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(@) shall not prevail against it. Let him observe also, that immediately after these words, our divine Saviour adds, addressing himself to Peter, v. 19. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven : and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven : Can any thing be more plain? Can words be clearer ? Is there not here a church pointed out, in which there are both pastors and sheep, in which they absolve and in which they condemn, in which they bind obstinate sinners, and in which they loose such as are contrite, and consequently, in which the ministerial function is visibly exercised? But was the visible exercise of the ministry to be confined to the time of St. Peter? Was it not to extend to future ages, and to be continued by the successors of this apostle? It is then manifest that he had here a visible and a successively continued society io view, and that it is to such a church he has promised, that “ the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.”
Let us again examine this other promise of the Saviour in the 28th chap. of St. Matt. v. 20. Behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world, and let it be observed that these words were not addressed to the apostles until after they had received the
upon this rock I will build my church,” So that by the plain course of the words, Peter is here declared to be the rock, upon which the church was to be built; Christ himself being both the principal foundation and founder of the same. Where also note, that Christ, by building his house, that is, his church, upon a rock, has thereby secured it against all storms and floods, like the wise builder, Matt. 7. 24. 25.
(a) “ The gates of hell,” &c. That is the powers of darkness, and whatever satan can do, either by himself, or his agents. For as the church is here likened to a house or fortress, built on a rock ; so the adverse powers are likened to a contrary house or fortress, the gates of which, i. e. the whole strength, and all the efforts it can make, will never be able, to prevail over the city or church of Christ. By this promise we are fully assured, that neither Idolatry, heresy, nor any pernicious error whatsoever, shall at any time prevail over the church of Christ,
order to go and to preach throughout the whole earth, and to baptize all nations. Go ye, therefore, said our divine Saviour to them, and teach all nations ; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ; ....and, behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. Is not this the same as if he had said : Go and preach, I shall be with you
when you preach. Go and baptize, I shall be with you when you baptize. Who is there that does not see here a church visible both in the preaching of the gospel, and in the administration of the sacraments ? A church which is to exteod herself throughout the whole earth, since she is charged with teaching and baptizing all nations ? And when our Lord adds, all days, who is there that does not see, that the promise is not confined solely to the apostles, who were to die as all other men, but likewise extended to their successors, whose succession was to last to the end of the world, and whom Jesus Christ solemnly promises never to abaudon.
What can be stronger than the words of St. Paul, to confirm the idea which every Catholic forms of the church, in combining her perpetuity with her visibility ? Does not this apostle style her in the 3d chap. of his 1st epist. to Timothy v. 15, the pillar and ground of the truth? But of what church does he speak in this place? Is it of a society of persons apart, unknown to one another, united by no other tie than that of an interior faith of which they give no exterior proof? Does he not speak of the house of God perfectly disposed in all its parts ? Of a visible society, governed by bishops and priests, whose most minute duties he has taken care to mark out? And does not the same apostle assure us in the 4th chap. of his epistle to the Ephesians v. 11. that there will always be pastors and teachers for the perfection of the saints, for the work of the ministry, unto the edification of the body of Christ: (namely his church) till we all meet in the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, which will be manifested to us in all the splendor of his glory on the day of his second coming.
Let but a moment's reflection be indulged upon those many passages of holy writ where mention is made of the duration of the church, and it will be every where seen that this duration is always linked to a state of visibility, as if the Holy Ghost had taken the precaution to baffle all chicane, and every artifice which a mind averse to a state of dependance, might be inclined to use as a pretext to shake off the yoke of authority.
If, notwithstanding all that I have said, the reader should have still some prepossession left for this visionary phantom of an invisible church, so artfully devised to elude the promises of Jesus Christ, I would fain ask him how we should manage in these cloudy days of an eclipsed church, to satisfy the precept of Jesus Christ, who directs us, Matt. xviii. 17, to repair to the church with our complaint, to hear her sentence, and peaceably to submit to her decisions : I Tould ask him, to whom ought the idolaters, Jews, and Mahometans, to address themselves, in order to embrace a pure and orthodox faith, and to enter into the true way of salvation : I would ask him who has dispensed those privileged souls composing the said invisible church, with openly professing their faith, notwithstanding the express command which the Saviour of the world has given to all christians, Matt. x. 32, to copfess him before men, if they did not wish to be disowned by his heavenly father, and the declaration of the apostle, couched in terms no less formal, Rom. x. 10, that it is absolutely necessary to confess the faith with the mouth, to be saved. I should be glad to know also, whether these interior faithful, exempt from the common contagion, have communicated in the use of holy things with the crowd under the dominion of error and idolatry : if they have, how comes it that they have not rendered themselves guilty of the same prevarication ? And if they have avoided participating in the mysteries of the profane and straying multitude, how is it that they have not been remarked ? and how happens it, that no historian has ever recorded it? I would also request him to inform me, of what use or of what benefit have the general councils been in repressing the heresies which have arisen in the church since the birth of christianity, if the promises of Jesus Christ have not been made to a visible church. Behold then the decisions of all the general councils subject at once to a revision, as flowing from a tribunal which has nothing in it to render its secure or confident. Behold all the heretics of past ages, such as Avians, Macedonians, Nestorians, Eutichians, Pelagi. ans, &c. again let loose upon the world, a wide door is opened to them, they have but to thrust themselves into an invisible church, which they can with all ease and propriety form, to shelter themselves from the anathemas of the church visibly assembled in her councils. It cannot be denied that these and such like questions are not a little embarrassing, and that it would be vain to attempt giving them a satisfactory ansver; it cannot either be denied, that of all the prolesa
tant writers, none have ever explained themselves more rationally on the present matter, than the celebrated Melancthon, author of the Ausbourg Confession, and who next to Luther was the most active in bringing about the pretended reformation. Here are his own words, which will be found in the preface to his works.*
6 We must neces“ sarily admit,” says he, “a visible church; for it is evidently of her " that the Son of God speaks when he says, tell the church : and St. “ Paul when he says: that we are made a spectacle to the world, and “ to angels, and to men. But how a spectacle,” he demands, “ if it “be imperceptible? What will be the effect of these inconsiderate “speeches which deny the existence of any visible church? Is it “not sufficiently apparent, that they go to destroy at once the testi
mony of all antiquity, to annul every decision the church has ever “made, and to introduce the most licentious of all aparchies ?” Thus Melancthon.
I cannot believe, after such solid reasons, that any doubt will remain upon the mind of any unprejudiced reader, respecting the truth of the first proposition which I have advanced above: I shall therefore proceed to the second.
SECOND PROPOSITION. I say that this visible church, and which is so easily known by the continuity of the faithful, the succession of her pastors, and the exterior functions of the sacred ministry, has not ceased since her first establishment to be the true church of Jesus Christ, and that she will never cease to be that true church to the end of time. This proposition will be seen, at first sight, to be but a natural consequence of the preceding one; for if it be to the church such as I have represented her, that Jesus Christ has made his promises, it will doubtless be this same church which will have experienced and which will always experience the effects of these promises, and consequently when we meet with persons who are so bold as to assert that the faith began to be altered in the fourth century, that
* Necesse est fateri esse visibilem Ecclesiam, de qua filius Dei inquit, dic Ecclesiæ, & de qua Paulus ait, sumus spectaculum toti mundo, Angelis & hominibus. Quale spectaculum est quod non cernitur? Quò spectat autem hæc portentosa oratio quæ negat esse visibilem ullam Ecclesiam ? delet enim omnia testimonia antiquitatisabolet judicia, & facit anarchiam infinitam.
error has been always enereasing, and that for upwards of a thousand years before the reformation undertaken by Luther, the church gova orned by bishops, instead of remaining the faithful spouse of Jesus Christ, had become a miserable prostitute, what can we think of those who discourse in this manner, but that an excess of inconceivable prejudice has so bewildered their minds as to deprive them of the good sense and reason which they should naturally have to reflect, that by their fine system of religion they make of Jesus Christ a false prophet, and worse than this, an impostor as unfaithful in fulfilling his promises as he was lavish in making them.
Is it not somewhat surprising that persons who are for ever boasting of their care and attention in adhering closely to the text of the scripture, and who make of this pretended attention the fundamental maxim of their reformation, when the question relates to the article of the church, which is the most important of all others; of that article which the apostles have thought proper to place in their creed immediately after what is necessary to be believed of the three divine persons, is it not, I say, somewhat surprising that these very men will then hold a language directly contradictory to that of the scripture? Jesus Christ says that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church, and they dare to say that error has prevailed against her; Jesus Christ promises to be with the successive body of pastors, all days, even to the consummation of the world, and they dare to say that Jesus Christ has abandoned this body of pastors during many ages; Jesus Christ commands us, Matt. xviii. 17, to hear the church, under the penalty of being regarded as heathens and publicans, and this without fixing any bounds to the submission he exacts from us to her, and they protend that there may be cases in which not only one may dispense with receiving the decisions of the church, but wherein he is even obliged to combat them. St. Paul styles the church the pillar and ground of the truth ; and these make her a feeble ozier bending under the weight of error; the same apostle declares to us that there will always be true pastors and true doctors, it being absolutely necessary for the support and preservation of the church; and they pretend that for a very considerable time there were only false pastors, false doccors, who merited rather the title of seducers and teachers of falsehood. Is not this a good set-out to dispose us to credit them on their word, when they assure us with so much confidence that in what respects belief, their first care, or rather their only object, is to follow the let