Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 15.

REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada

Q. You have satisfied me as to this point, but let me hear what proofs you can bring of the Church of Christ being always visible and known ?

A. I can prove it from many texts of Scripture, as from the fifth chapter of St. Matthew, verse 14, where our blessed Saviour compares it to a city placed upon a hill which cannot be hid. Now, it is certain, nothing can be more conspicuous or visible, than a city placed upon a mountain. The prophet Daniel calls it, " a great mountain which fills the whole earth." Dan. ii. 35, 44. The prophet Isaiah calls it a mountain on the top of mountains," and says, that " all nations shall flow unto it." Isa. ii. 2. Besides, how can the universal Church of Christ be invisible or unknown; since she shall always profess her faith, and the terms of her communion, and having ministers preaching, baptizing, and administering the sacraments: these are all outward and sensible actions, which are inconsistent with an invisible society of men. Therefore the Church of Christ must of necessity be always visible, and not invisible as some would have it, upon account of their being convinced that there were none of their religion, or way of thinking, to be seen or heard of in the world about two hundred years ago.

Q. I need not ask what is meant by the Church, the nature of the thing requiring that it should be understood principally of the superiors who govern. But there may be some difficulty in finding out this Church, since there are so many different congregations who pretend to it. Are there no visible marks whereby it may be known; otherwise the ignorant part of mankind will be at a loss for a director. They are not capable of discussing every point in particular, and even the learned, when they rely upon that method to find out truth, run into a thousand errors and absurdities. It seems requisite therefore, that the Church established by Christ, should be undeniably conspicuous, by certain tokens and marks, which cannot be applied to any other congregation?

A, Providence, and the particular goodness of God, hath taken care of all these matters, to the full conviction and satisfaction of all who will not shut their eyes at noon-day. All visible creatures whatever, have certain outward marks, whereby they are distinguished, and known from one another. A man, a beast, a ship, a house, are known by their outward form, and different structure of their parts. The same is observable in moral beings ; and societies of men, kingdoms, corporations, cities, courts of judicature, families, etc., carry many outward marks, by which they are known from one another. It is after the same manner that the Church of Christ is known, which is a visible society of men, upon whom such outward marks are fixed, that none can be ignorant of them, who do not wilfully shut their eyes against them.

Q. Pray give me a general notion of these outward marks, which I expect you will explain in particular.

A. The chief of these outward marks are expressed in the present article of the Creed under our consideration, viz.: The unity, sanctity, universality, and apostolical succession of the Church; the last mark being added by the first general council of Constantinople ; to which may be added, several other outward marks, which cannot be applied to any other society of men, namely, miracles, conversion of nations, morality of doctrine, obedience, patience in suffering, martyrdom, antiquity, etc.

Q. These outward marks make a good appearance, and plead strongly for truth, where they are found: but there are two difficulties that occur to me, before we proceed any further. The first is, how you will account for their behavior, who stand off, and are not convinced by such plain proofs, and cannot see the city that is placed upon a high hill, nor behold the sun that shines upon them, nor find out the way, wherein fools cannot err (for such the Church of God is described to be in the holy Scriptures) and it is inconceivable, that such multitudes of men, of the greatest penetration, learning and zeal, should not discover, and own the Church recommended by such advantageous circumstances. Another difficulty I have is, you take no notice of the inward and more essential marks of Christ's Church, viz.: Adhering to God's word, the true administration of the sacraments, zeal for God's glory, and the performing of good works, and an innocent life. These are the marks whereby Christ's Church is to be known, j A. I own it is a melancholy reflection to consider the blindness and stupidity of judgment which is occasioned in mankind, through pride, interest, and the love of pleasures. Who can be but astonished, at the stupidity of Pharaoh, and the learned Egyptians, who could not, or would not, discover the finger of God in so many I miracles that were wrought among them by Moses and Aaron ? What a thick veil of darkness was thrown over the Jews, when they would not acknowledge the Messiah: and the undeniable proofs of his miracles made no impression upon them ? Could there be a greater stupidity than that of the whole world, when they adored stocks and stones, and acknowledged the vilest creatures to be their Gods? And what wonder is it, if heretics should lie under the same infatuation, and not see the Church, though represented to them with so many outward marks ? I say this upon a supposition, that it is an error in the judgment, which obstructs their sight, though we have reason to think, great numbers, like Pharaoh, are persuaded that the hand of God is with the Church, but other motives carry their affections another way, and the world has too strong a hold of them, to act according to what they think, which is both the case of heretics, as also of many true believers, and true members of God's Church, who, though fully persuaded of the great truths of the Christian religion, yet live directly contrary to what they profess, as to all particular duties of a Christian. And the stupidity and perverseness of the will, is equally as unaccountable as the blindness of the understanding. The other difficulty you take notice of, is a plain evasion. Heretics being destitute of all visible marks of being God's people, have recourse to equivocal tokens, which being invisible, cannot distinguish them from the wicked. Can the adhering to God's word be a true token of truth, if they pervert the sense of it ? The true administration of the sacraments is the point in question, and cannot be a mark of truth, where the substance of the ceremony may be destroyed by inward indispositions. As for zeal for God's glory, and a pretended innocence of life, they may be all under a wrong management, and the effects of hypocrisy, and no marks of truth in the regard of men, God alone being able to make the discovery.

Q. You have clearly convinced me that these pretended marks of the true Church, are not the real ones, but vain subterfuges of heretics. It remains now, that you give a particular explanation of the marks mentioned in the Creed; and first, what is meant by the unity in Christ's Church?

A. In the first place, it imports, that Christ established only one Church upon earth, not Churches. And the Church, in the general council of Nice, held in the year 325, made this unity a part of her Creed, I also believe one holy Catholic and apostolic Church. Which is plainly expressed by St. Paul to the Ephesians, where he says, there is one body, and one spirit, as you are called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.
Chapter iv. verses 4, 5. And St. John declares, " there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." John x. 16. Again, as the Church of Christ is a kingdom which shall stand for ever, it must be always one: for every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand, says our Saviour Christ. Matt. xii. 25. It was upon this account, that when the Novatians erected a separate community, St. Cyprian attacked them in his book of the Unity of the Church, " there is," says he, " but one God, one Christ, one Church, and one faith; unity is incapable of division; to leave this original unity, is to forfeit life, being, and the state of salvation." St. Augustine, upon the like occasion, attacked the Donatists, who had also established themselves as a Church distinct from the rest of Christians. "You are with us," says he, " in baptism, in the Creed, and in the other sacraments of God; but in the spirit of unity, and bond of peace; lastly, in the Catholic Church, you are not with us."For which he gives this reason, " because they do not communicate with the whole, wheresoever it is spread." How then can any one without a manifest delusion, persuade himself that the Catholic Church, which we profess in the Creed, is in more communions than one?

Q. It is plain to me, both from what the Scriptures declare, and from the general design of our Saviour, that his intent was not to form different societies and governments, much less to allow them to be divided in their belief. But pray what was this unity or union chiefly to consist in ?

A. Chiefly in these two points, viz.: To agree to the articles of faith, and be governed by the same authority- Hence the faithful in the Acts of the Apostles, are described to be in one heart, and one soul. Chap. iv. 32. St. Paul says they are to mark those who study to make divisions, and do not follow the doctrine delivered to them.

Q. I shall not trouble you with inquiring how the faithful can all believe the same articles; I know you will tell me, that upon account of their capacities and circumstances, some may have a more explicit belief than others, but that all are equally disposed, in regard of other articles when proposed, and that no one ought to maintain any doctrine, opposite to what the Church teaches. But at the same time, when I consider the different opinions and behavior of those who pretend to be members of the Church, I am not able to reconcile it with that unity you speak of. What is that clashing among the divines, and dividing themselves into Thom-ists, Molinists, and Scotists; what are all those religious orders ranged like different camps and armies, and commanded by generals who appear to be of different opinions and interests? instead of union, here is nothing but divisions and confusion.

A. We do not carry the union to such a height, as to make the faithful of one and the same mind, in all the controversies of life, but only where the essential points of religion are concerned, and so as not to tear the seamless garment of Christ. The divisions of divines and schoolmen, have no relation to faith, and all their contentions are carried on, with a perfect submission to the authority of the Church. And as for the several societies of religious orders, their particular rules and practices are under the same regulation. All communities, both civil and ecclesiastical, have the liberty of dividing themselves into different bodies, and observing different methods, in private economy, without encroaching upon the rights of the supreme power, to which they owe obedience or any danger of becoming either rebels or heretics; nor is it any breach of unity, to use a different dress, different language, or be of different interests in regard of property, or of different opinions in matters foreign to faith, provided they refuse not communion in the same places of worship, nor maintain any articles inconsistent with the doctrine of the Church.

Q. If these marks are peculiar to any one society of men, such as observe this unity bid fair for the claim of being Christ's Church; but why are they not applicable to those societies, which, since the Reformation, are separated from the Church of Rome?

A. It is evident to any considerate person, that no sect or body of men, separated from the Church of Rome, can ascribe to themselves any such marks of unity. Lutherans, Calvinists, the Church of England, Anabaptists, Quakers, and the other sects, almost without number though they are in a perfect union in their attacks against the Church of Rome, yet they are divided among themselves, not only in indifferent matters, but in the two essential points of faith and obedience. They erect chair against chair, refuse communion, frequent not the same places of worship; they are under no regulation, as to belief, every one striking out a scheme from the Scriptures, according to his own fancy. They have no method of bringing different civil governments to a unity in faith. Every independent government in civil matters, claiming the like independency in religious matters, so that Babylon and Jerusalem, representing confusion and unity, are the true emblems of the pretended reformed bodies, and the Church of Rome.

Q. I still want to be informed by what method this unity in Christ's Church is effected, for it appears to be a difficult matter to preserve unity of faith where there are so many occasions of contention, and where (as we find by daily experience) worldly considerations are so prevailing as to cause a rupture ?

A. I told you before, that the Divine Goodness had provided against this inconvenience, by appointing governors in his Church, who were to reconcile all differences where faith was concerned.

Q. That indeed you mentioned to me in general, but I want to be informed of more particulars, for I suppose it may be with Christ's Church, as it is with all other regular societies, who have a head to preside over them, and pronounce upon causes when particular members misbehave themselves, and lay claim to more than their due.

A. You have touched upon a point, which when duly considered, will fully instruct you by what means Christ does preserve unity in his Church, which cannot be better explained than by comparing the Church with a temporal monarchy, the peace whereof is preserved by appointing a head in whom the executive power is lodged, in order to see the laws of the kingdom observed. This method Christ observed in forming his Church, among the twelve Apostles, who were fellow-laborers in building the Church and propagating the Gospel, one was appointed by Christ himself, as we learn both from St. Matthew, and St. John, viz.: Matt. xvi. 18. St. Peter to be the head of the rest, and to stand as the centre of unity when the Church was threatened with divisions, by disobedience of refractory members. Jo. xxi. 15, 17. Now the Church being established not only for the Apostles' time, or any set number of years; but for perpetuity, it was requisite, that there should always be one continued, as St. Peter's successor, in order to preserve the same unity: and a person of this authority, has constantly claimed and exercised the said supreme supervisorship, from the Apostles' time down.

Q. By this system, you seem to lodge the whole authority of the Church, with St. Peter's successor. I thought Christ had been the head of his own Church. Do you allow nothing to the rest of the Apostles upon whom the Church was also founded ? Nothing to all the bishops, who were the Apostles' successors? Nothing to general councils, who represent the Church ? Nothing to a national Church, governed by their own bishops and clergy? Nothing, in short, to temporal princes, who by divine appointment, claim a natural obedience and superiority over all members, both civil and ecclesiastical ?

A. These reflections you make, when justly applied, confirm what I have said, as to preserving of unity of the Church ; for the headship I mentioned, allows every power the claim they can pretend to, either by natural or divine right, in their proper district. Christ, who founded the Church, is still the invisible head, and governs it invisibly by his divine assistance, and visibly by his representatives, who take care that his laws are duly complied with. Now, St. Peter and his successors, may be called the visible and ministerial heads of the Church, while Christ is the chief and invisible head. In the same sense, God is the only invisible king, father and master of all mankind, yet, so that there are other visible kings, fathers, masters, who under him govern all visible societies.

Q. But still methinks, the rest of the Apostles might claim a power equal with St. Peter, they were priests and bishops unconfined in their jurisdictions, as being commanded to preach all over the world.

A. That they were priests and bishops, is not denied; but that they had the same power with St. Peter, will not be allowed without a distinction: they had the same power as to the essential parts of the sacerdotal and episcopal character, but not without a subordination to St. Peter, to whom Christ gave the charge of all his sheep; St. John x. 21, 15. And consequently, of the Apostles themselves, and bid him confirm his brethren; St. Luke xxii. 32.

Q. I am satisfied, let us proceed to the second mark of the Church. Why is it called holy ?

A. Upon many accounts. First, because it was founded by Christ, and put under the direction of the Holy Ghost, the origin of holiness. Secondly, the doctrine it delivers, all tends towards holiness, viz.: The lessons are such as are agreeable to reason, and serviceable towards making men good, and both good neighbors, good subjects, and good Christians. Thirdly, it has appointed and provided us with instruments and means of becoming holy, viz.: The use of the sacraments, which are the channels of grace. Fourthly, because true holiness is not to be found in any other society. Fifthly, it abounds with the fruits of holiness, even visible, as to the eye, which are no where so conspicuous.

Q. Some of these reasons are very intelligible, but it does not appear they all answer your purpose, which I presume is to insinuate, that only one Church can lay claim to holiness.

A. You judge right, but pray be pleased to inform me wherein I fail in the application ?

Q. I mean the two last points. Are all the members of Christ's Church holy? Are there no good and holy persons to be found, among the several bodies of reformers ? Is it not visible to the eye, that great numbers of them, practice all the methods of the gospel, and show plentiful fruits of holiness, by their good works, and innocent lives?

A. I will endeavor to set you right, as to all these particulars. First, by showing you what grounds the Church of Rome has to claim the title, and then demonstate the unjust pretensions of those who are divided from her. The title of holy, is not given to Christ's Church, to signify that all the members are holy, but that they ought all to be holy, and that numbers in effect are so; as, also, upon account of the reasons above mentioned, and therefore, in the beginning, all the faithful were styled saints, or holy persons, because, they made profession of a religion truly holy. Now, in order to make good the first point, I am to set before you, the marks of holiness, which always were conspicuous in the Church of Rome, and which cannot be more effectually performed than by showing the conformity it has, with what the gospel requires to make men holy. Are not fasting, prayer, and alms, the three great duties of a Christian, recommended in the gospel, as the means of becoming holy, and outward tokens of a mind well disposed towards God; and where are these practices more duly performed, than in the Church of Rome ? When two days every week T the ember days, rogation days, the eves of every feast, with the forty days of lent, are deputed for fasting, in order to keep corrupt nature from committing excess, and mortify the flesh, that it may not rebel against the spirit ? By whom is the great work of prayer, more exactly performed, and the words of the Scripture better fulfilled, of praying at all times, and without intermission, than by those who are constantly employed in it, both night and day, not only privately in their bed chambers, morning and evening; not only on the Sabbath day, but upon a great number of holy days, throughout the whole year; nay, all the night long, thousands of religious persons, deprive themselves of their sleep, and rise at all hours to spend the night in prayer ? Where can we behold such monuments of charity to the poor, both public and private, as have been, and still are to be seen within the districts of the Church of Rome.? Where that religion flourishes, every city, village and province, can show buildings, erected for the blind, the lame, the sick, the incurable, with not only a fund for their maintenance, but an infinite number of persons employed, for no other business but to take care of them ? Nay, the marks of holiness are still more visible: they aim at carrying holiness to the highest pitch, by observing what they are advised to, as well as what is commanded. The gospel exhorts us, to be obedient to every living soul, to deny ourselves, and if we will be perfect, give all we have to the poor. Where are there any instances of this practice, but in the Church of Rome ? What are all the religious houses, whereof there are many thousands, but schools established for this purpose ? Are not poverty, chastity, and obedience, holy and evangelical practices? Can there be a greater self-denial, than to submit to the will of others ? Do not those who oblige themselves, by vowing a single life, find more opportunities of applying themselves to God's service, than if they were entangled in worldly incumbrances ? What can it be but an effect of holiness, that makes so many forsake the world, part with their substance, and be content with only food and raiment?

Q. I cannot deny, but these tokens of holiness are apparent in the Church of Rome, but they cannot be accounted a distinguishing mark, if other societies do also lay claim to them.

A. They are obliged to lay claim to what is essential to the true religion. But the right of their claim is disputed.

Q. How can that right be refused them? Do they not fast, pray, and give alms; have they not erected, and still do continue to erect, many hospitals for the poor ? And though they do not make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, they practise the substance of those pious admonitions, and comply with them strictly as far as the law of God obliges ?

A. There is a show of holiness, in all societies whatever, both in infidels, Turks, Jews, and heretics; but it is no distinguishing token of truth, upon several accounts. First, in some societies, those holy practices are joined with many abominable sins, against the law of nature, so that their profession is directly destructive to holiness: by other societies they are practised, only as mere ceremonies, not contributing towards inward holiness and by consequence, are only an equivocal mark; but, what is chiefly to be regarded on the present occasion, is, that the instances of holiness, among other Christian societies, are so very few, in comparison of what we observe in the Church of Rome that they are nothing; and the Church of Rome is left in full possession of the distinguishing mark of holiness.