in the place f heaven or hell purgatory. And although the council of Trent calls out for the removal of all these abuses, they are not removed, as appears from the evidence of those who travelled in Catholic countries, and it is to be feared that these same abuses have now become authorised by the Catholic Church herself. Unless these abuses be taken away, with the Catholics we cannot unite.” Behold the first obstacle.

            But, believe me, beloved brethren, if you will weigh with due patience and attention the observations which I am about to put before you, this obstacle will vanish into thin air. In order that we may see things clearly, some matters are to be orderly pre-stated before we come to a full solution.

            I suppose, together with yourselves, that the Roman Church always remained the true Church of Christ. If it at once be admitted, as you rightly said, that the Holy Ghost deserted the Roman Church then it is to be held that the Church Universal has fallen. But since it is impossible, subjoin I, that the Church of Christ should fall – Truth himself having testified that hell cannot prevail against her – therefore it must be held of a truth that the Roman Church never failed, but has always continued the true Church of Christ. I infer from this, therefore, that no solid grounds ever can be found for separating from her but that sound reason always tends towards making us adhere to her. Since it is beyond doubt that out of the true Church there is no hope of obtaining salvation, every reason which moves us to seek for our salvation ought to urge us to enter that Church if we do not yet belong to it, and to stick to it if wee find ourselves within. Christ did not found two or three Churches, but only one, as faith teaches us; and you yourselves confess with us one only Church, and sing as well as we the Nicene Creed. If the Roman Church be true and Catholic, notwithstanding the pretended practical errors, it follows that all Churches which differ from her are not true, neither can salvation be had in them, unless good faith or invincible ignorance plead excuse, in which case such people may be said to be in the Church, though seemingly out of it. Since they have entered her by lawful baptism, and never pertinaciously sinned against faith, and never voluntarily separated from her, no one can exclude them from the fold of Christ; these, therefore, are in the true Church, and since the true Church is the Roman Church, they are in the Roman Catholic Church, although they are not aware of it. Except the case of invincible ignorance or good faith, all who are formally out of the Church are not in the way of salvation. Therefore everyone is bound to enter the true Church, and therein to remain if he wish to be saved.

            But, you say, there are practical errors in one’s way. I say, although practical errors might really be found, they cannot be excusable obstacles. No one obliges you to embrace those; the Church only requires that you embrace here faith ,and observe the commandments, both divine and ecclesiastical. The Church never casts off those who, professing her faith and observing the laws of god and the Church, refuse to conform to the practices of other men within her fold, no matter how holy those may be. Embrace the faith which you know to be pure. Keep the laws of God and the Church, and that is all she asks of her children. Will she compel you to say the Rosary or embrace a religious life? Nothing of the kind. How, then, can practical errors, if such be, hinder a union with the Church?

            Observe carefully a distinction which some forget to draw between things inside the Church. For example: some things are defined, some commanded, some approved, some permitted, and finally, some barely tolerated. The defined things only are incapable of reformation or retraction. Heaven and earth will pass away before the Church deviates one atom from what she has defined. These are the dogmas of faith. All other matters can be retracted or altered, if just reasons exist for doing so. The things commanded are those which, as the word imports, the Church proposes to the faithful for observation, such as fasting, abstinence from flesh-meat on certain days, and the like. These things are to be observed as long as the Church does not abrogate the law, or dispense therein, by virtue of the obedience which all Christians owe to the Church. The things approved are those which the Church considers as good, but as yet not necessary; as such they are put before the faithful, but no one is required to embrace them: such, for example, are the religious orders. Although none of the faithful is obliged to embrace, he is bound, however, not to condemn any of those things, as long as the Church does not condemn or suppress them either as suitable or as unnecessary when circumstances change the condition of things. There are other things which the Church does not approve of, yet permits occasionally, such, for instance, as that a clergyman may hold more than one benefice, that a married man may be separated from his wife as to bed and board, etc. if there be just causes in these cases, of which the Church is cogniscent, no one is to be blamed who acts in the exceptional manner mentioned. Some things, finally, are barely tolerated: those things which she by no means approves of, could absolutely put a stop to, cannot love to see amongst her children; still, like a kid mothers, she overlooks them in pity for their weakness. Of such are the relaxation of morals, the non-observance of rules amongst regulars, or of the canons among the faithful generally. The same may be said of some things which are done under the cloak of religion: such as dancing, festivities and shows on occasion of ecclesiastical festivals. All good people would wish these things to be abolished; but they are left. These are the cockle which the enemy hath sown amongst the wheat; and, as the husbandman could have these pulled up if he chooses, but lets them grow on, so does the Church for her own wise reasons.         

            Now, I should like to know what are those practical errors which impede your entrance into the Roman Church? Are they, says your theologian, those against which the council of Trent raised its voice, and whose extermination was decreed? In such a case, you condemn what the Church herself condemns, and there is no discrepancy here between yourselves and us. We are of accord. Those things in which both parties agree cannot be the reasons which sunder them. These errors ought to be reformed. It is devoutly to be wished, but is it possible? These are many things we should like and wish, but cannot effect. Who will condemn me for not doing what I am unable to do, or what it is not expedient that I should? Some things are absolutely lawful, but they are not always convenient. The apostle says as much, “All things are lawful to me,” may the Church say “but I shall be brought under the power of nobody.” The Church, in her resolutions, is not to be brought under the authority of this or that particular theologian, this or that particular university. The Church depends on God alone, and to him alone is accountable for the use she makes of her authority. If there be any things within he pale which can and ought to be reformed, let them be reformed by all means; but by whom? Only by the Church, which alone can frame laws for the reformation of the morals of the faithful. Ah, beloved brethren, how soon would that reformation be effected if everyone would only reform himself! We all know well what those things are the Church ought to reform, but we do not all know quite so well how that reform is to be accepted and acted upon. We ought to try first to reform ourselves before we accuse the Catholic Church of negligence, of carelessness, or of some connivance at faults.

            “It is to be feared,” saith one of your theologians, “that in the roman Church there is an authorised system whereby it permits or approve that the writers of books and preachers may proposed to sinners the blessed virgin Mary and saints instead of the Deity, or put purgatory before them instead of hell.” I say no such thing is ever to be feared, inasmuch as that alone is authorised by the Church which is contained in the Holy Scripture, in the divine and ecclesiastical traditions, in the canons of the Councils, and in the pronouncements of the Pontiffs; nor does the Church lend her authority to the numbers of books which are published every day, especially since there is such liberty allowed to the press almost everywhere now. The roman Church is certainly not to be liked to sects which hide their dogmas and principles. She is a city placed upon a mountain-top, whose doctrines are hid from nobody; anyone can find out what she teaches if he really desires to so. If errors be found in some works or in some sermons, these cannot be attributed to the Church herself.

            Why, you will ask after all, do authors and preachers talk more about the Blessed Virgin and saints than the Trinity, and more about purgatory than hell?

            Before giving an answer, I shall take for grated that none of you have any objection to the doctrine of Purgatory or the Invocation of the Blessed Virgin and saints, since these things are defined in the Council of Trent, which you admit has not uttered any formal error against the faith. It follows necessarily that these two doctrines contain nothing formally against faith. “We have nothing to say against the doctrine,” you reply; “but a good deal against the practice. Why do you not put forward God rather than the Blessed Virgin?” But, I ask you, did you eve hear of a Catholic who would proposed devotion to the Blessed virgin to the injury or the prejudice of that due to God or the Trinity? If you want to know what is the sense of Catholics, you ought to ask the Catholics themselves, and not those who, though moderate, are not real Catholics or united to the Catholic Church, Such people can easily be deceived, or even deceive. Among Catholics I do not think you can find one, if he be ever so meagrely instructed in the principles and rudiments of his religion, who would not freely subscribe to the anathemas by a good Catholic named Gother, and published by Bishop Milner[11] in a work called The End of Religious Controversy: “1. cursed is he that believes the saints in heaven to be his redeemers, that prays to them as such, or gives god’s honour to them, or to any creature whatsoever. Amen. 2. cursed is every goddess-worshipper who believes the Blessed Virgin Mary to be anything more than a creature; that worships her above her Son, or that she can in anything command him. Amen”

            After every Catholic has subscribed to these anathemas, what do you find to reprehend in him if he worship the Blessed Virgin May or the saints in the forms approve of by the Church? Is the worship of God thereby detracted from? By no means. Supposing the belief in a man that he is to expect grace from god alone, which has been merited for him by Christ alone, what harm does he do if he ask the blessed virgin Mary and the saints to join their prayers to his in order that, thus supplemented, his poor prayers may gain a more favourable hearing before god? And this is all that Catholics intend in their invocation or cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary or saints. If anything occurs to you which may be objected to the explanation I have given you, I hope it may be proposed, and I have no fear of being able to give it a becoming answer. I do not care about wearing away attention upon this point, especially as you acknowledge the cult itself to be lawful. It remains, then, that many of those things related to you by travellers were not quite true and I am sure you will find that to be the case if ever you visit Catholic countries for the purpose of inquiring into and investigating the relations between Catholic faith and practice. I myself was born amongst Catholics, brought up a Catholic, and in matters of faith somewhat instructed according to the mind of the Church; and having exercised the duties of a priest for twenty-one years, especially in missions and retreats I have never found any of those things mentioned by your travelling friends. I never found the Blessed Virgin (God forbid!) put before the Trinity, or purgatory made more of than hell or heaven; on the contrary, what is it we make use of most on missions in order to excite people to sorrow for their sins? Is it not the hope of heaven and the fear of hell? We never treat of purgatory except in a passing way, That you may the more easily understand this I shall briefly explain to you our manner of giving missions, and this exposé may apply, with very few changes, to the manner followed by other missioners. In our missions one of the chief duties is to explain to the people how they are to observe the commandments of God. Every day there is a familiar instruction of about half an hour’s duration upon some precept of the Decalogue, which being concluded, the people are instructed upon the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is done generally in the morning. After dinner there is every day another instruction about the manner of receiving the sacraments of the Church, about the dispositions necessary in order to be reconciled to God, and the means of persevering in the grace received, particular stress being laid upon the necessity of real sorrow for sin, about the strong resolution of not sinning for the future, about the obligation of avoiding the occasions and dangers of falling back into sin, and so forth. Before sunset these is held every day a stirring sermon on one of the great truths of faith, as to the last end of man, the gravity of sin in general, the deformity of certain vicious habits, that they may be banished according to local needs, about the last things, such as death, judgement, hell, heaven, the love of our neighbours and especially our enemies, etc. a short mediation follows in which the history of the Passion is briefly recited. All this goes on either in the parish church or in some large square of the city or town. There are special services of much the same description given to special classes of people, such as gentlemen, priests, religious, etc. So, you see, we scarcely say a word about purgatory expect it may be by chance; we only treat incidentally, in like manner, of the veneration and devotion of the saints.

            It is true that in the course of the mission, these is always a special service or sermon in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the gist of it chiefly is to exhort the people to honour her by imitating her virtues rather than by any exterior show. Now, what is there reprehensible in all this? Do you consider St Ambrose to be blamed who wrote so eloquently and copiously on the excellence of the Virgin? I don’t think so. Even you yourselves admire him, and how can you consistently blame a preacher who, following in his footsteps, effervesces a little in genuine admiration of the mother of his Redeemer? Although we missioners do not treat specially on purgatory, I am quite aware that other preachers do; but I do not see why they are to be blamed if they keep near to solid doctrine, and follow the teaching of the Church. If they (which God avert!) stray from that path, what is to be thought? No sound or sensible Catholic would think of defending them in their aberrations, but he might kindly advise them to be a little more sensible the future, some there were who abused the doctrine of purgatory in order to fill their coffers. Well, what then? If we have true charity we shall either excuse their failings or correct them. Were there not people even in the times of the Apostles who thought piety a money-making speculation? Did the Apostles leave the Church on that account? By no means. They knew right well that the Church consisted of men who were for the most part fragile, weak, carrying treasures in earthen vessels. As long as the Church is a pilgrim in this vale of tears, so long will imperfect men be found amongst her members. Nay, who can boast of being perfect? Who can say, “I am free from stain; I am free from sin”? If such defects never compelled the saints to separate themselves from the Church, they cannot be a valid impediment to your seeking union with it. I cannot sufficiently see the logical force of you assertion that, because of the aforesaid defects, you cannot join the Church of Rome. Such reasons, as we have seen, either do not exist at all, or cannot be a sensible hindrance to what is right.

            You say, again, that you cannot effect this union because you find in your way obligations towards your own Church, which you cannot believe to have erred or ceased altogether as a Church, but to have been for a time considerably weakened or obscured. To remove this obstacle out of the way to my own satisfaction, I should have to treat upon many subjects, which would considerably extent this letter, and would turn me away from my intention of writing to you, not as a polemic against antagonists, but as a friend writing to dear brethren. I shall lightly touch upon some thing, however; and first I suppose you yourselves recognise several errors in the Thirty-Nine Articles, since in them there are many things opposed to the decrees of Trent which you think contain no formal error: it hence follows that there must be formal errors in that profession of doctrine. Since the Anglican bishops approved and subscribed that formulary, and caused others to do the same, it follows that those bishops must have fallen away from the true faith., form as the common adage has it, to produce good the cause must be entirely so; a single defect in a cause produces a bad effect. To be a true and faithful Christian, one must believe all that has been revealed and proposed by the Church as such; that faith may be lost, it is not necessary that all the articles of faith be denied, or all errors contrary thereto admitted, but it suffices that a person pertinaciously deny one single article of faith or defend obstinately one error. You think yourselves far, far removed from those who gloried in being the disciples of Luther or Calvin. So be it; but by it by no means follows that your fathers have not erred because they did not adopt all the errors of Luther or Calvin. For erring or going wrong in faith, the errors of Cranmer, Edward and Elizabeth are quite enough and more than enough. You will say, We do not follow those errors, but believe what the Roman Church believes. Excellent indeed; that, however, cannot be asserted of the fathers of the Reformation period, who filled the sees of England after the fatal separation from the Church of Rome. They certainly did not hold all that the roman Church professes.

            We cannot persuade ourselves that the series of bishops who succeeded Lanfranc, Anselm and Thomas has come to an end. Others have certainly succeeded them as far as places, churches, and incomes are concerned; but have they succeeded also to the faith of those illustrious prelates who were the glory of the Church in England? This is the point in question. “We have Abraham for our father,” said the Jews; but what did Christ answer them? “If you be the children of Abraham, do the works which Abraham did.” Tell me, did those who occupied the sees of Augustine, Anselm and Thomas, after the separation, tread in the footsteps of their predecessors? I do not want to provoke discussion, and therefore do not wish to ask about the private lives and morals of those gentlemen. I do not wish to judge them – they have long ago been judged by God according to their works; but I do not wish, at the same time, to conceal and hide the truth, which is patent to all who have eyes to read. I shall say nothing about their morals, but I shall say a few words away their faith. (1) It is certain that St Augustine, St Anselm and St Thomas offered the holy sacrifice of the Mass nearly every day for the living and dead; for they were consecrated according to the rite of the Catholic Church, in which these things are prescribed. Your fathers have condemned this as a deceptive fable, as appears from Article XXXI[12] of the formulary which they adopted. (2) All these holy prelates believed in purgatory. Your fathers said it was a vain invention, as appears from Article XXII[13]. (3) These saints worshipped the saints, and especially have eulogised the Blessed Virgin in glowing phrases. Your fathers have put these things amongst old women’s fancies, as appears from the same Article. (4) These holy prelates all acknowledged the Roman Pontiff as their head, and remained under his jurisdiction. Your fathers have defined that the bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in England (Article XXXVII[14]). (5) These holy prelates contended manfully for the liberty of the Church, and St Thomas gave his life in trying to preserve these liberties from the rapacity of an unscrupulous monarch, as you well know; but your fathers, in gross abjection, submitted to the Royal power, as is evident from Article XXI[15], in which it is laid down that Councils cannot be held without the command and will of the King, and from Article XXXVII[16], in which the authority of the Roman Pontiff being repudiated, the King is acknowledged to be the head of the Church. Putting aside many things for the sake of brevity – such as the question of the validity of the orders after the separation – I ask: how can these fathers of yours glory in the names of these holy prelates, when they took a road diametrically opposite to them? Have they not, in their formulary, condemned all the prelates who preceded them and their schism? Could these prelates, so unjustly condemned, recognise as their legitimate sons persons by whom their faith and mode of acting had been rejected?

            You say, Why did not the Pope consecrate bishops in partibus?[17] I do not know; neither do I know why he did not appoint bishops in partibus for Holland, Norway or Sweden, and other places where the Episcopal succession has failed. Have all bishoprics which existed in the fourteenth century continued to exist? I do not believe so. There are many old dioceses which have neither a bishop of their own or a bishop in partibus at the present day. You will say perhaps, Have all the roman Pontiffs followed the footsteps of St Peter? Not all, certainly, as to their private lives; but it is quite certain that not one of them ever condemned Peter’s faith or reprobated his mode of existence. If any Pontiff (which god avert!) should deny Peter’s faith, he would cease to be Pope by the very fact, would no longer be Peter’s successor, and another should have to be appointed in his place, as our theologians hold.

            With regard to the distinction between the actual life and the theory of the Church, there does not seems to be any place for it in the present matter. If one raised a question about what god could do in his absolute power, then might such a question be an apt one. God could absolutely form a Church, if he so chooses, where there would not be one bishop form whom all others must depend, and to whose jurisdiction they must submit; but this is a metaphysical abstraction about mere possibilities which is irrelevant to the case. We are speaking, I suppose, of what god has done, and of the order he appointed in his Church, and not about what he might have done. But God wished it that in his Church there should be one visible Head, who would have jurisdiction over all the bishops, as was defined in the Oecumenical Council of Florence, not only all the Latin, but the Greek communion also assenting the following words: “We define the holy apostolic See and the roman Pontiff to be the Successor of the Blessed Peter, Prince of the apostles, and the true Vicar of Jesus Christ, the Head of the entire Church, the Father and Teacher of all Christians; and to him through the Blessed Peter hath our Lord Jesus Christ given full power for feeding, ruling, and governing the Universal Church, as is contained in the Acts of General Councils, and in the Sacred Canons.” – Decretum Unionis  

            I suppose you will acknowledge that the Church did not err in the council of Florence if she did not do so in Trent. Therefore, dependence from the roman Pontiff is not only a good and expedient thing, but it is necessary also jure divino; therefore, those who withdraw themselves from his authority contradict both God and his Church, and consequently have placed themselves outside the pale of the true Church.

            You acknowledge the evils which have been occasioned to you by separation from the roman Church, and groan thereover. Happy groans if they bring you back to the gate! But the prejudices of Protestants stand in your way, you say. I do not deny this, but whom do they prevent? I think they ought to be an obstacle only to those who do not recognise them as real prejudices. I cannot understand how an errors, known to be such, can be an obstacle in the way of one who knows the truth and the error at the same time. Do you acknowledge the truth? Who, then, can prevent your embracing it? Embrace it and it will exalt you; you become honoured in laying hold of it. Truth will ennoble you.

            Reverence for your fathers detains you; the hope of bringing them over with you, if you remain among them yet a little while, detains you. Such a resolve seems a prudent one at first sight, but I fear the prudence is more of the flesh than the spirit. I know that Christ more than once rebuked this kind of delay. When he once asked a youth to follow him, and the youth said, “Allow me first to go and bury my father,” Jesus said, “let the dead bury their dead; do thou go and announce the kingdom of god.” Another said to him, “I will follow thee, Lord, but allow me to go and tell those at home.” Our Lord said, “No man putting his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of heaven.” Ah, beloved brethren, the grace of the holy Spirit knoweth not tardy delays. Be not slow to be converted to god; do not put it off from day to day, for suddenly his wrath will come. Who knows but that, whilst you are waiting, death may come, and you may have to hear, “I have called you and you refused”? You will remain quiet until the Lord touch the hearts of your brethren, bishops especially. What if God should call you in the meantime to give an account of your stewardship? God knows our intention, and you say, we are destined for the salvation of many. This I believe, but procrastination does not seem to me the thing.

            Saul was called by god for the conversion of many. “This is a vessel of election to me to carry my name before nations and kings and children of Israel.” But did Saul make any delay in following the call? By no means; but as soon as the light from heaven fell upon him, as soon as he heard the voice of Christ calling him, he said: “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?” He did not give in to flesh and blood, as he says himself. Why did he not remain quietly in Judaism? Why did he not wait patiently until his fathers and masters would be enlightened also? Why did he not wait until the prejudices should cease? or did he not love his brothers according to the flesh? Ay, and very much indeed. I wished, he said, to be anathema from Christ from the sake of my brethren, who are my relations according the flesh and Israelites; therefore he loved them very much, but would not put off his conversion for their sakes.

            Plato is friend, but truth is greater. Brethren are friends, fathers are friends, but the Church is a greater, god is a greater. There may be reasons, I allow, for concealing the profession of the Catholic faith for a time, but I see none for not embracing it, or, at least, for professing it interiorly, provided it be sufficiently known. If another course is taken it is to be feared it may be said of you as St Paul said of the philosophers, “Therefore are they without excuse because though they knew God they did not glorify him as god, or give thanks, but were lost in their vain thoughts,” etc. I fear for you, brethren, because I love you, and you know that love is full of fear.

            Indeed it is certain that you have all made great progress in the knowledge of the truth during the last seven years. I rejoice exceedingly in your progress, but my joy is not full. I beg therefore that my joy may be full, and that yours may be increased. And certainly, if I prayed so hard for you in days gone by, when there seemed no prospect, how far ought I to be from ceasing to pray now, when such bright hopes are appearing? I shall pray, and I hope that you will pray with me, that the Lord may open your hearts to the understanding of his ways, that he who began to enlighten you minds would complete his work, that he may strengthen your hearts, that, putting aside all human considerations, you may walk bravely in the way he will have shown unto you.

            You say you cannot become Catholics immediately because you ought to give something to the Roman Church, which you firmly believe and hold has never been deserted by the Holy Ghost. Excellent faith! Beautiful confession! But beloved brethren, is not this faith enough to make you seek the Church. What is it the Church desire more than to have the education of her children? Her greatest good is the salvation of her sons; if she obtains this she wants no more. She discusseth not the merits of the past: she only looks at present dispositions. After the example of her Spouse, she looks for the opportunity of being merciful to you in order that she may rejoice in having spared you. Whatsoever your fathers did amiss will not be imputed to you – nay, nor even what you yourselves did in your blindness. She will cast into the sea even your sins. If you have a complaint, make it to her, and she will hear you with willing ears. As you say, there are amongst us some who call themselves Catholics, and walk not in the right path – nay, take sides with our enemies, and try to overturn us. So it is. What did Christ advise us to do in such contingencies? “If thy brother sin against thee….. tell the Church, and if he will not hear her, let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican.” Do you think the Catholic Church is an acceptor of persons? No, beloved brethren. As there is no acceptance of persons with God, so neither ought there to be in his Church. You remember what happened when your holy prelates, Anselm and Thomas, went to Rome to complain of being borne down by unjust persecution. Did not the Church listen to them, and aid them in every way she could under the circumstances? She will do the same for you if it be true that you are about to be exposed to some hard treatment from those who pretend to be Catholics. I know nothing, and therefore cannot judge of the correctness of what you mention. I am ignorant of the causes of your complaints. Although I have always had England in my mind, I have only yet taken a glance at it, and even if  I did see more clearly and scrutinise it more closely, I should still remain ignorant of political frauds or chicanery. I know nothing of such matters, nor do I desire to be better informed. But I do know that the Church never approves of deception or calumnies under the specious pretext of bringing wanders back to her fold.

            If what you say of your catholic neighbours be true, it is very sad, but Christian charity would move me to pray for them – a thing indeed I do. But who, my dear brethren, can compel you to follow bad example if you see it even among Catholics? Do not imitate what is evil, but rather what is good. I should like to see you wish in imitating good, simple in avoiding evil, and excusing it if you possibly can. I do not know the English government, nor its laws, much less do I its intentions; but this I do know: that if the powerful ones do evil, more powerful chastisement awaits them. To the weak is mercy, but the powerful shall be fiercely tormented.

            The means which you point out as likely to lead England back to the catholic faith seem very excellent and much to be desired, especially in what regards the reformation of the morals of the Catholics who dwell amongst you. If these latter are not well behaved they are to be an obstruction rather than a help to the work we are interested in. all those who love truth and unity wish that the faithful be the good odour of Christ in every place, especially amongst unholy people, who scrutinise everything, and have not always charity enough to excuse or overlook the faults of their brethren; that that, seeing their excellent behaviour, they may be converted even without a word being spoken. But, my dear brothers, what we all wish for is not always to be had in multitudes. The nature of the human heart is to be prone to evil from its youth, and, although the grace of faith may help us in correcting our defects, it does not exempt us from the struggle with, and the rebellion of, concupiscence, from which even Paul was not exempt. What, the, do we want? We want charity, for charity covereth a multitude of sins. Charity obliges us to take in good part what is not clearly an evil, and what it cannot take in good part it excuses with the particularity of a friend. It is to be wished, indeed, that those religious who went to England should all imitate the seraphic ardour of St Francis: that they should be humble, lovers of poverty, fervent in charity – in one word, holy and spotless in the eyes of god. But if amongst them one is found who is not quite so fervent, what must we say? We must say, indeed, that they are men, and occasionally liable to human infirmities. It is to be wished that all should be sinless and that we should show in ourselves the image of him who was crucified; but let us be aware, my dear brethren, that as long as we remain in this vale of tears we shall have to behold and bear with our shortcomings, so ought we to have patience with the faults of others. “Carry one another’s burdens,” saith the Apostle, “and so you will fulfil the law of Christ.” “In Paradise only do we find no evil, only in hell is no good to be found; in the world good and evil are always found mixed,” saith St Bernard. If it were made a condition for entering the Catholic Church that no sinner was to be found in it; no Jew or Greek could ask for or obtain admission. The church was never so pure as that nothing reprehensible could be found in her members. Doubtless in the time of the Apostles she was in her greatest purity and fervour; yet who will venture to say that even then there were no defects in the disciples of Christ? Amongst the very apostles, was not Judas a traitor, Peter a perjurer and Thomas an unbeliever, and others there were so difficult to persuade of his resurrection that he upbraided them publicly with their incredulity and hardness of heart? Did not all the Apostles, after promising they would never desert him, run away and leave him alone amongst his enemies? One may say, such was not the case after the coming of the Holy Ghost. It may have been so among the apostles, although even these were not free from venial faults, as may appear from the dissensions between Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Cephas, etc. Among the disciples and first Christians there were scandals to be found of no insignificant magnitude. Was there not an incestuous man in Corinth, and did not Paul call the Galatians senseless? Was there not a murmuring of Greeks against Hebrews heard by the apostles’ own ears? Did not many seek their own interests instead of those of Christ Jesus? Were there not many disobedient, babblers, seducers, who had to be reproved, who upset whole families by teaching what ought not to be taught for filthy lucre’s sake> the Cretans were always liars, bad beasts, given to bellies; “this testimony is true,” saith the apostle to Titus, for which reason he is to scold them hard, that they may be found in faith. “Ah!’ said the Apostle of the Gentiles to the Philippians, “many walk, I have said so to you before, and now say it in tears, enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly,’ etc. From these few examples, and others which might be quoted, it is clear that there was no scandals and unchristian conduct even in the times of the Apostles. Did the Apostles on this account separate from the Church of God? Did they despise her? Not at all; but they supported the defects of the weak with all the charity they could command. These defects pleased them not, but they knew hoe to bear each other burdens. Now I tell you, dear brethren, that if you have resolved to wait until all Catholics be in every way, faith and morals, pure and perfect, before you embrace the Catholic communion, your time for being Catholics will never come. It is equivalent of saying: “In the Catholic Church there are no longer men, but angels; now is our time for joining them; come.” As long as there are mortals in her pale (and that will be to the end of the world), so long will they be human, and we cannot expect modern Christians to be better than the first.

            I know very well, dearly beloved brethren, that the greatest and most immediate charge of those who are sent to England as missioners is to instruct those who already retain the Catholic faith, and try to make them practise what it teaches; I also freely concede that after this they ought to strive, if there be sceptics, infidels, atheists or other unbelievers of any description, that they instruct these also, and exhort them to embrace the Catholic faith. It is of the utmost importance that all men, putting aside the error of unbelief, should acknowledge and confess our Lord Jesus Christ. If, however, one of your communion wishes to become a Catholic, I do not really see on what grounds he ought to be rejected or deterred from entering the Catholic Church, Nay, I do not see how a priest is liable to be censured if he does aid him in taking this step. For is not the Roman Catholic Church the true Church of Christ? That even you yourselves confess. If she be the true Church, is it not necessary for eternal salvation to be united to her? There cannot be two or more churches, but only one, as we said above. If one of yourselves is fully alive to this truth, doth he not do well in carrying it out? This you cannot deny. If those do well who become Catholics, how do they evil who help them in doing what is good and acceptable before god their Saviour?

            Have not some of yourselves, in a publication of yours which I have read with great pleasure, praised exceedingly the labours of St Francis de Sales (which were altogether done for the bringing back of his separated brethren to the Catholic Church) because, as you say, he thought that to profess the Catholic religion was necessary to salvation? If he be worthy of praise inasmuch as he did thus, why are they deserving of blame who follow his example, because of thinking the same conviction? It is better, you say, to bring all in than some. Most certainly; but is it not better to bring some than none? Must we leave merely good alone to wait for the better? It is a tedious process, you say, to bring a whole nation to the faith one by one. It is of little consequence whether it be tedious or not provided it be right. Did not the Apostles take them one by one? Was it not thus that all nations were converted? In his first sermons St Francis de Sales had little more than benches for his audience. Did Paul the apostle keep back Sergius the proconsul – the only roman proconsul who asked for baptism – to wait until the other proconsuls would join him in asking admission to the Church? Did Peter keep back Cornelius, and ask him to wait for other centurions? Did our Lord reject Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman because they were unaccompanied? Did not our Lord himself begin with individuals? What evil, then, do missionaries in England if they follow such precedents, and take individuals into the Church? What hath God foretold by the prophet Isaias? “for it shall be thus in the midst of the earth, in the midst of the people, as if a few olives that remain should be shaken out of the olive-tree, or grapes when the vintage is ended. These shall lift up their voice and shall give praise……therefore glorify ye the name of the Lord in instruction – the name of the Lord god of Israel in the islands of the sea.” Does not the prophet seem to foretell that which is now happening in England? I confess, dearest brethren, that I fail to see wherein the customs then prevailing should displease you.

            Your sighs and the longings of your hearts for that dear country you love so much have pierced my heart through. If that country, so little known to me, is so dear to me, how dear ought it be to you to whom it gave birth! Dear England does deserve a sacrifice. If one single soul deserves that we should endanger life for its salvation, how much does not an entire nation deserve – and a nation so great, so renowned, and so deserving? Tell me, then, dear brethren, what is the sacrifice you would wish me to make for you? and, trusting in God’s assistance, I will make it. I wish God would grant me the favour of giving my life for your conversion! Not I alone, but many Catholics would rejoice in the same. Since however I cannot shed my blood, permit me to shed my tears. I believe those tears will not be unacceptable either to your god or to yourselves. You rejoice in our zeal in praying for your salvation. This joy of yours seems to me to be the beginning of it. No one rejoices except in what is good. I consider our desires to be good, and since these desires have for object your return to Catholic unity, this return will soon appear to you as it does to us. “But we cannot do so just yet.” So be it. What you cannot do now you will do soon; but if it seem any of you that he can do now what others put off for a time, rejoice, the rest of you at his good fortune.

            Not only does the Church militant here on earth, but the Church triumphant in heaven pray for you. Beautiful hope, which can be founded on the faith of the Church in the communion of saints, and on her belief in the intercession of the saints in paradise. The saints pray, especially SS Gregory, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas; they pray for England, as they always have done, I hope, even after the separation. But why have their prayers not been hitherto hearkened unto? O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgements! Who has been his counsellor? Who, who can know the counsels of god? Certainly, I should not dare to try and penetrate the light inaccessible, for the searcher into majesty is sure to be overwhelmed and dazzled with its glory. God is greater than all we can think, and knoweth all things. As to what you say about your sins being the obstacles why those prayers are not heard, I should not like to gainsay that there are sins in England, or in Rome, for that matter. It may be so, though we have no ground of judging for certain on the matter. We have all sinned, beloved brethren, and all stand in need of the grace of God; we can all say, no less with truth than humility, to the almighty, “forgive us our trespasses.” I cannot see that the Roman Catholics are without sin, unless we argue Christ himself of an untruth. If we say that we have no sin then we make him a liar, and the truth is not in us. Let us all, then, confess our sins, and god will have mercy on us, since he is kind, since he is merciful, and far above all unrighteousness. If it seems not far foreign to the truth for one to suppose that god permitted the separation of the ten tribes from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin because of the sins of the whole twelve – even Judah included – so is it not improbable that God has permitted your separation because of sins common to you and to us. If one may judge the sin form the heaviness of the punishment, perhaps we might conclude that the sins of the other tribes were greater than that of Judah. Judah retained the temple, the altar, and the worship of the true God, things which the other tribes lost in part or entirety.

            The time, indeed, will come, when we shall all with one voice glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This time is not far distant. We shall see it with our own eyes. This hope is laid up in my breast. In the meantime, let us do penance in sackcloth and ashes, expecting this blessed hope. Not only the French, but the Italians, Spaniards, the Germans and all Catholics join you in this devotion. With you they hope, with you they desire the day on which we shall be all gathered into the one fold under the one Shepard. Let there be one fold and one shepherd. So be it.

            I beseech, beloved brethren, and earnestly beg of you, that you receive this letter in the same spirit which moved me to write it. If you observe anything in it which deserves to be qualified or explained, have the kindness to let me know. I may seem in some places to have overstepped the bounds of due respect. Set that down to my love. Moreover, in a letter which I send to you privately, I thought I might speak more freely than if I committed the matter to the press. I know that the public is not disposed to take everything in good part. There be men, either of so weak or so malicious a disposition, who, as they abused aforetime the epistles of St Paul to their own destruction, would not spare mine. Since I am well aware of your ability and, shall I say, your piety, I hope that none of you will abuse, that you will kindly accept it, rightly understand it, and excuse, with brotherly affection, whatsoever may seem unsuited or out of place in it. Adieu, then, dearest brethren; be you in peace, and the God of peace and love be with you.



Dominic of the Mother of God



Ère, near Tournay,


May 5th, 1841




[1] In his autobiographical ‘Outline of Divine Mercy in the Life of a Sinner’ Dominic recalls an experience during his postulancy “I went to pray before the altar of the Blessed virgin and whilst I was on my knees began to reflect on how the prophecy of last year was to be fulfilled. Was I to go as a lay brother to preach, and to whom was I to go? China and America came to my mind. Whilst I was thus racking my brain I was given in an instant to understand that six years must pass before I should begin the ministry of the word and that I should go neither to China nor to America, but to the many provinces of Northern Europe. The name that remained most impressed on my mind was England.”

[2] XIX. Of the Church.
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

[3] XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

[4] St Paul of the Cross, the founder of Passionists, had a particular devotion to praying for the conversion of England. This devotion, which had begun in his earliest years, was bequeathed to his Congregation. In later life Paul was consoled with a vision of his religious in England.

[5] VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

[6] See above n.2

[7] XXI “General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.”

[8] XXII. Of Purgatory.
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

[9] XXVIII. Of the Lord’s Supper.
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

[10] XXXI. Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross.
The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.

[11] Dominic met Bishop Milner when a student in Rome. He was the first Englishman Dominic had met and the meeting remained forever in Dominic’s mind.

[12] See above n. 10.

[13] See above n. 8.

[14] XXXVII The King’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction. Where we attribute to the King’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.

The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.

The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.

It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars.

[15] See above n. 7.

[16] See above n. 14

[17] Here Blessed Dominic refers to the practise of naming bishops to titular sees ‘in unfaithful parts’ i.e. an ancient diocese no longer populated by Christians, or a title fallen into general disuse.