Page images
PDF
EPUB

cases a claim on our obedience. “All Catholics and heretics,” says Bellarmine, “agree in two things: first, that it is possible for the Pope, even as Pope, and with his own assembly of councillors, or with General Council, to err in particular controversies of fact, which chiefly depend on human information and testimony; secondly, that it is possible for him to err as a private Doctor, even in universal questions of right, whether of faith or of morals, and that from ignorance, as sometimes happens to other doctors. Next, all Catholics agree in other two points, not, however, with heretics, but solely with each other: first, that the Pope with General Council cannot err, either in framing decrees of faith or general precepts of morality; secondly, that the Pope when determining o anything in a doubtful matter, whether by himself or with his own particular Council, whether it is possible for him to err or not, is to be obeyed by all the faithful.” And as obedience to conscience, even supposing conscience ill-informed, tends to the improvement of our moral nature, and ultimately of our knowledge, so obedience to our ecclesiastical superior may subserve our growth in illumination and sanctity, even though he should command what is extreme or inexpedient, or teach what is external to his legitimate province. .

6. The common sense of mankind does but support a conclusion thus forced upon us by analogical considerations. It feels that the very idea of revelation implies a present informant and guide, and that an infallible one; not a mere abstract declaration of truths not known before to man, or a record of history, or the result of an antiquarian research, but a message and a lesson speaking to this man and that. This is shown by the popular notion which has prevailed among us since the Reformation, that the Bible itself is such a guide;

De Rom. Pont. iv. 2.

and which succeeded in overthrowing the supremacy of Church and Pope, for the very reason that it was a rival authority, not resisting merely, but supplanting it. In proportion, then, as we find, in matter of fact, that the inspired Volume is not calculated or intended to subserve that purpose, are we forced to revert to that living and present guide, which, at the era of her rejection, had been so long recognised as the dispenser of Scripture according to times and circumstances, and the arbiter of all true doctrine and holy practice to her children. We feel a need, and she alone of all things under heaven supplies it. We are told that God has spoken. Where? In a book ? We have tried it, and it disappoints; it disappoints, that most holy and blessed gift, not from fault of its own, but because it is used for a purpose for which it was not given. The Ethiopian's reply, when St. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, is the voice of nature: “How can I, unless some man shall guide me ?” The Church undertakes that office; she does what none else can do, and this is the secret of the power. “The human mind,” it has been said, “wishes to be rid of doubt in religion; and a teacher who claims infallibility is readily believed on his simple word. We see this constantly exemplified in the case of individual pretenders among ourselves. In Romanism the Church pretends to it; she rids herself of compe

titors by forestalling them. And probably, in the 3 eyes of her children, this is not the least persuasive

argument for her infallibility, that she alone of all Churches dares claim it, as if a secret instinct and involuntary misgivings restrained those rival communions which go so far towards affecting it.” 1 These sentences, whatever be the errors of their wording, surely express a great truth. The most obvious answer, then, to the question, why we yield

Proph. Office, p. 141.

to the authority of the Church in the questions and developments of faith, is, that some authority there must be if there is a revelation, and other authority there is none but she. In the words of St. Peter to her Divine Master and Lord, “ To whom shall we go ?” Nor must it be forgotten in confirmation, that Scripture expressly calls the Church “ the pillar and ground of the Truth," and promises her as by covenant that “the Spirit of the Lord that is upon her, and His words which He has put in her mouth shall not depart out of her mouth, nor out of the mouth of her seed, nor out of the mouth of her seed's seed, from henceforth and for ever.” 1

7. And if the very claim to infallible arbitration in religious disputes is of so weighty importance and interest in all ages of the world, much more is it welcome at a time like the present, when theo human intellect is so busy, and thought so fertile, and opinion so indefinitely divided. The absolute need of a spiritual supremacy is at present the strongest of arguments in favour of its supply. Surely, either an objective revelation has not been given, or it has been provided with means for impressing its objectiveness on the world. If Christianity be a social religion, as it certainly is, and if it be based on certain ideas acknowledged as divine, or a creed, which shall here be assumed, and if these ideas have various aspects, and make distinct impressions on different minds, and issue in consequence in a multiplicity of developments, true, or false, or mixed, as has been shown, what influence will suffice to meet and to do justice to these conflicting conditions, but a supreme authority ruling and reconciling individual judgments by a divine right and a recognised wisdom ? In barbarous times the will is reached through the senses; but in an age in which reason, as it is called, is the standard of truth and right, it is abundantly evident to any one,

' 1 Tim. iii. 16 ; Isaiah lix. 21.

[graphic]

who mixes ever so little with the world, that, if things are left to themselves, every individual will have his own view of things, and take his own course; that two or three agree together to-day to part tomorrow; that Scripture will be read in contrary

ways, and history will be analyzed into subtle but o practical differences; that philosophy, taste, preju

dice, passion, party, caprice, will find no common measure, unless there be some supreme power to control the mind and to compel agreement. There can be no combination on the basis of truth without an organ of truth. As cultivation brings out the colours of flowers, and domestication the hues of animals, so does education of necessity develope differences of opinion; and while it is impossible to lay down first principles in which all will unite, it is utterly unreasonable to expect that this man should yield to that, or all to one. I do not say there are no eternal truths, such as the poet speaks of, which all acknowledge in private, but that there are none sufficiently commanding to be the basis of public union and action. The only general persuasive in matters of conduct is authority; that is, when truth is in question, a judgment which we consider superior to our own. If Christianity is both social and dogmatic, and intended for all ages, it must, humanly speaking, have an infallible expounder. Else you will secure unity of form at the loss of unity of doctrine, or unity of doctrine at the loss of unity of form; you will have to choose between a comprehension of opinions and a resolution into parties, between latitudinarian and sectarian error; you may be tolerant or intolerant of contrarieties of thought, but contrarieties you will have. By the Church of England a hollow uniformity is preferred to an infallible chair; and by the sects of England, an interminable division. Germany and Geneva began with persecution, and

Oi yap ti rūv ye kiex és, k.7..

quired by thether.

Thatned and act

have ended in scepticism. The doctrine of infallibility is a less violent hypothesis than this sacrifice either of faith or of charity. It secures the objects, without, to say the least, violating the letter of the revelation.

8. I have called the doctrine of Infallibility an hypothesis: let it be so considered for the sake of argument, that is, let it be considered to be a mere position, supported by no direct evidence, but required by the facts of the case, and reconciling them with each other. That hypothesis is indeed, in matter of fact, maintained and acted on in the largest portion of Christendom, and from time immemorial; but let this coincidence be accounted for by the need. Moreover, it is not a naked or isolated fact, but the animating principle of a large scheme of doctrine which the need itself could not simply create; but let this system be merely called its development. Yet even as an hypothesis, which has been held by one out of various communions, it may not be lightly put aside. Some hypothesis all parties, all controversialists, all historians must adopt, if they would treat of Christianity at all. Gieseler's “ Text Book” bears the profession of being a dry analysis of Christian history; yet on inspection it will be found to be written on a positive and definite theory, and to bend facts to meet it. An unbeliever, as Gibbon, assumes one hypothesis, and an Ultra-montane, as Baronius, adopts another. The school of Hurd and Newton consider that Christianity slept for centuries upon centuries, except among those whom historians call heretics. Others speak as if the oath of Supremacy or the congé d'éire could be made the measure of St. Ambrose, and they fit the Thirty-nine Articles on the fervid Tertullian. The question is, which of all these theories is the simplest, the most natural, the most persuasive. Certainly the notion of develop-ro

« PreviousContinue »