« PreviousContinue »
OPINION by the Catholics in their defence, and the means by which the public mind has been deluded, as a requisite preliminary to the Re-' view of the work before us. To elucidate this subject, however, in as clear a light as possible, it will be necessary that we give a brief outline of the method uniformly pursued by the Catholic church to preserve the truths which have been revealed to her. We are aware that some of our readers may have discarded the necessity of a revealed religion, but we beg of them to be candid in their examination of our pages, before they pass their judgment upon them. It cannot be denied that the greatest part of the civilized world has, in all ages, acknowledged the existence of certain divine truths, emanating from the Deity itself, and surely it must be safer to go with the great bulk of mankind, than to listen to the speculations of certain individuals who prefer fictions to facts, and the fallible opinions of the human mind to the infallible rule of principle established by the Deity. Taking the scripture merely as a work of history, we see much to admire, and in it we find a clear and shining testimony of the immutability of the divine councils. Works on profane history have perished by time, or been destroyed by the hand of barbarism, but the records of religion have been handed down to us with a care unparalleled and striking. Of all the ancient people, the Jews alone preserved the monuments of their religion, and to this very day, they bear testimony to its course and progress, and the miracles and predictions which rendered it immovable. We see the Messiah appearing at the time predicted by the prophets; we see him foretelling his own death, the progress of the new law, which took place of the old, without violating one single truth, and many other circumstances that have been literally fulfilled. Among other things, he commanded his apostles, twelve humble and unknown men, to go forth to all nations, to teach the truths which he had revealed to them, and promising them that THESE TRUTHS should remain to the end of the world. We see these men, armed only with the spirit of God, go forth to the world, teaching a doctrine opposed to the human passions and the general maxims of the world, yet, in less than one hundred years, and in the midst of the most furious persecutions and the rage of tyrants, they carried and established these truths, not only in the East, where their labours first commenced, that is to say, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, Lesser Asia, and Greece, but also in the West, namely, Italy, the several nations of the Gauls, all the Spanish provinces, Africa, Germany, and Great Britain; likewise into Persia, Armenia, the Indies, Sarmatia, Scythia, and even to the remotest islands. So rapid and extensive a change in public opinion, in favour of a new system of religion, could only be effected by a supernatural power, and the unity of that system must strike conviction, we should imagine, in the rational mind, of its emanating from
Having thus given a brief sketch of the establishment of the Christian faith, we will now proceed to show how its truths have been preserved to this day. It may be proper here to observe, that as this faith was planted in opposition to the wishes of the rulers of the state, and the propagators of it were men of obscure origin and mortified habits, there could be no collusion to impose upon mankind, and if there had, why was it not exposed? Why were not the deceivers unmasked, and
held up to the contempt of the people? That the Divine Founder of the Christian religion intended that the truths which he commanded the, apostles and their successors to teach, should be openly taught, and attested by PUBLIC OPINION, is clear, not only by his own memorable answer to the high priests, but by the conduct of his ministers in all succeeding ages. When the divine Redeemer was before the rulers of the people, the high priest asked him of his disciples and of his doctrines. "Jesus," says St. John, "answered him, I have spoken openly to the "world; I have always taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, "whither all the Jews resort; and in secret I have spoken nothing. Why askest thou me? Ask them who have heard what I have spoken "to them: behold they know what things I have said." Such was the answer given by Christ to the Jewish rulers, and such is thé answer which every Catholic is bound to give, when questioned as to his doctrines. After the Jews had crucified Jesus, the apostles began to teach openly, and such was the force of their inspired eloquence (for before they were illiterate men), backed by the wonders which they wrought, that the same people, who had but a short time before condemned the Messiah as an impostor, now believed in his divinity; and the same rulers, fearing lest their power should be destroyed, sought to suppress the further propagation of the Christian system.
It is recorded in the acts of the apostles, that Peter and John went up to the temple at the time of prayer, and, after miraculously curing, to the astonishment of the multitude, a lame man, in the name of Jesus, Peter addressed THE PEOPLE PUBLICLY, which grieved the priests and magistrates, and the ancients and scribes, who had the two apostles summoned before them. The constancy of Peter and John surprised the corrupt and infatuated judges; they withdrew to consult privately together, and they said, "What shall we do to these men? for a notorious sign indeed. "hath been done by them to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: IT IS MANIFEST, and WE CANNOT DENY IT. But that it no further spread "abroad among the people, let us threaten them, that they speak no more "in the name (of Jesus) to any man. And calling them, they charged "them that they should not speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus, "But Peter and John answering, said to them, If it be just in the sight "of God, to bear you rather than God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which WE HAVE SEEN and HEARD.' Such was
the first attempt by interested rulers to prevent the light of Truth from flowing amongst the people; and we beg the reader to bear this conduct of the priests and scribes and pharisees in mind, as it will be seen that this disposition has been invariably followed by all those who are under the influence of error, and have power in their hands, The Jewish rulers could not deny the doctrines taught by the apostles; they could not deny the miracle performed by them; they said the people were convinced of the divine mission of these holy men; they dared not to punish the Christian preachers, because of the people-such is the force of public opinion; they therefore threatened them, hoping thereby to reduce them to silence, and, by keeping the people in ignorance, preserve their tottering situations.
We are aware that the facts we have here stated may be denied by some of our readers: but we wish those who doubt the veracity of scrip
ture to give us some proof that the writings of the inspired penmen were forgeries, or that they were altered in the first ages of Christianity to suit the purposes of faction. We know that, in latter times, scripture has been mutilated, mistranslated, and perverted, as we shall have occasion to shew by and by; but Catholics contend, and it has never been proved to the contrary, that the writings of the gospel have been handed down by their church to the present day without the least alteration. Those who reject the scripture must do it against the belief of all ages, and the voice of all people, speaking generally. Besides, those rejecters of scripture are unable to name the time when the supposed alterations were made by the Catholic church; they cannot allege the motives and manner of the frauds; nor can they cite the authors of them; therefore it is, we think, an absurdity, and contrary to common sense, to suppose these writings a fallacy without the shadow of a proof, and in opposition too to the general received belief of all mankind.
To these supposed frauds there must have been one of three parties concerned, namely, the Pagans, the Jews, or the Christians. Upon the first we think there can fall no suspicion, because they had nothing to do with the Christian religion but to persecute it. They tried to eradicate it in vain, and had they wished to make the scripture subservient to their purpose, is it not probable that they would have blotted out the crowd of miracles whereby the Christian religion was established and themselves condemned. But admitting that the Pagans did endeavour to corrupt the sacred writings, where were the Christians to allow it unexposed? Is it possible to think it would be done, and no one to take the least notice of it? We think no man of rational understanding will entertain so vain a supposition. For the same reason we cannot cite the Jews as authors of the fraud. Would they not have retrenched those many prodigies whereby they were condemned? The many censures and rebukes whereby Christ and his apostles attacked the vain traditions of the synagogue, the hypocrisy of the priests, the superstitions of the people, and the vices of the nation; besides the application of many prophecies relating to Christ and their overthrow. They must therefore be fixed upon the Catholics, who formed the Christian world, previous to the pretended reformation of religion in the sixteenth century. But this is impossible. For is it not absurdity itself to suppose that all the Christians unanimously agreed upon the change, and that no one should rise up in defence of TRUTH? Or is it not equally absurd to suppose that any one single person could do it without being detected? We find in the writings of Sozomen (His. Eccle. c. li.) that great indignation was expressed by Spindion against Triphile for offering to change a single word of no importance; and we see in the works of St. Augustin (Epis. 71 and 81.) the interest that was excited by the like fact in the church of Africa, though it regarded neither faith nor morals.
But allowing the Christians had combined to alter the gospels; is it likely the Jews would have let such a circumstance pass unnoticed?Would Porphyrius, a Tyrian philosopher, who was a voluminous writer against the Christians, have passed over such an attempt at deception? Would Julian the apostate? Certainly not. Celsus, an Epicurean philosopher, who lived in the reign of the emperor Adrian, and was a bitter enemy to the Christian religion, objected to the Christians that they
had falsified the scriptures; but he was answered by Origen, who clearly proved that the heretics had done so, and that the orthodox found as much fault with them for so doing as Celsus himself. We know that heresy existed from the commencement of the Christian church, and this was necessary in order to make the light of truth more brilliant. But how, it may be asked, was the truth preserved in the midst of these contrarieties? We answer, by God himself, the essence of Truth, and an appeal to the general received conviction of the Christian world. We read in the acts of the apostles, that when a difference of opinion arose among the first Christians, the apostles did not decide of themselves on the point in dispute, for we see it recorded in Fleury's Ecclesiastical History, that there were but five apostles present, the rest being in other parts preaching the doctrines entrusted to them by their divine Master. With these five apostles were present as many priests as could be collected, and St. Peter presided over and opened the council. Each one gave his opinion freely, no restraint was allowed; and when the decision was made by a majority of votes, the decree was put into writing, and sent to the particular churches to be by them received as the word of Truth. This was the first council or parliament of the church. The persecutions that existed during the first three hundred years did not allow of the convening any public councils, nevertheless whenever the truths of the Christian religion were attacked by erroneous speculators in theology, there were not wanting learned and able defenders of the apostolic faith, whose writings have been preserved in the church as a testimony of the doctrines received from the apostles. Thus in the first age we have the writings of St. Peter, St. Paul, the four Evangelists, St. James the less, the acts of St. Andrew, the apostolic canons and constitutions, &c. &c. In the second age, among other ecclesiastical writers, whose works have been preserved, we have St. Ignatius, St. Polycarp, St. Justin, &c.; and in the third age there were St. Irenæus, bishop of Lyons, Tertullian, St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Cyprian, &c. and so on in every age down to the present time.
When the conversion of Constantine caused a cessation to the persecuting spirit that had so long raged against the Christian religion, her peace was disturbed by the broaching of a new error by one Arius. To settle this division, and make known the truth, a general council was convoked to meet at Nice, the principal city of Bithynia, at which three hundred and eighteen bishops, besides priests and deacons, met, on the 10th day of June, in the year 325. Many of these holy men exhibited marks of the sufferings they had undergone for the true faith, and therefore were competent persons to discuss and decide on the subjects which had convened them together. As we shall have occasion in our Review of the Book of Martyrs to notice the questions which occupied this assembly, we shall content ourself here with observing that the points in dispute underwent a serious and solemn discussion. As in the council of Jerusalem, the utmost freedom of debate was allowed, so in this council every one was at liberty to state his sentiments without fear or affection. To arrive at the truth the council had recourse to scripture and tradition. Every bishop was called upon to declare the doctrine he had received from his predecessors in that particular see,
and on this concurring testimony the council decided. Thus it will be seen, that, from first to last, the touchstone of truth in the Catholic church does not consist in the arbitrary will or caprice of one man, nor in the decrees of any particular assembly of laymen, but in the united and unbroken testimony of all ages and nations, handed down to us by a continual succession of accredited ministers, whose duty it is, not to coin new doctrines, but to preserve the genuine apostolic ones,
Besides this general council of Nice, there were others held in the same century, for these councils or ecclesiastical parliaments are of three kinds, namely, ecumenical or general, national, and provincial. They have been held in all ages, and it is only twelvemonths since (in 1822) that a provincial one was held for the kingdom of Hungary. The manner and form of decreeing in these synods or councils we may gather from our own historian, venerable Bede, who thus records the decree of one held in 680 at Hatfield, now called Bishop's Hatfield, at which Theodorus, the archbishop of Canterbury, presided, and all the bishops of the island were present. The occasion of the convening this assembly was the troubles originated by the heresy of Eutyches. Haying the sacred gospels laid before them, they expounded the true Catholic faith, and concluded their discussions in the form following: "As our Lord Jesus Christ, taking our flesh upon him, did deliver "unto his disciples, that saw him in person, and heard his speeches, and as the symbolum or creed of the holy fathers have delivered unto us, and as generally all whole and universal synods, and all the company of the holy fathers and doctors of the holy Catholic church have "taught us; so do we, following their steps, both piously and Catholicly, according to their doctrine, (inspired to them from "heaven) profess and believe, and constantly confess, according to the said holy fathers' belief, that the Father, the Son and "the Holy Ghost, are properly and truly a consubstantial Trinity "in Unity, and Unity in Trinity, &c. We receive also the holy and "universal five synods that have been held before our time by the bless"ed Christian fathers our ancestors, to wit, those 318 holy bishops in "the first council of Nice, (anno 315) against Arius and his wicked "doctrine, and of the 150 other bishops in the first council of Con"stantinople (anno 380) against the heresy of Macedonius, and of the "200 goodly bishops of the council of Ephesus (anno 428) against "Nestorius and his errors, and of the 230 bishops in the council of "Chalcedon (anno 457) against Eutyches and his doctrine, and of the "other 165 fathers gathered together in the second general council of "Constantinople (anno 532) against divers heretics and heresies, &c. "We do receive all these councils, and we do glorify our Lord Jesus "Christ, as they glorified him, ADDING NOTHING, NOR TAKING ANY THING AWAY,"
By this decree the reader may see how the faith of Catholics has been kept pure and uncontaminated, during a series of eighteen centuries; for what the Catholics believe now was believed in the first ages, nor do they believe more now than was believed then. Neither can they be justly accused of practising priestcraft, nor of being priestridden, seeing that every thing relative to faith and morals must be taught openly, and therefore liable to detection if erroneous or novel; nor can