The World's Famous Orations/Volume 6/An Address to Catholics
AN ADDRESS TO CATHOLICS
Born about 1789, died in 1859; called to the Irish Bar in 1812; active in behalf of Catholic emancipation; called to the English Bar in 1821, and became a leader at the Old Bailey.
It is with no small degree of self-congratulation that I at length find myself in a province which every glance of the eye and every throb of the heart tell me is truly Irish; and that congratulation is not a little enhanced by finding that you receive me not quite as a stranger.
Tho we never met, you hail in me the sweet association, and I feel myself among you even as if I were in the home of my nativity. But this my knowledge of you was not left to chance; nor was it left to the records of your charity, the memorials of your patriotism, your municipal magnificence, or your commercial splendor; it came to me hallowed by the accents of that tongue on which Ireland has so often hung with ecstasy, heightened by the eloquence and endeared by the sincerity of, I hope, our mutual friend. Let me congratulate him on having become in some degree naturalized in a province where the spirit of the elder day seems to have lingered; and let me congratulate you on the acquisition of a man who is at once the zealous advocate of your cause and a practical instance of the injustice of your oppressions. Surely, surely if merit had fair play, if splendid talents, if indefatigable industry, if great research, if unsullied principle, if a heart full of the finest affections, if a mind matured in every manly accomplishment—in short, if every noble public quality, mellowed and reflected in the pure mirror of domestic virtue, could entitle a subject to distinction in a state, Mr. O'Connell should be distinguished; but it is his crime to be a Catholic and his curse to be an Irishman.
Simpleton! he prefers his conscience to a place, and the love of his country to a participation in her plunder! Indeed, he will never rise. If he joined the bigots of my sect he might be a sergeant; if he joined the infidels of your sect he might enjoy a pension, and there is no knowing whether some Orange corporator, at an Orange anniversary, might not modestly yield him the precedence of giving "the glorious and immortal memory."
But let us turn to the contemplation of your cause, which, as far as argument can effect it, stands on a sublime and splendid elevation. Every obstacle has vanished into air; every favorable circumstance has hardened into adamant.
The pope, whom childhood was taught to lisp as the enemy of religion, and age shuddered at as a prescriptive calamity, has by his example put the princes of Christendom to shame. This day of miracles, in which the human heart has been strung to its extremest point of energy; this day, to which posterity will look for instances of every crime and every virtue, holds not in its page of wonders a more sublime phenomenon than that calumniated pontiff. Placed at the very pinnacle of human elevation, surrounded by the pomp of the Vatican and the splendors of the court, pouring the mandates of Christ from the throne of the Cæsars, nations were his subjects, kings were his companions, religion was his handmaid; he went forth gorgeous with the accumulated dignity of ages, every knee bending and every eye blessing the prince of one world and the prophet of another. Have we not seen him in one moment, his crown crumbled, his scepter a reed, his throne a shadow, his home a dungeon?
But if we have, Catholics, it was only to show how inestimable is human virtue compared with human grandeur; it was only to show those whose faith was failing and whose fears were strengthening that the simplicity of the patriarchs, the piety of the saints, and the patience of the martyrs had not wholly vanished.
Perhaps it was also ordained to show the bigot at home, as well as the tyrant abroad, that tho the person might be chained, and the motive calumniated, religion was still strong enough to support her sons and to confound if she could not reclaim her enemies. No threats could awe, no promises could tempt, no sufferings could appal him; amid the damps of his dungeon he dashed away the cup in which the pearl of his liberty was to be dissolved.
Only reflect on the state of the world at that moment. All around him was convulsed, the very foundations of the earth seemed giving way; the comet was let loose, that "from its fiery hair shook pestilence and death"; the twilight was gathering, the tempest was roaring, the darkness was at hand; but he towered sublime, like the last mountain in the deluge, majestic, not less in his elevation than in his solitude, immutable amid change, magnificent amid ruin, the last remnant of earth's beauty, the last resting-place of Heaven's light! Thus have the terrors of the Vatican retreated; thus has that cloud which hovered o'er your cause brightened at once into a sign of your faith and an assurance of your victory.
Another obstacle, the omnipotence of France; I know it was a pretense, but it was made an obstacle. What has become of it? The spell of her invincibility destroyed, the spirit of her armies broken, her immense boundary dismembered, and the lord of her empire become the exile of a rock. She allows fancy no fear, and bigotry no speciousness; and, as if in the very operation of the change to point the purpose of your redemption, the hand that replanted the rejected lily was that of an Irish Catholic.
Perhaps it is not also unworthy of remark that the last day of her triumph and the first of her decline was that on which her insatiable chieftain smote the holy head of your religion. You will hardly suspect I am imbued with the follies of superstition; but when the man now unborn shall trace the story of that eventful day he will see the adopted child of fortune borne on the wings of victory from clime to clime, marking every movement with a triumph and every pause with a crown, till time, space, and seasons, nay, even Nature herself, seeming to vanish from before him—in the blasphemy of his ambition he smote the apostle of his God and dared to raise the everlasting Cross amid his perishable trophies!
Another obstacle, the tenets of your creed. Has England still to learn them? I will tell her where. Let her ask Canada, the last plank of her American shipwreck. Let her ask Portugal, the first omen of her European splendor. Let her ask Spain, the most Catholic country in the universe, her Catholic friends, her Catholic allies, her rivals in the triumph, her reliance in the retreat, her last stay when the world had deserted her. They must have told her on the field of blood whether it was true that they "kept no faith with heretics."
Alas, alas! how miserable a thing is bigotry, when every friend puts it to blush and every triumph but rebukes its weakness! If England continued still to accredit this calumny, I would direct her for conviction to the hero, for whose gift alone she owes us an eternity of gratitude; whom we have seen leading the van of universal emancipation, decking his wreath with the flowers of every soil and filling his army with the soldiers of every sect; before whose splendid dawn, every tear exhaling and every vapor vanishing, the colors of the European world have revived and the spirit of European liberty (may no crime avert the omen!) seems to have risen! Suppose he was a Catholic, could this have been? Suppose Catholics did not follow him, could this have been? Did the Catholic Cortes inquire his faith when they gave him the supreme command? Did the regent of Portugal withhold from his creed the reward of his valor? Did the Catholic soldier pause at Salamanca to dispute upon polemics? Did the Catholic chieftain prove upon Barossa that he had kept no faith with heretics? or did the creed of Spain, the same with that of France, the opposite of that of England, prevent their association in the field of liberty?
Oh, no, no, no! the citizen of every clime, the friend of every color, and the child of every creed, Liberty walks abroad in the ubiquity of her benevolence, alike to her the varieties of faith and the vicissitudes of country; she has no object but the happiness of man, no bounds but the extremities of creation. Yes, yes, it was reserved for Wellington to redeem his own country when he was regenerating every other. It was reserved for him to show how vile were the aspersions on your creed, how generous were the glowings of your gratitude.
He was a Protestant, yet Catholics trusted him; he was a Protestant, yet Catholics advanced him. He is a Protestant Knight in Catholic Portugal; he is a Protestant Duke in Catholic Spain; he is a Protestant commander of Catholic armies. He is more: he is the living proof of the Catholic's liberality and the undeniable refutation of the Protestant's injustice. Gentlemen, as a Protestant, tho I may blush for the bigotry of many of my creed who continue obstinate, in the teeth of this conviction, still, were I a Catholic, I should feel little triumph in the victory. I should only hang my head at the distresses which this warfare occasioned to my country. I should only think how long she had withered in the agony of her disunion; how long she had bent, fettered by slaves, cajoled by blockheads and plundered by adventurers; the proverb of the fool, the prey of the politician, the dupe of the designing, the experiment of the desperate; struggling as it were between her own fanatical and infatuated parties, those hell-engendered serpents which enfold her, like the Trojan seer, even at the worship of her altars, and crush her to death in the very embraces of her children! It is time (is it not?) that she should be extricated.
But to what end do I argue with the bigot?—a wretch whom no philosophy can humanize, no charity soften, no religion reclaim, no miracle convert; a monster who, red with the fires of hell and bending under the crimes of earth, erects his murderous divinity upon a throne of skulls, and would gladly feed, even with a brother's blood, the cannibal appetite of his rejected altar! His very interest can not soften him into humanity. Surely if it could, no man would be found mad enough to advocate a system which cankers the very heart of society and undermines the natural resources of government; which takes away the strongest excitement to industry by closing up every avenue to laudable ambition; which administers to the vanity or the vice of a party when it should only study the advantage of a people; and holds out the perquisites of state as an impious bounty on the persecution of religion.
My friends, farewell! This has been a most unexpected meeting to me; it has been our first—it may be our last. I can never forget the enthusiasm of this reception. I am too much affected by it to make professions; but, believe me, no matter where I may be driven by the whim of my destiny, you shall find me one in whom change of place shall create no change of principle, one whose memory must perish ere he forgets his country, whose heart must be cold when it beats not for her happiness.
- Phillips, tho a Protestant, was presented with a national testimonial in recognition of his services to the cause of Catholic emancipation, as promoted by the Roman Catholic Association. The speech here given was delivered in Cork at a meeting of Roman Catholics.