AND COADJUTOR OF THE BISHOP OF PHILADELPHIA.
PUBLISHED BY EUGENE CUMMISKEY,
130 SOUTH SIXTH STREET.
RIGHT REVEREND SIRS:
A FEW years since, some remarks on Christian union, from the pen of one of your body, led me to address to him a letter, wherein I extended the principles he laid down to what I conceived to be their legitimate consequences. At a later period, an elaborate work, addressed to the Catholic Hierarchy, by another dignitary of your communion, which concluded with overtures for union, emboldened me to write a treatise in defence of the Primacy of the Apostolical See, which is the essential centre of Catholic unity. Neither the letter nor the treatise has been noticed by either of the prelates. In the meantime, controversy beyond the Atlantic has taken a retrograde march, and, in a celebrated English university, several points of ancient faith and discipline have been vindicated with much learning; popular errors and prejudices have been attacked and overthrown; and principles have been put forward, which the admirers of the new school, as well as its adversaries, seem now to regard as the preliminaries to peace and concord between the Anglican Establishment and the Roman Catholic Church.
 The late tract of the Rev. Mr. Newman not obscurely favors the infallible authority of Catholic councils, which he carefully distinguishes from convocations by royal authority, [* "General councils then may err, unless in any case it is promised, as a matter of express supernatural privilege that they shall not err . . . . Such a promise, however, does exist in cases when general councils are not only gathered together according to 'the commandment and will of princes,' but in the name of CHRIST according to our LORD'S promise. The Article merely contemplates the human prince, not the King of Saints. While councils are a thing of earth, their infallibility of course is not guaranteed; when they are a thing of heaven, their deliberations are overruled and their decrees authoritative. In such cases, they are Catholic councils . . . . what those conditions are which fulfil the notion of a gathering 'in the name of CHRIST' in the case of a particular council, it is not necessary here to determine. Some have included, among these conditions, the subsequent reception of its decrees by the Universal Church; others a ratification by the Pope."--pp. 21-22.] the inspiration of the books called Deutero-Canonical, the seven sacraments, purgatory and prayers for the dead, indulgences, invocation of saints, the real presence, [* The "Homilies" occupy the 11th section of the Tract, and numerous extracts are given from them to prove that,-- "The authority of the fathers, of the first six councils, and of the judgments of the Church generally, the holiness of the primitive Church, the inspiration of the apocrypha, the sacramental character of marriage, and other ordinances, the real presence in the Eucharist, the Church's power of excommunicating kings, the profitableness of fasting, the propitiatory virtue of good works, the Eucharistic commemoration, and justification by inherent righteousness, are taught in the homilies."--p. 75.] the sacrifice of mass, [* Mr. Newman maintains that the 31st Article against masses--"Neither speaks against the mass in itself, nor against it being an offering for the quick and the dead for the remission of sin; but against its being viewed on the one hand as independent of or distinct from the sacrifice of the cross, which is blasphemy; and on the other, its being [4/5] directed to the emolument of those to whom it pertains to celebrate it, which is imposture, in addition."--p. 63.] and other controverted doctrines. Whilst appearing to wish to guard the members of the Establishment from straggling towards Rome, he sufficiently betrays a desire to re-establish all the ancient doctrines in the Anglican Church that thus it may be prepared for returning to the communion of the Catholic Church. He remarks that the leading spirits of the age have observed the many indications of a general desire to return to something that is only to be found in the Church of Rome,--the reverential awe for the mysteries of faith, and the tenderness of Christian devotion. [* "In truth, there is at this moment a great progress of the religious mind of our Church to something deeper and truer than satisfied the last century. I always have contended, and will contend, that it is not satisfactorily accounted for by any particular movements of individuals on a particular spot. The poets and philosophers of the age have borne witness to it many years. Those great names in our literature, Sir Walter Scott, Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Coleridge, though in different ways, and with essential differences one from another, and perhaps from any Church system, still all bear witness to it. Mr. Alexander Knox, in Ireland, bears a most surprising witness to it. The system of Mr. Irving is another witness to it. The age is moving towards something; and most unhappily, the one religious communion among us which has of late years been practically in possession of this something, is THE CHURCH OF ROME. (!!!) She alone, amid all the errors and evils of her practical system, has given free scope to the feelings of awe, mystery, tenderness, reverence, devotedness, and other feelings which may be especially called Catholic."-Letter to Dr. Jelf.] The measures which have followed the appearance of this extraordinary publication, confirm the belief that his views are not peculiar. The mildness of the censures passed on the work, is indicative of no very hostile feeling; and if it has been thought expedient to disavow it in a semi-official manner, [5/6] and to direct the discontinuance of the publication of the Tracts, there is much to persuade us that these are purely measures of expediency. The tone of the Tracts has found an echo on this side of the Atlantic; and some appear willing to follow whither they are led by their Oxford brethren, even though it be to Rome.
The crisis has seemed to me opportune for soliciting your co-operation, Right Reverend Sirs, to effect a reconciliation with the Parent Church, and, at the risk of appearing obtrusive, I venture to submit some considerations which may recommend it to your serious attention. I disclaim most sincerely all wish to provoke a controversy, as I imagine that enough has been written on both sides to satisfy every inquirer; and the only thing worth writing about at present seems to me to be the means of effecting a union. Hitherto most persons have despaired of its possibility, in consequence of the ever-widening breach, and of the failure of many efforts made to re-unite the discordant communions; but present circumstances are peculiarly propitious, and every effort for such a purpose is laudable, whatever be the chance of success. The advantages of union are acknowledged. It would be more comforting to the Christian to be sustained in his belief by the consent of millions, than to remain isolated in the convictions of his own mind, or to be distracted by the discord of large bodies of Christian professors, at variance on most important points of revelation. It would exhibit the evidences of Christianity with increased lustre, if not only its general truth were admitted, but its doctrines received with equal unanimity; and the infidel's sarcasm, so often directed against the dissensions of believers, would lose its point, and his homage would be won for religion. The waters of bitterness would cease to flow from the fountain from which the sweet [6/7] streams of living waters should alone issue; the scandals of controversial strife would no longer disfigure the unity of Christian teaching; the mutual recriminations and calumnies of jarring sects would be heard no more; and peace and charity would commence their golden reign. How good and how pleasant would it not be to abide as brethren in unity! How great a triumph for the Gospel were all its professors as one great family, having but one heart and soul! The infidel would involuntarily exclaim at the sight:--"How beautiful are thy tabernacles, O Jacob, and thy tents, O Israel! As woody valleys, as watered gardens near the rivers, as tabernacles which the Lord hath pitched, as cedars by the water-side." [* Numbers, xxiv. 5.]
I do not conceive that discussion, either oral or written, is the means most likely to bring about this desirable union. So amply have the points of controversy been investigated by men of the most powerful intellect and deep research, that little additional light can be thrown on them. The dispassionate lecture of their works, after earnest prayer to God, seems best calculated to produce unity of sentiment, in regard to the tenets in question, and to the principle of Church authority, without the recognition of which any coincidence in special doctrines would not secure the end. Unless the Church be admitted to be "the pillar and ground of the truth," the faithful witness of revelation, and the unerring judge of doctrine, all efforts to unite in communion must necessarily be nugatory. We should have no sure motive on which to ground our assent to the revealed doctrines, and no safeguard against division. With the same facility wherewith certain tenets are admitted as derived from Scripture, [7/8] and consonant with the faith of antiquity, they might be speedily rejected by the revolting pride of individuals or societies, wanting the principle of authority whereon to repose. Hence, this has been correctly styled by an old controversial writer, "the shortest way to end disputes about Religion;" and it has given occasion to the excellent work of the celebrated Milner, "The End of Controversy," than which I know of nothing better suited to satisfy persons of intelligence and learning on this important topic, and thereby to dispose them for unity of faith. May I recommend it then for serious perusal?
The unerring authority of the Catholic Church in matters of faith being once admitted, the union would be easily accomplished. The special tenets would all be embraced on this principle, whilst they would at the same time be sustained by the most satisfactory evidence from Scripture and tradition. In the detailed review of them, care should be taken to confine ourselves to the strict definitions of faith, and not at all to mingle with them the opinions of theologians, however respectable and weighty. The profession of faith, published by the authority of Pius IV., embraces all that is proposed for our belief on the points of controversy agitated in the sixteenth century; and a reference to the decrees of the council of Trent can be made by those who desire to see further details. If union be desired, our differences should be simplified to the greatest degree possible, and no one should be called on to believe more than what is clearly defined, or to reject what the authority of the Catholic Church has not condemned. To begin by requiring disclaimers of odious tenets, which have been unjustly imputed to us, or disavowals of theological opinions, which are free, is not to promote union, but to throw obstacles in its way. Let us [8/9] plainly see what is precisely necessary to be believed as of faith, and if there be no just objection to the terms of the definitions, let us not refuse to unite, because of the practical abuses that are alleged to be built on them. The celebrated writers of the Oxford Tracts admit that the doctrine proposed by the council of Trent, concerning Purgatory, is such as against which, taken in the letter, they should scarcely be able to sustain an objection; but they allege that its practical influence is widely different. For union the admission of no mere opinion is necessary; the approbation of no abuse is desired; even the practical operation of the tenet is not proposed for approval; the dogma alone is to be considered; and if this be admissible, it will be for those who embrace it to concur in giving it the purest and best influence. Let me then entreat all who yearn after Christian unity, to seek with great singleness of purpose this "one faith," and entirely to set aside all considerations which might encumber or embarass the investigation. I cannot persuade myself that this is unattainable, where sincerity and love of unity exist. May I suggest the propriety of repeating daily that beautiful prayer which the Church uses on the third Sunday after Easter?--"O God, who dost show the light of thy truth to those that are in error, that they may return to the path of justice, grant to all that profess the Christian faith to reject all that is opposed to this profession, and to embrace all that is conformable to it, through our Lord Jesus Christ," etc. This prayer is most suitable at this time, and might with great propriety be repeated daily by all who desire Christian unity. The prayers offered up on the Continent of Europe and in England for the return of the English nation to its ancient faith, may well be imitated by us; and, with still more enlarged views, we may, in these words, supplicate the [9/10] same blessings for all the wandering children of error. I hope that the Catholics of this country will not fail to offer up their most fervent supplications for this purpose: as it is to prayer alone that this grace will be granted, that the glory may redound to God alone.
It may appear that all hope of union is taken away, by requiring an unreserved submission to all the doctrines of faith; but it is impossible that any real union could be hoped for on any other condition. To attempt any compromise would be to betray the interests of truth, and to destroy all security for its maintenance. If the sacrifice of favorite opinions to its integrity be deemed too great for human pride or weakness, let it be remembered that it is not made to man, but to God. The homage is rendered to his wisdom, that has provided this safeguard for revelation. There is no room for human triumph. We can claim nothing for ourselves, since "we are not sufficient to think any thing of ourselves as of ourselves." Faith is the gift of God, and is not the mere effort of superior intellect, or the reward of a better disposition of heart. It is bestowed by an unsearchable dispensation of divine mercy; and the very correspondence of man to grace is ultimately to be referred to the unmerited bounty of God. "O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways!" God forbid that we should glory in ourselves, or that we should seek the gratification of personal vanity in your return to the unity of the Church. It would be the triumph of divine truth over human error; and it would become us to glorify God, wonderful and merciful in all his dispensations. We regard your errors not as the wanton inventions of proud and corrupt minds, but as the unhappy legacy left by those who [10/11] wandered beyond the limits placed by the fathers: and we should unite with you in deploring them, mingling our tears with your tears,--whilst you, being made partakers of our joy, should unite with us in proclaiming the praises of God, whose mercy is confirmed upon us, and whose truth abideth for ever. It is not for us to form a human coalition by mutual sacrifices; but it is our duty to maintain the eternal covenant of God, whose truth suffers no adulteration--whose institutions cannot be remodelled by man.
The admission of the doctrinal tenets implies the fundamental principles of Church organization. It is defined by the Council of Trent, that there is a hierarchy constituted by divine ordination, and consisting of bishops, priests, and ministers. The power of the bishop of Rome, as successor of St. Peter, over all the Church, is defined by the Council of Florence, and is embraced in the profession of faith, which contains a promise of true obedience to the vicar of Jesus Christ. Against the admission of this authority, the strongest prejudices are, I know, enlisted. The Oxford Divines themselves, who have shown no great reluctance to admit almost all our other tenets which were formerly contested with great warmth, have scarcely ventured to touch the very delicate point of Papal supremacy. Yet this is the rock on which the whole edifice of Christianity rests in immoveable firmness; this is the essential centre of unity, around which all the faithful must gather in harmony of faith and obedience. For three centuries the experiment has been made to dispense with this conservative power: and the result has been that every separated mass has been broken into numberless fragments. And, may I ask, what is there in this authority that should shock prejudice? Its absolute undefined nature: its interference with liberty and independence. There can be [11/12] no absolute power in the Church of God, since the divine revelation and law put limits which none can remove. The Vicar of Jesus Christ is powerless against the truth; all his power being in support of it. His power is for edification, not for destruction, and tends essentially to combine and preserve in unity all the members of Christ. With civil liberty and independence it interferes no further than the divine law puts bounds to human power, and says to the pride of man "Thus far thou shalt go, and here thou shalt break thy swelling waves." As to any assumption by the Pope, at this day, of any political power over Catholics residing out of the Roman States, it is idle to think of it; and if the history of the middle ages present examples of this character, modern writers of celebrity have not been wanting to trace them to the peculiar state of society at that time, and to a principle eminently republican, namely, that power is a trust, which, if abused, reverts to the people. If facts of history be dispassionately considered, the Pontiff will appear to have been the organ of the people, in circumstances when they durst not speak: their shield, when they could oppose no resistance: their avenger, when they should otherwise have been trampled under foot with impunity. At all events, it is wrong to make facts of this kind a ground for refusing to admit the authority of the Pontiff in the government of the Church, which is alone required as a condition for communion. To call for disclaimers is not rightly to estimate the majesty and dignity of the Catholic Church: to wish to fix with precision the limits of a power which must be great to meet all the exigencies of the Church, in the numberless vicissitudes of ages, is to create unnecessary embarrassment. For every sincere friend of union it should suffice, that the authority is conservative and paternal, confessedly [12/13] limited by the divine law, and only to be exercised for the spiritual interests of the Christian commonwealth.
Bishops are sometimes flattered by the enemies of the Papacy, which is represented as hostile to the free exercise of their rightful prerogatives. When Dupin devised the union of Anglicans and Gallicans, though he professed his intention to seek the sanction of the Pope, when the articles of union should be agreed on, he avoided shocking the sensibilities of Archbishop Wake, whose pride, he felt, would revolt at the bare mention of an authority superior to that of his Grace of Canterbury. Yet who does not know, that Augustin, acting under the direction of Gregory the Great, had more real authority throughout Britain than any modern occupant of his See lays claim to? The admission of the pontifical power secures the freedom of the prelacy from the unjust local restraints, which the civil power oftentimes is disposed to impose, and strengthens every just exercise of episcopal authority. A Catholic bishop is no wise fettered in the exercise of his rightful prerogatives by the consideration that he is responsible for their abuse to a distant superior. It is the wise dispensation of Providence, that submission to superior authority should be the guarantee of every subaltern power, and that independence, assumed in violation of the divine constitution of the Church, should be punished by the forfeiture of all that is valuable in government. The prelate who refuses obedience to the Pope, becomes the crouching slave of a monarch; and the priest who discards the protecting authority of his bishop, is forced to fawn on laymen.
That there are other serious difficulties in the way of union cannot be dissembled. To treat of them on this occasion might be premature. Not only are errors to be renounced, and a governing authority to be recognized, but personal [13/14] interests and claims are at stake. For the present I shall only say, that the object to be attained merits the greatest sacrifices, and that the Father of the faithful would, no doubt, extend the indulgence of the Church to the utmost limits consistent with principle, and with the general interests of Religion. For myself and my colleagues I can safely say, without having had any communication with them on this subject, that nothing shall be wanting on our part to facilitate this reconciliation. In these circumstances can we despair of seeing it accomplished? Will you hesitate to concur to so glorious a work? Will you refuse to apply the necessary remedies to heal the breach of the daughter of God's people? Shall our hopes be disappointed, and shall we be left to repeat the lamentations of the prophet: "We looked for peace, and no good came: for a time of healing, and behold fear . . . . For the affliction of the daughter of my people I am afflicted, and made sorrowful, astonishment hath taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Galaad, or is there no physician there? Why then is not the wound of the daughter of my people closed?" [* Jerem. viii. 15-21.]
An impulse, Right Rev. Sirs, has been given to the religious mind which you will find it impossible to check, and difficult to resist, and if you pass not speedily with your adherents to the camp of Catholicity, there is every appearance that numbers may break from your ranks, and without you rally under its glorious banner. The will of our heart and our petition to God is for you unto salvation, and we count as dross every worldly advantage, to gain to the Church of Christ your souls, and the numbers whose eternal destinies are bound up with yours. In the sincerity of our souls we have [14/15] wished to be anathema from Christ for your sakes: and we are ready to advance to the utmost limits to which the divine law allows us, in order to facilitate your return, that we may embrace you with all the warmth of fraternal affection. We feel that we ought to be bound together by cords of love in holy unity; but it is not permitted us to go beyond the precincts of the Church to reach you in your present position; and therefore from afar we raise our voice, and with all the earnestness and affection of brothers, we exhort and conjure you to come to us, that we may impart unto you some spiritual grace to strengthen you, that is to say, that we may be comforted together in you, by that which will then be common to us all, your faith and ours. "Cum unanimitas et concordia nostra scindi omnino non debeat, quia nos, Ecclesia derelicta, foras exire, et ad vos venire non possumus, ut vos magis ad Ecclesiam matrem, et ad nostram fraternitatem revertamini, quibus possumus hortamentis petimus et rogamus." [* S. Cyprian, ep. xliv.]
Come to us, then, brethren, and be engrafted in the vine, that you may bear fruit unto everlasting life. It afflicts us deeply to see you still separated from the Church, by reason of the unhappy revolt of your ancestors from the authority of Peter. Look up, we intreat you, to that chair, which amidst the wreck of empires remains in its sublime elevation. Dynasties have passed away, and even within our days the occupants of thrones have changed, like the actors on a stage; whilst the successor of the fisherman continues to sit in the chair of unity, repeating, without regard to the prevailing prejudices of the day, the unchangeable maxims of Religion, and presenting the lasting miracle of a [15/16] power, serene and secure amidst the storms of a convulsed world, and baffling, by its clear and deep tones, the efforts of Hell to drown divine truth in the discordant sounds of erring teachers. Gregory XVI. invites you to return to the Church with the same authority and affection wherewith the first Gregory called your ancestors to her communion.
Dolor est cum vos videmus ita praecisos jacere,
Numerate sacerdotes vel ab ipsa Petri sede,
Et in ordine illo patrum quis cui successit videte:
Ipsa est petra, quam non vincunt superbae inferorum portae.
[* Aug. Psalm, contra partem Donati.]
With sincere affection in Christ, and great personal consideration, I have the honor to remain, Right Reverend Sirs,
Your obedient. servant,
FRANCIS PATRICK KENRICK,
Bishop of Arath, and Coadj. of Bishop of Phila.
Feast of St. John at the Latin Gate, 1841.