"There is a close relationship," says D'Aubigne, "between these two divorces," meaning Henry's divorce from his wife and England's divorce from the Church. Yes, there is the relationship of cause and effect.
Bishop Short, an Anglican historian, candidly admits that "the existence of the Church of England as a distinct body, and her final separation from Rome, may be dated from the period of the divorce."(97)
The Book of Homilies, in the language of fulsome praise, calls Henry "the true and faithful minister," and gives him the credit for having abolished in England the Papal supremacy and established the new order of things.(98)
John Wesley is the acknowledged founder of the Methodist Church. Methodism dates from the year 1729, and its cradle was the Oxford University in England. John and Charles Wesley were students at Oxford. They gathered around them a number of young men who devoted themselves to the frequent reading of the Holy Scriptures and to prayer. Their methodical and exact mode of life obtained for them the name of Methodists. The Methodist Church in this country is the offspring of a colony sent hither from England.
As it would be tedious to give even a succinct history of each sect, I shall content myself with presenting a tabular statement exhibiting the name and founder of each denomination, the place and date of its origin, and the names of the authors from whom I quote. My authorities in every instance are Protestants.
Name of Place Founder. Year. Authority Sect. of Quoted. Origin. Anabaptists Germany Nicolas 1521 Vincent Stork L. Milner, "Religious Denominations." Baptists Rhode Roger 1639 "The Book of Island Williams Religions" by John Hayward. Free-Will New Benj. 1780 Ibid. Baptists Hampshire Randall Free New York Benijah Close Rev. A. D. Communion Corp of Williams in Baptists 18th "History of all century Denominations." Seventh-Day United General 1833 W. B. Gillett, Baptists States Conference Ibid. Campbellites, Virginia Alex. 1813 "Book of or Campbell Religions." Christians Methodist England John 1739 Rev. Nathan Episcopal Wesley Bangs in "History of all Denominations." Reformed Vermont Branch of 1814 Ibid. Methodist the Meth. Episcopal Church Methodist New York Do. 1820 Rev. W. M. Society Stilwell, Ibid. Methodist Baltimore Do. 1830 James R. Protestant Williams, Ibid. True Wesleyan New York Delegates 1843 J. Timberman, Methodist from Ibid. Methodist denominations Presbyterian Scotland General 1560 John M. Krebs, (Old School) Assembly Ibid. Presbyterian Philadelphia General 1840 Joel Parker, D. (New School) Assembly D., Ibid. Episcopalian England Henry VIII 1534 Macaulay and other English Historians. Lutheran Germany Martin Luther 1524 S. S. Schmucker in "History of all Denominations." Unitarian Germany Celatius About Alvan Lamson, Congrega- 1540 Ibid. tionalists Congrega- England Robert Browne 1583 E. W. Andrews, tionalists Ibid. Quakers England George Fox 1647 English Historians. Do America William Penn 1681 American Historians. Catholic Jerusalem Jesus 33 New Testament. Church
From this brief historical tableau we find that all the Christian sects now existing in the United States had their origin since the year 1500. Consequently, the oldest body of Christians among us, outside the Catholic Church, is not yet four centuries old. They all, therefore, come fifteen centuries too late to have any pretensions to be called the Apostolic Church.
But I may be told: "Though our public history as Protestants dates from the Reformation, we can trace our origin back to the Apostles." This I say is impossible. First of all, the very name you bear betrays your recent birth; for who ever heard of a Baptist or an Episcopal, or any other Protestant church, prior to the Reformation? Nor can you say: "We existed in every age as an invisible church." Your concealment, indeed, was so complete that no man can tell, to this day, where you lay hid for sixteen centuries. But even if you did exist you could not claim to be the Church of Christ; for our Lord predicted that His Church should ever be as a city placed upon the mountain top, that all might see it, and that its ministers should preach the truths of salvation from the watch-towers thereof, that all might hear them.
It is equally in vain to tell me that you were allied in faith to the various Christian sects that went out from the Catholic Church from age to age; for these sects proclaimed doctrines diametrically opposed to one another, and the true Church must be one in faith. And besides, the less relationship you claim with many of these seceders the better for you, as they all advocated errors against Christian truth, and some of them disseminated principles at variance with decency and morality.
The Catholic Church, on the contrary, can easily vindicate the title of Apostolic, because she derives her origin from the Apostles. Every Priest and Bishop can trace his genealogy to the first disciples of Christ with as much facility as the most remote branch of a vine can be traced to the main stem.
All the Catholic Clergy in the United States, for instance, were ordained only by Bishops who are in active communion with the See of Rome. These Bishops themselves received their commissions from the Bishop of Rome. The present Bishop of Rome, Pius IX., is the successor of Gregory XVI., who succeeded Pius VIII., who was the successor of Leo XII. And thus we go back from century to century till we come to Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, Prince of the Apostles and Vicar of Christ. Like the Evangelist Luke, who traces the genealogy of our Savior back to Adam and to God, we can trace the pedigree of Pius IX. to Peter and to Christ. There is not a link wanting in the chain which binds the humblest Priest in the land to the Prince of the Apostles. And although on a few occasions there happened to be two or even three claimants for the chair of Peter, these counter-claims could no more affect the validity of the legitimate Pope than the struggle of two contestants for the Presidency could invalidate the title of the recognized Chief Magistrate.
It was by pursuing this line of argument that the early Fathers demonstrated the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church, and refuted the pretensions of contemporary sectaries. St. Irenaeus, Tertullian and St. Augustine give catalogues of the Bishops of Rome who flourished up to their respective times, with whom it was their happiness to be in communion, and then they challenged their opponents to trace their lineage to the Apostolic See. "Let them," says Tertullian, in the second century, "produce the origin of their church. Let them exhibit the succession of their Bishops, so that the first of them may appear to have been ordained by an Apostle, or by an apostolic man who was in communion with the Apostles."(99)
And if the Fathers of the fifth century considered it a powerful argument in their favor that they could refer to an uninterrupted line of fifty Bishops who occupied the See of Rome, how much stronger is the argument to us who can now exhibit five times that number of Roman Pontiffs who have sat in the chair of Peter! I would affectionately repeat to my separated brethren what Augustine said to the Donatists of his time: "Come to us, brethren if you wish to be engrafted in the vine. We are afflicted in beholding you lying cut off from it. Count over the Bishops from the very See of St. Peter, and mark, in this list of Fathers, how one succeeded the other. This is the rock against which the proud gates of hell do not prevail."(100)
PERPETUITY OF THE CHURCH.
Perpetuity, or duration till the end of time, is one of the most striking marks of the Church. By perpetuity is not meant merely that Christianity in one form or another was always to exist, but that the Church was to remain forever in its integrity, clothed with all those attributes which God gave it in the beginning. For, if the Church lost any of her essential characteristics, such as her unity and sanctity, which our Lord imparted to her at the commencement of her existence, she could not be said to be perpetual because she would not be the same Institution.
The unceasing duration of the Church of Christ is frequently foretold in Sacred Scripture. The Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that Christ "shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end."(101) Our Savior said to Peter: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."(102) Our blessed Lord clearly intimates here that the Church is destined to be assailed always, but to be overcome, never.
In the last words recorded of our Redeemer in the Gospel of St. Matthew the same prediction is strongly repeated, and the reason of the Church's indefectibility is fully expressed: "Go ye, teach all nations, ... and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."(103) This sentence contains three important declarations: First—The presence of Christ with His Church—"Behold, I am with you." Second—His constant presence, without an interval of one day's absence—"I am with you all days." Third—His perpetual presence to the end of the world, and consequently the perpetual duration of the Church—"Even to the consummation of the world."
Hence it follows that the true Church must have existed from the beginning; it must have had not one day's interval of suspended animation, or separation from Christ, and must live to the end of time.
None of the Christian Communions outside the Catholic Church can have any reasonable claim to Perpetuity, since, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, they are all(104) of recent origin.
The indestructibility of the Catholic Church is truly marvellous and well calculated to excite the admiration of every reflecting mind, when we consider the number and variety, and the formidable power of the enemies with whom she had to contend from her very birth to the present time; this fact alone stamps divinity on her brow.
The Church has been constantly engaged in a double warfare, one foreign, the other domestic—in foreign war against Paganism and infidelity; in civil strife against heresy and schism fomented by her own rebellious children.
From the day of Pentecost till the victory of Constantine the Great over Maxentius, embracing a period of about two hundred and eighty years, the Church underwent a series of ten persecutions unparalleled for atrocity in the annals of history. Every torture that malice could invent was resorted to, that every vestige of Christianity might be eradicated. _"_Christianos ad leones,_"_ the Christians to the lions_, was the popular war-cry.
They were clothed in the skins of wild beasts, and thus exposed to be devoured by dogs. They were covered with pitch and set on fire to serve as lamp-posts to the streets of Rome. To justify such atrocities, and to smother all sentiments of compassion, these persecutors accused their innocent victims of the most appalling crimes.
For three centuries the Christians were obliged to worship God in the secrecy of their chambers, or in the Roman catacombs, which are still preserved to attest the undying fortitude of the martyrs and the enormity of their sufferings.
And yet Pagan Rome, before whose standard the mightiest nations quailed, was unable to crush the infant Church or arrest her progress. In a short time we find this colossal Empire going to pieces, and the Head of the Catholic Church dispensing laws to Christendom in the very city from which the imperial Caesars had promulgated their edicts against Christianity!
During the fifth and sixth centuries the Goths and Vandals, the Huns, Visigoths, Lombards and other immense tribes of Barbarians came down like a torrent from the North, invading the fairest portions of Southern Europe. They dismembered the Roman Empire and swept away nearly every trace of the old Roman civilization. They plundered cities, leveled churches and left ruin and desolation after them. Yet, though conquering for awhile, they were conquered in turn by submitting to the sweet yoke of the Gospel. And thus, as even the infidel Gibbon observes, "The progress of Christianity has been marked by two glorious and decisive victories over the learned and luxurious citizens of the Roman Empire and over the warlike Barbarians of Scythia and Germany, who subverted the empire and embraced the religion of the Romans."(105)
Mohamedanism took its rise in the seventh century in Arabia, and made rapid conquests in Asia. In the fifteenth century Constantinople was captured by the followers of the false prophet, who even threatened to subject all Europe to their sway. For nine centuries Mohamedanism continued to be a standing menace to christendom, till the final issue came when it was to be decided once for all whether Christianity and civilization on the one hand, or Mohamedanism and infidelity on the other, should rule the destinies of Europe and the world.
At the earnest solicitation of the Pope, the kingdom of Spain and the republic of Venice formed an offensive league against the Turks, who were signally defeated in the battle of Lepanto, in 1571. And if the Cross, instead of the Crescent, surmounts the cities of Europe today, it is indebted for this priceless blessing to the vigilance of the Roman Pontiffs.
Another adversary more formidable and dangerous than those I have mentioned threatened the overthrow of the Church in the fourth and fifth centuries. I speak of the great heresy of Arius, which was followed by those of Nestorius and Eutyches.
The Arian schism, soon after its rise, spread rapidly through Europe, Northern Africa and portions of Asia. It received the support of immense multitudes, and flourished for awhile under the fostering care of several successive emperors. Catholic Bishops were banished from their sees, and their places were filled by Arian intruders. The Church which survived the sword of Paganism seemed for awhile to yield to the poison of Arianism. But after a short career of prosperity this gigantic sect became weakened by intestine divisions, and was finally swept away by other errors which came following in its footsteps.
You are already familiar with the great religious revolution of the sixteenth century, which spread like a tornado over Northern Europe and threatened, if that were possible, to engulf the bark of Peter. More than half of Germany followed the new Gospel of Martin Luther. Switzerland submitted to the doctrines of Zuinglius. The faith was lost in Sweden through the influence of its king, Gustavus Vasa. Denmark conformed to the new creed through the intrigues of King Christian II. Catholicity was also crushed out in Norway, England and Scotland. Calvinism in the sixteenth century and Voltaireism in the eighteenth had gained such a foothold in France that the faith of that glorious Catholic nation twice trembled in the balance. Ireland alone, of all the nations of Northern Europe, remained faithful to the ancient Church.
Let us now calmly survey the field after the din and smoke of battle have passed away. Let us examine the condition of the old Church after having passed through those deadly conflicts. We see her numerically stronger today than at any previous period of her history. The losses she sustained in the old world are more than compensated by her acquisitions in the new. She has already recovered a good portion of the ground wrested from her in the sixteenth century. She numbers now about three hundred million adherents. She exists today not an effete institution, but in all the integrity and fulness of life, with her organism unimpaired, more united, more compact and more vigorous than ever she was before.
The so-called Reformation of the sixteenth century bears many points of resemblance to the great Arian heresy. Both schisms originated with Priests impatient of the yoke of the Gospel, fond of novelty and ambitious for notoriety. Both were nursed and sustained by the reigning Powers, and were augmented by large accessions of proselytes. Both spread for awhile with the irresistible force of a violent hurricane, till its fury was spent. Both subsequently became subdivided into various bodies. The extinction of Protestantism would complete the parallel.
In this connection a remark of De Maistre is worth quoting: "If Protestantism bears always the same name, though its belief has been perpetually shifting, it is because its name is purely negative and means only the denial of Catholicity, so that the less it believes, and the more it protests, the more consistently Protestant it will be. Since, then, its name becomes continually truer, it must subsist until it perishes, just as an ulcer disappears with the last atom of the flesh which it has been eating away."(106)
But similar causes will produce similar results. As both revolutions were the offspring of rebellion; as both have been marked by the same vigorous youth, the same precocious manhood, the same premature decay and dismemberment of parts; so we are not rash in predicting that the dissolution which long since visited the former is destined, sooner or later, to overtake the latter. But the Catholic Church, because she is the work of God, is always "renewing her strength, like the eagle's."(107) You ask for a miracle, as the Jews asked our Saviour for a sign. You ask the Church to prove her divine mission by a miraculous agency. Is not her very survival the greatest of prodigies? If you beheld some fair bride with all the weakness of humanity upon her, cast into a prison and starved and trampled upon, hacked and tortured, her blood sprinkled upon her dungeon walls, and if you saw her again emerging from her prison, in all the bloom and freshness of youth, and surviving for years and centuries beyond the span of human life, continuing to be the joyful mother of children, would you not call that scene a miracle?
And is not this a picture of our Mother, the Church? Has she not passed through all these vicissitudes? Has she not tasted the bitterness of prison in every age? Has not her blood been shed in every clime?
And yet in her latter days, she is as fair as ever, and the nursing mother of children. Are not civil governments and institutions mortal as well as men? Why should the Republic of the Church be an exception to the law of decay and death? If this is not a miracle, I know not what a miracle is.
If Augustin, that profound Christian philosopher, could employ this argument in the fifth century, with how much more force may it be used today, fifteen hundred years after his time!
But far be it from us to ascribe to any human cause this marvelous survival of the Church.
Her indestructibility is not due, as some suppose, to her wonderful organization, or to the far-reaching policy of her Pontiffs, or to the learning and wisdom of her teachers. If she has survived, it is not because of human wisdom, but often in spite of human folly. Her permanence is due not to the arm of the flesh, but to the finger of God. "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory."
I would now ask this question of all that are hostile to the Catholic Church and that are plotting her destruction: How can you hope to overturn an institution which for more than nineteen centuries has successfully resisted all the combined assaults of the world, of men, and of the powers of darkness? What means will you employ to encompass her ruin?
I. Is it the power of Kings, and Emperors, and Prime Ministers? They have tried in vain to crush her, from the days of the Roman Caesars to those of the former Chancellor of Germany.
Many persons labor under the erroneous impression that the crowned heads of Europe have been the unvarying supporters of the Church, and that if their protection were withdrawn she would soon collapse. So far from the Church being sheltered behind earthly thrones, her worst enemies have been, with some honorable exceptions, so-called Christian Princes who were nominal children of the Church. They chafed under her salutary discipline; they wished to be rid of her yoke, because she alone, in time of oppression, had the power and the courage to stand by the rights of the people, and place her breast as a wall of brass against the encroachments of their rulers. With calm confidence we can say with the Psalmist: "Why have the Gentiles raged, and the people devised vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the princes met together, against the Lord, and against his Christ. Let us break their bonds asunder, and let us cast away their yoke from us. He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them and the Lord shall deride them."(108)
II. Can the immense resources and organized power of rival religious bodies succeed in absorbing her and in bringing her to naught? I am not disposed to undervalue this power. Against any human force it would be irresistible. But if the colossal strength, and incomparable machinery of the Roman Empire could not prevent the establishment of the Church; if Arianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism could not check her development, how can modern organizations stop her progress now, when in the fulness of her strength?
It is easier to preserve what is created, than to create anew.
III. But we have been told: "Take from the Pope his Temporal power and the Church is doomed to destruction. This is the secret of her strength; strip her of this, and, like Samson shorn of his hair, she will betray all the weakness of a poor mortal. Then this brilliant luminary will wax pale and she will sink below the horizon, never more to rise again."
For more than seven centuries after the establishment of the Church the Popes had no sovereign territorial jurisdiction. How could she have outlived that period, if the temporal power were essential to her perpetuity? And even since 1870 the Pope has been deprived of his temporalities. This loss, however, does not bring a wrinkle on the fair brow of the Church, nor does it retard one inch her onward march.
IV. Is she unable to cope with modern inventions and the mechanical progress of the nineteenth century? We are often told so; but far from hiding our head, like the ostrich in the sand, at the approach of these inventions we hail them as messengers of God, and will use them as Providential instruments for the further propagation of the faith.
If we succeeded so well before, when we had no ships but frail canoes, no compass but our eyes; when we had no roads but eternal snows, virgin forests and trackless deserts; when we had no guide save faith, and hope, and God—if even then we succeeded so well in carrying the Gospel to the confines of the earth, how much more can we do now by the aid of telegraph, steamships and railroads?
Yes, O men of genius, we bless your inventions; we bless you, ye modern discoveries; and we will impress you into the service of the Church and say: "Fire and heat bless the Lord. Lightnings and clouds bless the Lord; all ye works of the Lord bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever."(109)
The utility of modern inventions to the Church has lately been manifested in a conspicuous manner. The Pope called a council of all the Bishops of the world. Without the aid of steam it would have been almost impossible for them to assemble; by its aid they were able to meet from the uttermost bounds of the earth.
V. But may not the light of the Church grow pale and be extinguished before the intellectual blaze of the nineteenth century? Has she not much to fear from literature, the arts and sciences? She has always been the Patroness of literature, and the fostering Mother of the arts and sciences. She founded and endowed nearly all the great universities of Europe.
Not to mention those of the continent, a bare catalogue of which would cover a large space, I may allude to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the two most famous seats of learning in England, which were established under Catholic auspices centuries before the Reformation.
The Church also founded three of the four universities now existing in Scotland, viz: St. Andrew's in 1411, Glasgow in 1450 and Aberdeen in 1494.
Without her we should be deprived to-day of the priceless treasures of ancient literature; for, in preserving the languages of Greece and Rome from destruction, she rescued classical writers of those countries from oblivion. Hallam justly observes that, were it not for the diligent labors of the monks in the Middle Ages, our knowledge of the history of ancient Greece and Rome would be as vague today as our information regarding the Pyramids of Egypt.
And as for works of art, there are more valuable monuments of art contained in the single museum of the Vatican than are to be found in all our country. Artists are obliged to go to Rome to consult their best models. Our churches are not only temples of worship, but depositories of sacred art. For our intellectual progress we are in no small measure indebted to the much-abused Middle Ages. Tyndall has the candor to observe that "The nineteenth century strikes its roots into the centuries gone by and draws nutriment from them."(110)
VI. Is it liberty that will destroy the Church? The Church breathes freely and expands with giant growth, where true liberty is found. She is always cramped in her operations wherever despotism casts its dark shadow. Nowhere does she enjoy more independence than here; nowhere is she more vigorous and more prosperous.
Children of the Church, fear nothing, happen what will to her. Christ is with her and therefore she cannot sink. Caesar, in crossing the Adriatic, said to the troubled oarsman: "Quid times? Caesarem vehis." What Caesar said in presumption Jesus says with truth: What fearest thou? Christ is in the ship. Are we not positive that the sun will rise tomorrow and next day, and so on to the end of the world? Why? Because God so ordained when He established it in the heavens; and because it has never failed to run its course from the beginning. Has not Christ promised that the Church should always enlighten the world? Has He not, so far, fulfilled His promise concerning His Church? Has she not gone steadily on her course amid storm and sunshine? The fulfilment of the past is the best security for the future.
Amid the continual changes in human institutions she is the one Institution that never changes. Amid the universal ruins of earthly monuments she is the one monument that stands proudly pre-eminent. Not a stone in this building falls to the ground. Amid the general destruction of kingdoms her kingdom is never destroyed. Ever ancient and ever new, time writes no wrinkles on her Divine brow.
The Church has seen the birth of every government of Europe, and it is not at all improbable that she shall also witness the death of them all and chant their requiem. She was more than fourteen hundred years old when Columbus discovered our continent, and the foundation of our Republic is but as yesterday to her.
She calmly looked on while the Goths and the Visigoths, the Huns and the Saxons swept like a torrent over Europe, subverting dynasties. She has seen monarchies changed into republics, and republics consolidated into empires—all this has she witnessed, while her own Divine Constitution has remained unaltered. Of Her we can truly say in the words of the Psalmist: "They shall perish, but thou remainest; and all of them shall grow old as a garment. And as a vesture Thou shalt change them, and they shall be changed. But thou art always the self-same, and thy years shalt not fail. The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be directed forever."(111) God forbid that we should ascribe to any human cause this marvellous survival of the Church. Her indestructibility is not due, as some suppose, to her wonderful organization, or to the far-reaching policy of her Pontiffs, or to the learning and wisdom of her teachers. If she has survived, it is not because of human wisdom, but often in spite of human folly. Her permanence is due not to the arm of the flesh, but to the finger of God.
In the brightest days of the Republic of Pagan Rome the Roman said with pride: "I am a Roman citizen." This was his noblest title. He was proud of the Republic, because it was venerable in years, powerful in the number of its citizens, and distinguished for the wisdom of its statesmen. What a subject of greater glory to be a citizen of the Republic of the Church which has lasted for nineteen centuries, and will continue till time shall be no more; which counts her millions of children in every clime; which numbers her heroes and her martyrs by the thousand; which associates you with the Apostles and Saints. "You are no more strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow-citizens with the Saints and the domestics of God, built upon the foundation of the Prophets and Apostles, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone."(112) Though separated from earthly relatives and parents, you need never be separated from her. She is ever with us to comfort us. She says to us what her Divine Spouse said to His Apostles: "Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."(113)
INFALLIBLE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH.
The Church has authority from God to teach regarding faith and morals, and in her teaching she is preserved from error by the special guidance of the Holy Ghost.
The prerogative of infallibility is clearly deduced from the attributes of the Church already mentioned. The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. Preaching the same creed everywhere and at all times; teaching holiness and truth, she is, of course, essentially unerring in her doctrine; for what is one, holy or unchangeable must be infallibly true.
That the Church was infallible in the Apostolic age is denied by no Christian. We never question the truth of the Apostles' declarations;(114) they were, in fact, the only authority in the Church for the first century. The New Testament was not completed till the close of the first century. There is no just ground for denying to the Apostolic teachers of the nineteenth century in which we live a prerogative clearly possessed by those of the first, especially as the Divine Word nowhere intimates that this unerring guidance was to die with the Apostles. On the contrary, as the Apostles transmitted to their successors their power to preach, to baptize, to ordain, to confirm, etc., they must also have handed down to them the no less essential gift of infallibility.
God loves us as much as He loved the primitive Christians; Christ died for us as well as for them and we have as much need of unerring teachers as they had.
It will not suffice to tell me: "We have an infallible Scripture as a substitute for an infallible apostolate of the first century," for an infallible book is of no use to me without an infallible interpreter, as the history of Protestantism too clearly demonstrates.
But besides these presumptive arguments, we have positive evidence from Scripture that the Church cannot err in her teachings. Our blessed Lord, in constituting St. Peter Prince of His Apostles, says to him: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."(115) Christ makes here a solemn prediction that no error shall ever invade His Church, and if she fell into error the gates of hell have certainly prevailed against her.
The Reformers of the sixteenth century affirm that the Church did fall into error; that the gates of hell did prevail against her; that from the sixth to the sixteenth century she was a sink of iniquity. The Book of Homilies of the Church of England says that the Church "lay buried in damnable idolatry for eight hundred years or more." The personal veracity of our Savior and of the Reformers is here at issue, for our Lord makes a statement which they contradict. Who is to be believed, Jesus or the Reformers?
If the prediction of our Savior about the preservation of His Church from error be false, then Jesus Christ is not God, since God cannot lie. He is not even a prophet, since He predicted falsehood. Nay, He is an impostor, and all Christianity is a miserable failure and a huge deception, since it rests on a false Prophet.
But if Jesus predicted the truth when He declared that the gates of hell should not prevail against His Church—and who dare deny it?—then the Church never has and never could have fallen from the truth; then the Catholic Church is infallible, for she alone claims that prerogative, and she is the only Church that is acknowledged to have existed from the beginning. Truly is Jesus that wise Architect mentioned in the Gospel, "who built his house upon a rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock."(116)
Jesus sends forth the Apostles with plenipotentiary powers to preach the Gospel. "As the Father," He says, "hath sent Me, I also send you."(117) "Going therefore, teach all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."(118) "Preach the Gospel to every creature."(119) "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth."(120)
This commission evidently applies not to the Apostles only, but also to their successors, to the end of time, since it was utterly impossible for the Apostles personally to preach to the whole world.
Not only does our Lord empower His Apostles to preach the Gospel, but He commands, and under the most severe penalties, those to whom they preach to listen and obey. "Whosoever will not receive you, nor hear your words, going forth from that house or city, shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for that city."(121) "If he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican."(122) "He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be condemned."(123) "He that heareth you heareth Me; he that despiseth you despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me."(124)
From these passages we see, on the one hand, that the Apostles and their successors have received full powers to announce the Gospel; and on the other, that their hearers are obliged to listen with docility and to obey not merely by an external compliance, but also by an internal assent of the intellect. If, therefore, the Catholic Church could preach error, would not God Himself be responsible for the error? And could not the faithful soul say to God with all reverence and truth: Thou hast commanded me, O Lord, to hear Thy Church; if I am deceived by obeying her, Thou art the cause of my error?
But we may rest assured that an all-wise Providence who commands His Church to speak in His name will so guide her in the path of truth that she shall never lead into error those that follow her teachings.
But as this privilege of Infallibility was a very extraordinary favor, our Savior confers it on the rulers of His Church in language which removes all doubt from the sincere inquirer, and under circumstances which add to the majesty of His word. Shortly before His death Jesus consoles His disciples by this promise: "I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever.... But when He, the Spirit of truth, shall come, He will teach you all truth."(125)
The following text of the same import forms the concluding words recorded of our Savior in St. Matthew's Gospel: "All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, ... teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."(126)
He begins by asserting His own Divine authority and mission. "All power is given," etc. That power He then delegates to His Apostles and to their successors: "Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations," etc. He does not instruct them to scatter Bibles broadcast over the earth, but to teach by word of mouth. "And behold!" Our Savior never arrests the attention of His hearers by using the interjection, behold, unless when He has something unusually solemn and extraordinary to communicate. An important announcement is sure to follow this word. "Behold, I am with you." These words, "I am with you," are frequently addressed in Sacred Scripture by the Almighty to His Prophets and Patriarchs, and they always imply a special presence and a particular supervision of the Deity.(127) They convey the same meaning in the present instance. Christ says equivalently I who "am the way, the truth and the life," will protect you from error and will guide you in your speech. I will be with you, not merely during your natural lives, not for a century only, but all days, at all times, without intermission, even to the end of the world.
These words of Jesus Christ establish two important facts: First—A promise to guard His Church from error. Second—A promise that His presence with the Church will be continuous, without any interval of absence, to the consummation of the world.
And this is also the sentiment of the Apostle of the Gentiles writing to the Ephesians: God "gave some indeed Apostles, and some Prophets, and some Evangelists, and others Pastors and Teachers, for the perfecting of the Saints, for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all meet in the unity of faith, ... that we may no more be children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the wickedness of men, in craft, by which they lie in wait to deceive."(128)
Notwithstanding these plain declarations of Scripture, some persons think it an unwarrantable assumption for the Church to claim infallibility. But mark the consequences that follow from denying it.
If your church is not infallible it is liable to err, for there is no medium between infallibility and liability to error. If your church and her ministers are fallible in their doctrinal teachings, as they admit, they may be preaching falsehood to you, instead of truth. If so, you are in doubt whether you are listening to truth or falsehood. If you are in doubt you can have no faith, for faith excludes doubt, and in that state you displease God, for "without faith it is impossible to please God."(129) Faith and infallibility must go hand in hand. The one cannot exist without the other. There can be no faith in the hearer unless there is unerring authority in the speaker—an authority founded upon such certain knowledge as precludes the possibility of falling into error on his part, and including such unquestioned veracity as to prevent his deceiving him who accepts his word.
You admit infallible certainty in the physical sciences; why should you deny it in the science of salvation? The astronomer can predict with accuracy a hundred years beforehand an eclipse of the sun or moon. He can tell what point in the heavens a planet will reach on a given day. The mariner, guided by his compass, knows, amid the raging storm and the darkness of the night, that he is steering his course directly to the city of his destination; and is not an infallible guide as necessary to conduct you to the city of God in heaven? Is it not, moreover, a blessing and a consolation that, amid the ever-changing views of men, amid the conflict of human opinion and the tumultuous waves of human passion, there is one voice heard above the din and uproar, crying in clear, unerring tones: "Thus saith the Lord?"
It is very strange that the Catholic Church must apologize to the world for simply declaring that she speaks the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The Roman Pantheon was dedicated to all the gods of the Empire, and their name was legion. Formidable also in numbers are the Founders of the religious sects existing in our country. A Pantheon as vast as Westminster Abbey would hardly be spacious enough to contain life-sized statues for their accommodation.
If you were to confront those figures, and to ask them, one by one, to give an account of the faith they had professed, and if they were endowed with the gift of speech, you would find that no two of them were in entire accord, but that they all differed among themselves on some fundamental principle of revelation.
Would you not be acting very unwisely and be hazarding your soul's salvation in submitting to the teachings of so many discordant and conflicting oracles.
Children of the Catholic Church, give thanks to God that you are members of that Communion, which proclaims year after year the one same and unalterable message of truth, peace and love, and that you are preserved from all errors in faith, and from all illusion in the practice of virtue. You are happily strangers to those interior conflicts, to those perplexing doubts and to that frightful uncertainty which distracts the souls of those whose private judgment is their only guide, who are "ever learning and never attaining to the knowledge of the truth."(130) You are not, like others, drifting helplessly over the ocean of uncertainty and "carried about by every wind of doctrine." You are not as "blind men led by blind guides." You are not like those who are in the midst of a spiritual desert intersected by various by-paths, not knowing which to pursue; but you are on that high road spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, which is so "straight a way that fools shall not err therein."(131) You are a part of that universal Communion which has no "High Church" and "Low Church;" no "New School" and "Old School," for you all belong to that School which is "ever ancient and ever new." You enjoy that profound peace and tranquillity which springs from the conscious possession of the whole truth. Well may you exclaim: "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."(132)
Give thanks, moreover, to God that you belong to a Church which has also a keen sense to detect and expose those moral shams, those pious frauds, those socialistic schemes which are so often undertaken in this country ostensibly in the name of religion and morality, but which, in reality, are subversive of morality and order, which are the offspring of fanaticism, and serve as a mask to hide the most debasing passions. Neither Mormons nor Millerites, nor the advocates of free love or of women's rights, so called, find any recruits in the Catholic Church. She will never suffer her children to be ensnared by these impostures, how specious soever they may be.
From what has been said in the preceding pages, it follows that the Catholic Church cannot be reformed. I do not mean, of course, that the Pastors of the Church are personally impeccable or not subject to sin. Every teacher in the Church, from the Pope down to the humblest Priest, is liable at any moment, like any of the faithful, to fall from grace and to stand in need of moral reformation. We all carry "this treasure (of innocence) in earthen vessels."
My meaning is that the Church is not susceptible of being reformed in her doctrines. The Church is the work of an Incarnate God. Like all God's works, it is perfect. It is, therefore, incapable of reform. Is it not the height of presumption for men to attempt to improve upon the work of God? Is it not ridiculous for the Luthers, the Calvins, the Knoxes and the Henries and a thousand lesser lights to be offering their amendments to the Constitution of the Church, as if it were a human Institution?
Our Lord Himself has never ceased to rule personally over His Church. It is time enough for little men to take charge of the Ship when the great Captain abandons the helm.
A Protestant gentleman of very liberal education remarked to me, before the opening of the late Ecumenical Council: "I am assured, sir, by a friend, in confidence, that, at a secret Conclave of Bishops recently held in Rome it was resolved that the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception would be reconsidered and abolished at the approaching General Council; in fact, that the definition was a mistake, and that the blunder of 1854 would be repaired in 1869." I told him, of course, that no such question could be entertained in the Council; that the doctrinal decrees of the Church were irrevocable, and that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined once and forever.
If only one instance could be given in which the Church ceased to teach a doctrine of faith which had been previously held, that single instance would be the death blow of her claim to infallibility. But it is a marvelous fact worthy of record that in the whole history of the Church, from the nineteenth century to the first, no solitary example can be adduced to show that any Pope or General Council ever revoked a decree of faith or morals enacted by any preceding Pontiff or Council. Her record in the past ought to be a sufficient warrant that she will tolerate no doctrinal variations in the future.
If, as we have seen, the Church has authority from God to teach, and if she teaches nothing but the truth, is it not the duty of all Christians to hear her voice and obey her commands? She is the organ of the Holy Ghost. She is the Representative of Jesus Christ, who has said to her: "He that heareth you heareth Me; he that despiseth you despiseth Me." She is the Mistress of truth. It is the property of the human mind to embrace truth wherever it finds it. It would, therefore, be not only an act of irreverence, but of sheer folly, to disobey the voice of this ever-truthful Mother.
If a citizen is bound to obey the laws of his country, though these laws may not in all respects be conformable to strict justice; if a child is bound by natural and divine law to obey his mother, though she may sometimes err in her judgments, how much more strictly are not we obliged to be docile to the teachings of the Catholic Church, our Mother, whose admonitions are always just, whose precepts are immutable!
"For twenty years," observed a recently converted Minister of the Protestant Church, "I fought and struggled against the Church with all the energy of my will. But when I became a Catholic all my doubts ended, my inquiries ceased. I became as a little child, and rushed like a lisping babe into the arms of my mother." By Baptism Christians become children of the Church, no matter who pours upon them the regenerating waters. If she is our Mother, where is our love and obedience? When the infant seeks nourishment at its mother's breast it does not analyze its food. When it receives instructions from its mother's lips it never doubts, but instinctively believes. When the mother stretches forth her hand the child follows unhesitatingly. The Christian should have for his spiritual Mother all the simplicity, all the credulity, I might say, of a child, guided by the instincts of faith. "Unless ye become," says our Lord, "as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."(133) "As new-born babes, desire the rational milk without guile; that thereby you may grow unto salvation."(134) In her nourishment there is no poison; in her doctrines there is no guile.
THE CHURCH AND THE BIBLE.
The Church, as we have just seen, is the only Divinely constituted teacher of Revelation.
Now, the Scripture is the great depository of the Word of God. Therefore, the Church is the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible. For, her office of infallible Guide were superfluous if each individual could interpret the Bible for himself.
That God never intended the Bible to be the Christian's rule of faith, independently of the living authority of the Church, will be the subject of this chapter.
No nation ever had a greater veneration for the Bible than the Jewish people. The Holy Scripture was their pride and their glory. It was their national song in time of peace; it was their meditation and solace in time of tribulation and exile. And yet the Jews never dreamed of settling their religious controversies by a private appeal to the Word of God.
Whenever any religious dispute arose among the people it was decided by the High Priest and the Sanhedrim, which was a council consisting of seventy-two civil and ecclesiastical judges. The sentence of the High Priest and of his associate judges was to be obeyed under penalty of death. "If thou perceive," says the Book of Deuteronomy, "that there be among you a hard and doubtful matter in judgment, ... thou shalt come to the Priests of the Levitical race and to the judge, ... and they shall show thee the truth of the judgment.... And thou shalt follow their sentence; neither shalt thou decline to the right hand, nor to the left.... But he that will ... refuse to obey the commandment of the Priest, ... that man shall die, and thou shalt take away the evil from Israel."(135)
From this clear sentence you perceive that God does not refer the Jews for the settlement of their controversies to the letter of the law, but to the living authority of the ecclesiastical tribunal which He had expressly established for that purpose.
Hence, the Priests were required to be intimately acquainted with the Sacred Scripture, because they were the depositaries of God's law, and were its expounders to the people. "The lips of the Priest shall keep knowledge, and they (the people) shall seek the law at his mouth, because he is the angel (or messenger) of the Lord of hosts."(136)
And, in fact, very few of the children of Israel, except the Priests, were in possession of the Divine Books. The holy manuscript was rare and precious. And what provision did God make that all the people might have an opportunity of hearing the Scriptures? Did He command the sacred volume to be multiplied? No; but He ordered the Priests and the Levites to be distributed through the different tribes, that they might always be at hand to instruct the people in the knowledge of the law. The Jews were even forbidden to read certain portions of the Scripture till they had reached the age of thirty years.
Does our Savior reverse this state of things when He comes on earth? Does He tell the Jews to be their own guides in the study of the Scriptures? By no means; but He commands them to obey their constituted teachers, no matter how disedifying might be their private lives. "Then said Jesus to the multitudes and to His disciples: The Scribes and Pharisees sit upon the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do."(137)
It is true our Lord said on one occasion "Search the Scriptures, for you think in them to have life everlasting, and the same are they that give testimony to Me."(138) This passage is triumphantly quoted as an argument in favor of private interpretation. But it proves nothing of the kind. Many learned commentators, ancient and modern, express the verb in the indicative mood: "Ye search the Scriptures." At all events, our Savior speaks here only of the Old Testament because the New Testament was not yet written. He addresses not the multitude, but the Pharisees, who were the teachers of the law, and reproaches them for not admitting His Divinity. "You have," He says, "the Scriptures in your hands; why then do you not recognize Me as the Messiah, since they give testimony that I am the Son of God?" He refers them to the Scriptures for a proof of His Divinity, not as to a source from which they were to derive all knowledge in regard to the truths of revelation.
Besides, He did not rest the proof of His Divinity upon the sole testimony of Scripture. For He showed it First—By the testimony of John the Baptist (v. 33), who had said, "Behold the Lamb of God; behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world." See also John i. 34.
Second—By the miracles which He wrought (v. 36).
Third—By the testimony of the Father (v. 37), when He said: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him." Matt. iii. 16; Luke ix. 35.
Fourth—By the Scriptures of the Old Testament; as if He were to say, "If you are unwilling to receive these three proofs, though they are most cogent, at least you cannot reject the testimony of the Scriptures, of which you boast so much."
Finally, in this very passage our Lord is explaining the sense of Holy Writ; therefore, its true meaning is not left to the private interpretation of every chance reader. It is, therefore, a grave perversion of the sacred text to adduce these words in vindication of private interpretation of the Scriptures.
But when our Redeemer abolished the Old Law and established His Church, did He intend that His Gospel should be disseminated by the circulation of the Bible, or by the living voice of His disciples? This is a vital question. I answer most emphatically, that it was by preaching alone that He intended to convert the nations, and by preaching alone they were converted. No nation has ever yet been converted by the agency of Bible Associations.
Jesus Himself never wrote a line of Scripture. He never once commanded His Apostles to write a word,(139) or even to circulate the Scriptures already existing. When He sends them on their Apostolic errand, He says: "Go teach all nations."(140) "Preach the Gospel to every creature."(141) "He that heareth you heareth Me."(142) And we find the Apostles acting in strict accordance with these instructions.
Of the twelve Apostles, the seventy-two disciples, and early followers of our Lord only eight have left us any of their sacred writings. And the Gospels and Epistles were addressed to particular persons or particular churches. They were written on the occasion of some emergency, just as Bishops issue Pastoral letters to correct abuses which may spring up in the Church, or to lay down some rules of conduct for the faithful. The Apostles are never reported to have circulated a single volume of the Holy Scripture, but "they going forth, preached everywhere, the Lord co-operating with them."(143)
Thus we see that in the Old and the New Dispensation the people were to be guided by a living authority, and not by their private interpretation of the Scriptures.
Indeed, until the religious revolution of the sixteenth century, it was a thing unheard of from the beginning of the world, that people should be governed by the dead letter of the law either in civil or ecclesiastical affairs. How are your civil affairs regulated in this State, for instance? Certainly not in accordance with your personal interpretation of the laws of Virginia, but in accordance with decisions which are rendered by the constituted judges of the State.
Now what the civil code is to the citizen, the Scripture is to the Christian. The Word of God, as well as the civil law, must have an interpreter, by whose decision we are obliged to abide.
We often hear the shibboleth: "The Bible, and the Bible only, must be your guide." Why, then, do you go to the useless expense of building fine churches and Sabbath-schools? What is the use of your preaching sermons and catechizing the young, if the Bible at home is a sufficient guide for your people? The fact is, you reverend gentlemen contradict in practice what you so vehemently advance in theory. Do not tell me that the Bible is all-sufficient; or, if you believe it is self-sufficient, cease your instructions. Stand not between the people and the Scriptures.
I will address myself now in a friendly spirit to a non-Catholic, and will proceed to show him that he cannot consistently accept the silent Book of Scripture as his sufficient guide.
A copy of the sacred volume is handed to you by your minister, who says: "Take this book; you will find it all-sufficient for your salvation." But here a serious difficulty awaits you at the very threshold of your investigations. What assurance have you that the book he hands you is the inspired Word of God; for every part of the Bible is far from possessing intrinsic evidences of inspiration? It may, for ought you know, contain more than the Word of God, or it may not contain all the Word of God. We must not suppose that the Bible was always, as it is now, a compact book, bound in a neat form. It was for several centuries in scattered fragments, spread over different parts of Christendom. Meanwhile, many spurious books, under the name of Scripture, were circulated among the faithful. There was, for instance, the spurious Gospel of St. Peter; there was also the Gospel of St. James and of St. Matthias.
The Catholic Church, in the plenitude of her authority, in the third Council of Carthage, (A. D. 397,) separated the chaff from the wheat, and declared what Books were Canonical, and what were apocryphal. Even to this day the Christian sects do not agree among themselves as to what books are to be accepted as genuine. Some Christians of continental Europe do not recognize the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke because these Evangelists were not among the Apostles. Luther used to call the Epistle of St. James a letter of straw.
But even when you are assured that the Bible contains the Word of God, and nothing but the Word of God, how do you know that the translation is faithful? The Books of Scripture were originally written in Hebrew and Greek, and you have only the translation. Before you are certain that the translation is faithful you must study the Hebrew and Greek languages, and then compare the translation with the original. How few are capable of this gigantic undertaking!
Indeed, when you accept the Bible as the Word of God, you are obliged to receive it on the authority of the Catholic Church, who was the sole Guardian of the Scriptures for fifteen hundred years.
But after having ascertained to your satisfaction that the translation is faithful, still the Scriptures can never serve as a complete Rule of Faith and a complete guide to heaven independently of an authorized, living interpreter.
A competent guide, such as our Lord intended for us, must have three characteristics. It must be within the reach of everyone; it must be clear and intelligible; it must be able to satisfy us on all questions relating to faith and morals.
First—A complete guide of salvation must be within the reach of every inquirer after truth; for, God "wishes all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;"(144) and therefore He must have placed within the reach of everyone the means of arriving at the truth. Now, it is clear that the Scriptures could not at any period have been accessible to everyone.
They could not have been accessible to the primitive Christians, because they were not all written for a long time after the establishment of Christianity. The Christian religion was founded in the year 33. St. Matthew's Gospel, the first part of the New Testament ever written, did not appear till eight years after. The Church was established about twenty years when St. Luke wrote his Gospel. And St. John's Gospel did not come to light till toward the end of the first century. For many years after the Gospels and Epistles were written the knowledge of them was confined to the churches to which they were addressed. It was not till the close of the fourth century that the Church framed her Canon of Scripture and declared the Bible, as we now possess it, to be the genuine Word of God. And this was the golden age of Christianity! The most perfect Christians lived and died and went to heaven before the most important parts of the Scriptures were written. And what would have become of them if the Bible alone had been their guide?
The art of printing was not invented till the fifteenth century (1440). How utterly impossible it was to supply everyone with a copy of the Scriptures from the fourth to the fifteenth century! During that long period Bibles had to be copied with the pen. There were but a few hundred of them in the Christian world, and these were in the hands of the clergy and the learned. "According to the Protestant system, the art of printing would have been much more necessary to the Apostles than the gift of tongues. It was well for Luther that he did not come into the world until a century after the immortal invention of Guttenberg. A hundred years earlier his idea of directing two hundred and fifty million men to read the Bible would have been received with shouts of laughter, and would inevitably have caused his removal from the pulpit of Wittenberg to a hospital for the insane."(145)
And even at the present day, with all the aid of steam printing presses, with all the Bible Associations extending through this country and England, and supported at enormous expense, it taxes all their energies to supply every missionary country with Bibles printed in the languages of the tribes and peoples for whom they are intended.
But even if the Bible were at all times accessible to everyone, how many millions exist in every age and country, not excepting our own age of boasted enlightenment, who are not accessible to the Bible because they are incapable of reading the Word of God! Hence, the doctrine of private interpretation would render many men's salvation not only difficult, but impossible.
Second—A competent religious guide must be clear and intelligible to all, so that everyone may fully understand the true meaning of the instructions it contains. Is the Bible a book intelligible to all? Far from it; it is full of obscurities and difficulties not only for the illiterate, but even for the learned. St. Peter himself informs us that in the Epistles of St. Paul there are "certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and the unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."(146) And consequently he tells us elsewhere "that no prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation."(147)
We read in the Acts of the Apostles that a certain man was riding in his chariot, reading the Book of Isaiah, and being asked by St. Philip whether he understood the meaning of the prophecy he replied: "How can I understand unless some man show me?"(148) admitting, by these modest words, that he did not pretend of himself to interpret the Scriptures.
The Fathers of the Church, though many of them spent their whole lives in the study of the Scriptures, are unanimous in pronouncing the Bible a book full of knotty difficulties. And yet we find in our days pedants, with a mere smattering of Biblical knowledge, who see no obscurity at all in the Word of God, and who presume to expound it from Genesis to Revelation. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
Does not the conduct of the Reformers conclusively show the utter folly of interpreting the Scriptures by private judgment? As soon as they rejected the oracle of the Church, and set up their own private judgment as the highest standard of authority, they could hardly agree among themselves on the meaning of a single important text. The Bible became in their hands a complete Babel. The sons of Noe attempted in their pride to ascend to heaven by building the tower of Babel, and their scheme ended in the confusion and multiplication of tongues. The children of the Reformation endeavored in their conceit to lead men to heaven by the private interpretation of the Bible, and their efforts led to the confusion and the multiplication of religions. Let me give you one example out of a thousand. These words of the Gospel, "This is My Body," were understood only in one sense before the Reformation. The new lights of the sixteenth century gave no fewer than eighty different meanings to these four simple words, and since their time the number of interpretations has increased to over a hundred.
No one will deny that in our days there exists a vast multitude of sects, which are daily multiplying. No one will deny(149) that this multiplying of creeds is a crying scandal, and a great stumbling-block in the way of the conversion of heathen nations. No one can deny that these divisions in the Christian family are traceable to the assumption of the right of private judgment. Every new-fledged divine, with a superficial education, imagines that he has received a call from heaven to inaugurate a new religion, and he is ambitious of handing down his fame to posterity by stamping his name on a new sect. And every one of these champions of modern creeds appeals to the unchanging Bible in support of his ever-changing doctrines.
Thus, one body of Christians will prove from the Bible that there is but one Person in God, while the rest will prove from the same source that a Trinity of Persons is a clear article of Divine Revelation. One will prove from the Holy Book that Jesus Christ is not God. Others will appeal to the same text to attest His Divinity. One denomination will assert on the authority of Scripture that infant baptism is not necessary for salvation, while others will hold that it is. Some Christians, with Bible in hand, will teach that there are no sacraments. Others will say that there are only two. Some will declare that the inspired Word does not preach the eternity of punishments. Others will say that the Bible distinctly vindicates that dogma. Do not clergymen appear every day in the pulpit, and on the authority of the Book of Revelation point out to us with painful accuracy the year and the day on which this world is to come to an end? And when their prophecy fails of execution they coolly put off our destruction to another time.
Very recently several hundred Mormon women presented a petition to the government at Washington protesting against any interference with their abominable polygamy and they insist that their cherished system is sustained by the Word of God.
Such is the legitimate fruit of private interpretation! Our civil government is run not by private judgment, but by the constituted authorities. No one in his senses would allow our laws to be interpreted, and war to be declared by sensational journals, or by any private individuals. Why not apply the same principle to the interpretation of the Bible and the government of the Church?
Would it not be extremely hazardous to make a long voyage in a ship in which the officers and crew are fiercely contending among themselves about the manner of explaining the compass and of steering their course? How much more dangerous is it to trust to contending captains in the journey to heaven! Nothing short of an infallible authority should satisfy you when it is a question of steering your course to eternity. On this vital point there should be no conflict of opinion among those that guide you. There should be no conjecture. But there must be always someone at the helm whose voice gives assurance amid the fiercest storms that all is well.
Third—A rule of faith, or a competent guide to heaven, must be able to instruct in all the truths necessary for salvation. Now the Scriptures alone do not contain all the truths which a Christian is bound to believe, nor do they explicitly enjoin all the duties which he is obliged to practice. Not to mention other examples, is not every Christian obliged to sanctify Sunday and to abstain on that day from unnecessary servile work? Is not the observance of this law among the most prominent of our sacred duties? But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.
The Catholic Church correctly teaches that our Lord and His Apostles inculcated certain important duties of religion which are not recorded by the inspired writers.(150) For instance, most Christians pray to the Holy Ghost, a practice which is nowhere found in the Bible.
We must, therefore, conclude that the Scriptures alone cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith because they cannot, at any time, be within the reach of every inquirer; because they are not of themselves clear and intelligible even in matters of the highest importance, and because they do not contain all the truths necessary for salvation.
God forbid that any of my readers should be tempted to conclude from what I have said that the Catholic Church is opposed to the reading of the Scriptures, or that she is the enemy of the Bible. The Catholic Church the enemy of the Bible! Good God! What monstrous ingratitude! What base calumny is contained in that assertion! As well might you accuse the Virgin Mother of trying to crush the Infant Savior at her breast as to accuse the Church, our Mother, of attempting to crush out of existence the Word of God. As well might you charge the patriotic statesman with attempting to destroy the constitution of his country, while he strove to protect it from being mutilated by unprincipled demagogues.
For fifteen centuries the Church was the sole guardian and depository of the Bible, and if she really feared that sacred Book, who was to prevent her, during that long period, from tearing it in shreds and scattering it to the winds? She could have thrown it into the sea, as the unnatural mother would have thrown away her off-spring, and who would have been the wiser?
What has become of those millions of once famous books written in past ages? They have nearly all perished. But amid this wreck of ancient literature, the Bible stands almost a solitary monument like the Pyramids of Egypt amid the surrounding wastes. That venerable Volume has survived the wars and revolutions and the barbaric invasions of fifteen centuries. Who rescued it from destruction? The Catholic Church. Without her fostering care the New Testament would probably be as little known today as "the Book of the days of the kings of Israel."(151)
Little do we imagine, in our age of steam printing, how much labor it cost the Church to preserve and perpetuate the Sacred Scriptures. Learned monks, who are now abused in their graves by thoughtless men, were constantly employed in copying with the pen the Holy Bible. When one monk died at his post another took his place, watching like a faithful sentinel over the treasure of God's Word.
Let me give you a few plain facts to show the pains which the Church has taken to perpetuate the Scriptures.
The Canon of the Bible, as we have seen, was framed in the fourth century. In that same century Pope Damasus commanded a new and complete translation of the Scriptures to be made into the Latin language, which was then the living tongue not only of Rome and Italy, but of the civilized world.
If the Popes were afraid that the Bible should see the light, this was a singular way of manifesting their fear.
The task of preparing a new edition of the Scriptures was assigned to St. Jerome, the most learned Hebrew scholar of his time. This new translation was disseminated throughout Christendom, and on that account was called the Vulgate, or popular edition.
In the sixth and seventh centuries the modern languages of Europe began to spring up like so many shoots from the parent Latin stock. The Scriptures, also, soon found their way into these languages. The Venerable Bede, who lived in England in the eighth century, and whose name is profoundly reverenced in that country, translated the Sacred Scriptures into Saxon, which was then the language of England. He died while dictating the last verses of St. John's Gospel.
Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a funeral discourse on Queen Anne, consort of Richard II., pronounced in 1394, praises her for her diligence in reading the four Gospels. The Head of the Church of England could not condemn in others what he commended in the queen.
Sir Thomas More affirms that, before the days of Wycliffe, there was an English version of the Scriptures, "by good and godly people with devotion and soberness well and reverently read."(152)
If partial restrictions began to be placed on the circulation of the Bible in England in the fifteenth century, these restrictions were occasioned by the conduct of Wycliffe and his followers, who not only issued a new translation, on which they engrafted their novelties of doctrine, but also sought to explain the sacred text in a sense foreign to the received interpretation of tradition.
While laboring to diffuse the Word of God it is the duty, as well as the right of the Church, as the guardian of faith, to see that the faithful are not misled by unsound editions.
Printing was invented in the fifteenth century, and almost a hundred years later came the Reformation. It is often triumphantly said, and I suppose there are some who, even at the present day, are ignorant enough to believe the assertion, that the first edition of the Bible ever published after the invention of printing was the edition of Martin Luther. The fact is, that before Luther put his pen to paper, no fewer than fifty-six editions of the Scriptures had appeared on the continent of Europe, not to speak of those printed in Great Britain. Of those editions, twenty-one were published in German, one in Spanish, four in French, twenty-one in Italian, five in Flemish and four in Bohemian.
Coming down to our own times, if you open an English Catholic Bible you will find in the preface a letter of Pope Pius VI., in which he strongly recommends the pious reading of the Holy Scriptures. A Pope's letter is the most weighty authority in the Church. You will also find in Haydock's Bible the letters of the Bishops of the United States, in which they express the hope that this splendid edition would have a wide circulation among their flocks.
These facts ought, I think, to convince every candid mind that the Church, far from being opposed to the reading of the Scriptures, does all she can to encourage their perusal.
A gentleman of North Carolina lately informed me that the first time he entered a Catholic bookstore he was surprised at witnessing on the shelves an imposing array of Bibles for sale. Up to that moment he had believed the unfounded charge that Catholics were forbidden to read the Scriptures. He has since embraced the Catholic faith.
And perhaps I may be permitted here to record my personal experiences during a long course of study. I speak of myself, not because my case is exceptional, but, on the contrary, because my example will serve to illustrate the system pursued toward ecclesiastical students in all colleges throughout the Catholic world in reference to the Holy Scriptures.
In our course of Humanities we listened every day to the reading of the Bible. When we were advanced to the higher branches of Philosophy and Theology the study of the Sacred Scriptures formed an important part of our education. We read, besides, every day a chapter of the New Testament, not standing or sitting, but on our knees, and then reverently kissed the inspired page. We listened at our meals each day to selections from the Bible, and we always carried about with us a copy of the New Testament.
So familiar, indeed, were the students with the sacred Volume that many of them, on listening to a few verses, could tell from what portion of the Scriptures you were reading. The only dread we were taught to have of the Scriptures was that of reading them without fear and reverence.
And after his ordination every Priest is obliged in conscience to devote upwards of an hour each day to the perusal of the Word of God. I am not aware that clergymen of other denominations are bound by the same duty.
What is good for the clergy must be good, also, for the laity. Be assured that if you become a Catholic you will never be forbidden to read the Bible. It is our earnest wish that every word of the Gospel may be imprinted on your memory and on your heart.
THE PRIMACY OF PETER.
The Catholic Church teaches also, that our Lord conferred on St. Peter the first place of honor and jurisdiction in the government of His whole Church, and that the same spiritual supremacy has always resided in the Popes, or Bishops of Rome, as being the successors of St. Peter. Consequently, to be true followers of Christ all Christians, both among the clergy and the laity, must be in communion with the See of Rome, where Peter rules in the person of his successor.
Before coming to any direct proofs on this subject I may state that, in the Old Law, the High Priest appointed by Almighty God filled an office analogous to that of Pope in the New Law. In the Jewish Church there were Priests and Levites ordained to minister at the altar; and there was, also, a supreme ecclesiastical tribunal, with the High Priest at its head. All matters of religious controversy were referred to this tribunal and in the last resort to the High Priest, whose decision was enforced under pain of death. "If there be a hard matter in judgment between blood and blood, cause and cause, leprosy and leprosy, ... thou shalt come to the Priests of the Levitical race and to the judge, ... and they shall show thee true judgment. And thou shalt do whatever they say who preside in the place which the Lord shall choose, and thou shalt follow their sentence. And thou shalt not decline to the right hand, or to the left.... But he that ... will refuse to obey the commandment of the Priest, who ministereth at the time, ... that man shall die, and thou shalt take away the evil from Israel."(153)
From this passage it is evident that in the Hebrew Church the High Priest had the highest jurisdiction in religious matters. By this means unity of faith and worship was preserved among the people of God.
Now the Jewish synagogue, as St. Paul testifies, was the type and figure of the Christian Church; for "all these things happened to them (the Jews) in figure."(154) We must, therefore, find in the Church of Christ a spiritual judge, exercising the same supreme authority as the High Priest wielded in the Old Law. For if a supreme Pontiff was necessary, in the Mosaic dispensation, to maintain purity and uniformity of worship, the same dignitary is equally necessary now to preserve unity of faith.
Every well-regulated civil government has an acknowledged head. The President is the head of the United States Government. Queen Victoria is the ruler of Great Britain. The Sultan sways the Turkish Empire. If these nations had no authorized leader to govern them they would be reduced to the condition of a mere mob, and anarchy, confusion and civil war would inevitably follow, as recently happened to France after the fall of Napoleon III.
Even in every well-ordered family, domestic peace requires that someone preside.
Now, the Church of Christ is a visible society—that is, a society composed of human beings. She has, it is true, a spiritual end in view; but having to deal with men, she must have a government as well as every other organized society. This government, at least in its essential elements, our Lord must have established for His Church. For was He not as wise as human legislators? And shall we suppose that, of all lawgivers, the Wisdom Incarnate alone left His Kingdom on earth to be governed without a head?
But someone will tell me: "We do not deny that the Church has a head. God himself is its Ruler." This is evading the real question. Is not God the Ruler of all governments? "By Me," He says, "kings reign, and lawgivers decree just things."(155) He is the recognized Head of our Republic, and of every Christian family in the land; but, nevertheless, there is always presiding over the country a visible chief, who represents God on earth.
In like manner the Church, besides an invisible Head in heaven, must have a visible head on earth. The body and members of the Church are visible; why not also the Head? The Church without a supreme Ruler would be like an army without a general, a navy without an admiral, a sheep-fold without a shepherd, or like a human body without a head.
The Christian communities separated from the Catholic Church deny that Peter received any authority over the other Apostles, and hence they reject the supremacy of the Pope.
The absence from the Protestant communions of a Divinely appointed, visible Head is to them an endless source of weakness and dissension. It is an insuperable barrier against any hope of a permanent reunion among themselves, because they are left without a common rallying centre or basis of union and are placed in an unhappy state of schism.
The existence, on the contrary, of a supreme judge of controversy in the Catholic Church is the secret of her admirable unity. This is the keystone that binds together and strengthens the imperishable arch of faith.
From the very fact, then, of the existence of a supreme Head in the Jewish Church; from the fact that a Head is always necessary for civil government, for families and corporations; from the fact, especially, that a visible Head is essential to the maintenance of unity in the Church, while the absence of a Head necessarily leads to anarchy, we are forced to conclude, even though positive evidence were wanting, that, in the establishment of His Church, it must have entered into the mind of the Divine Lawgiver to place over it a primate invested with superior judicial powers.
But have we any positive proof that Christ did appoint a supreme Ruler over His Church? To those, indeed, who read the Scriptures with the single eye of pure intention the most abundant evidence of this fact is furnished. To my mind the New Testament establishes no doctrine, unless it satisfies every candid reader that our Lord gave plenipotentiary powers to Peter to govern the whole Church. In this chapter I shall speak of the Promise, the Institution, and the exercise of Peter's Primacy, as recorded in the New Testament. The next chapter shall be devoted to its perpetuity in the Popes.
Promise of the Primacy. Our Saviour, on a certain occasion, asked His disciples, saying: "Whom do men say that the Son of Man is? And they said: Some say that Thou art John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the Prophets. Jesus saith to them: But whom do ye say that I am?" Peter, as usual, is the leader and spokesman. "Simon Peter answering, said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but My Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed also heaven."(156) Here we find Peter confessing the Divinity of Christ, and in reward for that confession he is honored with the promise of the Primacy.
Our Savior, by the words "thou art Peter," clearly alludes to the new name which He Himself had conferred upon Simon, when He received him into the number of His followers (John i. 42); and He now reveals the reason for the change of name, which was to insinuate the honor He was to confer on him, by appointing him President of the Christian Republic; just as God, in the Old Law, changed Abram's name to Abraham, when He chose him to be the father of a mighty nation.
The word Peter, in the Syro-Chaldaic tongue, which our Savior spoke, means a rock. The sentence runs thus in that language: "Thou art a rock, and on this rock I will build My Church." Indeed, all respectable Protestant commentators have now abandoned, and even ridicule, the absurdity of applying the word rock to anyone but to Peter; as the sentence can bear no other construction, unless our Lord's good grammar and common sense are called in question.
Jesus, our Lord, founded but one Church, which He was pleased to build on Peter. Therefore, any church that does not recognize Peter as its foundation stone is not the Church of Christ, and therefore cannot stand, for it is not the work of God. This is plain. Would to God that all would see it aright and with eyes free from prejudice.
He continues: "And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven," etc. In ancient times, and particularly among the Hebrew people, keys were an emblem of jurisdiction. To affirm that a man had received the keys of a city was equivalent to the assertion that he had been appointed its governor. In the Book of Revelation our Savior says that He has "the keys of death and of hell,"(157) which means that He is endowed with power over death and hell. In fact, even to this day does not the presentation of keys convey among ourselves the idea of authority? If the proprietor of a house, on leaving it for the summer, says to any friend: "Here are the keys of my house," would not this simple declaration, without a word of explanation, convey the idea, "I give you full control of my house; you may admit or exclude whom you please; you represent me in my absence?" Let us now apply this interpretation to our Redeemer's words. When He says to Peter: "I will give to thee the keys," etc., He evidently means: I will give the supreme authority over My Church, which is the citadel of faith, My earthly Jerusalem. Thou and thy successors shall be My visible representatives to the end of time. And be it remembered that to Peter alone, and to no other Apostle, were these solemn words addressed.
Fulfillment of the Promise. The promise which our Redeemer made of creating Peter the supreme ruler of His Church is fulfilled in the following passage: "Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith to Him: Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith to him: Feed My lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me? He saith to Him: Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith to him: Feed My lambs. He saith to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me? Peter was grieved because He had said to him the third time: Lovest thou Me? And he said to Him: Lord, Thou knowest all things. Thou knowest that I love Thee. He said to him: Feed My sheep."(158)
These words were addressed by our Lord to Peter after His resurrection. The whole sheep-fold of Christ is confided to him, without any exception or limitation. Peter has jurisdiction not only over the lambs—the weak and tender portion of the flock—by which are understood the faithful; but also over the sheep, i.e., the Pastors themselves, who hold the same relations to their congregations that the sheep hold to the lambs, because they bring forth unto Jesus Christ, and nourish the spiritual lambs of the fold. To other Pastors a certain portion of the flock is assigned; to Peter the entire fold; for, never did Jesus say to any other Apostle or Bishop what He said to Peter: Feed My whole flock.
Candid reader, do you not profess to be a member of Christ's flock? Yes, you answer. Do you take your spiritual food from Peter and his successor, and do you hear the voice of Peter, or have you wandered into the fold of strangers who spurn Peter's voice? Ponder well this momentous question. For if Peter is authorized to feed the lambs of Christ's flock, the lambs should hear Peter's voice.
Exercise of the Primacy. In the Acts of the Apostles, which contain almost the only Scripture narrative that exists of the Apostles subsequent to our Lord's ascension, St. Peter appears before us, like Saul among the tribes, standing head and shoulders over his brethren by the prominent part he takes in every ministerial duty.
The first twelve chapters of the Acts are devoted to Peter and to some of the other Apostles, the remaining chapters being chiefly occupied with the labors of the Apostles of the Gentiles. In that brief historical fragment, as well as in the Gospels, the name of Peter is everywhere pre-eminent.
Peter's name always stands first in the list of the Apostles, while Judas Iscariot is invariably mentioned last.(159) Peter is even called by St. Matthew the first Apostle. Now Peter was first neither in age nor in priority of election, his elder brother Andrew having been chosen before him. The meaning, therefore, of the expression must be that Peter was first not only in rank and honor, but also in authority.
Peter is the first Apostle who performed a miracle.(160) He is the first to address the Jews in Jerusalem while his Apostolic brethren stand respectfully around him, upon which occasion he converts three thousand souls.(161)
Peter is the first to make converts from the Gentile world in the persons of Cornelius and his friends.(162)
When there is question of electing a successor to Judas Peter alone speaks. He points out to the Apostles and disciples the duty of choosing another to succeed the traitor. The Apostles silently acquiesce in the instructions of their leader.(163)
In the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem Peter is the first whose sentiments are recorded. Before his discourse "there was much disputing." But when he had ceased to speak "all the multitude held their peace."(164)
St. James and the other Apostles concur in the sentiments of Peter without a single dissenting voice.
St. James is cast into prison by Herod and afterward beheaded. He was one of the three most favored Apostles. He was the cousin of our Lord and brother of St. John. He was most dear to the faithful. Yet no extraordinary efforts are made by the faithful to rescue him from death.
Peter is imprisoned about the same time. The whole Church is aroused. Prayers for his deliverance ascend to heaven, not only from Jerusalem but also from every Christian family in the land.(165)
The army of the Lord can afford to lose a chieftain in the person of James, but it cannot yet spare the commander-in-chief. The enemies of the Church had hoped that the destruction of the chief shepherd would involve the dispersion of the whole flock; therefore they redoubled their fury against the Prince of the Apostles, just as her modern enemies concentrate their shafts against the Pope, his successor. Does not this incident eloquently proclaim Peter's superior authority? In fact Peter figures so conspicuously in every page that his Primacy is not only admissible, but is forced on the judgment of the impartial reader.
What are the principal objections advanced against the Primacy of Peter? They are chiefly, I may say exclusively, confined to the three following: First—That our Lord rebuked Peter. Second—That St. Paul criticised his conduct on a point not affecting doctrine, but discipline. The Apostle of the Gentiles blames St. Peter because he withdrew for a time from the society of the Gentile converts, for fear of scandalizing the newly-converted Jews.(166) Third—That the supremacy of Peter conflicts with the supreme dominion of Christ.
For my part I cannot see how these objections can invalidate the claims of Peter. Was not Jesus Peter's superior? May not a superior rebuke his servant without infringing on the servant's prerogatives?
And why could not St. Paul censure the conduct of St. Peter without questioning that superior's authority? It is not a very uncommon thing for ecclesiastics occupying an inferior position in the Church to admonish even the Pope. St. Bernard, though only a monk, wrote a work in which, with Apostolic freedom, he administers counsel to Pope Eugenius III., and cautions him against the dangers to which his eminent position exposes him. Yet no man had more reverence for any Pope than Bernard had for this great Pontiff. Cannot our Governor animadvert upon the President's conduct without impairing the President's jurisdiction?
Nay, from this very circumstance, I draw a confirming evidence of Peter's supremacy. St. Paul mentions it as a fact worthy of record that he actually withstood Peter to his face. Do you think it would be worth recording if Paul had rebuked James or John or Barnabas? By no means. If one brother rebukes another, the matter excites no special attention. But if a son rebukes his father, or if a Priest rebukes his Bishop to his face, we understand why he would consider it a fact worth relating. Hence, when St. Paul goes to the trouble of telling us that he took exception to Peter's conduct, he mentions it as an extraordinary exercise of Apostolic freedom, and leaves on our mind the obvious inference that Peter was his superior.
In the very same Epistle to the Galatians St. Paul plainly insinuates St. Peter's superior rank. "I went," he says, "to Jerusalem to see Peter, and I tarried with him fifteen days."(167) Saints Chrysostom and Ambrose tell us that this was not an idle visit of ceremony, but that the object of St. Paul in making the journey was to testify his respect and honor for the chief of the Apostles. St. Jerome observes in a humorous vein that "Paul went not to behold Peter's eyes, his cheeks or his countenance, whether he was thin or stout, with nose straight or twisted, covered with hair or bald, not to observe the outward man, but to show honor to the first Apostle."