« Prev Lecture IV. Rationalism the Legitimate… Next »

LECTURE IV.

RATIONALISM THE LEGITIMATE CONSEQUENCE OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT

ST. JOHN xvii. 3.

“This is life everlasting, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

I WOULD fain leave the subject where we broke off in the last lecture. So far as I am able, I have fulfilled the work that I undertook. Hitherto the path that we have trodden has been grateful and onward. We have followed the steps of truth affirmatively; we have been occupied in constructing the foundation and in building up the reasons of our faith. To construct is the true office and work of the Church of God, as of Him from whom it comes. I would fain, therefore, leave the subject here. And yet it is perhaps necessary that we should turn our hand and put to the test what we have hitherto said, by supposing a denial of the truths and principles which we have stated. We began, then, from the first idea of faith; that God, 60 in His mercy to mankind, fallen and in ignorance, again revealed Himself; to the end that through the knowledge of Himself and of His Son incarnate, we might attain life everlasting. We have seen, too, that the very idea of revelation involves the properties of definiteness and certainty, because the knowledge divinely revealed is presented to us as it exists in the mind of God; that, flowing from Him as the only fountain, it descends to us through His Church as the only channel; and that the Church, though universal in its expanse, is absolutely one: a living and lineal body whereby the present is linked with the past, and today is united with the day of Pentecost. Wherefore, we do not believe that God spoke once, and now speaks no more, but that, beginning to speak then, He speaks still; that what He spoke by inspiration when the tongues of fire descended, He speaks yet in the perpetuity of His Church. The teaching of the One, Holy, Universal, Roman Church, the living and present history of the past, is to us the voice of God now, and the foundation of our faith.

Having proceeded, step by step, to this point, it becomes necessary, distasteful as it must be, to turn back, and to undo what we have done: necessary, because truth is often more clearly manifested by contradictories, for in those contradictories we touch at last upon some impossibility, or some absurdity, which refutes itself.

Let it, then, be denied first of all, that the Church whose centre is in Rome, whose circumference 61is from the sunrise to the sunset—let it be denied that the Church of Rome is the One Universal Church, the Teacher sent from God; and what follows?

No other Church but this interpenetrates in all nations, extends its jurisdiction wheresoever the name of Christ is known, has possessed, or, I will say, has claimed from the beginning, a divine primacy over all other Churches; has taught from the first with the claim to be heard as the Divine Teacher, or speaks now at this hour in all the world. Whatever may be said in theory, no other, as a matter of fact, from the east to the west, from the north to the south, claims to be heard as the voice of God.

Deny this, and to what do we come? If we depart from this maximum of evidence, this highest testimony upon earth, to the revelation of God, we must descend to lower levels. Deny the supreme and divine authority of the Universal Church, and in the same moment the world is filled with rival teachers. They spring up in the East and in the West. The East, with all its ancient separations, Nestorian, Eutychian, Monophysite, claims to teach. The West, with all its schisms of later centuries, the Calvinist, the Lutheran, and the Anglican, urge the same demand. Deny the supreme office of this one Teacher, and all others claim equally their privilege to be heard. And why not? It is not for us, indeed, to find arguments in bar of their claim. It is for those who adopt this principle of independence 62 to supply the limitation. We stand se cure; but they who, by denying the Catholic rule of faith, introduce these contradictions, are bound to discover the test whereby to know who speaks truth and who speaks falsehood in the conflict of voices.

If fleeing for your life you came to a point where many roads parted, and but one could lead to safety, would it be a little matter not to know into which path to strike? If among many medicines one alone possessed the virtue to heal some mortal sickness, would you be cold and careless to discover to which this precious quality belongs? If Apostles were again on the earth, would you be unconcerned to distinguish them from rivals or deceivers? If there should come again many claiming to be Messiah, would you deem it a matter of indifference to know from among the false Christs which is the true? If one comes saying, “You shall be saved by faith only;” and another, “You shall be saved by faith and pious sentiments;” and another, “You shall be saved by faith without sacraments;” and another, “There is a divine law of sacramental grace whereby you must partake of the Word made Flesh;” is it a matter of indifference to you to know with certain proof which of all these teachers comes from God? Are we not al ready in the days of which our Lord forewarns us, that “many shall come in My name, saying, ‘I am Christ?’” Is it not of such times as these that the warning runs, “If they shall say to you, Behold 63He is in the desert, go ye not out,”—that is, to seek the messenger sent from God; “for as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be?”77   St. Matt. xxiv. 23-27. The true messenger of God is al ready abroad in all the earth.

To avoid this impossible theory, a view has been proposed since the rise of the Anglican Church as follows: The Church, it is said, does not consist of those who are condemned for heresy, as the Eutychian, the Monophysite, and the like; neither of those who have committed schism, as the Protestant sects; but it consists of the Greek, the Rom n, and the Anglican Churches.

Let me touch this theory with tenderness, for it is still a pleasant illusion in many pious minds. Many have believed it as they believe revelation itself. And if we would have this illusion dispelled, it must be not by rough handling or by derision, but by the simple demonstration of its impossibility. If these three bodies, then, be in deed the one Church, the Church is divided. For the moment pass that by. If these three be indeed parts of the same Church, then, as that one Church is guided by one Spirit, they cannot, so far as that guidance extends, contradict each other. How ever directly their definitions may be opposed, yet in substance of faith they must be in agreement. Such are the straits to which men under stress of argument or of events are driven. But these three 64 bodies so united in unwilling espousals divorce each other. The Greek will not accept the Anglican with his mutilation of sacraments; nor will the Anglican accept the Greek with his practice of invocation. Neither does the Holy See accept either with their heresy and their schism. These three bodies, brought by theory into unwilling combination, refuse, in fact, to be combined. They can be united only upon paper.

The present relation of the Anglican body to the Catholic Church is a refutation final and by facts of this arbitrary theory.

The impossibility of this view has compelled many plain and serious minds to reject altogether the notion of a visible church, and to take refuge in the notion of a church invisible. But this too destroys itself. How shall an invisible church carry on the revelation of God manifest in the flesh, or be the representative of the unseen God: the successor of visible apostles, the minister of visible sacraments, the celebrator of visible councils, the administrator of visible laws, and the worshipper in visible sanctuaries? Here is another impossibility to which the stress of argument drives reasonable men.

Abandoning the scheme of an invisible church, others have come to adopt another theory, namely, that the Church of God is indeed a visible body, the great complex mass of Christendom, but that it has no divine authority to propose the faith, no perpetual office, or power to declare with unerring 65certainty what is the primitive doctrine. They say that during the first six hundred years, while the Church was united, it possessed this office, to decide, and that in the discharge of this office, it was even infallible, or that, at least, it never erred; but that by division it has forfeited the power of exercising this office, that by reunion it may yet one day regain it; and that, in the mean time, every particular church appeals to a general council yet to come. This, too, is believed by some, and with sincerity.

And yet they have never been able to say how it is that a divine office which flows from the Divine Presence should suddenly come to nothing, the Divine Presence still abiding. If, indeed, the third Person of the Holy Trinity dwell in the Church in the stead of the second Person of the Ever-Blessed Three; if the Spirit of truth be come to guide and to preserve the Church in all truth, how is it that the Divine office, faithfully fulfilled during six hundred years, in the seventh century began to fail? They turn to the state of the world in ancient times, and say, that as the light of truth possessed before the flood faded until the sin of man brought in the deluge; that as the revelation possessed by Noe decayed until Abram was called out of idolatry; that as the truth revealed by Moses fell into corruption, and the Jewish Church became unfaithful; so the Church of Christ, following the same law of declension, may likewise become corrupt

But is it possible that men versed in the Scriptures 66 can thus argue from the shadows to the sub stance; that because in the ancient world, in the old and fallen creation, before as yet the Word was incarnate, or the Holy Ghost yet given; because in those “days of the flesh,” men failed and forfeited God’s gifts of grace, therefore now, after that the second Person of the Holy Trinity has come on earth in our manhood, and sits at the right hand of God, the glorious Head of His mystical body, upholding by His Godhead the order of grace; that now when the Holy Ghost dwells in His stead as the imperishable life and light of the New Creation, the same laws of our fallen nature still prevail, not against men, not against the human element, which no one denies, but against the divine element and office of the Church? But although every individual man may fail, yet the Church is still infallible; although every man, being defectible, may fall away, yet “the gates of hell shall never prevail against the Church.” Although promises to individuals are conditional, yet to the Church, as a Divine creation, they are absolute. Before the Incarnation of the Son of God, the mystical body did not exist. Therefore, in one word, we answer, that the old world had no analogy or precedent to the new creation of God.

Again, it is said that the notes of the Church, sanctity and unity, are to be put in parallel. There are promises, we are told, that all the children of God shall be holy, and that every one shall be taught of God. The promises of sanctity, therefore, 67being absolute, we should have expected a perfect Church without spot or blemish. But we see the visible Church full of scandals and corruptions. Our expectation then in the promise of sanctity not being literally fulfilled, when we read of absolute unity, we ought not to look for a literal fulfilment.

This is an error in which many minds still are held. They forget that unity means one in number, and that sanctity is a moral quality. Again, they do not distinguish between the sanctity which is on God’s part, and the sanctity which is on the part of man. The note of sanctity, as it exists on the part of God, consists in the sanctity of the Founder of the Church, the sanctity of the Holy Spirit by whom it is inhabited, the sanctity of its doctrine, and the sanctity of holy Sacraments as the sources of grace. But sanctity on the part of man is the inward quality or state of the heart sanctified by the Holy Ghost. This inward sanctity varies, of necessity, according to the measure and probation of man; but the presence of God the Sanctifier; the power of holy Sacraments, the fountains of sanctification: these divine realities on God’s part are changeless; they are ever without spot or blemish, even to the letter of the prophecy. Only the effect upon those who receive them varies according to the faith of the individual. This is the true parallel. The Church is numerically one as God is one. Individuals and nations may fall from unity as from sanctity, but unity, as a Divine institution, stands secure: “The gifts and calling of 68 God are without repentance.”88   Rom. xi. 29. Unity is changeless, whoever falls away: it does not admit of degrees. One cannot be more or less than one.

But if, as it is said, the office of the Church to decide questions of faith has been suspended, then the world at this hour has no teacher. Then the command, “Going, therefore, teach ye all nations,” is expired. The “nations” mean, not only the nations then dwelling on earth, but the nations in succession, with their lineage and posterity, until the world’s end. There is no longer, then, a divine teacher upon earth. If the office of the Church to teach the truth and to detect falsehood, to define the faith and condemn heresy, be suspended, we know not now with certainty what is the true sense even of the Articles of the Creed. Between the East and the West, that is between the universal Roman Church and the local Greek Church, there are two questions open, both of which touch an article of the baptismal faith. One point of doc trine taught by the Catholic Church is this: that the Holy Ghost proceeds both from the Father and from the Son. The Greek Church denies the pro cession from the Son. Who is right and who is wrong? On which side is the truth in this controversy? Where is the faith and where heresy between the two contending parties? If the office of the Church be suspended, there exists no judge on earth to say who has the truth in this dispute: and that not touching an inferior article of doctrine, but 69an article of the highest mystery of all, the Ever-Blessed Trinity.

But to take another, and a vital question, namely, the primacy of the Church itself,—the power that is vested in the See of Peter to control by its jurisdiction all Churches upon earth. In the baptismal faith we profess to believe in one Holy Catholic Church. Surely the question whether or no there be on earth a supreme head of the Church divinely instituted, is as much a part of the sub stance and exposition of that article as any other point. But yet between the Catholic and the Greek Churches this point is disputed. And if the office of the Church be suspended, there is no power on earth to determine who is right and who is wrong in this contest.

But let us turn from the Greek Church. Let us apply the same tests to the Anglican communion. How many points of doctrine are open between the Anglican and the Universal Church. In the thirty-nine articles of religion, how many points are disputed. How many controverted questions, not with the Roman Church alone, but with the Greek Church also. For instance, the whole doctrine of the Sacraments, their number and their nature, the power of the keys, the practice of invocation, and the like. Then, I ask, if indeed the office of the Church be suspended, who now at this day can declare who is right and who is wrong in these disputed questions?

Nay, we may go yet further, and say, that even 70 the points of faith decided by Councils when the Church was yet one are no longer safe. There needs only an individual of sufficient intelligence and sufficient influence to rise up and call them in question. If the interpretation of the decrees of the Councils of Nice or Ephesus be disputed, an authoritative exposition of these ancient definitions is required. But this cannot be obtained unless there still sit on earth a judge to decide the law. Suppose a dispute to arise as to the interpretation of a statute passed in the reign of Edward III., and that there were no judges in Westminster to expound it, the law would be an open question, that is, a dead letter. So with the decrees of ancient Councils. It needs, then, nothing but a controversy on each article of the faith to destroy their certainty. Twelve disputes on the twelve Articles of the Baptismal Faith would destroy all certainty. And on earth there would be no judge to say who is right and who is wrong, to declare what was originally revealed on the day of Pentecost, and the meaning of that revelation. To what impossibilities does this theory reduce those who hold it: impossibilities which they perhaps can speak of best who have felt them most. But from this a way of escape is thought to lie in appealing to a future General Council, And yet this brings no present certainty. The faith might be, as in England it is, uncertain for centuries while the General Council is still future. In truth, this appeal is no more than a plea for insubordination. To appeal from the reigning 71sovereignty to one to come is simple treason. But besides, the theory is in itself impossible. For who is to convene this future Council? And of whom shall it be composed? Who shall sit in it? Who shall be excluded? And by whose judgment shall the admission and exclusion be determined? Every divided Church will demand its vote and voice. Who shall judge its claim? The office of the judge is in abeyance. But a General Council presupposes the existence and office of the supreme judge of faith and unity. And this the appellants tell us is suspended.

Let us pass on from this point. To deny, then, that the one Universal and Roman Church is now the Teacher sent from God on earth, leads to a denial that there exists in the world any Teacher at all; and to deny the existence of this universal Teacher involves two consequences so impossible, that they need only to be stated to be refuted. If there exists in the world no teacher invested with divine commission to guide all others, either every several local church is invested with a final and supreme authority to determine what is true and what is false; that is, possesses the infallibility denied by objectors to the Universal Church itself; or else, no authority under heaven respecting divine truth is more than human.

Let us examine this alternative. We may pass by the Greek Church, for it had discernment enough, when it began its schism, to put forward the claim to be not a part of the Church, but the true Church; 72 not to be in communion with others, but to be the sole preserver of the Faith. The Greek Church has at all times claimed to be the temple of the Holy Spirit, and “the orthodox,” that is, the only faithful teacher of the truth. It claims also infallibility by guidance of the Holy Ghost. It does not affect to participate with Rome, but to be exclusively the one true Catholic Church. It denounces the Holy See as both in error and in schism. We may then pass over this case, because its very consistency, while it makes the pretensions of the East more unreasonable, confirms our position. We will take a local body which has claimed for itself to be, not exclusively the Church, but a part of it, and within its own sphere to be sufficient to determine controversies, to perpetuate its orders, to confer and to exercise jurisdiction; that is, which has claimed to have within its own sphere all that the Catholic Church possesses from its Divine Founder.

I will not weary you by tracing out historically the theory upon which the highest and most honoured names of the Anglican body have attempted to justify the Reformation. It will be sufficient to say that pious and learned men have believed as follows: That in the time of our Saxon ancestors the Catholic Church in this country possessed a freedom of its own; that, though in union with the Holy See, it was under no controlling jurisdiction that when the Normans came in they established a civil state upon the basis of the existing ecclesiastical order, and therein perpetuated the freedom and 73privileges of the Catholic Church in England. They further believed that every Christian kingdom, such as ours, had laws, privileges, and rights of its own; and that these among us were usurped upon, interfered with, and taken away by a foreign power, the Bishop of Rome. They taught, then, that the Re formation was nothing but a removal of usurpation and a restoring of our ancient freedom; that the Church which existed before and after the Reformation was one and the same, a continuous and living body, mutilated, indeed, in the wreck of that age, but still preserving its orders, its jurisdiction, and its doctrines; being sufficient in itself to deter mine all questions, as the notable act of parliament, passed at the beginning of the schism, in its preamble declares.

What was the effect of this theory? It at once invested the local church with all the final prerogatives of the universal. It claimed for it the power within its own sphere to terminate every thing that can be terminated only by the Universal Church under Divine guidance. Though it dared not to enunciate the claim, it had practically assumed the possession of infallibility. It would have been too unreasonable and too absurd to state it, but it acted as if it really were infallible. And what were the effects? No sooner did the Anglican Church begin to determine the controversies of its members than they began to dispute its determinations.

The first separation from the Anglican establishment was made by the Independents. They 74 carried their appeal beyond the local church, and because they had been taught to acknowledge upon earth no superior before whom to lay it, they ap pealed to Scripture and to reason, or, as they thought, to the unseen Head of the Church, but in truth to their own interpretations. The first effect of investing a local body with universal sovereignty in Jurisdiction and discipline, was to make truthful and earnest men, who saw the impossibility of such a claim, break out into disobedience. Hence have come the separations from the Anglican Church which now divide England from one end to the other. The source of these divisions is the impossibility of believing that a body formed by private judgment and established by civil power can possess a divine authority to terminate controversies of faith. We have lately had this theory of local churches tested before our eyes. History told us that in the Anglican Church, during the three hundred years of its existence, there have been two schools of theology, one bearing the appearance of Catholic doc trine and of Catholic tradition; another, earlier in date, springing from the very substance of the Re formation itself, pre-occupying the Anglican communion, a school of pure Protestant theology. These two schools have existed, struggling, conflicting, and denouncing each other from that day to this. Yet it was believed that the Catholic school was the substance of the Anglican Church, and the Protestant a parasite: a malady which, though clinging Closely to it, might yet be expelled and cast off.

75

Such was the belief of many. Then came a crisis. You know, and I will do no more than remind you distantly, how a question touching the first sacrament of the Church, touching, therefore, the first grace of Christian life, original sin, and the whole doctrine of the work of grace in the soul of man—a doctrine fundamental and vital, if any can be—was brought into dispute between a priest and his bishop. The bishop refused to put him in charge with cure of souls. The priest, not content with the decision of his bishop, appealed to the jurisdiction of the archbishop; the archbishop, that is, his court, confirmed the decision of the bishop. The appeal was then further carried to the civil power sitting in council. Observe the steps of this appeal. The bishop here is a spiritual person possessing spiritual authority, sitting as a spiritual judge in a spiritual question The archbishop to whom the appeal is carried sits likewise as a spiritual judge in a spiritual question, with this only difference, that whereas his jurisdiction is co-extensive with the jurisdiction of the bishop, it is superior to it. When the appeal, then, is carried from the arch bishop to the civil power in council, what does that appeal disclose? That the civil power sit ting in council sits as a spiritual person to judge in a spiritual question with a jurisdiction like wise co -extensive, and absolutely superior both to bishop and archbishop, an office which in the Church of God is vested in a patriarch. There is no possibility of mistaking this proceeding. It is one of 76 those proofs which are revealed, not in arguments, but in facts.

And now, to what does this reduce the theory of local churches? It shows that local churches possess in themselves no power to determine finally the truth or falsehood of a question of faith. An attempt was made at that time by men, whom I must ever remember with affection and respect, to heal this wound by distinguishing in every such appeal between the temporal element relating to benefice, property, and patronage, and the spiritual element touching the doctrine of faith. It was proposed that the temporal element should be carried to the civil power sitting in council, as the natural judge in a matter of benefice or temporalities; and that the spiritual element, or the question of doctrine, should be carried to the bishops of that local church. When this proposal was under discussion, these questions were asked: Suppose that when a question of doctrine is carried to the united council of the bishops of that local church, a bare majority of them should decide one way, and a large minority should decide the other; will the minds of a people stirred from the depths, excited by religious controversy, moved as no other motive in the world can move them, by dispute on a point of religious opinion—will they be pacified? will they be assured? will they hold as a matter of divine faith the decision of this majority? Again, suppose that mere number be on the side of the majority, and that theological learning be on the side of the 77minority; if the majority have greater number, the minority will have greater weight. And will not people adhere to the few whom they trust rather than to the many whom, as theologians, they less esteem? And another question, not asked then, may be asked now by us: Suppose the whole body of the assembled bishops of a local church were unanimous, what guarantee or security is there that their decision shall infallibly be in accordance with the faith of the Church of Christ? A local body has no prerogative of infallibility. If “the Churches of Jerusalem and of Antioch have erred,” every local church may err. If these local churches, not withstanding their antiquity and magnitude, have erred, shall not a body three hundred years old err too? If “General Councils may err,” so, much more readily, may a provincial synod. The church which has recorded these assertions has prepared its own sentence. It disclaims an infallible guidance. And if its assembled fathers, with one mind and voice, should declare with unity on any point of doctrine, what security is there that their united decision shall express the faith of the Universal Church? Torn from the Catholic unity, the mind and spirit of the Universal Church has no influx into the Anglican communion. The channel is cut asunder. It has no authority that is more than human, and thereby revealed itself. Some indeed believed that it was a church for three hundred years, and became a schism two years back; that the Anglican position was tenable till then, and 78 has become untenable only since the change was made.

But there is another alternative. The crisis we speak of was either a change or a revelation. They who can look into history and see existing these two schools from the reign of Edward the Sixth, and the supremacy of the crown from the reign of Henry the Eighth; they who can follow the religious contests of England for three centuries, and still say that a change has been lately made for the first time, may say it; but they who believe that the judgment then pronounced by the highest legal authorities in this land was a true and accurate historical criticism of the religious compromise called the Anglican Reformation, will also believe that the issue of the appeal of which I speak was not a change but a revelation of what the Established Church has been from its beginning; that from the first the Anglican communion, though clothed in ecclesiastical aspect, appropriating the organisation of Catholic times, sitting in Catholic cathedrals, professing to wield in its own name Catholic jurisdiction, has never been more than a human society, sprung from human will, with definitions framed by human intellect, possessing no divine authority to bind the conscience or to lay obligations upon the soul.

To deny, then, the authority of the Universal Church as final and sovereign, is to do one of two things: either to invest every local church with infallibility, which is absurd; or to declare that 79no authority for faith in the world is more than human.

But we must now hasten over one or two other consequences which might well detain us longer. To deny that there exists for the faith any higher than human authority, is to destroy the objectivity of truth. As the firmament is an object to the eye, and as every several light in it is of divine creation; and though all men were blind, the firmament would stand sure, and its lights still shine no less; so the faith is a divine revelation, and every doctrine in it is a divine light; and though all men were unbelieving, the revelation and its lights would shine the same. The objective reality of truth then does not depend on the will or the intellect of man; it has its existence in God. and is proposed to us by the revelation and authority of God. But how can this be, if the basis upon which the truth rests for us be human? Man could not attain to it, else why did God reveal it? Man cannot preserve it, else why did he lose it of old? Men cannot assure it to us, for men contradict each other. Truth never varies, it is always the same, always one and change less; contradictions spring from the human mind alone. The one fountain of truth is God; the only sure channel of truth is His Church, through which God speaks still. Cancel the perpetual divine authority which brings truth down to us through the successions of time, and what is the consequence? Truth turns into the opinion or imagination of every several man. The polytheism of the ancient 80world was only the idea of God reproduced in the human understanding after the true knowledge of God was lost. The mind of man which could not exist without the image of God, formed for itself monstrous conceptions of its own. A shifting, moving imagination, ever revolving in its own thoughts, gave forth polytheism. Polytheism was the subjective distortion of truth after its objectivity was obscured.

Let us come to the present time. What are the sects of England but offspring of the subjective forking of the human mind, striving to regain the divine idea of the Church as a teacher sent from God? The Reformation destroyed the objective reality of that idea, and the human mind has created it afresh in eccentric forms for itself. In like manner, false doctrines, fanatical extravagances, and perversions of the truth, what are they but struggles of the mind of man to recreate within his own sphere the truths of which the objectivity is lost?

To deny, then, the divine authority of the Universal Church, and thereby to make all authority for faith merely human, is to convert all doctrine into the subjective imagination of each several man. It becomes a kind of waking dream. For what is dreaming but the perpetuity of human thought running on unchecked by waking consciousness, which pins us down to order and rule by fact and by reality? In sleep the mind never rests; it still weaves on its own imaginations. When we sleep perfectly, we are unconscious of what is passing in 81our minds; when we sleep imperfectly, we say we dream, that is, we remember. When we awake, these visions fly, because matter-of-fact, the eye of our fellow-creatures, common sense, that is, our waking consciousness, brings us back. In like manner, the visible Church, with its rule of faith, its authoritative teaching, its order, its discipline, its worship, is that outer world in which we move. It keeps the spiritual mind in limit and in measure. Dissolve it, and the mind weaves on in its own fancies, throwing off heresies, eccentricities, and falsehood. Let Germany and England be the witness.

Take, for example, the Rationalism of Germany. In its first age, after the Reformation, Lutheranism was rigorously orthodox until it became insufferably dry; and then the soul in man, thirsting for the waters of life, of which it had been robbed, sought to satisfy itself in a sentimental piety, and by recoil cast off orthodoxy as a thing dead and intolerable. This reaction against definite statements of doctrine at a later stage produced the theory that the whole truth may be elicited from the human consciousness. From whence in the end came two things: one, the theory that sin had no existence; that it is a philosophical disturbance of the general relations of the Creator and the creature; the other, that a historical Christ had never any existence. Such are the results of the subjective states of the human mind when the objective teaching of divine authority is lost.

82

And now, one more consequence must be noted. When the objectivity of truth is lost, the obligation of law is gone. What is it that binds us by the laws of moral obligation? I pass by the mere laws of nature. I speak now of those higher laws which come from revelation, and I ask, What is it which binds the conscience? The Divine will revealed in those laws. But on what authority are these laws assured to us? and by whom interpreted? Is it by human authority? Can one man bind another by moral obligation to take his view or interpretation of the will or law of God under pain of sin? Can he put forth his view as a term of communion, if communion be a condition of life eternal? Is it possible for a creature to bind his fellow-creatures under pain of sin unless he possess Divine authority to do so? The laws of God do not bind His creatures unless they are made known to them; though, in right, they bind all creatures eternally, yet. in fact, they need revelation to bring home and apply their obligations to the conscience. A doubtful law is not present to the conscience. If a law is uncertain, it is no law to us. It must be clear and definite both in its injunctions and its authority. I ask, then, what is the source of clearness and definiteness in the law and truth of God but the Divine authority of God, not eighteen hundred years ago, but in every century since, in every year, in every day, in every hour, brought home to and in contact with the moral being of each man? Let us take an example. Is it not a law, binding under pain of sin 83and eternal death, that we should believe the faith? Then no human authority can be the imposer of that law on us. Is it not a law on which we shall inherit eternal life, that we be subject to the authority of God’s Church on earth? Then that authority must be divine. Is it not also binding, under pain of sin, that we preserve the unity of the Church? Then the law of unity is a divine law, delivered and applied to us by a present Divine authority.

Let us pass to one more point, and it shall be the last. When the divine authority, the objectivity of truth, and the obligation of law applied to us by that divine authority, are gone, where then, I ask, is revelation? “This is life everlasting, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Hither have we come down, step by step. We have descended as we ascended. We have come down from the highest round of the mystical ladder, at the head of which is the Divine Presence, to the cold ground, barren and bleak, to natural morality and natural society, to human intellect and human conjecture.

We read in prophecy that Antichrist shall come: and in the heated imagination of schismatics and heretics Antichrist has been enthroned in the chair of the Vicar of Christ Himself. But if I look for Antichrist, I look for him by this token, “Every spirit that dissolveth Jesus is not of God, and this is Antichrist.”99   1 St. John iv. 3. This, then, is the mark of Antichrist, to deny the Incarnation of the eternal Son; 84 to deny the “Revelation of God springing from it; to deny the mystical body of Christ, the universal Church, and the Divine empire of faith. “Every spirit that dissolveth Jesus,” every spirit that looseth the bonds of this unity of Jesus; every theory that reduces man from the kingdom of God founded up on the incarnation of His Son, from the guidance of the Holy Ghost, to mere natural society and mere natural reason; this is Antichrist. And if so, where shall we look for it? I find it where Protestantism has blighted the earth.

And now, finally; when I began I said that I spoke not as a controversialist. I should feel this subject were dishonoured, if I were to treat it as a mere argument. Greater things than argument are at stake,—the honour of our Divine Lord and the eternal salvation of souls. How great is the dishonour, of which men think so little; as if truth were a sort of coin, that they may stamp and change, and vary its die and fix its value, and make it in metal or paper as they will! They treat the truth as one of the elements of human barter, or as an indulgence which a man may hold and use for himself alone, leaving his neighbour to perish. “This is truth to me; look you to what you believe.” What dishonour is this to the person of our Lord! Picture to yourselves this night upon your knees the throne of the Son of God; cherubim and seraphim adoring the glory of Eternal Truth, the changeless light of the Incarnate Word, “yesterday, to-day, and for ever the same;” the heavenly 85court replenished with the illumination of God, the glorified intelligences, in whose pure spirit the thought of falsehood is hateful as the thought of sin; then look to earth on those whom the blood of Christ hath redeemed; look on those who in this world should have inherited the faith; look at their controversies, their disputes, their doubts, their misery; and in the midst of all these wandering, sinning, perishing souls, look at those who stand by in selfish, cold complacency, wrapping themselves in their own opinion, and saying, This is truth to me.

Think too of the souls that perish. How many are brought into the very gulf of eternal death through uncertainty! How, as every pastor can tell you, souls are torn from the hand which would save them by being sedulously taught that the deadliest sins have no sin in them; by the specious and poisonous insinuation that sin has no moral quality; how souls have first been sapped in their faith as Satan began in Paradise, “Yea, hath God said?” that is, God hath not said. This is perpetually at this hour going on around us; and whence comes it? Because men have cast down the divine authority, and have substituted in its place the authority of men, that is, of each man for himself.

And now, what shall I say of England, our own land, which a Catholic loves next to the kingdom of his Lord? It is now in the splendour and majesty of its dizzy height, all the more perilous because so suddenly exalted. What is the greatness 86 of England? Is it founded on Divine truth, or on human strength and will? Is it material, or is it moral? Has it attained this mighty altitude among nations by the power of moral elevation, or is it the upgrowth of mere material strength? Let us analyse it. What is it that makes England great in the world? Colonies which fill the earth. What are the morals of those colonies? How were they won, how have they been kept? Armies. What are the morals of armies? Fleets. What are the morals of fleets? Commerce. What is the morality of traders? Wealth. “The desire of money is the root of all evils.” Manufacture. What is the state of our mines and factories? And whence comes the industry of England? The nerve, the sinew, the strength, and the perseverance are moral; but what is the purity, the truth, the meekness, and the faith of those who wield this industry? And whence comes this mighty power of manufacture? Shall I not trace it to its one true source if I find it in the skill of applying science to subdue the powers of nature to the dominion of man? The mighty bubble of wealth, commerce, and splendour, may be traced back to this: that the skill of an intellect and the tact of a hand have taught the English people more cunningly than any nation of the world to apply physical and mathematical science to the production of material results. But where is the morality of this? I deny not to England great moral qualities, which we may also trace back to Catholic days. We 87see them, in times past, in the Norman and the Saxon ages. Nay, we may go further. We may find the same love of truth and social order, with other great moral laws, in the German race, as described in Pagan history. We deny not these; but moral virtues which existed before faith are not the fruits of faith; and the greatness of England, so far as I have traced it, is material and not moral.

And now, last of all, let me ask another question What, for three centuries, has been the history of the Faith in England? I pass over the controversy of the Reformation, first, because we are of one mind about it, and next, because it would but beg the question of an objector. I would ask, Is it not an undeniable historical fact, that from the time of Queen Elizabeth down to the time of the revolution of William the Third, there was a perpetual diminution of belief in England, and a perpetual growth of infidelity and scepticism, until, after 1688, the free-thinking philosophy formed for itself a literature that stood high in the public favour of England? The Established Church had wasted itself by internal conflicts. It lost its most zealous members by perpetual secession and by the formation of a multitude of sects. Though the Prayer-book and the Articles were unchanged, the living voice of the Church, that is, its true doctrine, varied continually from doctrinal puritanism to Arminian Anglicanism. The clergy spent themselves in domestic controversy; while the laity became worldly, latitudinarian, and unbelieving. And yet 88 it was not from among the laity, but from among the clergy and the hierarchy, that the hardly concealed Socinianism of Hoadly arose and spread in force. Such was the internal state of the Establishment. Without and around it the doctrine of faith decayed faster and deeper. Doctrine after doctrine was disputed and gave way; the doctrine of Sacraments, of the Atonement, and of inspiration, perpetually lost ground, until we descend to the level of the Deist in the beginning of the last century. Can these facts be denied? The course of England was downward in faith, because human authority, in the stead of divine, had enthroned it self in the Reformation. That which in Germany produced pure Rationalism, in England, but for the interposition of God, would have produced the same general disbelief of Christianity.

Then began a reaction. Take the history of the last century and of the present, and tell me whether I do not truly describe the intellectual progress of England when I say that there has been one continuous and ascending controversy from the beginning of the last century to this hour? First, it was a controversy against Deists, to establish the fact of revelation. Next it was a controversy against sceptics, to prove the inspiration and authenticity of Holy Scripture. Then it was against Arians in proof of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Then it was against Socinians on the doctrine of the In carnation. Then the controversy of the day was on the doctrines of grace. At a later period of the last 89century it was on the doctrines of conversion, repentance, contrition, the interior life of God in the soul of man. What has been the controversy of the last twenty years but an effort to restore faith in the Divine institution and supernatural grace of Sacraments? What is all this but the remnant of faith struggling to recover the inheritance it had lost? And what has come now to put a complement and close to this upward movement? Now, when the mere human origin and authority of all other teachers has been revealed by their visible departure from the Faith, comes one truth more to fill up the order and series of our Baptismal Creed, and to give Divine certainty to all that had been re-established. The Divine authority of the Universal Church has again reconstituted its visible witness in this land. The See of Peter has restored what our fathers forfeited; and after three hundred years the Divine Voice speaks to faith through the Catholic Episcopate of England once more.

Are these things without a purpose? If there be any here who is still without the Divine tradition of the Faith, let him see in these facts the tracings of the finger of God. which, as the hand of a man upon the wall, show His purpose The Divine authority of the Universal Church is again among us, and lays again its obligation upon your conscience. He calls you, whoever you be, to submit to his teaching, to exercise the most reasonable act of all your life, to bow your reason to a Divine 90 teacher, and to fulfil the highest act of the human intelligence—to learn of its Maker.

Out of the Catholic Church two things cannot be found, reality and certainty; in the Catholic Church these two things are your inheritance. Then tarry no longer. “With the heart we believe.” It is not a struggle of the intellect, and I am not contending with you in an intellectual contest. I call upon your will to make an act of faith. Preventing grace illuminates the understanding, and moves the will, but there tarries. It tarries that it may put man on his probation, to see whether he will correspond or no to the light that has been granted. Correspond, then, with the light you have received. Answer while yet you may: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth, My heart is ready. Not Thy truth fails, but my faith is weak. I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

THE END


« Prev Lecture IV. Rationalism the Legitimate… Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |