The Second Annual Catholic Congress: Essays and Papers
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, October 12, 13, 14, 1926
New York: The Catholic Congress Committee, 1926.Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Thursday Afternoon, October 14th
The Limits of Religious
 The Limits of Toleration in Dogma
THE REVEREND FREDERIC S. FLEMING, D.D.
Rector of the Church of the Atonement, Chicago
THE idea of toleration arises from the existence of evil and the attitude assumed towards its existence. There is no problem of toleration in relation to goodness. Truth and virtue do not call for toleration but for approbation and the promotion of such good. We are enjoined to "abhor that which is evil; to cleave to that which is good." Toleration, essentially, must distinguish between the thing and the person, the error and the erring. Vice possesses no real right to existence, whatever toleration may be shown to the vicious person. So religious toleration is not extended to error, while the erring person has full claim to our love. We have the maxim of St. Augustine: "Love men, slay error: without pride be bold in the truth, without cruelty fight for the truth." The Church of the Living God is "the pillar and ground of the truth." Possessed of the Divine Commission to teach, She demands the unconditional acceptance of all the truths of salvation formally expressed in the Articles of Belief. In this stewardship She assumes that intolerance which Her Divine Founder proclaimed, "If he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
There can be no fond countenancing of the pleasures of men who would turn truth into fiction, or attempt to elevate fiction into the place of truth. Unlimited toleration [118/119] exists among a band of survivors on a raft on the open seas living upon the hope of salvation. This toleration soon would cease if one of the number persisted in the endeavor to pick the raft to pieces simply to satisfy an intellectual liberty. Nowhere is dogmatic intolerance so necessary a rule of life as in the domain of religious belief, since for each individual his eternal salvation is at stake.
Orthodox Christianity starts with the initial premise that truth is absolute, objective, fixed and unchangeable. It holds that a proposition, once true, is true forevermore. Thus the Dogmas of the Catholic Church emerge as statements of absolute truth which admit of no degree of toleration in acceptance. Christianity is not a human philosophy competing with any system of intellectual thought among men. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is supreme and unique as the complete Revelation of God to man. The acceptance of the Gospel intellectually is by implicit faith, not without the exercise of reason, but primarily as giving foundation to the intellect in the freedom of its operation. Truth, moreover, is apprehended by the whole man, not merely by the reasoning faculty.
The formulation of dogma is necessary in every field of human knowledge. It is not a peculiarity of religious belief. Without dogmas, truth becomes relative, ceases to be permanent. Science is dependent upon its dogmas. These dogmas (like the Christian Creed) are of ecumenical authority. All dogmas (of whatever science) are held as incapable of toleration. "Generally speaking, no great and far-reaching scientific theory is ever adopted because it has been demonstrated. The real reason for belief is that the theory provides the key for the interpretation of the facts on which it is said to be founded. It then proceeds to relate itself to other sets of facts." "Probability is truly the very guide of life." That which is first [119/120] received implicitly by faith without initial demonstration provides the only safeguard for the arrival at explicit truth.
No toleration, then, can be extended to the theory that Christianity shall present no formal credenda or assume the necessity of first principles. "It cannot be asked of religion, and particularly the Catholic religion, to produce a different kind of vindication than that which satisfies the scientific world." The basis of faith and reason is the assumption of a definite bias or prejudice. "He that cometh to God must believe that he is." Christianity makes claim to the possession of "the mind of Christ" as the foundation of its teaching. That is to say, the Catholic Religion is projected into the world as a definite, historical and positive religion. It is a "Life-given," a revealed event in the Divine Economy, registered historically in human affairs, and testified to by centuries of Christian experience. The Catholic Creeds do not present notions about God drawn from the Gospel narratives, neither do they represent the formulated opinions of fallible men. The Creeds emerge as the expression of a new order of living, affirming the existence of a Life which was manifested and evident, certifying to the historical accuracy of events known and seen, and conveying the basis of authority for the belief in the things of the Spirit. They deal with "that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us); that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ."
 We are to recognize the awful majesty of the proclamation which the Catholic Church announces to the world, not to one century, but to all ages. Truth thus asserted differs from purely human achievement in that it is truth to be practiced and to be lived, not simply to be known. A Divine Mystery is placed before men to underlie the venture of faith and to hold firm all intellectual activity. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." Those who come to this dispensation of the Eternal God "become obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto they were delivered."
For the Church to dispense with the Creeds would reduce it to the level of a debating society. This condition arrived at would ease the consciences of many souls. The Church exists to love God and worship Him. It fails to convict those who are "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." To love God and worship Him in sincerity and in truth requires not some creed, but the Creed, "the faith once delivered to the Saints." Any attempt to formulate a new creed cannot be tolerated in principle. Faith is built upon fact, upon revealed truth. Men cannot place absolute faith upon the product of other men's brains. We must avoid "the confusion between faith in God Who is more than man, and faith in faith, that is, in the feeling of assurance which is a virtue and a feeling of man." "A religion which is to move the world must be based on history. A religion drawn solely from the individual consciousness can only reflect a particular form of intellectual development. Its influence is limited by the mould in which it is cast. Its applicability is confined to those who have attained to a special culture." There would be no room for the simple, plain man in those so-called modern, intellectual religions which some claim contain the only hope and salvation for a very modern and extremely self-conscious age. [121/122] To substitute for the Creed a sentimental "discipleship of Jesus" is simply to erect a human creed (no matter how restricted) in the place of what God has wrought.
Toleration is denied to a subjective psychology which asserts a doctrine of pure individualism. Disciples of this school of thought would appropriate such things as please them, i. e., that which behaves to their individual satisfaction. The Catholic position stands firm against any license to uproot the fundamental dogmas of the Church from their essential position. Against the treacherous doctrine, "know thyself," which invites its adherents to relate all activity to a self-appraised value, and to mould belief in accordance with a priori assumptions, Catholics assert that "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." The Lord Jesus Christ Himself forces the limits of toleration in the first incident of His public ministry which has a really dogmatic importance. "Who do men say that I am?" and then the subsequent question, "But who say ye that I am?" Let us be very clear that the toleration asked for in the realm of dogma today is not for the recognition of this doctrine or that, or for the right to develop any particular doctrine, but rather for the audacious license to discard and overthrow any notion that we are dealing with positive, revealed truth in the Christian Religion. We are asked to accept the heresy that one creed is as good as another. "For the Church to deny the Creed would mean (1) that She no longer held to the mystery of Our Lord's Person; (2) that the intellect can work purely by itself and can neither be helped or hindered by the Spirit; and (3) that creed and character have nothing to do with each other."
Thus Catholics deny any thought of toleration to the teaching of a bald theism which becomes sentimental pantheism. "It will not do to say, e. g., that God is a [122/123] Person. This is not orthodoxy, but Unitarianism. The Catholic doctrine is that God is personal, in fact, tri-personal." "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." To centralize on a limited doctrine of the immanence of God and neglect the fact of the divine transcendence is to jettison historical revelation. Liberalism of this sort passes first into Unitarianism and then issues into unbelief. By the same token, we cannot whittle down the belief in God the Creator. The work of creation was not exhausted initially. Toleration is given not to any specific theory of evolution, but to the fact of evolution as a divine principle. God is the Supreme Creative Artist Who is the Creator still. The Son of Man, by the perfect co-operation of His Will with the Father's, carried forward the Divine Plan. And man is called into this same august labor, not apart from the Creator, but in union with His pleasure, here and now.
"This universe resembles a living organism. Thus viewed, we are to establish miracles as part of the principles of cosmic life: the whole cosmic process of evolution is, in itself, both in whole and part, a miraculous process, and the miracles of Christ are the most striking manifestation of an eternal order. They are not unique, anomalous interferences. There is not a purely mechanical fact in the entire universe."
"From the orthodox belief in the relation of God to the universe there is no difference whatsoever in principle between God's supernatural acts and His miraculous acts. The supernatural or the miraculous is not an occasional intrusion into the order of the universe, but rather a permanent element of that order, resulting from the fact of the Spirit of God immanent within it."
What things are impossible with God? Are miracles impossible or incredible? They are neither. "If we [123/124] accept the major miracle of the Incarnation, we are seriously unable to disbelieve the many minor miraculous manifestations of God's abiding power." Thus further, "there are no believers in the Incarnation discoverable who are not believers in the Virgin Birth." "What think ye of Christ?" Is He Son of God, Son of Man, Virgin-born, or is He the apex in the development of the divinity of Man? Where does toleration begin? There is no alternative between the Catholic dogma and the deification of man which modern liberalism has been forced to accept. Not many years past the force of tolerated individualism was hurled against the rock of the dogma of the Resurrection. Because that stood impregnable, the onslaught of the latest intellectual vagary, fanned by the delight in some new thing, couched in the winsome indefiniteness of a new psychology, was perforce compelled to attack the central dogma of the Incarnation. And what next?
We ought to be careful in not being too eager to get the blessing of scientific men on our religion. "Christian Theology, no less than other sciences, has suffered profoundly from the disputes of theologians and authorities who, often unconsciously, confused the attainment of truth with the gratification of the natural human desire to achieve victory in controversy, or the natural human reluctance to admit error." The latest truth is not always the truest. There can be no toleration of the modern fashion to deny the authenticity of that which is ancient simply because it is ancient. "The orthodox Church has proved the truth of its teaching by its survival. The falsehood of rival forms of teaching was proved by their disappearance." This is to be observed in the experience of any one generation. Men suffer more from devitalization of life and faith than from the excess of vitality. Men die because life fails. It was this deficiency which Christ came to satisfy. "I am come that they might have [124/125] life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Our Lord's pertinent criticism was directed to the poverty of belief. "O ye of little faith." Human nature always is content to accept the limitations of the minimum. Faith becomes real when man is challenged to the quest of that which men declare to be impossible and incredible. "With God all things are possible." When modern liberalism announces that it is "out for the truth," we are compelled to ask, what truth? Is it that truth which they desire and are predetermined to accept? You do not interpret "what must I believe to be saved," as how "little" can I accept. Rather faith, completely and truly employed, causes us to demand how much is it possible to believe. "Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief."
The Catholic faith is true as an organic whole. The limits of toleration are bound to be fixed. Allow individual interpretation of any one Catholic doctrine as expressed in the Creeds, authenticated by Ecumenical Councils, verified by the Vincentian rule, and the whole is exposed to countless new difficulties and problems, historical, intellectual and moral, and the disease of unbelief sets in.
Catholics, who by the very nature of sacramental birth, are committed to the intolerance of an Unchanging and an Unchangeable God, are accused of uncharitableness, as being the slaves of mechanical intellectual activity, and hailed as the puppets of a "dead past." Catholics are condemned as having surrendered the precious possession of liberty for the tyranny of authority, and, by every token, they should be, of all men, most miserable, both to themselves and to others. "By what authority doest thou these things?" The Catholic position is challenged (and ever will be), because of a general distrust of the Church's claim to authority. Subjectivism tends to make men distrustful of rules. Freedom, the necessary [125/126] condition of a rational being, is made to be the right to do as one pleases. This is an absolutely impossible fact for a created being. The cry for "freedom of thought" is really vitiated by an internal contradiction, since the intellect itself is bound by laws which it must obey in order to function.
A more accurate definition of liberty is the exercise of power under control. "Freedom to man is the power to choose between alternatives, not to do as he pleases." "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." It is asserted that Christianity is simply "the following of Christ." Personal devotion is avowedly the essence of the Christian life. Very well. But does that involve no authority? Surely the man who worships "Jesus as Lord" is no longer his own master. No personal loyalty has any meaning if it merely implies that we shall follow our own mind; but, on the contrary, it involves complete trust in every detail.
From the very nature of Christianity it is impossible for an individual to know anything about it at first hand. He must be content to derive his knowledge from authority, whether the authority be that of a living teacher, or of a past tradition. There is no real authority save that of a living, social spirit. The Lordship of Christ is mediated to us by the Church through God the Holy Ghost.
From Her Lord, the Church receives the authority which He exercised in His Incarnate Life. "He that heareth you, heareth me." "All power is given unto me in heaven and earth." "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." There is involved the assignment of mission, the authority to teach, and the power to bind and to loose. The right to fix the limits of toleration is inherent in such a charter.
 In the fulfillment of the dictates of Her life, the Church functions as the Divine Society of Believers. "The note of solidarity has taken its true rank at the side of continuity as a necessary note of the Church." The exercise of liberty of thought and action, therefore, is always under a social context. We have observed that religious dogma is not purely intellectual, but compasses the whole life's belief. Further, doctrine develops not only from within, but from without. The solidarity of social belief is of primary importance. Christianity is a Life, lived in a society controlled by the Spirit of Christ.
For the Church to formulate Her dogmas in Councils, to safeguard the development of doctrine, to maintain the integrity of first principles, to put down false teaching, is compelled by her very nature. Development of doctrine accompanies the growth of society. But it is a growth from the embryonic and the potential, from the implicit to the explicit, comparable to the growth from the child to the man. The religion of the soul imitates the growth of the body in that it is identically the same thing; an organic or vital development. "The Church changes that she may be the same."
All that is involved in this thought of the social structure of the Catholic Church contravenes and condemns the plea for the toleration of individualism. We are to safeguard the integrity of each individual unit of life, and thus prevent authority from degenerating into tyranny. On the other hand, we fight for the preservation of the individual part as a constituent, integral member of the whole, from which alone it has its being. "Belief in the utter independence of the Individual is the root of all error." "When we consider how little of the entire sum of our inward possessions can be called the fruit of our own communion with the Highest, when we seek to imagine what our state would be apart from the ancient [127/128] heritage of faith, and apart from the religious society which is our home, we understand the measure of our subjection to the appointed authorities of the spiritual Order. Of all forms of arrogance there is none that appears to us so futile as the arrogance of self-appointed piety."
Fundamentally the Divine Society must be intolerant of any theory of development which, while dependent upon a social heritage, would seek either to disown first principles, or change them into their very opposites, or to interpret symbolically historical statements of Divine Revelation made known to the attested experience of an authoritative body. If, in such an untoward experiment, the guidance of the Holy Spirit is sought and claimed, what shall be done with the corporate experience of loyal dependence upon that same agency continuously from the very beginning? If the Christian Church be a society at all, She must mean something, not something else. "The true source and meaning of authority in the Church is the pressure upon the individual of the human-divine life of the great society, which bears in every act the tears of the Saints and the ardours of the martyrs, and lives yet by the Pentecostal breath. No one will maintain a right attitude who makes himself the measure of all things, and treats with a supercilious criticism the movements of this mighty life, living with the prayers of all ages and joyous with the smile of the redeemed."We have our limits of toleration: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.