Thursday, 10 March 2016

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 16.

REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada

Q. I will not dispute the case, as to those societies, whose practices are directly opposite to the law of nature; it is pretty plain, holiness cannot be found among them: but as for those who make a profession of observing both the law of nature and the law of the gospel what hinders them from the claim to holiness, and in the first place, do not they pray ?

A. Yes, they pray, but when, and how? What they do privately is only known to themselves; their public prayers are very rarely performed; midnight prayers, are banished and ridiculed; and the whole duty has lain under the greatest discouragement, ever since the demolishing of some thousands of religious houses, filled with persons, deputed to serve God by continual prayer.

Q. I own this had no good aspect, neither did it look as if they, who had a hand in such works, were any great friends to prayer, seeing they destroyed the method of carrying on that duty. But you cannot deny, what is visible to the eye, I mean the colleges, hospitals, workhouses for the poor, and other pious foundations, which are a lasting proof of their good dispositions, and an undeniable mark of holiness ?

A. What is fact, cannot be denied, nor will I presume to question the good intention of the founders: but, when some circumstances are considered, those pious works will come far short of answering the present purpose, or entitling their religion to the name of holy, or making those foundations a distinguishing mark in the way of holiness. For to omit that the colleges in both our universities, and all the Churches, in a manner, throughout the whole kingdom, were the marks of other peoples' holiness : did they not, by methods contrary to holiness : destroy many hundreds of hospitals, collegiate Churches, and other pious foundations ; distribute their lands and revenues, among courtiers and flatterers, and load the nation with innumerable taxes, for maintaining the poor, which formerly were provided for, by those pious foundations? And what are those few establishments, which have since appeared, to demonstrate their holiness? Indeed, while death was laying his hands upon them, some have been willing to part with what they could no longer keep, and by their last will and testament, have ordered some charitable benefactions, but who among them have done any thing considerable in that way, either to deprive themselves of all, or part of their substance, whilst they were in their bloom, and able to enjoy what they had ; much less to forsake the world personally, retire from it, and content themselves with mere necessaries, the remainder of their days? These are instances of holiness, they are unacquainted with. It would be too invidious a reflection, to charge the founders of many of their charitable establishments with worldly and politic views ; but their workhouses, and the rest, are not out of the reach of such a charge, the manner of their management, affords but too much grounds to make such a reflection.

Q. You have made so nice an inquiry into this mark of their holiness, that I must give up the cause, when their holiness is compared with that of the Church of Rome, which infinitely surpasses it, both in the motives and extent of their charities. But, what observations do you make, as to their fasting, a practice recommended by the Scriptures for promoting holiness, and subduing the flesh to the spirit; this is so conspicuous in other Christian societies, especially in the Church of England, that it is ordered in their canons and liturgies ; ember days, lent, and occasional fasts, are publicly exhibited in their calendars and almanacs, and enforced by statutes, proclamations, and other sanctions, both civil and ecclesiastical.

A. I am apt to think, those whose cause you plead, would not be well pleased to hear you insist upon this topic, or to mention fasting as a mark of holiness. The whole duty of fasting is become among them a mere politic contrivance, wherein religion, virtue, and holiness, are not the least concerned; this evidently appears, both from the laws relating to it, and the manner of practising it.

Q. I can scarce believe, that a practice of that kind, which is so frequently recommended, both in the old and new scriptures, and so serviceable of itself, towards the extinguishing of vice, and promoting of virtue, can be so much misrepresented by any who profess Christianity, as not to look upon it as a religious and holy work.

A. And yet, so it is, that fasting is not only misrepresented, but it is neglected, and ridiculed when practised for any such purposes, and as the^ days appointed for it, are marked down in their calendars, it seems to be a kind of providential management, that their tongues shall not go together with their hearts, but contradict one another, and make their religion destroy itself. It would be plain dealing, rather to expunge those fasts out of their calendar, than let them stand there, a reproach to their cause. What precedents do they find in the Scriptures, that fasts are ordained for encouraging the breed of cattle, or augmenting the number of sailors, by employing them to catch herrings, etc., as their statutes for fasting specify ? (See Act. v. Eliz. Chap. 5.) The ancient prophets tell us it was ordained for a sinner's conversion; our Saviour says, for expelling the devil; St. Paul says for subduing the flesh to the spirit. Let reformers view themselves in this glass, and see whether their way of fasting can be a mark of holiness. Now, as to other marks of holiness, poverty, chastity and obedience, they are not only strangers to them in practice, but they scarce know even the meaning of the words. There are many poor, it is true, among them, but it is always against their wills: they never strip themselves of all their substance, upon a religious account, or scarce ever dispose of any part of it, till they can keep it no longer. Chastity lies under the greatest discouragement, when they contradict what our Saviour taught, and decry a spiritual castration, and advise the ministers of the Church to involve themselves in the cares of the flesh, and break their promise made to God, for observing virginity, contrary to St. Paul's doctrine. And, as for obedience, or self-denial, they never could show one instance of it: a general obedience to superiors, placed over us by nature, or God's positive law, does not answer what is expected from us by self-denial, which specifies times, places and persons, when, where, to whom, and how the virtue of obedience may be carried to the greatest height, by a voluntary self-denial.

Q. Two points yet remain, wherein, I am not fully satisfied. Why may not persons be esteemed . holy without these voluntary practices? Is it 'not sufficient to comply with what the law of nature, and God's law, has ordained in such cases? Besides, it does not appear, that those voluntary practices can be complied with, or that any vow can be binding, whereby persons oblige themselves to practice them.

A. I do not say, but that persons may be holy, by observing the laws mentioned, but there is a greater appearance of holiness, the more zeal persons show, in observing the law. Did not the Apostles and primitive Christians, excel others in perfection ? And, when persons oblige themselves by vow, to perform particular religious and holy practices, as those of renouncing the things of this life, by a vow of poverty; denying themselves, by vowing to obey such particular persons, and by renouncing the pleasures of the flesh, by a vow of chastity; then they may justly be said to comply with the will of God in the most perfect manner, and in this we place the marks of holiness. I will not enter into a detail of that controversy, how far such vows are lawful and possible to be kept, etc., only inform you that vows of particular good actions, not commanded either by the law of nature or the law of God, have been made as we read in the Scriptures, where they are ordered to be kept. And, as to the lawfulness and possibility of giving our possessions to others, or obliging ourselves to follow the will of others, does it not every day happen, in all contracts between man and man, confirmed by promise or oath ? Nor is there any special difficulty in vowing chastity unless we deprive God of the power of preserving it by his grace; which he does by prayer, and other helps whereby grace is obtained for avoiding sins of the flesh, as well as other sins. And, I believe, when the behavior of thousands who enter into a matrimonial state, is looked into, it will be found that it is not the only, nor always the most effectual help, to preserve chastity. Now, that the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, are practiced in the Church of Rome, is as plain a fact, as that they are religious performances and a mark of holiness.

Q. There is one thing you have not as yet considered, which is this: I own all these performances are outward tokens of holiness, but true holiness consists in the purity of the heart, and such performances may be all show, and proceed from hypocrisy. An invisible thing, as holiness is, cannot be a visible mark of the Church.

A. Here you run again to invisible things, which belong not to the present inquiry, which is all about the visible tokens of that society of men, God has established upon earth. And, as this article of the Creed declares his Church is holy, we are to judge of true holiness, by the outward behavior; which, though it may be an equivocal mark in particular persons, or where there is a remarkable defect in the outward behavior of any society, who neglect and despise the methods of becoming holy, yet when all the outward methods of becoming holy, are professed and practised by a Church, it deservedly claims the title of holiness.

Q. We have dwelt long enough upon this subject. The next mark of the Church, is Catholic, pray tell me what you mean by that word ?

A. The word signifies universal, and it may be considered as a true mark of Christ's Church upon two accounts : First, merely attending to the name. Secondly, by attending to the thing signified.

Q. How can the name only distinguish the true Church ? It was not called Catholic, but only Christian, in the Apostles' time. Besides, how could it be Catholic before it was universal ? Nor could universality be ascribed to it when the Apostles were supposed to make the Creed; hence, the word Catholic is not found in some ancient Creeds, as Rufinus tells us. Again, heretics of old, styled themselves Catholics, and the modern reformers still lay claim to it.

A. The Creed is as ancient as the Apostles, and there is no inconvenience, if the Church had then the appellation of Catholic, upon the account of the ancient prophets foretelling its universality; as also, because, in the Apostles' days, it was preached over several parts of the world. In some Churches, indeed, there was some small difference in the words of the Creed, upon account of heresies, that sprung up in the Apostles' days, and immediately after, so that it was necessary to add some words in opposition to them; yet, as Rufinus observes, no such alteration in the Creed was made use of at Rome. However, in all the first ages, the true Church was always known by the name Catholic, as it appears by the writings of the ancient fathers. I own the Donatists, and some other ancient heretics, coveted to be esteemed and called Catholic, but St. Austin and the orthodox party, showed the absurdity of their claim. First, because the Donatists made a particular society, were confined to Africa, and by consequence, could not be the Catholic or universal Church. Secondly, because their distinguishing name was taken from those persons who were authors of the defection, as Montanists, Manicheans, Pelagians, Ariaus, Novatians, Donatists, etc. Thirdly, because those who were indifferent persons, called none Catholics but such as were in communion with the universal Church. Fourthly, those very heretics themselves, were so convinced, that they had no right to that appellation, that they seldom called themselves by that name ; and, if they were asked to show a person the Church where Catholics assembled, they durst not point at their schismatical meetings, but sent them to those who communicated with the Churches abroad. These are St. Augustin's reasons,(Vide St. Aug. cont. Ep. Fundament. C. 41.) and may be applied to all the modern reformed societies.

Q. I see plainly, those in communion with the Church of Rome, have the name of the true Church, and that according to St. Augustin's argument, the name alone, as it is circumstantiated, is a mark of the true Church, and I suppose this was the reason, why the very name Catholic, held him in the communion he was of. But then, as to the thing J signified, how will you make it appear, that universality belongs to the Church in communion with Rome? What do you mean by universality ? If universality be a mark of the true Church, heathens, Turks, Arians, Greeks, nay, the late reformed bodies may pretend to lay claim to it.

A. Universality is not so strictly to be taken, as to exclude all other things in every kind and respect, but only comparatively to other societies, and chiefly as to time, place, and doctrine; in these three respects, the true Church is universal, and no other. It flourished in many parts of the earth, in every age since it was established, and the very same Creed was always its rule. Heathens are not under our consideration, but only those bodies, who believe in the true God, and were separated from the Church universal; and, though heathens might be called an universal body, as to place, they were not so as to time, or doctrine. It is probable, there were no heathens before the deluge, that is, for above 1500 years, at least, among the sons of Seth; till all flesh had corrupted their ways, some time before the flood. During that time, the Church flourished under the law of nature, though men were depraved in their morals. Again, they were not universal as to doctrine, being divided into numberless sects, and paying worship to different gods; and though they have laid claim to a great universality ever since, as to place, yet soon after the apostolic age, they lost even that claim.

Q. But the Turks, the Arians, and the Greek Church, once were, and still some are, a very spreading body, and might dispute universality.

A. The Turks can dispute no universality as to time or doctrine, their rise was not till six hundred years after our Saviour's time; they are divided in their faith, and many large kingdoms are strangers to their faith and discipline. The Arians never were; nor at present are universal in any respect: when they (were most numerous, they came far short of the true believers, and even then counted heads by fraudulent subscriptions. They were divided into many sects. Their rise was not till about three hundred years after our Saviour's time; they continued not many years, and at present are almost reduced to nothing. As for the Greeks, for near a thousand years, they were not divided from the true Church, and under her might claim universality, as to time, place and doctrine. But upon their schismatical defection, they lost all the three advantages, and are now contemptible to the rest of God's Church, upon each account.