Lord Acton’s Apostasy — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

Lord Acton’s Apostasy — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ We’ve all seen this quote of Lord Acton. Most people agree with it. I don’t. Like many (if not most) great quotes, it is dead wrong. Why? Because it’s exactly backwards, that’s why. Let me give you another simple example; ‘Cogito, ergo sum’. I think, therefore I am. Sorry, René, you’ve got it bass-ackwards. You must exist before you can think. He was simply trying to avoid the bigger question. The question of ‘why do I exist’?

Let’s reconstruct Acton’s sentence in a way that reflects the truth of the matter (and energy) of power. Put the word ‘man’ in place of ‘power’, and then move the word ‘power’ behind the word ‘corrupt(s)’. Now let’s see what it should look like if we’re truly seeking the truth: ‘(Man) tends to corrupt power, and absolute (Man) corrupts power absolutely’.

Wasn’t he a clever fellow to omit that word ‘man’ from his formulation? Because that omission is what has masked his real intent. The intent to slander. Because he was talking about a particular man when he made that statement. Actually, he was slandering two men. One of whom was also fully human. And all-powerful. Think about Acton’s statement as it would logically be applied to Jesus and see where it takes you.

Is power intrinsically evil? Certainly, power can be used in an evil manner. A hammer can be used for many things, and some would be evil but not, mind you, because it might be used with force. After all, using a hammer, regardless of intent or usage, requires force. It requires power to operate it. So it’s not the force that is evil. And it’s not the hammer itself that is evil.

What is evil about the concept of force, about power? Further, how is power considered to be something separate from man? Is there some form of power out there that is sitting in a box, waiting to be unleashed? Some power that if unleashed will, of its own accord, wreak havoc on all? Is this Pandora’s Box we’re talking about here? But wait. Isn’t opening that box something that required power in and of itself? If that’s the case, we’re back to the intent of the one who acts. Correct? The finger on the trigger is the power that unleashed the bullet.

Here’s the story. Lord Acton was Anglish, of course. One of the King’s Men, by peerage. In an earlier age, he might have been a Cavalier instead of the functional Roundhead he became. Like many of those in that long line of idiot Cavaliers, this King’s Man was a Catholic. Right away, we have an oxymoron.

Lord Acton was a man of his times. That is to say, he was thoroughly confused. He felt that the reins of power belonged in the hands of the King. But like so many others in Angland, he believed that the King was actually Parliament. Of which he was a member, you see. He and his brothers thought that ‘King Parliament’ should hold absolute power. As long as they were members of the club, that is.

These crazy Anglishmen, having swallowed Cromwell’s Kool-Aid (and keeping their peerage), had fallen for the false dichotomy. If having an individual King with absolute power is bad (think King John or almost any Henry), then the solution must be to have an absolute King-by-Committee. That is, a Parliament. It may not move as quickly as any Henry, but the death toll is eventually the same.

Acton was so enthralled by this libertarian concept of ‘King Parliament’ that he couldn’t see it would also lead to the absolute power he criticized in others. He attributed that lust for power to another man, while he himself held it. He and his political descendants. Here’s a perfect example of Acton’s confusion, from the introductory memoir (by Herbert Paul) of The Letters of Lord Acton: ‘I remember, for instance, (Acton) telling me that Rousseau had produced more effect with his pen than Aristotle, or Cicero, or Saint Augustine, or Saint Thomas Aquinas, or any other man who ever lived.’ Need I say more?

The particular insanity of Lord Acton wasn’t his Anglish nature. No, it is found in the fact that his forebearers had held on to their Catholic faith. They held fast, in the face of the centuries-long oppression of anyone who failed to acknowledge the King of Angland as the true head of the Church. Until Lord Acton, the peer, apostasized. That’s the price of peerage, evidently.

Until Lord Acton committed his apostasy-by-slander, his family had stood the test of time against the Absolute Man on the throne of Angland. An absolute man believes in absolute power for himself. He admits to there being no one higher than himself. That power begins with the right to personally determine truth. Especially as it might relate to him, and his wishes.
I think that pretty accurately describes most despots, whether they rule individually (as King) or in a group (as King Parliament).

Am I saying all rulers are intrinsically evil? No, of course not. For all power is from God. All legitimate power, that is. No King or Parliament can over-rule God. Certainly, they will try, as they often do. That is the whole point here. Who then will rein in the King (of whatever type) when he demands that we kneel before him in Church as well as in Court?

Man corrupts power, not the other way around. Sorry, Lord Acton. You are wrong. Dead wrong. You’re an apostate fool. And you apostasized all by yourself. It was an individual act, as all apostasy is. You did it by slandering the Church. Specifically, the head of The Church. The only man that could correct this problem of despotic rulers. The man your ancestors paid homage to when they refused to recant the ancient faith that they delivered to you, at great cost to themselves. The faith you threw away when you uttered your infamous line about ‘power’. Which power, I would point out, you held (along with your co-King Lords in Parliament). Which power you noticeably never willingly gave up.

Just who was the person slandered with Acton’s poison pen? The Ecclesial King himself, the Pope—Pio Nono—Pope Pius IX. The pope you were sworn to serve and defend, as a Catholic. The King you abandoned, in your zeal to seat yourself. And Rousseau. And Descartes.

What crime did this man commit that brought you to pen this poison of power? What did he do that drove you to subvert the fact that power resides in man, and not the other way around? What did he speak that his predecessors, whom your predecessors believed, had not also spoken from the very beginning? Simply this: that Peter speaks for the True King.

Peter himself was speaking when Pio Nono subscribed his name to the documents of Vatican I in 1870. The Council documents that simply memorialized what The Church had always believed and taught. That teaching, that doctrine, was this: in matters of faith and morals, the Pope (Peter, in whatever age), was infallible.

Quick, get the smelling salts! Acton’s collapsed from shock! Hearing this truth was too much for him. Is that how you feel, too? Are you also shocked by that claim of infallibility? I’ll explain why this isn’t the end of the world. Actually, quite the opposite. Because you see, infallibility simply means someone is right. And this someone has the divine protection that will not allow him to speak, ex cathedra (‘from the Chair’), anything but the truth.

The Pope actually does have the power to speak infallibly, under strict circumstances. But please notice, he doesn’t have the power to force you to believe it. Nor cut off your head if you don’t. As a contrast, glance for a moment at the Encyclopedia Britannica (if you know what that is) and tell me that even this Anglophile institution admits that the Kings (and King-Parliaments) of Angland regularly took recourse to this extreme remedy for all who refused to believe in their supposed infallibility. Now just who is it that is the despot here?

The real crime of Pio Nono was this: he spoke the truth. And the truth is, ‘He who hears you, hears Me‘. That’s what Jesus said to Peter. No Pope ever speaks infallibly except in the name of the papal ‘We’. That is, Peter and whoever is keeping the seat warm for him. Get it?
There is no power of the sword here, unless you truly understand ‘the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God)‘. This is the sword that Lord Acton’s ancestors feared and revered. The sword Lord Acton scorned in his desire for his own Parliamentary power. All in his desire to be seen as a ‘faithful servant’ of an earthly King. Oh, thou fool.

Lord Acton did this foul deed supposedly to protect the ‘religious liberty’ of his Parliamentary constituents. He protested (as all real Protesters do) that no one can add to the ‘deposit of the faith’ that Our Lord delivered to Peter. And that is true, in this respect: the one and only principal amount was given to Peter by Our Lord Jesus before He ascended into Heaven. And just as Jesus noted in his parable of the stewards, what principal would draw no interest? After all, Jesus wishes that we would increase His holdings, and that the harvest be a hundredfold of what was planted.

When a Pope speaks from the Chair of Peter concerning a matter of Faith and/or morals, isn’t he simply issuing an updated bank statement on that deposit of the faith? A statement that shows the interest accrued, as the doctrine of the faith (the ‘deposit’) has grown in value, as that doctrine becomes clearer with the passage of time (and trouble)? Is there no real value to be found in the sufferings of the Church as She holds dear to the dowry given Her? Has this not added to the riches of The Church?

The larger purpose of this article is to explain to those who think that I believe the Church as a whole has apostasized that they could not be any further from the truth. It’s because that is an organic impossibility. A logical non-sequitur. Read Vladimir Solovyev’s The Russian Idea if you want to truly understand the meaning of ‘organic’, and how it relates to The Church. (Yes, you knew there would be a Russian connection in here). Just as belief must be held individually for salvation, and just as repentance is an individual act, apostasy is also an individual act.

Simply put, how can the entire body reject the entire body? How can the entire Church reject the entire Church? Who then is the enemy here if both parties are one and the same? Sure, one organ might reject the rest of the body. And one cell might reject its role. But how can the entire body reject itself?

How can the entire Church apostasize? Especially over something one member may do or say? Even if that one member may be the head? No, I’m not saying that the current head has apostasized, definitionally. What I am saying is this: that unless the head (where the mouth is located) speaks ex cathedra (that is, in the name of Peter, sitting in the Chair of the Bishop of Rome) on a matter of faith and morals, then we are free to ignore him. And all of his many henchmen.

Ignore the current Pope? No, my friend. Because unless he speaks as I have described, then he is speaking as an individual. Not as the Pope. And he is free to err, just as you and I are. And free to suffer the punishment for doing so. Even the Pope has to go to confession. We all err. Except when we are Peter, and we are speaking what Jesus told him. And only what Jesus told him.

What is the meaning of all of this Welsh blather? Simply this, my Anglish friend. The deposit of faith has been given, and it has been entirely kept by the faithful steward, Peter. Interest has been added to it by his faithful followers. And the value of that interest has been added to the value of the Faith. The total value of our inheritance. If you want to receive your inheritance, my brothers, why would you not want all of it? Why renounce the interest on your principal share in the deposit of the faith?


  1. John B()


    Now I understand! Thank you for that! (I think I feel honored)

    There has not been a word (worth listening to – because one hasn’t spoken ‘ex-cathedra’) by a Pope since 1958. (I doubt many of those said anything worth listening to either other than that you agreed with what they said.) So basically, de facto Sedevacantism.

    Meanwhile, horrible things are happening in the Church while the ‘Chair’ is empty. Bad liturgy is infiltrating, ecumenism is out of control, priests and bishops have been excommunicated for bad reasons and priests have been illegally been brought in.

    “…I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…”

    So by the Popes not addressing and allowing these problems, make the ’empty chair’ a problem. Is that simply ‘their sin’? Or is there something more problematic.

    I love all of brothers in the Catholic Church (even when they consider me separated – or worse since I started life therein), I pray you can all get past your dilemmas.

  2. Gary

    So it really is sola scriptura and the “interest” is just truthful commentary?

  3. Power tends to corrupt the vulnerable.
    God is invulnerable.

    Brevity works.

  4. Ken

    Acton’s famous quote was made in context of judging history — Acton disagreed that Pope’s & nobility were judged by historians by ignoring their crimes; Acton endorsed a common moral standard be applied to all (see for example: http://oll.libertyfund.org/quote/214). Having made the comment in 1887 the relevant historical context was the increasing power of republican (representative) government taking away the authority of kings and with it, the unmistakable strangling of the notion of “divine right of kings”. The newly created United States of America was the prime example of total rejection of the concept, which was well underway in the British Isles. With the demise of that form of government, Acton was advocating that history be viewed objectively. The British, English in particular, cannot break themselves of the concept of nobility — where kings & queens very word was law it has devolved to where the current queen has no function other than to sign into law whatever Parliment sends her; even divulging the queen’s personal views on a given legislation is itself a scandal. In other words, the current queen has no more real value-add than an auto-pen. But the crowds still adore.

    For Acton’s point, his famous quote is perfectly fine.

    But for philosophers one can ponder: It is power that corrupts in proportion to the amount of power, or, is it human imperfection that when given the means of power then can run amok?

    Considering the fledgling U.S. formed a type of government with “checks and balances” to keep fallible government authorities in check, and those authorities were never intended to be permanent, the example is clear: Power doesn’t corrupt, it merely gives license to the individual’s imperfections to operate unchecked within the imperfect individual in temporary power. When such individuals return to their usual jobs, subject to the usual social checks & balances affecting us all, they are incapable of exerting absolute corruption. With & without power, the individual’s nature did not change.

    For Acton’s point, such parsing is unnecessary as his point is clear enough — and succinct.

    But let’s take this a step or two further: How does one exercise one’s basic power in normal confines of society?

    Jesus (God) said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    Seems like a good notion, but is it?

    No, not really.

    As 1000s/Ms in the corporate world have learned, the infamous Myers-Briggs diagnostic was developed to categorize individual communication styles. The idea being that when one understood one’s particular style of relating vs one’s peers, subordinates & superiors, one could communicate more effectively.

    One’s subordinate might like to be told precisely what to do, checklist-style. One’s peer or oneself might loath such micro-managing and only be partial to being told the desired outcome to achieve. Some people like to be told directly and clearly they’ve erred and how so they can immediately work to improve with clear focus; others like to be pampered with the deficiencies delicately hinted at. And so on and so forth.

    The proven point being, adjusting one’s style to suit one’s audience is much more effective than forcing one’s own style on others who have different styles. Effective sales personnel know this; they’ll sell a car to one customer based on its performance & fun to drive; the same car to another by appealing to their ego & how impressive owning such a sports car can be.

    The tactic is thus:

    “Do unto others as THEY like to be done unto”

    That’s profoundly different than:

    “Do unto others as YOU would have them do unto you”

    So-called “common sense” knowledge of interacting with others dictates we adjust our approach to suit the audience. This violates Jesus’ admonition, which is VERY SELF-CENTERED — narcissistic. A point observed by many (e.g. see Sam Vaknin’s, “For the Love of God: Narcissists and Religion” – http://samvak.tripod.com/journal45.html). Narcissists have, among other defects, the inability to appreciate that most everyone else doesn’t think like they do — they have to work, and then ineffectively, at appreciating that most others are not so self-centered as they are.

    This raises a fundamental question, setting aside all the other logical contradictions in the New Testament, would a loving and divine God sum up his entire corpus with such a narcissistic self-serving dictate as to “Do unto others as YOU would have them do unto you” when we already know, and most of us instinctively exercise the “common sense” ‘Do unto others as THEY like to be done unto’?

    We know from the writings from the time of Jesus that folks there & then were more than capable of understanding this distinction, so we cannot assert that Jesus ‘dumbed down’ his admonition for the audience & times.

    That single statement from Jesus, which superficially seems so straightforward and common-sense-ish, is … but is also consistent with narcissism and incompatible with real empathy (a necessary element of “love”). Jesus admonition is something the majority of us actually reject daily out of even greater empathy and consideration in dealing with others. Jesus statement reflects the perspective one would observes with self-serving toxic cult leaders — it is not what one should expect from a truly divine and loving deity.

  5. PK

    I trust that Jesus knew quite well what he meant in saying “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” To do unto others as they would have you do unto them opens free license to do the harmful or immoral to them. Even your example of heaping flattery on a prospective car buyer in order to push the sale is catering to their vice.

  6. PK


    I’ll also follow up that to do as they want to be done is actually far more narcissistic. The self important car salesmen, politicians, and other are the ones doing to others as he perceives THEY want to be done.

  7. John B()


    Agreed – a Narcissist Christian is an oxymoron. A Christian can be a narcissist, but that’s their sin they are struggling with. A capital ‘N’ Narcissist cannot be (nor would they want to be) a Christian (other than in name and for their own self-interest).


    It’s all about attitude.
    Instead of trying so hard to twist Lord Acton’s words to make them mean what you want them to mean. Take a lesson from the Biblical quote which is also subject to misunderstanding and misapplication.

    “Money is the root of all evil…” is a wonderful quotation for those who have little or no money. It has gotten many of us off the hook at times. “How can I be or do evil if I have no money?” But it’s the attitude about money, specifically “the love of money…” that is the root of all evil. That attitude alone puts us all at risk.

    Acton’s quote should have been a corollary to that … “The love of power corrupts and the love of absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Our attitude towards power puts us at risk, and potentially no different than a Hitler or Stalin, king, parliamentarian or pope, whose corruption began long before their rise to power. (That corruption may well have aided that rise to power.)

  8. Oldavid

    I think we can all confidently assert that possession of money (a claim to some goods and services) is a kind of power of demand. And rightly might the supplier of a bushel of wheat claim an equivalent of something in return.

    But the creators of money (the mere exchange medium) at interest exert a “claim” for the “value” of the goods traded and an “interest debt” to the consumers.

    Orrite! maybe it’s not convoluted enough for statisticians and economists to put into their computational “models” but simple fact is that producers of goods and services must have consumers of those goods and services. To tax via interest on the medium (money) that facilitates that exchange is the second biggest con-job in contemporary civilisation destruction.

  9. DG

    Well, Ianto, you certainly know a lot about history, but you don’t know too much about the history of philosophy. Your interpretation of Descartes’ “Cogito ergo sum” is definitely wrong. Descartes never intended to say that in order for something to exist, it has to necessarily have thought or consciousness. The “I think therefore I am” argument in Descartes is only a proof of self-certainty or knowledge of one’s existence or a refutation of total skepticism in his Second Meditation. Of course, Descartes would agree that in order for something to have thought it has to have existence which is why consciousness points to existence. Just thought I mention all this for you.

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