Quotes Suitable for Framing: Thomas Babington Macaulay

Joseph Stalin: How many divisions has the Pope?

Pius XII (later, to Winston Churchill) : Tell my son Joseph he will meet my divisions in heaven.



After the events of this week, with the election of the 266th Pope, this quotation from the anti-Catholic writer Lord Macaulay written in 1840 comes vividly to mind:



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 civilisation. 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 and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. 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 vigour. 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 vigour when some traveller 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.

More to explorer


  1. Reason, dignity, silence filling hearts and minds with love, simplicity, endless depth, clean efficiency, clarity, universality, and absolute beauty is part of how the Church abides for the essential Part who built it on earth as the gateway to heaven.

    Lifespans are long enough for us to figure it out.

  2. More Macaulay, an anti-Catholic who understood the strengths of the Church much more than many Catholics:

    “Far different is the policy of Rome. The ignorant enthusiast whom the Anglican Church makes an enemy, and whatever the polite and learned may think, a most dangerous enemy, the Catholic Church makes a champion. She bids him nurse his beard, covers him with a gown and hood of coarse dark stuff, ties a rope round his waist, and sends him forth to teach in her name. He costs her nothing. He takes not a ducat away from the revenues of her beneficed clergy. He lives by the alms of those who respect his spiritual character, and are grateful for his instructions. He preaches, not exactly in the style of Massillon, but in a way which moves the passions of uneducated hearers; and all his influence is employed to strengthen the Church of which he is a minister. To that Church he becomes as strongly attached as any of the cardinals whose scarlet carriages and liveries crowd the entrance of the palace on the Quirinal. In this way the Church of Rome unites in herself all the strength of establishment, and all the strength of dissent. With the utmost pomp of a dominant hierarchy above, she has all the energy of the voluntary system below. It would be easy to mention very recent instances in which the hearts of hundreds of thousands, estranged from her by the selfishness, sloth, and cowardice of the beneficed clergy, have been brought back by the zeal of the begging friars.

    Even for female agency there is a place in her system. To devout women she assigns spiritual functions, dignities, and magistracies. In our country, if a noble lady is moved by more than ordinary zeal for the propagation of religion, the chance is that, though she may disapprove of no doctrine or ceremony of the Established Church, she will end by giving her name to a new schism. If a pious and benevolent woman enters the cells of a prison to pray with the most unhappy and degraded of her own sex, she does so without any authority from the Church. No line of action is traced out for her; and it is well if the Ordinary does not complain of her intrusion, and if the Bishop does not shake his head at such irregular benevolence. At Rome, the Countess of Huntingdon would have a place in the calendar as St. Selina, and Mrs. Fry would be foundress and first Superior of the Blessed Order of Sisters of the Gaols.

    Place Ignatius Loyola at Oxford. He is certain to become the head of a formidable secession. Place John Wesley at Rome. He is certain to be the first General of a new society devoted to the interests and honour of the Church. Place St. Theresa in London. Her restless enthusiasm ferments into madness, not untinctured with craft. She becomes the prophetess, the mother of the faithful, holds disputations with the devil, issues sealed pardons to her adorers, and lies in of the Shiloh. Place Joanna Southcote at Rome. She founds an order of barefooted Carmelites, every one of whom is ready to suffer martyrdom for the Church; a solemn service is consecrated to her memory; and her statue, placed over the holy water, strikes the eye of every stranger who enters St. Peter’s.”

  3. I am not sure I would describe Lord Macaulay as anti-Catholic. He famously defended Elizabethan Catholics against the historian Hallam’s charge of disloyalty.

    “If, indeed, all men reasoned in the same manner on the same data, and always did what they thought it their duty to do, this mode of dispensing punishment might be extremely judicious. But as people who agree about premises often disagree about conclusions, and as no man in the world acts up to his own standard of right, there are two enormous gaps in the logic by which alone penalties for opinions can be defended…

    We do not believe that every Englishman who was reconciled to the Catholic Church would, as a necessary consequence, have thought himself justified in deposing or assassinating Elizabeth. It is not sufficient to say that the convert must have acknowledged the authority of the Pope, and that the Pope had issued a bull against the Queen. We know through what strange loopholes the human mind contrives to escape, when it wishes to avoid a disagreeable inference from an admitted proposition. We know how long the Jansenists contrived to believe the Pope infallible in matters of doctrine, and at the same time to believe doctrines which he pronounced to be heretical. Let it pass, however, that every Catholic in the kingdom thought that Elizabeth might he lawfully murdered. Still the old maxim, that what is the business of everybody is the business of nobody, is particularly likely to hold good in a case in which a cruel death is the almost inevitable consequence of making any attempt.

    Of the ten thousand clergymen of the Church of England, there is scarcely one who would not say that a man who should leave his country and friends to preach the Gospel among savages, and who should, after labouring indefatigably without any hope of reward, terminate his life by martyrdom, would deserve the warmest admiration. Yet, we can doubt whether ten of the ten thousand ever thought of going on such an expedition. Why should we suppose that conscientious motives, feeble as they are constantly found to be in a good cause, should be omnipotent for evil?”

  4. “I am not sure I would describe Lord Macaulay as anti-Catholic.”

    I am:

    “It is impossible to deny that the polity of the Church of Rome is the very master-piece of human wisdom. In truth, nothing but such a polity could, against such assaults, have borne up such doctrines. The experience of twelve hundred eventful years, the ingenuity and patient care of forty generations of statesmen, have improved that polity to such perfection that, among the contrivances which have been devised for deceiving and oppressing mankind, it occupies the highest place. The stronger our conviction that reason and scripture were decidedly on the side of Protestantism, the greater is the reluctant admiration with which we regard that system of tactics against which reason and scripture were employed in vain.”

  5. Donald R McClarey

    Of course Macaulay rejected Catholic doctrine, whilst defending Catholics against the charge that their holding such doctrines made them bad citizens.

  6. “have improved that polity to such perfection that, among the contrivances which have been devised for deceiving and oppressing mankind, it occupies the highest place.”

    That goes well beyond merely rejecting Catholic doctrine MPS. This was not an aytypical remark by Macaulay. I think he had a rare understanding of the earthly strengths of the Church, but that he was anti-Catholic I have no doubt.

  7. “What more deadly enemies had France in the days of Louis the 14th than the persecuted Huguenots? Why not try what effect would be produced on the Jews by that tolerant policy that has made the English Roman Catholic a good Englishman, and the French Calvinist a good Frenchman?”

    This is not the language of the typical anti-Catholic

  8. “Why not try what effect would be produced on the Jews by that tolerant policy that has made the English Roman Catholic a good Englishman,”

    Considering that the legal disabilities that Catholics suffered under in Great Britain were not removed until 1829, and that bigotry against Catholics remained robust thereafter during Macaulay’s life, refering to England’s “tolerant policy” during Macaulay’s lifetime I think would have been regarded by most English Catholics as being at best a rose colored view of things and at worst the view of a non-Catholic who didn’t know what the devil he was talking about.

  9. Fom everything I read here, Macaulay was a genteel anti-Catholic. He was too great a thinker, too careful a writer and speaker, to permit himself to descend into baser anti-Catholic sentiment. He was not anti-Catholic such as we see now, demanding that the Church back out of all public discussion under threat of government force and thinking ill of all religion. Being a careful thinker, he could, without threat to his own beliefs, recognize the beautiful and admirable even with that which he passionately disagreed, and recognize the bad in that even with which he claimed allegiance.

    In short, a truly ethical rhetor, and a truly generous and precise thinker.

  10. To whom was your comment addressed, Foxfier?

    If mine, I did note that he was anti-Catholic in my first line.

  11. It has been around a long time. But I very much think it grew up afterwards. After the church was inaugurated at Pentecost. A while after…. We see it take shape, and then it is there, but not from the start.

  12. “Considering that the legal disabilities that Catholics suffered under in Great Britain were not removed until 1829…”

    The passage I quoted was from Macaulay’s essay on the civil Disabilities of the Jews in the Edinburgh Review of 1831and he was arguing that they should be extended the same rights that had been granted to Catholics by the 1829 Act.

    In fact, Catholics had been allowed to purchase and inherit freehold land to hold commissions in the armed services by the Papists Act 1778 (which Jews could not), the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1791admitted them to practice law (which Jews could not) and the 1829 Act allowed Catholics to sit and vote in both Houses of Parliament, to be members of municipal corporations and to hold all offices, civil and military (except Lord Chancellor, on account of his ecclesiastical patronage)

    In practice, many Catholics, particularly in Scotland, refused to take the Oath of Allegiance prescribed by the Acts of 1778 and 1791, until the death of the Cardinal Duke of York in July 1807. The Sheriff Court Books show a remarkable number of people taking the Oath in the September and October of that year. One of my own ancestors did so at Ayr and, within a couple of months was appointed a Justice of the peace, an office usually granted automatically to landowners. He later became a captain in the Yeomanry (National Guard).

  13. Macaulay was a Whig. He didn’t have much time for the High Anglican ‘Church and State’ party either. His April 1839 put-down of Gladstone is one of the most devastating and masterful in the language.

  14. Yes, Macaulay held to the Whig interpretation of history, and his comments concerning Roman Catholicism were extremely generous considering. He was not fond of high Anglicanism either, which was wedded to the political ideology of the Torey party.

  15. “Papists Act 1778”

    The title is telling MPS. The passage of this baby step toward toleration caused the worst riots in British history, the Gordon riots of 1780 in London, in which numerous Catholics were murdered and embassies of Catholic nations attacked, and Catholic chapels and churches in the embassies destroyed. The riots and their aftermath effectively set back the cause of full Catholic emancipation for a half century. Catholics in Great Britain would have found it easy during Lord Macaulay’s lifetime to regard themselves as hated by most of their fellow countrymen at worst, given a very grudging tolerance at best.

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