There was a moment’s silence.
“Yes?” said Monsignor softly.
“My dear Monsignor, just force upon your mind the fact that the world is really and intelligently Christian. I think it’ll all be plain then. You seem to me, if I may say so, to be falling into the old-fashioned way of looking at ‘Clericalism,’ as it used to be called, as a kind of department of life, like Art or Law. No wonder men resented its intrusion when they conceived of it like that. Well, there is no ‘Clericalism’ now, and therefore there is no anti-Clericalism. There’s just religion—as a fact. Do you see? ... Shall we sit down for a few minutes? Aren’t the gardens exquisite?”
Monsignor Masterman sat that night at his window, looking out at the stars and the night and the blotted glimmering gardens beneath; and it seemed to him as if the Dream deepened every day. Things grew more, not less marvellous, with his appreciation of the simplicity of it all.
From three to seven he had sat in one of the seats on the right of the royal dais, reserved for prelates, almost immediately opposite the double-pulpited platform, itself set in the midst of the long outer side of the great gallery of Versailles, through which access was to be had to the little old private rooms of Marie Antoinette, and had listened spell-bound to two of the greatest wits of France, respectively attacking and defending, with extraordinary subtlety and fire, the claim of the Church to Infallibility. The disputation had been conducted on scholastic lines, all verbal etiquette being carefully observed; again and again he had heard, first on one side a string of arguments adduced against the doctrine, then on the other a torrent of answers, with the old half-remembered words “Distinguo,” “Nego,” “Concedo”; and the reasoning on both sides had appeared to him astonishingly brilliant. And all this before two sovereigns: the one keen, vivacious, and appreciative; the other heavy, patient, considerate—two sovereigns, treated, as the elaborate etiquette of the whole affair showed plainly enough, as kings indeed—men who stood for authority, and the grades and the differentiation of functions, as emphatically as the old democratic hand-shaking statesmen, dressed like their own servants, stood for the other complementary principle of the equality of men. For alongside of all this tremendous pomp there was a very practical recognition of the “People”; since the whole disputation was conducted in the presence of a crowd drawn, it seemed, from almost every class, who pressed behind the barriers, murmured, laughed gleefully, and now and again broke out into low thunders of applause, as the Catholic champion drove logic home, or turned aside the infidel shaft.
The very thesis amazed the man, for the absolute necessity of an authoritative supra-national Church, with supernatural sanctions, seemed assumed as an axiom of thought, not merely by these Catholics, but by the entire world, Christian and un-Christian alike. More than once the phrase “It is conceded by all men” flashed out, and passed unrebuked, in support of this claim. The only point of dispute between reasoning beings seemed to be not as to whether or no the Church must be treated practically as infallible, but whether dogmatically and actually she were so!