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REVEALED TRUTH DEFINITE AND CERTAIN.
ST. JOHN xvii. 3.
“This is life everlasting, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
MY purpose is to speak of the grounds of Faith; I do not mean of the special doctrines of the Catholic theology, but of the grounds or foundation upon which all Faith rests.
This is a subject difficult to treat: partly, because it is of a dry and preliminary nature; and partly, because it is not easy to touch upon a matter so long controverted, without treating it likewise in a controversial tone. But I should think it a dishonour to the sacredness of truth itself, if I could treat a matter so sacred and so necessary in a tone of mere argument, I desire to speak, then, for the honour of our Lord, and, if God so will, for the help of those who seek the truth. To lay broad and sure the foundations on which we believe is necessary at 2all times, because as the end of man is life eternal, and as the means to that end is the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ whom He hath sent, our whole being, moral, intellectual, and spiritual, demands that we should rightly know, and by knowledge be united with, the mind and will of God. And what is necessary at all times is especially so at this. For this land, once full of light, once united to the great commonwealth of Christendom, and grafted into the mystical vine, through whoso every branch and spray life and truth circulate, three hundred years ago, by evil men for evil ends, was isolated from the Christian world, and torn from the unity of Christ. Since that time, what has been the religious history of England? The schism which rent England from the Divine Tradition of Faith, rent it also from the source of certainty; the division which severed England from the unity of the Church throughout the world planted the principle of schism in England itself. England, carried away from Catholic unity, fell as a landslip from the shore, rending itself by its weight and mass. England, Scotland, Ireland, parted from each other, each with a religion of its own, each with its rule of faith. With schism came contradiction; with contradiction uncertainty, debate, and doubt.
Nor did it stop here. That same principle of schism which rent asunder these three kingdoms propagated itself still further. In each country division followed division. Each Protestant church, 3as it was established, contained within itself the principle both of its creation and dissolution, namely private judgment. And private judgment, working out its result in individual minds, caused schism after schism; until we are told by a writer, Protestant himself, that in the seventeenth century, during the high time of Protestant ascendency, the sects of England amounted to between one and two hundred.
But there are causes and events nearer to our day which render it more than ever necessary to turn back again to the only foundations of certainty, and lay once more the basis of faith. The establishment so long by many believed to be a Church, a body with a tradition of three hundred years, up held by the power of this mighty nation, maintained by the sanction of law and legislature, in vested with dignity and titles of state, possessing vast endowments, not of land or gold alone, but of that which is more precious, of treasures which the Catholic Church had gathered, and of which it was rudely spoiled; universities, colleges, and schools: that vast body, cultivated in intellect, embracing the national life in all its strength and ripeness, in an hour of trial was questioned of its faith, and prevaricated in its answer. It was bid to speak as a teacher sent from God; it could not, because God had not sent it. And thus the last remaining hope of certainty among Protestant bodies in this land revealed its own impotence to teach. The body which men fondly believed to partake of the divine 4office of the Church, proclaimed that alike in its mission and its message it was human.
What then do we see in this land? Sects with out number, perpetually subdividing; each equally confident, all contradictory: and that dominant communion which claims to be authoritative in teaching, itself confounded by internal contradictions of its own. How has this come to pass? It is because the Rule of Faith is lost, and the principle of certainty destroyed. Put a familiar illustration: suppose that in this teeming commercial city, where men, in fret and fever from sunrise to sunset, buy and sell, barter and bargain, the rules of calculation and the laws of number were to be come extinct; what error would ensue, what litigation, what bankruptcy, and what ruin! Or suppose that in this great mercantile empire, whose fleets cover the seas, the science of astronomy and the art of navigation were to perish; the shores of all the world would be strewn with our wrecks. So it is in the spiritual world. The Rule of Faith once lost, souls wander and perish. The effect of this is that men have come to state, as scientifically certain, that there is no definite doctrine in revelation. As if, indeed, truth had no definite outline. And we find in serious and even good men an enmity against the definite statement of religious truth. They call it dogmatism. The Athanasian Creed they cannot away with. It is too precise and too presumptuous. They feel as men who turn suddenly upon the image of our crucified Lord. They 5start at it from its very definiteness; and as the sight of a crucifix unexpectedly produces a shock, so will the definite statement of truth. It forces home the reality of faith. People now-a-days assume that religious truth can have no definite out line, and that each man must discover and define it for himself. And however definite he may choose to be, one law is binding equally upon us all. No one must be certain. Each must concede to his neighbour as much certainty as he claims for him self. The objective certainty of truth is gone. The highest rule of certainty to each is the conviction of his own understanding. And this, in the revelation of God; in that knowledge which is life eternal.
I. In answer, then, I say, that all knowledge must be definite; that without definiteness there is no true knowledge. To tell us that we may have religious knowledge which is not definite, is to tell us that we may have colour which is not distinguishable. Every several truth is as distinct as the several colours in the rainbow. Blend them, and you have only confusion. So is it in religious knowledge. Doctrines definite as the stars in heaven, when clouded by the obscurities of the human mind, lose their definiteness, and pass from sight.
Is not this true in every kind of knowledge? Take science, for example. What would a mathematician think of a diagram which is not definite? What would any problem of physical science be, as in optics, or in mechanics, or engineering, or in any 6of the arts whereby man subjugates nature to his use, if it were not definite? How could it be expressed, by what calculus could it be treated? What, again, is history which is not definite? History which is not the record of definite fact is mythology, fable, and rhapsody. Where history ceases to be definite, it begins to be fabulous. Or take moral science; what are moral laws which are not definite? A law which is not definite carries with it no obligation. If the law cannot be stated, it cannot be known; if not known, it has no claim on our obedience. Unless it definitely tell me what I am to do and what I am not to do, it has no jurisdiction over my conscience. And as in human knowledge, so, above all, in divine. If there be any knowledge which is severely and precisely definite, it is the knowledge which God has revealed of Himself. Finite indeed it is, but definite al ways: finite as our sight of the earth, the form of which is round; and yet. because our narrow sight can compass no more, to us it seems one broad expanse.
Again, take an example from the highest knowledge. When we speak of wisdom, goodness, or power, we carry our mind upward to the attributes of God. When we see these moral qualities reproduced in a finite being, we call them still by the same titles. So with knowledge. What is knowledge in God but an infinite and definite apprehension of uncreated and eternal truth? The knowledge which God has of Himself and of His works 7is a science divine, the example and type of all. To descend from the divine perfection; what is knowledge in the angels but equally definite, though in a finite intelligence? And what was the knowledge of man before the fall, but, though finite, definite still? What, then, is the knowledge which God has restored to man through revelation but a definite knowledge, a participation of His own? The truth which has been revealed, what is it in the mind of God who reveals it, but one, harmonious and distinct? What was that knowledge as revealed by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, but one, harmonious and distinct? What was the conception of that knowledge in inspired men, but one, harmonious and distinct also? And what was that knowledge when communicated by those who were inspired to those who believed, but one, harmonious and distinct as before? And what is this unity and harmony and distinctness of knowledge, which God revealed of Himself through Jesus Christ, but the faith we confess in our creed? Our baptismal faith, its substance and its letter, the explicit and the implicit meaning, article by article, is as definite, severe, and precise, as any problem in science. It is of the nature of truth to be so; and where definiteness ends, knowledge ceases.
Observe, then, the distinction between finite knowledge and definite knowledge. Is not science definite? Yet it is also finite. The theory of gravitation, definite as it is, is finite too. The theory of electricity is definite as far as we know it, but 8finite also. Go through the whole range of physical sciences, what is it but an example of the same condition of knowledge, definiteness in conception with finiteness of reach? What has astronomy revealed to us? The starry heavens, in which we trace the laws and revolutions of heavenly bodies. We find centre after centre, and orbit beyond orbit, until at last we reach what has been long fixed upon as the centre of the universe; and yet even here, science now tells us that probably this, our central point, which we believed to be fixed, is again itself a planet revolving around some mightier centre which science cannot attain. Here, then, are the conditions of definiteness and finiteness combined. So in revealed truth. If we have not a definite knowledge of what we believe, we may be sure we have no true knowledge of it.
II. But, further, it is evident that knowledge must also be certain. When we speak of certainty, we mean one of two things. Sometimes we say, that a thing is certain; at other times, that we are certain. When we say a truth is certain, we mean, that the proofs of that truth are either self-evident, or so clear as to exclude all doubt. This is certainty on the part of the object proposed to our intelligence. But when we say we are certain, we mean that we are inwardly convinced, by the application of our reason to the matter before us, of the sufficiency of the evidence to prove the truth of it. In us, certainty is rather a moral feeling, a complex state of mind. As light manifests itself 9by its own nature, but sight is the illumination of the eye; so certainty means truth with its evidences illuminating the intelligence, or, in other words, the intelligence possessed by truth with its evidences.
This we call certainty. I ask, then, is there not this twofold certainty in the revelation which God has given? Was not the revelation which God gave of Himself through Jesus Christ made certain on His part by direct evidence of the Divine act which revealed it? Is it not also certain on our part by the apprehension and faith of the Church? Was not God manifest in the flesh that He might reveal Himself? Did not God dwell on earth that He might teach His truth? Has not God spoken to man that man might know Him? Did not God work miracles that man might believe that He was present? What evidence on the part of God was wanting that men might know that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God?
And if there was certainty on the part of God who revealed, was there not certainty also on the part of those that heard? Look back into the sacred history. Had not Prophets and Seers certainty of that which they beheld and heard? Had not Abraham certainty when he saw a dark mist and a smoking furnace, and a fiery lamp moved between the portions of the sacrifice? Was not Moses certain when he beheld the pattern shown to him on the Mount? Was not Daniel certain when the angel Gabriel flew swiftly and touched 10him at the time of the evening sacrifice? Were not Apostles and Evangelists certain when they companied with our Lord, and said, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have diligently looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of Life”? Were not the Twelve certain in the upper chamber? Were they not certain on the day of Pentecost? Was not Paul certain in Arabia, when lie teamed the Gospel, not of man, nor of flesh and blood, but “by the revelation of Jesus Christ?” Was not John certain in Patmos, when heaven was opened, and the vision of the future was traced before his eye? And were not they certain to whom Patriarchs, Prophets, Seers, Apostles, Evangelists, preached and wrote? Has not the Church of God been certain from that hour to this of the revelation given and received at the first?
What, then, is the first condition of faith but certainty? He that has not certain faith has no faith. We are told that to crave for certainty implies a morbid disposition. Did not Abraham, and Moses, and Daniel, the Apostles and Evangelists desire certainty in faith, and crave to know beyond doubt that God spake to them, and to know with definite clearness what God said? Was this a morbid craving? Surely this is not to be reproved. But rather the contrary disposition is worthy of rebuke. How can we venture to content ourselves with uncertainty in matters where the 11truth and honour of God and the salvation of our own souls are at stake? This truly is not without sin.
We are told, indeed, that to be certain is in consistent with faith, that probability is the atmosphere in which faith lives, and that if you extinguish probabilities, faith dies. Did the Apostles then believe the doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity upon a probability? Did they believe the doctrine of the Incarnation upon conjecture? Was it because they walked in twilight that their faith in their Divine Lord was acceptable?
To what are we come? In this Christian land, once full of light, once in unity with the Church of God, once replenished with truth,—to what are we come? A new virtue is promulgated; to be uncertain of the truth and of the will of God; to hold our faith on probabilities. And yet, what is the very idea of Revelation but a Divine assurance of Truth? Where faith begins uncertainty ends. Because faith terminates upon the veracity of God; and what God has spoken and authenticated to us by Divine authority cannot be uncertain.
I am aware, brethren, that much of what I have said has no application to you. You are the heirs of a Divine inheritance. As the science of astronomy, in its severity and truth, has descended by intellectual tradition from the first simple observations made on the plains of Chaldea down to the abstract and complex demonstrations of these later times, so has the tradition of faith, the science 12 of God, come down to you. You have been born within its sphere. You know it by a manifold assurance, by the certainty of God revealing it, the Scriptures of God recording it, the Church of God preserving it, the Councils of the Church defining it, the Holy See from age to age condemning error and setting its seal upon the faith. You have it brought down to you with imperishable certainty. Your guide is not human but Divine. Why then do I speak to you? Because you have a mission to fulfil. You have to bring others to a share of the same inheritance. I bespeak your charity and your patience in their behalf. I cannot better put before you the state of those who have lost what to you has been preserved, than by a parallel. Suppose I were to write an inscription, and show it to you. Having read it, the meaning of that inscription passes, so to speak, into the very substance of your mind. It is ineffaceably impressed upon your memory. Then tear it into twenty pieces, and give one piece to twenty men respectively; set them to discover the whole. I know it, because I wrote it; you know it, because you have seen and read it. They know it only in part. They have each a fragment; but they cannot conjecture the rest. So is it with the sects that are around the Church of God. The one inscription, written, not by man, out by the Spirit of God upon the illuminated reason of the Church, has descended perfect and entire until now. But each several sect as it departed from unity carried away a fragment. The children 13of schismatics inherit a fragment only. As “faith cometh by hearing,” so theology cometh by hearing, and the doctrine of the Catholic Church in its harmony, unity, and distinctness, comes by hearing. They who never heard that faith, to whom the science in its fullness has not descended, have but a fragment, from which they labour in vain to conjecture the remainder. You can help them. Not by controversy; not by destroying what they have already. To destroy even a fragment of the Truth is Satan’s controversy. The divine way of establishing faith among men is not to throw down, but to build up: to add, to develop, to perfect. Every truth that a man possesses is so far a pledge that you have a share in him, that so far he is with you Hold him fast by that truth. Add to it the next which follows in Divine order; and so in patience and in charity lead him on from truth to truth, as by the links of a chain, and bind him to the altar of God.
And now, of those who reject the principles I have stated, and deny to theology the character of definiteness and certainty, I would ask two questions:—
1. First, I would ask, What do you believe? Put it in words. Conceive it in thought. Fix your mind’s eye upon it. Put it in writing in some silent hour: know at least what it is. As you value your eternal soul, as you believe that the end of your being is to be united with God eternally, and that the means to that eternal union is 14 the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus, be not content a day to abide in uncertainty and indefiniteness concerning the truth, which you know to be vitally necessary to your salvation.
Again I say, put it in words. First, what do you believe of the Godhead? You believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? This you hold definitely and without a doubt. What do you believe of the Incarnation of the Son of God? That in Him two whole and perfect natures are united in one person, never to be divided. You believe the Godhead, presence, and office of the Holy Ghost? But there remain other articles of your creed. We come next to “the Holy Catholic Church.” What do you believe in this article of Faith? Will you say, “We have definite and certain knowledge of the former articles, but not of the latter. When I come to ‘the Holy Catholic Church’ I come to a region where uncertainty is lawful”? But uncertainty is doubt, and doubt and faith are contradictory. You may not doubt in your baptismal faith, or be uncertain as to the articles of your creed. May we make an open question, for example, of the resurrection of the dead? Why not be also uncertain whether or no the Holy Spirit of God be in the world now; or, being now in the world, whether He have a present office to teach? You believe this; but why believe this, and doubt of other doctrines of the same creed? And if you believe that the Holy Spirit does still teach the world, how does He teach? Each several man by immediate 15inspiration? If not, then how? You will say perhaps, that He teaches through the Church. But if through the Church, through what Church? How are we the better or the wiser by knowing that the Spirit of God teaches the world at this hour, and that He has an organ through which to speak, if we know not which, nor where that organ is? How then shall you know that you hear His voice? If you knew that of twelve men who stood before you, one only possessed a secret upon which your life depended, would you be careless to know which man bore the treasure in his possession? Why then may you be indifferent to ascertain which is the accredited messenger upon whom your faith depends?
Try therefore to define your meaning. You say you believe a Church, because your baptismal faith says, “I believe one Holy Catholic Church:” holy, because the Holy Spirit teaches in it; Catholic, because throughout all the world; and one. Why one? Why do you say that you believe in one God? Because there is not more than one God. Why one Lord? Because not two. Why one baptism? Because one alone. Why one faith? Because no other. All these are numerically one. Why then one Church? Because numerically one; two there cannot be. Through that one Church speaks the one Spirit of the one God, teaching the one faith in which is salvation. Which then is this true and only Teacher sent from God? You look about you, and see a Church in Greece, in 16 Russia, in America, in England, and in Rome. Which of all these is the one only true? Can you be content with this guess-work instead of faith?
2. And further: I would ask another question. I have asked you what you believe; I will now ask you why you believe it; upon what basis of certainty you are convinced of it. and why? Do you say that you have applied the best powers of your understanding to it? So have others who contradict you. Why are you more surely right than they are? You have not had a message from heaven, sent by special indulgence to make you sure, while others wander. What then is the basis of your certainty? The persuasion of your own mind is not enough. At that rate all men are certain. False coins pass in every land; false miracles take the semblance of true. The whole world is full of counterfeits. What I ask you is this: How do you distinguish between your certainty and the certainty of other men, so as to know that their certainty is human, and yours divine? Why are they wrong, and you right? Where is the test to determine this? You know it cannot exist within you, for every body may claim the same. You look then without you and around to find it.
Well, you will perhaps tell us that you have inherited the faith you hold. The inheritance of faith, that is a divine principle. We bow before the principle of inheritance. But why did you cut 17off the entail of your forefathers? Why, three hundred years ago, did you cut off the entail of that inheritance? If it be not cut off, why is the contest? If it be cut off, why was it cut off? To inherit the faith is the divine rule. It needs only one thing, infallibility, ii secure it. It needs only one support to give it substance and certainty; a divine tradition flowing from the Throne of God through Prophets, Seers, Apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs, Saints, and Doctors in one world-wide stream, ever deepening, never changing, from the beginning until now. Show this divine certainty as the basis of your conviction, and then inherit both truth and faith. But the inheritance of opinion in a family, or a diocese, or a province, or nation, what is it? Human in the beginning, and human to the end: “the traditions of men.”
You say you have inherited the faith, and that this is the Church of your forefathers. Go back three hundred years ago, and ask the priests of God who stood then at the altar how they would expound the faith you still profess to hold. Ask them what they believed while they ministered in. cope and chasuble. Go back to the Apostle of England who first bore hither again the light of the Gospel after Saxon paganism had darkened this fair land. Ask St. Augustine what he believed of those words, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church.” Give your exposition, and ask his. What would he have taught you of visible unity? What would he teach you of the 18 Church of God? Ask him, Is it one numerically, or one only by metaphor? Is it visible, that all men may see “the City seated on a mountain,” or invisible, that men may weary themselves, and never find it? Has it a head on earth, representing its Divine Head in heaven? Or has it no head, and may it set up many of its own? What would he have taught yon of your baptismal creed? Or that great saint who sent him from the Apostolic throne, what would he have testified to you of those doctrines of faith which you are taught to look upon as errors? Ask Gregory, first and greatest of the name, what he believed of the powers left by the Incarnate Son to His Church on earth: what he taught of the power of the keys transmitted by his predecessors in lineal descent from the hands of his Divine Lord? Ask what he taught of the power of absolution in the sacrament of penance; what he believed of the Reality on the altar, and of the Holy Sacrifice daily offered in all the world; of the Communion of Saints ever inter ceding, by us ever invoked; of the intermediate state of departed souls, purifying for the kingdom of God. Ask Gregory, saint and doctor, to whom we owe the faith, what he taught of those doctrines which you have rejected.
If the disciple and his master, if he that was sent, and he that sent him, were to come now and tread the shore of this ancient river, whither would they turn to worship? Would they go to the stately minster, raised by their sons in the faith, 19where even now rests a sainted king of Catholic England? Would they bend their steps thither to worship the God of their fathers, and their Incarnate Lord from whom their mission and their faith descended? Or would they not rather go to some obscure altar in its neighbourhood, where an unknown despised priest daily offers the Holy Sacrifice in communion with the world-wide Church of God?
If, then, you claim inheritance as the foundation of your faith, be true to your principle, and it will lead you home. Trifle not with it. Truth bears the stamp of God. and truth changes man to the likeness of God. Trifle not with the pleadings of the Holy Spirit within you; for He has a delicate touch, and sensitively shrinks from wilfulness and unbelief. If truth struggle within you, follow it faithfully. Tread close upon the light that you possess. Count all things loss that you may win truth, without which the inheritance of God’s kingdom is not ours. Labour for it, and weary your selves until you find it. And forget not that if your religion be indefinite, you have no true knowledge of your Saviour; and if your belief be uncertain, it is not the faith by which we can be saved.20
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