Project Canterbury

Six Sermons to Men

Preached in St. Ignatius' Church
New York City

During Lent, 1888.

By the Rev. Arthur Ritchie

New York: American Bank Note Co., 1888.


THIRD SERMON.

WHY I AM A CATHOLIC.

ST. MATTHEW xvi. 18, 19.

"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

While it is plain enough that there is a certain unity among Christians arising from the fact that they all acknowledge the Christ for their founder, it is not less plain that there are at least two very different conceptions of the nature of Christianity, considered as a system. They ma}' be called, without attempting to be over-accurate in our use of language, the Catholic and the Protestant conceptions. While these names present ideas in some sense well defined, there is nevertheless a certain amount of blurring about their edges which makes the careful thinker want to go into the divergencies of Christianity more thoroughly than can be done by merely stating that all Christians are either Catholics or Protestants. To the average mind in our own country the Roman Catholic Church is the type of Catholicism, while any one of the chief denominations, as Presbyterians, Methodists or Baptists might serve as a type of Protestantism.

Yet when we leave our own country, and visit Russia, Greece or the Levant we find a type of Christianity in respect of orders, rites and beliefs greatly resembling the Roman Catholic, and even farther removed from Protestantism than the Roman Church is; and yet as determinedly opposed to the system of the Roman Church as the most rigid Protestant could be. Nor are these Oriental Churches by any means small and insignificant. Taken together they number nearly 100,000,000 souls, probably one-half as many as are of the Roman obedience in the whole world. If the Christians of the world are to be divided into two classes, Protestants and Catholics, evidently these Orientals will have to be counted among the latter, for their system should be abhorred quite as much as the Roman by all devout Protestants.

Then in England and the British Provinces we find a national Church, called the Church of England, or where it may have been disestablished the Church of the country, as the Church of Ireland; which while at first sight it might be grouped among the Protestant bodies, yet upon further investigation proves to be in many respects more like the Catholic Churches. Affiliated with the Church of England in one Communion is the Church to which we ourselves belong in this country, known by the name Protestant Episcopal. Now while the Church of England has never called herself a Protestant Church, if she is really the same in system as our own Church in this country, which is named Protestant Episcopal, is it not fair to assume that the Church of England is also Protestant? Let this be one of the subjects of our enquiry.

A. Suppose then that where the types of the two sorts of Christianity are clearly defined we study out what is fundamental in each one of them, and so assure ourselves of what constitutes Catholicism, and what Protestantism as such.

I.

The Catholic Church teaches that our Lord by means of His Apostles established an human society upon earth which was to be His kingdom among men, ruled over by Himself from heaven, and compacted into a definite organization under duly constituted officers holding authority from Him.

Yet this Society was by no means to be a mere human Society. It was to be spiritually animated by no less a person than God the Holy Ghost, and as a result of His animation of it it was to be

1. The unerring preserver of all that truth which the Lord had revealed to men;

2. The competent interpreter and teacher of that truth in all time to come;

3. The only authorized keeper of all the supernatural helps of grace which the merits of our Lord obtained from heaven;

4. The only competent dispenser to individual souls of the treasures of that grace;

5. And the only human society empowered by God to offer to Him on man's behalf such worship as should be in every way well-pleasing and acceptable to Him.

These are great powers and claims you will observe; to be the only Society perpetually keeping and teaching Divine truth, the only Society perpetually keeping and supplying Divine grace, the only Society authorized to offer acceptable Divine worship.

Moreover the Catholic Church teaches that its sphere of operation extends out of this world, for though founded upon earth, its members do not cease to belong to it when their souls depart out of the body, but that in the waiting world, or Purgatory, the operation of the Church's beneficence still goes on, the faithful dead being aided by the prayers of the living and especially by the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar; and also that in Heaven itself the Church can call for the intercessions of all the holy ones who there behold God's face, and know that they hear and answer such requests. So the Church begun upon earth now reaches out across Purgatory even into Heaven itself.

II.

Protestantism, on the other hand, holds that there is no such thing as one visible Society having all authority to represent our Lord and His Apostles; that,

1. So far as truth goes it is only infallibly contained in Holy Scripture, and that each soul, after striving to enlighten itself by prayer, can therein discover for itself all truth necessary for salvation;

2. The grace of God is not conveyed to men through Sacraments from the Church, but comes to them directly from our Lord Himself in response to the soul's repentance and faith; and that so far as the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper are retained by Protestants, they are only so retained as symbols and tokens of God's goodness and of man's obedience;

3. The only suitable worship for man to offer to God is the homage of praise and prayer, together with works of mercy and alms giving, and that these each Christian may offer for himself without the intervention of any earthly Church. It is true that Christians ought to gather together in congregations when possible, especially on the Lord's day, but only for mutual edification and encouragement, and especially that they may hear the Word of God expounded by their minister.

So far as the other world is concerned Protestantism holds that we cannot affect those who have passed into it in one way or the other; that the righteous are in bliss with God, incapable either of being benefited by our prayers, or of hearing us ask them to pray for us; and that the wicked of course cannot be helped, now that their probation is ended (in which of course Catholics also agree).

So much for the difference between Catholics and Protestants on the subject of the Church, the former believing in a visible society, representing our Lord and animated by the Holy Ghost; the latter believing only in an invisible Church composed of all who serve God in sincerity and truth though they be in no earthly way grouped into one body.

B. When we give more especial attention to the matter of worship we shall get a further understanding of the radical difference between the two systems.

I.

Catholics believe in the religion of "Priest, Altar and Sacrifice." They hold that as God was, by His own command, worshipped in olden times, before our Lord came, by sacrifices offered by priests at altars, so He should now, also by His own command, be offered a Sacrifice, by a priest at an Altar. For the belief of Catholics is that all the sacrifices of the Old Testament times were types or prefigurings of the death of our Lord upon the Cross. The Sacrifice of Calvary was the one true Sacrifice of the world's history. In it our Lord was both Priest and Victim, and the Cross was the Altar on which He offered Himself. Moreover the Catholic distinguishes in the Sacrifice of Calvary a double idea, first the thought of death, the offering up of His life by the Son of God, which was done once for all and could never be repeated or prolonged beyond the hour of His dissolution on Good Friday; secondly the thought of His presentation of that Body which there was slain, and that Blood which there was spilled, before the eternal Father in satisfaction and intercession for the sins of men. In the sense of His continued offering for men of the Body once for all slain, but now alive forevermore, He remains in heaven a Priest offering the one Sacrifice of Calvary until the end of the world. As then the Catholic believes that all the Jewish sacrifices of old times looked forward to this perfect sacrifice of Calvary, so he believes that this same perfect sacrifice of Calvary is perpetuated in the Christian Church, not by the slaying of the Victim, which was done once for all upon the Cross, but by the continual remembrance of that slaying, in the constant offering up of the Body once slain and the Blood once spilled, at the Christian Altar by the Christian Priest. He believes that in the Church there is still a true Sacrifice, the offering up to God of a pure and acceptable offering powerful enough to take away the sins of the whole world, and that to offer this true sacrifice becomingly the Church should have her Altars at which it may be offered, and her Priests commissioned to offer it.

II.

Protestantism on the other hand says that the Sacrifice of the Cross was finished perfectly on Calvary both as to the slaying of the Victim and to the pleading of His merits, except in prayer; that the idea of a continued sacrificial offering by priests at an Altar is foreign to the simplicity of the Gospel and more than likely to result in idolatrous superstition. Therefore Protestants do not acknowledge their ministers as priests, nor do they admit that they have anything more nearly approaching an Altar than a simple table on which to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

I.

C. Once more, Catholics believe that God sanctifies the souls of His people by supernatural graces from heaven conveyed through the Sacraments of the Church. Not to speak in this connection of Matrimony, Holy Orders or the Unction of the Sick,

1. The Catholic Church teaches that so far as God has revealed His truth to us man can only receive the germ of supernatural life, which has its full development in heaven, by a veritable new birth or Regeneration; so she holds that the first Sacrament is Holy Baptism, not any mere form or symbol, but the very washing away of whatever sin, original or actual, defiles the soul, and a veritable incorporation into Christ, by a heavenly and supernatural birth.

2. The Catholic Church further teaches that in order to live devoutly the Christian life, and to resist temptation, the soul needs special assistance from on high, which is given by the coming of the Holy Ghost upon the baptized, to abide with them. So she regards Confirmation not as any profession of faith on the part of the soul now come to years of discretion, but the bestowal by God upon the soul of the gift of the Holy Ghost to strengthen and confirm it for the battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil, to whose assaults it is especially exposed when it has come to years of discretion.

3. The Catholic Church further teaches that the heavenly life imparted to the soul at Baptism needs supernatural nourishment and strength, that it may develop and eventually transform the whole man into the likeness of Christ; that God has provided in the Sacrament of the Eucharist just such heavenly aliment, the very Body and Blood of our Lord which the faithful receive under the forms of bread and wine when they take Holy Communion.

4. Once more the Catholic Church teaches that because the soul of man in spite of all the aids of grace is constant!)' falling back into sin, there ought to be in our religion some Sacrament of pardon and restoration, which sin-laden souls using penitently and faithfully may find effectual for giving them new starts in the Christian life; that our Lord has provided such a Sacrament in Absolution, and that the priests of the Church in this Sacrament have power to forgive penitent sinners all their sins, in Christ's name.

These ordinances of Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion and Absolution form the practical working system whereby Sacramental and supernatural grace is to be supplied to the souls of God's people.

II.

Protestantism on the other hand rejects this theory of Sacramental energy. Protestants do not believe that Baptism regenerates, or that the inward part of the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of our Lord. They do not believe in Confirmation, and they hold the idea of a priest having power to forgive sins little better than sacrilege.

D. Having now, I hope, fairly stated the differences, or the more conspicuous of them, between the Catholic and Protestant conceptions of Christianity, let me endeavour to point out to you why we should prefer the Catholic.

I.

First because we have very strong reasons for believing that it is the sort of Christianity which our Lord and His Apostles taught.

I. Our Lord intended to establish a visible Church, for He said, when St. Peter had so wonderfully confessed "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," "Blessed art thou Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church." When we consider that our Lord had already changed the name of this great Apostle from Simon to Peter, which means "rock," we can hardly avoid the conclusion that in some sense He means to say that He will build Himself a Church upon St. Peter. It is perfectly true that He associated the other eleven Apostles with St. Peter in the same work, and with an equality of authority; so that St. Paul could speak of the Church as "built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone," and St. John could describe the heavenly Jerusalem as having "twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb;" nevertheless St. Peter is pre-eminently associated with the first formation of the organized Christian Society; for he preached the first Sermon on the day of Pentecost, on behalf of the Master's religion, and converted no less than 3,000 souls. Immediately these souls were baptized and grouped into an organization, for we are told that "they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." This certainly was an organized Society, started into life by St. Peter's sermon, and almost at once we find it is called "the Church," for we read in the same chapter "the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved."

1. No one can read the Acts of the Apostles and fail to see that they believed in an organized body called the Church, and when any important matter came up for decision the representative men of the Church gathered together in council, discussed and settled it.

3. And if we should still doubt whether our Lord meant His Church to be a visible organization, we have only to appeal to history, which demonstrates by the logic of facts that the Church is a Society of human beings divinely inspired by God the Holy Ghost. Such was the faith of all Christendom for 1500 years, such is the faith of more than three-fourths of Christendom to-day. The Catholic idea of a visible Church is surely the one sustained by the teaching of our Lord, that of His Apostles, and the testimony of history.

II.

I. But what of the religious system of Priest, Altar and Sacrifice? Certainly we are bound to believe that our Lord remains a Priest forever, for St. Paul tells us so in the Epistle to the Hebrews, quoting indeed the Psalm "Thou art a Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec." And the same Apostle teaches us that our Lord being a Priest must "have somewhat also to offer;" and also that "He ever liveth to make intercession for us." So then, although no Altar is mentioned directly in this connection, the Priest and the Sacrifice are spoken of as abiding facts, not coming to an end with Calvary's awful deed. St. John in the Revelation saw the Altar in heaven, and speaks of it many times; and St. Paul does not hesitate to say, "We have an Altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle."

2. If we go to early Christian writers they are full of the idea of Christian Priests, the Christian Altar, and the great unbloody Sacrifice offered thereon, which is the Body and Blood of our Lord Christ. The history of the Church from the earliest times is uniformly in accord with the doctrine of Priest, Altar and Sacrifice.

III.

What shall we say of the Sacramental system?

1. Nothing could be stronger than our Lord's words, to begin with, about three of the Sacraments. Concerning Regeneration as the gift of Baptism He says, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Indeed I believe this includes Confirmation, the gift of the Holy Spirit as well as Baptism, for in early times the two ordinances were united. Our Lord says of the Eucharist as being a literal participation, as of food, in His Body and Blood, "Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you." Nor is His teaching about Absolution, administered by men, any less strong, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." It were needless after this to multiply quotations from the writings of the Apostles, for they only confirm in every way the natural interpretation of these words, and I have not time to stop for those quotations. If our Lord did not speak very directly about Confirmation and its gift, the Apostles have done so, for it is said of their ministry more than once, "Then laid they their hands on them (the baptized), and they received the Holy Ghost."

2. The testimony of universal Christendom until the i6th century does not vary with regard to the Sacramental system; the Catholic idea was the only one known, and to-day it is the idea adopted by more than three-fourths of the Christian world.

3. But you may be saying, What of the teaching of the Anglican Communion and of our own Church upon these points?

I.

I need hardly dwell upon the fact that our own Communion believes the Church to be a visible and organized Society, for she professes in her Creed to believe "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. In what sense we can believe the Church ont in view of the divisions of Christendom, I cannot now dwell on particularly for there is not time to go into so large a question. But the declaration of our own House of Bishops with reference to the fundamentals of unity ought to settle the matter as to the belief of our own Communion upon this point. These they declared to be four--

1. The Holy Scriptures.

2. The Nicene Creed.

3. The Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.

4. The Historic Episcopate.

This fourth point alone settles the question of the existence of the visible Church, since the Episcopate has always been the formal manifestation of the organization of the Church in the world.

Let me say just one word, though it be a digression, with reference to the Roman theory of unity. The Romans claim that by virtue of our Lord's especial words to St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome holds perpetually the Apostolate, which remained in him alone after the death of the last of the original Apostles and the succeeding to them of the Diocesan Bishops as the highest order in the Church's ministry. While we do not hesitate to acknowledge a primacy among equals in St. Peter among his fellow Apostles, we find no evidence either that St. Peter empowered the Roman See to succeed to a permanent Apostolate, or that for the first three centuries anybody in Christendom even suspected that ┬╗he Bishop of Rome held such an office. This of itself is fatal to the Roman claims, and coupled with the fact that the rest of Christendom has never admitted the Roman supremacy, it makes the Papal theory hardly worthy of being answered. And as to the Roman retort that the Anglican theory makes unity a myth, we reply that the substantial unity of the Catholic Church, Roman, Greek, and Anglican, is quite as real to-day as was the unity of Israel after the kingdom was divided under Rehoboam; for Israel and Judah continued radically separate as kingdoms, while yet God treated them still as His one true Church.

II.

Can we doubt that the Anglican Communion believes in the system of Priest, Altar and Sacrifice? Not if we accept the testimony of our prayer books. In the Ordination service the words are, "Take thou authority to execute the office of a Priest;" in the Institution Office the rubric reads "the Priest . . . standing within the rails of the Altar;" and in the Liturgy itself we pray God to "accept this our Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving," and as "Eucharist" is only another name for "thanksgiving," the passage becomes a clear statement of the fact of our offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice as did the whole Catholic Church from the beginning. It is no answer to this argument to say that an equal number of passages could be quoted from the Prayer Book to show that it taught that the clergy were Ministers, the Holy Table a Communion Table, and the Eucharist a Communion; for the Catholic denies none of these. But the Protestant does deny Priest, Altar and Sacrifice, therefore if we could find these taught only in one single instance in the Prayer Book it were sufficient to enable us to say that the Protestant conception of the Church is not that which the Prayer Book teaches.

III.

Similarly with regard to the Sacraments the Prayer Book language is equally clear. In the Baptismal Office we read, "Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate;" in the Eucharistic Office, "Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His Blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His Body, and our souls washed through His most precious Blood;" in the Confirmation Office, "Strengthen them, we beseech Thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost, the Comforter," and in the Ordination Service the Bishop says to him who is being made a Priest, "Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven." I need hardly go to further length in demonstrating that our own Church teaches the Catholic system of the Sacraments, but it may be pertinent to add that it was just because of these very passages in the offices of the Prayer Book, that the Reformed Episcopalians seceded from us.

F. So then first of all I am a Catholic because I believe Catholicism to be the form of Christianity taught by our Lord and His Apostles; secondly I am a Catholic because my own Church plainly teaches the distinguishing characteristics of Catholicism, the visible Church, the worship of God by Priest, Altar and Sacrifice, and the sanctification of men's souls by the Sacramental system. No matter if our own national Church does call herself Protestant; her Prayer Book contradicts the popular sense in which the name is used, and she has taken for her own in the Creeds, quite as strongly, the name Catholic. It will not be many years before she drops altogether that misleading word Protestant from her title, for already the sound of the coming change is heard.

But thirdly and lastly, my best title to the name Catholic, and I would it were also the best title of every one of you to that name is:

1. First, that believing in one visible Church of our Lord Christ, founded upon a rock, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; a Church animated by the Holy Ghost, the infallible teacher of Divine truth, I hold myself bound to obey the voice of that Church in all matters of faith and morals as the voice of God.

2. Secondly, that believing the true worship of God to be that of the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar, I make it my highest duty and chiefest privilege to hear Mass at least on every Sunday and greater Holy Day.

3. Thirdly, that acknowledging the Holy Sacraments to be the ordinary channels of supernatural grace, and knowing my own great need of that grace; having been already regenerated in Holy Baptism, and received the Holy Ghost in Confirmation; I penitently, from time to time seek the pardon of my sins in the Sacrament of Absolution, and frequently and systematically partake of the Body and Blood of my Lord in Holy Communion. So I am a Catholic because it is the true system of Christianity, because I belong to the Catholic Church, but most of all because I strive to practice all the duties and to use devoutly all the privileges of the Catholic religion.


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