Misinforming a Nation/Chapter 11

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Throughout several of the foregoing chapters I have laid considerable emphasis on the narrow parochial attitude of the Britannica's editors and on the constant intrusion of England's middle-class Presbyterianism into nearly every branch of æsthetics. The Britannica, far from being the objective and unbiased work it claims to be, assumes a personal and prejudiced attitude, and the culture of the world is colored and tinctured by that viewpoint. It would appear self-obvious to say that the subject of religion in any encyclopædia whose aim is to be universal, should be limited to the articles on religious matters. But in the Encyclopædia Britannica this is not the case. As I have shown, those great artists and thinkers who do not fall within the range of bourgeois England's suburban morality, are neglected, disparaged, or omitted entirely.

Not only patriotic prejudice, but evangelical prejudice as well, characterizes this encyclopædia's treatment of the world's great achievements; and nowhere does this latter bias exhibit itself more unmistakably than in the articles relating to Catholicism. The trickery, the manifest ignorance, the contemptuous arrogance, the inaccuracies, the venom, and the half-truths which are encountered in the discussion of the Catholic Church and its history almost pass the bounds of credibility. The wanton prejudice exhibited in this department of the Britannica cannot fail to find resentment even in non-Catholics, like myself; and for scholars, either in or out of the Church, this encyclopædia, as a source of information, is not only worthless but grossly misleading.

The true facts relating to the inclusion of this encyclopædia's article on Catholicism, as showing the arrogant and unscholarly attitude of the editors, are as interesting to those outside of the Church as to Catholics themselves. And it is for the reason that these articles are typical of a great many of the Encyclopædia's discussions of culture in general that I call attention both to the misinformation contained in them and to the amazing refusal of the Britannica's editors to correct the errors when called to their attention at a time when correction was possible. The treatment of the Catholic Church by the Britannica is quite in keeping with its treatment of other important subjects, and it emphasizes, perhaps better than any other topic, not only the Encyclopædia's petty bias and incompleteness, but the indefensible and mendacious advertising by which this set of books was foisted upon the American public. And it also gives direct and irrefutable substantiation to my accusation that the spirit of the Encyclopædia Britannica is closely allied to the provincial religious doctrines of the British bourgeoisie; and that therefore it is a work of the most questionable value.

Over five years ago T. J. Campbell, S. J., in The Catholic Mind, wrote an article entitled The Truth About the Encyclopædia Britannica — an article which, from the standpoint of an authority, exposed the utter unreliability of this Encyclopædia's discussion of Catholicism. The article is too long to quote here, but enough of it will be given to reveal the inadequacy of the Britannica as a source of accurate information. “The Encyclopædia Britannica” the article begins, “has taken an unfair advantage of the public. By issuing all its volumes simultaneously it prevented any protests against misstatements until the whole harm was done. Henceforth prudent people will be less eager to put faith in prospectuses and promises. The volumes were delivered in two installments a couple of months apart. The article Catholic Church, in which the animus of the Encyclopædia might have been detected, should naturally have been in the first set. It was adroitly relegated to the end of the second set, under the caption Roman Catholic Church.

“It had been intimated to us that the Encyclopædia's account of the Jesuits was particularly offensive. That is our excuse for considering it first. Turning to it we found that the same old battered scarecrow had been set up. The article covers ten and a half large, double-columned, closely-printed pages, and requires more than an hour in its perusal. After reading it two or three times we closed the book with amazement, not at the calumnies with which the article teems and to which custom has made us callous, but at the lack of good judgment, of accurate scholarship, of common information, and business tact which it reveals in those who are responsible for its publication.

“It ought to be supposed that the subscribers to this costly encyclopædia had a right to expect in the discussion of all the questions presented an absolute or quasi-absolute freedom from partisan bias, a sincere and genuine presentation of all the results of the most modern research, a positive exclusion of all second-hand and discredited matter, and a scrupulous adherence to historical truth. In the article in question all these essential conditions are woefully lacking.

“Encyclopædias of any pretence take especial pride in the perfection and completeness of their bibliographies. It is a stamp of scholarship and a guarantee of the thoroughness and reliability of the article, which is supposed to be an extract and a digest of all that has been said or written on the subject. The bibliography annexed to the article on the Jesuits, is not only deplorably meagre, but hopelessly antiquated. Thus, for instance, only three works of the present century are quoted; one of them apparently for no reason whatever, viz.: The History of the Jesuits of North America, in three volumes, by Thomas Hughes, S. J., for, as far as we are able to see, the Encyclopædia article makes no mention of their being with Lord Baltimore in Maryland, or of the preceding troubles of the Jesuits in England, which were considered important enough for a monumental work, but evidently not for a compiler of the Encyclopædia. Again, the nine words, ‘laboring amongst the Hurons and Iro- quois of North America,’ form the sum total of all the information vouchsafed us about the great missions of the seventeenth and eighteenth cen- turies, though we are referred to the seventy-three volumes of Thwaites' edition of the Jesuits Relations. Had the author or editor even glanced at these books he might have seen that besides the Huron and Iroquois missions, which were very brief in point of time and very restricted in their territorial limitations, the Jesuit missions with the Algonquins extended from Newfoundland to Alaska, and are still continued; he would have found that most of the ethnological, religious, linguistic and geographical knowledge we have of aboriginal North America comes from those Jesuit Relations; and possibly without much research the sluggish reader would have met with a certain inconspicuous Marquette; but as Englishmen, up to the Civil War, are said to have imagined that the Mississippi was the dividing line between the North and South, the value of the epoch-making discovery of the great river never entered this slow foreigner's mind. Nor is there any reference to the gigantic labors of the Jesuits in Mexico; but perhaps Mexico is not considered to be in North America.

“Nor is there in this bibliography any mention of the Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu, nor of the Monumenta Pædagogica, nor is there any allusion to the great and learned works of Duhr, Tacchi-Venturi, Fouqueray, and Kroes, which have just been published and are mines of information on the history of the Society in Spain, Germany, Italy and France; and although we are told of the Historia Societatis Jesu by Orlandini, which bears the very remote imprint of 1620, is very difficult to obtain, and covers a very restricted period, there is apparently no knowledge of the classic work of Jouvency, nor is Sacchini cited, nor Polanco. The Bibliothèque des écrivains de la Compagnie de Jésus, by De Backer, not ‘Backer,’ as the Encyclopædia has it, is listed; but it is simply shocking to find that there was no knowledge of Sommervogel, who is the continuator of De Backer, and who has left us a most scholarly and splendid work which is brought down to our own times, and for which De Backer's, notable though it be, was only a preparation. In brief, the bibliography is absolutely worthless, not only for a scholar, but even for the average reader.

“On the other hand it is quite in keeping with the character of the writers who were chosen for the article. The New York Evening Post informs us that before 1880, when a search for a suitable scribe for the Jesuit article was instituted, some one started on a hunt for Cardinal Newman, but the great man had no time. Then he thought of Manning, who, of course, declined, and finally knowing no other ‘Jesuit’ he gave the work to Littledale. Littledale, as everyone knows, was an Anglican minister, notorious not only for his antagonism to the Jesuits, but also to the Catholic Church. He gladly addressed himself to the task, and forthwith informed the world that ‘the Jesuits controlled the policy of Spain’; that ‘it was a matter of common knowledge that they kindled the Franco-Prussian war of 1870’; that ‘Pope Julius II dispensed the Father General from his vow of poverty,’ though that warrior Pope expired eight years before Ignatius sought the solitude of Manresa, and had as yet no idea of a Society of Jesus; again, that ‘the Jesuits from the beginning never obeyed the Pope’; that 'in their moral teaching they can attenuate and even defend any kind of sin'; and, finally, not to be too prolix in this list of absurdities, that, prior to the Vatican Council, ‘they had filled up all the sees of Latin Christendom with bishops of their own selection.’

“It is true that only the last mentioned charge appears in the present edition, and it is a fortunate concession for Littledale's suffering victims; for if ‘there are no great intellects among the Jesuits,’ and if they are only a set of ‘respectable mediocrities,’ as this ‘revised’ article tells us, they can point with pride to this feat which makes a dozen Franco-Prussian wars pale into insignificance alongside it. We doubt, however, if the 700 prelates who sat in the Vatican Council would accept that explanation of their promotion in the prelacy; and we feel certain that Cardinal Manning, who was one of the great figures in that assembly, would resent it, at least if it be true, as the Encyclopædia assures us, that he consid- ered the suppression of the Society in 1773 to be the work of God, and was sure that another 1773 was coming.

“The wonder is that a writer who can be guilty of such absurdities should, after twenty years, be summoned from the dead as a witness to anything at all. But on the other hand it is not surprising when we see that the Rev. Ethelred Taunton, who is also dead and buried, should be made his yoke-fellow in ploughing over this old field, to sow again these poisonous weeds. There are many post-mortems in the Encyclopædia. Had the careless editors of the Encyclopædia consulted Usher's Reconstruction of the English Church, they would have found Taunton described as an author ‘who makes considerable parade of the amount of his research, but has not gone very far and has added little, if anything, to what we knew before. As a whole, his book on The History of the Jesuits in England is uncritical and prejudiced.’

“Such is the authority the Encyclopædia appeals to for information. That is bad enough, but in the list of authors Taunton is actually described as a ‘Jesuit.’ Possibly it is one of the punishments the Almighty has meted out to him for his misuse of the pen while on earth. But he never did half the harm to the Jesuits by his ill-natured assaults as he has to the Encyclopædia in being mistaken for an ‘S. J.’; for although there are some people who will believe anything an encyclopædia tells them, there are others who are not so meek and who will be moved to inquire how, if the editor of this publication is so lamentably ignorant of the personality and antecedents of his contributors, he can vouch for the reliability of what newspaper men very properly call the stuff that comes into the office. We are not told who revised the writings of those two dead men, one of whom departed this life twenty, the other four years ago; and we have to be satisfied with a posthumous and prejudiced and partly anonymous account of a great Order, about which many important books have been written since the demise of the original calumniators, and with which apparently the unknown reviser is unacquainted.

“It may interest the public to know that many of these errors were pointed out to the managers of the Encyclopædia at their New York office when the matter was still in page proof and could have been corrected. Evidently it was not thought worth while to pay any attention to the protest.

“It is true that in the minds of some of their enemies, especially in certain parts of the habitable globe, Catholics have no right to resent anything that is said of their practices and beliefs, no matter how false or grotesque such statements may be; and, consequently, we are not surprised at the assumption by the Encyclopædia Britannica of its usual contemptuous attitude. Thus, for instance, on turning to the articles Casuistry and Roman Catholic Church we find them signed ‘St. C.’ Naturally and supernaturally to be under the guidance of a Saint C. or a Saint D. always inspires confidence in a Catholic; but this ‘St. C.’ turns out to be only the Viscount St. Cyres, a scion of the noble house of Sir Stafford Northcote, the one time leader of the House of Commons, who died in 1887. In the Viscount's ancestral tree we notice that Sir Henry Stafford Northcote, first Baronet, has appended to his name the title ‘Prov. Master of Devonshire Freemasons.’ What ‘Prov.’ means we do not know, but we are satisfied with the remaining part of the description. The Viscount was educated at Eton, and Merton College, Oxford. He is a layman and a clubman, and as far as we know is not suspected of being a Catholic. A search in the ‘Who's Who?’ failed to reveal anything on that point, though a glance at the articles over his name will dispense us from any worry about his religious status.

“We naturally ask why he should have been chosen to enlighten the world on Catholic topics? ‘Because,’ says the editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica, ‘the Viscount St. Cyres has probably more knowledge of the development of theology in the Roman Catholic Church than any other person in that Church.’

“The Church was unaware that it had at its disposal such a source of information. It will be news to many, but we are inclined to ask how the Viscount acquired that marvelous knowledge. It would require a life-long absorption in the study of divinity quite incompatible with the social duties of one of his station. Furthermore, we should like to know whence comes the competency of the editor to decide on the ability of the Viscount, and to pass judgment on the correctness of his contribution? That also supposes an adequate knowledge of all that the dogmatic, moral and mystic theologians ever wrote, a life-long training in the language and methods of the science, and a special intellectual aptitude to comprehend the sublime speculations of the Church's divines.

“It will not be unkind to deny him such qualifications, especially now, for did he not tell his friends at the London banquet: ‘During all these (seven) years I have been busy in the blacksmith's shop (of the editor's room) and I do not hear the noise that is made by the hammers all around me’ — nor, it might be added, does he hear what is going on outside the Britannica's forge.

“Meantime, we bespeak the attention of all the Catholic theologians in every part of the world to the preposterous invitation to come to hear the last word about ‘the development of theology’ in the Catholic Church from a scholar whose claim to theological distinction is that ‘he has written about Fenelon and Pascal.’ The Britannica shows scant respect to Catholic scholarship and Catholic intelligence.”

Father Campbell then devotes several pages to a specific indictment of the misstatements and the glaring errors to be found in several of the articles relating to the Catholic Church. He quotes eight instances of St. Cyres' inaccurate and personal accusations, and also many passages from the articles on Papacy, Celibacy and St. Catherine of Siena — passages which show the low and biased standard of scholarship by which they were written. The injustice contained in them is obvious even to a superficial student of history. At the close of these quotations he accuses the Britannica of being neither up-to-date, fair, nor well-informed. “It repeats old calumnies that have been a thousand times refuted, and it persistently selects the Church's enemies who hold her up to ridicule and contempt. We are sorry for those who have been lavish in their praises of a book which is so defective, so prejudiced, so misleading and so insulting.”

It seems that while the Britannica's contribu- tions to the general misinformation of the world were being discussed, the editor wrote to one of his subscribers saying that the Catholics were very much vexed because the article on the Jesuits was not “sufficiently eulogistic.”

“He is evidently unaware,” Father Campbell goes on to comment, “that the Society of Jesus is sufficiently known both in the Church and the world not to need a monument in the graveyard of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Not the humblest Brother in the Order expected anything but calumny and abuse when he saw appended to the article the initials of the well-known assassins of the Society's reputation. Not one was surprised, much less displeased, at the absence of eulogy, sufficient or otherwise; but, on the contrary, they were all amazed to find the loudly trumpeted commercial enterprise, which had been so persistently clamorous of its possession of the most recent results of research in every department of learning, endeavoring to palm off on the public such shopworn travesties of historical and religious truth. The editor is mistaken if he thinks they pouted. Old and scarred veterans are averse to being patted on the back by their enemies.

“It is not, however, the ill-judged gibe that compels us to revert to the Society, as much as the suspicion that the editor of the Encyclopædia Britannica seems to fancy that we had nothing to say beyond calling attention to his dilapidated bibliography, which he labels with the very offensive title of ‘the bibliography of Jesuitism’ — a term which is as incorrect as it is insulting — or that we merely objected to the employment of two dead and discredited witnesses to tell the world what kind of an organization the Society is.

“It may be, moreover, that we misjudged a certain portion of the reading public in treating the subject so lightly, and as the Encyclopædia is continually reiterating the assertion that it has no ‘bias’ and that its statement of facts is purely ‘objective,’ a few concrete examples of the opposite kind of treatment — the one commonly employed — may not be out of place.

“We are told, for instance, that ‘the Jesuits had their share, direct or indirect, in the embroiling of States, in concocting conspiracies and in kindling wars. They were responsible by their theoretical teachings in theological schools for not a few assassinations’ (340). ‘They powerfully aided the revolution which placed the Duke of Braganza on the throne of Portugal, and their services were rewarded with the practical control of ecclesiastical and almost civil affairs in that kingdom for nearly one hundred years’ (344). ‘Their war against the Jansenists did not cease till the very walls of Port Royal were demolished in 1710, even to the very abbey church itself, and the bodies of the dead taken with every mark of insult from their graves and literally flung to the dogs to devour’ (345). ‘In Japan the Jesuits died with their converts bravely as martyrs to the Faith, yet it is impossible to acquit them of a large share of the causes of that overthrow’ (345). ‘It was about the same time that the grave scandal of the Chinese and Malabar rites began to attract attention in Europe and to make thinking men ask seriously whether the Jesuit missionaries in those parts taught anything which could fairly be called Christianity at all’ (348). ‘The political schemings of Parsons in England was an object lesson to the rest of Europe of a restless ambition and a lust of domination which were to find many imitators’ (348). ‘The General of the Order drove away six thousand exiled Jesuit priests from the coast of Italy, and made them pass several months of suffering on crowded vessels at sea to increase public sympathy, but the actual result was blame for the cruelty with which he had enhanced their misfortunes’ (346). ‘Clement XIV, who suppressed them, is said to have died of poison, but Tanucci and two others entirely acquit the Jesuits.’ ‘They are accountable in no small degree in France, as in England, for alienating the minds of men from the religion for which they professed to work’ (345).

“Very little of this can be characterized as ‘eulogistic,’ especially as interwoven in the story are malignant insinuations, incomplete and distorted statements, suppressions of truth, gross errors of fact, and a continual injection of personal venom which makes the argument not an ‘unbiased and objective presentment’ of the case, but the plea of a prejudiced prosecuting and persecuting attorney endeavoring by false testimony to convict before the bar of public opinion an alleged culprit, whose destruction he is trying to accomplish with an uncanny sort of delight.”

After having adduced a long list of instances which “reveal the rancor and ignorance of many of the writers hired by the Encyclopædia,” the article then points out “the fundamental untruthfulness” on which the Britannica is built. In a letter written by the Encyclopædia's editor appears the following specious explanation: “Extreme care was taken by the editors, and especially by the editor responsible for the theological side of the work, that every subject, either directly or indirectly concerned with religion, should as far as possible be objective and not subjective in their presentation. The majority of the articles on the various Churches and their beliefs were written by members within the several communions, and, if not so written, were submitted to those most competent to judge, for criticism and, if need be, correction.”

Father Campbell in his answer to this letter says: “Without animadverting on the peculiar use of the English language by the learned English editor who tells us that ‘every subject’ should be ‘objective’ in their presentation, we do not hesitate to challenge absolutely the assertion that ‘the majority of the articles on the various Churches were written by members within the several communions, and if not so written were submitted to those most competent to judge, for criticism and, if need be, for correction.’ Such a pretence is simply amazing, and thoroughly perplexed, we asked: What are we supposed to understand when we are informed that ‘the majority of the articles on the various Churches and their beliefs were written by members within the several communions’?

“Was the article on The Roman Catholic Church written by a Catholic? Was the individual who accumulated and put into print all those vile aspersions on the Popes, the saints, the sacraments, the doctrines of the Church, a Catholic? Were the other articles on Casuistry, Celibacy, St. Catherine of Siena, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, written by a Catholic? The supposition is simply inconceivable, and it calls for more than the unlimited assurance of the Encyclopædia Britannica to compel us to accept it.

“But ‘they were submitted to the most competent judge for criticism and, if need be, correction.’ Were they submitted to any judge at all, or to any man of sense, before they were sent off to be printed and scattered throughout the English speaking world? Is it permissible to imagine for a moment that any Catholic could have read some of those pages and not have been filled with horror at the multiplied and studied insults to everything he holds most sacred in his religion? Or did ‘the editor responsible for the theological side of the work’ reserve for himself the right to reject or accept whatever recommended itself to his superior judgment?”

The article then points out that “far from being just to Catholics, the Britannica pointedly and persistently discriminated against them.” The article on the Episcopalians was assigned to the Rev. Dr. D. D. Addison, Rector of All Saints, Brookline, Mass.; that on Methodists to the Rev. Dr. J. M. Buckley, Editor of the Christian Advocate. New York; that on the Baptists to the Rev. Newton Herbert Marshall, Baptist Church, Hampstead, England; that on the Jews to Israel Abrahams, formerly President of the Jewish Historical Society and now Reader on Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature in Cambridge, and so on for the Presbyterians, Unitarians, Lutherans, etc. But in the case of the Catholic Church not only its history but its theology was given to a critic who was neither a theologian, nor a cleric, nor even a Catholic, and who, as Father Campbell notes, is not known outside of his little London coterie.

The Britannica's editor also apologized for his encyclopædia by stating that “Father Braun, S. J., has assisted us in our article on Vestments, and that Father Delehaye, S. J., has contributed, among other articles, those on The Bollandists and Canonization. Abbé Boudinhon and Mgr. Duchesne, and Luchaire and Ludwig von Pastor and Dr. Kraus have also contributed, and Abbot Butler, O. S. B., has written on the Augustinians, Benedictines, Carthusians, Cistercians, Dominicans and Franciscans”; and, finally: “The new Britannica has had the honor of having as a contributor His Eminence James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, who has written of the Roman Catholic Church in America.”

“But, after all,” answers Father Campbell, “it was not a very generous concession to let Father Joseph Braun, S. J., Staatsexamen als Religionsoberlehren fur Gymnasien, University of Bonn, assist the editors in the very safe article on Vestments, nor to let the Bollandists write a column on their publication, which has been going on for three or four hundred years. The list of those who wrote on the Papacy is no doubt respectable in ability if not in number, but we note that the editor is careful to say that the writers of that article were ‘principally’ Roman Catholics.

“Again we are moved to ask why should a Benedictine, distinguished though he be, have assigned to him the history of the Augustinians, Franciscans, Dominicans, etc.? Were there no men in those great and learned orders to tell what they must have known better than even the erudite Benedictine? Nor will it avail to tell us that His Eminence of Baltimore wrote The History of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, when that article comprises only a column of statistics, preceded by two paragraphs, one on the early missions, and the other on the settlement of Lord Baltimore. No one more than the illustrious and learned churchman would have resented calling such a mere compilation of figures a History of the Catholic Church in the United States, and no one would be more shocked than he by the propinquity of his restricted article to the prolix and shameless one to which it is annexed.”

Here in brief is an account of the “impartial” manner in which Catholicism is recorded and described in that “supreme” book of knowledge, the Encyclopædia Britannica. And I set down this record here not because it is exceptional but, to the contrary, because it is representative of the way in which the world's culture (outside of England), and especially the culture of America, is treated.

The intellectual prejudice and contempt of England for America is even greater if anything than England's religious prejudice and contempt for Catholicism; and this fact should be borne in mind when you consult the Britannica for knowledge. It will not give you even scholarly or objective information: it will advise you, by constant insinuation and intimation, as well as by direct statement, that English culture and achievement represent the transcendent glories of the world, and that the great men and great accomplishments of other nations are of minor importance. No more fatal intellectual danger to America can be readily conceived than this distorted, insular, incomplete, and aggressively British reference work.