Page images

therefore for the Anglo-Catholic theory to furnish a legitimate title to National Churches. They disappear under the destructive influence of that theory. Protestantism claims for National Churches, as societies of Christian men, the right of self-government: Rome recognises National Churches as subordinate organs of administration: the Anglo-Catholic alone can assign no legitimate place to a National Church,-though without a satisfactory theory of National Churches he has neither authority for his faith, nor any Church at all. Upon the Anglo-Catholic doctrine, there is not and cannot be an organic Church of England. We appeal to the Bishop of Exeter himself. In an address recently made by him to the clergy of his diocese, the Bishop says,

'I need not tell you that the bishop and his clergy with his people are a complete Church: perhaps in some respects more to be recognised as such than a National Church, because we all know that s Diocesan Church is the appointment of God Himself. A National Church we believe to be in full accordance with the gracious will of God, carrying out under His direction His great views: but still it is not appointed to us in Scripture. I look upon that as a human institution upon our own Diocesan Church as a Divine institution.'

Here we have a very decisive, and, as we think, irrefutable statement, that National Churches are no constituent and organic parts of the divine polity of the Church. They are human institutions: their authority is purely human; and, as united bodies, they cannot bind a single dissentient bishop to a single doctrine, nor even to membership with their communion. What possible principle can bind him to recognise in the voice of his colleagues the oracle of God's Church? He can plead his own divine commission received directly from Christ. His plea may be overruled so far, that he may be compelled to submit himself to a general council of all who have received a similar commission, as the lawful organ of unity. But what can oblige him to allow any human power, least of all the State, to combine a small number of bishops together, and to impart to such an arbitrary combination one particle of divine authority? National Churches have often been carried away by feelings and doctrines which accidental or political causes have made locally prevalent: they have again and again been condemned for heresy. Would an orthodox bishop, who refused to join in that heresy, be open to the charge of resisting God's will as expressed by the Church? Certainly not, replies the AngloCatholic; he is repelling heresy. Well then, each bishop, according to this reply, is a final and independent judge of truth and heresy; he may resist the unanimous judgment of all his

1851. Right of Private Judgment for every Bishop. 551

[ocr errors]

national colleagues. But, if so, how shall the National Church be prevented from being split into as many churches as there are dioceses in the land? What is its principle of unity? Adherence to Catholic truth, the Anglo-Catholic answers: it is the duty of every bishop to adhere to it. But what is Catholic truth? how is it to be determined? By Catholic consent. But who shall say what Catholic consent has ruled? Plainly each bishop for himself, since each is authorised to call that heresy which his colleagues are propounding as truth. And this holds true of every synod from the days of the Apostles down to our own. In every age and in every Church, according to Church Principles, the private judgment of each bishop is sole and absolute judge of every thing, even of the law of doctrine itself by which his own opinions are to be tried. Can the theory of private judgment be carried farther? It is a pure mystification to talk of the Church' having defined the faith, or the Church' having settled this or that doctrine, and so on. The decrees of Ecumenical Councils are the only utterances which the Church can possibly be said to have made: and for our own parts we do not envy the man who shall undertake to prove that a real Ecumenical Council, such as the Catholic theory requires, has ever existed. But, however that may be, this much is certain, that the voice of the Church in every age, with the exception of the few decrees of such councils, if there have been any, is nothing more than the opinions of a certain number of Christians, formed by their own private judgment, or that of their bishops. Men are easily impressed by the sound of such awful abstractions as the Church,' and readily believe in the existence of a mysterious but substantive body, possessed of a real and definite organisation, and performing many corporate acts; but it is a pure illusion, in the sense in which it is spoken of by the Anglo-Catholic. There is a Church of Greece and of Syria and of Scotland now, as there was a Church of Jerusalem and Antioch and Ephesus of old; and there is a Church of Rome, which, by a marvellous combination of art and violence, sustained by a most astounding perseverance, has subjugated other Churches, and usurped a lawless dominion over a large part of Christendom. And there is a Catholic Church also, the great company of Christians throughout the world, of every nation and language, worshippers of the same God, believers in the same Saviour, acknowledging the same Scriptures, animated with the same hope of immortality; divided indeed into many societies, yet members of the same vast family, attesting the oneness of their brotherhood by the oneness of their common relation to Christ. But this is no organised corporation, no single institution of

government or administration; it has no common organ of rule or doctrine, and the oneness of its faith is the oneness of truth only-of truth as separately and independently, yet unitedly acknowledged by each several member of the Universal Body of Christ.

If our argument needed confirmation, we could obtain it in abundance from the Bishop of Exeter. He has not been slow to carry the Anglo-Catholic theory into execution. The contempt which he has poured on the authority of his metropolitan, the reproach of heresy with which he has scornfully branded him, his arrogant and rebellious repudiation of the highest tribunal of the Church in which he is an officer, unequivocally attest the bishop's belief in the nonentity of the Church of England, as an organic whole: whilst, by claiming for himself a veto over the decrees of the synod of the Divine Church of Exeter, he has fully established the doctrine of the absolute right of private judgment belonging to every individual bishop.

But what shall we say of the laity? what rule is to govern their conduct? Anglo-Catholicism cannot require the perplexed layman to commit himself unreservedly to his clerical guides, because it admits that they may be leading him only into a development of error and corruption. What is a Christian man to do who shall think that either the clergy, as in the Romish Church, are progressively corrupting the faith, or, as at the Reformation, are clinging to error, and resisting the restoration of the truth? Rome escapes these embarrassing difficulties by asserting her infallibility. Hear the Church,' she cries; 'it 'cannot err.' But, in Churches admitted to be fallible, to demand of the laity, under the name of Church Principles, unconditional submission to the guidance of the priesthood, is to make these principles represent Christ to have willed that the laity should be spiritual slaves; and that with the certainty, as the AngloCatholic himself confesses, of being often the slaves of sin and error. Can so monstrous a proposition be entertained in the face of the enormous mass of Episcopal fallibility revealed by ecclesiastical history? And if our natural and religious feelings revolt against the religion to which Christianity would be reduced by such a doctrine; if they feel that such a system does violence to the spirit which breathes in every page of the New Testament, what other alternative is there (except we take refuge in an infallible Church or Pope) than to declare moral freedom to be the basis of all piety, and to claim for every man the right and power of repelling error and embracing truth? Anglo-Catholicism, if pushed home, must accept this solution of the difficulty, and pronounce its own condemnation by es


1851. Anglo-Catholicism must concede Private Judgment. 553


tablishing the right of the layman to be the ultimate and supreme judge for himself of religious truth. Christ has commanded the layman to seek the truth, and none are louder or fiercer than the Anglo-Catholics in their invectives against heresy, as fatal to the soul and destructive of salvation. AngloCatholicism, moreover, has warned the layman that the word and sanction of a lawful Episcopate afford no certain guarantee against heresy and therefore Anglo-Catholicism is compelled to confer the right, nay, rather to impose the duty, on the Christian layman, if he is to obey Christ's command, of summoning his own Episcopate to the tribunal of his conscience, and deciding whether it is holding or corrupting the faith. And if he can review the doctrines held by his Episcopate, it is impossible to refuse him the further right of determining in any case, whether the amount of error professed by his Church is such as may be silently submitted to, or ought to be protested against, or even got rid of by a positive secession from her communion. The higher power carries the less. To condemn a Church for heresy involves the duty, if need be, of separation from it. Anglo-Catholicism may perhaps strive to avert the conclusion so fatal to it, that a Christian people may set up a new ministry, or that there may be more than one branch of the one Church in the same land,-by suggesting emigration to a country where a sound branch flourishes. An emigrant would be able to avail himself of what the Bishop of Exeter calls 'one ' of the foundations of Church communion.' If there is no act ' of idolatry,' says the Bishop, I hold it is the bounden duty of every Catholic Christian to communicate in the Church of the country holding the Apostolic doctrine and fellowship, wherever he is!" Emigration, therefore, would furnish a convenient escape to the layman, who was persuaded that the branch to which he belonged had fallen into idolatry and "error:' but emigration is an impracticable remedy for a whole people. To abstain therefore from Church Communion altogether, with the loss of the sacraments and Church ordinances, or to remain in communion with a clergy who are guilty of deadly heresy, or to form a new branch or Church by secession, upon both the Protestant principles of private judgment and self-government are the three final results yielded by the analysis of the Anglo-Catholic theory. Out of these three courses a Christian laity, under the supposed circumstances, must choose one. And the case is not imaginary. At this very day, thousands of laymen in the Greek and Romish Churches are probably convinced of the errors of their respective professions of doctrine; and ecclesiastical history ex



[ocr errors]

hibits still more striking instances of the same phenomenon in the past. In every such case, where reform is out of the question, one of these three courses had or has to be adopted by Christian laymen: and every one of the three brings AngloCatholicism to a reductio ad absurdum.

[ocr errors]

Rome, on the other hand, with consummate shrewdness repudiates the doctrine of National Churches, knowing it to be a quicksand on which the divine institution of the Catholic Church, as understood by Church Principles, cannot fail to suffer shipwreck. She acknowledges but One Universal Church, one society, one organ of government, a real unity of subordinate, and not, as the Anglo-Catholic pretends, co-equal and independent parts. Separation from the centre of unity she accounts to be separation from the Church of Christ. It is a great point in our controversy with Rome,' says the Bishop of Exeter, that we are not the parties that shook her off, but that Rome shook us off; and it is the point by which we justify our position much more than by any ' other.' Anglo-Catholicism must indeed be reduced to desperate straits, if it has no better shield to oppose to the assaults of Rome. Does the veteran and acute controversialist not perceive that when it became certain that England would not submit herself again to the dominion of the Pope, Rome had no other course than to excommunicate the Church of England; that the anathema she launched forth only shows how much more true and more profound is her conception of the idea of the Catholic Church than the Anglo-Catholic's? Not to have declared the Church of England guilty of schism would have been to abandon the ground of One Universal Church, to surrender the principle of unity, and to fall into the Protestant doctrine of National Churches. Rome was true to herself and her principles; she cut off the schismatic member from her communion, feeling that a sentence of excommunica tion was for her a necessary attestation that she held to the idea of One Catholic Church. When the Bishop, therefore, alleges that it was Rome which separated from us, he begs the question at issue between the two Churches, by assuming that the One Catholic Church is not a single institution of government, but an aggregate of co-ordinate sovereignties. If this representation of Church Principles be true, no doubt Rome was guilty of a breach of unity and charity by excommunicating us for vindicating our national independence as Christians; but if, on the contrary, it is false, then it was England that cut Catholicity asunder by the Act of Parliament which abolished the authority of the Pope in this realm; and Rome was not only justified in

« PreviousContinue »