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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 34

II. The First and the Fourth Propositions

II. The First and the Fourth Propositions.

Of the first and fourth of these propositions I shall dispose rather summarily, as they appear to belong to the theological domain. They refer to a fact, and they record an opinion. One fact to which they refer is this: that, in days within my memory, the constant, favourite, and imposing argument of Roman controversialists was the unbroken and absolute identity in belief of the Roman Church from the days of our Saviour until now. No one, who has at all followed the course of' this literature during the last forty years, can fail to be sensible of the change in its present tenour. More and more have the assertions of' continuous uniformity of doctrine receded into scarcely penetrable shadow. More and more have another series of assertions, of a living authority, ever ready to open, adopt, and shape Christian doctrine according to the times, taken their place. Without discussing the abstract compatibility of these lines of argument, I note two of the immense practical differences between them. In the first, the office claimed by the Church is principally that of a witness to facts; in the second, principally that of a judge, if not a revealer of doctrine. In the fi rst, the processes which the Church undertakes are subject to a constant challenge and appeal to history; in the second, no amount of historical testimony can avail against the uumeasured power of the theory of' development. Most important, most pregnant considerations, these, at page 7 least for two classes of persons: for those who think that exaggerated doctrines of Church power are among the real and serious dangers of the age; and for those who think that against all forms, both of superstition and of unbelief, one main preservative is to be found in maintaining the truth and authority of history, and the inestimable value of the historic spirit.

So much for the fact; as for the opinion, that the recent Papal decrees are at war with modern thought, and that, purporting to enlarge the necessary creed of Christendom, they involve a violent breach with history, this is a matter unfit for me to discuss, as it is a question of Divinity; but not unfit for me to have mentioned in my article; since the opinion given there is the opinion of those with whom I was endeavouring to reason, namely, the great majority of the British public.

If it is thought that the word violence was open to exception, I regret I cannot give it up. The justification of the ancient definitions of the Church which have endured the storms of 1,500 years, was to be found in this, that they were not arbitrary or wilful, but that they wholly sprang from, and related to theories rampant at the time, and regarded as menacing to Christian belief. Even the Canons of the Council of Trent have in the main this amount, apart from their matter, of presumptive warrant. But the decrees of the present perilous Pontificate have been passed to favour and precipitate prevailing currents of opinion in the ecclesiastical world of Rome. The growth of what is often termed among Protestants Mariolatry, and of belief in Papal Infallibility, was notoriously advancing, but it seems not fast enough to satisfy the dominant party. To aim the deadly blows of 1854* and 1870 at the old historic, scientific, and moderate school, was surely an act of violence; and with this censure the proceeding of 1870 has actually been visited by the first living theologian now within the Roman Communion, I mean, Dr. John Henry Newman; who has used these significant words, among others: "Why should an aggressive and insolent faction be allowed to make the heart of the just sad, whom the Lord hath not made sorrowful?"

* Decree of the Immaculate Conception.

See the remarkable Letter of Dr. Newman to Bishop Ullathorne, in the "Guardian" of April 6, 1870.