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Book II - Chapter IV

Unity of the Church of Rome

The Church is not the work of man: it is a special creation of God. Seeing it is wholly supernatural in its origin, we can look nowhere for information respecting its nature, its constitution, and its ends, but to the Bible. The New Testament declares that the Church is a spiritual society, being composed of spiritual, that is, of regenerated men; associated under a spiritual head, the Lord Jesus Christ; held together by spiritual bonds, which are faith and love; governed by spiritual laws, which are contained in the Bible; enjoying spiritual immunities and privileges, and entertaining spiritual hopes. This is the Church invisible; so called because its members, as such, cannot be discovered by the world. The Church, in this sense, cannot be bounded by any geographical limits, nor by any denominational peculiarities and distinctions. It is spread over the world, and embraces all, in every place and of every name, who believe in the Lord Jesus, and are united to him as their head, and to one another as members of the same body, by the bond of the Spirit and of faith. "By one spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free, and have been all made to drink into one spirit." Protestants willingly concede to the Church of Rome what, as we shall afterwards show, that Church will not concede to them, that even within the pale of Popery there may be found members of the Church of Christ, and heirs of salvation. But the Church may be viewed in its external aspect, in which respect it is called the Church visible, which consists of all those throughout the world who profess the true religion, together with their children. These are not two Churches, but the same Church viewed under two different aspects. They are composed, to a great degree, of the same individuals. The Church visible includes all who are members of the Church invisible; but the converse of this proposition is not true; for, in addition to all who are genuine Christians, the Church visible contains many who are Christians only in name. Its limits, therefore, are more extensive than those of the invisible Church. Such are the views generally held by Protestants on the subject of the Church. From these the opinions held by Papists on this important subject differ very materially. Papists hold that the Church of Rome is emphatically the Church;1 that she is the Church, to the exclusion of all other communities or Churches bearing the Christian name. They hold that this Church is ONE; that she is CATHOLIC or universal; that She is INFALLIBLE; that the Roman pontiff, as the successor of Peter and the vicar of Christ, is her visible head; and that there is no salvation beyond her pale.

The Church, say the Papists, must possess certain great marks or characters. These must not be of such a kind as to be discoverable only by the help of great learning and after laborious search; they must be of that broad and palpable cast that enables them to be seen at once and by all. The Church must resemble the sun, to use Bellarmine's illustration, whose resplendent beams attest his presence to all. By these marks is the important question to be solved,--"Which is the true Church?" Papists hold, and endeavour to prove, that in the Church of Rome alone are these marks to be found; and therefore that she, to the exclusion of all other societies, is the holy Catholic Church.

The first indispensable characteristic of the true Church, possessed by the Church of Rome alone, as Papists hold, is UNITY. Bellarmine places the unity of the Church in three things,--the same faith, the same sacraments, and the same head, the Roman pontiff.2 This unity is defined by Dens 3 to consist "in having one head, one faith, in being of one mind, in partaking of the same sacraments, and in the communion of the saints." With regard to the first,--the unity of the head,--Dens holds that the Church of Rome is signally favoured; for nowhere but in her do we find one visible head "under Christ," namely, the Roman pontiff, "to whom all bishops, and the whole body of the faithful, are subjected." In him, continues Dens, the Church has a "centre of union," and a source of "authority and discipline, which extends in its exercise throughout the whole Church." "What is the Church?" it is asked in Dr. Reilly's Catechism. It is answered, "It is the congregation of the faithful, who profess the true faith, and are obedient to the Pope."4 Romanists lay much stress likewise upon the fact, that the same creed, particularly that of Pope Pius IV., drawn up in conformity with the definitions of the Council of Trent, is professed by Roman Catholics in all parts of the world; that the same articles of faith and morality are taught in all her catechisms; that she has one rule of faith, viz. "Scripture and tradition;" and that she has "the same expositor and interpreter of this rule,--the Catholic Church."5 "Nor is it in her doctrine only," says Dr. Milner, "that the Catholic Church is one and the same: she is also uniform in whatever is essential in her liturgy. In every part of the world she offers up the same unbloody sacrifice of the holy mass, which is her chief act of divine worship; she administers the same seven sacraments." 6 As regards the communion of saints, we find it defined in Reilly's Catechism to consist in the members of the Church "being partakers of the spiritual blessings and treasures that are to be had in it;" and these, again, are said to consist in "the sacraments, the holy sacrifice of the mass, the prayers of the Church, and the good works of the just."7 Generally, Papists, in deciding this point, discard altogether the graces and fruits of inward Christianity, and found entirely on outward organization. Bellarmine asserts that the fathers have ever reckoned communion with the Roman pontiff an essential mark of the true Church; but when he comes to prove this, he leaps at once over the apostles and inspired writers, and the examples of the New Testament, where we find numerous churches unquestionably independent, and owning no subjection to Rome, and comes to those writers who were the pioneers of the primacy. When one man only in the world is permitted to think, and the rest are compelled to agree with him, unity should be of as easy attainment as it is worthless when attained. Yet despite the despotism of force and the despotism of ignorance, which have been employed in all ages to crush free inquiry and open discussion in the Church of Rome, serious differences and furious disputes have broken out in her. When we name the Pope, we indicate the whole extent of her unity. Here she is at one, or has usually been so; on every other point she is disagreed. The theology of Rome has differed materially in different ages; so that her members have believed one set of opinions in one age, and another set of opinions in another age. What was sound doctrine in the sixth century, was heresy in the twelfth; and what was sufficient for salvation in the twelfth century, is altogether insufficient for it in our day. Transubstantiation was invented in the thirteenth century; it was followed, at the distance of three centuries, by the sacrifice of the mass; and that again, in our day, by the immaculate conception of the Virgin. In the twelfth century, the Lombardic8 theology, which mingled faith and works in the justification of the sinner, was in repute. This had its day, and was succeeded in about a hundred years after by the scholastic theology. The schoolmen discarded faith, and gave works alone a place in the important matter of justification. On the ruins of the scholastic divinity flourished the monastic theology. This system extolled papal indulgences, adoration of images, prayers to saints, and works of supererogation; and on these grounds rested the sinner's justification. The Reformation came, and a modified theology next became fashionable, in which the grosser errors were abandoned to suit the newly risen light. But now all these systems have given place to the theology of the Jesuits, whose system differs in several important points from all that went before it. On the head of justification the Jesuitical theology teaches that habitual righteousness is an infused grace, but that actual righteousness consists in the merit of good works. Here are five theologies which have successively been in vogue in the Church of Rome. Which of these five systems is the orthodox one? Or are they all orthodox? But not only do we desiderate unity between the successive ages of the Romish Church; we desiderate unity among her contemporary doctors and councils. They have differed on questions of ceremonies, on questions of morals, and they have differed not less on the questions of the supremacy and infallibility. Contrariety of opinion has been the rule; agreement the exception. Council has contended with council; pope has excommunicated pope; Dominican has warred with Franciscan; and the Jesuits have carried on ceaseless and furious battles with the Benedictines and other orders. What, indeed, are these various orders, but ingenious contrivances to allay heats and divisions which Rome could not heal, and to allow of differences of opinion which she could neither prevent nor remove? What one infallible bull has upheld as sound doctrine, another infallible bull has branded as heresy. Europe has been edified with the spectacle of two rival vicars of Christ playing at football with the spiritual thunder; and what we find one holy father, Nicholas, commending as an assembly of men filled with the Holy Ghost, namely, the Council of Basil, we find another holy father, Eugenius, depicting as "madmen, barbarians, wild beasts, heretics, miscreants, monsters, and a pandemonium."9 But there is no end of the illustrations of papal unity. The wars of the Romanists have filled history and shaken the world. The loud and discordant clatter which rose of old around Babel is but a faint type of the interminable din and furious strife which at all times have raged within the modern Babel,--the Church of Rome.

Such is the unity which the Romish Church so often and so tauntingly contrasts with what she is pleased to term "Protestant disunion." As a corporation, having its head at Rome, and stretching its limbs to the extremities of the earth, she is of gigantic bulk and imposing appearance; but, closely examined, she is seen to be an assemblage of heterogeneous materials, held together simply by the compression of force. It is a coercive power from without, not an attractive influence from within, that gives her being and form. The appearance of union and compactness which she puts on at a distance is altogether owing to her organization, which is of the most perfect kind, and of the most despotic character, and not to any spiritual and vivifying principle, whose influence, descending from the head, moves the members, and results in harmony of feeling, unanimity of mind, and unity of action. It is combination, not incorporation; union, not unity, that characterizes the Church of Rome. It is the unity of dead matter, not the unity of a living body, whose several members, though performing various functions, obey one will and form one whole. It is not the spiritual and living unity promised to the Church of God, which preserves the liberty of all, at the same time that it makes all ONE: it is a unity that degrades the understanding, supersedes rational inquiry, and annihilates private judgment. It leaves no room for conviction, and therefore no room for faith. It is a unity that extorts from all submission to one infallible head, that compels all to a participation in one monstrous and idolatrous rite, and that enchains the intellect of all to a farrago of contradictory, absurd, and blasphemous opinions. This is the unity of Rome. Men must be free agents before it can be shown that they are voluntary agents. In like manner, the members of the Church must have liberty to differ before it can be shown that they really are agreed. But Rome denies her people this liberty, and thus renders it impossible that it can ever be shown that they are united. She resolves all into absolute authority, which in no case may either be questioned or opposed. Dr. Milner, after striving hard, in one of his letters, 10 to show that all Catholics are agreed as regards the "fundamental articles of Christianity," is forced to conclude with the admission, that they are only so far agreed as that they all implicitly submit to the infallible teaching of the Church. "At all events," says he, "the Catholics, if properly interrogated, will confess their belief in one comprehensive article, namely this, "I believe whatever the Holy Catholic Church believes and teaches." So, then, this renowned champion of Roman Catholicism, forced to abandon all other positions as untenable, comes at last to rest the argument in behalf of his Church's unity upon this, even the unreasoning and unquestioning submission of the conscience to the teaching of the Church. In point of fact, this "one comprehensive article" sums up the entire creed of the Papist: the Church inquires for him, thinks for him, reasons for him, and believes for him; or, as it was expressed by a plain-speaking Hibernian, who, making his last speech and dying confession at the place of execution, and resolved not to expose himself to purgatory for want of not believing enough, declared, "that he was a Roman Catholic, and died in the communion of that Church, and believed as the Catholic Church ever did believe, now doth believe, or ever shall believe."11 Put out the eyes of men, and there will be only one opinion about colour; extinguish the understandings of men, and there will be but one opinion regarding religion This is what Rome does. With her rod of infallibility she touches the intellect and the conscience, and benumbs them into torpor. There comes thus to reign within her pale a deep stillness, broken at times by ridiculous disputes, furious quarrels, and serious differences, on points termed fundamental, which remain unsettled from age to age,--the famous question, for instance, touching the seat of infallibility; and this profound quiescence, so like the repose of the tomb, accomplished by the waving of her mystic rod, she calls unity.12

1 Perrone uses the term Church sometimes in a restricted sense, to denote only the clergy who have been vested in infallibility, and sometimes in a more enlarged sense; but even that larger sense is restricted to those congregations of the faithful whose oversight is managed by lawful pastors under the Roman pontiff. (Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae. tom. i. p. 171.)

2 Bellarm. Opera, tom. ii. lib. iv. cap. x.,--De Notis Ecclesiae; Colon. 1620.

3 Theologia Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, tom. ii. p. 120,--De Nota Ecclesiae, qua dicitur una; Dublin, 1832.

4 Reilly's Cat. lesson viii.

5 Milner's End of Controv. let. xvi.; Dublin, 1827.

6 Idem.

7 Reilly's Cat. Lesson viii.

8 So called from Peter Lombard, who collected the opinions of the fathers into one volume. The differences he had hoped to reconcile he but succeeded, from their proximity, in making more apparent.

9 Elliott's Delineation of Romanism, p. 463.

10 Milner's End of Controversy, let. xvi.

11 Free Thoughts on the Toleration of Popery, p. 12. Similar is the collier's catechism, or, as it is called in Italy, Fides carbonaria,--collier's faith--from the noted story of a collier, who, when questioned concerning his faith, answered as follows:--Q. What do you believe? A. I believe what the Church believes.--Q. What does the Church believe? A. The Church believes what I believe.--Q. Well, then, what is it that both you and the Church believe? A. We both believe the very same thing.

12 That Church which makes unity her boast dare not at this moment convene a General Council. Why? Because she knows the conflict of opinions and parties would issue in a break up of the popedom. The unity of the Church of Rome is not an organism, but a petrifaction.

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