From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914
Christian and Catholic
THE RULE OF FAITH
THERE are not a few believers in Christ who are sincerely anxious to know what, as His followers, they ought to believe and do. Possibly they have been for a long time connected with some Christian denomination. It has been a help to them spiritually, and many associations bind them to it. They have enjoyed its fellowship and accepted its teaching. In a charitable spirit they have looked upon others differing from them in belief or practice as fellow-Christians. But they have gotten accustomed to their own church ways, are known in its social circle, and are contented with it. Yet they feel at times that they should be able to give better reasons than such as these for remaining where they are. Mahometans in Europe, Mormons in America can give the same. While they hold their own religious body to be preferable, they charitably admit that Christians who differ from them have convictions as strong as their own.
Which is right?
One way of cutting the Gordian knot is to say that one denomination is best suited to one class or temperament, and another to another. This is the easy solution that inertia in its laziness, not wanting to be disturbed, often takes. It might help us somewhat if the denominational differences related chiefly to forms of worship. But their divergences concern not ceremonial only, but involve doctrine. The dogmas held by one body contradict those held by another. Here one sect disbelieves in the deity of Christ, while others worship Him, which is idolatrous if He is not divine. Here the Catholic churches of the East and West believe in a system of sacerdotal and sacrificial worship, which Protestants assert belong to the old dispensation and was by Christ entirely swept away. There are some who believe in the real presence of Christ in the Holy Communion, and so give Him honor, which to others who hold the service a mere memorial one is perilously superstitious and wrong.
We have to admit that the differences are of a serious doctrinal character.
Being thus aroused, the honest conscience demands some better reason for our remaining where we are than just because we are where we are.
But grant, a reply comes, that if there are doctrinal differences, are they essential? But if they are not essential, Christians have no right on account of them to divide into separate organizations. The setting up of pulpit against pulpit and altar against altar is seriously condemned in Holy Scripture as a sin. The earnest-minded men who have founded these sects believed the differences for which they stood were essential. It is obvious that they are, for they present contrariant systems of belief and practice.
Others make reply that the multiplication of sects is not so great an evil after all, for it has tended to competition. Surely it has, and it has thereby placed a severe tax on church members to sustain,, in our smaller towns, seven or eight competing societies. It is not, as in trade, where competition benefits the public, by making goods cheaper, but this competition makes religion dearer. It also hinders its growth, it damages the goods. "Until you Christians can agree, don't bring me your wares," says the unbeliever; "first unite among yourselves, then we may listen to you."
What, then, shall we do? In taking any important journey, do you not make inquiries about the various routes? If going to some distant country, do you not take into consideration not only the comforts but the dangers of the way? Do you not seek, by study and forethought, to provide against all the hazards or perils of the journey? Do you say it does not matter which route or way, "we are all going to the same place"? On crossing the Atlantic, would you think it just as well to get into an eighteen-foot sailboat as to embark on a great ocean steamer? Do you not prudently say, "I don't want to run any unnecessary risk, I want to go in the safest and best way?"
The earnest and prayerful inquirer seeking the Christian truth thus often says, "I wish I really knew which was right. I wish I knew what Christ taught about these things. I love my own church, but I love Him more. If I knew what He would have me do, I would do it, no matter what it might cost." Some of the Apostles began their training under S. John the Baptist, and were devotedly attached to him, but at the Master's call they came out from under that pupilage and followed Him. Should He come to my sheepfold and call me, should I not obey His voice, go out and follow Him wheresoever He leadeth? As a Christian I do not want merely to please myself, but to obey and please Him.
The question then is, How shall a Christian, who accepts Christ as a master, know what, as a follower of Christ, he ought to believe and do?
There are two axioms, which before attempting to answer, it may be well to state. They would be accepted as such by almost all Christians.
Our Lord, we believe, was a prophet sent from God to teach men what it is necessary for their eternal welfare that they should know and do. He revealed an elevation of being to which without such guidance and provided aid they could not by themselves attain. It was a matter of such supreme importance that One must come from heaven as its revealer and guide. Its need and transcendent value cannot be overestimated, for it concerns the glory of God, the perfection of creation, the salvation of man. Coming to give such a revelation, Christ must have left some way by which sincere inquirers were to learn, with reasonable certainty, what they ought to believe and do. The opposite proposition, viz., that He would not have done so, but have left men to grope their way as best they could, is not credible. He would not only be shown thereby to be wanting in common sense, but would forfeit all claim to be the world's teacher. How could He be the world's teacher without leaving some way by which the willing should know what He taught and what they ought to do?
How could He be a revealer of the way to heaven, unless He clearly made known and established the means of getting there?
The second axiom, which is a corollary of the first, is this:--The way which Christ established by which His followers were to learn what they ought to believe and do, must be the best way, the safe way, the common-sense way, in fact, the way a Christian should follow.
Now we find ourselves surrounded by a babel of conflicting creeds and competing religions. But upon analysis they may, for the most part, be divided into three classes, according to their different rules of faith. By the " rule of faith " is not meant how a soul shall be brought by faith to Christ, or how by faith he is justified. But it here signifies the way by which, as a Christian or desiring to be one, he is to know what the faith is. It is his chart and compass, telling him how best to proceed, and learn what he is to believe and do. As enabling him to achieve this, it is called his rule or measure of the faith. It is his measure to whose test he brings every proposed doctrine, and accepts or rejects it, as it comes up to, or falls short of the standard. Now there are three well-known rules or measures of this kind to be found among Christians. However numerous their denominational divisions appear, they may, according to their respective rules be reduced to three groups. In seeking what as Christians we ought to know and do, it becomes us first to examine these three rules, and see which guide it is best to adopt.
First, there is a large number, embracing all the prominent Protestant sects, who take as their guide to correct belief, the rule, "the Bible and the Bible only." This is their favorite motto, and by a famous champion, Mr. Chillingworth, was regarded as the glory and boast of Protestantism. Those who take this rule inculcate on us the duty of patient, prayerful study of God's word. We are told that if we do so go to it, the Holy Spirit will enlighten us and guide us into the truth.
This rule is defended by such texts as these: "Search the Scriptures." The Jews were bidden by our Lord to do this, for He said they testified of Him. The Jews would be led thereby to believe in Him. But He does not say this was the way they were to learn what they were to believe, after they had done so. The Bereans, we are told, were more noble than the Thessalonicans, because they "searched the Scriptures daily." But this was not the only ground of their commendation; they were more noble, because from the Apostles "they received the word with all readiness of mind." The Jew was told by S. Peter that he would, by the study of the Holy Scriptures, be brought out of Judaism into salvation, through faith in Jesus Christ. The man of God could also thereby be " furnished unto all good works." None of these texts, however, state that, apart from all teachers and authority, each Christian, by reading Holy Scripture, is to learn what is Christian doctrine. But, nevertheless, most eloquently has the Bible as the only rule been defended. Why, it is said, go back to past times? Why seek light from the fathers? Why perplex oneself with past controversies? The past belongs to antiquarians and bookworms. The learning it brings is covered with the dust of departed ages. We are living in the era of discovery and light. Do you want to know the truth, let nothing come between you and it. There is the Bible. It is God's word. An open Bible was the gift of the Reformation to the world. Go directly to it. "It will make you wise unto salvation."
While much may be said in behalf of this rule, the question we must ask ourselves is this: is it the rule of faith that Jesus Christ, who established the Christian religion, gave to us? Is it the way He ordered, by which we are to know what is the Christian religion? We must all admit that this is the true test as to its correctness and value. For we have agreed that Christ, being a divine teacher, must have left one way by which honest inquirers should know what He would have them do and believe. Preachers may wax eloquent over "the Bible and the Bible only" theory, but however attractive, was it the method instituted by Christ? If it was, we dutifully accept it; if not, we must not take it for our guide.
We can easily settle the question. There is no recorded command of Christ to His Apostles bidding them write a book and disseminate it. As a matter of fact, the Christian Church was in existence and in active operation before any of the Gospels were written. The books also of the New Testament were not collected and certified till the close of the second century. Copying by hand was expensive, and so comparatively few persons could possess a copy of the whole Scripture. Now God could have had the art of printing invented in the first century as well as in the fifteenth. He could have had the Bible put into circulation when the Apostles went forth on their missionary journeys. But here is the plain fact: He did not do it. Nor does this theory meet the condition of enabling sincere persons with reasonable certainty to know the faith. For in every denomination there are persons abler and more learned than ourselves, and just as prayerful and sincere, yet the result of the Protestant theory is a babel of conflicting and contradictory doctrines on matters admitted, by their divisions into sects, to be essential. The rule of faith upon which Protestantism is based is not Christ's rule. We ought not, therefore, as His followers, to adopt it.
Another rule of faith is just the opposite. It is the Roman rule. Christianity, it is claimed, came into the world, not as a philosophy or proclamation of pardon, but as an institution. This institution is known by themselves as the Holy Roman Church. At its head is the pope. By God's endowment he has an assisting official gift of infallibility. This gift makes him, when he is speaking authoritatively in the exercise of his office as teacher, and as is said ex cathedra, to the Church, on matters of faith and morals, by himself and apart from any council, infallible.
This rule has to many devout minds a great attraction. Not merely because they are Roman Catholics and are brought up to surround with an artificial halo the bishop of Rome, but to others disturbed with the fruitless controversies of Protestantism. What we long for is a voice that can guide us. What we desire is an authority that we may rest upon. What we seek is relief from this weight of personal responsibility. We cannot trust ourselves to the ever-shifting uncertainties of Protestantism. Let us hear the voice of the Church speaking through the holy father.
This rule, it is claimed, saves us from the chaos of Protestantism. It delivers us from the anarchy of individualism. It replaces doubt by infallible certainty. It, like the other rule, has its powerful and eloquent defenders. The will o' the wisp of private opinion, luring men into pitfalls, is contrasted with the stately throne of the Vatican and the voice of Peter's successor.
But we must hear what can be said on the other side. It is to be noted that this assistance of infallibility is not attached to the holy see. The proof of this is that during a papal vacancy it is held that the Church can make no decree. It is thus seen to be a gift with which the pope is personally invested. But it is an universally admitted fact that a number of the popes have been abnormally corrupt, monsters in iniquity. How can the Holy Spirit, the Truth-Guide, co-operate with such souls? How do it to such a degree of union with Himself as to render them infallible? Our minds may be, apart from such a special union, enlightened by prevenient or actual grace. But to be infallible we must be more than gifted with light and guarded by such grace. This assistance would not secure infallibility, for we may resist such aid and guidance, and so err. An assisting grace does secure infallibility. To be secure from error, we must be so united to God (who is truth) as to be unable, for the purpose of being His organ, of being separated from Him. This is the way in which the Church becomes to us an infallible guide. The Church is infallible because the Holy Ghost dwells in it and securely unites it to Christ, whose organ it thus becomes. How, then, can bad popes with whom the Holy Spirit might plead, but cannot by His indwelling unite to the truth, nor compel without the destruction of free will, be the infallible organ of His utterance? Irresistibility of divine grace and the consequent loss of human freedom is the very touchstone of Calvinism!
We can understand how the official acts of bad ecclesiastics are valid, for the validity of their sacramental acts does not depend upon their morality, but on their priestly character. God, it may be urged, may make an ass a mechanical deliverer of certain sounds, or the Spirit may apply to the words of Caiaphas a wider than the speaker's sense; but as the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in bad men and so inseparably unite them to God as to make them the organs through whom He speaks, the infallibility of those who by the grossness of their sins have become separated from Christ is an impossibility.
It has been argued that though the Bible may be God's word, yet it is not a safe guide, since those who consult it may and often do err. But the same objection applies to the Roman rule. Suppose the pope is officially consulted and gives an official response, is the recipient who adopts it secured thereby from error? Sergius, patriarch of Constantinople, wrote to Pope Honorius to declare his opinion on a very important theological question which concerned the nature of Christ. The pope did so, and bade Sergius declare his decision. The result was, that both Sergius and Honorius were afterwards condemned as heretics by the sixth ecumenical council, were anathematized and declared cast out from the Holy Catholic Church.
Again, the rule of faith demands that the necessary guide should really be a guide. Thus it is objected to the "Bible only" rule that it is not the Bible that always controls, but the inquirer often reads into it his own presuppositions. It means what he wants it to mean. Does not the same objection apply to the papal rule? If the pope is the divinely authorized guide, he will know himself to be such, and will consequently know and act on the limitations of his powers. If, for Instance, the case of Galileo was one of scientific fact, he would have known it was one out of his province, and so would not have condemned him. If it was for an erroneous construction of Scripture, as is sometimes claimed, Galileo was condemned, then the pope failed of being a safe guide as to the interpretation of God's word. In either case he was not an infallible guide.
Again, if the pope is the pastor and teacher of all Christians, it is his prerogative and duty to guard the Church from false doctrine. When heresies arise, he will therefore take the lead in suppressing them. But in the Arian heresy we find Pope Liberius apologizing to the Arian bishops for ever having defended Athanasius, signing a deficient Arian creed, and giving the weight of his influence to Arianism! S. Hilary exclaims, "Anathema, I say to thee, Liberius;" and a third time, "Anathema to the prevaricator Liberius." Thus in this contest for orthodoxy over our Lord's deity the bishop of Rome was found not to be a safe teacher and guide of the Church.
In the important Pelagian controversy, which was concerned with grace and free will, we find Pope Innocent deciding correctly. But we also find his successor, Zosimus, being, as is now contended, imposed upon by heretics, siding with them. He did so until the African bishops, in council, firm in their resistance to his letters, set him right. In the last case he did not guide the Church, but the Church guided him.
In the Monothelite contest, which involved the truth of the two natures of Christ, with two wills, human and divine, we find Pope Honorius, of whom we spoke above, giving formally his sanction to the heretical side, declaring, "We confess one will of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is now, under the necessity of upholding the late decree of the pope's infallibility, contended either that he was not speaking ex cathedra, to the whole Church, or probably his words may bear an orthodox meaning. Granting this, it is an undisputed fact, however, that the sixth ecumenical, and two subsequent councils approved by popes, condemned him as a heretic. We have thus pope condemning pope. On the most charitable construction (and we desire to give it), Pope Honorius lamentably failed at a most critical time to be the Church's teacher and safe guide.
Another objection made to the papal rule of faith has been this: A rule or guide to the faith should not be contradictory. The Protestants say that however different interpretations may be put on Holy Scripture, nevertheless Holy Scripture itself does not change. But on the other side the popes do change, and what one has held, another pope, or the Church in council, has denied. For instance, Pope Innocent III. (i 198) declared, "I can be judged by the Church for a sin concerning the faith." Innocent IV. (1242) said, "A pope can err in faith, and therefore no one ought to say, I believe what the pope believes, but, what the Church believes." Adrian VI. declared "that it was possible for popes to promulgate heresy in decrees."
Eugenius IV. said that the decision of a council is to be preferred to the sentence of a bishop of Rome. Innocent I. and Gelasius held, contrary to modern opinion, that "infants who died without communion went straight to hell." Stephen II. taught that baptism administered with wine was lawful. Nicholas I. assured the Bulgarians that baptism in the name of Christ.was valid. Gregory II. decided that marriages between a freeman and a slave (they might be of the same race) might be dissolved. Celestine III. held that the marriage tie was dissolved if either party became a heretic. Urban II. declared the lawfulness of killing an excommunicated person. Eugenius IV. in a formal document misstated the form and matter of holy order, making the delivery of the instruments, the paten and chalice, essential to its conveyance, which if true would have nullified the orders of the first thousand years.
We must, in order to uphold the modern papal theory, regard these, and other like pronouncements with them, as the private opinions of the bishops of Rome. But then we are still, so far as the rule of faith is concerned, in the same difficulty. Why did they not resort in these important matters to their infallible power and decide correctly? Not to exert a power so essential to the salvation of men is in the highest degree criminal. Either, then, the popes did not know they possessed this assisting gift, in which case their ignorance proves they did not possess it; or by giving out private and sometimes erroneous opinions they have failed to exercise it, and so shown that they are not safe, still less infallible guides.
But what shall we say in presence of the fact that for a generation or more there have been rival popes engaged in unhappy contests and excommunicating one another? If one alone was the true pope, one only was infallible. But how was the Church to know which of the claimants was infallible and which not? There were saints, we are told, ranged on all sides, which seems to show that the element of papal infallibility was not a necessary part of the rule of faith. There has been, says the Protestant, no practical difficulty as to what was the Bible, but a serious one as to who was the pope.
But be all this as it may, the real test of the papal rule is the same as that of the Protestant: is it the one ordained by Christ? Is this the way He established, by which His followers should know what they were to believe and do?
We are here obliged as before to answer in the negative. If it had been the rule of Christ, it would have been universally known as such and acted on from the beginning. We know that the Orthodox Eastern Church has never recognized its existence. In the Roman Communion, the papal infallibility was not made a dogma till 1870. Before that year it was indeed denied by persons in authority to be a doctrine of the Church. In "Keenan's Catechism," which had the imprimatur of Roman bishops, we find the question, "Must not Catholics believe the pope in himself to be infallible?" Answer, "No; that is a Protestant invention; it is no article of the Catholic faith; no decision of his can oblige, under pain of heresy, unless it be received and enforced by the teaching body, that is, by the bishops of the Church." The same was stated in a famous work, "The Faith of Catholics," compiled by Fathers Berington and Kirk. "It is no article of the Catholic faith to believe that the pope is in himself infallible, separated from the Church, even in expounding the faith; by consequence, papal definitions or decrees, in whatever form pronounced, taken exclusively of a general council or acceptance of the Church, oblige none."
Now the rule of faith, to be the guide to truth, must have been recognized as such from the beginning. If it is a fatal objection to the Protestant theory of "the Bible and Bible only," that the Bible was not in the hands of the people till the fifteenth century, it is equally a fatal objection to the present Roman rule that its element of the papal infallibility was not certified to the Church till the nineteenth century. Rome, in this respect, is three hundred years more modern than Protestantism.
Let us turn to the third rule to guide Christians. Christ did not order or provide for any book to be circulated. He forbade our following any one person. "Call no man master." He endowed His Church with the Holy Spirit, making the Church thereby a living organism, through which He acts, gathering souls into His saving light and life. In the Church are to be found the Holy Scriptures and the sacraments. By the Church the Scriptures are preserved and interpreted to our enlightenment, and the sacraments are administered for our reception of life. We hear the voice of Christ speaking to us through the Church as guided by the Holy Spirit, it interprets the written word, and makes the truth known within us by our union with it.
The four points of this rule of faith are these:--Christ reveals, the Spirit guards, the Church utters, the soul comes to know it.
I. The first point means that Christ not only taught certain truths, but was Himself the truth. He is the logos, the wisdom itself. He is the revelation. It is complete in Him. What He was, did, and said is the revelation of God to man.
We have thus an answer to the popular saying that we are living in an age of enlightenment and new discoveries and must not be tied to old truths. The answer is this: A distinction must be observed between revealed truth and all other truth. The latter depends for its progress on observation and experiment. The longer the world lasts the more time it will have to make observations and experiments, and so the wiser it will grow. But it is different with the truth revealed in Christ. It was given in Him, in its completeness, and once for all. While therefore it is no objection in any other class of truth, that a proposed theory is new or destructive of what has gone before, in respect of Christian truth, it is an obvious axiom that what is new is necessarily false.
II. The next point of the rule of faith is: The Spirit guards it. Here we must notice the office of the Holy Spirit in its relation to Christ. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in the Church to make it the organ of His revelations, for the Holy Spirit is not .the revealer of truth, but Christ; who is the revealer of God to man. The office of the Holy Spirit is to guide the Church into all truth, by bringing to her remembrance and giving her an understanding of all that Christ was or uttered or did.
The Holy Spirit in the performance of this duty guides and guards the Church in two ways, by enlightening her authorized teachers, and by His overruling providence. When, in consequence of the rise of a heresy, the Church in council is obliged to defend the faith, the Holy Spirit enlightens the bishops in their decisions and the Church in its acceptance of them. By the new definition, if one is required, the Church clears away the fog of error, and enables her children to see clearly the old truth which had been held from the beginning. When, however, the Holy Spirit sees that the fathers in council, being under duress or deceived by forged decretals, are likely to go wrong, He prevents the council's decisions from having an ecumenical value. This is done in various ways. The Church does not give her consent to the conciliar action, or God overrules the divisions of Christendom to the preservation of the Church in her teaching office. Thus, while in the one case He enlightens the Church, enabling her to speak, He also, when she would go wrong, either by denying or adding to the faith, lays His hand on her mouth. Infallibility has been preserved by the division of Christendom. In these two ways the Spirit guards the faith once revealed.
III. This faith thus delivered and guarded the Church declares. It is to be found in the common consent of Christendom. What the Church has from the beginning always and everywhere declared to be the faith must indeed be so. For it is not possible that a divine teacher would so poorly have provided for the preservation of His revelation as that a great majority of His followers would fall into error. This faith so proclaimed has been also protected in the accepted creeds. It is set forth in the liturgies of the Eastern and Western Churches. It has efficaciously been proclaimed by the sacraments, which may be called the "gospel in action." In respect of the Episcopal government of the Church, the three sacred orders of the ministry, the preserved Apostolic succession through Episcopal ordination, the Christian priesthood, and the real presence and eucharistic sacrifice, Catholic Christendom is united. Protestantism, having lost priesthood, has no consciousness of these gifts. But wherever the Apostolic priesthood has been preserved, the consciousness of all Catholics proclaims, by words and heroic lives of self-sacrifice, their possession.
We may regret the divisions of Christendom, but God has overruled them in one way to good. In consequence, the Church is protected from adding with Ecumenical authority any articles to the faith. This is an advantage, for it is not the Church's duty, nor is it for man's good for her to answer all the questions the curiosity of theologians may choose to ask. The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church to protect her in the truth revealed in Christ and enable man to be wise unto salvation. What she has not, by the concurrence of her several parts, declared, she merely leaves as matters of pious opinion. But as each portion of the Church, the Eastern and Western, the Russian, Greek, Roman, and Anglican, proclaims the faith of undivided Christendom, each fulfils its prophetical office and their respective members accept it on the Church's authority.
The Anglican Church has not become reduced to like "dogmatic helplessness," as Rome when for seventy years there were rival popes. She maintains the Catholic faith and her living utterance is to be found in her Book of Common Prayer. In America, Diocesan Courts and Courts of Review are established, and appeal lies in matters of doctrine to the House of Bishops. In England the Lincoln judgment shows that the metropolitan has not lost his ancient authority. And let the fundamental truths of the creed be denied and a bishop like Colenso or priests like Dr. Crapsey and Rev. McQueary are deposed.
The voice of the Catholic Church in each division of it is thus not a dead but an authoritative and a living voice. It is a living and continuous utterance. Her conciliar decisions, for example, are not like those of a secular court. What she declared of old at Nicaea and elsewhere she has continued, day by day, at thousands of altars and by hundreds of millions of her children, to declare. As one approaches Niagara, the traveller gradually recognizes the deep undertone of the falls, solemn as the judgment, unfailing as eternity. But the ears of the townspeople become paralyzed to the awful utterance and only the attentive ear hears the deep diapason of the water's voice. So it is with the Catholic Church. She is ever proclaiming, in the midst of the world's tumultuous babel of contending utterances, the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, and the wise and humble-minded listeners hear her living voice. It is a voice coming up from behind and yet as present with them, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it."
The Christian soul comes with increasing clearness of vision and certainty to know the truth. Drawn by prevenient grace to accept Christ, the newly baptized becomes united to the Church and so becomes a living stone in that spiritual temple which is filled with the Holy Spirit. As a member of this temple and so spiritually illuminated, the Christian soul hears the voice of the Spirit speaking in and through it. At first, like a child it believes what it is told to believe. As it advances in light under the Church's paternal authority, the Holy Scriptures are seen to corroborate the Church's teaching and the proficient is able to give a reason for the faith that is in him. As he acts on the faith, he becomes gradually transformed by it. He then not only holds certain truths, but the truth takes possession of him. He advances from belief based on authority and reason to the certainty that comes from possession. He knows in whom he believes. For Christ dwells in him and he in Christ.
This is the Catholic rule of faith, the rule Christ established when he told us to "hear the Church," and "if any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine."