Bishop Bull was one of the most learned of the seventeenth-century divines. His greatest work was the Defence of the Nicene Creed, written in Latin, and published in 1685, the purpose of which was to show that no change of faith was introduced by the Nicene Council, but that the doctrine there expounded was the doctrine of the Church from the beginning. This was followed by his Judgment of the Catholic Church of the First Three Centuries on the Necessity of Believing that our Lord Jesus Christ is very God, published in 1694. A copy of this work having been sent to Bossuet by Robert Nelson, the Bishop returned a warm letter of thanks, together with the unfeigned congratulations (to the author) of all the clergy of France assembled in this place (St. Germain-en-Laye, July, 1700) for the service that he does the Catholic Church in so well defending her determination of the necessity of believing the Divinity of the Son of God. At the same time he expressed his astonishment that Bull did not join the Catholic Church. This led to a reply by Bull, to which, when published, he gave the name of the Corruptions of the Church of Rome. From this treatise and from his sermons the following extracts are taken:
The Primitive Church
Of the Catholic Church of the three first centuries I do indeed speak with great deference. To her judgment (next to the Holy Scriptures) I appeal against the oppugners of our Lord’s divinity at this day, whether Arians or Socinians. The rule of faith, the Symbols or Creeds, the profession whereof was in those ages the condition of communion with the Catholic Church (mentioned by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others), I heartily and firmly believe. This primitive Catholic Church as to her government and discipline, her doctrine of faith and her worship of God, I think ought to be the standard by which we are to judge of the orthodoxy and purity of all other succeeding Churches, according to that excellent rule of Tertullian, “De Praescript. adv. Haer.,” cap. xx., xxi. (Corruptions, etc.).
The Catholic Church
If the Bishop asks me what I mean by the Catholic Church, speaking of it as now it is, I answer, By the Catholic Church I mean the Church Universal, being a collection of all the Churches throughout the world who retain the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3); that is, who hold and profess, in the substance of it, that faith and religion which was delivered by the Apostles of Christ to the first original Churches, according to Tertullian’s rule above mentioned. Which faith and religion is contained in the Holy Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, and the main fundamentals of it comprised in the canon or rule of faith universally received throughout the Primitive Churches, and the profession thereof acknowledged to be a sufficient tessera or badge of a Catholic Christian. All the Churches at this day which hold and profess this faith and religion, however distant in places, or distinguished by different rites and ceremonies, yea, or divided on some extra-fundamental points of doctrine, yet agreeing in the essentials of the Christian religion, make up together one Christian Catholic Church under the Lord Christ, the supreme Head thereof.
I wonder why M. de Meaux [Bishop Bossuet] should ask me whether by the Catholic Church I mean the Church of Rome or the Church of England. He knows full well I mean neither the one nor the other. For to say either of the Church of Rome, or the Church of England, or of the Greek Church, or of any other particular Church, of what denomination soever, that it is the Catholic or Universal Church would be as absurd as to affirm that a part is the whole (ibid.).
The Church of Rome
The Church of Rome hath quite altered the primitive ecclesiastical government, changed the primitive canon or rule of faith, and miserably corrupted the primitive liturgy or form of divine worship.
The Church of Rome hath changed the primitive canon or rule of faith by adding new articles to it, as necessary to be believed in order to salvation. Look to the confession of faith according to the Council of Trent.
It seems no other union of the Church will satisfy the Bishop but an union of all the Churches of Christ throughout the world under one visible Head, having a jurisdiction over them all, and that head the Bishop of Rome for the time being. But such an union as this was never dreamed of amongst Christians for at least the first six hundred years.
I verily believe they are in great danger of their salvation who live in her communion; that is, who own her erroneous doctrines and join in her corrupt worship (ibid.).
The government of the Catholic Church was in the primitive times distributed among the several chief bishops or primates of the provinces, neither of them being accountable to the other, but all of them to an Ecumenical Council, which was then held to be the only supreme visible judge of controversies arising in the Church, and to have the power of finally deciding them. The universal pastorship or government of the Catholic Church was never claimed by any Bishop till towards the end of the sixth century, and then it was thought to be challenged by John, Patriarch of Constantinople, assuming to himself the title of Ecumenical or Universal Bishop: when Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, vehemently opposed, pronouncing him the forerunner of Antichrist who durst usurp so arrogant a title. … And yet this “name of vanity,” this “new and profane title” of Universal Bishop, was afterwards accepted by Boniface III. Bishop of Rome, when it was offered him by that bloody miscreant Phocas the Emperor; and the same title hath been owned by the succeeding Bishops of the Roman Church and that, as due to them by divine right. Nay, the universal pastorship and jurisdiction of the Roman Bishop over all Bishops and Churches is now no longer a mere Court opinion, maintained only by the Pope’s parasites and flatterers, but is become a part of the faith of the Church of Rome. … for the Court is entered into the Church of Rome, or rather, the Court and Church of Rome are all one (ibid.).
This proposition, that in the Mass there is offered to God a true, proper and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead, having that other of the substantial presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist immediately annexed the meaning of it must necessarily be this, that in the Eucharist the very Body and Blood of Christ are again offered up to God as a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of men: which is an impious proposition, derogatory to the one full satisfaction of Christ made by His death on the Cross and contrary to express Scripture, Heb. vii. 27; and ix. 12, 25, 26, 28; and x. 12, 14. … The Eucharistical sacrifice is a reasonable sacrifice, widely different from that monstrous sacrifice of the Mass, taught in the Church of Rome (ibid.).
That in the Eucharist there is made a conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood of Christ is a proposition that bids defiance to all the reason and sense of mankind. Nor (God be praised) hath it any ground or foundation in Divine Revelation. Nay, the text of Scripture on which the Church of Rome builds this article, duly considered, utterly subverts and over throws it. She grounds it upon the words of the institution of the holy sacrament by our Saviour. But these words could not be true in a proper sense; for our Saviour’s body was not then given or broken, nor was there one drop of His Blood yet shed. The words therefore must be understood in a figurative sense; and then what be comes of the doctrine of Transubstantiation? As little foundation hath this doctrine of Transubstantiation in the ancient Church (ibid.).
This article of the sufficiency of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, taken only in one kind, as it refers to and is designed to justify the practice of the Roman Church in the constant and public administration of the sacrament to all the laity only in one kind, viz., the bread, denying them the cup, is manifestly against our Saviour’s first institution of the sacrament, against Apostolical practice and the usage of the universal Church of Christ for a thousand years, as is confessed by divers learned men of the Roman communion. And yet, according to the Trent Creed, all men are damned that do not assent to the insolent and (as I may justly term it) antichristian decree of the Roman Church in this point (ibid.).
The true rise and growth of the doctrine of Purgatory is plainly this. About the middle of the third century Origen, among other Platonick conceits of his, vented this, that all the faithful (the Apostles themselves not excepted) shall at the Day of Judgment pass through a purgatory fire, the fire of the great conflagration, which they shall endure for a longer or shorter time according as their imperfections require a greater or lesser purgation. And in this conceit, directly contrary to many express texts of Scripture, he was followed, for the greatness of his name, by some other great men in the Church of God. But how different this Purgatory is from the Roman, every man of sense will presently discern. Afterwards, about the end of the fourth or the beginning of the fifth century, St. Austin began to doubt whether this imagined purgation were not to be made in the interval between death and the resurrection, at least as to the souls of the more imperfect Christians. And tis strange to observe how he is off and on in this question. And yet it is not strange neither, considering how easily he may, nay, how necessarily he must, be at a loss, that leaves the plain and beaten track of the Holy Scriptures and primitive tradition, to hunt after his own conceits and imaginations. Towards the end of the sixth century Pope Gregory, a man known to be superstitious enough, undertook dogmatically to assert the problem, and with might and main set himself to prove it, chiefly from the idle stories of apparitions of souls coming out of Purgatory. Four hundred years after, Pope John XVIII or as some say XIX instituted a holy day wherein he severely required all men to pray for the souls in Purgatory; as if the Catholic Church before him had been deficient in charity and had forgotten the miserable souls in that place of torment. At length the cabal at Florence, in the year 1439, turned the dream into an article of faith, so that now they are damned to hell that will not believe in a Purgatory. And the Pope’s vassals still tenaciously hold and fiercely maintain the doctrine, not so much for the godliness as for the gain of it (Sermon III.).
As to what the Romanists tell us of the Glass of the Trinity and extraordinary revelations, they are bold, presumptuous conjectures, destitute of any ground or colour from reason or Scripture, and indeed are inconsistent with one another. To be sure, that Glass of the Trinity would never have passed with the Fathers of the first ages, for they generally held that the souls of the righteous (some indeed excepted the souls of the martyrs) do not presently after death ascend to the third heaven, but go to a place and state of inferior bliss and happiness (which they commonly call by the name of Paradise, though where it is situated they do not all agree), and there remain till the resurrection of their bodies; after which they shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, and there for ever enjoy the consummate bliss and happiness which consists in that clear vision of God which the Holy Scripture calls “seeing Him face to face.” And indeed their distinction of Paradise (the receptacle of holy souls presently after death) from the third heaven seems to have firm ground in the New Testament. However, this was a current doctrine in the Christian Church for many ages, till at length the Popish Council of Florence boldly determined the contrary, defining that those souls, which having contracted the blemish of sin, being, either in their bodies or out of them, purged from it, are presently received into heaven, and there clearly behold God Himself, one God in three Persons, as He is. This decree they craftily made, partly to establish the superstition of praying to saints deceased, whom they would make us to believe to see and know all our necessities and concerns in speculo Trinitatis, and so to be fit objects of our religious invocation; partly and chiefly to confirm the doctrine of Purgatory, and that the prayers of the ancient Church for the dead might be thought to be founded upon a supposition that the souls of some, nay most, faithful persons after death go into a place of grievous torment; out of which they may be delivered by the prayers, Masses, and alms of the living ( Corruptions, etc.).
Invocation of Saints
For the worship and invocation of saints deceased there is no ground or foundation in the Holy Scripture, no precept, no example. Nay, it is by evident consequence forbidden in the prohibition of the worship and invocation of angels, Colossians 2:18. Now if we must not pray to angels, then much less may we pray to saints. Against the invocation of angels and saints we have the concurrent testimonies of all the Catholic Fathers of the first three centuries at least (ibid etc.).
The expression of “the blessed Virgin” doubt less signifies but the same thing, though in wider extent, with that of Leah upon the birth of her son Asher, Gen. xxx. 13, where the LXX. hath it, “Happy am I, for the daughters shall call me blessed.” No man can be so foolish as to imagine she meant that the daughters should pray to her and worship her, but only that they should think and acknowledge her a happy woman. So here when the holy Virgin saith, ” All generations shall call me blessed,” she means no more than that all generations should, upon the account of her bringing into the world the common Saviour, esteem and proclaim her the most blessed woman. We abominate the impious imposture of those who have translated the most humble and holy Virgin into an idol of pride and vanity, and represented her as a vain-glorious and aspiring creature, like Lucifer (I tremble at the comparison), thirsting after Divine worship and honour and seeking out superstitious men and women, whom she may oblige to her more especial service, and make them her perpetual votaries. For what greater affront than this could they have offered to her humility and sanctity? (Sermon IV).
Hear the judgment of the learned and pious Cassander: “It seems to me much more proper that all such ostentation of miracles were forborne and the people were invited to worship the true relics of saints : that is, the examples of piety and virtue they have left behind them for our imitations, as is recorded in what has been written either by them or of them (Corruptions, etc.).
Is this really an article of the Catholic Christian faith, without belief whereof there is no salvation? What then is become of the Catholic Church of the first three centuries and downwards? For it is certain that the Church of those days never allowed the use of images in her oratories or conventicles, much less the adoration or worship of them. The words of Epiphanius are these: “At my entrance into the church to pray, I saw there a veil hanging within the doors of the same church, dyed, and painted, and having the image as it were of Christ or some saint, for I do not well remember whose it was. When therefore I had seen this image of a man hanging in the church of Christ, against the authority of the Scriptures, I tore it in pieces and advised the keepers of the place to wrap therewith a poor dead man and carry him to burial in it. … And I beseech thee [the Bishop of Jerusalem] to command for the future that no such veils as are contrary to our religion be hung up in the Church of Christ.”
What good use at all can be made of these images and this image-worship? The answer of the Romanist here is that these images are books fit to instruct the ignorant laity that cannot read the Holy Scriptures, and apt to raise devotion in them. But to this plea for image-worship, made use of by Wading, a Jesuit of Antwerp, his learned antagonist returns this excellent answer: ” I deny not but images may be of use to the stupid vulgar, who are led only by their senses, for raising their devotion at the sight of them; but see, I pray you, whether many more and greater disadvantages are not to be feared from the use and worship of them.” (ibid.)
Purgatory and Papal Indulgences are both of them later inventions. But I think when men were first seduced to a belief of Purgatory, they were not yet presently so foolish as to think that any one mortal man had power by his pardons to deliver men out of it. Antichristianism in the Roman Church did not presently come to that maturity, nor was the Papal power so soon advanced to that prodigious height and greatness.
And if the men that influenced and governed the Trent Convention had had any true sense of religion, they would have denounced an anathema against this vile doctrine and practice, and not (as they have done) decreed, and that as an article of faith without any restriction or qualification, “that the use of Indulgence is highly conducive to the salvation of Christians.” But they were the Pope’s vassals, and received their instructions from Rome not to repress anything, though never so much amiss, that tended to the grandeur and gain of that see (ibid.).
Corruptions in Worship
So corrupt a faith could not but produce as corrupt a worship. The prayers of that Church are in a tongue generally not understood by the people, contrary to reason, which of itself dictates that when we pray to God we ought to understand our own prayers; contrary to the plain declaration of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 14; contrary to the practice of the Catholic Church in the first ages. Now there are no such Common Prayers in the Church of Rome; the priests say and do all, the people being left to gaze about, or to whisper one to another, or to look upon their private manuals of devotion, according as their inclination leads them.
The Liturgy of the present Church of Rome is interspersed with supplications and prayers to angels and saints. It is visible to all men with what zeal these silly deluded souls run to the shrines of the saints. I do affirm that there are still such addresses and forms of prayer to the blessed Virgin either enjoined or allowed by authority to be used in the Church of Rome as no man who hath a due concern for the honour of his Redeemer can read or hear without abhorrence and detestation. Sure I am most of the arguments Epiphanius useth against the Collyridians may serve every whit as well against the Papists.
To pass by the worship of images … she hath taken from the laity the blessed cup, contrary to our blessed Saviour s express command, as expounded by the practice of the Apostles and of the universal Church of Christ for the first ten centuries.
Besides, the whole administration is so clogged, so metamorphozed and defaced by the addition of a multitude of ceremonies, and those some of them more becoming the stage than the Table of our Lord, that if the blessed Apostles were alive and present at the celebration of the Mass in the Roman Church, they would be amazed and wonder what the meaning of it was. Sure I am they would never own it to be that same ordinance which they left to the Churches (ibid.).
The worst ceremony of all is the Elevation of the Host, to be adored by the people as very Christ Himself under the appearance of bread, whole Christ, God and Man, while they neglect the old Sursum corda, the lifting up of their hearts to heaven, where whole Christ indeed is. A practice this is which nothing can excuse from the grossest idolatry but their gross stupidity, or rather infatuation, in thinking that a piece of bread can by any means whatsoever, or howsoever consecrated and blessed, become their very God and Saviour a very sad excuse indeed (ibid.).
Processions and Solitary Masses
By what reason, by what Scripture, by what example or practice of the primitive Churches can the Romanists defend their carrying about the holy sacrament in procession, or the mockery of their solitary Masses? (ibid.).
The Church of Rome teacheth and avoweth such doctrine as evidently and utterly destroys the necessity of a holy life and encourageth men to hope they shall reap in mercy though they sow not to themselves in righteousness. Such is that doctrine of theirs, that a man by Attrition, or such a sorrow for sin as ariseth only from fear and is void of charity and the love of God above all things, with the help of the sacrament of Penance, that is, of confession to and absolution from a priest, may obtain the pardon of his sins, justification and eternal life. This dangerous proposition the Council of Trent doth plainly enough assert. The sum of their doctrine then is plainly this, that true Contrition, joined with the love of God above all things, is indeed a thing very desirable and most acceptable to God even without the sacrament of Penance; but because very few have this true contrition, that therefore God out of His infinite mercy and indulgence hath provided for the common salvation of men in a more easy way (they are the very words of the Catechism); and that therefore He hath appointed the sacrament of Penance as a help or crutch to a lame and defective repentance, as a supply to their contrition and sorrow for sin wherein the love of God above all things is wanting.
Need I show the danger of this doctrine? It is indeed a doctrine so dangerous, so damnable, that it seems of itself sufficient to unchristian and unchurch any society of men that shall teach and maintain it. It razeth the very foundations of the Gospel : it takes away those two great hinges upon which all the law and prophets depend and turn, viz, the love of God above all things and of our neighbour as ourselves for God’s sake. For these, according to this doctrine, are not necessary. The rare device of the sacrament of Penance can reconcile men to God without them, and by this expedient men that have never loved God with all their hearts in all their days on earth may forever enjoy God in heaven. People may expiate their sins, at this rate of a servile Attrition, as often as they commit them, and so be saved without ever having loved God above all things in their lives.
But the danger of this doctrine will more evidently appear if we apply it to such as are at the point of death. Suppose a man to have lived in a course of wickedness for fifty or sixty years, and, being now upon his death-bed, to be attrite for his sins, that is, heartily to grieve for them only out of the fear of hell, and in that fear to purpose amendment of life if God restore him, and to have a hope of pardon (and in so comfortable a Church as the Roman, who hath any reason to despair?) this man according to the doctrine of the Council of Trent, though he cannot be saved without the sacrament of Penance, yet with it he may. If he have but breath enough to tell the priest the sad story of his vicious life, and beg absolution, he can do wonders for him, more than God Himself ever promised. He can, by pronouncing only a few words over him, presently translate him from death to life, and make him that was all his life before a child of the devil in one moment the child of God and an heir of salvation.
It is evident that the Church of Rome, in teaching this vile doctrine, aims only at her own interest and advantage, and hath no regard at all to the honour of God and the good of souls. It is absolutely necessary, she saith, for a sinner to make an auricular confession to, and be absolved by, a priest, though God hath nowhere said so. But it is not necessary for him to be contrite or to repent of his sins out of the love of God, though God Himself in His own Word hath an hundred times said it is (Sermon I.).
Not Godliness, but Gain
The trade of auricular confession must by any means be kept up, because from thence they reap no small gain; and besides, by it they govern not only the silly common people but great men and kings and princes by becoming masters of their secrets. What can the doctrine of men’s playing an after-game for their salvation in Purgatory be designed for but to enhance the price of the priests Masses and Dirges for the dead? Why must a solitary Mass, bought for a piece of money, performed and participated by a priest alone in a private corner of the Church, be, not only against the sense of Scripture and the Primitive Church but also against commonsense and grammar, called a Communion, and be accounted useful to him that buys it, though he never himself receive, the sacrament or but once a year ; but for this reason, that there is great gain but no godliness at all in this doctrine? Why in their public Eucharists must the priest only receive in both kinds, and the people be put off with a piece of a sacrament, against the plainest texts of Scripture and the practice of the Catholic Church for at least a thousand years after Christ, but that this tends to the advancement of the honour and estimation of the priest as being alone qualified to offer up an entire sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood? The sacrilegious practice indeed came in first upon the pretence of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, but interest afterwards confirmed the practice. Nay, their very monstrous doctrine of Transubstantiation, though it seems to be fallen on by chance in a most ignorant age, evidently serves the same design. Again, to what purpose is there feigned a treasury of the merits of saints in the Church of Rome, and that under the Pope’s lock and key, but to fill his treasury with money? And who hath not heard of their Indulgences of pardon to the greatest sins and sinners openly set to sale and made a trade of? This is sufficient to show that gain, not godliness, is the design of the Roman Church (ibid.).
They vehemently urge people to their beads and the repeating of Ave Marias and Pater Nosters, to external abstinences and penances (if they find them apt to receive their discipline), to pilgrimages and offerings at the shrines of saints, to the endowments of monasteries and religious houses, as they call them, to a multitude of superstitious fopperies and ceremonies that require so much time and care for their performance as to eat out the very heart and life of true piety. And those that will do this drudgery of theirs (and what will not men do to be freed from the hard task of inward piety?) they can easily excuse from the truly good and essential works of religion, yea, and persuade them to a presumption of meriting heaven, though in the meanwhile they are apparently men of unmortified affection and vicious lives, especially if they are zealous for the Catholic cause, and against those whom they are pleased to call heretics. Nay, if they have this zeal they will forgive them all the rest (ibid.).
Let us bless God that we live in a Church wherein no other name is invocated but the Name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, nor divine worship given to any but to the one true God through Jesus Christ the only Mediator. O happy we, if we knew and valued our own happiness! But alas! alas! many of us do not. … God grant that we do not provoke Him to recall that mercy, which ourselves indeed throw back in His face, as if it were not worth our acceptance, and to cause a dark night of Popery to return on us, wherein a superstitious and idolatrous worship shall be thrust upon us, yea, and we shall be compelled to forbidden and idolatrous worship or to death; wherein our Bibles, that we now not only with liberty but encouragement carry about us, shall be snatched out of our hands, and fabulous lying legends put in the room of them; wherein our excellent Liturgy in a tongue we all understand shall be abolished, and the abominable Roman Mass placed in its stead; wherein the Cup of blessing in the holy Eucharist shall be sacrilegiously taken from us, which is now openly and freely held forth to us all, and that in so excellent a way of administration that the whole Christian world beside is not able at this day to show the like. … We should then cast back a kind and mournful eye upon our dear mother, the Church of England, whose very bowels we now tear and rip up by our wicked schisms. We should then wish ourselves in the safe arms of her communion once again and resolve never more to depart from it. Let us do that now whilst it is seasonable, which we shall then wish we had done, but cannot do (Sermon IV.).
According to this rule [of Tertullian] the Church of England will be found the best and purest Church at this day in the Christian world. Upon which account I bless God that I was born, baptized, and bred up in her communion, wherein I firmly resolve by His grace to persist as long as I live (Corruptions, etc.).
Can men disloyal to the reformed Anglican Church claim to be the successors of Bishop Bull?