Macaulay on the Papacy


Thomas Babington Macaulay–with Gibbon, one of Britain’s two greatest historians–in an 1840 review of Ranke’s History of the Popes:

The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. images.jpgThe republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour.

That’s perspective for you, no?

(With a tip of the hat to Mr. S., who reminded me of this splendid passage.)

There are 13 comments.

  1. Inactive

    I’m not Catholic and I understand very little about the papacy and its meaning to Catholics. I have too much respect for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to pretend otherwise. Yet I struggle to understand why Ratzinger’s resignation troubles you, Peter. Apart from the fact resignations are rare–an empirical observation, which doesn’t immediately address the question of propriety–what are the sources of your unease?

    May I simply remind you–with the hope of calming that unease–that we are taught not to place our trust in princes, even Princes of Rome. As another member said in an earlier post, let us look to the true Helmsman.

    • #1
    • February 13, 2013 at 4:29 am
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  2. Coolidge

    The continuity is truly impressive. Few organizations have endured so long. I think the only other I can think of that is longer today is the Emperor of Japan, who traces his family’s line to about 660BC.

    • #2
    • February 13, 2013 at 4:43 am
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  3. Contributor

    The Church does have staying power, doesn’t it? The times seem never to be good — think of the Dark Ages, think of Church’s Babylonian Captivity, think of the corruption that beset the Church during the Renaissance, think of its travails in the age of the Reformation, think of the French Revolution and its aftermath, think of Occupied Europe in the early 1940s, think of the Soviet occupation in the wake of World War II and the communist period that followed. And, yet, when all is said and done, she survives.

    When you look at it from this perspective, the present discontents seem paltry. Yes, things are bad. They always were.

    • #3
    • February 13, 2013 at 4:49 am
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  4. Inactive

    My guess is that one will have to search long and hard to find a “pro-papacy” quote from Gibbon.

    • #4
    • February 13, 2013 at 5:00 am
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  5. Coolidge

    Christianity is either real, or it isn’t. Christ was actually God incarnate, or He wasn’t. If it is, and He was (is), then how can the Church do anything other than survive?

    It should come as no surprise for us that the Christian church survives adversity. Neither should that adversity come as a surprise.

    • #5
    • February 13, 2013 at 5:31 am
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  6. Inactive

    As a presbyterian I can only thank the Pope for the wonderful Catholic school that my daughter attends. It has a core mission of learning, discipline, faith, and civility . I think those are the four basic things missing from the public school system. 

    (oh yeah, that and sex education ala GLSEN)

    • #6
    • February 13, 2013 at 5:39 am
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  7. Inactive

    On the general point of the post of course I’m in agreement with you, Peter. But I must disagree with your immoderate praise of Macaulay. Not only is he not one of Britain’s two greatest historians, he’s not even Britain’s greatest historian of England. I think that title belongs to the Scot David Hume, whose History of England is blessedly free of the Whiggery for which Macaulay was justly famous. 

    • #7
    • February 13, 2013 at 6:10 am
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  8. Inactive

    Don’t worry about Macaulay go back to Malachy and his prophecy: The Next Pope will be the Last..

    And curtesy of Judith Levy’s post The Papal Succession we have the Muslim demographic to deal with.

    “May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with everyone” (Rev 22:23)

    Not to put a negative spin on things.. maybe that lightening bolt will set things off positively.

    • #8
    • February 13, 2013 at 6:18 am
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  9. Member
    Cattle King: My guess is that one will have to search long and hard to find a “pro-papacy” quote from Gibbon. · 1 hour ago

    Why would that be; he was a convert to Roman Catholicism?

    The other historian who Mr. Robinson quoted was born into an Irish.Catholic family.

    • #9
    • February 13, 2013 at 6:24 am
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  10. Member

    Aw man, I saw the headline “Macaulay on the Papacy” on the Ricochet Twitter feed and I thought it was about St. Malachy’s Prophecy of the Popes. Reading fresh insights from Peter on that topic would have been entertaining indeed!

    UPDATE: I see doc molloy had a similar reaction.

    • #10
    • February 13, 2013 at 7:21 am
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  11. Inactive
    Barbara Kidder
    Cattle King: My guess is that one will have to search long and hard to find a “pro-papacy” quote from Gibbon. · 1 hour ago

    Why would that be; he was a convert to Roman Catholicism?

    The other historian who Mr. Robinson quoted was born into an Irish.Catholic family. · 1 hour ago

    And then he unconverted. Enlightenment to the core was Mr. Gibbon.

    • #11
    • February 13, 2013 at 8:10 am
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  12. Member

    It’s said, that he got a ‘front-end alignment’ from his family!

    But where I come from, “once a Catholic, always a Catholic”.

    • #12
    • February 13, 2013 at 8:38 am
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  13. Member

    I can’t judge Papa Bene’s success as a manager; for a scholar like him must be a dispiriting task — a holy bureaucracy is still a bureaucracy. But you can find the vigor of the institution in his writings; they will certainly outlive him and us, are already in the lifeblood of the Church he so loves.

    You can see him in his resignation statement: he says exactly what he has to say and no more; the man seems to be as transparent as his writing. To misunderstand him takes a deliberate effort; but for the Church’s enemies, who are legion, the effort is a pleasure.

    • #13
    • February 13, 2013 at 10:28 am
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