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Book II - Chapter V

Catholicity of the Church of Rome

Catholicity, apostolicity, and infallibility, are other marks, borne only, as Papists affirm, by the Church of Rome, and attesting her claim to be the true Church. Let us briefly state these marks in their Roman sense; and still more briefly inquire whether, in truth, they are to be found in that Church.

Finding numerous passages in the Psalms and the prophets promising universal and perpetual dominion to the Church, Papists infer that the Church must be catholic or universal, at least since the age of the apostles; and that any diminution of her numbers, or any contraction of her limits, so as to leave her in a minority, would invalidate her claim to be the true Church. "The Church," says the Catechism of the Council of Trent, "is rightly called Catholic, because, as St. Augustine saith, from the east even unto the west it has shed abroad the splendour of one faith. Nor is the Church confined to the commonwealths of men, or the conventicles of heretics; it is not bounded by the limits of a single kingdom, or composed of but one tribe; but it embraces all with the bond of love, whether they be Barbarian or Scythian, bond or free, male or female."1 "The term Catholic implies," says Dens, "that the Church is diffused over the world, or is universal in point of place, nation, and time;" and he quotes, in proof, the song of the redeemed in the Revelations, that is, according to the current of Protestant interpreters, the song of those who had triumphed over Antichrist:--"Thou hast redeemed us out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation." "That this mark belongs to our Church," continues Dens, "appears from the circumstance that in all places and in every nation Catholics are found, who, although divided in respect of place, are joined under the government of the Roman pontiff. Moreover, there have been, and there will be, Catholics in all ages."2 The same writer, following Bellarmine,3 repudiates the claim of other bodies to rank as members of the Church, on the ground that they are limited to certain districts,--that the time when they took their rise is known,--and that they are diverse in name, taking their appellatives generally from their founders. "We trace our descent from Peter, the prince of the apostles, say the Romanists, and our Church has spread and flourished in the earth ever since the fisherman founded it at Rome: you come from Germany, and were not, till Luther gave you being." There is one question, which, according to the Rev. Stephen Keenan, will effectually gravel every Protestant. "Ask him," says he, "where the true Church was before the time of Luther and Calvin?"4 It is sufficient to ask in return, Where were the wells which Abraham had digged, before Isaac cleared out the rubbish with which the Philistine herdsmen had filled them? Rome, to show that she has existed in all ages since the apostolic era, appeals to history. It requires assuredly no little courage to look history in the face, deeply indented as it is with her bloody foot-prints. She delights to recall to her own and to others' recollection her palmy state in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries, when, by the help of fire and sword, she had succeeded in suppressing all public profession of the truth; and to show that the savage spirit of vengeance which persecuted these men to the death still lives in certain members of the Roman Church in our day, we find the Rev. Stephen Keenan stigmatizing those confessors whom his Church compelled to inhabit the "dens and caves of the earth," and whom she slew with "the edge of the sword," as "hypocrites, dastardly traitors to their religion, utterly incapable of composing the holy, fearless body of the true Church of Christ."5

We deny, in the first place, that the promises appropriated by the Church of Rome refer to her; we deny, in the second place, that that Church is catholic in point of doctrine; we deny, in the third place, that she is Catholic in point of time; and we deny, in the fourth place, that she is catholic in point of place.

First, as regards the promises applied to herself by the Church of Rome, we deny that it is anywhere foretold in Scripture that the Church, commencing with the apostolic era, would continue uninterruptedly to progress and triumph. We have several plain intimations to the contrary. We find the apostle Paul predicting the rise of a great apostacy,6 of which a temporary and comparative catholicity was to form one of the more obvious marks. In the one prophetic book of the New Testament it is expressly said of Antichrist, whose marks Rome, if she examine, will find written upon her forehead, "all the world wondered after the beast."7 What the passages in question foretell is, that after ages of conflict and oppression, and especially after the overthrow of that great system of error which was not only to arrest the progress of the Church, but actually to make her retrograde, she should surmount the opposition of her foes, and become triumphant and ascendant. Then would the prophet's words be fulfilled, "The Gentiles shall see thy light, and all kings thy glory." Rome has had her "lifetime," in which she has received her "good things,"--glory, and dominion, and the worship of "all that dwell upon the earth, whose names are not written in the Book of Life." And whilst she clothed herself "in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day," the poor members of Christ's body lay at her gate, glad of such crumbs of toleration as she was pleased to let fall, and thankful when the dogs of her household licked their sores. It is meet, therefore, that when the one is tormented the other should be comforted.

But we deny that these promises refer to the Church of Rome. These promises were given to the Church of Christ; and the question, which is the Church of Christ, is to be determined, not by numbers, but by the fact of possessing the spirit of Christ and the doctrine of Christ. This brings us to the second point, that of doctrine, in which we deny catholicity to the Church of Rome. Though the Roman pontiff could show that every knee on earth is bent to him, that would prove nothing. He must show that he preaches the doctrines which Christ preached, and governs the Church by the laws which Christ instituted. Now Rome will not, and dare not, appeal this question to the Bible. Her invariable policy here is to raise a cloud of dust, by presenting a formidable list of the names and sects of the Protestant world, and in this way to cover her retreat. But, though she could prove that we are wrong, it does not follow that she is right. It is with the Bible alone that she has to do. And when tried by this test,--and we are entitled to do so, seeing Roman Catholics admit that the Bible is the Word of God,--when tried, we say, by this test, the Church of Rome is scriptural neither in her constitution, nor in her government, nor in her doctrine. Scriptural in her constitution she is not. The true Church is founded upon the doctrine of Christ's divinity, whereas the Church of Rome is founded upon the doctrine of Peter's primacy. The primacy, as Bellarmine says, is the very germ of Christianity;8 a sterling truth, if for Christianity we substitute Catholicism. Nor is she scriptural in her government. It is an undeniable historical fact, that neither in scriptural times nor in primitive times was she governed as she has been governed since the sixth century. Where in all the Bible do we find a warrant for placing the government of the Church in the hands of one man, possessed of both a temporal and a spiritual crown, governing according to a code of laws which virtually ignores the New Testament, and through a splendidly equipped and richly salaried hierarchy of cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, formed on the model of the empire, and exhibiting, at the best, but an impious travesty of the equality and simplicity of the New Testament Church? There is no mistaking the lordship of Rome for the episcopate of the Scriptures. The one is the exact counterpart of the other. Their stations are at the opposite poles of the ecclesiastical sphere. Nor is the Church of Rome scriptural in doctrine. This is the great test by which she must stand or fall. "They do not possess the inheritance of Peter who do not possess the faith of Peter," says Ambrose. The Church of Rome may wear the same name, occupy the same territory, possess continuity of descent and similarity of organization;--she may have every outward mark of apostolicity under heaven; but if she wants this mark, she wants all. And it is precisely here, in this the most vital point, that she comes most decidedly short. As the various branches of the Romish theology come successively under our view, it will be seen how far the church of Rome has erred from the faith of the apostles. At present we can only indicate the main directions in which her apostacy has lain. For the sacrifice of the cross the Church of Rome has substituted the sacrifice of the mass. For the one Mediator between God and man that Church has substituted innumerable mediators,--angels and saints. For the gospel method of justification, which is by grace, the Church of Rome has substituted justification by works. For the agency of the Spirit in the sanctification of men she has substituted the agency of the Sacrament. These are the four cardinal doctrines of Christianity, and on each of them the Church of Rome has grievously erred. She has erred as regards that grand fundamental truth on which the scheme of redemption is based,--the one all-meritorious sacrifice of Christ; she has erred as regards the way by which sinners have access into the presence of God; she has erred as regards the ground on which sinful men are made just in the sight of God; and she has erred as regards that divine agent by whom men are made holy, and prepared for the blessedness of heaven. There cannot be a doubt as to the teachings of the New Testament on these four heads; as little can it be doubted that the Church of Rome on all these points teaches the very opposite. The doctrine and its opposite cannot both be true. If the deliverances of the Bible are truths, the dogmas of the Romish Church must be errors. The Church of Rome, therefore, is unknown to the New Testament. She is the Church of the Pope,--not the Church of Christ.

But, in the third place, we deny that the Church of Rome is Catholic in point of time. It is Martin Lutherindeed a foolish question, "Where was your Church before the time of Luther?" What though we should reply, She dwelt amid the eternal snows of the Alps; she lay hid in the caves of Bohemia? They were "hypocrites, dastardly traitors to their religion," for doing so, exclaims the Rev. Stephen Keenan. Ah! had they been hypocrites and dastardly traitors, they needed not have been wretched outcasts; they might have dwelt in palaces, and ministered in gorgeous cathedrals, like the kings and priests who persecuted them. Do those who put this question know that the "men of old, of whom the world was not worthy," inhabited "dens and caves of the earth;" and that the early apostolic, not apostate, Church of Rome, to save herself from the fury of the emperors, actually made her abode in the catacombs beneath the city?9 But the question to which we have referred, if it means anything, implies that Luther was the inventor of the doctrines now held by Protestants, and that these doctrines were never heard of in the world till he arose. This, indeed, is expressly taught in Keenan's Catechism :--"For fourteen hundred years," says the writer, "after the last of the apostles left this world, Protestant doctrines were unknown amongst mankind."10 The cardinal truth of Luther's teaching was "justification by faith alone." This truth Luther certainly did not invent: it was the very truth which Paul preached to Jew and Gentile. "Therefore we conclude," says Paul, writing to the Church at Rome, "that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law."11 This was the truth which was revealed to the patriarchs, and proclaimed by the prophets. "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached the gospel before unto Abraham."12 The doctrine of Protestants, then, is just Christianity, and Christianity is as old as the world. That Christianity Luther did not invent; he was simply God's instrument to summon it from the grave to which Popery had consigned it. But with what force may it be retorted upon the advocates of Roman Catholicism, "Where was your Church before the middle ages?" Where was transubstantiation before the days of Innocent III.? Where was the sacrifice of the mass before the Council of Trent? When we go back to the twelfth, eighth, and even the fifth century, we find palpable proofs of Popery; but when we pass much beyond that limit, we lose all trace of the system; and when we go as far down as the apostolic age, we find that we have passed utterly beyond the sphere of Romanism;--we find that there is, in fact, a well-defined middle region, to which Romanism is limited, and beyond which, on one side at least, it does not extend. We search in vain the pages of the earliest Christian fathers, and, above all, the pages of inspired men, for the peculiar doctrines of the Roman Church. Where, in these venerable documents of early Christianity,--where, in the inspired canon,--do we read of the mass, or of purgatory, or of the worship of the Virgin, or of the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome? When Paul indited his epistles, and Peter preached to the Gentiles "remission of sins," these doctrines were unknown in the world. They were the growth of a later age. Thus, in digging downwards, we find that we have come at last to the living and eternal rock of Christianity, and have fairly got through the superincumbent mass of rude, ill-compacted, and heterogeneous materials which have been deposited in the course of ages from the dark ocean of superstition. Protestantism is old truth,--Popery is medieval error.

If the Church of Rome takes her appeal to antiquity, even Paganism will carry it against her. Its rites were celebrated upon the Seven Hills long before Popery had there fixed its seat. The Roman Church has played off upon the world the same trick which was practised so successfully by the Gibeonites of old: she has put tattered garments upon her back, and clouted shoes upon her feet, and dry and mouldy bread into her sacks, and laid them upon the backs of her asses, and taken advantage of the obscurity of her origin to say, "We be come from a far country." It is not the number of years, but the weight of arguments, that must carry the point.

In fine, we deny that the Church of Rome is Catholic in point of place. Catholicity, in the absolute sense of the word, as Turrettin remarks,13 can be predicated only of that society that includes the Church triumphant in heaven, as well as militant on earth,--that society that comprehends all the elect, reaching back to the days of Abel, and onward to the last trumpet. But the great matter with Rome is to make it appear that she has achieved a terrestrial catholicity. Now certainly it is not Rome's fault if she have not done so. Her efforts to extend her dominion have been of no ordinary kind: they have been skilfully contriven and vigorously prosecuted. And if in this great work she has made but little use of the Bible, she has made abundant use of the sword. Her missionaries have been soldiers, who have pressed the pike and the musket into the service of Christianity, and spread the faith of Rome as Mahomet spread the religion of the Koran. The weapons she has wielded have been the false miracle, the forged document, the lying legend, the persecutor's brand. At no time has she been particularly nice as to the character of her converts,--receiving hordes within her pale who had nothing of Christianity but the name; and yet, after all, that empire which she calls catholic or universal is very far, in point of fact, from being so. She boasts that at this day she can count upwards of two hundred millions of subjects. We do not stay to inquire how many of these arc real Papists. The Pope has of late excommunicated en masse whole cities and provinces. Do these count as children of the Church? But the Church of Rome parades the number of her followers, and asks, is it possible that all these millions can be mistaken? She forbids her members to make use of their reason in judging of their religion, and then claims weight for their testimony, as if they had used their reason in the matter. This is simply to practise a delusion. The very smallest Protestant sect would furnish far more real witnesses in favour of Protestantism than the Roman Catholic Church could do in favour of Romanism. In a court of justice, the latter would be counted but as one witness. They have not examined the matter for themselves; they believe it on infallibility; their evidence, therefore, is simply hearsay, and in a court of law would be held as resolving itself into the evidence of but one man. If he be right, they are right; but if he be mistaken, they all are necessarily mistaken. But in a Protestant Church every member acts on his own judgment and belief. Such a body, therefore, contains as many independent, intelligent, and real witnesses as it does members. That Church, then, which boasts of catholicism and numbers is, as far as testimony goes, the smallest sect in Christendom.

But, giving her the matter her own way, she includes within her pale a decided minority of the human family. The one pagan empire of China alone greatly outnumbers her. The Greek Church, an older Church than that of Rome, never owned her supremacy; nor the other numerous Churches in Asia, nor the great and once famous Church in Africa, nor the Church in the Russian empire. And, considering how many kingdoms have broken off from her since the Reformation, the communion of Rome is now reduced to a very small part of the Christian Church. Around her limited and restricted territory, which includes, it is true, many a fair province in Europe, there extends a broad zone of Mahommedanism and Hinduism, which merges into another and a darker zone, which, as it stretches away towards the extremities of the earth, deepens into the unbroken night of heathenism. Surveyed from the Seven Hills, the empire of Rome does indeed seem ample,--alas! too ample for the repose and progress of the world; but to the eye that can take in the globe, it dwindles into an insignificant speck, lying embosomed in the folds of the pagan night.14 But the dominion promised to the Church is universal in a sense which cannot be afflirmed of any dominion which Rome ever attained, or is likely ever to attain. It is a dominion from which no land or tribe under the cope of heaven is excluded. "Behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory."15 "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him."16 17

1 Catechismus Romanus, p. 82; Antverpiae, 1596.

2 Theologia Mor. et Dog. Petri Dens, vol. ii. p. 122. Romanist writers, and Bellarmine among the rest (tom. ii. lib. iv. cap. iv.), sometimes hold the name as proof of the thing. They are called Catholics; therefore they are so. We are likewise entitled to reason,--We are called reformed; therefore we are so. "We be Abraham's seed," said the Jews. "Ye are of your father the devil," replied Christ.

3 Bellarm. Opera, tom. ii. lib. iv. cap. v. vi.

4 Controversial Catechism, or Protestantism Refuted, chap. iii.

5 Controversial Catechism, chap. iii.

6 Thessalonians, ii. 3-10; 1 Tim. iv. 1-3

7 Rev. xiii. 3, 4, 8, 15.

8 Etenim de qua re agitur, cum de primatu pontificis agitur? Brevissime dicam, de summa rei Christianae." (De Romano Pont. Praefatio.)

9 We would recommend to the Rev. Stephen Keenan the study of "Maitland's Church in the Catacombs," (i. e. provided it is not in the Index Expurgatorius.) He will find among the brief but instructive inscriptions of these early Christians, numerous traces of Apostolicism, but not a single trace of Romanism.

10 Contro. Cat. p. 22.

11 Romans, iii. 31.

12 Galatians, iii. 8.

13 Institutio Theologiae Elencticae, Francisco Turrettino, vol. iii. quest. vi.; Genevae, 1688.

14 It is computed, that of the inhabitants of the globe, little more than one-third are Christians even nominally. Of the nine hundred and eighty millions of mankind, about six hundred millions are Pagans. If, then, we permit numbers to decide the question, we cannot remain Christians. And there is not anywhere in the Pagan world a sect which may not give us an assurance of infallibility, if we wish it, on quite as good grounds as Rome.

15 Isaiah, lx. 2, and lxii. 2.

16 Psalm lxxii. 8-11.

17 "Whereas the Papist boasts himself to be a Roman Catholic, it is a mere contradiction; as if he should say, universal particular, or Catholic schismatic." (Milton's Tracts on True Religion.)

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