SIX VOLUMES IN ONE
BY THE DISTINGUISHED EXPONENTS OF CATHOLICISM
REV. HENRY DODRIDGE, D. D.
REV. HENRY EDWARD MANNING, D. D.
REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada
REV. STEPHEN KEENAN
REV. BERNARD VAUGHAN, S. J.
REV. THOMAS N. BURKE, O. P.
SECTION VI.—IT RENDERS ALL CHURCH AUTHORITY PRECARIOUS.
This is a natural consequence from what has been said already; but I shall further prove it from the 20th Protestant article of religion, where we find the following clause: "The Church has authority in controversies of faith, and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything, that is contrary to God's word written. Neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to the other."
It seems, then, u that the Church has authority in controversies of faith." But what sort of authority do the compilers of the articles allow her ? Are her children bound to submit to it, or not? If not, then her authority stands for a mere cipher. But if they are, then the compilers, and all their Protestant predecessors and brethren were inexcusable in not submitting to the Church of Rome.
Again, has she authority in all controversies, or only in some? If in all, then the distinction between fundamentals and non-fundamentals must be dropped: unless the compilers call make it appear, that the Church of England has a special charter from Christ to require submission even to articles, that are not fundamental, which, however, they pretend the Church of Rome never had. But if she has authority only in some controversies, such, I presume, as regard fundamentals; then her authority is as precarious, as the number of her fundamentals, and every article may be disputed with her.
But the latter part of the article explains, or rather kicks down the whole extent of her authority. "The Church has authority .... And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything, that is contrary to God's word written. Neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to the other."
Here, then, it is supposed, that the Church is capable: First, Of ordaining things contrary to the word of God. Secondly, Of expounding one place of Scripture, so as to make it be repugnant, or a contradiction to another." For, whoever puts in a caveat against any thing, supposes the thing to be possible. Otherwise, it would be like making a law to forbid men to fly, or walk upon their heads. But who is here to be the judge to determine, when the Church commits any such blunder ? I presume she will not give verdict against herself. Every private man, then, may erect himself into a judge of the doctrine of his mother-Church; for he is here furnished with fair pretences for it. And it is in effect what Luther and Calvin did, when they pretended to reform the Church of Rome.
What a large and noble field is here again laid open for the free-thinker to exert himself in, and triumph over the Church! What! Is she, then, capable even of such gross absurdities, as by a contradictory interpretation of Scripture to make 4 'one part of it be repugnant to another!" If this be true, what must become of faith and religion? Must not free-thinking break in upon us like an irresistible torrent, when the Church, whose wisdom and authority in interpreting Scriptures should be the main bulwark against it, is supposed even by her own teachers not to be wholly incapable of imposing contradictions on her children instead of revealed truths? If a private man be convicted of contradicting himself, he becomes contemptible by it. And what idea must we then have of a Church, whose judgment is represented to us as capable of a weakness, that would sink the reputation even of a private person? Surely, Christ never meant to establish such a Church as this, when he made her the solemn promise, that " he would be with her all days even to the consummation of the world," and designed her to be our guide to heaven, and lead men to salvation.
But the compilers of the article considered wisely, that they were then settling the authority of a Church, which was yet in her leading strings. For she had broke loose from her mother-Church but a few years before; and to justify that separation, it was necessary to give a broad hint, that her mother had prevaricated by " ordaining things contrary to the word of God," and " expounding it so, as to make it repugnant to itself." For when a daughter runs away from her own mother, they, who espouse the daughter's cause, cannot do less than give some plausible reasons for such an extraordinary conduct, which is irregular in itself; and at the same time precaution her against the failings, which they lay to the mother's charge. This obliged the compilers to cramp the authority of their infant-Church at the very time, when they could not avoid making a decent mention of it.
In effect, it is impossible for the advocates of any reformed Church to plead for Church authority, without speaking incoherently, and boxing themselves. For if they allow a coactive power, over men's consciences ; that is, a power to oblige them both to an outward conformity, and an inward submission to all her decrees; it flies immediately in their face, that they are then guilty both of heresy and schism, in not having paid that conformity and submission to the Church of Rome. But if they allow her no such power (as the second part of the distinction is effectually inconsistent with it) her authority becomes precarious of course, and she holds it only by the courtesy of her own children ; who may dispute it with her, when the fancy takes them; just as Luther and Calvin, and the other reformers disputed it with their mother-Church.