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der their doctrine credible, with a full consideration of their incessant labours and disinterested zeal, then by the aid of that light which enlighteneth every man, that cometh into this world, the Christian exclaims : “I believe the holy Catholic church.” He then admits not only an illustrious society of men, but a church divinely established, and divinely commissioned ; and to her decisions he submits, without reserve, in all matters relating to faith.
You will again object to the course here taken as nugatory ; because you not only admit the apostles' creed, but the Athanasian and Nicene creeds also; and you will add, that this is clearly expressed in
articles. I know full well, my Lord, the extent of your admissions in these matters : you admit the three creeds ; that is, you receive the words, but you leave the meaning to shift for itself. In a similar manner your calendar exhibits a long catalogue of vigils, fasts, and days of abstinence, with as much rigour as is observed in the Catholic church; but all this totally disappears in your practice. Even your writers frequently ridicule these ancient observances as idle and superstitious. With equal consistency the Jews carefully preserve the letter of the prophecies, and leave to the Christians the task of marking the application. My Lord, to admit the words of an instrument, and to deny or overlook the natural and obvious meaning, is to build with one hand, and to destroy with another. Of such an archi. tect you may safely pronounce,
Diruit, ædificat, mutat quadrata rotundis. The course of argument here adopted will be found upon examination to be of a most convincing nature ; for in the first place, we establish an undeniable fact, that the church of Christ, viewed not only as an illustrious society, but as invested with a divine commission, had an existence before the new Scripture was composed; and consequently that the authority of the church was prior to the authority of any written document whatever. We thus give a clear reply to that idle calumny with which we are so frequently assailed, of proving the authority of the church from the scriptures, and again the authority of the Scriptures from that of the church.
You have therefore the authority of the Catholic church, established by the terms of the apostles' creed, which you admit; a creed which, agreeably to the testimony of St. Augustine, St. Jerom, and other holy fathers, was composed by the apostles themselves, and preserved among the traditions of the catholic church. It is a most unquestionable fact, that the remotest antiquity has always been assigned to this important document; and that its existence was decidedly anterior to any canonical book of the New Testament. Are you aware, my Lord, of the importance of this fact, and of the immense and inevitable consequences which flow from it? In the first place you have no knowledge of the Scripture as a canonical book, but from the testimony of the Catholic church; for the obvious arguments which you produce to prove its authenticity, render it, in your view, but a human performance, and will never establish its divine inspiration. Hence St. Augustine made the celebrated declaration so often referred to in these
pages, that he would not believe the gospel, but for the authority of the Catholic church. Secondly, how are we to ascertain the meaning of the sacred writings, particularly in those parts, which have been variously interpreted. Evidently we are to resort to the authority of that church, thus divinely established, and invested with such a manifest commission from above. Thus, by reciting these words, you not only admit the existence of the church, but its divine authority, its heavenly commission, its perpetual indefectibility, its utter exemption from all error; for otherwise the distinguishing characteristic of holiness, which you ascribe to it, would prove but an empty sound.
You are to recollect, that this admission of the authority of the church is an article of faith, inserted in this document, immediately after the profession of the belief in the three divine Persons of the most adorable Trinity; that as such it is of its own nature unalterable and immutable ; that consequently the church was to teach with the same undisputed authority, till the second coming of Christ, when our Redeemer is to deliver it to his heavenly Father. This church, by the terms here employed, was to be the church of all ages and all nations; for such is the import of the word Catholic, or universal. It was not to be confined to any one nation, or people, or kingdom, or republic; but to be altogether unconfined both as to its extent and duration, Its commission was clearly of divine original, without any reference to the temporal sway of sovereigns, to the haughty claims of the great, or to the more dangerous influence of the people. From the genuine records of authentic history, we can state, without fear of contradiction, that, for the first three hundred years, the church, instead of being fostered with the paternal care of temporal sovereigns, was established in defiance of the majesty of imperial Rome. This event took place amidst the horrors of ten general persecutions, in which every species of suffering and torture was exhibited, to subdue the fortitude, and overcome the constancy of the Christian, without effect. The blood of the martyr, exclaimed Tertullian, proves the seed of the Christian.
If all this is true, my Lord, and assuredly every statement here made is incontrovertible, how has it happened, that this Holy CATHOLIC CHURCH
has been the seed-plot of error? that it has been darkened by a general eclipse, which lasted for eight hundred years and more, and involved in one universal night every Christian nation under the sun?? If the authority of this church has been vested in the apostles, and their lawful successors, by what unaccountable change has it taken place, that spiritual power should be claimed by civil potentates, and that a man, a boy, and a woman, should successively usurp the whole authority emanating from Christ? My Lord, these are trying questions, searching questions, tremendous questions : I leave them to your Lordship's fullest and most deliberate consideration.
Perhaps, my Lord, I may be charged with straining the meaning of this celebrated article beyond its natural and obvious import. To remove this impression, I beg leave to cite the explanation of a protestant divine, the learned Dr. Pearson, bishop of Chester. That eminent scholar, in his exposition of the ninth article of the apostle's creed, has the following passages : “ When I say, I believe the holy Catholic church, I mean, that there is a church which is holy and which is Catholic.
And afterwards : “ It is not only an acknowledgment of a church, which shall be, but also of that which is. That
| Peril of Idolatry, Part I. b. 1, ant. cit.