Wednesday, May 16, 2012

More on Catholics in Colonial America

From Laudem Gloriae: Only three of the original thirteen colonies allowed Catholics to vote. Every colony save Rhode Island prohibited Catholics from holding public office, and no colony allowed Catholic schools except for Pennsylvania. Virginia passed a law ordering the arrest of any priest who entered the state. It was regular practice to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day as their English counterparts did overseas, by burning the Pope in effigy and chanting anti-Catholic slogans. (George Washington, to his credit, attempted to do away with this bigoted festival, and rumor has it he died a Catholic.) When British Parliament passed the Quebec Act*, permitting the Catholic Church to be the official church of Quebec, colonists raised an uproar against "the popish threat" looming from the northern border.

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton said, “Does not your blood run cold to think that an English Parliament should pass an Act for the establishment of arbitrary power and Popery in such an extensive country? ...Your loves, your property, your religion are all at stake.” The Quebec Act, in his mind, would attract Catholics from all over Europe to America and thus destroy his fair country.

Hero of the Revolution Paul Revere drew a cartoon mocking four mitred Anglican clergy for drawing up the Quebec Act, a dark, winged Luciferian figure hovering behind them whispering his counsel in their ears to encourage their "approbation and countenance of the Roman religion." . . .

Christine Niles, the blogger, also quotes two letters of John Adams to Abigail in which he mocks Catholic devotions and prayers. She then concludes:

Enough with the romanticized view of early colonial America and the so-called purity of intention of our revolutionary forebears. Simply to know the Founding Fathers sympathized with the French Revolution is enough to make me wonder--as it should any thinking American Catholic.

When I read the excerpts from Adams's letters, I was reminded of Blessed John Henry Newman's impressions of Rome and Catholic ceremonies and churches there when he visited in 1833. The International Centre of Newman Friends offers this 2008 newsletter, written by Dr. Brigitte Maria Hoegemann FSO, including some of those reactions. They also reminded me of a later period of American history which Protestant churches started to adopt some Catholic architectural and liturgical practices (stained glass windows, Latin Crosses, Gothic architecture, flowers, candles, etc), even as their ministers descried Catholic liturgies as mysterious and superstitious. As Ryan K. Smith quotes one Presbyterian minister in his book Gothic Arches, Latin Crosses: Anti-Catholicism and American Church Designs in the Nineteenth Century: "Why do we abuse the papists, and then imitate them?" They recognized, like Adams, the attractions of beauty and even of the sublime.

*"And, for the more perfect Security and Ease of the Minds of the Inhabitants of the said Province, it is hereby declared: That his Majesty's Subjects, professing the Religion of the Church of Rome of and in the said Province of Quebec, may have, hold, and enjoy, the free Exercise of the Religion of the Church of Rome, subject to the King's Supremacy, declared and established by an Act, made in the first Year of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, over all the Dominions and Countries which then did, or thereafter should belong, to the Imperial Crown of this Realm; and that the Clergy of the said Church may hold, receive, and enjoy, their accustomed Dues and Rights, with respect to such Persons only as shall profess the said Religion."!

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