Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod and the Marseilles diocesan administration had decided not to pronounce the political oath demanded by the functionaries of the State and which, besides, had not been required of the clergy. In his letter of September 29th to Cardinal de Rohan, the Pope expressed himself as being contrary to their position. The Pope had recognized King Louis Philippe, referring to him by the French king’s customary title “His Most Christian Majesty.”

Eugene was not happy, but invited Fr Tempier to submit to this decision and thus to remove at least this point of dispute with the civil authorities

Do not compromise yourselves further with the authorities of your country.

Then Eugene gives us a thought-provoking glimpse into obedience to the Pope, where he did not agree with the decision:

If the Pope states that you can do something, you remain free to do it or not, but a bishop cannot forbid it. It is no dishonor to modify one’s opinion when the head of the Church gives his instructions.
If the decision of the Pope is what they have told me, my opinion is no one should give an order, but simply let this decision be known and abstain from forbidding what it authorizes. One must be consistent in one’s positions. The Pope, doctor of the Church, has pronounced himself, let that suffice for our consciences

Eugene, however, distinguishes between an infallible pronouncement of the Pope, and the expression of a political opinion that can be followed or not:

It is not a question, it is true, of a point of dogma. It is not therefore a question of infallibility, so each is free not to do it. But also, it is permitted to each to conform himself to the decision of the first authority there is on this earth!

Then Eugene rationalized on the content of the oath required by the French political authorities:

According to the charter, the oath can no longer be considered as something sacred; it is a formality that is required, a transitory promise meant only to last as long as this temporary state of affairs subsists. It is incontestably this our legislators intend, and with the principle of the sovereignty of the people, one cannot interpret it otherwise. It is all a question of agreement amongst men, especially as to what the terms are worth.
You will agree with me how delicate the matter is; when conscience can be more facile than honor, one is often embarrassed; one must therefore not be precipitate.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 28 October 1830, EO VII n 369

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    My mind is fuzzy this morning and I find that I must wade through all of this slowly. I want to respond rather than react.

    My sense is that Eugene is trying to advise and remind those he loves as to the perhaps best way to walk in the space they were in; reminding them that outside of dogma they also cannot abnegate their own personal responsibility of conscience while at the same time saying that that they will not be shamed if they change their opinion in the light of the Pope’s instructions.

    It is not exactly ‘clear cut’ at all, but then I think that perhaps many things in this life are not. I am reminded of the prayer, the prayerful discernment that was shown in the movie “Of Gods and Men” – it was done personally by each of the men and then shared together.

    The word “obedience” keeps intruding on my thoughts. “Obedience”. I remember when the ‘new’ Roman Missal came out some years back, what to do with it. A few years back I was invited to join an Oblate District Community days out west and the discussion turned to “what do we do about the ‘new’ Roman Missal that we were told to introduce”. There were shared both responses and reactions to it. Finally one elderly Oblate was asked for his thoughts on it. He stood up and looked at all of us and said “obedience, obedience, obedience”. I was perplexed at the time, but as I remember his response the words trust and hope come to mind, courage and ‘letting-go’ enter into the equation.

    In a world of rhetoric and posturing, of hatred and violence, and of both covert and introvert racism and in the same world of love and sharing, of prayer and discernment, the liminal space that we are called to walk in can be provoking and difficult. Again I find Eugene speaking to those of his time and somehow to all of us in this time and place.

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