WHAT FAITH REALLY MEANS
A Simple Explanation By Rev. Henry Grey Graham, M.A.
Imprimatur – Edm. Canonicus Surmont, D.D. – Sept. 30, 1914.
CHAPTER I: The True Meaning of Faith
CHAPTER II: Faith Necessary for Christianity
CHAPTER III: Human Faith and Divine Faith
CHAPTER IV: Beauty and Reward of Catholic Faith
CHAPTER V: Protestant’s Faith through the Bible
What does Divine Faith really mean? No one, outside the Catholic Church, can answer the question with any certainty. Something indefinite concerning God and our Lord Jesus Christ, a vague and hazy notion about the truths of religion, is all that it conveys to the non-Catholic mind. And yet it is the most important question for the souls of men: "Unless you believe you shall be condemned." What am I to believe? is the puzzling problem that perturbs the soul of every well-disposed man and woman outside the fold of the Church. They search in vain for something certain to hold on by, and the more they search amongst the non-Catholic creeds the more they find "confusion worse confounded."
If the inquirer wants to find the Truth that comes from God, he can find it only from the Teachers and "Dispensers of the mysteries of God," appointed by Him for that special purpose.
In the natural sciences qualified teachers are appointed to unfold their mysteries to scholars and students. How particular the Senate of a university, the Committees on Second Education and School Boards are in examining the qualifications of a Professor or school-teacher before they appoint either to impart a knowledge of the sciences to others!
In law and medicine, as these subjects have such far-reaching effect on the rights and well-being of the people, the Government will not allow an unlicenced professor to teach students in any of their departments, nor will it permit any person to publicly practice those sciences unless the authorized corporation confers on them the requisite degrees, under penalty of fines or imprisonment. Property and mens’s natural and conferred rights are too sacred to be tampered with by any unauthorized person taking upon himself to decide on those matters! The whole power of the Government of every civilized country surrounds the administrators of the law – solicitors, magistrates, judges!
It is of vital moment to the health of the communities to have qualified physicians to minister to "the ills that flesh is heir to"; hence the State, with unsheathed sword, forbids unqualified persons to practice the science of medicine, under pain of severe penalties! Now, no doubt the rights of man and the health of the people are of paramount importance, but is not the teaching of Religion the most important of all the sciences to be imparted to the people who profess Christianity? Is every person qualified to stand up in the market-place, or hall, or church, and propound the most sacred of all sciences – the Truths of Religion – no matter how profound the depths of his ignorance may be?
Medicine is an empirical natural science, law is the science of the rights of man; the knowledge of both may be acquired by any scholar, yet governments must be satisfied that the students have obtained the qualifying degree of a recognized school before they are allowed to practice amongst the people.
Is there no power to prevent the unqualified from teaching the followers of Christ unsound doctrine that will corrupt their souls? There is the first and greatest of all powers – the power of the conscience directed by God, "Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth." He has appointed His Professors, His Teachers, His Vicars, His Representatives, His Ambassadors, His Apostles, "to go and teach whatsoever He has taught them," "until the consummation of the world." They alone are qualified, and licensed, and appointed to teach the Truths of God: "He that hears you, hears Me." To reject their teaching is to reject God’s teaching: "He that despiseth you, despiseth Me."
The science of Religion is not human, therefore it does not belong to the empirical sciences, to be discovered by experimental research; but as it unfolds a knowledge of God – a pure Spirit – His attributes, and His relations with man, it is entirely beyond the powers of a finite human intellect to penetrate into His mysteries; hence man depends altogether for his knowledge of heavenly things on the revelations that God has deigned to give of Himself. Under the Old Covenant, He revealed much of Himself, through His chosen prophets; under the New Covenant, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God the Son, became man, lived amongst men, taught men with human words through human lips still more of the mysteries of Heaven. He then chose men to be the appointed Teachers of His revealed Truths; He breathed on them the power He possessed; He commissioned them and their successors to be His only representatives, in preaching the Gospel and administering His Sacraments until the end of time.
Find, therefore, the successors of the Apostles, and you find the only accredited, genuine ambassadors of Christ on earth. All others are spurious, all others are wolves in sheep’s clothing, leading men to spiritual destruction. To one who has grasped this all-important principle all else follows in a natural sequence. "Faith is to believe without doubting, whatever God has revealed," and since this revelation can only be known from the successors of the Apostles who reside in the Catholic Church alone, we must in consequence go to the Catholic Church to learn the true science of religion.
Whilst it is our duty to remove all obstacles that stand between us and Divine Faith, we must at the same time ever know and remember that it is a free gift of God, which He will certainly grant to us if we seek it by fervent prayer.
R. Rev. James W. McCarthy, D.D.
BISHOP OF GALLOWAY
"How am I to know what God has revealed?" This question in the Catechism of Christian Doctrine is really the most important question that a Christian can put to himself. It is the question of questions. Perhaps some one will say that that other question, "What must you do to save your soul?" Is more important: and at first sight it might seem so. But assuming that a man has determined to save his soul, the grand question for him is: "What has Almighty God revealed on the matter, and how can I get to know it?" And at present I am supposing the case of man who is anxious to be saved, who believes that "God made us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next"; who believes that he is endowed with an immortal soul, and that his chief concern in this world is to save that soul, and that it will profit him nothing if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of it. I am supposing, further, that to this end he realizes the necessity of faith, as well as of hope and charity, for "without faith it is impossible to please God." He does not (I am assuming) consider it a matter of indifference what a man believes, or how he believes, or whether he believes at all, for "he that believeth not shall be condemned." He knows that Almighty God has made a Revelation on the subject, that He has revealed the Gospel of Salvation, that indeed this Revelation was the sole end and the purpose of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world, and that therefore it is of absolute necessity to know it, and believe it, and obey it.
And in all this I am not picturing a rare or imaginary inquirer. There are many persons in this state of anxiety, and many others who have passed through it unsatisfied, and have drifted into indifference. I speak, of course, of the multitudes of honest non-Catholics who have ceased to believe in the system in which they were reared because it failed to teach them securely how to save their souls, but who have not yet despaired of finding some more satisfactory authority in religion. They believe in God, and they love God, and they know, moreover, that God "in these days hath spoken to us by His Son," that, in short, He sent Him into this world to reveal the Christian religion; but what precisely are the contents of that which He has revealed, and how they may lay hold upon it in such wise as to save their souls – this is their difficulty. It is, in other words, the old question of Authority. Who is to be their Teacher and Guide in this the supremest of all concerns? Who, at this distance of time from the earthly sojourn and atoning Death of our Incarnate Redeemer, who is to bring Him to us, and us to Him, and we may know Him and hear His words, and have the merits of His Precious Blood applied to our souls?
Now it is with these people in mind that I offer the following papers. I would fain hope that they may be not only of interest to Catholics, but also of some use in assisting anxious Protestants to settle definitely and finally the grand affair of their salvation. One thing is clear enough: as the years advance there is an ever-increasing number turning away in disappointment from the Protestant method of settling the question, for they have found its spokesmen to be "dumb dogs not able to bark, and shepherds who know no understanding" (Isa. Ivi. 10,11), whose "trumpet gives an uncertain sound" (1 Cor. xiv. 8), and who "have forsaken the fountain of living water, and have digged to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. ii. 13). And I am sure there are at least some who only require to understand the clear and unassailable grounds on which the Catholic Church bases her claim to speak with Divine Authority, and they will submit themselves to her teaching, and experience that "joy and peace in believing" which so many before them have, by the mercy of God, found within her embrace.
The True Meaning of Faith
Let us, then, begin at the beginning. In the first place, Faith is necessary; on this all are agreed, for, according to St. Paul, we are "justified by faith." Luther termed this faith the "article of a standing or a falling Church"; and as for Catholics, their belief concerning it is determined by the Council of Trent, which called it (Sess. vi., c. 8) "the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification." But here, unfortunately, our agreement ends, for with the question that necessarily follows, "What is Faith?" we are at once plunged into controversy. Ask the average Protestant, and you will find that by faith he means trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, believing that He shed His Blood upon the Cross and washed all His sins away, personally accepting Christ and His offered Redemption. "The principle acts of saving faith," says the "Confession of Faith" (chap. xiv.), "are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace." Or, to quote the more familiar answer of the Shorter Catechism on the question (No. 86): "What is faith in Jesus Christ? Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace whereby we receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the Gospel."
According to this doctrine, when we have faith in Christ, Christ accepts us and looks upon us as "righteous" even though we are not really so. He "imputes His righteousness" to us; He covers over our sins with his merits, much as a fall of snow covers a mudheap. And so Luther taught: "God cannot see in us any sin, though we are full of sin; nay, are sin itself, inside and out, body and soul, from the top of the head to the soles of the feet, but He only sees the dear and precious Blood of His Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, wherewith we are sprinkled" (quoted in Verres, "Luther, an Historical Portrait," p. 139).
Now, it must be said at once that this is not the true and proper and Scriptural meaning of faith at all. That the word may sometimes bear this meaning – trust in a person, belief in his power, hope and confidence – is certainly not to be denied. You find this kind of faith in such cases, for example, as St. Jas. i. 6, "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering"; and St. Luke, viii. 48, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole"; and St. Matt. xv. 28, "O woman, great is thy faith"; and even St. Matt. xiv. 31, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" and in other passages. But what we deny is that this is the kind of faith Almighty God demands of us as necessary for salvation, saving faith, justifying faith. In fact, St. Paul himself actually distinguishes them, the one from the other, and represents the former – trust, assurance, confidence – to be an effect of the latter: "In whom we have boldness and access with confidence, by faith of him" (Eph. iii. 12). Faith we hold to be "a supernatural gift of God, which enables us to believe without doubting whatever God has revealed" (Catechism, Q. 9); or, according to the fuller definition of the Vatican Council, "a supernatural virtue by which, through the grace of God inspiring and helping us, we believe as true all that God has revealed, not on account of their truth as perceived by natural reason, but on account of the authority of God revealing them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived." This is faith: an intellectual belief; the assent of the mind to certain truths; the acceptance of whatever doctrines God has taught, simply because He has taught them. It is not a mere "acceptance of Christ," as Protestants assert, by an act of the will; though it is that, too, in the sense that we accept the doctrine that Christ died to atone for our sins. Certainly the will must move the intellect to make this act; and again, grace is required to move the will to operate, as Our Lord taught when He said: "No man can come to Me except by the Father, Who hath sent Me, draw him" (St. John vi. 44). In the long run, therefore, it is all a matter of God’s mercy bestowing grace. "For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; for it is the gift of God" (Eph. ii. 8). But confining ourselves for the present to the act of faith, we say that, according to Catholic teaching, which is Scripture teaching, it is simply an act of your intelligence; it is believing and accepting with your mind, assenting and consenting to whatever truths Almighty God has made known, however difficult or impossible they may seem, simply because He has revealed them. This, and nothing else, is true faith.
I could adduce many texts to prove this, but I shall quote only one, for I am writing not to prove the Catholic doctrine, but only to explain and illustrate it, so that from a general view of the whole Catholic system you may be led to see how reasonable and unassailable, how beautiful, satisfying, and consoling it is. "Go ye into the whole world," said Our Lord, "and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned" (St. Mark xvi. 15, 16). Now, Our Lord is here speaking of justifying faith: "he that believeth shall be saved." And the faith he speaks of is to be that faith of which the Gospel is to be believed. And what is the Gospel? It is the whole Christian religion, the whole scheme of salvation as announced by the Apostles in all its parts. "Go and teach all nations." "Preach the Gospel to every creature." Now, to believe that is an intellectual act, a work of the intelligence, accepting and assenting to the truths of the Gospel. It is not, as I said before, merely the fact of believing that Christ died for you upon the Cross, and trusting to that for salvation. A man stands up in a meeting, and says he is "saved" because "God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish but may have everlasting life," and "he that believeth in the Son hath everlasting life" (St. John iii. 16, 36), and "He loved me and gave Himself for me." Or he buttonholes his neighbor at an Evangelistic meeting, and asks him, "Are you trusting in the Blood?" And "Have you decided for Christ?" and if he gets an answer in the affirmative, he will say: "Hallelujah! You are on the Lord’s side! You are saved!" I know all of this, because I have seen it and heard it, and taken part in it. But that is not faith. It is mere sentiment, a feeling, a persuasion – I am afraid more or less fanatical – concerning one single point of the Christian Revelation. It is narrowing faith down to one particular act in Our Lord’s Redemption, and ignoring all the rest. From this description you would never imagine that Jesus Christ taught anything about the Church, or the Sacraments, or good works. It is therefore essentially and fundamentally a false notion of faith – a delusion and a heresy.
St. Paul has given us an inspired description of faith: "Faith is the substance of things to be hoped for [i.e. the basis and foundation on which rest the blessings of salvation we hope for], the evidence of things that appear not [i.e. the making certain for us things that are not visible to the senses, nor perceived by reason]" (Heb. xi. 1). This faith, by which "the just man lives" (Heb. x. 38), consists in a firm belief in the things revealed by God, as all the examples in this chapter (xi.) of the Epistle of the Hebrews clearly shows. It is an act of the intellect by which we recognize such truths of revelation, for instance, as the forming of the world by the Word of God (verse 6), and even the existence of God as our future Judge (verse 3). It was belief in God’s Word, howsoever made known to them – a belief formed in the mind and with the intelligence, and inspiring hope and confidence – which enabled Henoch and Noah and Abraham and the rest to do all those things for which they are praised by the sacred writer. They believed on the authority of God, Who made revelations and promises to them.
Such is the nature of that faith which is necessary for salvation in every part of Holy Scripture, and especially the New Testament. In the true sense, therefore, the Scriptural and the Catholic sense, we may define faith to be the willing and deliberate submission of the mid to revealed truth, the acceptance of and belief in all that God has revealed. And anything less than this is not faith.
Faith Necessary for Christianity
The faith to which I have been referring is called a "supernatural gift of God" – partly, no doubt, because it is concerned with truths above the natural order, which our unassisted intelligence cannot comprehend, but principally because this faith must come from God Himself, and cannot be acquired in any other way. You have it not by nature; you cannot get it by seeking for it, either in books or in the world around you or anywhere else; it is a free, unmerited gift of God. And after sanctifying grace, it is undoubtedly the most precious gift God can bestow on man, because it enables him to believe the Gospel, and without it you cannot believe. Let me explain why. There are many truths in the Christian religion – truths, dogmas, facts, call them what you will – that the natural man finds it hard, indeed impossible, to believe. Observe I did not say impossible only to understand, but impossible even to believe.
Christianity is a supernatural religion; it is full of mysteries and miracles. The Christianity which Rationalists and Modernists in our day attempt to recommend – a religion stripped of mysteries and emptied of all supernatural elements – is not the Christianity of Jesus Christ, nor of the Bible, nor even of what is called "Orthodox Protestantism." We must either take Christianity with its mysteries of leave it alone, for the two stand or fall together. And this applies to Protestant as well as to Catholic. The religion of Jesus Christ asks him to believe not only what he never saw and what no one ever saw, but what no one ever can see, and what from the very nature of the case cannot be proved or accounted for on natural grounds in any way whatsoever. We have only to refer to the Apostles’ Creed, which many Protestants profess as well as we. Take the doctrine that Our Lord was "conceived by the Holy Ghost," or the "forgiveness of sins," or the second coming of Christ, or "the life everlasting"; or, again, the existence and guardianship of angels, or the reality of Heaven and Hell. These are realities, but spiritual realities; you cannot see or touch or handle them; they are not proper subjects of natural science or reason; you must take them on faith, as revealed by God. And it is precisely these things which Rationalists, who walk by sight and not by faith, reject. "The sensual [natural, Authorized Version] man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God, for it is foolishness to him; and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined [discerned, Authorized Version] (1 Cor. ii. 14).
Take, for example, the Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity – that in God there are three Persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, and yet there are not three Gods, but one God; the three Divine Persons are all one and the same God. The natural intelligence instinctively rebels against this; there is nothing like it in the sphere of Nature as known to us – it is, in short, a mystery, that is, a truth which is above reason but revealed by God. If this doctrine came to us on merely human authority, we should certainly refuse to accept it.
Or, again, take the Incarnation – the doctrine that the Infinite and Eternal God was for a period carried within the womb of a woman, and that the little Infant lying on the manger of the stable at Bethlehem, poor and helpless, was none other than the Omnipotent Creator of Heaven and earth! Or think of the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. Could the mind of man, unaided by God, take it in that that Sufferer, scourged, kicked, mocked, spat upon, reviled, sold for a price, was really the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity? – that the Man nailed to the Cross, and hanging between Heaven and earth, bleeding and agonizing, the butt and sport of a vile rabble, and executed as a rebel, an outcast, and a blasphemer, was yet the Good God Who loved us with an everlasting love?
Or, again, take the Blessed Sacrament: how could we ever believe that the small, round, White Thing which we call the Sacred Host, which has the appearance of bread, and which our senses – touch and taste and sight – tell us is bread, yet is not bread at all, but is the true Body and Blood of God the Son made Man, together with His Soul and Divinity? – that It is as really and truly Jesus Christ, God and Man, as was the Child in Blessed Mary’s arms, or as the Savior upon the Cross, or as the Redeemer at God’s right hand in heaven? How could we believe that the Eternal God, "whom the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain," is yet confined within the tabernacle on the altar, enclosed within a small ciborium, or carried by a priest in a pocket-pyx? Once more: take the eternity of Heaven and the eternity of Hell; our minds, naturally, cannot conceive it. Or, lastly, take the Resurrection of the Body – the dogma that at the general judgment we shall rise again with the bodies as we have now; that, no matter whether you have been burned to ashes, or become food for the fishes, or been devoured by wild beasts, or been reduced to dust in the grave, yet your body will be raised again and joined to your soul, and in body and soul reunited you will be found either in Heaven or in Hell. I repeat, that these and other doctrines of the Christian religion are simply incredible to a man without faith; he would not and could not accept them; and, what is more, to many they have appeared not only incredible, but unreasonable, unnecessary, and absurd.
But so soon as you have faith you believe them, and have no difficulty in believing them. Faith is like a telescope. Astronomers tell us that on a clear night one can see with the naked eye about three thousand stars. But look through a powerful telescope, and you will see many millions. They were in the heavens all the time, but you could not discern them. So it is with the truths of the Christian religion. Many of them seem hard, difficult, impossible; faith comes, and at once you find it easy to believe then. As an example of what I mean, imagine two friends visiting a Catholic Church – the one a Catholic, the other a Protestant. So soon as they enter, the Catholic drops on his knee and remains for a moment or two in prayer; the other stands unmoved, gazes round him, and wonders what the Catholic is doing. What makes the difference in their mode of acting? The difference is that one has faith, the other has not. By faith the Catholic knows and believes that Our Blessed Lord is present on the altar, and consequently he genuflects and adores Him; the Protestant, without faith, neither knows or believes in our Lord’s Presence. The first has the spiritual telescope, and discerns Our Divine Lord in the tabernacle, though under the apperance of bread
"Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail." – Benediction Hymn
– the second, destitute of such an instrument, neither knows, believes, nor recognizes Him. "There hath stood One in the midst of you Whom you know not."
Or, again, take the Immaculate Conception – the doctrine that the Blessed Virgin Mary, by a singular privilege of grace bestowed on her through the merits of her Divine Son, was preserved free from the least guilt or stain of original sin. The Catholic, or course, says: "I believe this, I hold this, with all my heart and soul." The Protestant says: "No, I do not believe it, and cannot see it." What makes the difference here? Again, faith. Faith has given the one light, so that he sees the truth revealed by God; the other, without the light of faith, an only look into the darkness. You might say the same in regard to many other Catholic doctrines – e.g., Purgatory, Confession, Indulgences, Masses for the living and the dead, and the like. The Protestant rejects and denies them; the Catholic spontaneously accepts and rejoices in them. It all depends upon the presence or the absence of the great gift of faith. I was right, then, in saying that after grace it is the greatest of all gifts. When a man has it, he is able to accept without hesitation all the mysteries of Christianity, whether he understands them or not. The man who has it not cannot and will not believe them, any more than a bird can fly without wings, or a blind man see, or an astronomer without his telescope perceive the stars that are invisible to the naked eye.
ONE GRAND CHARACTERISTIC
Now there is one grand characteristic about Faith which is as much a cause of astonishment to the non-Catholic as it is a source of consolation to the Catholic; I mean, of course, that it enables him to believe without doubting. There is not the shadow of a shade of doubt in the soul of a Catholic about any of the truths of religion. Where there is true faith, there is not, and there cannot be, any doubt. The two things are mutually exclusive, as if one should say, where there is light there is no darkness. Ask a Catholic: "Is there a Hell? Is there an endless Hell? Will people dying unsaved burn forever?" He will reply at once, without hesitation: "Yes, certainly." Ask a Protestant, and he will answer: "Well, I do not know for certain. Some say yes, and some say no." He has doubts, because he has not faith. Again, ask a Catholic: "Do you really believe there is a Purgatory? Do you really believe the Blessed Virgin was conceived without sin? Do you really believe the priest can forgive sin? Do you really believe the Pope is infallible? Do you really believe that the Sacred Host is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ? Do you honestly believe these things without the faintest suspicion or doubt?" The answer comes back, instantaneous and unfaltering: "I do, as firmly as I believe in my own existence."
Ask a Protestant, on the other hand, about some of the articles of his creed – and he will hesitate and shuffle. He may be disposed to believe them himself; but he knows that there are many good and learned men in his communion who hold a contrary belief, and his confidence is shaken, and he is driven to admit that there are differences of opinion about the matter, and that therefore one dare not be too dogmatic. In short, he is very much in the position of the woman at the well of Samaria, who was so puzzled in her conversation with Our Lord that she took refuge in the saying: "I know that the Messias cometh (who is called Christ); therefore, when He is come, He will tell us all things" (St. John iv. 25).
A Catholic might not be able to understand every article of his belief; he might not be capable of explaining it to others in a very intelligible or convincing manner; he might not be able to defend it in controversy – indeed, as a mere matter of polemics, he might easily be floored by the seemingly weighty objections of some acute and practiced adversary. But nothing of this would for a moment shake his faith or alter his belief. To believe is one thing, to understand is another, and a hundred difficulties, as Cardinal Newman remarks, do not make one doubt. Hence it is that the imperfectly instructed Catholic, though vexed, harassed, struck dumb, and not improbably infuriated by the superior skill of the Protestant objector, nevertheless sticks to his belief through thick and thin, and concludes by saying "Well, I cannot answer you; I cannot meet your arguments; but I know the doctrine is true as surely as I know that two and two make four, and I would gladly lay down my life for it." You might, then, convince a Protestant that, in the light of modern thought and study, his most cherished beliefs were mistaken; but you could never so convince a Catholic. Ply him with objections and difficulties as you will, set a score of the most brilliant Modernists or Higher Critics or Rationalists or anti-Popery men to overwhelm him with their arguments – it is all to no purpose, you will never move him; he is as certain at the end as he was at the beginning that his beliefs are the Truth of God. Now, Protestants would probably consider this attitude one of sheer unreasoning obstinacy and mental obtuseness; and if it were a question of truth solely within the sphere of nature, it might deserve the name. But being within the sphere of religious and supernatural truth, Catholics call it not obstinacy but faith. Whence, then, comes this absolute impossibility of shaking a Catholic’s faith, this entire absence of doubt? It comes from the very nature of faith itself, which means believing a truth on the authority of God. The faith we are now speaking of is Divine, supernatural faith, in virtue of which a Catholic says, "I believe this and I believe that, because Almighty God Himself has said it, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived"; and in virtue of which St. Paul said: "I know in whom I have believed, and I am certain" (2 Tim. i. 12).
Now, as there are different kinds of faith we shall best understand what Divine Faith is by first seeing what it is not.
Human Faith and Divine Faith
To begin with, then, Faith is not a mere probability, nor an opinion, nor even an conviction, for all these are liable to be reversed in the course of time; there is no absolute certainty implied in such states of the mind, for doubt or fear as to the opposite being true is not excluded. Now, what we are dealing with at present, and what we wish to have, is certainty which will exclude all doubt.
How, then, can I become certain about anything? Broadly speaking, I may arrive at certitude in two ways, (1) by Evidence, and (2) by Authority, or the testimony of another.
1. The certitude produced by Evidence may be of various kinds. There are, for example, self-evident truths, such as that the whole is greater than the part; the shortest distance between two given points is a straight line. These and the like propositions, axioms, or first principles, whatever you may call them, are so evidently and intrinsically true that the mind assents to them as soon as the terms which express them are understood. Again, I may arrive at certainty by the evidence of my own senses, my own observations, my own experience. I know, for example, that vinegar is bitter and sugar is sweet. I know that water will freeze with the thermometer standing at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. I know that men can navigate the air. I know that a dose of strychnine will kill a dog. I know that a lighted match will set off gunpowder. I know the law of gravitation. I am certain about all of these and a thousand other things, for they are matters falling within my own knowledge; I have proved and tested them for myself. Such are matters of human knowledge of scientific certainty, which is concerned with natural truths, and is acquired by reason working upon evidence that a man can gather for himself. But for such facts as these no faith is required. When we speak of faith we come to a different cause or motive of certainty altogether.
2. Faith comes into play when I believe a truth, a statement, a doctrine on the Authority or testimony of another. Now there is Human Faith and there is Divine Faith, and the two must be carefully distinguished.
(1) Human faith is exercised when I accept a statement on authority which is purely human, howsoever it may reach me, whether by speech or writing, or any other way. A man tells me something; I see no reason to doubt his word. I trust him, and I believe him; I accept the truth on his authority. For instance (to take one or two random illustrations), George Combe tells me in his book, "The Constitution of Man" (p. 122), that a certain kind of moss is abundant in Lapland in winter, and that the reindeer feeds on it. He tells me that the broad hoofs of camels qualify them to walk on sand, and that they have stomachs fitted to retain water for a considerable time, and hence are able to flourish amid arid tracts of sand where the reindeer would hardly live for a day. He tells me that the fly, walking or sleeping on the ceiling over my head, has a hollow in its foot from which it expels the air, and the pressure of the atmosphere on the outside of the foot holds it fast to the objects on which the inside is placed. Now I quite believe these statements of Combe. I accept them from such a reliable authority, though I have never verified them for myself. And therein I exercise a human faith. Again, I read in Professor Arthur Thomson’s work, "Darwinism and Human Life," that there are eighty species of a certain land-snail in the Bahama Islands; that in 1796 the speed of an English trotter was a mile in 2 minutes 10 seconds; that the average American oyster has 16,000,000 eggs; that there exist quaint Japanese waltzing mice, which waltz round and round in circles; and that "the cholera bacillus can duplicate every twenty minutes, and might thus in one day become the number 5 with seven noughts after it, with the weight, according to the calculations of Cohn, of about 7,366 tons." These interesting assertions also I am quite prepared to accept from such a distinguished scientists. I take his word for them. He is an honest man, with no object in deceiving me. His credentials, his titles to be believed, are beyond cavil.
No doubt it is true enough that the certainty arising from such faith will vary in degree and in intensity, according to the credibility o the witness – his scientific reputation, his veracity, and so on. And my certainty will be stronger and more immoveable if I know that his testimony is backed by many others of equal eminence. Faith in many witnesses tends to produce greater certainty than faith in one. The statement of many astronomers, for example, that the sun is 90,000,000 miles distant from the earth is more certainly true for me than the single assertion of one astronomer about the planet Mars, or of one biologist about the organism of some obscure plant or animal. The main point, however, is that here I am exercising human faith, accepting truths on the authority of man.
(2) Well, as St. John says (1 Ep. v 9): "If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater." And Divine faith simply means accepting the truths that God teaches us, not about science but about religion, and only because He teaches them: it is believing something on Divine authority. Surely this is reasonable enough? If I believe what a mere man tells me, surely I cannot refuse to believe what Almighty God tells me. If I assent without difficulty to the wonderful statements of scientists and astronomers about things which I have never studied myself, and of which I know absolutely nothing, merely because these clever and learned men make them, how can I hesitate about assenting to the teaching of Almighty God?
Someone perhaps will here object: "But the truths of religion are so mysterious and so difficult, os far beyond our understanding, so impossible to verify or prove, that my intellect cannot accept them as easily as natural and scientific truths which are capable of being inquired into and demonstrated." To this I have two replies to make:
(1) In the first place, I answer that the very same objection applies of these latter truths. Nature herself is full of mysteries. Can you explain, for example, how a crop of corn springs up? The farmer traverses the field in spring, casting handfuls of seed hither and thither; in a few months the field is covered with beautiful yellow grain. Can you explain the process that goes on underground? Did you ever see the operation by which the little seeds die and fructify, and then send up the waving stalks of corn? Can you explain how the tiny acorn, half the size of your thumb, springs up in a generation into an immense oak-tree? Can you unravel to me the origin of life itself? How an egg, for instance, which seems to contain only a yellow and white fluid, will, if placed under a hen in suitable conditions, send forth a live chicken in a short time? Better still, do you know, can you explain, how life springs up within the unborn child? Can you explain how the earth and all its riches were evolved out of chaos? You cannot explain these things; no one can – they are mysteries of Nature. Yet you believe them, you accept them; you cannot help it. You see them for yourself, and seeing is believing. Well, surely we are entitled to exercise a similar belief in regard to the truths of religion, even though we do not understand them?
2. Again, if we consider the matter properly we shall see that Divine Faith is much more reasonable than human faith. And why? Because there is always an element of doubt in the credibility of man, but none in that of God. You can never be absolutely certain about man’s word: you are liable to be deceived by him; but with Almighty God that is impossible. He can "neither deceive nor be deceived." As St. Paul says: "God is true, and every man a liar" (Rom. iii. 4). And as Balaam said: "God is not as a man that He should lie, nor as the Son of man, that He should be changed" (Num. xxiii. 19). For example, a man tells me he has visited New Guinea, and declares the Papuan women wear their hair trailing on the ground. Or he says that the blue hens in Australia lay twice as many eggs as white ones; and that there are green snakes in Egypt which sleep for five years without food. Now, the man may be speaking the truth, but, on the other hand, he may not. I have never been either to Papua or Egypt or Australia, and I have nothing but the man’s word for these remarkable statements. The man may be in general trustworthy; still, on this occasion he may be joking. Perhaps he was never in these lands at all; perhaps he is telling lies; perhaps he may only have read about them; perhaps he has been misinformed or imposed upon by someone else. In short, there are a dozen reasons that might make me hesitate before accepting his story, and if I do accept it, I may find in short time that the story was very far from the truth.
You object that this is an extreme case, that this is reducing the whole thing to an absurdity. Well, put the matter at its best. Take statements made in sober earnest by a man of irreproachable veracity and seriousness; take statements vouched for by the cleverest and most learned men, by the most approved authorities; I still say there always lurks an element of uncertainty about them, a possibility at least of error. Are not the "conclusions" of the greatest men constantly being reversed, and their "facts" overturned? This is no discredit to them; it is a necessity of their limitations. After all they are but human, and to be human is to be fallible.
But even supposing we have the most unimpeachable of human authority – and I admit that the testimony of competent witnesses can and does furnish the highest, even complete, human certainty – still it cannot be compared to that of Almighty God! One is human, the other Divine. Here is the difference. "Why," asks the Catechism, "must we believe whatever God has revealed? – We must believe whatever God has revealed because God is the very Truth, and can neither deceive nor be deceived." Notice the word "must." Not only may we, but we must believe what God teaches. That we safely may do so is plain enough to any intelligence. There is no possibility of God deceiving us. He cannot mislead or mock us in anything, lest of all in matters concerning our eternal salvation. Nor can anyone mislead God. He is the Truth, as well as the Way and the Life. So that, whatever God teaches must, form the very attributes of the Divine character, be true. Hence we may, with a confidence born of absolute certainty, believe as true, and as necessarily true, whatever God is pleased to tell us.
And we not only may, but we must believe it – must, not, of course, through any physical compulsion or nay external coercion whatsoever that takes away our freedom, but from a moral compulsion, in the sense that we must either believe or commit a sin.
So soon as we know that God has spoken, we are bound at once to say "I believe." To act otherwise would be rank rebellion and blasphemy. He is our Creator and our Lord and our Master; to refuse to believe His Word would mean that the creature deliberately set himself up against his God.
Beauty and Reward of Catholic Faith
This, then, is the faith that Catholics have in matters of religion – Divine Faith. We believe the truths of our most holy religion, not because we can prove them or have experienced them, not because we think them reasonable or beautiful or consoling (though they are all that) – these are all Protestant reasons for believing. We believe solely because Almighty God has taught us them. This is what theologians call the formal cause or motive of faith: the authority of God revealing. We have nothing whatsoever to do, in the first instance, with the intrinsic nature of the truths taught; nor does it matter whether they are hard or easy of belief, whether they seem probable or improbable; enough for us that Infinite Truth has revealed them. Doubtless we know that God could never teach anything that was not beautiful and reasonable, for all His works are perfect. Yet it is not for this that we assent to them. It is not for us to question why He should have taught this, or why He should have done that; God is not obliged to explain His Words of justify His Acts.
One man says: "Why should Jesus Christ have instituted the Sacrament of Penance? Could He not have arranged for the forgiveness of sins some other way?" I answer, Jesus Christ has not been pleased to tell us; that is all. But the fact that He has instituted Confession remains all the same. Personally, I do not relish going to confession, nor, so far as I know, does any Catholic; and were it not necessary and obligatory, comparatively few, I should think, would ever approach it. But we believe in it because God has revealed it, and we practice it because God has commanded it.
Another man objects: "I cannot grasp the Real Presence. I do not see the need of It. Our Lord is in Heaven, and not upon earth. I cannot see how He can locate Himself in the small Host, or how He can be present in a thousand tabernacles at one moment." I answer again, and it is the only answer possible: "Your incapacity to understand these mysteries is no argument against their existence; and, what is more, it should be no bar to your believing in them if only your belief is grounded on the proper motive." We do not believe the truths of religion because we understand the why and the wherefore of them, or because they command themselves to us by their reasonableness or suitability, but simply because God has taught us them. If He has made them known, there is no possibility of our calling them in question; whether we like them or not, whether we understand them or not, we must bow down and accept them without a word. We do not understand them in order that we may believe, but rather, according to the beautiful saying of St. Anselm: "We believe in order that we may understand."
Perhaps the best illustration of what I mean by real Catholic faith, and of the difference between Catholic faith and Protestant want of faith, is to be found in an incident recorded by St. John in the sixth chapter of his Gospel. After feeding the multitude with five loaves and two fishes, Our Lord fled to the mountain lest the people should take Him and make Him a King. Next day, however, they tracked Him out, and found Him at Capharnaum. They were thinking of the loaves they had got: Jesus wished to raise their thoughts up to the Bread of Life. "You were hungry yesterday," He said in effect, "and you were fed; today you are hungry again. You want more bread. Now, I will give you Bread, of which if you eat, you will never hunger any more. And the Bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world." This announcement was the cause of immediate and deep dissension among His hearers. The Jews were the first to murmur, and said: "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" But Our Divine Lord repeated his doctrine more emphatically: "Except you eat the Flesh o the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you." The Jews did not understand, and therefore did not accept it. Many of the disciples of Jesus then followed their example. "It is a hard saying," they said. "Who can hear it?" And when rebuked by their Master for their unfaithfulness, they turned back and walked no more with Him (v. 62, 67). Here, then, we have two classes among His audience, who refused to believe what they could not understand and what they considered to be impossible.
Then it was that Our Blessed Lord turned to the Twelve and put their faith to the supreme test: "Will you also go away?" Now notice: the Twelve did not understand their Master’s saying about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood any more than the others: they were mystified, unenlightened, awestruck – they did not pretend to understand. Yet they immediately believed. With a beautiful act of faith – with that childlike willingness so characteristic of Catholics, to believe whatever Almighty God tells them, no matter whether they understand it or not – they accepted the word of Jesus, they embraced the doctrine. And why? Simply because Jesus, whom they acknowledged as their Lord, declared it. This was what we call, and rightly call, "blind faith." Simon Peter, answering for the Twelve, said: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Now, here surely is the touchstone of loyalty to Jesus Christ. On which side would Protestants have ranged themselves – with the Jews, or with the Twelve? It hardly admits of a doubt. They are on the side of the Jews and the faithless disciples today, in regard to the Real Presence. "It is a hard saying," they complain; "who can hear it?" And yet they know, they must know if they read their New Testament, that the doctrine came from the lips of the Son of God. If they have not faith, if they do not receive the dogma on His authority now, how would they have received it then?
Here, then, is the voice of the true Catholic: "O my God, I believe, not because I understand, but purely because Thou hast said it." And there are two or three remarks I wish to make about this attitude of mind before passing to the next point.
THE ATTITUDE OF THE CATHOLIC INTELLECT
1. In the first place, we see how truly humble is the attitude of the Catholic intellect. A man of real humility acknowledges the weakness, imperfection, ignorance, and darkness of his understanding. He finds it easy and natural to submit his intellect to the teaching of Almighty God. He would consider himself a fool beyond measure if he, a poor, blind creature, were to limit the truths of religion to those only which his own judgment approved and comprehended. A Catholic soul, then, is a humble soul; he prostrates himself adoringly before his God, and cries out: "O my God, I believe with all my heart whatever Thou teaches me."
In the eyes of the world, no doubt, it is absurd to believe what you cannot understand, but not so in the eyes of God. "Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." A Catholic possesses this childlike faith. A child does not criticize, or dispute, or call into question, or demand to know the reasons for everything that he is taught; he accepts it without suspicion on the authority of his teachers or his parents: for to the young mind they are virtually infallible. To us Almighty God is absolutely infallible; Him, then, we believe with the simplicity of little children. In so doing we are not afraid of being thought infantile, weak, slavish, unmanly. People who apply these epithets to us, as they do, neither know the nature of true faith nor possess it; and they are but pronouncing their own condemnation, according to the Scriptural standard. With our unhesitating, unquestioning, loving, adoring, faith, like that of innocent children, we as Catholics are happy; and we know that it is immensely pleasing to God.
2. And how do we know this? Because it honors and glorifies Him so much; it is the noblest testimony our intellect can pay to Him; it is the proof of our limitless faith in His veracity. To give an instantaneous "Credo," even when he announces the most stupendous and impenetrable mysteries, surely argues sublime trust in Him. "If some person," says Father St. Jure, S.J., in his beautiful "Treatise on the Knowledge and Love of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (vol. ii., chap. xx), "asked me to believe for his sake that the sun is luminous, I do not think he would be greatly indebted to me for believing it, since my eyes deprive me of the power of doubting it; but if he wished me to believe that it is not luminous, I should testify great affection for him if, on his word, I admitted as true what my reason and will prove to be false; and I should give him the most signal tokens of the entire reliance I placed on his opinion, his judgment, the perfection of his sight. We therefore testify great love for God by believing simply, like children, all the mysteries of faith in which our reason is lost, and which our eyes not only see not, but often seem to see the contrary. Thus St. Paul says: ‘Charity believeth all things.’"
We know, too, from Our Lord Himself how pleasing to Him is this simple faith. You remember the touching incident on the apparition o the Risen Savior to St. Thomas, one of the Twelve (St. John xx. 24-29). Thomas was not present when Our Lord appeared to the Apostles the first Ester night; and when told by them"We have sen the Lord," he refused to believe it, and declared: "Unless I shall see and handle Him, I will not believe." Hence he is called "the doubting Thomas." To satisfy him Our Lord graciously condescended to appear before him the following Sunday, and invited him, saying: "Put in thy finger hither and see my hands, and bring hither thy hand and put it into my side; and be not faithless but believing." On this St. Thomas believed, saying: "My Lord and my God!" "Jesus saith to him, Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hath believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." In this sentence Our Lord pronounced a Divine eulogy on an act of faith. To believe without seeing, without proving – this is what pleases Him. For believing in his Lord’s resurrection after seeing Him risen, Thomas was deserving of no praise and no benediction, for he could not help believing then. To have credited it before proving it with his own eyes, to have assented to the word of his fellow Apostles; in short, to have taken it on faith – this would have won him praise and blessing. But he missed the blessing because, before believing, he insisted on having proof and demonstration. "Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed."
3. And not only is there no blessing and praise, but there is no merit, no credit, no reward for believing a thing after you have proved and tested and tried it. There is no merit, e.g., in believing in the ebb and flow of the tide, or in the law of gravitation, or in the existence of flying machines, because we can prove the truth of these things nay day for ourselves; we know they are facts from the evidence of our own senses. In the same way the angels and saints in Heaven are deserving of no reward and no merit for believing all the truths revealed by God, because they see God face to face, and all truth in Him; they know it , as theologians would say, intuitively; they are constrained to believe, as they are constrained to love. The Beatific Vision is itself their reward. There is no room for faith in Heaven: faith is changed to sight. But to believe the dogmas of religion which are not susceptible of being tested by the senses, and whose mysteries we cannot fathom; to believe unhesitatingly in the reality of persons and places and things we never saw and cannot prove by natural reason or evidence – this is something altogether different, something wonderful and sublime. It is worthy of all reward, because it is so contrary to our natural inclinations, and because it brings into play so much higher and nobler an act of man’s intelligence. To believe, for example, with your whole heart and soul, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, that the Sacred Host is your Creator and your God under the species of bread, and that in Communion you receive God’s Precious Body and Soul into your own body and soul; to believe that the Blessed Virgin was conceived without that guilt and stain of sin which has rested on every other human being that ever lived; to believe in the existence of souls in Purgatory, and that indulgences can be applied by the living and to assist them – I say to believe all this, and much else in the Catholic Faith, needs faith – intense, profound, stupendous faith, in shot, Divine faith – and nothing less. It is not an ordinary act of the intellect, it is extraordinary – indeed, supernatural – and only a Catholic is capable of it. He accepts these truths of Revelation because God has taught them to him, and for this reason only; and for that God will reward him. He is not compelled to believe them against his will, as he is compelled to believe mathematical truths. Twice two are four; the whole is greater than the part; you have no choice there; you must believe that: it is what we call a "geometric necessity." But the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, the Real Presence – a man is free to reject them and take the consequences. Thousands and millions, as a matter of fact, have rejected them. In so doing they sin, more or less; in accepting them, you merit a reward exceeding great. "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed."
Protestant’s Faith through the Bible
Let us return now to the well-disposed Christian whom we pictured to ourselves as anxiously searching for the truth. Arrived at this point, he says: "I see now the necessity of faith and the true meaning of it. I see how reasonable it is. I am prepared to believe whatever Almighty God has revealed, no matter how dark and mysterious it may seem. But the difficulty with me now is, how am I to know what God has revealed? Where am I to find it? Who will unfold it to me?" Now here undoubtedly is the crux of the whole question, the key of the situation. It involves the tremendous controversy about authority in religion. To answer this question is to answer the question, "What is the Rule of Faith?" and the answer will depend upon whether he who makes it is Catholic or Protestant. Even among Protestants the answers will vary. Some, like the Rationalists, will claim Reason alone as their ultimate authority, admitting no religious truth but such as they can prove and understand. Others, like the Agnostics, will accept neither religion nor faith, and declare they can never be sure of knowing anything at all. But none of the systems would satisfy our inquirer, who professes to be a Christian acknowledging a supernatural Revelation; we need not, therefore, stop to discuss them. The only other possible answer from the non-Catholic side to the question "How am I to know what God has revealed?" is that which the vast majority of non-Catholics would offer – viz., "By the Bible. The Bible is the sole Rule of Faith. God has revealed all truth through the Bible. It is the Word of God, and what is not there, is not the Word of God."
Now, I do not intend, for the limits of space would not allow me, to prove at length the impossibility of the Bible as the rule of faith; that would involve a separate treatise by itself, and this can be found in many books, great and small, that deal specially with the subject. (On this question, I may, perhaps, be allowed to refer to "Where we got the Bible" which I wrote some years ago).
My purpose in these pages is rather to explain the Catholic position regarding authority in religion, to show how simple, logical, and reasonable it is, and withal, how satisfying to the intellect, comforting to the soul, and most conformable to the Holy Scripture itself. Nevertheless, I do not think it will be altogether useless if I devote at least one chapter to setting forth some plain and simple reasons why the Bible cannot of itself afford that certainty and completeness in matters of faith which every Christian desires to have.
Protestants, then, claim to go by the Bible and the Bible only; to take their religion from neither Church nor Pope, but from Holy Scripture alone. Let us grant that, for the present. As a matter of fact, they do not. They accept some things which are not in the Bible, and reject other things which are in the Bible. But that is a separate question altogether. I ma dealing now only with what they profess to do; and it is a fact that they profess to take the Bible alone as their rule of Faith. That Presbyterians and Nonconformists profess this, everybody knows; but for the Anglicans, too, in the last resort, the supreme deciding authority is the Bible. Some people might say that their supreme authority is the Privy Council, but the Anglicans object to this, and the Thirty-Nine Articles certainly name the Holy Scriptures as supreme. Article Vi., for example, on "The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation," begins in this manner: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that is should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." And Article XXI., on "The Authority of General Councils," says that "things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture."
The supreme authority for Catholics, on the other hand, is the living voice of the Catholic Church, speaking through the Pope or a General Council, and determining for us, with infallible assurance, what was the teaching of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, as found in Holy Scripture, and in Divine and Apostolic Tradition. For both Catholic and Protestant then, we may say, the authority in religion is the Word of God; but with this fundamental difference – a difference, indeed, so fundamental that it really constitutes who quite separate authorities: for the Protestant the "Word of God" means only the written Word, the Bible; whilst for the Catholic the Word of God is the Word both written and unwritten – that is, the Bible plus Tradition. I shall endeavor to show, as briefly as possible, how the Protestant system does not, and cannot, work. I shall try to demonstrate, in other words, the utter insufficiency of the Bible, taken alone, as a rule of faith, in the hope that any Protestant with a logical mind who may chance to see these pages, and wishes to have unassailable grounds for his belief and an impregnable rock for his faith, may be led by the grace of God to see that the Bible, apart from the Church, will not, and cannot, stand.
WHICH IS THE RIGHT BIBLE?
1. In the first place, without the Church you cannot tell which is the right Bible. Many Bibles have appeared, especially since the invention of printing, differing both in size and doctrine. Everybody who has looked through a Catalogue of Bibles – say in the British Museum – knows this much. You do not know which of them all is true, which is complete, which is correct. Out of all the writings – and they were many – that were in circulation and in use in the Church in Apostolic and sub-Apostolic days, and that claimed to be genuine, you do not know which should be excluded from it. You certainly cannot prove that your Bible contains precisely the inspired Word of God, no more and no less. You do not even know whether it is a correct version in English of the original languages – Hebrew and Greek – in which the Old Testament and New Testament respectively were first penned, or of the Aramaic language in which Our Blessed Lord spoke.
A famous book now lies before me, "Errata of the Protestant Bible," by Thomas Ward, Esq., in which that learned gentleman, so long ago as the seventeenth century, enumerates I know not how many hundreds of errors – corruptions, mistranslations, falsifications, and omissions – of which the English translators had even then been guilty, in their various versions of the original text. And "what avails it," he very justly asks, "for a Christian to believe that Scripture is the Word of God, if he be uncertain which coy and translation is true?" But you have neither the time nor the inclination, the scholarship nor the brains to undertake such an inquiry; and it would be evidently absurd to suppose that Almighty God required you to do it. For all this you must of necessity depend upon some higher authority.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH COMPILED THE BIBLE
Now, it was the Catholic Church, in point of fact, away back in the fourth century, that settled what exactly the Bible was to contain and what was to omit. She settled that by the decrees of her Councils – notably, those at Rome, Hippo, and Carthage, and by the decisions of her Popes, especially Gelasius, St. Damasus, and St. Innocent I. They separated the wheat from the chaff, the true from the false, the genuine from the spurious, the inspired from the uninspired; their judgment was accepted by universal Christendom for a thousand years, and is so accepted today; and thus it is to the Catholic Church the Protestant owes the Bible that he has, incomplete though it be. For, although he has rejected a certain number o the books admitted into the Canon by the Church of the fourth and fifth centuries, now forming part of the Catholic Bible, it still remains true that all the books found in his Bible today were first examined and accepted by the Catholic Church of that age. They al passed her censorship, so to speak, and were declared to be apostolic and inspired. Without the Church’s authority, therefore, and her venerable seal of approbation, you could not possibly define what the contents of the Bible should be. You might, indeed, compile a volume of Scripture according to your own notions, as many Protestants have done, producing Bibles of varying sizes and contents; you might include in such a collection some works of the great-poets, as other Protestants seem anxious to do; but after all, you would have no guarantee that it was the Bible Almighty God intended, and that is the main thing.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS OF ITSELF
2. Then in the next place, the Bible was never meant to be, and nowhere claims to be, the sole organ of God’s Revelation, the sole depository of His revealed truth. There is not a single text nor any command of God to that effect. On the other hand, there are texts to prove that the writers of the New Testament themselves taught the necessity of listening to the voice of Tradition (the unwritten Word of God) as well as to that of the Sacred Scriptures (the written Word); they could not have conceived of a Christian doing anything else. For instance, only a part of our Lord’s words and deeds is reported in the Holy Gospels. St. John says (xxi. 25): "There are many other things which Jesus did, which, if they were written, everyone, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written." St. Paul, writing to his Thessalonian converts, bids them "hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our Epistle" (2 Thess. ii. 14). The Apostle, it will be observed, here places on one and the same level of authority all inspired teaching, whether it be committed to writing or conveyed only by word of mouth. The same remark applies to that other injunction of his to St. Timothy (2 Tim. ii. 2): "The things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men who shall be fit to teach others also." Where are all these traditions – apostolic and Divine traditions, not the mere "word of man" Protestants are so fond of reproaching us with, but the Word of God handed down orally – where are all those Divine words concerning "the kingdom of God" that Our Lord spoke during the forty days between His Resurrection and His Ascension (Acts i. 3)? They were the complement of the written Word; they were not, and could not be, lost; they were transmitted with the same veneration as were the Holy Scriptures from one generation to another; that is certain. But it is equally certain that they are repudiated by Protestantism.
To continue, then, I say that an honest pagan, or unprejudiced outsider of any kind, would never come to the conclusion, from a calm reading of the Bibl, that it sets itself up as an exhaustive and exclusive statement of all truths revealed by God, and he would never find God appealing to it as such. He would not even discover Holy Scripture anywhere making any claim for itself to be inspired. The words of St. Paul to St. Timothy (2 Tim. iii. 16) commonly relied upon to prove this latter claim – "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable," as King James’s version has it; or "every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable," as the Revised Version more correctly has it – these words, I say, are wholly inept as regards the New Testament, for they refer to the Scriptures of the Old Testament; and even so, they tell nothing against Tradition, and give us no information whatsoever as to which books are inspired Scripture, and which are not.
THE BIBLE NOT ITS OWN GUARANTEE
3. But further, even supposing the Scriptures did claim for themselves to be inspired, that of itself could never satisfy us. The Bible cannot possibly be its own witness, its own guarantee. Every document must be authenticated and certified as correct by some authority extrinsic to itself. This is common sense, and it is universally admitted. If a book is put into my hands claiming it to be a Revelation from God – "The Flying Roll," for example, is often offered to people as such – I must have some satisfactory proof that it is a Revelation; that it is genuine, that it is what it claims to be. No prudent or sensible man would be satisfied with the claims of the book itself. Or if I receive a document purporting to contain some provisions of great importance or benefit to me, I must have it guaranteed and authenticated by irrefragable evidence. I must have proof that it is not a mere sham or imposture; its own unsupported claims would never be considered in themselves decisive. If I demanded before a judge that its provisions should be carried out on my behalf without any proof, I should be at once, and very properly, laughed out of court.
We all know there have been many sects, even in modern times, that pretended to possess new Revelations made by God. Why not admit all these as genuine and Divine? Your answer: "I must first have some proof, some authority, that they are Divine, and this is wanting." I reply that is precisely the Catholic contention about the Bible. I must first have evidence, testimony, guarantee, credentials, call it what you will, external to the Bible itself, to assure me that it really is the inspired Word of God, that the New Testament really is the authentic and genuine work of the Apostles and Evangelists of Jesus Christ. And such there is none, except the tradition and authority of the Catholic Church. It was this that made St. Augustine, as early as the fifth century, declare, in the ever-memorable words: "I would not believe the Gospel if the authority of the Catholic Church did not oblige me to believe it."