Lecture 4. Doctrine of Infallibility Politically Considered

{106} IF the object of Rome be to teach moral Truth in its highest and purest form, like a prophet or philosopher, intent upon it more than upon those whom she addresses, and by the very beauty of holiness, and the unconscious rhetoric of her own earnestness, drawing up souls to her, rather than by any elaborate device, certainly she has failed in that end, as was shown in my last Lecture. But if her one and supreme end is to rule the human mind, if man is the object of her thoughts and efforts, and religion but the means of approaching him, if earth is to be the standard, and heaven the instrument, then we must confess that she is most happy in her religious system. What is low in the scale of moral truth, may be the perfection of worldly wisdom; or rather, principles of action which stand first in the school of rhetoric, or of politics, are necessarily unworthy the ethical teacher. Now the Church of Rome is a political power; and, if she stunts, or distorts the growth of the soul in spiritual excellence, it is because, whether unconsciously or not, she has in view political objects, visible fruits, temporal expediency, the power of influencing the heart, as the supreme aim and scope of her system; because she considers unity, peace, the public confession of the truth, sovereignty, empire, the one practical end for which the Church is formed, the one {107} necessary condition of those other and unknown benefits, whatever these be, which lie beyond it in the next world [Note 1]. I am now to illustrate this peculiarity; and in order that there may be no mistake, I will briefly say what I am to do. I do not attempt to prove that Rome is a political power; so well known a fact may be taken for granted; but I wish to show that those same principles, involved in the doctrine of Infallibility, which distinguish it from our own creed, morally, conduce to that special political character, which also distinguishes it from our own; that, what is morally a disadvantage to it, is a political gain: I mean its neglect of the Fathers, its abstract reasonings, and its attention to system.


Now, first, their political temper is the cause of their treating the Ancient Fathers with the rudeness and recklessness which has been instanced. Rome acts, like men of keen and impetuous minds, in their dealings with the old or infirm; she supersedes them because they are hard of hearing, are slow to answer, are circuitous in their motions, and go their own way to work. The most vigorous and commanding intellects, through the interposing medium of centuries, will pour but a feeble and uncertain ray, compared with their original lustre; and Rome considers it better to supersede them with fresh luminaries, {108} than doubtingly and painfully to use them. Emergencies have occurred, opinions have been circulated, changes have been effected in the Christian Church, which were not contemplated, even in fancy, and can but be indirectly met, by the Fathers;—which, moreover, as creating exceptions to some general rules, and obliterating exceptions to others, have given their writings an interpretation, which they were never intended to bear. Thus while the highest truths remain in those writings immutable, to develope and apply them duly in particulars, is the work of much delicacy, and gives an opening to ingenious perversions of their meaning. Here, then, is a second reason why Roman theologians have been jealous of the Fathers, over and above the weakness of their own cause. They have dreaded the range and complication of materials, when thus made the body of proof, which from the nature of the case might as easily be made a handle for the errors of others, as a touchstone of their own. Bent upon action, not speculation, they are unwilling to allow to heretical sophistry the opportunities of so large a field, and are ready to go great lengths to hinder an evil of which they form a just estimate.


The difficulty in question is ours as well as theirs, but we do not make it a difficulty. We, for our part, have been taught to consider that in its degree faith, as well as conduct, must be guided by probabilities, and that doubt [Note 2] is ever our portion in this life. We can bear to confess that other systems have their unanswerable arguments in matters of detail, and that we are but striking a {109} balance between difficulties existing on both sides; that we are following as the voice of God, what on the whole we have reason to think such. We are not bent (to God be the praise!) on proselytizing, organizing, and ruling as the end of life and the summum bonum of a Christian community, but have brought ourselves to give our testimony "whether men will hear, or whether they will forbear," and then to leave the matter to God. And, while we are keen and firm in action, we would rather be so according to the occasion, and because it is right to be so, than as connecting our separate efforts into one whole, and contemplating ulterior measures. We would rather act as a duty towards God, the Great Author and Object of our faith, than with unclouded [Note 3] and infallible apprehension of the subject-matter which He sets before us; with a vigorous will, creating for ourselves those realities which the external world but faintly adumbrates, but which we know we ought to discern in it.

Those who are thus minded, will be patient under the inconveniences of an historical controversy. Perceiving that on the whole facts point to certain definite conclusions, and not to their contraries, they will adopt those conclusions unhesitatingly; illuminate what, though true, is obscure, by acting upon it; call upon others to do the same; and leave them to God if they refuse. But it will be otherwise with the man of ardent political temper, and of prompt and practical habits, the sagacious and aspiring man of the world, the scrutinizer of the heart, and conspirator against its privileges and rights. Such a one will understand that the multitude requires a strong doctrine; that the argument "it is because it is," a hundred times repeated, has more weight with them than the most delicate, ably connected, and multiplied processes of proof; and that (as is undeniable), investigations into {110} the grounds of our belief, do but blunt and enfeeble the energy of those who are called upon to act. He will feel the truth of this principle of our nature, and instead of acting upon it only so far as Revelation has sanctioned, and dispensing with inquiry within the exact limits in which it is mercifully superseded, he will impatiently complete what he considers to have been left imperfect. He will not be content to take the divine word as it comes to him from above; but he will drug it, as vintners do their wines, to suit the palate of the many. Accordingly, I could almost believe that the advocates of Romanism would easily be reconciled to the loss of all the Fathers (should such a mischance happen), as thinking with a barbarian conqueror, that as far as they agreed with Rome, they were superfluous, and where they disagreed, dangerous. Certainly it would much simplify the theory of their religion to be rid of them. Of course I speak only of hardened controversialists, not of Roman Catholics in general, among whom, I doubt not, are many whose names are written in heaven, minds as high, as pure, and as reverential as any of those old Fathers, whose writings are in question; loyally attached to them, jealous of their honour, in that same noble English spirit, as it may be called, which we have already seen exemplified in Bishop Bull. I am but speaking of the Papist as such, as found on the stage of life, and amid the excitement of controversy, stripped of those better parts of his system, which are our inheritance as well as his; and so contemplating him, surely I may assert without breach of charity, that he would, under circumstances, destroy the Fathers' writings, as he actually does disparage their authority,—just as he consents to cut short dispute by substituting the Vulgate for the original inspired Text, and by lodging the gift of Infallibility in the Pope rather than in a General Council. {111}


The same feeling which leads the Roman disputant to shrink from a fair appeal to the Fathers, however loudly he may profess it in the outset and in general terms, will also cause him to prefer abstract proof to argument from fact. Facts, indeed, are confessedly troublesome, and must be avoided as much as possible, by any one who is bound by his theory to decide as well as dispute, much more if he professes himself infallible. Those who have to command, should either give no reason for their movements, or reasons which cannot successfully be gainsayed. To appeal to facts is to put the controversy out of their own hands, and to lodge the decision with the world at large. If they must argue, they should confine themselves to abstract proofs and to matters of opinion. Abstract arguments are but an expression of their will. Besides, they lie in very little compass, and any one can learn and use them, whether to remind and instruct himself, or in disputation. Not without reason, then, are the proofs of the Romanists such as we actually find them in the controversy,—antecedent inferences from premisses but partially true, or parallels and analogies assumed, or large principles grounded on single instances, or fertile expositions of single texts of Scripture. I will not say that such reasoning is necessarily inconsequential, or unfair. Of several independent meanings, which may be given to the sacred text, each may be separately possible; though one only can be the true one. It does not follow, then, that a certain interpretation is not sound, because neither the wording nor the context force us into it. Principles do often lie hid in single instances, resemblances argue connexion, and abstract truths admit of development. I merely say that such a line of proof whatever it merits, is safe,—is necessary for the Romanist. When Innocent III., {112} for instance, claimed to reign over the kings of the earth, because the sun ruled the day, and the moon the night, his argument might be invalid, but it might also be valid, and could not be confuted. King John, or the Emperor, might refuse to acknowledge it; but it was enough for the Pope that he felt it himself. But on the other hand, had he, in proof of his pretensions, alleged that St. Peter trod upon Nero's neck, he might have still made and enforced them, but he would have unnecessarily subjected himself to an external tribunal. Whether, then, abstract arguments be in the particular case sound or not, at least they are unanswerable, and for that reason are peculiarly necessary for an authority that claims infallibility. But, after all, serviceable as they may be in religious controversy, they are plainly presumptuous, when they depend on nothing beyond themselves. Religion is too serious a subject to be made to rest on our own inferences and examinations, when it can be settled in any other possible way; and especially when it is to be settled authoritatively for others. It is quite allowable indeed, or rather a duty to deduce from Scripture for ourselves, when we have no other guide; but to enforce such deductions upon others is plainly unjustifiable.

The case is different where we have clear authority for such inferences, beyond ourselves. Thus, sanctioned by our Saviour, we may, or rather are bound to discern the doctrine of the Resurrection in God's words to Moses in the bush; and under St. Matthew's guidance we preach the Miraculous Conception from the seventh chapter of Isaiah, whatever becomes of the criticism on the Hebrew word conveying the doctrine. Again, the unanimous tradition of the early Church authorizes us to maintain and enforce the doctrine that Christ is the Son of God, in the sense of His being consubstantial with Him. On the other hand, a man may, indeed, fairly and profitably {113} conclude from the eighth chapter of Genesis that the curse on the earth was reversed after the flood, and yet he is not allowed to consider it a matter of faith. I say this for fear of misconception; and now, for the sake of definiteness, let me illustrate the point in hand,—which I will do from the same general head of doctrine to which I drew attention in my last Lecture, the doctrine of Indulgences.


This doctrine, as drawn out by Bellarmine, will be found to be as gratuitous in its proof, as it is in itself indefensible. Bellarmine begins by arguing, that "there is in the Church a treasure of the satisfactions of Christ and the Saints, which is applicable to those who, after the remission of the guilt in the Sacrament of Penance, are still liable to the payment of temporal punishment." To make this good he lays down certain propositions; first, that "to the good deeds of just men a double value or price is assignable, viz. of merit and of satisfaction." For instance, it would seem that the grace of charity at once recommends us favourably to God, and tends to make up for former offences; and it performs each of these functions distinctly and completely. He quotes Scripture in proof; on the one hand, the text in Tobit iv., "Almsgiving delivers from all sin, and from death," and St. Chrysostom and St. Cyprian to the same effect; and, on the other, our Lord's words, "Receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world, for I was an hungred and ye gave Me meat," &c. And to show that one and the same act may be both expiatory and meritorious, he maintains that good deeds are capable of a twofold quality,—they are painful, and they are fruits of love; considered as fruits of love they are pleasing to God; considered as painful they are a compensation for past sin. Again, he refers to the parallel of fasting and prayer; in a word, of {114} all penitential exercises, which, in St. Cyprian's language, tend not only to gain "pardon for the regenerate, but a crown," to blot out past sin, and to obtain a heavenly reward. The same doctrine might be argued from the instance of Intercession, which does good to others while it is in itself pleasing to Almighty God.

Again, in human affairs the same acts sometimes gain both a return of payment, and a reward. As a soldier gains at once pay and honour by his service, so the Christian Evangelist at once is "worthy of his hire," yet receives "a crown of glory that fadeth not away." Moreover, that the punishment of sin is paid off by measure, he argues from the words of Moses [Deut. xxv. 2.],—"according to his fault, by a certain number" of stripes; whereas reward plainly goes on a distinct principle.


His next proposition is that "a good work, considered as meritorious, cannot be applied to any other than the doer; but can, considered as a satisfaction." The first part of this proposition he almost takes for granted, there being a contradiction in the idea that the excellence and desert of one man should be the excellence of another. The latter part is proved from the nature of a debt, which we all know one person can pay for another.

After laying down, in the third place, that "there is in the Church an infinite and inexhaustible treasure of Satisfactions, from the sufferings of Christ;" he proceeds to maintain "that to this treasure of overflowing satisfactions pertain also the sufferings of the blessed Virgin Mary, and of all other Saints, who have suffered more than their sins" (in a temporal way) "required." He proves it because, the Virgin Mary, having no actual sin, needed no satisfactions for herself, and yet suffered much. {115} The same may be said, in their respective measures, of St. John the Baptist, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Martyrs, and Ascetics.

Having in this way proved the existence of a Treasure of Satisfactions for the temporal punishment of sins, he proceeds after the same method to show that the Church is the dispenser of it to individuals;—but enough, surely, has already been said. He does not attempt to detect the substance of his doctrine in the writings of the Fathers [Note 4].

Thus the practice of abstract reasoning, as well as the neglect of the Fathers, with Rome are measures of political expediency;—the same will be found to be the case as regards the completeness and consistency of its system. It is not only the necessary result, as was observed in the last Lecture, but it is also the main evidence of its Infallibility.


To resume my line of discussion:—Rome claims to be infallible; she dispenses with the Fathers, and relies upon abstract reasoning, because she is infallible; but how does she prove she is so? To speak simply, she does not prove it at all. At least, she does not prove it argumentatively, but she acts upon the assumption, she acts as if she were infallible, and in this way persuades the imaginations {116} of men into a belief of her really being so. Perhaps it may be asked, why her theologians claim for her at all an infallibility, which they cannot prove,—why they are not satisfied she should act as if she possessed it? And it may be urged with some plausibility at first sight, that this actually is the practice of orthodox Protestantism (as it is called), which imposes dogmatic creeds and anathematizes dissentients as unhesitatingly as Rome, and so really exercises an infallibility, while it evades the difficulty of maintaining it in words. As far as this remark is aimed against ourselves, it will be answered in its place; at present let us confine ourselves to the case of Rome. I answer, then, that it is true, nothing is gained to the intellect, rather something is lost by this venturous claim; but much is gained thereby as regards impression, and Rome is content to sacrifice logical completeness to secure practical influence. Men act, not because they are convinced, but because they feel; the doctrine in question appeals to their imagination, not to their intellect. The mind requires an external guide; Protestantism, in its so-called orthodox forms, furnishes one indeed, but is afraid to avow it. Romanism avows it, and that in the most significant and imposing manner. It uses the doctrine of Infallibility as a sort of symbol or strong maxim, bringing home to the mind the fact that the Church is the divinely appointed keeper and teacher of the truth.

This may be illustrated by our Saviour's mode of teaching. He said, "Whoso shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." Now, without daring to limit or impair this sacred precept, or assuming the power of determining what it precisely means, or why it is so worded, so much at first sight is conveyed in the sentence, whatever else is contained in it, a great principle, the duty of meekness expressed typically or emblematically. Our Lord has the prerogative of choosing His own words, {117} and has His own deep scope in them, and an aptness in the very letter; if Rome tries to imitate Him in His mode of speech, it is without His permission or the ability to do so. Yet there seems such attempt in her doctrine of Infallibility; it symbolizes and brings out strongly, as in a figure, the office of the Church as the one appointed teacher, and that, in ages of the Gospel when the prevalence of licence in religious inquiries has called for some forcible protest in behalf of Revelation. It is an effort to stem the tide of unbelief. It scarcely then affects to produce a formal proof of its own truth, being rather a dogma serviceable in practice, though extravagant in theory; as legal fictions, such as "The king can do no wrong," which vividly express some great and necessary principle, yet do not appeal to argumentative proof. Nor does it require any serious argument to recommend such a doctrine to the multitude. The human mind wishes to be rid of doubt in religion; and a teacher who claims infallibility is readily believed on his simple word. We see this constantly exemplified in the case of individual pretenders among ourselves; in the Roman communion it is the Church that professes it. She rids herself of competitors by forestalling them. And probably, in the eyes of her children, this is not the least persuasive argument for her Infallibility, that she alone of all Churches dares claim it; as if a secret instinct and involuntary misgivings restrained those rival communions, which go so far towards affecting it.


Under these circumstances, all that is incumbent on the Church of Rome in proof of her pretensions, is to act out the infallibility which she professes; with the decision and uniformity which such a claim requires. Her consistent carrying out of her assumed principle forms a sufficient {118} argument that she has a right to it. Here, then, that diversified, minute, and finished system of doctrine which I have already spoken of, subserves her political purposes. It is but fulfilling her theory; it is but showing herself to be what she claims to be. Had she the gift of Infallibility, her various judgments, however unpremeditated, would be consistent with each other; she dresses up a theology in hopes that the artificial show of consistency will be taken in evidence of truth. But, besides this, there is something in the very appearance of order and system which spontaneously impresses us with the notion that they are not owing to accidental and foreign causes merely. The regularity of nature, for instance, has led certain philosophers to ascribe it, not to an external design, but to an innate life and reality as its principle; and, in like manner, the orderly system of Rome serves to persuade the imagination of its being but the ever-acting energy of her Infallibility, not a mere theology elaborated out with a studied attempt at completeness and consistency. And hence it happens, that the further her professed revelations are carried, the more minutely she investigates, and the more boldly she decides, the more firmly she takes her stand, and the more peremptory she is in her utterances, so much the more successful are her attempts upon the heart and the imagination of the many. She developes her system till it seems self-supported, each part answering for another, and her very claim, as I have said, guaranteeing her right to make it [Note 5]. Moreover, she has had the address so to complete the revealed notices of truth, as thereby to increase her own influence. It is admitted {119} that some of the most interesting questions to the human mind, as the state of the soul immediately upon death, are left in obscurity by Almighty God. Here Rome comes in and contrives to throw the mind upon the Church, as the means by which its wants may be supplied, and as the object of its faith and hope, and thus makes her the instrument of a double usurpation, as both professing to show how certain objects may be attained, and next presenting herself as the agent in obtaining them.


It would be too large a work to illustrate these remarks adequately from the Roman theology, and it has often been done already. Two or three instances may suffice as a specimen. For example: there is no plenary absolution of sin under the Gospel, such as Baptism is, after Baptism, until the day of Judgment; Romanism adds the doctrines of Penance, Purgatory, and Indulgences. Christ is the Saviour from the eternal consequences of sin; Christ in His Saints is, according to Rome, the Saviour from the temporal [Note 6]. In Baptism His merits are applied; in Indulgences the merits of the Saints. He saves from hell; the Virgin Mary from Purgatory [Note 7]. His Sacrifice on the Cross avails for the sins of the world; His Sacrifice in the Mass for the sins of the Church. Again, there are six precepts of the Church, three counsels, twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost, six sins against the Holy Ghost, seven works of mercy, seven deadly sins, four sins which cry for vengeance, four receptacles of souls departed. There is one {120} Sacrament for infancy, another for childhood, a third as food for mature age, a fourth for spiritual sickness, a fifth for the increase of mankind, a sixth for their government in society, and a seventh for death.

So again, in a work for the direction of Christian doctrine and Purgatorian Societies, we read: "The prayers usually said to gain an indulgence, are 'the Lord's Prayer,' 'Hail Mary,' and 'Glory be to the Father,' repeated five times, in honour of the five most adorable wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whence all grace, merit, and indulgence proceed to our souls and one Pater and Ave for the pious intentions of the sovereign Pontiff and for the wants of the Church." Again: "A plenary Indulgence is granted on the first Sunday of each month to all the faithful of these Dioceses, who approach the Holy Sacraments, visit any of the Parochial Churches, and devoutly pray for the propagation of the Catholic Faith, and for the other pious intentions of the sovereign Pontiff."... "The Indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines (40 days) is granted each time to those who devoutly recite the theological acts of faith, hope, and charity; and if daily recited, a plenary Indulgence once a month, applicable to the souls of the faithful departed, provided they approach the Holy Sacraments of Penance and Communion, and pray for the wants of the Church and pious intentions of the Pope."... "The Indulgence of a hundred days is granted each time the 'Angelus,' or the Angel of the Lord, is said, morning, noon, and evening, and a plenary Indulgence once a month for those who recite it daily, fulfilling the above conditions. Note, to gain this Indulgence it is prescribed to be said kneeling on weekdays, but standing on Sundays and during Paschal time." "The Indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines is granted to the faithful, who practise meditation or mental prayer for half an hour, or at least for a quarter." ... "A plenary Indulgence is granted to the {121} faithful in the hour of death, who have frequently during life invoked the most sacred name of Jesus, and do piously call on Him at that awful hour at least in affection of heart." ... "The Indulgence of 300 days is granted to those who devoutly repeat the three following ejaculations: 'Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I offer you my heart and soul; Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, assist me in my last agony; Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul unto you in peace.'" [Note 8]

I am not condemning the principle itself of so arranging what is divinely given us; it is only when it is applied in excess or without foundation, as it is by the Church of Rome, that it is reprehensible. And, without being able to draw the line between its use and abuse, yet we may clearly see that in her case it actually does subserve her ambitious and secular views, lowering the dignity and perfection of morals, and limiting by defining our duties, in order to indulge human weakness, and to gain influence by indulging it.

Nor do I decide whether such a Theology is calculated to deaden the conscience, and even (as it is sometimes urged) to encourage crime. Much may be said on both sides; it takes from the Roman Catholic the fear of hell [Note 9] altogether, and it gives him the certainty of Purgatory. The question then depends upon another, whether men are more deterred from sinning by the definite prospect of Purgatory any how, or by the vague threat (as most men receive it) of eternal punishment. But so far is certain, that such statements, whether or not they encourage the {122} sinner, lower the idea and standard of moral truth; and, whether or not they avail to comfort the penitent and fearful, at least they arrest attention and gain influence by engaging to do so.


Enough has now been said to show how the completeness and consistency of the Roman system tend to create a belief in its infallibility. This being the case, it is very remarkable, that after all these very characters are wanting to it in some important respects. Not only is the doctrine of Infallibility defective in respect of proof, it is defective even viewed in its theory in two main points; and with a brief reference to these I will bring this Lecture to an end.

Roman theologians, though claiming for the Church the gift of Infallibility, cannot even in theory give an answer to the question how individuals are to know for certain that she is infallible; nor in the next place where the gift resides, supposing it to have been vouchsafed. They neither determine who or what is infallible, or why.

As to the first point, they insist on the necessity of an infallible guide in religious matters as an argument that such a guide has really been accorded. Now it is obvious to inquire how individuals are to know with certainty that Rome is infallible; by which I do not mean, what is the particular ground on which her infallibility rests, but how any ground can be such as to bring home to the mind infallibly that she is infallible,—what conceivable proof amounts to more than a probability of the fact;—and what advantage is an infallible guide, if those who are to be guided have, after all, no more than an opinion, as the Romanists call it, that she is infallible [Note 10]? {123}

They attempt to solve this difficulty by boldly maintaining that Christians do receive such an unerring perception of the whole circle of their doctrines, and that, conveyed through the Sacrament of Baptism. And this is worth noticing, were it but for the instance it affords of their custom of making internal consistency stand in the place of external proof; for to assert that Baptism gives infallible assurance of the infallibility of Rome, is only saying that those who discern it do discern it, though those who do not discern it do not. It is not an argument tending to prove the point in dispute. We know there are individuals among Protestants who consider themselves to be infallibly taught by a divine light, but such a claim is never taken as a proof that they are favoured in the way they suppose. To consider that Baptism gives this infallible discernment of the infallible guide, is to shift the difficulty, not to solve it. And by so considering, not even the consistency of the system is really preserved; for since the professed object of infallibility is to remove doubt and anxiety, how does it practically help a perplexed Romanist, to tell him that his Baptism ought to convey to him an infallible assurance of the external infallibility, when the present sense of his uncertainty evidences to him that in matter of fact it does not? If such inward infallibility be requisite, it were a more simple theory, like enthusiasts, to dispense with the external.


The abstract difficulty, however, is small compared with that attendant on the seat of infallibility claimed by Romanism. Little room as there is in the Roman controversy for novelty or surprise, yet it does raise fresh {124} and fresh amazement, the more we think of it, that Romanists should not have been able to agree among themselves where that infallibility is lodged which is the key-stone of their system. Archbishop Bramhall [Note 11] reckons no less than six distinct opinions on the subject; some Romanists lodging the gift in the Pope speaking ex Cathedrâ, others in the Pope in council of Cardinals, others in the Pope in General or Provincial Council, others in the General Council without the Pope, others in the Church Diffusive, that is, the whole company of believers throughout the world. Bellarmine [Note 12] observes, by way of meeting this difficulty, that all Romanists are agreed on two points; first, that wherever the infallibility lies, at least the Pope in General Council is infallible; next, that even out of General Council when he speaks ex Cathedrâ, he is to be obeyed (for safety's sake, I suppose,) whether really infallible or not. And no English theologian can quarrel with so wise and practical a mode of settling the difficulty; but then let it be observed, that so to settle it is to deviate from the high infallible line which Rome professes to walk upon in religious questions, and to descend to Bishop Butler's level, to be content to proceed not by an unerring rule, but by those probabilities which guide us in the conduct of life [Note 13]. After all, then, the baptismal illumination does not secure the very benefit which occasions Roman theologians to refer to it. They claim for it a power which in truth, according to their own confession, does nothing at all for them.


Nor is this all; granting that infallibility resides in the Pope in Council, yet it is not a matter of faith, that is, it {125} has not been formally determined what Popes have been true Popes; which of the many de facto, or rival Popes, are to be acknowledged; nor again which of the many professed General Councils are really so. A Romanist might at this moment deny the existing Pope to be St. Peter's successor without offending against any article of his Creed [Note 14]. The Gallican Church receives the Councils of Basil and Constance wholly, the Roman Church rejects both in part. The last Council of Lateran condemns the Council of Basil. The Council of Pisa is, according to Bellarmine, neither clearly approved nor clearly rejected. The Acts of other Councils are adulterated without any attempt being made to amend them. Now I repeat, such uncertainty as to the limits of Divine Revelation, is no antecedent objection to the truth of the Roman system; it might be the appointed trial of our faith and earnestness. But it is a great inconsistency in it, being what it is, that is, engaging as it does to furnish us with infallible teaching and to supersede inquiry.

Unless it seemed like presumption to interpret the history of religion by a private rule, one might call the circumstances under consideration even providential. Nothing could be better adapted than it to defeat the counsels of human wisdom, or to show to thoughtful inquirers the hollowness of even the most specious counterfeit of divine truth. The theologians of Rome have been able dexterously to smooth over a thousand inconsistencies, and to array the heterogeneous precedents of a course of centuries in the semblance of design and harmony. But they cannot complete their system in its most important and essential point. They can determine in theory the nature, degree, extent, and object of the infallibility which they claim; they cannot agree among themselves where it resides. As {126} in the building of Babel, the Lord hath confounded their language; and the structure stands half finished, a monument at once of human daring and its failure [Note 15].


But, whether we call it providential or not, except so far as all things are so, it at least serves to expose the pretensions of Romanism. The case stands as follows: Roman theology first professes a common ground with ourselves, a readiness to stand or fall by Antiquity. When we appeal to Antiquity accordingly, it shifts its ground, substituting for Ancient Testimony abstract arguments. If we question its abstract arguments, it falls back on its infallibility. If we ask for the proof of its infallibility, it can but attempt to overpower the imagination by its attempt at system, by the boldness, decision, consistency, and completeness with which it urges and acts upon its claim. Yet in this very system, thus ambitious of completeness, we are able to detect one or two serious flaws in the theory of the very doctrine which that system seems intended to sustain [Note 16].


Such are some of the outlines of the theology by which Rome supersedes the teaching of the early Church. Her excuse, it seems, lies in this, that the Church now has lost the strength and persuasiveness she once had. Unanimity, uniformity, mutual intercourse, strict discipline, the freshness {127} of Tradition, and the reminiscences of the Apostles are no more; and she would fain create by an artificial process what was natural in Antiquity. This is what can be said for her at best; and there is any how, I do not deny, a difficulty existing in the theory of the Church's present authority; though no difficulty of course can excuse the use of fiction and artifice [Note 17]. How we meet the difficulty, comes next into consideration.

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1. [The Catholic Church is by its very structure and mission a political power, by which I mean a visible, substantive body of men, united together by common engagements and laws, and thereby necessarily having relations both towards its members and towards outsiders. Such a polity exists simply for the sake of the Catholic Religion, and as a means to an end; but since politics in their nature are a subject of absorbing interest, it is not wonderful that grave scandals from time to time occur among those who constitute its executive, or legislative, from their being led off from spiritual aims by secular. These scandals hide from the world for a while, and from large classes and various ranks of society, for long intervals, the real sanctity, beauty and persuasiveness of the Church and her children.]
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2. [Here as before, by doubt of a doctrine is meant a recognition of the logical incompleteness of its proof, not a refusal to pronounce it true. Both Catholics and Anglicans doubt more or less in the former sense, neither of them doubt in the latter.]
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3. [Vid. supr. p. 85, note 4.]
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4. That our Lord has left to His Church the power of relaxing the temporal punishments due to sin, is a doctrine plain from Scripture, from the continual practice of the Church, and from the Fathers, and it is enjoined on Catholics as de fide, as being the decision of the infallible Church. But the two other propositions which complete the doctrine are not de fide according to Perrone, though "fidei proximæ;" viz. that Indulgences avail, first, not only as a remission of ecclesiastical penance (i.e. in foro externo), but in the court of heaven (i.e. in foro interno), and secondly, through the merits, i.e. the Satisfactions of our Lord and His Saints. Moreover, by "merits" in the latter proposition it is allowable to understand impetrations. Lupus says, "Sanctorum passiones nonnisi impetrando, seu non nisi de congruo, possunt prodesse."
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5. [It must be granted that systematic order and consistency in teaching are not a proof of the truth of what is taught, but still they form in fact one of those presumptions of truth which go a certain way towards a logical proof; and that argument in its favour the Catholic Church has. Its teaching is like truth, verisimile.]
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6. [This is not conceding to us enough; for the merits of the Saints are only the medium by which the infinite merits of the Redeemer are applied for the relaxation of the temporal punishment, "uti fit per opera justorum in hac vitâ degentium." Perrone, p. 42, note.]
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7. [Not in the same sense as our Lord from hell, i.e. by vicarious suffering, but by prayer as we pray for each other.]
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8. [This repetition of the Pater noster, &c., that is, of formularies simple and familiar to all, will be found, I think, by experience to be practically the best means of securing prayer, and the union of prayer, from masses of men and from individual supplicants. Litanies answer the same purpose.]
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9. [This is not so. One of the topics especially urged in retreats, missions, and books of devotion is the danger of losing the soul. Hell is one of the "Four last things."]
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10. [This is a fallacy. We are certain of the Church's infallibility by means not of a probability, but of an accumulation of probabilities. I am certain that I am in England by physical sense and common sense, not because I am infallible. Else, we must all be exercising a supernatural gift every hour of our lives.]
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11. Works, p. 39. Vide Leslie, iii. p. 396.
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12. De Rom. Pont. iv. 2.
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13. [Of course we go by probabilities, viz. note, p. 122 [note 10 above—NR]. Probabilities in the evidence create certitude in the conclusion, vid. supr. p. 88, notes 3, 6 [notes 12 and 14—NR].]
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14. [Not so, it is as certain as that our Lord suffered under Pontius Pilate.]
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15. [All these objections are superseded by the late definition of the Vatican Council lodging the gift of infallibility in faith and morals in the Pope.]
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16. [Not so: 1. Catholic controversialists only partially appeal to Antiquity. 2. To interpret it they appeal to the principle of doctrinal development and to immemorial usage and belief and continuous tradition; 3. they introduce abstract arguments in confirmation; 4. they preach and insist on the Church's infallibility, not as an argument in disputing with Protestants, but as a decisive answer to the questionings of her own children.]
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17. [A word perhaps is necessary upon the animus and tenor of the third and fourth Lectures. Every one has a right to his own opinion, but a man must have some special excuse for himself, who takes upon himself to make public charges of ambition, cruelty, craft, superstition, and false doctrine against a great Church. The author thought he had such a justification for his so doing in these Lectures. He was saying, not only what he believed to be simply true, but what was in no sense new; what all Englishmen, not Catholics, felt and took for granted. Such a serious indictment against Rome was the only defence of the Reformation, a movement which was a heinous sin, if it was not an imperative duty. Especially he was only repeating the words of all the great ecclesiastical writers of his communion, who had one and all been stern and fierce with the Church of Rome as an obligation and a necessity. There was no responsibility in his saying what they had said before him. He says in his Apologia, "Not only did I think such language necessary for my Church's religious position, but I recollected that all the great Anglican divines had thought so before me. I had not used strong language simply out of my own head, but in doing so I was following the track, or rather, reproducing the teaching, of those who had preceded me." p. 202.]
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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