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Church to the Bible, he is bound to no particular interpretation of the written word. The Bible, as a matter of fact, lends itself to a variety of interpretations; and as these interpretations are the work of human reason, the Protestant has the right to follow the one he prefers. This is the theory. But the practice is different, for in practice each sect claims and exercises over its members as much authority as the Church claims and exercises over her members; and the most the dissenting member can do, is to change his sect, or create a new sect. This authority exercised by the sect, is on Protestant principles purely human, and therefore the Protestants subjected to it are really slaves in their faith or opinion. Hence we find in the Protestant world, those who are determined to be subjected in matters of faith to no human authority, join no sect or denomination, and remain, as the term goes, “ Nothingarians," sometimes called the “Big Church,” and in our country including by far the larger number of the population. But waiving this, it is evident, since the Protestant confesses himself bound by the authority of the Bible, if the Bible were as clear, as express, and as definite in the statement of what is or is not to be believed, as is the Church in her teaching and definitions, that the Protestant rule would give no more scope for private judgment, and secure no more liberty of belief than the Catholic rule.
No man believes the Bible, or takes it for authority in matters of faith, who believes that he is at liberty to reject any thing it really teaches. If he can ascertain exactly and precisely what it teaches, he must accept its doctrine, let it be what it may. He has no freedom, no option, no choice in the case. The Protestant, then, in case he can come at the true meaning of the Scriptures, has no more latitude of interpretation than the Catholic. What, then, in the way of freedom does he gain? He gains simply freedom from being tied down to the word of God in the exact sense intended by the Holy Ghost, or of escaping real submission to the word of God, through the vagueness or uncertainty of the letter, or while he admits the authority of God in general, of denying it in particular, recognizing no divine anthority in matters of faith but the written word, and the written word privately interpreted, binding him to no particular dogmas, he is free to dwell in vague generalities, and to appear to hold the Christian faith while he rejects every particular, definite Christian dogma. He gains the privilege of self-delusion, and, to some extent, of misleading others; practically, his rule binds him to believe the Christian religion in general, but nothing of Christianity in particular. His rule tells him where the revelation of God is deposited, but does not tell him what it is. His advantage over us is, that while our faith is and must be precise, exact, definite, his is and must be loose, vague, and indeterminate. This is the chief ground, we apprehend, of the attachment of the Protestant in our day to what he calls the Bible rule. If he really wished to know and believe the word of God in its true and exact sense, he would feel that his rule is defective and wholly inadequate; but, wishing to believe the word of God without believing any thing particular, that is, to believe and not to believe it at the same time, he finds it exactly to his purpose, and is able to make out some semblance of a case in his own favor when arguing against us before an ignorant or a prejudiced audience-a very great advantage certainly !
The Catholic, no doubt, holds the Bible to be the written word of God, and he is ready to concede at once, that if the Church were to contradict it, her teaching would be false. But before one can establish the fact of the contradiction, he must know exactly what is the true sense of Scripture, and what it is the Church really teaches. What is the true sense of Scripture the Protestant has no infallible means of knowing, and of what the Church really teaches, he is, in our days, for the most part ignorant. How is he, then, to establish the fact that the Church in her teaching contradicts the written word? "She contradicts the meaning he gives to the written word.” Be it so. But how does the Protestant know that the meaning he gives is the true meaning? Or how does he know that if he rightly Vol. I.–No. I.
understood the written word, there would not be a perfect coincidence of doctrine between it and the teaching of the Church? He says there is not, she says there is, and why, at the very lowest, is not her assertion as good as his ? One thing is certain, that no instance, in the course of three hundred years,—we might say in the course of eighteen hundred years,—of a contradiction between her teaching and that of the written word has been adduced, and all the pretended instances amount to nothing, because they all depend on interpretation. The Scriptures bid us beware of the traditions of men; no doubt of it: the Church commands us to hold fast the traditions of faith, whether they have come down to us in the written or unwritten word; therefore she contradicts the Scriptures. Not at all. She does not command us to hold fast the traditions of men, but the traditions of faith, Divine and Apostolic traditions; which may be done without accepting the sort of traditions censured by the written word. Our Lord speaks of those who “through their traditions make void the law;" but it does not follow, therefore, that the traditions the Church requires us to hold fast are contrary to the written word. Throughout, the Protestant argument to prove the contradiction is a mere sophism, and for the most part a very shallow sophism into the bargain.
The Protestant always assumes that, in submitting to the authority of the Church, we submit to a purely human authority. Can he tell us why the authority of the Church is any more human than that of the Bible? In either case the divine reaches us only through the medium of the human, and if the human medium, through which the teachings of the Church reach us, makes them human, the same must be said of the Holy Scriptures, for they come to us only through a human medium. If you say that the Bible is the word of God, notwithstanding the human medium through which it comes to us, then why not the teachings of the Church? The same facts and arguments that establish the authority of the men who wrote the Bible to speak in the name of God, establish the authority of the Church to speak in his name. Before you can claim the Bible as the word of God, you must prove that God revealed its contents to its writers, and assisted. them to write without error or mistake what he revealed to them. This at the most is all that we have to prove in regard to the Church. If he deposited the faith revealed with the Church, and assists her to teach it, without error or mistake, then we can conclude, as the Protestant does in the case of the Bible, that what she teaches is the word of God. He, before he can conclude that the Bible is the word of God, must establish the inspiration and authority of the Apostles, and that is all we need to establish in order to prove the authority of the Church to keep, teach, and declare the divine word. He cannot take it for granted, then, that our Church has only human authority. He must prove it,--a thing he cannot do; for what is false can never be proved.
On this question of authority there is much misapprehension. The authority of the Church is twofold : her authority as teacher of the Word, and her anthority as spiritual governor of the faithful and administrator of ecclesiastical affairs. Nobody pretends that, in this latter capacity, she is intallible, or that her prelates are necessarily always wise, or even just. In matters of administration, subjected to human prudence, we obey the ecclesiastical authority, as the legitimate authority, for God's sake; but we are not obliged to believe ex animo that all its acts are the wisest and best possible. We do not hold ourselves bound to believe that no bishop ever commits a mistake in the administration of his diocese, or that no Pope even has ever fallen into an error of policy in his various and numerous relations with temporal powers, or that no Pope has ever been unhappy in his selection of a man to be bishop, or to be made a prince of the Church. We are not bound to believe that no prelate has ever misused his power, or that no Pope has ever made a mistake in applying the “power of the keys.” It is not ours to judge our ecclesiastical superiors; it is ours to obey them, to submit to them as legitimate authorities, unless they command us to do wrong, to do what the law of God forbids. Then, indeed, we are not bound to obedience, and we may always know infallibly whether what is commanded is or is not contrary to the law of God, for the Church, in her capacity of witness, teacher, and judge of the faith, is infallible in declaring what the law of God does and what it does not forbid. In case what is commanded only requires us to suffer wrong, we are to obey for God's sake, and trust to Him to redress our grievances; because it is more for the interest of religion that we should suffer injustice, than that we should endeavor to right ourselves by rebelling against the established order; and because to suffer wrong
for Christ's sake is never an evil but a great good to him who suffers it. The evil is in doing, not in receiving wrong
But, in the sense of teacher, the Church is infallible, and is never permitted by Almighty God to commit the slightest error or mistake. Yet, even here, Protestants rarely do us justice. It is no part of the Catholic faith that the Church is inspired to reveal truth, or that, in regard to faith and mórals, she has in herself any legislative authority. She can only declare the will of her Lord, and make only that to be of faith which he has revealed and committed to her keeping. The Pope has recently declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be a Catholic dogma, but only on the ground that it is a doctrine of divine revelation, contained in the original deposit of faith. She has no arbitrary authority in the case, and is herself as much bound by the law of God as the lowliest of her children. What was not revealed by our Lord, and committed to her by the Apostles, she cannot make an article or a dogma of faith. She cannot make faith. She can only witness the revelation, interpret it, promulgate it, as teacher, and define or declare and apply it as judge. In doing this, she is, according to Catholic faith, infallible. We believe, on her authority, that this or that has been divinely revealed, but we do not believe, on her authority, that it is true. We believe that on the veracity of God himself, and know by