Page images

Pope and the most distant regions which acknowledge his spiritual dominion, is direct. The Mexican and the Peruvian expects the publication of the annual bull, which allows him to eat eggs and milk in Lent, enables him to liberate, by name, a certain number of his relations from purgatory, and enlarges the power of his confessor, for the absolution of the most hideous crimes. Whereever he turns, he sees a protecting saint, whose power and willingness to defend him, could not be ascertained without the supernatural and unquestionable authority of the Pope. It is the Holy Father who, by a solemn declaration, allots every district to the peculiar patronage of a saint; it is he who, by grants of indulgences, encourages the worship of those miraculous images which formcentral points of devotion over all the Roman Catholic world: it is he who warrants the supernatural state of incorruption of the body of one saint, and traces, with unerring certainty, some straggling limb to another. It is, finally, he who alone has the undoubted power of virtually furnishing the faithful with the relics of the most ancient or unknown patriarchs and martyrs, by bidding the fragment of any skeleton in the catacombs, be part of the body in request”. I do not intend to cast any part of your religious system into ridicule; though, I confess, it is difficult to mention facts like these, without some danger of exciting a smile. These and similar practices you will, perhaps, construe into innocent means of keeping up a sense of religion among the lower classes; but without insisting, at present, upon their demoralizing and degrading tendency, I only present them in conjunction with all the other means of power and influence which the church of Rome has drawn from the, at least, doubtful title, on which she grounds her spiritual supremacy. It is, indeed, of great importance in the question between Rome and the Protestants, to observe the consequences of their respective interpretation of scripture, in regard to their own

interests. The mass of Christians who, unable

* This is called christening relics. The persuasion that bones so christened are as good as those of the favourite saint to whom they are attributed, is certainly general in my country. I have no doubt that it is common to all Catholics. to weigh the theological arguments urged by the controversialists of both parties, content themselves with an implicit, and often an indifferent, acquiescence in the tenets which education chanced to impress on their minds; might form a pretty accurate notion of the whole case by the following easy and compendious method. They should, in the first place, endeavour to become familiar with the reasoning which shows the absurdity of settling the question of papal supremacy on other than Scriptural grounds. Let them remember, what cannot be too much repeated, the necessity of deriving the knowledge of any infallible expounder of the Scriptures from the testimony of those Scriptures, perused and understood without the aid of that expounder. To appeal to divine tradition as a rule for the interpretation of Scripture in this state of the question, is equally unreasonable and preposterous; since, from the nature of the case, there is, as yet, no infallible rule to distinguish divine tradition from human and fallible report. The next step in this momentous inquiry, is to ascertain, by human means, the true

sense of such passages of the Scriptures as are said to contain the appointment of a living supreme authority in matters of faith. Here, two sets of men, deeply learned in all the branches of divinity, present themselves as interpreters. These affirm that the passages in question, contain the rights and privileges which the church of Rome and her head, claim for themselves: those positively deny that the passages can bear such meaning. Remember again, I request you, that the decision must depend exclusively on the reasoning faculties of mankind. Which, now, of these two opposed masses of intellect, is most likely to catch the true meaning of the texts 2 Which of the two interpretations have we most reason to suppose free from the distortions of prejudice? Common sense answers the question: that which is directly against the interests of the interpreters. Europe lay prostrate at the feet of the Pope, and every member of his clergy was raised by the common opinion, to a rank and dignity to which even kings bowed their head. The meanest priest claimed and enjoyed exemptions which were often denied to the first nobles of the land. Wealth and

honours were theirs; the law shrunk before them when guilty, and piety was ready to throw a cloak on their vices. The church had, for many ages, been in possession of unrivalled power on earth, when, at the rousing voice of a few obscure men, who questioned the foundation of that mighty structure, a large portion of those that might have continued under its shelter, unanimously declared that the whole was a work of delusion, which had sprung from an original, unexamined error. Such was the unanimous conviction of all the Protestants, when no bias but that of a contrary tendency could exist in their minds. If common sense, therefore, must be the interpreter of divine authority, conveyed to us in human language; this fact alone suffices to point the side to which that plain and faithful guide gives its sanction. The Reformed churches are taxed with their variations, as if, like Rome, they had pledged their existence upon infallibility. They have, indeed, varied and dissented from each other; with this difference from the oracular church of the Vatican, that they have not disguised their

proceedings, nor set up an Inquisition as the guard

« PreviousContinue »