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377

CHAPTER XXXI.
THE PURPOSE OF THE EPISTLE.—THE FAITH ONCE FOR ALL DELIVERED
AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE

"Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints."—St. Jude 3.

THE Greek of the opening sentence of this passage, in which St. Jude explains his reason for writing this Epistle, is ambiguous. The words "of our common salvation" (περὶ τῆς κοινῆς ἡμῶν σωτηρίας) may go either with what precedes or with what follows. But there is little doubt that both the Authorized and the Revised Versions are right in taking them with what precedes. The true connexion is, not, "While I was giving all diligence to write unto you, I was constrained to write unto you of our common salvation," but, "While I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith." This Epistle can scarcely be called a letter "about our common salvation." The meaning is that St. Jude had intended to write such a letter, but the crisis created by the entrance of these ungodly men into the Church constrained him to write a letter of a different kind, viz. the one which lies before us. That he had already 378 begun to write a letter "respecting our common salvation," and that we have here to lament the loss of another Epistle besides the lost Epistles of St. Paul and St. John (1 Cor. v. 9; 3 John 9), is neither stated nor implied.106106   This is an assumption of De Wette, who in this followed Sherlock, and was followed by Brückner. It is worth noting that the Vulgate here is as ambiguous as the original Greek: "Omnem solicitudinem faciens scribendi vobis de communi vestra salute necesse habui scribere vobis," etc. St. Jude had been thinking very earnestly about writing a more general and comprehensive Epistle, when he realized that the presence of a very serious evil required immediate action, and accordingly he writes at once to point out the existing peril, and to denounce those who are the authors of it. It is the duty of all Christians to be on their guard, and to be unflinching in their defence of the truth which has been committed to them to preserve and cherish.

"The faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." This does not mean, which was delivered by God to the Apostles, but which was delivered by the Apostles to the Church. "The saints" here, as so often in the New Testament (Acts ix. 13, 32, 41; xxvi. 10; Rom. viii. 27; xiii. 13; xv. 25, 26, 31; etc., etc.), means all Christians. If the whole nation of the Jews was a "holy people" (λαὸς ἅγιος), "a peculiar treasure unto Jehovah from among all peoples" (Exod. xix. 5), by reason of their special election by Him (Deut. vii. 6; xiv. 2, 21); if they were "saints of the Most High" (Dan. vii. 18, 22, 25), much more might this be said of Christians, who had inherited all the spiritual privileges of the Jews, and had received others in abundance, far exceeding any that the Jews had ever possessed. Christians also, in a still higher sense, were "an elect 379 race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (1 Peter ii. 9). The Christians of Corinth, Ephesus, and Colossæ, in spite of the enormous evils which they practised or sanctioned, or at least tolerated, are still called "saints." They are holy, not as being persons of holy life, but as being devoted to God. Of course such persons ought to be holy in conduct, but to call them "saints" does not assert that they are so. The name asserts the fact of being set apart by God for Himself, and implies what ought to be the result of such separation. "Thus the main idea of the term is consecration. But though it does not assert moral qualifications as a fact in the persons so designated, it implies them as a duty."107107   Lightfoot, Philippians, note on i. 1. To each individual Christian, therefore, the name is at once an honour, an exhortation, and a reproach. It tells of his high calling, it exhorts him to live up to it, and it reminds him of his grievous shortcomings.

"The faith once for all delivered unto the saints" (τῇ ἅπαξ παραδοθείσῃ τοῖς ἅγίοις πίστει): both the adverb, "once for all," and the aorist participle, "delivered," are worthy of special notice. "The faith" does not mean any set formula of articles of belief, nor the internal reception of Christian doctrine, but the substance of it; it is equivalent to what St. Paul and the Evangelists call "the Gospel," viz. that body of truth which brings salvation to the soul that receives it. This Faith, or this Gospel, has been once for all delivered to Christians. No other will be given, for there is no other. Whatever may be delivered by any one in future cannot be a gospel at all. The one true Gospel is complete and final, and admits of no successors and no supplements (Gal. i. 6-9).

380 "The faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." Does this exclude all possibility of a "development of Christian doctrine"? That depends upon what one means by "development." The expression has been interpreted to mean "that the increase and expansion of the Christian creed and ritual, and the variations which have attended the process in the case of individual writers and Churches, are the necessary attendants on any philosophy or polity which takes possession of the intellect and heart, and has had any wide or extended dominion; that from the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas; and that the highest and most wonderful truths, though communicated to the world once for all by inspired teachers, could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients, but, as received and transmitted by minds not inspired and through media which were human, have required only the longer time and deeper thought for their full elucidation."108108   J. H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (London, Toovey, 1845), p. 27. If the ambiguous expression "and perfection" be omitted, one may readily allow that development of Christian doctrine in this sense has taken place. To say that time is needed for the full comprehension of the great truths which were communicated to the Church once for all by the Apostles is one thing; to say that time is needed for the perfection of those truths may or may not be quite another. And the manner in which the subject is treated in the famous Essay from which the passage just quoted is taken shows that what is meant by the "perfecting" of the truths is a very different thing from the full comprehension of their original contents; it means 381 making additions to the original contents in order to remedy supposed deficiencies. In this sense it may be confidently asserted, and as loyal Christians we are bound to assert, that there is no such thing as development of Christian doctrine. If there be such a thing, then we cannot stop short with those developments which can in some measure be called Christian. The author himself reminds us that "no one has power over the issues of his principles; we cannot manage our argument, and have as much of it as we please, and no more" (p. 29). If the faith once for all delivered to the saints was defective, and needed to be supplemented by subsequent additions, why may not Christianity itself be, as some have maintained, only a phase in the development of religion, which in process of time is to be superseded by something wholly unchristian? The transition is easily made from the position of the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine to that of Channing, that "it makes me smile to hear immortality claimed for Catholicism or Protestantism, or for any past interpretations of Christianity: as if the human soul had exhausted itself in its infant efforts; as if the men of one or a few generations could bind the energy of human thought and affection for ever;"109109   Letter on Catholicism: Complete Works (Routledge, 1884), p. 346. and thence to the position of Strauss, who, in his latest and most dreary work, on The Old and the New Faith, asks the question, "Are we still Christians?" and answers it emphatically in the negative. The chief doctrines of Christianity are to him childish or repulsive beliefs, which thoughtful men have long since left behind. We may still in some sense be religious; but Christianity has done its work, and is rightly being dismissed from 382 the stage.110110   Der alte und der neue Glaube (Leipzig, 1872), pp. 13-91: see especially pp. 90, 91. This is the advanced thinking of which St. John writes in his Second Epistle: "Everyone that goeth onward (πᾶς ὁ προάγων), and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God" (ver. 9). There is an advance which involves desertion of first principles; and such an advance is not progress, but apostasy.

But does the development of doctrine, in the sense contended for by the author of the celebrated Essay, mean making actual additions to the faith once for all delivered, as distinct from arriving at a better comprehension of the contents and logical consequences of the original deposit? This question must be answered in the affirmative, for various reasons. The whole purpose of the Essay, and the actual expressions used in it, require this meaning; and that this is the obvious meaning has been assumed by Roman Catholic as well as Protestant critics, and (so far as the present writer is aware) this interpretation has never been resented as illegitimate by the author. The whole argument is admittedly "an hypothesis to account for a difficulty," "an expedient to enable us to solve what has now become a necessary and an anxious problem" (pp. 27, 28), viz. the enormous difference between the sum total of Roman Catholic doctrines and those which can be found in the Christian documents of the first two or three centuries. The Essay is believed by its author to furnish "a solution of such a number of the reputed corruptions of Rome as might form a fair ground for trusting her where the investigation had not been pursued" (p. 29). And that the faith once for all delivered is regarded as in need of supplements and additions seems to be implied in such language as 383 the following: "In whatever sense the need and its supply are a proof of design in the visible creation, in the same do the gaps, if the word may be used, which occur in the structure of the original creed of the Church, make it probable that those developments, which grow out of the truths which lie around them, were intended to complete it" (pp. 101, 102). It is the business of succeeding ages of the Church to "keep what was exact, and supply what was deficient" (p. 354).

The author of the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine states in another of his works that when he was admitted to the Church of Rome he embraced volumes containing the writings of the Christian Fathers, crying out that now they were really his own. The action and exclamation were thoroughly inconsistent with the position maintained throughout the Essay, and since then adopted by numbers of Roman controversialists. He ought rather to have cleared his shelves of the works of the Fathers, and to have consigned them to the lumber-room, with the remark, "Now I need never look at you any more." As Bishop Cornelius Mussus (Musso) said long ago, "For my part, to speak quite frankly, I would give more credence to a single Pope than to a thousand Augustines, Jeromes, and Gregorys" (In Epist. ad Rom. xiv., p. 606, Venet., 1588, quoted in Hardwick's edition of Archer Butler's Letters on Romanism, p. 394). It is the latest and most modern works on Roman theology, especially those which expound the utterances of the most recent Popes, that deserve to be studied, if the theory of the development be correct. According to that theory, the teaching of the primitive Church was certainly immature and defective, and possibly even erroneous. In order to find out what primitive 384 writers meant, or ought to have meant, we must look to the latest developments. They are the criteria by which to test the teaching of the early Church; it is beginning at the wrong end to test the developments by Christian antiquity. In former times Romanists were at great pains to show that traces of their peculiar tenets could be found in the writers of the first few centuries; and in not a few cases the works of these primitive writers were interpolated, in order to make out a fair case. Criticism has exposed these forgeries, and it has been demonstrated that the early Christian teachers were ignorant of whole tracts of Roman doctrine and practice. Roman controversy has therefore entirely shifted its ground. It now freely admits that these things were unknown to Irenæus, Cyprian, Chrysostom, Athanasius, and Augustine; but for the simple reason that, when they wrote, these things had not yet been revealed. The Church was still ignorant that the Blessed Virgin was conceived without sin, was taken bodily to heaven after her death, and ought to be invoked in prayer; it was still ignorant of the doctrine of purgatory, of indulgences, and of the necessity of being in communion with the Church of Rome. It will not do to say that Christ and His Apostles planted the germs of these things, and that for centuries the germs did not expand and fructify, and therefore remained unnoticed. For, first, how can there be a germ of an historical fact, such as the supposed removal of the Virgin's body to heaven, which is most happily named an "assumption"? Secondly, now that the fruit has appeared, we ought to be able to trace it back to the germ which for so long was ignored. And thirdly, if the germs were really deposited by Christ and His Apostles, they would have 385 developed in a somewhat similar manner in all parts of Christendom. Different surroundings will account for some variety of development, but not for absolute difference in kind. The germ respecting communion with the Church of Rome, if there was one, developed in the East, where all germs were in the first instance planted, into the doctrine that no such communion was necessary.111111   See Dr. Salmon's admirable work on The Infallibility of the Church (Murray, 1888), pp. 33-41. Therefore, from the Roman point of view, it is necessary to maintain that the development of Christian doctrine involves, not merely the better comprehension of the contents of doctrines, and the expansion of seeds and germs of truth, but the admission of actual supplements and additions, derived from new revelations of fresh items of truth. As the Jesuit Father Harper said, in his reply to Dr. Pusey's Eirenicon, "Christ grew in wisdom daily. So does the Church, not in mere appearance, but of truth. Her creed, therefore, can never shrink back to the dimensions of the past, but must ever enlarge with the onward future."

Hence the necessity for the doctrine of Infallibility. For Roman developments are not the only ones. The Eastern Churches have theirs; Protestant Churches have theirs; and outside these there are other developments, both non-Christian and anti-Christian. Unless there is some authority which can say, "Our developments are Divinely inspired and necessary, while all others are superfluous or wrong," the doctrine of Development may be used with as much force against Rome as for her. Consequently, we find the author of the Essay using the theory of Development as an argument for that of the Infallibility. "If the Christian 386 doctrine, as originally taught, admits of true and important developments, ... this is a strong antecedent argument in favour of a provision in the Dispensation for putting a seal of authority upon those developments.... If certain large developments of it are true, they must surely be accredited as true" (pp. 117-19).

This is further proof that what is contemplated in this theory is not mere logical deductions from revealed truth; for logical deductions vindicate themselves by an appeal to the reason, and need no sanction from an infallible authority. Developments are indeed said to follow by way of "logical sequence," but this term is made to receive an enlarged meaning. "It will include any progress of the mind from one judgment to another, as, for instance, by way of moral fitness, which may not admit of analysis into premiss and conclusion" (p. 397). Thus the "deification of St. Mary" is a "logical sequence" of our Lord's Divinity. "The votaries of Mary do not exceed the true faith, unless the blasphemers of her Son came up to it. The Church of Rome is not idolatrous, unless Arianism is orthodoxy" (p. 406). The following criticism, therefore, does not seem to be unjust: "However the theory may be modified by the subsequent additional supposition of infallible guidance, it is quite evident that, considered in itself, its internal spirit and scope (especially as illustrated by its alleged Roman instances) are nothing short of this, that everything which certain good men in the Church, or men assumed to be such, can by reasoning or feeling collect from a revealed truth is, by the mere fact of its recognition [i.e. by the supposed infallible guide], admissible and authoritative."112112   Archer Butler's Letters on Romanism, Revised by Rev. Charles Hardwick (Macmillan, 1858), p. 91. This is indeed 387 a wide door to open for the reception of additions to the faith!

That St. Jude lays much stress on the fact that the sum total of the Gospel, and not merely the elementary portions of it, have been once for all committed to the Church, is shown, not only by the prominence which he gives to the thought here, but by his repetition of it a few lines later, when he begins the main portion of his Epistle: "I desire to put you in remembrance, though ye know all things once for all" (ver. 5). Any teaching of new doctrines is not only unnecessary, it is also utterly inadmissible. And every Christian has his responsibilities in this matter. He is to "contend earnestly" (ἐπαγωνίζεσθαι), with all the energy and watchfulness of an athlete in the arena, for the preservation of this sacred deposit, lest it be lost or corrupted. And the manner in which this earnest contest is to be maintained is not left doubtful; not with the sword, as Beza rightly remarks, nor with intemperate denunciation or indiscriminate severity, but with the mighty influence of a holy life, built upon the foundation of our "most holy faith" (vv. 20-23). It is in this way that lawful development of Christian doctrine is secured; not by additions to what was once for all delivered, but by a deeper and wider comprehension of its inexhaustible contents. "If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine."

Note.—In connexion with the subject treated above, chapter ix. of R. H. Hutton's sketch of Cardinal Newman (Methuen & Co., 1891) may be profitably read.


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