THE TIME OF THE REFORMATION
VIEWS ON THE CHURCH
In our preceding article we noted that Protestantism sets forth the principle, that the Holy Scriptures, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, are in themselves the one and only rule of faith and life. And we quoted from the Formula of Concord, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and also Article 7 of our own Confession of Faith. This same principle is also set forth in Art. 5 of our Confession of Faith, which reads: “We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesseth in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling.” Now it is true that also Art. 2 of this same confession, speaks of the means by which God is made known to us, and this article speaks of two such means. We read in this article: “We know Him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, His power and divinity, as the apostle Paul saith, Rom. 1:20. All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse. Secondly, he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to His glory and our salvation.” However, this does not mean that these two means by which we know God are of equal significance. The reader will notice that, according to this article, the Lord makes Himself more clearly and fully known by His Word. And the reason why the Lord is more clearly and fully known by His Word is because that Word reveals Him unto us as the God of our salvation; in that Word we learn to know the things that are necessary unto our salvation. And that these two means are not of equal significance is also stated by Calvin when he, in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, 6, 1, declares that the Bible is like unto spectacles through which we must behold and understand God’s book of creation. We can surely understand and read the Word of God without understanding God’s book of creation, but we can never read and understand the book of creation without the Word of God. It is true, of course, that also God’s revelation of Himself in all the works of His hands speaks of the Lord as the God of our salvation. God created this earth as a symbol of the heavenly and the kingdom of Heaven takes place through parables. Everything is symbolic. This applies to the heavens and all the heavenly bodies, the world of animals and plants, of numbers and colours, the bread we eat and the water we drink, of the dying and living of seed, etc. However, we can never attain unto this knowledge of the Lord as the God of our salvation merely by looking into this mirror of the earthly creation. We must read this “elegant book,” as stated in Art. 2 of our Confession of Faith, in the light of the Word of God.
What is the conception of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the right and power to interpret the Bible? In its decree concerning the edition and use of the sacred books, the Romish Council of Trent expresses itself as follows: “Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synodâ€• considering that no small utility may accrue to the Church of God, if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the sacred books, is to be held as authenticâ€• ordains and declares, that the said old and Vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many ages, has been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons, and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare, or presume to reject it under any pretext whatever. Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine â€• wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church â€• whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures â€• hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers: even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.” The reader will notice that this decree declares that no one may presume to interpret, the sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which the holy mother Church held and does hold, and also that only the mother Church may judge what is the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures. And, mind you, this rule even applies when it was never the intention of such a person to make public such findings and interpretations of the Word of God. This means that no one may even think anything which is contrary to the interpretations of the Word of God by mother Church. And this refers ultimately to the pope.
In the Romish Profession of the Tridentine Faith, 1564, we read in Articles 2 and 3 the following: “I most steadfastly admit and embrace apostolic and ecclesiastic traditions, and all other observances and constitutions of the same Church… I also admit the holy Scriptures, according to that sense which our holy mother Church has held and does hold, to which it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.” Notice, please, that again in these articles it is stated that the Church alone has the right to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Word of God, and that the members of the Romish Church will never take and interpret those Scriptures otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers. This is folly. Please bear in mind in this connection the implication of the word “unanimous” in this article. Do the Romish people believe theunanimous opinion of all the Fathers? We must not forget that it is the Pope alone who has the right and the ability to understand and interpret this unanimousopinion of the Fathers, and, mind you, of all the Fathers.
Finally, Rome has also expressed itself on these matters in the Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council Concerning the Catholic Faith and the Church of Christ, adopted in 1870, in chapters 2-4 of the fourth session of this holy Oecumenical Council of the Vatican. We wish to quote these articles. Incidentally, also the following statement appears in these dogmatic decrees: “We, therefore, following the footsteps of our predecessors, have never ceased, as becomes our supreme Apostolic office, from teaching and defending Catholic truth, and condemning doctrines of error. And now, with the Bishops of the whole world assembled round us, and judging with us, congregated by our authority, and in the Holy Spirit, in this oecumenical Council, we, supported by the Word of God written and handed down as we received it from the Catholic Church, preserved with sacredness and set forth according to truth, have determined to profess and declare the salutary teaching of Christ from this Chair of Peter, and in sight of all, proscribing and condemning, by the power given to us of God, all errors contrary thereto.” Here the Pope declares that he has the power to preserve and set forth all the teachings of Christ and to condemn all errors contrary to these teachings of Christ. We have already shown in previous articles that this is simply not true. We have shown that popes in the past have defended error. However, let us quote the articles mentioned above in this paragraph. Art. 2 reads as follows (this is a chapter on the perpetuity of the primacy of blessed. Peter in the Roman pontiffs): “That which the Prince of Shepherds and great Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ our Lord, established in the person of the blessed Apostle Peter to secure the perpetual welfare and lasting good of the Church, must, by the same institution, necessarily remain unceasingly in the Church; which, being founded upon the Rock, will stand firm to the end of the world. For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and blessed Peter, the Prince and Chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives, presides, and judges, to this day and always, in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome, which was founded by him, and consecrated by his blood. Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See, does by the institution of Christ himself obtain the Primacy of Peter over the whole Church. The disposition made by Incarnate Truth therefore remains, and blessed. Peter, abiding through the strength of the Rock in the power that he received, has not abandoned the direction of the Church. Wherefore it has at all times been necessary that every particular Churchâ€• that is to say, the faithful throughout the worldâ€•should agree with the Roman Church, on account of the greater authority of the princedom which this has received; that all being associated in the unity of that See whence the rights of communion spread to all, might grow together as members of one Head in the compact unity of the body. If, then, any should deny that it is by the institution of Christ the Lord, or by divine right, that blessed Peter should have a perpetual line of successors in the Primacy over the universal Church, or that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.”
Article or Chapter 3, which deals with the power and nature of the primacy of the Roman pontiff, reads as follows : “Wherefore, resting on plain testimonies of the Sacred Writings, and adhering to the plain and express decrees both of our predecessors, the Roman Pontiffs, and of the General Councils, we renew the definition of the oecumenical Council of Florence; in virtue of which all the faithful of Christ must believe that the holy Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff possesses the primacy over the whole world, and that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and is true vicar of Christ, and head of the whole Church, and father and teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him in blessed Peter to rule, feed, and govern the universal Church by Jesus Christ our Lord; as is also contained in the acts of the General Councils and in the sacred Canons.” We will conclude this quotation of Chapter 3 on these decrees of the Vatican Council at this time. The Lord willing, we will continue this quotation in our following article. Only, we wish to call attention to the fact that this chapter states that the Roman pontiff possesses the primacy over the whole world. Rome does not only maintain that the Pope is the sole ruler of the Church in the midst of the world, but also that he is the sole temporal ruler over the whole world. Politicians may “soft pedal” this fact in our political campaigns, and this is also being done in our own country in this year of a presidential election, but we must never forget that this is surely the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. And when candidates deny this, they are either ignorant of this truth (and this I do not believe) or they are deliberately hiding and camouflaging the issue.