Page images
PDF
EPUB

Ghost; that is, to avoid any thing, in what we deliver, which could, in any wise, hurt the interests of virtues dearest to the Son of God. Whatever may be the strength and energy with which we endeavour to deliver our doctrines, they should be so tempered with meekness and gentleness, as to wound and hurt the individual feelings of no man. But there is yet a third quality in our ministry, prescribed by the Apostle, which seems most particularly adapted to the circumstances of these times ; and it is, that we should preach our doctrines through good report, and through evil report, through honour and dishonour; as deceivers, and yet true ; as unknown, and yet known; that is to say, we must expect, that while some, indeed, will listen to us in the spirit of sincerity, and kindness, and liberality, we must expect from others only an evil report of that which we shall say. With many, our preaching will gain for us rather dishonour than credit: however conscientious we are in delivering doctrines, of whose truth we are firmly convinced, we must expect to be treated by many, perhaps even by those that hear us, as merely practised and cunning deceivers of men. It is, therefore, thus prepared, and having fully before me these consequences, which the apostle of God has enumerated, and whereof he has forewarned us, that I open, this evening, a course of instruction, whereunto that which I am delivering may serve as a general introduction.

I have, for the present, undertaken to confine myself to one point only: to examining, in a series of evening lectures, the fundamental principles of the Catholic and Protestant religions ; in other words, the essential ground of separation between our Church, and those friends and fellow-countrymen whom we would gladly see cemented with us in religious unity. For this purpose, I will explain, in the simplest manner possible, the grounds whereupon we found the very principle of faith ; on what we build the doctrines which we profess; I will examine, in other words, whether we are justified in admitting, as the groundwork of all that we believe, an authority,

ting, as thin other words doctrines whichery principle po

;

a living authority, established by Christ in his Church, with his security against error—in contradistinction to that principle which admits of no supreme, infallible, authority in doctrine, save the written word of God.

It is, therefore, merely to this course—which may occupy, perhaps, six or seven lectures—that I wish, this evening, to preface some remarks, upon the object it will have in view, and the method in which they will be conducted.

First, as to the object which I propose to discuss. If you ask any of our brethren who are separated from us, why it is that they are not Catholics, undoubtedly you would receive a multiplicity of answers, according to the peculiar character of each one whom you interrogated. But I have no doubt that the essence and substance of each reply would be this—that the Catholic Church is infected with innumerable errors, having engrafted upon the revelations of Christ, many doctrines unknown to him, which are, consequently, but the invention of man ; that she has adopted many principles of morals and practice, directly at variance with those which he and his apostles inculcated; so that, however truly she may have been once joined to the true and universal Church of Christ, she has allowed herself to be separated from it, by allowing such errors gradually to creep into her creed, and then sanctioning them, with her usurped authority, as divine.

But, if you were to press the inquiry still closer, I am sure you would find the whole of these various grounds gradually reduced to one. You would be told, that the great besetting sin of the Catholic Church is, having rejected God's written word in his Scriptures as the only rule and authority of faith; so much so, that all the different corruptions, so often laid to her charge, have only been produced by the admission of the false principle, as it is called, of human authority; and that, consequently, all other accusations are but minor points, which merge entirely in this one.

It is evident, therefore, that the question between us and Protestants divides itself into two; the one being a ques

tion of fact, the other of right. For, whether each of the individual instances, commonly produced, is to be considered a corruption, an invention of man, or contradictory to the true revealed word of Christ, whether each Catholic dogma or practice, as transubstantiation, or confession, or purgatory, is to be pronounced a deviation from that which our Saviour instituted as essential to Christianity ; such questions form matters of separate consideration, involving distinct facts, each whereof may rest upon its own peculiar proofs. But, if you proceed to examine the ground whereon these are upheld, and find that Catholics maintain them all exclusively by the same principle, of their being taught by an infallible authority, vested in the Church; it is evident, that all these various independent questions of fact are united, and concentrated in one: that is, in the enquiry, whether there is any authority which could sanction them, and upon which we are justified in believing them.

This is an important consideration : because, it must be manifest, that, if we establish that right whereon, alone, we base all particular doctrines ; if, in other words, we can prove that, besides the written word of God, an infallible authority exists, and always has existed, in the Church—which, being under the guidance of God, cannot be deceived in sanctioning any thing as having been revealed by him—assuredly, we likewise make good all those different points, on which we are charged with having fallen into error, but which thus will be proved to have their foundation on an authority derived from God. And therefore, however, for the sake of entirely convincing the minds of those who doubt, and of more easily satisfying their peculiar difficulties, we may be induced to treat singly such points as I have instanced, it is evident, that they are all virtually and essentially demonstrated, if this one leading fundamental proposition can be proved : and, thus, all the questions of fact are absorbed in the one touching the divine right possessed by the Church to decide, without danger of error, in all matters regarding faith.

Now, my brethren, I may observe, that this line of argument is completely opposite to that pursued, if I may use the expression, on the other side; for, not considering the manner in which these questions hang together, nothing is more common than to hear, or read, of preachers who represent the fundamental question as only one on a level with the others; and, instead of at once closing with the main point, what is the rule of faith, treat the withholding of the Bible from the faithful, as it is called, or the doctrine of tradition, as one among what are to be considered the corruptions of the Church of Rome.

But, in this process of reasoning, there is, besides, a manifest logical error. For, whether or no it is a corruption to admit tradition, or to pronounce the Bible ill-calculated to form a rule of faith to each individual, depends upon, or rather is identical with, the question, whether God intended the Scriptures to be the only rule of faith. This the Protestant asserts, and the Catholic denies. But, therefore, when it is pretended to disprove the truth of the Catholic religion, by taxing it with additions to God's word, or with restraining the people from its use, it is manifest that the identical question is assumed as certain, on one side: namely, that Scripture is the only rule of faith. For, if this be not true, and if tradition is equally a rule of faith, the Catholic Church is not guilty of the alleged corruption. But this, as I before observed, is the whole kernel of the controversy between the two religions. So that, first, the very point in dispute is taken for granted, and then an argument is based upon it. Assuredly, it cannot be difficult to prove Catholics in the wrong, when the Protestant principle of faith is taken as a lemma.

Thus much may suffice as to the grounds which would be given, were we to interrogate any one who is separated from the Catholic Church, Why he is not a Catholic ?

But, supposing now that we proceeded farther with the scrutiny, and asked him, Why he is a Protestant? the answer must, assuredly, be different; for no religion can stand upon

..

mere negative grounds. You cannot believe one doctrine rather than another, simply because that other, which is proposed by some men, is false. Each religion must have grounds of demonstration essentially in itself, and independent of the existence of any other sect. We should have been able to prove the divinity of Christ, although Arianism and Socinianism had never arisen: and even now, if any one asked us for a demonstration of that doctrine, it would be no reply, to say, that Arianism has been confuted, or that Socinianism has been proved false; but the dogma, and the system, of religion, which takes it for a foundation, must have their own essential reasons, independent of the rejection of another doctrine. Hence it is, that each one, if asked, not simply, why he is not a Catholic ? but, moreover, questioned why he is a Protestant? must have reasons to give, wherefore he is a member of this communion.

It follows, necessarily, that, by this principle, a very common ground for being a Protestant is, at once, excluded. For, preachers will too often imagine, and their hearers will follow them in the idea, that when they have held up to odium, or rejected as impious and absurd, the tenets of Catholicity, they have thereby established the cause of Protestantism. How many works have been published “ against the errors of the Church of Rome,” or in confutation of Popery : how few systematic attempts are made to establish Protestant principles upon positive demonstration. Hence it is, that many consider religious belief only as based on a choice between the two religions, in which, the rejection of the one sufficiently demonstrates the other.

To such as are Protestants, on this ground I would say— suppose

that

you lived in a country, or in any part of this country, where there was not within your reach a single Catholic; where, consequently, it had not been necessary to hold up their doctrines to your execration,-indeed, where there would have been no opportunity given you even of hearing them. It is evident, that you could not have been a Protestant

« PreviousContinue »