Cato's Letter No. 114

The necessary Decay of Popish States shewn from the Nature of the Popish Religion.

John Trenchard (Saturday, February 2, 1723)

SIR, As I do not pretend to be inspired myself, nor have received any personal revelation concerning the Whore of Babylon, nor to have skill enough in the Apocalypse to discover the exact time of the fall of Antichrist; so I shall leave that charge to the profound persons who are learned in prophetick knowledge; but would humbly advise them to use a little of their own endeavours to demolish the harlot, and not to expect the whole from providence. And to encourage them in this undertaking, I shall attempt to shew in this paper, what is told in the Homilies, that she is old and withered, and would have long since fallen to pieces, if she had not been patched with searcloths, and kept alive by cordials, administered by the charity of those who were, or ought to have been, her enemies; and that as soon as they leave off their complaisance, give her no more physick, nor adopt her trumpery, her end will be certain: And this I shall attempt to prove from natural causes, leaving the supernatural ones to those who understand them better.

It has been more than once said in these letters, that population, labour, riches, and power, mutually procure one another, and always go together; that where there are but few people, and those few are not employed, there will be little wealth, and as little power; and consequently, those governments, which provide least for the increase of their people, and for the employment of those that they have, are less capable of annoying their enemies, or of preserving themselves. Now, if we try the power of Protestant and popish states by this test, it will appear absolutely impossible that the latter can long subsist, if the former do not lose their natural advantages by political blunders.

In the popish states of Europe, there are a million or more of male ecclesiasticks, and almost as many of the other sex, who by their religion are hindered from marriage, and consequently from procreation, unless by stealth, spurious births, which rarely produce living children; and all, or most of these, subsist upon the plunder of the people, without contributing any thing to the publick wealth, either by their labour, or out of their immense revenues, which are usually exempted from taxes, as are their persons from wars; on the contrary, they have no other business, but to fascinate and turn the brains of weak and enthusiastick people, to make them loiter after masses and useless harangues, and to fill their heads with senseless speculations and wild chimeras, which make them either useless or dangerous to their governors, and the ready tools and instruments of turbulent and seditious pedants; which evil is, or should be, better provided against in all Protestant states.

In popish countries, one third part of the year, or more is spent in most religiously worshipping dead men and women under the name of saints; in all which time the people dare not work to support their families, but must contribute, out of the little which remains, to pay their oppressors for preaching them out of their wits; and, by consequence, the publick loses all that the people would earn in those days; whereas, in Protestant states, all, or most of this trumpery is laid aside, and they most reasonably judge, that Almighty God is not worshipped by his creatures starving themselves, and weakening their country.

In popish countries the power of the ecclesiasticks is so great, and their revenues so large, that the civil authority is often not able to protect its subjects. The priests, by the Inquisition and various cruelties, seize their estates, drive away their merchants and people, or starve them at home, and frighten others from coming in their room; so that their princes are forced to keep measures with them, connive at, submit to, and support their tyranny, in order to be protected in their own power; and, by so doing, their unhappy and undone subjects are reduced to the condition of their great Master, to be crucified between two thieves. On the contrary, in Protestant states the ecclesiasticks are equally subject with the rest of the people to the civil power; are not so numerous, nor have so large revenues, and those revenues are taxable; nor have they so much power and influence to mislead their hearers, and consequently cannot do so much mischief, and if kept to their proper business, may do much good by their pious examples, and by their godly precepts.

In popish countries a great part of the year is spent in keeping Lent, and in fasting-days, when the people, by their poverty, are reduced to live upon stinking or unwholesome food, whence many of them perish, and the rest are weakened and enervated, and rendered unfit either for labour or procreation; and then succeeds a riotous carnival, during which they are idle and debauched; and both these extremes, in their turns, produce diseases, poverty, and misery; whereas in Protestant countries the people live in regular plenty, according to their condition, keep themselves in constant labour and exercise, and by such means preserve their bodies in health, and their minds within their bodies, without sending them abroad a vision hunting.

In popish countries great quantities of gold, silver, and jewels, which ought to circulate, and be used in commerce, are buried as uselessly as when in the mine; are applied to adorn images and churches, or are locked up in caverns, and rendered unserviceable to mankind. This, forsooth, is called devotion, and giving to God what he before gave to men for their use; and their way of obeying him, is to make no use of it, and to lodge it only where there can be an ill use made of it. But, I thank God, this superstition is pretty well over in Protestant countries, where the people (a few old women and dotards excepted) think that their riches are better employed to maintain their families, relations, and friends, than to support idlers and cynicks.

In popish countries, their ecclesiasticks, living in idleness and riot, must be more lascivious than if otherwise employed; and by the means of confessions, and other secret communications with women, have better and frequenter opportunities to debauch them themselves, and to carry on intrigues for others, whereby they break in upon the peace of families, and interrupt the harmony which ought to accompany a married estate. To prevent in a good measure which mischiefs (since they are forbid to marry), their states are necessitated to tolerate established courtezans under a regulation; an institution which hinders many others from marrying, debauches their minds, ruins their estates, and enervates their bodies, and yet gives few children to the commonwealth: Which mischief is well provided against in Protestant countries; for there no man is obliged to trust his wife with a priest, and, for the most part, the clergy find it convenient to marry themselves; and a blessing visibly attends their endeavours, no rank of people being more observed to multiply their species.

In popish countries many foreign wars are raised and stirred up by the pride and ambition of the ecclesiasticks to increase their power; and many domestick ones fomented for the same reason, about the power of the Pope, the investiture of princes, the immunities of the clergy; and endless contentions arise with the states which they live under, about their peculiar privileges, as well as constant persecutions against all who oppose their pretences: All which wars and quarrels exhaust the people, perplex the publick affairs, and either divide them into factions, or, which is much worse, make them all of their own. But in Protestant countries these evils are less enormous: The people begin to see with their own eyes, and will not undo one another to gratify the ambition of any who would oppress them all; nor force or drive out of their country useful inhabitants, for dry chimeras and useless notions, and for the shape of their thoughts and imaginations; and many of their clergy do not desire it.

In popish countries, great numbers of idle and useless members of society are employed to support the luxury of the ecclesiasticks, or to contribute to their superstition; as organists, fidlers, singers, scholars, as they are called, numerous officers of various kinds, and many lazy beggars, who feed upon their scraps, or are supported by their means out of the charity of others, who are persuaded that they serve God in keeping them idle and necessitous, and without labouring for a subsistence: All these are a dead weight upon society, live like drones in a hive, and eat honey without making any. This grievance is not so great in Protestant countries, the clergy amongst them not being used to throw away their money without having something for it.

In popish countries there is an asylum and sanctuary in every parish, where robbers, murderers, and all sorts of criminals, are defended against their sovereigns and their laws; by which means banditti and assassins are become a sort of establishment, and are the Swiss and guards of the papacy, depend upon the priests for protection, and are always at hand to execute their bloody designs, and to partake of the spoil, as well as to be hired by others; by which means there are numerous and nightly murders in those countries, and the people there dare not go about their necessary affairs; and therefore cannot have the same security and encouragement as in Protestant countries, where this enormous wickedness is not allowed and practised, and where the priests cannot protect assassins; and the worst that can be said of any of them is, that they will not find fault with them afterwards, but are ready to absolve them at the gallows, if they have been doing their work: And in one instance, in a certain jurisdiction[*] where a certain high-priest, or those who act under him, compound with delinquents by the great for crimes which they have committed, or are to commit for the year ensuing; à la mode of his Holiness at Rome.

These, and other infinite evils, are produced by the popish religion, which depopulates nations, destroys industry, overturns law and justice, the cements of society, discourages trade, drives out merchants, enervates states, and renders the race of mankind feeble, lazy, and miserable. Nor can I see a bare possibility how these wretched people can extricate themselves out of their doleful condition, which must still go on from bad to worse, till they become so weak as to be the prey of foreign enemies, or to expire by an internal consumption; for the power of the ecclesiasticks is so great, and depends so much upon keeping the laity poor, ignorant, idle, and helpless, that they cannot have the will or power to recover themselves.

This wicked policy has turned the Campania of Rome, and all the populous and fertile provinces of Italy, into bogs, morasses, and deserts, and would have long since extinguished popery, if some of the Protestant states had not forgot the principles upon which they had reformed, and others had submitted to domestick slavery, but little worse than ecclesiastical, as both flowing from the same root, and producing the same evils, though not in the same degree; however, I think that the catastrophe of popery is but a little farther removed, for the few states amongst the Protestants, with prudent laws, and a wise conduct alone, may be in a condition, if they can keep their liberty, without striking a stroke but in their own defence, to demolish and overturn this monstrous Babel, or make or suffer it to destroy itself.

T I am, &c.

[*] Here he mentioned one of the highest dignities in the church.

Westminster, in the time of Dr. Atterbury, whose protection, or that of his high bailiff, some bawdy-houses claimed against the authority of the justices of peace.

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