We noted in our preceding article that the real question between Rome and Protestantism is whether apart from the revelation contained in the Bible, there is another supplementary and explanatory revelation, which has been handed down outside of the Scripture, by tradition. Are there doctrines, institutions, and ordinances, having no warrant in the Scriptures, which we as Christians are bound to receive and obey on the authority of what is called common consent? This Protestantism denies. And we remarked that we deny this, in the first place, because the Romish doctrine of tradition and belief in doctrines not taught in the Word of God is impossible.

Secondly, the Romish doctrine of tradition is also impossible because Rome’s evidence which they adduce is altogether inadequate. In this connection we would quote Hodge on what he writes concerning this inadequacy of the evidence of Consent, Vol. I, pages 125-127, and we quote: “The second objection to the argument of Romanists from common consent in support of their traditions, is, that the evidence which they adduce of such consent is altogether inadequate. They appeal to the ancient creeds. But there was no creed generally adopted before the fourth century. No creed adopted before the eighth century contains any of the doctrines peculiar to the Church of Rome. Protestants all receive the doctrinal statements contained in what is called the Apostles’ Creed, and in those of Chalcedon, and of Constantinople, adopted A.D. 681.

They also appeal to the decisions of councils. To this the same reply is made. There were no general councils before the fourth century. The first six ecumenical councils gave no doctrinal decisions from which Protestants dissent. They, therefore, present no evidence of consent in those doctrines which are now peculiar to the Church of Rome. They appeal again to the writings of the fathers. But to this Protestants object—

First. That the writings of the apostolic fathers are too few to be taken as trustworthy representatives of the state of opinion in the Church for the first three hundred years. Ten or twenty writers scattered over such a period cannot reasonably be assumed to speak the mind of the whole Church.

Secondly. The consent of these fathers, or of the half of them, cannot be adduced in favor of any doctrine in controversy between Protestants and Romanists.

Thirdly. Almost unanimous consent can be quoted in support of doctrines which Romanists and Protestants unite in rejecting. The Jewish doctrine of the millennium passed over in its grossest form to the early Christian Church. But that doctrine the Church of Rome is specially zealous in denouncing.

Fourthly. The consent of the fathers cannot be proved in support of doctrines which Protestants and Romanists agree in accepting. Not that these doctrines did not then enter into the faith of the Church, but simply that they were not presented.

Fifthly. Such is the diversity of opinion among the fathers themselves, such the vagueness of their doctrinal statements, and such the unsettled usus loquendi as to important words, that the authority of the fathers may be quoted on either side of any disputed doctrine. There is no view, for example, of the nature of the Lord’s Supper, which has ever been held in the Church, for which the authority of some early father cannot be adduced. And often the same father presents one view at one time, and another at a different time.

Sixthly. The writings of the fathers have been notoriously corrupted. It was a matter of great complaint in the early Church that spurious works were circulated; and that genuine works were recklessly interpolated. Some of the most important works of the Greek fathers are extant only in a Latin translation. This is the case with the greater part of the works of Irenaeus, translated by Rufinus, whom Jerome charges with the most shameless adulteration.

Another objection to the argument from consent is, that it is a Procrustean bed which may be extended or shortened at pleasure. In every Catena Patrum prepared to prove this consent in certain doctrines, it will be found that two or more writers in a century are cited as evincing the unanimous opinion of that century, while double or fourfold the number, of equally important writers, belonging to the same period, on the other side, are passed over in silence. There is no rule to guide in the application of this test, and no uniformity in the manner of its use.

While, therefore, it is admitted that there has been a stream of doctrine flowing down uninterruptedly from the days of the Apostles, it is denied, as a matter of fact, that there has been any uninterrupted or general consent in any doctrine not clearly revealed in the Sacred Scriptures; and not even in reference to such clearly revealed doctrines, beyond the narrow limits of essential truths. And it is, moreover, denied that in any external, visible, organized Church, can the rule, quod simper, quod ab omnibus, be applied even to essential doctrines. The argument, therefore, of Romanists in favor of their peculiar doctrines, derived from general consent, is utterly untenable and fallacious. This is virtually admitted by the most zealous advocates of tradition. “Not only,” says Professor Newman, “is the Church Catholic bound to teach the truth, but she is divinely guided to teach it; her witness of the Christian faith is a matter of promise as well as of duty; her discernment of it is secured by a heavenly, as well as by a human rule. She is indefectible in it; and therefore has not only authority to enforce it, but is of authority in declaring it. The Church not only transmits the faith by human reason, but has a supernatural gift for that purpose; that doctrine which is true, considere4 as an historical fact, is true also because she teaches it.” The author of the Oxford Tract, No. 85, after saying, “We believe mainly because the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries unanimously believed,” adds, “Why should not the Church be divine? The burden of proof surely is on the other side. I will accept her doctrines, and her rites, and her Bible—not one, and not the other, but all—till I have clear proof that she is mistaken. It is I feel God’s will that I should do so; and besides, I love these her possessions—I love her Bible, her doctrines, and her rites; and therefore, I believe.” The Romanist then believes because the Church believes. This is the ultimate reason. The Church believes, not because she can historically prove that her doctrines have been received from the Apostles, but because she is supernaturally guided to know the truth. “Common consent,” therefore, is practically abandoned, and tradition resolves itself into the present faith of the Church.”—end of quote from Hodge.

Thirdly, another reason Protestantism cannot accept the doctrine that tradition is another supplementary and explanatory revelation, besides the Word of God, is that tradition is not available to all the people. All the tradition of the Romish Church is surely not contained in one volume to which all the people would have access. This tradition is spread and scattered through the ecclesiastical records of at least 18 centuries. This tradition is therefore not available to all the people. What does this mean? This, that not the people but only the Church, the Pope, will be able to interpret these traditions. That the people will not be able to interpret these traditions is clearly understandable.

Finally, the Romish doctrine of tradition destroys the Word of God. Tradition and the Scriptures, according to the Romish Church, are of equal authority, the latter being interpreted by the former. Only the Church can interpret Tradition. This we have already noted. So, the Church’s faith in the Word of God is completely dependent upon its explanation by men. In fact, the laity may not interpret the Word of God as contrary to the official interpretation by the Church. Fallible men must tell us the meaning of the Word of God. This means that man and his authority have taken the place of God. And we know that Tradition has taught many errors.

In connection with the views on the Church during the time of the Reformation, to which we are calling attention in these articles, we have noted that there are two main principles of the Reformation, the formal and the material principle. According to the formal principle, the Reformers acknowledged but one source of authority, the Holy Scriptures, whereas the Roman Catholic Church acknowledged, besides the Scriptures, also tradition as a source of authority, and also claiming that the right and power to interpret the Word of God belonged only to the Church, that is, the clergy, and this., of course, means in the final analysis the pope. And the material principle of the Reformation is expressed in the words: justification by faith only. The Roman Catholic Church had become Semi-Pelagian and held that justification is also by works. The Reformers rejected this view and maintained that the believer is justified only by faith.

The influence of these principles on the views of the Church was that a considerable part of the Roman Catholic doctrine concerning the Church, the priesthood, the pope, the sacraments, etc., was not based on the Word of God at all, but simply on tradition and on the institutions of men; all this was rejected by the Reformers. And, by virtue of the principle that man is justified also by works, especially the external observance of rites and ecclesiastical ordinances, the Roman Catholic Church had gradually assumed the position of Mediator between Christ and the believer; the Reformers swept away the institution of the Church from between God and the soul. Access to God and to the throne of His grace is possible in the Roman Catholic Church only through the institution of the Church, the clergy; the Reformation restored direct communication between the believer and the God of his salvation in Christ Jesus.

The Roman Catholic view of the Church is most clearly and ably set forth by Robert Bellarmin, or Roberto Francesco Romolo Bellarmino, the famous Roman Catholic controversialist. He was born in 1542 and died in Rome Sept. 17, 1621. He was a nephew of a pope, and came of a noble but impoverished family. His abilities showed themselves early; as a boy he knew Vergil by heart, and composed a number of poems in Italian and Latin; one of his hymns, on Mary Magdalene, is included in the Roman breviary. His father destined him for a political career, but his mother wished him to enter the Jesuit order, and her influence prevailed. He was made rector of the Roman College in 1592, examiner of bishops in 1598, cardinal in 1599, and in 1602 archbishop of Capua. He received some votes in the conclaves which elected Leo XI, Paul V, and Gregory XV, but only in the second case had he any prospect of election. Since his death the members of his order have more than once attempted to procure his canonization, but without success. He is known as the famous Roman Catholic controversialist.

—H.V.