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EXPOSITION OF THE CATHOLIC RULE OF FAITH.
1 PETER, III. 15. Sanctify the Lord Jesus Christ in your hearts : being ready always to satisfy any one that asketh you the reason of the hope that is in
you.” In my last discourse, I was principally occupied with the less pleasing task of examining and confuting the opinions of others. I endeavoured, with the utmost impartiality, to analyze the principle of belief adopted by those religions which have rejected ours; and, without any reference to express authority, by simply tracing it to its simple elements, I attempted to show you that it was fraught with so many difficulties, as absolutely to render it in practice inapplicable, and void of fruit. For, while it supposes, on the one hand, the obligation of each individual to examine for himself the word of God, and draw thence the doctrines which he believes as therein contained; it, on the other hand, supposes, necessarily, a train of difficult, learned, and often abstruse, inquiry, to which very few, comparatively, can be equal.
I come now to the more agreeable duty of explaining to you the faith which we hold : and I shall endeavour to proceed precisely in the same manner, as I did at our last meeting. I will at present content myself with simply giving you the outline of our belief; showing, as I proceed, how simple and obvious is the whole process of our reasoning; such, indeed, as must at once satisfy the most accurate and logical enquirer, and, at the same time, be within the reach of the most illiterate capacity. I shall endeavour, also, to point out the beautiful harmony of all its parts, and the striking way in which the adoption of such a rule must influence, not only the whole basis and nature of the demonstration, but also the construction of perfect Christianity.
We are told, in the 31st chapter of Deuteronomy, how, when Moses had completed the law of God, and had written it in a book, he gave it to the Levites who bare the Ark of the Lord, and commanded that it should be placed beside the Ark of the Covenant, within the Tabernacle, as a testimony against Israel. But that was not the only object which received so distinguished an honour. For we read how, on a certain occasion, * when many would have disputed the supreme priesthood of Aaron's line, and, jealous of the authority vested in him as the priest appointed of God, would have claimed a share in his dignity, the Almighty commanded Moses to give a rod unto each of the tribes, whereon the name of its head was written, and all were placed in the presence of the Lord; and on the next morning, it was found that the rod of Aaron had blossomed, and brought forth fruit. And then God commanded this rod, which was the emblem of authority, and a witness that he had confided the spiritual rule, and the teaching of the people, to one line, to be also deposited and kept in the same place, as a testimony in like manner to the people of Israel. And even so, on another occasion, Moses commanded Aaron to take a certain portion of the manna, of the holy and spiritual food sent down from the clouds to feed the people of Israel; and having put it into a vessel, he treated it likewise with the same distinction, and placed it to stand in the Sanctuary, before the Mercy-seat of God.t
Now, my brethren, all these are perfectly symbolical of the elements, which the Catholic supposes to enter into the composition of the ground-work of his faith. For, first, above all, he reveres and values the Sacred Volume revealed by God, which he places as the foundation-stone of his faith, in the holiest of His temple. But beside it is also the rod of the children of Aaron, the sceptre of power and authority, the badge of dignity and command, which God hath given to the rulers and pastors of the Church ; and in this also he recognizes the honourable right to claim a place beside the other in the * Numbers, xvii.
+ Exod. xvi. 33.
Sanctuary, although with such distinctions as I shall just now explain. Then, in the third place, he believes also, that a necessary and important ingredient in the formation of individual faith, is the strengthening and life-giving grace which God sends down into the soul, which infuses faith as a virtue into the heart, ready to be exercised the moment its object is properly placed before it. And such is the three-fold composition of the provision made by God for the acceptance of His holy religion: a divine revelation, having its essential basis in his written word; an unfailing authority to preserve, propose, and explain it; and an inward aid to receive and embrace it. And the emblems of these, as was done of old, we carefully cherish in the tabernacle of God with men, which is His Church.
What, then, my brethren, is the rule of faith which our Church admits ? The word of God-the word of God alone and exclusively; but here comes the great trenching difference between ourselves and others, in the enquiry, what is the extent of God's holy word. The Churches which separated from us at the time of the Reformation, separated from us, I may say, upon this principle,--that the Catholic Church had introduced another ground, besides the word of God, into the principle of its religion ; that it admitted the traditions of man, and had given to them the title, the name, and dignity of God's word. It is, therefore, necessary for me to propose a few simple explanatory distinctions. You often hear of Catholics admitting tradition--sometimes of their receiving what they call the unwritten word of God. Perhaps you have not a clear apprehension of these two terms; and besides them, you will sometimes hear of the power of the Church to make decrees of dogma, or of the authority of General Councils, or of the Universal Church, or of the Pope, to define matters of faith, with a number of other terms, often vaguely, and sometimes equivocally used. The meaning of all these phrases, to the reasonable and instructed Catholic, is sufficiently simple ; but they should be used with great caution, and accurately
defined, when we explain our doctrines to persons not equally competent to understand them. We believe, then, in the first place, that there is no other ground-work whatever for faith, except the written word of God; because, we allow no power in religion, to any living authority, except inasmuch as its right to define is conferred in God's written word. It is precisely in the same manner, as we do not allow of any doctrine which is not contained and rooted in Christ Jesus incarnate, the word of God, and Eternal Wisdom of the Father; and yet we admit other doctrines, only remotely connected with him, only based on him, and less directly referable to him,--for no doctrine can have any force except inasmuch as it rests on his authority. If, therefore, you hear that the Church claims authority to define articles of faith, and to instruct her children what they must believe, you must ne for one moment think that she pretends to any authority ( sanction for that power, save what she conceives herself to derive from the clear, express, and explicit words of Scripture. Thus, therefore, it is truly said, that, whatever is believed by the Catholic, although not positively expressed in the written word of God, is believed, because the principle adopted by him is there expressly revealed.
By the unwritten word of God, then, we mean a body of doctrines, which, in consequence of express declarations in the written word, we believe not to have been committed to writing, but delivered by Christ to his Apostles, and by the Apostles to their successors. We believe that no new doctrine can be introduced into the Church, but that every doctrine which we hold, has existed, and been taught in it, ever since the time of the Apostles, and was handed down by them to their successors, under the only guarantee on which we receive doctrines from the Church, that is, Christ's promises to abide with it for ever, to assist, direct, and instruct it, and always teach in and through it. So that, while giving our implicit credit, and trusting our judgment to it, we are believing, and trusting to the express teaching and sanction of Christ himself.
Tradition, therefore, my brethren, or the doctrines delivered down, and the unwritten Word of God, are one and the same thing. But it must not be thought, that Catholics conceive
here is a certain mass of vague and floating opinions, which may, at the option of the Pope, or of a General Council, or of the whole Church, be turned into Articles of Faith. Neither is it implied by the term unwritten word, that these Articles of Faith or traditions are no where recorded. Because, on the contrary, suppose a difficulty to arise regarding any doctrine—that men were to differ, and not know, what precisely they should believe, and that the Church thought it prudent and necessary to examine into this point, and define what was to be held; the method pursued would be, to avamine most accurately the writings of the oldest Fathers of
JoChurch, to ascertain what, in different countries and in
Terent ages, was by them held; and then, collecting the Juffrages of all the world and of all times,_not indeed to "reate new Articles of Faith—but to define that such has always been the Faith of the Catholic Church. It is confucted, in every instance, as a matter of historical enquiry, and all human prudence is used to arrive at a judicious decision. But when the Church is assembled for this solemn purpose, in consequence of those promises of Christ, which I shall develop at full length hereafter, we believe it impossible that the decrees which she issues can be false or incorrect; because Christ's promises would fail and be made void, should the Church be allowed to fall into error.
Thus then we allow of no authority but the Word of God, Pritten or unwritten; and maintain that the control so necessary uver the latter, exists in its depository,—that is, in the Church of Christ, which has been appointed by God to take charge of, and keep safe, those doctrines, committed to her from the beginning, to be taught, at all times, to all nations. Now, therefore, proceeding on the same plan which I followed, in analysing and testing the first principle or rule of Faith, professed