Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Belloc on King James I of England and Emperor Ferdinand II

It's time again to remind you that I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show tomorrow with Anna Mitchell to continue our discussion of chapters in Hilaire Belloc's Characters of the Reformation. Tomorrow: James I of England and Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor. Listen live here tomorrow a little after 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern.

At the beginning of the chapter on James I, Belloc states:

James I of England struck at the beginning of the seventeenth century the note which was henceforward to affect all modern life so profoundly. That note was the independence of nations — as lay societies — from the moral judgment of the Church. Henry IV of France, his con- temporary, was the symbol (as we saw in the last chapter) of the fact that the Reformation would not be successful in its attempt to overwhelm our civilization. In France, after a furious struggle in which the leaders of the nation had half of them gone Protestant and engaged in fierce civil wars against the other half, the nation as a whole had come down on the right side of the hedge, mainly through the energy of the city of Paris. But in France also the new nationalist spirit was rising, and we shall see later what a height it reached under Louis XIV, Henry IV's grandson, before the end of the century. 

James I of England stands for that nationalist principle which, in the succeeding three hundred years, completely conquered. 

Today, everyone, for the moment, accepts the principle that the nation is sovereign and lay, completely independent of every international control. The modern nation gives no obedience to any defined international moral authority — such as had been the Catholic Church with the Papacy for its supreme Judge during all the centuries when our European civilization was being built up. The modern nation is not only completely independent, but admits no religious definition. Any citizen who prefers his allegiance to a religious body to his allegiance to the nation is regarded as a traitor. Religions of all kinds are regarded as the private affair of individuals. When the citizens differ among themselves upon religion it is the duty of the State to keep the peace between them but not to affirm itself the guardian of any one set of doctrines. The sacred thing to which everybody must adhere, the one doctrine against which no one may protest on pain of heresy, is the doctrine of patriotism and the right of the nation to its complete independence. There is, thus, no common law binding all nations.

Belloc calls this "absolute nationalism". He notes that absolute nationalism and the Divine Right of Kings, which James I upheld so resolutely in both religious and secular matters, are the same thing--nothing has any authority over the State.

James I, like Henry VIII and Elizabeth I before him, had an adviser and counselor, who helped him rule England:

James came into England from Scotland with little knowledge of English ways, he talked with so strong a Scottish accent that it was not easy to understand him, and he brought with him a group of Scottish companions highly unpopular in England. It must be remembered that Scotland had been the hereditary enemy of England for centuries, and was still regarded as an alien nation. James depended more and more upon this statesman, Robert Cecil, who not only had the very highest talents as a states- man but was privy to all the secrets of the governing class around the King. He held firmly in hand a universal spy system and was adept, as his father had been, not only at discovering plots against the Crown, but at creating them by the use of secret agents and at nursing and fomenting them when they had started. 

Now it was Robert Cecil's prime object to prevent a Catholic reaction. The whole policy of his family and tradition was the gradual imposition, by force and trickery, of the new religion upon the English people. They had so far succeeded that, when James thus came to the throne in 1603, quite half the English were opposed to their ancient Faith. Most of that half were, no doubt, indifferent to religion, as were many on the other side also; but in 1603 quite half England was, upon the whole, anti-Catholic; and it was Robert Cecil's business to make all England anti-Catholic in time; or, at any rate, if that should be impossible, to make so large a proportion of England anti-Catholic as to render the full return of the Faith out of the question. Whether he invented the Gunpowder Plot or not will always be disputed. There is no positive proof that he did; all that we know for certain is that he knew all about it just after it was started, and nursed it carefully. Gunpowder was then a Government monopoly, and yet the conspirators brought it openly across the Thames in large quantities, and all their movements were known. Cecil exposed the plot just at the right moment to produce the most effect; and it is from that date (1606) that the tide turns and that England tends to become more and more a Protestant country. 

Belloc credits James with the attempt, at least, of maintaining peace, but that his goal to uphold the Divine Right of Kings during his reign has had greater lasting influence:

However, above everything else in the eyes of James I, the complete independence of the English Crown must be preserved. And it could only be preserved by supporting and continuing the Protestant policy of his predecessors. He stood for Divine Right. He watered and nourished that plant until it took firm root, and since his day has spread its doctrines everywhere, so that to-day (under another name) it is quite undisputed— with the consequences which we see around us.

Nationalism is also one of the themes in Belloc's chapter on Ferdinand II, the Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, and King of Bohemia:

The Emperor Ferdinand. II represents in the great religious struggle of the seventeenth century the strength of the Catholic reaction; that is, what is generally called the Counter Reformation. If he had only represented that, however, his partial success and partial failure would be less interesting than they are. He also represents another feature which had come into the struggle and strongly affected it everywhere — Nationalism. 

Everywhere in Christendom the particular interests of princes, cities, districts, nations and even of races or groups of culture, were at issue with the general interests of united Christendom. One main aspect of the Reformation, therefore, is the effort of the religious revolutionaries to assert local independence politically against authorities superior to themselves, and ultimately of course against the supreme moral authority of the Church throughout Europe.

Nevertheless, Ferdinand II, as a devout Catholic, did all he could re restore Catholicism throughout the kingdoms he ruled:

Ferdinand II is a character who, after a hundred years of religious division among Germans, undertakes to re- establish Catholicism everywhere in his dominions from the Alps to the Baltic, and from beyond the Rhine to the frontiers of Poland. He is the character who undertakes, as head of the German states, Emperor over them all, and individually the possessor of the largest amount of land as a private prince, to undo what the Reformation had done in nearly the whole of north Germany, and partly in the centre of Germany. 

Had Ferdinand II triumphed the old religion would probably have been re-established not only in Germany, but, sooner or later, in most of Europe. Nothing would have remained of the religious revolution save the small populations of Scandinavia, of England and of Scotland, and no one can say how long these remnants could have stayed out ; for there was a considerable Catholic minority in Scotland and in Scandinavia, and a very large one in England, as late as the beginning of Ferdinand's effort, that is from 1620-30. Even if England, Scotland and Scandinavia had remained strongly independent Protestant Governments, they would have counted little compared with the vastly greater numbers and wealth of the German Empire, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, and Poland. The Protestants all put together would not have commanded one tenth of the men and money commanded by the Catholics, had Ferdinand succeeded in establishing a United Catholic German Empire. 

But in his effort to restore Catholicism universally, on the Continent at least, Ferdinand II was also considering the power of his hereditary house, the house of Hapsburg; and it was this duality of aim which was at bottom the cause of his partial failure. 

Catholic France, France under King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, saw that if Ferdinand II succeeded in his aims, French power would be threatened. So the French joined forces with the Protestants in the Thirty Years War.

Belloc admires Ferdinand, saying that he had:

the highest courage and the fullest tenacity of purpose but also the greatest devotion to religion and the finest personal character. He had, besides, what is of supreme value in governing men — sympathy with the masses and the humblest of his people. Anyone could approach him at any time. The population of his hereditary dominions was by the time of his death firmly bound to him with the bond of real affection.

But the Thirty Years War devastated Germany, resulted in French hegemony and Europe, and left the Holy Roman Empire as divided between Protestant and Catholic as it was before it began.

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