chapter  6
Resisting the “Democratic Spirit”: English Catholicism and the Cisalpine Movement
ByScott M. Cleary
Pages 14

The democratic spirit has never had a place in the Catholic Church. Composed of a word with both political and exceedingly contemporary roots (democratic), and a word which is for Catholics one of the ontological persons of God’s nature itself (spirit), the conflation of the two into a catchphrase for deliberate and drastic change in the Catholic Church, its beliefs, practices, and governance structures has always indicated a liberalizing tendency in those who claim to embrace it. As such, the democratic spirit that emerged in a particularly powerful group of English Catholics in the late eighteenth century was the product not only of an historical moment where legislative victories offered the possibility of a renewed place for Catholics in English national life, but also of a mode of thinking that was rooted in a geographic sensibility that saw the English Church, long separated both piously and geographically from global Catholicism, as a unique institution loosely related to, but not fully a part of, the mainstream Church. This moment and this mode became the Cisalpine movement, an important feature in English Catholic intellectual history, and a movement that nearly changed the English Catholic Church forever. The debates over the nature of the English Catholic Church occasioned by the Cisalpine movement, and particularly its greatest clergy spokesman, Joseph Berington, brought to the fore theological beliefs and doctrinal issues rooted not necessarily in arguments over the nature of truth, but in two opposing orientations. Whereas the Cisalpine movement sought to imagine a Catholic Church that would be essentially national, with localized structures, their more traditional opponents maintained that the duty of every Catholic was to universally true doctrines and universally recognized ecclesiological structures.