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It is certain of all the succeeding councils called general, that they have very much contributed to the upholding of the spiritual jurisdiction claimed by the bishops of Rome, as belonging to their see. Accordingly, for the forming of a due estimate of the weight of the sanction thus given, the following remarks are made.
First: We read nothing in scripture of any ecclesiastical right, to be vested in representative bodies of the Church. They are therefore of human institution, and their decrees are not binding, when not agreeable to the word of God. The only al. leged warrant in scripture for such assemblies, is that of the meeting of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, for the determining on the question concerning the observance of the ritual law of Moses; as related in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts. But the transaction does not indicate any property of a representative body of the Church. It does not appear that any Church, besides that of Jerusalem, had component members of the body. The result, is declared to be the issue of divine illumination: and the need of this, at the crisis of a question so essentially connected with the calling of the Gentiles, and in the infancy of the propagation of the gospel, is no proof that the like aid is to be expect. ed, after the depositing of the faith in ecclesiastical records, to continue to the end of time.
Secondly: The Church existed three hundred years after the ascension, without the interference of any such council, for the preservation of the faith. If this should be accounted for from the persecutions under which she lay; the answer is, first, that there were intervals, abundantly sufficient for the contradicting of existing heresies by general councils, had this been contemplated as the appointed mean. Secondly, Christ intimated with sufficient plainness, that the Church should be under persecution in some times and places; without giving the assu. rance, that she should be at any time or place exempt from it: and therefore, any scheme of ecclesiastical government, not consistent with such a dispensation, could not have been ordained by him, And thirdly, the whole scheme of governing with the aid of general councils, is inefficient in any other predicament, than that of the concurrence, or at least the implied consent of the civil authorities of the countries, comprehending Christian Churches. Whatever difference of opinion may prevail on the question of an alliance between Church and state; it is a settled point with all who can properly be called Christians, that their religion, and the ends to be answered by it, are not made dependent on the will of our civil superiors. It is an unquestionable prerogative of the supreme authority in every country, to judge of the expediency of an intercourse between its citizens or subjects, and those of any other foreign jurisdiction. The right exists, although it may happen to be used wantonly. But any one may perceive, that there must be substantial use in the exercise of it; when an influence has been acquired or is sought, by the civil authority of one country, through the medium of existing prejudices or opinions in a portion of the inhabitants of another. On this account, even the first four councils of those called general, were in reality not such; but belonged to the Churches within the jurisdiction of the civil magistrates, by whom the assemblies were convoked. Those Churches contained the general mass, but not the whole body of Christian people; the gospel having been carried far beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire. It is true, that at the first council, there appeared bishops from some extraneous countries. Still, its decrees, as to their binding operation, must be understood to have had the civil complexion of the authority which gave existence to them. Any affirmed truth rests on a different authority; which would have been good, had no such assemblies been held.
Although the whole preceding discussion has been limited to the spiritual supremacy of the bishop of Rome; yet it has not been from the supposition, that the other of a temporal nature is altogether irrelevant to the argument. It is agreed on all hands, that bishops of Rome have claimed the prerogative of influencing the civil concerns of states and princes. Of this, one of the most exceptionable exercises, has been the absolving of subjects from their allegiance. In relation to England, the last instance of such nefarious conduct, was in the case of queen Elizabeth; the consequences of which were felt, in many conspiracies against her government and her person.
In England and in these states, it is certain of those who conceive themselves bound in conscience to adhere to the communion of the bishop of Rome, that they profess to abhor the above-mentioned wicked doctrine; however unquestionably advocated and acted on by many of his predecessors, and not merely professed by his flatterers, as is sometimes said. And further, it has been of late years publickly disowned, by sundry foreign universities of the same faith. The persuasion is here entertained, that this has been done with great sincerity; although nothing to the same effect has proceeded from the chair, to which so extravagant a prerogative has been claimed, by those who filled it formerly. Notwithstanding this, when a certain opinion is again and again declared, by persons who manifest nothing in their characters to warrant the charge of insincerity; if they are presumed to be insincere, for the justifying of intolerance, it is a ground, on which this fiend will always find victims, in proportion to the power which he may at any time possess.
The said claim has been here referred to, for a yery different purpose. That it has been made and carried into effect by many of the Roman bishops, and that it has, even in modern times, been advoeated by some and never authoritatively relinquished, will be conceded. The fact is here thought to have a weighty bearing, on the question of general councils; the decisions of which, with the sanction of the Ro. man prelate, are supposed to be infallible. The prominent object of those bodies, is professed to be the rooting out of errour: and yet, during the greater portion of the Christian æra, this errour, in the head of their body, has lain untouched before them. It surely was not of small moment; either to the peace of society, or to the purity of faith, Connected with this point, is the question concerning the inflicting of temporal penalties, for supposed errours in religion. The law. fulness of it is not more scouted by Protestants, than by the Roman Catholicks of the two countries which have been referred to. Here also is an errour, which has been untouched by any general council; and has even been affirmed by one of them—that of the Lateran in 1215: although it is not here unknown, that the instance is contended to be irrelevant; because, after the Pope's reading of the decrees prepared by himself to the effect, they were consented to by the council, without discussion. There is no reluctance to acknow. ledge, that Protestant councils and Churches have had their hands deep in like works of iniquity. But this is foreign to the point in view, in which the subject has been introduced in the present dissertation. The purpose is, to show the emptiness of the plea for the spiritual supremacy of the See of Rome; in the supposition, that her bishop is the head of a body, which can fairly be held to be representative of the whole Christian Church.
The claim of the bishops of Rome to temporal authority, interfering with that of civil rulers, is what no liberal minded Roman Catholick will at this day defend. But there is another kind of temporal authority—that limited to certain boundaries, comprehending what has been called the Popedom, or St. Peter's Patrimo. ny, be the same more or less extensive; which it is dif. ficult to conceive of as separated from the spiritual
character, without a derangement of the whole system of papal jurisdiction, as it now stands. The author is the more free to declare this sentiment, because of its having been clearly expressed by the present Pope, in one of his late communications; on a question which existed between him and the government of France. The instrument alluded to, is dated June 10, 1809, Therein the Pope complains of being deprived of the temporal sovereignty; with which, as he justly remarks, his spiritual independence is closely connected.
Let but the temporal character be done away; and the spiritual character will designate an ecclesiastick, bound to the interests and perhaps submissive to the will of a particular sovereign; while the subjects of other sovereigns will be dependent on a foreign subject in spirituals: which, as is well known, may be made materially to affect the concerns of nations. Under such circumstances, episcopal oaths of fidelity to those who fill the Roman chair, and the carrying of appeals in judicial causes of the Church to their tribunal, is an absurdity which has not yet existed, and could not long continue in countries, independent on that of which such an ecclesiastick would be a subject. The judgment of the present Pope, is exactly in consent with what Mr. Lowman, in the preface to his Paraphrase and Notes on the Apocalypse, * quotes from a treatise of Puffendorf, on the spiritual monarchy of Rome. This eminent civilian writes as follows—" Though the Church was never so abounding in riches, and in the great numbers of ecclesiasticks, yet it was absolutely necessary that the Pope, if he intended to establish an ecclesiastical monarchy, should not be in any way dependent on any temporal prince; but that he should re. side in a place which was free from all subjection to any civil power but himself, that he should always be possessed of such an estate, as might be sufficient to maintain his grandeur, and not be liable to be taken away from him on any pretence whatsoever: where
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