With this I have cleared my conscience. This book shall be my witness concerning the measure and the manner in which I advise war against the Turk. If any will proceed otherwise, let him proceed, win or lose. I shall not enjoy his victory and not pay for his defeat, but shall be innocent of all the blood that will be shed in vain. I know that this book will not make the Turk a gracious lord to me, if it comes before him; nevertheless, I have wished to tell my Germans the truth, so far as I know it, and give faithful counsel and service to the grateful and the ungrateful alike.
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.
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.
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.
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.