From ................ THE HUMAN QUEST
Nov. - Dec. 1996
Lest We Forget
Especially American Tradition
By CONRAD HENRY MOEHLMAN
AN AMBASSADOR to the Vatican has no precedent or parallel in the annals of the diplomatic history of the United States. John Adams, writing to the president of the Continental Congress in 1779, points out that "the Court of Rome, attached to ancient customs, would be one of the last to acknowledge our independence, if we were to solicit it. But Congress will probably never send a minister to his holiness, who can do them no service on condition of receiving a Catholic legate or nuncio in return, or, in other words an ecclesiastical tyrant, which the United States will be too wise ever to admit into their territories, because or their economic significance."
The American objective then was to extend American commerce without becoming involved in the problems and maneuvers of the Holy See.
Think, for example, of American Ministers Resident "near the papal states" becoming involved in the proclamation of the immaculate conception of Mary, in the pathetic Syllabus of Errors of 1864 condemning several American ideas such as the separation of church and state, hearing of the interview in which the pope did not know the name of the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln! Finally in 1867, Congress cancelled the [commercial] mission to the papal states by an 82 percent vote.
The instructions from the State Department to each of the six American representatives at the government of the papal states included these points:
There can be no connection whatever with the pope as head of the Catholic church.
The government of the United States
"possesses no power whatever over the question of religion."
"Our direct relations with the papal states can only be of a commercial character."
Often in the hundreds of pages of instructions, the secretaries of state impressively repeat these points. The United States is prohibited by its Constitution from having any ecclesiastical relationships with Rome. Herein the United States differs from any other nation in the world.
How did Abraham Lincoln and his Secretary of State, William H. Seward, regard the Mission to Rome in 1862? Seward put it this way:
"This government has not now, it seldom has had, any special transaction, either commercial or political, to engage the attention of a Minister at Rome."
This acknowledgment of barren harvest is followed by a reference to our American tradition:
"the first colonists in this country were chiefly Protestants, who not merely recognized no ecclesiastical authority of the pope, but were very jealous lest he might exert some ecclesiastical influence here which would be followed by an assumption of political power unfavorable to freedom and self-government on this continent..." *
This piece is taken from a lengthy two-part article in The Churchman for January 15, 1952, and February 1, 1952.
Dr. Moehlman, author of The Wall of Separation Between Church and State and many previous works, was for many years professor of the history of Christianity in Colgate-Rochester Divinity School.
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