Romanism: an Answer to the Pamphlet of a Romish Priest, Entitled "The the Testimony": Part 4

 •  38 min. read  •  grade level: 9
But you say that the doctrine necessary for salvation was carried down by tradition, from the expulsion of Adam from the garden to the time of Moses. If I am to believe tradition, there were writings. Seth, we are told, set up two pillars, and engraved what was necessary to be known, that it might not be lost; and we are told where, which, I am ashamed to say, I forget, and cannot now search for. However, though I judge it certain, that the use of letters was far more ancient than is supposed, and that there was a mass of knowledge in those ancient times, now lost, of which we have traces in heathen mythology and heathen notions (just spewing how insecure a means it is), and that God has given us just what is needed of it in the Scriptures; yet I do not believe in Seth's pillars. At any rate nobody ever read what was on them. But your reference in the case is most untoward; because this tradition was so powerless, that the whole world departed from God, so that He had to bring in the flood to destroy men from off the face of the earth. And after the flood, all was so wholly lost, that even Abraham's family were fallen into idolatry (Josh. 24:22And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. (Joshua 24:2)), and God had to begin afresh by a new revelation of Himself to him. There were traces of truth which remained, as sacrifices; but the devil had got such complete hold of them, that they offered them to him, not to God. Such was the effect of tradition in the case you quote. Your saying that the reference of sacrifice to a Redeemer to come was known to the Jews by tradition, is monstrous. Their prophets are as clear on it as possible.
In fine, I do not, certainly, contest that Christ established a church on the earth. No doubt He did. As to her being known by the four marks, we have examined them. Unity is gone—universality gone with it, as you admit you only claim a majority, which upsets both; apostolicity breaks down, for the Greeks have it more than you (for they have not a double and treble line of popes for a long while, as Rome has had). As to sanctity, we will speak of it hereafter. And moreover, the marks are not marks at all; for the church was as true, when there had been no succession, no catholicity—that is in the days of the apostles—as any can be now. If these marks are a test, the church wanted them when it was truest and purest.
We are next told of the Fathers and of the unity of the church. Of the latter I have spoken already. It is natural that when men are in possession of a wide field of power, they should not wish it to be broken up. We have already seen that the true church, the body of Christ, united livingly to Him by the power of the Holy Ghost, is and must be, as seen of God, always one; and that it will shine forth as one in glory. And we have seen that what is called the church—Christendom—is divided; and that the boast of the Romish body of being one within itself, proves nothing as to the unity of the whole church; while the truth is, that nothing can be more evident than this, that it is not the true church at all, but the most corrupt of any body that pretends to the name; its marks fallacious; while as to truth, and holiness, and spiritual union with a heavenly head, she avoids the test of truth, belies in practice the test of holiness, as every honest conscience knows, and as I shall show hereafter; and has another head of unity on earth in place of Christ.
I will now, therefore, speak a little of the Fathers whom you adduce as witnesses. Only remark, that the Fathers cannot tell us whether the visible church is one now, the only really important point, for the plainest of all reasons, that they lived centuries ago. If they only tell us that it began in unity, we do not want them for that, because the scriptures are plain enough upon it, historically and doctrinally; only that unity they show to us was composed of real saints quickened of God, though false brethren were already creeping in unawares, as we learn from Jude, and the mystery of iniquity already at work, as the Apostle Paul teaches us. They show divisions always ready to break out, restrained by God's grace and apostolic care; they show that there ought to be unity, but a unity which is called the unity of the Spirit; the power of God, by the Holy Ghost, keeping the true members of Christ bound together in one body—not a vast body of persons, three-quarters of them infidels, and few of the rest doing more than going through a routine of forms. The scriptures show us such a unity as God can create and own. The Fathers may echo it as a duty, but cannot tell us what is now.
But we will spend a word on them; the name sounds well, and seems to claim respect. Some of them were godly men, a very few martyrs for the Lord's name, a few more confessors in persecution—a real crown of glory for a Christian; but as to doctrine, they (and in particular some of those who suffered) are the loosest, wildest, most absurd writers that ever wrote a book, to make sober men wonder how any one could possibly read such a mass of nonsense, bad morals, and heresy. If books containing such doctrine as is found for the most part in the Fathers, notions with such an absence of common sense, and such morals, were written now, every honest Christian in the country would forbid them to his children, or they would lie a lumber, so as to render such a prohibition unnecessary; while, as for the doctrine of some of them, Christians would be apt to burn the books, and Romanists the writers. This will scandalize some people perhaps; but as people are talking so much about the Fathers, it is better the truth should be told. I admit piety is found in some, and, on some points, doctrinal truth in part of others; but there is not a child's religious book in these days which would not contain more and sounder truth than a whole folio of the “Fathers.” All the early Fathers held the millennial reign of Christ, which is now rejected by Romanists, to show how much their authority weighs where it does not suit. Most of the Antenicene Fathers were unsound as to the person of Christ, and corrupted by Platonism.
You may think, that this is mere Protestant abuse of authorities which are against us; but we have already seen that you are not much acquainted with them, and I shall produce the highest Romanist authority for what I say. The very learned Petau, a Jesuit, a man whose theological works are of standard reputation in the Romish body, after speaking of heretics, says: “Others were indeed Christians, and Catholics, and saints; but as the times then were, that mystery (of the divinity of Christ) being not yet sufficiently clearly known, they threw out some things dangerously said.” —Pet. de Trin., lib. i. c. iii. s. 1. Poor Jerome, at a loss to maintain their orthodoxy, says, “It may have been that they have erred through simplicity (simpliciter), or have written in another sense, or that by unskilled editors (copyists) their writings have been by degrees corrupted, or, at least, before Arius, as a mid-day demon, was born, they have said some things innocently and less cautiously, and which cannot escape the calumny of perverse men.” —Jerome, Cont. Ruffinum, lib. H., 17, Ver.
Now I have no objection to take the excuses of Jerome; but if, in such a fundamental point as the divinity of the Lord Jesus, such excuses have to be made for them, what can be said of their authority? This is said by Jerome, when the famous Clement, of Alexandria, presbyter, and Dionysius, patriarch of Alexandria, were stated by another Father, the first to have said that the Son of God was a created being; and the latter to have fallen into Arianism, as he surely did when writing against the Sabellians; and when it was objected against him, said he did not mean it. Jerome will not allow that their writings were corrupted by heretics. The title of this chapter of Petavius is this “The opinions of certain of the ancients on the Trinity, who flourished in the Christian profession before the times of Arius, discordant from the Catholic rule, at least in the manner of speaking, are set forth; as of Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus, Irenaeus, Clemens Romanus.” Think of all these eminent Fathers, if we except perhaps Tatian, holding opinions contrary to the Catholic faith on the subject of the divinity of Christ, or at least expressing themselves so! What a comfortable security for right interpretation! I do not pretend that Petavius is warranted in all he says;1 but if so very learned a Jesuit judges the Antenicene Fathers thus, even if some of them may be speciously defended (as the Protestant bishop Bull, and the Jesuit Zacharia, and Horsley, and Burton have attempted to do), while some certainly cannot, what possible reliance can be placed on them? And remember, that it is on the capital point of the divinity of Christ.
Let us now give a few details. Justin Martyr, and, it seems, Athenagoras (and it was a common notion) held that Christ existed in the Father, as His word or reason, and became a distinct person only for the purpose of creation. Justin denies the possibility of the supreme, omnipotent God coming, going, acting, descending, or shutting Himself up in a narrow body, as described in Genesis; and that Abraham, Isaac, &c., never saw the Father, and Ineffable, and of Himself Lord of all things ἁπλῶς, and, therefore, of Christ Himself, who is God by His will, His son and messenger, because He is the minister of His will.— Dial, c. Try. 282, 286. This is Arianism; yet, in other places, he speaks of Him clearly as God. Clement of Alexandria uses language which makes his doctrine as to the godhead of Christ uncertain. He says that He had a nature nearest to, or very near (παρεχεστατὴ) to the Father: and as to the humanity of Christ, writes what is utterly heterodox, denying that Christ could possibly be nourished by food, and saying that He only ate that people might not think He only appeared to have a body. As to Origen, be was as heretical as he well could be. He unequivocally declares the Son to be inferior to the Father, and the Spirit to the Son; and held that all men had lived before they were born, and were born here according to their previous merits, could recover themselves here, and be saved, as could the devil, and as it seems, when in a heavenly state fall, for all that, afterward:—in a word, every wild notion that might grace a Mormon. Tertullian received Montanus and the Phrygian prophetesses as having or being the Paraclete, and treated the Catholics as carnal. The term by which Arius was finally condemned, and which had been condemned as heretical by the previous Council of Antioch, was withdrawn after the Council of Nice, and Arius was thereupon received into, and died in the communion of, what is called the Catholic church, this famous word being revoked; and Athanasius died in banishment, deposed from his see, by the Council of Tire. Now, I am satisfied that Arius's views are the most deadly error possible. But what, then, can I think of the fathers, if compelled to think of them? Hermas, who is presented as an apostolic Father, tells us, in his similitudes, that the Son (seen in his vision) was the Holy Ghost; and that God took counsel with the angels what to do with Him; and He made a pure body, and put Him into it, and that was the Christ. Yet this book, we are assured, was read in the churches.
And now for one or two further details. Ignatius, you tell us, was Bishop of Antioch after Peter had fixed his chair at Rome; you are aware that it is contested that Peter was at Rome. It seems, indeed, almost impossible. However, the succession of the bishopric of Antioch is nearly in the same obscurity as that of Rome, probably because they had not at the beginning such bishops as afterward; Euodias is alleged to be the first at Antioch—some say Peter put him into it, others Paul. The most authentic histories declare he became bishop of it after the death of both. Some, to clear up matters, say that Ignatius had the Gentiles, and Euodius the Jews, and then Ignatius both. If this were the case, it is possible this may have created difficulties in his own path, and this it is that which makes him speak so feelingly of adhering to the bishop, for such is his principal subject. His exhortations to unity, and avoiding heresy, are all very well, though there is evidently an excessive excitement produced by the thought of a man just going to martyrdom, and very full of it, and I must say not very full of Christ. Blessed as his end may have been, Polycarp and the Vienne martyrs shine, it seems to me, much more brightly. There is more peace, more calmness, more humility. Still it was given to Ignatius to honor his Lord, by giving up his life for Him, and every true Christian will honor him.
I have already remarked, that you have taken Clement of Alexandria for Clement of Rome, and I have said what is needed on the former, who was the head of the school at Alexandria, and not a bishop at all. He avows that he must conceal all the highest parts of Christianity, as known to the initiated, and only say what suits the public. He was more a philosopher than anything else. Tertullian, as I have said, was forced out of what is called the Catholic Church by its worldliness and evil, and, after having written to prove it right by prescription, left it as a hopeless case. Cyprian in the main was a bright specimen of the Fathers, and a martyr, but he resisted Rome energetically, and never yielded, maintaining a correspondence with a famous bishop of Asia Minor, Firmilian, to resist its principles. Even he speaks of the Father commanding us to worship Christ, just as Socinus did. As to what is quoted from Hilary, one of the best of the Fathers, I cordially agree with his very scriptural statement. Whether Rome be that church, is another question. No such unity as he speaks of exists now at all. Augustine, too, was a bright light for the times—I have nothing to object to what is quoted from him. That modern Rome is the church is our question. The church redeemed by Christ's blood He purifies by the word, and presents to Himself a glorious church. All its members are members of Christ, and will be in glory; but this no Romanist ever pretends to be the case with Rome.
As regards what I have stated as to the Antenicene Fathers being obscure as to fundamentals, I do not deny that passages may be found spewing that they held Christ to be God:—there are many. But it is not denied that there are many which deny that He was the God over all, ὁ επὶ πὰντων θεὸς, that being ascribed to the one supreme God. It cannot be denied that Justin Martyr, for example, teaches, in reasoning with Trypho, as to the Being who visited Abraham, that it could not be the supreme God, who is the Lord of the Lord on earth (that is, of Christ in these appearances to the old Fathers), as being Father and God, and is the cause of his being both powerful and Lord and God (I use the translation of a learned and orthodox theologian. The passage is to be found, Dial. c. Try. 388 E.) Justin declares (Dial. c. T. 283 A.), that it was not the supreme God who appeared to Moses in the bush. Trypho had said there was an angel and God there. Justin answers, that even so it was not God the Creator of all things. On the other hand, he declares, page 227-8, that there neither is, nor ever was, any other God than He who created all things, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who led the Jews out of Egypt. He held (and it is not denied to have been the general doctrine of the Antenicene Fathers) that the wisdom of God, which dwelt in Him always, came out, as it were, into distinct existence, in order to the creation by the will of the supreme God. They owned Him to be God, but His eternal existence was ἐνδιάθετος and not προΦορικός. There was more than one source of this. First, they had only the Septuagint Greek translation, which in Prov. 8 reads, “The Lord created me in the beginning of his ways,” ἒκτισε (not possessed me, ἐκτήσατο). Secondly, Platonism, to which indeed Justin refers, and the efforts to meet the accusations of the heathens, as to God the Son, to which the Platonic doctrine of the λὀγος afforded a reply.
Now I do not desire to accuse these Fathers of heresy, save Origen. But I am forced to read a mass of barbarous folio volumes to know what they do hold, and there I find Platonism in abundance. There I find it denied over and over again that Christ is God over all. There I find Him spoken of as having personal existence only just before the creation, and existing by the will of the supreme God, as His minister or servant. I find, indeed, when they are not philosophizing or meeting difficulties, that their own faith was for the most part more orthodox. But if I want to make orthodox theology out of them, I am obliged to read another set of volumes, in which Romanists deny and affirm their orthodoxy, as in Zacharia's edition of Petavius' Dogm. Theol.; and Protestants labor honestly, as Bull and Burton and Horsley and Kaye, to prove they are all right and orthodox, against Romanists and Unitarians; declaring that these learned Romanists undermine the orthodoxy of the Fathers, that there may be no resource but the church, and proving very clearly that the Unitarians are utterly unfounded in what they have said. But what security does this afford for the truth?—what reliance can be placed on the Fathers?
If I turn to scripture, nothing can be plainer. I may try to reason against it; but there I find, without any discussion or philosophy at all, that Christ is “God over all blessed for evermore;” that He and the Father are one; that He “was in the beginning with God, and was God.” I find that when Isaiah (chap. 6.) saw the glory of Jehovah of hosts, he saw the glory of Christ. In John 12 I find that He is the true God and eternal life. I find that He created all things. (Heb. 1, Col. 1, John 1) In a word, I find the proper eternal divinity of the Lord Jesus, and His distinct personality, taught as plainly as any truth possibly can be. John the Baptist goes before Jehovah's face, but it is before Christ. God with us, who saves the people, is Christ, The God-man (an expression, by the by, condemned as heretical by an early council—men were to say, God and man) revealed as plainly as testimony can make it; yet the unity of the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) shining through every page from Genesis to Rev. 1 am not, of course, bringing all the proofs of the Trinity in unity here (it would be out of place); I quote only a few passages to show the positiveness and clearness of scripture, which gives these great foundations without a cloud and without hesitation.
The author quotes the Fathers on the sanctity of the church. I have not need to say much here. The Fathers cannot tell us what the Romish body is now. No one denies in the abstract that holiness is a characteristic of the true church of God. But the manner in which this truth is treated is singularly characteristic. The Fathers show “the sanctity of the Catholic church in her origin, in her first preachers, in her doctrine, and in her sacraments.” Now is it not singular that her practice is left out here? I should have thought that the first thing holiness would have to be sought in was practice. That the church's origin is holy is certain, for it is God Himself; and, as to power, the Holy Ghost glorifying Christ in the gospel. That her first preachers were is no less sure, for they were apostles, and prophets, and saintly evangelists; that her doctrine was, is doubtless true, for we have it in the scriptures from God Himself, and are assured that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord;” that her sacraments, as moderns call them, were, no Christian will dispute either, if the term be rightly used. But then this only leads us to inquire, since this was so in the beginning, whether the doctrine and practice of Rome be like this; and if it be not, then I must conclude that she is not the true church, nor even like it.
But this question of practice our author avoids. It is too practical a one. Only, after a quotation from Tertullian on apostolic succession as a security for doctrine, which has nothing to say to holiness (Tertullian, who broke with the Catholic church, so called, because of its looseness) we just find “holy” in the virtuous lives of her children who observe her precepts. That reserve saves a good deal. We are told, too, that the fathers say there cannot be sanctity out of the Catholic church; but would it not be better to show that there was in what called itself so? Now, I have already given a quotation from Cyprian (and others could be added) which shows that, in some two hundred years after Christ, the self-called Catholic church was sunk into the lowest excesses of vanity, corruption, fraud, and avarice, bishops and all; so that God, he says, treated them most gently in sending the Decian persecution. Indeed the choice of bishops was more than once the occasion of bloodshed and war; yet Cyprian was a great stickler for unity.
On the catholicity of the church I have already spoken. That the Fathers used the testimony of the Church universal against heretics is quite true; nor, though not a final authority, are they to be much blamed, when it was universal. But we have seen they were not preserved by it themselves, nor was the church; and the question still remains, Is the Romish system in the truth? The Fathers, with their usual inconsistency, when not pressed by the heretics, equally declared that the scriptures alone were authority. They argued, and argued as it suited them. Thus Cyprian, against those who deserted what he belonged to, preached unity as obligatory. But. this same Cyprian was exceedingly opposed to the pope and Romans on the re-baptizing of heretics, and wrote against the pope, and never would yield to him. Stephen, the said pope, urged— “Let nothing be innovated on what has been handed down” (traditum). Hereupon our good Father changes all his language. “Whence,” he cries out, “is that tradition? Does it descend from the authority of the Lord2 and the Gospels (Evangelica), and come from the commandments and Epistles of the apostles? For God bears witness that these things are to be done which are written, and speaks to Joshua, the son of Nun, saying, ‘The book of this law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate in it day and night, that thou mayest observe to do all things that are written therein.' If, therefore, it is commanded in the gospel, or contained in the epistles of the apostles, or the Acts, that those coming from whatever heresy should not be baptized, but only hands imposed on him in penance, let this divine and holy tradition be observed What obstinacy is that! (in the pope, remember.) What presumption to prefer human tradition to a divine disposition, and not take notice that God is indignant and angry as often as human tradition sets aside, and passes by, divine precepts, as He cries out and says by Esaias the prophet, ‘This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.' Also the Lord, in the gospel, reproving and blaming, lays it down, and says, ‘Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may establish your tradition,' mindful of which precept the blessed Apostle Paul himself also warns and instructs, saying, ‘If any one teach otherwise, and do not acquiesce in the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and His doctrine, he is puffed up with pride, knowing nothing: from such turn away.'“ —Ep. lxxiv. Ed. Oxon. Here every tradition is to be judged by scripture. O si sic omnia! and this is a pope!
The truth is, the Fathers were men, and reasoned as it suited them. The scriptures are the word of God, and speak plainly. “He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” But the letter of our good prelate affords us some further and excellent advice— “It is simple with religious and simple minds, both to lay aside error, and find and dig out the truth. For if we revert to the head and origin of divine tradition, human error ceases [we must remember that tradition means any doctrine delivered by word or writing]; and the principle (ratione) of the celestial sacraments being considered, whatever lay hid in obscurity and a cloud of darkness, it will be brought out into the light of truth. If a canal, which conducts water that before flowed copiously and abundantly, suddenly fails, do not men go to the fountain, that there the reason of the failure may be known—whether the veins being dried up, the water has dried up at the source? or whether, being perfect there and full, running forward, failed mid-way? that if it be caused by the fault of an interrupted or leaky canal, which hinders the water from flowing constantly and without interruption, the canal being re-made and strengthened, the water collected for the use and drinking of the city may be re-presented with the same richness and purity as it flows from the fountain, which now is what the priests of God, keeping the divine precepts, have to do. And if in any one (or anything) the truths have tottered or vacillated, let us return to the original of the Lord, and the gospel (originem Dominican et Evangelicam), and the apostolic teaching (traditionem), and let the principle of our acting spring from that whence its order and origin has sprung.” Here, remark, tradition does not mean what is now received; for the truth was tottering and lost, and he insists on going back from that to what was originally delivered.
Now we have gone up to the fountain, as Cyprian recommends, and we have found a rich and inexhaustible fountain of pure water of life in the very same source which he urged men to go to. We have found that the canal has been choked with filth; so that, though a little water has oozed through, the result has been mud, undrinkable and contaminated—that the little that trickled through the filth, which has gradually filled up the channel, is utterly tainted; but when the grace of God had led us to the fountain, we have found the water as pure, as fresh, as abundant as ever, and only the more delicious from having found it again. We have found the truth easily discovered and dug out, as Cyprian has said, once arrived at the treasures of the scriptures which God gave. I have already quoted from Irenaeus a passage, where he states that if we cannot find the solution of all that is in scripture, we are not to look for another God, but leave these things to God, because the scriptures are perfect as spoken by the word of God and His Spirit.
You quote the famous saying of Augustine—that he would not believe the gospel, if the church did not move him to do so. He speaks rather of what led him to do it than as authority. Still it is a very serious statement to find uttered. We will examine it; but you must forgive me for increased hesitation as to your having looked at the original. I am not aware what 2 T. Ep. 53 means exactly; but this passage is in a treatise against a letter of a Manichean, which was called Fundamenti. The old and new editions of epistles have neither of them, in number 53, anything to do with it. However it may appear as an Ep. in some edition I do not know of. But I have another reason for my hesitation. One would think, from your extract, that it was a continuous passage. This is in nowise the case. You read” Lastly, the name itself of Catholic. These so many and so great ties bind the believing man to the Catholic church; and unless the authority of the church induced me to it, I would not believe the gospel.” Between “Catholic” and “these” there is nearly as much as you have quoted; but that is no matter, for it does not change the sense. But when you say, “These so many and so great ties,” I can hardly suppose you translate for yourself. It runs— “These so many and so great (tanta), most dear or cherished, ties of the Christian name bind.” Now, the sentiment is left out in what you say. His affections were in play, and this he expressly speaks of in what follows in contrast with the certainty of truth; and the last and famous phrase is in quite another connection—nearly half a page of my copy farther on, and in another section. Nor have you ever finished the phrase which you end with “Catholic church.” This I will do for you. You see you cannot be surprised if I believe you did not read the passage which you quote; for certainly your manner of quoting it would lead your reader to suppose it was one continuous paragraph. Augustine writes” Lib. Cont. Epist. Manichæi quam vocant Fundamenti, sec. iv.” (v. in another edition)— “These, therefore, so many and so great most dear3 ties of the Christian name keep the believing man in the Catholic church, though, on account of the slowness of our intelligence or the merit of our life, the truth does not yet clearly (or openly) skew itself” That is, his affections—perhaps I might say superstitions—linked him to the church, though he did not see the truth clear. What a different thing from being a security for the truth! And so little was it intelligence of the truth that be is speaking of, that he begins his reasoning by saying, that simplicity of faith keeps the crowd safe, not vivacity of intelligence: and therefore, if he leaves aside the wisdom which Manichæans did not believe to be in the Catholic church, many other things would hold him quietly in its bosom. This shows what the dear ties were, and how little it had to do with the certainty of truth. But this is clearer still, if we cite all that follows the words, “the believing man to the Catholic church.” I finished that phrase for you just now; I will now add what comes after the close of it— “But with you” [Manichæans, who were not Christians at all, held there was a good God and a bad one; they had a gospel of their own, Manes having, as was pretended, perfected with far clearer light what Christ had taught, and rejecting much of the scriptures], “but with you where there is nothing of these things (the most dear ties) which should invite or hold me, the promise of the truth alone resounds; which, indeed, if it be so manifestly shown that nothing can come into doubt, is to be preferred to all those things by which I am held in the Catholic [church]. But if it is only promised, and not exhibited, no man shall move me from that faith which binds me, by so many and such bonds, to the Christian religion.”
Now here the bonds which did hold him were of no force if the truth was elsewhere, so that he does not look at them as themselves the truth. But, further, however confident he was that it was not the case, yet, if the truth were clearly shown elsewhere, they lost their power, so that they did not in themselves secure the truth. Is it not singular all this part should be left out? But be proceeds to reason with the Manichæan to see if he has the truth. It is a mere argumentation to put the Manichæan out of the field by beating his argument; and here it is we find the famous phrase you and others quote. This piece, called Fundamenti, began— “Manichæus, Apostle of Jesus Christ by the providence of God the Father. These are healthful words from the perennial and living fountain.” “Bear with me,” says Augustine, “if I do not believe he is an apostle. I ask, who is he? You will answer, an apostle of Christ. I do not believe it. You will have nothing you can say or do. You promised me the knowledge of the truth, and now you compel me to believe what I am ignorant of. Perhaps you will read me the gospel, and thence you will maintain the character assumed by Manichæus. If then you will find any one who does not yet believe the gospel, what will you do with him when he says, ‘I do not believe?' But I would not believe the gospel if the authority of the Catholic church did not move me to it. To those therefore, to whom I have yielded, saying ‘believe the gospel,' why should I not yield when they say, ‘do not believe Manichæans?' Take your choice. If you say, believe the Catholics, they themselves warn me not to yield any faith to you; wherefore I cannot believe them unless I disbelieve you. If you say, do not believe the Catholics, you will not do right in compelling me by the gospel to [embrace] the faith of Manichæus, because I believe the gospel by Catholics preaching it.”
We see at once here, that to put the Manichmans out of court, he insists, that when he attempted to use the gospel to make him receive Manichæus (Manes) and his doctrine, it could not take effect, because he had believed in the gospel by means of the very Catholics who condemned Manichæus. Now it is a very foolish and bad sentence; but it is merely a reasoning used in an argument ad hominem to frustrate the Manichæans by taking the ground from under his feet; and it supposes a person refusing to believe the very gospel he appealed to, and then insisting he could not use the gospel against Catholics, because it was through Catholics he had believed. It is no business of mine to defend Augustine, though he were a bright testimony to the grace of God. His reasonings are often weak and foolish enough, and admitted to be so by Romanists, and I may almost say by himself, for he excuses himself as writing in haste, and admits that, not having been able to meet Manes in the plain sense of scripture, he had turned it into allegories. But the close of the chapter shows clearly what he meant. He had been led to believe the gospel by the preaching of Catholics, and, thus led to it by them, he could not read it as condemning them—an argument which has no force. It is in no way a quiet dogmatic sentence, as it is presented. It is to be hoped that he did not mean that when, through the instrumentality of the preaching of the Catholics, he had been brought to believe in it as the word of God, he still held it merely by their authority; because if he really believed it to be God's word, and that he had really faith in it as suck, however brought to that conviction, he must believe it, because God had spoken it: otherwise there was no divine faith.
He who received Christ's testimony set to his seal that God is true. Anybody may move me and lead me to receive the Bible; but when I receive it, I have faith in it because God has spoken: otherwise it is mere human faith. It cannot be doubted—for we have his account of it—that the word of God had reached his heart with deep conviction within. It had its own title in his heart. Did he rest this on the Church's authority? Then it was human faith. A man may bring me my father's letter: I recognize it as his. Its authority is not the bringer's, but the writer's, though the fidelity of the messenger may have been necessary for my getting it. Once received, it has my father's authority—the authority of him who wrote it. There is no pretense that “commoveret,” the word Augustine uses, can mean the authority. It proves that the church had a practical influence over his mind, which led him to do it: all very well. It was Catholics' preaching which had led him to faith; he was converted from heathen wickedness and Manichæanism; but it was not their previous authority on which the scriptures rested, but an authority over his mind.
But I take higher ground than showing it was a mere argumentative phrase to excuse Augustine. If the principle be the sober judgment of Augustine, that he would not believe unless on the authority of the church, this is not believing because God has spoken but because the church had. If one tells me something, and another accredits him, and I believe the first because the other declares what he says is true, it is clear I do not believe the former, though I believe the fact he relates; for I do so because I trust another, not him. That is, if I believe the gospel because the church authenticates it, it is because I do not believe it without: that is, God's saying it is insufficient. I do not believe God in it at all. There is no faith in God's word.
But see what ground the Romanists set me on here, for this is the real truth of the matter. God has spoken; the apostles and evangelists have recorded His revelation: if they deny it, they are infidels, not Christians. I am to believe God, because the church accredits what He has revealed. I am to believe the church because Augustine accredits it; that is, the authority of God Himself (who, in sovereign grace, has spoken to us) is reduced to the opinion I may form of the judgment of Augustine. What a favorable position! as if God, when He has spoken, cannot give proof that He has, so as to bind the Christian's, nay, every man's conscience! Now, I have a very poor opinion of the judgment of Augustine, and I shall tell you why; but what a foundation on which to rest belief in what God has said! I must have Augustine's authority for its being true; for if the church accredits the scripture and Augustine accredits the church, the judgment and authority of Augustine is my stay, and the base of the whole. I say, if God has spoken, His word obliges to believe because He has spoken: woe be to him who does not! You plead Augustine's word, that though He has spoken (for you dare not deny this, or you are an infidel)—though God has spoken, you would not believe Him unless the church guaranteed it, Is this faith? God speaks; I cannot believe what He says till some one else accredits it! It is as awful ground to go on as it is unstable and insecure; and this is all the ground that the Romish body can give as security of our faith!
The truth is, Augustine was first attracted by Ambrose's preaching, by his kindness and eloquence, and began to doubt his own Manichæanism; but he was converted by the scriptures, and established in the faith by the scriptures. “Therefore,” he says, “as we were infirm in finding the truth by mere reason, and the authority of the holy letters was needful for us, I began now to believe that thou wouldst in nowise have given so excellent an authority to the scriptures, in all lands, unless thou hadst written that by it I should believe in thee, and by it I should seek thee.” This, accordingly, he did, passing through much conflict; and, at last, abandoning himself to tears under a fig-tree, he heard a voice saying, “Take and read, take and read;” and he arose, took up the epistles to look at the first thing he opened at, and found a passage which was his deliverance. Such is his own account in his Confessions when he is relating the facts, not reasoning with Manichæans. He was not very nice in reasoning with these. He wrote a book against them early in his career; and when he could not make any proper sense out of the scriptures literally, or none could be made, so he says, he turned it into an allegory to get out of the scrape, hoping he might do better afterward; and so, indeed, he tried to do in a treatise on Genesis according to the letter.
As to St. Vincent of Lerins (not Sernis), there is a sentence of his almost as famous as Augustine's. It is this, that we were to believe quod semper, qua ubique, quod ab omnibus, what was believed always, everywhere, and by all. May I guess that you did not quote this famous rule, because you have only, as you allege, a majority—really just half; the Greek church, older than you, thinking you all wrong, and the Protestants thinking you Babylon? If man's opinion and agreement is to be the ground of faith, according to Vincentius Lirinensis, we can have none at all in these days. But the passage you do quote is an unfortunate one, because it was just the very order of Pope Stephanus, which the holy martyr, and the African church, and Firmilian, and Asia Minor, and the East resisted as subverting the church, and condemned by scripture, in a letter of which I have given an extract.
Allow me also to quote a passage of Jerome: “Hear another testimony, by which it is most manifestly proved that a presbyter is the same as a bishop” —Titus 1:55For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: (Titus 1:5), seq.—and then quotes other passages. “But that afterward we should be shown who should have the pre-eminence over the rest, it was done as a remedy for schism, lest every one drawing [people] to himself should break up the church of Christ; for at Alexandria, also, from Mark the Evangelist, to bishops Heraclus and Dionysius, the presbyters always named as bishop one chosen from among themselves, and placed in a higher grade.” “Nor is the church of the Roman city to be esteemed one, and that of all the earth another. Both the Gauls, and Britains, and Africa, and Persia, and the East, and India, and all barbarous nations adore one Christ, observe one rule of truth. If authority be sought, the world is greater than a city. Wherever there is a bishop, Rome, or Eugubium, or Constantinople, or Rhegium, or Alexandria, or Tanis, he is of the same worth, he is of the same priesthood. The power of riches and the humility of poverty make neither a higher nor an inferior bishop; but all are successors of the apostles.” Am I attaching any authority to Jerome? The learned but irascible and superstitious monk is one of the last to whom I should; but it is just a proof that these fathers said what suited them at the moment of writing, as other poor mortals do sometimes—indeed, rather more, so that there was a name for their way of reasoning. It was called œconomical; that is, they used reasoning proper to confute their adversary, without the least believing it was the truth themselves (like Augustine's allegories).