Page images
PDF
EPUB

you ? for do not you, as their Pastor, claim the sole right of announcing and expounding to them “all things delivered, defined, and declared by the sacred Canons and general Councils, and particularly by the holy Council of Trent ?” and will you, being confessedly fallible, that is, always, at least, liable to err, contend that it is absolutely impossible for you ever to err, when you undertake either simply to state from memory, (as you often do,) or to translate a doctrinal decision of the Church, and still more when you venture to explain that decision in words of your own ? « In fact” (as you ask in your Refutation,)“ does not sometimes the insertion of a single word involve a serious point of doctrine ? and may not such an omission be of equally “ serious importance.” When, then, you either repeat, or translate, or expound any decree, may you not, however unintentionally, either insert some “ single word ” of serious import, not found in the original, or leave out one of equal importance ? If you say that any of the casualties here supposed is absolutely impossible, you claim a plenary inspiration which you have denied to the Pope. But if you only allow that such accidents are within the range of possibility, you must, as a consequence, admit that “ the faithful" under you cannot place such reliance upon your pastoral instructions as excludes “ all doubt,” and includes absolute certainty,” and therefore, according to your own definition, their “religious belief” cannot "amount to faith,” but at most only to “ opinion.” And yet, if individual infallibility cannot be claimed by any one amongst you, your regular hearers may console themselves with this reflection, that no other congregation in your communion enjoys any greater portion of “absolute certainty ” than themselves. I am the more satisfied with this estimate of

your

character as a religious instructor, when I consider you as a biblical commentator; for, in this capacity, you have clearly deviated from the rules of your own Church, and approached in an equal degree to the practice of those other mortals who never pretend to any supernatural exemption from error. This may be proved by a reference to your mode of interpreting either the texts in St. Matthew before alluded to, or the latter portion of the sixth chapter of St. John's Gospel. I will take the latter as an illustration. You maintained, in opposition to most Protestant divines, that the latter part of the chapter in question clearly referred to the Eucharist, and that when thus viewed it decidedly supported your doctrine of Transubstantiation. In advocating your own application of that chapter, did you refer to any exposition of the passage given by the infallible Church,” or to any “consent of ancient Fathers,” or to any other criterion or rule of interpretation not known, or not equally accessible to your opponents ? Nothing like it. You paraphrased the texts in succession, you gave your own comment, asserting and attempting to prove by a series of criticisms, that the passages had such and such a meaning, and not that affixed to them by Protestants. Now, Sir, what did your conduct throughout all this commentation exhibit, but the very spirit of private judgment, and the practice of private interpretation ? which, therefore, we ought not to consider so reprehensible as you have represented, if it be lawful to oppose your own practice to your theory. You can expect the latter to have but little effect in this case, if it be true that example is more powerful than precept.

The sanction which you have thus, however inadvertently, given to that dangerous principle of private interpretation, is more surprising, when it is considered as a complete violation of another principle of exposition enjoined by the highest authorities in your Church ; I allude to that clause of the Creed of Pope Pius IV. and that Decree of the fourth Session of the Council of Trent, both commanding you never to “take or interpret them (the Scriptures) other. wise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers." The obligation is clear and imperative, and it is equally clear that, in your lectures both of the last and the present year, you have never yet fulfilled it in a single instance. In this remissness, you are, I am aware, countenanced by a host of your own polemics, who uniformly evade the inconvenient requisition, whilst they have the boldness to boast of their high reverence for the “ venerable Fathers," and their strict adherence to them, and at the same time to reprimand Protestants as scandalously guilty of treating them with disrespect and contempt :-how little ground there is for either the boast, or the censure, might soon be shewn, were such a discussion needful, upon the present occasion. But since you can find time to pick so many quarrels with the principles of others, it is but reasonable to tie you to your own. To put then the matter to a short issue,—you either can support your own interpretation of the Scriptures by the unanimous consent of the Fathers, or you cannot. If you can, I beg you to favour us with a few specimens, as your orthodoxy requires you to do. If you cannot, be so candid as to acknowledge that antiquity is not in your favour. For as often as you quote any text for a proof, and evade compliance with the injunction of the Pope and the Council, your non-compliance may be fairly construed not only as a virtual sanction of private interpretation, but as a tacit admission of your inability to

support your cause by the suffrages of the primitive writers of the Christian Church.

I will not undertake to deny that a gentleman of your ability and learning may find some of the Fathers to sanc. tion the view which you take of the 6th chapter of St. John's Gospel. But some only, or even a considerable number, will not suffice; we must have them all unani. mously consenting; otherwise the verdict will not be in your favour. So long, then, as you fail to produce these authorities, you have no right to assume that your interpretation of this or any other passage of Scripture is orthodox; and not only Protestants, but “ the faithful ” also, stand fully excused by both the Pope and the Council, for rejecting your comments as mere unauthorised expositions, dictated only by a “private spirit.”

They need not, however, rest their dissent from you upon these negative reasons, if they know, as it is meet they should, that your application of the chapter in question to the Eucharist, is positively opposed by a great number of the highest dignitaries and most learned divines of your own communion. It may be sufficient for the present to specify two Popes, Innocent III. and Pius II.; four Cardinals, Bonaventure, D'Ailli, Cusan, and Cajetan ; two Archbishops, Richard of Armagh, and Guerrero of Granada; who are followed by at least five Bishops, and a score of learned Theologians and Professors, with whose names I will not at present trouble you. It is probably needless that I should, for it is to be presumed that you are better versed than I am in the works of those Divines. But should you venture to assert that they countenanced your sacramental application of the chapter in question, I will give you such references as will probably prove that they were expressly opposed to it, and maintained that it had not the least relation to the Eucharist.* Assuming then, for the present,

* This, however, lays us under no obligation to commend their good faith and sincerity; for Card. Bellarmin gives us to understand that they adopted the anti-eucharistic application of that chapter for the purpose of depriving the Hussites and Lutherans of a cogent argument for the communion under both kinds, which they deduced from ver. 53—Except ye cat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.The Church having determined to withhold the sacramental cup from the laity, it was not to be expected that either Evangelist or Apostle would be suffered to say a word in favour of the primitive practice ; for, according to Card. Cusap's Canon of criticism, (laid down in his Epist. 2, ad Bohemos)-the understanding of the Scriptures ought to be accommodated to time and custom, and therefore, one ought not to marvel is the Church expound it one way at one time and a different way at another, as was sagely remarked by some at the Council of Trent, who quoted and approved of the Cardinal's maxim. (P.

that they discountenanced the opinion which you have adopted, I must beg you to recollect the argumentum ad verecundiam, which

you

have so often addressed as a rebuke to the Protestants, for presuming to dissent from the “erudition of the Catholic Church ;" and I could wish you to

we may

Sarpi's Hist. B. 2. Du Pin's Eccl. Hist. of the 16th cent. B. 3. ch. 1.) Hence, whether or not Scripture be a mere nose of wax," easily discern to what party they belong, who have wished to use it as such, and hence we ought not to marvel when we find these politic Theologues dragging in the inspired writers upon every occasion, and trying to extort from them some sanction for every dogma, however absurd, and for every practice, however superstitious, which the Church has decreed to palm upon the world under the name of Christianity.

That the application of this chapter of St. John to the Eucharist, so peremptorily urged by Mr. S., has had its opponents in the bosom of the infalliblé Church, is intimated pretty significantly by an authority which the Rev. Gentleman neither can, nor dare gainsay ;-by the Council of Trent itself, which, in its Decree of the 21st Session, asserts (Cap. 1.) that it cannot be rightly concluded from our Saviour's discourse " in the 6th chapter of John, in whatever way it be understood, according to the various interpretations of holy Fathers and Doctors, that communion under both kinds was enjoined by our Lord.” We learnnot from any Protestant writer, but-from Du Pin, (B. 3, ch. 17) that when the Archbishop of Granada argued “that in that passage our Saviour did not speak of the Sacrament, but of faith under the metaphor of nourishment, and to prove what he said, produced the text, (v. 53) and the explication of several Fathers, particularly of St. Augustine, -Card. Seripando admitted that “the Catholics are divided among themselves, some understanding those words of sacramental communion, and others of spiritual,”—a most inglorious uncertainty surely to occur in a Church which pretends to have the sole right “ to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures.” In a subsequent discussion, however, Salmeron, the Jesuit, urged them to settle the question, arguing that it was not “ for the honour of the Council to leave it in dispute whether Jesus Christ, in the 6th chapter of St. John, spake of the spiritual eating of his body, since there is not a stronger evidence in the whole Gospel to prove the obligation which our Saviour has laid upon mankind to receive that Sacrament.” What, then, withheld the Council from deciding the precise application of this passage as peremptorily as it decided many others ? Not a sense of humility or diffidence, we may rest assured, --for never did any assembly labour under fewer encumbrances of that nature. Its 134 anathemas sufficiently attest its intrepid confidence. But it resolved to be indecisive for once; and the frankness of the four Bisliops who replied to Salmeron afford a broad hint of its motives. “That as to the 6th chapter of St. John, it would not be for the honour of the Council to determine its sense; since it would rob the Church of the double advantage which it draws from the two senses which the Fathers have given to that text; for when it had the Bohemians to oppose, it happily made use of that sense, in which several Fathers understood that 6th chapter of St. John, saying that a spiritual communion was there designed ; and the heretics could not reproach the Church with giving there a new interpretation, since it was found in the most ancient Fathers.” Policy prevailed over presumption ; for the Council, in accordance with the Bishops' admonition, left the particular application of the passage as say frankly, whether you consider your unsupported opinion sufficient to outweigh that of thirty of your most learned Doctors and highest Dignitaries.

Were you to bring in your turn an equal, or even a greater, number of counter authorities, I am afraid it would not much mend the

an open question, merely putting its veto upon any appropriation of it, in favour of the communion under both kinds. Thus the Pastors of the faithful still enjoy all the “ double advantage ” of the two senses; and thus, whilst Mr. S., selecting the one best suited to the atmosphere of Blackburn, dilates upon it with rhetorical grandiloquence, as an incontrovertible proof of their doctrine of the Eucharist, and affects to deplore the obstinate prejudices of those “professionists” who dispute it; some other Pastor, equally infallible, at Prague or Dresden, who happens to be annoyed by some pestilent Hussites or Lutherans, may be at the same moment warmly contending for the other side of the question, insisting that the passage has not the least connection with the Eucharist; that none but a set of self-willed, fanatical Biblicals, would think of applying it in a sense which has been long ago discarded even by Popes, by a train of Dignitaries the most eminent, and by a host of Doctors most famous for their learning and knowledge of divinity. After thus exemplifying Roman unity, and verifying the assertion of the Rhemists, that “Catholikes only (are) right handlers of the Scripture," each champion of the faith would think himself fairly authorised to taunt the Protestants because they do not always agree in their expositions, to declaim against private judgment, as the cause of all religious dissension; and finally, to exhort them earnestly to return into the bosom of the only true Church, by subjecting their minds and consciences with implicit docility, to him as one of those infallible instructors whose lips only keep knoroledge, and from whose mouth, therefore, they are to seek the law. Such is the consistency, such the modest pretensions of the emissaries of Rome.

From the few preceding extracts from the discussions held in the Church at Trent, coupled with Bellarmin's intimation of the real motives which actuated a number of his controversial predecessors, we may form a notion whether a sincere and disinterested love of the truth exerted any considerable influence over these Divines in their character of Scriptural Expositors. Whether any particular exposition proposed was-not consonant to the mind of the Spirit, but-whether it was convertible to the good of the Church, and if so, in what mode it could be turned to the best advantage, appear to have been considerations, which took precedence of all others in the minds of different parties, who, however, varying in their selection of the particular means, were all steadily aiming at the same end. When, therefore, we find Popish Pamphleteers or Lecturers asserting, as positively as if they believed it to be true, that Protestants, (to use the words of Mr. S.) have “wilfully corrupted the Scriptures to suit their own purposes,” that they actually “ torment” them to make them "receive their preconceived opinions,” we can safely deride the charge, which naturally recoils upon its authors or their associates, as a malevolent but larmless calumny. We can merely regard such effusions as symptoms of a mental melan-icterus, which prompts the accusers to ascribe to others motives and designs tinged with such corrupt morbid hues as exist only in their own astrabilious imaginations; for

"All seems infected that th' infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundic'd eye."

« PreviousContinue »