Chapter II : The Infallibility of the Church

The issues of the Protestant controversy with the Roman Catholic Church (says Salmon) "mainly turn on one great question," that, namely, of the infallibility of the Church. If the Roman Catholic Church is infallible, then obviously it is too late to appeal against it either to Scripture or to history. [12]

Before I comment on this statement of what Salmon conceived to be the main issue between Protestants and Catholics, I think it desirable to scrutinise some of the other statements in the first chapter of the Abridgement. Thus, as an example of Salmon's controversial tone, it may be observed that after stating that in the Tracts for the Times Newman and his co-adjutors, being then Protestants, had published "excellent refutations of the Roman doctrine on purgatory and on some other points" he goes on to say that, on joining the Church, these men "bound themselves to believe and teach as true things which they had themselves proved to be false." [13] The word "proved" here may or may not be meant to suggest that these converts were insincere in their profession of doctrines against which they had formerly argued. It certainly leaves an unpleasant flavour on the tongue, and it would have been easy to substitute "rejected as false" for "proved to be false." A writer who can either cleverly or negligently arouse such suspicions by the casual use of a single word needs to be watched carefully when he comes to make broad historical statements.

Again, it is inaccurate to say that the writers of the Tracts "allowed themselves to be persuaded" that Christ must have provided some infallible guide to truth, and then

"accepted the Church of Rome as that guide, with scarcely an attempt to make a careful scrutiny of the grounds of her pretensions, and merely because, if she were not that guide, they knew not where else to find it." [14]

This is doubly inaccurate. Newman has himself told us how his case against the Catholic Church in his Protestant days had been that while the Church could claim "universality" in contrast to the provincialism of the Anglican Church, the Anglicans could appeal to "antiquity" against the corruption of Rome. The crisis came for him when he realised, not the need of an infallible guide, but that antiquity itself gave its witness for Roman Catholicism against Anglicanism. And as for the suggestion that submission to the Church was made with "scarcely an attempt to make a careful scrutiny of the grounds of her pretensions," Salmon can hardly have been ignorant that Newman's conversion took about six years and bore fruit in the great Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, a work which is a landmark in Christian thought and in itself a profound examination of the credibility of the Catholic claim.

Nor is it in the least reasonable to suggest that Newman "may have thought" that submission meant no more than belief "that everything the Church of Rome then taught was infallibly true" but not everything that she might subsequently teach. [15] The whole Essay is concerned to show that dogmatic and doctrinal developments need not be inconsistent with fidelity to "the faith once delivered" (Jude 3) and we may assume that it had occurred to Newman that what had been characteristic of the Church for fifteen hundred years -- namely, that her dogmas were constantly increasing in number and complexity -- would probably continue to characterise her in the future.

Misrepresenting Cardinal Newman on Papal Infallibility

But it would seem that Salmon found it peculiarly difficult to be fair to Newman. In this same chapter he refers to the ferment in the Roman Catholic Church created by the expectation that a Council (that known to history as the [First] Vatican Council) was to be called to define the personal infallibility of the Pope, "so making it unnecessary that any future Council should be held" : [Salmon says]

"Those who passed for the men of highest learning in that communion, and who had been wont to be most relied on, when learned Protestants were to be combatted, opposed with all their might the contemplated definition, as an entire innovation on the traditional teaching of the Church, and as absolutely contradicted by the facts of history. These views were shared by Dr. Newman...The Pope's personal infallibility...was a doctrine so directly in the teeth of history, that Newman made no secret of his persuasion that the authoritative adoption of it would be attended with ruinous consequences to his Church...He wrote in passionate alarm to an English Roman Catholic Bishop [Ullathorne] : Why, he said, should an aggressive insolent faction be allowed 'to make the heart of the just sad, whom the Lord hath not made sorrowful.'" [16]

It will be observed that Salmon here states categorically that Newman, as a Catholic, before 1870, shared the view that the doctrine of the Pope's personal infallibility was "absolutely contradicted by the facts of history," and the unwary reader will naturally suppose that his opposition to the "aggressive insolent faction" was due to his belief that the doctrine was false.

For the facts we may turn to The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman by Wilfrid Ward. Ward, in discussing the period leading up to the Vatican Council, writes of a "determined group of neo-Ultramontanes" with a policy tending to "extreme centralization." "It was not Ultramontanism in its time-honored sense but an ecclesiastico-political movement practically abrogating the normal constitution of Church and State alike." A leader of this group, Veuillot, the editor of L'Univers, had written concerning the Pope: "We must....unswervingly follow his inspired directions," although what the Church claims for the Pope is not inspiration, but merely Providential assistance. W. G. Ward in England had gone so far as to affirm that "in a figurative sense Pius IX may be said never to have ceased from one continuous ex cathedra pronouncement." [17]

Now Newman held that such men were trying to commit Catholic theologians to an entirely new view, ascribing infallibility to a Pope's public utterances which were not definitions of faith or morals. [18] "He could not forget such Popes as Liberius and Honorius. The action of these Pontiffs could, no doubt, in his opinion, be defended as consistent with Papal Infallibility," but only by careful distinctions which Veuillot and W.G. Ward repudiated. Such men comprised the "aggressive insolent faction" which Newman protested against in his private letter to Ullathorne. And it is not surprising that he feared their influence and held that a definition of papal infallibility promoted by such men would be inopportune. But this is not to say that before 1870 he disbelieved the doctrine in the moderate form in which it was eventually defined, still less that he held it to be an "entire innovation on the traditional teaching, absolutely contradicted by the facts of history." Newman's position in 1867 is clearly stated in a letter to Pusey in that year:

"A man will find it a religious duty to believe it, or may safely disbelieve it, in proportion as he thinks it probable or improbable that the Church might or will define it, or does hold it, and that it is the doctrine of the Apostles. For myself...I think that the Church may define it (i.e. it possibly may turn out to belong to the original depositum), but that she will not ever define it; and again I do not see that she can be said to hold it. She never can simply act upon it (being undefined, as it is), and I believe never has -- moreover, on the other hand, I think there is a good deal of evidence, on the very surface of history and the Fathers, in its favour. On the whole then I hold it: but I should account it no sin if, on the grounds of reason, I doubted it." [19]

A letter earlier in the same year to Henry Wilberforce expresses Newman's mind as follows:

"For myself, I have never taken any great interest in the question of the limits and seat of infallibility. I was converted simply because the Church was to last to the end, and that no communion answered to the Church of the first ages but the Roman Communion, both in substantial likeness and in actual descent. And as to faith, my great principle was: 'securus judicat orbis terrarum.' So I say now -- and in all these questions of detail I say to myself, I believe whatever the Church teaches as the voice of God -- and this or that particular inclusively, if she teaches this -- it is this fides implicita which is our comfort in these irritating times. And I cannot go beyond this -- I see arguments here, arguments there -- I incline one way today another tomorrow -- on the whole I more than incline in one direction -- but I do not dogmatise....I have only an opinion at best (not faith) that the Pope is infallible." [20]

In the following year (1868) we find him writing to a Mr. Renouf, who had published a pamphlet on the case of Pope Honorius, as follows: "I hold the Pope's Infallibility, not as a dogma, but as a theological opinion; that is, not as a certainty, but as a probability."

When the Vatican Council actually came to define the Pope's infallibility, the exaggerations of the neo-Ultramontanes were "definitely rejected." [21] And on seeing the test of the definition Newman was able to write to a friend: "I saw the new definition yesterday and am pleased at its moderation -- that is, if the doctrine in question is to be defined at all." And on August 8th he wrote to Mrs. Froude:

"As I have ever believed as much as the definition says, I have a difficulty in putting myself into the position of mind of those who have not....I very much doubt if at this moment -- before the end of the Council, I could get myself publicly to say it was de fide, whatever came of it -- though I believe the doctrine itself." [22]

It thus appears that there were, before the Council's definition, two opinions about papal infallibility, a moderate one and an extreme one. Newman on the whole held the moderate one while strongly opposing the extreme view, whose more violent upholders he stigmatised as an aggressive insolent faction. The Vatican Council itself came down on the side of the moderate opinion, and Newman's only remaining hesitations were a temporary one as to whether the moment had come when this opinion was in fact de fide, and a more lasting one as to the exact scope of the definition -- "what we may grant, what we must maintain." [23] By December 1874 he had cleared his mind on the latter point, as can be seen from his "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk."

It is thus that Salmon has gravely misrepresented Newman's whole attitude to the papal infallibility question. He has given his readers the impression that the dogma as actually defined was something that Newman had regarded as in absolute contradiction with the facts of history and he has represented an opposition to the dogma's opportuneness as an opposition to its content. It may be said, in Salmon's defense, that the Life, from which I have been quoting, was not published when his own book appeared. But the "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk" had appeared before the end of 1875, and Salmon's first edition was dated 1888. I append a few extracts from the former (it had been alleged that it was understood at one time that Newman "was on the point of uniting with Dr. Dollinger and his party" who refused to submit to the Vatican definition, "and that it required the earnest persuasion of 'several bishops' to prevent him from taking that step") : Newman responded --

" unmitigated and most ridiculous untruth in every word of it....But the explanation of such reports about me is easy. They arise from forgetfulness....that there are two sides of ecclesiastical acts, that right ends are often prosecuted by unworthy means, and that in consequence those who, like myself, oppose a line of action, are not necessarily opposed to the issue for which it has been adopted....On July 24, 1870, I wrote as follows: 'I saw the new Definition yesterday, and am pleased at its moderation...The terms are vague and comprehensive; and, personally, I have no difficulty in admitting it....' Also I wrote as follows to a friend: (July 27, 1870) '...for myself, ever since I was a Catholic, I have held the Pope's infallibility as a matter of theological opinion; at least, I see nothing in the Definition which necessarily contradicts Scripture, Tradition, or History....'" [24]

Misrepresenting Cardinal Newman on the Immaculate Conception

It may seem that I have spent too long on a very small detail. But so much of Salmon's book is taken up with what I may call "creating an atmosphere" against Catholicism and loyal Catholics that it may be worthwhile to draw attention to a remark in that same chapter of the book about Newman's attitude to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception:

"He was too well acquainted with Church history not to know that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was a complete novelty, unknown by early times....But when the Pope formally promulgated that doctrine as part of the essential faith of the Church, he had submitted in silence." [25]

The doctrine was defined in 1854. In the Essay on Development (1845) Newman had pointed out that the condemnation of Arianism had left vacant "in the realms of light" a place for Mary to fill:

"Thus there was 'a wonder in heaven' : a throne was seen, far above all other created powers, mediatorial, intercessary; a title archetypal; a crown bright as the morning star; a glory issuing from the Eternal Throne; robes pure as the heavens; and a sceptre over all; and who was the predestined heir of that Majesty? ....The vision is found in the Apocalypse, a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars. The votaries of Mary do not exceed the true faith, unless the blasphemers of her Son [the Arians] come up to it. The Church of Rome is not idolatrous, unless Arianism is orthodoxy."

And he quotes St. Augustine's saying that all have sinned "except the Holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, for the honour of the Lord, I wish no question to be raised at all, when we are treating of sins." [26]

The passage quoted here from the Essay on Development was written before Newman became a Catholic. In 1846, the year following his reception into the Church, we find him writing from Rome about the doubtful reception accorded by two Roman professors to his views on development, and he adds: "By the bye it is an encouraging fact, connected with the theory of development, that...Perrone is writing a book to show that the Immaculate Conception may be made an article of faith." [27]

Three years later (the Dedication is dated In Fest S. Caroli, November 4, 1849), he published his Discourses to Mixed Congregations, from which I quote the following:

"Consider, that, since Adam fell, none of his seed but has been conceived in sin; none, save one. One exception there has been -- who is that one? Not our Lord Jesus, for he was not conceived of man, but of the Holy Ghost; not our Lord, but I mean His Virgin Mother, who, though conceived and born of human parents, as others, yet was rescued by anticipation from the common condition of mankind, and never was partaker in fact of Adam's transgression....'Thou art all fair, O Mary, and the stain original is not in thee.'" [28]

"As grace was infused into Adam from the first moment of his was grace given from the first in still ampler measure to Mary, and she never incurred, in fact, Adam's deprivation....I am not proving these doctrines to you, my brethren: the evidence of them lies in the declaration of the Church." [29]

Salmon may not have been guilty of knowing and disregarding the Discourses, but if he had not read the Apologia Pro Vita Sua (Newman's conversion and autobiography) he had no right to describe Newman's states of mind at all. I therefore quote the following from that famous work, first published in 1864, ten years after the Definition of the Immaculate Conception:

"Let me take the doctrine which Protestants consider our greatest difficulty, that of the Immaculate Conception. Here I entreat the reader to recollect my main drift, which is this. I have no difficulty in receiving the doctrine; and that because it so intimately harmonises with that circle of recognised dogmatic truths, into which it has recently been is a simple fact to say, that Catholics have not come to believe it because it is defined, but that it was defined because they believed it....I never heard of one Catholic having difficulties in receiving the doctrine, whose faith on other grounds was not already suspicious. Of course, there were grave and good men, who were made anxious by the doubt whether it could be formally proved to be Apostolical either by Scripture or Tradition, and who accordingly, though believing it themselves, did not see how it could be defined by authority and imposed upon all Catholics as a matter of faith; but this is another matter. The point in question is, whether the doctrine is a burden. I believe it to be none." [30]

Newman does not state whether he had shared the anxiety of the "grave and good men" to whom he refers, but his letter of 1846 from Rome, quoted above, shows that his own thoery of development must have made it easier for him than for some others to admit that the doctrine is a genuine development of the faith "once delivered." For a theological defense of the doctrine "as an immediate inference from the primitive doctrine that Mary is the second Eve" I may refer to the "Letter to Pusey" (1865) in Difficulties of Anglicans (ii, p. 31-50; cf. 128-52). [31]

Now I do not profess to know what Salmon meant to convey by saying that Newman had "submitted in silence" to the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. But I think I know the sort of impression that that phrase will have left, and might have been expected by its author to leave, on many minds; and I think I have shown that that impression is entirely false to the tone and contents of a number of passages in Newman's writings, nearly all of which had been long available to Salmon's inspection when he first published his book. I conclude that Salmon is a very unsafe guide for those who have not the opportunity and the inclination to check both his definite assertions and the impression conveyed by his use of language.

Misunderstanding Catholic Theology

It will be convenient to postpone considering Salmon's remarks (p. 7ff) about the genesis of the Old Catholic schism as a result of the Vatican Council till the subject of that Council recurs at a later stage. But there is something else in this chapter which is worth attention, as it illustrates a limitation in Salmon's understanding of the Catholic position.

Theology, as it is understood by Catholics, is a science, and -- like other sciences -- it develops a scientific vocabulary of its own, and employs its own postulates and axioms. Salmon was a considerable scholar and doubtless, in the Protestant application of the word, a theologian. But he does not seem to have understood the vocabularly of Catholic theology or the distinctions which, as a science, this theology had found it necessary to make. It is therefore not unfair to describe him as a "layman" in respect of this (Catholic) theology. A layman's interventions in science are liable to be disastrous.

As an example of Salmon's failure to appreciate the scientific vocabulary of Catholic theology I would point to his discussion of a sentence printed in earlier editions of the Catholic Keenan's Catechism but omitted in a reprint after the Vatican Council. The earlier editions, he says (p. 9), contained the following question and answer:

"Q. Must not Catholics believe the Pope in himself to be infallible?

"A. This is a Protestant invention: it is no article of the Catholic faith: no decision of his can oblige, under pain of heresy, unless it be received and enforced by the teaching body; that is, by the bishops of the Church."

But the Vatican Council (1870) defined that papal teaching, under certain conditions, is infallible per se, and about the same time the above question and answer disappeared from Keenan's Catechism. Salmon not unnaturally concludes that there is something (namely, the Pope's personal infallibility) which is now part of the Church's faith "which those who had a good right to know declared was no part of her faith" in 1868. Therefore "it is impossible now to maintain that the faith of the Church of Rome never changes."

In arguing thus Salmon misunderstands the phrase "article of the Catholic faith," assuming that it is synonymous with "constituent element of the Christian revelation." But it is not: this phrase is a piece of technical theological language, and means "an authoritatively defined expression of doctrine." Every article of the Catholic faith expresses a constituent element of the Christian revelation. But no constituent element of the Christian revelation is an article of the Catholic faith until it has been thus authoritatively defined and imposed. (All adult women are human; but not all humans are adult women). And until an element of the Christian revelation becomes, by such definition, an "article of the Catholic faith" the penalties of heresy are not incurred by those who withhold from it their assent. [32] It is therefore true that there is something which has since 1870 been an article of the Catholic faith which was not such before that date. But it does not follow that "the faith of the Church of Rome" has changed, since the faith is coextensive with the Christian revelation and thus more comprehensive than the sum-total of the "articles of the Catholic faith."

Similarly, that God the Son is "consubstantial with the Father" was -- so far as we know -- first authoritatively defined by the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325), and it is in consequence "an article of the Catholic faith." Before that date it was a constituent but undefined element of the Christian revelation; and it is interesting to observe that in the affair of the heretical Paul of Samosata (condemned by a Council at Antioch, c. A.D. 269) it was the heretic, not his Catholic judges, who maintained in words the "consubstantiality" of the Son. (It does not appear that the word "consubstantial" was condemned officially by the Council of Antioch.)

Should Catholics "Examine the Grounds" ?

I want to ephasize this question of the meaning of Catholic theological language, as it is my purpose to defend in these pages the Catholic position in its essential nature, not the picture of Catholicism that Salmon has formed for himself or would wish to recommend to his readers, nor every feature of the surface life of the People of God. Thus Salmon tells us that

"it would be the duty of the rulers of an infallible church to exhort the people to receive their doctrines without question; but not to exhort them to examine the grounds on which the doctrine was established." [33]

On the contrary, I would reply, the Church will naturally encourage her children to "examine the grounds." She will do so for the obvious reason that any Catholic may be asked by a non-Catholic enquirer to "give account" of his faith; and for the non-Catholic the "grounds" are of great importance. But she will do so also because faith ordinarily requires, for its bene esse, an instructed reason and an understanding which mere assent is not calculated to engender. And in fact we find that the Church encourages the study of apologetics and of the Bible, the latter indeed not only or even chiefly in order to "examine the grounds" of a faith which the normal Catholic holds securely and peacefully, but also because the Scriptures delineate Christ, who is the Object of that faith. [34] Thus, in his Foreward to the recent Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Cardinal Griffin writes:

"In his encyclical [Divino Afflante Spiritu] the Holy Father referred particularly to the serious obligation incumbent on the faithful to make use of the Scriptures and of the distilled wisdom of those who have endeavoured with great labour to interpret Holy Writ, for, writes the Pope, 'God did not grant the Sacred Books to men to satisfy their curiosity or to provide them with an object of study and research; these divine oracles were bestowed, as the Apostle tells us, in order that they might 'instruct to salvation by the faith which is in Christ Jesus', and 'that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work' (2 Tim 3:15-17)."

The article in this Commentary on the place of the Bible in the Church may be recommended to those who are interested in this subject. Recent years have seen the renascence of an interest in biblical theology (as distinguished from biblical criticism) throughout Western Christendom, and in this revival Catholic scholars and thinkers are playing a leading part.

Naivety of Salmon's Argument on "Bible reading"

When, therefore, Salmon [35] says that if the Church is infallible the Bible "cannot be of much use in making man wise unto salvation" he is almost directly contradicted by the present Pope. In the same paragraph he says that "in modern times the Church has always discouraged the reading of the Scripture by her people," but as evidence offered for this assertion, which is plainly contradicted by Divino Afflante, he refers [36] to the Fourth Rule of the Index (Pius IV, 1559-65, at the height of the reaction against Protestantism, which took its stand on the Bible and the "Bible only"). This Rule required Catholics to seek permission before reading vernacular translations of the Bible, "since it is manifest by experience that if the Holy Bible in the vulgar tongue be suffered to be read everywhere without distinction, more evil than good arises on the account of the rashness of men." The phrase here italicised is omitted by Salmon with no indication that he is abridging the text; yet it is this phrase which explains the Rule, which may be described as a "Defence of the Realm" regulation at a time of crisis, when vernacular Bibles were being used to unsettle the faith of the simple. It will be noticed that the Rule does not "discourage the reading of Scripture," but only controls (or discourages) the reading of vernacular versions. The Rule was modified by Benedict XIV in the 18th century, and there are no restrictions today on the reading of authorised Catholic versions with explanatory notes from the Fathers of the Church or approved theologians. [37]

But the naivety of Salmon's argument -- that the ancient encouragement of Scripture study proves that the early Church did not claim infallibility for her teaching -- could scarcely be illustrated more forcibly than by referring to his remark on the Old Latin version of the Scriptures:

"The Bible was translated into Latin, because the Latin Church, in those days, wished that....all her members should have access to the oracles of truth, and be able to consult them for themselves." [38]

Did it occur to Salmon that the Douay-Rheims translation into English may have been in part the result of a similar desire?

There is a certain air of unreality about Salmon's discussion on Bible reading. If Bible reading was little practised in the Middle Ages, it must be remembered that -- printing not being yet invented and books therefore being scarce -- the population was of necessity largely illiterate, and that the Bible stories and figures were brought home to popular imagination by stained glass, wall-paintings, statues, crucifixes and miracle plays. Protestantism, in revolt against the contemporary Church, naturally appealed to the Bible and developed what we may call a cult of the Bible; hence the 16th century Catholic's suspicion of "Bible Christianity." Moreover Protestantism in the past -- having neither Rosary nor Stations of the Cross, nor pictures nor statues, nor all that wealth of spiritual reading and books of devotion which, for a Catholic, surrounds, expounds, and (as in Thomas a Kempis Imitation of Christ) largely reproduces the Bible -- has naturally tended to nourish devotion more exclusively on the Bible taken in and by itself, than has Catholicism. [39] But it is not true that individual Protestants, as a rule, derive their Christian belief solely from their own study of the Bible. Like Catholics, they in fact accept their beliefs from the tradition and environment in which they have grown up, and they read the Bible in the light of that tradition. [40] What simple unscholarly Christian in fact derives his belief in the trinitarian doctrine of the Athanasian Creed from his personal reading of the Bible text? We all depend on "tradition" in these matters. The difference between Catholic and Protestant is that the former believes that he has sound reasons for trusting the "tradition," while the Protestant is formed by a "tradition" of which he is largely unaware and which (in the stream in which he receives it) does not claim to be certainly trustworthy.

And does not the story of modern biblical criticism outside the Church show how, when Protestants really try to shake themselves free of all post-biblical tradition, they find that the Bible by itself proves to be an insufficient support even for traditional Protestant orthodoxy? Hence, modern biblical criticism, in its destructive phrase, threatened the whole foundation of Protestantism but only a part of the substructure of Catholicism. Protestant scholarship to a large extent felt itself compelled to surrender the postulate of scriptural inerrancy and lost its grip on any firm doctrine of biblical inspiration. The Virgin birth and physical resurrection of Christ, his Godhead, the miracles of his mission and those of the apostolic age, the sacraments and the inerrancy of Christ's teaching, became suspect. Each of these constituents of traditional Christianity (Protestant and Catholic alike) had to be defended separately by the Protestant scholar, and each solely on the basis of the "Scripture evidence." But the Scripture evidence was never meant to provide the sole grounds of credibility, least of all for each separate element in Christian belief. It broke down under the weight that was thus unfairly thrown upon it, and it became possible to argue that Christ was merely a prophet of ethical monotheism, or merely an apocalyptic dreamer, or even that he was merely a myth.

The Catholic scholar on the other hand, faced with this same critical current, learnt (often by painful degrees) to ask of the biblical evidence only what it was intended to provide: a series of "converging probabilities" which, taken in conjunction with the witness of le fait chretien as a whole, provided an adequate basis for the act of faith. Anyone who knows both Protestantism and Catholicism from within and has kept himself abreast of modern tendencies is aware that Catholicism is immensely more secure than Protestantism in face of modern literary and historical criticism, and many Protestants are grateful to the Catholic Church for its unchanging championship not only of faith in God but of the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity.

Infallibility: The Last Refuge?

We may now revert to the chapter entitled "The Question of Infallibility." Salmon there speaks of opponents of the proposed definition (of papal infallibility) who, however, submitted to it once it had been imposed. Some of these, he says, thus surrendered "their most deep-rooted beliefs" solely in deference to external authority. It will be desirable, later on, to consider how much of the opposition in question had been due to an opinion that the proposed definition was inopportune, how much to a doubt whether its matter, though perhaps true, was definable as part of the faith, and how much to real "disbelief" in the matter of the definition. Assuming that there were some, who had hitherto "denied the truth of the new dogma" [41] who now accepted it, it must be pointed out that for a Catholic a "belief" based on his own theological opinions unsupported by the verdict of the Church stands on a different, and a lower, footing compared with that of an article of faith. The former kind of belief is not, for a Catholic, among his "most deep-rooted beliefs" -- it is less deep-rooted than his belief, or rather his certainty, that the Church's voice is the voice of God. It was therefore proper and honourable for such men to "submit" to an external authority whose claim upon them coincided with the deepest intimations of their own conscience.

Salmon presents the doctrine of the Church's infallibility as the "last refuge of a beaten army" -- an earlier refuge had been the appeal to Tradition. When the early Protestants appealed against the Church to Scripture

"the Roman Catholic advocates ceased to insist that the doctrines of the Church could be deduced from Scripture; but the theory of early heretics, refuted by Irenaeus, was revived, namely, that the Bible does not contain the whole of God's revelation, and that a body of traditional doctrine existed in the Church equally deserving of veneration." [42]

On this rather characteristic sentence I comment as follows:

(1) Salmon here suggests that the appeal to Tradition as a source of doctrine parallel to Scripture was a Counter-Reformation invention. But the second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, seven hundred and fifty years before the Council of Trent, had anathematised "anyone who rejects ecclesiastical tradition written or unwritten." [43]

St. Irenaeus on Sacred Tradition

(2) It is perhaps hardly necessary to point out that the (alleged) heretical apostolic traditions which Irenaeus rejected were rejected by him upon the precise ground that if the Apostles had had any traditions to consign to posterity they would have entrusted them not to a line of hidden teachers ending up in the heresiarchs but to the legitimate succession of public teachers in the Catholic Church (quoting St. Irenaeus) :

"When [the heretics] are faced with objections derived from the Scriptures, they set about to attack the Scriptures as not being correct or authoritative, as saying different things, and as only conveying truth to those who know the tradition, which was not handed down in writing but viva voce....But when we appeal to that tradition which comes from the Apostles and is preserved in the Churches by the succession of the elders, they oppose tradition, saying that they are wiser not only than the elders but than the apostles and have discovered the pure truth."

Irenaeus then points to the preservation of the true tradition and apostolic succession of bishops in the local Churches:

"All who are willing to see the truth can perceive in every [or all the] Church the tradition of the Apostles manifested in all the world; we can enumerate those appointed by the Apostles bishops in the Churches, and those who succeeded to them, who never taught or knew anything like the ravings of the heretics. Had the Apostles known hidden mysteries, which they taught the perfect separately and secretly from others, they would have handed them on especially to those to whom they were entrusting the Churches." [44]

For a modern presentation of Irenaeus' views about Scripture and Tradition we may turn to The Biblical Theology of Saint Irenaeus (1948) by a non-Catholic writer, Mr. John Lawson, a former student of Wesley House, Cambridge [quotations omitted for brevity's sake]. If Mr. Lawson's interpretation of Irenaeus is correct, it would seem that in this matter of the authority of "unwritten" Tradition the second-century Bishop of Lyons stands with the Second Council of Nicaea, the Council of Trent, and Cardinal Newman (in the passage quoted below); and with Cardinal Manning in his condemnation of an appeal away from the voice of the contemporary Church; and that it is quite illegitimate to suggest that he stood with the "Bible-only" school of thought against Sacred Tradition. [45]

Cardinal Newman on Sacred Tradition

(3) Newman has an interesting page on Tradition as a source of doctrine, which Salmon might have quoted:

"You [referring to the Anglican Pusey] allow that there is a twofold rule, Scripture and Tradition: and this is all that Catholics say. How, then, do Anglicans differ from Rome here? I believe the difference is merely one of words; and I shall be doing, so far, the work of an Irenicon, if I make clear what this verbal difference is. Catholics and Anglicans (I do not say Protestants), attach different meanings to the word 'proof', in the controversy as to whether the whole faith is, or is not, contained in Scripture. We mean that not every article is so contained there, that it may thence be logically proved, independently of the teaching and authority of the Tradition; but Anglicans mean that every article of faith is so contained there, that it may thence be proved, provided there be added the illustrations and compensations supplied by the Tradition....I am sure...that St. Athanasius frequently adduces passages in points of controversy, which no one would see to be proof, unless Apostolical Tradition were taken into account, first as suggesting, then as authoritatively ruling their meaning. Thus you do not say, that the whole revelation is in Scripture in such sense that pure unaided logic can draw it form the sacred text; nor do we say, that it is not in Scripture, in an improper sense, in the sense that the Tradition of the Church is able to recognize and determine it there." [46]

(4) But to me personally it seems that the onus probandi is not on those who appeal to Tradition, but on those who affirm that every item of necessary Christian belief is contained as such in the Bible. If we take the New Testament books as they are regarded by unbelievers, they are a collection of four fragmentary records of Christ's life and teaching, death and resurrection; along with an obviously very inadequate sketch of the early years of the apostolic age; some letters; a discourse in the form of a letter (the Epistle to the Hebrews); and a "prophecy" (Revelation). They are documents illustrating, in a rather haphazard way, the early years and beliefs of a religious society which looked back to Jesus of Nazareth as its founder. Nothing suggests that this collection of documents, contains everything that the Apostles learnt from Christ or that they considered important (cf. John 20:30; 21:25; 2 John 12; 3 John 13; 1 Cor 11:2, 34; 2 Thes 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim 1:13f; 2 Tim 2:2; etc).

Jesus is recorded as having told his followers to teach all nations to observe what he had taught them (Matt 28:18f); but not as having told them to consign it all to writing. If, on the other hand, we take a believer's view of these books, then they are of course inspired, and have therefore, along with the books of the Old Testament, a unique status in the literature of the world. But the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture does not involve a belief that Scripture is our sole available source (or sole infallible authority) for Christian truth. And, hackneyed though the argument is, it must be pointed out that it is by Tradition and the authority of the teaching Church that we know both the number of the inspired books and the fact of their inspiration. Considered from this angle, Sacred Scripture is itself a part of Sacred Tradition and its claim upon us is part and parcel of Tradition's claim upon us. [47]

I know that the attempt has been made to escape Scripture's dependence upon Tradition and the Church by the suggestion that an inward inspiration of the Holy Ghost enables us to recognize the several books of Scripture as inspired. I will not retort: quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur. I will only say on the one hand that I suspect that there are many who, like myself, are not aware of this interior guarantee; and, on the other hand, that I find it very difficult to suppose that there are many who can in this "mystical" way perceive the inspiration of the Epistle of St. James (Luther's "epistle of straw") or indeed of the Acts of the Apostles.

I would go so far to suggest that this exclusive appeal to Scripture, adopted by the early Protestant Reformers as an expedient in their controversy with the Church, would of itself, if strictly adhered to, tie Christianity to the written word in a way inimical to the true life of the Spirit. We Christians all agree that the supreme revelation of God is in the Person of the Word Incarnate. Scripture itself tells us that the presence of this Word in the world is perpetuated by and in -- not primarily a collection of books, but -- a society that represents him so adequately that it is called the Body of Christ. Christ "lives", not in the pages of the Bible taken by itself, but in the living memory and thought and love of the fellowship of those who share a common faith in him. Part of that memory and thought and love is enshrined in the New Testament, but it is a living memory, a living thought, a living love, in so far as the New Testament itself lives in the lifestream of the Church, a living fellowship of the "members of Christ" (cf. 1 Cor 12; John 15).

Before leaving this subject of Tradition, I wish to draw attention to a remark of Salmon on page 13: "Any intelligent layman might satisfy himself what amount of recognition was given to a doctrine in the Bible." It may be objected that Christ's revelation was surely not intended solely for the "intelligent." He thanks his heavenly Father that the revelation had been made to babes (Matt 11:25), and St. Paul is perhaps inspired by this saying when he observes that the Corinthian Church contained "not many wise" among its members (1 Cor 1:26; 3:1). Who is to determine the faith for the unintelligent, whether layman or cleric? [48]

But what I especially wish to point out is that, if this statement of Salmon's is true, the history of Christianity is a singular enigma. What ink, what tears, and what blood has history seen shed in the attempt to determine the "amount of recognition" which the Bible gives to doctrines dear to the heart not of Catholics only but of non-Catholic Christians. Were the struggles and conflicts of the fourth and fifth centuries (on the Trinity, and the person and nature of Christ), the controversies associated with the names of Arius and Eunomius, Marcellus of Ancyra, Apollinaris, Nestorius and Eutyches (heretics who all indeed appealed to Scripture), due to the fact that men failed to adopt Salmon's simple appeal to the plain words of Scripture? One could only infer that the rule of "the Scripture only" was completely unknown to that age of the Church. Or has the appeal to "Scripture only" led to a remarkable unity of belief among non-Catholics? It is hard to believe that Salmon had pondered over this contention with the seriousness which his subject deserves.

Misrepresenting Cardinal Manning on the "Appeal to Antiquity"

However, Salmon would have his readers believe that the argument from Tradition has now been given up by leading Catholics along with that from Scripture:

"When [men] find that the heads of the Roman Catholic Church now think it as great a heresy to appeal to antiquity, as to appeal to Scripture, they have cause for surmising which way the victory has gone." [49]

The reference here is to Cardinal Manning's book, The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost, 6th edition, 1909, page 238f, cf. page 29, 214-16 :

"It was the charge of the Reformers that the Catholic doctrines were not primitive, and their pretension was to revert to antiquity. But the appeal to antiquity is both a treason and a heresy. It is a treason because it rejects the Divine voice of the Church at this hour, and a heresy because it denies that voice to be Divine...." (page 238);

"As soon as I perceived....that the Holy Spirit....has united himself indissolubly to the....Church of Jesus Christ, I saw at once that the interpretations or doctrines of the living Church are true because Divine....I then saw that all appeals to....Scripture and antiquity, whether by individuals or by local churches, are no more than appeals from the Divine voice of the living Church, and therefore essentially rationalistic" (page 29);

"No Catholic would first take what our objectors call history, fact, anquity, and the like, and from them deduce his faith....These things are not the basis of his faith, nor is the examination of them his method of thoelogical proof" (page 214);

"Let no one suppose that Catholic theologians....for a moment either abandon the facts of history as insoluble, or conceive that they are opposed to the doctrines of faith" (page 216).

It does not require great reflection to see that Manning in these passages is not abandoning either Scripture or Tradition in such a way as to assist Salmon's argument. Indeed he denies that Catholic theologians conceive that the facts of history are opposed to the doctrines of faith. And that this is also the attitude of ecclesiastical authority was seen clearly in the violent reaction against the attempt by certain Modernists to surrender the historical roots of Christianity. What Manning contends is that for an individual or a local Church to appeal from the verdict of the Church to the allegedly contradictory evidence of the Bible or history is not permissible. Clearly it is not, if the Church's infallibility is conceded. It is exactly comparable to a Jew's rejection of the teaching of Christ on the alleged ground that this teaching contradicts the Old Testament revelation. There is no sinister infidelity to history in Manning's words. But they raise the question, which I propose to consider in the next chapter, of the relation between arguments which bring a man to the point of accepting the Catholic claim and the basis of his faith once the claim has been accepted.

The Real Issue: What is the Church?

It has taken us some time to deal with the many subsidiary points raised by this chapter of the Abridgement. I wish now to add a word about the chapter's main contention, namely that the chief issue between Protestantism and the Catholic Church is the latter's claim to infallibility. I do not believe that is an accurate statement. The real issue, it seems to me, is the Roman Catholic Communion's claim to be the Church founded by Christ, to which all men are called by God to belong as of duty. And behind this issue there lies the question of what idea is held of "the Church" -- what sort of a thing is meant by "the Church militant."

The ancient and modern Catholic answer to this question is, that the Church on earth is an association of baptised persons. Nothing could be simpler than that. We all know what an association is, surrounded as we are by colleges and universities and clubs, the Football Association, the Rugby Football Union, the Automobile Association, trade unions, business firms and nation states. An association is almost as easy to recognize as an individual man. And the one essential mark of an association is that its members should be associated -- not simply followers of a single aim or sharers of a common outlook, but human beings who are bound together by concrete ties into a common tangible unity. A dissociated association is a contradiction in terms.

Some Protestant Commentary

I have said that this is not only the modern but the ancient Catholic answer to the question: "What is the Church on earth?" In support of this statement, upon which it is obvious that a large volume could profitably be written, I wish to quote an Anglican scholar, the Canon A.J. Mason, formerly Lady Margaret's Reader in Divinity, who writes as follows of the German Protestant Sohm's Kirchenrecht (published 1892) :

"The theory set forth in it has not been left uncriticised, but on certain points the assertions of Sohm will hardly be called in question again....In this work and its sequel Sohm has clearly shown that the distinction between the Church as a religious conception and the Church as a concrete institution -- a distinction upon which he himself insists with vehemence -- was wholly unknown to the Christians of early times. 'Early Christianity has not, indeed, an explicit doctrine of the visible nature of the Church in the religious sense; but in an instinctive and naive fashion the visible community of Christians, as such, was identified with the fellowship of the saints, the elect, the children of God who are led by His Spirit.' The notion of an invisible Church of the Predestinate, Sohm says, came into men's minds before many centuries after Christ had elapsed. Augustine, Wycliff entertained it. But Luther was the first to whom the contrast between the two things became a religious certainty. No one before Luther had been able to emancipate himself in conscience from the visible Church. Until his time the opposition between the true Church of Christ and the corporate society did not exist, so far as the practical life of Christendom was concerned. All antiquity, from the first century to the end of the Middle Ages, had failed to draw the sharp and ruthless line of demarcation which ought to be drawn. It was not in a position to do so." [50]

Mason concludes his essay [51], after referring to our comparative ignorance of what early dissident Christians held on the subject of the nature of the Church, as follows:

"Yet it is of more importance, after all, to know what Catholic churchmen themselves thought of the system to which they belonged. Here we are well supplied. The testimony is ample, and it is consistent. Whatever variations may be discerned, in accordance with the idiosyncrasies of particular authors, the main outlines of the conception are the same. Alike at Rome and at Alexandria, in Africa and in the East, men believed in a great spiritual community, founded by Christ, through His Spirit working in His Apostles, to which all the promises of the Old Testament were attached. This community was necessarily unique. In it, and in it alone, the gifts and graces of the Spirit of Christ were to be looked for. In spite of human imperfections, it was guided and permeated in every part by the Spirit. Nor was this community an intangible thing. It was a reality of experience, embodied in a practical discipline. The society was well known and unmistakable. Its doctrine was everywhere the same; its worship, with rich diversity of forms, centred round one Eucharistic memorial. It had an organised hierarchy for worship and for the pastorate of souls. This hierarchy maintained union between the local branches, and did so in the name and by the authority of Christ. However far back the history is traced, no date can be assigned, however roughly, for the appearance of Catholicism in the Church. The Church was Catholic from the outset." [52]

And in summing up the findings of this book of essays as a whole, Swete, in the preface to the first edition, summarises Mason's views as follows:

"Primitive Christianity recognized no invisible Church on earth as distinct from the visible society of the baptised; no self-governing power in the local congregation apart from the authority of the whole Body of Christ; no assured gifts of grace outside the Catholic communion." [53]

It should be observed that this identification of the Church founded by Christ with an actual human society is recognized by good non-Catholic scholars at the present day as going back to New Testament times. Thus the late Dr. Sparrow Simpson appears to agree with the writer quoted by him as follows:

"'When St. Paul speaks of the Church as 'the Body of Christ,' it is obviously not the local Church, but the worldwide Church, or the Church in itself which he contemplates. And the Church so conceived 'is no invisible community' to St. Paul; it is conceived 'as constituting sacramentally a special sphere in the world' (Weinel, St. Paul, 209). It is the Church in which God has set the Apostles, and therefore not the local but the general community....For St. Paul the Christian community of each particular place is but the local expression of the self-same worldwide Body of Christ....It is the corporate institution which is redeemed....Both the individual and the institution are the objects of Christ's love. But the greater includes the less." [54]

With these findings we may compare those of Bishop Graham with reference to the Epistle to the Ephesians:

"Nowhere else does [St. Paul] make it so abundantly clear that redemption implies not merely a personal and individual reconciliation with God, but also membership in a corporate society of divine origin -- the Church of Christ. What, then, is the Church? It is a visible society consisting of all those, whether Jews or Gentiles, who through Christ have access in one Spirit unto the Father (2:13-18; 4:5,25). But it is more than a mere society, just as its origin is more than human. It is an organic unity, answering to and manifesting the unity of God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit (4:3-6)....But the most frequent and characteristic of Paul's metaphors in this connexion is that which represents the Church as the Body of Christ (1:22f; 4:4,16; 5:23,28-33); i.e. it is His outward and visible manifestation; the organ of His self-expression; the instrument whereby He works -- without it He would be incomplete, not, of course, in His perfect Deity, but as the Incarnate Saviour of mankind." [55]

Thus it is not a peculiarity of Catholic teaching or Catholic scholarship to maintain that the Church of antiquity was conceived by its members as being a visible society. The same view is taken by such distinguished non-Catholic scholars as those quoted above. It goes without saying that these non-Catholic scholars do not draw the same inferences from this view as Catholics do. Catholics maintain, and the above quotations surely make the contention not unreasonable, that the Church on earth, founded by Christ, is a society or an association; is essentially an association; and will therefore continue to be an association so long as it continues to exist, to be itself (cf. John 17). But they believe further, and would quote St. Matthew's Gospel especially in support of this belief, that Christ's Church will continue to exist till the second coming of Christ: the gates of hell will not prevail against it; lo, I am with you till the end of the age (Matt 16:18; 28:20). It may be argued with confidence that in this view of the Church, as an association whose tangible unity, by "inter-communion" of its parts and members, is indissoluble, Catholicism is faithful to the witness of both antiquity and the Scriptures.

It may be asked, what was Salmon's own idea of the Church, what did he mean by the word Church when he recited the Creed: I holy Catholic Church? The answer may perhaps be sought in the following passage:

"[The Founder of our religion] formed His followers into a community, each member of which was to be benefited by the good offices of the rest, and who, in particular, were to build up one another in their most holy Faith....In the institution of His Church, Christ has provided for the instruction of those who, either from youth or lack of time or of knowledge, might be unable or unlikely to study His Word for themselves." [56]

We at once ask, this community, this Church -- where is it today? It is not, obviously, in Salmon's view, the Roman Catholic Church. It can hardly be identical and coextensive with the Anglican communion, which makes no claim to be the whole Church of Christ. If it be replied that it is the sum-total of the Christian communities (or even all those communions except the corrupt Papal Church), then it is obvious to point out that a collection of separated communions (disunited both in government and in doctrine) is not a community, any more than a collection of sovereign states is a state. Where then is the fulfillment of the divine promise that the Church (the "community" formed by Christ) should continue to the end? The Catholic answer is clear:

"The Church in and by itself, on account of its wonderful expansion, its eminent holiness and inexhaustible fruitfulness of all good, on account of [its] catholic unity and unconquerable stability (One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church), is a kind of great and abiding motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness to its divine commission." [57]


ENDNOTES for Chapter II: The Infallibility of the Church

[12] Salmon, 1. [13] S, 2. [14] S, 3. [15] loc cit. [16] S, 5f. [17] Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman, ii, 211f. [18] ibid, 213 (the author's words). [19] ibid, 221. [20] ibid, 234. [21] ibid, 307. [22] ibid, 308. [23] Letter of April, 1872 (ibid, 312). [24] "Letter to the Duke of Norfolk", 299-304. [25] S, 5. [26] Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 143-6. [27] Life, i, 161. [28] Discourses to Mixed Congregations (1892), 49. [29] ibid, 354-6. [30] Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1902), 254f. [31] The "Letter" is conveniently reproduced in Cardinal Newman's The New Eve. [32] It was in that sense that it was false, before 1870, that Catholics "must" believe the Pope to be infallible. On the other hand they were bound to believe the whole Catholic faith "fide implicita". [33] S, 42f. [34] Thus Pope Benedict XV made his own the phrase of St. Jerome: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ". [35] S, 43. [36] S, 49. [37] Irish Ecclesiastical Record (1901), 213-15. Catholic students are allowed to read non-Catholic versions of the Bible, provided they are not positively anti-Catholic. [38] S, 44. [39] Of course the Bible, as inspired, has a unique and incomparable status among the sources and aids of devotion. [40] In a recent work (Spiritual Authority in the Church of England, 1953), Canon Rich points out that there were at least 28 Lutheran and Calvinist "Confessions" which "became the traditional standard and rule of faith by which Scripture itself was to be interpreted...Scripture was interpreted in their light and not the other way round...The outstanding exception to this rule (so far as the Continental Reformation is concerned) is the Remonstrant Confession" which "anticipates in a remarkable way the attitude towards Scripture which has been the outstanding mark of historical criticism", 43f. [41] S, 6. I cannot of course admit that these had "proved its falsity to the satisfaction of every reasoning man" (loc cit). Considering that Newman, Dupanloup and others accepted the dogma, it is hardly good controversial manners to write in this strain. [42] S, 11. [43] Denzinger-Bannwart (15th ed), No 308. [44] Adv Haer III, ii, 3. [45] It is perhaps clear what Irenaeus would have replied, if asked whether any fact essential to Christianity was present in the unwritten Tradition but absent from Scripture. Newman (see below) seems to answer "No." Mr. Lawson at one point seems to suggest that Irenaeus would have given the same answer. This goes to the issue of "material sufficiency" which we'll leave aside in the present reply to Salmon. [46] "Letter to Dr. Pusey" in Difficulties of Anglicans, ii, 12. [47] For more see The Eastern Churches Quarterly, Supplementary Issue, vol vii, 1947 which includes articles by Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans on the subject of the Rule of Faith. [48] On this see S, 39. [49] S, 13. [50] "Early Conceptions of the Church" in Essays on the Early History of the Church and the Ministry, ed. H.B. Swete (1921), 9f. I do not think that Augustine ever "entertained the notion" of an invisible Church (on earth) of the predestinate. He did however recognize clearly that membership in the Church on earth does not guarantee that one is predestined to salvation. For more on Cyprian and Augustine, see the present writer's articles in the Downside Review: "St. Cyprian on the Church" (1952-53); and "St. Augustine's Teaching on Schism" (1951); and the review of Dr. Greenslade's book Schism in the Early Church (Oct 1953). [51] It should be observed that he confines his attention here to the period before the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). For the succeeding period, cf. C.H. Turner's identical findings in the same volume of essays. [52] "Early Conceptions of the Church", 58f. The following remark of Harnack is not without interest, as coming from so distinguished a Protestant scholar: "The Reformation [of the 16th century] not only destroyed the medieval constitution of the Church, but has also no connection with that of the second and first centuries A.D." (Kirchenverfassung und Kirchenrecht in den zwei ersten Jahrhunderten, 1910. I owe this reference to Batiffol, L'Eglise Naissante, 5th ed, xxiiif). [53] Op cit, supra, xii f. [54] A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, ed. Charles Gore (1928), 393f. [55] ibid, 539f. [56] S, 39. Thus the Church as teacher is a pis aller for those who for some reason or other do not consult the Bible directly. [57] Vatican Council I, cited in Denzinger-Bannwart (15th ed), No 1794.

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