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THE CHURCH A DIVINE WITNESS.
This is life everlasting, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”
THE truths which we have already affirmed are these: that the end of man is eternal life through the knowledge of God revealed in Jesus Christ;. that this knowledge of God, being a participation of the Divine knowledge, is definite and certain; and that as there is but one fountain of this Divine knowledge in Revelation, so there is but one channel of this Divine certainty in the Church. We have seen also that the authority of the Church of God on earth is the highest, or maximum of evidence, even in a human and historical sense, of the past; that unless we rest upon this evidence, we must descend in the scale of certainty.
But we have as yet considered the Church only in its external, human, and historical character: there still, remains for us a deeper and diviner 37truth. I have spoken of the authority of the Church only as history of the past; but, be it ever remembered, that between the Protestant and Catholic there is this difference. To the Protestant, history must be a record of the past gathered from documents by criticism, fallible as the judge who applies it. To the Catholic, history, though it be of the past, is of the present also. The Church is a living history of the past It is the page of history still existing, open before his eyes. Antiquity to the Catholic is not a thing gone by; it is here, still present. As childhood and youth are summed up by manhood in our personal identity, so is antiquity ever present in the living Church. If Christianity, then, be historical, Catholicism is Christianity.
Let us therefore proceed to the deeper and diviner, that is, to the interior and intrinsic authority of the Church of Christ. We believe, then, that the interior and intrinsic authority of the Church is the presence of the Holy Spirit; that the ultimate authority upon which we believe is no less than the perpetual presence of our Lord Jesus Christ teaching always by His Spirit in the world.
I. And, first, let us ascertain what points of agreement exist between us and those who are in separation from us. We are all agreed that the only subject-matter of faith is the original revelation of God. They who most oppose us profess to be jealous above all men to restrain all doctrine to the bounds of the original revelation.38
We agree; then, at the outset, that the subject- matter of our faith is, and can only be, the original revelation of God. To that revelation nothing may be added; from it nothing may be taken away. As God in the beginning created the sun in the heavens with its perfect disc, and no skill or power of man can make its circumference greater or less, so Divine revelation is a work of God’s omnipotence, and no man can add to it, or take from it. In this also we are agreed. But there are other principles no less vital than these. Let those who are so jealous for this law of truth remember, that as we may neither take from nor add to revelation, so neither may we misinterpret or pervert it; neither fix upon it our private meaning, nor make it speak our sense. We must receive it as God gave it, in its perfect fullness; with its true sense and purport as it was revealed.
It were good, then, if they who are so jealous of supposed additions to the faith, were equally jealous of evident and manifold perversions of the same. It would be well if those who are so hostile to interpretations of Holy Scripture made by the Catholic Church, were equally hostile to interpretations made by every man severally of that same book. Let us proceed more exactly; and as we agree that nothing may be added to or taken from that revelation, so let us jealously demand that no thing in it shall be misinterpreted, nor its sense wrested aside, nor its meaning perverted.
But here begin our differences. How are we 39to attain the right sense of Holy Scripture? It is a divine book, and contains the mind of God, How, then, shall we know what is His mind? By what rule or test shall we know with certainty that we have attained the meaning which the Divine Spirit intended in that revelation? We have here many tests and many rules offered to us. Some tell us that Scripture is so self-evident that the man who reads it must understand. If that be so, why do they that read it contradict each other? Facts refute the theory. If Holy Scripture be so clear, why are there so many contradictory interpretations?
But is it so clear? When the English reader has before him for the New Testament the Greek text, and for the Old Testament the Hebrew text—neither of which languages he reads—where is the self-evidence of his text then? How does he know that the book before him truly represents the original? How can he prove it? How can he establish the identity between the original and the translation? How can he tell that the book before him is authentic or genuine, or that the text is pure? For all this he depends on others.
But let us take this argument as it is stated. Is Scripture, then, so self-evident that no one who reads it can mistake its sense? If it be self-evident to the individual, it is self-evident to the Church. If the text is so clear to every man who reads it, then it has been clear to every Saint of God from the beginning. If this book is so plain 40 that men cannot mistake it, then the Pastors and Teachers of the Church have handed down its clear and certain interpretation. Why are individuals so sharp-sighted and unerring, and the Saints of God at all times blind? This is but the recoil of their own argument. Let Holy Scripture be as clear and self-evident as they say, then I claim in virtue of that clearness that the Saints of God in all ages have rightly understood its sense.
II. But let us pass onward. We see that they who claim to interpret this book, with all its clearness, contradict each other, and that their rule fails in their own hand. Therefore, the wiser among Protestants say, that to the text of Scripture must be added right reason to interpret it. Right reason, no doubt: but whose reason is right reason? Every man’s reason is to himself right reason. The reason of Calvin was right reason to Calvin, and the reason of Luther to Luther; but the misfortune is, that what is right reason to one man is not so to another man. What then is this right reason? It means a certain inward intellectual discernment which each man claims for himself. But how did he become possessed of it? Whence did he receive this endowment? And if ho has it, have not others the same? This right reason which men claim whereby to interpret Scripture for themselves must be one of two things: either the individual or the collective reason; that is, the reason of each man for himself, or the accumulated reason of Christians taken together. But will any man 41say that his reason is to him so certain and unerring a rule that he is able to take the page of Scripture, and by the powers of his understanding infallibly interpret it? For such a claim as this a man must have either a particular inspiration, which considerate men dare not profess, or he must substitute a sensation of positiveness for a sense of certainty.
If, then, this right reason comes to nothing in the individual, does it mean the collective reason of the many? If so, it falls back into a principle valid and certain. What is the collective reason of Christians but the tradition of Christendom? The intellectual agreement of the Saints of God, what is it but the illuminated reason of those that believe? Here we touch upon a great principle; let us follow its guidance.
After the division which rent England from the unity of the Church, and therefore from the certainty of faith; when men began to re-examine the foundations which Protestantism had uprooted, there arose in the Anglican Church a school of writers, acute and sincere enough both to see and to confess that the principle of private judgment is the principle of unbelief. They began to reconstruct a foundation for their faith, and were compelled to return once more to the old basis of Catholic theology. We can trace from about the middle of the reign of Elizabeth down to the great revolution of 1688, a theological school which sprung up within the Established Church, basing 42 itself upon Catholic tradition, and claiming to found its faith not upon private judgment, but upon the rule of Vincent of Lerins, namely, on that which was believed “at all times, every where, and by all men.” This school, for it never indeed was more, has in it names honoured and loved, names ever dear to those who have been partakers with them. They were no common men; their lives were ascetic, their intellects capacious, and their erudition deep. They inherited a position which they would never have chosen; a position in many respects vague, and for which time had not yet supplied a practical comment: and they endeavoured to defend by learning that which had owed its origin to violence; their position created their theory. They suffered for their opinions, and passed through trying times with great integrity. Had they not had these virtues, they would not have been so long received as authority. They kept alive an illusion that the Anglican Church was indeed a portion still of the great Catholic empire which rests upon the unity and infallibility of the Church of God; an illusion indeed, but not without its providential use. For look at the countries where such a belief has been extinct from the beginning; at the Socinianism of Switzerland, the Protestantism of France, the Rationalism of Germany; and say whither England might have gone down if this illusion had not been permitted to exist? They, while they knew it not, did a work for England: a counterwork against the license 43of Protestant reformation. They were the leaders of a reaction, the fruit of which will be seen here after. They laid again in part the foundations of belief; they demonstrated that private judgment is no adequate rule for the interpretation of the faith. They cast men back again upon authority: and put once more into their hands a test. And what is that test, but the historical tradition of the Church, namely, that whatsoever was revealed in the beginning, and believed every where by all men and at all times, is, beyond a doubt, the faith of Pentecost?
But here we touch upon another difficulty even more pressing and more vital. We have now the test by which to discover the truth; but where is the mind by which that test shall be applied? If the individual reason be not enough in its own powers of discernment to interpret the books of Evangelists and Apostles, one small volume written with the perspicuity of inspiration—if the individual reason be not enough for this, is it able to take the literature of eighteen, or even of the first six centuries, volumes written in many tongues and in all Christian lands, to make survey and analysis of them, to gather together and to pronounce what has been believed by all men, and every where, and at all times? Even in ordinary things, if the question were, What are those universal principles of the common law of England which have been held every where, at all times, and by all common-law judges, would any individual in ordinary life think 44 himself a competent critic? Would he not go to Westminster? Or if the question were, What is the pronunciation or idiom of a language, would he go to books and not to natives? Or, if the question related to the grounds of scientific conclusions, would he buy and pore over treatises of science, instead of asking those whose lives have been devoted to science? Even in music, there are melodies, the accentuation and time of which cannot be written; they can be transmitted only from the voice to the ear. So is it with the transmission of the faith. Though in subjects where the Church has not spoken, individuals may investigate, yet the application of the rule of Vincent needs more than the discernment of an individual mind. It needs a judge whose comprehensive survey penetrates the whole matter upon which it judges. And where is the individual that can compass the whole experience of Christendom? Nay, more; it needs a judge who can not only discern for one age, but for the next, and the age succeeding. What benefit is there in a judge that judges in his day, and dies? A perpetual doctrine tested by a perpetual rule needs a perpetual judge. Who judged in the times following the Apostles but the Church in their next successors? Who in the century after, when heresy arose, but the Church in Councils? Who in the heresy of Arius, the heresy of Eutyches, the schism of the Greek Church? Who judged in the middle ages? who in later times? who judges to-day? The same judge always sitting; 45the same one living body which by the illumination of Pentecost received the Truth. Is it not plain that as every age needs the truth for its redemption, and as our Divine Lord has made provision that every age through the truth shall be redeemed, so at no time from the beginning until now has the world ever been, and at no time from now until the end, shall the world ever be, without a teacher and a judge to declare with final certainty what is the tradition of the faith?
Here then we find ourselves in the presence of the Church. As the subject-matter demands a test, so the test demands a judge. What other judge is there? What other can there be, but that one moral person, continuous from the beginning, the one living and perpetual Church?
And here even antagonists have made great admissions. Chillingworth, a name in the mouths of all men as the first propagator of what is vaunted as the great rule of Protestantism, “the Bible, and the Bible only,” that same Chillingworth says that there is a twofold infallibility, a conditional and an absolute. “The former,” namely, a conditional infallibility, he, “together with the Church of Eng land,” attributes “to the Church, nay to particular churches.” “That is, an authority of determining controversies of faith according to plain and evident Scripture and universal tradition, and infallibility while they proceed according to this rule”11 Chillingworth’s Works, vol. i. pp. 276, 277. ed. Oxon. But in whose judgment? In the judgment of the individual? 46 In the judgment of each member of the local and particular church? or in the judgment of the Church Universal? for there can be no other judge to determine whether the particular church moves still in the path of universal tradition. Is the individual to be judge of his church? This would be to bid water rise above its source What then remains? The Universal Church alone can be the judge to pronounce whether or no a local church still keeps within the sphere of universal tradition.
But if this be so, the Universal Church must be infallible; for if it may err, who shall determine whether it errs or no? “Can the blind lead the blind? do they not both fall into the ditch?” It comes, then, by the force of rigorous argument to this, that either the Universal Church cannot err, or that there is on earth no certainty for faith. If, then, the Church Universal be unerring, whence has it this endowment? Not from human discernment, but from Divine guidance; not because man in it is wise, but because God over it is mighty. Though the earth which moves in its orbit may be scarred by storms, or torn by floods; though upon its surface nations may be wasted, cities over thrown, and races perish, yet it keeps ever in its path, because God ordained its steadfast revolutions: so, though individuals may fall from truth, and nations from unity, yet the Catholic Church moves on, because God created it and guides it.
III. And now we must advance one step further. 47For in dealing with those who are separated from as, I believe that nothing I have yet touched upon really probes the difficulty in their minds. The sore lies deeper still: and it will be found that the reluctance of too many, even among good men, to receive the doctrine of the infallibility of the Church of God springs from this, that they base their religious opinions upon human reason, either in the individual or upon a large scale, as upon the mere intellectual tradition of Christendom, and not upon the illumination and supernatural guidance of Christ ever present and ever dwelling as a Teacher in the Church. It will be found to involve a doubt as to the office of the third Person of the Ever-Blessed Trinity.
Let us proceed to examine this more closely. We believe that Holy Scripture and the Creeds contain our faith; that for the meaning of these we may not use private interpretation, or wrest them from their divine sense, but must receive them in the sense intended by God when they were given in the beginning. To ascertain that sense, we must go to the Universal Church. Universal tradition we believe to be the supreme interpreter of Scripture. When we come to this point, I ask the objector, Do you believe that this universal tradition of Christendom has been perpetuated by the human reason only? Or do you believe it to be a traditional, divine illumination in the Church? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is in the Church; and that His Divine Office is perpetual? 48 If you say that individuals may judge the meaning of Scripture by their own reason: the Church has collective reason, and what the individual has the Church has more abundantly. If individuals are guided by the illumination of the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of Scripture, the Church much more. That which is collective contains all that is individual.
But further than this. “As the sensual man,” proceeding, that is, by the natural discernment only, “perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God,” because they are “spiritually examined,”22 1 Cor. ii. 14. so the Church itself in council depends for its discernment in identifying the original faith, interpreting the original documents, and defining the original truth, on the presence of the Holy Ghost, Whom it invokes at the opening of every session. What is the Church in the mouth of those separated from Catholic unity? Is it more than a human society? Is it not the religious organisation of national life? If it be not, like the schools of Athens, collected round the voice of some potent and persuasive teacher, it is at most, like the Jewish people, an organised government of men, as in temporal matters so in ecclesiastical. This is the idea of the Church among those separated from unity. But what do you believe when you speak of the Church of God? You believe that as the Eternal Father sent the Eternal Son to be incarnate, and as the Eternal Son for thirty-three years dwelt here 49on earth: as for three years by His public ministry, He preached the kingdom of God in Jerusalem and Judaea, so, before He went away, He said, “I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever, the Spirit of truth.”33 St. John xiv. 16. The gain we have by His departure is this, that what was then local is now universal; that what was partial then is now in fullness; that when the second Person of the Ever-Blessed Three ascended to the throne of His Father, the third Person of the Holy Trinity descended to dwell here in His stead; that as in Jerusalem the second Person in our manhood visibly taught, so now in the mystical body of Christ the third Person teaches, though invisibly, throughout the world; that the Church is the incorporation of the presence of the Holy Spirit teaching the nations of the earth.
Is not this our meaning when in the Creed before the altar we say, “I believe One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church?” And this touches the point where we differ from those who are without. The discernment they ascribe to the Church is human, proceeds from documents, and is gathered by reasoning. We rise above this, and believe that the Holy Spirit of God presides over the Church, illuminates, inhabits, guides, and keeps it; that its voice is the voice of the Holy Spirit Himself; that when the Church speaks, God speaks; that the outward and the inward are one; that the exterior 50and the interior authority are identified; that what the Church outwardly testifies, the .Spirit inwardly teaches; that the Church is the body of Christ, so united, to Christ its Head, that He and it are one. as St. Paul declares, “He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ;”44 Eph. iv. 11, 12, 16. “from whom the whole body being compacted and fitly joined together by what every joint supplieth, according to the operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity.”
The ultimate authority, then, on which we believe, is the voice of God speaking to us through the Church. We believe, not in the Church, but through it: and through the Church, in God.
And now, if this be so, I ask what Church is it that so speaks for God in the world? What Church on earth can claim to be this teacher sent from God? Ask yourselves one or two questions.
What Church but one not only claims, but possesses and puts forth at this hour an universal jurisdiction? What Church is it which is not shut up in a locality or in a nation, nor bounded by a river or by a sea, but interpenetrates wheresoever the 51name of Christ is known? What Church, as the light of heaven, passes over all, through all, and is in all? What Church claims a universal authority? What one sends missions to the sunrise and to the sunset? What Church has the power of harmonising its universal jurisdiction, so that there can be no collision when its pastors meet? What Church is there but one before whom kingdoms and states give way? When yet did the Church of Greece, for instance, make a whole nation rise? When did a voice issue from Constantinople before which even a civilised people forgot its civilisation? Why came not such a voice from the East? Because there was no Divine mission to speak it.
We are told that all other sects are religions, and may be safely tolerated, but that the Catholic Church is a polity and kingdom, and must therefore be cast out. We accept this distinction. What is this cry but the cry of those who said of old, “We will not have this man to reign over us?” It is the acknowledgment that in the Catholic Church there is a Divine mission and a Divine authority; that we are not content with tracing pictures on the imagination, or leaving outlines on the mere intellect, but that, in the name of God, we command the will; that we claim obedience, because we first submit to it. From the highest pastor to the lowest member of Christ’s Church, the first lesson and the first act is submission to the faith of God.
How blind, then, are the statesmen of this world: the Catholic Church an enemy of civil 52 kingdoms! What created modern Europe? What laid the foundations of a new empire when the old had withered in the East? What was the mould from which Christian nations sprang? What power was it that entered into England when it was divided by seven jarring, conflicting kingdoms, and harmonised them as by the operation of light into one empire? What power is it that, as it created all these, shall also survive them all? What created the very constitution of which we are so proud? Whence came its first great principles of freedom? Why do we hear, then, that because the Catholic Church has a polity and is a kingdom, because it claims supremacy, and is found every where supreme, therefore it is not to be tolerated?
It has indeed a power from heaven which admits no compromise. There is before it this, and this only choice. In dealing with the world, it says: “All things of the world are yours; in all things pertaining to you, in all that is temporal, we are submissive; we are your subjects; we love to obey. But within the sphere of the truth of God, within the sphere of the unity and discipline of God’s kingdom, there is no choice for the Catholic Church but mastery or martyrdom.”
Let us ask another question. What Church but one has ever claimed a primacy over all other Churches instituted by Jesus Christ? Did any Church, before the great division, three hundred years ago, save that one Church which still possesses it, ever dream of claiming it? Has any separate 53body since that time ever dreamed of pretending to such a primacy? Has there ever been m the world any but one body only, which has assumed such a power as derived to it from Jesus Christ?
In answer it is said, “Yes; but the primacy or Rome has been denied from the beginning.” Then it has been asserted from the beginning Tell me that the waves have beaten upon the shore, and I tell you that the shore was there for the waves to beat upon. Tell rue that St. Irenaeus pleaded with St. Victor that he would not excommunicate the Asiatic Churches; and I tell you that St. Irenaeus thereby recognised the authority of St. Victor to excommunicate. Tell me that Tertullian mocked at the “Pontifex maximus,” “the Bishop of Bishops,” and I tell you he saw before him a reality that bare these titles. Tell me that St. Cyprian with stood St. Stephen in a point not yet denned by the Church, and I tell you that, nevertheless, in St. Stephen’s See, St. Cyprian recognised the chair of Peter, in unity with which he died a martyr. What do wars of succession prove but the inheritance and succession of the crown? What does a process of ejectment prove but that a man is in possession of the disputed property? What truth is there that has not been disputed? Let us apply the argument. Has not the doctrine of the Holy Trinity been denied? Has not the Incarnation been denied? Is there any doctrine that has not been denied? But what is our answer to the Arian and Socinian? 54 Because from the beginning these truths have been denied, therefore from the beginning they have been both held and taught.
To go over the field of this argument would be impossible; I will therefore take only one witness of the primacy of the See of Peter. And I will select one, not from a later age, because objectors say, “We acknowledge that through ambition and encroachment this primacy in time grew up;” nor shall he be chosen from the centuries which followed the division of the East and West, because we are told that the exorbitant demands of the West in this very point caused the East to revolt from unity. It shall be a witness whose character and worth, whose writings and life have already received the praise of history. It shall be one taken from the centuries which are believed even by our opponents to be pure,—from the six first centuries, while the Church was still undivided, and, as many are still ready to admit, was infallible, or at least had never erred. It shall be a name known not only in the roll of Saints, but one recognised in Councils, and not in Councils of obscure name, but in one of the four Councils which St. Gregory the Great declared were to him like the four Gospels, and the Anglican Church by law professed to make its rule whereby to judge of heresy. In the Council of Chalcedon, then, was recognised the primacy of St. Leo. Throughout his writings, and especially in his epistles, St. Leo’s tone, I may say his very terms, axe as follows: “Peter was Prince of our Lord’s 55Apostles. Peter’s See was Rome. Peter’s successor I am. Peter devolved upon his successors the universal care of all the Churches. My solicitude has no bounds but the whole earth. There is no Church under heaven which is not committed to my paternal care. There is none that the jurisdiction of St. Peter does not govern.” We not only hear him claim, but see him exercise acts of jurisdiction in Gaul, in Spain, in Italy, in Africa, in Greece, in Palestine, and in Constantinople. We find him convening and presiding in Councils; confirming or annulling the canons of those Councils; judging Bishops, deposing and restoring them. Even of Constantinople, the only rival ever put forward to the primacy of Rome, he writes to the Emperor, speaking of the ambition of the Patriarch then in possession: “The nature of secular and of divine things is different, neither shall any fabric be stable but that one rock which the Lord has wondrously laid in the foundation. He loses his own who covets what is another’s. Let it suffice for him of whom we have spoken” (i.e. the Patriarch of Constantinople), “that by the help of thy piety, and the assent of my favour, he has obtained the episcopate of so great a city. Let him not despise the imperial city, which he cannot make an Apostolic See.”55 S. Leon. ad Marc. Epist. lxxviii. There is no act of primacy exercised at this hour by the Pontiff who now rules the Church which may not be found in its principles in the 56 hands of St. Leo. They who refuse obedience to this primacy must refute St. Leo’s claim. Until they do this, they stand in the presence of an authority which no other Church has ever dared to exercise.
We will ask but one question more. What other Church is there that has ever spread itself through all the nations of the world as speaking with the voice of God? Does Protestantism ever claim in any form to be heard by nations or by individuals as the voice of God? Do any of their assemblies, or conferences, or convocations, put forth their definitions of faith as binding the conscience with the keys of the kingdom of heaven? Do they venture to loose the conscience, as having the power of absolving men? The practical abdication of this claim proves that they have it not. Their hands do not venture to wield a power which in any but hands divinely endowed would be a tyranny as well as a profanation.
And what do we see in this but the fulfilment of a divine example? Of whom is it we read that “the people were in admiration at His doctrine,” for this very reason, because “He was teaching them as one having power, and not as their scribes?” He spake not as man, that is, not by conjecture, nor by reasoning, nor by quoting documents, nor by bringing forth histories, but in the name of God, being God Himself. So likewise the Teacher whom He hath sent, comes not with laboured disquisitions, 57nor with a multitude of books, nor with texts drawn from this passage and from that treatise, but with the voice of God, saying: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.” It comes with the voice of authority appealing to the conscience, leaving argument and controversy to those who have too much time to save their souls, and speaking to the heart in man, yearning to be saved.
Take Rome from the earth, and where is Christendom? Blot out the science of Catholic theology, and where is faith? Where is the mountain of the Lord’s house which Isaias the prophet saw? Where is the stone cut out without hands, which, in the vision of Daniel, grew and filled the whole earth? Where is the kingdom which the God of Heaven hath set up? Where is the “city seated on a mountain” that cannot be hid? If Rome be taken out of Christendom, where are these? I do not ask what Churches have laid claim to represent those prophecies. Your own reason says it is impossible. But where, I ask, if not here, is the fulfilment of the words, “Lo, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world?” Where, if not here, is the witness of God now speaking? Where, if not here, is the perpetual presence of the faith of Pentecost?
We stand not before a human teacher when we listen to the Catholic Church. There is One speaking to us, not as scribes and pharisees, but 58 as the voice of God: “He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that despiseth you despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me.”66 St. Luke x. 16.59
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