Lecture 1. The Nature and Ground of Roman and Protestant Errors

{26} ALL Protestant sects of the present day may be said to agree with us and differ from Roman Catholics, in considering the Bible as the only standard of appeal in doctrinal inquiries. They differ indeed from each other as well as from us in the matter of their belief; but they one and all accept the written word of God as the supreme and sole arbiter of their differences. This makes their contest with each other and us more simple; I do not say shorter,—on the contrary, they have been engaged in it almost three hundred years, (as many of them, that is, as are so ancient,) and there are no symptoms of its ending,—but it makes it less laborious. It narrows the ground of it; it levels it to the intelligence of all ranks of men; it gives the multitude a right to take part in it; it encourages all men, learned and unlearned, religious and irreligious, to have an opinion in it, and to turn controversialists. The Bible is a small book; any one may possess it; and every one, unless he be very humble, will think he is able to understand it. And therefore, I say, controversy is easier among Protestants, because any one whatever can controvert; easier, but not shorter; because though all sects agree together as to the standard of faith, viz. the Bible, yet no two agree as to the interpreter of the Bible, but each person makes himself the interpreter, so that what seemed {27} at first sight a means of peace, turns out to be a chief occasion or cause of discord.

It is a great point to come to issue with an opponent; that is, to discover some position which oneself affirms and the other denies, and on which the decision of the controversy will turn. It is like two armies meeting, and settling their quarrel in a pitched battle, instead of wandering to and fro, each by itself, and inflicting injury and gaining advantages where no one resists it. Now the Bible is this common ground among Protestants, and seems to have been originally assumed in no small degree from a notion of its simplicity in argument. But, if such a notion was entertained in any quarter, it has been disappointed by this difficulty,—the Bible is not so written as to force its meaning upon the reader; no two Protestant sects can agree together whose interpretation of the Bible is to be received; and under such circumstances each naturally prefers his own;—his own "interpretation," his own "doctrine," his own "tongue," his own "revelation." Accordingly, acute men among them see that the very elementary notion which they have adopted, of the Bible without note or comment being the sole authoritative judge in controversies of faith, is a self-destructive principle, and practically involves the conclusion, that dispute is altogether hopeless and useless, and even absurd. After whatever misgivings or reluctance, they seem to allow, or to be in the way to allow, that truth is but matter of opinion; that that is truth to each which each thinks to be truth, provided he sincerely and really thinks it; that the divinity of the Bible itself is the only thing that need be believed, and that its meaning varies with the individuals who receive it; that it has no one meaning to be ascertained as a matter of fact, but that it may mean anything because it may be made to mean so many things; and hence that our wisdom and our duty lie in discarding all notions of the importance of any {28} particular set of opinions, any doctrines, or any creed, each man having a right to his own, and in living together peaceably with men of all persuasions, whatever our private judgments and leanings may be.

2.

I do not say that these conclusions need follow by logical necessity from the principle from which I have deduced them; but that practically they will follow in the long run, and actually have followed where there were no counteracting causes in operation. Nor do I allow that they will follow at all in our own case, though we agree with Protestant sects in making Scripture the document of ultimate appeal in matters of faith. For though we consider Scripture a satisfactory, we do not consider it our sole informant in divine truths. We have another source of information in reserve, as I shall presently show. We agree with the sectaries around us so far as this, to be ready to take their ground, which Roman Catholics cannot and will not do, to believe that our creed can be proved entirely, and to be willing to prove it solely from the Bible; but we take this ground only in controversy, not in teaching our own people or in our private studies. We are willing to argue with Protestants from "texts;" they may feel the force of these or not, we may convince them or not, but if such conviction is a necessary criterion of good argument, then sound reasoning is to be found on no side, or else there would soon cease to be any controversy at all. It is enough that by means of their weapon we are able to convince and convert others, though not them; for this proves its cogency in our use of it. We have joined issue with them, and done all that can be done, though with them we have not succeeded. The case is not as if we were searching after some unknown and abstruse ground of proof which we were told they had, {29} but were uncertain about, and could not ascertain or circumscribe. We know their greatest strength, and we discover it to be weakness. They have no argument behind to fall back upon: we have examined and decided against their cause.

And they themselves, as I have observed, have decided against it too; their adoption of the latitudinarian notion that one creed is as good as another, is an evidence of it. We on the contrary should have no reason to be perplexed at hearing their opposite interpretations of Scripture, were they ever so positive and peremptory in maintaining them. Nay, we should not waver even if they succeeded in weakening some of our proofs, taking the text of Scripture by itself, both as considering that in matters of conduct evidence is not destroyed by being impaired, and because we rely on Antiquity to strengthen such intimations of doctrine as are but faintly, though really, given in Scripture.

3.

Protestant denominations, I have said, however they may differ from each other in important points, so far agree, that one and all profess to appeal to Scripture, whether they be called Independents, or Baptists, or Unitarians, or Presbyterians, or Wesleyans, or by any other title. But the case is different as regards Roman Catholics: they do not appeal to Scripture unconditionally; they are not willing to stand or fall by mere arguments from Scripture; and therefore, if we take Scripture as our ground of proof in our controversies with them, we have not yet joined issue with them. Not that they reject Scripture, it would be very unjust to say so; they would shrink from doing so, or being thought to do so; and perhaps they adhere to Scripture as closely as some of those Protestant bodies who profess to be guided by {30} nothing else; but, though they admit Scripture to be the word of God, they conceive that it is not the whole word of God, they openly avow that they regulate their faith by something else besides Scripture, by the existing Traditions of the Church. They maintain that the system of doctrine which they hold came to them from the Apostles as truly and certainly as the apostolic writings; so that, even if those writings had been lost, the world would still have had the blessings of a Revelation. Now, they must be clearly understood, if they are to be soundly refuted. We hear it said, that they go by Tradition, and we fancy in consequence that there are a certain definite number of statements ready framed and compiled, which they profess to have received from the Apostles. One may hear the question sometimes asked, for instance, where their professed Traditions are to be found, whether there is any collection of them, and whether they are printed and published. Now though they would allow that the Traditions of the Church are in fact contained in the writings of her Doctors, still this question proceeds on somewhat of a misconception of their real theory, which seems to be as follows. By Tradition they mean the whole system of faith and ordinances which they have received from the generation before them, and that generation again from the generation before itself. And in this sense undoubtedly we all go by Tradition in matters of this world. Where is the corporation, society, or fraternity of any kind, but has certain received rules and understood practices which are nowhere put down in writing? How often do we hear it said, that this or that person has "acted unusually," that so and so "was never done before," that it is "against rule," and the like; and then perhaps, to avoid the inconvenience of such irregularity in future, what was before a tacit engagement, is turned into a formal and explicit order or principle. The absence {31} of a regulation must be felt before it is supplied; and the virtual transgression of it goes before its adoption. At this very time great part of the law of the land is administered under the sanction of such a Tradition; it is not contained in any formal or authoritative code, it depends on custom or precedent. There is no explicit written law, for instance, simply declaring murder to be a capital offence; unless indeed we have recourse to the divine command in the ninth chapter of the book of Genesis. Murderers are hanged by custom. Such as this is the tradition of the Church; Tradition is uniform custom. When the Romanists say they adhere to Tradition, they mean that they believe and Act as Christians have always believed and acted; they go by the custom, as judges and juries do. And then they go on to allege that there is this important difference between their custom and all other customs in the world; that the tradition of the law, at least in its details, though it has lasted for centuries upon centuries, anyhow had a beginning in human appointments; whereas theirs, though it has a beginning too, yet, when traced back, has none short of the Apostles of Christ, and is in consequence of divine not of human authority,—is true and intrinsically binding as well as expedient.

4.

If we ask, why it is that these professed Traditions were not reduced to writing, it is answered, that the Christian doctrine, as it has proceeded from the mouth of the Apostles, is too varied and too minute in its details to allow of it. No one you fall in with on the highway, can tell you all his mind at once; much less could the Apostles, possessed as they were of great and supernatural truths, and busied in the propagation of the Church, digest in one Epistle or Treatise a systematic view of the Revelation made to them. {32} And so much at all events we may grant, that they did not do so; there being confessedly little of system or completeness in any portion of the New Testament.

If again it be objected that, upon the notion of an unwritten transmission of doctrine, there is nothing to show that the faith of today was the faith of yesterday, nothing to connect this age and the Apostolic, the theologians of Rome maintain, on the contrary, that over and above the corroborative though indirect testimony of ecclesiastical writers, no error could have arisen in the Church without its being protested against and put down on its first appearance; that from all parts of the Church a cry would have been raised against the novelty, and a declaration put forth, as we know in fact was the practice of the early Church, denouncing it. And thus they would account for the indeterminateness on the one hand, yet on the other the accuracy and availableness of their existing Tradition or unwritten Creed. It is latent, but it lives. It is silent, like the rapids of a river, before the rocks intercept it. It is the Church's unconscious habit of opinion and sentiment; which she reflects upon, masters, and expresses, according to the emergency. We see then the mistake of asking for a complete collection of the Roman Traditions; as well might we ask for a full catalogue of a man's tastes and thoughts on a given subject. Tradition in its fulness is necessarily unwritten; it is the mode in which a society has felt or acted during a certain period, and it cannot be circumscribed any more than a man's countenance and manner can be conveyed to strangers in any set of propositions.

Such are the Traditions to which the Roman Catholics appeal, whether viewed as latent in the Church's teaching, or as passing into writing and being fixed in the decrees of the Councils or amid the works of the ancient Fathers. {33}

5.

Now how do we of the English Church meet these statements? or, rather, how do Roman Catholics prove them? For it will be observed, that what has been said hitherto, does not prove that their Traditions are such as they aver them to be, but merely that their theory is consistent with itself. And as a beautiful theory it must, as a whole, ever remain. To a certain point indeed it is tenable: but this is a very different thing from admitting that it is so as regards those very tenets for which Roman theologians would adduce it. They have to show, not merely that there was such a living and operative Tradition, and that it has lasted to this day, but that their own characteristic doctrines are parts of it. Here then we see how, under such conditions of controversy, we ought to meet their pretensions. Shall we refuse to consider the subject of Tradition at all, saying that the Bible contains the whole of Divine Revelation, and that the doctrines professedly conveyed by Tradition are only so far Apostolic as they are contained in Scripture? This will be saying what is true, but it will be assuming the point in dispute; it will in no sense be meeting our opponents. We shall only involve ourselves in great difficulties by so doing. For, let us consider a moment; we are sure to be asked, and shall have to answer, a difficult question; so we had better consider it beforehand. I mean, how do we know that Scripture comes from God? It cannot be denied that we of this age receive it upon general Tradition; we receive through Tradition both the Bible itself, and the doctrine that it is divinely inspired. That doctrine is one of those pious and comfortable truths "which we have heard and known, and such as our fathers have told us," "which God commanded our forefathers to teach their children, that their posterity might know it, and the children which were yet unborn; to the intent that when they came up, they might show their {34} children the same." [Psalm lxxviii. 3-7.] The great multitude of Protestants believe in the divinity of Scripture precisely on the ground on which the Roman Catholics take their stand in behalf of their own system of doctrine, viz. because they have been taught it. To deride Tradition therefore as something irrational or untrustworthy in itself, is to weaken the foundation of our own faith in Scripture, and is very cruel towards the great multitude of uneducated persons, who believe in Scripture because they are told to believe in it. If, however, it be said that pious Protestants have "the witness in themselves," as a sure test to their own hearts of the truth of Scripture, the fact is undeniable; and a sufficient and consoling proof is it to them that the teaching of Scripture is true; but it does not prove that the very book we call the Bible was written, and all of it written, by inspiration; nor does it allow us to dispense with the external evidence of Tradition assuring us that it is so.

6.

But if, again, it be said that the New Testament is received as divine, not upon the present traditionary belief of Christians, but upon the evidence of Antiquity, this too, even were it true,—for surely the multitude of Christians know nothing about Antiquity at all,—yet this is exactly what the Romanists maintain of their unwritten doctrines also. They argue that their present Creed has been the universal belief of all preceding ages, and is recorded in the writings still extant of those ages. Suppose, I say, we take this ground in behalf of the divinity of Holy Scripture, viz. that it is attested by all the writers and other authorities at primitive times: doubtless we are right in doing so; it is the very argument by which we actually do prove the divinity of the sacred Canon; but it is also the very {35} argument which Roman Catholics put forward for their peculiar tenets; viz. that while received on existing Tradition, they are also proved by the unanimous consent of the first ages of Christianity. If then we would leave ourselves room for proving that Scripture is inspired, we must not reject the notion and principle of the argument from Tradition and from Antiquity as something in itself absurd and unworthy of Almighty wisdom. In other words, to refuse to listen to these informants because we have a written word, is a self-destructive course, inasmuch as that written word itself is proved to be such mainly by these very informants which, as if to do honour to it, we reject. This is to overthrow our premisses by means of our conclusion. That which ascertains for us the divinity of Scripture, may convey to us other Articles of Faith also, unless Scripture has expressly determined this in the negative.

7.

But the sacred volume itself, as well as the doctrine of its inspiration, comes to us by traditional conveyance. The Protestant of the day asks his Roman antagonist, "How do you know your unwritten word comes from the Apostles, received as it is through so many unknown hands through so many ages? A book is something definite and trustworthy; what is written remains. We have the Apostles' writings before us; but we have nothing to guarantee to us the fidelity of those successive informants who stand between the Apostles and the unwritten doctrines you ascribe to them." But the other surely may answer by the counter inquiry, how the Anglican on his part knows that what he considers to be their writings are really such, and really the same as the Fathers possessed and witness to be theirs: "You have a printed book," he may argue; "the Apostles did not write that; it {36} was printed from another book, and that again from another, and so on. After going back a long way, you will trace it to a manuscript in the dark ages, written by you know not whom, copied from some other manuscript you know not what or when, and there the trace is lost. You profess, indeed, that it runs up to the very autograph of the Apostles; but with your rigorous notions of proof, it would be more to your purpose to produce that autograph than to give merely probable reasons for the fidelity of the copy. Till you do this, you are resting on a series of unknown links as well as we; you are trusting a mere tradition of men. It is quite as possible for human hands to have tampered with the written as with the unwritten word; or at least if corruption of the latter is somewhat the more probable of the two, the difference of the cases is one of degree, and not any essential distinction." Now whatever explanations the Protestant in question makes in behalf of the preservation of the written word, will be found applicable to the unwritten. For instance, he may argue, and irresistibly, that manuscripts of various, and some of very early times, are still extant, and that these belong to different places and are derived from sources distinct from each other; and that they all agree together. If the text of the New Testament has been tampered with, this must have happened before all these families of copies were made; which is to throw back the fraud upon times so early as to be a guarantee for believing it to have been impracticable. Or he may argue that it was the acknowledged duty of the Church to keep and guard the Scriptures, and that in matter of fact her various branches were very careful to do so; that in consequence it is quite incredible that the authentic text should be lost, considering it had so many trustees, as they may be called, and that an altered copy or a forgery should be substituted. Or again, he may allege that the early Fathers are frequent in quoting the New Testament {37} in their own works; and that these quotations accord substantially with the copy of it which we at present possess.

Such as these are the arguments we as well as the ordinary Protestant use against the infidel in behalf of the written word, and most powerfully; but it must be confessed that they are applicable in their nature to traditionary teaching also; they are such as the Roman doctrines might possess, as far as the a priori view of the case is concerned.

8.

How then are we to meet the Romanists, seeing we cannot join issue with them, or cut short the controversy, by a mere appeal to Scripture? We must meet them, and may do so fearlessly, on the ground of Antiquity, to which they betake themselves. We accepted the Protestant's challenge, in arguing from mere Scripture in our defence; we must not, and need not shrink from the invitation of our Roman opponent, when he would appeal to the witness of Antiquity. Truth alone is consistent with itself; we are willing to take either the test of Antiquity or of Scripture. As we accord to the Protestant sectary, that Scripture is the inspired treasury of the whole faith, but maintain that his doctrines are not in Scripture, so when the controversialist of Rome appeals to Antiquity as our great teacher, we accept his appeal, but we deny that his special doctrines are to be found in Antiquity. So far then is clear; we do not deny the force of Tradition; we do not deny the soundness of the argument from Antiquity; but we challenge our opponent to prove the matter of fact. We deny that his doctrines are in Antiquity any more than they are in the Bible; and we maintain that his professed Tradition is not really such, that it is a Tradition of men, that it is not continuous, that it stops short of the Apostles, {38} that the history of its introduction is known. On both accounts then his doctrines are innovations; because they run counter to the doctrine of Antiquity, and because they rest upon what is historically an upstart Tradition.

This view is intelligible and clear, but it leads to this conclusion. The Bible indeed is a small book, but the writings of Antiquity are voluminous; and to read them is the work of a life. It is plain then that the controversy with Rome is not an easy one, not open to every one to take up. And this is the case for another reason also. A private Christian may put what meaning he pleases on many parts of Scripture, and no one can hinder him. If interfered with, he can promptly answer that it is his opinion, and may appeal to his right of Private Judgment. But he cannot so deal with Antiquity. History is a record of facts; and "facts," according to the proverb, "are stubborn things." Ingenious men may misrepresent them, or suppress them for a while; but in the end they will be duly ascertained and appreciated. The writings of the Fathers are far too ample to allow of a disputant resting in one or two obscure or ambiguous passages in them, and permanently turning such to his own account, which he may do in the case of Scripture [Note 1]. For two reasons, then, controversy with Romanists is laborious; because it takes us to ancient Church history, and because it does not allow scope to the offhand or capricious decisions of private judgment.

However, it must be observed, for the same reasons, though more laborious, it is a surer controversy. We are {39} more likely to come to an end; it does not turn upon opinions, but on facts.

9.

1. This may be regarded from somewhat a different point of view. You know that three centuries ago took place a great schism in the West, which thenceforth was divided into two large bodies, the Roman communion on one hand, the Protestant on the other. On the latter side it is usual to reckon our own Church, though it is really on neither: from it after a time certain portions split off, and severally set up a religion and communion for themselves. Now supposing we had to dispute with these separated portions, the Presbyterians, Baptists, Independents, or other Protestants, on the subject of their separation, they would at once avow the fact, but they would deny that it was a sin. The elementary controversy between us and them would be one of doctrine and principle; viz. whether separation was or was not a sin. It is far otherwise as regards the Roman Catholics; they as well as ourselves allow, or rather maintain, the criminality of schism, and that a very great sin was committed at the Reformation, whether by the one party, or by the other, or by both. The only question is, which party committed it; they lay it at our door, we retort it, and justly, upon them. Thus we join issue with them on a question of fact; a question which cannot be settled without a sufficient stock of learning on the part of the disputants. So again the Calvinistic controversy is in great measure dependent on abstract reasoning and philosophical discussion; whereas no one can determine by a priori arguments whether or not the Papacy be a persecuting power.

On the whole, then, it appears from what has been said, that our controversies with the Protestants are easy to handle, but interminable, being disputes about opinions; {40} but those with Rome are arduous, but instructive, as relating rather to matters of fact.

10.

2. These last remarks throw some light on the difference of internal character between Protestant and Roman teaching, as well as of argumentative basis. Our controversy with Rome, I have said, turns more upon facts than upon first principles; with Protestant sectaries it is more about principles than about facts. This general contrast between the two religions, which I would not seem to extend, for the sake of an antithesis, beyond what the sober truth warrants, is paralleled in the common remark of our most learned controversialists, that Romanism holds the foundation, or is the truth overlaid with corruptions. This is saying the same thing in other words. They discern in it the great outlines of primitive Christianity, but they find them touched, if nothing worse, touched and tainted by error, and so made dangerous to the multitude,—dangerous except to men of spiritual minds, who can undo the evil, arresting the tendencies of the system by their own purity, and restoring it to the sweetness and freshness of its original state. The very force of the word corruption implies that this is the peculiarity of Romanism [Note 2]. All error indeed of whatever kind may be called a corruption of truth; still we properly apply the term to such kinds of error as are not denials but perversions, distortions, or excesses of it. Such is the relation of Romanism towards {41} true Catholicity. It is the misdirection and abuse, not the absence of right principle. To take a familiar illustration; rashness and cowardice are both faults, and both unlike true courage; but cowardice implies the absence of the principle of courage, whereas rashness is but the extravagance of the principle. Again, prodigality and avarice are both vices, and unlike true and wise liberality; but avarice differs from it in principle, prodigality in matters of detail, in the time, place, person, manner of giving, and the like. On the other hand, prodigality may accidentally be the more dangerous extreme, as being the more subtle vice, the more popular, the more likely to attract noble minds, the more like a virtue. This is somewhat like the position of Romanism, Protestantism, and Catholic Truth, relatively to each other. Romanism may be considered as an unnatural and misshapen development of the Truth; not the less dangerous because it retains traces of its genuine features, and usurps its name, as vice borrows the name of virtue, as pride is often called self-respect, or cowardice or worldly-wisdom goes by the name of prudence, or rashness by that of courage. On the other hand, no one would ever call a miser liberal; and so no one would call a mere Protestant a Catholic, except an altogether new sense was put on the word to suit a purpose. Rome retains the principle of true Catholicism perverted; popular Protestantism is wanting in the principle. Lastly, virtue lies in a mean, is a point, almost invisible to the world, hard to find, acknowledged but by the few; and so Christian Truth in these latter ages, when the world has broken up the Church, has been but a stranger upon earth, and has been hidden and superseded by counterfeits [Note 3]. {42}

11.

3. The same view of Romanism is implied when we call our ecclesiastical changes in the sixteenth century a Reformation. A building has not been reformed or repaired, when it has been pulled down and built up again; but the word is used when it has been left substantially what it was before, only amended or restored in detail. In like manner, we Anglo-Catholics do not profess a different religion from that of Rome, we profess their Faith all but their corruptions [Note 4].

4. Again, this same character of Romanism as a perversion, not a contradiction of Christian Truth, is confessed as often as members of our Church in controversy with it contend, as they may rightly do, that it must be judged, not by the formal decrees of the Council of Trent, as its advocates wish, but by its practical working and its existing state in the countries which profess it. Romanists would fain confine us in controversy to the consideration of the bare and acknowledged principles of their Church; we consider this to be an unfair restriction; why? because we conceive that Romanism is far more faulty in its details than in its formal principles, and that Councils, to which its adherents would send us, have more to do with its abstract system than with its practical working, that the abstract system contains for the most part tendencies to evil, which the actual working brings out, thus supplying illustrations of that evil which is really though latently contained in principles capable in themselves of an honest interpretation. Thus, for instance, the decree concerning {43} Purgatory might be charitably made almost to conform to the doctrine of St. Austin or St. Chrysostom, were it not for the comment on it afforded by the popular belief as existing in those countries which hold it, and by the opinions of the Roman schools [Note 5].

12.

5. It is something to the purpose also to observe, that this peculiar character of Roman teaching, as being substantial Truth corrupted, has tended to strengthen the popular notion, that it, or the Church of Rome, or the Pope or Bishop of Rome, is the Antichrist foretold in Scripture. That there is in Romanism something very unchristian, I fully admit, or rather maintain [Note 6]; but I will observe here that this strange two-fold aspect of the Roman system seems in matter of fact to have been in part a cause of that fearful title attaching to it,—and in this way. When Protestants have come to look at it closely, they have found truth and error united in so subtle a combination (as is the case with all corruptions, as with sullied snow, or fruit over-ripe, or metal alloyed), they have found truth so impregnated with error, and error so sheltered by truth, so much too adducible in defence of the system, which, from want of learning or other cause, they could not refute without refuting their own faith and practice at the same time,—so much in it of high and noble principle, or salutary usage, which they had lost, and, as losing, were, in that respect, in an inferior state,—that for this very reason, as the readiest, safest, simplest solution {44} of their difficulties, not surely the fairest, but the readiest, as cutting the knot and extricating them at once from their position, they have pronounced Rome or its Pope to be the Antichrist; I say, for the very reason that so much may be said in its behalf, that it is so difficult to refute, so subtle and crafty, so seductive,—properties which are tokens of the hateful and fearful deceiver who is to come. Of course I do not mean to say that this perplexing aspect of the Roman Church has originally brought upon it the stigma under consideration; but that it has served to induce people indolently to acquiesce in it without examination.

6. In these remarks on the relation which Romanism bears to Catholic Truth, I have appealed to the common opinion of the world; which is altogether confirmed when we come actually to compare together the doctrinal articles of our own and of the Roman faith. In both systems the same Creeds are acknowledged. Besides other points in common, we both hold, that certain doctrines are necessary to be believed for salvation; we both believe in the doctrines of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement; in original sin; in the necessity of regeneration; in the supernatural grace of the Sacraments; in the Apostolical succession; in the obligation of faith and obedience, and in the eternity of future punishment.

13.

In conclusion I would observe, that in what I have been saying of the principles and doctrines of Romanism, I have mainly regarded it, not as an existing political sect among us, but in itself, in its abstract system, and in a state of quiescence. Viewed indeed in action, and as realized in its present partisans, it is but one out of the many denominations which are the disgrace of our age and country. {45} In temper and conduct it does but resemble that unruly Protestantism which lies on our other side, and it submits without reluctance to be allied and to act with that Protestantism for the overthrow of a purer religion. But herein is the difference of the one extreme from the other; the political Romanist of the day becomes such in spite of his fundamental principles, the political Protestant in accordance with his. The best Dissenter is he who is least of a Dissenter; the best Roman Catholic is he who comes nearest to be a Catholic. The reproach of the present Roman party is that they are inconsistent; and it is a reproach which is popularly felt to be just. They are confessedly unlike the loyal men who rallied round the throne of our first Charles, or who fought, however ill-advisedly, for his exiled descendants. The particular nature of this inconsistency will be discussed in some following Lectures; meanwhile I have here considered the religion of Rome in its abstract professions for two reasons. First, I would willingly believe, that in spite of the violence and rancour of its public supporters, there are many individuals in its communion of gentle, affectionate, and deeply religious minds; and such a belief is justified when we find that the necessary difference between us and them is not one of essential principle, that it is the difference of superstition, and not of unbelief, from religion. Next, I have insisted upon it, by way of showing what must be the nature of their Reformation, if in God's merciful counsels a Reformation awaits them. It will be far more a reform of their popular usages and opinions, and ecclesiastical policy, that is, a destruction of what is commonly called Popery, than of their abstract principles and maxims [Note 7].

On the other hand, let it not be supposed, because I have spoken without sympathy of popular Protestantism in {46} the abstract, that this is all one with being harsh towards individuals professing it; far from it. The worse their creed, the more sympathy is due to their persons; chiefly to those, for they most demand and will most patiently suffer it, who least concur in their own doctrine, and are held by it in an unwilling captivity. Would that they would be taught that their peculiar form of religion, whatever it is, never can satisfy their souls, and does not admit of reform, but must come to nought! Would that they could be persuaded to transfer their misplaced and most unrequited affection from the systems of men to the One Holy Spouse of Christ, the Church Catholic, which in this country manifests herself in the Church, commonly so called, as her representative! Nor need we despair that, as regards many of them, this wish may yet be fulfilled.

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Notes

1. [This is true, but history and the patristical writings do not absolutely decide the truth or falsehood of all important theological propositions, any more than Scripture decides it. As to such propositions, all that one can safely say is, that history and the Fathers look in one determinate direction. They make a doctrine more or less probable, but rarely contain a statement, or suggest a conclusion, which cannot be plausibly evaded. The definition of the Church is commonly needed to supply the defects of logic.]
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2. [Such powerful truths as Catholicity reveals certainly run the risk of engendering whether fanaticism or superstition in the ignorant, weak, or carnal-minded, the correction of which requires and receives the constant vigilance of Holy Church. In this point of view "corruption" doubtless is the "peculiarity of Romanism," as compared with Protestantism, because it is emphatically the preacher of effective doctrines which specially admit of corruption, such as the cultus of the saints and the belief in purgatory.]
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3. [It is quite true that the ethos or temper of "Romanism," when contrasted with Protestantism, is in excess, and that Protestantism, viewed relatively to "Romanism," is in defect; but in a state of things in which the mean teaching of a so-called "Catholic Truth" is non-existent, and the choice lies between the one and the other extreme, who would not prefer that "Romanism" which has an excess of life to that Protestantism which is deficient in it? An extreme is not wrong as such, else there would be something wrong in the idea of Divine Infinity.]
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4. Vid. the Canons of 1603, No. 30, "The abuse of a thing doth not take away the lawful use of it."
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5. [This subject is treated of at length in the Preface to this edition.]
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6. [The author says in his Apologia, "In 1816 I read Newton on the Prophecies, and in consequence became most firmly convinced that the Pope was the Antichrist predicted by Daniel, St. Paul, and St. John. My imagination was stained by the effects of his doctrine up to the year 1843."]
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7. [Vid. supr. the Preface to this edition.]
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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