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The Rights of the People

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    CHAPTER XI. WILL THE PEOPLE ASSERT AND MAINTAIN THEIR RIGHTS?

    The Catholic Church claims infallibility. This claim springs directly, and logically too, from her claim of the prerogative of interpreter of the Scriptures.ROP 238.1

    As we have seen, the Congress of the United States has also assumed and exercised this prerogative. With Congress, as certainly as with the Papacy, the assumption of this prerogative carries with it the assertion of infallibility. This action, of itself, therefore, placed Congress directly upon Roman ground.ROP 238.2

    This action of Congress, however, was merely the legislative formula giving authority to the interpretation already determined upon by combined “Protestantism.” This, therefore, was nothing else than the recognition, and the setting up, by “Protestantism” in the United States, of a human tribunal charged with the interpretation of Scripture, with the authoritative enforcement of that interpretation by governmental power. This proceeding, therefore, placed the combined “Protestantism” of the country altogether and thoroughly upon papal ground.ROP 238.3

    If this thing had been done by the Papacy; if she had thus forced herself and her interpretation of Scripture upon Congress, and thus got her religious notions fixed in the law to be forced upon the people; there could be no surprise at it. In so doing the Papacy would have been only acting according to her own native character, and carrying out her avowed principles. But for professed Protestantism to do it, is in positive contradiction of every principle that the term Protestantism justly implies. Bryce’s arraignment of Protestantism on this point is well deserved, and is decidedly applicable here:-ROP 238.4

    “The principles which had led the Protestants to sever themselves from the Roman Church should have taught them to bear with the opinions of others, and warned them from the attempt to connect agreement in doctrine or manner of worship with the necessary forms of civil government. Still less ought they to have enforced that agreement by civil penalties, for faith, upon their own showing, had no value save when it was freely given. A church which does not claim to be infallible is bound to allow that some part of the truth may possibly be with its adversaries; a church which permits or encourages human reason to apply itself to revelation, has no right first to argue with people and then to punish them if they are not convinced.ROP 239.1

    “But whether it was that men only half saw what they had done; or that, finding it hard enough to unrivet priestly fetters, they welcomed all the aid a temporal prince could give; the result was that religion, or, rather, religious creeds, began to be involved with politics more closely than had ever been the case before. Through the greater part of Christendom wars of religion raged for a century or more, and down to our own days feelings of theological antipathy continue to affect the relations of the powers of Europe. In almost every country the form of doctrine which triumphed associated itself with the State, and maintained the despotic system of the Middle Ages, while it forsook the grounds on which that system had been based.ROP 239.2

    “It was thus that there arose national churches, which were to be to the several. Protestant countries of Europe that which the Church Catholic had been to the world at large; churches, that is to say, each of which was to be coextensive with its respective State, was to enjoy landed wealth and exclusive political privilege, and was to be armed with coercive powers against recusants. It was not altogether easy to find a set of theoretical principles on which such churches might be made to rest; for they could not, like the old church, point to the historical transmission of their doctrines; they could not claim to have in any one man, or body of men, an infallible organ of divine truth; they could not even fall back upon general councils, or the argument, whatever it may be worth, ‘Securus indicat orbis terrarum.’ROP 239.3

    “But in practice these difficulties were soon got over, for the dominant party in each State, if it was not infallible, was at any rate quite sure that it was right, and could attribute the resistance of other sects to nothing but moral obliquity. The will of the sovereign, as in England, or the will of the majority, as in Holland, Scandinavia, and Scotland, imposed upon each country a peculiar form of worship, and kept up the practices of medieval intolerance without their justification.ROP 239.4

    “Persecution, which might be at least excused in an infallible, Catholic, and apostolic church, was peculiarly odious when practiced by those who were not Catholic; who were no more apostolic than their neighbors; and who had just revolted from the most ancient and venerable authority, in the name of rights which they now denied to others. If union with the visible church by participation in a material sacrament be necessary to eternal life, persecution may be held a duty a kindness to perishing souls. But if the kingdom of heaven be in every sense a kingdom of the spirit, if saving faith be possible out of one visible body and under a diversity of external forms, persecution becomes at once a crime and a folly.ROP 240.1

    “Therefore the intolerance of Protestants, if the forms it took were less cruel than those practiced by the Roman Catholics, was also far less defensible; for it had seldom anything better to allege on its behalf than motives of political expediency, or more often the mere headstrong passion of a ruler or a faction, to silence the expression of any opinions but their own.... And hence it is not too much to say that the ideas ... regarding the duty of the magistrate to compel uniformity in doctrine and worship by the civil arm, may all be traced to the relation which that theory established between the Roman Church and the Roman Empire; to the conception, in fact, of an empire church itself.”-Holy Roman Empire, chapter 18; par. 8.ROP 240.2

    This shows how certainly the professed Protestantism and the Government of the United States have put themselves upon papal ground.ROP 240.3

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