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tholic Millennium, which were to animate the martyrs, “were in a high degree sensual and earthly.”
In like manner, he implies that a certain Unitarian doctrine was not considered heresy: at Rome and in Asia Minor in the beginning of the third century, because Praxeas was not at once condemned or detected by the Pope, nor the school to which Noetus belonged by the Asian bishops;' and he suggests in a note that the Victorinus, who is said in an anonymous work to have supported Praxeas, is really Pope Victor.
Again, in the instance of Pope Julius in the fourth century, he maintains without hesitation the genuineness of a letter ascribed to him by the Council of Ephesus, (which he certainly would have rejected, had he acted in the critical or rather sceptical temper usual in his school,) merely, I will say, because that letter is of an Apollinarian character, and, if genuine, in its present form, might be considered to compromise the infallibility of a Pope.
Again, speaking of Christianity at large in the same century, he tells us that “the populace were disposed to consider every obscure grave as the grave of a martyr,” solely referring to Sulpicius's life of St. Martin, where we do but read that the barbarous peasants of Gaul had falsely fancied that a certain spot in a monastery, where former Bishops were said to have erected an altar, was a martyr's grave.
Such is the looseness of reasoning, and the negligence of facts, which all writers more or less exhibit, who consider that they are in possession of a sure hypothesis on which to interpret evidence and employ argument.
4. The fault of Gieseler, as it seems to me, is his distorting facts to serve a theory; if Catholic controversialists have at any time done the like, they have done what their hypothesis did not require. If the Catholic hypothesis is true, it neither needs nor is benefited by unfairness. Adverse facts should ? p. 127.
2 p. 228.
be acknowledged; explained if but apparent; acscounted for if real; or let alone and borne patiently as being fewer and lighter than the difficulties of other hypotheses: In illustration I proceed to make use of the following passage from a work already quoted, though I condemn its tone and drift, and think its statements exaggerated. However, mutatis mutandis, I acquiesce in it. After mentioning the Greek doctrine of the judgment-fire, and its difference from the Roman doctrine of Purgatory, in time, place, and subjects, the writer observes that certain passages from the Fathers, which contain it, are enumerated by Bellarmine, first as testimonies in his inductive proof in favour of Purgatory, and then as exceptions to the doctrine thereby established. Then he proceeds:
“Now, do I mean to accuse so serious and good a man as Bellarmine of wilful unfairness in this procedure? No. Yet it is difficult to enter into the state of mind under which he was led into it. However we explain it, so much is clear, that the Fathers are only so far of use in the eyes of Romanists as they prove the Roman doctrines, and in no sense are allowed to interfere with the conclusions which their Church has adopted; that they are of authority when they seem to agree with Rome, of none if they differ. But, if I may venture to account in Bellarmine's own person for what is in controversy confessedly unfair, I would observe as follows, though what I say may seem to border on refinement.
“ A Romanist, then, cannot really argue in defence of the Roman doctrines; he has too firm a confidence in their truth, if he is sincere in his profession, to enable him critically to adjust the due weight to be given to this or that evidence. He assumes his Church's conclusion as true; and the facts or witnesses he adduces are rather brought to receive an interpretation than to furnish a proof. His highest aim is to show the mere consistency of his theory, its possible adjustment with the records of Antiquity. I am not here inquiring how much of high but misdirected moral feeling is implied in this state of mind; certainly, as we advance in perception of the Truth, we all become less fitted to be controversialists.
“I consider, then, that when he first adduces the above-mentioned Fathers in proof of Purgatory, he was really but interpreting them; he was teaching what they ought to mean,—what in charity they must be supposed to mean,—what they might mean, as far as the very words went,—probably meant, considering the Church so meant,and might be taken to mean, even if their authors did not so mean, from the notion that they spoke vaguely, and, as children, that they really meant something else than what they formally said, and that, after all, they were but the spokesmen of the then existing Church, which, though in silence, certainly held, as being the Church, that same doctrine which Rome has since defined and published. So much as to his first use of them; but afterwards, in noticing what he considers erroneous opinions on the subject, he treats them, not as organs of the Church Infallible, but as individuals, and interprets their language by its literal sense, or by the context, and in consequence condemns it. The Fathers in question, he seems to say, really held as modern Rome holds; for if they did not, they must have dissented from the Church of their own day; for the Church then held as modern Rome holds. And the Church then held as Rome holds now, because Rome is the Church, and the Church ever holds the same. How hopeless then is it to contend with Romanists, as if they practically agreed with us as to the foundation of faith, however much they pretend to it! Ours is Antiquity; theirs the existing Church. Its infallibility is their principle; belief in it is a deep
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prejudice quite beyond the reach of anything external. It is quite clear that the combined testimonies of all the Fathers, supposing such a case, would not have a feather's weight against a decision of the Pope in Council, nor would it matter at all, except for the Fathers' sake who had by anticipation opposed it. They consider that the Fathers ought to mean what Rome has since decreed, and that Rome knows their meaning better than they did themselves.
“Let us then understand the position of the Romanists towards us; they do not really argue from the Fathers, though they seem to do so. They may affect to do so in our behalf, happy if by an innocent stratagem they are able to convert us; but all the while in their own feelings they are taking a far higher position. They are teaching, not disputing or proving. They are interpreting what is obscure in Antiquity, purifying what is alloyed, correcting what is amiss, perfecting what is incomplete, harmonizing what is various. They claim and use all its documents as ministers and organs of that one infallible Church, which once forsooth kept silence, but since has spoken; which by a divine gift must ever be consistent with herself, and which bears with her her own evidence of Divinity.”1
5. A partial illustration is afforded us of the point in question in the views taken by various schools of the sense of the formularies of the English Church; partial, because these views are never proofs of the truth of doctrine, but are mere methods for interpretation and comment. Opposite parties come with their own creeds, and use them as keys to Prayer-book, Articles, and other authoritative documents. Now the test of an admissible hypothesis will be its incorporating without force the whole circle of statements of which it takes cognizance. Some of these may be primâ facie
Proph. Off. pp. 84–87.
adverse, and the difficulty may be reasonably solved; some may be at least accounted for, and their objective force suspended; others, it may be, cannot be explained, and must not be explained away. But when the mind is under the influence of some particular theory, (as, for instance, that the views of the original writers, or that the present understanding of the nation, is their legitimate interpretation,) it will be strongly tempted to evade and distort them, erring, not in arranging them on a general principle, but in forgetting that, though statements often are ambiguous, yet they often are not so, and in that case must be suffered to speak for themselves.
In the following passage a writer frankly confesses a difficulty in the way of his theory, and, instead of treating it with violence, leaves it.
“The Fathers,” says Mr. Scott, writing on the doctrine of regeneration, “soon began to speak on this subject in unscriptural language; and our pious reformers, from an undue regard to them and to the circumstances of the times, have retained a few expressions in the liturgy, which not only are inconsistent with their other doctrine, but also tend to perplex men's minds, and mislead their judgment on this important subject. It is obvious, however, from the words above cited and many other passages, that they never supposed the mere outward administration of baptism to be regeneration, in the strict sense of the word; nor can any man, without the most palpable absurdity, overlook the difference between the baptism that is ‘outward in the flesh,' and 'that of the heart, by the Spirit, whose praise is not of men but of God.'»i.
6. It is not intended here to question the substantial accuracy of Gibbon's account of the Paulicians, (A.D. 660,) which has received the approval of later writers; but still it will afford an instance of the necessity, under which historians lie, of framing
1 Essays, ch. xii. p. 201.