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Art. IV.-The Bible against Protestantism and for Catho
licity; evinced in a Conference between a Catholic, a Protestant (Episcopalian), and a Presbyterian. By the Rt. Rev. Dr. SHIEL, Roman Catholic Bishop. To which is annexed an Appendix, proving that the “ Reformed" Churches are destitute of any lawful Ministry. Fifth edition, revised, corrected, and enlarged. Boston: Donahoe. 1859. 12mo. pp. 396.
In the first article in the present number of the Review, we have endeavored to show that, if we take into consideration the age or its dominant spirit and tendency, the controversy between Catholics and Protestants has ceased to be dogmatic, or to turn on particular theological doctrines; but we concede, at the same time, that there is a large class of Protestants with whom the controversy must still be theological. This class is large, and on its old ground relatively larger in some countries, and relatively smaller in others. In France and Germany, in Holland, Sweden, and Denmark it hardly exists; in Scotland, Ireland, England, the British Colonies, and in the United States it is large, though relatively much smaller in the latter country than in Great Britain or Ireland, for the American mind is more logical, more courageous than the British mind, is less restrained by conventionalisms, old institutions, and traditions; and is more prompt to draw from its premises their last consequences. Still, in the American Protestant ranks there are, no doubt, large numbers who really have, or intend to have, some respect for Christianity as a supernatural order of life and immortality, and who are really disposed to accept Christian doctrine when made clear to their apprehension, and proved to them from the Holy Scriptures to have been taught by our Lord and his Apostles.
To this class of Protestants the work before us, written some years ago by an eminent Irish prelate, not now living, and of whose life and character we are ignorant, is adapted, and well adapted. It is clear and straightforward in its statements, courteous and liberal in its tone, sound and just in its views, strong and conclusive in its arguments. Now and then we find a term used in a sense that strikes us as a little strange. The term Protestant Dr. Shiel restricts to Anglicans, and he makes a distinction between Protestants and Presbyterians. In this country we call all who swear by the so-called Reformation, or follow the revolt of the sixteenth century, Protestants. If the venerable author had called his work a “Conference between a Catholic, an Anglican, and a Presbyterian," it would have been more in accordance with our American usage, but probably less in accordance with the usage in his own country. But this is a small matter. Dr. Shiel proves very clearly, to every Catholic mind at least, that the Bible is against Protestantism, and for Catholicity, and establishes unanswerably, it seems to us, that if we accept the Bible as the revealed word of God, or as written by divine inspiration, we must accept the Catholic as the true, and the only true religion. But we are inclined to the opinion, that comparatively few Protestants of any denomination have sufficient confidence in the divine inspiration of the Scriptures to accept the Catholic Church on their authority. The great majority of them, we have no doubt, would sooner deny the divine authority of the Bible than embrace the Catholic religion, especially as they understand it. No doubt a great many Protestants have a really high esteem, perhaps a deep reverence, for the holy Scriptures; but he knows little of them who believes that their loud professions of love and veneration of the sacred Book, are, in a vast majority of cases, any thing more than policy or affectation. The Protestant must have some idol to adore, and when he does not adore himself, he makes an idol of the Bible. He also wants something to keep him in countenance before the Catholic, as well as something to substitute for the Church which he rejects and protests against. The Bible answers both of these purposes better than any thing else he has or can get. The Catholic, holding that the Bible is given by divine inspiration, cannot accuse him of having only human reason as long as he has the written word of God, or, if he acknowledges the Bible, of having no divine authority for his faith, at least theoretically. It serves him an admirable purpose in combatting the Catholic. No Catholic can deny that the Bible contains the written word of God, or that we are all bound to believe whatever it teaches. Once get the notion afloat, that the Church makes void the written word of God through her traditions, assumed to be only the traditions of men, and studiously keep the Bible concealed from Catholics, lest they discover the cheat, and he has us, in the estimation of the ignorant multitude, on the hip. It is, therefore, his policy to extol the Bible, to profess the profoundest reverence for it, and the firmest belief in it, and to represent us as having no respect for it, and a great dread of its circulation. Hence his charges against us of substituting the Church for the Bible, human authority for divine authority, and the traditions of men for the word of God; and hence his eulogiums on the Bible, his Bible Societies, and extraordinary efforts to multiply and circulate copies of the Bible in both Christian and un-Christian lands. He makes in this a capital point, as he persuades himself, against us, and as he really would do, were the facts in the case precisely as he represents them. As it is, it is the best point the old-fashioned Protestant does or can make against the Church. But, save as it can be used with effect against Catholics, we must not suppose that, in general, he really cares any more for the Bible itself, than he does for a last year's almanac.
The Protestant professing to own allegiance to the Bible only, considers himself in our days a freeman, and counts us who recognize the authority of the Church, miserable and abject slaves. The reason for this is, that he holds that he has in the Bible the words and the authority of God, while we in the Church have only the words and authority of men, and sometimes of men remarkable neither for their intelligence nor their virtue. He, however, in this concedes, by implication at least, a very true and just principle, that subjection to God or divine authority is freedom,
and subjection to mere human authority is slavery. This is much, and we should be happy to find Protestants always and everywhere recognizing and insisting on it. We concede very willingly, that, if in the Church we have only the words and authority of men, we are, in being subjected to her, only miserable slaves, and that the Protestant, in laboring to emancipate us from our spiritual thraldom, deserves our gratitude. But suppose, that in the teachings of the Church we really have, as every Catholic believes, the words and the authority of God, we, in being subjected to her, are as much freemen as Protestants in being subjected to the written word, if subjected to it they really
If the Protestant answers that God cannot give us his word and his authority through men, we ask him how he can say he has the words and the authority of God in the Bible, since the Bible itself was given us only through men, men, if you will, who spake only as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. If he has the words and authority of God in the Bible, nothing renders it impossible for us to have them in the teachings of the Church.
The Protestant, also, makes in his own mind perhaps, and in the minds of the unreflecting, a point against us in assuming that he is free in his belief, while we, being bound to believe whatever authority commands us to believe, are slaves in ours. But can he believe the Bible is the word of God, and yet hold that he is free to disbelieve it, or to believe any thing contrary to what it teaches ? If not, how can he be more free in his belief, or in his faith, than we? Is the authority of the Bible, in his opinion, less authority, or less stringent, than the authority of the Church? If he believes that in the Bible he has the word of God, he has no more right or liberty to contradict it, than we have to contradict the Church. Supposing, then, that he really believes the Bible to be what he alleges, he believes in principle on authority just as much as we do. No doubt, he fancies that in rejecting the authority of the Church, he is rejecting all authority in matters of faith, and is free to follow his private judgment,—at least the Protestant of today so fancies, though Luther, Calvin, and their associates never pretended to any thing of the sort. The so-called Reformers were as far removed as possible from avowing in principle the modern Protestant doctrine of private judgment. They never asserted the principles of free examination, and never objected to the authority of the Church because it was authority, and in matters of faith there should be no authority. They claimed to set the authority of the Church aside, by what they alleged is a higher authority,—to wit, the authority of the written word. In the written word we have, said they, the authority of God himself,—the supreme authority, which you and we are alike bound to obey. The definitions of Popes and Councils have in themselves no authority, and must be brought to the test of Scripture. The teachings of Popes and Councils, especially in later times, cannot abide that test, and therefore we reject them. In practice they may have asserted private judgment, because they decided on their own private authority, that Popes and Councils have contradicted the teachings of the Scriptures; but in theory they maintained simply the authority of the written word in opposition to that of the Church, and they no more admitted any one to dissent from the Bible, than Catholics admit the right of dissent from the Church. Calvin caused Michael Servetus to be burnt over a fire made of green wood, for heresy, and wrote and published a pamphlet in defence of the right of the Magistrate to burn heretics. Just as much anthority is asserted by Protestants, that is, by those Protestants who profess to regard the Bible as the word of God, as is asserted by Catholics. And the Protestant, if he really holds himself bound to believe what the Bible teaches, because it teaches it, has, in rejecting the Church, by no means emancipated himself from authority in matters of faith.