I. The Theory
THE philosophy of national Churches deserves an ampler discussion than it has ever yet received. Books in plenty, and very able ones, have been written upon the doctrine of the Church as a whole. Special "Establishments" of religion, such as the Episcopal Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, have also polemic and irenic literatures of their own. But for the national Church pure and simple, the national Church considered as an entity, existing within and yet in a sense apart from the Church universal, while at the same time wholly independent of the civil State,--for this we seem still to lack any lucid or self-consistent theory. In fact, a dispassionate inquirer might well be pardoned were he to raise the question, Is such an organism as a national Church expedient, even if possible?
What account did Jesus Christ take of "nations," in the ordering of his kingdom, that we should presume to parcel out his world-wide realm in accordance with the shifting moats and alterable hedges of the treaty-makers?
The local Church we know, the single pastor with his flock about him; the Church Catholic we know, "the blessed company of all faithful people ": but what is this intermediary concept of a national Church? What is it better than a mere geographical expression, a name for something that has no substantive existence, a ghost of Gallicanism, an ecclesiastical No-man's Land? These are questions which the convinced Congregationalist and the convinced Ultramontanist agree in asking. Unless they can be met and answered, the advocates of national Churches may as well learn to hold their peace; they are on seas where navigation is dangerous, and neither the pilot of the barque of Peter nor the helmsman of the Mayflower will care a straw for their signals. On every account, therefore, it behooves us to be clear in our own minds as to what we are purposing to consider, and, however disinclined we may feel to the formality of definitions, not to attempt to discuss national Churches until we shall first have come to at least an approximative understanding as to what "nations" are. Perhaps some such statement as the following will serve us, at least for working purposes: A nation is a people organized under one civil polity, established upon a definite territory, and possessed of sovereign powers.
We need not deny that to the perfection of national life characteristics other than these which
I have named do greatly contribute. As respects the fulness and symmetry of their national life, some peoples are more blessed than others. It is much to be desired, for example, that a nation should be "of one language and of one speech;" but were we to make this requirement a part of our definition, we should rule out of the family of nations some of its oldest and strongest members. It is much to be desired, also, that a nation should be of one blood, one racial stock; but if we were to insist upon this point, we should kill the claim of the United States to nationality. No, the three all-important notes of nationality are those that stand out sharply in our definition,--polity, territory, sovereignty; there must be discipline, there must be area, there must be independence. How passionately the model nation of the former age clung to all three of these possessions every reader of the Old Testament remembers. Their law, their land, their freedom,---these, for the Hebrews of the monarchy, made the very essence of national life. At the wall of wailing in the modern city of Jerusalem, you may to-day see men and women lamenting with strong crying and tears the loss of these credentials of nationality. When Christ came, the Jews had already forfeited one of the three essentials, the sovereignty; but they still kept hold of the other two, their law and their land. They tried hard to persuade themselves that they were still a nation, but really they were no longer such. Their cry, "We have a law," availed them nothing, so long as it must needs be supplemented by that other cry, "We have no king but Caesar." Sovereignty having been lost, neither law nor land, nor both together, could make a nation of them. Since then, law, land, and sovereignty all have gone; they are a people still, but they are not a nation any more. Whether "Zionism" will make them such remains to be seen.
When the pioneers of Christianity began their enterprise, they found themselves, to all intents and purposes, face to face with but a single nation, the Roman. It was a nation conspicuously lacking in those non-essential notes of unity of which I was just speaking, oneness of language and oneness of blood; but, all the same, it met the requirements of our definition, in that it covered a recognized area, the basin of the Mediterranean, was under a single, even though variously adapted discipline, and possessed a sovereignty not derivative but original.
The sacred society, the ecclesia, which grew up under these conditions, was necessarily national in its scope,--not national, as we know, in the sense of receiving any formal recognition at the hands of the nation's rulers, for, on the contrary, it was officially persecuted; but national in the sense that it permeated the nation and took possession of it from within, as the sap of a tree mounts through the trunk until it has infiltrated limb and bough and twig and leaf. The Churches founded by St. Paul and his companions in different regions of the Roman Empire were not national Churches at all, nor is there any evidence that they regarded themselves as such; there was but one nation, the Empire; and the conversion of the Empire brought into existence, by necessary process, the first of national Churches, the Roman,--not yet the Papal, be it observed, but assuredly the Roman. And this came about, let us never suffer ourselves to forget, by growth rather than by manufacture. It was a true genesis, not a forced contrivance. The Emperor Constantine did not make the Church national by establishing it, he established it because he found that by an unobserved process it had already become national. It would have continued national even if he had not established it, for everywhere throughout that whole Roman world it stood rooted at the centres of life.
We come, just at this point, upon one of the most striking of the characteristics that difference Christianity from Mohammedanism, the Church from the Mosque. Islam could carve out caliphates by the sword, irrespective of existing civil lines, for the plain reason that the sword was Islam's recognized and acknowledged instrument. But Christ's word to the Church is, "Put up thy sword into his sheath." The cross is not merely the symbol and token of Christianity, it is the implement as well; the conquests of the Gospel are conquests of love; and hence it follows that instead of creating territorial jurisdictions, as Islam, at whatever cost of blood, is eager to do, the Christian Church simply accepts the jurisdictions which she finds made ready to her hand, only too thankful to let political geography alone, that she may bend all her energies to her proper task of blessing human life. The Church is militant, indeed, but her militancy is of the spirit, and her sword "bathed in heaven." She is content to let the powers that be district the earth as they will, and fix the metes and bounds at their discretion, if only upon the territory thus delimited she be allowed to enter, and to scatter over the ready furrows the good seed of the kingdom.
So far as the things justly and properly denominated things of Caesar were concerned, primitive Christianity simply followed the line of least resistance; and as a consequence the first national Church found itself as perfectly fitted to the national administrative scheme as water, when the gate is lifted, fits itself to the arterial system of a modern city.
The bearing of all this upon the rise and growth of the Papal power it would be superfluous to trace. The story has been often told. Happily it is no longer necessary for one to prove his loyalty to Reformation principles by vilifying the Pope. The argument which Romanists base upon the Petrine texts in the Gospels is not so wholly devoid of plausibility that we must needs take for fools or knaves those who have accepted it as sound. It is a startling thought, but it is difficult for an observant investigator of the past not to think it,--that it have pleased Almighty God to make some use of the principle of illusion in his education of the race. The illusion that the Empire was the world, and that its chief ecclesiastic must necessarily be accepted as the world's spiritual head, may possibly have had a use and a value in its time of which we moderns are but ill-provisioned critics. Be that as it may, the point I am making holds good, that the early Church, both before its establishment by imperial edict, and after its establishment (so long as the frontiers of the Empire were unbroken), was a national Church, not ecumenical at all, or, if ecumenical, ecumenical only in the sense in which Rome meant the world, and the world meant Rome.
When the final break-up of the Empire came to pass, what had been the nation became the nations; and as each of these gradually sphered itself into a oneness of its own, the Christianity of each naturally took on, or, to speak more accurately, revealed a distinctive coloring. A converted people is as sure to retain a fractional part of its inborn characteristics, its constitutional habit, as a converted person is. To drive out nature with a club is as impossible in the case of races as in the case of individuals. A Celtic tribe, converted, and a German tribe, converted, did not cease to retain each its Celtic or its German traits. This is not in contravention of the truth that God has made of one blood all peoples, but simply goes to show that the one blood is subject to some law of differentiation not dissimilar to that which endues with varying shades of green the leaves of one and the same tree. At any rate, the religious mind of the northern nations finally waked up to the fact that it had grown out of sympathy with the Christianity of the South, and, as a result, the Churches of the Reformation came into being, each of them national to such extent as circumstances permitted, but no one of them possessed of so strong a principle of internal coherence as the imperial body from which it had shaken itself loose. Meanwhile the old national Church, still centred, as before, at Rome, bated no jot of her masterful claim; and in addition to the schismatical tendencies that disturbed them from within, the Churches of the Reformation had also to face the constant pressure of proselytizing approaches from without. Under these circumstances the philosophy of national Churches found breathing a little difficult; and only in a country blessed, like England, with splendid isolation, was such an intellectual achievement as the immortal "Polity" of Richard Hooker possible.
Simultaneously with the Reformation movement, came the discovery and tentative colonization of the two Americas, with the consequent struggle of the creeds to gain possession. South America fell to the lot of the still vigorous survivor of the old national Church of Rome, while North America, after many struggles, came to be recognized as the fair field without favor, within whose limits the problem of the non-Roman national Church might conceivably, in some distant future, be worked out.
And thus, after our rapid glance at a far-spreading past, we find that we have reached to-day,--to-day with all its agitating anxieties and dreads; to-day with all its invigorating promise, its invincibility of hope. But our having reached to-day in our inquiry by no means releases us from the necessity of philosophizing; on the contrary, that duty lies all the more heavily upon us. Under the conditions of life in the United States of America, the difficult questions of national churchmanship lend themselves to discussion with better promise of fruitful results than anywhere else in Christendom. They mount the great telescopes nowadays in regions where the atmosphere is known to be exceptionally clear; doubtless we Americans have many motes in our sunbeam, but of the particular variety of mote known as ecclesiastial prejudice the air has, by many rains, been washed clean. Unhampered by establishmentarian prejudices, and without the slightest fear that the civil power will either lay an embargo upon our inquiry or flout us for the conclusions reached, we can work away at our problem with a perfectly free hand. There will be time enough for dealing with the practical side of the subject by and by. For the present the rationale, the theory, the why and wherefore of the matter, must still detain us.
For example, there is a concession to be made, and a most important one. We are bound, I think, to concede to the Ultramontanist that his conception of the Kingdom of Christ as being world-wide in its scope and range is, as a conception, far loftier, far more soul-inspiring, than what is apparently the Nationalist's notion of the thing. The Nationalist can of course appeal and does appeal to the strong instincts of patriotism. The enthusiasm which the present-day Englishman, for instance, feels for his national Church is unquestionably very much mixed up with the enthusiasm which he feels for England. But it is wonderful how little the New Testament has to say about the duty of patriotism. When clergymen are minded to preach political sermons, they commonly are driven to the books of the Old Testament in search of their texts. The polity of Jesus Christ is ecumenical, not national. When in his character of conqueror He goes forth to war, his "far-flung battle-line" reaches to the ends of the earth. In the beginnings of his ministry, He had, indeed, much to say of a special mission to Israel. His language to more than one of the foreigners with whom He was brought in contact had a distinctly Hebraic tincture. But as the end draws near, the catholic scope of his mission is disclosed. "And I, if I be lifted up," He cried, "will draw all men unto Me."
It was in this sense that Paul, from the outset, understood his Master. Language more comprehensive than St. Paul's with respect to the largeness of the Kingdom, it would be impossible to frame. If he mentions national and race distinctions, it is only that he may slur them. No Jacobin or Internationalist was ever more intolerant of patriotism, in the narrow sense, than he. He valued his Roman citizenship, to be sure, for, as a man of sense, he was not indifferent to the practical advantages which it secured; but whenever it was seen to be a question of the Kingdom, Scythian and barbarian drew upon his sympathies, and challenged his interest as powerfully as the best Roman of them all. We must therefore, as I said, concede to the Ultramontanist a superiority over the Nationalist as touching the aims which the two respectively hold up to themselves. How, then, are we to avoid the conclusion that it is our duty as good Christians, pupils of the New Testament rather than of the Old, to forsake nationalism altogether, and to follow the Ultramontanist whithersoever he may lead, even though our doing so take us across the mountains, and bring us to the city where the man holding the keys sits? We cannot avoid that conclusion, save by taking the ground that nationalism in religion is a temporary expedient, a policy forced upon us by the necessities of the present, and destined in due time, unless indeed the course of this world be meanwhile interrupted by the personal coming of the King, to merge in the larger ecdesia in which are to be gathered all the nations of the earth. The Ultramontanist's error is not in claiming a world-wide dominion for the Church,--there he is right; but rather in failing to see that the Church of Rome, magnificent as her career has been, and deep as our gratitude to her must always be, was never, after all, anything but a national Church herself, and that hence her attempt to administer this modern world which long since ceased to be a single nation is an anachronism. If at this the Ultramontanist turns upon us, as he is very likely to do, with a charge of inconsistency, in that we acknowledge the necessarily fragmentary and inchoate character of national Churches, but at the same time have no scheme to offer for an ecumenical polity that shall be large enough for the whole world, our answer is the old one that Moses gave to Pharaoh when the king sought to bind him down to terms in the matter of the exodus, "We know not with what we must serve the Lord until we come thither." Even so we Nationalists know not precisely what will be the proper ecclesiastical framework for "the Federation of the World" until we "come thither." Certainly that goal is far enough away at present, nor may we hope to see it heave in sight until what our Lord, in a most suggestive phrase, calls "the times of the Gentiles" shall have been fulfilled.
For the present it is plain that the Sovereign Commander of all the world has use for nations; and since no one of these nations can interfere in the internal affairs of any other one without there ensuing a clash of sovereignties, the best that the Christianity of each nation can do is to orb itself into a unity of its own. The Roman Church seeks to avoid this difficulty by its device of concordats,--solemn treaties, that is to say, negotiated from time to time between the papal see and the various governments of Christendom, whereby certain rights and privileges are guaranteed by the secular to the sacred society; but the fact that it has proved impossible to carry out this scheme with anything like symmetrical completeness would seem to be the sufficient condemnation of the principle upon which it is based. The method of the concordat offers too many opportunities for intrigue. It tempts the Church into the sins that beset diplomacy. It is only too likely to promote a substitution of finesse and adroitness for the transparent sincerity which Christ and his Apostles twelve commend.
But it is urged, and with much show of reason, that it will not do to intrust the Christian religion to the nations in severalty, since there is a danger, if we do so, that the substance of the faith may suffer wrong, may be depraved in quality or impoverished in quantity. The argument by aid of which the Roman Church defends its continued use of the Latin tongue for the purposes of worship is this, that there would be danger of the liturgy's becoming corrupt were it to be translated into the various languages of the modern world. The Mass, it is urged, might under such circumstances grow to mean one thing to one people and another to another.
If this reasoning holds good with respect to the liturgy, with tenfold force must it apply to dogma. "What guarantee have we," asks the Ultramontanist, "that the very essence of the faith itself may not be at any moment put in jeopardy, if each national Church is to be allowed to frame its own doctrinal system, lengthen or shorten its creed at will?"
This raises at once the whole question of the basis of authority in matters of religious belief, and brings nationalist and infallibilist face to face.
There was a time when Mother Church could hush inquiry, as any mother hushes any child, with a "Never mind 'Why?' Believe what I tell you because it is I who tell you; do as I bid you because it is I who bid you." The sixteenth century movement upset all that, and by a somewhat rough process drove the children into inquiring for themselves, not always wisely, though always eagerly, as to what the truth might be with regard to the foundations of faith. To-day, whether you are undertaking to tell a man what he ought to believe or what he ought to do, he is equally likely to turn on you with a peremptory and unceremonious Why? Alike on agenda and on credenda is stamped the interrogation mark.
Just at present the storm-centre happens to be immediately over Holy Scripture. We have fallen upon times when the well-worn formula, "The Bible, and the Bible only, the Religion of Protestants," scarcely suffices for controversial needs.
The issues of to-day lie back of the Bible, and it is no longer possible to silence the inquirer by throwing a text at him. Men have raised the question, "What is the Bible?" and they are discussing it in hot earnest. You and I believe that the Bible is coming out of the fires stronger than ever, but we must not let that belief blind us to our need of authoritative guidance in the interpretation of the book. The individual mind is not sufficient for these things, it must have help. A deep philosophy underlay the question with which an ancient Bible-student parried the inquiry, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" "How can I, except some man should guide me? "
There are four possible ways of construing the promise of Christ that the Spirit should guide the disciples into all the truth; we may call them, respectively, the pietistic, the patristic, the infalli-bilist, and the ecumenical. The pietistic theologian (and I use the adjective not contemptuously, but only with a view to clearness) finds in Christ's promise an encouragement to the individual believer to count upon ascertaining in every instance the true meaning of psalm, parable, and prophecy, if only he read his Bible with an honest prayer upon his lips for spiritual light. It will scarcely be alleged, even by the most ardent devotees of this method, that it conduces to corporate unity. They are more likely to take the ground that corporate unity is a delusion and a snare; glorying in rather than lamenting over the diversity of result which the working out of this theory of interpretation brings to pass. Their appeal is to the heavenly city, and they are quite content to postpone the accomplishment of any unity, other than an emotional one to the celestial calends.
What the far future is to the pietist, that, as respects the secret of outward doctrinal agreement, the far past is to the man who stakes everything upon the Fathers. For the one the golden age lies distantly ahead; for the other, that blessed era was hermetically sealed up centuries ago. If you want to know the mind of the Spirit as it was originally injected into Holy Scripture, provide yourself with a Library of the Fathers (the Benedictine edition is the best), and, wholly oblivious to the changes which fifty generations of Christian study and Christian discovery have wrought in the intellectual sky, give yourself patiently to the task of disengaging from a badly tangled skein the one precious thread of unanimous patristic consent. This is what is known as the appeal to antiquity. That it has immense value as an element in the ascertainment of truth only a smatterer in theology will deny. To put it forward as the alone all-sufficient organon is to court discomfiture.
The retroactive influence which too much harping upon this single string, "antiquity," exerted over the mind of a well-remembered ecclesiastic of our day had much to do with bringing to a head the third of the four great theories,--the infallibilist. Henry Edward, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, had heard so much, while an Anglican, about the authority of the Fathers, that he had grown into that mood of mind which prompted Coleridge in an impatient moment to cry out, "Evidences of Christianity? I am weary of the word." Manning grew weary of "antiquity." He had the eye to see that there were a good many anxious questions floating about in the modern atmosphere which the Fathers, whether Ante-Nicene or Post-Nicene, had never so much as touched with the tips of their fingers; and it was deeply borne in upon his mind that it would be an immense relief to see established somewhere--and if somewhere, where so appropriately as at Rome?--an oracle of present-day truth to which discouraged seekers might resort with confidence. Aided by others like-minded with himself, he brought to pass, in the memorable year of our Lord 1870, the enactment by the Vatican Council of a constitution the most significant passage of which reads as follows:--
" The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the universal Church, is, through the divine assistance promised him in blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine about faith and morals, and therefore such definitions of the Roman pontiff are irreformable of themselves and not from the consent of the Church." *
The facts with regard to the passing of this resolve are these: The whole number of prelates entitled to take part in the proceedings of the Council was one thousand and thirty-seven. Of these the largest number present at any one session was seven hundred and twenty-seven. At the first ballot, which was held on the thirteenth day of July, six hundred and one members were present. Of these four hundred and fifty-one voted Aye, eighty-eight Nay, and sixty-two Placet juxta modum, or "Aye, with qualifications. "At the solemn session, or, as we should call it, the "formal ballot," on the eighteenth day of July, when the final vote was taken, five hundred and thirty-five prelates participated, of whom five hundred and thirty-three voted Placet, and two Non placet. The two dissenters subsequently gave in their adhesion. From these figures it appears that on the occasion when the balloting was entirely unbiassed, that is to say, at the session of July the thirteenth, those who voted Placet had a majority of one hundred and fifty out of a total of six hundred and one present and voting, although they were less numerous by five hundred and eighty-six than the whole number entitled to attend the Council. With this hollow show of unanimity was promulgated the most momentous decree of modern times. It is said that during that solemn hour a heavy storm passed over the city where the Council was assembled, darkening the spaces of the great church, and punctuating the decree with thunder-peals. Can we wonder that the omen should have been variously interpreted,--that some should have been quick to say, "It is the voice of an angel," while others murmured beneath their breath, "It is the Non placet of Almighty God"?
Time will show which augury was true, and which was false. For there is but one pair of alternatives. The papal claim to be, in the last resort, the sole arbiter of the things that most concern our peace is either just or unjust; it is quite impossible that it should be both. If Jesus Christ really speaks by Leo, to Leo we must go. If, on the other hand, the decree of July was but the capstone of an edifice already undermined, and doomed as soon as finished to vanish away, nothing so much behooves us as to find a basis of authority not liable to shock, some floor broad enough and strong enough for the nations to build upon it and be safe.
In what I have further to say, my endeavor will be to show that we have such a foundation. A philosophy there is which at once strikes deeper than the pietistic and stretches farther than the patristic theory. It recognizes and allows for an important element of truth in each of these others, while it superadds an increment of value which is all its own. I have called it, for lack of a better name, the ecumenical philosophy of authority. It is a philosophy adherence to which will save a national Church from lapsing into provincialism, while at the same time safeguarding it from the encroachments of any alleged Mother and Mistress of all Churches.
This philosophy is summed up in the brief maxim of St. Augustine, which Cardinal Newman has made famous, Securus judicat orbis terrarum. In that most instructive of all autobiographies, "The History of my Religious Opinions," better known under its first title, Apologia pro Vita Sua, Newman gives us a graphic account of the manner in which that sonorous sentence of the great Latin Father broke on his conscience like a revelation. He calls them "palmary words." They kept ringing in his ears. He found himself repeating them again and again. "The words of St. Augustine," he says, "struck me with a power which I had never felt from any words before. To take a familiar instance, they were like the ' Turn again, Whittington,' of the chime; or, to take a more serious one, they were like the ' Tolle, lege,--Tolle, lege,' of the child which converted St. Augustine himself. Securus judicat orbis terrarum. By those great words of the ancient Father, interpreting and summing up the long and varied course of ecclesiastical history, the theory of the Via Media was absolutely pulverized."
How little did the proud, eager, passionate soul of John Henry Newman dream that in less than six years after the making of this frank disclosure of the chief reason that had carried him to Rome, he would himself be called upon to accept, at the very point of the sword, as we may say, a doctrine of religious certitude the very opposite of the one he here so eloquently sets forth. He turned his face Rome ward because he had become convinced that England was in isolation, and that only the voice of the Church Catholic (for so he translated Augustine's orbis terrarum) could be trusted; but he had not been long housed in his new spiritual home before he was informed that not at the lips of the orbis terrarum at all, but rather at the lipa of a single ecclesiastic enthroned at the capital of a dead empire, he was thenceforth to drink in truth. It was like being called upon to exchange the voice of many waters for the piping of a phonograph,--an instrument which only reproduces words that have been put into it. Can we wonder that in a hasty moment, as he saw the evil day approaching, he should have characterized as "an insolent faction" the people who were moving sea and land to bring about the definition of the new dogma?
The late Dean Stanley is credited with the epigrammatic remark, "How differently might the history of the Church of England have read if Dr. Newman had only understood German!" An American Christian may be pardoned for adding, "How differently might Dr. Newman have translated Augustine's Securus judicat orbis terrarum had he once put the Atlantic between himself and the Europe of his studies!" For truly the orbis terrarum has become a different thing from what it was in the day when the son of Monica looked out upon it and put his trust in its judgment. But his argument has lost nothing of its strength; on the contrary, it has been found to possess a cumulative value, gaining in force from century to century as man becomes more and more aware of the largeness of the plans of God. The world of Augustine's time was a "round world," in the sense in which a circle is round,--there was doubt as to its circumference, but practically no doubt as to its centre; our round world is round in the sense in which a globe is round,--we are certain of its circumference, but no spot upon its surface can claim to be an exclusive centre any longer; and yet by so much as a sphere is better than a surface, by that much is the argument from general consent, which is what the Securus judicat orbis terrarum really means, stronger to-day than it ever was. It has been to our advantage, not our loss, that "umbilical" and "ecumenical" have ceased to be convertible terms. But let us not dwell in parables. The thesis I seek to maintain, as the point most central to an ecumenical philosophy of authority in the region of religious belief, is this, that Christ's promise of the guidance of the Spirit runs to the Church as a whole, to the ecclesia diffusa, and is self-registering from age to age. This is not a theory which will satisfy precise minds that must have everything cut and dried, and cannot believe that God will ever do a new thing unless they personally shall have been informed as to the when and where of the birth; but possibly it may commend itself to those who, patiently pondering in a docile temper the general drift of things, have learned to account deliberate-ness one of the most infallible notes of divinity.
In effect, this was the method by which the two burning questions of the early Church--the question of the canon of Holy Scripture and the question of the limits of the catholic Creed--were settled. The Councils which dealt with these questions did but gather to a head and put into more definite shape what was generally held among the faithful to be the truth of the matter. The Bishops were representative men, who came together, not for the purpose of concocting anything of their own, but simply to report what it was that in their several neighborhoods was commonly believed. This is the way St. Luke puts it in the Preface to his Gospel. Others, he says, have written their narratives concerning those matters which have been fully established, and now he proposes to add his.
Really it was the steady, unnoticed, pervasive action of the ecclesia diffusa, in a word, the general belief, the public opinion of the early Church, which settled both the Canon and the Creed. This public opinion found a mouthpiece in Councils, but it existed before the Councils were convened, and was the implicit even before it had become the explicit belief of the Church. This is in line with what the best theologians have always held with respect to General Councils; namely, that they ought not to be accounted "general" until there has been time enough to ascertain whether their findings be acceptable to the Church at large. The Church, not the Council, is the Spirit-bearing body; it is to the whole Church rather than to its representative assembly that the promise of guidance runs; and although Councils are of the greatest value as a means of ascertaining what the mind of the Church is, nevertheless, if it be made afterwards perfectly plain by the course of events, that any Council, instead of having fairly represented, did really misrepresent the actual mind of the Church with respect to some disputed point, that Council must be content to go into history with a black mark against its name. This is really very High Church doctrine, although the fact that I am assigning so much importance to the rank and file of the Christian body, and comparatively so little to the official portion of it, may blind the eyes of some to the true character of my contention.
Assuredly it is no slight or cheap prerogative that one claims for the Church Catholic when he sets it up as the umpire and teacher of the human race, maintaining, as I am seeking to maintain, that its united testimony with respect to any matter of faith or morals comes nearer to an infallible utterance than any other voice which it is given to man to hear. The saints shall judge the world.
Do you complain that the doctrine is shadowy and nebulous as compared with the crisp and handy formula of the Vatican Council? No doubt it is open to that charge; and probably no single incentive to the promulgation of the infallibility dogma was more powerful than the desire to cut short debate over disputes which refused to be settled otherwise than by the old and wearisome process of simmering and simmering until the public opinion of the Church at large should confess itself content. It was like the introduction of the parliamentary device known as the closure, or a moving of "the previous question" in an assembly sick and weary of the prolixities of debate. But if it be true, and the wise and good assure us it is, that things are never settled until they are settled right, the slow way may prove the better way, in fact, the only way. "Closure" and "previous question" are all very well, where it is a matter of adjourning and going home to luncheon; but for the purposes of such legislation as is expected to survive and to endure, nothing is one half so good as "general consent," even if it has to be waited for with long patience, like the early and the latter rain.
But "nebulous" and "shadowy" are not the only epithets of dispraise which the ecumenical theory of authority is likely to draw to itself. It will be called foolhardy and hare-brained, because of its seeming to launch a very precious freight upon a most tenuous and impalpable medium,--an iron-clad, for instance, upon a sea of vapor which only simulates the great deep. But even so, there is still the question, What is Almighty God's own method of launching?
Foolhardy, indeed, at its first announcement, must have seemed that theory of the heavenly mechanics which knocked all visible supports from under sun and moon and planets, leaving them, one and all, balanced apparently on nothing.
We think otherwise to-day, for we have learned that the all-pervasive, everywhere energizing force which really holds the stars to their courses, is a far better guarantee of order, a far more trustworthy underpinning than any celestial trestle-work, whether of steel or adamant. Surely, what gravitation does for stars the eternal Spirit may be counted upon to do for souls, holding them invisibly to a unity in the truth which no mechanical device of ecclesiasticism such as the dogma of 1870 possibly can produce.
"God builds on liquid air;" the beams of his chambers are laid on ocean's unstable floor; yet is there no sub-structure so secure as his, for He hath founded it upon the seas and established it upon the floods. Poor Simon Peter, like his putative successor, Pio Nono, was unequal to this conception of what firm footing means. He, too, was struck with a sudden panic as to this question of support from underneath. Beginning to sink, he cried, "Lord, save me." How gentle but how searching Christ's lesson in the first principles of certitude, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? "
Again, it will be said that this ecumenical theory of authority never can compete with Vaticanism, because what is wanted is a court of immediate resort. Rome is accessible, we are acquainted with its latitude and longitude, we know its place upon the map, and we can journey thither with our hard questions any day we will; whereas the twenty-first century is a long way off, and none of us can hope to live to see the day when by patient brooding over the mind of the Church the Holy Spirit of Truth shall have brought to pass general consent as to the doubts and difficulties that now so grievously oppress us. But has Ultramontanism as a matter of fact the superiority in this respect that is claimed for it? Can answers be extracted from the oracle at Rome as promptly as the vulgar suppose? What is the advantage of a rapid-firing gun if one never fires it? Since the promulgation of the Vatican decree, the Roman Pontiff has written a number of letters to the world, embracing, in all, many hundreds of propositions; but it does not appear that infallibility is claimed for any single one of these propositions, inasmuch as the letters containing them are not known to have been issued ex cathedra,--in accordance, that is to say, with the conditions which the dogma of 1870 itself lays down as necessary to the putting forth of an inerrant utterance.
While, therefore, the letters are plainly valuable on account of the large measure of wholesome and timely truth which they contain, they do not essentially differ in character from letters of counsel that reach us from other ecclesiastical sources, as, for example, the mild pastoral set forth by the recent Anglican Conference at Lambeth. In fact, it seems probable that the Holy See, under the new constitution, will never commit itself irrevocably to either side of any momentous controversy, whether ecclesiastical, theological, or social, until the straw shall have been thoroughly thrashed out, and a practical unanimity, at least within the Roman Communion, already reached. It need not, therefore, necessarily be conceded to the Ultramontanists that their theory has even the poor advantage of celerity in its favor. Appeal still lies with them, as with us, to the next age.
["I know well that the decree in question is capable of many interpretations. There is a sense in which it expresses, I will not say a truth, but even a truism. When the Pope speaks as the representative of the Church, he cannot but speak truly. I grant it. The question is, When does the Pope speak as the representative of the Church? A Roman Catholic of my acquaintance ventured to talk to Leo XIII. about this dogma, and the obstacle which it presented to reunion between England and him. The Pope was distressed, and said that the dogma must be explained. . . . 'The truth,' he said, pointing to his own breast, ' is not in me but in the Church.' He needed, he said, to take the proper means to find out the truth, before he could pronounce.]
And, after all, why should we fret against the fact that under any system time must always be an important element in the task of ascertaining truth? How was the slavery question finally settled in Christendom? Certainly not by the vote of any ecclesiastical Council; certainly not by the formal decree of any Pope: it was settled by a slow process in which orators, divines, jurists, story-writers, and soldiers, all of them had part. The Spirit of Truth certainly did not make the Bishops and Clergy the only instruments in this vast work, but all estates of men in God's holy Church, from the highest to the lowest, bore severally their parts. It was the Christian Orbis Terrarum exercising its high right of giving final judgment.
This is an ethical illustration. A theological one would be equally to the point. How has the question of the six days of creation been settled, and from having been an open become a closed one? Has it been by conciliar vote? No. Has it been by papal bull? No. How then? By general consent. Gradually the truth with respect to questions that have been long vexed gets into the atmosphere, and the Church finds herself saying, "Whereas I was blind, now I see." Christians believe that this slow but sure illuminating process is the work of the Spirit of Truth; that it is in fulfilment of a definite promise made by the incarnate Son of God; and they account for the more swift advance of the Christianized as compared with the non-Christianized peoples of the world, by alleging this cause.
I have endeavored to show that in the all-important region of faith and doctrine, it is possible for a national Church, however it may be limited in other directions, to hold ecumenical ground. I have laid the main stress here, because without a clear philosophy of authority back of it a national Church can. neither understand itself nor justify itself. It may seem to some that the argument has been unduly labored, and that I might safely have treated the newly formulated papal claim as a negligible quantity.
Others, however, will perhaps agree with me in thinking that the world has not yet begun to appreciate the full significance of what was effected under St. Peter's dome in 1870. In religious controversy, definiteness counts for very, very much. Devout minds, especially the minds of devout women (and we must remember that the interests of religion are largely in the custody of women), yield readily to the fascination of a sufficiently emphatic "Thus saith the Lord." Logical and scientific difficulties such as those suggested by the dogma of transubstantiation; questions of historical accuracy like those that encumber the Petrine claim; even ethical misgivings prompted by the abuses of the Confessional, the doctrine of indulgences, and the cultus of the saints,--will all of them sometimes fade swiftly away in the face of the strong assertion, "Rome has spoken; the case is closed." In this world of dimmed eyes and wayward wills, absolutism has a charm all its own. The Roman Empire dies hard. It is a flippant mind that can lightly cast ridicule upon the Holy Father's tremendous claim. Some of the keenest thinkers of our day, men not easily fooled, have succumbed to the magic of it.
So ardent, in deep natures, is the longing for the full assurance of downright conviction, so quenchless the thirst for certitude, that the mere spectacle of a venerable teacher who demands assent to what he says on the plea of a divine right is of itself eloquent with persuasion. Almost any harbor that offers anchorage is grateful to storm-beaten and half-shipwrecked men.
"Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labor in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
Oh, rest ye, brother-mariners, we will not wander more."
The struggle which culminated in the Roman Communion in 1870 is the old struggle between centralization and that genuine catholicity which would render to every member of the vast body its due. In civil society the contention has gone on under the style, Monarch versus People; in the spiritual society under the style, Pope versus Council. The plea I have been making is identical, though put forward under a somewhat altered form, with that by which the great politicians of the Church of England have stood fast ever since Trent. The appeal of England was, in a sense, an appeal to antiquity, in that it insisted on Holy Scripture and the primitive Creeds as the all-sufficient reservoir of revealed truth; but that appeal had also in it, be it noted, a present-day element, in that it made petition for a fair and truly representative General Council, so constituted as to do full justice (as for obvious reasons Trent could not do) to all the interests of Christendom.
In the supreme position assigned to Holy Scripture and the Creeds, the pietistic and the patristic schools have found, and rightly enough, their stronghold; while in the demand for the fair General Council there has lain latent all along that recognition of our need of a present-day interpretative voice which, as I have sought to show, only the common consent of the best minds and hearts of Christendom can be counted upon to meet and satisfy. "I read," said the late Sir John Seeley, "the Bible and the Times."
It is certainly among things conceivable--who shall say that it is not?--that God in his providence may be preparing the way for a General Council of Christendom that shall be truly such. If a Parliament of Religions is possible, surely a gathering representative of Christendom ought not to be impossible. It may be that the convening of such a Council will prove itself the ripest outcome of, and the worthiest employment for, the marvellous facilities for intercourse which modern inventiveness--the child, be it observed, of Christian faith--has made ready. Curiously enough, these new-fangled contrivances lend themselves with almost equal readiness and efficiency to both of the two philosophies of authority we have been studying. On the one hand, telegraph and telephone may be so employed as to turn the Vatican into a veritable "Ear of Dionysius," where shall be audible whisperings from every remotest corner of the Pontiff's world-wide realm; while, on the other hand, transcontinental railroads and the great ocean-liners have brought the ends of the earth so close together that never, since the days when James of Jerusalem could convene the Church at a few hours' notice, have the physical difficulties in the way of assembling a truly Ecumenical Council been so few as they are now. Perhaps there was more of literal-ness in John the Baptist's prophecy than has commonly been supposed; and perhaps all this filling up of valleys, levelling of hills, and general shortening and straightening of paths and ways may have for its chief object that drawing together of the scattered family of man which is destined to make government by "general consent," or, as they called it on the day of Pentecost, "one accord," a more practicable thing than government by edict and emissary, rescript and concordat.
I speak of what is far away; but meanwhile, and pending time's answer--nay, let us rather say God's answer--to the appeal of the Protestant peoples for a fair hearing in council assembled, surely our best interpreter, alike of Holy Scripture and of current events, is that communis sensus of the Church Universal which somehow we contrive to get at, if only we are patient, and from which there is seldom, if ever, any going back. One of the oldest of Greek proverbs says that "the half is greater than the whole." Would you be a good Catholic? Be a good Nationalist first. The rest will come in time.