Lecture 8. The Indefectibility of the Church Catholic

{189} SO much on the subject of Private Judgment in matters of Faith which, when legitimately exercised, may hold its own against the claims of Church authority, for the two do not, in principle, interfere with each other. The Church enforces, on her own responsibility, what is an historical fact, and ascertainable as other facts, and obvious to the intelligence of inquirers, as other facts; viz., the doctrine of the Apostles; and Private Judgment has as little exercise here as in any matters of sense or experience. It may as well claim a right of denying that the Apostles existed, or that the Bible exists, as that that doctrine existed and exists [Note 1]. We are not free to sit at home and speculate about everything; there are things which we look at, or ask about, if we are to know them. Some things are matters of opinion, others of inquiry. The simple question is, whether the Church's doctrine is Apostolic, and how far Apostolic. Now if we could agree in our answer, from examining Scripture, as we one and all agree about the general events of life, it would be well; but since we do not, we must have recourse to such sources as will enable us to agree, if there be such; and such, I would contend, is Ecclesiastical Antiquity. There is, {190} then, no intricacy and discordance in the respective claims of the Church and Private Judgment in the abstract. The Church enforces a fact, Apostolical Tradition, as the doctrinal key to Scripture; and Private Judgment expatiates beyond the limits of that Tradition [Note 2];—each acts in its own province, and is responsible within it.

I have said the Church's Authority in enforcing doctrine extends only so far as that doctrine is Apostolic, and therefore true; and that the evidence of its being Apostolic, is in kind the same as that on which we believe the Apostles lived, laboured, and suffered. But this leads to a further and higher view of the subject, to which I shall devote the present Lecture.


Not only is the Church Catholic bound to teach the Truth, but she is ever divinely guided to teach it; her witness of the Christian Faith is a matter of promise as well as of duty; her discernment of it is secured by a heavenly as well as by a human rule. She is indefectible in it, and therefore not only has authority to enforce, but is of authority in declaring it. This, it is obvious, is a much more inspiring contemplation than any I have hitherto mentioned. The Church not only transmits the faith by human means, but has a supernatural gift [Note 3] for that purpose; that doctrine, which is true, considered as an historical fact, is true also because she teaches it.

In illustration of this subject I shall first refer to two passages in our received formularies. {191}


First; in the 20th Article we are told that the Church has "authority in controversies of faith." Now these words certainly do not merely mean that she has authority to enforce such doctrines as can historically be proved to be Apostolical. They do not speak of her power of enforcing truth, or of her power of enforcing at all, but say that she has "authority in controversies;" whereas, if this authority depended on the mere knowledge of an historical fact, and much more, if only on her persuasion in a matter of opinion, any individual of competent information has the same in his place and degree. The Church has, according to this Article, a power which individuals have not; a power not merely as the ruling principle of a society, to admit and reject members, not simply a power of imposing tests, but simply "authority in controversies of faith." But how can she have this authority unless she be so far certainly true in her declarations? She can have no authority in declaring a lie. Matters of doctrine are not like matters of usage or custom, founded on expedience, and determinable by discretion. They appeal to the conscience, and the conscience is subject to Truth alone. It recognizes and follows nothing but what comes to it with the profession of Truth. To say the Church has authority, and yet is not true, as far as she has authority, were to destroy liberty of conscience, which Protestantism in all its forms holds especially sacred; it were to substitute something besides Truth as the sovereign lord of conscience, which would be tyranny. If this Protestant principle is not surrendered in the Article, which no one supposes it to be, the Church is to a certain point there set forth as the organ or representative of Truth, and its teaching is identified with it. {192}


Our reception of the Athanasian Creed is another proof of our holding the infallibility of the Church, as some of our Divines express it, in matters of saving faith. In that Creed it is unhesitatingly said, that certain doctrines are necessary to be believed in order to salvation; they are minutely and precisely described; no room is left for Private Judgment; none for any examination into Scripture, with the view of discovering them. Next, if we inquire the ground of this authority in the Church, the Creed answers, that she speaks merely as the organ of the Catholic voice, and that the faith thus witnessed, is, as being thus witnessed, such, that whoso does not believe it faithfully, cannot be saved. "Catholic," then, and "saving" are taken as synonymous terms; in other words, the Church Catholic is pronounced to have been all along, and by implication as destined ever to be, the guardian of the pure and undefiled faith, or to be indefectible in that faith.


If it be inquired whether such a doctrine does not trench upon the prerogative of Scripture, as containing all things necessary to salvation, I answer, that it cannot; for else, one portion of our formularies would be inconsistent with another. And, in truth, there is obviously no inconsistency whatever in saying, first, that Scripture contains the Saving Faith; and, next, that the Church Catholic has, by a Divine gift, ever preached it; though, doubtless, it would be inconsistent to say, first, that the Church Catholic has ever preached the Saving Faith; next, that each individual is allowed to draw his Faith for himself from Scripture; but this our formularies do not say.

We do not, therefore, set up the Church against Scripture, but we make her the keeper and interpreter of {193} Scripture. And Scripture itself contains what may be called her charter to be such.


Out of various texts, bearing more or less on the subject, I select the following:—

"The Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the Truth."—"He gave some Apostles, and some Prophets, and some Evangelists, and some Pastors and Teachers, for the perfecting of the Saints, for the work of the Ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the Faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, in order that we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine." Again, "As for Me, this is My covenant with them, saith the Lord, My Spirit that is upon thee, and My words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever." [Note 4]

In these passages, let it be observed, the Church is declared to be the great and special support of the Truth, her various functionaries are said to be means towards the settlement of diversities and of uncertainty of doctrine, and securing unity of faith; and a direct promise is vouchsafed to her that the word of Truth committed to her shall never be lost, and that, in consequence of the ever-present care and guidance of the Holy Ghost. How these passages are understood by Protestant sectaries, I know not; how, for instance, the first cited is understood at all, by those who deny a visible Church. On the other hand, if only a visible Church can be a stay and maintenance of the {194} Truth, and if therefore a visible Church is spoken of in this passage, let us reflect how high an office, how august and magnificent a privilege is there assigned her. Was not St. Paul speaking of a something existing in his day? Does not what he then spoke of still exist in the same sense in which the children of Israel, who were once called out of Egypt, now exist? and would it not be just as extravagant to say that the threatenings uttered against Israel by Moses, were not fulfilled in the Israel we see, as to deny that the promises made to the Church Catholic in Scripture, are not also fulfilled in the Church we see? But, if so, the Spirit of Almighty God is expressly pledged to her for the maintenance of the One Faith, from generation to generation, even to the end!


Such is the doctrine of our most considerable Divines, and such the grounds of it, whether in Scripture or in our formularies; but here we encounter a difficulty. Romanists and Protestant sectaries combine in resisting our interpretation of the foregoing texts. Both parties agree as far as this, that such passages either mean a great deal more than we make of them, or nothing at all. The Protestant of the day considers them to mean nothing; the Romanist sees in them the doctrine of the Church's abiding and continuous Infallibility: but both parties unite in charging us with taking up an interpretation on no principle; with stopping where we stop without meaning; with adopting a middle, timid path; with receiving the promises only so far as we dare, and are constrained; confessing them when we are pressed by argument, and retracting our confession when the need is over; committing ourselves to all the odium of the Roman view, without what even its enemies own to be its redeeming points; being arrogant without pretension, and ambitious without {195} aim. Accordingly they call upon us to retreat, or, since we have gone so far, to go further. The Protestant sectary alleges that we differ from the Romanist only in minute and unintelligible points; the Romanist retorts, on the other hand, that in heart we are Protestants, but in controversy are obliged by our theory to profess a devotion while we evade an obedience to the teaching of Antiquity. Such is the position of the Via Media.


We are accused, it seems, of drawing fine, and over-subtle distinctions; as if, like the Semi-arians of old, we were neither on the one side nor the other. The following remarks on the general subject of the promises made to the Church Catholic, are made with the hope of showing that our distinctive peculiarities are not matters of words and names, but are realities.

The texts above quoted are considered by Roman theologians to prove the Infallibility of the Church in all matters of faith, and general morals. They certainly will bear so to be interpreted, it cannot be denied: and if this be so, why, it may be asked, are they not so interpreted by us? I answer by referring to the parallel of the Mosaic Law. God's favour was promised to the Israelites for ever, but has been withdrawn from them. Has God's promise, therefore, failed? or, rather, was it not forfeited by neglect on the part of His people, to perform the conditions on which it was granted? Surely we so account for the rejection and ruin of the nation when Christ came. Even supposing, then, for argument's sake, that the promises to the Christian Church be in themselves as ample as the Romanist pretend, perhaps they have been since forfeited, or suspended in their measure, by our disobedience [Note 5]. I will explain what I mean. {196}


We Anglo-Catholics say, that the Christian Church will ever retain what is called in Scripture "the Faith," the substance or great outlines of the Gospel as taught by the Apostles, (whatever they are,—which is not the question at present,) and that, in consequence of the Scripture promise that the word of God shall never depart out of her mouth. Roman Catholics say that she is pure and spotless in all matters great and small, that she can never decide wrongly on any point of faith and morals, but in every age possesses and teaches explicitly, or implicitly, the whole truth as it was held by St. Paul or St. John, in spite of all deficiencies in written documents or errors in particular writers and periods. Now, I do not see any antecedent reason why such a fulfilment of the prophecy should not have been intended, though it has not taken place. It is more reasonable indeed, and more modest, in the first instance to put only a general sense upon the words of the promise, and to view it rather in its great outlines than in detail; yet there is nothing in Scripture or elsewhere to limit it,—there is no rule assignable for determining how much it means and what it cannot mean. So solemn are the promises made to the Church, so ample is the grace pledged to her for their fulfilment, so intelligible are the human provisions appointed in co-operation, that there surely is no antecedent reason why Almighty God should not have designed to bestow on the Church that perfect purity which the Roman School claims for her. All through the inspired history, we have traces of divine intentions mysteriously frustrated. It was purposed that the Jewish people should receive, preach and dispense the Gospel; it was not fulfilled. It was announced beforehand to the Christian Church, that "her people should be all righteous," whereas iniquity has {197} abounded. "The wolf was to dwell with the lamb, and the leopard to lie down with the kid;" and there have been endless wars and fightings. God's promises depend on man's co-operation for their fulfilment in detail; and though they are ever fulfilled in such measure as to satisfy the formal wording of them, they have a large or a small extent of blessing; they expand or contract, according to our reception of them, and often admit of a meaning which the event does not sanction.

The promise that the word of truth should not depart out of the mouth of the Church, is satisfied in what we see fulfilled at this day, viz. in the whole Church in all its branches having ever maintained the faith in its essential outlines; nay, it might be satisfied even in a scantier fulfilment. Less, I say, might be enough; but, supposing it, still perhaps the promise may have originally meant more than what the letter absolutely requires, viz. as much as has actually been fulfilled; and, if so, perhaps even more than that. God's thoughts are deeper than human words; they cannot be exhausted. The more you ask, the higher you aim, the more faithfully you expect, the more diligently you co-operate, the fuller return you obtain. The man of God was angry with Joash, king of Israel, for smiting on the ground but thrice, and then staying; and he said, "Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times, then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it; whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice." [2 Kings xiii. 19.]. If the Christian Church was intended to come on earth in the power and spirit of Christ Himself, her Lord and Defender, if she was to manifest Him mystically before the eyes and in the souls of men who is on the right hand of God, if her glory was to be like that of heaven, though invisible, her reign eternal, and her kingdom universal, if she was destined to compel {198} the nations with an irresistible sway, smiting and withering them if rebellious, though not with earthly weapons, and shedding upon the obedient overflowing peace, and the holiest and purest blessings, it is not extravagant to suppose that she was also destined to an authoritative, manifold ministry of the word such as has never been realized. And that these prospects have been disappointed, may be owing, as in the case of the Jews, to the misconduct of her members. They may have forfeited for her in a measure her original privileges.


Nay, the parallel of Judaism is a positive argument in favour of such a supposition; for surely, with the history of Israel before us, and the actual recorded sins of the Christian Church, we may pronounce it improbable that those sins have forfeited nothing at all, that they have not influenced her subsequent fortunes, or impaired her invisible, as they undeniably have curtailed her visible powers. Any one who maintains that the Church is all that Christ intended her to be, has the analogy of Judaism full against him. As well may we imagine it was God's intention that the temple should be burned and the Jews should go into captivity, as that Christendom should be what we see it is at this day. Nor will it avail to argue, that of knowledge at least there was a gradual increase in the Jewish Church, not a diminution, as time went on, so that the parallel does not hold in the point for which I bring it; for this increase was by means of fresh revelations, which God imparted rather in spite of the existing Church, and against it, than through it; by the mouth of the Prophets, not of the Priests. And moreover, these successive revelations were in their turn forgotten in course of time, or withdrawn in consequence of the people's sins. By the time of Josiah the book of the Law was {199} lost; by the time of Christ's coming the Evangelical prophecies had been overlaid with Pharisaical Traditions.


I have said, that arguing from the history of Judaism, it is not improbable antecedently, rather the reverse, that the Christian Church has forfeited a portion of the promises; but we shall find, I think, in the New Testament that the promises made to her actually did depend more or less upon a condition which now for many centuries she has broken. This condition is Unity [Note 6], which is made by Christ and His Apostles, as it were, the sacramental channel through which all the gifts of the Spirit, and among them purity of doctrine, are secured to the Church. It is not necessary to do more than touch upon the abundant evidence which the New Testament furnishes on this subject. Unity may be called the especial badge of Christ's disciples and the tenure of their privileges. "By this," He says, "shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." Again, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." He prays for His Apostles, and through them for all believers, "that they may be One," as He is in His Father; or, as His own words stand, "that they all may be One, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be One in Us ... The glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them, that they may be One, even as We are One, I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in One, that the world may know that Thou has sent Me." In these words, a visible unity, a unity such as the world could recognize, whatever depths it has besides, is made the token, or the condition, as we view it, of that glory in which the Church was to be clad. {200}

Again: consider the following passages from St. Paul's Epistles. It will be found that the grace of the two Sacraments, the faith of the Gospel, the renewal of the heart, all the privileges given us, are there represented as in connexion with unity; whether as cause, or as effect, or collaterally, matters not to our present purpose. "By One Spirit are we all baptized into One Body; ... and have been all made to drink into One Spirit." "There is One Body, One Spirit, One Faith." "Stand fast in One Spirit, with one mind striving together for the Faith of the Gospel." "Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ ... ye are all One in Christ Jesus." "Ye have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of Him that created him; where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness; and let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in One Body."


Surely these passages of Scripture express most strongly the dependence, nay, considering our Lord's words, the essential dependence of the privileges of the Gospel upon a visible as well as a moral unity. The one image of Christ, the seal of the covenant, which must be impressed on all who would be saved, is then only stamped upon His disciples when they are brought together or viewed in one; {201} and by their separation and discord, it is broken asunder. The instances recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, do but corroborate this doctrine. The Holy Ghost originally descended, when the Apostles "were all with one accord in one place;" and, on another occasion, when "they lifted up their voice to God with one accord," "the place was shaken where they were assembled together, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and spake the word of God with boldness." In like manner, in their synodical letter to the Churches, they speak of its "seeming good to the Holy Ghost and to them," after they were "assembled with one accord." [Acts ii. 1; iv. 24-31; xv. 25, 28.]

And the very passages in the Prophets which have led to these remarks, tend to the same conclusion. The promises therein contained are made to the Church as One, not to two, or three, or a dozen bodies; and here we may make use of the very argument commonly argued by Roman controversialists against us. They ask triumphantly, "which is the One true and Infallible Church?" implying that if Scripture names but one, it must be theirs; but we may answer that, since the Church is now not one [Note 7], it is not infallible; since the one has become in one sense many, the full prophetical idea is not now fulfilled; and, with the idea also is lost the full endowment and the attribute of Infallibility in particular, supposing that were ever included in it.


This then is the conclusion we arrive at; that the Church Catholic, being no longer one in the fullest sense, does not enjoy her predicted privileges in the fullest sense. And that soundness of doctrine is one of the privileges thus infringed, is plain from the simple fact that the separate {202} branches of the Church do disagree with each other in the details of faith; discordance in teaching, which once was not, among witnesses of the truth, being the visible proof of that truth being impaired, as well as the breach of the condition guaranteeing it. Further it may be remarked, that since the duty of unity admits of fuller or scantier fulfilment [Note 8], it does not follow, though it has been broken in its highest sense, that therefore it is altogether lost, and its privileges with it; or again, that it would be lost in the same sense by every kind of infringement, or is actually lost in the same degree in every place. The meeting of "two or three" private men in Christ's name, is one kind of fulfilment, and in default of higher opportunities, may be attended under any circumstances with a portion of divine blessing. Again, the unity of the Ministerial Succession may be the tenure on which the sacred mysteries of faith are continued to us, as seems probable both from the history of the Church, and from the circumstance that both to that Ministry and to that fundamental Faith continuance is promised to the end of the world. Higher measures of truth may be attached to a unity of jurisdiction and external order; while the highest of all, amounting to a continual Infallibility, were it ever intended, might require the presence of a superhuman charity and peace, such as has never been witnessed since the time when the disciples "continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers," and "had all things common, selling their possessions and goods, and parting them to all men, as every man had need, and continued daily with one accord in the temple," and ate their food "with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people." [Acts ii. 42-47.] {203}


If this view of the subject be in the main correct, it would follow that the Ancient Church will be our model in all matters of doctrine, till it broke up into portions, and for Catholic agreement substituted peculiar and local opinions; but that since that time the Church has possessed no fuller measure of the truth than we see it has at this day, viz. merely the fundamental faith [Note 9]. And such appears to be the principle adopted by our own writers, in their disputes concerning those points in the superstructure of faith in which our Church differs from her sisters elsewhere. They refer to those times when the Church spoke but one language; they refer to Antiquity, as the period when all Christians agreed together in faith. And thus we shall be able to answer the question commonly put to us by our Roman opponents concerning the date of their corruptions. They consider it fair to call upon us to show when it was that their doctrines, supposing them errors, were introduced, as if the impossibility of our doing this accurately, would be a proof that they were not introductions. They challenge us to draw the line between the pure and corrupt ages of the Church; and, when we reply discordantly, they triumph in what they consider a virtual refutation of our charge. They argue that what betrays no signs in history of being introduced was never introduced, but is part of the original Gospel; and when we object the silence of Antiquity as to any recognition of the Roman system, they retort upon us what they allege to be a similar silence in history concerning its rise. Now, let us apply to this argument the foregoing considerations on the subject {204} of unity. Are not Christians for certain divided now, as Romanists themselves will be the first to acknowledge? then must there have been a time when they began to be divided; even though the year and the day cannot be pointed out, and we differ one with another in determining it. Now it is upon this very fact of the schism that I ground the corruption of doctrine; the one has taken place when and so far as the other has taken place, though the history of both the one and the other be unknown. If asked, then, for the point of time when Christian truth began to be impaired, I leave it for our opponents to answer, when it was that Christian unity began to be compromised. We are not bound to assign it. It is a question of degree and place, not to mention the imperfection of historical documents. Who can trace the formal acts of schism running through the whole Church, and combining, as the jarrings in some material body, to split it into fragments? Let us then clearly understand what is meant by the question they ask us. We disclaim the notion that there was any one point of time, at which the Church suddenly sank into the gulf of error; we do not say she ever so sank as not to be in a truer sense not sunken; and we think it mere trifling for them to insist upon our pointing out the very first rise or the popular introduction of the doctrines we condemn. Once grant there are intrinsic grounds for suspecting those doctrines, and this is a pure historical question; and, if unanswered, is but an historical obscurity, not a theological difficulty. It is enough if we do here, just so much as we are able to do in respect to the divisions of the Church, when we assign the formal and public acts of schism and their age and place. To quarrel with us because we do no more, nay, or because we differ among ourselves in a question of dates, is as preposterous as it would be to object to the received interpretation of Jeremiah's prophecy of the seventy years because {205} three separate commencements may be assigned to the period, or deny that Daniel's of the seventy weeks was fulfilled in Christ's coming, on account of the difficulties which attend its nice adjustment in detail.


Until, then, Roman Catholics maintain that their Church has not quarrelled with others, as well as kept the faith incorrupt, they gain no triumph in proving differences among our Divines in what is merely a point of history. Till they maintain their Church's Infallibility as regards matters of fact, they may well bear with individuals among us who differ one from another in a question of dates. For it is little more than this; since the greater number of our writers, whether they say the Church's faith was first impaired at the end of the fourth century, or in the eighth, still agree in the principle of appealing to those ages which they respectively consider to lie within the period of peace and union; and when they seem to differ they are often but speaking of different stages of the long history of error, of its first beginnings, or its establishment, or the public protests against it,—of the earlier time, when truth was universally maintained, or of the later, when errors were universal.

Thus, Bishop Ken, for instance, takes in the whole tract of centuries, up to the disunion of the East and West, that is nearly 800 years. Bishop Van Mildert says nearly the same, expressing his belief that "until the great schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, and the full establishment of the Papal usurpation," the Fathers kept before them the duty of contending for the faith and guarding it against heretical innovations [Note 10]. Archbishop Bramhall names 600 years, that is, up to Pope Gregory's mission to England. Bishop Jewell, again, challenges the {206} Romanists to adduce authority from the first six centuries, for certain points in their faith and worship which he specifies. Bishops Hall and Cosin adopt the same period [Note 11]. The directions given to the Bishops from the Lords of the Council in the year 1582, with a view to their disputations with Jesuits and seminary Priests, observe the same rule, enjoining them, if the latter "shall show any grounds of Scripture and wrest it to their sense," to call for "the interpretation of the old Doctors, such as were before Gregory I., for that in his time began the first claim of the supremacy by the Patriarch of Constantinople, and shortly after was usurped by the Bishop of Rome." [Note 12] Hammond and Stillingfleet are willing to stand by the first six General Councils, which lie between 325 to 680 [Note 13]. The act of the first year of Elizabeth especially names the first four (A.D. 325-451), not however to the exclusion of the fifth and sixth, for which and for others it expressly leaves an opening, but from the great importance of those former Councils, which Pope Gregory, though living after the fifth, compares in their own department to the four Gospels. In like manner four or five centuries are named by other of our writers, not as rejecting thereby a more extended space, but from the notion that, in granting so much, a field of controversy was opened as large as Romanists could desire. And I suppose the latter would allow, that if the age of true Catholicism be extended by us as far as the end of the fourth century, they would gain little in controversy by the addition of the fifth or sixth. If the voluminous remains of that period, including the works of Ambrose, Austin, Jerome, Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory Nyssen, Gregory Nazianzen, Athanasius, and Cyril of Jerusalem, will not afford a standard of Catholic doctrine, there seems little profit to be gained from Antiquity at all. Thus Archbishops {207}Laud [Note 14], and Usher by implication [Note 15], specify "four or five hundred years;" while Bishop Stillingfleet [Note 16], still proceeding by the test of unity as already explained, dates the rise of the schism, and therefore, as it would seem, of corruption, from the Councils of Constantinople or Chalcedon, that is, he places it between A.D. 381 and 451. And in like manner, Waterland specifies the three or four first centuries [Note 17]; and Beveridge also [Note 18].


Such is the agreement in principle, such the immaterial disagreement of our Divines, in determining the limit of that period to which we give the name of Antiquity [Note 19]. The principle is clear, the fact obscure. Different Judgments may be formed of the date when the East and West fell into schism, but that "love is the bond of perfectness" will be admitted on all hands. Thus much is plain, that the termination of the period of purity cannot be fixed much earlier than the Council of Sardica, A.D. 347, which an historian of the next century names as the commencement of the division [Note 20], nor so late as the second Nicene or seventh General Council, which was held A.D. 787. Indeed this latter Council bears upon it various marks of error, as if to draw our attention to its want of authority. It was the Council which decreed the worship of images; but this I do not here assume to be a corruption, that being the point in dispute between ourselves and the Romanists. But that, independent of doctrinal considerations, it has no pretensions to authority, is plain, from the fact, that it was {208} the meeting, not of the whole Church, but of a mere party in it, which in no sense really represented the Catholic world. Thirty years before, nearly as many Bishops as then assembled, had condemned in Council the usage which it enforced. Seven years after it, three hundred assembled in Council at Frankfort, and protested against its decision, which was not fully acknowledged in the West for five or six hundred years afterwards [Note 21]. Moreover this same Council has upon it other characteristics, in which it has also been a precedent for the after innovations of Rome. It was the first General Council which professed to ground its decrees, not on Scripture sanction, but mainly on Tradition; and it was the first which framed as an article of faith, what, whether true or false, was besides and beyond the articles of the Apostles' Creed [Note 22]. So closely did grievous mistakes, as they will hereafter be shown to be, in ecclesiastical principles, follow on the breach of Catholic unity. Without then urging against it, its decree in favour of image worship, which is the error which especially attaches to it, here are two separate violations of principle incurred in its proceedings. A point of doctrine is made necessary to salvation,—on the one hand without Scripture warrant,—on the other, beyond the Articles of the Creed. Lastly, it may be remarked, that in the course of the controversy about Images, the Popes disowned the authority of the Emperor, and thus involved themselves in {209}a distinct sin, which led the way to many of those peculiarities by which their monarchical rule was afterwards distinguished.


But whenever the fatal deed took place, it is long done and past, and its effects live to this day. Century after century the Church Catholic has become more and more disunited, discordant, and corrupt. Under these circumstances it is a great privilege to know that certain promises are irrevocably made to her, as being made on the simple condition of her existence: that the Apostolical ministry is to continue, and the presence of Christ in that ministry, "even unto the end of the world." And what is promised to Apostolic ordinances, we trust is promised as it has hitherto been granted, to the Apostolic faith also. That original Creed, which St. Paul committed to Timothy, and the first ages considered as the fundamental faith, still remains to us, and to all Christians all over the world; the gates of hell have not prevailed against it. Whatever might formerly have been possessed besides of a strictly traditionary nature; whatever of rich, but unsorted and uncatalogued treasures; whatever too sacred, or too subtle to record in words, whether comments on Scripture, or principles of interpreting it, or Apostolic usages; still at least we have the essentials of faith: and that we have as much as this, considering the numberless hazards to which it has been exposed, is at once a most gracious and a most marvellous appointment of Divine Providence. To the enemies of the Church it is a sign which they "are not able to gainsay nor resist;" and to us an encouragement that, in what we do for her sake, her Maker and Saviour will be with us.


On this subject I am led to quote an impressive passage {210} from the Bampton Lectures of Bishop Van Mildert, who enforces the main principle under consideration, though treating it more as a fact than as a doctrine.

"If a candid investigation," he says, "be made of the points generally agreed upon by the Church Universal, it will probably be found, that at no period of its history has any fundamental or essential truth of the Gospel been authoritatively disowned. Particular Churches may have added many superstitious observances and many erroneous tenets, to these essential truths; and in every Church, particular individuals, or congregations of individuals, may have tainted large portions of the Christian community with pestilential heresies. But as far as the Church Catholic can be deemed responsible, the substance of sound doctrine still remains undestroyed, at least, if not unimpaired. Let us take, for instance, those articles of faith which have already been shown to be essential to the Christian Covenant—the Doctrines of the Trinity, of our Lord's Divinity and Incarnation, of His Atonement and Intercession, of our Sanctification by the Holy Spirit, of the terms of acceptance, and the Ordinances of the Christian Sacraments and Priesthood. At what period of the Church have these doctrines, or either of them, been by any public act disowned or called in question? We are speaking now, it will be recollected, of what in the language of Ecclesiastical History, is emphatically called THE CHURCH; that, which has from age to age borne rule, upon the ground of its pretensions to Apostolical Succession. And to this our inquiry is necessarily restricted … But view now, on the other hand, the labours of those who endeavoured to subvert any of these fundamental truths. Observe the parties with whom they originated, and the estimation in which they were holden. No age of the Church has ever been entirely free from attempts to spread pernicious errors. Yet at what period have they {211} ever received its authoritative sanction? Did the Church in primitive times yield one iota of essential doctrine to the Gnostic Heretics? Did it afterwards adopt either the Sabellian, the Arian, or the Macedonian tenets? Did the wild enthusiasm of Manes, or Montanus, and their followers, in any respect influence its Creed? And in later times, when and where have the Socinian notions been recognized as of any legitimate authority? Or, what proof can even the disciples of Calvin produce, that his doctrine of arbitrary and irrespective decrees was ever the received persuasion of the Catholic Church? To say nothing of the multitude of lesser divisions of religious opinion, or of those ephemeral productions, of each of which, as of their authors, it might be said, 'in the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up, in the evening it is cut down and withereth.' Surely here is something to arrest reflection; something which they who sincerely profess Christianity, and are tenacious of the inviolability of its doctrines, must contemplate with sentiments of awe and veneration … How have they withstood the assaults of continued opponents; opponents, wanting neither talents nor inclination to effect their overthrow? If these considerations be deemed insufficient, let the adversary point out by what sure tokens we shall discover any Christian community, duly answering the Apostle's description, that it is 'built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Corner-Stone'?" [Note 23]


I have said enough, I hope, in the course of this Lecture, by way of distinguishing between our own and the Roman theology, and of showing that neither our concessions to its advocates are reluctantly made, nor our {212} differences subtle and nugatory, as is objected to us by opponents. Whether we be right or wrong, our theory of religion has a meaning, and that really distinct from the Roman theory. Both we and Roman Catholics hold that the Church Catholic is unerring in its declarations of faith, or saving doctrine; but we differ from each other as to what is the faith, and what is the Church Catholic. They maintain that faith depends on the Church, we that the Church is built on the faith. By Church Catholic we mean the Church Universal, as descended from the Apostles; they those branches of it which are in communion with Rome. They consider the see of St. Peter, to have a promise of permanence, we the Church Catholic and Apostolic. Again, they understand by the Faith, whatever the Church at any time declares to be faith; we what it has actually so declared from the beginning. We hold that the Church Catholic will never depart from those outlines of doctrine which the Apostles formally published; they that she will never depart in any of her acts from that entire system, written and oral, public and private, explicit and implicit, which the Apostles received and taught; we that she has a gift of fidelity, they of discrimination.

Again, both they and we anathematize those who deny the Faith; but they extend the condemnation to all who question any decree of the Roman Church; we apply it to those only who deny any article of the original Apostolic Creed. The creed of Rome is ever subject to increase; ours is fixed once for all. We confine our anathema to the Athanasian Creed; they extend it to Pope Pius's. They cut themselves off from the rest of Christendom; we cut ourselves off from no branch, not even from themselves. We are at peace with Rome as regards the essentials of faith; but she tolerates us as little as she tolerates any sect or heresy. We admit her Baptism and her Orders; her {213} custom is to re-baptize [Note 24] and re-ordain our members who chance to join her.


These distinctions are sufficient for my present purpose, though they are only a few out of various differences which might be pointed out. They are surely portions of a real view [Note 25], which, while it relieves the mind of those burdens and perplexities which are the portion of the mere Protestant, is essentially distinct from Roman teaching. Some further differences will be considered in my next Lecture.

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1. [The difficulty for Anglicans is to draw the line, and to determine how much of the Roman doctrine is in Antiquity and how much not.]
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2. [But supposing Private Judgment exercises itself on the documents of Antiquity, and comes to conclusions as to facts different from those which Church authority imposes?]
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3. [This "supernatural gift" then must put a stop to the lively action of Private Judgment, and contradicts the doctrine, p. 189, that "Private Judgment and Church Authority do not in principle interfere with each other."]
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4. l Tim. iii. 15. Eph. iv. 11-14. Isa. lix. 21; vide also xxx. 20, 21.
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5. Leslie, Works, vol. iii. p. 25-28.
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6. In Cathedrā unitatis doctrinam posuit veritatis. August. Ep. 105, p. 303.
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7. [Then there is no one visible Church. Church is an abstract word, not signifying one body. Anglicans, like Independents, should talk of "the Churches."]
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8. [Visible unity surely does not admit of degrees. Christians are either one polity or they are not. We cannot talk of a little unity.]
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9. [This implies that by a happy coincidence, a providential disposition, the great quarrels and divisions of the Christian body did not take place till just upon the date of the complete enunciation by the Church of all the "fundamentals" of faith.]
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10. Bampt. Lect. iv. p. 97.
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11. Hall, Conc. ad Clerum.
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12. Brett, on Tradition, § 1.
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13. Hammond, vol. i. p. 551. Stillingfleet, vol. vi. p. 650.
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14. On Tradition, p 53, § 15.
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15. Answer to Jesuit, ch. i.
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16. Stillingfl. Grounds, pp. 38, 39.
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17. Waterland, on Eccles. Antiq. 5. 9.
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18. Beveridge, Proœm. ad Can. 7.
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19. ["Immaterial?" how can it be immaterial, when the faith of Christendom, of each one of us, is determined by the limit given to "Antiquity"?]
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20. Sozom. Hist. iii. 13.
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21. Mosheim, Cent. 8. ii. 3. § 12. Spanheim, Annal. Ecclesiast. Cent. 8. say that it is not received by the Greeks; the following, however, seems to be the more correct statement: "It has been latterly admitted as œcumenical in the Eastern Church, but the facts are undeniable, that for a space of 60 years, the decree of Nice was not approved by the East; but for 90 years at least it was not generally admitted to be œcumenical: and in fine, even in the time of Barlaam, Abbot of St. Saviour, A.D. 1339, neatly 600 years after its celebration, some of the Orientals still reckoned only six General Councils, thus denying the authority of this Synod." Palmer on the Church, vol. ii. p. 202, vid. also Marheineke, Instit. Symb. § 119.
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22. Stillingfl. vol. vi. p. 450.
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23. Bampt. Lect. viii.
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24. [Conditionally.]
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25. [Real, as being consistent; not real in the sense of being practicable, concrete, realized in fact, anywhere exemplified.]
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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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