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DIFFICULTIES OF JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN FAITH
I HAVE been engaged in the last two Lectures in showing that the Canon of Scripture rests on no other foundation than the Catholic doctrines; that those who dispute the latter should, if they were consistent, will, when they learn to be consistent, dispute the former; that in both cases we believe, mainly, because the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries unanimously believed, and that we have at this moment to defend our belief in the Catholic doctrines merely because they come first, are the first object of attack; and that if we were not defending our belief in them, we should at this very time be defending our belief in the Canon. Let no one then hope for peace in this day; let no one attempt to purchase it by concession ;-vain indeed would be that concession. Give up the Catholic doctrines, and what do you gain? an attack upon the Canon, with (to say the least) the same disadvantages on your part, or rather, in fact, with much greater; for the circumstance that you have already given up the Doctrines as if insufficiently evidenced in primitive times, will be an urgent call on you, in consistency, to give up the Canon too. And besides, the Church doctrines may also be proved from Scripture, but no one can say that the Canon of Scripture itself can be proved to be a Canon from Scripture; no one can say, that Scripture any where enumerates all the books of which it is composed, and puts its seal upon them ever so indirectly, even if it might allowably bear witness to itself.
But here, before proceeding to make some reflections on the state of the case, I will make one explanation, and notice one objection. In the first place, then, I must explain myself, when I say that we depend for the Canon and Creed upon the fourth and fifth centuries. We depend upon them thus: As to Scripture, former centuries certainly do not speak distinctly, fre
quently, or unanimously, except of some chief books, as the Gospels but still we see in them, as we believe, an ever-growing tendency and approximation to that full agreement which we find in the fifth. The testimony given at the latter date is the limit to which all that has been before given converges. For instance, it is commonly said exceptio probat regulam; when we have reason to think, that a writer or an age would have witnessed so and so, but for this or that, and that this or that were mere accidents of his position, then he or it may be said to tend towards such testimony. In this way the first centuries tend towards the fifth. Viewing the matter as one of moral evidence, we seem to see in the testimony of the fifth the very testimony which every preceding century gave, accidents excepted, such as the present loss of documents once extant, or the then existing misconceptions which want of intercourse between the Churches occasioned. The fifth century acts as a comment on the obscure text of the centuries before it, and brings out a meaning which, with the help of the comment, any candid person sees really to belong to them. And in the same way as regards the Catholic creed, though there is not so much to explain and account for. Not so much, for no one, I suppose, will deny that in the Fathers of the fourth century it is as fully developed, and as unanimously adopted, as it can be in the fifth; and, again, there had been no considerable doubts about any of its doctrines previously, as there were about the Epistle to the Hebrews or the Apocalypse: or if any, they were started by individuals, as Origen's about eternal punishment, not by Churches,-or they were at once condemned by the general Church, as in the case of heresies,-or they were not about any primary doctrine, such as the Incarnation or Atonement; and all this in spite of that want of free intercourse which did occasion doubts about portions of the Canon, Yet, in both cases, we have at first an inequality of evidence in the parts of what was afterwards universally received as a whole ;-the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and of Episcopacy, and, again, the four Gospels being generally witnessed from the first; but certain other doctrines being at first rather practised and assumed, than insisted on, (as the necesity of infant baptism,) and certain books, (as
the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse,) doubted or not admitted in particular countries. And as the unanimity of the fifth century as regards the Canon clears up and overcomes all previous differences, so the abundance of the fourth as to the Creed interprets, develops, and combines all that is recondite or partial in previous centuries as to doctrine, acting similarly as a comment, not, indeed, as in the case of the Canon, upon a perplexed and disordered, but upon a concise text. In both cases, the after centuries contain but the termination and summing up of the testimony of the foregoing.
So much in explanation; the objection I have to notice is this. It is said, that the Fathers might indeed bear witness to a document such as the books of Scripture are, and yet not be good witnesses to a doctrine, which is, after all, but an opinion. A document or book is something external to the mind; it is an object that any one can point at, and if a person about two or three hundred years after CHRIST, said, "This book of the New Testament has been accounted sacred ever since it was written," he could be as sure of what he said, as we are at the present day, that the particular Church we now use was built at a certain date, or that the date in the title-page of a certain printed book is to be trusted. On the other hand, it is urged, a doctrine does not exist except in the mind of this or that person, it is not a thing you can point at, it is not a something which two persons see at once,—it is an opinion; and every one has his own opinion. I have an opinion, you have an opinion;-if on comparing notes we think we agree, we call it the same opinion, but it is not the same really, only called the same, because similar; and, in fact, probably no two such opinions really do coincide in all points. Every one describes and colours from his own mind. No one then can bear witness to a doctrine being ancient. Strictly speaking, that which he contemplates, witnesses, speaks about, began with himself; it is a birth of his own mind. He may, indeed, have caught it from another, but it is not the same as another man's doctrine, unless one flame is the same as a second kindled from it; and as flame communicated from phosphorus to sulphur, from sulphur to wood, from wood to coal, from coal
to charcoal, burns variously, so, true as it may be that certain doctrines originated in the Apostles, it does not follow that the particular form in which we possess them, originated with the Apostles also. Such is the objection; that the Fathers, if honest men, may be credible witnesses of facts, but not, however honest, witnesses to doctrines.
It admits of many answers:-I will mention two.
1. It does not rescue the Canon from the difficulties of its own evidence, which is its professed object; for it is undeniable that there are books of Scripture, which in the first centuries particular Fathers, nay, particular Churches did not receive. What is the good of contrasting testimony to facts with testimony to opinions, when we have not in the case of the Canon, that clear testimony to the fact in dispute, which the objection supposes? Lower, as you will, the evidence for the Creed; you do nothing towards raising the evidence for the Canon. The first Fathers, in the midst of the persecutions, had not, as I have said, time and opportunity to ascertain always what was inspired and what was not; and since nothing but an agreement of many, of different countries, will prove to us what the Canon is, we must betake ourselves of necessity to the fourth and fifth centuries, to those centuries which did hold those very doctrines, which, it seems, are to be rejected as superstitions and corruptions. But if the Church then was in that miserable state of superstition, or rather popery, which belief in those doctrines is supposed to imply, then, I must contend, that blind bigotry and ignorance were not fit judges of what was inspired and what was not. I will not trust the judgment of a worldly-minded partizan, or a crafty hypocrite, or a credulous fanatic in this matter. Unless then you allow those centuries to be tolerably free from doctrinal corruptions, I conceive, you cannot use them as evidence of the canonicity of the Old and New Testament, as we now have them; but if you do consider the fourth and fifth centuries enlightened enough to decide on the Canon, I want to know why you call them not enlightened in point of doctrine? The only reason commonly given is, that their Christianity contains many notions and many usages and rites not in Scripture, and which because not in Scripture, are to be considered, it seems, as if against Scripture. But this surely is
no sound argument, unless it is true also that the canonicity itself of the Old and New Testament, not being declared in Scripture, is therefore unscriptural. I consider then that the same habit of mind, whether we call it cautious or sceptical, which quarrels with the testimony for Catholic doctrine, because a doctrine is an opinion and not an object, ought also in consistency to quarrel with the testimony for the Canon, as being that of an age which on its own principles is superstitious and uncritical.
2. Granting then, that Scripture is an external object which can be appealed to and witnessed, yet it is not witnessed generally till (according to the objection in question) a blind and superstitious age, and, therefore, an age whose testimony on account of such superstition is not satisfactory. But again: the doctrines of the Church are after all not mere matters of opinion; they were not mere ideas in the mind which no one could appeal to, each individual having his own, but they were external facts, quite as much as the books of Scripture;-how so? Because they were embodied in rites and ceremonies. A usage, custom, or monument, has the same kind of identity, is in the same sense common property, and admits of a common appeal, as a book. When a writer appeals to the custom of the Sign of the Cross, or the Baptism of Infants, or the Sacrifice or the Consecration of the Eucharist, or Episcopal Ordination, he is not speaking of an opinion in his mind, but of something external to it, and is as trustworthy as when he says that the Acts of the Apostles is written by St. Luke. Now such usages more or less involve the doctrines in question. Is it not implied, for instance, in the fact of priests only consecrating the Eucharist, that it is a gift which others have not? in the Eucharist being offered to God, that it is an offering? in penance being exacted of offenders, that it is right to impose it? in children being exorcised, that they are by nature children of wrath, and inhabited by Satan? On the other hand, when the Fathers witness to the inspiration of Scripture, they are surely as much witnessing to a mere doctrine,-not to the book itself, but to an opinion,--as when they witness to the grace of Baptism.
Again, the Creed is a document the same in kind as Scripture, though its wording be not fixed and invariable, or its language.