The Doctrine Contradicted By Facts
The fourth argument is that the Romish doctrine of the infallibility of the Church is contradicted by undeniable historical facts. It therefore cannot be true. The Church has often erred, and therefore it is not infallible.
Protestants believe that the Church, under all dispensations, has been the same. It has always had the same God; the same Redeemer; the same rule of faith and practice (the written Word of God, at least from the time of Moses), the same promise of the presence and guidance of the Spirit, the same pledge of perpetuity and triumph. To them, therefore, the fact that the whole visible Church repeatedly apostatized during the old economy—and that, not the people only, but all the representatives of the Church, the priests, the Levites, and the elders—is a decisive proof that the external, visible Church may fatally err in matters of faith. No less decisive is the fact that the whole Jewish Church and people, as a church and nation, rejected Christ. He came to His own, and His own received Him not. The vast majority of the people, the chief priests, the scribes and the elders, refused to recognize Him as the Messiah. The Sanhedrin, the great representative body of the Church at that time, pronounced Him worthy of death, and demanded His crucifixion. This, to the Protestants, is overwhelming proof that the Church may err.
Romanists, however, make such a difference between the Church before and after the advent of Christ, that they do not admit the force of this argument. That the Jewish Church erred, they say, is no proof that the Christian Church can err. It will be necessary, therefore, to show that according to the principles and admissions of Romanists themselves, the Church has erred. It taught at one time what it condemned at another, and what the Church of Rome now condemns. To prove this, it will suffice to refer to two undeniable examples.
It is to be borne in mind that by the Church, in this connection, Romanists do not mean the true people of God; nor the body of professing Christians; nor the majority of priests, or doctors of divinity, but the episcopate. What the body of bishops of any age teach, all Christians are bound to believe, because these bishops are so guided by the Spirit as to be infallible in their teaching.
The Arian Apostasy
The first great historical fact inconsistent with this theory is, that the great majority of the bishops, both of the Eastern and Western Church, including the Pope of Rome, taught Arianism, which the whole Church, both before and afterwards, condemned. The decision of three hundred and eighty bishops at the Council of Nice, ratified by the assent of the great majority of those who did not attend that Council, is fairly taken as proof that the visible Church at that time taught, as Rome now teaches, that the Son is consubstantial with the Father. The fact that some dissented at the time, or that more soon joined in that dissent; or, that in a few years, in the East, the dissentients were in the majority, is not considered as invalidating the decision of that Council as the decision of the Church; because a majority of the bishops, as a body, were still in favor of the Nicene doctrine. Then, by parity of reasoning, the decisions of the two contemporary councils, one at Seleucia in the East, the other at Ariminum in the West, including nearly eight hundred bishops, ratified as those decisions were by the great majority of the bishops of the whole Church (including Liberius, the bishop of Rome), must be accepted as the teaching of the visible Church of that age. But those decisions, according to the previous and subsequent judgment of the Church, were heretical. It has been urged that the language adopted by the Council of Ariminum admits of an orthodox interpretation. In answer to this, it is enough to say, (1) That it was drawn up, proposed, and urged by the avowed opponents of the Nicene Creed. (2) That it was strenuously resisted by the advocates of that creed, and renounced as soon as they gained the ascendancy. (3) That Mr. Palmer himself admits that the Council repudiated the word “consubstantial” as expressing the relation of the Son to the Father. But this was the precise point in dispute between the Orthodox and semi-Arians.
Ancients and moderns unite in testifying to the general prevalence of Arianism at that time. Gregory Nazianzen speaks to this effect. And this is also true of Jerome. Jerome asserts that the whole world had become Arian; and that all the churches were in the possession of heretics. These statements must be taken with due allowance. They nevertheless prove that the great majority of bishops had adopted the Arian, or semi-Arian Creed. Athanasius and Vincent of Lerius express themselves to the same effect. To these ancient testimonies any number of authorities from modern theologians might be added. We give only the testimony of Dr. Jackson, one of the most distinguished theologians of the Church of England: “After this defection of the Romish Church in the bishop Liberius, the whole Roman empire was overspread with Arianism.”
Whatever doubt may exist as to details, the general fact of this apostasy cannot be doubted. Through defection from the truth, through the arts of the dominant party, through the influence of the emperor, the great majority of the bishops did join in condemnation of Athanasius, and in subscribing a formula of doctrine drawn up in opposition to the Nicene Creed; a formula afterwards renounced and condemned; a formula for which the Bishop of Rome was banished for two years for refusing to sign, and restored to his see when he consented to subscribe. If, then, we apply to this case the same rules which are applied to the decisions of the Nicene Council, it must be admitted that the external Church apostatized as truly under Constantius, as it professed the true faith under Constantine. If many signed the Eusebian or Arian formula insincerely, so did many hypocritically assent to the decrees of Nice. If many were overborne by authority and fear in the one case, so they were in the other. If many revoked their assent to Arianism, quite as many withdrew their consent to the Athanasian doctrine.
The Romish Evasion Of This Argument
In dealing with this undeniable fact, Romanists and Romanizers are forced to abandon their principle. Their doctrine is that the external Church cannot err, that the majority of the bishops living at any time cannot fail to teach the truth. But under the reign of the Emperor Constantius, it is undeniable that the vast majority, including the Bishop of Rome, did renounce the truth. But, says Bellarmin, the Church continued and was conspicuous in Athanasius, Hilary, Eusebius, and others. And Mr. Palmer, of Oxford says, “The truth was preserved under even Arian bishops.” But the question is not, whether the truth shall be preserved and confessed by the true children of God, but, whether any external, organized body, especially the Church of Rome, can -err in its teaching. Romanists cannot be allowed, merely to meet an emergency, to avail themselves of the Protestant doctrine that the Church may consist of scattered believers. It is true as Jerome teaches this in his writing. But that is our doctrine, and not the doctrine of Rome. Protestants say with full confidence that the Church maintains the truth. But whether in conspicuous glory as in the time of David, or in scattered believers as in the days of Elias, is not essential.
The Church Of Rome Rejects The Doctrine Of Augustine
A second case in which the external church (and specially the Church of Rome) has departed from what it had itself declared to be true, is in the rejection of the doctrines known in history as Augustinian. That the peculiar doctrines of Augustine, including the doctrine of sinful corruption of nature derived from Adam, which is spiritual death, and involves entire inability on the part of the sinner to convert himself or to cooperate in his own regeneration; the necessity of the certainly efficacious operation of divine grace; the sovereignty of God in election and reprobation, and the certain perseverance of the saints; were sanctioned by the whole Church, and specially by the Church of Rome, cannot be disputed. The eighteenth chapter of Wiggers’ “Augustinianism and Pelagianism,” is headed, “The final adoption of the Augustinian system for all Christendom by the third ecumenical council of Ephesus, A.D. 431.” It is not denied that many of the eastern bishops, perhaps the majority of them, were secretly opposed to that system in its essential features. All that is insisted upon is that the whole Church, through what Romanists recognize as its official organs, gave its sanction to Augustine’s peculiar doctrines; and that so far the Latin Church is concerned this assent was not only for the time general but cordial. It is no less certain that the Council of Trent, while it condemned Pelagianism, and even the peculiar doctrine of semi-Pelagians, who said that man began the work of conversion, thus denying the necessity of preventing grace (gratia preveniens), nevertheless repudiated the distinguishing doctrines of Augustine and anathematized all who held them.
The Church of Rome Now Teaches Error
A fifth argument against the infallibility of the Church of Rome, is that that Church now teaches error. Of this there can be no reasonable doubt, if the Scriptures be admitted as the standard of judgment.
- It is a monstrous error, contrary to the Bible, to its letter and spirit, and shocking to the common sense of mankind, that the salvation of men should be suspended on their acknowledging the Pope to be the head of the Church in the world, or the vicar of Christ. This makes salvation independent of faith and character. A man may be sincere and intelligent in his faith in God and Christ, and perfectly exemplary in his Christian life, yet if he does not acknowledge the Pope, he must perish forever.
- It is a grievous error, contrary to the express teachings of the Bible, that the sacraments are the only channels of communicating to men the benefits of redemption. In consequence of this false assumption, Romanists teach that all who die unbaptized, even infants, are lost.
- It is a great error to teach as the Church of Rome does teach, that the ministers of the gospel are priests, that the people have no access to God or Christ, and cannot obtain the remission of sins or other saving blessings, except through their intervention and by their ministrations; that the priests have the power not only of declarative, but of judicial and effective absolution, so that those and those only whom they absolve stand acquitted at the bar of God. This was the grand reason for the Reformation, which was a rebellion against this priestly domination; a demand on the part of the people for the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free—the liberty to go immediately to him with their sins and sorrows, and find relief without the intervention or permission of any man who has no better right of access than themselves.