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THE third Council of Lateran, which is acknowledged as the eleventh Æcumenical Council, has decreed “ that all Oaths which are adverse to the utility of the Church, and the institution of the Holy Fathers, are to be unscrupulously violated, inasmuch as they are to be deemed perjuries, rather than oaths.” (Can. XVI. apud Labbe, Vol. X. p. 1517.) And “that all those who are any ways bound to heretics, should consider themselves absolved from all fidelity and obedience to them as long as they persist in their iniquity.” (Id. c. 27.) The Council of Constance decreed, in reference to the case of John Huss, that “neither by natural, human, or divine law, need any faith or promise, which is prejudicial to the Catholic faith, be kept.” And, according to the exposition of the doctrine of the Catholic Church, by the Professors of Maynooth, “it is lawful to break an Oath, if, by not fulfilling it, you think you shall be able to do greater good than by keeping it; or, if the person swearing limits his obligation, (tacita et subintellecta,) or if, being previously bound to a superior, such as a superior of Regulars, and, a fortiori, the Pope ; he (the superior,) should object to the oath; or, if the person, to whom either the individual who has taken the oath, or the matter concerning which the oath is taken, is subject, (persona jurans, vel
materia juramenti,) should think fit to make void the obligation, even without a reason.” Urban II. ordained that it was lawful for subjects to break their oaths of allegiance to all such as were excommunicated by the Pope. Of this dispensing power of the Pope, we find in the Bull of Pope Pius V., that he thus asserts and exercises it; “We, who have been constituted Prince over all nations, and all kingdoms, that might pluck up, and destroy, dissipate and ruin, plant and build," by virtue of such power “deprive the Queen of all her pretended right to the Kingdom, and of all dominion, dignity, and privilege whatsoever, and absolve all the nobles, subjects, and people of the kingdom, and whoever else have sworn to her, from their Oath of allegiance, and all duty whatsoever, in regard of dominion, fidelity, and obedience."
In the year 1555, Paul IV., being about to make a promotion of Cardinals, directly contrary to his solemn Oath, when some of the then present Cardinals put him in mind of his Oath, he, in open Consistory, declared, that it was an article of faith, that the Pope's power is absolute, that he cannot be bound, much less can he bind himself.
Men who, like the members of the Council of Constance, had been trained in the morality of the Casuists, the law of the Canonists, and the religion of the Romish Church, would desire no better authority for requiring this breach of faith than the Decretals afforded them.
For example, we read, “that oath is not to be regarded from which injury may unadvisedly arise.” “All promises are not to be kept." “Oaths contrary to the divine laws are not to be kept.” “It is sometimes expen dient not to observe a solemn oath.” All this is proved in the Decretals by the example of Herod's oath, to the daughter of Herodias. But the conduct of the Romish Church is the best exposition of its opinions ; and on the subject before us, it has spoken out in such intelligible lan
guage that we cannot mistake íts feelings or sentiments. Reference, the reader will immediately perceive, is here intended to the Council of Constance, and its flagrant breach of faith towards Jerome and Huss. This affair, branded with the detestation and odium of every honorable mind, has been of late rendered interesting, inasmuch as it has elicited a species of defence for Sigismund, of an opposite description to that set up by former writers. Spondanus, who had been raised to a Bishopric, for his apostacy from Protestantism, observes, “ the Emperor could not compel the ecclesiastical power to respect the faith he had pledged, as it was beyond his jurisdiction." Cochleus, says, “the protection of a heretic should be conditional ;” “ that the King was not greater than God, than Justice, or than a Council.” But in the Parliamentary Report of 1825, Doctor Murray stated before the House of Commons, “that the safe conduct granted Huss, was a mere travelling passport, which promised him no other protection, than that he should not be interrupted in his journey to Constance; that Constance was a free town; and therefore, that Sigismund could have had no control over its laws; and that as he had done all that was in his power to do, he had been guilty of no violation of promise!” that this gloss is at variance with the very Act of the Council, with written evidence on the subject, and with the fact itself; is evident on the following grounds :
1. Because the Decree of the Council, which was passed in consequence of the public outcry against Sigismund, for a breach of faith, is to be regarded as a justification of his conduct. “ The Holy Synod declares, that no obstruction ought to be offered to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, so as that it may not be lawful, notwithstanding the said safe conduct, to examine and judge persons, who hold errors, and to punish them as justice shall require, if they refuse to renounce their errors: although they may have come to the place of judgment, relying on a safe-conduct.; and would not have come, &c.” Here is the flagitious principle recognized in its solemn Deeree, and acted on by this celebrated Assembly ; in which it declares that Huss was unworthy, through his obstinate adherence to heresy, of any indulgence, and that neither the divine, nor the human law, warranted their observance of any promise made to him, to the prejudice of the Catholic religion.
2. The testimony of no less a personage than Æneas Silvius himself, afterwards Pius II., contradicts Doctor Murray, and proves, that what
he calls, " handing Huss over to the civil power," was a mere form, such as is observed in our law courts, when, after the criminal has been tried and condemned, he is handed over to the executioner. The very
words of this writer are: “ Lata est in consessu patrum adversus contumaces (Huss, and Jerome of Prague,) sententia, cremandos esse, qui doctrinam Ecclesiæ respuerint. Prior igitur Johannes combustus est. Hieronymus diu postea in vinculis habitus, quum resipiscere nollet, pari supplicio affectus."
Simanca, a learned Spaniard, defends part of the proceedings at Constance against Huss, and stoutly maintains, "that faith given to heretics is not to be kept; for if faith is not to be kept with tyrants, pirates, and other public robbers, who slay the body, much less is it to be kept with obstinate heretics, who slay the soul.” Rightly, therefore, were certain heretics consigned to lawful flames by the judgment of the grave
Council of Constance, although their safety had been promised to them; and blessed Thomas (the angelic Doctor !) likewise holds, that an intractable heretic is to be delivered up to the judges, notwithstanding the faith and oath, by which he may have bound a Catholic.”
3. The very fact disproves the apologies and excuses of the Catholics, as the wording of the safe-conduct fully shows. Sigismund takes this honorable master, as he calls Huss, under his special protection, and directs, that he shall be safely escorted—and shall every where be permitted freely and securely to pass, sojourn, remain, and return without violence or injury :-transire, stare, morari, et redire. Here is no limitation, such as :—if he should be acquitted. The permission granted is unqualified in its nature and object; and besides, it would appear as if the Council had pledged itself to a safe-conduct of some description other ; since Dubravius, another writer of the Bohemian History of that period, says, that Huss repaired to Constance, relying on the public assurance given him by the Council ;-fide publica a Concilio accepta. From all which it is evident, that the Council deceived Huss, and that Sigismund was the unconscious instrument of the deception ; and that, therefore, the attempt to explain away the perfidy of the Council, or the persecuting principles by which it was governed, is perfectly futile. In
the Council takes no pains to disguise its sentiments. It decrees that Sigismund had no power to grant protection to Huss, as heresy was not cognizable by the temporal authorities; it pronounces the spiritual
sentence, and then hands the victim over to the secular power for immolation.
As a corollary flowing from the aforesaid premises, it is proved beyond contradiction, that the Church of Rome holds it as a maxim, that faith is not to be kept with heretics, to the prejudice of the Church, (for the observance of faith in private transactions is not at all concerned,) a maxim which is perfectly compatible with another deduction : namely, the superiority of the ecclesiastical over the temporal authority, and that it is, and must be, in principle and in practice, when it has the power, what it was when the Council of Constance held its Sessions; its eternal sameness, so appositely expressed by Dr. Troy's semper eadem, proclaims its unaltered, because unalterable, state. The germ of intolerance exists within its bosom, ready to shoot forth and to expand, whenever circum-. stances will admit of its display. Were this not the case, surely the silence of the Vatican on the subject would not have been inviolably preserved for more than four centuries. If the offensive decree be obsolete, as has been affirmed, why is it not abrogated by a power co-ordinate with that which enacted it? Finally, if it be obsolete, why is it received by the Romish Clergy, as among the ordinances declared, defined, and laid down in the General Councils, without exception or limitation, and that too under the solemn sanction of their oaths ? No; that decree can never become obsolete, so long as it remains unrepealed. But, more particularly, it is not obsolete, because it bears the impress of infallibility, which high and holy sanction must make it of everlasting obligation.