Page images
PDF
EPUB

other hand, you shall find the other rule as explicit and clear as that which I have proved, and the texts for excluding church authority, and making the Scripture the sole rule of faith, as strong and as well explained in Scripture, as those which I have quoted, then you may suppose that we have been corrupted in every point of faith which is not clearly defined in the written word. But upon this point alone must all controversy turn; if we prove our foundation true, whoever differs from us, however extraordinary the doctrines we teach, in rejecting them rejects the authority of Christ.

Let us probe this matter still deeper. The Church of Rome, it is said, fell into grievous corruption, and it was necessary to reform it, or perhaps even to separate from it. Now here comes a very important consideration. It would seem, that in Christianity, due provision should have been made for its most essential wants. You saw how, in the old law, there was an order of prophets established from the time of Moses ; for God expressly foretold that, from time to time, he should send prophets to amend and correct errors, and to give his people rules by which they should be guided. He thus made provision against the prevalence of error, and for the reformation of any fatal or important abuses that might gradually creep into his kingdom. But if you exclude the principle of an infallible authority in the Church of Christ, if, in other words, you reject that course of reasoning which I pursued, to prove how the Catholic principle of Christ's teaching in his Church exactly corresponds to the institution of prophecy, and if you do not admit any other institution for the removal of error, you necessarily place Christianity on a lower scale of perfection than the ancient law; you leave it unfurnished with what was necessary of old, and what must be equally necessary at present. Can you conceive the Almighty establishing a religion as the sole and final revelation which man was to receive till the end of time, and yet appointing no means, and making no provision for the removal of error, if it should ever have

insinuated itself among his truths ? Can you conceive that, in the judgments of his providence, the whole system of Christianity was doomed to fall into a state of absolute corruption, and yet that He never should have pointed out a way whereby that corruption was to be cured, or whereby individual man was to be prevented from falling into it? But if you look into the whole of the New Testament, can you tell me where there is a provision for this important end? And if the Church was to be so long in the state of degradation and moral corruption described by so many writers, can you conceive it possible that there was not some resource reserved for her, not some indication given of a method to be pursued in this last extremity, to recover her from that frightful condition ? There is not a word, not the obscurest hint of such a remedythe case is not contemplated as possible—so that we must imagine the wisest provision to have been made in the old law, which, though doubly necessary, was totally overlooked in the constitution of the new.

But if you say that the Church fell into grievous errors in faith and morals, at some time or other, I would ask you to determine the date when this occurred. There are only two opinions on this point that have in them any semblance of consistency or reason. The first is one which I have heard sometimes advanced, that it was precisely at that very

Council of Nicea, in which the divinity of Christ was defined, that the Church first erred from the faith ; and this hypothesis was maintained on consistent grounds ; namely, that the dogmas of faith were then defined on the authority of tradition, whereby a different rule of faith than Scripture was introduced into the Church. So that within three hundred years after Christ, the Church sank into a state of absolute error and fatal corruption, and remained in that condition twelve or thirteen centuries, before Luther and Calvin undid the evils of the 318 Fathers of that venerable synod, and the Reformation restored the real rule of faith! Is it possible to believe such a hypothesis as this ? Will any one persuade

himself that the very moment God crowned his Church with glory, and gave her rest, after three hundred

years

of persecution,--her return was, to abandon his law, and follow, instead, the corruptions of men ?—that the very first time she assembled to vindicate the honour of his Son, and proclaim his divinity, she by the very act forsook and denied him, and corrupted her vital and fundamental truths ?

Others place this epoch at the other extremity of the chain; and say, that they cannot consistently fix the corruption, or apostacy of the Church of Rome, at an earlier period than the Council of Trent; in other words, after the reformation had already commenced : so that, whatever her errors or corruptions previously were, she was still the true Church of Christ until that moment. Now, all, however opposed they may be to our dogmas, must acknowledge, that no new doctrines were introduced into the Church between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries : so that, for at least three or four centuries, the Church must have been in a state of absolute and fatal error, and in her was no energy or power to raise herself from that state. Then if that power came three centuries later, on what was it founded? Was it on any new development of the principle of faith by our Saviour given, with efficacy to shake off the errors and corruptions of man? If there was that power and inward virtue in the Church to restore herself to purity, how comes it that three or four centuries were suffered to pass over, without her being able to exert it? Was it that Divine Providence did not let loose the spring which was to give tone and action to that virtue? But if the sum of corruption had reached its accumulating height already, why was not this force and energy called into activity? Necessarily, there cannot have been any latent virtue in the Church, if it so long remained dormant, when so much needed. There must surely then have been some extraordinary grant of power at that particular moment: and when you come to say, that anything of this sort, not mentioned in the Bible, was essential to the Church, I ask you for another order of

proofs. For, when men are sent out of the ordinary line of Providence, it has ever given them a means to show, that they were so sent; and if there was a peculiar authority given to some men at that period, I wish to know on what that authority was based.

Thus, you see how the two opinions mutually throw the whole argument into our hands. For, on the one hand, some assert that the first general council after the time of the apostles, was the first to corrupt, or abandon the rule and standard of religion. These say, therefore, to the others; “ if you do not agree with us in placing the defection at the first general council, if

you

do not allow the first step in the assumption of authority here taken, to have been fatal, where will you stop? If you admit the authority of the Church to define articles of faith in the first council, can you refuse it to the second or to the third ? and thus, the Catholics may go on from one to another, till the Council of Trent, which, having been convoked in an exactly similar way with the others, can on no just or consistent reason be condemned or rejected.”

Then the others reply, that it is too frightful an admission to be made, that the spouse of Christ should have been so soon divorced from him, that the succeeding ages, the times of the Augustines, the Jeromes, the Chrysostoms, the Basils, should be ages of sinfulness and error, that the visible Church should so soon have ceased to exist, and the blessings of salvation have been so soon withdrawn from the earth; yea, at the very moment when God seemed to have ordered the ways of his Providence for their greater diffusion. Yet, finding no intermediate space

whereon to rest, they determine, that the Church, in communion with Rome, was the true one, in spite of error and corruption, till at Trent she sanctioned her doctrines.

But, before leaving this opinion, I must make one more obser tion. It has become a very fashionable theory of late, to abandon the whole system which denounced the Catholic Church as corrupt and antichristian for so many ages, and allow it to have been the true Church, till the sanction of the

last council fixed and consecrated the supposed errors which, till then, had merely floated in her; and thus it is said, that they, who adhered to the council, separated themselves from the Church, and became schismatical.* But they who make this argument, forget that the dogmas which they consider to have been fatally defined at Trent, had most of them been already decreed and sanctioned in other councils; that the books which they reckon among the Apocrypha, the seven sacraments, and many other such points, were clearly defined at Florence in 1439; confession at the council of Lateran; the corporal presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in the synods against Berengarius ; and other doctrines in the celebrated epistle of Pope Nicholas V. to the Bulgarians, which the Church had received. So that, if the definition of these doctrines constitutes the pretended apostacy of the Catholic Church from those who accepted not her definition, that is to say, from the small remnant existing in the north of Europe, it follows that the entire Church had apostatized at the previous decision,and had left none standing in her place, for all assented to the decrees ; and thus the Church completely failed, which is the difficulty whereof the asserters of the hypothesis wish to keep clear.

Thus, whatever step you take, you are involved in difficulties which, to the holders of either opinion, are irreconcilable with the truth. The fact is, there is only one means of reconciling all, and that is, to believe that the very principle adopted by the apostles has continued for ever in the Church, down to the present day—that in her lives and reigns the Holy Spirit of Truth, and the teaching of Christ, through their

* See the conclusion of Newman's “ Arians of the fourth century.” The Rev. M. O'Sullivan, a few evenings ago, delivered an anticatholic sermon, in the church of St. Clement's Danes, the entire drift of which was to show that Popery or the Romish religion, was only introduced by the creed of Pius IV. This doctrine must appear very consoling and edifying to Protestants of the present day, when they consider how they have been stunned with outcries about the total corruption of the Church for ages before, and the Pope's being antichrist; or when they compare it with the assertions of the Book of Homilies.- See above, p. 113.

« PreviousContinue »