The Sacrifice of the Eucharist, and Other Doctrines of the Catholic Church, Explained and Vindicated
by Charles Brierley Garside
The historical fact that the Church has at various periods of time increased the number of her articles of faith has frequently supplied to her enemies an accusation which they consider no less damaging to her charity than to her consistency.
If, they say, any doctrine is defined to be an article of faith, then to deny it, or even to doubt that it is a part of revelation, involves all such individuals in grave sin. The definition makes its acceptance a law binding the conscience of every Catholic throughout the world; it becomes, therefore, an essential test of union with the Church, and no priest can absolve or admit to the sacraments those who refuse to obey that law. Those Catholics, therefore, who happened to be born before the definition of the Immaculate Conception were compelled to submit to a new test and additional yoke after the 8th December 1854.
But this, they go on to argue, is not all ; if it is a heresy now to deny the Immaculate Conception, then that must always have been a heresy, if what the Church alleges is true, namely, that she never decrees anything to be believed as of faith which is not contained in the original revelation of Scripture or tradition. In that case what a terrible consequence is the result!
All Catholics from the beginning of the Church who ever doubted of the doctrine were in mortal sin, and all who denied it were guilty of heresy! This difficulty, so imposing at first sight, springs like many others of a similar kind from a specific ignorance of Catholic theology and from a general confusion of mind.
If by ‘ yoke’ an oppressive or unjust law is meant, then a new definition of the faith cannot possibly be so characterized; because all Catholics believe both in the supernatural infallibility and wisdom of the Church. There is no unfair exaction upon their intellect or will, for they know that ‘ she is the pillar and ground of truth; if they preferred their own judgment to hers they would be Protestants, not Catholics; and it is clear that the command to yield ‘obedience to the faith’ (Rom. i. 5} could be irksome only to those who disbelieved in or distrusted the lawgiver by whom that assent is imposed. Nor can the novelty of the definition be a strain upon the understanding ; on the contrary, as the definition is simply a clearer and fuller unfolding of what they have already believed in substance, the newness gives additional freshness and variety to the object apprehended and additional expansion to the intellect, which thus freely and calmly advances farther into the realm of revealed knowledge, being securely led by the Spouse of the Holy Ghost, whose very office it is to be the way-guide ‘into all truth’ (John xvi. 14). To illuminate the obscure; to precipitate into its natural and definite form what was before a doctrine, held as it were in solution by the minds of the faithful; and to set up unerring landmarks between faith and opinion, must be ever again to Catholics instead of a grievance.
In S. Bernard’s time, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had not been defined; the question was in agitation, but not authoritatively solved. This illustrious saint, moreover, did not accept the dogma, at all events in the form under which it was presented to his mind. But he acted then precisely as all real Catholics will ever act for the future in analogous circumstances ; he held his opinion with a reservation ; and the language in which he expressed this reservation, more than seven hundred years ago, is interesting as a fact and valuable as illustrative of a principle: ‘ Let what I have remarked be said without prejudice to any one who may have sounder wisdom. I more especially refer this whole matter, as I do all others of the same kind, entirely to the authority and adjudication of the Roman Church; and am prepared, if my opinion is different from it, to conform myself to its judgment’ (Ep. liv. ad Canonicos Lugdunenses).
As the children of the Church faithfully follow her steps wherever she leads them, and like S. Bernard are always prepared to conform their minds to her rule, they cannot be judged guilty, in the nineteenth century, of a crime which it was impossible for them to commit during the preceding ages. You cannot be said to have violated a law that did not exist whilst you were alive. The Immaculate Conception was always a revealed truth, and to deny it now is heresy; but although it was always a revealed truth, the denial of it was not always heresy.
It may be useful here to call the attention of those who are not familiar with Catholic theological terminology to the important distinction that exists between divine faith and Catholic faith; for through ignorance of this distinction, the Church has been often falsely accused of a contradiction between her creed at one time and her creed at another. A doctrine is said to be of divine faith when it is really contained in the revelation of God, written or unwritten; it is divine because it is manifested by and depends upon the authority of God, and therefore it is to be believed with the undoubting assent of faith. But a doctrine may be really a part of the divine revelation, and yet may not have been distinctly promulgated to the whole body of the faithful, as revelation, by the unerring authority of the whole Church. When a revealed truth is so promulgated, it belongs from that moment to the Catholic faith. It is called Catholic because it forms an integral part of that one body of revealed truth which the Church has clearly and publicly taught to be such, and which therefore is, in the full technical sense of the word, the Catholic faith. It is Catholic because it is not only held as revealed, by the private belief of those individuals who may have accurately drawn it from the objective rule of faith, Scripture, and tradition, but because the Church has spoken on this point with the united voice of her teaching power, in the completeness of her entire moral personality, whether collectively together with her head upon earth, or by means of her head alone when acting ex-cathedra. Lastly, it is Catholic because the obligation to believe in it as part of revelation extends to every unit of the whole body of the Church. Thus the terms ‘ divine faith’ and ‘ Catholic faith,’ as applicable to re vealed doctrines, are not necessarily identical, although in popular language they are frequently interchanged as if they were. That which is of Catholic faith must always be some truth divinely revealed—it presupposes that fact ; but a truth may be revealed and yet not be invested, in relation to all the members of the Church, with that stamp of public, universal, ecclesiastical au thority which places it officially in the rank of Catholic faith, and in that case it is said to belong to the class of verities which are of divine faith only, in contrast with the other kind of faith.
When by the act of the Church any particular doc trine passes from the class of divine faith into that of Catholic, or, as it is sometimes called, divine Catholic faith, there is no inconsistency or contradiction of any sort ; and yet there are controversialists who imagine that they have gained a signal victory if they can only prove that any Catholic writer has ever denied a particular doctrine to be an article of the Catholic faith at a given date, when he has admitted that it was, at the same date, an article of divine faith ; as if the two ideas were necessarily identical in meaning and in the chrono logical order of their proposition to the faithful. It cannot be doubted that a truth may be really part of the original revelation, and yet may be so indistinctly contained in Scripture and tradition that the faithful are not obliged to believe it to be certainly and divinely revealed until the Church has clearly proposed it to their faith as revelation. The time and mode of this teaching may vary, they are matters of detail; but the principle on which the obligation of Catholics rests never alters. The contradictory of a revealed dogma is not a heresy until its contradictory dogma has been manifested to be a revealed truth with such a sufficiency of promulgation by the Church as to bind all her members to believe it with divine faith. Where this kind of official manifestation of the faith is absent there is no law, and where there is no law of faith there can be no heresy, and where there is no heresy there can be no heretics. For what is a heretic but a man who denies some doctrine which the Church, either by her ordinary, practical, universal teaching or by some specific decree of Council or Pope, has declared, sufficiently for an obligation of conscience, to be an article of faith?
Unless, therefore, ex-post facto laws made centuries after a man’s death can affect him, it is impossible to charge heresy upon those Catholics who, in ages preceding this era, may have denied the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception or that of the Pontifical Infallibility. There is another consideration that ought to be remembered. It is a first principle with every Catholic, in all religious questions as yet undecided by the Church, to hold his own opinion absolutely subject to the judg ment of the Church if ever and whenever it shall be made known to his consciousness. His will is pledged to the authority of the Church in all its Catholicity of time and place; and his intellect is ever prepared, so to speak, like a photographic plate, to receive the projected image of truth whenever it is disclosed by their divine teacher. Thus m intention he always thinks according to the mind of the Church ; and should he through no fault of his own hold at any given period, or even through his whole lifetime, opinions which will be eventually condemned by the Church, still the loyalty, the purity, and the integrity of his faith are all unim peachable ; for he has held his opinions accidentally and provisionally and as opinions, not as the faith ; his adhesion to the Church has, although unconsciously to himself, virtually pronounced the same condemnation beforehand upon his own intellectual impressions as the Church will pass hereafter; and he has therefore implicitly accepted the opposite doctrine to that which in the days of his flesh lodged temporarily in his brain and was uttered by his lips. It is this grand substantial community of ‘heart and soul’ between the separate members of the Catholic Church and herself which makes them all equally one in the faith throughout every age, although the articles of the Catholic faith, growing as they have done successively in extent, have presented to the understandings of the individual members of the Church a body of revealed truths, varying at different epochs in kind, number, and explicitness of detail, yet identical in the substance of their meaning.