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maintained by God, and the Church of God,–His instrument in spiritual things,—not against cases of individual error,—these are never guarded against in this state of probation, but-against an overwhelming flood of error and of passion, sweeping through the Church and dividing her fairest regions, and carrying away portions of her best inheritance.
Not that divinely appointed safeguards are wholly wanting, though they are more discernible to the eye of faith than to the outward senses, more cognizable by obedience and love, than by any merely intellectual faculty. The rule and law of unity set forth in the Sacred Scriptures is the voice of God in this behalf: the providence of God ruling all things for the Church will surely, somehow or other, and some time or other, effect what is so greatly for her eternal welfare, and this also is a safeguard, a warrant of unity; and perhaps more than all, the prayer of our Blessed Lord Himself is at the same time a law, a sanction, a safeguard, a promise, an efficient power of unity, which we cannot believe will ever be overborne, though, as yet, its fruit is but imperfectly manifest. Considering the time, the manner, the solemnity, the earnestness of the expressions, and the infinitely prevailing Person who uttered them, we cannot believe that this prayer of our Blessed Lord shall really be without effect; “ As Thou hast sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world, And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word : That they all may be one ; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us : that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.
And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved Me."*
But all these are spiritual and invisible, whereas men naturally seek some sensible, tangible safeguard against danger so great as that of schism, when once it has been admitted to be a sin. Nor are we to assume that God will not grant such a safeguard; for in condescension to our mixed nature, He often does both provide such succour to His spiritual children, and sanctions those which man has devised, in faith and love, as aids to holiness and obedience. Whither, then, are we to turn for those safeguards of Church unity, which may be as the body, of which the prayer of the Lord while on earth was the soul ; the visible presentment, the lines and figures, of which the spiritual realities of the heavenly Jerusalem are the substance and the truth.
And here is the danger which we began by deprecating : lest when men have found the truth that to separate is wicked and dangerous, they go on to embrace some unauthorised polity, arbitrarily connected with the necessity of unity, as its correlative and safeguard. We think, therefore, that it will not be useless to examine the claims of one such system, which loudly invites attention, and to state that which has been accepted as the true one from the beginning, though not without partial interruption.
* S. John xvii. 18-23.
That there is no actual formal scheme evolved and proclaimed in all its parts, and in plain words, in Holy Writ, is admitted on all hands : and yet there are two theories, each claiming the implied support of Sacred Scripture, and pretending to other sufficient indications that they are of Divine appointment, or at least sanctioned by the Divine approval. The first of these (last in point of time, but that which we shall find it most convenient to examine first,) is this :
1. That the Pope, as the successor of S. Peter in the See of
Rome, is, as an individual, the visible Head on earth of the visible Church, and the safeguard of unity, visible and
spiritual in fellowship and in doctrine. The second theory, the most ancient, and, as it seems to us, every way the most worthy of our regard, is this :
II. That the Catholic or sound Episcopate throughout the
world, as the successors of the Apostles, are the visible bond
and safeguard of such unity. I. Before we descend to examine the proofs of the first, or Romish scheme, we shall premise a few very material objections to it; objections which must indeed be admitted to be fatal to it, even by its most zealous upholders, if they be well founded; and as they are matters of history, not of speculation, we know not how their truth can be denied.
1. First, then, there was no such scheme of an individual visible Head of the Church of Christ on earth acknowledged, or so much as dreamt of, for several centuries; and yet during all that time, not only was the doctrine of unity held most earnestly, but the bond of unity was more religiously and more effectually maintained than it ever has been since.
2. But secondly, so far was the Papal scheme from being necessary to unity, or conducive of unity, that the very advancing of it tended more than any one thing to the breach of unity, the unity of the body, of faith, of love, and indirectly of doctrine.
Where there is sufficient power to resist, nothing so much stimulates to resistance as the arrogation of superiority in an individual; and we find that the first aggressions of the Bishops of Rome were resisted by men at least equal to them in personal authority, and not far inferior to them in the weight of their sees. In a word, the first Bishops of Rome, who arrogated to themselves this eminence, had over-estimated their influence, and excited opposition when they would have originated authority. The name of Victor in the Church of Christ will not bear comparison with that of Irenæus, the Bishop of a remote northern see ; and the pacific measures of Irenæus prevailed, when Victor would rashly have excommunicated, or threatened to excommunicate, the Churches of Asia, for their difference from the greater body of the Church in their keeping of Easter. Here unity, endangered by the assumption of a Bishop of Rome, was restored by the general sense of the Church, expressed by a Bishop of Lyons. On another memorable occasion, Stephen, inferior in all respects as a man to those against whom he opposed himself, thought, by excluding them from his own fellowship, to cut off the Churches of Asia and Africa from Catholic communion ; and by this time, the importance of the Bishop of Rome had increased so rapidly, that he would perhaps have succeeded, had not such men as Cyprian, Dionysius, and Firmilian withstood his usurpation. Thus far was the tendency to the papal scheme followed by a like tendency to aggression, resistance, and disunion; for as yet the papacy was but in embryo, and its power, for good or for evil, but fitful and uncertain : when it had started up to its height, and astonished men by exerting the authority which before it only grasped at; when it was, what before it would be ; then also its influence on unity became apparent, and the great division of the western and eastern portions of Christendom accelerated, continued, and rendered hopeless by it, marks the ripeness of the papacy in the savour of its fruits.
It must be borne in mind that we do not argue against the papal scheme from there having been disunion in spite of it, but from there having been disunion because of it. When, however, by its own aggressive movements, all opposed to its claim had been cast off, and all who remained admitted that the papal chair was the visible and sufficient bond and safeguard of unity, then we might expect that its influence would not fall short of its pretensions, if its pretensions were indeed just; but :
3. Thirdly, the papacy has not effected unity in the body, and unity of doctrine, even among those who acknowledge it as the centre and bond of unity. We can only glance at a few memorable instances. There have been heretical popes, a head at variance with the body in faith. There have been, and are, different doctrines about papal infallibility, about the doctrines of grace, about the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin, about the marriage of the clergy. There have been quarrels interminable between the secular and the regular clergy; in which the interference of popes, appealed to on either hand, did not or could not heal the breach. Different orders of monks have quarrelled as fiercely as ever diverse sects of Protestant heretics did : witness the Franciscans and Dominicans upon the question before mentioned, the immaculate conception. The Jansenists, still acknowledging the Pope as the head of the Church, and the centre of unity, were not shielded by that confession from the rancour of the Jesuits, nor yet retained within that body to which they professed to belong: if victory over a disputant is the end of a centre of unity, the Jesuits found it in the papal chair; but if peace and truth, which both sought, or should have sought, be the end, then was the failure signal and miserable. And to make these instances and the like still more fatal to the papal pretensions, some of the doctrines thus contested are authoritatively held, or were represented by the disputants, to be de fide, and a true confession of them necessary to salvation : while the disputants were reciprocally treated by one another with all the violence that the odium theologicum could inspire.
4. And besides all these differences of doctrine and disruptions of fellowship, which the papal scheme did not and does not prevent among its adherents, there is one which has arisen out of it, and could not
have existed under any other theory :--the schism of antipopes, the mutual anathemas and interdicts with which the souls of men have again and again been harassed, while the sword and the spear have been placed in their hands by the merciless contenders for the throne of unity and peace.
Seeing, therefore, that there was unity before the papacy in its present sense was dreamt of,—that separation often arose and was perpetuated and aggravated by the assertion of its claims,—that it does not prevent disunion of doctrine and spirit, and even of fellowship in those who hold it,—and that it tends to this day, more than any one thing, to keep open the great breaches in the Church, we conclude that there is a strong presumption from facts against the scheme which makes the Pope, as the successor of S. Peter in the See of Rome, the visible Head on earth of the visible Church, and the safeguard of unity, visible and spiritual, in fellowship and in doctrine.
5. Against such strong presumptions, there ought to be overwhelming arguments, but these seem to be wanting. The argument à priori, that an individual, as a visible head, may be expected to a visible body, is specious, and at first sight imposing; but it will not bear examination, for in this all are agreed, that Christ Himself is the true mystical Head, in which all the body is one; and it can never be pretended that one representative of Christ in this behalf shall be more effectual than many such representatives. The unity of a kingdom, to use a weak and inadequate illustration, depends far more on the multitude of its officers, than on the mere fact that the crown rests on one brow alone. The person of the Queen is honoured in every representative of her authority in her courts, in her armies, in her navies, in her administration, legislative, and executive; and all are one, and tend to union, by the very fact of their multitude, whereas it would be easy to see what would be the end of an unity which really depended on a single eye and a single hand. A priori, then, we say that it is more conceivable that the LORD of the Church should have many representatives, than that He should have but one representative, to enforce and effect that visible union between the members one with another, and all with the head, of which the mystical union is the soul.
6. The historical argument for the Romish system we believe we have sufficiently repelled already; but we must advert to a specious misrepresentation, by which it is at first sight turned against us. The divisions of Protestants are contrasted with the specious unity of the Papal obedience; whereas Protestant dissenters are as much separated from Rome, as they are from the Chutch universal ; and the college of Bishops are as little chargeable with their errors or their schism, as the Bishop and Church of Rome is. We claim the same liberty to repudiate the heresies of Independents, Baptists, Socinians, and the rest, and to be viewed as a body distinct from them, as the Romanist takes ; and then, whatever may be our theory of unity, and whatever the authority by which it is maintained, we shall be found more united in fact and in spirit than those who most loudly express their scorn or their pity at our divisions.
7. One other argument there is for the Papal theory—that from the
Sacred Scriptures ; but we shall best answer this argument by the proof, (which we will not anticipate.) that the Scriptures in fact are, implicitly at least, in favour of the more ancient polity, and not of the more recent polity of Rome. We proceed, then,
II. To state that system which has been accepted as the true one from the beginning, though not without partial interruption ; namely, That the Catholic or sound Episcopate throughout the world, as the successors of the Apostles, are the visible bond and safeguard of the unity of the Church.
1. This was recognized practically from the beginning, although it was not reduced to words, until its enunciation was called forth by controversy. It had, however, a language and machinery of its own, and results equally its own, and quite without parallel in the system, which usurped its place in the Western Church.
Its language, before it was reduced to form, was such as this :• The Church is in the Bishop, and the Bishop in the Church : without the Bishop nothing can be done ; not, that is, without him personally, but without the sanction of his office. One Altar, one Bishop, one Church, one Faith.* All Bishops are equal in dignity and authority, and all alike, and in the same sense successors of the Apostles, and heirs of their authority, wherever it is necessary to the government and prosperity of the Church, and of course, therefore, wherever unity is concerned. And communion with the Bishop of the diocese in which a Christian dwells, is communion with the Church ; separation from him, separation from the Church, or schism.'
Such was the language of this theory of ecclesiastical polity, before it was reduced to form.
2. Its machinery was simple but very effective, and exactly adapted to the preservation of unity both in doctrine and in fellowship. To the consecration of a Bishop, the presence and ministry of three Bishops, in communion with the Church of Christ, was required, in all but very extreme cases; there were generally present many more, this being an act of communion or fellowship, in which they were glad to express both their brotherly affection to their new colleague, and their sense of the importance of one body in the Church. But this was not enough : the newly consecrated Bishop, become now a centre of unity to his own diocese, immediately dispatched letters of communion to those Bishops who were not present at his consecration; and received from them not mere congratulations, but an acknowledgment of his place in the Apostolic College. He was admitted to synods, another part of the machinery of this system, in which every Bishop had an equal voice : neither the priority of the chair of S. James, nor the great estate of
* See for instance the Epistle of S. Ignatius to the Philadelphians : “All that are of God and Jesus Christ, these are with the Bishop; and all that shall repent, and turn to the unity of the Church, these also shall be of God, that they may live after the example of Jesus Christ. Be not deceived, brethren, whosoever followeth one that createth schism, he inheriteth not the kingdom of God; whosoever walketh by another man's opinion, he consenteth not to the passion of Christ. Endeavour, therefore, to use one and the same Eucharist ; for there is but one body of our Lord Jesus Christ; and one cup; that His blood may make us one. There is but one altar; also there is one Bishop :" &c.