Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Catholic Church Alone. The One True Church of Christ. Part 134.

REV. F. LEWIS, of Granada

Since, therefore, instead of this unanimous agreement, in fixing the time that Popery began, we find nothing but cutting and shuffling, precarious guesses, and diversity of opinion among the very best Protestant writers; it is a demonstrative proof, that they have no ancient, or, authentic records concerning any beginning of it' since the time of the Apostles. And we may justly conclude, that, as it reigned universally for many hundred years before the reformation, according to Perkins; for eight hundred years and more according to the book of Homilies; for above twelve hundred years, according to Mr. Napier; and is owned by the Magdeburgians to have had a being even in the second century; we may conclude, I say, that it never had any other beginning, than that of Christianity; viz.: from Christ himself, and his Apostles. But this argument shall be treated at large hereafter.

I observe, secondly, that the old childish whim of introducing Popery in the monkish ages (as Protestants style them) of pretended ignorance and darkness, is quite thrown out of doors both by the Homilist and Mr. Napier. For in the beginning of the fourth century, there were no monks at all, as Protestants understand the word, and though there were several monasteries of them in the beginning of the seventh ; yet what Protestants call monkish ages, are of a much later date; and so the pretended ignorance and darkness of those ages could not favor the introduction of Popery, which, according to the book of Homilies, was fully established long before. This, shall likewise be fully handled, in chap. 5.

But, to return once more to the learned Mr. Napier, whose chronology relating to the grand epoch of Popery is very curious ; we see, he fixes it precisely in the year of Christ, 316. That is, nine years before the first great general council of Nice, which was held anno 325. Nay, he tells us expressly, that even then it reigned universally: so that it may be truly said in Bishop Tillotson's language, that even then " Anti-christ sat securely in the quiet possession of his kingdom." Very strange! Unless we had some information how he got into it. For a kingdom of so vast an extent, as the whole Christian world, is not usually got in hugger-mugger, or like a purse by stealth.

However that may be, it follows evidently from Mr. Napier's chronology, that the fathers of the Nicene council, though allowed of, and respected by Protestants themselves, were all staunch Papists. And what is very remarkable, many of the bishops of that council were eminent saints; and carried about them the glorious marks of their past sufferings for the faith of Christ.

I ask, then, whether the bishops of the Nicene council had been Papists from their infancy, or not ? If so, then without all dispute they had been brought up by Papists, and so Popery is still more ancient than Mr. Napier makes it. But if they had not been Papists from their infancy, then they were all infamous apostates : St. Athanasius among the rest. And is it not very strange, that not one of them should be touched with remorse, nor represent to the council his fall from the ancient religion, nor exhort them to a reformation ; especially, when the supposed change from one religion to another was of so fresh a date, that there was not a bishop in the council, but must have been concerned in it?

But it is still more wonderful, that the Arians, their mortal enemies, who were admitted to, and heard in the council, should not reproach them with their apostasy, and so put them to open shame. And yet the acts and histories of that council mention no such thing. Nay, Eusebius himself, who was present at it, and has written the history of the Church down to this time, knew nothing of any universal apostasy from the primitive faith of the Church to Popery. For had he known it, it is incredible he would have passed it over in silence. And therefore, since neither he, nor those, that wrote immediately after him have left us any history, record, or monument of any change in the faith of the universal visible Church introduced before their time, it is manifest, there never was any such change; and, by consequence, the Popery, which Mr. Napier owns to have reigned universally, even nine years before the council of Nice, was the very religion that had been handed down to them from the Apostles themselves.

But I shall now set aside these testimonies of Protestant writers, which witness the antiquity of the Roman Catholic faith, and endeavor to take a more effectual way to prove it without being at the courtesy of any Protestant evidence, to vouch for it. But (to avoid an unnecessary multiplicity of words) as all the pretended errors of the Church of Rome, are briefly expressed by the word, Popery; so the doctrine of the reformation, as it is directly opposite to it, shall for brevity-sake be called Protestancy. Because I shall have occasion to repeat them both frequently, and it is no matter what names we give them, so we but understand one another.

Now the whole question is, whether the doctrine called Protestancy, or that which is called Popery, has a fairer title to antiquity. If Protestancy be the true Christian doctrine, which was taught by the Apostles, it must have had a being in the world pre-existent to that of Popery: and there must have happened a " total change from Protestancy to Popery, ' in some age, or other since the time of the Apostles. For without this change Popery could not have got possession of the universal visible Church, as it certainly had at the beginning of the reformation, when the courageous Martin Luther stood alone against the whole Christian world.

It shall, therefore, be my task to demonstrate that there never happened any such change, or which amounts to the same, " that no Church teaching a doctrine opposite to the pretended errors of the Church of Rome, ever appeared in the world before her:" which if it be made evident, the consequence will be, that the doctrine called Popery, is as ancient as Christianity itself, and has been handed down to us from Christ and his Apostles.

But it is very necessary, the reader should here observe, that Popery in general may be divided into two parts ; viz.: The discipline and the faith of the Church of Rome. The proper object of faith is all revealed truths, which are the same in all ages, nor can any authority upon earth pretend to make the least change in them. But the discipline of the Church, being not of divine revelation, but human institution, is doubtless, changeable: because the same legislative power, which can make laws and regulations for the public good,
may likewise for just reasons, alter, suspend, or repeal the laws, or regulations it has made. Thus the ancient penitential canons, though they were in force for some ages, have not been binding for many hundred years past. Thus likewise the council of Trent regulated the prohibited degrees of consanguinity, and affinity otherwise, than they were before. Nay, even the Apostolical constitution of the council of Jerusalem which forbids blood, and things of blood and things strangled ; Acts xv. 29; remained not long in force, but as the motive ceased, the obligation became void of course. For let laws be ever so good in themselves, they are not good at all times, nor in all places.

Now, then, when I pretend to prove, " that the doctrine called Popery, is as ancient as Christianity," I mean not the discipline, but the faith of the Church of Rome. For it is absurd to maintain, that regulations of discipline, which came gradually into the Church, and have been subject to variations, are as ancient as the Church itself.

It is, however, a common practice, though a very unfair one, among Protestant writers, when they design to charge the Church of Rome with novelty, to confound the one with the other, and exemplify promiscuously in points of faith, or discipline, as if they were upon the same footing; whereas, to say anything to the purpose against that Church, they must prove precisely, that she differs in some article of faith, or revealed doctrine from the ancient orthodox Church. All matters of discipline, must therefore be thrown out of the question ; and whatever objection is made from that head, is but trifling, whether the facts objected be true, or false.