The crowning attribute claimed by the Church of Rome is infallibility. This forms a wide and essential distinction between that Church and all other societies. It is her crowning blasphemy, as Protestants hold; her peerless excellence, as Romanists maintain. These are the locks in which the great strength of this modern Sampson lies, and to which are owing, in no small degree, the prodigious feats that Rome has performed in enslaving the nations. If these locks are shorn, she becomes weak as others. Progression, and consequently change, which excludes the idea of infallibility, is an essential condition in the existence of all created beings. It is the law of the material universe: it is not less that of the rational creation. Man, whether as an individual or as formed into society, is ever advancing. In science he drops the crude, the vague, and the false, and rises to the certain and the true. In government he is gradually approximating what is best adapted to the constitution of society, the nature of the human mind, and the law of God. In religion he is dropping the symbolical, and rising to the spiritual; he is gradually enlarging, correcting, and perfecting his views. Thus he advanced from the Patriarchal to the Mosaic,--from the Mosaic to the Christian; and to this condition of his being the Bible is adapted. The Bible, like no other book in the world, remains eternally immutable, notwithstanding it is as completely adapted to each successive condition of the Church and of society as if it had been written for that age, and no other. Why so? Because that book is stored with great principles and comprehensive laws, adapted to every case that can arise, and capable of being applied to all the conditions and ages of the world. The Church, so far from having got beyond the Bible, is not yet abreast of it. Rome, on the other hand, is an iron circle, within which the human mind may revolve for ever without progressing a hairbreadth. That Church is the only society that never progresses. She never abandons a narrow view of truth for one more enlarged; she never corrects what is wrong or drops what is untrue; because she is infallible. Had she been able to render society as fixed as herself, it might have been safe to adopt, as her policy, immobility. But society is in motion; she can neither go along with the current nor arrest it, and therefore must founder at her moorings. Thus, in the righteous providence of God, that which was the source of her power will be the cause of her destruction.
We are fully warranted in affirming that the Church of Rome has claimed infallibility. If not directly and formally asserted, it is manifestly implied, in the decrees of general councils, in the bulls of popes, and in canons and articles of an authoritative character. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, after the assumptions we have already discussed, lays it down as a corollary, that "the Church cannot err in faith or morals." Infallibility is universally and formally claimed in behalf of their Church, by all Romanists; it is taught in all their Catechisms, and in all their text-books and systems of theology; and forms so prominent a point in all their defences of their system, that it is quite fair to assert that Papists hold and teach that their Church is infallible. Romanists do not hold that all persons and pastors in their Church are infallible, but only that the "Church" is infallible. To this extent Romanists are agreed on the question of infallibility, but no farther. The seat or locality of that infallibility remains to this hour undecided. The Jesuits and the Italian bishops hold that this infallibility resides in the Pope, as the head of the Church, and the organ through which she makes known her mind; the French bishops place it in general councils; while a third party exists which holds that neither popes nor councils separately are infallible, but that both conjointly are so. The Roman Catholics of England used anciently to side with the Italians on this question, but latterly they have gone over to the opinions of the French. Those who place infallibility in the Pope do not maintain that he is infallible either in his personal conduct or in his private opinions, but only when ex cathedra he pronounces on points of faith and decides controversies. Then he speaks infallibly, and every Roman Catholic is bound, at his peril, to receive and obey the decision. The compendious creed of the Romanist, according to Challoner, is as follows:--"I believe in all things, according as the Holy Catholic Church believes;" and he "promises and swears true obedience to the Roman bishops the successor of St. Peter, the prince of the apostles, and vicar of Jesus Christ; and professes and undoubtedly receives all things delivered, defined, and declared, by the sacred canons and general councils, and particularly by the holy Council of Trent; and condemns, rejects, and anathematizes all things contrary thereto, and all heresies whatsoever condemned and anathematized by the Church." "'A general council, rightly congregated,' says Alphonsus de Castro, 'cannot err in the faith.' 'Councils,' says Eccius and Tapperus, 'represent the Catholic Church, which cannot err, and therefore they cannot err.' Costerus says, 'The decrees of general councils have as much weight as the holy gospel.' 'Councils,' says Canus, 'approved and confirmed by the Pope cannot err.' Bellarmine seconds him. Tannerus alleges, that 'councils, being the highest ecclesiastical judicatories, cannot err.' And Stapelton says, 'The decrees of councils are the oracles of the Holy Ghost.'" That Rome receives from her members the entire submission which she claims on the ground of her infallibility, appears from the following description, given by Mr. Blanco White, of his state of mind while a member of that Church:--"I grounded my Christian faith upon the infallibility of the Church. No Roman Catholic pretends to a better foundation. . . . . I believed the infallibility of the Church, because the Scripture said she was infallible; while I had no better proof that the Scripture said so than the assertion of the Church that she could not mistake the Scripture."
The texts of Scripture on which Romanists rest the infallibility are mainly those we have already examined in treating of the supremacy. To these they add the following:--"Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." "I am with you always, unto the end of the world." "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me." "The Comforter, the Holy Ghost, shall abide with you for ever." But these passages fall a long way short of the infallibility. Fairly interpreted, they amount only to a promise that the Church, maugre the opposition of hell, shall be preserved till the end of time,--that the substance of the truth shall always be found in her,--and that the assistance of the Spirit shall be enjoyed by her members in investigating truth, and by her pastors in publishing it, and in exercising that authority with which Christ has invested them. But Romanists hold that it is not in the words, but in the sense of these passages that the proof lies; and that of that sense the Church is the infallible interpreter. They hold that the Scripture is so obscure, that we can know nothing of what it teaches on any point whatever, but by the interpretation of the Church. It was the saying of one of their distinguished men, Mr. Stapelton, "that even the Divinity of Christ and of God did depend upon the Pope."
This is a demand that we should lay aside the Bible, as a book utterly useless as a revelation of the Divine will, and that we should accept the Church as an infallible guide. It is a proposition which, in fact, puts the Church in the room of God. It is but reasonable that we should demand proof clear and conclusive of so momentous a proposition. Romanists, in their attempts to prove infallibility, commonly begin by alleging the necessity of an infallible authority in matters of faith. This Protestants readily grant. They, not less than Papists, appeal every matter of faith to an infallible tribunal. But herein they differ, that while the infallible tribunal of the Protestant is God speaking in the Bible, the infallible tribunal of the Papist is the voice of the Church. Now, even a Papist can scarce refuse to admit that the Protestant ground on this question is the more certain and safe. Both parties--Protestants and Papists--acknowledge the inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures; while one party only, namely, the Papist, acknowledges the infallibility of the Church. But the Romanist is accustomed to urge, that Scripture is practically useless as an infallible guide, from its liability to a variety of interpretations on the part of a variety of persons; and he hence infers the necessity of a living, speaking judge, at any moment, to determine infallibly all doubts and controversies. The Bible, according to the Romanist, is the written law,--the Church is the interpreter or judge; and the example of England and other countries is appealed to as an analogous case, where the written laws are administered by living judges. The analogy rather bears against the Romanist; for while in England the law is above the judge, and the judge is bound to decide only according to the law's award, in the Church of Rome the judge is above the law, and the law can speak only according to the pleasure of the judge. But the argument by which it is sought to establish this living and speaking infallible tribunal is a singularly illogical one. From the great variety of interpretations to which the Scriptures are liable, such a living tribunal, say the Romanists, is necessary; and because it is necessary, therefore it is. Was there ever a more glaring non sequitur? If Romanists wish to establish the infallibility of the Church of Rome by fair reasoning, there is only one way in which they can proceed: they must begin the argument on ground common to both parties. What is that ground? It is not the infallibility, because Protestants deny that. It is the holy Scriptures, the inspiration and infallibility of which both parties admit. The Romanist cannot refuse an appeal to the Bible, because he admits it to be the Word of God. He is bound by clear and direct proofs drawn from thence to prove the infallibility of his Church, before he can ask a Protestant to receive it. But the texts advanced from the Bible, taken in their obvious and literal import, do not prove the infallibility of the Church; and the Romanist, who is unable to deny this, maintains, nevertheless, that they do amount to proofs of the Church's infallibility, because the Church, who cannot possibly mistake the sense of Scripture, has said so. The thing to be proved is the Church's infallibility; and this the Romanist proves by passages from Scripture which in themselves do not prove it, but become proofs by a latent sense contained in them, which latent sense depends upon the infallibility of the Church, which is the very thing to be proved. This famous argument has not inaptly been termed the "Labyrinth, or Popish Circle." "Papists commonly allege," says Dr. Cunningham, "that it is only from the testimony of the Church that we can certainly know what is the Word of God, and what is its meaning; and thus they are inextricably involved in the sophism of reasoning in a circle; that is, they profess to prove the infallibility of the Church by the authority of Scripture; while, at the same time, they establish the authority of Scripture, and ascertain its meaning, by the testimony of the Church, which cannot err."
We do not deny that God might have appointed an infallible guide, and that, had he done so, it would have been our duty to submit implicitly to him; but it is reasonable to infer, that in that case very explicit intimation would have been given of the fact. In giving such intimation, God would have acted but in accordance with his usual method. His own existence he has certified to us by great and durable proofs,--creation without us, and conscience within. He has attested the Bible as a supernatural revelation by many infallible marks stamped upon it. Analogy, then, warrants the conclusion that, had the Church of Rome been appointed the infallible guide of mankind, at least one very distinct intimation would have been given of the fact. But where do we find the slightest proof, or even hint, of such a, thing? Not in the Bible certainly. We may search it through and through without learning that there is any other infallible guide on earth but itself. If we believe the infallibility at all, it must be either because it is self-evident, or because it rests on proof. If it were self-evident, it would be vain to think of bringing proof to make it more evident, just as it would be vain to think of bringing evidence to prove that things that are equal to the same thing are equal to one another, or that the whole is greater than its part. But in that case there would be as little difference of opinion among rational men about the infallibility, as about the axioms we have just stated. But we find great diversity of sentiment indeed about the infallibility. Not one in ten professes to believe it. It is not, then, a self-evident truth; and seeing it is not self-evident, we must demand proof. It is usual with the Church of Rome to send us first to the Scriptures. We search the Scriptures from beginning to end, but can discover no proof of the infallibility; and when we come back to complain of our bad success, we are told that it was impossible we could fare otherwise; that we have been using our reason, than which we cannot possibly commit a greater crime, reason being wholly useless in discovering the true sense of Scripture; and that the sense of Scripture can be discovered only by infallibility. Thus the Romanist is back again into his circle. We are to believe the infallibility because the Scriptures bid us, and we are to believe the Scriptures because the infallibility bids us; and out of this circle the Romanist can by no means conjure himself.
An attempt at escape from an eternal rotation round the two foci of Scripture and infallibility the Romanist does make, by what looks like an appeal to reason. Of various possible ways, it is asserted, God always chooses the best; and as the best way of leading men to heaven is to appoint an infallible guide, therefore an infallible guide has been appointed. This is but another form of the argument of necessity, to which we have already adverted. But this cannot answer the purpose of the Roman Catholic Church. The Greek Church might employ this argument to prove its infallibility; or the professors of the Mahommedan faith might employ it. They might say, it is inconsistent with the goodness of God that there should not be an infallible guide; it is plain that there is no other than ourselves; therefore we are that infallible guide. But a better way still would have been to make every man and woman infallible; and we humbly submit that, according to the argument of the Romanist, this is the plan that God ought to have adopted. The theory of the Roman Catholic Church proceeds on the idea that there is but one man in the world possessed of his sound senses. Accordingly, he has charged himself with the safe keeping of all the rest; and for this benevolent end he has established a large asylum called Catholicism. The design of this establishment is not to restore the inmates to reason, but to keep them away from their reason. Here men are taught that never are they so wise as when most completely bereft of their faculties; nor do they ever act so rationally as when least aided by their senses. But by this line of argument the Roman Catholic Church undeniably falls into the deadly sin of requiring men to use their private judgment. Granting that the best way of leading men to heaven is to provide them with a living infallible guide; what have they to discover that guide but their reason? But if we may trust our reason when it tells us that an infallible guide is necessary, why may we not trust it when it tells us that the Bible is silent as to the Church of Rome being that infallible guide? Why is reason so useful in the one case,--why so useless in the other? Can our belief in anything be stronger than our belief in the reason that assures us of its truth? Can we possibly repose greater confidence in the findings of our reason than in our reason itself? But our reason is useless; therefore its finding that an infallible guide is necessary, and that that guide is the Roman Catholic Church, is also useless. If it is answered, that the Scriptures, rightly interpreted by the Church, bid us believe this guide, this, we grant, is renouncing the inconsistency of grounding the matter on private judgment; but it is a return to the circle within which the infallibility rests upon the Scriptures and the Scriptures upon the infallibility. If the Protestant cannot use his reason within that circle, it is plain the Romanist cannot use his out of it. He never ventures far from it, therefore, and on the first appearance of danger flies back to it. The argument would be greatly more brief, and its logic would be equally good, were it to run thus: "The Church of Rome is infallible because she is infallible;" and much unnecessary wrangling would be saved, were the Romanist, before commencing the controversy, to tell his opponent, that unless he conceded the point, he could not dispute with him.
Moreover, the boasted advantage of this infallible method of determining all doubts and controversies is a gross illusion. When the person closes the Bible, and sets out in quest of this infallible tribunal, he knows not where to seek it. To this day Romanists have not determined where that infallibility is lodged; and whether the person goes to the canon law, or to the writings of the fathers, or to the decrees of councils, or to the bulls of the popes, he is met by the very same difficulties, but on a far larger scale, which Romanists urge, though on no good ground, against the Bible as a rule of faith. These all have been, and still are, liable to far greater diversity of interpretation than the holy Scriptures; and if the objection be valid in the one case, much more is it so in the other. That the fathers are not only not infallible, but are not even exempt from the faults of obscurity and inconsistency, is manifest from the voluminous commentaries which have been written to make their meaning clear, as well as from the fact, that the fathers directly contradict one another, and the same father sometimes contradicts himself. We do not find one of them claiming infallibility, and not a few of them disclaim it. If they are right in disclaiming it, then they are not infallible; and if they are wrong, neither are they infallible, seeing they err in this, and may err equally in other matters. "The sense of all these holy men" [the fathers], says Melchior Canus, "is the sense of God's Spirit." "That which the fathers unanimously deliver," says Gregory de Valentia, "about religion, is infallibly true." So say the monks; but the fathers themselves give a very different account of the matter. "A Christian is bound," says Bellarmine, "to receive the Church's doctrine without examination." But Basil flatly contradicts him. "The hearers," says he, "that are instructed in the Scriptures must examine the doctrine of their teachers; they must receive the things that are agreeable to Scripture, and reject those things that are contrary to it." "Do not believe me saying these things," says Cyril, "unless I prove them out of the Scriptures." If, then, we appeal to the fathers themselves,--and those who believe them to be infallible cannot certainly refuse this appeal,--the infallibility of tradition must be given up.
But not a few Romanists, when hard pressed, give up the infallibility of the fathers, and take refuge in that of general councils. But whence comes the infallibility of these councils? The men in their individual capacity are not infallible: how come they to be so in their collective capacity? We do not deny that God might have preserved the councils of his Church from error; but the question is not what God might have done, but what He has done. Has He signified his intention to infallibly guide the councils of the Church? If so, in two ways only can this intention have been made known,--through the Bible, or through tradition. Not through the Bible, for it contains no promise of infallibility to councils; and Papists produce nothing from Scripture on this head beyond the texts on which they attempt to base the primacy, which we have already disposed of. Nor does tradition reveal the infallibility of general councils. No father has asserted that such a tradition has descended to him from the apostles; and not only did the fathers reject the notion of their own infallibility, but they also rejected the infallibility of councils, and demanded, as Protestants do, submission to the holy Scriptures. "I ought not to adduce the Council of Nice," says St. Augustine, "nor ought you to adduce the Council of Ariminum, for I am not bound by the authority of the one, nor are you bound by the authority of the other. Let the question be determined by the authority of the Scriptures, which are witnesses peculiar to neither of us, but common to both." Thus this father rejects the authority of fathers, councils, and churches, and appeals to the Scriptures alone. Unless, then, we are good enough to believe that councils are infallible simply because they say they are so, we must give up this infallibility of councils as a chimera and a delusion. It not unfrequently happens that councils contradict one another. How perplexing, in such a case, for the believer in their infallibility to say which to follow! Nor is this his only difficulty. It has not yet been decided what councils are, and what are not, infallible. It is only in behalf of general councils that infallibility is claimed; but the list of general councils varies in different countries. On the south of the Alps some councils are received as general and infallible, whose claim to rank as such is denied in France. "When the Popish priests," asks Dr. Cunningham, "of this country swear to maintain all things defined by the oecumenical councils, whether do they mean to follow the French or the Italian list?"
There are some Romanists who place this wonderful prerogative in the Pope and councils acting in conjunction. Bellarmine, an unexceptionable authority, though on the subject of the infallibility he delivers himself with some little inconsistency, says, "All Catholics constantly teach that general councils confirmed by the Pope cannot err;" and again, "Catholics agree that the Pope, with a general council, cannot err in establishing articles of faith, or general precepts of manners." "Doth the decree," asks Stillingfleet, when confuting this notion, "receive any infallibility from the council or not? If it doth, then the decree is infallible, whether the Pope confirm it or no. If it doth not, then the infallibility is wholly in the Pope." The decree, when presented to the Pope for his confirmation, is either true, or it is not. If it is true, can the pontifical confirmation make it more true? and if it is not true, can the Pope's confirmation give it truth and infallibility? When infallibility is lodged in one party, it is not difficult to conceive how decrees issued by that party become infallible; but when, like Mahommed's coffin, this infallibility is suspended betwixt two parties,--when, equally attracted by the gravitating forces of the Pope above and of the council below, it hangs in mid air,--it is more difficult to conceive in what way the decree becomes charged with infallibility. At what point in the ascent from the council to the Pope is it that the decree becomes infallible? Is it in the middle passage that this mysterious property infuses itself into it? or is it only when it reaches the chair of Peter? In that case the infallibility does not rest in a sort of equipoise between the two, according to the theory we are examining, but attaches exclusively to the pontiff.
This is the only part of the theory of infallibility, viz., that it resides in the Pope, which remains to be examined. This fleeting phantom, which we have pursued from fathers to councils and from councils to popes, we shall surely be able to fix in the chair of Peter. No, even here this phantom eludes our grasp. It is a shadow which the Romanist is destined ever to pursue, but never to overtake. That there is such a thing he never for a moment doubts, though no mortal has ever seen its form or discovered its dwelling-place.
The majority of Romanists agree that it haunts the Seven Hills, and is never far distant from the pontifical tiara. But, though it is impossible to fix the seat of this infallibility, it is not difficult to fix the period when it first came into existence. Infallibility was never heard of in the world till a full thousand years after Christ and his apostles. It was first devised by the pontiffs, for the purpose of supporting their universal supremacy and enormous usurpations. For about three hundred years after it was first claimed, it was tacitly acknowledged by all. But the unbounded ambition, the profligate lives, and the scandalous schisms and divisions of the pontiffs, came at last to shake the faith of the adherents of the Papacy in the pretensions of its head , and gave occasion to some councils,--as those of Basle and Constance,--to strip the popes of their infallibility, and claim it in their own behalf. Hence the origin of the war waged between councils and pontiffs on the subject of the infallibility, in which, as we have said, the Jesuits and the bishops south of the Alps take part with the successor of Peter. The Gallican Church generally has taken the side of councils in this controversy. Three or four councils have ascribed infallibility to the Pope, especially the last Lateran and Trent. At the last of these, the legates were charged not to allow the council to come to any decision on the point of infallibility, the Pope declaring that he would rather shed his blood than part with his rights, which had been established on the doctrines of the Church and the blood of martyrs. Now, in the Pope the infallibility is less diffused, and therefore, one should think, more accessible, than when lodged in councils; and yet Papists are as far as ever from being able to avail themselves practically of this infallibility for the settlement of their doubts and controversies. Before we can make use of the Pope's infallibility, there is a preliminary point. Is he truly the successor of Peter and Bishop of Rome? for it is only in so far as he is so that he is infallible. This, again, depends upon his being truly in orders, truly a bishop, truly a priest, truly baptized. And the validity of his orders depends, again, upon the intention of the person who administered the sacraments to him, and made him a priest or a bishop. For, according to the councils of Florence and Trent, the right intention of the administrator is absolutely necessary to the validity of these sacraments. So it is quite possible for some evil-minded priest,--some Jew, perhaps, in priests orders, of which there have been instances not a few in the Church of Rome,--to place a mere SHAM in Peter's chair,--to place at the head of the Roman Catholic world, not a genuine pope, but, as Carlyle would say, a Simulacrum. Not only is the Catholic world exposed to this terrible calamity, but, before the Romanist can avail himself of the infallibility, he must make sure that such a calamity has not actually befallen it in the person then occupying Peter's chair. He must assure himself of the right intention of the priest who admitted the Pope to orders, before he can be certain that he is a true Pope. But on such a matter absolute certainty is impossible, and moral assurance is the utmost that is attainable. But, granting that this difficulty is got over, there are twenty behind. Romanists do not hold that the Pope is infallible at all times and under all circumstances. He is not infallible in his moral conduct, as history abundantly testifies. Nor is he infallible in his private opinions, for there have been popes who have fallen into the worst heresies. In the theses of the Jesuits, in the college of Clermont, it was maintained, "that Christ hath so committed the government of his Church to the popes, that he hath conferred on them the same infallibility which he had himself, as often as they speak ex cathedra" "The Pope," says Bellarmine, "when he instructs the whole Church in things concerning the faith, cannot possibly err; and, whether he be a heretic himself or not, he can by no means define anything heretical to be believed by the whole Church;" a doctrine which has given occasion to some to remark, that it is no wonder that they can work miracles at Rome, when they can make apostacy and infallibility dwell together in the same person. We have the authority of the renowned Ligouri, that the Pope is altogether infallible in controversies of faith and morals. "The common opinion," says he, "to which we subscribe, is, that when the Pope speaks as the universal doctor, defining matters ex cathedra, that is, by the supreme power given to Peter of teaching the Church, then, we say, he is WHOLLY INFALLIBLE."
Mr. Seymour a few years ago was told by the Professor of Canon Law in the Collegio Romano at Rome, in a conversation he had with the Professor on the subject of Pope Liberius, who, the Professor admitted, had avowed the heresy of the Arians, that had he "proceeded to decide anything ex cathedra, the decision would then have been infallible." "A good tree bringeth forth good fruit," said our Saviour; but it appears that the soil of the Seven Hills possesses this marvellous property, that a bad tree will bring forth good fruit; and there men may gather grapes of thorns.
So, then, the case as respects the Pope's infallibility stands thus:--When he speaks ex cathedra, he speaks infallibly: when he speaks non ex cathedra, he speaks fallibly. This is the nearest approach any one can make to the seat of the oracle, and yet he is a long way short of it. For now arises the important question, How are we to ascertain an infallible bull from a fallible one,--a pope pronouncing ex cathedra from a pope pronouncing non ex cathedra? The process, certainly, is neither of the shortest nor the easiest, and we shall state it at length, that all may see how much is gained by forsaking the volume of the holy Scriptures for the volume of the papal bulls. The method of ascertaining an infallible from a fallible bull we give on the authority to which we have just referred, that of the Professor of Canon Law in the Collegio Romano at Rome,--a gentleman whose important position gives him the best opportunities of knowing, and who is not likely to represent the matter unfairly for Rome, or to make the process more difficult and intricate than it really is. Well, then, according to the statements of the Professor, who is one of the most learned and accomplished men at Rome, there are seven requisites or essentials by which a bull is to be tested before it is recognised as ex cathedra or infallible.
"1. It was necessary, in the first place, that before composing and issuing the bull, the Pope should have opened a communication with the bishops of the universal Church," in order to obtain the prayers of the bishops and of the universal Church, "that the Holy Spirit might fully and infallibly guide him, so as to make his decision the decision of inspiration.
"II. It was necessary, in the second place, that before issuing the bull containing the decision, the Pope should carefully seek all possible and desirable information touching the special matter which was under consideration, and which was to be the subject of his decision...........from those persons who were residing in the district affected by the decision called in question.
"III. That the bull should not only be formal, but should be authoritative, and should claim to be authoritative: that it should be issued not merely as the opinion or judgment of the Pope in his mere personal capacity, but as the decisive and authoritative judgment of one who was the head of that Church which was the mother and mistress of all Churches.
"IV. That the bull should be promulgated universally; that is, that the bull should be addressed to all the bishops of the universal Church, in order that through them its decisions might be delivered and made known to all the members or subjects of the whole Church.
"V. That the bull should be universally received; that is, should be accepted by all the bishops of the whole Church, and accepted by them as an authoritative and infallible decision.
"VI. The matter or question upon which the decision was to be made, and which was therefore to be the subject matter of the bull, must be one touching faith or morals, that is, it must concern the purity of faith or the morality of actions.
"VII. That the Pope should be free,--perfectly free from all exterior influence,--so as to be under no exterior compulsion or constraint."
By all these tests must every bull issued by the popes be tried, before it can be accepted or rejected as infallible. Assuredly the Protestant has no reason to grudge the Papist his "short and easy method" of attaining certainty in his faith. If the Romanist, in determining the infallibility of the papal bulls, shall get through his work at a quicker rate than one in every twenty years, he will assuredly display no ordinary diligence. Most men, we suspect, will account the solution of a single bull quite work enough for a lifetime, while not a few will prefer taking the whole matter on trust, to entering on an investigation which they may not live to finish, and which, granting they do live to finish it, is so little likely to conduct to a satisfactory result. Let us suppose that a pope's bull, containing a deliverance necessary to be believed in order to salvation, is put into the hands of a plain English peasant: it is written in a dead language; and he must acquire that language to make sure that he knows its real sense, or he must trust the translation of another,--the very objection on which Papists dwell so much in reference to the Bible. He must next endeavour to ascertain that the Pope has sought and obtained the prayers of the universal Church for the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit in the matter. This he may possibly do, though not without a good deal of trouble. He has next to assure himself that the Pope has been at pains to obtain all possible and desirable information in regard to the subject of the bull, and more especially from persons living in the district to which that bull has reference. Now, unless he is pleased to take his information at second hand, he has no possible means of attaining certainty on this point, unless by leaving his occupation, and perhaps also his country, and making personal inquiries on the spot as to the Pope's diligence and discrimination in collecting evidence. Having satisfied himself as to this, he has next to assure himself that the bull has been universally accepted, that is, that all the bishops of the whole Church have received it as an authoritative and infallible decision. This opens up a wider sphere of inquiry even than the former. On nothing is it more difficult to obtain certain information, for on nothing are the bishops of the Roman Church so divided, as on the infallibility of particular bulls. It is a fortunate decision indeed which carries along with it the unanimous assent of the Romish clergy. A bull may be held to be orthodox in Britain, but accounted heretical in France; or it may be accepted as most infallible in France, but repudiated in Spain; or it may be revered as the dictate of inspiration by the Spanish bishops, but held as counterfeit by those of Italy. Not a few bulls are in this predicament. Thus the person finds that this infallibility, instead of being a Catholic, is a very provincial affair; that by crossing a particular arm of the sea, or traversing a certain chain of mountains, he leaves the sphere of the infallible, and enters into that of the fallible; that as he changes his place on the earth's surface, so does the pontifical decree change its character; and that what is binding upon him as the dictate of inspiration on the south of the Alps, he is at liberty to disregard as the effusion of folly, of ignorance, or of heresy, on the north of these mountains. What is the man to do in such a case? If he side with the French bishops, he finds that the Italians are against him; and if he takes part with the Italians, he finds that he has arrayed himself against the Iberian and Gallican clergy. Truly it may be said, on the subject of the infallibility, that "he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."
But granting the possibility of the man seeing his way through all these conflicting opinions, to something like a satisfactory conclusion: he finds he has come so far only to encounter fresh and apparently insuperable difficulties. He has, last of all, to satisfy himself in reference to the state of the pontifical mind when the decree was given. Did the Pope's judgment move in obedience to an influence from above, which guided it into the path of truth and infallibility? or was it drawn aside into that of error by some exterior and earthly influence--a desire, for instance, to serve some political end, a wish to conciliate some temporal potentate, or a fear that, should he decide in a certain way, he might cause a rent in the Church, and thus shake that infallible chair from which he was about to issue his decree? How any man can determine with certainty respecting the purity of the motives and influences which guided the pontifical mind in coming to a certain decision, without a very considerable share of that infallibility of which he is in quest, we are utterly at a loss to conceive. And thus, though the Romish doctrine of infallibility may do well enough for infallible men who can do without it, it is not of the least use to those who really need its aid.
We have imagined the case of a man engaged on a single bull, and attempting to solve the question of infallibility with an exclusive reference to it. But the foundation of a Papist's faith is not any one bull, but the Bullarium. This must necessarily form an important item in every estimate of the difficulties attending the question of infallibility. The Bullarium is a work in scholastic Latin, amounting to between twenty and thirty folio volumes. To every one of its many hundred bulls must these seven tests be applied. Now, if, as we have seen, it is so difficult, or indeed so impossible, to apply these tests to the bulls of the day, the idea of applying them to the bulls of a thousand years ago is immeasurably absurd. Would any man in his five senses take up the bulls of Pope Hildebrand, or of Pope Innocent, and proceed to test, by these seven requisites, whether they are or are not infallible? No man ever did so,--no man ever thought of doing so; and we may affirm with the utmost confidence, that while the world stands, no man who is not utterly bereft of understanding and sense will ever undertake so chimerical and hopeless a task. The twelve labours of Hercules were as nothing compared with these seven labours of the infallibility. And then we have to think what a monument of folly and inconsistency, as well as of arrogance and blasphemy, is the Bullarium. Not only is it in a dead language, and has never been translated into any living tongue, and therefore is utterly unfit to form the guide of any living Church, but it is wanting even in agreement with itself. We find that one bull contradicts another, or rescinds that other, or expressly condemns it. We find that these bulls are the source of endless disputes, and the subject of varied and conflicting interpretations, on the part of the Romish doctors. What a contrast does the simplicity, the harmony, and the conciseness of the Bible form to the twenty or thirty volumes of the Bullarium, the Bible of the Papist, but which few if any living Papists have ever read, and the authority and infallibility of which no living Papist certainly has ever verified according to the rules of his Church! And yet we are asked to renounce the one, and to submit ourselves to the guidance of the other, to abandon the straight and even path of holy Scripture, and to commit ourselves to the endless mazes and the inextricable labyrinths of the Bullarium. A modest request, doubtless, but one which it will be time enough to consider when Papists agree among themselves as to where this infallibility is placed, and how it may be turned to any practical end. Till then we shall hold ourselves fully warranted to follow the dictates of that book which Christ has commanded us to "search," which "is able to make wise unto salvation," and which Papists themselves acknowledge to be the Word of God, and therefore infallible.
We have examined at great length the two questions of the primacy and the infallibility, because they are fundamental ones in the Romish system. They are the Jachin and Boaz of the Papacy. If these two principal pillars are overthrown, not a single stone of the ill-assorted, heterogeneous, and grotesque fabric which Rome has built upon them can stand. We have seen how little foundation the primacy and infallibility have in Scripture, in history, or in reason. Romanism stands unrivalled alike for the impudence and the baselessness of its pretensions. To nothing can we compare it, unless to the famous system of Indian cosmogony. The sage of Hindustan places the earth upon the back of the elephant, and the elephant upon the back of the crocodile; but when you ask him on what is the crocodile placed? you find that his philosophy can conduct him no farther. There is a yawning gulph in his system, like that which opens right beneath the feet of the sorely burdened and somewhat insufficiently supported crocodile. The great props of the Papacy, like those fabled animals which support the globe, lack foundation. The Romanist places the Church upon the Pope, and the Pope upon the infallibility; but when you ask him on what does the infallibility rest? alas! his system provides no footing for it; and if you attempt to go farther down, you are landcd in a gulph across whose gloom there has never darted any ray of light, and whose profound depths no plummet has ever yet sounded. Over this gulph floats the Papacy.
 Cat. Rom. p. 83. [Back]
 See Dens' Theol. tom. ii. p. 126,--De Infallibilitate Ecclesiae. [Back]
 Morning among the Jesuits at Rome, p. 96. [Back]
 Garden of the Soul, p. 35. [Back]
 Pope Pius IV.'s Creed. [Back]
 Poole's Blow at the Root of the Romish Church, chap. iv. prop. iv. [Back]
 Practical and Internal Evidence, pp. 9, 10. [Back]
 Matt. xvi. 18. [Back]
 Matt. xxviii. 20. [Back]
 Luke, x. 16. [Back]
 John, xiv. 16. [Back]
 Poole's Blow at the Root of the Romish Church, chap. ii. prop. ii. [Back]
 Richard du Mans asserted in the Council of Trent, "that the Scripture was become useless, since the Schoolmen had established the truth of all doctrines." [Back]
 Milner's End of Controversy, part. i. p. 116. [Back]
 See Episcopius's Labyrinthus, sive Circulus Pontificus. [Back]
 Stillingfleet's Doctrines and Practices of the Church of Rome, with Notes by Dr. Cunningham, p. 208. [Back]
 See "The Case stated between the Church of Rome and the Church of England," pp. 30-40; London, 1713. See also "A Discourse against the Infallibility of the Roman Church," by William Chillingworth. [Back]
 Poole's Blow at the Root of the Romish Church, chap. iii. prop. iii. [Back]
 For the concurrence of the fathers of the first three centuries in the Protestant method of resolving faith, see Stillingfleet's Rational Account, part i. chap. ix. [Back]
 See Seymor's debates with the Roman Jesuits, in his Mornings among the Jesuits. [Back]
 See Aug. De Unitate, c. xvi. [Back]
 Stillingfleet's Doctrines and Practices, &c, by Dr. Cunningham, p. 201. [Back]
 Bell. de Conc., lib. ii. cap. ii. [Back]
 Stillingfleet's Rational Account, part. iii. chap. i. [Back]
 See Stillingfleet's Rational Account, part. iii. chap. iii. [Back]
 Quoted in Free Thoughts on Toleration of Popery, p. 200. [Back]
 Bell. De Rom. Pont., lib. iii. c. ii. [Back]
 Ligouri, tom. i. p. 110. [Back]
 Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome, p. 162. [Back]
 It is interesting to observe, that the method of procedure indicated in these rules appears to have been followed by the present pontiff, in preparing for his contemplated decision on the subject of the "immediate conception of the Virgin Mary." [Back]
 Mornings among the Jesuits at Rome, pp. 165-169. [Back]
Read Book Two, Chapter Eight: No Salvation Out of the Church of Rome.
Back to Dogmas of the Papacy Index
Back to Overview
Back to the Home Page
Saxons of England. The object of Augustine and his brigade of forty monks which Gregory the Great sent into England in the seventh century, was not to plant Christianity, but to drive it back into those remote and inaccessible parts of Scotland where it had first found refuge, and to replace it with the Papacy. (See Du Pin, Hist. Eccles. vol. i. p. 575; Dublin, 1723: Elliot's Horae Apocalypticae, vol. iii. p. 138: Jameson's History of the Culdees, pp. 7, 8: Hetherington's History of the Church of Scotland, chap. i.) [Back]
 "Suburbicaria loca." Sixth Canon of Nicene Council, as quoted by Rufinus. (See Du Pin, Eccles. Hist. vol. i. p. 600: Salmasius De Primatu Papae, cap. iii. p. 37, et cap. vii. pp. 103,104.) [Back]
 Tractatus Barlaami, p. 284. [Back