Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 14.

REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada


Q. Which is the ninth article ?

A. The holy Catholic church, the communion of saints.

Q. What is the signification of the word church ?

A. According to its etymology in the Greek, it is a congregation, or assembly of people, called together, upon any account whatever, and is sometimes taken from the place where they meet.

Q. It is not our present purpose, to take notice of what signification it bears among secular and profane authors, but what sense it carries in the Scriptures and ecclesiastical writers.

A. In the Scriptures, it has sometimes a limited, other times a more extensive signification : one, while it signifies the society of saints and angels: another, while a society of the faithful on earth: sometimes the congregation of the wicked; and again, for that of the elect, or predestinated only. Hence, divines have distinguished the church into triumphant in heaven, and militant upon earth; to which they add the suffering church in purgatory.

Q. I easily conceive, that the name of church, may be given to all these congregations, as the general signification of the word imports. But did not Christ establish a particular congregation on earth; pray, what do you call that?

A. The church Christ established on earth, was a congregation of people baptized, and united together by believing and professing the same faith he had taught; and governed by lawful pastors and bishops, subordinate to his vicar upon earth, as he had appointed.

Q. It is suitable to the divine wisdom, that in establishing a community of such, a regulation should be observed to prevent the inconveniences of errors in belief, and disobedience in practical duties; yet we find in the

Scriptures, mention made of several churches, even of true believers; as the churches of Jerusalem, Smyrna, Athens, Ephesus, Corinth, Rome, etc. Is the church founded by Christ, divided into several bodies ?

A. These different appellations are not designed to signify different societies, either as to faith or government, but only the different districts, where the faithful assembled, under the same universal church; and were so distinguished, in the apostolic letters, accordingly as there was occasion of being instructed in their respective duties; a different address being requisite, to make a proper application, of what they were to be informed of.

Q. I observe some difference in wording this article, and the former: in the former you say, I believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost—Here, in this article, you only say, I believe the holy Catholic church, not, I believe in the holy Catholic church.

A. The difference you observe is not accidental, but premeditated and designed. To believe in God, is to place our last end in him: now, the church being only the means and not the end, what, therefore, we profess, in her regard/is, that there is a church, whose voice we ought to hear and obey, in order to obtain our last end.

Q. But here another difficulty may be started : objects of faith are obscure, and lie not within the cognizance of our senses: now, the church, being a visible society, how can it be known by faith?

A. I own, the church, as to its visible being, is not an object of faith, but only known by the senses and reason, and by the undeniable marks it carries, explained in the Scripture, the apostles' creed, and answerable to all the requisites that prudence can suggest, to submit to its authority. What is the object of faith in the church? Is the divine authority conferred upon it, in being directed by the Holy Ghost, having a power of binding and loosing, and producing grace, and all sorts of supernatural effects, by means of the sacraments ? These are invisible, and the objects of faith only ; and of this we have a parallel case in our blessed Saviour, whilst he was upon earth. His humanity was the object of sense and reason, but his divinity was the object of faith.

Q. By the definition you give of the particular church of Christ, which was *his kingdom on earth, it is requisite that three things concur, to become a member of it, viz.: First, that the persons be baptized, either actually or in desire. Secondly, that they believe the doctrines Christ delivered ; and thirdly, that they be obedient to the authority he placed them under. Now we find there are a great many, who pretend to be members of Christ's church, who are divided in their faith, teaching doctrines directly contrary to one another, and by separating themselves into different congregations, do not all pay subjection to the same authority, but either to none, or to those of their own choosing. Did Christ give this liberty to any distinct body of men, to believe and pay obedience to whom they pleased ? This does not seem consistent with the wisdom of so wise a legislator. If every civil community is provided with rules against divisions, certainly the God of peace and unity, would not establish a church to be exposed to all the inconveniences of errors and disobedience, but prescribe some certain method how to obviate them.

A. The three things required, to become a member of Christ's church, and requisite, as you properly observe; so that, notwithstanding there are a great many congregations, who pretend to belong to God's church, and lay claim to it, by making a profession of Christianity, yet, not believing what Christ taught, and disobeying the authority appointed by him, when the matter is strictly inquired into, they are not members of his church.

Q. Pray let me understand who those

persons are, with the reasons in particular, why you cannot allow them to be members of Christ's church ?

A. The congregations I mean, are heathens, Turks, Jews, and heretics of all denominations; to whom we may join schismatics, and persons excommunicated.

Q. Why are not schismatics members of the church ?

A. Because they are separated from it, by disobeying the governors appointed by Christ, and are branches cut off from the tree of life.

Q. Why are not persons excommunicated, to be esteemed members of the church ?

A. They are cut off from the body, for obstinately violating the church's order, and therefore enjoy not the privileges.

Q. Are sinners (that is to say, such as are in mortal sin,) members of the church ?

A. Yes, but rotten members. Hence the Scriptures compare the church to Noah's ark, which contained animals, clean and unclean; to a sheepfold, where goats are mixed with sheep; to a granary, that contains straw, chaff and corn; to a great house, with vessels of gold, silver and wood. Thus argued St. Austin, against the Donatists, who excluded sinners. Thus, it is defined against Calvin, who makes the church consist only of the elect. Sinners that are reprobates, are members as to the present state, but not as to the future state of the church.

Q. I easily conceive why heathens, Turks, and Jews, ought not to be esteemed members of Christ's church : because they either deny God or Christ the Redeemer. But, as for the rest, the case is not so plain : they acknowledge one only true God; they acknowledge Christ to be their Redeemer; they believe the holy Scripture, which is the rule of instruction, both as to what Christ taught, and what is to be practiced; and by this compliance, seem to have a right to be esteemed members of Christ's church. I do not see anything else that can be required of them.

A. You have mentioned requisites, but not all. To believe a God, and that Christ is our Redeemer, are a good foundation ; but unless we believe all that Christ taught, and obey those whom he ordered to be obeyed, we fail in the two essential parts of a Christian's duty; for our Saviour assures us, Mat. xvi. 16, " that he who believes not shall be condemned;" and again, that " he who will not hear the church, let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican." Mat. xviii. 17. The Scriptures, it is true, are good rules; but then we are at a loss, unless we are rightly instructed in the sense of them; neither can the Scriptures alone satisfy us which books are to be allowed as Scripture, and which to be rejected.—Many have perverted the sense of Scriptures, to their own damnation ; who, at the same time, pretended to be members of Christ's church, but were not.

Q. Has not every one, who enjoys the use of his reason, a capacity to understand as much of the Scriptures, as is necessary to inform him of, and comply with, any Christian duty? What occasion has he to descend to every particular point; or what power has any congregation to draw up forms of belief, and oblige others to subscribe to them ?

A. Were men's reasoning faculty free from mistakes, passion and prejudice, much might be said in its favor; but as it is exposed to those inconveniences, it must be set to rights by proper means. Woeful experience has demonstrated the insufficiency of reason, as it is under the direction of private persons. All affairs whatever, have been thrown into confusion, under a pretence of reason, both public and private, civil and religious. Servants have their pretended reasons not to obey their masters, and subjects have theirs not to obey their prince; and it is no wonder, if many, who style themselves Christians, should be disobedient to the laws of Christ's church, upon a pretence that their reason sufficiently informs what, and whom they ought to obey. By thus relying upon private reason, dissensions happen in families, rebellion in kingdoms, and heresies in Christ's church: such were the heresies even in the apostolic and primitive ages; some denying the resurrection, others Christ's divinity, and the divinity of the Holy Ghost, with many other errors; all taking their rise from the liberty private reason took to expound the Scriptures, according to their own taste. Now it is plain, from the censures that were always passed upon such persons, that they were never esteemed members of Christ's church; notwithstanding their belief in a Redeemer, and their allowing the Scriptures to be a rule of belief, and the practical duties of a Christian, their faith was defective and obedience was wanting.

Q. All you alleged only amounts to this; that those heretics were not members of Christ's visible church, as being separated from that visible society which bore that name. But why might they not be members of Christ's church invisibly, as being invisibly united to Christ their Head, and only separated from the visible society through mistake and innocent errors?

A. This notion is inconsistent with the nature of a visible society, and more especially with that of Christ's establishing, and indeed a contradiction in itself. In visible societies, no regard is had to inward dispositions, but only to outward actions, in point of misbehavior: a general protestation of allegiance to a prince, will not excuse a rebel, who is declared an outlaw, for opposing the administration of justice, upon the idle pretence of expounding the laws in his own sense. On the other hand, how can heretics be united to Christ, their invisible head, who reject the means of that invisible union ; Christians are united invisibly to Christ by faith and obedience; now, where is their faith, who do not believe everything Christ teaches ? Where is their obedience, who resist the authority placed over them ? As to what you insinuate concerning mistakes, and the innocent errors of many, who believe wrong, and separate themselves, only on that account, for want of opportunity of being better instructed; these are out of the case; we only speak of those who can have no such pretences: however, even those, who have invincible ignorance to excuse them, for not believing- with, and obeying the church, cannot be esteemed visible members of Christ's church, as not being placed in the ordinary road, that he has chalked out for their salvation ; yet they are not of the road of his extraordinary grace, insomuch, that the invincible ignorance they labor under, in regard of the common road appointed by Christ, will not be imputed to them as a crime; but on the contrary, if they are good livers in all other respects, and care-fully comply with the law of nature, they may be invisibly united to Christ, and invisible members of his church.

Q. This is a charitable condescension; but then it seems to be contrary to the universal rule and doctrine of your church, which says, that none are saved out of the Catholic communion; which is very uncharitable, if it be understood of a church in one communion only.

A. It never was the universal doctrine of the Catholic church, that none are saved, who die out of the Catholic communion; for they always except invincible necessity, and invincible ignorance. Now, invincible necessity is, that which is not in a man's power to hinder, though he desire it ever so much; or it is a real impossibility under the present circumstances, of obtaining something which we desire; as if a person, for example, who lived out of the Catholic community, is sensible of his error, and desires to be reconciled to the Catholic church, but dies before a priest can be brought to him; such a one has invincible necessity. Invincible ignorance, is that which is not voluntary; so that if persons would gladly embrace the truth, and sincerely use their best endeavors to find it out, and to know the whole compass of their duty, and would both faithfully and immediately comply with the most difficult parts of it when known, how contrary soever they may be to their passions, to their prejudices, to the conveniences of life, to their interest in this world, and to the expectation of their friends; their ignorance is invincible, and may be excused from the sin of heresy. When Catholics, therefore, say, as they have always said, that none are saved out of the Catholic communion, their meaning is, that no one is saved unless he be in the Catholic-communion, either actually or virtually; either in fact or in desire; and that there is no sure and safe way to heaven, out of the Catholic communion. This general rule of the Catholic faith, that none are saved out of the communion of the orthodox and universal church, follows by a plain and necessary consequence from the Scripture, as well as from the apostolical and Nicene creed. For if Christ has only one holy Catholic and apostolical church, which is the communion of saints; if he has only one church which is built upon a rock, and against which, " the gates of hell shall not prevail;" St. Mat xvi. 18, if he has only one church, " which is the pillar and support of truth," i Tim. iii. 15. And with which he promised to continue, " always, even to the end of the world;" St. Mat. xxviii. 20, and which is, therefore, the church of all ages, as well as the church of all nations; if he has only one church to which the Lord added, and adds daily, " such as shall be saved;" Acts ii. 47, then it is, at least, a general rule of divine faith, that none are saved out of the communion of this church. Nay, setting aside invincible necessity and invincible ignorance, the rule is universal and without exception. This doctrine of the Catholic church, is so unquestionable, that many Protestants have taught the same. Calvin says, that out of the bosom of the visible church, no remission of sins, no salvation is to be hoped for; L. iv. inst. chap. i. § 4. Beza, the great disciple of Calvin, says, there is only one true church: and there always was, and always will be, a church, out of which there is no salvation.((In. Confess. Fidei chap. v. 2. ibid.) ) Trelactius says, it is a thing of absolute necessity, if we will be saved, to embrace the communion of the Catholic church, out of which, there is no salvation. (L ii- Instit. de Eccles. Part 2. 10.) The learned bishop Pearson, bishop of Chester, in his exposition of the Creed, page 349, says, that "the necessity of believing the holy Catholic church, appears first in this, that Christ has appointed it as the only way unto eternal life. We read at the first, says he, that the Lord added to the church, daily, such as should be saved; and what was then daily done, has been done since continually: Christ never appointed two ways to heaven; nor did he build a church to save some, and make another institution for other men's salvation. * There is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved but the name of Jesus:' Acts iv. 12. And that name is no otherwise given under heaven, than in the church. As none were saved from the deluge, but such as were within the ark of Noah, framed for their reception by the command of God: as none of the first born of Egypt lived, but such as were within those habitations, whose door posts were sprinkled with blood, by the appointment of God for their preservation: as none of the inhabitants of Jericho, could escape the fire and sword, but such as were within the house of Rahab, so none shall ever escape the eternal wrath of God, which belong not to the church of God." The Protestants of Switzerland say in their profession of faith, (Confess. Helvetica. C. xvii. An. 1556, et in Syntag. Confess. Fidei Geneve. An. 1654. Page 34.) " we have so great a value for being in communion with the true church of Christ, that we say, those cannot have life in the sight of God, who are not in communion with the true church of God, but separate themselves from it." The Protestants of Scotland, An. 1568, in their profession of faith, say, "as we believe in one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; so we firmly believe that there was from the beginning, that there now is, and that to the end of the world there will always be, one church, which is the Catholic, that is, the universal church, out of which church there is neither life, nor everlasting happiness."

The French Huguenots, in their catechism on the tenth article of the Creed, say, "Why is this article of forgiveness of sins put after that of the church ? Answer, Because no one obtains pardon of his sins, unless he be first incorporated with the people of God, and continue in unity and communion with the body of Christ and so be a member of the church: for none of those who withdraw themselves from the communion of the faithful, to make a sect apart, ought to hope for salvation, as long as they continue separated from them." Thus you see that it is not only the Catholic doctrine, that none are saved out of the Catholic communion, but it is also the doctrine of many Protestants.

As to what you say, that this doctrine is uncharitable: I answer it is not, nay, I affirm it to be the reverse : for is it not charity to publish what the word of God, the Creed and tradition of all ages obliges us to think concerning salvation out of the Catholic and undivided communion ? Is it not charity to put them in mind that no religion is safe to any one, because he and his friends were bred up in it, because it suits best with his interest, and is the prevailing religion of the place ? Was it not charitable in St. Luke to tell us, " that the Lord added daily to the church." Acts ii. 47, in one undivided communion, "such as should be saved?" In like manner, is it not charity in us to declare openly, that people cannot be saved without baptism, nor without keeping the commandments ? for in all this we declare nothing from ourselves, but from the word of God. True charity always was, and always will be, unknown practically, to those who want it. Wicked men think it highly uncharitable to have their pleasures disturbed by the unwelcome news of death and hell. Can any thing appear more uncharitable to infidels, or unbelievers, than these words of charity itself: "he who believes not shall be damned?" St. Mark xvi. 16. And will not heretics always think these words of our Saviour Christ uncharitable: 11 he that will not hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen or publican." Mat. xviii. 17. But must not saving truth be told, because we are pretty sure beforehand that it will not be believed ? Must charity neglect its duty, because heresy is deaf? True charity flatters not, nor does it invent new ways to heaven, but does all it can to help all thither according to the old way, the only way. On which account it admonishes, proves, and endeavors to convince all people of the mistakes and errors in which they are engaged. And it is plain to the world, that this is what the priests, and preachers of the Catholic church have continually done, even to the loss of thousands and thousands of their lives : so that this very charge of uncharitableness against us, is not groundless and weak, but is itself uncharitable in a high degree.

Q. But does not the Scripture say, that a remnant of all religions shall be saved ?

A. No, the Scripture no where says so. But men who are resolved to live and die in error, will never want a text for it. The prophet Isaiah, it is true, says, that a remnant only of the Jews was to return from Babylon. Isa. x. 20, 21, 22- And St. Paul, quoting these words of Isaiah, tells us, " though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant (that is a small part of them) shall be saved." Rom. ix. 27. Which remnant the apostle himself explains of such of the Jewish nation as at that time, by entering into the church, were saved by God's grace. Rom. xi. 5. But what relation has this to the saving of a remnant of all religions, of Christians, Jews, Turks, and Pagans; which even Protestants themselves in the 18th of the 39 articles say, " they are to be had accursed who presume to say, that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and light of nature," etc. Art. 18.

Q. You satisfied me as to those points, that all who are actually and visibly members of Christ's Church, ought to believe the doctrine that he taught ; and also obey the authority he has placed over them: but you say nothing to two other matters, viz.: How any human power can presume to impose creeds, and forms of belief upon the members of Christ's Church methinks as to this, every one ought to be at liberty in regard of particular articles : is it not sufficient to believe the gospel in general, without troubling one's self about this or that opinion ? Besides, the whole body of revealed religion, contains an endless number of articles, which the greatest part of Christ's members are never acquainted with, and by consequence they can give no assent to them. Again, where is there any obligation of submitting to this or that person, who pretends a commission to oversee and govern Christ's Church?

A. We find by daily experience, that a great many take the liberty to expound the gospel truths according to their own meaning, and by this method have denied many of those revealed articles which were delivered by God, and necessary to be believed, to support his veracity, and promote virtue, so that there is scarce one article of the Christian religion, but what has, by some heretic or other, been questioned, and flatly denied. To obviate this inconvenience, it was requisite to prepare an antidote to expel the poison; which was, by giving the true meaning of God's laws, and obliging those that were members of Christ's Church, to make a profession of such articles as were necessary to support the fabric, and preserve the Church from ruin. And whose business was it to speak of this matter, but theirs, who were appointed by Christ to govern his Church ? As to what you allege, concerning the vast number of revealed articles, which can neither be known, nor distinctly assented to, by every member, you seem to mistake the case: every one is called upon to give his assent according to his knowledge and capacity, whereby it happens that a more explicit belief and obedience to more articles is found in some than in others, though all are alike disposed to admit of every article, when distinctly known and proposed. And in this the civil and ecclesiastical authority observe the same method, every subject is not acquainted with all the laws of a nation; yet a subject is supposed to obey them all when it is required of him.

Q. So that you place the authority of the Church, and the civil power upon the same footing as to obedience, and by consequence that Christians are as much obliged to subscribe to forms of belief, as subjects are to a form of human laws.

A. The difference is not very great; only that of the authority of the Church, is more conspicuous, more necessary, and better recommended in the Scriptures; because the Church is an universal establishment, under which the great concern of salvation is carried on, and therefore Christ founded it himself in person, and promised to guard it against all enemies, to which purpose he bestowed several privileges upon the governors.

Q. What are those privileges that Christ's Church enjoys, which cannot be claimed by any civil powers?

A. The first is to be judge in all spiritual causes, viz.: that belong to faith, in expounding the law: according to that of the prophet Malachi, " the priest's lips shall keep knowledge, and they shall seek the law at his mouth." Chap. ii. 7. And our Saviour Christ says, "he that hears you hears me; and he that despises you despises me." Luke x. 16. Again, "he that will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as a heathen or a publican." Matt. xvii. 17. And such are they, who will not believe the teaching or doctrine of the Church. The second is infallibility. The third is perpetuity.

Q. How do you prove the Church of Christ to be infallible ?

A. St. Paul assures us, that "she is the pillar and ground of truth." 1 Tim. iii. 15. Now if she be the pillar and ground of truth, she must in her pastors and prelates be, to all Christians, according to the promise of Christ, a sure and infallible guide in deciding controversies of religion. And he assures us, that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her." Matt. xvi. 18. Again, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another paraclete, that he may abide with you for ever, the spirit of truth : he shall teach you all things and suggest all things unto you." Jo. xiv. 16, 26. " He has given us pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all meet in the unity of faith, that we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the craftiness of men." Eph. iv. 11, 12, 13. All which, though much more might be added from the holy Scriptures, together with the article of our Creed, "I believe the holy Catholic Church," gives us assurance above all exception, that God's Church cannot err; if she should, the gates of hell would certainly prevail against her; she would not be the pillar and ground of truth, neither would the spirit of truth nor Christ, abide with her pastors for ever; neither would any be obliged to hear and obey her as Christ requires, under pain of damnation. "He that will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as an heathen or a publican." Matt, xviii. 17. Neither would there be any certain means to know truth from falsehood, could she err; whom could we consult or rely on in matters of faith ? what assurance can we have of our religion, of all mysteries of our belief, of holy Scriptures and what else concerns our salvation, could she err? and would not Christ's order of treating as heathens and publicans, those who disobey, and the Church's punishments be unjust, could she err? and what can we think of those who teach that the Church may err, and has erred, who persecute severely those, (though they themselves, even according to their own tenet, may be in error) who cannot subscribe to their erroneous doctrine against the belief of all the fathers, councils, creeds, Scripture, and of all the faithful in all ages; believing, professing, and teaching that the Church cannot err ?

Q. How do you prove the perpetuity, or perpetual continuance of the Church of Christ?

A. From several plain texts of Scripture, in which it is promised or foretold, that the Church or kingdom established by Christ shall stand to the end of the world. " Behold I am with you to the end of the world," says our Saviour Christ. Matt, xxviii. 20. "They shall fear thee," says the psalmist, "as long as the sun and moon endure throughout all generations." Ps. lxxii. 5. And the prophet Daniel tells us, that the Church of Christ shall never be destroyed, but that it shall stand for ever. Dan. ii. 44. Again, as we believe in the Creed; so every article thereof must be always true, therefore there must always be a holy Catholic Church.