1 to Convert E
. the Pope.. .
WHILE looking through en old copy of The Gentleman's. Magazine recently, we were surprised to discover, sandwiched incongruously between the story of Nell Owyn arid an order for nightgowns for Elizabeth and Leicester, an article entitled "Pio Nono and the Canon of of Durham".
II told of an attempt to convert the Pope, in the interests of Christian unity, by the Rev. George Townsend. DD., a Protestant minister claiming descent from one of the Seven Bishops.
As the v, rites of the article coniments; "Since the Knight of La Mancha rode a tilt at the windmills, never was there an enterprise more akin to the old Quixotic spirit"; yet it is impossible not to admire the sincerity which inspired Dr. Townsend's odd missinn.
This Canon of Durham, rightly distressed by the hostility he often found between Christians of dif ferent denomina tions, psayed that " the time might
COIlle when, as the spiritual wants of mankind were the same, their united prayers mieht he the same." and. Since he regarded Catholicism as "the one great obstacle" to the unity of the Churches, he fell that he must " aim at changing ROme and so reconciling Rome to England." As a first step in this direction, he decided to approach Pope Plus IX and ask him to call a General Council at which Christians from all over the world might meet to " reconsider the past."
A POOR START HE has left an entertaining account of his adventures in his "Journal of a Tour in Italy in 1850". published that same year.
"On taking leave of my friends in Durham and London," he writes, "I was alternately amused, pained or cheered by the different manner in which they received the announcement of my desire to see the
Pope. . . Some pitied me. Others assured me of the danger of assassination from a fanatic or from the stiletto of a bandit. One shouted with derisive laughter. Another blessed me and wished me God-speed with tears and prayers."
There were others who "enlarged on the impossibility of effecting good by any appeal to Rome, which was doomed to utter destruction".
The Bishop of London observed darkly that he " trusted that they would not keep him there," and the Archbishop of Canterbury, while not altogether approving of the mission, wished him well.
Undaunted by his friends' somewhat disheartening reactions, Dr. Townsend left England on Tuesday, January 22, 1850, with his wife, whose knowledge of French and Italian enabled her to act as his interpreter.
He went first to Paris, where he obtained an interview with the Archbishop and was given a letter of introduction to the Pope.
Unfortunately, during their stay the Townsends received a lamentable impression of Catholicism from a guide at Les Invalides, When Mrs. Townsend asked whether Protestant as well as Catholic veterans were admitted, the man replied: O. Oui, Madame, there is no difference here." They worship le Bon Dieu, we worship the Vierge."
"Eh. hien!" cried Mrs. Townsend, "but that is the difference!"
PEACEFUL LEVITY '
IN the course of his journey through France, Dr. Townsend had several interesting discussions in Latin with priests among his fellow
tesoselleis. and though he could not always agiee with their views he invariably respected them.
At Avignon, however, the Palace of the Pope recalled to his mind the period of schism, whsn no fewer than three men claimed the papacy-"an office which Rome boasts of being one and indivisible!" (Personally, we cannot help feeling that anyone who had beheld the delights of Avignon ought to have sympathised with the Papal entourage which was unwilling to return to faction-ridden Rome.) On February 20 the Townsends arrived in Rome, only to learn thto the Holy Father was away in Naples. Moreover, it seemed impossible to ascertain the date of his return: the easy going Italians, with their sublime pre-Easiest disregard of time-tables. merely answered with a shrug: "Who knows?"
The Canon had to wait nine weeks for his audience.
Meanwhile he and his wife went
sight-seeing. and his account of their visit to St. Mary Major's is followed by a tirade against what he considered the "blasphemous" devotion of Catholics to Our Lady. After his experience at Les Invalides, it was hardly surprising that he should have a false conception of the honour we pay to the Mother of God.
One Sunda t7 he attended Mass at St. Peter's, where. though he thought the sermon "upon the whole, unobjectionable", he was disturbed by the apparent levity of the ministers. who actually smiled at each other while giving the kiss of peace.
On the other hand he was favourably impressed by a Maronite Jesuit whom he met about this time. and resolved that some day, if possible, he would visit the Maronite moniistery at Mount Lebanon.
AT last the Holy Father came to
Rome, and on Friday. April 26, the Townsends were granted art audience. They were instantly captivated by the Pope's unassuming demeanour.
The Canon writes: "No Quaker could have received us with more simplicity than Pin Nono -sovereign with more dignified courtesy-no Presbyterian with more plainness. There were no lords-inwaiting, no tedious ceremony, no trains of state .
"We approached him as a temporal prince, with the courtesies we should have paid to our own Queen, bowing three times.
"He seemed to he about sixty years of age, of a fresh complexion and most benevolent countenance."
The Holy Father gazed with some curiosity at his visitors, and Dr. Townsend modestly observes that "it was the first time, perhaps, that an English clergyman, accompanied by his wife. had entered the Vatican upon such an errand as that which brought me from England."
After conversing for several minutes with Mrs. Townsend in Italian, the Pope inquired in what language he could speak to her husband? Mrs. Townsend replied that the Canon wished to address His Holiness in Latin. The Holy Father bowed.
Dr. Townsend then proceeded to explain the object of his visit.
NOT YET . . .
ME refrained from mentioning any ' points on which Catholic and Protestant differed, confident' that thew could he overcome once they were discussed in Council.
He said that the time had come for all Christians to unite against the ever-growing tendency towards
agnostisiisin; he appealed to the Pope as "the one chief person now on earthst Ito had the power to cornMenet! the appeal to nations" and assured him that " in a General Council of the West he would be given first place of order. though not of jurisdiction".
1 he Holy Father told him, however, that his scheme Was not practicable at that time, but that the several T'rovincial Councils then being summoned in various parts of the world might pave the way to a more general conference later.
He was obviously moved by the Canon's eloquence. and remarked that "there were in England many persons of goodwill."
Before the audience came to an end, the Holy Father asked whether the Canon knew Dr. Wiseman, Dr. Townsend said that he was not personally acquainted with Dr. Wiseman, but greatly admired his writings (though, he adds regretfully in his journal: "I wish he had never been guilty of uncanonically acting as a Bishop in the diocese of Protestant England").
On leaving, the Townsends were shocked to the depths of their undemonstrative British srIllIs when they eats the Cuban couple whose audience followed theirs kneel down as they entered, and again as they reached the middle of the room. This mark of homage seemed to them idolatrous, and perhaps it is just as well that the doors were presumably closed before the Cubans kissed the Papal slipper.
THERE was an amusing anti-climae to this momentous day.
When the Townsends returned, much later than they expected, to their apartments, they found all their servants weeping distractedly. Their superstitious fear of "Popery" had led them to believe that their employers had been taken prisoner, or even murdered.
Although no definite conclusions had been reached at the audience, Dr. Townsend was not discouraged, and before he left Rome four days later he was gratified to hear that the Pope had described 'el Canone de Durham" as "a good and excellent man".
Later that year he was seriously alarmed when the position of the Catholics in England was strengthened by the restoration of the Hierarchy; hut he continued to hope and pray for their ultimate conversion.
It would he a fitting end to this story if this worthy member of our separated brethren had eventually found the right road to Rome, but it was not to be. He died in 1857 still a Protestant.