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THE CHURCH AND HISTORICAL SCIENCE.
GREAT change has come over non-Catholic literature of
late years. Its tone towards the Church and things Catholic has lost much of its bigotry and bitterness. The race of the Knoxes and Foxes is extinct, with the exception of a few interesting survivals. Even the oracles of Exeter Hall and of the Knights of the Dark Lantern, have moderated their abuse. It is hard to recognize the Scarlet Woman of Babylon and the bloodthirsty sons of Belial denounced by the Pope-devouring saints of Puritan England in the Romanism and Romanists of their descendants or successors. The clarion and drum ecclesiastic of those warlike “reformers" have been cast aside; their wild war-whoop and maddened shriek have given way to gentler strains; with many writers it has become fashionable to avow even a certain admiration of Rome and her Popes. And yet, through these novel and comparatively agreeable strains, we recognize not unfrequently the old leit-motif ; we are rudely reminded that the sun of truth will have to shine full many a day before it can scatter the last clouds of inveterate prejudice. Very refreshing to the Catholic reader during the past eight or nine years has been the outspoken and hearty recognition of the great qualities of the present Holy Father, of his prudence, his wisdom, his learning, his practical insight, nay, of his singlemindedness, his spotless character, his deep interest in all the arts and sciences, his true and sincere solicitude for the welfare of religion and society. We remember, especially, with what warm commendation the non-Catholic press welcomed the Brief of Leo XIII., opening the Vatican Archives to scholars for the purpose of historical researches. With approval, and almost with enthusiasm many of them dwelt in terms of warm praise upon his words: “The first law of history is to dread uttering falsehood; the next, not to fear stating the truth; the last, that the historian's writing should be open to no suspicion of partiality or of animosity.” And yet the old leit-motif was not wanting in these comments. Leo's noble aims and merits were ungrudgingly acknowledged, but Leo, it was said, is an exception among Popes; his action is at variance with the traditions of the Church; the step he took is noble and fearless. But the very word fearless suggests that the Church has something to fear from historical truth boldly made known, though the Pope himself asserts—that "history, the guide of life and the light of truth, is one of those arms most fit to defend the Church.” No doubt most of the comments we refer to were made in good faith;
and many a reader, for that matter many a Catholic reader, unconsciously accepted the truth of these assertions and inuendoes, especially as they came from sources apparently so unbiased. The more wary, perhaps, had their doubts, and asked: Is Pope Leo really the first Pope that furthers the study of history? Has the Church really done nothing to cherish and promote this noble science? It may not be useless to study these questions, to review the field of historical labor, and to inquire what the Church and her sons have done for historical science. To exclude all suspicion of partiality, our witnesses for the most part will be non. Catholic
Sharp, incisive criticism and unwearied research are characteristic of the modern school of history. The historical student of to-day shrinks from no toil to reach the “ sources,” the original authorities for the period he treats of. He next investigates every statement with almost microscopic minuteness, compares it with other statements, determines the character and reliability of the testimony, weighs the pros and cons, and finally draws his conclusions. If we are to believe popular writers, these are modern methods; before Niebuhr, we are given to understand, historical criticism was unknown, before Pertz and Von Ranke men did not travel from country to country to ransack archives and libraries, before Pertz's Monumenta, no one printed or published the records of the past. Now what are the facts ?
· By historical criticism is meant the probing of historical testimony; its acceptance, if found to be true, no matter how contrary to the historian's sympathies; its rejection, if false, no matter how strongly it favored his views and theories. To probe historical testimony is to inquire whether documents are genuine or spurious, whether the witnesses are partial or unprejudiced, whether the facts harmonize with or contradict other ascertained facts. In modern historical work, which is based so largely on the study of documents, public and private, state and ecclesiastical, much depends on the character of these documents, or diplomas, as they were called When they were subjected to close examination it was very soon found that they were not by any means all genuine. In the past, interested parties had no more scruples to resort to forgery than is the case at present, and detection was far less likely then than now. " In order to establish principles for distinguishing the genuine from the forged, treatises were written on the whole subject of diplomas. With a view to establish the credit of those preserved in the original, the Benedictine Dom Mabillon, in the year 1681, produced his masterly work De Ke Diplomatica-Papebroch the Jesuit having already, in the year 1675, written his Propylæum antiquariuin circa veri ac falsi discrimen in vetustis membranis, in the Acta
Sanctorum, April, vol. II. In the following century appeared the Nouveau Traité de Diplomatique by Dom Toustain (who, however, died before the completion of the work) and Dom Tassin, Benedictines of St. Maur, 6 vols., 4to, 1750-65, treating of the whole subject of diplomas and accordingly entering at length into a minute investigation of the peculiarities and characteristics of writing proper to different ages and countries." "The bibliography of Latin palæography in its different branches is very extensive, but there are comparatively few books which deal with it as a whole. The most complete work is due to the Benedictines, who in 1750–65 produced the Nouveau Traité de Diplomatique, which examines the remains of Latin writing in the most exhaustive manner. The fault of the work lies in its diffuseness and in the superabundance of subdivisions, which tend to confuse the reader. The extensive use, however, which the authors made of the French libraries, renders their work most valuable for reference. As their title shows, they did not confine themselves to the study of manuscript volumes, but dealt with that other branch of palæography, the study of documents, in which they had been preceded by Mabillon in his De Re Diplomatica." In these monumental works the Benedictine Monks, therefore, not only laid the foundation of the critical study of Latin historical documents, but almost brought it to perfection. They classified the writing of different periods and countries, thus establishing external tests of the genuineness of manuscripts, and founding the science of Latin palæography. By minute study and careful analysis they also established and set down many internal criteria, such as the wording of titles, the value of geographical terms at different times, and contemporary chronology, which are in some ways even more certain and more serviceable than the external tests. These are dealt with in the science of diplomatics. But the Benedictines were not satisfied with these achievements. What Mabillon and Tassin did for Latin documents and palæography, that the great Montfaucon did for Greek. “The first book," says E. M. Thompson, "which dealt with the subject in an exhaustive manner, was the Falæographin Græca of the learned Benedictine Dom Bernard de Montfaucon, published in 1708. So thoroughly well was the work done, that down to our time no other scholar attempted to improve upon it, and Montfaucon remained the undisputed authority in this branch of learning." “The Palæographia Græca," says V. Gardthausen, the first scholar who has attempted to improve upon Montfaucon, “is and will remain one of the most remarkable achievements by which a new science was not only founded, but, as it seemed, also perfected. It is the more remarkable, as Montfaucon had no one to precede him, but created everything from nothing. Even though a few of his statements and illustrations do not satisfy the demands we make to-day of similar works as regards precision, Montfaucon certainly followed the correct method in his work."
1 Encyclopædia Britannica, art. “ Diplomatics.”
2 E. Maunde Thompson in the Encyclopædia Britannica, art. “ Palæography," vol. 18, p. 165.
3 E. M. Thompson in the Encyclopædia Britannica. art.“ Palæography," vol. 18, p.
One of the most useful and reliable ways of checking historical documents, is to compare their statements with ascertained facts, contemporary, prior, and subsequent. If a document claiming a certain date, speaks of events later than that date, clearly the document is misdated, and there is good reason to doubt its genuineness. It may likewise awaken suspicion, if it represents the past as contemporary, or sometimes if it is silent concerning closely related contemporary facts of importance. These considerations indicate sufficiently how important for purposes of historical criticism is a sound, detailed, and systematic chronology. The father of chronology was Joseph Scaliger, a Protestant, who in 1583 published his work De Emendatione Temporum. He soon found not only a critic but a fellow worker in the learned Jesuit Petavius, whose book on chronology appeared in 1627 and remained an authority for a long time. But in 1750 was published" the first edition in one volume, 4to., of L'Art de Vérifier les Dates, which in its third edition (1818–31) appeared in 38 volumes, 8vo., a colossal monument of the learning and labors of various members of the Benedictine Congregation of St. Maur."? Even to-day historians can ill dispense with this aid to historical criticism.
Thus did Jesuits and Benedictines vie with each other in providing tools for the critical historians. But long before Papebroch and Mabillon, long before Tassin, Petau, and Dom Clement, the principal compiler of L'Art de Vérifier les Dates, Catholic scholars had given proof that they possessed both the keenness, the learning, and the impartial love of truth which distinguish the true critic. Perhaps no better proof of this can be given than the story of two of the most famous documents of the Middle Ages, the Donatio Constantini and the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. On the first many mediæval writers based the temporal power of the Popes, whilst the second was used to fortify many other Papal rights. But scarcely had the Renaissance set in, scarcely had the study of history been reawakened, when Catholic historians, churchmen too, nay bishops and cardinals, began to doubt the genuineness of these two important documents, and finally condemmed them as spurious.
1 V. Gardthausen, Griechische Palæographie, p. 5-6. 2 W. L. R. Cates in the Encyclopædia Britannica, art. Chronology, vol. v., p. 719.
It is well known that Laurentius Valla condemned the Donatio Constantini in unmeasured terms; but Valla was a humanist, and a humanist not of the Christian type. “Doubts of the genuineness of this document,” says Prof. L. Pastor, “had been expressed years before Valla by the learned Nicolaus de Cusa in his Catholic Concordance. Independently of Valla and Cusa, Reginald Pecock, Bishop of Chichester, showed, after careful examination of the historical testimony, the impossibility of upholding this document so long looked upon as genuine. In 1443 Enea Silvio Piccolomini, afterwards Pope Pius II., urged Frederick III. to bring the question of the Donation of Constantine before a council.”' As to the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, the Popes have often been accused of having had them compiled and partly forged to back up some of their pretensions. It is now established that this collection was made in the Frankish Empire between the years 852–7. The then reigning Pope, Nicolas I., did not so much as know of its existence until 864. Subsequently for several centuries this forgery was looked upon as genuine; but even during the "dark"
ages, long before Luther, Petrus Comestor, in the twelfth century,doubted its authenticity. In 1324 Marsilius of Padua pronounced it a forgery, and in the fifteenth century its genuineness was not admitted by Gobelinus Persona, Heinrich Kalteisen, Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa, and John of Turrecremata. These are crucial facts. Two documents, supposed to support strongly certain Papal claims, one a forgery which imposed upon the Jesuit Turrianus even in 1573, were rejected by the critics of the Middle Ages, most of them priests and bishops, before the schism of Luther, and, therefore, solely in the interest of truth.
We pass to post-Reformation times. One of the greatest historical works ever undertaken was the Acta Sanctorum of the Flemish Jesuits, the so-called Bollandists. Of their merits in other respects we shall speak hereafter. “Such certainty in historical criticism did they acquire in the progress of their work," says Wattenbach, “and so fearlessly did they proceed, that they were soon attacked on many sides, and the Spanish Inquisition even prohibited the work. An attempt was made to induce the Pope to prohibit it, but it proved futile.” “Their majestic tomes," says Prof. G. T. Stokes,' “ stand as everlasting protests on behalf of real and learned inquiry, of accurate, painstaking, and often most critical research into the sources whence history, if worth anything, must be drawn. Of their honesty, which is the essential
1 Prof. L. Pastor, Geschichte der Pæpste, i., p 16 and note. 2 Hergenroether, Kirchengeschichte, ii., p. 16, notes. 3 W. Wattenbach, Deutschland's Geschichtsquellen im M. A., 2d. ed., p. 7. * Stokes, The Bollandists, Contemporary Review, 1883, p. 69, ff.