New Year’s Letter from the Catholic Priest, Ronge.

New Year’s Letter from the Catholic Priest, Ronge.
Translated from the Deutsche Schnellpost.

  Some weeks ago was translated into many of our journals the noble protest of a Catholic priest, Johannes Ronge, against the gross action of his associates on the superstition of the people, in exhibiting a piece of clothing, which they pretended to be the garment of Christ for the cure of diseases, and other miraculous purposes. Hundreds of thousands flocked to see this pretended relic, and all the follies of the dark ages were repeated in their coarsest form. Against this shameful abuse of the confidence of the people, the priest, Ronge, raised his voice in the clearest tones of truth and a righteous indignation. His words must still be fresh in the minds of many readers. “To his disciples,” he says, “Christ bequeathed his spirit—the word which he had given in spirit and in truth;—his garment fell to the lot of the executioner.” The protest of Ronge has brought upon him the bitterest persecution from those who had shown themselves capable of that worst treason, perversion of pious though unenlightened hearts for the service of their ambition and avarice. The following letter he writes in reply to some of his assailants.

A word to the Romanists of Germany, and to those only, on the New Year of 1845.

  You of the Romish hierarchy! I have stood among you and seen what a game you play with human nature; what your purposes are. The word TRUTH is heard from your lips, but she dwells not in your hearts; compassion and love you have upon the tongue, but not in the bosom.

  The Pharisees, as depicted in the Gospel, are mere children, compared with you, Jesuits and spiritual tyrants! For the high-priests and Levites of Jewry consumed only one nation, but you have the misery of many nations of Europe to answer for. Through whose fault was German blood poured out under the Fourth Henry, and in the desolating thirty years war? Through whom sank Poland in bloody ruins? Through whom was the flesh torn from the bones of France and Spain but yesterday? Through the ambition, the avarice, the immorality and the intrigues of the Romish hierarchy, whose creature dare to style themselves fathers and teachers of the people. One who had not studies and seen through these beings, might well believe, from their sweet words, that among them would be found angels of light, those who bring peace and salvation. But where is the blessing they spread abroad? what peace is it that follows on their steps? what is their morality? what mean they by their flattering words? what sort of religion shall bless the nations from their hands?—But the clouds are scattering and mental chains breaking. That mark you well! That is what causes the loud outcry. Yes, it is done. To those who do not yet know and feel that the empire of imposture and superstition is at an end, I will prove it. See! since I came forth against you, and with simple words, exposed your pernicious conduct, what has been said, what has been done by the nations, not only the German, but foreign nations.—You know with what ardor they sprang up; you hear, you see it now. And what did ye? Called down maledictions from the pulpits, called for the shears of the Censor to clip down thoughts, (this is your sad invention) before they could pass through the press. Imprisonment or worse punishment threatened from the background,—and, against whom? Against me and all others who dare give utterance to the truth; who to abused religion and the long-suppressed lamentations and complaints of the people dare give utterance. Truly, if it depended on you, who are pleased to style yourselves apostles of love and light, I and many others would soon cease to see the light.

  You call me a false prophet, betrayer, Judas, forsworn, agitator, demagogue, communist, and Heaven knows what else. You call me by these names in your ecclesiastical journals; from your consecrated pulpits you pour forth your calumnies. But what harm does this to me? None at all; rather it harms yourselves. And who am I, opposed to you. A plain man, without riches, without power, and man who has no home, except in the hearts of his friends and the greater part of the people whom you abuse. A man who would shrink with horror from deceiving the people, who would blush to be a hypocrite, who would refuse your benefices. A man who spoke a few sincere words for the sake of abused religion, and deceived man, and whom you have, on that account, degraded from his office, and excommunicated as a criminal from your churches. But what can you do against me? Nothing, nothing at all. The people no longer believe those who have so often deceived them. The greater part of the nation is on my side. The small portion that you still influence through your riches, your arts, and their own fears, will turn against you so soon as they see that it is for them we fight. For the fight is for the deceived part of the nation, injured priests, injured religion. Their voice will I be, so well as I may, and so long as I can, and I feel the courage of victory in my breast. I would enter the lists against you, degenerate servants of Rome, were you still more numerous than you are. Think you I fear your threats, I am ready to die.—The cause in which I engage is worth the life of a man; it is the cause of freedom from Rome. Did you fancy you could turn me from the path of virtue and right.—As well might, you try to turn this planet from her course. You have devised calumnies against me personally to diminish my influence, knowing it was in vain to deny the truth of what I have said.—Again, in vain! Men know that you say what is false; I need not answer these calumnies. If I wished to defend myself, I would not take the way you have to assail me. But if I did choose to speak of the sins with which many of you are laden, sins public and private, known by public rumor and irrefutable testimony, should I here give a catalogue of these, how would you bear up against the burthen?

  Some have entered on the idle task of justifying the idolatry, but this is beyond the power of men to do. That pilgrims have said “Holy garments, pray for us,” is and remains a fact that the simplest countryman that he can think must see in its true light. Let Dr. Ritter give his catalogue of reliques, not merely from the time of Christ, as he has done, but from the creation of the world down to the present day. He cannot deny that at Treves they sang “Holy garment, pray for us,” and that this was unchristian.

*    *    *    *    *

  Let this or that deny that I was the author of my letter and invent what they will concerning it. The hearts and minds of millions of men are not to be deluded; nor need I fear to love the reputation of authorship: you will too often force me to repeat what I have said. Let the Canon Förster write his ten thousand sermons in defence of the idolatry—it is all labor lost. You have yourselves prognosticated your fall, Romish doctors, with and without poetry and wit, with and without cunning; O you will repent the aims of your age, if you go on, as you have began. The foolish play is played to the end. What! would you continue to be teachers of religion when you have acted the usurer with it as a matter of traffic? What! you would be preachers of that gospel in which it is said, “Christ made a whip of small cords, went into his temple, and, driving out those who bought and sold there, cried, “My father’s house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” And you dare to defend a Bishop who has, in this way, wiled their mercy from the poor credulous multitude. What! you would be teachers of the people, the representatives of culture, manners and humanity, and you defend this odious folly of adoring a piece of cloth. A piece of cloth which you yourselves cannot prove who has worn it. By Heaven, such scorn cannot with impunity be offered to the minds and hearts of men. Your toils are in vain; the Romish dominion has no longer such power to enslave, though you may esteem it the eternal church. But humanity is the church of God, and in it rules the Spirit. To this church (humanity) have I bound myself and not to this or that Romish bishop. Mark that! and cry out no more that I have broken my oath! It is you who daily break the oath to human nature. You break the oath of humanity, in failing to speak and act the truth, to harmonize and perfect human nature; indeed you do just the contrary. Your opulence impoverishes the people. Your example promotes immorality. You repress what tends to spiritual edification and despoil man of his dignity.

  You break not only the oath to collective human nature, but to your country in particular, for you are born and brought up to be German fathers and mothers; you are nourished by the labor of German compatriots; you recognize the German tongue as that in which your mother greeted your entrance into life, and expressed the immeasurable love of her heart, you have your share in the rich inheritance of German mind; you share the fields and air of Germany,—the hills, the plains, the streams of Germany you call yours, you share all these with us, but you are no Germans, for you obey blindly a Romish bishop; to be his slave you will oppress and degrade your German-brothers. Consider this, look into history and into life, and you will be convinced that the era of Romish rule draws to an end, and that the Jesuits are no more in place among us.

  The hour is come; the path is open, you can decide whether to be Romish or German, slave or free. Hypocrisy or truth, priesthood of Christianity, are the signal words between which you must choose; you saw this, but you have not listened to religion, nor to conscience, to reason or your country; you have preferred to be, on German ground, slave and tools of Rome; you would your father, mother, brothers, sisters—your nation, your Fatherland, still farther debase and betray. Is it so? Then let me declare to you, in the name of my nation—“You yourselves have willed to become aliens; pass to the home you have chosen, which you prefer to your mother earth; dwell within the walls of Rome, if indeed they can bear up against the burden of the blood, the tears, the curses of the nations of the earth. Believe me, the hour is nearer than you dream of. Soon will other priests, communities and teachers rise up against you.”

  Already the spirit draws nigh like the rushing of a storm; soon will rotten buildings fall; the fetters laid upon the reason and the heart be broken, and the people emerge into the daylight of truth and mental freedom. It is spring-time; indeed it is May; the airs of spring are wafted over the earth; I have felt them in my heart, in my spirit, before I saw the seed, which is now springing up; and I will never leave the stand I have taken, till the work is completed that Duty called me to begin. Only the bolder am I become through your assaults; bolder in the name of my Nation, which has so long endured your injustice and infidelity, but which is now also become bolder and more courageous, and which will conquer through brotherly unity in its powers!JOHANNES RONGE.

  We have condensed some sentences where it seemed desirable to omit trifling particulars, or too many words; but the sense is given. The Schnellpost mentions messages that have been sent to Ronge from various quarters, expressing deep sympathy with his course. From Berlin came a verse to this effect:

“Renounce, Friend, a place in the Valhalia,
A Buther may not there be seen;
But, in the halls of history,
Thou wilt find one beside Huss and Luther.”


“New Year’s Letter from the Catholic Priest, Ronge.” New-York Daily Tribune, 12 March 1845, p. 1.