IN the year 1650 Thorndike had produced three treatises, each supplemented by a "review," dealing with the nature, the duties, and the rights of the Christian Church. They were written for occasions, to meet emergent needs, and had the characteristic marks of such writings; the third no less than the others, though it was more abstract and systematic. They produced no visible effect, nor could anything of the kind be expected. He was using one pen and one man's learning against the power of Parliament and the power of the sword, against the triumphant Puritan faction, which was no sooner triumphant than it began to tear itself in pieces. Between Presbyterians and Independents, between the full Parliament and the Rump, he had no call to intervene. Nor had he any interest in the second civil war. He was no ardent royalist; the young King had committed himself to the Covenant, and it was a definitely Presbyterian army that Cromwell destroyed at Worcester. The utmost that he could do was to strengthen the will and the patience of a small remnant of faithful men, who refused to believe that the Church of England had been destroyed, or that it was actually represented by the men forcibly thrust into its parishes, and were waiting to see what God had in store for them or for their children.
The invitation to take part in the production of the great Polyglot Bible must have come to him as a great relief in every way. It was a wholesome diversion; perhaps the more wholesome because it brought him into contact with those against whom he had been engaged in controversy, for Puritan scholars had a part in the work, and Cromwell, now master of the Commonwealth, was its munificent patron. For five years it gave him maintenance and healthy occupation. Then he returned to his former task, but with a difference. There were to be no more pamphlets. He and those who thought with him were lying quiet under heavy oppression, but were let alone, if quiet. Cromwell had a genuine leaning to toleration, and was probably willing to extend it further than anyone else of his day. If he had been indeed the Leviathan that Hobbes invited him to be, he would not have used his power to the detriment of religion in the way that Hobbes insidiously suggested. There were large possibilities under his strong government. On the other hand it seems clear that Thorndike was nursing no hopes of a restoration that would bring back the former state of things intact. Nor did he even desire it. His next incursion into controversy, the Epilogue, was a plan for large reconstruction.
This accounts for the title. The tragedy was complete, but there was something to follow. The Church of England lay in ruins. Nothing less was the effect of what he calls in the Conclusion "the present calamity." According to his teaching a particular Church must be "visible" in ordinances controlled by a lawful authority, as the Catholic Church is visible, perfectly or imperfectly, by what is common to all its parts. But for good and for evil, rightly or wrongly, this lawful control had been exercised in England, with the consent of the Church, by the legislative and executive power of the Kingdom. That power had disappeared, and something else had taken its place. What then was the existing state of things? He puts it as plainly as his cumbrous style permits: "I can only say to the scattered remains of the Church of England,--whose communion I cherish, because it standeth on those terms, which give me sufficient ground for the hope of Salvation which I have cherished from my cradle;--that the ecclesiastical laws of the Church of England, being no longer in force by the power of this world, are by consequence no longer a sufficient rule for the order of their communion in the offices of God's service; in which order the visibility of every Church consisteth." He would communicate with the faithful remnant, and for the present with them alone; he urged them to hold apart and together, with a view to the rebuilding of the tabernacle which was fallen down.
This in the Conclusion: in the Preface, which was of course written later, there is something more explicit. He confesses some dissatisfaction with his former writings: "Whether it were the distrust of my own ability, or the love of other employment, or whatsoever it were that diverted me from considering the consequence of those principles which I had always had, till I might come to that resolution which I now declare; neither was I satisfied till I had it, nor, having it, till I had declared it." But there had been an excuse for this reserve: "Unity in the Church is of so great advantage to the service of God . . . that it ought to overshadow and cover very great imperfections in the laws of the Church, all laws being subject to the like." This is especially true in dealing with the whole Catholic Church: "For the unity of so great a body will not allow that the terms be so strict, or nice, upon which the communion thereof standeth; but obligeth all that love the general good of it to pass by even those imperfections in the laws of it which are visible, if not pernicious." So he justifies his former defence of the actual establishment of the Church of England: "While all English people by the laws of the Church of England had sufficient and probable means of salvation ministered to them, it had been a fault to acknowledge a fault which it was more mischief to mend than to bear with." Admirable wisdom this, but it seems to me that he is rather exaggerating his own modest reserve, for in his most defensive writings we have found some criticism, implied if not expressed, of the established order. Now he feels himself enlarged. Is it of the whole Church that he has to speak? "Where this unity is once broken in pieces and destroyed," he says, "and palliating cures are out of date, the offence which is taken at shewing the true cure is imputable to them that cause the fraction, not to him that would see it restored. For what disease was ever cured without offending the body that had it?" Is it of the Church of England? "When the unity that is lost," he says, "may as well be obtained by the primitive truth and order of the Catholic Church as by that which served the turn in the Church of England, because it served to the salvation of more, I should offend good Christians to think that they will stand offended at it."
I think we may take it that the breaking up of the Church of England brought home to his conscience the greater urgency of the task of rebuilding the ruins of the Catholic Church, and the necessity of subsuming the smaller reconstruction under the conditions of the greater. In our own day we have been taught by a similar pressure of circumstances that local unification of Christians must not be sought by expedients which would render the larger problem of Catholic reunion more difficult. The necessity of getting down to the bedrock of first principles has been demonstrated. This was the task to which Thorndike now set himself. His discursive habit prevented him from sticking close to it, but his consciousness of the subject, and the greatness of it, induced a more orderly treatment than he had hitherto achieved, and the reasoning of the Epilogue is in places remarkably close. It approximates, indeed, to a "Summa de Ecclesia."
If a digression after his own fashion may be allowed me, I will venture on a closer comparison. Twenty years later a greater man than Thorndike, though not a better Christian, undertook a similar task, with very different means. Leibnitz was distressed by the breaking up of the religious unity of Germany, consummated in the Treaties of Westphalia, this also being the work of the sword, brandished in civil war. The Treaties had set up a peace based on disunion, which left the country weak and religion languishing. Leibnitz had not much religion of his own, but he valued it for a nation. He did not believe, as Thorndike also did not, that the Papal Court had renounced the policy of seeking reunion by conquest, which was the prime cause of the Thirty Years War; if that were revived, the ruin of Germany and of German religion would be complete; the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and the dragonnades of Lewis XIV showed that such a revival was not impossible, though a personal quarrel at that time made the Roman Court little inclined to support the French King. Peace could be secured only by religious union. Leibnitz bent his great legal and philosophic mind to the task. He had princes, both Catholic and Protestant, to back him; he had the good will of the Emperor, and a firm foothold even in the Papal Court. He saw clearly, as Thorndike saw, that nothing could be done while the Council of Trent stood, stereotyping the most disputable claims and teachings of the Roman Church. He begged the Pope to suspend the operation of the dogmatic decrees, and it is a remarkable fact that his prayer was referred to a commission of Cardinals, and not treated as negligible. His vast scheme included England, and had some obscure connexion with the selection of his patroness, Sophia of Hanover, to inherit the English throne. It came to nothing, battered by the arguments of Bossuet, and wrecked on the animosities of Lutherans and Calvinists who could both alike more easily stomach an arrangement with Rome than mutual toleration. What wonder is it that Thorndike, armed only with his own pen, failed to achieve anything. He left only, for possible use in a distant future, his scheme of first principles, crabbed and defective, but full of suggestion.
I have tried to give a detailed analysis of the earlier treatises, passing lightly over irrelevancies. I cannot do this with the Epilogue. The bulk of it alone, nearly a thousand closely printed pages in folio, forbids the attempt. Only the barest outline of the argument can be indicated, with some glances at progress made from former standpoints. I cannot, however, refrain from enlarging on his treatment of Hobbes, as illustrating both his limitations and his i acumen. We have already seen him in sufficiently respectful contact with an earlier work of the new philosopher; now he has to do with the Leviathan. [Published in the year 1651.] That he understood the real greatness of Hobbes, the inventor and the fearless exponent of the omnicompetent State, the merciless dissecter of political fallacies, I do not for one moment suppose; he treats him as a mere eccentric, "this new dogmatist, pretending to be a Christian," and yet as if fascinated returns again and again to the subject, always seeming to resent the attraction. In sheer reasoning power he is as inferior to Hobbes as in lucidity of statement, and yet he more than once trips up the giant. He observes, for example, what lucidity of statement obscures, that the reduction of all law to "the laws of nature and the civil laws of the State" is merely taken for granted, and consequences revolting to common sense are deduced from it; he brilliantly counters the reduction of Christian belief to the single article "Jesus is the Christ" by offering to accept that as sufficient, since such belief involves the believer in all the obligations of discipleship. On the other hand he stumbles badly when he is rebutting the contention that all obligation to be Christian arises from a command of the sovereign, and tries to get Hobbes into a dilemma by asking how then is the sovereign himself bound to be a Christian; for Hobbes would not allow that the sovereign was under any obligation at all. At this distance of time it is evident that for his own purpose he made too much of a political philosopher who, perhaps, did not expect his adventures in theology to be taken so seriously.
The Epilogue consists of three books. The first deals with the Principles of Christian Truth, the second with the Covenant of Grace, the third with the Laws of the Church. There is thus a definite order of succession. The title of the whole should be quoted in full, for it is explanatory: An Epilogue to the Tragedy of the Church of England, being a necessary consideration and brief Resolution of the chief Controversies in Religion that divide the Western Church: occasioned by the present calamity of the Church of England. This calamity, therefore, was only the occasion; the scope of the argument was much larger, embracing the whole Western Church, broken into separated parts by the effect of the Reformation. He did not suppose that it was final, even for his own part; he describes it in the preface as "dough-baked, on purpose to provoke the judgments of all parties," and looks forward to a "second edition." He claims only to have shown, so far, that there is no consent of the Church against his scheme of union; "what the sense of the Church is positively" he hopes to show hereafter, the present work providing "a fair entrance" thereto. "In the meantime, it shall suffice to have advanced this much towards the common interest of Christianity in the reunion of the Church." This limitation should be borne in mind.
(I) THE PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH
He refuses to begin with the Church as an existing institution, a striking departure from his former standpoint. As an institution the Church is too much divided to serve as basis, and he will not at first so much as assume its existence. What is quite indisputable is the visible existence in the world of a large number of Christians, or of men claiming to be such. They must therefore have something in common. It is a common belief, at least, in Jesus the Christ. Why do they believe? What is the motive of faith? He finds it in "the consent of all believers." Such is the usual ground on which things are believed: "Experience and common sense shows that those things wherein the world agrees are no less certain and evident, though morally, than those which we see with our eyes. . . . The reason is, because the world can have no common interest to deceive or be deceived." True of the whole world, this will be true in its measure of that considerable part of the world which is Christian, and especially true here because the Christian faith makes great demands on believers, involving at least some part in the suffering of the Cross: "so great a part of mankind could not be out of their wits all at once."
This argument is applicable only to things once seen and continuously reported. He narrows it down first to the traditional acceptance of the Scriptures, as truthfully recounting the origins of Christianity. It is weakened by being put forward as "infallible evidence that we have the very writings of Moses," and is set to carry other weights which overburden it, but as accounting historically for the diffusion of Christianity it is sound enough for his purpose. He contrasts with it two current theories basing the acceptance of the Scriptures "upon the credit of the Church, or for themselves," showing that both involve arguing in a circle; and also the notion that they are attested by "the Spirit of God speaking to each man's heart," of which he says not quite so persuasively that it involves believing first and finding therein a motive for the belief. The authority of the Church, he says, can prove nothing at this stage, for we have to know first whether there be a Church with power to bind, and secondly "who is the Church." It should be observed that "authority" is here used in the English sense of power to command "as a corporation," and in the course of nature belief cannot be so commanded, as is shown by the controversies following the Council of Nicaea; "the positive right of the Church in deciding controversies of faith ... cannot extend to create the ground on which we are to believe." Elsewhere he takes up St. Augustine's protest, "Ego evangelio non crederem nisi me ecclesiae Catholicae commoveret auctoritas," and shows that this auctoritas means precisely what he himself is postulating, "consensio populorum atque gentium."
The origin of the faith being thus found in a tradition of things known, he passes to the origin of the Catholic Church. "There are societies," he says, "which subsist by the law of nature and nations," and the Church may be supposed one of such; but that such varieties of men as were the earliest Christians "should of their own inclination, not swayed by any information of God's will received with Christianity, agree in the same laws and rulers, submitting to the exercise of the same powers upon themselves, is as impossible as that the world should consist of the casual concourse of atoms, according to Democritus and Epicurus." This will of God being presumed, "the religion of Christians should make them one body in point of right, how many bodies soever they are burst into, in point of fact, by their own wantonness." The Church, being thus "a corporation founded by God," has analogies with all societies based on the law of nature and must have "a power of settling good order," including what he loves to call "the qualities of persons" appointed to administer the affairs of the society. He thus arrives at the starting-point of the earlier treatises, the institution of Apostles and their successors the bishops, but at present he is concerned with them only as teachers having power to decide controversies of faith. By their "daily intercourse, intelligence, and correspondence," they hold the society together. At intervals they meet in council, but this does not enhance their authority, for each brings to the gathering only what he had at home. The holding of councils is "a way of far greater despatch," but the other way of gathering consent is "a more certain foundation of peace," and may almost be called "a standing council." Here he finds "the true reason of the visibility of the Church," and where such correspondence ceases the visibility is so far obscured. There is thus from the first a rule of faith enshrined in the profession of the baptized, which should be carefully distinguished from the previous ground of faith; there is also a larger body of doctrine, comprising all that has been taught in the Church without contradiction, it being presumed that some persons of weight would certainly have been found to contradict erroneous novelties. To such terms he reasonably reduces the argument of Vincent of Lerin.
So much of the argument, filling about a quarter of the first book, I have followed pretty closely, because it is new to a reader of the earlier treatises, passing, however, most of the digressions against possible objections. Henceforward my account must be more summary.
He proceeds to consider the Power of the Keys, basing it as before on the admission or rejection of candidates for baptism. The early history of heresy and schism is traversed, and he comes to the objections raised by Selden and Hobbes to the practice of excommunication, meeting them with a frank acknowledgement that the sentence ought not to carry any consequences of civil disability, and so cutting the ground from under their feet so far as argument with him is concerned. This he emphasizes by an elaborate examination of the differences and resemblances between the Old Testament and the New, justly complaining that the objectors exaggerated the resemblances out of measure and ignored the degree to which the polity of the elder Israel was antiquated by the Gospel. One may fairly reckon with the influence of current Puritan teaching on Selden; it is impossible to make any such allowance for Hobbes, who may have deliberately sought to put himself in touch with the dominant faction, as he certainly played on the wilder spirits among the Independents. Thorndike does not make that charge against either of them, but he goes out of his way to ridicule the fantastic notion of Hobbes that the reign of Christ is to be understood as the resumption of that Kingdom of God which was set aside by the anointing of Saul; an event postponed until the General Resurrection. Again, one can hardly suppose that the mocking philosopher expected to be taken seriously, but Thorndike may have had floating before his mind the rhapsodies of the Fifth Monarchy men. I pass by his reference to Louis du Moulin, the son of a famous father but himself a rather ridiculous person, whose only title to fame is the fact that he wrote trenchantly in defence of Cromwell's most arbitrary proceedings in the matter of religion.
In all this section Thorndike seems to be hampered by his former teaching on the duty of a Christian State to support the Church in the exercise of its proper discipline.
He does not positively withdraw anything, but the trend of the argument seems to show that the reconstructed Church of his dreams will ask for nothing but assured liberty to put purely spiritual censures upon its members. A denial of that measure of privilege or protection he roundly declares to be persecution.
The remainder of the first book deals in particular with the exercise of the teaching office of the Church. Some very few points must be noted. The infallibility of the Church is in set terms denied; but what is thus rejected must be accurately understood. It is an infallibility of "the present Church" in any age, which would enable a council to "say in the same sense and to the same effect as the synod of the Apostles at Jerusalem, 'It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.'" This he takes to have been a new revelation, and a new revelation requires evidence as peremptory as that which ushered in the old; so that a mere ruling by those in authority will not suffice. For this ruling rests only on the power of the keys, which is notoriously open to abuse; therefore as an abusive employment of this power, by common consent, does not bind any man's conscience to anything but at the most a passive obedience, so it cannot bind him to an interior belief. Again, acknowledging the infallibility or inerrancy of Scripture, he denies the sufficiency of the bare text; for it is a vain pretence to say that its meaning is perfectly clear, and it is foolish to suppose that the Apostles put into their casual epistles the whole of their authentic teaching. Instruction is needed; "and those who, to find this instruction, turn simple plain-meaning Christians to that translation of the Bible which they like ... cannot be said either to teach them Christianity or sufficient means to learn it." If it be objected that by these two denials he makes it difficult to ascertain the rule of faith in any particular, he accepts that consequence with alacrity, for it makes more obvious the need of that reunion of Christendom to which he aspires; he is not quite sure that God means the search of the truth to be altogether easy, but he is sure that God has provided a sufficient guide in the tradition of the Catholic Church, when that Church can properly function.
(2) THE COVENANT OF GRACE
The subject of the second book of the Epilogue is the Covenant of Grace. It contains not quite the whole of Thorndike's treatment of the Doctrine of Grace, as understood by formal theologians, part of which has appeared in the former book, and it includes in addition much that belongs to the formal doctrine of God the Creator and of the Incarnation. This adjustment of subject-matter is caused by his peculiar mode of approach. His whole purpose in writing puts the Church foremost in his thought; but at the same time he makes the Faith, as we have seen, logically prior to the Church though not really prior in order of time. The grace of faith, its grounds and its maintenance, therefore came first in his exposition, and he appeared to exaggerate the individual aspect of Christianity, an appearance which he was then at no great pains to avoid. It is now to be corrected. The correction is made by a strong emphasis on the nature of the Gospel as a Covenant, analogous to that of the Law but different in form and content. This will enable him to proceed in strict sequence to the Laws of the Church; for the Covenant is made with God's people, and a people must be organized in a system more or less legal. [This conception of a people of God logically prior to the institutional Church has been worked out by Mr. Will Spens, the Master of Corpus, in Theology, vol. xvi, p. 137 seqq., March 1928.] The logical sequence then is: (i) acceptance of the Gospel by faith, (2) admission to the Covenant, and (3) incorporation into the Christian Society. This sequence he maintains fairly well, in spite of his inveterate habit of digression.
"The greatest difference," he begins, "that is to be discussed among those things that concern the duty of all Christians consists in this; that some of them concern Christians as Christians; others, as members of the Church. ... For mine own present purpose, it is evident that the disputes which divide us do concern either the state of particular Christians towards God, or the obligation they have to other Christians as members of the Church." And the state of particular Christians towards God is the state of Grace according to God's Covenant.
Whence comes this state? It is a symptom of the time that he thinks it necessary first to dismiss the conception i of Faustus Socinus, that the Gospel is nothing else but a revelation of God's loving-kindness, by which men are naturally drawn to a responsive love and trust. It follows from this conception that the disposition of mind which is faith is produced "by that light of understanding and that freedom of choice, which necessarily proceeds from the principles of man's nature." He might have added that the explanation presupposes a nature which has not suffered any serious perversion. He does add that it removes all need of the Incarnation, a remark which was soon to be verified in experience. Equally of the time is the refutation of the fantastic notions, (i) that the one thing necessary and conclusive is a man's belief that he himself is predestinated by God to eternal life, and (2) the Antinomian doctrine, as he calls it, "that we are justified by the obedience of Christ, performed for them for whom God appointed it," and operative in full whatever the beneficiaries may do.
His own contention is that justifying faith means acceptance of the Gospel, sealed by baptism. The sealing is important, for it is this which determines the covenant. But as he has made the Faith logically prior to the Church, so he makes the acceptance logically prior to the ceremony. He has no difficulty in showing this to be the meaning of the Apostolic practice. In the first epistle of St. Peter the equation of baptism with "the interrogation of a good conscience "points to the invariable demand that a man should give a satisfactory account of his faith before being baptized. He has no difficulty in showing the long continuance of the same demand in the practice of the Church. It was not, as it has become, a demand for a formal declaration of assent to the terms of a creed; it meant a painstaking preparation by catechizing. Thorndike dwells on this repeatedly. Making the Catechism an integral part of baptism, he feels himself competent to affirm what St. Ambrose piously hoped in the case of the younger Valentinian, that a catechumen caught by unforeseen death before actual baptism has the assurance of eternal life. He supports this by reference to well-known expressions about "baptism of desire." If he had been better acquainted with the older Latin Sacramentaries he might have cited the rubric ad faciendum Christianum, prefixed not to the ritual of baptism but to that for admitting a catechumen. But he uses the hesitation of St. Ambrose and others to emphasize the normal necessity of actual baptism. One thing is curiously wanting in his statement of the subject. He meets a difficulty, raised by Cassander, about the omission of any act of penance before baptism by replying that the Church "judgeth not those that are without." But the renunciation required of candidates is precisely such an act of penance, normally made pre-requisite. It may seem strange that he passes over the difficulty raised on this score by the baptism of infants, but that subject is postponed, except for its bearing on Pelagius, to the third book, where the practice can be treated as resting on a law of the Church.
The Covenant being made and sealed, all the promises of God at once fall due. On this ground he discharges the exaggerated distinction drawn between justification and sanctification. Justification does verbally mean no more than acquittal, "not making of a man righteous, but declaring and accounting him righteous, treating him and dealing with him as righteous," but this must not be thought of as a separate act of God, "sitting upon his throne of judgment." There is one divine act in fulfilment of the Covenant, by which a man justified is "at the same instant, of nature as well as of time, regenerate, adopted, and sanctified." A whole cloud of questions thus disappears before a breath of good sense and sound reason. The works by which St. Paul will not allow a man to be justified are definitely, he says, the observances of the Old Law, or the virtues of Gentiles who by the light of nature do anything which that law prescribes, and have no relation to the good which a man is enabled to do by the gifts of grace in the dispensation of the Gospel.
In the vast labyrinth of the Doctrine of Grace he moves with ample information and conspicuous freedom, inclining this way and that among the doctors of the Schools or the divines of the Reformation, and noting the same divergences on both sides of that divisive catastrophe. This helps his general thesis, for he observes that only the extreme opinions appearing in either camp can be reckoned destructive of the Faith; the rest, however much contested in controversy, may therefore be tolerated in the united Church to which he looks forward. I have been disposed to set out the heads of his own conclusions, but find that they would exceed my measure; so that I can but mention some of personal interest.
A new opinion about the Fall and the nature of Original Sin, recently emitted by Jeremy Taylor, he cannot accept though he will not call it heretical; he speaks highly of "that excellent doctor," whose compliance with the new Puritan order we know to have grieved him, and suggests a small modification which will bring his teaching well within the compass of orthodoxy. Original sin unremitted means eternal death, but with differences. "As for the punishment of everlasting torments upon infants that depart with it," he says, "it is a thing utterly past my capacity to understand how it concerns the necessity of Christ's coming, that those infants who are not cured by it should be thought liable to them." He applies the same reasoning to the heathen who have not heard the Gospel, and says that "to require me to believe them to be in the torments 'prepared for the devil and his angels,' because I cannot say where they are, were a reason too unreasonable for a Christian." The "limbus infantum" does not seem to appeal to him as an adequate way of escape.
But he cannot hold out to these unbaptized innocents any hope of the Kingdom of Heaven.
He clings to the scholastic status puree natures, but inconsistently appears to hold with the Louvainist Michel de Bay, whom he nowhere mentions though he is acquainted with his nephew Jacques, that the nature of unfallen man included the possibility of all spiritual advancement; unlike him, however, he argues with Duns Scotus that the Fall involves the loss only of the higher spiritual faculties which the scholastics improperly distinguished as supernatural. Fallen man is therefore naturally capable of excellent virtues, though debarred from those which are proper to Christianity. He thus allows grace given de congruo, though by a subtle distinction he excludes meritum de congruo, in order that grace may remain a gracious gift. In the profundities of divine prescience and predetermination he walks warily, contributing nothing new--unless it be that he makes excellent use of Aristotle's analysis of necessity--and refusing to accept anything that conflicts with the plainer parts of the Apostolic teaching. The Augustinus of Jansenius of Ypres he mercilessly criticizes, curiously remarking so late in the day that "the papacy enjoineth not, though it alloweth "this or that opinion debated between him and his Jesuit opponents. This seems to indicate either ignorance of the Bull In eminenti published in 1641, which is highly improbable, or a belief that the simultaneous condemnation of some Jesuit counterblasts amounted to a declaration of neutrality, which can hardly be maintained. But Thorndike was bent on removing irreconcilable differences. In the same temper he disabled the judgment of the Synod of Dort against the Arminians, and laboured to show that the Church of England was not committed to it by the presence of some English bishops and theologians.
(3) THE LAWS OF THE CHURCH
Passing in the logical order to the constitution and government of the Catholic Church, Thorndike begins his third book by renewing his constant affirmation that the activity of the Church essentially consists in the holding of sacred "assemblies," primarily for divine worship and the ministration of sacraments, consequently for teaching and the administration of spiritual discipline.
With reasonable but rather surprising precipitancy he goes straight to the culmination of worship in the Eucharist, and enters at once on the vexed question of the presence of Christ therein. He had touched this lightly in his early treatise of Religious Assemblies, and I there reserved for this place what I have to say about his teaching. I do not find it changed in any important particular after the lapse of nearly twenty years; it is presented quite as peremptorily, but with some slight softening of consequences; it has become, in a way not easily defined, more religious.
He begins by ruling out the teaching "that this sacrament is no more than a mere sign, and the celebration and communion thereof barely the renewing of our Christian profession of believing in Christ crucified, whom it representeth, importing no spiritual grace at all to be rendered by it from God,"--the teaching, that is to say, of the Sacramentaries, among whom he significantly thinks the Socinians alone to be really consistent. Slightly removed from this he reckons the receptionism of Calvin, which also makes the sacrament no more than a sign by virtue of the consecration, "seeing it is the faith of him that receives it, as they say, which makes it the Body and Blood of Christ spiritually, though truly and really, to him that so received it." Extremely distant from these and no less to be rejected, he finds the Lutheran doctrine, which allows a real divine grace of assistance, derived from the Manhood of Christ, to be given by means of the sacrament, inferring therefore that "the Body and Blood of Christ must be present in the Eucharist, to give this assistance by virtue of the hypostatic union ordained for that purpose," at the same time refusing to recognize this presence as an effect of the consecration.
Over against these products of the Reformation, which he cannot find in any earlier teaching of the Catholic Church, he sets the doctrine of transubstantiation, taught for some centuries in the Church and ultimately denned by the Council of Trent, which he subjects to a searching examination. It soon appears that he understands it in a very precise sense, as involving the destruction of the "substance" of bread, which leaves the sensible qualities or "accidents" suspended without any "subject." These terms of the School he handles with perfect clarity, and there can be no doubt that in his day the doctrine was widely taught in that precise sense, the sense expressed by the term desitio panis. The arguments of the later Nominalists made this almost inevitable, and the incoming of the Cartesian explanation of substance added to the difficulty. It was not until our own day that authorized teachers of the doctrine excluded the idea of desitio from their system. [See Franzelin, De Sacramento Eucharistia, theses xiii and xvi.] Thorndike had good reason, therefore, to take the definition in this sense; though he might have observed that conversio, the term actually used, does not in fact mean destruction. Taking it so, he built up an overwhelming case, dialectical, historical, and exegetical, against the supposed annihilation of the substance of bread, and inferred that the substance remains intact in the consecration of the Eucharist. He did not, however, infer that the doctrine of transubstantiation is heretical, or that it would be impossible to communicate with those who teach it. On the contrary he allowed that the Laws of the Church might in some circumstances forbid the denial of it. He objected only to the imposition of it as an article of faith or as a condition of communion, and he held that the Council of Trent had erred in doing this. He sums up the whole matter in these words: "That which at any time was not matter of faith,--how far soever the decree of the Church may oblige particular sons of the Church not to contradict it, for the peace of the Church,--yet at no time can ever become of force, to oblige a man to believe or to profess it for matter of faith."
Nowhere else has he more clearly expressed his conception of the Rule of Faith. The Church has authority in controversies of Faith: it may forbid either the absolute assertion or the absolute denial of anything which is doubtful, but it may not command the belief of anything which has not been explicitly or by necessary consequence included in the teaching of the Church from the beginning; and for anything to be so included the evidence of the canonical Scriptures must be adduced, since they alone directly attest the teaching of the Apostolic age.
The certainty of the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist he builds upon the purpose of the sacrament. It is, says St. Paul, "the communion of the Blood of Christ ... the communion of the Body of Christ," and he then illustrates these terms by a comparison with Gentile sacrifices which a Christian must avoid: "Ye cannot drink the cup of God and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table and the table of devils." These words read together, says Thorndike, "manifestly suppose the Eucharist to be the communion of the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross." He holds that our Lord did in fact make that sacrifice when instituting the Eucharist, and commanding its continuance. "The covenant of grace, bring enacted by the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross ... is renewed in the consecration and communion of the Eucharist, whereby that sacrifice is renewed and revived unto the world's end." To speak of renewal and revival is to use strong language, from which many will shrink, but Thorndike modifies it very slightly when he says a little later, "It becomes the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, in order to our feasting upon it." The feasting is an integral part of the sacrificial act, and he therefore leans to the conception of a change in the elements only "from the consecration to the receiving," or, as he puts it elsewhere, "in order to the use of them." Consequently "that which is done thereunto expireth, when the occasion of giving them to those for whom the Church intendeth them ceaseth." The well-known statements of Hesychius and Evagrius about the treatment of the remains of the Eucharist in their day, which he accepts without criticism at their face value, seem to him proof that this conception of the effect of consecration was then current. In one of his latest writings it appears that he held such a limitation of effect consistent with a prolonged reservation of the sacrament. "The Church," he then wrote, "ought to endeavour the celebrating of it so frequently that it may be reserved to the next communion. For in the meantime it ought to be so ready for them that pass into the other world, that they need not stay for the consecrating of it on purpose for everyone." [The Reformation of the Church of England better than that of the Council of Trent, xxxix, § 4. Haddan, vol. v, p. 578.] We may probably infer that he held the effect of consecration to cease only if the sacrament were perverted from its proper use or otherwise profaned. There is a change "wrought in the elements by the consecration of them into the sacrament," and that change, he thought, could be reversed. It was not a mere change of use, though a change relative to a particular use: "It is by no means to be denied that the elements are really changed, translated, turned, and converted into the Body and Blood of Christ." With a tremendous phrase he affirms that the Holy Spirit makes them such, "dwelling in them, as in his natural Body."
The proposition that the Eucharist is the sacrifice upon the Cross he defends at great length, with careful examination of various current opinions on the subject. He distinguishes: it is this "truly ... but not properly," not reproducing the actual incidents of that offering. "The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, as the sacrifice upon the cross is represented, renewed, revived, and restored by it, and as every representation is said to be the same thing with that which it representeth; taking 'representing' here, not for barely signifying, but for tendering and exhibiting that which it signifieth." He puts aside certain theories on the subject as superfluous, serving only to becloud the simple act. The act is not done "in the person of Christ," nor is it the act of the single minister officiating, but "the consecration is done by the prayers of the Church immediately, though these prayers are made in virtue of Christ's order." On this score he criticizes the practice of applying the benefits of the sacrifice, by a direction of intention, to particular Christians. The sacrifice is propitiatory and impetratory for all Christians alike, but he doubts whether in that character it be applicable to any but those actually communicating. Yet he is bound to admit that in all liturgies prayers are made for all states of men in the Church, "and amongst them there is a special place for those that offer at present."
It has seemed necessary to deal with this subject, as treated in two different sections of the book, thus much at length. Wealth of illustration and criticism I have passed by, and much that is, to tell the truth, rather otiose repetition. For the rest I must be as brief as possible.
He returns to Baptism, now to be regarded as a sacrament within the Church and subject to the Laws of the Church. He can therefore deal with the difficulty previously overlooked about the baptism of infants, who are not competent to make any profession of faith. He tries to solve it, (i) by saying that the children of Christian persons may be reckoned "disciples"--which would rather point to making them catechumens; (2) by citing St. Paul's assurance that the children of even one Christian parent are "holy"--which might be pressed to make baptism unnecessary; (3) by the analogy of circumcision--which would tend to make it compulsory; and (4) more impressively by "the act of our Saviour, commanding little children of the state of infancy to be brought to him." Yet it is by no means clear that these little ones were short of the age of reason; indeed, there are grounds, philological and exegetical, for thinking they were not. He falls back on the practice of the Church, acknowledging that this did not originally extend to the baptism of all infants in general, but only to the permissive baptism of some and the obligatory baptism of those in peril of death. He speaks without any doubt of the later extension of the practice, as based on grounds of expediency, but hints that on similar grounds a return to the older practice may become desirable. He approved, with a little hesitation, the abandonment of the ancient custom of giving the Eucharist to newly-baptized infants, "though in my opinion," he adds, "it is deferred far longer than it ought to be."
About the system of the Seven Sacraments, finding it accepted by the East and the West alike, he is critical, but on the whole acquiescent, objecting only to the strict limitation of that number by the Council of Trent, which is clearly not in accordance with the language of earlier times. Beginning with the strange remark that the term "sacrament," which is of course nothing but a Latin rendering of the Scriptural term, fivcrrrfpiov, is "not found in the Scriptures," he proceeds to the generic definitions of the School, and accepts the distinction of matter and form, demanding only that the form shall be found in the applicable prayers of the Church, and not in a recited formula. The subject is discussed at great length, with an immense documentation, resulting in some very individual conclusions.
He presses the use of the "vulgar tongue" in the celebration of the Eucharist by a questionable use of St. Paul's remark on "giving thanks in an unknown tongue," but allows exceptions on the ground of convenience, and acknowledges some evils caused by the abrupt adoption of the vernacular in the Church of England. He argues from ancient practice and teaching the incompleteness of the sacrifice when the faithful present do not communicate with the priest, allowing the need of exceptions and recognizing certain risks attending any attempt to enforce frequent communion; he defends on various grounds the tolerance of communion in one kind, if it be not made a rule; shows that "the adoration of the Eucharist which the Church of Rome prescribeth is not necessarily idolatry," though it may become such by misdirection of intention, and argues that the presence of the Body and Blood is "a just occasion, presently to express by the bodily act of adoration that inward honour which we always carry towards our Lord Christ as God."
He is inclined to make the effect, though not the formal validity, of baptism dependent on the authority of the bishop under which the minister acts, and shows the importance of confirmation as the episcopal sealing of the act done. Ordination is "one of the greatest powers of the Church." It is not the mere designation of persons to minister, even with the addition of some of "those graces that are called gratis datae" but is also a definite gift of "saving grace."
Penance he hopes to see revived in its original form, and he thinks poorly of the current practice of auricular confession, in which "the discipline of the Church is decayed." He is compelled, however, to conclude that the rule of the Lateran Council on the subject is "a law which the Church hath power to make," where it is made and retained by the proper authority of the episcopate. In the actual practice he finds two grave faults: (i) to give absolution before penance done is an abuse, and (2) the teaching that "attrition is changed into contrition by virtue of the keys of the Church passing upon it," is so undermining as to be "cause of questioning whether penance be a sacrament ... of the Church in which it is ministered under such an unhallowed opinion as that." Unction of the sick he relates closely to penance, with which he finds it associated in the epistle of James. He is quite sure that as there mentioned it has a sacramental character, and is treated as a complement to penance, intended to convey health of mind and body.
Marriage he treats in great detail, there being here something which he has hitherto neglected, and with marked independence. He departs from the teaching of the School, based on St. Augustine, that the contract of marriage in the order of nature is raised by the baptism of the parties to the dignity of a sacrament, of which the parties themselves are the ministers, and leans to the doctrine of the Eastern Church, which ascribes the sacramental character of the union to the blessing of the Church. That the union so blessed is by the Law of God insoluble until death is quite certain; but in face of much patristic and conciliar teaching he cannot be certain that the same divine law has not by the mouth of Jesus Christ given to an innocent party the exceptional privilege of contracting a new marriage after divorce on the ground of adultery. On the other hand he holds that this privilege, being in the nature of an exception, can be withdrawn by the authority of the Church, and he is inclined to thinly that St. Paul did withdraw it from those to whom his authority extended. That it has been withdrawn elsewhere, and in particular by the Church of England, is incontestable. Recognizing the inevitable right of the State to legislate about marriage as an institution of the Law of Nature, and to exercise jurisdiction in causes arising out of it, he argues against Selden's contention that Christians are bound as Christians by such action of the State, so that the Church cannot impose any discipline inconsistent with it. He is aware that there has been compliance in this matter, and censures it in severe terms. "When the Greek Church," he says, "yielded to allow those divorces which the civil law allowed, which at the first it did not do, then was their Christianity imbased and corrupted." He was misled by Selden into thinking that since the fall of the Roman Empire this corruption had entirely ceased. About troubles more domestic, actual or possible, he writes with evident anxiety: "When we see the civil law enforce the ministers of the Church to bless those marriages which the civil law allows but God's law makes adulteries ... then we see what a horrible breach the civil power hath made upon Christianity by hindering the power of the Church to take place."
Out of its proper place as usually understood, but characteristically in immediate sequence upon the sacrament of holy order, he deals broadly with the jurisdiction of the hierarchy, and the gradation of rank among bishops. Here he boldly faced the question of the Roman primacy. The Bishop of Rome is not only--on whatever ground of law or custom--the first of the patriarchs, but he also has certain prescriptive rights extending over the whole Western Church, "acknowledged by King James of excellent memory in his letter to the Cardinal of Perron." These must be recognized in the united Church of the future, however hard it be to agree on a definition of powers. Therefore the Pope "may justly charge them to be the cause of dividing the Church, that had rather stand divided than own him in that quality."
A chapter on the monastical life might seem to be introduced for the purpose of pointing a remark at one feature of the English Reformation, "that horrible act of abolishing the monasteries under Henry VIII." For it is not properly an institute of the Church, being only a mode of living adopted for the better exercise of Christian virtues by individuals, originally "mere laics," who remain as such, and not in any special quality, subject to the rule of the Church. The decay of the institution he attributes to the exemption of monasteries from episcopal control under the usurped power of the papacy, and looks doubtfully for a revival of its true form. The rule of clerical celibacy is brought by a straining of analogy into this connexion, and is on the whole favourably regarded, with due recognition of the dangers attending compulsory observance. "I must free the Church," he says, "from the heavy charge of bringing in 'the doctrine of devils,' foretold by St. Paul, in 'prohibiting marriage,' "since the single state is not even recommended except on account of special duties freely undertaken. He praises the "moderation" of the Eastern Church in this regard; a rather singular description of a rule which peremptorily imposes marriage on all parochial priests, celibacy or widowhood on all the clergy of higher rank. His own apparent option is for the general ordination of married men, and the discouragement, but not the absolute prohibition, of marriage after ordination.
Three chapters on the state of departed souls, "happy and miserable," seem to be outside the scope of the book, until we observe that he considers this "the nicest point ... of all that occasions the present controversies and divisions of the Western Church." In our day this seems to be an exaggeration, but even now the mention of Purgatory can arouse strange passions and bitter animosity. He presses to the utmost the retention of the souls of the saints in some state of imperfect bliss, called metonymically Paradise, until the General Resurrection. It is therefore reasonable to pray for them, as St. Paul for Onesiphorus, that they may "find mercy of the Lord in that day." In some highly speculative reasoning about our Lord's descent into hell, declared in the Creed, he misses the obvious interpretation that "Hades" or "Inferi" means simply the state of death, and pictures the Lord's soul, parting from the body on the cross, transported direct to the supposed Paradise with the soul of the penitent robber, and thence proclaiming to all souls imprisoned in "the place of the damned," his own victory and their redemption. It is hardly a more acceptable myth than that of the "verge of hell," or limbus patrum, from which the Fathers of the Old Testament were transported by the death of Christ into a paradise where they enjoy the Vision of God. But Thorndike would not allow that even the greatest saints could have the Vision of God before the General Resurrection, and his objection to the notion of Purgatory is that it implies such a transference. "What were purgatory worth," he asks, "if men were persuaded that there is no means to translate their souls out of the flames thereof into heaven before the general judgment?" But if there is no such translation, there is certainly a possible increase of "light and peace and refreshment" for the faithful departed. This is a right subject for prayer, and he deplores the removal of it from the English Prayer-book "to content the Puritans." Here again the Reformation went wrong, and further reformation is required. The conclusion is characteristically expressed: "Therefore, since unity hath not been obtained by parting with the law of the Catholic Church (in mine opinion) for the love of it, I continue the resolution to bound reformation by the rule of the Catholic Church: allowing that it may be matter of reformation to restore the prayers which are made for the dead to the original sense of the whole Church; but maintaining, that to take away all prayer for the dead is not paring off abuses but cutting to the quick."