Thursday, December 04, 2008

Edmund Burke vs. the Catholic Penal Laws

Statue of Edmund Burke on Trinity College Green, Dublin

Please read Donald McClarey's informative post at American Catholic on the electoral price paid by one of the world's greatest political philosophers (and the father of modern-day conservatism) for his exercise of conscience and judgment:
“For I must do it justice; it was a complete system, full of coherence and consistency, well digested and well composed in all its parts. It was a machine of wise and deliberate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”

So wrote Edmund Burke, brilliant writer and member of Parliament, of the Catholic penal laws in the Eighteenth Century. Son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother, suspected in his lifetime, probably incorrectly, of being a secret Catholic, Burke was a man who fought during his life for many causes: reform in Parliament, support for Americans in their fight against oppression by the English government, prosecution of Warren Hastings for his misrule in India, his crusade against the French Revolution, all these and more engaged his formidable intellect and his luminous pen. However, one cause he championed from the beginning of his career to the end of it: relief for Catholics in Ireland and England from the Penal Laws.


Cartoon lampooning Edmund Burke, as an Irish Jesuit, seated at a table
eating potatoes from a pot labeled "Relick No. 1. used by St. Peter."
Burke is portrayed as a Jesuit because he supported the 1778 Relief Act
which relaxed restrictions on the rights of Catholics.
The poverty of the Irish is parodied by the potatoes. Catholicism is parodied
by the pictures on the wall, the mutilated crucifix, the pot labeled as a relic of St. Peter,
and the demons dancing under the table.

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