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The Churches and the Church.
ART. III. - THE CHURCHES AND THE CHURCH.
WHOEVER reads the Gospels thoughtfully, and forms to himself an idea of Christ, his meaning and aim, from their records, must be struck with the huge incongruity between that idea and Christianity as it has existed outwardly in the world since the time of the Apostles, — the successive churches of our faith. We may safely affirm, that it was no one of these which Jesus had in his mind when he said, “On this rock will I build my Church.” Above all, it was not that Church which claims emphatically to rest on this basis, and to be the fulfilment of this prophecy; which sees in its high priests the lineal descendants of that Apostle whom Jesus denominated the rock, and believes its pontificate, the Papal see of Rome, to be the seat actually occupied by Peter and transmitted by him.
There has been manifested of late, among Protestants in various quarters, a disposition to fall back upon this Church and to renew this claim in its behalf. In England particularly, during the last year, numbers of clergymen, and among them distinguished members of the Established Church, have formally joined the Romish Communion. Without attributing too much importance to this movement, we cannot but regard it as a very remarkable sign of the times. And yet we hardly know what it signifies. We can compare it to nothing but the act of a man who should close his shutters and light a candle at mid-day, or who should blindfold his eyes and suffer himself to be led about by a groping, imbecile guide who had lost the use of his through utter decrepitude. In some cases the motive pro
essed, is the desire of finding a sufficient historical foundation on which to build an ecclesiastical institution. That members of the English Church in search of such a foundation should prefer Roine to England, is not surprising. For though Rome, no more than England, can claim to be the original, Apostolic institution, it has certainly a broader basis and a more imposing lineage. The error lies in seeking to found an ecclesiastical establishment at all, in flat contradiction to the spirit of that religion
“neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem,” but “in spirit and in truth.” In some cases it is a VOL. XLI. - 4TH. S. VOL. VI. NO. II.
matter of sentiment, — a lively fancy taken with the picturesque exterior of Catholic worship, and the charm of antiquity that hovers round a Church which once overshadowed the world, and which calls the “eternal city” its cradle and its home. But this charm, like the beauty of some picturesque but decayed city of the Old World, is better appreciated and enjoyed by the Protestant who looks at it from a distance than by the Catholic who lives in it. A Gothic ruin is a thing to visit, to gaze at and to muse on, but not to imitate, nor to dwell in. A feudal castle perched on some craggy eminence at the angle of a stream
a relic of those stalwart centuries which cradled the modern world — may well attract the poetic mind. The spirit of the past seems to brood over those grey walls. One would like to spend a summer's day in such a spot, and dream of the days and deeds of old. But what should we think of the wisdom of him, who from mere love of antiquity should sell the house over his head, a comfortable modern house, suited to modern uses and wants, to go and burrow in a corner of some dilapidated Gothic ruin ? No! Let bygone be bygone! Let the dead bury their dead! We will honor the past for what it has been. It shall be venerable to us as an object of contemplation, as a study and a treasure-house of wisdom, but not as a city of habitation.
The Church of Rome, although once a saving and beneficent institution, could never with propriety claim to be the Church intended by Christ. Although once a true Church, it could never be called the true Church. The true Church, among other qualifications, should be a catholic or universal Church; and that the Roman has never been. The phrase, “Roman Catholic," is a contradiction in terms. So far as the Church was Roman, it was peculiar, limited, and ceased to be catholic. The Roman Church was never a universal Church from the time that it bore that name. It was always a schism, a fragment, as the name imports. The beginning of its existence was a schism. The beginning of its existence was the separation of the Roman patriarchate, with its dependencies, from the Greek patriarchate with which it had formerly constituted one Church. Even that Church, though calling itself Catholic, did not comprise the whole body of Christian believers. The Church had never been one since it first
Church of Rome.
became identified with the secular government under Constantine, and since, with the aid of secular authority, it attempted to establish a uniformity of faith. The first attempt of this kind, in the first Christian Council, broke the Church in pieces. Then, and at subsequent Councils, fragments were struck off and distinguished as heresies from the larger portion which called itself Catholic. In the fifth century the Roman Patriarch took upon himself to excommunicate the Greek Patriarchs for their participation in an edict of the Emperor Zeno,* the design of which was to reunite with the Church a portion of the Christian body which had been cast off as heretics at the Council of Chalcedon.t This edict was a catholic act, it was done in a catholic spirit. The Roman Patriarch in opposing it acted schismatically. And thus the Roman Church was a schism, a fragment at its very commencement; made so by its own act. The larger portion of a broken vessel is not less a fragment than the smallest. The Roman fragment of the broken Church was no more entitled to call itself Catholic than the Greek; and the Greek may, at this day, with far greater propriety than the Roman, claim to be the original Church, founded by the Apostles; seeing it has changed less than that with the course of time. But the claim in either case is absurd, for the Christian doctrine was already so modified at the time of the first Council, A. D. 325, by Platonizing Fathers and a Paganizing laity, that neither Peter nor Paul would have recognised their teaching in the Nicene Creed.
The Roman Church then, with all its pretensions, is neither more nor less than a sect. It cannot even claim to be the eldest sect. That honor, if it be one, belongs to the Nestorians and Armenians who were cast off by decrees of Councils before Rome became a separate Church. This is a point of little consequence in itself, but it becomes important in view of the claim preferred by the advocates of Rome to be the oldest Christian Communion; and when Protestants speak, in the cant phraseology of the times, of returning into the bosom of the mother Church, it behoves them to consider that, if the Church of Rome is the mother of the various Protestant sects, she is far from being the
* The Henoticon.
+ The Eutychians.
eldest church. She is herself but one among other daughters of a mother long since extinct.
But the antiquity of a church is no argument, nor even a presumption in its favor. They who rely on it assume, that the nearer we approach Christ and his Apostles in the order of time, the nearer we approach them in the order of doctrine. But this is not the fact, unless we go farther back than any existing church can trace its history; in other words, unless we go back to the New Testament; in whose pages, whatever else we may find, we shall meet with no encouragement to return to the bosom of Rome. The doctrine of the New Testament is onward, and forever onward. “Forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those that are before.” “Therefore leaving the rudiments of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection.” “How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage ? "
Christianity, as a positive historical religion, is progressive. To maintain that it is perfected by any Council or number of Councils, that it is contained pure and entire in any creed or symbol or confession of faith, is a sin against the Holy Ghost. Christianity is progressive. Although in its essence and innermost spirit unchangeable — "the same yesterday, to-day and forever,” — as an agent in time, it changes with the time. It advances with the progress of society. It adapts itself to successive periods of man's growth. Man as a race has a destiny to fulfil. Man as a race is made the subject of progressive education. He is sent into one school after another, to learn one truth after another as he is prepared to receive it. The Law, says
was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ,” It was only an external Christianity, however, for which that instruction prepared men, — better, more spiritual than the old Law, but still external, symbolical, compared with the teachings and spirit of Jesus. The Christian Church is another schoolmaster; the different forms of that Church are successive schoolmasters, to bring men to the true Christ — the wisdom and the power of God.
It is from this point of view that we must judge of the Roman Church, if we would form a true estimate of its value in time past, and the influence it has exercised on the mind and life of man. We must not judge it by the mind
Benefits of the Roman Church.
of Christ as we understand it in this advanced age, but we must view it in connexion with the period in which it originated. We must not judge of it as a fulfilment of the Gospel; that it certainly was not. Gospel truth is one thing, and the Christian Church, during the greater part of its history, has been another and a very different thing. But we must take it for what it is, or rather, for what it has been and for what it has accomplished in time past. Viewed in this aspect, the Church of Rome will be found to have been, in its best days, a saving and beneficent institution. Though not the original, Apostolic Church, — still less, the Church which Jesus had in view, the realization of his idea, – it was once a true Church, and a saving institution among the nations, - we need not hesitate to say, even a divine institution. During all its forming period, until it attained its perfect development, – say till the close of the eleventh century, - its priests and leaders, for the most part, wrought in a divine spirit. Of course there were many exceptions, but this was the rule. It was the case with those who stand most prominent in its annals, the authors of those measures which contributed most effectually to its growth and power. They wrought in a divine spirit, and were divinely guided to the use of such means and institutions as were most conducive to the good of humanity, for the time being. If the Church did not express the deepest mind of Christ, it did express and satisfy the spiritual wants of the times. If it did not teach the pure truth, it was at least a faithful schoolmaster to bring men to the truth. It performed an important part in the education of humanity. It tamed the rude strength of the Gothic nations, and served, more than any secular changes or civil institutions, to unite different portions of the human family by means of a common faith. It would be easy to show, that every principle advocated by the Church prior to the close of the eleventh century contained a germ of truth, and that every important measure adopted by it contributed something essential to the wellbeing of the times. Even the supremacy of the Pope proved on the whole a benefit to Christendom, by furnishing a counterpoise to secular usurpation. Gregory VII., who consummated this supremacy and made the Church independent of secular authority by forbidding the priests