Friday, April 20, 2012

Bishop John Joseph Hogan on the Liberty of the Church

THE RADICAL REPUBLICANS gained control of the Missouri legislature by the close of the American Civil War. This political faction has a mixed reputation: they pushed hard for the elimination of the foul institution of slavery and worked to ensure the civil rights of freed slaves, yet they grasped for power, were heavily involved in bribery, trod over the rights of other citizens, and were opposed to any reconciliation with the brutally devastated South.

Members of this faction drafted a new Missouri Constitution, which not only freed all slaves unconditionally, but also severely punished Southern supporters. It is unclear if many of the constitutional convention attendees were actually legal residents of Missouri; likewise, voting for the constitution was also highly irregular, with many ballots being sent out-of-state.

A particular feature of the Radical Constitution of 1865 was that it required all teachers, physicians, clergy, lawyers, government officials, officers and managers of corporations, and voters to take a ‘Test-Oath,’ declaring that they never supported the Southern cause, among other things; the oath was so severe that only Radicals could honestly give it without perjury.

Catholic clergy and religious sisters were not exempt. During the Civil War, Archbishop Kenrick of Saint Louis remained neutral, and ordered his priests to remain neutral also. The clergy were instead to work for peace and reconciliation, but this was not sufficient for the purposes of the Oath, and so Archbishop Kenrick urged his priests not to take it. Father John Joseph Hogan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, and later Bishop of Kansas City and Saint Joseph, Missouri, opposed the oath because civil government has no authority to select who is fit for service in the Church. Father Hogan not only refused to take the oath, he also planned to flee, making his capture by the authorities difficult; however, he was unexpectedly arrested by a friend. Here is a letter of Father Hogan to his supporters in Brookfield:
Bishop Hogan. [Source]
Gentlemen: I thank you for your encouraging words and generous present. Your kindness imposes on me the obligation of devoting myself anew to the defence of your principles. You term Religious Liberty a God-given right. So it is. Let me add. You need not thank anyone but God for it. God is the source of Right and Power. He has said to those sent by Him to teach His religion: “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore teach ye all nations. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” In virtue of this power, He sends us to teach and promises to be with us. His authority is ours. Were it man's authority, man would not now oppose, nor from the beginning have opposed, its exercise. The Civil Authority has been ever, from the days of Herod, the enemy of Christ. Christ therefore could not have entrusted to it, the care of His heavenly teaching. He appointed others besides civil rulers for this purpose. By His appointees He has stood unto this present day; and by them, as sure as His word faileth not, He will stand until the end of the world. It is very foolish then in the Civil Government, to assume an authority that does not belong to it, and to declare in contravention of God's ordination, who shall or shall not preach or teach the Gospel of Christ. This rash assumption of authority by the Civil Government, in a matter that does not belong to it, and over which it has no control, is as weak, silly, and tyrannical as the act of Xerxes, flogging with chains the tossing waves of the sea to make them do his will. One would think that the Civil Power would now at least in this more enlightened age of the world, cease its impotent rage against the Church, knowing as it does after its many defeats, vain struggles and humiliations, that the Church will obey only its maker, and that chains and prisons have no terror for it. And if we should prove recreant to our duty in this respect, we would accomplish nothing for the Civil Power thereby. The liberty of perdition would be of no avail to us or to it. Against us and against it, Christ would still maintain His Church. He would raise up others in our place, who would obey His voice and do His will. In obeying the Church and the state in their respective spheres, we are most obedient to law. We obey God first, our country next, and ourselves last. It is the inversion of these principles that we fear, and that would work the greatest detriment to the State and civil society as well as the Church.

The question now pending is not one merely of loyalty or disloyalty, past, present or prospective. The issue is, whether the Church shall be free or not, to exercise her natural and inherent right, of calling into or rejecting from her ministry whom she pleases; whether yielding to the dictation of the civil power, she shall admit those only who according to its judgment, are fit for the office; or, admitting these to be fit, whether she shall not be free to call in those also who, though at first not fit, afterwards become so through pardon and repentance.

The question is whether the Church is not as much at liberty, and as fully competent now-a-days, as at the beginning, to call in as well the saints as those who were sinners, as well the Baptist and Evangelist as St. Peter and St. Paul, the persecutor and denier of the Redeemer as well as his presanctified messenger and beloved disciple. With all these questions the State has nothing to do. Their decision is the high and unapproachable prerogative of the Church, under the guidance of her Redeemer, who alone is the searcher of hearts, and whose power it is to call in or reject whom He pleases.

And now before we part, let me bid you be neither despondent nor disheartened. God is with you; who then can be against you. The history of the past is the index to the future. What, though we be cast into prison? What, though pains and penalties await us? What, though cells and dungeons be multiplied to debar us from our liberty? Still, the victory of evil will not be complete. Liberty and truth, ever superior to force, will defy the torturer to subjugate them. The momentary triumph of the wicked and the cruel, will be branded with perpetual shame. And out from those dark dungeons and dreary cells, will shine forth a cheering light, to bid all good men hope, and to show by the contrast who are the truer friends of religion and country—they who uphold liberty by the sacrifice of themselves, or they who sacrifice liberty to the unauthorized control of a usurping power. Be firm, yet patient, in the defence of right. This is the christian's struggle for the christian's crown. Let no violence characterize your actions as evil. Bless and pray for those who persecute you, for they are your rulers still. Respect and obey them, consistently with the reverence and obedience you owe to God. To-day, as of old, the religion you profess is ever the same. It bids you, if needs be, to die for Christ, but not conspire against Caesar.

Thanking you, Gentlemen, from the fullness of my grateful heart for your kindness and devotion, I pray God to bless you, and strengthen you with the armor of faith; yea with that faith that giveth victory and overcometh the world, that by it you may prevail against your enemies. May God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 Fr. John Cummings, a young priest of Archdiocese of Saint Louis, and pastor of Saint Joseph Church in Louisiana, Missouri, was arrested for failing to take the oath. He filed a lawsuit, which eventual went to the Supreme Court of the United States. The Test-Oath was declared unconstitutional in 1867, in the case Cummings v. The State of Missouri. The final decision was split 5 to 4, with Radical justices opposing. Despite this setback, the Radicals retained much power, further alienating their opponents, eventually leading to a severe reaction later in the 19th century, with repercussions that continue to our present day. Peace was not wanted, and so peace was not found.

This letter is taken from a book by Bishop Hogan, On the mission in Missouri, 1857-1868, a remarkable work that I quoted at length here. The Bishop’s comments regarding religious liberty are rather appropriate at this time.


  1. Thanks for posting this, along with the link to the full text of Fr. (Bp.) Hogan's book!

    Elaine (aka Bookworm)

  2. Also, I blog occasionally at The American Catholic, and with your permission, would like to do a post linking to this blog entry and to Bp. Hogan's book. Would that be OK with you?