« PreviousContinue »
by others, I shall briefly explain what are the grounds of ours, what its application, and what its end; and you will I trust see the consistency of the whole reasoning from its beginning to its close, and its adaptation for the purpose wherefore any
rule must be given. I. In the first place, as to the ground of this rule. In using this term I do not mean to enter now into the arguments whereby it is supported; because, that must form the subject of two or three probably lengthy discourses. I only wish, at present, to show what the train of reasoning is, by which we arrive at the individual possession of this principle. Let us therefore, suppose that, not content with the more compendious method whereby God brought us, through baptism and our early instruction, into the possession of the Faith, we are disposed to investigate the authority of its principles; we begin naturally with Scripture—we take up the Gospels, and submit them to examination. We abstract, for a moment, from our -belief in their inspiration and divine authority—we look at them simply as historical works, intended for our information, writings from which we are anxious to gather such truths as may be useful to our instruction. We find, in the first place, that to these works, whether considered in their substance or their form, are attached all those motives of human credibility which we can possibly require:-that there is, throughout them, an absence of every element which could suggest the suspicion, that there has been either a desire to deceive, or a possibility of having been mistaken. For, we find a body of external testimony sufficient to satisfy us, that these are documents produced at the time when they profess to have been written, and that those persons were their authors, whose names they bear. And as these were eye-witnesses of what they relate, and give us, in their lives and characters, the strongest security of their veracity, we conclude all that they have recorded to be certain and true. We thus arrive at the discovery, that besides their mere narrative, they unfold to
us a system of religion, preached by one who wrought the most stupendous miracles to establish, and confirm, the divinity of His mission. In other words, we are led by the simple principle of human investigation to an acknowledgment of the authority of Christ to teach, as one who came from God: and we are thus led to the necessity of yielding implicit credence to whatever we find him to have taught. So far, the investigation being one of outward and visible facts, cannot require any thing more than simple, historical, or human evidence.
Having once thus established the Divine authority of Christ, we naturally enquire, what is it that Christ taught? and we find that he was not contented merely with teaching certain general principles of morality, that he was not satisfied with unfolding to mankind doctrines such as none before him had attempted to teach, and thereby making man acquainted with his own fallen nature and with his future destiny ; but that, moreover, he took means to preserve those doctrinal communications to mankind. We find it obviously his intention that the system he established should be beneficial, not only to those who lived in his own days, and heard his word, but to the entire world, until the end of time; that he intended his religion to be something permanent, something commensurate with the existence of those wants of humanity which he came to relieve: and consequently, we naturally ask, in what way the obligations which he came to enforce, and the truths which he suffered to seal, were to be preserved, and what the place wherein they were to be deposited ? If they were to be perpetual, proper provision must have been made for their perpetuation.
Now, the Catholic falls in with a number of very strong passages in which our blessed Saviour, not content with promising a continuance of his doctrines, that is to say, the continued obligation of faith upon man, also pledges himself for their actual preservation among them. He selects a certain body of men: he invests them, not merely with great authority, but with power, equal to his own; he makes them
a promise of remaining with them and teaching among them even to the end of time: and thus, once again, he naturally concludes, that there must have existed for ever a corresponding institution, for the preservation of those doctrines, and the perpetuation of those blessings, which our Saviour came manifestly to communicate.
Thus then, merely proceeding by historical reasoning, such as would guide an infidel to believe in Christ's superior mission, he comes, from the word of Christ, whom those historical motives oblige him to believe, to acknowledge the existence of a body, depositary of those doctrines which he came to establish among men. This succession of persons constituted to preserve those doctrines of faith, appointed as the successors of the apostles, having within them the guarantee of Christ teaching among them for ever ; and this body is what he calls the Church. He is in possession, from that moment, of an assurance of divine authority, and, in the whole remaining part of the investigation, he has no need to turn back, by calling in once more the evidence of man. For, from the moment he is satisfied that Christ has appointed a succession of men whose province it is, by aid of a supernatural assistance, to preserve inviolable those doctrines which God has delivered -- from that moment, whatever these men teach is invested with that divine authority, which he had found in Christ through the evidence of his miracles. This body, so constituted, immediately takes on itself the office of teaching and informing him that the sacred volume, which he had been hitherto treating as a mere history-that the document which he had been perusing solely with a deep and solemn interest, is a book which commands a much greater degree of respect and attention, than any human motives could possibly bestow. For now the Church stands forth with that authority wherewith she is invested by Christ and proclaims; “Under that guarantee of divine assistance which the words of Christ, in whom you believe, have given me, I pronounce that this book con
tains the revealed word of God, and is inspired by the Holy Spirit; and that it contains all that has a right to enter into the sacred collection.” And thus the Catholic, at length arrives, on the authority of the Church, at these two important doctrines of the canon and the inspiration of Scripture, which I endeavoured to show, at our last meeting, it was almost, if not quite impossible, to reach by any course of ordinary human investigation.
But some perhaps will say, “ these are mutual and consesequently insufficient testimonies; you believe that the Scripture first teaches you the Church, and then that the Church teaches you the Scripture.”
To this I might reply, that there is a fallacy in the very reasoning. When an ambassador presents himself before a sovereign, he is asked, where are his credentials ? He presents them, and on the strength of them, he is acknowledged as an ambassador; so that he himself first presents that document, whereby alone his mission and authority are subsequently established. Again, on whose authority do you receive the laws of your country? On that of the legislature, which sanctions and presents them to you. And whence does that legislature derive its jurisdiction and power to make those laws ? Why, from that very code, from those very statutes which it sanctions. In either of these cases there is no fallacy of reasoning, no vicious circle, as it is called. How, then, can Catholics be charged, as they are, by Burnet and others, with this defect in their similar reasoning ?
But in fact the argument is falsely stated. We do not believe the Church on the authority of Scripture, properly so called; we believe it on the authority of Christ ; and if his commands in her regard, were recorded in any other book which we felt ourselves bound to believe, although uninspired, we should receive them and consequently the authority of the Church, equally as now. We consider the Scriptures, therefore, in the first instance, as a book, manifesting to us, one furnished with divine authority to lay down the law; we take it in this view, and examine what he tells us ; and we discover, that, supported by all the evidence of his divine mission, he has appointed this authority to teach; and then, that authority not merely advises, but obliges us, by that power which Christ has invested in it, to receive this sacred book as his inspired word.
Some may perhaps think, that a similar line of reasoning would, with a slight variation, be applicable to the demonstration of the other rule of faith. To a certain point we may both go, step by step, through the same process. We both take up this sacred volume, on human and historical testimony; and we receive all that Christ has in it taught us. So far we march together, and then diverge. We take for our guide those texts which appoint the Church to teach ; the others take the proposition, that the Bible is to be the rule of faith.
Now, my brethren, I beg your impartial attention, while I explain to you the difference between the two courses. In the first place, when we have received the Scriptures, according to the Catholic doctrine, we not only receive the one class of passages, but also the other, to its fullest extent: because, whatever argument will prove that the Scripture must be absolutely taken to be the rule of faith, that argument the Catholic will receive, and receive with gratitude. For while he admits the authority of the Church, to define what is undoubtedly the written Word of God, he receives this as his rule, and is as anxious to uphold it, as the follower of any other religion can be. But on the other hand, while he willingly admits the texts which prove the Scriptures to be the rule of faith, he has passages which give authority to a living power to teach : and all these must be rejected, or otherwise explained, by those who maintain the exclusiveness of Scripture as a rule. In their view, the two classes of passages are not compatible; with us, they harmonize perfectly together ; and consequently, while we have no difficulty in admitting whatever arguments they can bring in favour of the Bible, they find themselves obliged to answer strong and powerful documents in our favour.