Review of the Book:
Dr. Edward McGlynn, Rebel, Priest and Prophet
by Stephen Bell
Grace Isabel Colbron
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom,
November-December 1937. Dr. Edward McGlynn. Rebel, Priest and
Prophet, by Stephen Bell, published by the Devin Adair Co., New
The importance of the story Stephen Bell has to tell us in his book,
Dr. Edward McGlynn, Rebel, Priest and Prophet, has lost
nothing by the simplicity of the telling. The utter lack of any
attempt at literary style throws into greater relief the facts
related, facts of such weight that their repercussion was felt far
beyond the borders of the land in which Father McGlynn lived, worked
and suffered. And far beyond the years of his lifetime. For the story
of the life of Father McGlynn is far more than the story of the life
of one Irish-American priest of the Roman Catholic Church. It is the
story of the conflict of true religion with Churchianity, the conflict
of the true spirit of Divine Law with that institution, setting itself
up as the embodiment of Divine Law, is here ... as elsewhere also
shown to be but another expression of entrenched temporal power.
Father McGlynn, a devout Catholic, to the last faithful to the Church
of which he was a priest.
The story, as Mr. Bell tells it, is pitiless in its revelations of
what had happened to that Church which was once the expression of a
religion of service, of brotherly Love. In his reiteration of his
belief that "The very essence of all religion is the Fatherhood
of God and the Brotherhood of Man" ... and in what he endured to
live up to this belief, Father McGlynn showed the world how the mighty
Empire of the Church stood perhaps for the Fatherhood of God, but had
completely forgotten ... or openly denied, the Brotherhood of Man.
The story of Dr. McGlynn's split with the Church, his
Excommunication, and eventual Reinstatement, takes up a large part of
this book, as indeed it took up a large part of his life. And the
author dwells on the details of this struggle in what seems at times,
to a non- Church person at least, too great a length. But he is
justified because it was undoubtedly in the true spirit of his
subject. The facts, so satisfactorily clear to a non-Catholic, were
what distressed Father McGlynn, and it is well that the author
reiterates the excommunicated priest's repeated avowals that he had no
quarrel with the Church, that is, with the true spirit of the Church
or even with the spirit of the organized body of the Church, but only
with some of those in power who misinterpreted what, to him, were
doctrines of vital truth. And, to readers of LAND AND FREEDOM at
least, this continued stand on the part of Father McGlynn is of value.
Because in spite of it, he still had the courage of a greater
conviction, and because of his understanding of what to us is vital
fundamental truth of divine and human law, he took upon himself the
onus of apparent opposition to the Church in which he believed. A
great spirit truly, a courage unbelievable. It is easy to oppose that
in which we do not believe.
But to stand firm in opposition to that which has been our mental and
spiritual life; to be, unwillingly perhaps, the instrument of proof to
the world of the weakness of that structure that had built itself up
around the religion of Christ ... the structure of which he had been a
part ... that takes courage. Those of us to whom only the weakness of
the Church is apparent, who have come to look on it as one of the most
powerful upholders of exploiting temporal power ... we would have
welcomed the conflict. To Father McGlynn it must have been a tearing
asunder of his very soul. And the fact that he endured it and stood
fast in his convictions proved two facts: First that Dr. Edward
McGlynn was truly of the Great Ones of earth; and secondly that the
doctrine which could force such a man to do what must have seared his
soul in the doing, must indeed be a doctrine of fundamental truth.
What Edward McGlynn did, proved him a great man. And that he did it
for the sake of the truth he learned from Henry George, proved that
Henry George also was one of the Great.
It is hard for one who believes in the fundamental truth of the
Brotherhood of Man as preached by Henry George, not to grow
enthusiastic over the story of what Edward McGlynn, ordained priest of
the Holy Roman Church, sacrificed and endured for the sake of it. Even
though that Church may not mean so much to us. ...
The story loses nothing in the straightforward simplicity of Mr.
Bell's writing. He tells us of the early life of Edward McGlynn, his
studies in Rome, his early years of priesthood. And then the reading
of Progress and Poverty which changed the whole course of his
life. What Father McGlynn says of his state of mind before reading
that book is worth quoting, for so many of us have gone through the
same mental groping.
"I had begun to feel life made a burden by the
never-ending pro- cession of men, women and children coming to my
door, begging not so much for alms as for employment; . . .
personally appealing to me to obtain for them an opportunity of
working for their daily bread. . . . I began to ask myself: 'Is
there no remedy? Is this God's order that the poor shall be
constantly becoming poorer in all our large cities, the world over?"
And again he says:
"I had never found so clear an exposition of the
cause of the trouble, involuntary poverty, and its remedy, as I
found in that immortal work.
I became all aglow with a new and clearer light that had come to my
mind in such full consonance with all my thoughts and aspirations
from earliest childhood, and I did, as best I could, what I could to
justify the teachings of that great work based on the essence of all
religion . . . the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man."
Mr. Bell gives an excellent recital of the years to follow when the
big-hearted priest, the gifted orator, took up the cause of the
extermination of involuntary poverty through the extermination of
monopoly of natural resources, and of what it cost him to do it. It is
a recital of value, more today even than in years gone by. Because the
rushing years between have somewhat obliterated the conflict, and many
persons have possibly come to regard it as merely an internal question
of Church politics. Understandable, when we read what Mr. Bell has to
say of the attitude of most newspapers and leading controversial
magazines of the day, few of which seem to have seen how important was
the doctrine for which this priest gave so much. Even those organs of
public opinion which did not object to exposing the arrogance of
leading men of the Church were still wary of emphasizing the attack on
modern society's most important monopoly as shown by the writings of
Henry George and the stand taken by Father McGlynn. Characteristic of
this is the fact that a great Encyclopedia of high standing as a work
of reference, mentions Father McGlynn only in a few words in a short
article on Archbishop Corrigan as "a New York priest and
fellow-student with Corrigan at Rome who disapproved of parochial
schools, refused to go to Rome for examination and was excommunicated
in July, 1887, but returned to the Church five years later" (!!)
Not a word about the doctrines that caused the conflict. ... And not
another word about Dr. McGlynn anywhere.
Mr. Bell gives a fine picture of the friendship between Father
McGlynn and Henry George; their unfortunate estrangement during the
Cleveland administration, and the reconciliation later. He gives in
full Father McGlynn's marvelous doctrinal statement regarding Henry
George's economic teaching, the paper which was accepted as
justification for his reinstatement to the priesthood. It is a
classic, that Statement, and should be preserved in a pamphlet for
distribution, with perhaps, Father McGlynn's wonderful speech at the
funeral of Henry George. That great oration ii preserved in a book
containing all the speeches at the funeral in 1897, But the Doctrinal
Statement deserves wider recognition.
The story of Father McGlynn's later years in Newburgh, his illness
and death, are sympathetically told. It is a book that deserves wide
recognition, not only among followers of Henry George but among all
students of the real development of history, the history of great
ideas making their way against established custom of thought, against
entrenched privilege with its power to control the organs of public
knowledge and opinion.
And one point on which Mr. Bell is very frank, a point which may not
seem of as great interest to the world in general as to his comrades
in the ranks of Henry George disciples ... is nevertheless of real
importance. Mr. Bell tells us that he is willing to believe Archbishop
Corrigan acted in all sincerity. He may even, says the author, "have
scanned Progress and Poverty to discover its purpose and
encountering the passage 'We must make land common property' have
balked at the proposition. ...'"
Again and again Mr. Bell emphasizes his belief (in which the
undersigned agrees heartily), that a mistaken use of such a' sentence,
i.e., an apparent preaching of the extermination of private ownership
of land, rather than an abolition of all taxation except on land
values, leaving land undisturbed in private ownership and use ... is
what turns away many who are really seeking the truth of today's
economic problems. Mr. Bell shows how Father McGlynn understood this
point clearly. And he states it superbly in his Doctrinal Statement.
For while we may have little sympathy with the Church as landowner,
and therefore owner of temporal power, we realize that not only the
Church of that day, but many well-meaning seekers after Truth balk at
that proposition "We must make land common property." It is
not only Archbishop Corrigan to whom that sentence smacks of the
Communism they seem to fear. And it does not, in truth, express the
essence of the teaching of Henry George. What Father McGlynn and what
Mr. Stephen Bell have to say on this point is worthy of attention by
all readers of LAND AND FREEDOM. The book itself, for other reasons,
is worthy of attention by a wide public.