Lecture 12. Ecclesiastical History No Prejudice to the Apostolicity of the Church

Objection:—Discrepancies between modern and ancient Church
Testimony of educated, reflecting Person
    Writings of Fathers
    Anglican theory not new
    History of Arianism
    Anglican Divines on ancient Heresies
    History of Doctrinal Definitions


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{363} FEELING, my dear brethren, I should be encroaching on your patience, if I extended this course of Lectures beyond the length which it is now reaching, I have been obliged, in order to give a character of completeness to the whole, to omit the discussion of subjects which I would fain have introduced, and to anticipate others which I would rather have viewed in another connection. This must be my apology, if in their number and selection I shall in any respect disappoint those who have formed their expectations of what I was to do in these Lectures, upon the profession contained in their general title. I have done what my limits allowed me: if I have not done more, it is not, I assure you, from having nothing to say,—for there are many questions upon which I have been anxious to enter,—but because I could neither expect you, my brethren, to give me more of your time, nor could command my own.

As, then, I have already considered certain popular {364} objections which are made respectively to the Sanctity, Unity, and Catholicity of the Church, now let me, as far as I can do it in a single Lecture, direct your attention to a difficulty felt, not indeed by the world at large, but by many of you in particular, in admitting her Apostolical pretensions.

I say, "a difficulty not felt by the world at large;" for the world at large has no such view of any contrariety between the Catholic Church of today and the Catholic Church of fifteen hundred years ago, as to be disposed on that account to deny our Apostolical claims; rather, it is the fashion of the mass of Protestants, whenever they think on the subject, to accuse the Church of the Fathers of what they call Popish superstition and intolerance; and some have even gone so far as to say, that in these respects that early Church was more Popish than the Papists themselves. But when, leaving this first look of the subject, and the broad outline, and the general impression, we come to inspect matters more narrowly, and compare them exactly, point by point, together, certainly it is not difficult to find various instances of discrepancy, apparent or real, important or trivial, between the modern and the ancient Church; and though no candid person who has fairly examined the state of the case can doubt, that, if we differ from the Fathers in some things, Protestants differ from them in all, and if we vary from them in accidentals, Protestants contradict them in {365} essentials, still, since attack is much easier and pleasanter than defence, it has been the way with certain disputants, especially with the Anglican school, instead of accounting for their own serious departure in so many respects from the primitive doctrine and ritual, to call upon us to show why we differ at all from our first Fathers, though partially and intelligibly, in matters of discipline and in the tone of our opinions. Thus it is that Jewel tries to throw dust in the eyes of the world and does his best to make an attack upon the Papacy and its claims pass for an Apology for the Church of England; and more writers have followed his example than it is worth while, or indeed possible, to enumerate. And they have been answered again and again; and the so-called novelties of modern Catholicism have been explained, if not so as to silence all opponents (which could not be expected), yet at the very lowest so far as this (which is all that is incumbent on us in controversy), so far as to show that we have a case in our favour. I say, even though we have not done enough for our proof, we have done enough for our argument, as the world will allow; for on our assailants, not on us, lies the "onus probandi," and they have done nothing till they have actually made their charges good, and destroyed the very tenableness of our position and even the mere probability of our representations. However, into the consideration, whether of these objections or of their answers, I shall {366} not be expected to enter; and especially, because each would form a separate subject in itself, and furnish matter for a separate Lecture. How, for instance, would it be possible in the course of an hour, and with such an exercise of attention as might fairly be exacted of you, to embrace subjects as distinct from each other as the primitive faith concerning the Blessed Virgin, and the Apostolic See, and the Holy Eucharist, and the worship of images? You would not expect such an effort of me, nor promise it for yourselves; and the less so, because, as you know, my profession all along has been to confine myself, as far as I can, to general considerations, and to appeal, in proof of what I assert, rather to common sense and truths before our eyes than to theology and history.


In thus opening the subject, my brethren, I have been both explaining and apologizing for what I am proposing to do. For, if I am to say something, not directly in answer to the particular objections in detail, brought from Antiquity against the doctrine and discipline of the present Catholic Church, but by way of appeasing and allaying that general misgiving and perplexity which these objections excite, what can I do better than appeal to a fact,—though I cannot do so without some indulgence on the part of my hearers—a fact connected with myself? And it is the less unfair {367} to do so, because, as regards the history of the early Church and the writings of the Fathers, so many must go by the testimony of others, and so few have opportunity to use their own experience. I say, then, that the writings of the Fathers, so far from prejudicing at least one man against the modern Catholic Church, have been simply and solely the one intellectual cause of his having renounced the religion in which he was born and submitted himself to her. What other causes there may be, not intellectual, unknown, unsuspected by himself, though freely imputed on mere conjecture by those who would invalidate his testimony, it would be unbecoming and impertinent to discuss; for himself, if he is asked why he became a Catholic, he can only give that answer which experience and consciousness bring home to him as the true one, viz., that he joined the Catholic Church simply because he believed it, and it only, to be the Church of the Fathers; because he believed that there was a Church upon earth till the end of time, and one only; and because, unless it was the Communion of Rome, and it only, there was none;—because, to use language purposely guarded, because it was the language of controversy, "all parties will agree that, of all existing systems, the present Communion of Rome is the nearest approximation in fact to the Church of the Fathers; possible though some may think it, to be still nearer to it on paper;"—because, "did St. Athanasius or St. Ambrose come suddenly to {368} life, it cannot be doubted what communion they would mistake," that is, would recognize, "for their own;"—because "all will agree that these Fathers, with whatever differences of opinion, whatever protests if you will, would find themselves more at home with such men as St. Bernard or St. Ignatius Loyola, or with the lonely priest in his lodgings, or the holy sisterhood of charity, or the unlettered crowd before the altar, than with the rulers or the members of any other religious community." [Note 1]

This is the great, manifest, historical phenomenon which converted me,—to which all particular inquiries converged. Christianity is not a matter of opinion, but an external fact, entering into, carried out in, indivisible from, the history of the world. It has a bodily occupation of the world; it is one continuous fact or thing, the same from first to last, distinct from everything else: to be a Christian is to partake of, to submit to, this thing; and the simple question was, Where, what is this thing in this age, which in the first age was the Catholic Church? The answer was undeniable; the Church called Catholic now, is that very same thing in hereditary descent, in organization, in principles, in position, in external relations, which was called the Catholic Church then; name and thing have ever gone together, by an uninterrupted connection and succession, from then till now. Whether it had {369} been corrupted in its teaching was, at best, a matter of opinion. It was indefinitely more evident a fact, that it stood on the ground and in the place of the ancient Church, as its heir and representative, than that certain peculiarities in its teaching were really innovations and corruptions. Say there is no Church at all, if you will, and at least I shall understand you; but do not meddle with a fact attested by mankind. I am almost ashamed to insist upon so plain a point, which in many respects is axiomatically true, except that there are persons who wish to deny it. Of course, there are and have been such persons, and men of deep learning; but their adverse opinion does not interfere with my present use of what I think so plain. Observe, I am not insisting on it as an axiom, though that is my own view of the matter; nor proving it as a conclusion, nor forcing it on your acceptance as your reason for joining the Catholic Church, as it was mine. Let every one have his own reason for becoming a Catholic; for reasons are in plenty, and there are enough for you all, and moreover all of them are good ones and consistent with each other. I am not assigning reasons why you should be Catholics; you have them already: from first to last I am doing nothing more than removing difficulties in your path, which obstruct the legitimate effect of those reasons which have, as I am assuming, already convinced you. And today I am answering the objection, so powerfully urged upon those who have no means of {370} examining it for themselves, that, as a matter of fact, the modern Church has departed from the teaching of the ancient. Now even one man's contrary testimony obscures the certainty of this supposed matter of fact, though it is not sufficient to establish any opposite matter of fact of his own. I say, then, the Catholicism of today is not likely to be really very different from the Catholicism of Antiquity, if its agreement, or rather its identity, with Antiquity forms the very reason on which even one educated and reflecting person was induced, much against every natural inducement, to submit to its claims. Ancient Catholicity cannot supply a very conclusive argument against modern Catholicity, if the ancient has furnished even one such person with a conclusive argument in favour of the modern. Let us grant that the argument against the modern Church drawn from Antiquity, is not altogether destroyed by this antagonistic argument in her behalf, drawn from the same Antiquity; yet surely that argument adverse to her will be too much damaged and enfeebled by the collision to do much towards resisting such direct independent reasons, personal to yourselves, as are already leading you to her.


My testimony, then, is as follows. Even when I was a boy, my thoughts were turned to the early Church, and especially to the early Fathers, by the perusal of the Calvinist John Milner's Church History, and I have never lost, I never have suffered a suspension of {371} the impression, deep and most pleasurable, which his sketches of St. Ambrose and St. Augustine left on my mind. From that time the vision of the Fathers was always, to my imagination, I may say, a paradise of delight to the contemplation of which I directed my thoughts from time to time, whenever I was free from the engagements proper to my time of life. When years afterwards (1828) I first began to read their works with attention and on system, I busied myself much in analysing them, and in cataloguing their doctrines and principles; but, when I had thus proceeded very carefully and minutely for some space of time, I found, on looking back on what I had done, that I had scarcely done anything at all; I found that I had gained very little from them, and I came to the conclusion that the Fathers I had been reading, which were exclusively those of the ante-Nicene period, had very little in them. At the time I did not discover the reason of this result, though, on the retrospect, it was plain enough: I had read them simply on Protestant ideas, analysed and catalogued them on Protestant principles of division, and hunted for Protestant doctrines and usages in them. My headings ran, "Justification by faith only," " Sanctification," and the like. I knew not what to look for in them; I sought what was not there, I missed what was there; I laboured through the night and caught nothing. But I should make one important exception: I rose from their perusal with a vivid perception of the divine institution, {372} the prerogatives, and the gifts of the Episcopate; that is, with an implicit aversion to the Erastian principle.

Some years afterwards (1831) I took up the study of them again, when I had occasion to employ myself on the history of Arianism. I read them with Bull's Defensio, as their key, as far as his subject extended; but I am not aware that I made any other special doctrinal use of them at that time.

After this I set myself to the study of them, with the view of pursuing the series of controversies connected with our Lord's Person; and to the examination of these controversies I devoted two summers, with the interval of several years between them (1835 and 1839). And now at length I was reading them for myself; for no Anglican writer had specially and minutely treated the subjects on which I was engaged. On my first introduction to them I had read them as a Protestant; and next, I had read them pretty much as an Anglican, though it is observable that, whatever I gained on either reading, over and above the theory or system with which I started, was in a Catholic direction. In the former of the two summers above mentioned (1835), my reading was almost entirely confined to strictly doctrinal subjects, to the exclusion of history, and I believe it left me pretty much where I was on the question of the Catholic Church; but in the latter of them (1839) it was principally occupied with the history of the Monophysite controversy, and {373} the circumstances and transactions of the Council of Chalcedon, in the fifth century, and at once and irrevocably I found my faith in the tenableness of the fundamental principle of Anglicanism disappear, and a doubt of it implanted in my mind which never was eradicated. I thought I saw in the controversy I have named, and in the Ecumenical Council connected with it, a clear interpretation of the present state of Christendom, and a key to the different parties and personages who have figured on the Catholic or the Protestant side at and since the era of the Reformation. During the autumn of the same year, a paper I fell in with upon the schism of the Donatists [Note 2], deepened the impression which the history of the Monophysites had made; and I felt dazzled and excited by the new view of things which was thus opened upon me. Distrusting my judgment, and that I might be a better judge of the subject, I determined for a time to put it away from my mind; nor did I return to it till I gave myself to the translation of the doctrinal Treatises of St. Athanasius, at the end of 1841. This occupation brought up again before me the whole question of the Arian controversy and the Nicene Council; and now I clearly saw in that history, what I had not perceived on the first study of it, the same phenomenon which had already startled me in the history of St. Leo and the Monophysites. From that time, what delayed my {374} conviction of the claims of the Catholic Church upon me, was not any confidence in Anglicanism as a system of doctrine, but particular objections which as yet I saw no way of reducing, such as may at present weigh with you, and the fear that, since I found my friends strongly opposed to my view of the matter, I might, in some way or other, be involved in a delusion.


And now you will ask me, what it is I saw in the history of primitive controversies and Councils which was so fatal to the pretensions of the Anglican Church? I saw that the general theory and position of Anglicanism was no novelty in ancient history, but had a distinct place in it, and a series of prototypes, and that these prototypes had ever been heretics or the patrons of heresy. The very badge of Anglicanism, as a system, is that it is a Via Media; this is its life; it is this, or it is nothing; deny this, and it forthwith dissolves into Catholicism or Protestantism. This constitutes its only claim to be recognized as a distinct form of Christianity; it is its recommendation to the world at large, and its simple measuring-line for the whole field of theology. The Via Media appeals to the good sense of mankind; it says that the human mind is naturally prone to excess, and that theological combatants in particular are certain to run into extremes. Truth, as virtue, lies in a mean; whatever, then, is true, whatever is not true, {375} extremes certainly are false. And, whereas truth is in a mean, for that very reason it is very moderate and liberal; it can tolerate either extreme with great patience because it views neither with that keenness of contrariety with which one extreme regards the other. For the same reason, it is comprehensive; because, being in a certain sense in the centre of all errors, though having no part in any of them, it may be said to rule and to temper them, to bring them together, and to make them, as it were, converge and conspire together in one under its own meek and gracious sway. Dispassionateness, forbearance, indulgence, toleration, and comprehension are thus all of them attributes of the Via Media. It is obvious, moreover, that a doctrine like this will find especial acceptance with the civil magistrate. Religion he needs as an instrument of government; yet in religious opinion he sees nothing else but the fertile cause of discord and confusion. Joyfully then does he welcome a form of theology, whose very mission it is to temper the violence of polemics, to soften and to accommodate differences, and to direct the energies of churchmen to the attainment of tangible good instead of the discussion of mysteries.

This sentiment I expressed in the following passage, in the year 1837, which I quote with shame and sorrow; the more so, because it is certainly inconsistent with my own general teaching, from the very time I began to write, except for a short interval in 1825 and 1826 {376} which need not be noticed here. However, it is an accurate exponent of the Anglican theory of religion. "Though it is not likely," I said, "that Romanism should ever again become formidable in England, yet it may be in a position to make its voice heard; and, in proportion as it is able to do so, the Via Media will do important service of the following kind. In the controversy which will ensue, Rome will not fail to preach, far and wide, the tenet which it never conceals, that there is no salvation external to its own communion. On the other hand, Protestantism, as it exists, will not be behind-hand in consigning to eternal ruin all who are adherents of Roman doctrine. What a prospect is this! two widely-spread and powerful parties dealing forth solemn anathemas upon each other, in the Name of the Lord! Indifference and scepticism must be, in such a case, the ordinary refuge of men of mild and peaceable minds, who revolt from such presumption, and are deficient in clear views of the truth. I cannot well exaggerate the misery of such a state of things. Here the English theology would come in with its characteristic calmness and caution, clear and decided in its view, giving no encouragement to luke-warmness and liberalism, but withholding all absolute anathemas on errors of opinion, except where the primitive Church sanctions the use of them." [Note 3]

Such, then, is the Anglican Church and its Via Media, {377} and such the practical application of it; it is an interposition or arbitration between the extreme doctrines of Protestantism on the one hand, and the faith of Rome which Protestantism contradicts on the other. At the same time, though it may be unwilling to allow it, it is, from the nature of the case, but a particular form of Protestantism. I do not say that in secondary principles it may not agree with the Catholic Church; but, its essential idea being that she has gone into error, whereas the essential idea of Catholicism is the Church's infallibility, the Via Media is really nothing else than Protestant. Not to submit to the Church is to oppose her, and to side with the heretical party; for medium there is none. The Via Media assumes that Protestantism is right in its protest against Catholic doctrine, only that that protest needs correcting, limiting, perfecting. This surely is but a matter of fact; for the Via Media has adopted all the great Protestant doctrines, as its most strenuous upholder and the highest of Anglo-Catholics will be obliged to allow; the mutilated canon, the defective Rule of Faith, justification by faith only, putative righteousness, the infection of nature in the regenerate, the denial of the five Sacraments, the relation of faith to the Sacramental Presence, and the like; its aim being nothing else than to moderate, with Melancthon, the extreme statements of Luther, to keep them from shocking the feelings of human nature, to protect them from the criticism of common sense, and from the {378} pressure and urgency of controversial attack. Thus we have three parties on the historical stage; the See and Communion of Rome; the original pure Protestant, violent, daring, offensive, fanatical in his doctrines; and a cautious middle party, quite as heretical in principle and in doctrinal elements as Protestantism itself, but having an eye to the necessities of controversy, sensible in its ideas, sober in its tastes, safe in its statements, conservative in its aims, and practical in its measures. Such a Via Media has been represented by the line of Archbishops of Canterbury from Tillotson downwards, as by Cranmer before them. Such in their theology, though not in their persons or their histories, were Laud and Bull, Taylor and Hammond, and I may say nearly all the great authorities of the Established Church. This distinctive character has often been noticed, especially by Mr. Alexander Knox, and much might be said upon it; and, as I have already observed, it ever receives the special countenance of the civil magistrate, who, if he could, would take up with a religion without any doctrines whatever, as Warburton well understands, but who, in the case of a necessary evil, admires the sobriety of Tillotson, and the piety of Patrick, and the elegance of Jortin, and the biblical accomplishments of Lowth, and the shrewd sense of Paley.


Now this sketch of the relative positions of the See {379} of Rome, Protestantism, the Via Media, and the State, which we see in the history of the last three centuries, is, I repeat, no novelty in history; it is almost its rule, certainly its rule during the long period when relations existed between the Byzantine Court and the Holy See; and it is impossible to resist the conclusion, which the actual inspection of the history in detail forces upon us, that what the See of Rome was then such is it now; that what Arius, Nestorius, or Eutyches were then, such are Luther and Calvin now; what the Eusebians or Monophysites then, such the Anglican hierarchy now; what the Byzantine Court then, such is now the Government of England, and such would have been many a Catholic Court, had it had its way. That ancient history is not dead, it lives; it prophesies of what passes before our eyes; it is founded in the nature of things; we see ourselves in it, as in a glass, and if the Via Media was heretical then, it is heretical now.

I do not know how to convey this to others in one or two paragraphs; it is the living picture which history presents to us, which is the evidence of the fact; and to attempt a mere outline of it, or to detach one or two groups from the finished composition, is to do injustice to its luminousness. Take, for instance, the history of Arianism. Arius stood almost by himself; bold, keen, stern, and violent, he took his stand on two or three axiomatic statements, as he considered them, appealed to Scripture, despised authority and tradition, {380} and carried out his heretical doctrine to its furthest limits. He absolutely maintained, without any reserve, that our Lord was a creature, and had a beginning. Next, he was one of a number of able and distinguished men, scattered over the Fast, united together by the bond of a common master and a common school, who might have been expected to stand by him on his appealing to them; but who left him to his fate, or at least but circuitously and indirectly served his cause. High in station, ecclesiastical and civil, they found it more consistent with their duties towards themselves to fall back upon a more cautious phraseology than his, and upon less assailable principles, to evade inquiry, to explain away tests, and to profess a submission to the voice of their forefathers and of the Catholic world; and they developed their formidable party in that form of heresy which is commonly called Semi-Arianism or Eusebianism. They preached peace, professed to agree with neither St. Athanasius nor Arius, excited the jealousies of the Eastern world against the West, were strong enough to insult the Pope, and dexterous enough to gain the favour of Constantine and the devoted attachment of his son Constantius. The name of Eusebians they received from their leader, the able and unscrupulous Bishop of Nicomedia, with whom was associated another Eusebius, better known to posterity as the learned historian of the Church, and one of the most accomplished and able of the Fathers. It will be to my purpose to {381} quote one or two sentences in description of the character of this celebrated man, written by me at a time when the subject of the Via Media had not as yet been mooted in the controversy, nor the bearing of the Arian history upon it been suggested to my mind.

"He seems," I said, speaking of Eusebius of Cęsarea, "to have had the faults and the virtues of the mere man of letters; strongly excited neither to good not to evil, and careless at once of the cause of truth and the prizes of secular greatness, in comparison of the comforts and decencies of literary ease. In his writings, numerous as they are, there is very little which fixes on Eusebius any charge, beyond that of an attachment to the Platonic phraseology. Had he not connected himself with the Arian party, it would have been unjust to have suspected him of heresy. But his acts are his confession. He openly sided with those whose blasphemies a true Christian would have abhorred; and he sanctioned and shared their deeds of violence and injustice perpetrated on the Catholics ... The grave accusation under which he lies is not that of Arianising [Note 4], but of corrupting the simplicity of the Gospel with an Eclectic spirit. While he held out the ambiguous language of the schools as a refuge, and the Alexandrian imitation of it as an argument, against the pursuit of the orthodox, his conduct gave countenance {382} to the secular maxim, that difference in creeds is a matter of inferior moment, and that, provided we confess as far as the very terms of Scripture, we may speculate as philosophers and live as the world … The remark has been made, that throughout his Ecclesiastical History no instance occurs of his expressing abhorrence of the superstitions of paganism; and that his custom is either to praise, or not to blame, such heretical writers as fall under his notice." [Note 5] Much more might be added in illustration of the resemblance of this eminent writer to the divines of the Anglican Via Media.

The Emperor Constantine has already been named; and looking at him in his ecclesiastical character we find him committed to two remarkable steps; one that he frankly surrendered himself to the intimate friendship of this latitudinarian theologian; the other, that, at the very first rumour of the Arian dissensions, he promptly, and with the precision of an instinct, interfered in the quarrel, and in a politician's way pronounced it to be a logomachy, or at least a matter of mere speculation, and bade bishops and heretics embrace and make it up with each other at once. This did he in a question no less solemn than that of the divinity of our Lord, which, if any question, could not be other than most influential, one would think, in a {383} Christian's creed. But Constantine was not a Christian as yet; and this, while it partly explains the extravagance of his conduct, illustrates the external and utilitarian character of a statesman's religion.

I will present to you portions of the celebrated letter which he addressed to the Bishop of Alexandria and to Arius, as quoted in the history to which I have already referred. "He professes therein two motives as impelling him in his public conduct; first, the desire of effecting the reception, throughout his dominions, of some one definite and complete form of religious worship; next, that of settling and invigorating the civil institutions of the empire. Desirous of securing a unity of sentiment among all the believers in the Deity, he first directed his attention to the religious dissensions of Africa, which he had hoped, with the aid of the Oriental Christians, to terminate. 'But glorious and Divine Providence!' he continues, 'how fatally were my ears, or rather, was my heart wounded, by the report of a rising schism among you far more acrimonious than the African dissensions ... On investigation, I find that the reasons for this quarrel are insignificant and worthless … As I understand it, you, Alexander, were asking the separate opinions of your clergy on some passage of your law, or rather were inquiring about some idle question, when you, Arius, inconsiderately committed yourself to statements, which should either never have come into your mind, or have been {384} at once repressed. On this a difference ensued, Christian intercourse was suspended, the sacred flock was divided into two, and the harmonious unity of the Church broken ... Listen to the advice of me your fellow-servant;—neither ask nor answer questions which are not any injunction of your law, but are the altercation of barren leisure; at best, keep them to yourselves, and do not publish them ... Your contention is not about any capital commandment of your law, neither of you is introducing any novel scheme of divine worship, you are of one and the same way of thinking, so that it is in your power to unite in one communion. Even the philosophers can agree together one and all, though differing in particulars ... Is it right for brothers to oppose brothers, for the sake of trifles? ... Such conduct might be expected from the multitude or from the recklessness of boyhood, but is little in keeping with your sacred profession and with your personal wisdom ... Give me back my days of calm, my nights of security; that I may experience henceforth the comfort of the clear light and the cheerfulness of tranquillity. Otherwise I shall sigh and be dissolved in tears ... So great is my grief, that I put off my journey to the East on the news of your dissension ... Open for me that path towards you, which your contentions have closed up. Let me see you and all other cities in happiness, that I may offer due {385} thanksgivings to God above for the unanimity and free intercourse which is seen among you.'" [Note 6]

Such was the position which the Christian civil power assumed in the very first days of its nativity. The very moment the State enters into the Church, it shows its nature and its propensities, and takes up a position which it has never changed, and never will. Kings and statesmen may be, and have been, saints; but, in being such, they have acted against the interests and traditions of kingcraft and statesmanship. Constantine died, but his line of policy continued. His son, Constantius, embraced the Via Media of Eusebianism on conviction as well as from expediency. He sternly set himself against both extremes, as he considered them, banished the fanatical successors of Arius, and tortured and put to death the adherents to the Nicene Creed and the cause of St. Athanasius. Thus the Via Media party was in the ascendancy for about thirty years, till the death of the generation by whom it had been formed and protected;—with quarrels and defections among themselves, restless attempts at stability in faith, violent efforts after a definite creed, fruitless projects of comprehension,—when, towards the end of their domination, a phenomenon showed itself, which claims our particular attention, as not without parallel in ecclesiastical history, and as reminding us of what is going on, in an humbler way {386} and on a narrower stage, before our eyes. In various districts, especially of Asia Minor, a considerable party had gradually been forming, and had exercised a considerable influence in the ecclesiastical transactions of the period, who, though called Semi-Arians and professing their symbols, had no sympathies with the Eusebians, and indeed were ultimately disowned by them. There seems to have been about a hundred bishops who belonged to this party, and their leaders were men of religious habits and unblemished repute, and approximated so nearly to orthodoxy in their language, that Saints appear among the number of their friends, or have issued from their school. Things could not stand as they were: every year brought its event; Constantius died; parties were broken up,—and this among the rest. It divided into two; as many as fifty-nine of its bishops subscribed the orthodox formula, and submitted themselves to the Holy See. A body of thirty-four persisted in their separation from it, and afterwards formed a new heresy of their own.

These are but a few of the main features of the history of Arianism; yet they may be sufficient to illustrate the line of argument which Antiquity furnishes against the theories, on which alone the movement of 1833 had claim on the attention of Protestants. Those theories claimed to represent the theological and the ecclesiastical teaching of the Fathers; and the Fathers, when interrogated, did but pronounce them to be the offspring of eclecticism, and the exponent of a State Church. It {387} could not maintain itself in its position without allying itself historically with that very Erastianism, as seen in Antiquity, of which it had so intense a hatred. What has been sketched from the Arian history might be shown still more strikingly in the Monophysite [Note 7].


Nor was it solely the conspicuous parallel which I have been describing in outline, which, viewed in its details, was so fatal a note of error against the Anglican position. I soon found it to follow, that the grounds on which alone Anglicanism was defensible formed an impregnable stronghold for the primitive heresies, and that the justification of the Primitive Councils was as cogent an apology for the Council of Trent. It was difficult to make out how the Eutychians or Monophysites were heretics, unless Protestants and Anglicans were heretics also; difficult to find arguments against the Tridentine Fathers which did not tell against the Fathers of Chalcedon; difficult to condemn the Popes of the sixteenth century, without condemning the Popes of the fifth. The drama of religion and the combat of truth and error were ever one and the same. The principles and proceedings of the Church now were those of the Church then; the principles and proceedings of heretics then were those of Protestants now. I found it so—almost fearfully; there was an awful similitude, {388} more awful, because so silent and unimpassioned, between the dead records of the past and the feverish chronicle of the present. The shadow of the fifth century was on the sixteenth. It was like a spirit rising from the troubled waters of the Old World with the shape and lineaments of the new. The Church then, as now, might be called peremptory and stern, resolute, overbearing, and relentless; and heretics were shifting, changeable, reserved, and deceitful, ever courting the civil power, and never agreeing together, except by its aid; and the civil power was ever aiming at comprehensions, trying to put the invisible out of view, and to substitute expediency for faith. What was the use of continuing the controversy, or defending my position, if, after all, I was but forging arguments for Arius or Eutyches, and turning devil's advocate against the much-enduring Athanasius and the majestic Leo? Be my soul with the Saints! and shall I lift up my hand against them? Sooner may my right hand forget her cunning, and wither outright, as his who once stretched it out against a prophet of God,—perish sooner a whole tribe of Cranmers, Ridleys, Latimers, and Jewels,—perish the names of Bramhall, Ussher, Taylor, Stillingfleet, and Barrow, from the face of the earth,—ere I should do aught but fall at their feet in love and in worship, whose image was continually before my eyes, and whose musical words were ever in my ears and on my tongue! {389}

This, too, is an observable fact, that the more learned Anglican writers seem aware of the state of the case, and are obliged, by the necessities of their position, to speak kindly of the heretical communities of ancient history, and at least obliquely to censure the Councils, which, nevertheless, they profess to receive. Thus Bramhall, as we saw yesterday, strives to fraternize with the sectaries now existing in the East; nor could he consistently do otherwise, with the Council of Trent and the Protestants in the field of controversy; it being difficult indeed to show that the Eastern Churches in question are to be accounted heretical on any principles which a Protestant is able to put forward. It is not wonderful, then, that other great authorities in the Established Church are of the same way of thinking. "Jewel, Ussher, and Laud," says an Anglican divine of this day, "are apparently of this opinion, and Field expressly maintains it." [Note 8]

Jeremy Taylor goes further still, that is, is still more consistent; for he not merely acquits of heresy the existing communities of the East who dissent from the third and fourth Councils, but he is bold enough to attack the first Council of all, the Nicene. He places the right of private judgment, or what he calls "the liberty of prophesying," above all Councils whatever. As to the Nicene, he says, "I am much pleased with the enlarging of the Creed which the Council of Nice {390} made, because they enlarged it in my sense; but I am not sure that others were satisfied with it." [Note 9] "That faith is best which hath greatest simplicity; and it is better, in all cases, humbly to submit, than curiously to inquire, and pry into the mystery under the cloud, and to hazard our faith by improving our knowledge. If the Nicene Fathers had done so too, possibly the Church would never have repented it." [Note 10] "If the article had been with more simplicity and less nicety determined, charity would have gained more, and faith would have lost nothing." [Note 11] And he not only calls Eusebius, whom it is hard to acquit of heresy, "the wisest of them all," [Note 12] but actually praises the letter of Constantine, which I have already cited, as most true in its view and most pertinent to the occasion. "The Epistle of Constantine to Alexander and Arius," he says, "tells the truth, and chides them both for commencing the question; Alexander for broaching it, Arius for taking it up. And although this be true, that it had been better for the Church it never had begun, yet, being begun, what is to be done in it? Of this also, in that admirable epistle, we have the Emperor's judgment … for, first, he calls it a certain vain piece of a question, ill begun and more unadvisedly published, … a fruitless contention, the product of idle brains, a matter so nice, so obscure, so intricate, {391} that it was neither to be explicated by the clergy, nor understood by the people; a dispute of words … It concerned not the substance of faith, or the worship of God, nor any chief commandment of Scripture … the matter being of no great importance, but vain, and a toy, in respect of the excellent blessings of peace and charity." [Note 13] When we recollect that the question confessedly in dispute was whether our Lord is the Eternal God or a creature, and that the Nicene symbol against which Taylor writes was confessedly the sole test adequate to the definition of his divinity, it is scarcely conceivable that a writer should really believe that divinity and thus express himself.

Taylor is no accident in the history of the Via Media; he does but speak plainer than Field and Bramhall; and soon others began to speak plainer than he. The school of Laud gave birth to the latitudinarians; Hales and Chillingworth, their first masters, were personal friends of the Archbishop, whose indignation with them only proves his involuntary sense of the tottering state of his own theological position. Lord Falkland, again, who thinks that before the Nicene Council "the generality of Christians had not been always taught the contrary to Arius's doctrine, but some one way, others the other, most neither," [Note 14] was the admired friend of Hammond; and Grotius, whose subsequent influence upon the national divines has been so serious, was {392} introduced to their notice by Hammond and Bramhall.

Such has been the issue of the Via Media; its tendency in theory is towards latitudinarianism; its position historically is one of heresy; in the National Church it has fulfilled both its theoretical tendency and its historical position. As this simple truth was brought home to me, I felt that, if continuance in the National Church was defensible, it must be on other grounds than those of the Via Media.


Yet this was but one head of argument, which the history of the early Church afforded against the National Establishment, and in favour of the Roman See. I have already alluded to the light which the schism of the African Donatists casts on the question between the two parties in the controversy; it is clear, strong, and decisive, but perfectly distinct from the proof derivable from the Arian, Nestorian, and Monophysite histories [Note 15].

Then again, after drawing out from Antiquity the outlines of the ecclesiastical structure, and its relations to bodies and powers external to it, when we go on, as it were, to colour it with the thousand tints which are to be found in the same ancient records, when we consider the ritual of the Church, the ceremonial of religion, {393} the devotions of private Christians, the opinions generally received, and the popular modes of acting, what do we find but a third and most striking proof of the identity between primitive Christianity and modern Catholicism? [Note 16] No other form of Christianity but this present Catholic Communion, has a pretence to resemble, even in the faintest shadow, the Christianity of Antiquity, viewed as a living religion on the stage of the world. This has ever attached me to such works as Fleury's Church History; because, whatever may be its incidental defects or mistakes, it brings before the reader so vividly the Church of the Fathers, as a fact and a reality, instead of speculating, after the manner of most histories, on the principles, or of making views upon the facts, or cataloguing the heresies, rites, or writers, of those ancient times. You may make ten thousand extracts from the Fathers, and not get deeper into the state of their times than the paper you write upon; to imbibe into the intellect the Ancient Church as a fact, is either to be a Catholic or an infidel.

Recollect, my brethren, I am going into these details, not as if I thought of convincing you on the spot by a view of history which convinced me after careful consideration, nor as if I called on you to be convinced by what convinced me at all (for the methods of conviction are numberless, and one man approaches {394} the Church by this road, another by that), but merely in order to show you how it was that Antiquity, instead of leading me from the Holy See as it leads many, on the contrary drew me on to submit to its claims. But, even had I worked out for you these various arguments ever so fully, I should have brought before you but a secondary portion of the testimony which the Ancient Church seemed to me to supply to its own identity with the modern. What was far more striking to me than the ecclesiastical phenomena which I have been drawing out, remarkable as they are, is a subject of investigation which is not of a nature to introduce into a popular lecture; I mean the history of the doctrinal definitions of the Church. It is well known that, though the creed of the Church has been one and the same from the beginning, yet it has been so deeply lodged in her bosom as to be held by individuals more or less implicitly, instead of being delivered from the first in those special statements, or what are called definitions, under which it is now presented to us, and which preclude mistake or ignorance. These definitions, which are but the expression of portions of the one dogma which has ever been received by the Church, are the work of time; they have grown to their present shape and number in the course of eighteen centuries, under the exigency of successive events, such as heresies and the like, and they may of course receive still further additions {395} as time goes on. Now this process of doctrinal development, as you might suppose, is not of an accidental or random character; it is conducted upon laws, as everything else which comes from God; and the study of its laws and of its exhibition, or, in other words, the science and history of the formation of theology, was a subject which had interested me more than anything else from the time I first began to read the Fathers, and which had engaged my attention in a special way. Now it was gradually brought home to me, in the course of my reading, so gradually, that I cannot trace the steps of my conviction, that the decrees of later Councils, or what Anglicans call the Roman corruptions, were but instances of that very same doctrinal law which was to be found in the history of the early Church; and that in the sense in which the dogmatic truth of the prerogatives of the Blessed Virgin may be said, in the lapse of centuries, to have grown upon the consciousness of the faithful, in that same sense did, in the first age, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity also gradually shine out and manifest itself more and more completely before their minds. Here was at once an answer to the objections urged by Anglicans against the present teaching of Rome; and not only an answer to objections, but a positive argument in its favour; for the immutability and uninterrupted action of the laws in question throughout the course of Church history is a plain note of {396} identity between the Catholic Church of the first ages and that which now goes by that name;—just as the argument from the analogy of natural and revealed religion is at once an answer to difficulties in the latter, and a direct proof that Christianity has the same Author as the physical and moral world. But the force of this, to me ineffably cogent argument, I cannot hope to convey to another.


And now, my dear brethren, what fit excuse can I make to you for the many words I have used about myself, and not in this Lecture only, but in others before it? This alone I can say, that it was the apprehension, or rather the certainty that this would be the case, which, among other reasons, made me as unwilling as I was to begin this course of Lectures at all. I foresaw that I could not address you on the subjects which I proposed, without introducing myself into the discussion; I could not refer to the past without alluding to matters in which I had a part; I could not show that interest in your state of mind and course of thought which I really feel, without showing that I therefore understood it, because I had before now experienced it myself; and I anticipated, what I fear has been the case, that in putting before you the events of former years, and the motives of past transactions, and the operation of common principles, and the complexion {397} of old habits and opinions, I should be in no slight degree constructing, what I have ever avoided, a defence of myself.

But I have had another apprehension, both before and since beginning these Lectures, viz., lest it was (to say the least) an impolitic proceeding to contemplate them at all. Things were proceeding in that course in which I knew they must proceed; I could not foretell indeed that a decision would issue from the Committee of Privy Council on the subject of Baptism; I could not anticipate that this or that external event would suddenly undo men's confidence in the National Church; but it required no gift of prophecy to feel that falsehood, and pretence, and unreality could not for ever enslave honest minds sincerely seeking the truth. It needed no prophetical gift to be sure that others must take ultimately the course which I had taken, though I could not foretell the time or the occasion; no gift to foresee, that those who did not choose to plunge into the gulf of scepticism must at length fall back upon the Catholic Church. Nor did it require in me much faith in you, my dear brethren, much love for you, to be sure that, though there were close around you men who look like you, but are not, that you, the children of the movement, were too conscientious, too much in earnest, not to be destined by that God, who made you what you are, to greater things. Others have scoffed at you, but I never; others may have made light of {398} your principles, or your sincerity, but never I; others may have predicted evil of you, I have only felt vexed at the prediction. I have laughed, indeed, I have scorned, and scorn and laugh I must, when men set up an outside instead of the inside of religion—when they affect more than they can sustain—when they indulge in pomp or in minutię, which only then are becoming when there is something to be proud of, something to be anxious for. If I have been excessive here, if I have confused what is defective with what is hollow, or have mistaken aspiration for pretence, or have been severe upon infirmities of which self-knowledge would have made me tender, I wish it otherwise. Still, whatever my faults in this matter, I have ever been trustful in that true Catholic spirit which has lived in the movement of which you are partakers. I have been steady in my confidence in that supernatural influence among you, which made me what I am,—which, in its good time, shall make you what you shall be. You are born to be Catholics; refuse not the unmerited grace of your bountiful God; throw off for good and all the illusions of your intellect, the bondage of your affections, and stand upright in that freedom which is your true inheritance.

And my confidence that you will do so at last, and that the sophistries of this world will not hold you for ever, is what has caused the hesitation to which I have referred, whether I have done wisely in deciding on {399} addressing you at all. I have in truth had anxious misgivings whether I should not do better to let you alone, my own experience teaching me, that even the most charitable attempts are apt to fail, when their end is the conviction of the intellect. It is no work of a day to convince the intellect of an Englishman that Catholicism is true. And even when the intellect is convinced, a thousand subtle influences interpose in arrest of what should follow, carrying, as it were, an appeal into a higher court, and claiming to have the matter settled before some tribunal more sacred, and by pleadings more recondite, than the operations and the decision of the reason. The Eternal God deals with us one by one, each in his own way; and bystanders may pity and compassionate the long throes of our travail, but they cannot aid us except by their prayers. If, then, I have erred in entering upon the subjects I have brought before you, pardon me; pardon me if I have rudely taken on myself to thrust you forward, and to anticipate by artificial means a divine growth. If it be so, I will only hope that, though I may have done you no good, yet my attempt may be blessed in some other way; that I may have thrown light on the general subject which I have discussed, have contributed to map out the field of thought on which I have been engaged, and to ascertain its lie and its characteristics, and have furnished materials for what, in time to come, may be the science and received {400} principles of the whole controversy, though I have failed in that which was my immediate object.


At all events, my dear brethren, I hope I may be at least considered to be showing my goodwill and kindness towards you, if nothing else, and my desire to be of use to you. All is vanity but what is done to the glory of God. It glitters and it fades away; it makes a noise and is gone. If I shall not do you or others good, I have done nothing. Yet a little while and the end will come, and all will be made manifest, and error will fail, and truth will prevail. Yet a little while, and "the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." May you and I live in this prospect; and may the Eternal God, Father, Son, and Spirit, Three in One, may His Ever-blessed Mother, may St. Philip, my dear father and master, the great Saints Athanasius and Ambrose, and St. Leo, pope and confessor, who have brought me thus far, be the hope, and help, and reward of you and me, all through this weary life, and in the day of account, and in glory everlasting!

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1. Essay on Doctrinal Development, p. 138.
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2. By Dr. Wiseman.
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3. Proph. Off. p. 26.
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4. The author has now still less favourable views of Eusebius' theology than he had when he wrote this in 1832.
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5. Arians of the Fourth Century, p. 281. [p. 269 ed. 1871.]
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6. Arians of the Fourth Century, p. 267. [p. 255.]
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7. Vid. Essay on Doctrinal Development, chap. v. sec. 3.
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8. Palmer on the Church, vol. i. p. 418.
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9. Vol. vii. p. 481, ed. 1828.
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10. Jeremy Taylor, ibid. p. 485.
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11. Ibid.
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12. Ibid.
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13. P. 482.
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14. Hammond's Works, vol. ii. p. 655.
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15. Vide Dublin Review, August 1839, Art. "Ang1ican Claim."
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16. Dublin Review, Dec. 1843, Art. "A Voice from Rome."
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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