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Becoming Catholic #35—Victorian Protestant Scholar Praises the Papacy as the Most Enduring Institution in World History

The “Becoming Catholic” series presents the biblical, philosophical, and historical evidence for why Eternal Christendom Founder, Joshua Charles, became and remains Catholic. The series table of contents is here.

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) was one of the great scholars and statesmen of Victorian England.

Like most of his countrymen in those days (and now), he was not Catholic. But in October 1840, writing in The Edinburgh Review on a recent book on the history of the Popes, he had the most striking words to offer on the enduring nature of the papacy and the Catholic Church compared with every other institution in the world.

We share those words here merely to spur reflection. Is this fact of the papacy’s endurance a coincidence? Or is it rather the manifestation in history of Christ’s words to St. Peter that He would establish His Church on a rock—the very term by which he renamed the previously named Simon to Peter (“rock”)—and that the gates of hell would never prevail against it? (Matt. 16:18)

One is reminded of C.S. Lewis’s famous argument that Christ could only be Lord, liar, or lunatic. His claims were simply such that no other options were possible.

If those are the only options when it comes to Christ, it is no stretch to conclude the same would be true of His Church.

Here are Macaulay’s words (pgs. 2-3):

There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilization. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards [giraffes] and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheater. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs.

That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains.

The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigor. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe.

The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all.

She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigor when some traveler from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

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