The Faith of Our Fathers Part 7
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You are happily strangers to those interior conflicts, to those perplexing doubts and to that frightful uncertainty which distracts the souls of those whose private judgment is their only guide, who are "ever learning and never attaining to the knowledge of the truth."(130) You are not, like others, drifting helplessly over the ocean of uncertainty and "carried about by every wind of doctrine." You are not as "blind men led by blind guides." You are not like those who are in the midst of a spiritual desert intersected by various by-paths, not knowing which to pursue; but you are on that high road spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, which is so "straight a way that fools shall not err therein."(131) You are a part of that universal Communion which has no "High Church" and "Low Church;" no "New School" and "Old School," for you all belong to that School which is "ever ancient and ever new." You enjoy that profound peace and tranquillity which springs from the conscious possession of the whole truth. Well may you exclaim: "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity."(132)
Give thanks, moreover, to G.o.d that you belong to a Church which has also a keen sense to detect and expose those moral shams, those pious frauds, those socialistic schemes which are so often undertaken in this country ostensibly in the name of religion and morality, but which, in reality, are subversive of morality and order, which are the offspring of fanaticism, and serve as a mask to hide the most debasing pa.s.sions.
Neither Mormons nor Millerites, nor the advocates of free love or of women's rights, so called, find any recruits in the Catholic Church. She will never suffer her children to be ensnared by these impostures, how specious soever they may be.
From what has been said in the preceding pages, it follows that the Catholic Church cannot be reformed. I do not mean, of course, that the Pastors of the Church are personally impeccable or not subject to sin.
Every teacher in the Church, from the Pope down to the humblest Priest, is liable at any moment, like any of the faithful, to fall from grace and to stand in need of moral reformation. We all carry "this treasure (of innocence) in earthen vessels."
My meaning is that the Church is not susceptible of being reformed in her doctrines. The Church is the work of an Incarnate G.o.d. Like all G.o.d's works, it is perfect. It is, therefore, incapable of reform. Is it not the height of presumption for men to attempt to improve upon the work of G.o.d?
Is it not ridiculous for the Luthers, the Calvins, the Knoxes and the Henries and a thousand lesser lights to be offering their amendments to the Const.i.tution of the Church, as if it were a human Inst.i.tution?
Our Lord Himself has never ceased to rule personally over His Church. It is time enough for little men to take charge of the s.h.i.+p when the great Captain abandons the helm.
A Protestant gentleman of very liberal education remarked to me, before the opening of the late Ec.u.menical Council: "I am a.s.sured, sir, by a friend, in confidence, that, at a secret Conclave of Bishops recently held in Rome it was resolved that the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception would be reconsidered and abolished at the approaching General Council; in fact, that the definition was a mistake, and that the blunder of 1854 would be repaired in 1869." I told him, of course, that no such question could be entertained in the Council; that the doctrinal decrees of the Church were irrevocable, and that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined once and forever.
If only one instance could be given in which the Church ceased to teach a doctrine of faith which had been previously held, that single instance would be the death blow of her claim to infallibility. But it is a marvelous fact worthy of record that in the whole history of the Church, from the nineteenth century to the first, no solitary example can be adduced to show that any Pope or General Council ever revoked a decree of faith or morals enacted by any preceding Pontiff or Council. Her record in the past ought to be a sufficient warrant that she will tolerate no doctrinal variations in the future.
If, as we have seen, the Church has authority from G.o.d to teach, and if she teaches nothing but the truth, is it not the duty of all Christians to hear her voice and obey her commands? She is the organ of the Holy Ghost.
She is the Representative of Jesus Christ, who has said to her: "He that heareth you heareth Me; he that despiseth you despiseth Me." She is the Mistress of truth. It is the property of the human mind to embrace truth wherever it finds it. It would, therefore, be not only an act of irreverence, but of sheer folly, to disobey the voice of this ever-truthful Mother.
If a citizen is bound to obey the laws of his country, though these laws may not in all respects be conformable to strict justice; if a child is bound by natural and divine law to obey his mother, though she may sometimes err in her judgments, how much more strictly are not we obliged to be docile to the teachings of the Catholic Church, our Mother, whose admonitions are always just, whose precepts are immutable!
"For twenty years," observed a recently converted Minister of the Protestant Church, "I fought and struggled against the Church with all the energy of my will. But when I became a Catholic all my doubts ended, my inquiries ceased. I became as a little child, and rushed like a lisping babe into the arms of my mother." By Baptism Christians become children of the Church, no matter who pours upon them the regenerating waters. If she is our Mother, where is our love and obedience? When the infant seeks nourishment at its mother's breast it does not a.n.a.lyze its food. When it receives instructions from its mother's lips it never doubts, but instinctively believes. When the mother stretches forth her hand the child follows unhesitatingly. The Christian should have for his spiritual Mother all the simplicity, all the credulity, I might say, of a child, guided by the instincts of faith. "Unless ye become," says our Lord, "as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."(133) "As new-born babes, desire the rational milk without guile; that thereby you may grow unto salvation."(134) In her nourishment there is no poison; in her doctrines there is no guile.
THE CHURCH AND THE BIBLE.
The Church, as we have just seen, is the only Divinely const.i.tuted teacher of Revelation.
Now, the Scripture is the great depository of the Word of G.o.d. Therefore, the Church is the divinely appointed Custodian and Interpreter of the Bible. For, her office of infallible Guide were superfluous if each individual could interpret the Bible for himself.
That G.o.d never intended the Bible to be the Christian's rule of faith, independently of the living authority of the Church, will be the subject of this chapter.
No nation ever had a greater veneration for the Bible than the Jewish people. The Holy Scripture was their pride and their glory. It was their national song in time of peace; it was their meditation and solace in time of tribulation and exile. And yet the Jews never dreamed of settling their religious controversies by a private appeal to the Word of G.o.d.
Whenever any religious dispute arose among the people it was decided by the High Priest and the Sanhedrim, which was a council consisting of seventy-two civil and ecclesiastical judges. The sentence of the High Priest and of his a.s.sociate judges was to be obeyed under penalty of death. "If thou perceive," says the Book of Deuteronomy, "that there be among you a hard and doubtful matter in judgment, ... thou shalt come to the Priests of the Levitical race and to the judge, ... and they shall show thee the truth of the judgment.... And thou shalt follow their sentence; neither shalt thou decline to the right hand, nor to the left.... But he that will ... refuse to obey the commandment of the Priest, ... that man shall die, and thou shalt take away the evil from Israel."(135)
From this clear sentence you perceive that G.o.d does not refer the Jews for the settlement of their controversies to the letter of the law, but to the living authority of the ecclesiastical tribunal which He had expressly established for that purpose.
Hence, the Priests were required to be intimately acquainted with the Sacred Scripture, because they were the depositaries of G.o.d's law, and were its expounders to the people. "The lips of the Priest shall keep knowledge, and they (the people) shall seek the law at his mouth, because he is the angel (or messenger) of the Lord of hosts."(136)
And, in fact, very few of the children of Israel, except the Priests, were in possession of the Divine Books. The holy ma.n.u.script was rare and precious. And what provision did G.o.d make that all the people might have an opportunity of hearing the Scriptures? Did He command the sacred volume to be multiplied? No; but He ordered the _Priests_ and the _Levites_ to be distributed through the different tribes, that they might always be at hand to instruct the people in the knowledge of the law. The Jews were even forbidden to read certain portions of the Scripture till they had reached the age of thirty years.
Does our Savior reverse this state of things when He comes on earth? Does He tell the Jews to be their own guides in the study of the Scriptures? By no means; but He commands them to obey their const.i.tuted teachers, no matter how disedifying might be their private lives. "Then said Jesus to the mult.i.tudes and to His disciples: The Scribes and Pharisees sit upon the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do."(137)
It is true our Lord said on one occasion "Search the Scriptures, for you _think_ in them to have life everlasting, and the same are they that give testimony to Me."(138) This pa.s.sage is triumphantly quoted as an argument in favor of private interpretation. But it proves nothing of the kind.
Many learned commentators, ancient and modern, express the verb in the indicative mood: "Ye search the Scriptures." At all events, our Savior speaks here only of the Old Testament because the New Testament was not yet written. He addresses not the mult.i.tude, but the Pharisees, who were the teachers of the law, and reproaches them for not admitting His Divinity. "You have," He says, "the Scriptures in your hands; why then do you not recognize Me as the Messiah, since they give testimony that I am the Son of G.o.d?" He refers them to the Scriptures for a proof of His Divinity, not as to a source from which they were to derive all knowledge in regard to the truths of revelation.
Besides, He did not rest the proof of His Divinity upon the _sole_ testimony of Scripture. For He showed it First-By the testimony of John the Baptist (v. 33), who had said, "Behold the Lamb of G.o.d; behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world." See also John i. 34.
Second-By the miracles which He wrought (v. 36).
Third-By the testimony of the Father (v. 37), when He said: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him." Matt. iii. 16; Luke ix. 35.
Fourth-By the Scriptures of the Old Testament; as if He were to say, "If you are unwilling to receive these three proofs, though they are most cogent, at least you cannot reject the testimony of the Scriptures, of which you boast so much."
Finally, in this very pa.s.sage our Lord is explaining the sense of Holy Writ; therefore, its true meaning is not left to the private interpretation of every chance reader. It is, therefore, a grave perversion of the sacred text to adduce these words in vindication of private interpretation of the Scriptures.
But when our Redeemer abolished the Old Law and established His Church, did He intend that His Gospel should be disseminated by the circulation of the Bible, or by the living voice of His disciples? This is a vital question. I answer most emphatically, that it was by preaching alone that He intended to convert the nations, and by preaching alone they were converted. No nation has ever yet been converted by the agency of Bible a.s.sociations.
Jesus Himself never wrote a line of Scripture. He never once commanded His Apostles to write a word,(139) or even to circulate the Scriptures already existing. When He sends them on their Apostolic errand, He says: "Go _teach_ all nations."(140) "_Preach_ the Gospel to every creature."(141) "He that heareth you heareth Me."(142) And we find the Apostles acting in strict accordance with these instructions.
Of the twelve Apostles, the seventy-two disciples, and early followers of our Lord only eight have left us any of their sacred writings. And the Gospels and Epistles were addressed to particular persons or particular churches. They were written on the occasion of some emergency, just as Bishops issue Pastoral letters to correct abuses which may spring up in the Church, or to lay down some rules of conduct for the faithful. The Apostles are never reported to have circulated a single volume of the Holy Scripture, but "they going forth, _preached_ everywhere, the Lord co-operating with them."(143)
Thus we see that in the Old and the New Dispensation the people were to be guided by a living authority, and not by their private interpretation of the Scriptures.
Indeed, until the religious revolution of the sixteenth century, it was a thing unheard of from the beginning of the world, that people should be governed by the dead letter of the law either in civil or ecclesiastical affairs. How are your civil affairs regulated in this State, for instance?
Certainly not in accordance with your personal interpretation of the laws of Virginia, but in accordance with decisions which are rendered by the const.i.tuted judges of the State.
Now what the civil code is to the citizen, the Scripture is to the Christian. The Word of G.o.d, as well as the civil law, must have an interpreter, by whose decision we are obliged to abide.
We often hear the s.h.i.+bboleth: "The Bible, and the Bible only, must be your guide." Why, then, do you go to the useless expense of building fine churches and Sabbath-schools? What is the use of your preaching sermons and catechizing the young, if the Bible at home is a sufficient guide for your people? The fact is, you reverend gentlemen contradict in practice what you so vehemently advance in theory. Do not tell me that the Bible is all-sufficient; or, if you believe it is self-sufficient, cease your instructions. Stand not between the people and the Scriptures.
I will address myself now in a friendly spirit to a non-Catholic, and will proceed to show him that he cannot consistently accept the silent Book of Scripture as his sufficient guide.
A copy of the sacred volume is handed to you by your minister, who says: "Take this book; you will find it all-sufficient for your salvation." But here a serious difficulty awaits you at the very threshold of your investigations. What a.s.surance have you that the book he hands you is the _inspired_ Word of G.o.d; for every part of the Bible is far from possessing intrinsic evidences of inspiration? It may, for ought you know, contain more than the Word of G.o.d, or it may not contain all the Word of G.o.d. We must not suppose that the Bible was always, as it is now, a compact book, bound in a neat form. It was for several centuries in scattered fragments, spread over different parts of Christendom. Meanwhile, many spurious books, under the name of Scripture, were circulated among the faithful.
There was, for instance, the spurious Gospel of St. Peter; there was also the Gospel of St. James and of St. Matthias.
The Catholic Church, in the plenitude of her authority, in the third Council of Carthage, (A. D. 397,) separated the chaff from the wheat, and declared what Books were Canonical, and what were apocryphal. Even to this day the Christian sects do not agree among themselves as to what books are to be accepted as genuine. Some Christians of continental Europe do not recognize the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke because these Evangelists were not among the Apostles. Luther used to call the Epistle of St. James a letter of straw.
But even when you are a.s.sured that the Bible contains the Word of G.o.d, and nothing but the Word of G.o.d, how do you know that the translation is faithful? The Books of Scripture were originally written in Hebrew and Greek, and you have only the translation. Before you are certain that the translation is faithful you must study the Hebrew and Greek languages, and then compare the translation with the original. How few are capable of this gigantic undertaking!
Indeed, when you accept the Bible as the Word of G.o.d, you are obliged to receive it on the authority of the Catholic Church, who was the sole Guardian of the Scriptures for fifteen hundred years.
But after having ascertained to your satisfaction that the translation is faithful, still the Scriptures can never serve as a complete Rule of Faith and a complete guide to heaven independently of an authorized, living interpreter.
A competent guide, such as our Lord intended for us, must have three characteristics. It must be within the reach of everyone; it must be clear and intelligible; it must be able to satisfy us on all questions relating to faith and morals.
First-A complete guide of salvation must be within the reach of every inquirer after truth; for, G.o.d "wishes all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;"(144) and therefore He must have placed within the reach of everyone the means of arriving at the truth. Now, it is clear that the Scriptures could not at any period have been accessible to everyone.
They could not have been accessible _to the primitive Christians_, because they were not all written for a long time after the establishment of Christianity. The Christian religion was founded in the year 33. St.
Matthew's Gospel, the first part of the New Testament ever written, did not appear till eight years after. The Church was established about twenty years when St. Luke wrote his Gospel. And St. John's Gospel did not come to light till toward the end of the first century. For many years after the Gospels and Epistles were written the knowledge of them was confined to the churches to which they were addressed. It was not till the close of the fourth century that the Church framed her Canon of Scripture and declared the Bible, as we now possess it, to be the genuine Word of G.o.d.
And this was the golden age of Christianity! The most perfect Christians lived and died and went to heaven before the most important parts of the Scriptures were written. And what would have become of them if the Bible alone had been their guide?
The Faith of Our Fathers Part 7
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