Tracts for the Times
ON THE CONTROVERSY WITH THE ROMANISTS.
(Against Romanism.No. 1.)
THE controversy with the Romanists has overtaken us "like a summer's cloud." We find ourselves in various parts of the country preparing for it, yet, when we look back, we cannot trace the steps by which we arrived at our present position. We do not recollect what our feelings were this time last year on the subject,what was the state of our apprehensions and anticipations. All we know is, that here we are, from long security ignorant why we are not Roman Catholics, and they on the other hand are said to be spreading and strengthening on all sides of is, vaunting of their success, real or apparent, and taunting us with our inability to argue with them.
The Gospel of Christ is not a matter of mere argument; it does not follow that we are wrong, and they are right, because we cannot defend ourselves. But we cannot claim to direct the faith of others, we cannot check the progress of what we account error, we cannot be secure (humanly speaking) against the weakness of our own hearts some future day, unless we have learned to analyse and to state formally our own reasons for believing what we do believe, and thus have fixed our creed in our memories and our judgments This is the especial duty of Christian Ministers, who, as St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, must be ready to dispute, whether with Jews or Greeks. That we are at present very ill practised in this branch of our duty, (a point it is scarcely necessary to prove) is owing in a very great measure to the protection and favour which have long been extended to the English clergy by the state. Statesmen have felt that it was their interest to maintain a Church, which, absorbing into itself a great portion of the religious feeling of the country, sobers and chastens what it has so attracted, and suppresses by its weight the intractable elements which it cannot persuade; and, while preventing the political mischiefs resulting whether from fanaticism or selfwill, is altogether free from those formidable qualities which distinguish the ecclesiastical genius of Rome. Thus the clergy have been in that peaceful condition in which the civil magistrate supersedes the necessity of struggling for life and ascendency; and amid their privileges it is not wonderful that they should have grown secure, and have neglected to inform themselves on subjects on which they were not called to dispute. It must be added, too, that a feeling of the untenable nature of the Roman doctrines, a contempt for their arguments, and a notion that they could never prevail in an educated country, have not a little contributed to expose us to our present surprise.
In saying all this, it is not forgotten that there is still scattered about the Church much learning upon the subject of Romanism, and much intelligent opposition to it: nor on the other hand does the present series of Tracts pretend to be more than an attempt towards a suitable consideration of it on the part of persons who feel in themselves, and see in others a deficiency of information.
It will be the object, then, of these Tracts, should it be allowed the editor to fulfil his present intention, to consider variously, the one question, with which we are likely to be attacked, why, in matter of fact, we remain separate from Rome. Some general remarks on the line of argument hence resulting, will be the subject of this paper.
Our position is this. We are seated at our own posts, engaged in our own work, secular or religious, interfering with no one, and anticipating no harm, when we hear of the encroachments of Romanism around us. We can but honour all good Romanists for such aggression; it marks their earnestness, their confidence in their own cause, and their charity towards those whom they consider in error. We need not be bitter against them; moderation, and candour, are virtues under all circumstances. Yet for all that, we may resist them manfully, when they assail us. This then, I say, is our position, a defensive one; we are assailed, and we defend ourselves and our flocks. There is no plea for calling on us in England to do more than this,to defend ourselves. We are under no constraint to go out of our way spontaneously to prove charges against the Romanists; but, when asked about our faith, we give a reason why we are this way of thinking, and not that. This makes our task in the controversy incomparably easier, than if we were forced to exhibit an offensive front, or volunteered articles of impeachment against the rival communion. "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called," is St. Pauls direction. We find ourselves under the Anglican regimen; let every one of us, cleric and layman, remain in it, till our opponents have shown cause why we should change, till we have reason to suspect we are wrong. The onus probandi plainly lies with them. This, I say, simplifies our argument, as allowing us to content ourselves with less of controversy than otherwise would be incumbent on us. We have the strength of possession and prescription. We are not obliged to prove them incurably corrupt and heretical; no, nor our own system unexceptionable. It is in our power, if we will, to take very low ground; it is quite enough to ascertain that reasons cannot be brought why we should go over from our side to theirs.
But besides this, there are the Apostles injunctions against disorder. Did we go over to the Roman Catholics, we should be fomenting divisions among ourselves, which would be a prima facie case against us. Of course there are cases where division is justifiable. Did we believe, for instance, the English Church to be absolutely heretical, and Romanism to be pure and Catholic, it would be a duty, as the lesser evil, to take part in a division which truth demanded. Else it would be a sin. Those dissenters who consider union with the state to be apostasy, or the doctrine of baptismal regeneration a heresy, are wrong, not in that they separate from us, but in that they so think.
And further, a debt of gratitude to that particular branch of the Church Catholic through which God made us Christians, through which we were new born, instructed, and (if so be) ordained to the ministerial office; a debt of reverence and affection towards the saints of that Church; the tie of that invisible communion with the dead as well as the living, into which the sacraments introduce us; the memory of our great teachers, champions, and confessors, now in Paradise, especially of those of the seventeenth century, Hammonds name alone, were there no other, or Hookers, or Kens,bind us to the Anglican Church, by cords of love, except something very serious can be proved against it. But this surely is impossible. The only conceivable causes for leaving its communion are, I suppose, the two following; first, that it is involved in some damnable heresy, or secondly, that it is not in possession of the sacraments: and so far we join issue with the Romanist, for these are among the chief points which he attempts to prove against us.
However, plain and satisfactory as is this account of our position, it is not sufficient, for various reasons, to meet the need of the multitude of men. The really pious and sober among our flocks will be contented with it. They will naturally express their suspicion and dislike of any doctrine new to them, and it will require some considerable body of proof to convince them that they ought even to open their ears to it. But it must be recollected, that there is a mass of persons, easily caught by novelty, who will be too impetuous to be restrained by such advice as has been suggested. Curiosity and feverishness of mind do not wait to decide on which side of a dispute the onus probandi lies. The same feelings which carry men now to dissent, will carry them to Romanism, novelty being an essential stimulant of popular devotion, and the Roman system, to say nothing of the intrinsic majesty and truth which remain in it amid its corruptions, abounding in this and other stimulants of a most potent and effective character. And further, there will ever be a number of refined and affectionate minds, who, disappointed in finding full matter for their devotional feelings in the English system, as at present conducted, betake themselves, through human frailty, to Rome. Besides, ex parte statements may easily suggest scruples even to the more sensible and sober portion of the community; and though they will not at all be moved ultimately from the principle above laid down, viz. not to change unless clear reason for change is assigned, yet they may fairly demand of their teachers and guides what they have to say in answer to these statements, which do seem to justify a change, not indeed at once, but in the event of their not being refuted.
Thus then we stand as regards Romanism. Strictly speaking, and in the eyes of soberly religious men, it ought not to be embraced, even could it be made appear in some points superior to (what is now practically) the Anglican system; St. Paul even advising a slave to remain a slave, though he had the option of liberty. If all men were rational, little indeed would be necessary in the way of argument, only so much as would be enough to set right the misconceptions which might arise on the subject in dispute. But the state of things being otherwise, we must consult for men as they are; and in order to meet their necessities, we are obliged to take a more energetic and striking line in the controversy than can in strict logic be required of us, to defend ourselves by an offensive warfare, and to expose our opponents argument with a view of recommending our own.
This being the state of the case, the arguments to be urged against Romanism ought to be taken from such parts of the general controversy as bear most upon practice, and at the same time kept clear of what is more especially sacred, and painful to dispute about. Its adherents assault on us will turn (it is to be presumed) on strictly practical considerations. They will admit that the English Church approaches in many points very near to themselves, and for that very reason was wrong in separating from them:that it is in danger far more as being schismatical than as heretical:that our Lord commanded and predicted that His Church should be one; therefore, that the Roman and the Anglican communions cannot both be His Church, but that one must be external to it:that the question to be considered by us is, what our chance is of being the true Church; and, in consequence, of possessing the sacraments:that we confess Rome to be a branch of Christs Church, and admit her orders, but that Rome does not acknowledge us; hence that it is safer for us to unite to Rome:that we are, in matter of fact, cut off from the great body of the Church Catholic, and stand by our
selves:that we suffer all manner of schism and heresy to exist, and to propagate itself among us, which it is inconceivable that the true Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, should ever do: that this circumstance, if there were no other, being an inconsistency, involves a prima facie case against us, for the consideration of those who are not competent to decide in the matter of doctrine:that, if our creed were true, God would prosper us in maintaining it, according to the promise:moreover, were there no other reason, that our forms of administering the sacraments are not such as to make us sure that we receive Gods grace in them. These, and the like arguments, we may suppose, will be urged upon the attention of our members, being not of a technical and scholastic, but of a powerfully practical character; and such must be ours to oppose them. Much might be said on this part of the subject. There are a number of arguments which are scarcely more than ingenious exhibitions, such as would be admired in any game where skill is every thing., but which as arguments tell only with those on our own side, while an adversary thinks them unfair. Their use is not here denied in matter of fact, viz. in confirming those in an opinion, who already hold it, and wish reasons for it. When a man is (rightly or wrongly) of one particular way of thinking, he needs, and (it may be added) allowably needs very little argument to support him in it to himself. Still it is right that that argument should be substantially sound; substantially, because for major reasons, certain accidental peculiarities in the form of it may be necessary from the peculiarities of his mind, which has been accustomed to more in some one line and not in another. If the argument is radically unreal, or (what may be called) rhetorical or sophistical, it may serve the purpose of encouraging those who are already convinced, though scarcely without doing mischief to them, but certainly it will offend and alienate the more acute and sensible; while those who are in doubt, and who desire some real and substantial ground for their faith, will not bear to be put off with such shadows. Thus, for instance, to meet the Romanists charge against us of scepticism, because we do not believe this or that portion of their doctrine, an argument has been sustained by Protestants, in proof of the scepticism of the Roman system. Who does not see that Romanism erring on the whole in superstition not in unbelief, this is an unreal argument, which will but offend doubting and distressed minds, as if they were played with; however plausibly and successfully it might be sustained in a trial of strength, and whatever justice there really may be in it? Nor is it becoming, over and above its inexpediency, to dispute for victory not for truth, and to be careless of the manner in which we urge conclusions, however sound and important. Again, when it is said that the saints cannot hear our prayers, unless God reveal them to them; so that Almighty God, upon the Roman theory, conveys from us to them those requests which they are to ask back again of Him for us, we are certainly using an unreal, because an unscriptural argument; Moses on the Mount having the sin of his people first revealed to him by God, that he in turn might intercede with God for them. Indeed, it is through Him "in whom we live, and move, and have our being," that we are able in this life to hear the requests of each other, and to present them to Him in prayer. Such an argument then, while shocking and profane to the feelings of a Romanist, is shallow even in the judgment of a philosopher. Here may be mentioned the warrantable application of texts, such as that of John v. 39. "Search the Scriptures," in disproof of the Roman doctrine that the Apostles have handed down some necessary truths by Catholic Tradition; or again, Eccles. xi. 3. "If the tree fall towards the south, or towards the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be," a palmary objection to Purgatory.
The arguments, then, which we use, must be such as are likely to convince serious and earnest minds, which are really seeking for the truth, not amusing themselves with intellectual combats, or desiring to support an existing opinion any how. However popular these latter methods may be, of however long standing, however easy both to find and to use, they are a scandal; and, while they lower our religious standard from the first, they are sure of hurting our cause in the end. But again, our arguments must not only be true and practical, they must avoid being abstract arguments and on abstract points. For instance, it will do us little good with the common run of men, in the question of the Popes power, to draw the distinction, true though it is, between his primacy in honour and authority, and his sovereignty or his universal jurisdiction. The force of the distinction is not here questioned, but it will be unintelligible to minds unpractised in ecclesiastical history. Either the Bishop of Rome has really a claim upon our deference, or he has not; so it will be urged; and our safe argument at the present day will lie in waiving the question altogether, and saying that, even if he has, according to the primitive rule, ever so much authority, (and that he has some, e. g. the precedence of other bishops, need not be denied,) that it is in matter of fact altogether suspended, and under abeyance, while he upholds a corrupt system against which it is our duty to protest. At present all will see he ought to have no "jurisdiction, power, superiority, preeminence, or authority, within this realm." It will be time enough to settle his legitimate claims, and make distinctions, when he removes all existing impediments to our acknowledging him; it will be time enough to argue on this subject, after first deciding the other points of the controversy. Again, the question of the Rule of Faith is an abstract one to men in general, till the progress of the controversy opens its bearings upon them. True, the intelligible argument of ultra-Protestantism may be taken, and we may say, "The Bible, and nothing but the Bible," but this is an unthankful rejection of another great gift, equally from God, such as no true Anglican can tolerate. If, on the other hand, we proceed to take the sounder view, that the Bible is the record of necessary truth, or of matters of faith, and the Church Catholics tradition is the interpreter of it, then we are in danger of refined and intricate questions, which are uninteresting and uninfluential with the many. It is not till they are made to see that certain notable tenets of Romanism depend solely on the Apocrypha, or on Tradition, not on Scripture, that they will understand why the question of the Rule of Faith is an important one.
It has been already said that our arguments must also keep clear, as much as possible, of the subjects more especially sacred. This is our privilege in these latter days, if we understand it, that with all that is painful in our controversies, we are spared that distressing necessity which lay upon the early Church, of discussing questions relative to the divine nature. The doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, form a most distressing subject of discussion, for two reasons; first, as involving the direct contemplation of heavenly things, when one should wish to bow the head and be silent; next as leading to arguments about things possible and impossible with God, that is (practically) to a rationalistic line of thought. How He is Three and yet One, how He could become man, what were the peculiarities of that union, how He could be every where as God, yet locally present as man, in what sense God could be said to suffer, die, and rise again,all these questions were endured as a burden by the early Christians for our sake, who come after; and with the benefit of their victories over error, as if we had borne the burden and heat of the day, it were perverse indeed in us, to plunge into needless discussions of the same character. This consideration will lead us to put into the background the controversy about the Holy Eucharist, which is almost certain to lead to profane and rationalistic thoughts in the minds of the many, and cannot well be discussed in words at all, without the sacrifice of "godly fear," while it is weld nigh anticipated by the ancient statements, and the determinations of the Church concerning the Incarnation. It is true that leaned men, such as Stillingfleet, have drawn lines of distinction between the doctrine of transubstantiation, and that high mystery; but the question is, whether they are so level to the intelligence of the many, as to secure the Anglican disputant from fostering irreverence, whether in himself or his hearers, if he ventures on such an argument. If transubstantiation must be opposed, it is in another way; by showing, as may well be done, and as Stillingfleet himself has done, that, in matter of fact, it was not the doctrine of the early Church, but an innovation at such or such a time; a line of discussion which requires learning both to receive and to appreciate.
In order to illustrate the above view, the following are selected by way of specimen of those practical grievances, to which Christians are subjected in the Roman Communion, and which should be put into the foreground in the controversy.
1. The denial of the cup to the laity. Considering the great importance of the holy eucharist to our salvation, this seems a very serious consideration for those who seek to be saved. Our Lord says, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." If it be recriminated, as it sometimes is, that we think it no risk to sprinkle instead of immersing in baptism, it is obvious to answer that we not only do not forbid, we enjoin immersion; we only do not forbid sprinkling in the case of infants, and that the laity are defrauded, if defrauded, by their own fault, or the fault of the age, not the fault of the Church.
2. The necessity of the priests intention to the validity of the Sacraments. The Church of Rome has determined, that a Sacrament does not confer grace unless the priest means it to do so; so that if he be an unbeliever, nay, if he, from malice or other cause, withholds his intention, it is not a means of salvation. Now, considering what the Romanists themselves will admit, the great practical corruption of the Church at various times,considering that infidels and profligates have been in the Papal Chair, and in other high stations,who can answer, on the Church of Romes own ground, that there is still preserved to it the Apostolical succession as conveyed in its sacrament of Orders? what individual can answer that he himself really receives in the consecrated wafer, even that moiety of the great Christian blessing which alone remains to him in the Roman Communion? We indeed, believe, (and with comfort) that the administration of the Sacrament is effectual in those Churches, in spite of their undermining their own claim to the gift. Still let it be recollected, no one can become a Romanist without believing that the Church he has joined has no truer certainty of possessing it than that communion which, probably on the very account of its uncertainty in this matter, he has deemed it right to abandon.
3. The necessity of confession. By the council of Trent, every member of the Church must confess himself to a priest once a year at least. This confession extends to all mortal sins, that is, to all sins which either are done willingly or are of any magnitude. Without this confession, which must be accompanied by hearty sorrow for the things confessed, no one can be partaker of the Holy Communion. Here is a third obstacle in the way of our receiving the grace of the Sacraments in the Roman Church, which surely requires our diligent examination, before it be passed over. That there is no such impediment sanctioned in Scripture, is plain, yet to believe in it is a point of faith with the Romanist. The practice is grievous enough; but it is not enough to submit to it; you must believe that it is part of the gospel doctrine, or you are committing one of those mortal sins which are to be confessed; and you must believe, moreover, that every one who does not believe it, is excluded from the hope of salvation. But, not to dwell on the belief in the necessity of confession itself, consider the number of points of faith which the Church of Rome has set up. You must believe every one of them; if you have allowed yourself to doubt any one of them, you must repent of it, and confess it to the priest. If you knowingly omit any one such doubt you have entertained, and much more if you still cherish it, your confession is worse than useless; nay, such conduct is considered sacrilege, or the sin against the Holy Ghost. Further, if, under such circumstances, you partake of the Communion, it is a partaking of it unworthily to your condemnation.
4. The unwarranted anathemas of the Roman Church is a subject to which the last head has led us. Here let us put aside, at present, the prejudice which has been excited in the minds of Protestants, against the principle itself of anathematizing, by the variety and comparative unimportance of the subjects upon which the Roman Church has applied it m practice. Let us consider sincerely the state of the case in that Church. Every Romanist is, by, the creed of his Church, in mortal sin, unless he believes every one else excluded from Christian salvation, who, with means of knowing, yet declines any one of those points which have been ruled to be points of faith. If a man for instance, who has had the means of instruction, doubts the Churchs power of granting indulgences, he is exposed, according to the Romanists, to eternal ruin. Now this consideration, one would think, ought to weigh with those of our own Church who may be half converts to the Roman; not that our own salvation is not our first concern, but that such cruelty as this is, such narrowing, the Scripture terms of salvation, (for no one can say this doctrine is found in Scripture,) is a presumption against the purity of that Church's teaching. But a further reflection may be added to the above. Such as have not had an opportunity of knowing the truth, are, it must be observed, not exposed to this condemnation. This at first sight would seem a comfort to those whose relations and friends have died in Protestantism. But observe, the Church of Rome, we know, retains the practice of praying for the dead. It will be natural for a convert from Protestantism, first of all, to turn his thoughts towards those dearest relations, say his parents, who have lived and diet in involuntary ignorance of Catholicism. He is not allowed to do so, he can only pray for the souls in Purgatory; none have the privilege of being in Purgatory but such as have died in the communion of the Roman Church, and his parents died in Protestantism.
5. Purgatory may be mentioned as another grievous doctrine of Romanism. Here again, if Scripture, as interpreted by tradition, taught it, we should be bound to receive it; but, knowing as we do, that even St. Austin questioned the doctrine in the fifth century, we may well suspect the evidence for it. The doctrine is this; that a certain definite punishment is exacted by Almighty God for all sins committed after baptism; and that they who have not by sufferings in this life, whether trouble, penance, and the like, run through it, must complete it during the intermediate state in a place called Purgatory. Again, all who die in venial sin, that is, in sins of infirmity, such as are short of mortal, go to Purgatory also. Now what a light does this throw upon the death of beloved and revered friends! Instead of their "resting from their labours," as Scripture says, there are (ordinarily speaking) none who have not to pass a time of trial and purification, and, as Romanists commonly believe, in fire, or a torment analogous to fire. There is no one who can for himself look forward to death with hope and humble thankfulness. Tell the sufferer upon a sick bed that his earthly pangs are to terminate in Purgatory, what comfort can he draw from religion? If it be said, that it is a comfort in the case of bad men, who have begun to repent on their death bed; this is true, I do not deny it; still the doctrine, in accordance, be it observed, with the ultra-Protestantism of this age, evidently sacrifices the better part of the community to the less deserving. Should the foregoing reasoning seem to dwell too much on the question of comfortableness and uncomfortableness, not of truth, I reply, first, that I have already stated that Scripture, as interpreted by tradition, does not teach the doctrine; next, that I am arguing against the Romanists, who are accustomed to recommend their communion on the very ground of its being safer, more satisfactory, and more comfortable.
6. The Invocation of Saints. Here again the practice should be considered, not the theory. Scripture speaks clearly and solemnly about Christ as the sole Mediator. When prayer to the Saints is recommended at all times and places, as ever present guardians, and their good works pleaded in Gods sight, is not this such an infringement upon the plain word of God, such a violation of our allegiance to our only Saviour, as must needs be an insult to Him? His honour He will not give to another. Can we with a safe conscience do it? Should we act thus in a parallel case even with an earthly friend? Does not St. Johns example warn us against falling down before angels? Does not St. Paul warn us against a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels? And are not these texts indications of Gods will, which ought to guide our conduct? Is it not safest not to pay them this extraordinary honour? As an illustration of what I mean, I will quote the blessing pronounced by the Pope on the assembled people at Easter:
"The holy Apostles Peter and Paul, from whom has been derived our power and authority, themselves intercede for us to the Lord. Amen."
"For the prayers and righteous deeds of the blessed Mary, ever Virgin, of the blessed Michael the Archangel, of the blessed John the Baptist, of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the saints, Almighty God have mercy upon you, and Jesus Christ absolve you from all your sins, and bring you to life everlasting. Amen."
"The Almighty and merciful Lord, grant to you pardon, absolution, and remission of all your sins, time for true and fruitful penitence, an ever penitent heart, and amendment of life, the grace and comfort of the Holy Ghost and final perseverance in good works Amen."
"And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, come down upon you and remain with you always. Amen."
7. The Worship of Images might here be added to these instances of grievances which Christians endure in the Communion of Rome, were it not that in England its rulers seem, at present, to have suspended the practice out of policy, though it is expressly recommended by the Council of Trent, as if an edifying usage. In consequence of thing decree of the Church, no one can become a Romanist, without implying his belief that the usage is edifying and right; and this itself is a grievance, even though the usage be in this or that place dispensed with.
Such and such-like are the subjects which, it is conceived, should be brought into controversy, in disputing with Romanists at the present day. An equally important question remains to be discussed; viz. What the sources are, whence we are to gather our opinions of Popery. Here the Romanists complain of their opponents, that, instead of referring to the authoritative documents of their Church, Protestants avail themselves of any errors or excesses of individuals in it, as if the Church were responsible for acts and opinions which it does not enjoin. Thus the legends of relics, superstitions about images, the cruelty of particular prelates or kings, or the accidental fury of a populace, are unfairly imputed to the Church itself. Again, the profligacy of the Popes, at various periods, is made an argument against their religious pretensions as successors to St. Peter; whereas Caiaphas himself had the gift of prophecy, and it is, as they consider, a memorable and instructive circumstance, that in matter of fact, among their worst popes are found the instruments, in Gods hand, of some of the most important and salutary acts of the Church. Accordingly they claim to be judged by their formal documents, especially by the decrees of the Council of Trent.
Now here we shall find the truth to lie between the two contending parties. Candour will oblige us to grant that the mere acts of individuals should not be imputed to the body; certainly no member of the English Church can in common prudence as well as propriety do otherwise, since he is exposed to an immediate retort, in consequence of the errors and irregularities which have in Protestant times occurred among ourselves. King Henry the VIIIth, the first promoter of the Reformation, is surely no representative of our faith or feelings; nor Hoadly, in a later age, who was suffered to enjoy his episcopate for 46 years; to say nothing of the various parties and schools which have existed, and do exist, among us.
So much then must be granted to the Romanists; yet not so much as they themselves desire. For though the acts of individuals are not the acts of the Church, yet they may be the results, and therefore illustrations of its principles. We cannot consent then to confine ourselves to a mere reference to the text of the Tridentine decrees, as Romanists would have us, apart from the teaching of their doctors, and the practice of the Church, which are surely the legitimate comment upon them. The case stands as follows. A certain system of teaching and practice has existed in the churches of the Roman communion for many centuries; this system was discriminated and fixed in all its outlines at the Council of Trent. It is therefore not unnatural, or rather it is the procedure we adopt m any historical research, to take the general opinions and conduct of the Church in elucidation of their Synodal decrees; just as we take the tradition of the Church Catholic and Apostolic as the legitimate interpreter of Scripture, or of the Apostles Creed. On the other hand, it is as natural that these decrees, being necessarily concise and guarded, should be much less objectionable than the actual system they represent. It is not wonderful then, yet it is reasonable, that Romanists should protest against our going beyond these decrees in adducing evidence of their Churchs doctrine, on the ground that nothing more than an assent to them is requisite for communion with her: e. g. the Creed of Pope Pius, which is framed upon the Tridentine decrees, and is the Roman Creed of Communion, only says "I firmly hold there is a Purgatory, and that souls therein detained are aided by the prayers of the faithful," nothing being said of its being a place of punishment, nothing, or all but nothing, which does not admit of being explained of merely an intermediate state.
Now supposing we found ourselves in the Roman Communion, of course it would be a great relief to find that we were not bound to believe more than this vague statement, nor should we (I conceive) on account of the received interpretation about Purgatory superadded to it, be obliged to leave our Church. But it is another matter entirely, whether we who are external to that Church, are not bound to consider it as one whole system, written and unwritten, defined indeed and adjusted by general statements, but not limited to them or coincident with them.
The conduct of the Catholics during the troubles of Arianism affords us a parallel case, and a direction in this question. The Arian Creeds were often quite unexceptionable, differing from the orthodox only in this, that they omitted the celebrated word [homoousion], and in consequence did not obviate the possibility of that perverse explanation of them, which in fact their framers adopted. Why then did the Catholics refuse to subscribe them? Why did they rather submit to banishment from one end of the Roman world to the other? Why did they become confessors and martyrs? The answer is ready. They interpreted the language of the creeds by the professed opinions of their framers. They would not allow error to be introduced into the Church by an artifice. On the other hand, when at Ariminum they were seduced into a subscription of one of these creeds, though unobjectionable in its wording, their opponents instantly triumphed, and circulated the news that the Catholic world had come over to their opinion. It may be added that, in consequence, ever since that era, phrases have been banished from the language of theology which heretofore had been innocently used by orthodox teachers.
Apply this to the case of Romanism. We are not indeed allowed to take at random the accidental doctrine or practice of this or that age, as an explanation of the decrees of the Latin Church; but when we see clearly that certain of these decrees have a natural tendency to produce certain evils, when we see those evils actually existing far and wide in that Church, in different nations and ages, existing especially where the system is allowed to act most freely, and only absent where external checks are present, sanctioned moreover by its celebrated teachers and expositors, and advocated by its controversialists with the tacit consent of the whole body, under such circumstances surely it is not unfair to consider our case parallel to that of the Catholics during the ascendancy of Arianism. Surely it is not unfair in such a case to interpret the formal document of belief by the realized form of it in the Church, and to apprehend that, did we express our assent to the creed of Pope Pius, we should find ourselves bound hand and foot, as the fathers at Ariminum, to the corruptions of those who profess it.
To take the instances of the Adoration of Images and the invocation of Saints. The Tridentine Decree declares that it is good and useful suppliantly to invoke the Saints, and that the Images of Christ, and the Blessed Virgin and the other Saints should "receive due honour and veneration;" words, which themselves go to the very verge of what could be received by the cautious Christian, though possibly admitting of a honest interpretation. Now we know in matter of fact that in various parts of the Roman Church, a worship approaching to idolatrous is actually paid to Saints and Images, in countries very different from each other, as for instance, Italy and the Netherlands, and has been countenanced by eminent men and doctors, and that, without any serious or successful protest from any quarter: further that, though there may be countries where no scandal of the kind exists, yet these are such as have, in their neighbourhood to Protestantism, a practical restraint upon the natural tendency of their system.
Moreover, the silence which has been observed, age after age, by the Roman Church, as regards these excesses, is a point deserving of serious attention;for two reasons: first, because of the very solemn warnings pronounced by our Lord and His Apostle, against those who introduce scandals into the Church, warnings which seem almost prophetic of such as exist in the Latin branches of it. Next it must be considered that the Roman Church has had the power to denounce and extirpate them. Not to mention its use of its Apostolical powers in other matters, it has had the civil power at its command, as it has shown in the case of errors which less called for its interference; all of which shows it has not felt sensitively on the subject of this particular evil.
This may be suitably illustrated by an example. Wake, in his controversy on the subject of Bossuets Exposition, observes that a Jesuit named Crasset, had published an account of the worship due to the Virgin Mary, quite opposed to that which Bossuet had expounded as the doctrine of the Roman Church. Bossuet replies, "I have not read the book, but neither did I ever hear it mentioned there was any thing in it contrary to mine, and that Father would be much troubled I should think there was." Wake, in answer, expresses his great surprise that Bossuet should not have heard any mention of a fact so notorious.
Bossuet replies, "I still continue to say that I have never read Father Crassets book which they bring against me." "I will only add here," he continues, "that Father Crasset himself troubled and offended that any one should report his doctrine to be different from mine, has made complaints to me; and in preface to the second edition of his book, has declared, that he varied in nothing from me, unless perhaps in the manner of expression; which, whether it be so or no, I leave them to examine, who will please to give themselves the trouble." Bossuet is known as the special champion of a more moderate exposition of the doctrines of Romanism than that which has generally been put upon them. Now he either did agree with the Jesuit or he did not. If he did, not a word more need be said against the Roman doctrine, as will appear when I proceed to quote his words; if he did not, let the reader judge of the peculiar sensitiveness of a faith, (as illustrated in a prelate, who for his high qualities is a very fair representative of his Church,) which can anathematize a denial of Purgatory, or a disapproval of the Invocation of Saints, yet can pass sub silentio a class of blasphemies, of which the following extracts are an instance.
It must be first observed that Father Crassets book is an answer to a Cologne tract entitled, "Salutary Advertisements of the Blessed Virgin to her indiscreet Adorers;" which is said, by Wake, truly, or not, (for this is nothing to the purpose,) to agree with Bossuet in its exposition of doctrine. This tract was sent into the world with the approbation of the Suffragan Bishop of Cologne, of the Vicar-general, the Censure of Ghent, the Canons and Divines of Mechlin, the University of Louvain, and the Bishop of Toumay. Father Crassets answer was printed at Paris, licensed by the Provincial, approved by three fathers of the Jesuits body appointed to examine it, and authorized by the King. I mention these circumstances to show that this controversy was not conducted in a corner; to which I may add that, according to Crasset, learned men of various nations had also written against the Tract, that the Holy See had condemned the author, and that Spain had prohibited him and his work from its dominions. We have nothing to do with the doctrine of this Tract, good or bad, but let us see hat this Crassets doctrine is on the other hand, thus put forth by the Jesuits in a notorious controversy, and accepted on hearsay by Bossuet, wish a studious abstinence from the sight of it after the matter of it had been brought before him.
"Whether a Christian that is devout towards the blessed Virgin can be damned? Answer. The servants of the blessed Virgin have an assurance, morally infallible, that they shall be saved.
"Whether God ever refuses anything to the blessed Virgin? Answer. 1. The Prayers of a Mother so humble and respectful are esteemed a command by a Son so sweet and so obedient. 2. Being truly our Saviours mother, as well in heaven as she rag on earth, she still retains a kind of natural authority over His person, over His goods, and over His omnipotence; so that, as Albertus Magnus says, she can not only entreat Him for the salvation of her servants, but by her motherly authority can command him; and as another expresses it, the power of the Mother and of the Son is all one, she being by her omnipotent Son made herself omnipotent.
"Whether the blessed Virgin has ever fetched any out of hell? Answer. 1. As to purgatory, it is certain that the Virgin has brought several souls from thence, as well as refreshed them whilst they were there. 2. It is certain she fetched many out of hell: i. e. from a state of damnation before they were dead 3. The Virgin can, and has fetched men that were dead in mortal sin out of hell, by restoring them to life again, that they might repent...........
"The practice of devotion towards her. 1. To wear her scapulary; which whoso does shall not be damned, hut this habit shall be for them a mark of salvation, a safeguard in dangers, and a sign of peace and eternal alliance.
"They that wear this habit, shall be moreover delivered out of Purgatory the Saturday after their death. 2. To enter her congregation. And if any man be minded to save himself, it is impossible for him to find out any more advantageous means, than to enrol himself into these companies. 3. To devote oneself more immediately to her service, &c. &c.
"Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire."
Bossuets name has been mentioned in evidence of the really existing connection between the decrees of Trent and the popular opinions and practices in the Roman Church, as regards the matters they treat of. But the labours of that celebrated divine in the cause of his Church introduce us to very varied and extensive illustrations of another remark which has been incidentally made in the course of our discussion.
It was observed that the legitimate meaning of the Tridentine decrees might be fairly ascertained by comparing together those of the Latin Churches, where the system was allowed to operate freely, and those in which the presence of Protestantism acted as a check upon it. This has been remarkably exemplified in the history of the controversy during the last one hundred and fifty years, that is, since the time of Bossuet, who seems to have been nearly the first who put on the Tridentine decrees a meaning more consonant with Primitive Christianity, distinguishing between the doctrines of the Church, and of the Schools. This new interpretation has been widely adopted by the Romanists, and, as far as our own islands are concerned, may be considered to be the received version of their creed; and one should rejoice in any appearance of amelioration in their system, were not the present state of Italy and Spain, where no check exists, an evidence what that system still is, and that, in course of time, it would, in all probability, be among ourselves, did an universal reception of it put an end to the restraint which controversy at present imposes on them.
Bossuets Exposition, which contains the modified doctrine above spoken of, was looked at with great suspicion at Rome, on its first appearance, and was with difficulty acknowledged by the Pope. It is said to have been written originally with the purpose of satisfying Marshal Turenne, who became, in consequence, a convert to Romanism. It was circulated in manuscript several years, and was considered to be of so liberal a complexion, according to the doctrine of that day, as to scandalize persons of his own communion, and to lead Protestants to doubt whether the author dare ever own it. In the year 1671, it was, with considerable alterations, committed to the Press with the formal approbation of the Archbishop of Rheims and nine other Bishops, but on objections being urged against it by the Sorbonne the press was stopped, and not till after various alterations was it resumed, with the suppression of the copies which had already been struck off. It is affirmed by Wake without contradiction (I believe) from his opponents, that even with these corrections it was of so novel an appearance to the Romanists of that day, that an answer from one of Bossuets own communion was written to it, before the Protestants began to move, though the publication was suppressed. The Roman See at last accorded its approbation, but not before the conversions which it effected had recommended it to its favour.
It may be instructive to specify some instances of this change of doctrine, or of interpretation of doctrine, (if it must so be called,) which Bossuet is accused of introducing.
1. In the private impression of his Exposition, as the suppressed portion of the edition may be called, Bossuet says,
"Furthermore, there is nothing so unjust as to accuse the Church of placing all her piety in these devotions to the Saints; since on the contrary she lays no obligation at all on particular persons to join in this practice ......By which it appears clearly that the Church condemns only those, who refuse it out of contempt, or by a spirit of dissension and revolt."
In the second or published edition, the words printed in italics were omitted, the first clause altogether, and the second with the substitution of "out of disrespect or error."
2. Again, in the private impression he had said,
"So that it (the Mass) may very reasonably be called a sacrifice."
He raised his doctrine in the second as follows;
"So that there is nothing wanting to it to make it a true sacrifice."
In giving these instances, I am far from insinuating that there is any unfairness in such alterations. Earnestly desiring the conversion of Protestants, Bossuet did but attempt to place the doctrines of his Church in the light most acceptable to them. But they seem to show thus much: first that he was engaged in a novel experiment, which circumstances rendered necessary, and was trying how far he might safely go; secondly that he did not carry with him the body of the Gallican divines. In other words, we have no security that this new form of Romanism is more stable than one of the many forms of Protestantism which rise and fall around us in our own country, which are matters of opinion, and depend upon individuals.
3. But again, after all the care bestowed on his work, Bossuet says in his exposition as ultimately published:
When the Church pays an honour to the Image of an Apostle or Martyr, the intention is not so much to honour the image, as to honour the apostle or martyr in the presence of the image.... Nor do we attribute to them any other virtue but that of exciting in us the remembrance of those they represent. p. 8.
To this his Vindicator adds,
The use we make of images or pictures is purely as representatives, or memorative signs, which call the originals to our remembrance. p. 35.
Now with these passages contrast the words of Bellarmine, who, if any one, might be supposed a trustworthy interpreter of the Roman doctrine.
"The images of Christ and of the saints are to be venerated not only by accident and improperly, but properly and by themselves, so that they themselves are the end of the veneration [ut ipsae terminent venerationem] as considered in themselves, and not only as they are copies." De Imagin. lib. ii. c. 21.
Again, in the Pontifical we are instructed that to the wood of the Cross "divine worship (latria) is due;" and that saving virtues for soul and body proceed from it; which surely agrees with the doctrine of Bellarmine as contained in the above extract, not with that of Bossuet.
4. The Vindicator of Bossuet speaks of the Mass to the following effect:
"The council tells us it was instituted only to represent that which was accomplished on the Cross, to perpetuate the memory of it to the end of the world, and apply to us the saving virtue of it, for those sins which we commit every day .......When we say that Christ is offered in the Mass, we do not understand the word offer in the strictest sense, but as we are said to offer to God what we present before him. And thus the Church does not doubt to say, that she offers up our Blessed Jesus to His Father in the Eucharist, in which He vouchsafes to render Himself present before Him."
But the Tridentine Fathers say in their Canons that,
"the Mass is a true and proper sacrifice; a sacrifice not only commemoratory of that of the Cross, but also truly and properly propitiatory for the dead and the living."
And Bellarmine says,
"A true and real sacrifice requires a true and real death or destruction of the thing sacrificed." De Missa lib. i. c. 27.
And then he proceeds to show how this condition of the notion of a sacrifice is variously fulfilled in the Mass.
Leaving Bossuet, let us now turn to the history of the controversy in our own country, whether in former or recent times; and here I avail myself of an article of a late lamented Prelate of our Church, in a periodical work ten years since. As to the particular instances adduced, it must be recollected that they are not dwelt on as a sufficient evidence by themselves of that difference of view between members of the Roman Church at various times and places, which is under consideration, but as mere illustrations of what is presumed to be an historical fact.
The following extract from Dr. Doyles Evidence before the Committee of the House of Commons on the subject of the Roman Catholic doctrines:
"The Committee find, in a treatise called A Vindication of the Roman Catholics, the following curse; Cursed is every goddess worshipper, that believes the Virgin Mary to be any more than a creature, that honours her, worships her, or puts his trust in her more than in God; that honours her above her Son, or believes that she can in any way command Him. Is that acknowledged? Ans. That is acknowledged; and every Roman Catholic in the world would say with Gother, accursed be such person."
Such is the received Romanism of the English Papists at this day; and accordingly Dr. Challoner has translated the famous words in the office of the blessed Virgin:
"Monstra te esse Matrem
Sumat per te preces,"
"Exert the Mothers care,
And us thy children own,
To Him convey our prayer, &c."
On the other hand consider the following passage in the controversy between Jewell and Harding. Jewell accused the Roman Church with teaching that the blessed Virgin could command her Son. Harding replies as follows,
"If now any spiritual man, such as St. Bernard was, deeply considering the great honour and dignity of Christs mother, do in excess of mind, spiritually sport with her, bidding her to remember that she is a Mother, and that thereby she has a certain right to command her Son, and require, in a most sweet manner; that she use her right; is this either impiously or impudently spoken? Is not he, rather, most impious and impudent that findeth fault therewith?"
Again, we find in Peter Damiani, a celebrated divine of the eleventh century, the following words:
"She approaches to that golden tribunal of divine Majesty, not asking, but commanding, not a handmaid but a Mistress."
Albertus Magnus in like manner,
"Mary prays as a daughter, requests as a sister, commands as a mother."
Another writer says,
"The blessed Virgin, for the salvation of her supplicants, can not only supplicate her Son, as other saints do, but also by her maternal authority command her Son. Therefore the Church prays, "Monstra te esse Matrem;" as if saying to the Virgin, Supplicate for us after the manner of a command, and with a mothers authority."
After these instances the article from which I cite asks, not unreasonably, "Upon whom does the anathema of Gother fall?"
Another instance of this unsteady, and (if it may so be called) untrustworthy conduct of the Roman Church, occurs in respect to their doctrine of Repentance; which is well pointed out by a recent writer in the British Magazine. His account is as follows.
"The Romish tenet most pregnant with moral mischief is, probably, that which promises salvation to mere Attrition, [i.e. sorrow for sin arising from a view of its turpitude, or fear of punishment]..... Now it should be generally known that a Romish divine pressed in argument is very likely to pronounce salvability from Attrition only, as nothing more than a Scholastic doctrine, to which his Church does not stand committed. He might be reminded of the Trentine Catechism, which declares real Contrition, [i. e. hearty sorrow for sin proceeding immediately from the love of God above all things, and joined with a firm purpose of amendment,] to be found in very few; and hence deduces the necessity of an easier way for the salvation of men in general. His answer would be, that the Catechism is not a decree of the Council, and, therefore, not like one binding as an article of faith. It is indeed true, that the Council here has spoken more vaguely and guardedly than the Catechism. Pallavicino represents the Trentine Fathers accordingly as intending merely to condemn an opinion of their adversaries, which branded the fear of punishment with baseness...... However a nice scrutiny may dispose of this doctrine, it is in fact broadly asserted in the manual drawn up for instructing ordinary clergymen, under authority of the Trentine Council, though not completed till that body was dissolved. This manual too was promulged under papal sanction, expressly conferred upon the Roman see for that very purpose by the Council. The Catechismus ad Parochos has been accordingly ever since, what it was intended to be, a text book for the Romish clergy .... Nor is it doubtful that it speaks the feeling and intention of this council upon the question of Attrition; only the Trentine fathers here knew themselves to be on treacherous ground, and therefore they discreetly left a vague outline which might be filled up by better, because less responsible hands."
The following are farther illustrations of the distinction observed in the Roman Church between Catholic verities and the opinions of the schools. In presenting them to the reader, I have no purpose of denying that there is a distinction really, and that it may properly be insisted on, but I deny it exists in the particular cases, in which what is professed to be but an opinion, is more or less the genuine practical meaning of the Tridentine decrees.
"It is de fide to believe that there is a purgatory; it is not de fide to believe that the fire of purgatory is true and proper, or of the same species as the material element,or that it is in this or that place, or that it lasts for this or that period. It is de fide that the saints may well and profitably be invoked; it is not de fide that they hear our prayers, though it be certain and true. It is de fide that the relics of the saints should be venerated; it is not de fide that these or those relics are genuine. It is de fide that man is justified by inherent righteousness; it is not de fide that justifying righteousness is a habit or quality."
Enough, perhaps, has nor been said on the mode in which it is expedient at the present day to carry on the controversy with Romanism,which of its doctrines are to be selected for attack, what authorities are to be used in ascertaining them, and what arguments are to be employed against them. Some remarks shall be added before concluding, as to the best mode of conducting the defence of our own Church.
Let it be observed that, in our argument with the Romanists, we might, if needful, be very liberal in our confessions about ourselves, without at all embarrassing our position in consequence. While we are able to maintain the claim of our clergy to the ministration of the Sacraments, and our freedom from any deadly heresy, we have nothing to fear from any historical disclosures which the envy of adversaries might contrive against our Church, or from any external appearances which it may present at this day to the superficial observer. Whatever may be the past mistakes of individual members of it, or the tyranny of aliens over it, or its accidental connexion with Protestant persuasions, still these hinder not its having "the ministration of the Word and Sacraments;" and having them, it has sufficient claims on our filial devotion and love. This being understood then, the following remarks are made with a view of showing how far, if necessary, we may safely go in our admissions.
1. We may grant in the argument that the English Church has committed mistakes in the practical working of its system; nay is incomplete even in its formal doctrine and discipline. We require no enemy to show us the probability of this, seeing that her own Article expressly states that the primitive Churches of Antioch and Alexandria, as well as that of Rome, have erred, "not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith." Much more is a Church exposed to imperfection, which embraces but a narrow portion of the Catholic territory, has been at the distance of 1500 to 1800 years from the pure fountains of tradition, and is surrounded by political influences of a highly malignant character.
2. Again, the remark may seem paradoxical at first sight, yet surely it is just, that the English Church is for certain deficient in particulars, because it does not profess itself infallible. I mean as follows. Every thoughtful mind must at times have been beset by the following doubt: "How is it that the particular Christian body to which I belong happens to be the right one? I hear every one about me saying his own society is alone right, and others wrong: is not every one as much justified in saying so as every one else? is not any one as much justified as I am? In other words, the truth is surely no where to be found pure, unadulterate and entire, but is shared through the world, each Christian body having a portion of it, none the whole of it." A certain liberalism is commonly the fruit of this perplexity. Men are led on to gratify the pride of human nature, by standing aloof from all systems, forming a truth for themselves and countenancing this or that denomination of Christians according as each maintains portions of that which they have already assumed to be the truth. Now the primitive Church answered this question, by appealing to the simple fact that all the Apostolic Churches all over the world did agree together. True there were sects in every country, but they bore their own refutation on their forehead, in that they were of recent origin; but all those societies in every count, which the Apostles had founded, did agree together in one, and no time short of the Apostles could be assigned, with any show of argument, for the use of their existing doctrine. This doctrine in which they agreed was accordingly called Catholic truth, and there was plainly no room at all for asking, "Why should my own Church be more true than anothers?"But at this day, it seed not be said, such an evidence is lost, except as regards the articles of the Creeds. It is a very great mercy that the Church Catholic over the world, as descended from the Apostles, does at this day speak one and the same doctrine about the Trinity and Incarnation, as it has always spoken it, excepting in one single point, which rather probat regulam than interferes with it, viz. as to the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son. With this solitary exception, we have the certainty of possessing the entire truth as regards the high theological doctrines, by an argument which supersedes the necessity of arguing from Scripture against those who oppose them. It is quite impossible that all countries should have agreed to that which was not Apostolic. They are a number of concordant witnesses to certain definite truths, and while their testimony is one and the same from the very first moment they publicly utter it, so on the other hand, if there be bodies which speak otherwise, we can show historically that they rose later than the Apostles. This majestic evidence, however, does not extend to any but to the articles of the Creed, especially those relating to the Trinity and Incarnation. The primitive Church was never called upon, whether in Council or by its divines, to pronounce upon other points of faith, and the later Church has differed about them; especially about those on which the contest turns between Romanism and ourselves. Here neither Rome nor England can in the same sense appeal to Catholic testimony; and, this being the case, a member of the one or the other Church might fairly have the antecedent scruple rise in his mind, why his own communion should have the whole truth, why on the contrary the rival communion should not have a share of it, and the truth itself lie midway between them. This is the question of a philosophical mind, and the Church of Rome meets it with a theory, perfectly satisfactory, provided only it be established as a fact, viz. the theory of infallibility. The actual promise made, as they contend, to St. Peters chair as the centre of unity, would undoubtedly account for truth being wholly in the Roman Communion, not in the English, and solve the antecedent perplexity in question. But the English Church, taking no such high ground as this, certainly is open to the force, such as it is, of the objection, or (as it was just now expressed) on the prima facie view of the case is unlikely to have embraced the whole counsel of GOD, because she does not assume infallibility; and consequently no surprise or distress should be felt by her dutiful sons, should that turn out to be the fact, which her own principles, rightly understood, would lead them to anticipate. At the same time it must carefully be remembered, that this admission involves no doubt or scepticism as regards the more sacred subjects of theology, of which the Creed is the summary; these having been witnessed from the first by the whole Church,being witnessed too at this moment, in spite of later corruptions, both by the Latin and Greek Communions.
A consideration has been suggested in the last paragraph on which much might be said on a fitting occasion; it is (what may be called) a great Canon of the Gospel, that Purity of faith depends on the Sacramentum Unitatis. Unity is the whole body of the Church, as it is the divinely blessed symbol and pledge of the true faith, so also it is the obvious means (even humanly speaking) of securing it. The Sacramentum was first infringed during the quarrels of the Greeks and Latins; it was shattered in that great schism of the sixteenth century which issued in some parts of Europe in the Reformation, in others in the Tridentine Decrees, our own Church keeping the nearest of any to the complete truth. Since that era at least, Truth has not dwelt amply and securely in any visible Tabernacle. This view of the subject will illustrate for us the last words of Bishop Ken contained in his will:"As for my religion, I die in the Holy Catholic and Apostolic faith, professed by the whole Church before the disunion of East and West; more particularly I die in the communion of the Church of England, as it stands distinguished from all Papal and Puritan innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross."
3. Another antecedent ground for anticipating wants and imperfections in the English Church lies in the circumstances under which the reformation of its doctrine and worship was effected. It is now universally admitted as an axiom in ecclesiastical and political matters that sudden and violent changes must be injurious; and though our own revolution of opinion and practice was happily slower and more carefully considered than those of our neighbours, yet it was too much influenced by secular interests, sudden external events, and the will of individuals, to carry with it any vouchers for the perfection and entireness of the religious system thence emerging. The proceedings for instance of 1536, remind us at once of the dangers to which the Church was exposed, and of its providential deliverance from the worst part of them: the articles then framed being, according to Burnet, "in several places corrected and tempered by the kings" (Henrys) "own hand." Again, the precise structure of our present liturgy, so primitive and edifying in its matter, is confessedly owing to the successive and counteracting influences exerted on it, among others, by Bucer and Queen Elizabeth. The Church did not make the circumstances under which it found itself, and therefore is free from the responsibility of imperfections to which these gave rise. These imperfections followed in two ways. First, the hurry and confusion of the times led, as has been said, to a settlement of religion incomplete and defective: secondly, the people, not duly apprehending even what was soundly propounded as being new to them, and unable to digest healthy food after long desuetude, gave a false meaning to it, went into opposite extremes, and fashioned into unseemly habits and practices those principles which in themselves conveyed a wholesome and edifying doctrine. These considerations cannot fairly be taken in disparagement of the celebrated men who were the instruments of Providence in the work, and who doubtless felt far more keenly than is here expressed the perplexities of their situation; but they will serve perhaps to reconcile our minds to our circumstances in these latter ages of the Church, and will cherish in us a sobriety of mind, salutary in itself, and calculated more than any thing else to arm us against the arguments of Rome, and to turn in affection and sympathy towards the afflicted Church, which has been the "Mother of our new-birth." They will but lead us to confess that she is in a measure in that position which we fully ascribe to her Latin sister, in captivity; and they will make us understand and duly use the prayers of our wisest doctors and rulers, such as Bishop Andrews, that God would please to "look down upon His holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, in her captivity; to visit her once more with His salvation, and to bring her out to serve Him in the beauty of holiness."
4. A further antecedent reason for anticipating practical imperfections in the Anglican system, (and to those mainly allusion is here made), arises from the circumstance that our Articles, so far as distinct from the ancient creeds, are scarcely more than protests against specific existing errors of the 16th century, and neither are nor profess to be a system of doctrine. It is not unnatural however that they should have practically superseded that previous Catholic teaching altogether, which they were but modifying in part, and, though but corrections, should be mistaken for the system corrected.
These reasonings prepare us to acquiesce in much of plausible objection being admissible against our Church, even in the judgment of those who love and defend it. When, however, we proceed to examine what its defects really are, we shall find them to differ from those of Rome in this all-important respect, which indeed has already been in pat hinted, that they are but omissions. Rome maintains positive errors, and that under the sanction of an anathema; but nothing call be pointed out in the English Church which is not true; as far as it goes, and even when it opposes Rome, with a truly Apostolical toleration, it utters no ban or condemnation against its adherents. On the other hand the omissions, such as they are, or rather obscurities of Anglican doctrine, may be supplied for the most part by each of us for himself, and thus do not interfere with the perfect development of the Christian temper in the hearts of individuals, which is the charge fairly adducible against Romanism. Such for instance is the phraseology used in speaking of the Holy Eucharist, which though on the whole protected safe through a dangerous time by the cautious Ridley, yet in one or two places was clouded by the interpolations of Bucer, through an anxiety in some quarters to unite all the reformed Churches under episcopal government against Rome. And such is the omission of any direct safeguard in the Articles, against disbelief of the doctrine of the Apostolical Succession.
And again, for specimens of the perverse reception by the nation, as above alluded to, of what was piously intended, I would refer to the popular sense put upon the eleventh article, which, though clearly and soundly explained in the Homily on Justification or Salvation, has been taken to countenance the wildest Antinomian doctrine, and is now so associated in the minds of many with this wrong interpretation, as to render almost hopeless the recovery of the true meaning.
And such again is the mischievous error, in which the Church in her formal documents certainly has no share, that we are but one among many Protestant bodies, and that the differences between Protestants are of little consequence; whereas the English Church, as such, is not Protestant, only politically, that is, externally, or so far as it has been made an establishment, and subjected to national and foreign influences. It claims to be merely Reformed, not Protestant, and it repudiates any fellowship with the mixed multitude which crowd together, whether at home or abroad, under a mere political banner. That this is no novel doctrine, is plain from the emphatic omission of the word Protestant in all our Services, even in that for the fifth of November, as remodelled in the reign of King William; and again from the protest of the Lower House of Convocation at that date, on this very subject, which would have had no force, except as proceeding upon recognized usages. The circumstance here alluded to was as follows. In 1689 the Upper House of Convocation agreed on an address to King William, to thank him "for the grace and goodness expressed in his message, and the zeal shown in it for the Protestant Religion in general, and the Church of England in particular." To this phrase the Lower House objected, as importing, as Birch in his Life of Tillotson says, "their owning common union with the foreign Protestants." A conference between the two Houses ensued, when the Bishops supported their wording of the address, on the ground that the Protestant Religion was the known denomination of the common doctrine of such parts of the West as had separated from Rome. The Lower House proposed, with other alterations of the passage, the words "Protestant Churches," for "Protestant Religion," being unwilling to acknowledge religion as separate from the Church. The Upper House in turn amended thus,"the interest of the Protestant Religion in this and all other Protestant Churches;" but the Lower House, still jealous of any diminution of the English Church by this comparison with foreign Protestants, persisted in their opposition, and gained at length that the address, after thanking the King for his zeal for the Church of England, should proceed to anticipate, that thereby "the interest of the Protestant Religion in" [not "this and" but] "all other Protestant Churches would be better secured." Birch adds, "the King well understood why this address omitted the thanks which the Bishops had recommended, for .... the zeal which he had shown for the Protestant Religion; and why there was no expression of tenderness to the Dissenters, and but a cool regard to the Protestant Churches."
Another great practical error of members of our Church, has been their mode of defending its doctrines, and this has arisen, not from any direction of the Church itself, but, as it would appear, from the mistake, already mentioned of the specific protests contained in its Articles for that Catholic system, which is the rightful inheritance of it as well as other branch of the Church. We have indeed too often fought the Romanists on wrong grounds, and given up to them the high principles maintained by the early Church. We have tacitly yielded the major premise of our opponents argument, when we should have denied the fact expressed in the minor. For instance; they have maintained that Transubstantiation was an Apostolical doctrine, a having been ever taught every where in the Church. We instead of denying this fact as regards Transubstantiation, have acted as if it mattered very little whether it were true or not, (whereas the principle is most true and valuable,) and have proceeded to oppose Transubstantiation on supposed grounds of reason. Again, we have argued for the sole Canonicity of the Bible to the exclusion of tradition, not on the ground that the Fathers so held it, (which would be an irrefragable argument,) but on some supposed internal witness of Scripture to the fact, or some abstract and antecedent reasons against the Canonicity of unwritten teaching. Once more, we have argued the unscripturalness of image worship as its only condemnation; a mode of argument, which I am very far indeed from pronouncing untenable, but which opens the door to a multitude of refined distinctions and pleas; whereas the way lay clear before us to appeal to history, to appeal to the usage of the early Church Catholic, to review the circumstances of the introduction of image worship, the Iconoclast controversy, the Council of Frankfort, and the late reception of the corruption in the West.
So much then, on the objections which may be urged against the English Church, which relate either to mere omissions not positive errors, or again to faults in the practical working of the system, and are in these respects dissimilar from those which lie against the Church of Rome, and which relate to clear and direct perversions and corruptions of divine truth. Should it, however, be asked, whence our knowledge of the truth should be derived, since there is so much of meagreness and mistake in our more popular expounders of it, it may be replied, first, that the writings of the Fathers contain abundant directions how to ascertain it; next, that their directions are distinctly propounded and supported by our Divines of the seventeenth century, though little comparatively at present is known concerning those great authors. Nor could a more acceptable or important service be done to our Church at this present moment, than the publication of some systematic introduction to theology, embodying and illustrating the great and concordant principles and doctrines set forth by Hammond, Taylor, and their brethren before and after them.
Lastly, Should it be inquired whether this admission of incompleteness in our own system does not lead to projects of change and reform, on the part of individuals, it must be answered plainly in the negative. Such an admission has but reference to the question of abstract perfection; as a practical matter, it will be our wisdom as individuals to enjoy what GODS good providence has left us, lest, striving to obtain more, we lose what we still possess.
The Feast of the Circumcision.
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