Lecture 14. On the Fortunes of the Church

{331} AND now, that our discussions on what may fitly be called the Prophetical Office of the Church draw to a close, the thought, with which perhaps we entered on the subject is not unlikely to recur, when the excitement of the inquiry has subsided, and weariness has succeeded, that what has been said is but a dream, the wanton exercise, rather than the practical conclusion of the intellect. Such is the feeling of minds unversed in the disappointments of the world, incredulous how much it has of promise, how little of substance; what intricacy and confusion beset the most certain truths; how much must be taken on trust, in order to be possessed; how little can be realized except by an effort of the will; how great a part of enjoyment lies in resignation. Without some portion of that Divine Philosophy which bids us consider "the kingdom of God" to be "within us," and which, by prayer and meditation, by acting on what is told us, and by anticipating sight, developes outwardly its own views and principles, and thus assimilates to itself all that is around us,—not only the Church in this age and country, but the Church Catholic anywhere, or at any time, Primitive, Roman, or Reformed, is but a name, used indeed as the incentive to action, but without local habitation, or visible tokens, "here or there," "in the secret chambers," or "in the desert." After all, the {332} Church is ever invisible in its day, and faith only apprehends it [Note 1].

Under this feeling I proceed, lastly, to consider more attentively this main difficulty in the Anglo-Catholic system; and in so doing shall have opportunity to justify, by examples, the doctrine which has just been suggested, by way of reconciling the mind to it.

2.

The most plausible objection, then, urged by the partisans of Rome against the English Church, is, that we are what they call a Parliamentary Church, a State Creation or Establishment, depending on the breath of princes or of populace, and directed towards mere political ends, such as the temporal well-being of the community, or the stability of the Constitution; whereas the True Church is built upon the One Faith, transmitted through successive generations, and simply maintains what it has so received, leaving temporal benefits to come and go, to follow or be suspended, as the case may be. The argument comes with the greater force, because Protestants have not unfrequently granted the fact, and only denied its importance. Yet we need not fear to contest the fact itself in spite both of our Roman and our Protestant opponents; and in order to show how little it can be maintained, I will take pains to state it as strongly as I can, before I proceed to reply to it.

3.

It is objected, then, that the Church is by office, and in her very definition, "the pillar and ground of the Truth," that "God's Spirit which is upon her, and His words {333} which He has put in her mouth, shall not depart out of her mouth, nor out of the mouth of her seed, nor out of the mouth of her seed's seed, from henceforth and for ever;" that "all her children are taught of the Lord, and great is the peace of her children." In such texts the Faith committed to the Church is represented, not as a secret and difficult doctrine, but as clearly proclaimed, indefectibly maintained, and universally acknowledged. Whatever errors and corruptions there may be in the Church and in her children, so far, it may be argued, is clear, that the true Faith, the one way to heaven, the one message from the Saviour of sinners, the Revelation of the Gospel, will be plain and unequivocal, as the sun in the heavens, from first to last; so that whoever goes wrong within her pale, will have himself to blame wholly, not his defective light. In the English Church, however, we shall hardly find ten or twenty neighbouring clergymen who agree together; and that, not in the non-essentials of religion, but as to what are its elementary and necessary doctrines; or even as to the fact whether there are any necessary doctrines at all, any distinct and definite faith required for salvation. Much less do the laity receive that instruction in one and the same doctrine, which is a necessary characteristic, as may be fairly alleged, of their being "taught of the Lord." They wander about like sheep without a shepherd, they do not know what to believe, and are thrown on their own private judgment, weak and inadequate as it is, merely because they do not know whither to betake themselves for guidance. If they go to one Church they hear one doctrine, in the next they enter into they hear another: if they try to unite the two, they are obliged to drop important elements in each, and thus dilute and attenuate the Faith to a mere shadow; if they shrink, as they may naturally do, from both the one doctrine and the other, they are taught to be critical, sceptical, and {334} self-wise: and thus they are sure to be led into heterodoxy in one form or other, over and above the evil whether of arrogance or indifference in themselves. If, again, they are blessed with teachable and gentle minds, such uncertainty makes them desponding and unhappy; they walk in darkness and disquiet, far removed from that "peace" which the Prophet describes as resulting from the "teaching" which the children of the True Church receive.

4.

Further, it may be urged, that, over and above the variations existing in the doctrine of our Church, we are not even agreed among ourselves whether there be any Church at all, that is, One True Church, commissioned and blessed by Christ; that many of our Clergy openly avow their disbelief of it, and without censure from our Bishops; and that our national schools, in which we profess to educate the mass of the population, commonly teach nothing definitely and strictly about it, but are content for the most part with providing that vague kind of religious knowledge which might be learned as well among Dissenters; that, while we instil into the minds of children some sufficient horror of Popery, we give them no preservative against the Wesleyans, Baptists, or Independents. It may be further objected, that we are in a state of actual warfare with each other, not only differing, but considering our mutual differences perilous or even damnable; that we have no internal bond of union, but are kept together by the state, which by a wholesome tyranny forces us to be friends with each other. And further still, much intemperate declamation may be indulged about our system of patronage in the Church, the mode in which our Bishops are appointed, their being corrupted by their intercourse with laymen in Parliament, and the like {335} topics. Specific instances of scandal may be added; that Hoadly, for instance, in the last century, though a Socinian, as is now acknowledged by high authority in Church matters, was allowed to remain for nearly fifty years a Bishop in possession; and that, when in the early part of his career the Clergy in Convocation, the legitimate ministers of the Faith, attempted to censure some of his errors, they were hindered by the civil power, which suspended the Convocation forthwith, and has never allowed it since to resume its functions. Or again, notice may be directed to the existing carelessness in many places about the due administration of Baptism, no sufficient regard being had to the persons administering, the mode of administering it, nay, or the very rite itself.

5.

All this has been said, and in an exaggerated tone; certainly exaggerated, for after all the Prayer Book is a practical guide into the sense of Scripture for all teachable minds; and those of our Divines, whom "all the people account as prophets," with whatever differences of opinion in minor points, yet on the whole teach in essentials one and all the same doctrine. For instance, the most popular books in our Church, and the most highly sanctioned for the last 100 or 200 years, have been, I suppose, such as Bishop Taylor's Holy Living and Dying, the Whole Duty of Man, Hammond's Catechism, or Bishop Wilson's Sermons; and do not these sufficiently agree together in doctrine to edify all who ask what the Faith of Christ is? Surely then there is much exaggeration in such statements as the foregoing. But whether exaggeration or not, it matters little; were every word of them literally true, yet they would not tend to invalidate the claim of the English Church to be considered a branch of the One Church Catholic. {336}

6.

The parallel of the Jewish Church will afford us a sufficient answer to all that has been objected. I need scarcely observe that the Israelites were especially raised up to be witnesses for the One True God against idolatry, and had the doctrine of the Divine Unity set before them, with an injunction upon the fathers ever to teach the children, also that they remained God's peculiar people till Christ came; and yet, as every one knows, there were even long periods in their history during which the whole nation was sunk in idolatry or lingered on in decay, captivity, or dispersion. Even then were the English Church, as a Church, to go further than she is ever alleged to have gone, in denying her own powers, were she to put herself on a level with the sectaries round about her, and to consider Ordination as a mere human ceremony, it would not follow that she had lost her gift [Note 2]. That they who do not claim the One Church Catholic as theirs, possess it not, however specious an argument, cannot really be maintained. Of course there are cases in which a Church incurs more or less of punishment for neglect of its privileges, but even then its state is not the same as if they had never been given; generally speaking, they are but suspended or impaired, not forfeited. Even Samson, after losing his hair upon the lap of Delilah, recovered his strength in his captivity, when his hair grew again. If we have been made God's children, we cannot unmake ourselves; we can never be mere natural men again. There is but the alternative of our being His children still, though erring ones, and under rebuke, or apostates and {337} devils; and surely there is enough on the very face of our Church, as we humbly trust, and as our most bigoted opponents must grant, to show that we are not reprobates, but that, amid whatever scandals, we have faith and love abiding with us. This is to take far lower ground than we think we may fairly take in comparison of Rome; yet it is well to see what the objection under review amounts to at the utmost. Whether or not there are cases in which a branch of the Church, as an individual Christian, may utterly exhaust itself of grace and become reprobate, at least St. Paul expresses the rule of God's dealings with us in his Epistle to the Romans; "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." If His people sinned, they were not to be abandoned; on the contrary, it is declared, "then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes; nevertheless, My loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail; My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of My lips." [Psalm lxxxix. 32-34.] Or again, in the well-known passage of the Prophet, God says to the Jews, "That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched-out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you … And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the Covenant." [Ezek. xx. 32-37.] The same is the lesson of the New Testament; as in the parable of the talents, in which the servant who hid his Lord's talent did not at once forfeit it, did not release himself from the responsibility of having it; he had it by to produce, though unused, at the last day [Note 3]. Still more impressive, because more directly in point, are St. Paul's words concerning his own commission: {338} "Though I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel. For, if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, a dispensation of the Gospel is committed unto me." [1 Cor. ix. 16, 17.] If we disbelieve or neglect our gifts, they remain with us, though as a burden and as a witness at the last day. The Church does not become a mere creation of man, though she sell herself to be his slave [Note 4].

7.

And, if not even a denial of her gifts on the part of a Church, necessarily leads to their absolute forfeiture, much less will the disbelief of certain of her ministers incur that penalty. From their own souls, indeed, the grace of her ordinances will be shut; but though they trample on their invisible powers, yet are they unconsciously the instruments of transmitting them onwards, and of imparting their blessed effects to those who believe. They do what they know not; holy Isaac blessed Jacob for Esau, and could not reverse it. The old Prophet of Bethel was the involuntary instrument of God's wrath, though he condemned himself the while. Balaam, with a covetous heart and amid heathen enchantments, announced Christ's coming. Caiaphas, the high priest, while contriving his Lord's death, prophesied, because he was high priest, yet did not know that he prophesied. The words of St. John should be carefully studied: "One of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation {339} perish not. And this spake he not of himself, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also He should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." [John xi. 49-52.] The language of Caiaphas then had quite a different sense from what he intended, and far higher. He spoke of the Jewish nation under the word "people," but it was the Holy Ghost's word in his mouth to denote the elect children of God wherever found all over the earth; and, while he meant to speak of Christ's death as removing the perplexities which His miracles caused to himself and his party, he really spoke of the Atoning Sacrifice which was to be made for the sins of the whole world. In like manner, even though a Bishop were to use the words, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost," with little or no meaning, or a Priest the consecrating words in the Eucharist, considering it only a commemoration of Christ's death, or a Deacon the water and the words in Baptism, denying in his heart that it is regeneration; yet they may, in spite of their unbelief, be instruments of a power they know not of; and "speak not of themselves;" [Note 5] they may be as Balaam or as Isaac.

8.

The state of the later Jewish Church, of which Caiaphas affords one instance, illustrates most strikingly how dangerous it is to go by sight in religious matters instead of consulting God's word. How deeply was the divine building "daubed with the untempered mortar" of secular politics [Note 6]! how closely did it simulate a mere civil establishment, till the day of vengeance {340} came, and God claimed His fugitive Prophet, who had hid himself amid the empires of this world! What anomalies in the present state of the Church can parallel those which were to be found among the Jews? What infraction, for instance, of the law of Moses could be greater than that the high priesthood should be taken away from the hereditary line, held but for a time, and associated with the profession of arms or with royalty? Yet such were its fortunes in the family of the Asmonęans, who, besides their unpriestly character, were many of them stained with crimes which gave a deeper shade to the irregularity. Aristobulus, son of Hyrcanus, starved to death his mother, caused one brother to be assassinated, and imprisoned the rest, and then died of remorse. Alexander, on occasion of a mutiny, massacred six thousand of the Jewish populace; and, at another, had eight hundred crucified before his eyes at an entertainment he gave in honour of his wives and concubines. Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, his sons, carried on civil war against each other. Herod, a man of Edom, was allowed to fill the throne of David; and, stained as he was with the most heinous crimes, he appointed three or four high priests in succession, and rebuilt the temple of God. Yet in spite of all these enormities, "the seat of Moses," [Note 7] the oil of the priesthood, and the miraculous governance of the nation, remained, not fading away without memorial, but for a while latent and quiescent, then fearfully showing themselves in the utter destruction of the race which had profaned its own gifts. But, till that final destruction the gifts continued, and were profitable to those who cared to use them religiously. {341}

9.

Earlier periods in Jewish history may next be specified; for though in these the irregularities themselves might be less, yet the presence of a supernatural Providence, however latent, is further removed from doubt or cavil.

What a remarkable picture does the Book of Judges present to us! Suppose it were lost and we were to read Numbers and Joshua, and then turn to the reign of David, could we have conceived the actual state of the nation between the former and the latter period? Had we been bidden to describe it by conjecture, to connect together the two by some probable medium, should we have guessed by a stretch of fancy that the newly-created fabric of Judaism had been destined so soon to fall to pieces, or rather to fade away like a dream, unrealized and unattempted, after the giving of the Law, for a space of three or four hundred years? Moses and Joshua set in motion a system which suddenly stops with the human originators of it. What must have been the feelings of a thoughtful Israelite during those centuries of confusion, when every one did what was right in his own eyes, and the lawless were kept in order as much by the yoke of the invader and oppressor as by the divinely-ordered sway of the Judges? what would have been his arguments against the cavils of Philistine or Midianite, who thought it worth while to examine the pretensions of his Polity? Would they not treat those pretensions with utter scorn and derision, as equally fantastic and extravagant, equally idle, foolish, and irrational, as the world now deems our Apostolical Descent? What evidence, indeed, could the Israelites then give of a supernatural presence among them? There were men who lived and died in the holy land, without sign or token, as far as we are told, of the Lord God of Israel, except such as a lively faith detects and appropriates. The Philistines at one time were masters {342} of the chosen people for forty years, the Moabites for eighteen, the Canaanites for twenty, the Ammonites for eighteen. And such greater disturbances of the Mosaic covenant were but centres and origins of the extended distress and confusion in which religion lay during those early times. Its champions, too, had sometimes almost as little in them to refresh the eye of purity and truth as its enemies. The history of Samson and Jephtha presented as great perplexities to faith, as Jabin, king of Canaan, or Chusan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia. Or, consider the fortunes of Gideon's family; Abimelech, the son of his concubine, massacring all his brethren, to the number of threescore and ten persons except one, and making himself king; his townsmen, by whose aid he seized the sovereignty, revolting from him, and then defeated and destroyed by him; then he himself cut off in battle. Or, consider the history of the tribe of Benjamin, its victories over the other tribes, then its overthrow with the loss of twenty-five thousand men in one day; or again, (what is portentous,) the worship of a graven image set up by certain Danites, on their original settlement in Palestine, with the regular succession of a priesthood, all the time the house of God was in Shiloh, as if Satan were from the first to share the holy land with the Lord God of Hosts. Such are some of the irregularities and disorders which Almighty Wisdom does not find inconsistent with the continuous and progressive fulfilment of its purposes; such the valleys and pits in the wilderness which intervene between the great providences of God, and are lost to us while we contemplate the majestic summits of Moriah, Pisgah, or Zion, and the beacon lights thereon kindled. And if a supernatural presence was with the Israelites all along their years of crime and captivity, who shall presume to say, that we, whatever be our misfortunes and our sins, have certainly forfeited the Gospel promises, or that a true faith cannot elicit from our {343} Ordinances and appropriate in their fulness those benefits which Christ originally lodged in them? Who shall curse whom God has not cursed, drying up our Baptism, or tainting the manna of our Eucharist, making our Priests speechless, or breaking the staff of our Rulers? Who shall excommunicate those who have ever held to that Creed, and that Succession, and those Ordinances which Apostles bequeathed to them? Let Romanists see to it, whether, instead of attempting anything against us, it is not rather their wisdom to shelter their own Church under the foregoing arguments from the far more serious charges to which it is exposed [Note 8].

10.

Two other periods occur in the history of Israel, which deserve attention. In their captivity in Egypt, they seem almost to have forgotten that any promise had been made to their race; and when Moses reminded them of it, they "hearkened not unto him for anguish of spirit and for cruel bondage." Again, much might be said concerning their captivity in Babylon, when "their king and their princes were among the Gentiles, the Law was no more, and their prophets found no vision from the Lord." [Lam. ii. 9.] Once more, a fresh field of remark is afforded by the great schism of the ten tribes under Jeroboam, and the ministry of Elijah and Elisha among them.

Setting, then, our present disorders at the very highest, making the largest admissions on that score which Roman Catholics can demand, not denying for argument's sake, that our bishops have before now done despite to their own Apostolical powers, that our Teachers have been at variance with each other, that aliens and enemies have usurped our {344} rights, that the laity has been almost sanctioned by their pastors in loose and irreverent views and practices, and that the very notion of the Church Catholic has died away from the popular mind; granting, that is, what is a great deal more than the truth, it will not follow that Almighty God may not be as truly and supernaturally with us as He was with His former people, when the Angel appeared to Gideon during the Midianitish captivity, or to Zacharias in the days of Herod. And if truly with us, then, doubtless, in a far higher and more miraculous way, by how much the Christian Church has more of heaven in it than had the Polity of Israel.

One more remark shall be suggested. Is it not very strange, and very significant, that our Lord and Saviour, the immaculate Lamb of God, should be descended not only from virtuous Ruth the Moabitess, but from incestuous Tamar?

11.

Such is the light which the Jewish history throws upon our present circumstances, taken at the worst; but Christian times afford us a second parallel to them. The advocate of Rome must admit that the state, whether of the Catholic Church or of the Roman Church, at periods before and during the middle ages, was such, as to bear a very strong resemblance to the picture he draws of our own. I do not speak of corruptions in life and morals merely, or of the errors of individuals, however highly exalted, but of the general disorganized and schismatical state of the Church, her practical abandonment of her spiritual pretensions, the tyranny exercised over her by the civil power, and the intimate adherence of the worst passions and of circumstantial irregularities, to those acts which are vital portions of her system.

For instance, the especial stain, which is imputed to our {345} own Church, is this; that in A.D. 1560, Elizabeth, on succeeding to the throne, deprived, by Act of Parliament, all its existing Bishops but one, for refusing to become Protestants, and introduced a new succession [Note 9], by means of Parker, who was consecrated under her special licence to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, by certain Bishops, either not in possession of Sees, or only Suffragan. No one denies this was a violent proceeding, though unavoidable under her peculiar circumstances; but it is one thing to be violent in accidentals and adjuncts, another to be invalid in essentials. The question is simply whether Parker was formally consecrated by those who had the power of consecrating [Note 10]. God may carry on His work amid human sin, granting, for argument's sake, that it was such; as the incest of Judah was, as I have observed, in the line of our Lord's genealogy. This is to view the matter at the extremest point of disadvantage at which the Roman controversialist can place it. Now let us see whether former times do not supply instances of similar scandals [Note 11].

12.

The third General Council was held A.D. 431, on occasion of the Nestorian heresy, and passed decrees concerning our Lord's Person, as divine and human, which the English Church, as well as the Roman, has ever recognized as true and necessary. Now under what circumstances were these decrees framed? Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, {346} was charged, and rightly charged, by Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, with heresy. Antioch, and the rest of the East, remained neuter; Rome, and the West, took part with Cyril. Celestine, Bishop of Rome, held a Latin Council, condemned Nestorius, degraded him on the event of his contumacy, and committed the execution of this sentence to Cyril. The Emperor of the day interposed, and summoned at Ephesus the General Council in question. Cyril and Nestorius, with their respective partisans, arrived at Ephesus at the time appointed, before John, Bishop of Antioch, and the Orientals. After waiting for a fortnight, Cyril opened the Council, as President, without them; in spite of the earnest representations of the Imperial Officer, who intreated him to allow a further delay. Its proceedings thus unsatisfactorily commenced, were concluded within the space of a single day. Five days afterward the Orientals arrived, and, angry at the slight put upon them, they held a Council by themselves, and degraded Cyril, and Memnon, the Bishop of Ephesus, who had sided with him. Memnon, being powerful in his own city, shut the Churches against them, and stationed a guard in the Cathedral, which, on the advance of the Imperial troops against it, vigorously repulsed and routed them. After a riot of three months' continuance, the hostile parties retired to their respective homes; and at the end of several years John and Cyril, making mutual admissions and explanations in points of doctrine, were reconciled to each other, and jointly assented to the condemnation of Nestorius. From that time Nestorius has been accounted a heretic by the Church. Transactions such as these are a proof that, in the Roman system at least, while adherence is paid to the positive observances enjoined us, the sins of individuals taking part in their execution, do not interfere with their validity. That at that time, with whatever incidental dissension and delay, {347} the testimony of the Catholic world was at length collected on the subject of dispute, and that that testimony really condemned Nestorius; and further that it was but a repetition of the testimony afforded by the Catholic Fathers from the first, is sufficiently clear to all students in theology. But, anyhow, the scandals of the Council of Ephesus are an effectual hindrance to any over-delicate and fastidious criticisms by Roman writers of our Reformation.

13.

The history of Vigilius, bishop of Rome, in the following century, presents them with a similar difficulty. It is well known that according to the Roman system, a General Council is not of authority unless confirmed by the Pope; now the fifth Council was confirmed by this Vigilius, who, unless positive observances, not moral qualifications, be the conditions, on man's part, of supernatural agency, neither confirmed the Council, nor was Pope at all. His career was as follows.—The last Bishop of Rome had died at Constantinople, after deposing the Bishop of that city for heresy; Vigilius, who was at that time a deacon, had accompanied him thither, and made offers to the Empress Theodora, who had adopted the same heresy, to acknowledge and support the deposed Bishop, if she assisted himself to rise to the See of St. Peter. Having gained the Empress, he proceeded into Italy, to Belisarius, whom he also gained through the interest which she exerted in his favour, and by promising two hundred pieces of gold, from himself, should he obtain the appointment. Meanwhile Silverius had been chosen at Rome to fill the vacant See. On a charge of corresponding with the Goths, he was summoned before Belisarius, stripped of his sacerdotal habit, and banished to Lycia. Vigilius was appointed in his room, and his first act was to refuse to discharge his own {348} engagements in the contract; neither siding with the heretics, nor paying the promised bribe. The latter condition he at length fulfilled on being put into possession of his rival, Silverius, whom he sent to Palmaria where he died by starvation. The fifth General Council being afterwards held at Constantinople, he refused to assent to its decrees, and was, in consequence, banished by Justinian; nor was he allowed to return to Rome, till he recanted, formally confirmed them, and thereby secured, as a theologian of Rome must consider, their infallibility. Unless formal acts are the secret threads by which the line of Divine Providence is continued, how can Romanists hold either that Vigilius was Pope, or that he confirmed the decrees of the fifth General Council? Thus they accord to us a principle which brings us safely through our own misfortunes, whatever they be [Note 12].

14.

Let us now take an instance some hundred years later. In the tenth and eleventh centuries the rank and wealth of the higher ecclesiastics was such as to absorb those spiritual functions which had led to their possession of them. The Bishops were temporal princes, were appointed irrespectively of their religious fitness, and felt more closely bound to the feudal lord of whom they held their temporalities, than to the Church. "They were obtruded in their Sees," says a recent writer, "as the Supreme Pontiffs were upon that of Rome, by force or corruption. A child of five years old was made Archbishop of Rheims. The See of Narbonne was purchased for another at the age of ten." He adds, "It was almost general in the Church to have Bishops under twenty years old." Again, "Either through bribery in places where elections still {349} prevailed, or through corrupt agreements with princes, or at least customary presents to their wives and ministers, a large proportion of the Bishops had no valid tenure in their sees. The case was perhaps worse with inferior clerks; in the Church of Milan, which was notorious for this corruption, not a single ecclesiastic could stand the test, the Archbishop exacting a price for the collation of every benefice." [Note 13]

Such being the general state of the Church, Rome itself was the scene of contest between rival claimants of the Holy See, the respective champions of the imperial prerogatives and ecclesiastical liberty. In 1038, Benedict IX., a man of abandoned life, being degraded by the Romans, was restored by the Emperor Conrad, and, running into still greater excesses, was again deposed by his people, who chose in his place Sylvester III. A third time he was reinstated, by the arms of his adherents; and at length, despairing of appeasing the resentment of the Romans, he sold his holy office to the arch-presbyter of Rome, who succeeded under the name of Gregory VI. While the Roman see thus lay between the pretensions of three competitors, the Emperor, Henry III., deposed them all, and introduced a fourth, under the name of Clement II. This is one instance out of many, of ecclesiastical irregularities, greater, surely, than any which have occurred among ourselves, whether in the reigns of the Tudor princes, or of William III [Note 14].

15.

The great Western Schism, in the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, is another instance of ecclesiastical {350} disorder, such as has not happened in our own branch of the Church. We in England think it, as it really was, a very grievous thing, that there should have been in King William's time rival Bishops in the Archiepiscopal and some other sees, the exigencies of the State calling for measures towards the Church which, in civil matters, would have been tyranny. But what prudent Romanist will object this to us, as if more than a ruffling of the surface of the deep fountains of her power, who recollects the state of his own Church during the period referred to? For fifty years the Latin Church had two or three heads at the same time, each intriguing and directing anathemas against his rivals. Mosheim remarks, that during that period, as was natural, "many plain, well-meaning people, who concluded that no one could be saved unless united to the Vicar of Christ," i.e. the Pope, "were overwhelmed with doubt, and plunged into the deepest distress of mind; [Note 15] the very misfortune which is alleged mutatis mutandis to be the result of our own unhappy differences at present. Meanwhile the Gallican Church, seriously affected by the scandal of the contest, in a council held at Paris at the end of the fourteenth century, solemnly renounced all subjection to either of the contending parties. At the beginning of the next century the Council of Pisa deposed the rival Popes of the day, appointing a third in their place, who being unable to carry into effect their decision with a strong hand, did but become a third competitor, and form a fresh party in the schism. Doubtless to these and similar miserable disorders we owe the licentious and profane movements of the sixteenth century, of which our Roman opponents are so ready to complain; and the present wasted and enfeebled state of the Church, including our own branch of it. And, as during the continuance {351} of these old dissensions, the pure-hearted and believing, as we humbly trust, enjoyed the Ordinances of grace though administered by unchristian hands, much less can their legitimate consequences, our present and past distressing circumstances, taken at the greatest, be any bar in the due administration of the Sacraments to those who believe and seek God truly.

16.

Such was the state of things in the middle ages; let us now turn to the early Church, which apparently was not altogether free from those errors and disorders which are the scandal of modern times.

In the fourth century there were at one time three, and for a long time two, Bishops of Antioch at once, one countenanced by the East, the other by the West; and that succession at last prevailed which had been violently introduced by the Arians. In Africa the Donatists, in the time of their power, had as many as four hundred Bishops, that is, as many within sixty or seventy as the Catholic Church.

In the early Ante-Nicene times, the Church seemed for a while to be but one sect among many, being confused with Jews, and the various Gnostic denominations, as it is at this time in our own country with the multitude of parties and heresies which prevail. Nay, it had peculiar difficulties of its own, distinct from those of after centuries. While it was still under persecution, with deficient union in its separate branches, private Christians had to struggle with uncertainties, and with partial knowledge,—I do not say whether more or less than ours,—but certainly such as we have not. Till the fourth century there was no unanimous reception of the Canon of the New Testament, no sufficient check upon the fancies and extravagances of individual teachers. All the great points, indeed, of faith {352} were thoroughly known by all, in a far higher way than is at present vouchsafed to us; but though there was, undoubtedly, one uniform doctrine handed down from the Apostles, yet heresy was not so immediately recognized, whether in points of detail, or as regards the intellectual comprehension of its terms, as it was afterwards, when the stimulus it supplied had retouched and deepened the lineaments of the Creed. It is observable that the two most learned and gifted of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Origen and Tertullian, while explicit in their report of Catholic Truth in all matters of necessary faith, yet are little trustworthy in themselves, and are open at least on secondary points to the charge of unwarrantable speculation. There can be no instance among ourselves of sincere Christians being tempted, as Origen was, to question what is meant by the eternal punishment destined for the finally impenitent; or of a Bishop, as Dionysius, speaking of the Eternal Son, in terms which to some others conveyed a sense as far from orthodoxy as from his own meaning; or of a whole Church, as the Roman, doubting of the full authority of the Epistle to the Hebrews. All the most important points in the Christian system have been publicly canvassed in detail, and settled once for all; but in the first age of the Church there was more room than now, not for practical uncertainty where men were teachable, but for inquiry where they were restless, and for controversy where they were stubborn.

17.

To these instances, in earlier and later times, I will but add, in conclusion, the testimony of two Bishops of the Church in ages and countries far removed from each other, and under circumstances widely different, in proof of this one fact, that there have been junctures in the history of the Dispensation before our own, in which contemporaries {353} thought they saw the utter confusion and the destruction of all that was sacred, venerable, or precious,—the immediate extinction of that Truth which has lasted centuries after them. The first of these writers is St. Basil, Exarch of Cęsarea, in the fourth century; the other is the famous Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury in the twelfth. Of these the former thus writes concerning the state of Asia Minor and the East, where the Arians had for some years been spreading their heresy:—

"The doctrines of godliness are overthrown; the laws of the Church are in confusion. The ambition of men who fear not the Lord seizes upon its dignities; its high places are avowedly made a prize for impiety; so that he who blasphemes the worst, is preferred as a Bishop for the people. The gravity of the sacerdotal order has perished; there are none to feed the Lord's flock with knowledge; ambitious men are ever squandering in self-indulgence and bribery, possessions which they hold in trust for the poor. The accurate observance of the Canons is vanished; there is full liberty to sin … The laity remain unchastised; the prelates have lost all freedom of speech, for they who have obtained their power by man, are slaves to those who gave it … Unbelievers laugh at what they see, and the weak in faith are unsettled; no one can tell what the true faith is, ignorance about it is spread over the soul, because the wicked adulterators of the world imitate the truth. Religious people keep silence; but the blaspheming tongue is free. Sacred things are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in faith avoid the places of worship, as schools of impiety, and raise their hands in solitude, with groans and tears, to the Lord in heaven." [Note 16]

18.

Eight hundred years afterwards, an Archbishop of Canterbury, {354} who at least is an authority with Romanists, writes as follows: "The king of England," he says, in a letter concerning Henry II., addressed to the Roman Cardinals, "has seized, and is every day seizing the property of the Church, subverts her liberty, stretches out his hands against the anointed ones of the Lord, against the clergy, without limit of place or selection of persons, imprisoning some, beheading others, tearing out the eyes of others, forcing others to single combat, others to the ordeal, that the Bishops may not pay obedience to their Metropolitan, nor the Clergy to their Bishops, nor account themselves excommunicated when they have been duly excommunicated." In another place, he thus speaks of the corrupt practices of the Roman see: "Sacrilegious men, murderers, plunderers are absolved,—impenitent men, whom I boldly pronounce on Christ's word, though the world be against me, not even St. Peter, were he in the Roman see, could absolve in God's sight … Certainly, if restitution might be made and is not, there is no true repentance … Let who dare thus bind himself and not fear the sentence of the Judge to come. Let him absolve men of plunder, sacrilege, murder, perjury, blood, and schism, though impenitent … I will trouble the court of Rome no longer; let those apply to it who are strong in their iniquities, and after triumphing over justice and leading innocence captive, return in glory for the confusion of the Church." [Note 17]

19.

But in truth the whole course of Christianity from the first, when we come to examine it, is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing, and lingers on in weakness, {355} "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in her body." Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of Truth dim, its adherents scattered. The cause of Christ is ever in its last agony, as though it were but a question of time whether it fails finally this day or another. The Saints are ever all but failing from the earth, and Christ all but coming; and thus the Day of Judgment is literally ever at hand; and it is our duty ever to be looking out for it, not disappointed that we have so often said, "now is the moment," and that at the last, contrary to our expectation, Truth has somewhat rallied. Such is God's will, gathering in His elect, first one and then another, by little and little, in the intervals of sunshine between storm and storm, or snatching them from the surge of evil, even when the waters rage most furiously. Well may prophets cry out, "How long will it be, O Lord, to the end of these wonders?" how long will this mystery proceed? how long will this perishing world be sustained by the feeble lights which struggle for existence in its unhealthy atmosphere? God alone knows the day and the hour when that will at length be, which He is ever threatening; meanwhile, thus much of comfort do we gain from what has been hitherto,—not to despond, not to be dismayed, not to be anxious, at the troubles which encompass us. They have ever been; they ever shall be; they are our portion. "The floods are risen, the floods have lift up their voice, the floods lift up their waves. The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly; but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier."

THE END.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Notes

1. Vid. Hab. iii. 17, 18. [After all then the Church of God is, what Protestants have ever considered it, invisible. Hoc Ithacus velit, et magno mercentur Atridę.]
Return to text

2. [The external unity and independence of the Jewish Church remained from first to last. Even when under secular influences and secular rulers, no one could call it a department of the Roman State or an organ or function of the civil government.]
Return to text

3. Matt. xxv. 25.
Return to text

4. [Baptism marks individuals with an indelible character; but what spiritual promises have been made from heaven to the Anglican Church, as such?]
Return to text

5. [Certainly, if the power has been given them.]
Return to text

6. [Just so; the Jewish Church was a divine building daubed with politics, but the Anglican is a civil establishment daubed with divinity.]
Return to text

7. [The Almighty chose the race of Abraham to be His people, in a sense in which He has not chosen the Anglo-Saxons. We cannot argue from Jerusalem to Canterbury and York. He was pledged to Judah till Shiloh came.]
Return to text

8. [The simple question is, has a local Church any promises made to it, and specially the promise of perpetuity?]
Return to text

9. [It is not a mere question of succession. The Catholic Church is not a mere (spiritual) family or race, the essential idea of which is propagation, but a polity, of which the essential idea is union and subordination, and of which propagation is but the condition and necessity.]
Return to text

10. [No, "the question simply is" whether the Anglican body was not by those proceedings formally separated from the "Sancta per orbem terrarum ecclesia."]
Return to text

11. Vid. Bramhall, Works, pp. 40, 153, 154.
Return to text

12. [Not so, for where is any promise of divine Providence to the Anglican communion, when visibly separated from the visible Catholic Church?]
Return to text

13. Hallam's Middle Ages, chap. vii. Vide passages quoted in Tillotson's Rule of Faith, iii. 7.
Return to text

14. [Of course a rivalry of Pontiffs would have issued in a formal schism, had it continued. But the Divine Promise was pledged that it should not continue, and it never has.]
Return to text

15. Mosheim, vol. iii. p. 328.
Return to text

16. Basil, Ep. 92.
Return to text

17. Ep. D. Thom. ii. 46, v. 20.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright © 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.