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goes, when Satan would have drawn him into heI resy, by asking him what he believed upon a certain point, answered, "Id credo quod credit ecclesia," and to the subjoined question, "Quod credit ecclesia?" cautiously replied, "Id quod ego credo,” is not more contemptible than the profane licentiousness of a Paine, who would make his senses the only standard of his belief.
We do not disclaim private judgment, much less do we admit the infallibility of the Church. But if we have not discretion in these days to draw the line between an implicit obedience to authority, and an utter contempt of it, the experience of past ages seems to have been thrown away, and reason to have been given us for very little purpose.
"Call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your Master, even Christ;"* is a text that has not unfrequently been strained beyond its original meaning. It was addressed by our Saviour to his hearers, with the view of guarding them against the extravagant superiority assumed by the rabbies over the disciples, and the blind submission with which their doctrines were received. So far as it applies to a similar subject, either to an assumed superiority in the teacher, who would exercise lordship God's heritage," or to the blind submission of the disciple, who makes his faith in man, rather than in the Divine word, the standard of his religious persuasion, so far it contains most wholesome instruction to religionists of every age.
* Matt. xxiii. 9, 10.
+ 1 Peter v. 3.
But when the idea, founded on this text, is carried to an extent to justify disobedience to the authority of the Church, upon what ground soever it may be maintained; such a wild principle of conduct being totally inconsistent with the object of a regular society, may be determined not to be within the meaning of a precept, delivered by the founder of that society, to those who were to become the members, of it.
The difficulty in this case has always been to establish the exact line of conduct, which will secure that government, without which the Church, as a society, cannot subsist; and that liberty to the members of it, necessary to free them from all usurped, tyranny over their consciences. Men, according to the different objects which they have in view, and the ideas which they have formed upon the subject from the different lights in which it has been seen, have been continually drawing this line too much either to the one side or the other of that golden mean, in which reason, founded upon revelation, has placed it.
Gregory Nazianzen, from the consideration of the fallability of synods, and the disputes which too often prevailed in them, spoke of them with a contempt incompatible with the least degree of reverence for their authority. Such writers as Le Clerc and Scaliger will not fail to record his saying. "Si aurem præbeamus viris, quorum alioquin auctoritatem spernere nequaquam possumus, de synodis veteribus loquentibus, nobis magnifica oratione describent 6 αγίας και οικεμενικας συνοδές θεοφόρων πατέρων συναθροισθεισας ετι τας βασιλείας τε μεγαλες
βασιλέως, και ισαποςολυ—sanctos et æcumenicos cœtus adflatorum divinitus patrum, congregatos in regno magni regis et Apostolis æquiparandi. Quis auditis his et similibus verbis, religioso quodam horrore et corpore et animo non contremiscat, ac paratus non sit oracula ejusmodi cœtus avidis auribus excipere, haud aliter ac si cœlo ipso emitterentur? Verum, hæc est, (quis crederet?) abstracta notio synodorum, quæ in inconspicua idearum republica coguntur; non imago earum, quæ inter miseros mortales olim congregatæ fuere. Reges ignari, (non legent hæc Mohammedani, nec ethnici, sed ii quorum scire interest, quo fiet ut verum aperte proloquar) reges, inquam, ignari, nec inter bonos principes numerandi, convocarunt Græculos, qui linguæ acuendæ per totam vitam operam dederant, rerum ipsarum ignaros, contendendi studiosos, perpetuis rixis inter se divisos; et bardos aliquot homines ex Occidente, rudiores quidem illis, sed non meliores; iique post pudendas contentiones, obscurissima quæque dogmata, verbis sæpe parum aptis, auctoritate suâ firmant; quæ stupidi populi sine examine adorent, quasi divinitus accepta. Non ficta me loqui norunt qui synodórum historias legerunt; nec certe vanus erat Gregorius Nazianzenus, qui dixit,
· · Ουδε τι πε συνοδοισιν ομόθρονος εσσομ εγωγε
"Nunquam ego sedebo in synodis anserum aut gruum temere pugnantium. Illic contentio, illic
rixa, et probra antra latentia sævorum hominum in unum locum collecta."-CLERICUS, Art. Crit. i. page 430.
The latter corruptions of the Church of Rome have furnished Protestant divines with a similar theme for declamation. But the defence of either of these causes is not necessary to the support of the ground upon which the present subject stands. The infallibility of councils and synods, and the infallibility of the Church of Rome, may be suffered to fall together, without the proper authority of the Church of Christ, for which alone we plead, being in the least affected by the event. For if Christ did leave an authority with his Church, (and if he did not, every idea of the Church as a visible society must be laid aside) every argument brought against that authority can apply only to the improper exertion of it. Those authors, consequently, who attempt to defend the Reformation upon principles inconsistent with the external constitution of a Church, by general and unrestrained assertions in favour of private judgment, are, in fact serving the cause against which they would be thought, perhaps, to be zealously engaged; for if by any mode of arguing, the governors of the Church can be deprived of all authority over its members in spiritual matters, the constitution of the Church is dissolved. In this case, all sects stand upon the same footing, and are justified in acting upon the same principle, of gathering as many of the dispersed and scattered Christians into their respective flocks as they can.
This endless division among Christians, so irre
concileable with the unity of the Christian Church, (a necessary consequence of the admission of those principles, upon which the Reformation has been defended by some writers) has occasionally proved such a stumbling block to undiscriminating persons, that they have known no other way to get rid of it, than by returning to that state of bondage, from which their forefathers were so happily delivered. And indeed no argument has tended more to confirm the enemies of the Reformation in their prejudices against it, than that which has been drawn from those incautious positions, which, if pursued to their consequences, utterly annihilate all order and government in the Church.
In fact, the loose manner of writing, which has of late years prevailed, seems calculated not so much to give an idea of the plan upon which the Church of Christ has been founded, as by a latitude of interpretation, to accommodate the language of scripture to the various opinions that have been formed that the term of Church commuupon it; nion may be rendered as comprehensive as possible, or mean nothing. A liberality, if so it may be called, which tends to dissolve all ecclesiastical government, and to leave us in possession of no determinate idea upon this important subject. For the unity of the Church, upon which so much stress is laid in the sacred writings, is absolutely incompatible with that disjointed state, in which Christians (in consequence of mistaken ideas, and a certain indiscriminate application of terms, which originally conveyed a distinct and appropriate meaning) now think themselves at liberty to live.