The Faith of Our Fathers Part 8
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The art of printing was not invented till the fifteenth century (1440).
How utterly impossible it was to supply everyone with a copy of the Scriptures _from the fourth to the fifteenth century_! During that long period Bibles had to be copied with the pen. There were but a few hundred of them in the Christian world, and these were in the hands of the clergy and the learned. "According to the Protestant system, the art of printing would have been much more necessary to the Apostles than the gift of tongues. It was well for Luther that he did not come into the world until a century after the immortal invention of Guttenberg. A hundred years earlier his idea of directing two hundred and fifty million men to read the Bible would have been received with shouts of laughter, and would inevitably have caused his removal from the pulpit of Wittenberg to a hospital for the insane."(145)
And even _at the present day_, with all the aid of steam printing presses, with all the Bible a.s.sociations extending through this country and England, and supported at enormous expense, it taxes all their energies to supply every missionary country with Bibles printed in the languages of the tribes and peoples for whom they are intended.
But even if the Bible were at all times accessible to everyone, how many millions exist in every age and country, not excepting our own age of boasted enlightenment, who are not accessible to the Bible because they are incapable of reading the Word of G.o.d! Hence, the doctrine of private interpretation would render many men's salvation not only difficult, but impossible.
Second-A competent religious guide must be clear and intelligible to all, so that everyone may fully understand the true meaning of the instructions it contains. Is the Bible a book intelligible to all? Far from it; it is full of obscurities and difficulties not only for the illiterate, but even for the learned. St. Peter himself informs us that in the Epistles of St.
Paul there are "certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and the unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction."(146) And consequently he tells us elsewhere "that no prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation."(147)
We read in the Acts of the Apostles that a certain man was riding in his chariot, reading the Book of Isaiah, and being asked by St. Philip whether he understood the meaning of the prophecy he replied: "How can I understand unless some man show me?"(148) admitting, by these modest words, that he did not pretend of himself to interpret the Scriptures.
The Fathers of the Church, though many of them spent their whole lives in the study of the Scriptures, are unanimous in p.r.o.nouncing the Bible a book full of knotty difficulties. And yet we find in our days pedants, with a mere smattering of Biblical knowledge, who see no obscurity at all in the Word of G.o.d, and who presume to expound it from Genesis to Revelation.
"Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
Does not the conduct of the Reformers conclusively show the utter folly of interpreting the Scriptures by private judgment? As soon as they rejected the oracle of the Church, and set up their own private judgment as the highest standard of authority, they could hardly agree among themselves on the meaning of a single important text. The Bible became in their hands a complete Babel. The sons of Noe attempted in their pride to ascend to heaven by building the tower of Babel, and their scheme ended in the confusion and multiplication of tongues. The children of the Reformation endeavored in their conceit to lead men to heaven by the private interpretation of the Bible, and their efforts led to the confusion and the multiplication of religions. Let me give you one example out of a thousand. These words of the Gospel, "This is My Body," were understood only in one sense before the Reformation. The new lights of the sixteenth century gave no fewer than eighty different meanings to these four simple words, and since their time the number of interpretations has increased to over a hundred.
No one will deny that in our days there exists a vast mult.i.tude of sects, which are daily multiplying. No one will deny(149) that this multiplying of creeds is a crying scandal, and a great stumbling-block in the way of the conversion of heathen nations. No one can deny that these divisions in the Christian family are traceable to the a.s.sumption of the right of private judgment. Every new-fledged divine, with a superficial education, imagines that he has received a call from heaven to inaugurate a new religion, and he is ambitious of handing down his fame to posterity by stamping his name on a new sect. And every one of these champions of modern creeds appeals to the unchanging Bible in support of his ever-changing doctrines.
Thus, one body of Christians will prove from the Bible that there is but one Person in G.o.d, while the rest will prove from the same source that a Trinity of Persons is a clear article of Divine Revelation. One will prove from the Holy Book that Jesus Christ is not G.o.d. Others will appeal to the same text to attest His Divinity. One denomination will a.s.sert on the authority of Scripture that infant baptism is not necessary for salvation, while others will hold that it is. Some Christians, with Bible in hand, will teach that there are no sacraments. Others will say that there are only two. Some will declare that the inspired Word does not preach the eternity of punishments. Others will say that the Bible distinctly vindicates that dogma. Do not clergymen appear every day in the pulpit, and on the authority of the Book of Revelation point out to us with painful accuracy the year and the day on which this world is to come to an end? And when their prophecy fails of execution they coolly put off our destruction to another time.
Very recently several hundred Mormon women presented a pet.i.tion to the government at Was.h.i.+ngton protesting against any interference with their abominable polygamy and they insist that their cherished system is sustained by the Word of G.o.d.
Such is the legitimate fruit of private interpretation! Our civil government is run not by private judgment, but by the const.i.tuted authorities. No one in his senses would allow our laws to be interpreted, and war to be declared by sensational journals, or by any private individuals. Why not apply the same principle to the interpretation of the Bible and the government of the Church?
Would it not be extremely hazardous to make a long voyage in a s.h.i.+p in which the officers and crew are fiercely contending among themselves about the manner of explaining the compa.s.s and of steering their course? How much more dangerous is it to trust to contending captains in the journey to heaven! Nothing short of an infallible authority should satisfy you when it is a question of steering your course to eternity. On this vital point there should be no conflict of opinion among those that guide you.
There should be no conjecture. But there must be always someone at the helm whose voice gives a.s.surance amid the fiercest storms that _all is well_.
Third-A rule of faith, or a competent guide to heaven, must be able to instruct in all the truths necessary for salvation. Now the Scriptures alone do not contain all the truths which a Christian is bound to believe, nor do they explicitly enjoin all the duties which he is obliged to practice. Not to mention other examples, is not every Christian obliged to sanctify Sunday and to abstain on that day from unnecessary servile work?
Is not the observance of this law among the most prominent of our sacred duties? But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Sat.u.r.day, a day which we never sanctify.
The Catholic Church correctly teaches that our Lord and His Apostles inculcated certain important duties of religion which are not recorded by the inspired writers.(150) For instance, most Christians pray to the Holy Ghost, a practice which is nowhere found in the Bible.
We must, therefore, conclude that the Scriptures _alone_ cannot be a sufficient guide and rule of faith because they cannot, at any time, be within the reach of every inquirer; because they are not of themselves clear and intelligible even in matters of the highest importance, and because they do not contain all the truths necessary for salvation.
G.o.d forbid that any of my readers should be tempted to conclude from what I have said that the Catholic Church is opposed to the reading of the Scriptures, or that she is the enemy of the Bible. The Catholic Church the enemy of the Bible! Good G.o.d! What monstrous ingrat.i.tude! What base calumny is contained in that a.s.sertion! As well might you accuse the Virgin Mother of trying to crush the Infant Savior at her breast as to accuse the Church, our Mother, of attempting to crush out of existence the Word of G.o.d. As well might you charge the patriotic statesman with attempting to destroy the const.i.tution of his country, while he strove to protect it from being mutilated by unprincipled demagogues.
For fifteen centuries the Church was the sole guardian and depository of the Bible, and if she really feared that sacred Book, who was to prevent her, during that long period, from tearing it in shreds and scattering it to the winds? She could have thrown it into the sea, as the unnatural mother would have thrown away her off-spring, and who would have been the wiser?
What has become of those millions of once famous books written in past ages? They have nearly all perished. But amid this wreck of ancient literature, the Bible stands almost a solitary monument like the Pyramids of Egypt amid the surrounding wastes. That venerable Volume has survived the wars and revolutions and the barbaric invasions of fifteen centuries.
Who rescued it from destruction? The Catholic Church. Without her fostering care the New Testament would probably be as little known today as "the Book of the days of the kings of Israel."(151)
Little do we imagine, in our age of steam printing, how much labor it cost the Church to preserve and perpetuate the Sacred Scriptures. Learned monks, who are now abused in their graves by thoughtless men, were constantly employed in copying with the pen the Holy Bible. When one monk died at his post another took his place, watching like a faithful sentinel over the treasure of G.o.d's Word.
Let me give you a few plain facts to show the pains which the Church has taken to perpetuate the Scriptures.
The Canon of the Bible, as we have seen, was framed in the fourth century.
In that same century Pope Damasus commanded a new and complete translation of the Scriptures to be made into the Latin language, which was then the living tongue not only of Rome and Italy, but of the civilized world.
If the Popes were afraid that the Bible should see the light, this was a singular way of manifesting their fear.
The task of preparing a new edition of the Scriptures was a.s.signed to St.
Jerome, the most learned Hebrew scholar of his time. This new translation was disseminated throughout Christendom, and on that account was called the _Vulgate_, or popular edition.
In the sixth and seventh centuries the modern languages of Europe began to spring up like so many shoots from the parent Latin stock. The Scriptures, also, soon found their way into these languages. The Venerable Bede, who lived in England in the eighth century, and whose name is profoundly reverenced in that country, translated the Sacred Scriptures into Saxon, which was then the language of England. He died while dictating the last verses of St. John's Gospel.
Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a funeral discourse on Queen Anne, consort of Richard II., p.r.o.nounced in 1394, praises her for her diligence in reading the four Gospels. The Head of the Church of England could not condemn in others what he commended in the queen.
Sir Thomas More affirms that, before the days of Wycliffe, there was an English version of the Scriptures, "by good and G.o.dly people with devotion and soberness well and reverently read."(152)
If partial restrictions began to be placed on the circulation of the Bible in England in the fifteenth century, these restrictions were occasioned by the conduct of Wycliffe and his followers, who not only issued a new translation, on which they engrafted their novelties of doctrine, but also sought to explain the sacred text in a sense foreign to the received interpretation of tradition.
While laboring to diffuse the Word of G.o.d it is the duty, as well as the right of the Church, as the guardian of faith, to see that the faithful are not misled by unsound editions.
Printing was invented in the fifteenth century, and almost a hundred years later came the Reformation. It is often triumphantly said, and I suppose there are some who, even at the present day, are ignorant enough to believe the a.s.sertion, that the first edition of the Bible ever published after the invention of printing was the edition of Martin Luther. The fact is, that before Luther put his pen to paper, no fewer than fifty-six editions of the Scriptures had appeared on the continent of Europe, not to speak of those printed in Great Britain. Of those editions, twenty-one were published in German, one in Spanish, four in French, twenty-one in Italian, five in Flemish and four in Bohemian.
Coming down to our own times, if you open an English Catholic Bible you will find in the preface a letter of Pope Pius VI., in which he strongly recommends the pious reading of the Holy Scriptures. A Pope's letter is the most weighty authority in the Church. You will also find in Haydock's Bible the letters of the Bishops of the United States, in which they express the hope that this splendid edition would have a wide circulation among their flocks.
These facts ought, I think, to convince every candid mind that the Church, far from being opposed to the reading of the Scriptures, does all she can to encourage their perusal.
A gentleman of North Carolina lately informed me that the first time he entered a Catholic bookstore he was surprised at witnessing on the shelves an imposing array of Bibles for sale. Up to that moment he had believed the unfounded charge that Catholics were forbidden to read the Scriptures.
He has since embraced the Catholic faith.
And perhaps I may be permitted here to record my personal experiences during a long course of study. I speak of myself, not because my case is exceptional, but, on the contrary, because my example will serve to ill.u.s.trate the system pursued toward ecclesiastical students in all colleges throughout the Catholic world in reference to the Holy Scriptures.
In our course of Humanities we listened every day to the reading of the Bible. When we were advanced to the higher branches of Philosophy and Theology the study of the Sacred Scriptures formed an important part of our education. We read, besides, every day a chapter of the New Testament, not standing or sitting, but on our knees, and then reverently kissed the inspired page. We listened at our meals each day to selections from the Bible, and we always carried about with us a copy of the New Testament.
So familiar, indeed, were the students with the sacred Volume that many of them, on listening to a few verses, could tell from what portion of the Scriptures you were reading. The only dread we were taught to have of the Scriptures was that of reading them without fear and reverence.
And after his ordination every Priest is obliged in conscience to devote upwards of an hour each day to the perusal of the Word of G.o.d. I am not aware that clergymen of other denominations are bound by the same duty.
What is good for the clergy must be good, also, for the laity. Be a.s.sured that if you become a Catholic you will never be forbidden to read the Bible. It is our earnest wish that every word of the Gospel may be imprinted on your memory and on your heart.
THE PRIMACY OF PETER.
The Catholic Church teaches also, that our Lord conferred on St. Peter the first place of honor and jurisdiction in the government of His whole Church, and that the same spiritual supremacy has always resided in the Popes, or Bishops of Rome, as being the successors of St. Peter.
Consequently, to be true followers of Christ all Christians, both among the clergy and the laity, must be in communion with the See of Rome, where Peter rules in the person of his successor.
Before coming to any direct proofs on this subject I may state that, in the Old Law, the High Priest appointed by Almighty G.o.d filled an office a.n.a.logous to that of Pope in the New Law. In the Jewish Church there were Priests and Levites ordained to minister at the altar; and there was, also, a supreme ecclesiastical tribunal, with the High Priest at its head.
All matters of religious controversy were referred to this tribunal and in the last resort to the High Priest, whose decision was enforced under pain of death. "If there be a hard matter in judgment between blood and blood, cause and cause, leprosy and leprosy, ... thou shalt come to the Priests of the Levitical race and to the judge, ... and they shall show thee true judgment. And thou shalt do whatever they say who preside in the place which the Lord shall choose, and thou shalt follow their sentence. And thou shalt not decline to the right hand, or to the left.... But he that ... will refuse to obey the commandment of the Priest, who ministereth at the time, ... that man shall die, and thou shalt take away the evil from Israel."(153)
The Faith of Our Fathers Part 8
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