While Roman Catholics are now mainly agreed on the principle that the Pope is infallible, the greatest differences of opinion will be found among them as to whether any particular papal utterance is infallible; and any Roman Catholic who does not like to accept any decision of the Pope need have no difficulty in producing a parallel case of some previous decision, to all appearance possessing the same claims to reverence, but which is now acknowledged to have been wrong. So that, in short, I do not know how to sum up the Roman Catholic doctrine on this subject except by the formula, The Pope is always infallible, except when he makes a mistake.
Although the question of the Infallibility of the Pope is that with which I am directly concerned in this course of Lectures, yet in treating of the matter historically I have found it necessary, before entering on the discussion of it, to trace the growth of Roman Supremacy because the claim to Infallibility was the last stage in the progress of Roman ambition.
In tracing the history of the growth of the empire of heathen Rome, we find the city first battling with the neighbouring Italian towns then, when it had established its dominion in Italy, crossing the sea, and making conquests in foreign countries. At length its expansive power reaches its limits it gains some temporary victories in Parthia and Germany, but never makes a permanent conquest of these countries. In like manner, in tracing the history of the growth of the ecclesiastical empire of Rome, we find that the movement began at Rome itself: that it was at first resisted in its own immediate neighbourhood that by degrees it triumphed over that opposition, and extended itself over all the West.
The history of Development can only tell us what has been, not what ought to be. The cases of Episcopacy and Papal Supremacy are not parallel because the former institution dates from apostolic times; and if it can be shown that it was established by apostles, then it can claim a right to permanent continuance. But what claim for permanence can be made on behalf of any form of Church government which confessedly shaped itself at least two or three centuries after the apostles were all dead?
I go on now to consider Peter’s connexion with Rome, which I look on as a mere historical problem, without any doctrinal significance whatever way it may be determined. The generally received account among Roman Catholics, and one which can claim a long traditional acceptance, is that Peter came to Rome in the second year of Claudius (that is, A.D. 42), and that he held the see twenty-five years, a length of episcopate never reached again until by Pio Nono, who exceeded it
It remains now to speak of that theory of Infallibility which makes the Pope personally its organ. It is the theory now in the ascendant and, since the Vatican Council, may be regarded as the theory recognised exclusively by the Roman Church: and it is the only theory which satisfies the demands of the a priori arguments showing the necessity of an infallible guide. What these arguments try to show to be needful is a guidable infallibly to resolve every controversy as it arises and this need can only be satisfied by a living speaking voice, not by the dead records of past councils.
It is plain how the chance of arriving at truth is prejudiced by the claim to infallibility. If no such claim were made, the majority would be forced to weigh the arguments of the minority, to count the risk of driving them into schism, to take care not to seem before the world to have the worst of the argument. But when infallibility is supposed to rest with the ultimate vote, the majority have no need to care about the arguments advanced. Secure a vote, no matter how, and all is gained.
I shall presently produce evidence that even those Councils, to whose decisions we cordially assent, were composed of frail and fallible men that the proceedings of some of them were conducted in a way that does not command our respect, and that the ultimate triumph of orthodoxy was due to other causes besides the decisions of these Councils.
The branch of the subject which I will now take up is the discussion of the different theories as to the organ of the Church’s infallibility which have been held in the Roman Church. I will not dwell on what I have already said: that if the gift of infallibility had been believed in and exercised from the first, it was impossible that controversy as to its seat should ever arise.
There is no error committed by the Popes or their councillors which we ought to be more ready to pardon and to sympathize with for their mistake was prompted by reverence for Scripture, and quite similar mistakes have been since committed by highly respected men in our own communion. But still if we make mistakes we confess them and profit by them. We do not pretend to be possessors of any infallibly accurate interpretation of Scripture, and we therefore cannot omit to use one of the few opportunities open to us of testing the pretensions of those who do make this claim.
Popular Romanism is certainly not the same as the Romanism of the schools, I hold that it is the former which has the best right to be accounted the faith of the Church. Let popular belief come first, and scholastic definition and apology will come in its own good time afterwards. I have already remarked how seldom the infallible authority is exercised to guide men’s belief as long as it is doubtful but usually only comes in when all controversy is over, to ratify the result which public opinion had already arrived at.
I have heard Roman Catholic laymen express the utmost astonishment at hearing their Church charged with want of positiveness in her utterances, this being, in their opinion, the last fault that can be charged upon her. But this is because they only know how she speaks to those who will not venture to challenge the correctness of her teaching.
Let us examine, then, by the evidence of facts, whether the Church of Rome believes her own claim to infallibility. Acting is the test of belief. If a quack claimed to have a universal medicine, warranted to cure all diseases, we should not need to inquire into the proofs of its virtues if we saw his own children languishing in sickness, and found that he never tried his medicine on them. If an alchemist asserted that he possessed the philosopher’s stone, and could turn the baser metals into gold, his pretensions would be disposed of if we saw his own family starving, and that he made no attempt to make any gold to relieve them.
Roman Catholic controversialists have called the Bible a nose of wax, which any man can twist as he pleases. This is true if you adopt the allegorical method of interpretation, or rather then, if it had been a nose of iron, it would make no difference, so powerful is the wrenching instrument employed.
Without doubt it is a most manifest fall from faith, and a most certain sign of pride, to introduce anything that is not written in the Scriptures, our blessed Saviour having said, “My sheep hear My voice, and the voice of strangers they will not hear” and to detract from Scripture, or to add anything to the faith that is not there, is most manifestly forbidden by the Apostle saying, “If it be but a man’s testament, no man addeth thereto.”
The simple answer, then, to the question, why we do not use traditions as well as Scripture in the proof of Christian doctrine, is that we do not know of any trustworthy enough and what we have seen of the failure of tradition proves to us that there were good reasons why God should have granted us in Scripture a more secure channel for conveying Christian truth. But if it is alleged that it can be established by uninspired testimony that any doctrine not contained in Scripture is part of the Christian scheme, let the evidence be produced, and we are willing to consider it.
I maintain that it is the office of the Church to teach but that it is her duty to do so, not by making assertion merely, but by offering proofs and, again, that while it is the duty of the individual Christian to receive with deference the teaching of the Church, it is his duty also not listlessly to acquiesce in her statements but to satisfy himself of the validity of her proofs.
The question is, therefore, whether God hates error so very much more than He hates sin, that He has taken precautions against the entrance of the one which He has not seen fit to use in order to guard against the other. We hold that what He has done in both cases is strikingly parallel. First, His great gift to His people, that of the Holy Spirit, is equally their safeguard against sin and against error. He is equally the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Holiness. It is His office to inform our understanding, by taking of the things of Christ and showing them to us and to direct our wills, and make them conformed to that of Christ.
I have already expressed my opinion that if you concede Milner his axioms, and then try to take your stand on the Bible as a guide which satisfies the conditions which these axioms impose, you will certainly be defeated. But, in real truth, Milner might have spared himself the trouble of writing the rest of his book, when he begins by taking for granted that God has provided us with an infallible guide, or, to use his own words, with ‘a never failing rule, which is never liable to lead a sincere inquirer into error of any kind.’ Observe the monstrous character of the claim. We are to be supernaturally guarded not merely against deadly error, but against error of any kind.
The simple answer to Newman’s talk about certainty is got by observing what is the kind of things about which we can have practical certainty. They are the things about which our own judgments agree with those of all other men. The truths which we have the highest confidence in accepting are those which commend themselves as plain and self-evident to everyone else as well as to ourselves. Is the infallibility of the Roman Church a truth of this class? We know, as a matter of fact, that it is not.
Now before we can use these texts to prove the Church’s infallibility, private judgment must decide that the books cited are the Word of God, and private judgment must interpret the texts brought forward and if private judgment can be trusted to do this, it would seem that it might be trusted to decide other questions too.
The Infallibility Of The Church. Chapter 2: The Cardinal Importance of the Question of Infallibility
You must carefully observe that the Doctrine of Development would be fatal to the Roman Catholic cause if separated from the doctrine of the Infallibility of the Church. Without the latter doctrine the former, as I have already pointed out, leads to Protestantism or to infidelity rather than Romanism. In fact, the motto of the doctrine of Development is ‘We are much wiser men than our fathers.’
I am not in the least ashamed of the object aimed at in the Roman Catholic controversy. I believe that the Church of Rome teaches false doctrine on many points which must be called important, if anything in religion can be called important; and it is not merely that on some particular points the teaching of that Church is erroneous, but they who submit to her are obliged to surrender their understanding to her, and submit to be led blindfold they know not whither. I count it, then, a very good work to release a man from Roman bondage – a release of which I think he will be the better, both as regards the things of eternity and those of time.