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LETTER TO THE REV. JAMES DUNN, ON THE
IMPOSSIBILITY OF UNION BETWEEN THE
CHURCHES OF ENGLAND AND OF ROME.
MY DEAR MR. DUNN,
In a note, some days ago, to Mrs. --, you expressed a wish to know what I thought of Dr. Doyle's project of union between his Church and ours. I do not hesitate, therefore, to give you my view of the subject; which I might do with safety, were you less trustworthy than you are, because it will not subject me to the slightest suspicion of being popishly inclined.
I think, then, in brief, that any project of our uniting with the Roman Catholic Church is not deeply alarming, only because it is utterly impracticable. There are essential differences between the two Churches, which admit of no accommodation. To concede in those matters would be, in us, unfaithfulness to our providential trust; and, in them, gross inconsistency. But on such points as I refer to, they would not concede a hair-breadth; nor could they, without unlocking their entire arch. They, therefore, could only indulge us in modified explanations, in the prospect of afterwards drawing us, by subtilty or by force, from such modifications, as, in the first instance, the enlarge
ment of their Church might have made it expedient
More than this, in matters of faith they could
We know they have a power of purchasing essential submission to their Church, by allowing the sacrament of the eucharist in both kinds, a liturgy in the vernacular dialect, and the marriage of secular priests. But further than this they could not proceed; except just as far as Bossuet has proceeded in his “ Exposition,” which was written to the extent of possibility, for conciliating the new proselytes in France, at the time of the revocation. And suppose, in any instance, those matters of discipline to be relaxed; how long would the relaxation last ? I believe, exactly until it might be practicable to refuse it.
The remains of original Catholicity in the Roman Catholic Church I value and venerate; and I do not view their religious practices in the same criminating temper that so many others feel toward them. I cannot give hard names to errors,
whether speculative or practical, which may coexist with the love of God, and spiritual purity of heart. Tasovežíu of any kind is, in my judgment, far more real idolatry than any conceivable worship of saints or angels; and as to the adoration of the eucharistic elements, though I think it a most unreasonable practice, and a gross disfiguration of Christian worship, yet I cannot deem it in any respect, or on any ground, idolatrous. ready to think, too, that the defects of ultra Protestantism are as injurious to true piety as the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church; and that they are even more so in their consequences. I, besides, am not sure but that the metaphysical inventions of some of their warmest opponents are not fully as unscriptural, as purgatory or extreme unction.
But, whatever may be my indulgent feeling about such matters, there are others which, to me, appear like a great gulf between us and them. For example, the kind of authority which is claimed by the Church of Rome over the mind and conscience, appears to me a tyranny, equally opposite to reason and Holy Scripture ; and such as it would be unpardonable madness, in those who have been providentially rescued from it, again to yield to, in any degree or form; and yet this is a claim which the Church of Rome can neither relinquish nor compromise : for to compromise it would be to relinquish it: if it were modified in any honest way, it would lose that simple decisiveness in which its very nature consists, and which, in fact, is the main-spring of their whole spiritual polity.
But to what does this claim amount ? To no less than a total subjugation of every faculty of the inner man, in the great business of religion. On this vital subject, no man must think but as the tribunal of the Church prescribes. He may indulge his fancy on points not decided ; but, wherever a decision has been made, he must inquire no further, but submit implicitly and without reserve : this is the grand principle on which every thing else depends. Can we, whom Providence has blessed with mental liberty, give this plan of bondage any countenance? If we do, we impair our title to the richest blessing yet bestowed by Providence on the Christian Community: if we refuse to countenance it, or to yield to such present concessions as would eventually complete our enthralment, we need not enter into any discussion; for, I repeat, the Roman Catholic Church cannot relax on this point without losing the very essence of her distinctive system.
“ Be not children in understanding,” said St. Paul to the Corinthians. “ In wickedness, be ye children ; but, in understanding, be ye men.” It is our adoption of this principle which constitutes an irreconcilable difference between us and the Church of Rome. To keep their disciples children in understanding, not less than in wickedness, is the acknowledged determination of those who have successively formed the tribunal of that Church. We, who have been called to liberty, and have learned the value as much as we feel the authority of St. Paul's injunction, must resist that claim in limine ; and I am persuaded that, by
doing so, we shall escape the trouble of all further controversy.
But, you will observe, that I by no means say that this mental despotism has been always and every where an evil: I rather think that, for many ages, to keep the people children in understanding was indispensable to the keeping them children in wickedness; when an advanced state of society made a more liberal discipline at once safe and expedient, it was resorted to, in the measure and extent which Divine Providence saw fitting. We see that while a large portion of Western Christendom was forced from the ancient yoke, at least an equal portion has been kept under the former bondage ; doubtless, this method has been chosen with the profoundest wisdom. But, while I conceive it suggests to us the duty of tenderness and charitable judgment towards the great mass of our unreformed fellow Christians, who, clearly, have no more fault in being what they are, than we have merit in being what we are ; still, I am no less sure, that they who have been called to liberty are to guard that distinguished privilege with the most vigilant caution ; and not to admit the minutest portion of the old dominion, lest that which obtained entrance as a pigmy should speedily grow into a Briareus.
The jealousy which St. Paul expressed lest Christian converts should be again entangled in the yoke of Jewish bondage, is, in my mind, quite applicable to our state with respect to the Roman Catholic Church. Nothing could be more amiable than the wish of the Apostle, to consult the feel