Donoso Cortes, Juan
Donoso Cortes, Juan (FRANCISCO-MANUELMARIA-DE-LA-SALUD), marquis de Valdegamas, viscount del Valle, was a politician, statesman, publicist, diplomatist, historian, theologian, philosopher, and much the ablest and most eminent of recent Spanish authors. He was born May 9, 1809, at La Valle de Serena, a village of Est emadura. At sixteen he had completed his preparatory studies, which were largely occupied with history, philosophy, and literature. His education in jurisprudence was prosecuted at the University of Seville. In 1830 he married and settled in Madrid. He received some public appointments, but devoted his talents chiefly to literature. In 1839 he entered the Cortes as representative of the province of Cadiz. He took the side of Maria Christina against the Carlists, rose to high favor in the court, and was appointed private secretary to queen Isabella II. This office he resigned in 1845 on becoming a member of the royal council. He was an earnest advocate of the French marriages. In acknowledgment of his support, he was created by his sovereign Marquis de Valdegamas, Viscount del Valle, and was decorated by Louis Philippe with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.
In 1848, the Revolution, long foretold by him, exploded. The reforming Pope was driven from Rome; all the nations of Europe were agitated and convulsed. On the 4th of January, 1849, he pronounced his speech in the Cortes renouncing all liberal doctrines, and demanding a dictatorship. This speech startled Europe, and was perhaps the beginning of the reaction. It was a defiant reassertion of the principles of Gregory VII and Innocent III.
Shortly after the delivery of this speech, Donoso-Cortes was. sent as ambassador extraordinary to Berlin. The earlier part of the next year was occupied with the rapid composition of his only formal work his Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism. It was published in 1851, in Spanish, at Madrid, and was speedily translated into French, Italian, and German. An English version, by Madelcine Goddard, appeared in 1862 (Phila. 12mo). Just before the appearance of this work he was sent as ambassador to France, a mission which he held till his death. His eminence and high position were, however, embittered by the imputations of heretical doctrine alleged against his brilliant essay by the abbe Gaduel and other opponents. He submitted his book without reserve to the papal judgment. He died at Paris May 3, 1853.
A collection of his works, in 2 volumes, had been published at Madrid in 1849 (Colleccion escogida de los escritos del Sefor Don Juan D.C.). A more complete edition of his works was published after his death (Madrid, 1854-55, 5 volumes) by Tejada, and was republished at Paris, in French, by M. Louis Veuillot. The Essay on Catholicism forms three volumes of the collection. The other two volumes contain Parliamentary Addresses; Letters on France in 1842, and in 1851-52; Observations on Prussia in 1849; a few contributions to political and literary journals; letters to distinguished correspondents; and some unfinished sketches on historical and political topics.
The single work on which his reputation will rest is his Essay named above. He is throughout a polemic, but a polemic after the order of Hooker, whose sonorous periods he alone of moderns rivals, with greater precision, correctness, and elegance. The book is a trenchant onslaught on Protestantism and Liberalism; an earnest, unquestioning advocacy and eulogy of Roman Catholicism, and all its ancient usages, doctrines, and policy. Yet it affords a bright exhibition of pure intellect and lofty sentiment. The writer is a logician by his intellect, and something of a mystic by his heart. God is ever present to his mind, and the redemption of man is ever on his lips. Life is no independent, uncertain, arbitrary human evolution. It is the dread tragedy acted on earth by responsible beings in the presence of heaven and of hell, with the certainty of the one as a recompense or of the other as a doom. Nations as well as individuals are on their trial in the awful arena, which is presided over by the Almighty, prepared to issue his eternal judgments. The course of thought in the Essay is about as follows: Man, created in the image of his Maker, falls by disobedience. Sin entered into the world, and death by sin. The curse is realized in the alienation of the sinner from God, and in the introduction of disorder and violence into all the phases of human life, and into the whole constitution of nature. "Discord on the music fell, and darkness on the glory." "The whole world groaneth until now." Helpless, apparently discarded, and turned over to the counsels and passions of his own depraved heart, man falls into all the corruptions and aberrations of heathenism. Redeemed at last by divine grace and a divine expiation, the work of regeneration and restoration commences. Christianity changes the spirit of the world, and recreates society. It changes the relation of man to his Creator and to his fellowman. The little leaven ferments, and leaveneth the whole lump, and civilization slowly becomes Christian throughout instead of pagan. The range of man's contemplation is enlarged and his sympathies expanded; his reason is strengthened, his knowledge augmented, his dominion over thought and matter is increased; but, in the pride of intellect, he claims again the knowledge of good and evil; he speculates about all things; he drags revelation and the ordinances of God before the tribunal of his own understanding; he maintains the sovereignty of his own caprices, phantasies, and passions; he inaugurates on earth — a new revolt, similar to that which cast the rebellious angels out of heaven. The passionate vacillations or vagaries of the individual or of the mass are substituted for the decrees of the Almighty and beneficent Father of all. The furious appetencies of pride, greed, jealousy, and lust are taken to be canons of political and social wisdom, instead of the precepts of the moral law and of obedience to constituted authorities, "since the powers that be are ordained of God." Hence an age of revolutions and of social disturbances prepares the way for the long agony of a material and debasing despotism. All that is right, and wholesome, and enriched with promise is founded on voluntary submission to the will of God. All revolt from his ordinances is sin, and is followed by the consequences of sin — disorder, crime, war, wretchedness, impotency, ending in political and social dissolution. The law of the Gospel is the law of perfect liberty. The carnal mind is enmity with God; and the law of man is enslavement to the passions, provoking, inviting, necessitating, and maturing the tyranny of force on earth, and eternal torments hereafter.
Such, in general terms, and divested of its partisan coloring, is the substance of this splendid essay, which belongs to the same general type of speculation as the grand or graceful productions of Bossuet, De Maistre, Chateaubriand, and Montalembert. But the author's political absolutism was a bad inference from the sound theology of his Essay; and while the direct influence of his book is conservative, its ultimate effect doubtless was to increase the atheistic tendency in Europe by confounding Christianity with despotism. See a discriminating essay in The Catholic World, April, 1867, art. 1; also Bibliotheca Sacra, October 1866, page 679. A life of Donoso-Cortes was written by Tejada, and is embraced in the edition of his works.