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Sunday, August 20, 2017
Date Posted:

Ask For The Old Paths! Priestcraft And The Nations

An Address By Sir Robert Kennedy K.C.M.G. To The United Protestant Congress London 1922
Sir Robert Kennedy K.C.M.G.

PRIESTCRAFT is thus defined: “The stratagem and frauds of priests; fraud or imposition in religious concerns. Management of selfish and ambitious priests to gain wealth and power, or to impose upon the credulity of others.”

The question is: Are the three countries of which we are to think of to‑night ‑ Ireland, Czecho‑Slovakia and France - suffering from Priestcraft as thus defined, and to what extent? Each of the three lecturers will deal in detail with the particular country upon which he intends to address you, but, speaking in general terms, as Chairman, I may say that the undue and a fortiori the paramount influence of the Priesthood of any Church is politically and economically injurious to any country. It leads to the exaltation of a particular class - the ecclesiastical class ‑ thus making it supreme in the State; and the maintenance of a large unproductive class places a heavy burden of financial expense upon a nation in which the proportion of that class has been known to be as high as one ecclesiastic for every hundred laymen. The intensive and technical training of the members of a supreme and swollen ecclesiastical caste creates an arrogant spirit of intolerance, and this spirit makes itself most injuriously felt when the secular as well as the religious education of a nation's children is entirely in its hands.


Mental independence or freedom of thought being discouraged in childhood, gross superstition automatically develops. As a result the youth of a nation become imbued with a spirit of superstitious fear; they look to the Priest for safety, and the development of their mental powers having been checked by exclusive clerical control of their educational studies, the young generation grow up into a condition of moral servitude, incapable of forming their own opinions upon social and political problems or of working out their own individual salvation by direct intercourse through the one Divine High Priest with Almighty God.

Bishop Welldon the Dean of Durham, formerly Headmaster of Harrow School, has pointed out that education is not the art of making the pupils, whether boys or girls, mere imitations of their teachers, but of so training them that when they come to maturity they shall think for themselves, even if they differ from their teachers. This, I need hardly point out, is a mental attitude sternly resisted by Priestcraft.


Moral and spiritual servitude inevitably leads to the loss of political and social independence. Thus is created, as in Ireland, an ecclesiastical hierarchy which interferes in every detail of individual life ‑ in business, in trade, in professions, in home affairs, and even in the sacred relations of husband and wife. Not seldom, especially in modern days, a violent reaction ensues; and unless strugglers for mental liberty, who deny that the sacrifice of the intellect in obedience to ecclesiastical authority is well pleasing to God, come under the influence of teachers of the pure Christianity inculcated in the Apostolic age, whose keynote is that every one of us shall give account of himself to God, they fall into the abyss of Atheism and materialism.

It was against the inordinate power and arrogance of the clergy that Wycliffe, “the morning star” of the Reformation fought.  It was in support of Wycliffe's doctrines that the Czech reformer, John Huss, preached in Prague, the capital to‑day of modern Czecho‑Slovakia, and died a martyr's death by decree of the Council of Constance. It was because of his fearless attacks upon the vice and corruption of Italian ecclesiastics that, in the 15th century, the Italian reformer, Savonarola, was excommunicated and executed by the Pope, whom he had denounced.


The evils arising out of Priestcraft are visible in modern times. Cardinal Vaughan, travelling through South America in 1863, we know, on the authority of his biographer, Mr. J. G. Snead, was greatly shocked by what he saw. “The priests in Peru scandalise the people, the monks are in the lowest state of degradation, and a suppression of them would be an act of Divine favour.” And as recently as in 1910 the late Lord Bryce, when travelling in South America, noted the absence in the South American Republics of any moral influence springing from religion. This absence, or, rather, this negation of all religion, was noted by me in an official report of the year 1911, as a natural reaction from the priestly tyranny and corruption, defective morality, superstition and bigotry, which, in the 16th and 17th centuries, were characteristics of the churches of Spain and Portugal, thus offering to‑day a promising opportunity for our evangelical churches and institutions.


As regards Czecho‑Slovakia, the newly‑created Central European State of 14,000,000 inhabitants, which, free since the Great War from the political dominion of Austria, is breaking away from the iron grip of the Papacy, its secession from the Church of Rome is a tremendous blow to priestcraft, and it is interesting to note that during the last four years 2,000,000 Czechs have left that Church. In a word, political independence is being followed by religious freedom, but it must be remembered that the secessionists from the Church of  Rome are not necessarily converts to the Churches of the Reformation - some having joined the Orthodox Greek Church Communion ‑ but they are seekers after the truth, thus affording, as in South America, a splendid field of operations for Evangelical workers. This fact will no doubt be dealt with in his address upon Czecho‑Slovakia by Mr. Limbrick.


Mr. Hammond, whose knowledge of the spiritual need of Ireland is unrivalled, will speak on Priestcraft in connection with a country about which Lord Hugh Cecil, M.P., whom no one would describe as a “bigoted Protestant,” publicly stated on 24th May last, “It is impossible to deny that so far as the Irish Roman Catholic bishops and clergy are concerned there is something profoundly discreditable to them in the outbursts of crime and outrage which in the last six years have disgraced Ireland” ‑ Ireland whose lordship was bestowed by Pope Adrian IV. on Henry II., King of England, in order “to bring into the way of truth its bestial inhabitants, by extirpating vice among them” ‑ Ireland which the haughty Pope Paul IV., than whom no mere mortal, except perhaps your own Prime Minister, ever had such extravagant ideas of his power, erected into a kingdom and handed over in chains to the daughter of Katherine of Aragon, so well known in the History of Protestant England by the name of Bloody Mary.


We shall also hear the views on France, our gallant Ally, of the Rev. Pastor Blocher, a countryman of the great statesman who 50 years ago uttered the famous axiom, “Le clericalisme, voilà l'ennemi:” France, which, as a direct consequence of freedom from undue ecclesiastical control, in other words, of Priestcraft, has developed in an extraordinary degree her national characteristics of courage in war, industry in peace, sagacity in statesmanship ‑ in a word, a right judgment in all things.

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