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THE CHURCH A HISTORICAL WITNESS.
This is life everlasting, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
BEFORE we go on to the subject that stands next in order, it will be well to re-stale the conclusions at which we have thus far arrived.
From these words of our Divine Lord, we have seen that the end of man is eternal life, and the means to that end the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. Union with God in knowledge, love, and worship, is life eternal. And that man might attain to this end of his creation, God has revealed Himself to us in His Son. We have, therefore, noted the error of those who say that in Revelation doctrine is either not definite, or not certain. It is manifest that all knowledge must be definite; for if it be not definite, we may have guess, or conjecture, or probability, but true knowledge we cannot 21have. We have seen also that it must be certain, and that unless we have certainty we can have no faith, because the mind cannot rest upon uncertainty, as hunger cannot sate itself on air.
We have obtained, then, two principles; the one, that knowledge, though indeed it be finite, as it must be in a finite intelligence, is nevertheless, so far as it is known to us, perfectly definite. It is as a complex mathematical figure winch we see only in part, but in all we can see is perfect, harmonious, and proportionate, capable of being under stood, calculated, and expressed. Being in the mind of God one, harmonious and distinct, it is cast on the limited sphere of man’s intelligence in its unity, harmony, and distinctness. The other principle is, that the knowledge which God has given us of Himself is, in every sense, certain. We cannot conceive that the contradictory of that which God has spoken can be true, or that Prophets and Apostles were uncertain of what they believed and taught.
And now we will go on to examine what is the foundation upon which this certainty descends to us. It is, in one word, the authority of the Church of God. But this authority of the Church is twofold: it is either the outward and extrinsic, which I may call the human and historical authority; or it is the inward and intrinsic, that is, the super natural and the divine authority. The latter we must consider hereafter. For the present we will examine only the outward or historical authority of 22the Church, upon which the certainty of revelation as a fact in history is known to us.
All who have traced the history of the faith know that there is no doctrine which has not been made the subject of controversy. Look at the records of Christianity, and you will find that heresy began with the first publication of the truth. In the first age, we find heresies assailing the doctrine of the Godhead of the Father, the Creator of the world. In the next age heresies assailed the doc trine of the Godhead of the Son; later again, the doctrine of the Godhead of the Holy Ghost; next the doctrine of holy Sacraments; later still, the doctrine of the Church itself. A vast schism arose, justifying itself by denying the existence and the authority of the visible Church as such. And because the existence and authority of the visible Church was so denied, the foundation of certainty was broken up, and the principle of uncertainty introduced. Age by age, and article by article, the faith has been denied, until we come down to a period when the characteristic heresy of the day is, not a denial of the Godhead of the Father, or of the Son, or of the Holy Ghost, and the like, though these too are denied, but the denial of the foundation of certainty in faith. The master-heresy of this day, the fountain and source of all heresy, is this, that men have come first to deny, and then to disbelieve the existence in the world of a foundation, divinely laid, upon which revealed truth can certainly rest.23
Let us ask those who deny the existence of this basis of certainty, upon what do they rest when they believe in the fact of a revelation? The revelation was not made to them, personally. It was not made to-day. It was made to others: it was made eighteen hundred years ago. By what means, I ask, are men now certain that eighteen hundred years ago, to other men, in other lands, a revelation from God was given? They are forced back upon history. They were not there to see or hear. Revelation does not spring up by inspiration in their inward consciousness. They are, therefore, thrown upon history; they are compelled to go to the testimony of others. All men who at this hour believe in the Advent of the Son of God, and in the fact of the day of Pentecost, all alike rest upon history. Not but that Catholics rest on more (of this, however, hereafter); but they who do not rest upon the divine office of the Church rest on history alone. Then, I ask, by what criterion are they certain that their historical views are true? Let them throw the rule of their examination into some form of words. Unless they can put into intelligible words the principle of certainty upon which they rest, it is either useless or false: useless, if it cannot be stated, for if it cannot be stated, it cannot be applied; false, if the nature of it be such that it will not admit of expression
I would beseech any who are resting upon such a certainty as this, not to confound a sensation of positiveness with the sense of certainty. The sense 24 of certainty is a Divine gift. It is the inward testimony of our whole intelligent nature. A sensation of positiveness springs out of obstinacy, or prejudice. Let them not confound the resolution to believe themselves in the right with the reason for knowing that they are in the truth. Let them analyse deeper, and find what is their principle, and state that principle in intelligible words. To take an example. We all believe, apart from revelation, that the world was created. How so? We proceed to prove it. The world is not eternal, for then it would be God. It did not make itself, for that is contradiction. Therefore, it remains of necessity that it had a maker. I ask them only to be as definite as this: for life is short and eternity is long, and we are saved by truth; and truth which is not definite is no truth to us; and indefinite statements have no certainty; and without certainty there is no faith.
In answer to this we are told that all men can read the Holy Scriptures, and that this is enough. I reply, Scripture is not Scripture except in the right sense of Scripture. Your will after you are dead is not your testament unless it be interpreted according to your intention. The words and syllables of your testament may be so interpreted as to contradict your purpose. The will of the deceased is the intention of the deceased known by his testament. So of Holy Scripture. Holy Scripture is Holy Scripture only in the right sense of Holy Scripture.25
But we are further told, that notwithstanding these superficial contradictions, all good men agree in essentials. First, then, I ask, What are essentials? Who has the power to determine what is essential and what is not? By whose judgment are we to ascertain it? The Church knows only one essential truth, and that is, the whole revelation of God. It knows of no power to determine between truth and truth, and to say, “though God has revealed this, we need not believe it.” The whole revelation of God comes to us with its intrinsic obligation on our faith, and we receive it altogether as God’s word. They who speak of all good men agreeing in essentials, mean this: “I believe what I think essential, and I give my neighbour leave to believe what he thinks essential.” Their agreement is only this, not to molest each other: but they mutilate the revelation of God.
In opposition to these opinions, let us state the grounds of our own certainty.
I. We believe, then, that we have no knowledge of the way of salvation through grace, except from the revelation of God. No one can deny this. It is a truism that we have no knowledge of the way of redemption by grace except through divine revelation. The whole world is witness of the fact. For four thousand years the world wandered on, and knew not the way of grace except by a thread of light which from Adam to Enoch, and from Enoch to Noe. and from Noe to Abraham, and from Abraham to Moses, and from Moses to the 26 promised Seed, ran down, keeping alive in the world the expectation of a Redeemer. Outside this path of light the way of grace was not known; nor was it known even there except by revelation.
And round about that solitary light, what was there? Was there a knowledge of the way of salvation through grace? The heathen nations, their polytheism, their idolatry, their morality, their literature, their public and their private life, do these give testimony to the way of grace? Take their schools, their philosophies, their greatest intellects, what do they prove? One of the greatest practical intellects of the Eastern world believed that matter was eternal, and that the soul of the world was God. The loftiest of all in speculation was blind when lie came to treat of the first laws of purity. In the west, the greatest orators, poets, and philosophers, either believed in no God at all, or in a blind and imaginary deity, stripped of personality. This was all that Nature had done. Nature without revelation had no true knowledge of God, and absolutely none of salvation through grace.
It was not until four thousand years had passed that the way of salvation through grace was revealed. Look at the mightiest effort Nature in its own strength ever made,—the empire of Rome; that vast power extending itself in all the world; the whole earth wondering at the onward march of its victorious armies; races falling back before its legions; its frontiers expanding whithersoever they trod; a mighty, world-wide dominion, whose capital 27spread from the Mediterranean to the Alban hills, in circuit sixty or seventy miles, within which nations dwelt together: the palace of the aristocracy of the earth; for magnificence, splendour, and civilisation, never exceeded among mankind. Human nature here was taxed to its utmost strength: human intelligence reached its utmost bound; and what knew Rome of the way of grace, or of salvation through Jesus Christ? What was the morality of Rome? What was its religion? It was the high place of all the gods; the deities of the greater and lesser nations, and of the surrounding cities which it conquered, were incorporated with its own superstitions. All impieties were in veneration, and every falsehood had its shrine. Only truth was persecuted, only one worship was forbidden; and that, the only doctrine and the only worship riot of this world. Nature did its utmost; the intelligence of man bore testimony to all it could attain. The Babel of confusion was built to teach mankind for ever that human nature without God could never rise to a knowledge of the way of grace.
The manifestation of God in the flesh; the effusion of light and revelation through the Holy Spirit; the setting up of the mystical ladder at the head of which the Lord stands, and on which Angels ascend and descend; the gathering together of truths that had wandered to and fro on earth; and the uniting of all in one hierarchy of faith: nothing less was needed before man could know the way of eternal life.28
It is certain, then, that we have no natural knowledge of the way of salvation through grace; that is, through the Incarnation, the Atonement, the mystical Body of Christ; through the Sacraments, which are the channels of the Holy Spirit. Without revelation we have no true knowledge of sin, whereby we forfeited our sonship; nor of regeneration, whereby we regain it; nor of the relation of grace to the free-will of man; and the like. But all these are doctrines upon which union with God and eternal life depend, and yet of these not a whisper was heard on earth until revelation came by Jesus Christ.
II. But, further, we believe, in the second place, that as we have no knowledge of the way of salvation through grace, except from the revelation of God, so neither have we any certainty what that revelation was, except through the Church of God. As the fountain is absolutely one and no other, so the channel through which it flows is absolutely one and no other. As there is no source of certainty but revelation, so there is no channel through which it can flow but the Church of God. For certainty as to the revelation given eighteen hundred years ago, of the Church we needs must learn. To what other can we go? Who besides has the words of eternal life? Shall we go to the nations of the world? Can they teach the faith which they knew not before Christ came, neither have since believed? Shall we go to the fragments of Christendom broken off from age to age by heresy and 29schism? Their testimony is but local, limited, and contradictory. What certainty can the Monophysite, Eutychian, Nestorian, or Protestant, give of the day of Pentecost? To whom, then, shall we go? To that one mystical body which came down from the upper chamber to possess the earth; to that one moral person upon whom the Holy Spirit then descended; to that kingdom of the God of heaven, which, spreading from Jerusalem through out all lands, penetrated into every country, province, and city, erecting its thrones, ascending in might and power, expanding throughout the earth, gathering together its circumference, filling up the area of its circuit, until the world became Christian; and then sat in sovereignty, displacing and replacing the empire of the world. This universal kingdom, one and indivisible, reigning continuous and perpetual in unbroken succession from the day of Pentecost, was the eye-witness and the ear- witness of revelation. This one moral person alone can say, “When the Word made flesh spake, I heard; when the tongues of fire descended from heaven, I saw: with my senses I perceived the presence of God; with my intelligence I understood His voice; with my memory I retain to this hour the knowledge of what I then heard and saw; with my changeless consciousness I testify what was spoken.” To this one, and this one only witness in the world, can we go for certainty.
Put the case thus. Will you go to the Monophysite, Eutychian, or Nestorian heresies, ancient 30 as they are, which separated from the Church of Christ in the fifth and sixth centuries? Will they bear witness? Yes; but only a partial testimony. They were witnesses so long as they were united to the one Church; but their testimony ceased when they separated from it. They are witnesses so far as they agree with that one Church, but not when they contradict it. The testimony derived from separated bodies amounts to this: it is the borrowed light which even in separation they receive from the Church itself.
And as with early, so with later heresies. Shall we go to the separated Greek communion, which claims to be the only orthodox Church? Will that give a trustworthy testimony? Yes; so far as it agrees with the body from which it departed. Its witness after the separation is but local. Shall we go to the great division of these later times, to the huge crumbling Protestantism of the last three centuries? Is there in it any sect descending from the day of Pentecost? When did it begin? A hundred years ago, probably, or it may be two, or at most three hundred years ago. At that time a traceable change produced it. Does Protestantism reach up ward to the original revelation? Has it a succession of sense, reason, memory, and consciousness, uniting it with the day of Pentecost?
If, then, what has been said as to the only source and channel of knowledge and certainty be true, sufficient reason has been shown to make every one who is resting on the testimony of bodies 31separated from the Universal Church mistrust his confidence. Must he not say, Eighteen hundred years ago a revelation was given; my life reaches but a span, my memory but a few years; how do I know what passed on that day? How shall they tell me whose life, like my own, touches only upon the last generation? I go to this and to that separated communion, but they all fall short. There is one and one only living witness in the world, which, as it touches on the present hour in which I live, unites me by a lineal consciousness, by a living intelligence, with the moment when, in the third hour of the day, “there came a sound from heaven as of a mighty wind coming, and filled the whole house.”
Let it be remembered that I am speaking of the external authority of the Church simply as a historical argument. We will confine ourselves for the present to this alone. I put it forward as it was cited by a philosophical historian, one of the greatest of this age, who, having passed through the windings of German unbelief, found at last his rest in the one True Fold. Explaining the ground of his submission, Schlegel gave this reason; that he found the testimony of the Catholic Church to be the greatest historical authority on earth for the events of the past. It is in this sense I am speaking.
And therefore, when I use the word authority, I mean evidence. The word “authority” may be used in two senses. It may either signify power, as the jurisdiction which the Church has over 32 the souls committed to its trust; or it may mean evidence, as when we say, we have a statement on the authority, or evidence, of an eye-witness.
Suppose, then, we were to reject this highest historical evidence; suppose we were to say that the authority of the Catholic Church, though of great weight, is not conclusive: I would ask, what historical evidence remains beyond it? To whom else shall we go? Is there any other authority upon which we can rest? If we receive not the authority of the Universal Church, we must descend from higher to lower ground, we must come down to the partial authority of a local church. Will this be to ascend in the scale of certainty? If the testimony of the Universal Church be not the maximum of historical evidence in the world, where shall we find it? Shall we find it in the church of Greece, or of America, or of England? Shall we find it in the church of a province, or in the church of a diocese? If the Universal Episcopate be not the maximum of external evidence, where shall it be found? And, in fact, they who reject the evidence of the Universal Church for the primitive faith, necessarily rest their belief on the authority of a local body, or on the authority of a man. It was by divine intuition that our Lord said, “Call none your father upon earth;” for they who will not believe the Church of God must be in bondage to human teachers. If they are Calvinists, they must be in bondage to Calvin; or Lutherans, to Luther; or Arians, to Arius; or if they be members of a 33church separated from Catholic unity, they must be in bondage to its self-constituted head. The ultimate authority in which they trust is human. From this false confidence in man the Catholic Church alone can redeem us. We trust not in the judgment of an individual, howsoever holy or wise, but in the witness of an universal and perpetual body, to which teachers and taught alike are subject; and because all are in subjection to the Church, all are redeemed from bondage to individual teachers and the authority of men.
Thus far we have spoken of the Church as a mere human witness. To us, indeed, brethren, its voice is not mere human testimony God has pro vided for faith a certainty which cannot fail; the mystical Body of Christ, changeless and indestructible, spread throughout the world. Wonderful creation of God; but far more wonderful if it be the creation of man: if, after all man’s failures to construct an imperishable kingdom, to hold together the human intelligence in one conviction, the human will in one discipline, and the human heart in one bond of love; if, after four thousand years of failure, mere human power framed the Catholic Church, endowed it with resistless power of expansion, and quickened it with the life of universal charity. More wonderful far, if it was man’s work to create the great science of theology, in which the baptismal formula, “I baptise thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” expands into the creed, and the creed again expands 34 into the science of God on which the illuminated reason of eighteen hundred years has spent itself. Wonderful, indeed, if this be a mere human creation! To us it is the work and voice of God; to us the line of Bishops and of Councils by which the Faith has been declared in perpetual succession is the testimony which God Himself has counter signed, the witness God Himself has sent. This continuous testimony from the Council of Aries to the Council of Nice, from the Council of Nice to that of Chalcedon, from Chalcedon to Lateran, from Lateran to Lyons, and from Lyons to Trent, is one harmonious science, ever expanding as a reflection of the mind of God; preserving and unfolding before us the one Truth revealed in the beginning, in its unity and harmony and distinctness. This is the basis of our certainty.
What is the history of the Catholic Church but the history of the intellect of Christendom? What do we see but two lines, the line of faith and the line of heresy, running side by side in every age; and the Church, as a living Judge, sitting sovereign and alone with unerring discernment, dividing truth from error with a sharp two-edged sword? Every several altar, and every several see, gives testimony to the same doctrines; and all conspiring voices ascend into the testimony of that One See, which in its jurisdiction is universal, and in its presence every where; that one See, the foundation-stones of which were cemented in the blood of thirty Pontiffs; chat See which recorded its archives in the vaults 35of catacombs, and when the world was weary with persecuting, ascended to possess itself of imperial basilicas. This is the witness upon whose testimony we securely rest. The Church is a living history of the past. Cancel this, and what record is there left? If Rome be gone, where is Christendom?36
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