Images de page
PDF
ePub

a year at least. This confession extends to all mortal sins, that is, to all sins which either are done willingly or are of any magnitude. Without this confession, which must be accompanied by hearty sorrow for the things confessed, no one can be partaker of the Holy Communion. Here is a third obstacle in the way of our receiving the grace of the Sacraments in the Roman Church, which surely requires our diligent examination, before it be passed over. That there is no such impediment sanctioned in Scripture, is plain, yet to believe in it is a point of faith with the Romanist. The practice is grievous enough; but it is not enough to submit to it: you must believe that it is part of the gospel doctrine, or you are committing one of those mortal sins which are to be confessed; and you must believe, moreover, that every one who does not believe it, is excluded from the hope of salvation. But, not to dwell on the belief in the necessity of confession itself, consider the number of points of faith which the Church of Rome has set up. You must believe every one of them; if you have allowed yourself to doubt any one of them, you must repent of it, and confess it to the priest. If you knowingly omit any one such doubts which you have entertained, and much more if you still cherish it, your confession is worse than useless; nay, such conduct is considered sacrilege, or the sin against the Holy Ghost. Further, if, under such circumstances, you partake of the Communion, it is a partaking of it unworthily to your condemnation.

4. The unwarranted anathemas of the Roman Church is a subject to which the last head has led us. Here let us put aside, at present, the prejudice which has been excited in the minds of Protestants, against the principle itself of anathematizing, by the variety and comparative unimportance of the subjects upon which the Roman Church has applied it in practice. Let us consider merely the state of the case in that Church. Every Romanist is, by the creed of his Church, in mortal sin, unless he believes every one else excluded from Christian salvation, who with means of knowing, yet declines any one of those points which have been ruled to be points of faith. If a man, for instance, who has had the means of instruction, doubts the Church's power of granting indulgences, he is exposed, according to the Romanists, to eternal ruin. Now this consideration, one would think, ought to weigh with those of our own Church, who may be half converts to the Roman; not that our own salvation is not our first concern, but that such cruelty as this is, such narrowing the Scripture terms of salvation, (for no one can say this doctrine is found in Scripture,) is a presumption against the purity of that Church's teaching. But a further reflection may be added to the above. Such as have not had an opportunity of knowing the truth, are, it must be observed, not exposed to this condemnation. This at first

sight would seem a comfort to those whose relations and friends have died in Protestantism. But observe, the Church of Rome, we know, retains the practice of praying for the dead. It will be natural for a convert from Protestantism, first of all, to turn his thoughts towards those dearest relations, say his parents, who have lived and died in involuntary ignorance of Catholicism. He is not allowed to do so, he can only pray for the souls in Purgatory; none have the privilege of being in Purgatory but such as have died in the communion of the Roman Church, and his parents died in Protestantism.

5. Purgatory may be mentioned as another grievous doctrine of Romanism. Here again, if Scripture, as interpreted by tradition, taught it, we should be bound to receive it; but, knowing as we do, that even St. Austin questioned the doctrine in the fifth century, we may well suspect the evidence for it. The doctrine is this that a certain definite punishment is exacted by Almighty God for all sins committed after baptism; and that they who have not by sufferings in this life, whether trouble, penance, and the like, run through it, must complete it during the intermediate state in a place called Purgatory. Again, all who die in venial sin, that is, in sins of infirmity, such as are short of mortal, go to Purgatory also. Now what a light does this throw upon the death of beloved and revered friends! Instead of their resting from their labours," as Scripture says, there are (ordinarily speaking) none who have not to pass a time of trial and purification, and, as Romanists are authoritatively taught, in fire, or a torment analogous to fire. There is no one who can for himself look forward to death with hope and humble thankfulness. Tell the sufferer upon a sick bed that his earthly pangs are to terminate in Purgatory, what comfort can he draw from religion? If it be said, that it is a comfort in the case of bad men, who have begun to repent on their death-bed-this is true, I do not deny it; still the doctrine, in accordance, be it observed, with the ultraProtestantism of this age, evidently sacrifices the better part of the community to the less deserving. Should the foregoing reasoning seem to dwell too much on the question of comfortableness and uncomfortableness, not of truth, I reply, first, that I have already stated that Scripture, as interpreted by tradition, does not teach the doctrine; next, that I am arguing against the Romanists, who are accustomed to recommend their communion on the very ground of its being safer, more satisfactory, and more comfortable.

6. The Invocation of Saints. Here again the practice should be considered, not the theory. Scripture speaks clearly and solemnly about Christ as the sole Mediator. When prayer to the Saints is recommended at all times and places, as ever present guardians, and their good works pleaded in God's sight, is not

this such an infringement upon the plain word of God, such a violation of our allegiance to our only Saviour, as must needs be an insult to him? His honour he will not give to another. Can we with a safe conscience do it? Should we act thus in a parallel case even with an earthly friend? Does not St. John's example warn us against falling down before angels? Does not St. Paul warn us against a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels? And are not these texts indications of God's will, which ought to guide our conduct? Is it not safest not to pay them this extraordinary honour? As an illustration of what I mean, I will quote the blessing pronounced by the Pope on the assembled people at Easter :

"The holy Apostles Peter and Paul, from whom has been derived our power and authority, themselves intercede for us to the Lord. Amen."

"For the prayers and righteous deeds of the blessed Mary, ever Virgin, of the blessed Michael the Archangel, of the blessed John the Baptist, of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the Saints, Almighty God have mercy upon you, and Jesus Christ ab. solve you from all your sins, and bring you to life everlasting. Amen.'

"The Almighty and merciful Lord, grant to you pardon, absolu. tion, and remission of all your sins, time for true and fruitful peni. tence, an ever penitent heart, and amendment of life, the grace and comfort of the Holy Ghost, and final perseverance in good works. Amen."

"And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, come down upon you, and remain with you always. Amen."

.

7. The Worship of Images might here be added to these instances of grievances which Christians endure in the Communion of Rome, were it not that in England its rulers seem, at present, to have suspended the practice out of policy, though it is expressly recommended by the Council of Trent, as if an edifying usage. In consequence of this decree of the Church, no one can become a Romanist, without implying his belief that the usage is edifying and right; and this itself is a grievance, even though the usage be in this or that place dispensed with.

Such and such-like are the subjects which, it is conceived, should be brought into controversy, in disputing with Romanists at the present day. An equally important question remains to be discussed; viz. What the sources are, whence we are to gather our opinions of Popery. Here the Romanists complain of their opponents, that, instead of referring to the authoritative documents of their Church, Protestants avail themselves of any errors or excesses of individuals in it, as if the Church were responsible

12 How far it is fair to object to the Church of Rome.

for acts and opinions which it does not enjoin. Thus the legends of relics, superstitions about images, the cruelty of particular prelates or kings, or the accidental fury of a populace, are unfairly imputed to the Church itself. Again, the profligacy of the Popes, at various periods, is made an argument against their religious pretensions as successors to St. Peter; whereas Caiaphas himself had the gift of prophecy, and it is, as they consider, a memorable and instructive circumstance, that in matter of fact, among their worst Popes are found the instruments, in God's hand, of some of the most important and salutary acts of the Church. Accordingly they claim to be judged by their formal documents, especially by the decrees of the Council of Trent.

Now, here we shall find the truth to lie between the two contending parties. Candour will oblige us to grant that the mere acts of individuals should not be imputed to the body; certainly no member of the English Church can, in common prudence as well as propriety, do otherwise, since he is exposed to an immediate retort, in consequence of the errors and irregularities which have in Protestant times occurred among ourselves. King Henry the VIIIth, the first promoter of the Reformation, is surely no representative of our faith or feelings; nor Hoadly, in a later age, who was suffered to enjoy his episcopate for 46 years; to say nothing of the various parties and schools which have existed, and do exist, among us.

So much then must be granted to the Romanists; yet not so much as they themselves desire. For though the acts of individuals are not the acts of the Church, yet they may be the results, and therefore illustrations of its principles. We cannot consent then to confine ourselves to a mere reference to the text of the Tridentine decrees, as Romanists would have us, apart from the teaching of their doctors, and the practice of the Church; which are surely the legitimate comment upon them. The case stands as follows. A certain system of teaching and practice has existed in the churches of the Roman communion for many centuries; this system was discriminated and fixed in all its outlines at the Council of Trent. It is therefore not unnatural, or rather it is the procedure we adopt in any historical research, to take the general opinions and conduct of the Church in elucidation of their Synodal decrees; just as we take the tradition of the Church Catholic and Apostolic as the legitimate interpreter of Scripture, or of the Apostles' Creed. On the other hand, it is as natural that these decrees, being necessarily concise and guarded, should be much less objectionable than the actual system they represent. It is not wonderful then, yet it is unreasonable, that Romanists should protest against our going beyond these decrees in adducing evidence of their Church's doctrine, on the ground that nothing more than an assent to them is requisite for communion with

Guidance afforded by the conduct of the Catholics.

13

her. E. g. the Creed of Pope Pius, which is framed upon the Tridentine decrees, and is the Roman Creed of Communion, only says, "I firmly hold there is a Purgatory, and that souls therein detained are aided by the prayers of the faithful," nothing being said of its being a place of punishment, nothing, or all but nothing, which does not admit of being explained of merely an intermediate state. Now, supposing we found ourselves in the Roman Communion, of course it would be a great relief to find that we were not bound to believe more than this vague statement, nor should we (I conceive) on account of the received interpretation about Purgatory superadded to it, be obliged to leave our Church. But it is another matter entirely, whether we, who are external to that Church, are not bound to consider it as one whole system, written and unwritten, defined indeed and adjusted by general statements, but not limited to them or coincident with them.

The conduct of the Catholics during the troubles of Arianism affords us a parallel case, and a direction in this question. The Arian Creeds were often quite unexceptionable, differing from the orthodoxy only in this, that they omitted the celebrated word dooúdiov, and in consequence did not obviate the possibility of that perverse explanation of them, which in fact their framers adopted. Why then did the Catholics refuse to subscribe them? Why did they rather submit to banishment from one end of the Roman world to the other? Why did they become confessors and martyrs? The answer is ready. They interpreted the language of the creeds by the professed opinions of their framers. They would not allow error to be introduced into the Church by an artifice. On the other hand, when at Ariminum they were seduced into a subscription of one of these creeds, though unobjectionable in its wording, their opponents instantly triumphed, and circulated the news that the Catholic world had come over to their opinion. It may be added, that, in consequence, ever since that era, phrases have been banished from the language of theology which heretofore had been innocently used by orthodox teachers.

Apply this to the case of Romanism. We are not indeed allowed to take at random the accidental doctrine or practice of this or that age as an explanation of the decrees of the Latin Church; but when we see clearly that certain of these decrees have a natural tendency to produce certain evils; when we see those evils actually existing far and wide in that Church, in different nations and ages, existing especially where the system is allowed to act most freely, and only absent where external checks are present, sanctioned moreover by its celebrated teachers and expositors, and advocated by its controversialists with the tacit consent of the whole body, under such circumstances surely it is not unfair to consider our case parallel to that of the Catholics during the

« PrécédentContinuer »